Politics At The Movies

Cash Crop

Directed by Adam Ross
“Cash Crop” isn’t so much a documentary as a meandering tour of California’s pot industry. Even as it’s referring to people getting busted and dying of horrible diseases, the thought kept going through my mind: “Man, California sure is pretty.”

Much of the time we spend literally driving up and down the state in a beat up old Mercedes with an unnamed 30ish guy with long blond hair, making various stops in California’s burgeoning industry. The film spends much of its time in some of the prettiest parts – the Emerald Triangle of Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity Counties, where the Coast Range tumbles into the sea in a series of tree-covered mountains, picturesque rivers and an economy that has replaced saw mills with bong hits. In much of this area, pot is the economy. And the sheer scale of it – multiple times bigger than our famed wine industry – begs the question of where the mainstream really lies these days.

It is that community that is really the star here. People in the pot-growing regions appear to have a complex understanding of the many gray areas in our country’s relationship with this plant. We hear from indoor growers who hate all the power they use cultivating inside and would prefer to be outdoors. Others talk about how much they hate the feds, unless they’re busting the Mexican Mafia and other gangsters who grow on land they don’t own and leave a huge mess behind. Organic is the order of the day.

We also learn of how the mainly straight and white pot grower culture, which mixes nearly equal parts hippy and redneck, actually grew out of a different kind of liberation movement. Gay AIDS patients, pushing for the right to use medical marijuana to stop nausea and increase appetite, essentially created the medical marijuana industry. We meet a lot of patients with various maladies.

Other scenes raise the question of why anyone is that worried about pot when the economy is in the toilet, and when current and former employers have been poisoning creeks and school yards in rural California for years. One heartbreaking sequence covers a cancer cluster in one small Northern California town (where people at least have easy access to high quality medical marijuana).

There is also a strong family theme running throughout. We meet lots of people who live off the grid, growing pot but also keeping their kids away from television and consumer culture. What these folks fear most – besides a corporate takeover of the industry – is having their kids taken away. Going to prison seems like a minor concern by comparison. Our unnamed blond narrator is about to become a new dad, an experience that leads him to philosophize at length.

It’s hard to imagine a culture like the one depicted here coming together around any other drug. It’s multigenerational, competitive in a friendly way. While “Cash Crop” clearly has a pro-pot point of view, it’s not an angry one. As such, it appears most likely to speak to the choir. This is not that fiery polemic that will light a fire under those who aren’t already interested in the issue. But if you couldn’t afford to go on vacation this year, it does make for an interesting road trip.

Now showing at the Crest Theatre (1013 K St.)

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

Directed by Daniel Alfredson
The final installment of the “Dragon Tattoo” trilogy of movies lands at the Crest Theatre this week. Most American audiences will be waiting for the English language version, due to start filming with Daniel Craig next year. But I think there is likely to be something lost seeing this story outside its Scandinavian cultural context.

That said, “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” is a bit of a cold fish of a film. It keeps the director from the vastly superior second film in the series, “The Girl Who Played with Fire.” And Alfredson keeps the same naturalistic tone from last time.

But for a story of great injustice, there isn’t enough of an emotional payoff. For one thing, the vast, sprawling novels just don’t fit into the movie format. With major characters cut out and entire plot lines eliminated, you don’t get the full impact. Even in a two-and-a-half hour movie, things feel rushed.

The character at the center of it all, Aspergers-afflicted punk rock computer hacker Lisbeth Salander, is a cold fish even among the Swedes. While the books might lead you to think that Sweden is a nation filled with the world’s most polite swingers, Salander remains a black box – something not relieved, as it is in the book, to being privy to her inner thoughts.
And the third book was definitely the weakest of the three to begin with. With a long courtroom section, it becomes too much of a procedural. It was interesting to see that some rules of American courtrooms – such as the rule against withholding evidence from the other side – don’t seem to be in effect. But the bad guys are just too evil, something that works in print but maybe not as well in film.

In short, I may skip the Daniel Craig version and hope that someone makes three seasons of a cable drama that would give this trilogy the room it needs.

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