Short Cuts: ‘An American Affair,’ ‘The Union’ and ‘Guns’“Short Cuts” are expedient, pretension-free movie reviews. This installment tackles three somewhat-overlooked DVD releases: “An American Affair,” which solidifies JFK’s legacy as an unstoppable playboy; a documentary about the marijuana trade, “The Union”; and “Guns,” a Canadian miniseries which is only slightly more imaginative than its title.
“An American Affair”
WHAT IT IS: A dramatic moving picture about Adam Stafford (played by rising star Cameron Bright), a wild-eyed D.C. youth who begins lusting after his neighbor across the way, Catherine Caswell (Gretchen Mol) … only to discover that she is — what else — one of President John F. Kennedy’s many “leading ladies.”
WHAT ONE JERK THINKS ABOUT IT: At first, William Olsson’s “An American Affair” portends to be a touching, often-humorous coming-of-age story: boy falls for girl — or, in this case, an impossibly attractive 30-something neighbor who likes lounging in the nude and, while we’re on the subject, doesn’t seem to mind doing so in front of an open window — and, once lusting after her from afar doesn’t hold its interest like it used to, finagles his way into her company (tends to her garden under the false pretense of raising funds for a class trip to Europe). But then something queer happens: Upon telling his parents (“E.R.” alumnus Noah Wyle and underutilized “Entourage” talent Perrey Reeves) about his chance second job, they freak. Doesn’t their son know that the woman he’s been spending so much time with — and, ahem, secretly been taking pictures of so he can paste her mug over those of the voracious Bunnies in the Playboys under his bed — is having a none-too-secret dalliance with the most powerful “Jack” in the known universe? No, of course not, he’s a bloody teenager. (Some people’s parents….) Anyway, their irritation is only the tip of the this-movie-gets-much-much-more-serious iceberg. I don’t want to give anything away, so here are just a few random tidbits I can confidently trust you with: this film’s under-the-radar status belies the fact that it’s a superbly pieced together narrative from start to finish; it’s sprinkled with moments of true, shining glory; and, oh yeah, most of its subplots are 100 percent believable because Gretchen Mol’s beauty is unparalleled on the silver screen. And, while I don’t agree with this flick’s assertion that said physical attributes are what did JFK in, stranger things have happened.
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO ABOUT IT: Buy it. I don’t say that often in this day and age of Netflix, so that should tell you something.
WHAT IT IS: Subtitled “The Business Behind Getting High,” this documentary from Brett Harvey dives headfirst into the burgeoning British Columbia marijuana industry, from seeds and profit margins to Internet sales and the sometimes-breathtaking ways the drug is smuggled into the United States. (And, no, I know you’ve heard the term “B.C. bud” a million times by now, but weed actually isn’t legal in any of the Canadian provinces.)
WHAT ONE JERK THINKS ABOUT IT: This film filled me with rage. (Repressing the urge to make “I was seeing green” jokes….) Not because I’m an uninformed Republican Party crony or a relentlessly aggressive representative from one of our nation’s established breweries but because “The Union” exposes one of the deadliest hypocrisies in America today: Because the alcohol and tobacco lobbies have the kind of cash it takes to buy votes, their products — which kill more people than marijuana ever could — are not only legal but readily available. As one former marijuana seller so eloquently put it, “If someone smoked a whole bunch of grass, they’d never come home and beat their wife.” Admittedly, that’s an extreme example, but it presents an undeniable fact … or, dare I say, an inconvenient truth? Or what about the fact that pretty much everything you’ve ever learned about the so-called effects of marijuana (memory loss, etc.) were trumped up by ill-informed politicians with anti-grass agendas? That is, to say, we’ve been had. As someone who’s interviewed not one but two individuals from Minnesota whose lives were forever altered after their vehicles were struck by drunk drivers, I think everyone who has an opinion about marijuana, pro or con, should watch “The Union” with open ears. Naysayers presume to hear the arguments of marijuana backers, but do they ever stop and take an hour to actually listen? I, for one, learned a lot from this fascinating doc.
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO ABOUT IT: Rent it. Loyal viewers of Showtime’s “Weeds” won’t learn too much more about the industry than they already know, but, no matter where they stand on the legality of marijuana, alcohol and tobacco, viewers will be in for an eye-opening experience.
WHAT IT IS: A Canadian TV miniseries — nay, three-hour epic — about the interconnected lives of those involved in Toronto’s gun trade starring … no one, really (though you might recognize Elisha Cuthbert from “24” and some memorable minor roles, like jailbait vixen Darcie in “Old School”).
WHAT ONE JERK THINKS ABOUT IT: For whatever reason, only a few of Canada’s national treasures ever strike a chord with us jaded Americans (the few exceptions being Neil Young, the Band, the Guess Who and Labatt’s). While a couple thousand of us are clued in to other, lesser-know Great White North exports like Sloan, the New Pornographers and the comedy troupe Kids in the Hall, most of what makes America’s Hat* tick stay north of the border. And … wait, why am I saying all this? “Guns” isn’t one of those super-secret awesome Canuck things. Armed with cheeky taglines like “The right to share arms,” it’s just another tired, made-for-TV movie-type-thing whose not-another-cop-show vibe is only occasionally broken up by hints of wit, originality and good writing.
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO ABOUT IT: Stream it … but only if it’s 2 a.m. and you’ve exhausted every other possible cure for insomnia. I kid; it’s not that bad, but if you’re looking for something a little more memorable about intersecting lives, try “Crash,” “Traffic” or, the granddaddy of them all, “Magnolia.”
*Check it: www.bustedtees.com/canadaamericashat.
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