Tag Archives: Drug Dealers

Book Review: Imani All Mine by Connie Porter

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Rating: A-/ Wow. This is one heartbreaking story. If you want to read this book but have doubts because the subject matter might be too hard to cope with, be forewarned, it only goes downhill from here. There’s so much pain in Imani All Mine, to the point where the moments of hope and redemption hardly seem worth mentioning. I knew that this was a dark book, but I didn’t see the tearjerker of an ending coming, it blindsided me. I think this book is a work of art. It combines dialect with lyricism to powerful effect, without feeling false or untrue to the character’s voice and education level. Continue reading Book Review: Imani All Mine by Connie Porter

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Movie Review: City of God (2003)

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Rating: B/ This ain’t the vision of Rio di Janeiro you see on travel brochures! Told in a nonlinear style somewhat akin to Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, City of God tells the disturbing story of a Brazilian gangster named Lil’ Ze (Leandro Firmino) living in the crime-ridden ‘city of God’ who really wants to make a name for himself, and climbs up to the top of the food chain amid the senseless slaughter of hundreds of unfortunates.

Continue reading Movie Review: City of God (2003)

A Drink Before the War by Dennis Lehane

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For your information, I broke the rules early on and read the fifth book, Gone, Baby, Gone in the Lehane’s Kenzie and Gennaro series before I read his debut novel A Drink Before the War. Comparing the two, I actually like Gone Baby Gone, a teeny bit better than I like this one. I can see how Dennis Lehane developed as a writer between the penning of these two books. Not only is Gone, Baby, Gone more emotionally effective, it doesn’t hit the reader as much with its social issues.

Don’t get me wrong, A Drink Before the War is a well-written mystery. I don’t even generally read mysteries, but even when I’m in a funk and can’t seem to finish anything, I can finish a book by Dennis Lehane. I haven’t read a single one of his books that have let me down or proven difficult for me to complete yet. Although I preferred Gone, Baby, Gone to this, I recommend you read A Drink Before the War first since it is the first book in the series so the timeline will make more sense chronologically if you start there.

A Drink Before the War follows private investigator Patrick Kenzie, a world-weary smart aleck who pulls no punches about his cynicism concerning the human race, and his beautiful and spirited partner, Angela Gennaro, as they navigate a gritty, Noir-ish urban Boston landscape. Some phony politicians recruit Patrick to find a black cleaning lady, Jenna Angeline, who has pilfered some important documents and disappeared.

Immediately the case smells fishy; what exactly do these documents pertains to? And why does Jenna act like her thievery of the papers is a matter of honor when Patrick does manage to find her? The answer lies among a long-time feud between two gangs and a whole lot of political corruption (politicians? Be less-than-ethical? Why I never!)

Meanwhile, Patrick deals with his seemingly unrequited love for Angela, who’s married to an abusive d-bag who smacks her around, and confronts his own prejudices when a lot of racial and socioeconomic issues simmer to the surface of this deceptively simple case. This book is well-written, thoughtful, and exciting, and Patrick’s acerbic mixture of sarcasm and cynicism makes him a dynamite narrator. There’s always something interesting going on or bubbling up in the background of this action-packed book.

I do think Lehane went a little overboard with the hot-button race issues. The book hardly ever drags, but when it does, it is  due to the sometimes didactic exposition on white privilege and race wars the author sprinkles, occasionally excessively, into the prose. I think politics have a place in fiction, even detective fiction, but this was just too much. The story should be able to present it’s issues without beating us over the head with them.

I’ll admit, Gone, Baby, Gone didn’t always use the utmost subtlety when bringing up the perils of the child protective system, but this struck me as more heavy-handed. Maybe it’s partially because everything seems to be riding hard on race issues lately (from Black Lives Matter to the Oscars debate) so I didn’t need another reminder of the hostile racial climate of today.

However, A Drink Before the War benefits from Patrick’s fresh voice and a multitude of memorable characters such as the protagonist’s ticking time bomb one-man army of a ally Bubba Rodowsky and Jenna herself, who’s made some bad decisions in life but ultimately fucks herself attempting to do the right thing for herself and her family.

What I like best about this series is that every book’s a page turner, I can’t wait to get my hands on the second novel in the series, and I recommend Dennis Lehane to anyone with a enjoyment of crime fiction and a pretty strong stomach (his books can get pretty brutal at times.) If thrillers about scandal, corruption, and hard-boiled detective action is your thing, you should do yourself a favor and pick this book up from your local library or bookstore

Enter the Void (2009)

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Life after death as the ultimate trip, as envisioned by Gaspar Noe. Epileptics need not apply.

it is safe to say that Enter the Void is unlike any movie I’ve ever seen before, but it’s an experience I have very mixed feelings about. My emotions throughout this movie ranged from excitement and wonder to tedium and at long last, utter boredom and disgust. The first hour or so of this polarizing feature had me at the edge of my seat, it was an experience of startling uniqueness and innovation akin to watching Eraserhead or A Clockwork Orange for the first time.

The next thirty minutes my attention began to wander, but by the last half hour, as we are treated to an interminable scene of people in a sleazy Tokyo hotel getting it on while a strange light emanates from their genitals, my reaction wasn’t quite so charitable. “Please God make it stop,” my inner critic groaned. And at long last, when the constant love-making (although to call what these broken people share ‘love’ would be pushing it big-time) and psychedelic headache inducing-visuals were over, I was all too happy to retire to my bedroom to go to sleep.

To call Enter the Void, despite it’s visual verve, low on plot and lacking direction would be to make epic understatement. One thing’s for sure, I don’t think there’s ever been a motion picture where we saw less of the protagonist’s face. That’s because Oscar (Nathaniel Brown,) an addict and dealer slumming it in Tokyo, is mostly behind the camera as we see his life, and eventually his death, through his own eyes. Oscar is a ne’er-do-well who lives with his seductive younger sister (Paz de la Huerta) in a dive apartment and is in denial about his full indoctrination into the druggie lifestyle. Neither sibling seems like a particularly bright light, each talking in a bland, deadpan drone, and Oscar has less than familial feelings for his sister and late mother (Janice Béliveau-Sicotte.) The girl, Linda, a stripper, also seems eager to get in on in a less-than-sisterly way with Oscar, unless making bedroom eyes at your brother while cooking food for him in your panties is a regular way for siblings to behave.

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After his loving parents’ brutal death in an automobile crash, Oscar has promised unreservedly to look after and protect his vacuous but weirdly sensual sister. Being that he can’t be arsed to get a regular job, Oscar runs drugs for the strangely philosophical Alex (Cyril Roy.) At the beginning of this film Oscar takes a shitload of DMT and goes on an epic high, as we hear his thoughts and witness a storm of swirling shapes and colors. He goes off to a dive club to meet the sniveling Victor (Olly Alexander,) which turns out to be his last hurrah, so to speak, as Oscar is shot by the Tokyo police through the door of a shit-stained urinal and dies shortly thereafter. But, to Oscar’s shock and relief, he discovers death is not the end. For the rest of the movie, he floats around Tokyo and witnesses the people in his life converge in unexpected and disturbing ways.

This is my first Gaspar Noe film, and I think he had an amazing idea and a totally legit way of visualizing it.  But ultimately Enter the Void is too long and has too little to say, with ponderous scenes that go on… and on for seemingly hours. I love the way The Tibetan Book of the Dead is incorporated here, I think it’s really smart and clever. I would have liked to have seen it used more or to better affect. But how many hazy aerial shots of people screwing can you watch before a movie like this begins to feel like an extended music video? We get it, Gaspar Noe, you have some talent maneuvering a videocamera, but please stop showing off and give us a story, a conflict, a set of characters that behave in an interesting or believable way. Enter the Void is probably an unmitigated wonder while you’re blitzed on magic mushrooms or hungrily devouring pot-laced brownies, but in the end it’s about as profound as the average TV quiz show. Oh, it’s pretty to look at. But Ohmygod is it tedious. And it’s a tedium that goes on for 2+ hours.

I’m not a prude. Sex and violence have their place in a story. But none of the characters in this film are remotely likable or sympathetic. They’re simply bad people doing bad things. Enter the Void is like a stoned guy at a cocktail party who momentarily gains your attention. He tells crazy stories without a single ounce of credibility, and for a while you’re sucked in by his colorful, gregarious bullshit. But then after two hours you kind of just want him to come back where he came from and take his gear with him. Nihilism has never looked so gorgeous and yet so empty and shallow. At one point, the stripper sister in this film says she can’t stand another minute being amongst these horrible, horrible people. Funny. The sober viewer can weirdly relate.

Enter the Void

 

Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell

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“Winter’s Bone” is the rare book that, while effective, does not exceed the merit of the movie. The eponymous film, directed by Debra Granik, is a nearly perfect work of art, and I was wary going into the book because I did not expect the it to exceed the film. While I was partially right (Woodrell’s original is more emotionally remote and the film is a masterpiece in it’s own right) the novel is worthwhile and lyrically written, while not being inaccessible.

17-year-old Ree Dolly (rendered less admirable and rougher-hewn in the book) lives in the Ozarks, surrounded by a cloistered community of violent and thuggish crystal meth cooks. Nearly everybody is related to everyone else somehow, and the mountain people defend their own kind against the cops- unless one of their own crosses the line. That’s what Ree’s dad Jessup did, and he’s missing. Worse yet, Jessup put bail bond on the house before he disappeared, and Ree has to prove that he’s dead before she loses the family home.

Ree almost single-handedly takes care of her mother, who has long ago turned insane, and her little brothers Sonny and Harold. She’s trying her best to cope with difficult circumstances. Ree’s rough, but sometimes roughness comes with persistence, and this girl’s nothing if not persistent. She tries to get the true circumstances of Jessup’s death from the locals, but they don’t like questions much. Soon she finds herself fighting for her life, desperately sinking into a situation that is fast getting out of hand.

Ree is  helped hesitantly by her enemy/lifeline Uncle Teardrop (played in the movie by the brilliant John Hawkes,) a crank cook whose criminal  activities she wants no part in. Although this is not mentioned in the movie, I got a strong feeling from the book that Ree was gay. On one level, the fact that Ree rejects the thought of pairing up with a man may stem from her fierce independence and the fact that the majority of the local men are leering, toothless pieces of white trash. But considering her activities shared with her friend Gail in her childhood and in the present (swimming together in the buff, kissing,) I got a slightly different vibe from the story.

The writing presented here is quite beautiful. You would think for a book set in such a bleak place, the writing would be similar to the setting- harsh and ugly. But it’s lovely. Sure, “Winter’s Bone” doesn’t for a minute romanticize the hardness and coldness of the Ozarks community Ree is forced to grow up and survive in. But it finds the prettiness in something nasty and tough.

“Winter’s Bone” transports the suburban, middle-class reader into a setting unlike most of us will ever experience. It may not be pretty, but it’s rough and real and thrillingly brutal. Instead of mocking its characters, it’s presents them as matter-of-fact and as direct as a slap to the face. I have to say, I could not stop picturing Jennifer Lawrence as Ree, although the novel stated the book Ree was a brunette instead of a blonde. I guess Jennifer Lawrence is so good at what she does that any other face feels like an impostor.

My mom LOVED this book and read it twice in a row; my reaction was a little more ‘meh,’ although I did think it was very good and solid. I like how in both the book and movie you felt hope for Ree and the kids. For all it’s bleakness, for all it’s toughness, you don’t see dead ends. You see opportunities. And you hope (and believe) that Ree will snatch those opportunities, which, after all, do not come easy in a place like this.

Dead Man’s Shoes (2004)

Bloody and brilliant, “Dead Man’s Shoes” is an emotional rollercoaster from beginning to end. The 57% rating on Rotten Tomatoes is both a crying shame and a sacrilege, because this is Shane Meadows’ masterpiece — a film that transcends the revenge genre, delivering a heart-pounding, intense story that lets events unfold in a way that is anything but simple.

Richard (Paddy Considine) returns home from military service with no intention of living a nice quiet life and settling down. The target of his rage: a low-rent drug gang that did some terrible things to his borderline simple brother Anthony (Toby Kebbell) some time before.

After Richard threatens a drug dealer and later gives him an unsettlingly twitchy apology, the gang of thugs suspect that ol’ Anthony’s brother might be a few screws short of a tool box, but don’t know how to react. Sonny (Gary Stretch), the most sadistic and smartest (and in a group like this, that’s not saying much), takes charge as best as he is able, but they are no match for Richard’s cool-headed brutality and military training.

This is when things get decidedly more ambiguous. What exactly happened to Anthony? What parts of Richard’s viewpoint are unreliable? When he faces the thug who has broken off from the gang and raised a family, Richard grows less and less sure of himself, leading to a shocking conclusion that rivals the majority of thrillers in its freshness and great writing.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that Paddy Considine’s performance here is one of the best acting jobs I’ve seen. He makes Richard thoroughly believable and doesn’t stoop to any tough-guy cliches. What Richard lacks in size, he makes up for in calm, calculated violence. His performance is powerful and a testament to lesser-known actors who seem to slip through the cracks all too often.

Toby Kebbell, who gets overlooked all too often is also very good as Anthony, a simple-minded fellow whose naivete proves to be dangerous as he navigates a rough area without his older brother, who he looks up to, to protect him. He is very believable playing a mentally retarded character, and doesn’t overplay his hand or make his character a ham-fisted caricature.

The other actors never match up to Considine’s ferocious portrayal of a vengeful loner, but they do fine on their own. There’s a scene between the reformed drug dealer and his wife that is very powerful and moving, and the thugs do good job as their drug-hazed obliviousness turns to fear.

There is also some humor (mostly derived from the stupidity of the antagonists) and some tender moments between Richard and his brother. “Dead Man’s Shoes” proves there is still some smarts left in the thriller genre, and boy do I love it for that. It benefits from a smart script and a blistering performance from Paddy Considine. Watch it, and you will not be wasting your time. I didn’t waste mine.