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AFI FEST 2005: SORRY, HATERS and FACTOR 8: THE ARKANSAS PRISON BLOOD SCANDAL

SORRY, HATERS is amazing. And not what you probably think from the title.

Ashade (Abdellatif Kechiche) is a Syrian Muslim cab driver desperately trying to raise money for a lawyer to help his brother out of immigration hell. Phoebe (Robin Wright Penn) is an executive at Q-Dog TV, a thinly disguised version of MTV noted for the show “Sorry, Haters!” that’s basically MTV Cribs with more arrogance. When Phoebe steps into Ashade’s cab one night, the drama begins. She has him drive her out to Jersey, where she vandalizes an SUV. Then on the way back, she talks her way into his home, and offers to find him a better lawyer. But there’s something a little off about her from the start, and by the time it becomes clearer, she’s already gotten what she needs to make life very difficult for Ashade.

The less said about the rest of the story, the better. It’s always tense, frequently unplesaant, and keeps you guessing. There may be the temptation to see grand political War On Terror issues at work, but really, this movie isn’t about broader movements, but two individuals in the post 9-11 world, with personal agendas. The mini-DV cinematography looks great, and the use of available locations and minimal actors is a textbook example of how to do this kind of thing right.

Keep an eye on writer-director Jeff Stanzler.

FACTOR 8 is not so amazing. The subject matter is important, and valuable to be brought out into the open — the story of how an Arkansas prison had a blood donation program that sent tainted blood all over the world, and may have even resorted to murder to cover up the evidence. The fact that much of this happened under Governor Bill Clinton’s watch suggests that maybe the attack dogs of the right could be useful if they were set loose on the story.

The film, however, goes on for about half an hour reiterating its thesis before actually getting into the good stuff. It feels really padded, especailly when director Kelly Duda throws in a stock footage scene in an abandoned church, where he hones in on teh Ten Commandments. We get it.

Duda also seems to think that homosexuals should be barred from giving blood — he doesn’t seem to distinguish between gay men with HIV and those without. Granted, in the prison system those distinctions may be more blurred than the outside world, but his language doesn’t seem to make the distinction.

It’s a good thing to bring the world’s attention to the scandal, but the movie would be better as a half-hour TV special.

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