Briefs: 'Tchoupitoulas,' 'House I Live In'

  • Updated: January 18, 2013 - 10:45 AM

Short reviews of the 80-minute ramble "Tchoupitoulas" and the ambitious but frustratingly predictable documentary "The House I Live In."

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"Tchoupitoulas"

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THE HOUSE I LIVE IN ★★ OUT OF FOUR STARS • Not rated

If you have read any of the many critiques of U.S. drug policy in the past 40 years, you will be familiar with the thrust of this ambitious but frustratingly predictable documentary. It provides almost no new insights in its 108 minutes.

A framing device involving filmmaker Eugene Jarecki's former housekeeper, who lost a son to drugs in the late 1980s, puts a human face on the policy debate. Jarecki pursues many such personal stories, certainly the film's strongest virtue.

Within minutes we are told that it's not illegal drugs, but the war on drugs, that has caused the worst problems. The assertion goes entirely unchallenged, as if no other viewpoint exists.

The war on drugs is expensive and Draconian, and it has not worked. It tears apart families and communities. It targets the poor and minorities disproportionately. It has stuffed our prisons with more than 500.000 nonviolent offenders, many serving insanely long mandatory sentences. It under-emphasizes treatment while profiting big companies that build and supply prisons. Carried forward by political sloganeering, it spawns a corrosive hopelessness. You get the picture.

The film's message is carried forth by a series of talking heads, many of them of the Ivy League, deep-thinking variety. One wearying "expert" is David Simon, onetime Baltimore Sun reporter and creator of HBO's "The Wire," who seems ready to lecture us all night, humorlessly offering opinion as undisputed fact.

The movie's indictment would be more persuasive had Jarecki recognized that his audience likely already knows most of what he recaps, and can handle the odd scrap of ambiguity. Some coverage of potential solutions would have been nice, along with the sermonizing.

CLAUDE PECK

TCHOUPITOULAS ★★ 1/2 OUT OF FOUR STARS

Unrated: partial nudity.

On the blurry border between fiction and documentary, this likable 80-minute ramble from directors Bill Ross IV and Turner Ross, follows three New Orleans teens (William, Bryan and Kentrell Zanders) through the French Quarter after they miss their ferry home. The boys are innocent; the nightclub dancers, late-night street performers and policemen seem a bit intimidating, like creatures out of a strange dream. The camera wanders off to backstage encounters with striptease artists, but the cheerful Zanders brothers, faces open and eyes wide as they navigate through a night of unsupervised exploration, are far more intriguing. The city's seedy charm has not often been captured so atmospherically.

COLIN COVERT

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