WWTF (Wassup With This Flick): SUN CHOKE

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We know Janie (Sarah Hagan) has severe mental health issues, Irma (Barbara Crampton), the housekeeper/stepmother, may be trying to cure her with yoga, holistic exercises and New Age babble and that, in one of her rare forays out of doors (most of the film takes place in a lavish yet sterile Beverly Hills home complete with swimming pool) Janie becomes obsessed with a young woman named Savannah (Sara Malakul Lane) and begins to stalk her. 

Sarah Hagan as Janie

That’s it. The rest may be up to you. Writer/director Ben Cresciman supplies no backstories for any of the characters. He only hints that something very bad happened to Janie (perhaps dating back to her childhood), her mother has died and the father has been largely absent from the scene (in the film he is on an extended trip to Tokyo). Themes of parental neglect, personal control (or the lack of it) and the care and treatment of mental illness are hinted at. But like all works of art, the final interpretation is left up to the individual viewer.

Sara Malakul Lane

All three actresses are committed to Cresciman’s vision. The cinematography (by Matthew Rudenberg) reflects the many moods of the characters and is exquisite and well thought out.

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Barbara Crampton

The problem, for the viewer, may be that, like Janie, you will have problems separating reality from what is going on in Janie’s feverish imagination. Most of the film seems to be from her deeply disturbed point of view. In literature, Janie’s POV is often referred to as “the unreliable narrator”.

If the idea of a film that entertains while it makes you work and if the concept of a film largely set in one environment and only featuring three main characters makes you as a viewer feel claustrophobic, then you are advised to choose something else.

For me, even though I couldn’t always figure out what was going on, the film held my attention to the bitter end (and the ending may be bitter to most viewers) and images from the film replayed themselves in my mind for several days after viewing, the mark of a film that grips and holds my imagination.

Sun Choke was streaming on Netflix as of May 2017



Another Short Short Story; “Back When My Hair was (Much) Longer “.

When I read this aloud at a recent “word jam” at a local venue the reaction from the small audience of assembled poets, writers and assorted wordsmiths was a stunned silence followed by a smattering of polite applause. No one spoke to me for the rest of the evening and the emcee kept giving me poisonous looks. So as they say forewarned is forearmed. (But who wants four arms?)

Anyway, ready or not, here it comes ….

There was a time in my younger years when I felt like I was living in a war zone.

 And, of course, in any war zone there is gonna be casualties.

 At least, that’s what I kept telling myself. Now that the fog is beginning to lift, I’m not so sure. Y’see, lately, I have been starting to remember things.

 Like Sybil and Larry’s so-called living room.

 There was no furniture in it. Just lots of cushions. That way, nobody could hurt themselves.

 I remember my mother showing up at the door. Somehow she tracked me down with a combination of maternal GPS and pit bull determination.

 “I hope they don’t smoke dope in that house,” she said.

“Smoke it, hell, they sell it,” I laughed.

Yeah, I thought it was pretty funny at the time. I don’t think it’s so funny now. I’d tell her but Mom  got cancer of the pancreas awhile ago and there ain’t no comin’ back from that bad boy.

 Y’know, they say weed isn’t physically addictive. And, technically, that’s true. But I gotta tell ya, on a strictly need-to-know basis, that stuff had me by the short hairs. I mean, I couldn’t get off those cushions to save my life. Or anyone else’s, for that matter.

I remember Sybil’s mom, too. Well, none of us knew her first name. We just called her Mrs. B.

In between smoke dreams, I heard Mrs. B. had come into a chunk of change in her native England. But, apparently, she hadn’t, how should they put it , uh, “demonstrated fiscal responsibility.”

So now the folks in the Old Country doled out a monthly allowance. Just enough to keep her at the local pub most of the day and pay for the rent on the house once a month.  

Come to think of it, she looked a little like Sybil. Except older. And that delicate English rose beauty was starting to look a little crumpled. Partly because of the booze and partly because of what we were reliably informed was a tumor eating its way through her brain.

 Word was, when Mrs. B. went to her reward, Sybil was gonna inherit everything and she and Larry were already talking about buying a ranch in Spain and raising horses.

On one of those rare nights when Mrs. B. didn’t bring home a guy from the pub Sybil and Larry and this really creepy older guy named Curtis gave me a herbal stogie that would have choked George Burns (or George Carlin, depending on your frame of reference), threw me in Mrs. B’s room and locked the door.

Mrs. B.  mumbled something incoherent. As for me, I sat waiting by the door for what I knew was going to happen. (Hey, I wasn’t that stoned.)

Sure enough, sometime later, the three of them threw open the door and yelled, “Surprise” with big grins on their faces.

Strangely enough, it was Sybil who seemed to more pissed off that the others that their little prank hadn’t worked.

Cuz after that, things got a little rough. I mean, one morning, Sybil dumped a pot of scalding hot coffee on my head. She said it was an accident but I had my doubts. 

Sure, I shoulda left. But everytime I tried, a knock would come at the door, there would be a murmured conversation in the kitchen, the ritual torch would be passed around, like it was the Olympics or something, and Robert Plant would start singing about his lemon. (Never could figure that out. There was a stack of LPs leaning against the wall, mostly mine, but all they ever seemed to play was the second Led Zeppelin album.)

So, anyway, one afternoon, I’m leaning against the cushions with smoke rings doing cartwheels in my head and I hear voices.

“It wouldn’t be like we were really killing her. We’re just helping her along, ” says a soft female voice with a vague English accent. 

There is an Irish band called Taste on the turntable. On the Boards. Their second album. My choice, well, my record player, come to think of it. There’s only four of us in the house and Sybil and Larry and Jim are in the kitchen for a change.

“I don’t like knives.” says a male voice. Sounds like Jim. “It’s too personal.”

 “We could run her over when she comes out of the pub,” says another voice.  “Shouldn’t take much. Just a little bump. ”

The needle plays the final cut on Side I, the needle arm winds back with the sound needle arms make when they have finished a record and are taking a break.

The voices stop. There’s some furtive whispering, a chair scraping against the floor and heavy footsteps heading in my direction. 

I look up groggily, acting like I am drifting in and out of consciousness. (Which doesn’t take much acting on my part.)

Curtis stands in the living room, looking down at me with an odd expression on his face.

“Did you hear what we were talking about?”

 Well, sir, I didn’t know what to say.  

 All I could think about was something he had told me once.  

 Something about the back yard.