Documentary Review: Football, rape and Small Town values are exposed in “Roll Red Roll”

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For years, Steubenville, Ohio was thought of as, well, the hometown of crooner, actor and “Rat Pack” hipster Dean Martin — when it was thought of at all.

In the summer of 2012,  you could find its other source of pride and fame on a placard at the entrance to the local high school football stadium. Steubenville’s Big Red were 15-time Ohio state champions already, with titles dating back to 1925 and with their latest title as recent as the previous season.

But that opening image of the documentary “Roll Red Roll” is a warning sign of misplaced priorities and an avoidable tragedy to come, one that stains the city to this day. Because when we hear the word “Steubenville” now, we think of rape and jock privilege, of The Game that Ate America and how it took over the small town values that places like Steubenville are supposed to embody.

Director Nancy Schwartzman takes us into a crime, the investigation of it, the impact of reporting on that crime and the changing tides of local and national public opinion about what we used to call “date rape” in this gripping, disturbing and brilliant “anatomy of a rape” film.

She jars us not with that opening image of the stadium and the state titles, or with the dimly lit street scene she cuts to. It’s the “evidence” audio of chuckling young men that chills you to the marrow.

“That girl…what did they DO with that girl?” “She is SO raped right now!” These kids use the term “Dead Body” with contempt, its meaning almost instantly obvious even before the word “trained” pops up.

No, the victim didn’t die here. Her innocence did, and her reputation. These jocks were using their slang for a girl so drunk she has passed out, which the predators among them see as an opportunity.

“If that gets around, then you might go to jail.”

We see the frantic, angry and despairing text messages from the victim “Jane Doe,” the next AM — “Who did that to me?”

Schwartzman settles in to answer that question, tracking first the maligned (perhaps unfairly) police investigation, the football team and school system’s response (inept, culpable), the reporting on a story that ended with an Anonymous hack that turned “The Steubenville Rape” into a cause and a scandal that spread around the world.

We see Detective J.P.  Rigaud grill teen after teen, participants in the August 2012 evening’s parties that point us toward what happened.

“I need to know everything from you, from Saturday night through early Sunday,” he tells every girl and boy that sits down in front of him.

“We kept tryin’ to tell her, ‘You don’t want to go with them.,” one girl recalls. “‘You wanna go with back with your friends.’ We knew she’d be safer with us.”

But the victim was an outsider, “not a close friend” one witness admits, apologizing for not taking the extra step of arm-twisting Jane Doe into staying with the crowd.

What we’re watching is the police doing the right thing, taking the accusation seriously, methodical justice being served.

Then the story’s digital component moves to the fore, totally out of police control. One of the accused, quarterback Trent Mays, texts and complains and pleads with the victim.

Local sports talk radio gives the first hint it’s heard something is up, but won’t go any further.

But one person who does is blogger, activist and Steubenville native Alexandria Goddard. Whatever the police are piecing together, seizing phone after phone of the accused, bystanders and the victim, Goddard is skilled enough to find online — names of players, their social media clues about where the parties were, Twitter accounts and deleted tweets, Instagram and other online revelations from a generation that is living its life on line in a tone-deaf teen bubble of no privacy, amorality and gossip.

And what Goddard pieces together at Prinniefied.com becomes the megaphone that turns this tragedy into a story and that story into a cause.

Schwartzman interviewed Goddard and lots of townsfolk in painting her picture not just of a crime, how it was investigated and how it was revealed to the world. She captures the climate where this sort of thing was tolerated or at least swept under the rug — not just in Steubenville, but in America at large.

The kids had no clue what they were perpetuating with their “When are these hoes gonna learn?” comments, damning photos, their drunkenly amoral commentary on what they heard had happened or was happening as they taped their evening of beer pong and bad decisions.

Goddard tears up at how this girl — named on Fox and other less rape-sensitive cable news channels — was not just assaulted, but “humiliated” by her peers. Schwartzman lets us marvel at how Goddard’s digging through Twitter archives shows “It was ALL out there”  — comments, attitudes, excuses, accusations and photographs  — of a drunken teenage girl, a “dead body,” being dragged to and fro.

Screen captures don’t lie. One teen creep jokes “Song of the night is definitely ‘Rape Me’ by Nirvana.” A sentient adult is left aghast. Who RAISED them?

For her trouble, Goddard was sued even though “all I did” was post their handiwork, “their own words.”

We hear the victim being poor-mouthed, for her clothes, for her own behavior. And we hear talk radio “covering” it, letting callers vent and criticize her for what the host wants to call a “He said, she said” situation.

One name I didn’t catch was that of an utter idiot talk show host declaring “It’s easier to tell your parents you were raped than ‘Mom, Dad, I got drunk and decided to let three guys have their way with me.'”

He might have daughters, but he hasn’t got a clue.

Goddard may have thought she knew the town she grew up in and figured that others would be as shocked as she was by this “rotten onion” she was peeling. But she took the brunt of the heat as other news organizations (the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper) only later took up the story.

“Is this football town putting its daughters at risk by protecting its sons?” was the question Plain Dealer reporter Rachel Dissell asked.

And Goddard couldn’t have foreseen that this “entrenched football culture” town was about to be laid bare for the world to see how screwed up its priorities were. We catch  defensive, buck-passing school superintendent Mike McVey on local TV, and are treated to the police interview with Reno Saccoccia, the defend-his-players-no-matter-what football coach. Det. Giraud has to open the man’s eyes by explaining legal rape and consent to someone whose bigger concern seemed to be that his players were out drinking.

And then The Hive — the Internet’s collective mind and some say “Outrage Machine” takes up the story as Anonymous unearths the videos that left the world shocked. Protesters started turning up in Steubenville, demanding justice that apparently was being served, if just too slowly to calm the outraged.

There’s a lot to digest in Schwartzman’s film, from the role football plays in remote, dead-end towns like this all over America — a way out for some kids, a “fraternity for life” for those who stay behind — to the shocking speed of change in attitudes about consent and rape that this case hastened by bringing them into the light.

I was most impressed by its recounting of a lonely unpaid citizen journalist’s quest to get the facts out there (“tried and convicted online” or not) and tell a story the town didn’t want to hear. If we sense that Steubenville was changed by this, even reluctantly, that mostly comes down to Alexandria Goddard.

Schwartzman has made an utterly riveting “true crime” film and an eye-opening updating of the “How I Got that Story” tale, simply letting events unfold on camera in pretty much the order they did in town. “Roll Red Roll” is a terrific use of the documentary form.

If you miss it in cinemas, “Roll Red Roll” is coming to PBS on June 17, kicking off another season of the documentary series “POV.”

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MPAA Rating: unrated, adult subject matter, profanity

Credits:Directed by Nancy Schwartzman, script by . A Together Films/PBS POV release.

Running time: 1:19

 

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Movie Review: “The Sex Trip”

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First of all, nobody managed the “macho jerk guy who becomes a woman” movie thing better than Ellen Barkin in “Switch.”

Blake “Pink Panther” Edwards writing and directing, and the sexy Barkin — all gross and profane and genuinely puzzled about how women manage “these things” (breasts) and “all this HAIR” — was “on fleek,” as nobody said back in 1991.

The only problem with that comedy from the Golden Age of Body Switch Comedies? It sucked. Most did, and most still do — save for the recent French Netflix take on this “Man learns how hard women have it” version of the tale, “I Am Not an Easy Man.”

So that’s what “The Sex Trip” has working against it. A low-budget riff on the piggish man condemned to try being a woman for a while, it rallies for a few fun scenes, spends too much time in the toilet (literally) and suffers from a cast in which nobody makes you forget how good Barkin was in a bad film that covered the same ground almost 30 years ago.

Eddie Greenleaf (actor and British TV presenter Marc Crumpton) is a successful “How To” author. It’s just that his books — “52 Pick-Up” is one title — are about how to con women into sleeping with you.

He has “three “rules of engagement” he tells an appalled female TV interviewer — “‘Trigger her interest,’ ‘Play indifferent’ and then ‘Go for the kill.'”

He’s got the AMG Mercedes and Architectural Digest home to show for his success. But he’s a heartless jerk. And one night a homeless crone (Eve Sigall) confronts him on the way to a fashion show.

Women are just “notches on your bedpost…that’s a METAPHOR Eddie!” He needs to kiss her to “See the beauty in ALL women!”

He refuses, and that’s how Eddie wakes up equally-accented with the body of an Edna, “Eddie’s sister!” Jade Ramsey (“The Myth of the American Sleepover” and TV’s “The House of Anubis”) plays this version of Eddie, shocked and furious at this turn of events, but seemingly not so concerned that she spends day and night searching for the witch who put him/her under this spell.

Seriously, once Eddie/Edna has broken the news to piggish agent Steve (Louis Mandylor, funny in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” funny here), and they’ve made one trip to a homeless shelter in search of that witch, here’s what “The Sex Trip” script treats us to.

Edna goes in search of “some chick clothes.” See Edna test-drive her first bra, her first thong.

“Steve? What do you think?”

“Marry me!”

There’s her first gay hairdresser (Eric Carrigan) — “I’m gonna give you more waves than a Hawaiian surf competition!”

And her first waxing…wait, really? Followed by Edna’s first trip to the women’s locker room — gawk city, with all the naked, parading tattooed women looking like bartenders and/or strippers.

“Do you think you could rub some lotion on my back, please? Rub me REALLY good!”

A couple of things stand out and work here, starting with Mandylor’s playing of Steve as a bit on the fence on the whole sexuality thing. Homoerotic jabs at a sexist pig are easy laughs, and Steve’s a little of both.

“Hey Dreamboat,” he purrs to a potential bar pickup. “Not YOU, Shipwreck!”

And Edna’s first trip to a Sex shop run by sisters (Dahlia Tequali and Dia Tequali) is one long giggle.

“Welcome to Adult Warehouse, the paradise for sexually active adults” run by sisters they chirp in perfect sync. Need some help help getting “your Amelia Earhart on?” As in flying “solo” sexually? They’re experts. Check out their names — Dill and Doh.

The rest of “The Sex Trip” is a tedious ride indeed, from Edna’s makeover of a pert wallflower who runs a homeless shelter, Jess (Charlotte Ellen Price) to Ramsey’s scenes playing newly-outraged at the sexism the world shows him/her as a man-in-the-body-of-a-woman. Yes, Eddie will “grow” into a better man. Sure.

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The script has few funny scenes or even lines. And as an aside to writer Marc Prey and co-writer and director Anthony G. Cohen, “first menstrual cycle” can be funny or gross, but generally not both. And vomiting on the camera lens (Edna can hold her liquor, but not Jess)? Almost never funny.

“Sex Trip” demonstrates that sometimes a tired idea is just that, tired.

1half-star

MPAA Rating: unrated. sexually explicit

Cast: Jade Ramsey, Louis Mandylor, Marc Crumpton, Charlotte Ellen Price, Rachel Breitag, Natasha Blasick

Credits:Directed by Anthony G. Cohen, script by Marc Prey and Anthony G. Cohen. An Ammo release.

Running time: 1:20

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Preview: “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” a first trailer/first look at Tarantino’s latest

Here you go.

Sensational re-creation of Hollywood — the film biz (on the B-movie backlots) circa 1969.

Great role for Brad Pitt, jaded/funny stunt man. Leo D. gets to send up his Oscar winning ladies man “movie star” image.

No hint of the Manson Family, and a whole lot of co-stars are left out of this trailer for the July 26 release of Sony’s (NOT Harvey Weinstein’s) “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”

This is an era that Quentin T. knows well, and a general subject — 1969-75 Hollywood history — he’s at home in. This should be great.

 

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Movie Review: “Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase”

 

 

Here’s one to catch at Red Box, on Netflix or your favorite “family” movie channel.

Everything about “Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase” says, firmly and with conviction, “TV movie.”

Sophia Lillis, who played a young Amy Adams (character) on TV’s “Sharp Objects” is a properly plucky (if pale) and intrepid sleuth in this nicely updated but thin and half-speed re-boot of a teen heroine who dates — fictionally — from The Great Depression.

She’s mouthy, moody, headstrong and independent — a skateboarder inclined to compliment a deputy sheriff with how happy she is that he’s not “as much of a tool” as she thought he was.

Her “superpowers,” her Aunt (Andrea Anders) reminds her, upon her moving to tiny River Heights, are “perseverance and righteousness.” But in this backward berg in which Chicagoan Nancy and her father (Sam Trammell) have re-settled in, it’s her powers of observation, unflappable ability to reason, rationalize and decode clues on her feet that will serve her well.

The town’s slated to get a commuter train, and as that will entail destroying some of the character of the place and taking down some landmark old homes, Nancy’s lawyer-dad is fighting it.

We figure out who the villains of the picture are the moment we see them.

One of them might be Mean Derek (Evan Castilloe, ALSO of “Sharp Objects”) and his Mean Girl Girlfriend Helen (Laura Wiggins). But Helen’s aged Aunt Flora (Linda Lavin, TV’s “Alice”) isn’t — a villain, I mean.

Her historic house is haunted, she says. And getting the blow-off from the sheriff’s department isn’t reassuring.

“I have stared down communism,” the octogenarian growls. No, she ain’t afraid of no ghost.

Neither is Nancy, who ignores her suspicions about the Mean Girl and Mean Girl Boyfriend (“Rich people are PSYCHOS!”) and spends the night to do a little sleuthing and debunking.

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This “Nancy Drew” gives up the ghost in a lot of regards — its villains, for starters, the “mystery,” the story and the failed attempts over the years to revive this character (Emma Roberts made a memorable throwback Nancy back in 2007 — and the first version of the “Hidden Staircase” story was filmed back in 1939) for the age group she was once intended for — teens. This “Drew” picture skews younger, and the director only figures that out with a bit of slapstick in the opening prank, and the finale.

What does the critics’ put-down “TV movie” mean in this day and age? It has to do with cut-rate casting. Ms. Lillis makes a fine Nancy — all redheaded pluck — but surrounding her with no-names is classic “cut-rate Georgia-filmed TV movie” casting.

Lavin can still handle a punch line — Aunt Flora wondering if “my cheese was finally sliding off the cracker,” comparing her bare-belly-button (in EVERY outfit) niece’s generation to hers — “We had better HAIR back then.”

The rest? Not even the “You’re REALLY grounded this time” is something these folks can make funny.

The classic TV movie approach to filmmaking includes slack pacing and a picture that tells its story in a series of endless BIG close-ups of the leads. Teevee was historically a close-up medium, you see — faces lost in wide shots in the pre-HD “small screen” dark ages.

The result — then and now — is typically dull, a picture best enjoyed under the freedom of DVR, or better yet walking out of the room during, or before and after commercial breaks. You can rest assured you aren’t missing much.

1half-star

MPAA Rating: PG for peril, suggestive material, thematic elements and language

Cast: Sophia Lillis, Sam Trammell, Zoe Renee, Andrea Anders, Mackenzie Graham, Laura Wiggins and Linda Lavin

Credits:Directed by Katt Shea, script by Nina Fiore and John Herrera. A Warner Brothers release.

Running time: 1:29

 

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Movie Review: Jordan Peele suggests We Should be Scared of “Us”

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“Us” isn’t the scintillating, scary satiric indictment of racism in America that “Get Out” was. So by that measure, it’s a disappointment.

But Jordan Peele’s made another horror film that will have audiences chattering in tones of “What’s it REALLY about?” as they exit the cineplex, so call that a “win” and may Universal keep millions upon millions of dollars out of the hands of Disney…for now.

It’s just that his riff on race has turned to into a critique on class, a trickier subject. His surprise twists aren’t that surprising and seem pointless as he circles around his “point.”

And he’s made a zombie invasion thriller/“Twilight Zone” homage that writes and then breaks its own rules. Sometimes you kill them and they stay dead, often they don’t, etc.

So we have met a mixed bag of a thriller, and it is “Us.”

The Wilsons are African American Affluenza, San Franciscans who have a coastal vacation home north of the city. They get there by Mercedes station wagon, hobnob with friends just as affluent — designer homes, Land Rovers.

But Santa Cruz has horrific memories for wife and mother Adelaide (Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o). The film’s prologue shows her in 1986, a tiny tyke whose distracted father lost track of her at a beachside amusement park. One wander into the mirrored funhouse later and little Addie was scarred for life — or at least a very long time.

Gabe (Winston Duke, Nyong’o’s “Black Panther” co-star) is somewhat clueless about all that. He’s intent on getting the kids (Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex) to that same beach, to catching up with their Keeping Up with the Joneses friends (Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker).

That beach is where Addie starts seeing “coincidences,” and where her pranks-prone little boy Jason wanders off and sees a strange man, one we’ve already noted has a Biblical prophecy on his cardboard panhandler’s note — “Jeremiah 11:11.”

So it’s no shock when that very night, the lights flicker and four rough-hewn, crazy-eyed strangers dressed in red jump suits show up in their driveway.

They don’t respond to questions or threats. And when the two kids in this “family” skitter into the bushes and the hulking patriarch stomps forward, Addie’s long since called the cops.

As if they’ll save them.

The standard murderous-strangers-breaking-into-the-house scenario ensues and “Keep calm, keep our head and everything’s going to be all right” is no comfort. Every pause, every twitch, every step makes the intruders more menacing.

But the revelation — arrived at by little Jason — that they’ve “met the enemy, and he is “Us” — is the twist here. They’re mute (save for the mother), grunting, grinning doppelgangers, wielding gilded scissors. And they’re here for…revenge?

 

Peele has a little fun at the expense of the affluent; competition over new cars, Gabe buying a boat he’s ill-equipped to cope with, the idle drinking and marital hostility of the Wilson’s white friends — cliches, all.

He has more fun with foreshadowing, throwing red herrings — fake clues — in the first act, yanking the rug out later.

But there’s nothing here we haven’t seen in a hundred other lonely-house/strangers-zombies attack movies — each character fighting back to the best of her or his strengths, letting us root for each in turn.

Duke is funny as the hapless Dad playing at being butch, making Dad jokes, playing up Dad hypocrisies (“We’re SWEARING at the dinner table, now?”).

But Nyong’o’s Addie is in command of this family and has the most information to fight back with in this situation, and Peele wisely hangs the movie on her.  She brings the fierce and her “Lupita: Battle Angel” eyes are the only special effect “Us” needs.

The script’s ties to 1986 and “Hands Across America” are fun to speculate about, the red-attire of the white and black “shadows” who rise up to attack those of us “up here,” above them, has resonance in global and American political terms.

Not that this is nakedly obvious, or even particularly well-developed.

Peele created a cultural phenomenon with “Get Out,” and produced a Spike Lee Oscar. It’s OK that “Us” isn’t on a par with those pictures, merely a decent fright or three or four in a dawdling thriller without enough insidious characters, moments or ideas to warrant its considerable run time.

Taken by itself, it’s thought-provoking enough to pass muster. Get “Get Out” out of your head, because truly, all Peele’s two thrillers have in common is hype.

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MPAA Rating: R for violence/terror, and language.

Cast:Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss

Credits: Written and directed by Jordan Peele. A Universal release.

Running time: 1:56

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Movie Review: Sick and Lovesick Teens kept forever “Five Feet Apart”

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Sure, it’s schmaltzy. That’s a given in any doomed teenagers romance.

Almost as manipulative as “Everything, Everything,” or “A Walk to Remember,” less wrenching than “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” more medical than “The Fault in Our Stars,” almost as drawn-out as, oh, “Romeo and Juliet” — that’s “Five Feet Apart.”

But as anybody who writes a Hollywood check will tell you, cast this overlong dance with death and Cystic Fibrosis right, and the damned thing will work.

That, too, is “Five Feet Apart,” a tear-jerker that jerks tears, a sweetly improbable waltz down a very familiar cinematic path that delivers exactly what it promises, no mean feat in the movies these days.

Haley Lu Richardson of “Split” and “The Edge of Seventeen” is Stella, our heroine-narrator, a “My Daily Breath” online vlogger who posts self-deprecating videos about her struggle with CF from her world, which is pretty much limited to her hospital room.

Her case of CF is so severe she needs a lung transplant before she reaches her senior year in high school. Her regimen is all about prep for that transplant — lung draining, drug taking, lung-exercising and avoiding the other CF patients on her wing at Saint Grace because anything resembling contact could be fatal to them both.

She’s perky, wistful and winsome with her friends headed off to winter break, flippant with her nurse (Kimberly Hebert Gregory).

“What would I do without you?”

“You’d DIE!”

Then the skinny young Johnny Depp rebel (Cole Sprouse of TV’s “Riverdale”) shows up. His name’s Will, and she’s not interested in his distractions.

“You need to lighten up,” he philosophizes. “It’s just life. It’ll be over before you know it.”

The movie? Not so fast.

We have yet to meet Poe (Moises Arias of “The Kings of Summer” and “Pitch Perfect 3”), Stella’s lifelong CF-Gay BFF on the ward, the parents or Dr. Hamid (Parminder Nagra, a star since “Bend it Like Beckham).

We have yet to see the bickering not-a-couple work their way toward a cuter than cute “first date.” Or face the multiple medical crises  brought on by a hospital full of young people straining at the yoke of their illness, wanting to connect — to experience the human touch.

The rules? They begin with the fact that they MUST remain “SIX FEET APART.” As that’s not the title of this Justin Baldoni film — script by Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis — we know we’re dealing with some seriously rebellious rebels here, right?

The complication? Well, Stella isn’t just a stickler for rules and regimentation, she’s “anal, to the point of ‘clinically OCD.'” She’s in charge of her own meds, treatment gear (lung clearing, mucus sucking) and routine. He’s…casual, fatalistic, even.

“Stella, nothing is going to save our lives. We’re breathing borrowed air. Enjoy it!”

Her first hint that she cares is her plea that he follow his regimen, “strictly and completely.” Being anal retentive, she organizes his pills and gives him the app she developed to keep him on task.

It must be love.

“Five Feet Apart” sinks or swims on the couple cast to run the show here, and Richardson is an open-hearted wonder, a human empathy machine. We connect with her in a heartbeat, even though she’s a “type” playing a “type.”

Sprouse makes Will’s caricature of a dying-and-I-know-it teen warm and winning and irresistible — at least to Stella. We buy the connection, buy into the low-heat/pool-cue’s length romance.

Her cautious optimism, his fatalism, her methodical practicality and tact, his Devil may care myopia and bluntness– it works.

“We don’t have time for delicacy, Stella.”

The script is stuffed with quotable doom — “I’ve been dying since I was born.” “This disease is a prison.” And of course, there are the BIG GESTURES.

All of which any adult will expect and see coming long before they arrive. But the teen audience this is intended for? Lend them your hankies. Just try not to be a creeper about it.

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MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, language and suggestive material

Cast: Haley Lu Richardson, Cole Sprouse, Moises Arias, Kimberly Hebert Gregory, Parminder Nagra, Claire Forlani

Credits:Directed by Justin Baldoni, script by Mikki Daughtry, Tobias Iaconis. A CBS/Lionsgate release.

Running time: 1:56

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Preview: Natalie Portman is an Astronaut who Experiences the Transcendent in “Lucy in the Sky”

“The vast celestial everything” would blow anybody’s mind.

TV writer (“Bones,” “Fargo,” “Legion”) Noah Hawley directed this trippy if dated seeming (Space Shuttle?) sci-fi quest into the infinite.

Jon Hamm, Oscar winner Ellen Burstyn, Zazie Beetz and Dan Stevens also star in “Lucy in the Sky,” which opens in limited release later this year. Nice use of the Beatles tune in the trailer, too.

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Documentary Review: “Junkie Hunters” fight the drug scourge, one addict at a time, and the greedy Rehab Industry in “American Relapse”

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Eye-opening and damning, “American Relapse” is a blunt force look at the “cycle” of opioid addiction and the ways this American epidemic has been monetized by those with an eye towards making a buck out of any bad thing that happens.

Fittingly, Pat McGee and Adam Linkenhelt’s documentary begins with a quote by The Ultimate Capitalist — John D. Rockefeller.

“The Way to make money is to buy when blood is running in the streets.”

Artfully shot and cleverly edited, “Relapse” turns its lens on Delray Beach, Florida, “The Rehab Capital of America.” And by focusing on two exceptional, compassionate and “involved” “junkie hunters” — essentially street-level “marketers” who find addicts and try to get them help — the film points both to the commitment of the few and the opportunities for abuse by many others in a system that has been feeding on itself for over a decade.

Allie Severino is a 28 year-old recovering addict, a perfectly made-up and coiffed blonde driving around South Florida, which has become a magnet for heroin addicts thanks to the 1200 or more rehab facilities that have opened in the region, looking for junkies she can help get off the street.

The neighborhoods are sketchy, and many of the people she is looking for are passing out under bridges, in clumps of woods behind supermarkets. Severino notes that it’s “my job to be here,” but that as an ex-addict, she’s still into the “thrill seeker” part of the work.

Thanks to changes in health care laws that treat addiction as a disease and a “pre-existing condition,” there’s money to be made — from insurance companies, from Medicaid. People like Allie can earn up to $2,000 commission for getting an addict into detox.

Frankie Holmes is 38, wearing the scars of his years of addiction on his face. Piercings can’t hide the burns.

“My phone never stops ringing,” he says of those, like him, who are calling him for help, men and women “living in active addiction.” He’s just an addict “without the drugs,” he freely admits. His new addictions include the adrenaline rush of tracking down addicts, pitching them on the idea of getting help and at least putting the choice to get sober in front of them.

“I’m not f—–g cured, by any means.”

Knowing that 90% of addicts relapse is one reason Frankie refers to Delray Beach not as “the Rehab capital of America,” but as the “Relapse Capital.” And that fact is why so many under-supervised facilities have opened there, “detox centers” and “sober houses,” hospitals and out-patient treatment facilities.

Allie and Frankie freely speak about the money to be made off these unfortunates, because they’re above that. Their hearts and motives, near as we can tell, are pure and altruistic. But it’s a system, “The Florida Model,” set up to be abused, to be commodified.

“The Florida Model” or “Cycle of Recovery”  breaks down the process of treating an addict into segments of a “business,” each able to charge insurers top dollar for their services. It runs from “Detox” to “Partial Hospitalization” to “Intensive Outpatient” to “Sober Living Facility.”

As Obamacare left it to states to administer this new law, states like Florida allowed cities like Delray Beach to become an insurance scam capital.

This festival award-winning film, which inspired the Vice TV series “Dopesick Nation,” lays out– with graphics, repurposed vintage documentaries explaining “capitalism” and our two tour guides into this underworld — just how this self-feeding monster is fed and who is making money at every step of the process.

Simple “pee tests,” which every facility calls for repeatedly, run into thousands of dollars. Detox costs money, long term care costs more, and on and on down the line.

Facilities have encouraged “junkie hunters” to pay insurance premiums on addicts so that they’re worth luring into the “the Florida Model.”

Recovery Centers and drug testing facilities are experiencing a “gold rush,” and yes, the urine testing is an apt visual metaphor for that — $3500 per cup.

“Testing positive means staying in treatment,” thus the over-testing, giving addicts money to buy drugs so that they test positive and the insurance money keeps rolling in.

“If there’s money to be made off an addict, there are people down here doing it,” Frankie gripes.

As much as $120,000 can be earned, per addict, every three months.

But Frankie and Allie are different. We see him reason with, debate and never give up on this or that addict who “gets into my car” but resists breaking out of “the life.” We witness a late night “sober house” shouting match between Allie, trying to get a couple (who have relapsed so often nobody else will touch them) off the streets, and the manager, another ex-addict who isn’t falling for their act THIS time.

“How many times did YOU relapse?” she shouts at him.

“How many times did YOU relapse?” he shouts back.

The filmmakers built the film out of a long weekend where they follow the two hunters (who don’t work together), using split screens, in-car “counseling” sessions, visits to flops and flop houses, getting in the faces of the addicts Allie and Frankie are trying to help.

“This disease wants us DEAD,” Frankie tells one and all.

And still, here’s a guy shooting up in his ankle like the expert that he is — “three or four years” into addiction, dully answering Frankie’s battery of questions — “Have you lost a lot of friends out here? You got a place to stay tonight?”

It’s easy to see how this film inspired the TV series — it opens can after can of worms, inviting further storytelling — and it’s going to be hard to look at Delray Beach, with its sand, beach, condos, drawbridges, yachts and heroin junkies, the same way again.

“American Relapse” opens with the duo making their rounds, hunters into the “rush” of hunting for people to help, and ends with a funeral. In between, co-directors McGee and Linkenhelt give us a lot to chew on about this self-manufactured crisis, even if the film never quite builds the empathy that perhaps the follow-up series managed.

3stars2

MPAA Rating: unrated, graphic scenes of drug abuse, profanity

Cast: Allie Severino, Frankie Holmes

Credits: Directed by Pat McGee and Adam Linkenhelt. A Gravitas Ventures release.

Running time: 1:45

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Preview: “Toy Story 4,” the first full trailer

A new nightmare scenario of “lost toy life,” sentimental in the extreme.

Traumatic? Nah. Sweet, pull out all the stops, new characters similar story arc. June 21.

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Movie Review: “Acts of Desperation”

acts1

“Acts of Desperation” is a helluva title for a dark comedy.

“Dark?” People are shot, people die. “Comic?” It’s positively drowning in goofy characters.

There’s the police chief (Paul Sorvino) who wears four stars on his lapel and is introduced, in EVERY scene, singing Italian opera or “O Sole Mio.”

How about the two 40something stoner/extortionists (Chris Coppola, Vince Lozano) living in a perfectly restored 1960s VW Microbus? One (played by Coppola (of “those” Coppolas) has seen and heard that voice-altering technology used on so many TV shows and in movies where the villain is disguising his voice. He decides he can DIY that — not on the phone, not on video, but in PERSON, when he’s meeting the guy they want to extort.

“We meet AGAIN Glenn Klose!” Yes, that’s the name of their “mark.” His partner wants to stop this Darth Vadering voice thing, but Stu isn’t having it.

“I’M the one who read ‘Art of the Deal,’ correct? ZIP IT!”

But whatever promise “Desperation” might have had — and really, I’m not completely sure that dark comedy was what they were going for — is dithered away in other characters folded into this interconnected series of lives/stories, most of them not funny enough to make the cut in a 100 minute movie that cries out for heavy editing down to, say, 70 minutes.

This whole other series of interconnected characters and plot points, played by actors who don’t seem to be in on the joke, deflate “Desperation.” Jason Gedrick of “Backdraft” and TV’s “Major Crimes” and “Trouble Creek” is a cuckolded cop whose bombshell photographer wife (Neraida Bega) is evading admitting that she’s stepping out. Detective Grillo probably is suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), since he’s been shot. And he’s being cheated on. And he has a terrible temper.

That gets him called into the chief’s office, time and again, interrupting the boss’s repertoire of Italian folk songs and arias.

But he’s needed to track down the grinning goof (Treva Etienne) with the name Glenn Klose — yes, his name sounds like that of Ms. “Fatal Attraction.” He’s a Brit-accented bank robber who believes “Remember your manners” is the first rule of robbery. And he knows that road flares can be made to look like dynamite, and that ditzy California bank tellers can’t tell the difference.

“It looked like a bomb, you know. Like you on the ‘Looney Tunes,” one says as Det. Grillo grills her.

But Glenn Klose’s career in crime is interrupted on the way home from his latest heist when he spies a woman about to jump off a bridge. The talk-her-down conversation goes like this.

“I’m Glenn. Glenn Klose,” he says to Morgan (Kira Reed Lorsch).

“I think you should just leave, Glenn.

“That’s not really an option now, is it? We’re pretty much friends.”

Before you know it, she’s in his car (decorated with dream catchers and the like dangling from the rear view mirror) and telling him her troubles.

Before he knows it, those two stoners who were eating “a ton” of pancakes in the diner where Glenn, wearing the fakest white mustache and eyebrows in existence, was casing the bank across the street, are trying to blackmail him.

Stu (Coppola is hilarious, I must confess) is SURE they’re seated next to “Hey Morgan…MORGAN FREEMAN” at that moment. You know, the actor from “Fences” (That was Denzel.), from “This is CNN” (James Earl Jones). No, impersonating Freeman’s voice doesn’t help Glenn get over his confusion at their mistaking him for someone else.

I get what they were going for, here, with Grillo searching his wife’s “sex hook-up” online profile on the “Maddy Ashley” website, etc.

But when you open your film with slo-mo blood spurts, gunshots and somebody falling to his/her death, you kind of wreck the tone that your flashback is supposed to have.

It’s not funny enough to clear that high “dark comedy” bar, even though there are amusing flashes, here and there. Did they ask Sorvino to sing? Probably not. Coppola probably brought his Morgan Freeman misidentified riffs to the set himself, too.

This thing just ambles from slow scene to slow scene, losing track of funny characters to introduce LESS funny characters and story threads.

Comedy is quick, with a hint of desperation about it. “Desperation” is meek, shy, unhurried and unworried.

1half-star

MPAA Rating: unrated

Cast: Jason Gedrick, Paul Sorvino, Kira Reed Lorsch

Credits:Directed by Richard Friedman, script by Nathan Illsley. A Gravitas Ventures release.

Running time: 1:40

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