Film Review: ‘The Culture High’

The Culture High Movie Review

A lack of focus and overly obvious arguments undermine Brett Harvey's pro-pot doc.

A serious-minded two-hour documentary consisting of wall-to-wall talking heads isn’t the typical definition of stoner cinema, but “The Culture High” has a sincere aim to impact the ongoing debate over marijuana legalization. Unfortunately, the film’s haphazard structure and freewheeling arguments only serve to reinforce tired pothead cliches — it’s paranoid, prone to starry-eyed dorm-room philosophizing, and it doesn’t know when to quit. Director Brett Harvey previously delved into the topic in his 2007 debut, “The Union: The Business Behind Getting High,” and that pic’s cult fanbase should spark to this long-winded but ultimately optimistic follow-up. But without a more rigorous edit, any chances of breaking out to a wider audience in an Oct. 17 VOD release will quickly go up in smoke.

Harvey and co-writer Michael Bobroff appear to view weed as a jumping-off point to discuss, well, just about anything. Militarized police, the proliferation of prescription drugs, a complacent news media, lobbying as a form of tacit bribery, the NSA’s snooping on U.S. citizens, and prisons run for profit are just a few of the numerous subjects touched on at some point during “The Culture High,” as the film leaps from topic to topic like a particularly ADD member of the debate club. Everything is meant to fall under the general umbrella of what stands in the way of legalizing marijuana, even for medicinal use, but not all the dots connect quite so cleanly, and most of the talking points won’t surprise anyone with cursory knowledge of any given subject.

Given that the film is little more than a long series of soundbites, audience interest will fluctuate wildly depending on whoever happens to be onscreen at the moment. The scores of talking heads range from insightful (former Baltimore police detective and “The Wire” co-creator Ed Burns) to kooky (author Howard Bloom) to totally far out (charming former international pot smuggler Howard Marks), with a few gratuitous celebs (Snoop Dogg, Richard Branson, rant-happy comedian Joe Rogan) on hand simply to lend name value to the promotional campaign. No matter who’s speaking, Harvey and editor Stephen Green have an annoying habit of illustrating their observations with thuddingly obvious archival and stock footage that’s frequently downright cheesy.

Slightly more effective but no less shameless are the handful of horror stories from people whose lives have become collateral damage in the war on drugs. Harvey opens with footage of a Missouri SWAT team raiding a home and killing a family’s dog in a bust that ultimately resulted in a $300 fine. Later comes the story of a young man who suffered from a rare food allergy and died in prison after being jailed for failing to appear in court on a misdemeanor charge for pot possession. And substantial time is devoted to the tearjerking tale of Jason David and his young son Jayden, who suffered debilitating seizures from a very young age and found relief only through medical cannabis.

Politically, the pic initially lays the blame exclusively on conservatives — singling out Richard Nixon, Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush and even Mitt Romney for scorn with vintage clips — but eventually works its way around to criticizing President Obama’s brashly political appointment of Michele Leonhart as head of the DEA, and the administration’s crackdown on medical marijuana. Bill Clinton is also admonished for coming out in favor of legalizing marijuana only after leaving office. In contrast with many contemporary docs, the goal here isn’t to divide viewers down partisan lines, but to unite them with a common-sense approach to solving the ongoing problems of the drug war.

To that end, instead of building what’s become a commonplace argument against the folly of marijuana prohibition, perhaps more time would have been warranted exploring the ways in which the discussion has progressed in recent years. It’s not until the film’s final minutes that marijuana legalization in both Washington and Colorado earns a mention, while continued changes in popular opinion and promising political momentum go largely unexplored. Then again, Harvey doesn’t hide his intentions to motivate viewers to keep fighting for a change in drug laws rather than giving them permission to sit back and assume everything will work itself out.

Still, “The Culture High” doesn’t feel rousing so much as redundant, especially when Rogan points out the “constant stream of books, documentaries, blog posts and podcasts” advocating for legalization. As the pic’s experts almost unanimously agree, change will come. And when it does, there won’t be any need for docs like this.

Film Review: 'The Culture High'

Reviewed online, West Hollywood, Oct. 14, 2014. Running time: 120 MIN.

Production

(Documentary) An Entertainment One Films release of a Phase 4 Films presentation of a Score G Productions, BKS-Crew Productions and Sophia Entertainment production. Produced by Adam Scorgie. Executive producers, Andrew Napier, Bianca Barnhill, Kieran Maguire, Rocky Mudaliar, Nolan Pielak, Todd McCormick, Scorgie. Co-producers, Michael Bobroff, Don Metz.

Crew

Directed by Brett Harvey. Written by Michael Bobroff, Harvey. Camera (color, HD), Harvey; editor, Stephen Green; music, Steve Badach, Michael Champion; line producer, Green; associate producers, Jason Reed, Andrew Holmes.

With

Ed Burns, Cenk Uyger, Cara Santa Maria, Howard Bloom, Gabor Mate, Annie Machon, Stephen Downing, Howard Marks, Lester Grinspoon, Todd McCormick, Joe Rogan, Snoop Dogg, Richard Branson, Wiz Khalifa, Jason David.

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  1. Nunya Biznaz says:

    This is the worst piece of sh*t I’ve ever read and that was the best documentary I’ve ever seen!

  2. brad says:

    This is an extremely poor review. Labeling the likes of Snoop and Joe Rogan as “gratuitous” is laughable. Both were excellent in the film and made many logical and thought provoking viewpoints. You clearly dismissed them based upon their celebrity.
    I hope everyone who reads this review actually watches the film for themselves. It was an outstanding collection of information and iconoclasm that in reality was about much more than the legalization of weed.

  3. A really poor review. Perhaps the author was too drugged up on anti-depressants to follow the film?

  4. henk bakker says:

    This is a gread movie, if it is not enough main stream, it will get a bad review.
    How much speaking freedom is there ? if there is some thing the authoritys don’t like,
    what will the film critics say ?

  5. Clint rhoades says:

    I thought the documentary was great and insightful.obviously this reviewer,has never been any where close to the issue,aside from what he’s been told or maybe read about somewhere.his way of speaking reminds me of a very sheltered individual that’s never walked mile in the shoes of anybody that’s been on t
    he front lines of this issue.have you ever been
    locked up for refusing an authoritys control over you,have you ever lost anyone close to you by means of prison because of some dumb fuck lawmakers decided said loved one’s lifestyle was wrong,because they fuckin said so.or even die because power abusive police mother fuckers shot said loved one for not respecting their bullshit authority and having a mind of their own to live how they saw fit,and died cuz they refused to give up thier smoke.fuck you,your part of the problem.you would know that if you spent a little more time in the real world,the real American population,but u people cant.you dont belong with real self thinking people.so keep your nose in your books and your mouth on the dicks of people you dont mind telling YOU what to do,say,or believe.you don’t shit about truth.

  6. Kim says:

    For decades misinformation and lies have been peddled about cannabis by governments, associated agencies and the media. Culture High on the other hand offers us expert opinion (the truth) about cannabis & the wider war on drugs. How in gods name is that redundant? How is ignorance and unfounded fear better than real information and facts? Clearly this reviewer would rather be left n the dark.

  7. Matt P. says:

    What an absurd review. If you can call it a “review”. At first I thought this was a spoof. To suggest that a film is “starry-eyed dorm-room philosophizing” when it engages former drug Czars, DEA agents, Chief’s of police, undercover agents and world leading doctors is plain ridiculous. I’m not sure of the reasons why this piece was written in the inflammatory manner it was, but it is apparent that the author of it has some personal bone to pick or is attempting to come across as edgy. You sir, are no Siskel or Ebert. This so called review discredits any value I held in Variety movie reviews. This nonsense seems to have now become the norm within the Hollywood bubble.

  8. I’m amazed by how many people think this review is biased. I support legalization and grow medical marijuana. However this documentary is extremely biased. I’ve seen the documentary multiple times and wrote an analysis paper on it for school. I didn’t really notice all the biased views until I sat down and was looking for them. Because I supported the argument it made it easy to miss out on these things. The author gave a very fair and similar analysis to the one I gave. The author doesn’t argue one way or another on the topic, he just analyzes how the film argues its topics. They didn’t interview a single person on the opposing side, just video clips. All the video they use in their film helps their argument. As a strong supporter in legalization I still see that the film is biased.

  9. Jack says:

    ‘The Culture High has been nominated for Best Feature Length Documentary Program, Best Cinematography in a Documentary Program or Series, and Best Picture Editing in a Documentary Program or Series at the 2015 Leo Awards,and for Best Documentary at the 30th Warsaw International Film Festival.’ Yeah, good job on the review mate, looks Like you stated your opinion rather than analysing the documentary carefully and extracting the rational positives and negatives from the film.

    Geoff’s terrible review: 0.5/10

  10. Jack says:

    This just goes to show that anyone can make a review. At no point has any one died from cannabis use. Millions of people each year are dying from cancer and suffering from terrible diseases such as epilepsy and Tourettes. Science shows that cannabis is not only beneficial to treating these disorders and diseases but has the potential to cure them. Being against cannabis use is pretty much saying that you’re okay with people’s lives being ruined. As Jesse J would say, “it’s all about the money” when it comes to the government regardless of how many people die due to the criminalisation of marijuana.

  11. jon says:

    This plant has been shown and proven to have been used by ancient humans for 1000s of years for medicine for health for whatever reason they grew it and cultivated it and produced probably more variations than any other plant . If this plant has caused no deaths why would it gain a schedule 1 drug class rating and pushed around the world to be adhered to and followed .All this has done is put it in the hands of criminals to trade and make vast amounts of money from .Something that should be free to grow and own if you wish too ..insane laws for an insane time in history

  12. jon says:

    Critic ha ha ,Mouthpiece for a tired old government line . It didn’t work for prohibition on alcohol and hasn’t worked any better on any other drug .Making something illegal with no rational reality only hurts who it says is trying to protect and shows it for what it is about “money” .pure and simple…

  13. Jon says:

    I mean, I understand where you say it can be disjointed, but those with analytic skills above a ninth grader and capable of drawing the conclusion necessary to see how it all impacts this one topic and its heavy debate.

  14. Wilber says:

    A person who can write a review like this must be very small minded and pigheaded about the topic.
    This can’t even be called a review, because the author is only trying to disprove what is said in the documentary without even giving a substructured argument about what his/her opinion is.

  15. Samantha Fox says:

    I find it fascinating that this “Movie Reviewer” for Variety can be SOOOOO disconnected with audience opinion on this ridiculous review.

    Netflix – 4.4/5 Stars
    Google Play – 4.7/5 Stars
    Amazon – 4.9/5 Stars
    IMDB – 8.5/10 Stars
    iTunes – 4.5/5 Stars
    Rotten Tomatoes 97% Audience Rating

    It really makes one question “Why do we have people who have never produce or made a movie, reviewing movies? Why is do they even exist with todays online audience?

    Seriously though, not trying to be mean or spiteful, like Geoff’s review of this great documentary, but what gives him the credibility or authority to review ANY movie? When Geoff has never even made a short film? Specially when Geoff talks about film technique, something he a ZERO clue about…..obviously.

    Ontop of that, reviewers like Geoff, can use the power of a company like Variety to prevent people from ordering,watching, or purchasing this film and take potential earnings away from the filmmakers and their families? It really seems criminal.

    The silver lining to this story is, this film appears to be a huge indie success, despite Geoff Berkshire’s uneducated review and people like Geoff are becoming more and more obsolete, then Geoff can find his proper place in writing THE NATIONAL ENQUIRER or STAR magazine.

  16. Did someone force you at gun point to write that drivel? My god, that was a pathetic and contrived piece of writing. Maybe next time try not to come off appearing so offended that someone holds a different point of view than yours.

  17. cortney says:

    You missed the entire point of this documentary if those are the things that you got out of it. Half of the point was to point out the issues of having 2 political parties and how everyone thinks they have to agree with all things promoted by a single one. The point is that marijuana doesn’t call harm to people and it should be our own right to decide if we want to put it into our body. Incarcerating people against there will for consuming a plant that does affect anyone around them is a violation of the basic human rights this country was founded upon. Maybe if you weren’t so close minded and worried about the political party aspect of it you wouldn’t think this way.

  18. Paul Miller says:

    Hey Geoff– I read your review and found a couple clerical errors. Fixed it for you.

    —————————————

    I threw on The Culture High for some background noise while I worked.. literally 5 minutes later, I’m glued to the T.V. listening intently to one of the most eloquent descriptions of addiction and addictive behaviors I’ve ever heard, and crying as I watched a 7 year old recovering from benzodiazepines. Despite the cliche’d starry-night long-exposure shots used as a backdrop to the narration, The Culture High is an utterly transfixing documentary from the beginning to the last second, packed with information both old and new, and with enough meaningful content to aid in having worthwhile conversations with friends and strangers based on tangible relatable evidence instead of conjecture and media-fed bullshit (or “opinions” as they’re called).

    —————————————

    You’re welcome, you amateur media apologist.

    P.S. — Someone from the media reacting very defensively to a documentary speaking against the debilitating nature of our media as an information source. Shocking!

  19. Jason B says:

    Interesting rebuttal reply below from “Vince” to other replies… you’re very eager to defend this scathing review? A friend of the reviewer maybe? Maybe not… :) Geoff is absolutely not just saying “there’s nothing surprising in this documentary”. His review is a hit piece, plain and simple. Whether it’s to serve his own ego or to serve some other silly agenda, it is blatantly attempting to drive people away from the documentary, even going so far as to underhandedly attack its release on VOD, for no reason at all. He calls the film “paranoid”, then fails to point out what component of the doc is paranoid. And as far as “nothing surprising”, really?… You’re trying to convince everyone that the majority of the public has a clear understanding of the how police financing, the mexican drug war, the media and politicians operate? Give me a break. Such an odd position to be taking… if you truly care about the issues at hand and want the public to be educated. Unfortunately, not everyone has such masterful knowledge on the topics as you and Geoff, which has been clearly demonstrated by the 4 to 5 star ratings the film is receiving from around the world on nearly every platform. You don’t get more out of touch than that. As for your “Snoop Dogg?? really??” comment… that’s your reason for thinking the film shouldn’t be watched? Did you even watch it? Snoop Dogg is in the film for about 2 mins. If you’re being fair, and not “sensationalistic”, why wouldn’t you point out that the vast majority of the film is guided by the top experts in the world from all areas that are hit by marijuana prohibition? It’s one thing for a reviewer to not feel a film and give it a negative review, it’s another when it’s a scathing review like this one that has an obvious agenda to shut a documentary down completely. Most likely so the reviewer (Geoff) can boost his own ego and come across edgy. The doesn’t reflect the public’s response to the film, even in the slightest. To pull words from “Vince’s” reply below, Geoff Berkshire’s review is “sensationalistic” and full of self absorbed bullshit to serve an ego that probably wants to make films himself, but can’t because he knows there are reviewers just like him that would tear his work apart. :)

  20. Vince says:

    Ack, people! relax! Smoke a doobie… the author didn’t refute the position taken by the doc -he simply analyzed it on the basis of documentary making. He likely agrees with all the positions, he is just saying there is nothing surprising in this documentary -and I have to agree…Snoop Dog?? really?? Boring, sensationalist, and yes it darts about like a child having a seizure before he takes some medical marijuana.

  21. Ne says:

    What a ridiculously bias review. Are you a stakeholder in a private prison? Do own truckloads of shares in pharmaceutical companies? Are you bat sh!t crazy? Regardless, time for a career change.

  22. Meetch says:

    I was socked when I read this review but I’m glad to see everyone else seemed to agree that this was a poorly written article with very little insight to what the film was actually providing its viewers. It is rather disappointing to know that this was all that an editor at Variety has to share after watching the documentary

  23. Kevin says:

    That was the best weed documentary I’ve ever seen this is a terrible review

  24. Kalel says:

    Author is an idiot. Parents are probably idiots. Anyone who cares about human beings should watch this documentary.

  25. Jony cage says:

    This is the worst piece of content I have ever read on Variety.

  26. you're an idiot says:

    Bad review from a bad critic. I think all the comments are very telling of your inability to understand what viewers like when they watch a documentary. Big swing and a miss geoff. But this is the land of second chances, so good luck on your next review. Try not to blow it this time.

  27. Tony S says:

    Berksh*& %t question…

    “When a person is insane, as you clearly are, do you know that you’re insane? Maybe you’re just sitting around, reading Guns & Ammo, masturbat$@g, in your own feces…do you just stop and go, ‘WOW! It is amazing how f&#(@ng crazy I really am!” Signed DM ps you probably don’t understand what this means… It means, you put the village idiot to shame. You bias article will be forgotten tomorrow (you do realize you’re moronic rant has garnered not one, not two, but including me, SEVEN COMMENTS! Wow, one more than the YouTube video of a proctology exam in slowmo! Face it, you’re nothing more than a sad little flash in the pan, who when unemployed in a week, won’t be qualified to dip people’s cones in chocolate at Foster’s Freeze. Get ready… in 5…4…3…2… Hope your momma didn’t rent out your room to the family plumber!

  28. Dran says:

    This is one of the best produced, overall documentaries on cannabis. Yes it is all over the place but I am going to show this to my family and friends just to open their eyes! The writer of this review somehow has a bone to pick. It is not a matter of IF? Cannabis will be legalized but when.!!! Prohibition does not work! Look at Oklahoma and Nebraska clinging on to old misguided policy!

  29. john earache says:

    sorry if that was too jumpy or ADD for you Jeff, but oddly enough i have adhd along with ptsd from years of tramatic abuse, and cannabis is the only thing that lets me eat or sleep. i weighed 165 pounds until i discovered cannabis and would go days, literally days, without eating, WHILE I WAS IN COLLEGE. odd how that worked out too is isn’t Jeff (geoff is the name of a shoe company right? oh thats geox, my bad) a guy in college with all kinds of health problems that can’t be solved by anything else other than cannabis. I WAS COMPLETELY AND TOTALLY SOBER UNTIL I FOUND CANNABIS, so please explain how the POSITIVE changes that were a direct result of my cannabis use were either not positive or not a direct result. please, go ahead JEFF. and maybe the film is jumpy, but that also can be explained by the simple fact that there are millions of ignorant jackoffs like you Jeff, who would have some negative bull-s33t to say even if the movie was 24 hours long and was set up like an essay in law school – IRAC – and took on every point of view, issue and group that’s for or against cannabis. wait, this was in Variety. that shit isn’t even a real magazine, its one step above TMZ. #stayfreshJeff

  30. john earache says:

    wait so they have add and are lazy at the same time?? thats an amazingly oxymoronical statement, much akin to everything in this piece of “journalism” — to negate a film that has sir richard branson speaking out in favor of legalization, that points out time and time again why the war on drugs is just a front to keep cops and lawyers (I’m a lawyer btw) in business, and one that, in my opinion, has done a lot to bolster the arguments of those “dumb dorm room stones” — btw, have you ever been inside a marijuana dispensary? here in san francisco, the demographics are rarely, if ever, dominated by “dorm room” aged people — there’s more > 60 year old females in the dispensaries then anyone else, funny how that works. id love to see this “journalist” tell Melissa Etheridge that her and all her friends in compassion industry are idiots and “stoners”, but something tells me she has no idea who you are, and something else also tells me she never will. I’ve written enough published work to know that journalism is a job for lackies and self-loathers and i passed the NY State bar exam at 25 while i was stoned off my ass, so once again, learn how to spell Jeff properly and take the alcohol bottle out of your….

  31. chris says:

    The person that wrote this article clearly advocates people being caged over a toke of marijuana. I wouldn’t doubt if the person that wrote this article makes most of their income of marijuana and wants to continue drugdealing so he advocates these kind of things

  32. DB~ says:

    This might be the saddest review I’ve read in a long time.

  33. house says:

    what an opinion loaded piece of crap this article is. You really suck my friend!

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