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Saturday Night at the Movies by Dennis Hartley review archive

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Hullabaloo


Saturday, January 27, 2007

 
Saturday Night At The Movies

Two Bongs Up! Or, Six Degrees of Woody Harrelson

by Dennis Hartley

Richard Linklater entered the sci-fi arena in 2006 with his adaptation of the late Phillip K. Dick’s semi-autobiographical novel A Scanner Darkly(now on DVD). Set in a not-so-distant future L.A., the story injects themes of existential dilemma, drug-fueled paranoia and Orwellian government surveillance (hmm, that’s timely) into what is otherwise a fairly standard undercover-cop-who’s-gone-too-deep yarn. Keanu Reeves stars as a dazed and confused narc who has become helplessly addicted to the mind-altering drug that he has been assigned to help eradicate (“substance D”). Robert Downey Jr., Woody Harrelson, Winona Ryder and Linklater alumni Rory Cochrane are his fellow D-heads who may not exactly be whom they appear to be on the surface. Adding to the mood of hallucinatory psychosis is Linklater’s controversial use of roto-scoping (as per his underrated Waking Life). The rotoscoping technique does present challenges to the actors; Downey, with his Chaplinesque knack for physical expression, pulls it off best, while the more inert performers like Reeves and Ryder are akin to oil paintings. Linklater’s script keeps fairly close to its source material-particularly in relation to the more cerebral elements (Linklater’s propensity for lots of talk and little action may be a turn-off for those expecting another Minority Report). Depending on what you bring with you, the film is a) a cautionary tale about addiction, b) a warning about encroaching technocracy, c) an indictment on the government’s “war” on drugs, d) a really cool flick to watch while stoned, e) the longest 99 minutes of your life or f) all of the above.

More Dick Flicks-Blade Runner, Total Recall, Screamers, Abre Los Ojos (or the U.S. remake Vanilla Sky if you’re just in a popcorn mood), Paycheck (Special Collector's Edition) and Barjo (VHS only).

Speaking of the “war” on drugs-here’s a sleeper you may have missed. Grass is a unique, well-produced documentary dealing (er, pun intended) with the history of marijuana criminalization in the United States. Far from a dry history lesson, the film builds its own “counter-myth” of sorts, by exposing the hypocrisy of the government’s anti-marijuana propaganda machine over the years. It’s all there-from the laughable histrionics of the 1930’s Reefer Madness movie to the Reagan administrations sophomoric “Just Say No” campaign in the 1980’s. There is also a fascinating ongoing tally of all the tax money the various law-enforcement agencies have spent (wasted) attempting to eradicate marijuana usage from the days of Elliot Ness to the present. The filmmakers ladle some well-chosen period music over a wealth of ironic archive footage. Woody Harrelson (who has infamously lived through a series of herb-related legal problems, off-screen) narrates with winking bemusement. Whether you are for or against legalization, you should find this one quite informative and highly (er, sorry!) entertaining.

OK class, here’s some, er, further study: American Beauty, Weeds - Season One, Traffic, The Big Lebowski, Homegrown, Reefer Madness - The Movie Musical, Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle, Up In Smoke (well, any Cheech & Chong movie), Half Baked, Bongwater, Rockers, Countryman, The Harder They Come , Word, Sound And Power. (I know, I left out your fave. I see your finger on the mouse!)



Digby here: In case you haven't been following the latest DEA "asset seizure" for no good reason saga, here's the skinny. I feel much safer now.


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