Monday, April 16, 2007

3 Needles: Grade D


3 Needles (2006)

Stockard Channing, Lucy Liu, Chloe Sevigny, Sandra Oh, Olympia Dukkakis, Shawn Ashmore. Director Thom Fitzgerald.

Three and a half short stories about the AIDS epidemic are dramatized. The first (and best) full story has Liu as a black market Chinese blood dealer. With unsterile equipment she accidentally spreads AIDS through three villages. Her acting is subtle and the scenery is great, but the point of the story is what? AIDS exists? AIDS is terrible? The main theme uniting all three stories is that greed trumps morality when it comes to AIDS education, prevention and care.

In the second story, a porn actor in Montreal (Ashmore) disguises his blood test and continues working even after he suspects he is HIV-positive. His mother (Channing) pulls an insurance scam so they can at least die high on the hog. Again, greed trumps morality. Channing gives the best performance in the film. I’ve always thought she is underrated.

All the sex scenes in this movie are puerile and prurient. There are a lot of ways to present porn in the context of an AIDS story without trying for (unachievable anyway) shock value. The same in the other two stories: Lucy Liu was gang raped in a van – something not essential to her story. In the third story, a nun strips and her body is sensuously explored by the heavy. While many characters in the movie inexplicably don’t seem to know that AIDS is an STD, there is, of course, no connection between crude, shocking, or violent sex and AIDS. Any kind of sex will do it. Is the director trying to make an irrational quasi-moral connection? If so, that would be shocking.

The final full story has three Catholic nuns in a South African village trying to bring souls to Jesus before they perish from the epidemic. This story has a palpable sense of place, but its purpose is not clear. Some young boys steal used needles, repackage them as new and sell them. Again, greed trumps morality, although perhaps the boys are too young to understand AIDS. A second theme has Sevigny offer her body to the plantation owner in exchange for cash for the mission. Presumably she has a high moral purpose, but the bottom line that is she repeatedly prostitutes herself. And the point about AIDS is…?

Finally, there is a half story of some African tribal boys going through a circumcision ritual. It is well filmed, and one cringes at the bloody, unsterilized knife being reused, but other than that allusion, the segment is unfinished and unrelated to the rest of the movie, except that it is consistent with the offensive and destructive subtext that only "bad" people, including porn actors, darkies, pagans, peasants, and ignorant foreigners get AIDS. We do not see a story of AIDS striking a rich white family in Boston.

An extremely obnoxious feature is a stentorian narrator (it might be Dukkakis), who adds zero value. The narration is apparently to thump witless viewers over the head, spoiling whatever artistic effect might have been achieved with pictures alone. In the end, does the narrator conclude that greed trumps morality? No. Contrary to the previous 2 hours of film, she concludes that the AIDS epidemic is God’s fault. What? This seems to have been a well-intended didactic effort but it is so coarse and chaotic it delivers no message but a pseudo moralistic stench.

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