Fernando Sulichin

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South of the Border Review


Good
Oliver Stone returns to Latin America for another doc about the Bolivarian movement, through which South American countries are standing up to North American imperialism. Yes, it's one-sided and unquestioning, but also eye-opening.


Unsurprisingly, Stone's main target is Fox News, which gives its usual shameless slant to stories about Latin America, referring to democratically elected presidents as "dictators" and blatantly painting them as Communist criminals. According to polls, some 70% of Americans believe these lies, which blur leaders like Chavez with the likes of Osama Bin Laden. Stone blames much of this on American arrogance in the wake of the Soviet Union's demise, and he also makes the connection with global capitalism, as US "interests" push nations to surrender their sovereignty to the International Monetary Fund.


But of course the story is much more complex, and Stone narrates the history through early clashes between Chavez and the US-supported hardline Venezuelan government, a scene that echoes later with Morales in Bolivia, Da Silva in Brazil, Correa in Ecuador, Lugo in Paraguay and the Kirchners in Argentina. In other words, the US has worked to undermine democracy simply because it means they lose control of the country in question.


This is a vitally important issue that needs to be brought to light, as it vividly shows the rampant hypocrisy in the US government and how American media are manipulating a gullible public. Stone documents everything carefully, showing the brutal history of CIA assassinations over the decades and how this backhanded imperialism has kept South America under the north's thumb. So as these nations band together as Bolivarians, harking back to a previous battle against a colonial power, it's no wonder that US big-business is waging a propaganda war while the American government engages in politics of control.

Continue reading: South of the Border Review

Mary Review


Excellent
Out of the thousands of problems one could have with Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, there is one thing that sticks out above all: its sureness and certainty. There was no questioning going on in the film and no humbleness in the great face of possibility. It was an act of utter belief, which could be seen as a great gesture or a great detriment. This obviously got the attention of indie rebel Abel Ferrara, the firebrand behind Bad Lieutenant and King of New York. Where Gibson is steadfast in his Christianity, Ferrara has the foresight to fill the film with his own humility and confusion over what's going on up there.Jesus Christ walks into a cave (this would be directly after the resurrection) to find Mary Magdalene and attempts to comfort her. Then, Jesus yells "Cut!" It turns out that he is actor/director Tony Childress (Matthew Modine), and Mary is Marie Palesi (Juliette Binoche). Tony is just wrapping his retelling of the life of Jesus, This is My Blood, and is high on his own self-righteousness. So much so that he blows up at Marie when she announces she is going to Jerusalem. See, Marie has become obsessed with the character of Mary Magdalene and has made it her new mission to try to unlock her secrets.Back in New York, hard-nosed discussion show host Ted Younger (Forest Whitaker) is prepping a week long discussion on Jesus and the Bible. He has a pregnant wife (Heather Graham) that he ignores and a pressing need to get Childress on his show. Childress agrees but Younger hits a water hazard when his wife gives birth prematurely and the life of his son is not certain. Things get really messy, but Younger gives it up to god and Childress stages a coup when a bomb threat threatens to cancel the opening screening of his film.Childress isn't just a representation of Gibson-like pomposity; he is also a representation of Ferrara's feebleness/audacity with this subject matter as well. Ferrara's search is sincere and unbelievably open, but it really is a return to the ideas that he was tangling with in Bad Lieutenant: uncomplicated redemption. Bad Lieutenant's physical world of pain and corruption eventually led to that shocking scene where the Lieutenant offers to kill the rapist and the nun asks him not to, ostensibly forgiving the kids who raped her. The redemption sought after in Mary has much more breadth and a mercurial vastness. Every character is looking for their way to rediscover god, to be brought back into his graces. Childress tries to find it by emulating it, Younger does it by finally giving into his humility and Marie wants to find it through finding Mary Magdalene's true purpose. At moments, it can be overwhelming.Ferrara returns to his city of choice with an uncanny gothic style, dark and frankly frightening. Those long shots of Younger's limo rides home evoke a deep sense of dread in the current state of cynicism and fear (often, Younger is watching news of terrorism during his rides home). For the first time since 1996's The Funeral, Ferrara has found a sustainable tone and a story that allows him room to talk about a reverent subject. Somehow, he turns confusion into a concise study on what it means to believe in god in this day and age. Consider it an act of faith. Amen, brother.

Spun Review


Weak
Wes Anderson fans will barely recognize Spun protagonist, if you can call him that, Jason Schwartzman. Though he's been in a handful of forgettable roles since claiming cult status with his breakthrough in 1998's Rushmore, he's back to center frame as a speed-addicted, goalless youngster. Though this time around he somehow manages to snag a buxom blonde dancer and tie her to a bed for a few days instead of merely pining away for the older woman.

But with an eclectic cast that includes John Leguizamo, Mena Suvari, and Mickey Rourke, Spun is more about exuberant editing providing a humorous glimpse into a small, bored, drug community than a focus on any particular acting or writing talent. Once the pizzazz of quick cuts and graphic novel touches has washed over the normal tell-tale signs of substance abuse by all the characters, you're left with another drug movie that feels as if it's trying too hard to be Trainspotting, without the spiffy production design.

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Bully Review


Excellent
Larry Clark -- who wrote and directed his first film, Kids, at the tender age of 52 and in the process, broke the mold about what we should expect from a movie about teenagers -- returns to familiar ground in Bully, a striking and harrowing follow-up.

A slam-dunk natural subject for Clark, Bully follows the based-on-reality story of Marty Puccio (Brad Renfro), who along with his girlfriend Lisa (Rachel Miner) decides to brutally slay his "best friend" Bobby (Nick Stahl) as payback for a lifetime of abuse. Set in the ultra-trashy nether regions of southern Florida -- and I mean seriously, beyond-WWF trashy -- there's little to do but drive your car, play video games, have sex, and beat the crap out of your friends.

Continue reading: Bully Review

She Hate Me Review


Grim
She Hate Me borrows its title from "He Hate Me," a.k.a. Rod Smart of the XFL (the now-defunct WWE-sponsored extreme football league), but just as this pointless non-sequitur of a title has nothing to do with the film it adorns, Spike Lee's latest tosses together largely unrelated social commentary, broad humor, and nonsensical racial and sexual stereotypes in a vain attempt to critique modern-day romance and big business. Beginning with close-ups of billowing U.S. currency which culminate in the image of a George W. Bush-decorated three-dollar bill, and ending with a goofy "go forth and procreate, young man" rallying cry for its whorish African-American protagonist, the film is structured like a series of punch lines aimed squarely at what Lee sees as America's racist, corrupt white power structure. Too bad its story - about courageous whistle-blowing, lesbian procreation, and a black man's need to stand up, take responsibility for his actions, and do the right thing - doesn't do almost anything right.

Lee's initial target for censure is the crooked corporate culture that fosters brazenly greedy and duplicitous companies such as Enron and Worldcom. Jack Armstrong (Anthony Mackie) is a vice president at a pharmaceutical company whose new HIV cure has been rejected by the FDA. When he discovers a conspiracy orchestrated by the corporation's arrogant, racist CEO (Woody Harrelson) and his ruthless Martha Stewart-ish boss (Ellen Barkin) to cook the books and keep employees and shareholders in the dark about the new drug's ineffectiveness, Jack rats out his superiors to the SEC, and the price for betraying "the family" is immediate dismissal. As luck would have it, though, a new money-making venture falls directly into his, ahem, lap - his ex-fiancé Fatima (Kerry Washington), who left him for another woman, now wants to pay him $10,000 to impregnate her and her Dominican girlfriend. Before long, Armstrong - in some sort of filthier version of the Patrick Dempsey '80s cult classic Loverboy - is occupying his time spreading his seed through NYC's upper-crust lesbian community (which includes Monica Bellucci as a Mafioso don's daughter) for wads of cash.

Continue reading: She Hate Me Review

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