Savages

Universal Pictures

Rated R for nudity, drug use, graphic sexuality, gruesome violence, ethnic slurs and pervasive profanity.

Rival Gangs Engage In Bloody Turf War Over Control Of California Marijuana Trade

If you’ve seen the documentary Cash Crop, then you know that violent Mexican drug cartels have already begun to muscle their way into the U.S. to stake a claim to their share of the lucrative marijuana market. That eye-opening exposé suggested that it’s only be a matter of time before the same sort of wanton violence being reported south of the border also starts erupting all across this country.

Although Savages is fictional—being based on Don Winslow’s best-selling novel of the same name—its chilling account of a California turf war is so realistically depicted that you easily forget that what you’re watching isn’t a true story. The movie was directed by three-time Oscar winner Oliver Stone (for Platoon, Midnight Express and Born On The Fourth Of July), who crafted this cautionary tale with a highly-stylized flair akin to Miami Vice (the tv series) while grounding the grisly goings-on with a sobering gravitas reminiscent of Traffic (2000).

The picture pits a couple of homegrown pot producers operating out of Laguna Beach against a ruthless Chicano gang that covets a piece of the action. At the point of departure, we find Ben (Aaron Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch) living large at an oceanfront mansion with a view thanks to a crooked DEA agent (John Travolta) and a very potent strain of weed that has made them millionaires several times over.

The pair complement each other nicely, since the former supplies the brains, as a Berkeley grad who double majored in business and botany, while the latter provides the brawn, as a former Navy SEAL who served a couple of tours over in Afghanistan. The buddies even share the same girlfriend, Ophelia (Blake Lively), a tatted-up blonde who professes love for both of her beaus.

The three share a hedonistic, if unconventional, existence until the day they’re paid a visit by an emissary (Demian Bichir) sent to the States by a brutal, Baja crime boss (Salma Hayek) to make the gringos an offer they can’t refuse. They grudgingly enter a partnership with the intimidating kingpin only to avoid the thinly-veiled threat of decapitation.

What ensues is a gruesome game of cat and mouse where it’s often difficult to discern who’s got the drop on whom. Even when the smoke finally clears in this high body count affair, anticipate a mind-bending twist en route to a rabbit-out-of-the-hat resolution.

An unsettling vision of America degenerating into a lawless dystopia like a latter-day Wild West.

 

Excellent (4 stars)

In English and Spanish with subtitles.

Running time: 129 minutes

 

 

United In Anger: A History Of ACT UP

Quad Cinema

Unrated

Riveting Gay Rights Retrospective Revisits Rise Of AIDS Activism Movement

By the late ‘80s, someone was dying from AIDS every half hour in this country, while the government continued to exhibit a shocking indifference to the epidemic, ostensibly because the disease was seen as an affliction primarily affecting homosexuals. First the Reagan administration and then that of George H.W. Bush handled the crisis with a criminal neglect that, in retrospect, many consider tantamount to genocide.

Because of that bureaucratic indifference, a few visionaries like Larry Kramer, Ann Northrop and Phil Reed realized that “This disease will either kill or politicize this community.” Sensing that “Silence = Death,” they founded ACT UP in order to pressure the government to take the plague seriously.

As one frustrated HIV+ patient explains in United In Anger, “I might not be able to fight the disease, but I can fight the system.” Directed by Jim Hubbard, this riveting retrospective revisits the seminal moments which gave rise to the AIDS activism movement via a combination of archival footage and present-day reflections.

Uncompromising, theatrical and very media savvy, ACT UP staged attention-grabbing demonstrations at the National Institute Of Health, the Food And Drug Administration, New York’s City Hall and any other seat of power seen as dragging its feet. The grassroots organization’s “in your face” tactics worked wonders, gradually forcing politicians to focus on the urgent concerns of a constituency that had previously been pushed to the margins of society.

A telling reminder of just how effective civil disobedience still can be when you tap into a forbidden emotion to unleash the requisite righteous rage needed to challenge an intransigent authority in collective and constructive fashion.

 

Excellent (4 stars)

Running time: 93 minutes

 

 

OPENING THIS WEEK

Kam’s Kapsules:

For movies opening July 13, 2012

Ice Age: Continental Drift (PG for rude humor, action and scenes of peril). Woolly mammoth Manny (Ray Romano), saber-toothed tiger Diego (Denis Leary) and sloth Sid (John Leguizamo) embark on latest prehistoric, animated adventure in the wake of a continental cataclysm triggered by squirrelly Scrat’s (Chris Wedge) pursuit of that ever-elusive acorn. Voice cast includes Queen Latifah, Jennifer Lopez, Wanda Sykes, Seann William Scott, Keke Palmer and Drake.

Red Lights (R for profanity and violence). Horror thriller about a couple of professional skeptics (Sigourney Weaver and Cillian Murphy) who meet with frustration while trying to expose as a charlatan a blind psychic (Robert De Niro) performing paranormal feats. With Elizabeth Olsen, Toby Jones and Joely Richardson.

Alps (Unrated). Assumed identity drama about a macabre business specializing in helping clients cope with grief by offering them the company of impersonators bearing an uncanny resemblance to recently deceased loved ones. Starring Stavros Psyllakis, Aris Servetalis and Johnny Vekris. (In English and Greek with subtitles)

Ballplayer: Pelotero (Unrated). Baseball dreams documentary, narrated by John Leguizamo, chronicling the efforts of Jean Carlos Batista and Miguel Angel Sano, two of the Dominican Republic’s top prospects, as they attempt to make it to the major leagues. (In Spanish with subtitles)

Deconstructing Dad (Unrated). Reverential retrospective directed by Stanley Warnow about his father, Raymond Scott (1908-1994), the prolific composer, pianist, bandleader, inventor, recording engineer and electronic music pioneer, perhaps best remembered for the catchy melodies on the score of over a hundred Looney Tunes cartoons, including Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Porky Pig. With appearances by John Williams, Mark Mothersbaugh and DJ Spooky.

Family Portrait In Black And White (Unrated). Ukraine documentary highlighting the effort of adoptive mom Olga Nenya’s to raise 16 biracial children in an Eastern European town marked by racial intolerance where they are surrounded by skinheads and bigoted neighbors.

Farewell, My Queen (R for profanity and brief graphic nudity). Homoerotic historical drama set at the outbreak of the French Revolution and revolving around the lesbian relationship of Marie Antoinette (Diane Kruger) and a servant (Lea Seydoux) who became infatuated with the imperious monarch. Cast includes Virginie Ledoyen, Xavier Beauvois and Gregory Gadebois. (In French, German, Italian and English with subtitles)

Gei Oni (Unrated). Middle East drama interweaving a novel love story with a depiction of the first wave of Jewish European migration to the Ottoman-ruled Palestine of the 1880s. Starring Tamar Alkan, Zion Ashkenazi and Levana Finkelstein. (In Arabic, Hebrew, Turkish, Russian and Yiddish with subtitles)

The Imposter (Unrated). Fact-based docudrama about a con man (Adam O’Brian) who attempted to dupe the family of a Texas teenager into believing that he was their long-lost son, despite his being French and seven years older than the missing boy. With Anna Ruben, Cathy Dresbach and Alan Teichman.

Ponies (Unrated). Screen adaptation of Mike Batistick’s award-winning play, set inside a seamy, NYC off-track betting parlor, where a trio of beleaguered patrons (Kevin Corrigan, John Ventimiglia and Babs Olusanmokun) enjoy exchanging colorful banter while wagering. Supporting cast includes Tonye Patano, Joe Caniano and Meital Dohan.

Trishna (R for sexuality, drug use, profanity and some violence). Bittersweet romance drama, loosely based on Tess of the D’Urbervilles, about the star-crossed love affair between the daughter of a rickshaw driver (Freida Pinto) and a wealthy Brit (Riz Ahmed) who has moved to India to work at his father’s (Roshan Seth) hotel. Featuring Anurag Kashyap, Kalki Koechlin and Harish Khanna.

Union Square (R for profanity and drug use). Dysfunctional family comedy about a young woman (Tammy Blanchard) who moves to Manhattan with her fiancé (Mike Doyle) to escape her tumultuous, Bronx home life, only to have a mentally-unstable sister (Mira Sorvino) darken her doorstep. With Michael Rispoli, Patti LuPone and Daphne Rubin-Vega.

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