The Films of 2020: Shooting Heroin (dir by Spencer T. Folmar)


Shooting Heroin takes place in a small town in Pennsylvania, a once close-knit community that is dying a painful death.

As the film opens, we meet several people who have lost loved ones to the Opioid Epidemic.  Hazel (Sherilyn Fenn) speaks at a school assembly about how both of her sons overdosed within hours of each other and the only response she gets is a few students snickering at her.  Adam (Alan Powell) loses his sister to heroin and has to take her baby into his home.  Sitting in a bar, prison guard and local hunter Edward (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs) demands to know why the police aren’t doing more to lock up the dealers.  The town’s sole lawman, Jerry (Garry Pastore), can only explain that he is only one person and that he can only arrest someone if he has proof that they’re actually dealing drugs.  Suspicions and gossip aren’t enough.

After a night of heavy drinking and heavier emotions, Adam comes up with the idea of a voluntary drug taskforce.  He recruits Edward and Hazel and, after Jerry reluctantly deputizes them, the three of them set out to battle the drug dealers their own way.  (“By any means necessary,” as Edward puts it.)  Of course, all three of them have their own thoughts on how to best deal with the issue.  Hazel puts up crudely painted but well-intentioned signs, asking teenagers if they truly want to break their mother’s heart.  Edward stops every car that’s heading into town and does a search.  (Yes, it’s highly unconstitutional.)  As for Adam, he wants revenge against the man who he believes was his sister’s dealer.  And if that means setting a house on fire and picking up a rifle to go hunting, that’s what Adam’s going to do.

Now, from that plot description, you might think that Shooting Heroin is a run-of-the-mill revenge flick but it’s not.  It definitely has its pulpy elements but, for the most part, Shooting Heroin is an intelligently written and well-directed look at how the Opioid Epidemic is ravaging communities across America.  The film approaches the subject with the type of empathy that, far too often, is missing from films like this.  There are no easy villains, the film tells us, and there are also no perfect heroes.  Adam, Edward, and Hazel all have their own approaches, each with their own set of strengths and flaws but the ultimate message of the film is that nothing is going to get better until we stop attacking and demonizing one another.  That’s an important message and one that, unfortunately, doesn’t get broadcast as much as it should.  Far too often, the war on drugs is a war on those members of the community who are at their most vulnerable.

The film is full of familiar faces, with Sherilyn Fenn giving the strongest and most poignant performance as Hazel.  There’s something very touching about the combination of Hazel’s determination to get through to teenagers and her total cluelessness about the best way to actually do so.  For all of her grief and anger, Hazel remains innocent enough to believe that telling a drug addict that they’re breaking their mother’s heart is the ultimate solution to the crisis.  When she joins the task force, she hands out adrenaline shots so that addicts can be revived.  When she confronts of a pharmacy worker who has filled an obviously faked prescription, Hazel speaks with the anger of someone who has seen the damage done to her community.  When she’s handed a gun, she says that she’s not going to carry anything that can kill.  Hazel, like so many people, is just trying to do her best in a unwinnable situation and it’s sometimes both heartbreaking and inspiring to watch her.

Shooting Heroin brings empathy to its look at the Opioid Epidemic, which is something that has been lacking in far too many other examinations of the what’s currently happening in America.  What’s happening in middle America is, for many in the political and media establishment, an inconvenient truth.  During the Obama years, the Opioid Epidemic was ignored because acknowledging it would have meant acknowledging the failure of Obama’s economic policies.  During the Trump years, the victims of the Opioid Epidemic were dismissed by a media and a political class who insisted on viewing every issue through the prism of red state vs. blue state.  One can only guess how these ravaged communities will fare during the Biden years, though there’s little reason to be optimistic that a 78 year-old career politician is going to do anything differently from his predecessors.  Shooting Heroin is a film about what’s happening today and it’s a film that will leave you thinking about the future.

Playing Catch-Up With The Lesser Films of 2015: Get Hard, Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, Pixels, The Wedding Ringer


SPOILER ALERT!

One or more of the films reviewed below will appear on my list of the 16 Worst Films of 2015!  Can you guess which one(s)?

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Get Hard (dir by Etan Cohen)

Will Ferrell is funny and Kevin Hart is funny and you would think that putting them together in one movie would be especially funny but … nope.  Get Hard, which I watched on HBO a few weeks ago, is incredibly not funny.  Ferrell plays a hedge fund manager who is convicted of fraud and embezzlement and it’s a sign of how haphazard this film is that I was never really sure whether he was supposed to be guilty or not.  Anyway, Ferrell is terrified of going to prison but fortunately, he runs into Kevin Hart.  Hart is playing the owner of a car wash here, a mild-mannered family man who simply wants to be able to afford to send his daughter to a good school.  However, Ferrell assumes that, since Hart is black, Hart must be an ex-con.

So, Ferrell hires Hart to teach him how to survive in prison and Hart agrees.  And, to be honest, this is not a terrible idea for an edgy satire but the film pulls it punches and never really exposes or challenges the racism that led to Ferrell hiring Hart in the first place.  Instead, it’s more interested in making homophobic jokes about prison rape (there’s a particularly long and unpleasant scene where Ferrell attempts to learn how to give a blow job that feels like it was lifted from a deservedly forgotten 90s film) and eventually, it devolves into a painfully predictable action film.

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Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 (dir by Andy Fickman)

I know what someone out there is saying.

“YOU’VE NEVER EVEN SEEN THE FIRST PAUL BLART: MALL COP!!!  WHO THE HELL ARE YOU TO REVIEW THE SEQUEL!?”

Well, listen — it’s true.  I’ve never seen the first film and the only reason I watched the second one (on HBO at a friend’s house, which means that it literally cost me nothing) was because I had heard how terrible it was and I figured that I should see it before making out my list of the worst films of the year.  But, even with that in mind, I think I can still give this film a fair review.

(At the very least, I’ll try.  Dammit, I’ll try.)

Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 is one of those films that is so forgettable that you forget about it while you’re watching.  Kevin James plays Paul Blart, a mall security guard who goes to Las Vegas for a security guard convention and ends up getting involved in thwarting a big heist.  It’s a comedy, though I can’t think of a single time I laughed.  Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 was not quite the abomination that I had been led to expect.  It was, in no way, comparable to Birdemic, April Rain, or Man of Steel.  Instead, it was just an incredibly empty and soulless film.  It was a zombie movie that existed only to eat money.

One thing that is frustrating about a film like Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 is that Kevin James seems like he could actually survive appearing in a good film, if he could just get a chance to make one.  He’s likable and he’s got an everyman quality about him.  But, for now, he seems to be trapped in films where he either plays Paul Blart or he’s surrounded by talking animals.

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Pixels (dir by Chris Columbus)

Speaking of Kevin James, he’s also in Pixels!  He plays William Cooper.  When he was a kid, he was obsessed with playing video games.  Now that he’s an adult, he’s the President of the United States!  And he still keeps in contact with his best friend from childhood, Sam.  Sam, needless to say, will never be President.  When Sam was a kid, he was traumatized when he lost a national video game championship.  Now that he’s an adult, he installs home-theater systems and he’s played by Adam Sandler…

When Earth is invaded, it turns out that the aliens are under the impression that video games are real!  So, they recreate a bunch of classic video game characters and send them off to do havoc.  Who better to stop them than the President and Sam?  And who better to help than a nerdy conspiracy theorist (Josh Gad) and Eddie Planet (Peter Dinklage), the same guy who cheated in order to defeat Sam at the video game championship….

If you’re thinking that sounds like way too much plot for a silly comedy about video games coming to life, you’re right.  Pixels has some cute moments (though, based on the comments and occasional laughter of the middle-aged people in the theater around me, I get the feeling that a lot of the film’s video game-themed humor was a bit too “before my time” for me to fully appreciate) but oh my God, it was such an unnecessarily busy movie.  The idea behind Pixels had some potential but the film refused to take advantage of it.

I’ve said this before and I always get some strange looks but I honestly do think that — if he would actually break out of his comfort zone and stop doing movies that mostly seem to be about finding an excuse to hang out with his friends — Adam Sandler could be an acceptable dramatic actor.  Check out his work in Punch-Drunk Love, Funny People, Reign Over Me, Spanglish, and even the first half of The Cobbler.  (Tarantino even wrote the role of Donny Donowitz in Inglourious Basterds with Sandler in mind.)  The fact that Sandler could be doing good work makes his continual bad work all the more frustrating and annoying.

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The Wedding Ringer (dir by Jeremy Garelick)

And speaking of Josh Gad…he’s also in The Wedding Ringer!  For that matter, so is Kevin Hart.  Hart plays a guy who, for a sizable fee, will pretend to the lifelong best friend (and best man) for grooms who do not have enough real friends to fill out a wedding party.  Hart refuses to get emotionally involved with his clients but that all changes when, despite himself, he becomes friends with Josh Gad, who is on the verge of getting married to Kaley Cuoco.

The Wedding Ringer got terrible reviews but it also was very popular with audiences and I imagine a lot of that had to do with the relationship between Hart and Gad.  Both of them give very sincere performances that elevate some otherwise unpromising material.  The Wedding Ringer wasn’t good (it’s predictable, it’s portrayal of Kaley Cuoco’s character verges on misogynistic) but, at the same time, it wasn’t as bad as it was made out to be.  In the end, it was pretty much a typical January film.

I'm so excited!  I'm so excited!  I'm so ... wait a minute, am I just here because this is a post about bad movies?

I’m so excited! I’m so excited! I’m so … wait a minute, am I just here because this is a post about bad movies?

Which of these four films will make my list of the worst 16 films of 2015?  The answer shall be revealed soon!