Life is Hot in Cracktown


Life is Hot in Cracktown

When in doubt, glower.

(Lightning Media) Kerry Washington, Evan Ross, Brandon Routh, RZA, Illeana Douglas, Shannyn Sossamon, Lara Flynn Boyle, Desmond Harrington, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Tony Plana, Victor Razuk, Ridge Canipe, Vondie Curtis-Hall. Directed by Buddy Giovinazzo

There are those who will argue that crack cocaine is the most devastating thing to happen to the projects ever. There is certainly some merit to the argument; crack destroys lives and encourages crime. This insanely addictive drug can turn even good people into monsters.

Sometimes in the movies, you’ll see the heroes walking down an inner city alley and encounter criminals and junkies in various stages of decay. The heroes will interact briefly with them, conclude their business, and then move along. This movie is quite frankly about the people in that alley in the first place.

In a nameless inner city neighborhood lives Marybeth (Washington), a pre-op transsexual who works as a prostitute to help save the money for her operation. She lives with her boyfriend Benny (Harrington), a small-time burglar who is developing issues with his own sexuality. Manny (Razuk) is a devoted husband and father who works two jobs to support his stay-at-home wife (Sossamon) and their colicky baby. Willie (Canipe) is a wise-beyond-his-years young boy who lives in the welfare hotel where Manny is a security guard, his mom (Douglas) a crack addict who chooses drugs over her children. Willie is in love with a heartbreakingly young hooker, and looks after his sister when his mother is too high to care for anybody.

The specter of Romeo (Ross, who is the son of Diana Ross) looms over this neighborhood. He’s a vicious and ambitious thug who wants to move up the ladder in his gang. He is completely amoral and without conscience, but doesn’t have a gun yet. When he finally acquires one, all hell literally breaks loose.

Giovinazzo wrote this based on his own novel, and like those who adapt their own material he had a very difficult time in cutting judiciously. Because this is written as an ensemble piece, the movie shifts gears every time it shifts focus to another character. The overall effect is that of a car with a broken transmission, jarring the driver every time it shifts.

Giovinazzo would have been better served to focus on only a few characters and let the rest fade into the background of the story, but I can see where he might have had difficulty in doing that because there are compelling elements to each story, and compelling performances throughout. Razuk and Canipe are the most memorable of the characters and quite frankly I wouldn’t have minded devoting more time to their stories; however, Washington delivers a spectacular performance and her character’s story shouldn’t be ignored. Ross is a smoldering presence who fills the screen up with absolute dread every time he’s onscreen; you wonder what horrible thing he’s going to do.

The movie opens with an extended gang rape by Romeo and his thugs of his own girlfriend. It’s not a pretty scene and it definitely sets the tone of the movie. Giovinazzo certainly pulls no punches nor shies away from any inner city horror, no matter how cruel or vicious. This may be too intense for some, while others will enjoy wallowing in the grittiness. For me, it’s a slice of inner city life, a particularly rotten and putrid slice with maggots crawling about the carcass. I can’t say I was entertained, but then again I couldn’t tear my eyes away either.

WHY RENT THIS: This redefines gritty. You’ll want to take a shower to wash off the slime when you’re done watching.  Canipe and Razuk are the characters you’ll remember.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: There are too many storylines to follow to reasonably get much of a feel for many of the characters.

FAMILY VALUES: Drug use is at a premium here; there is also a good deal of foul language, violence and a fairly graphic depiction of rape. In addition there’s plenty of sex and nudity. Fun for the whole family.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Giovinazzo took a ten year break from directing to teach filmmaking at the New York School of Visual Arts and NYU.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: Nanny McPhee Returns

New Releases for the Week of June 25, 2010


June 25, 2010

There is no "I" in team, but there are two of them in "idiot."

GROWN UPS

(Columbia) Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Kevin James, David Spade, Rob Schneider, Maria Bello, Salma Hayek, Maya Rudolph. Directed by Dennis Dugan

Five childhood friends, all members of a championship youth basketball team, gather some years later to honor the passing of their former coach. Now married and with kids of their own, they get together at the same lake house on the Fourth of July weekend where they celebrated their championship win years earlier. However, getting older doesn’t necessarily mean growing up and the bickering and childishness that plagued them years earlier begins to resurface.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG-13 (for crude material including suggestive references, language and some male rear nudity)

Knight and Day

(20th Century Fox) Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, Peter Sarsgaard, Viola Davis. It’s hard enough to nurture a romance in this modern world of social networking, dating websites and instant gratification. It’s doubly tough when you’re being chased around the world by professional assassins, attempting to uncover a deadly secret and you’re not sure if the man accompanying you is a heroic spy, a traitor to his country or just plain whacko.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and promos here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of action violence throughout, and brief strong language)

Mother and Child

(Sony Classics) Naomi Watts, Annette Bening, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson. Three intertwining tales involve three women whose lives have all been touched in one way or another by adoption; one woman who gave her child up for adoption year earlier, another who was herself adopted and a third looking to adopt a child for herself. This first opened in New York and Los Angeles on May 7.

See the trailer, featurettes and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: R (for sexuality, brief nudity and language)

Solitary Man

(Anchor Bay) Michael Douglas, Susan Sarandon, Danny DeVito, Mary-Louise Parker. A New Yorker who once owned a successful car dealership is on the verge of a comeback. His out-of-control libido and bad personal choices helped derail his career and end his marriage. While he still hangs out with his daughter and grandson, the latter who adores him without question, she break off the relationship when she discovers dear old dad is seeing one of her friends romantically. Can a solitary man pull off the comeback of the century, or will the demons that caused his downfall in the first place rear their ugly heads? This first opened in New York and Los Angeles on May 21.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: R (for language and some sexual content)

Lakeview Terrace


Lakeview Terrace

If I had Samuel L. Jackson glaring at me this way, I think I'd run.

(Screen Gems) Samuel L. Jackson, Patrick Wilson, Kerry Washington, Regine Nehy, Jaishon Fisher, Ron Glass, Justin Chambers, Jay Hernandez. Directed by Neil LaBute

Moving into a new neighborhood is always stressful. One hopes that they have nice neighbors, or at least neighbors who will leave you the heck alone. That isn’t always what you get, however.

Chris (Wilson) and Lisa (Washington) Mattson have moved into a new house in an affluent neighborhood on a cul-de-sac called Lakeview Terrace. They are an interracial couple; Chris is white, his wife African-American. That shouldn’t attract much attention in this day and age.

Except it does, particularly from their next door neighbor Abel Turner (Jackson) who disapproves of their relationship. The fact that the two are so obviously affectionate with each other, particularly in front of his children Marcus (Fisher) and Celia (Nehy) further bothers him. He begins to create little annoyances, bent on making their stay in the neighborhood uncomfortable.

For the most part, the couple tries to ignore the pettiness going on but Chris’ masculine pride gets in the way and the incidents begin to escalate. The fact that Abel is a police officer makes going to the authorities nearly impossible. Further adding to the tension is a wildfire burning in the Los Angeles hills near their neighborhood which threatens to burn out of control, much as the situation between Chris and Abel is getting.

Director LaBute is also a noted playwright along with being a film director with some pretty fine films to his credit (In the Company of Men and Nurse Betty among them). He specializes in depicting situations designed to make the audience uncomfortable, something I like to applaud. When we are made uncomfortable, we have a tendency to examine our feelings in order to determine what about the situation makes us uncomfortable. In turn, we begin to learn a little bit about ourselves.

None of the lead characters are especially likable and that’s the way LaBute likes it. Abel, for example, isn’t a cut and dried villain. There are times we feel sympathy for the man, but at the end of the day he is a racist, pure and simple, regardless of the things that got him there. Jackson is a superb actor and only someone of his caliber could make an audience be sympathetic for a character who in lesser hands would be simply the villain.

He has a fine actor to work off of in Patrick Wilson. Wilson’s Chris is a liberal on the outside but is goaded into playing Abel’s game, which leads to friction with Lisa. Lisa’s father (Glass) puts further strain on the relationship with his own disapproval of the relationship, asking Chris “Are you planning to have children with my daughter” in a tone that makes no mistake that he hopes the answer will be “no.”

Interracial relationships are far more common in the 21st century than they were in the last and it is us older folks who seem to have the most problems with it. It is nice to see a movie that treats these relationships with such candor, neither taking for granted that the relationship is acceptable nor ignoring the difficulties that come with a mixed marriage, to use an archaic term. That it’s still an issue is actually a little bit depressing.

Still, the movie works as a thriller for the most part, other than the ending which sinks into a bit of Hollywood cliché territory. The chance to see Samuel L. Jackson at the top of his game is worth renting this to begin with; to allow the issues that the movie raises percolate in one’s head after the fact is priceless.

WHY RENT THIS: Samuel L. Jackson is da mutha effin’ bomb. Interracial relationships are explored with more candor than is usual for non-indie films.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The ending descends into the bubbling cauldron of Hollywood cliché.

FAMILY VALUES: Foul language abounds; there’s also some violence, sexuality and drug use. While it’s only rated PG-13, sensitive souls might find this a bit rough.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The name of the area in Los Angeles where Rodney King was beaten is also called Lakeview Terrace. This is referenced by the use of his “Can’t we all just get along” line.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Baader Meinhof Complex