It's being released to coincide with World AIDS Day, but Thom Fitzgerald's 3 Needles isn't so much about AIDS as it is blood — human hemoglobin seems to pour from every frame. Part Holy Communion, part arsenic-laced Syrah, it's constantly being wielded by the film’s characters as a weapon in their desperate struggles to survive both the disease and its political and social ramifications.
The movie's sweeping triptych of stories spans three continents. The first tale, which takes place in China, features Lucy Liu as a very pregnant woman bound to a man dying of AIDS who illegally collects and runs blood out of her dilapidated VW bus. The second (coyly titled "The Passion of the Christ") follows a poor, HIV-positive Montreal porn actor (Shawn Ashmore) and his Quebecois waitress mother (Stockard Channing), who purposely infects herself with the virus so she can sell her life insurance for a huge profit. Finally, in coastal South Africa two missionary nuns (Sandra Oh, Olympia Dukakis) and a nun in training (Chloe Sevigny) care for dying AIDS victims in the midst of white plantation owners exploiting HIV-infected employees who are so ignorant about the disease they believe they can be cured by passing it on to virgins (i.e., children).
So it's not exactly Happy Feet. But compared to those sad sacks in Babel, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's exercise in sadistic anguish, 3 Needles' characters handle their various afflictions with aplomb and ingenuity. The fight may be futile, but it'll still be fought — complete with a few sacri-licious jabs at the Big Man himself. It's doubtful that bisexual Irish Catholic provocateur Fitzgerald (The Hanging Garden) is calling for an Elton John–style outright ban on religion, but his piercing words and images offer a visceral inoculation against the complacency of the church, the worldwide government, and the free market itself.
It all adds up to a wet, crimson slap in the face of global apathy — and a desperately needed one at that. After all, breaking through the polite rhetoric should only take a little prick. (Michelle Devereaux)
Opens Fri/1 in Bay Area theaters
See Movie Clock at www.sfbg.com
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