Linda Stirling Unmasked: The Black Whip

: Dragged from her chariot by a mob of fanatical vigilante Christian monks, the revered astronomer was stripped naked, skinned to her bones with sharp oyster shells, stoned and burned alive as possibly the first executed witch in history. A kind of purge that was apparently big business back then.



Before The Devil Knows You're Dead: A DOA Human Cesspool Marinated In Murky Madness

The prolific, apparently still fully energized filmmaking legend, eighty three year old Sidney Lumet, is also far from thematically set in his ways, if his latest work, the corrosive crime thriller Before The Devil Knows You're Dead, is any indication. Or perhaps it's a case of reflecting a changing social canvas around him, one far more cynical today, and shaped morally by the ever deepening corrupt influences of money and the fanatical raw greed so instrumental in obtaining and possessing it. Lumet's passionate sense of social justice, ethical conviction and human redemption in films like Twelve Angry Men, The Verdict and Network may have dampened with age, though his gift for delving into the darkest recesses of the defiling human soul that he once so boldly challenged, is as sharply honed as any of the younger filmmakers around.

The title of the film is taken from a traditional Irish drinking toast, "May you be in heaven half an hour, before the devil knows you're dead." And in a narrative devoid of any heroes, one might assess the title as long winded but certainly not excessive in its brutal pessimism. The story revolves around the caustic relationship between two bad seed siblings, elder Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a shady Manhattan businessman with a secret coke habit who is living beyond his means and desperately in need of some quick cash, and younger brother Hank (Ethan Hawke), a weak-willed whining loser also drowning in debt that includes alimony and child support due to a nagging ex-wife and a financially needy young daughter.

Andy hatches what he promotes as a foolproof plan to send gullible Hank to rob their parents' mom 'n pop strip mall jewelry store in suburban Westchester. Tragic complications arise when Hank wimps out and drags a bad news ex-con buddy into the heist without Andy's knowledge or consent, and his felonious chum and elderly pistol packing Mom (Rosemary Harris) end up in a fierce, bloody shootout where they basically blow each other away.

Meanwhile, Andy's bored and frustrated sexpot trophy wife (Marisa Tomei) has been meeting Hank on the sly for steamy afternoon sex trysts at his seedy hovel. Marisa's pretty much kept around in the movie just for occasional guy sexual satisfaction in assorted bedrooms between bouts of their bad boy behavior out in the real world. This includes writhing around nude on the sheets in a real time lurid opener, while pretending to be thrilled out of her mind to be humped by Hoffman's equally nude flabby physique, as he's more fixated on admiring his own sweaty pudgy gyrations in the bedroom mirror. Eventually nearly everyone seems to be betraying if not outright gunning after at least one other person, even dear old Dad (Albert Finney), with most of them shockingly, much too-close-for-comfort sharing the same gene pool.

Though crafted as a taut, effective dysfunctional family crime thriller with rarely a dull or distracting moment, the deadly, dehumanizing entanglements are endlessly vile and dreary, if not outright clinically depressing. Which leads to basically a single clear thought about the human cesspool in all this murky madness. Namely, what's the point. Sorry Sid, but I liked you a whole lot better when you stood for a few important things, like moral outrage against oppression and injustice, rather than conceding to these negative forces and essentially wallowing in them.

Prairie Miller

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