As more states legalize recreational marijuana, some might feel it’s likely that one day the entire country might get with the program. Others might say that whoever thinks that way must be smoking some real good shit and hasn’t been paying attention to the news. That’s because if Jeff Sessions, President-elect Trump’s nomination for Attorney General, comes into power, it could mean a serious pushback on various pro-weed victories. Sessions has a history of being a hard-ass about marijuana, so don’t be surprised if his future plans include fucking up your future smoke sessions.
Here’s hoping that Sessions doesn’t get the job. Speaking of jobs, many of you are probably getting ready for a holiday party at your workplace. Unfortunately, a lot of these shindigs can use some serious spicing up because they’re so damn stuffy. (See the new comedy Office Christmas Party for further details.) Well, if you plan on risking getting a little loose at the next work party, make sure to read this and this before you go. They may well prevent your life from spinning out of control.
Obviously, after all that partying, you will want to get comfortable, chill out for a bit, and watch movies. Here are some can’t-miss recommendations to check out.
Starring: Antonythasan Jesuthasan, Kalieaswari Srinivasan, Claudine Vinasithamby
Director: Jacques Audiard
Summary: Sri Lankan refugees brought together by necessity begin anew in French projects.
There’s a moment in Dheepan in which the refugee who the film is named after tries to rationalize to the woman that is posing as his wife that the random, drug-related shootings in the housing projects where they now live and work are not as bad as the violence they escaped from in their war-torn homeland. Because of his past life as a Tamil Tiger engaged in a horrific civil war, Dheepan (Jesuthasan, who was actually a soldier in his youth) has compartmentalized violence, deciding he can live with this level of deadly threat.
This, of course, is a sad view to have of life. This man has been traumatized by combat yet doesn’t have the luxury to deal with the repercussions it had on him as he tries to adapt to the language, customs and laws of a foreign country. His life now is consumed with finding shelter, earning income, and hopefully even love with the stranger who fled Sri Lanka with him. (In order to leave, Dheepan had to use the passports of a dead man and his family, so he brought along a woman named Yalini [Srinivasan] and Illayaal [Vinasithamby], a child chosen at a camp because she had no parents.) But will this makeshift “family” stay together? Dheepan is not the only one who has suffered the effects of war and displacement. Yalini and Illayaal must also face up to the fear and intimidation of being in a new land.
Audiard’s steady and convincing portrayal of people caught between two worlds demonstrates that the struggles of immigrants are usually far more vast and complicated than expected. For some, it’s not just about seeking a better life, but being able to just live period.
White Girl (2016)
Starring: Morgan Saylor, Brian “Sene” Marc, Justin Bartha, India Menuez
Director: Elizabeth Wood
Genre: Drama, Exploitation
Summary: A college student who loves cocaine too much parties her life away.
It hardly appears that there’s any other intention for White Girl other than shock value. With its wall-to-wall drug use and graphic sex scenes that include sniffing blow off a dude’s dick in a bathroom stall, its main goal is seemingly to get viewers to drop their jaws rather than fleshing out the main character of Leah (played with wide-eyed wonderment by Saylor). We know very little about her. Is she self-medicating, suffering from low self-esteem, or rebelling against restrictions back home? Or have we, as viewers, been programmed to think this way? Maybe, she simply loves snorting coke and can’t stop. Sometimes people want to have fun but things get out of control. Still, a little more insight into her life would have been welcomed.
Honestly, though, almost all the characters in White Girl are what you expect them to be in a movie like this. The young Latinos standing on the corner that Leah’s friend stereotypes as drug dealers turn out to be drug dealers. In a thinly-veiled jab at Vice or American Apparel, the asshole hipster boss where the white girl interns turns out to be a douche (well played by Bartha). The creepy old men, from cab drivers to lawyers, turn out to be sexual predators when presented with an opportunity. And the white girl is so unaware of her privilege she brazenly flaunts her drug use in the club.
Yet, even without any real surprises, the movie is compellingly watchable. It’s sleazy, no doubt, but it doesn’t drag and is well put together. By presenting a portrait of a sordid life without judgments, it avoids being preachy, and more significant, doesn’t glamorize the dangerous lifestyle choice.
Stretch and Bobbito: Radio That Changed Lives (2015)
Starring: Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito
Director: Bobbito Garcia
Genre: Music, Documentary
Summary: The history and highlights of one of NYC’s greatest rap radio shows.
For those in the know, DJ Stretch Armstrong and host Bobbito Garcia created a phenomenal platform in the ’90s for hundreds of rappers and DJs, many of whom went on to become major hip-hop stars. Artists like Nas, Jay Z, Biggie, Fat Joe, Wu-Tang, Busta Rhymes, and many more received their first big push on the late night show that aired on WKCR 89.9FM (or “89 Tec 9,” as it was affectionately referred to). This small college radio station at Columbia University was a proving ground for upcoming MCs who were invited by Stretch and Bob to hang and chill, but also freestyle.
It was an exciting time, as listeners got to hear so much pure, hungry talent years before some of them would go on to achieve crazy commercial success. The show was so good that dedicated fans religiously tuned in each Thursday night, staying up until 5 a.m. to catch the whole show. People who taped episodes would share with friends and family and some of those cassettes circulated around the world. When it was all said and done, Stretch and Bobbito’s show transformed the mix show format by pumping out exclusive tracks, rare demos, and raw, uncut humor (helped by the snapping prowess of co-host Lord Sear) that you couldn’t get anywhere else.
This well-constructed documentary is an entertaining look back at some of the show’s highlights (including the time Jay Z rhymed alongside the late Big L) and features many of the rap icons reminiscing about their experiences on the air. This is mandatory viewing for any true hip-hop head.
Rainbow Time (2016)
Starring: Linas Phillips, Melanie Lynskey, Timm Sharp, Tobin Bell
Director: Linas Phillips
Summary: A perpetually horny and developmentally disabled adult has a crush on his brother’s girlfriend.
It’s not that often that we see in movies a person like the one Linas Phillips portrays in Rainbow Time. Phillips is Shonzi, a fan of the Fonz, pretty women, and making shot-on-video home movies. Shonzi also had the oxygen to his brain disrupted when the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck while in the womb. Now a grown man, he’s lived a sheltered life, still at home with his dad and basically stuck in his ways: He says out loud everything he’s thinking and doesn’t take too kindly to being told no. But he’s also capable of being manipulative in his own way, knowing that he can sometimes push for what he wants. So when Shonzi’s brother Todd (Sharp) and girlfriend Lindsay (Lynskey, in a praise-worthy performance) come over to visit, he finagles every way he can to get some seldom, up close female interaction.
What’s refreshing about Rainbow Time is that it fully acknowledges how sexually frustrated a guy like Shonzi would be, something most movies about people with disabilities shy away from, preferring to handle these type of characters with kid gloves. And Shonzi’s advances are not wholesome—he’s crude and pushy. What offsets that is that Lindsay is an ever-so-patient feminist who tries her best to be nice to Shonzi, but also attempts to teach him not to objectify women. But as Shonzi struggles to comprehend, Todd is also faced with coming to terms with his own hang-ups with his brother, his significant other, and himself. In the end, the movie offers an honest look at how every relationship has its own quirks.
Time Lapse (2014)
Starring: Danielle Panabaker, Matt O'Leary, George Finn
Director: Bradley King
Summary: Roommates discover a camera that photographs the future.
A few weeks ago, in a review for Circle (2015), I noted that that film’s plot felt like a lost episode of The Twilight Zone. Time Lapse also fits that criteria, even more so since there was actually an episode where people come across a camera that spits out photos of events that haven’t happened yet, just like this movie does. It’s probably safe to assume that most people would use such a device to make money. The protagonists in Time Lapse are no different.
After figuring out that a missing scientist neighbor has invented a machine with this incredible power, gambler Jasper (Finn) wastes no time in coming up with a get-rich-quick scheme while Finn (O’Leary) and his girlfriend Callie (Panabaker) alternate between trying to reason with him and helping his plan along. Little by little, however, the machine exerts control over them, dominating every decision they make.
As usually is the case whenever the possibility of easy cash arises, trouble is never far behind. The trio must deal with some bad guys, but also their own greed, which, as they find out, can be just as dangerous as any villain.
If you enjoy Time Lapse, you might want to also check out Synchronicity (2015), an ambitious and atmospheric feature about a scientist who creates a wormhole in the space-time continuum and the consequences that ensue. The movie stretches a limited budget beyond its limit, constructing a world that looks both modern and futuristic. But be forewarned: It’s not for everybody. It might take more than one viewing to fully understand what is going on.