They Call Us Monsters Review - Captivating as Lifers at 16 Tell Their Stories

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

They Call Us Monsters, a documentary from BMP Films and New Artists Alliance, takes the camera inside California's maximum security juvenile facilities, inside the youth criminal justice system, the homes, lives and backgrounds of the young and violent criminal.

Directed by Ben Lear, son of iconic television creator Norman Lear, They Call Us Monsters, begins with a long shot of "The Compound," a maximum-security California prison for youth offenders, that sits within Sylmar Juvenile Hall. Like most facilities, buildings, shopping malls and mega stores in the Southern California area, "The Compound" is a mega facility, a juvenile detention facility for non-violent offenders on one side and a maximum, lock-down facility, for violent youth awaiting trial having committed adult crime.

Oddly the grassy soccer field is the separating line, and that in and of itself is a statement, as the high risk kids are facing on average 75 years in maximum security adult prisons. The grass, which they are not allowed to touch, play on or experience is the standard statement in the take down, "remember how the grass feels because you'll never touch it again.

These kids, predominately Hispanic and African American, are facing hard time. Our three subjects, collectively are facing 400 years in prisons.

When Gabe Cowan, They Call Us Monsters Executive Producer enters "The Compound" he is there to teach a screenwriting class to interested high risk offenders. Four teens sign up. It's his first teaching experience.

They begin with the director explaining the goal of the class is to write a ten page screenplay, produce it and make the film in ten weeks. He begins with a simple screenwriting exercise, "yes and" and rolls a yellow ball toward one of the four and they ad lib the story.

The boys, each prove they have the chops for improvisation and the class begins. As the film progresses the stories of each of the boys is introduced.

We meet our subjects, Darrell, who leaves before the class is finished he is sentenced to 15 years in maximum security before parole, Jarad, arrested at 16, facing 200 years for four attempted murders, Juan, arrested at 16, facing 90-to life for first degree murder, and Antonio, arrested on month after his 14th birthday, facing 90 to life for two attempted murders.

One wonders when watching what could these kids do in such a short time to have these binding sentences on their lives.

The youth criminal system is also introduced and in reality, is continuing to be defined as children as young as 11 have been tried as adults for heinous and unheard of crimes. California has been a leader in youthful offender reform, even for those deemed violent and unable to be rehabilitated.

Since 2012, the California State Legislature has passed three significant pieces of legislation aimed at reforming the system. The first (SB 9, 2012) eliminating the "life without parole" sentence for juvenile offenders (except for those with special circumstances); The second (SB 260, 2013) Provides parole board hearings at 15 or 25 years for juvenile offenders with defacto life sentences, and the third, (SB 261, 2015) raises the age of SB260 to 22 years old, affecting an additional 16,000 inmates.

The facts remain, as strongly as the advocates of reform, that children clearly have a knowledge of right and wrongs. These inner cities youth understand, and quite honestly, as do country bumpkins, that guns kill. Simply, the wrong or right flashcards exists: it is wrong to take the life of another person.

They Call Us Monsters doesn't sugarcoat the facts: These three, Juan, Jarad, and Antonio are violent criminals. Looking at this baby-faced Juan, and realizing he is guilty of a point-blank murder in MacArthur Park, Jarad a gang related drive-by that leaves a 17-year-old female in a wheelchair permanently, and Antonio, at 12 addicted to Meth, and with an addicts dogged pursuit did anything and everything, including two counts of attempted murder, to get the drug, is difficult to wrap ones mind around even if these troubled times of high crime, drugs, violent gangs and rash, unheard of violence over the trivial slight.

Confession tapes are shown where Jarad is coerced into writing an apology letter to the victims, and while he has been Mirandized, the strictest interpretation of the Miranda Law is "anything you say." The handwritten apology served as a confession which aided by the incompetent attorney, who did herself a disservice by failing to challenge even the most minor details cultivated grounds for a new trial. He was clearly unprepared to participate in his own defense and she was also. He was sentenced to 200 years.

MacArthur Park in Los Angeles, a neighborhood that takes on an entirely different persona after hours, had just been outfitted with hidden cameras to capture the "element" and for prosecution value when the a point blank murder was captured on videotape. Juan, age 12, was in a loyalty challenge for his brother's gang.  

Antonio, lived throughout most of the film in the spotlight of hope, his case was under appeal and there was a strong possibility he would walk. And he did. Initially he a strong sense of determination to be the voice for those still behind emery lines, locked up forever, but no drive. Soon hanging with the hood on the corner, the freedoms that sucked him before at 12 when he became addicted to meth, showed up and he couldn't deal. By the film's end Antonio was on the inside again, an adult prison serving 90 to life.

They Call Us Monsters goes beyond the maximum-security gates, into the lives of the offenders, the past, when they had hopes or a different future, visits with the parent who also spoke of the moments when they saw the split, when the child left the house and the bonds of friendship drew them into an adult existence way to soon.

One note of the documentary is that it began with a goal, for these kids awaiting trial, to participle in this screenwriting class, tell their story and have the film made. The reached their goal and quite possibly for the first time gave them an actual sense of accomplishment.

They Call Us Monsters is a poignant, captivating documentary. Not another "Bad Boys Behind Bars" or youth criminal who are hoping to have their sentences reduced for a few faked contrite moments on screen.

They Call Us Monsters opens everywhere January 20, 2017. See this film, it leaves you speechless.

Haute Tease

  • Weinstein Gallery Extends Raumlichtkunst Exhibition

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    In response to the deep interest and enthusiasm for Raumlichtkunst (c.1926/2012)by German-American artist Oskar Fischinger, Weinstein Gallery has extended the exhibition to February 10th, 2018 and hosts a lecture and exhibition tour with Oskar Fischinger curator and archivist.

     
  • Journey to the Christmas Star Review – Charming Holiday Enchantment

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    Journey to the Christmas Star,” from Vertical Entertainment and Moskus Entertainment, presents a heartwarming holiday adventure through an enchanted forest with magical encounters in a race to restore the Christmas Star.

     
  • The Trip To Spain Review – Fun-Filled, Michelin Rated, A Gastronomy Orgasm

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    The Trip to Spain, from IFC Films and Revolution Films, presents the third road film, that have our companions headed to parts unknown to write reviews from the premiere, off the beaten path, restaurants for marketing and film promotion.

     
  • Late Night Review – Sharp, Edgy, Funny, A Must See

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    Late Night, from Amazon Pictures and Entertainment One, presents a funny and unfortunately realistic view of the talk show wars, complete with an over the hill female host, a writer’s room of sophomoric males, and an adversarial TV exec.

     
  • Brave Miss World Review – Gripping, Powerful, Compelling Stories of Survival

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    "Brave Miss World," from Rocket Girl Productions and Reif Entertainment, presents the harrowing survival story of Linor Abargil, a beauty queen, who was raped and abducted six weeks before being crowned Miss World 1998.

     
  • Tosaly’s Kamaria Heels - Hello Lover and Welcome Home

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    Now taking center stage as my favorite “it” footwear is Tosaly’s “Kamaria” heel. Conceived by the “well-heeled” luxury British designer, Toyin Salami, the Kamaria is a tried-and-true statement shoe handmade by master artisans using modern techniques.

     
  • Money News: DOW Up; World Markets Rebound; Asian Markets Plummet

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    Rallying from the recent Charlie Hebdo Terrorist Attacks the World Markets responded to the global show of strength sending a unified anti-terror message as skittish investors returned to the markets of the world with renewed confidence.

     
  • Paris Fashion Week: Rani Zakhem Couture, Fall/Winter 2018-2019 – Dazzling, Flamboyant, Sensual

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    The Rani Zakhem Couture Fall Winter 2018-2019 collection is a vibrant, sparkling tribute to the combating and combative woman, Amazone of all jungles and terribly "Glamazonian", fatally seductive when, like a warrior goddess, she appears in her crystal armor.

     
  • Running For A Reason 2nd Annual Treadmill Marathon to Commence Sunday, November 17th

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    The 2nd Annual Treadmill Marathon is set to take place Sunday, November 17th in Los Angeles, CA where participants are running for recovery, resiliency and hope for a better life for all those affected by mental illness.  All proceeds will go to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

     
  • Gertrude’s of Scottsdale Review – Magical Mastery of Ingredient-Driven Menu

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    Gertrude's Restaurant in Phoenix, Arizona, is one of those rare dining establishment boasting an incredible location literally inside the famed Desert Botanical Garden, perfect combinations of fresh seasonal ingredients with culinary excellence that makes it a must-visit venue for any food lover.

     
  • CharityStars: Limited Edition Ferrari Michael Schumacher Memorabilia Offered For Auction

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    The Ferrari F2004 was not only one of the most successful, but also one of the most iconic Ferrari Formula 1 cars of all time, being the very last model that was designed by the all-conquering Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne duo, under the leadership of Jean Todt.

     
  • Former Presidents, World Leaders, Pay Tribute To George H.W. Bush

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    As the news that former President George H.W. Bush had passed away, a steady stream of accolades praising the leader as a humble, dedicated, public service, who remained faithfully dedicated to his family, his wife and the life they built.

     
  • Beltway Insider: ISIL /ISIS Beheads US Journalist; Ferguson Unrest; Renewed Russia/Ukraine Violence

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    President Obama, from Martha's Vineyard, addressed global tensions erupting in the Ukraine and in Iraq as ISIS terrorist's responded to the current United States Iraq policy with the murder of kidnapped journalist James Foley in a graphic and chilling video.

     
  • DreamWorks Animation and 20th Century Fox Are Making Holiday Gift Giving More Fun

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    DreamWorks Animation and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment is sending a sleigh full of gift giving ideas as the newest titles, hottest box office hits and all the familiar favorites hit the store shelves in time for shoppers to get a head start on the mad holiday rush.

     
  • Barbara Bush, Daughter of Former President George Bush, Marries

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    Barbara Bush, the daughter of former President George W.  Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush, married Craig Coyne, this weekend in a quiet, low key, romantic ceremony held at the family compound in Kennebunkport, MA.