Tag Archives: Gangs

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: The Dark Horse (2014)

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Rating: B-/ I know I’m in the minority in finding this feel-good Kiwi drama a little over-rated; it’s perfectly charming and watchable, yes, but also perfectly formulaic. It’s the kind of movie you can watch and go “Yeah, I enjoyed that,” but it’s predictability makes it hard for it to make much of a lasting impression on you. That said, the actors here are a standout. There’s clearly so much underrated dramatic talent on display here, and they successfully maneuver The Dark Horse through it’s moments where it is just ‘blah’ at best, frustratingly cliche and pat at worst. Continue reading Movie Review: The Dark Horse (2014)

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)

Movie Review: Dope (2015)

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Rating: B/ Puppy dog-eyed Shameik Moore plays geeky urban teen Malcolm, who lives in the Bottoms of Inglewood, California, where crime and desperation reign. With a setting like this, you’d expect Dope to be a depressing movie, but it’s not. It’s actually a very funny movie; not perfect by a long shot, but with some of the funniest, zaniest dialogue to come around in years. Malcolm is obsessed with 90’s Hip-Hop culture and plans to go to college, which makes him very uncool with the kids in his hood, who mostly end up joining gangs and dying young and never expect anything more of themselves. Continue reading Movie Review: Dope (2015)

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

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

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So, I just watched Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange for the first time yesterday. For better or worse, it is magnificently unique; you’re unlikely to see anything else like it in your entire life. What really struck me wasn’t the story, though it was good, but the visuals and sets, which were outstanding. The backdrops to this bizarre tale are somewhere between Salvador Dali, M.C. Escher, and 70’s decor from hell.

Alex Delarge (Malcolm McDowell,) the antihero of “A Clockwork Orange,” likes to hurt people. It’s that simple, he rapes, assaults, and kills not for personal or fiscal gain, but simply because he can. What better way for a Ludwig Van Beethoven loving youth with an insatiable appetite for ultraviolence to spend his nights and weekends?

Delarge lives in a dystopian Britain filled with rot, decay, and futuristic gangs that like to rape women and beat the shit out of people. Alex is a proud member of such a gang: the self proclaimed leader of his ‘droogs’ (Alex and his friends speak in a slangy imaginary language which incorporates English and Russian,) he is simply content raising hell and causing trouble.

When Alex’s life of crime finally catches up with him, he is sent to prison (transitioning the film’s psychedelic backdrop, temporarily at least, to a more standard Borstal setting) and eventually winds up participating in a traumatic aversion therapy to cure him of his criminal impulses, winding up as timid as a puppy, an emotional eunuch repulsed by the very thought of violence.

“A Clockwork Orange” is a very long movie, 137 min., but it doesn’t seem to contain a bit of filler. It just has a really long story to tell. Malcolm McDowell (hard to believe he’s in his seventies now!) is chilling and creepily charismatic as a unrepentant sadist. His parents (Philip Stone and Sheila Raynor) don’t beat him or deprive him of his rights, but they really could care less whether he goes to school or what sadistic new pastime he picks up.

Is Mom and Dad’s bored apathy what has turned Alex into a monster? Children pick up quickly on whether they’re cared about or not, whether their teachers and parents legitimately give a shit about them or how they choose to wheedle away their days. But is the ultimate self absorption of parents and authority figures enough to make a psychopath? Alex, ever the charming beast, would be unlikely to care about these matters.

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Furthermore, Alex lives in a spectacularly self absorbed society that mirrors our own. This is taken to darkly comedic heights when the ‘cat lady’ (Miriam Karlin) tussles with Alex with a obscene phallic statue that’s apparently ‘an important piece of art.’ Alas, the poor wretched woman is crushed by it. What is it  Tyler Durden in Fight Club said? ‘The things you own end up owning you.’ And sometimes you’re bludgeoned to death by your own porcelain penis. An absurd demise you’d be unlikely to see in any other movie, ever.

Ironically, the prison chaplain (Godfrey Quigley,) for all his off putting talk of fire and brimstone, is the only one in this world besides the sharklike, predatory Alex himself with any sense whatsoever. It is Quigley’s character who supplies the film’s message; you can’t coerce or manipulate anyone into being good. “Goodness comes from within.” They have beaten and brainwashed Alex into submission; what have they accomplished? You act in a kind and morally generous way because you want to, because you think it’s the right thing to do.

This lesson could be applied to organized religion; even if you tantalize a bad apple with tales of heavens’ spoils and frighten them with stories about a fiery hell, they will eventually show their rotten core. And naturally, Alex gets the last laugh, even while both political parties use him as a puppet for their own personal gain.

“A Clockwork Orange” is a culturally significant work, but it’s not for the extremely sensitive or those with weak stomachs. Furthermore, it’s definitely not for kids or impressionable teens. A triumph of visuals and sound mixing, it can be a little bit disturbing at times and deeply puzzling at others, but it’s become a cultural icon for a reason. Malcolm McDowell’s maniacally inspired performance seals the deal that though “A Clockwork Orange” is not a perfect movie, it’s a pretty damn good one.

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Still (2014)

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A note to curious viewers looking for the next great revenge flick- make no mistake, “Taxi Driver” this is not. Also, movie goers expecting Aidan Gillen to go all “Dead Man’s Shoes” on a group of thugs will be sorely disappointed. Aidan Gillen is no Paddy Considine (it’s okay, Gillen- we love you anyway) and “Still” is a drab, painfully slow-moving exercise in banality.

Tom Carver (Gillen) plays Tom, a middle-aged photographer barely developed beyond his long-standing grief at the death of his teenaged son in a hit-and-run, his mean streak (displayed toward his ex-wife Rachel (Amanda Meeling,) and his substance abuse problem. When a gang of youths rather abruptly begins terrorizing him, engaging in behavior that predictably leads to the assault of his girlfriend (Elodie Yung,)

Tom is unsure of what to do about the attacks but his journalist friend Ed (Jonathan Slinger ) convinces him to take action, spewing Republican rhetoric (‘these are minors! They’ll get a couple of years tops in a cushy facility with a big-screen TV and an XBox! An XBox!’) while getting himself and Tom plastered. Tom finally decides to man up and get brutal revenge on his tormentors. But at what cost?

Too much exposition, too much talking (blah-blah-blah) and not enough substantial dialogue… oddly, one of the biggest problems about “Still” is the color scheme. Obviously a low-budget flick (that’s putting it nicely,) this film has a dull, flat palate and a few scenes are appear to be shot through a reddish color filter that is just distracting. Color filters can be effective and arresting, look at “Cold in July,” based on a novel by Joe R. Landsdale. Those colors grabbed you and didn’t let you go. The colors in “Still” are lifeless and sometimes seem simply arbitrary.

Aidan Gillen is okay (sporting an inflection weirdly reminiscent of his character in “Game of Thrones” and his trademark smirk) but Elodie Yung and Sonny Green (as the lead hood) leave a lot to be desired in the acting department. The real travesty of this movie, however is the ending. Let me set the scene (spoilers, obviously.)

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The teen criminals have gang-raped Tom’s girlfriend, put a flayed cat on his doorstep, and beaten a little boy Tom has befriended, almost killing him in the process. Tom abducts one of the boys and prepares to put him on a nightmarish (and potentially fatal) high, when the teen begs for mercy and drops a bombshell. Apparently, Tom’s son ran with the gang and died (surprise!) not in a hit-an-run, but in a game of chicken with his group.

To put the icing on the cake (drumroll, please,) Tom’s dearly departed son was involved in the murder of a woman when he was alive. Isn’t it convenient that the gang that randomly targeted Tom were also directly associated with his son. The boy’s ultimatum is this- if your son was a piece-of-shit thug like me, why can’t you have mercy and spare my miserable life? The problem is, Tom has already given the little schmuck the killer injection. And, thus, the poor lad (and animal abuser, rapist, and bully) dies in the sobbing Gillen’s arms. And the credits roll. No shit.

Seriously, fuck this movie. You wait the whole fucking film for Gillen to get an awesome and well-deserved revenge, and he ends up offering unconditional forgiveness to the kid through a plot contrivance for something that is irrelevant (so, my son was a shit. Does that make you any less of a shit?) Forget the rape, forget the assault of a young kid, forget everything. Just bask in the emotion of the moment. Fuck 😛

The thing is, I’m not a glutton for sadistic retribution. I’m pretty Liberal in a lot of ways. But I was expecting a revenge film with themes of grief and sadness. Not fucking grief porn, and pretty poorly executed grief porn at that. There was no reason Tom should have let a turd-squirt like that off the hook. Thus, the film is a massive let-down. So it’s not just the cheap quality, or the dodgy acting, or the total lack of likable characters. It’s everything. It’s all of the above.  Plus the shitstain of an ending. Pity.

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I love Aidan Gillen, including his low-budget roles (“Buddy Boy,” “Treacle Jr.”) But this movie is a fail. Maybe if I’d gone in with slightly different expectations it would have been a passable experience. Alas. This movie is not totally terrible, but it’s hardly worth bothering with. Pass, dear and few readers. Definitely pass.