Tribeca Post-Script: Puncture, Portland and Paradise

Puncture sounds like a horror film, and it is, if you think that putting your health in the hands of large corporations can be a horror. That said, this horror that premiered at the Tribeca International Film Festival is anything but escapist.

It’s a true story straight out of George W. Bush country. A nurse in Houston (Vinessa Shaw) was stuck by a needle while a violent patient writhed out of control. She contracted HIV. Her response was to work with an engineer friend to design a retractable disposable “safe” syringe. It seemed like a solution to the problem of needles infecting hospital staff, until she learned that hospitals in Texas wouldn’t buy the new device. They had a deal with another manufacturer, who was making plenty of money selling syringes that caused infections when re-used. Calling the system corrupt was like calling HIV dangerous. She started looking for a lawyer.

Enter Mike Weiss (Chris Evans) a gonzo advocate with a conscience, who shows you how Hunter Thompson might have practiced law. Weiss has tattoos, and his own needle problem. He’s a junkie. But his values are in the right place, and he thrashes through the kind of David-and-Goliath moral tale that Hollywood made in Silkwood, Erin Brockovitch and The Insider – on a budget that those productions spent on sushi for the crew — speaking of bacterial infections. Puncture ends with a realistic outcome to Big Health Care’s war of attrition against people who went to court to try to reform it – it’s based on a true story, after all. It could make you skeptical about the current plan to give corporations control of your health.

From Portland, Oregon, comes James Westby’s Rid of Me, the director’s riotous third feature and his third time at Tribeca. Rid of Me looks a woman wronged who’s still in love. Meris (Katie O’Grady) is a mousy assistant who marries her boss, and then relocates with him to Portland, where he grew up with a loud gaggle of frat friends and their competitive wives. When his old girlfriend Brianna returns (played by Storm Large, the actress with the best name in the business), Matt dumps Meris, who sticks around for revenge and all sorts of other unfulfilled needs. Rid of Me also weaves in the sub-plot of an shunned Arab family in the neighborhood post-9/11, and Meris plight of supporting herself after her provider abandons her. This movie will make anyone a feminist. It also builds credibility for filming in Portland — solid acting and production values.



Revenge Served Cold -- Katie O'Grady in James Westby's Rid of Me


Rid of Me begins with a wild gesture – I’ll call it blood revenge to preserve the element of surprise – and it takes you inside the tormented hate/love of an aborted marriage.  Katie O’Grady, who co-produced, juggles the mix of pain and humor with agility – this is a comedy, after all – and director/writer/producer/editor James Westby has a dark wit, even more unusual than his feminism.

In Artificial Paradises, Mexican director Yulene Olaizola moves from documentaries to her first feature. The setting is a rundown resort surrounded by a lush forest outside Veracruz.  Luisa, a heroin addict with enough education to know better, has come to this gorgeous ruin by the sea to kick her habit. The place has a ghostly emptiness along with its beauty (have all the locals gone to that other artificial paradise, the US, to work?), and she encounters Salomon (Salomon Hernandez) a local with a warm heart who gets through the day since his wife’s death with his own drug of choice, marijuana. Not much happens in this meditation, but you can’t take your eyes off it, as Luisa wanders through one artificial paradise (the daze of addiction) in the hope that another artificial paradise (the self-medication of an “escape” to nature) will turn her life around. Don’t bet on it. Lisa Tillinger, who shot Artificial Paradises, won Tribeca’s cinematography award. It was well-deserved.


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