Movie Review: Crystal Fairy [2013]

Crystal Fairy [2013]

Crystal Fairy [2013]
Director: Sebastián Silva
Writers: Sebastián Silva
Genre: Adventure/Comedy
Starring: Michael Cera, Gaby Hoffmann, Juan Andrés Silva
Running Time: 98 minutes

One of the biggest highlights in this year’s surprise comedy hit, This Is the End, is Michael Cera’s out of control, coked-out cameo. With his starring role in the Sundance selection, Crystal Fairy, Cera continues his recent on-screen drug binge, this time trading in James Franco’s mansion for the vast Chilean coastline.

Cera plays Jamie, a college-age American who has traveled to Chile in a quest to find the illustrious San Pedro cactus, the inside of which contains the hallucinogenic mescaline. Jamie is a stereotypical boorish American, the type of guy who is only thinking of himself and his object of desire (the cactus). It’s a wonder that he has managed to make any Chilean friends, but he does find himself in the company of three mild-mannered and polite brothers, the oldest of whom offers to help Jamie.

Crystal Fairy [2013]

At a party the night before their planned road trip, Jamie notices another American dancing by herself without any inhibition whatsoever. This amuses him to no end, and he starts cracking jokes about her to anyone who will listen. Eventually, he starts a conversation with her, discovering that her name is Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffmann). Still tickled at the idea of such a radical free spirit doing as she pleases, Jamie jokingly throws out the idea of her joining them on their cactus hunt. Surprisingly, she accepts.

Sure enough, the next morning he gets a phone call from Crystal, and she is waiting to be picked up in a nearby park. Jamie, further proving his selfishness, suggests ignoring her request and not bringing her along. His friends immediately discredit this notion, as they agree that would simply not be the right thing to do. And so the journey goes with two completely different Americans and three Chilean brothers.

Crystal Fairy [2013]

What follows is an easy-going road trip movie that manages to remain enjoyable despite taking its sweet time to get anywhere. The culture clash is very much at play here, but the biggest disparity is between Jamie and Crystal. Jamie is especially taken aback by her carefree behavior and casual nudity, and this seems to embarrass him far more than the others. Although both American characters are never really fleshed out all too much (and come across as little more than stereotypes), they are still just likable enough to make the film work.

The script is bare-bones at best, and much of the film is at least semi-improvised. This gives it an air of authenticity that helps remain engaging (it also probably helps that the cast members did in fact trip on mescaline for this film, some of which made it on screen). When the film does attempt to dig into a character’s back story, it feels unnecessary and tacked-on, providing a resolution that leaves something to be desired.

Still, sometimes it’s nice to just go along for the ride, and Crystal Fairy left me guessing throughout. I wasn’t sure where these characters would end up or what might happen during their adventure, and it was rare that I didn’t have a smile on my face. Sometimes that’s all that is needed.

7/10

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Book Review: ‘God’s Middle Finger’ by Richard Grant

'God's Middle Finger' by Richard Grant

God’s Middle Finger
Author: Richard Grant
Genre: Travel Narrative
Original Release: March 4, 2008

Although I have only been averaging one (usually small) trip a year, I am a traveler at heart. I love visiting new areas, learning about their culture and soaking up as many sights as I can see. Unfortunately, travel is expensive, and I have nowhere near the resources to go abroad as often as I would like. That’s where my addiction to travel narratives comes in. I am a huge sucker for a good travel book so I can romanticize about places unseen and live vicariously through the authors. It’s also fun to read about places that would not be at the top of my must-visit list, especially those that are generally considered dangerous for American tourists (or anyone in general).

God’s Middle Finger is one such travel narrative that caught my eye while perusing Portland, Oregon’s legendary Powell’s Books. Author Richard Grant, a thrill-seeking Englishman, decided he wanted to visit the infamously lawless land of the Sierra Madre mountains of Mexico. Widely considered to be one of the most dangerous places in the world, the Sierra Madre is almost entirely controlled by narcotraficantes (drug traffickers). Law enforcement is sporadic, and the majority of officers are corrupt. It’s basically anything goes, and murder, rape and kidnapping are all common occurrences.

Map of the Sierra Madre

Map of the Sierra Madre

Generally it’s a bad idea to visit the area, but Grant was lured by his sense of adventure as well as his genuine interest in the way of life of its civilians. His initial plan was to follow the nearly 900 mile long range from beginning to end, all while finding locals to act as guides. The beginning of his journey is essentially a game of “pass the gringo”, as he is transferred from one local to another, working his way through the mountains. He is frequently told not to travel alone, but he grows cocky the farther he goes, and eventually rides solo.

Not smart. The book’s prologue directly tells us what’s to come — it opens with Grant being hunted in the middle of the night by two drunk men. Naturally, this happened while traveling alone, unarmed, and in the dark. It’s a hell of a way to open a book, and I was hooked immediately after that point.

It takes a long time for the book to come back to the prologue, and when it does, it ends rather abruptly, but the journey to that point is a very fun read. Grant encounters a number of ridiculous people on the way, most of whom are either heavily armed and/or drunk. He attends religious ceremonies that feature natives getting piss drunk and beating the hell out of each other. He goes treasure hunting with a friendly Mormon, snorts cocaine with the local police, binge drinks with forceful drug lords, and even attempts to teach English at one of the rare local elementary schools. And, of course, he gets hunted in the wild.

As you would guess, there is a lot of craziness contained in this book, and it makes for a very quick read. Grant also generously shares some fascinating history lessons that provide some insight into the Sierra Madre’s culture. It’s hard to imagine that such a ruthless land exists mere minutes from the U.S. border, and it’s also shocking to hear just how much the Mexican economy relies on its drug trafficking (most of which is purchased here). Fans of adventure, travel and/or history should look up God’s Middle Finger — you won’t be disappointed.

8/10

 
As a companion piece to this novel, tomorrow I will be writing about the 1948 classic film, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

Cult Movie Review: The Trip [1967]

The Trip [1967]

The Trip [1967]
Director: Roger Corman
Genre: Drama
Starring: Peter Fonda, Susan Strasberg, Dennis Hopper and Bruce Dern
Runtime: 85 minutes

After reading Jack Deth’s great post on Roger Corman over at Front Room Cinema, I was inspired to see one of the legendary director’s films. There was one in particular that stood out to me: The Trip, a 1967 feature written by Jack Nicholson. As luck would have it, the film is currently available on Netflix Instant Watch.

As the title would suggest, The Trip is all about LSD. Filmed in “psychedelic color”, the movie stars Peter Fonda as Paul Groves, a young television commercial director who is heartbroken over the divorce proceedings with his adulterous wife. Looking for some sort of guidance with his life, Paul decides to embark on his first acid trip with the help of his friend John (Bruce Dern), an experienced advocate of psychedelics.

The Trip [1967]

From this point on, we follow Paul as he fades in and out of reality, essentially joining him on this trip. He sees all sorts of things, some real, some not. Kaleidoscopic colors, dwarves, strobe lights, naked dancers, druids, police.

Paul meanders aimlessly through these visuals and starts to freak himself out. In a fit of terror, he escapes the house (and his ‘sitter’) and wanders off to the city. This is when the movie really shines, as now we get to see how Paul interacts with others. A conversation with a not-so-classy lady at the laundromat is freakin’ hilarious and is the highlight of the movie. The lady suspects something is off with Paul as he plays around with the washing machines, but she appreciates the attention regardless.

The Trip [1967]

The movie culminates with Paul returning to where he came, this time running into a young Dennis Hopper, whose character also acts as a sort of guide for our acid-ingesting friend.

The Trip is a relic of its time, a fascinating snapshot of the Summer of Love and its free-spirited hippies. It has been said that Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson all took acid together in order to prepare for the film. Even Roger Corman dropped acid for the first time so he had a better idea of how to direct this film. Perhaps most amazing is that Bruce Dern, not a fan of drug culture whatsoever, was able to play an acid guide so effectively. He is the voice of reason throughout the film, a way to keep Paul in check and make sure he has a good time.

Obviously, this isn’t a movie that everyone will enjoy. The first half of the film drags along as Paul doesn’t do too terribly much, but it becomes wildly entertaining once he hits the city. It certainly helps to have an interest in the late 60s counterculture period and/or psychedelics in general to fully appreciate this. Music buffs will get a kick out of The Electric Flag’s groovy soundtrack as well.

7/10