With so much attention being put on the daily amateur league actions of the Trump administration, which range from hateful to treasonous, one can easily overlook the future of the legalized cannabis industry, and what might happen if it gets shut down.
Only time will tell if Trump’s continuation of the War on Drugs will focus on drug cartels or businesses on this side of the wall. There are some politicians who, if they’re to be believed, say they will fight any White House moves to mess with existing recreational weed legislation.
While marijuana users have a right to be concerned, a sliver of hope presented itself when the DEA recently removed weed propaganda from its website. One can only hope that decriminalization continues and legal businesses are given the opportunity to flourish. There are some intriguing enterprises out there for a weed-friendly nation.
Now, time for some movies….
Warning: May contain spoilers.
Starring: Jürgen Vogel, Moritz Bleibtreu, Petra Schmidt-Schaller, Georg Friedrich
Director: Maximilian Erlenwein
Genre: Psychological Drama, Crime, Thriller, Foreign
Summary: A motorcycle mechanic starts having visions of a man only he can see and hear.
OK, first a confession: I’m not sure why this movie is called Stereo. It’s not like the main guy, a German dude named Erik (Vogel), walks around with a boombox or is some kind of vinyl enthusiast or anything like that. He’s more likely to have a wrench in his hand while working at his auto shop, or just be happily living with his girlfriend and her young daughter.
Then one day a caravan passes by carrying people who claim to know Erik, but whom he doesn’t recognize. Trying to figure out who they are is only just scratching the surface of the problems awaiting our protagonist, who finds himself slipping into paranoia.
But even as Erik questions his sanity and starts losing control, there’s a restrained approach to his situation that’s beneficial as the film pushes forward to an intense showdown between him and some real bad hombres. He’s up against some daunting odds, but is just levelheaded enough to fight through his trepidation and keep going in a somewhat believable fashion.
When it’s all said and done, the story here is not particularly strong, and one suspects that maybe some details have been lost in the translation. Despite potential plot holes, however, the movie holds together well. There’s some elegant camera work that’s not only marvelous to look at, but that is quite ominous in the way it frames characters, making it loud and clear that violence lurks around the corner.
God’s Pocket (2014)
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Christina Hendricks, John Turturro, Richard Jenkins
Director: John Slattery
Genre: Drama, Crime
Summary: The death of a local sets off a series of events in a rough, working-class neighborhood.
Directed by Mad Men’s John Slattery (silver-haired Roger Sterling) and co-starring Christina Hendricks (redhead Joan Harris), God’s Pocket also features one of the last roles taken on by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, which undoubtedly casts a long shadow on the already bleak material.
The film is based on Peter Dexter’s 1983 novel and set during the late ’70s in a rough part of Philadelphia. Slattery recreates the era convincingly, paying close attention to every gritty detail. Like its working class characters, the movie is often crude, and when it’s funny, it’s funny in a macabre manner. No need for kid gloves here.
Hoffman is Mickey, a guy with a perpetually downtrodden demeanor who lives with Jeannie (Hendricks), a disillusioned housewife with a problematic grown son (Caleb Landry Jones). Jeannie is attractive and you can tell Mickey has to do everything he can to make her happy. Because money is tight, he and his friend Bird (Turturro) do what they can to make ends meet, including gambling and participating in illegal activities. Slowly but surely, Mickey and Bird get themselves in a hell of a fix that they’ll need some dumb luck to get out of.
God’s Pocket is a confidently constructed and underappreciated drama that understands small communities where everybody knows each other’s business, which usually means one can see another person’s problem before they can see their own. It also makes a strong statement about the anger, fear, and tribalism that fuels this country, one small area at a time.
Girlfriend’s Day (2017)
Starring: Bob Odenkirk, Amber Tamblyn, Stacy Keach, Larry Fessenden
Director: Michael Stephenson
Genre: Comedy, Mystery
Summary: A romance greeting card writer gets caught in middle of murderous whodunnit.
Bob Odenkirk’s latest film exists in a fanciful universe where the people who pen the touching sentiments in greeting cards are known by name and openly appreciated by the public. Sure, everything else looks normal, but any story that starts with a short narration by David Lynch is bound to be a little magical.
In this card-loving world, Ray (Odenkirk) was once the king. That’s before his wife left him for a rival. Now struggling with writer’s block, he tries desperately to get his mojo back. But things get complicated when the body of a famous author is discovered. His death is ruled a suicide, but Ray knows better.
Grisly details aside, what we have here is a thoroughly enjoyable send-up of film noir with Odenkirk playing a guy likely to remind viewers of his popular Saul Goodman character. Once Ray starts investigating what the hell is exactly going on, one begins noticing loose allusions to Chinatown: In place of a bandage on his nose like Jack Nicholson’s Jake Gittes, Ray has a cast on his arm; and instead of getting sliced with a switchblade he gets a vicious paper cut inflicted on him by some hilarious goons (Toby Huss and David Sullivan).
Further allusions to Polanski’s classic include the seasoned Stacy Keach as a patriarch figure similar to John Huston. But, in a movie with no shortage of strong minor roles, Kevin O’Grady as an obnoxious henchman and Steven Michael Quezada of Breaking Bad also stand out. Just as good is the fact that the film stays true to its film noir roots and doesn’t let the love story between Ray and bookstore employee Jill (Tamblyn) turn schmaltzy.
Trash Fire (2016)
Starring: Adrian Grenier, Angela Trimbur, Fionnula Flanagan, AnnaLynne McCord
Director: Richard Bates Jr.
Genre: Dark Comedy, Horror
Summary: An unhappy couple tries to strengthen their relationship by visiting the man’s bizarre relatives.
Usually when recommending a movie to somebody it’s best to avoid pointing out any kind of plot twists. Let people be surprised, dammit. But, in this case, it’s probably a good idea to say that the first 20 minutes or so of Trash Fire are excruciatingly bad. Not technically bad, as you can tell there are talented people behind the camera, and not totally bad, since there are a couple of cruel jokes that hit their target. But the movie tries way too hard to be “edgy” and confrontational. Or maybe it’s just an embarrassingly ill-advised misdirection?
Whatever the case, once the movie does a 180 and loses the pretentious posturing it settles into an oddly intoxicating groove with weird religious overtones that should keep most eyes glued to the screen.
As the young bickering couple in the midst of emotional warfare, Owen (Grenier) and Isabel (Trimbur) are interesting enough to hold our attention through the rough start, but it’s Fionnula Flanagan as a mean-as-hell grandmother with a not-so-maternal instinct who steals the show. Flanagan has been in the acting game for 50 years, and she uses all of her experience in a part that turns out to be more wild than expected. AnnaLynne McCord, who starred in Excision (also directed by Richard Bates Jr.) is quite good as well as Owen’s permanently damaged sister Pearl.
As you can guess, Trash Fire is not for everyone. Not even remotely close. You might even feel like you just got burnt after watching it. Still, you’re unlikely to forget it.
Starring: Guy Pearce, Cobie Smulders, Kevin Corrigan
Director: Andrew Bujalski
Summary: A pair of personal trainers find themselves forming an unlikely union with an out-of-shape, middle-aged stoner with money.
Results is about a guy named Danny (Corrigan), who one day decides to get a personal trainer, leading him to stop by a nearby gym owned by Trevor (Pearce), a health nut who deeply believes in having a positive mental attitude. Trevor assigns Kat (Smulders), an aggressive instructor who speaks her mind, to work with Danny. The rest of the movie is basically just them trying to figure out their individual hang-ups.
Although you’d classify Results as a romantic comedy, it detours into slice-of-life moments not found in your typical romcom. Overall, it’s not LOL-funny, either. It’s way more low-key, offbeat humorous, which obviously will read as “boring” to a lot of people. Perhaps the movie speaks to older audiences that can relate to the difficulties of trying to change after doing things the same way for a long time.
All the acting is on point, but the best performance is by Corrigan, who after unexpectedly getting rich overnight, plays electric guitar all day and offers $200 online for someone to come to his house and hook up his new TV or to bring him a pet cat. He always looks like he’s gonna blow up in anger, but underneath he’s actually a laid-back dude who doesn’t let the money go to his head. (Also worth mentioning are Anthony Michael Hall and Brooklyn Decker as a chauvinist fitness guru and his intelligent and tolerant wife.)
Results is directed by Andrew Bujalski, who made the weirdly cool indie Computer Chess. This is a decidedly more mainstream film, in appearance at least. While it won’t grab everybody, it does make observations about why we stick with dysfunctional relationships and how no amount of self-help can protect you from getting emotionally hurt.