REVIEW: BLOW

CAST

Johnny Depp (Public Enemies)
Penelope Cruz (Grimsby)
Franka Potente (Run Lola Run)
Rachel Griffiths (Brothers & Sisters)
Paul Reubens (Gotham)
Jordi Molla (Riddick)
Cliff Curtis (Training Day)
Migual Sandoval (Medium)
Ethan Suplee (My Name Is Earl)
Ray Liotta (Hannibal)
Kevin Gage (Heat)
Max Perlich (Cliffhanger)
Jesse James (Jumper)
Tony Amendola (The Mask of Zorro)
Bobcat Goldthwait (American Yakuza 2)
Monet Mazur (Raging Angels)
Jaime King (Sin City)
Emma Roberts (Scream Queens)

The film opens to a young George Jung (Jesse James) and his parents Fred (Ray Liotta) and Ermine (Rachel Griffiths) of Weymouth, Massachusetts. When George is ten years old, Fred files for bankruptcy and loses everything, but tries to make George realize that money is not important.

As an adult, George (Johnny Depp) moves to Los Angeles with his friend “Tuna” (Ethan Suplee); they meet Barbara (Franka Potente), an airline stewardess, who introduces them to Derek Foreal (Paul Reubens), a marijuana dealer. With Derek’s help, George and Tuna make a lot of money. Kevin Dulli (Max Perlich), a college student back in Boston, visits them and tells them of the enormous market—and demand—for pot in Boston. With Barbara’s help, they start bringing the drugs to Boston.

As the demand grows, they decide to start buying the drugs directly from Mexico with the help of Santiago Sanchez (Tony Amendola), a Mexican drug lord. But two years later, George is caught in Chicago trying to import 660 pounds of marijuana and is sentenced to two years. After unsuccessfully trying to plead his innocence (by reciting the lyrics of Bob Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe” and insisting that he did no more than “cross an imaginary line with a bunch of plants”), George skips bail to take care of Barbara, who is suffering from, and eventually succumbs to, cancer. Her death marks the disbanding of the group of friends; even his friend, Tuna, flees their vacation home in Mexico and is never seen again.
While hiding from the authorities, George visits his parents back in New England. While he is having a heart-to-heart talk with his father, George’s mother calls the police, who come and arrest him. George is now sentenced to 26 months in a federal prison in Danbury, Connecticut. His cellmate Diego Delgado (Jordi Molla) has contacts in the Medellín cocaine cartel and convinces George to help him go into business. Upon his release from prison, George violates his parole conditions and heads down to Cartagena, Colombia to meet up with Diego. They meet with cartel officer Cesar Rosa to negotiate the terms for smuggling 15 kilograms (33 lb) to establish “good faith”. As the smuggling operation grows, Diego gets arrested, leaving George to find a way to sell 50 kg (110 lb) and get the money in time. George reconnects with Derek in California, and the two successfully sell all 50 kg in 36 hours, amassing a $1.35 million profit. George is then whisked off to Medellín, Colombia, where he finally meets the group’s leader, Pablo Escobar (Cliff Curtis), who agrees to go into business with them. With the help of main middleman Derek, the pair becomes Escobar’s top US importer. At Diego’s wedding, George meets Cesar’s fiancée Mirtha (Penélope Cruz) and marries her. However, Diego resents George for keeping Derek’s identity secret and pressures George to reveal his connection. George eventually discovers that Diego has betrayed him by cutting him out of the connection with Derek. Inspired by the birth of his daughter and chastened by a subsequent drug-related heart attack, George severs his relationship with the cartel and vows to leave the drug business forever.

All goes well with George’s newfound civilian life for five years, until Mirtha organizes a 38th birthday party for him. Many of his former drug associates attend, including Derek, who reveals that Diego eventually cut him out as well. The FBI and DEA raids the party and arrest George. Following George’s conviction, he becomes a fugitive. Meanwhile, his bank account—heretofore under Manuel Noriega’s protection in Panama—is seized. One night, he and Mirtha get into a fight while driving. They are pulled over by police and Mirtha tells them Jung is a fugitive and has stashed a kilogram of cocaine in his trunk. He is sent to jail for three years, during which time Mirtha divorces him and takes custody of their nine-year-old daughter, Kristina “Sunshine” Jung (Emma Roberts). Upon his release, George finds himself struggling to keep his relationship with his daughter on good terms.

George promises Kristina a vacation in California and seeks one last deal to garner enough money for the trip. George completes a deal with former accomplices but learns too late that the deal had been set up by the FBI and DEA, with Dulli and Derek having leaked the nature and location of the action in exchange for pardons for their involvement in his prior action. George is sentenced to 60 years at Otisville Correctional Facility in upstate New York. He explains in the end that neither the sentence nor the betrayal bothered him, but that he can never forgive himself for having to break a promise to his daughter.
While in prison, George requests a furlough to see his dying father, Fred. His unforgiving mother denies the request, saying a visit would only upset Fred. George is given a tape recorder to record a final message to his father. In the message, George recounts his memories of working with his father, his run-ins with the law, and finally, too late, his understanding of what Fred meant when he said that money is not “real”. The film closes with George as an old man in prison, imagining that his daughter (Jaime King) finally comes to visit him. She slowly fades away as a guard calls for George. The film concludes with notes indicating that Jung’s sentence will not expire until 2015, and that his daughter has yet to visit him. The film’s final image is a photograph of the actual George Jung.Johnny Depp is excellent in this role and you can share his excitement as the deals grow bigger and bigger and the money rolls in, as well as his sadness as things go downhill.  The film is accompanied by a great soundtrack, and despite it’s length it never feels dragged out.

REVIEW: BLOW DRY

CAST

Rachael Leigh Cook (Antitrust)
Josh Hartnett (Halloween: H20)
Alan Rickman (Dogma)
Natasha Richardson (Main in Manhattan)
Rachel Griffiths (Blow)
Bill Nighy (Underworld)
Rosemary Harris (Spider-Man)
Hugh Bonneville (Downtown Abbey)
Michael McElhatton (Game of Thrones)
David Bradley (Harry Potter)
Ben Crompton (Kill List)
Stephen Graham (This is England)

Shelley Allen (Natasha Richardson) operates a hairdressing shop in Keighley with her domestic partner Sandra (Rachel Griffiths). Shelley has been battling cancer, a secret known only to Sandra and a few confidants. She receives a terminal prognosis from her oncologist and decides to hide the truth from Sandra. When Keighley is chosen to host the British hairdressing championship, Shelley wants to participate one last time. She asks her ex-husband Phil (Alan Rickman) and her son Brian (Josh Hartnett), who operate a barber shop, to join her and Sandra as a team to enter the competition. Phil rejects the proposition: ten years previously Shelley had been his partner in the competition, and she ran off with Sandra (their model) the night before the third event; Phil has never forgiven them. Meanwhile, defending champion Raymond Robertson (Bill Nighy) visits Phil to ensure that Phil is not competing. Brian is offput when Raymond belittles Phil’s confidence and ability. When he is attracted to Raymond’s beautiful daughter Christina (Rachael Leigh Cook), Brian offers to join Shelley’s team.

Christina aspires to be a hair colorist, but lacks experience. Brian brings her to a funeral parlor where he works, where she can practice on one of the corpses after hours while Brian cuts its hair. Christina is startled when the corpse “groans” (expels trapped gas in the lungs) and flees into the street. Brian follows to console her and inadvertently allows the doors to lock behind them. The next morning the family of the deceased is displeased to find shocking pink spiky hair on their 95-year-old uncle. During the first round of the competition, Brian is cornered by the relatives of the deceased and is physically beaten.  Shelley reveals to Phil and Brian that she has terminal cancer. Phil reconsiders and agrees to coach but not to cut. After Raymond’s team successfully cheats in the first round, Phil sabotages a second attempt in the second round, allowing the other top teams to narrow the gap to Raymond. Christina gains coloring experience using the sheep of the family that assaulted Brian. Brian however disowns her when he realizes she is helping Raymond cheat. The night before the third round, Sandra learns that Shelley’s cancer is terminal. Angry that Shelley lied to her, she quits the team. Shelley recruits one of her clients as the model for the third round and wins, moving the team into second place overall. Phil is congratulatory, but Shelley reveals that her motivation was not to win – she wanted the team effort to bond the four of them into a family before she dies. Phil agrees to participate in the final round; he also talks Sandra into rejoining the team. Christina cuts off most of her hair so that she cannot participate in her father’s scheme for the final round, and she and Brian reconcile.

In the last round, Phil’s novel design includes shaving Sandra’s head to reveal an old scalp tattoo and applying body paint to her naked, winged body. The result snatches them the overall victory by one point. Shelley, Sandra, Phil, Brian and Christina leave the competition arm-in-arm as Keighley celebrates a hometown winner.

This film boasts an ensemble cast of talented stars and a very witty script. There is an interesting back-story for each character; some are silly, others poignant. Bill Nighy is an absolute riot as the flamboyant and unscrupulous hair diva, Rickman plays it serious as a poker-faced used-to-be, while Richardson is plucky as a lesbian with health issues. All of the smaller roles are gems, too, especially the uptight Keighley lord mayor (Warren Clarke) who sings Elvis, and Rosemary Harris as an elderly nursing home resident. This collection of eccentric characters competing in an over-the-top contest had me laughing from start to finish. Highly recommended.