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'Marijuana: A Chronic History' explores the illegal weed 

And HBO remakes a classic with 'Mildred Pierce'

click to enlarge 'MILDRED PIERCE': Kate Winslet stars.
  • 'MILDRED PIERCE': Kate Winslet stars.

MARIJUANA: A CHRONIC HISTORY

The History Channel

7 p.m. Saturday, March 26

Let's just let it hang in the air: In the United States and many other countries, we've made a plant illegal. Not a pill. Not some dastardly concoction cooked up from Drano and cold medicine by a hillbilly in a bathtub. A plant. While this writer doesn't personally smoke pot, there's a broad segment of the American population that does. An estimated 100 million of us have tried marijuana at least once. For many with chronic illness, pot is medicine, helping them lead better lives. Even in the case of those who use marijuana every day, research has never supported the idea that pot has any of the violent and deadly side-effects of alcohol, which can be bought in most any street corner store. Given all that, why is it that marijuana is still not only illegal, but ranked in law enforcement and sentencing classifications on the same level as drugs like heroin, cocaine? The history of marijuana and its prohibition is a fascinating tale, equal parts fear, power and propaganda, with the latter spouted by everybody from First Lady Nancy Reagan to newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst (who reportedly demonized marijuana in his newspapers because new methods of making cheap, renewable paper from hemp jeopardized his forestry and paper mill holdings). Even if you don't tend to agree with the idea that marijuana should be legalized, the story of how it came to be illegal in the first place is a story all Americans need to hear. Get some Doritos, fire up and watch.


MILDRED PIERCE

HBO

Starts 8 p.m. Sunday, March 27

Trying to remake a classic film is usually a foolhardy exercise. Who would want to remake "Citizen Kane," for example, other than some kind of ego-maniac? Even with a new "Batman" film in the works, who would want to give a stab at playing the Joker, after Heath Ledger's Oscar-winning turn in the role? Still, there is certain source material that's just too delicious to leave alone. Case in point, James M. Cain's 1941 novel "Mildred Pierce." The novel, by the author of "The Postman Always Rings Twice" and "Double Indemnity," has mostly slipped out of the literary canon, but the 1945 film adaptation is unforgettable, not to mention the role that won Joan Crawford an Oscar. Like a lot of Cain's work, the plot is full of sexy suspense. Focusing on the title character and spanning 9 years, it's the story of a middle-class housewife living in Glendale, Calif., who leaves her unemployed, philandering husband at the height of the Great Depression and sets out to create a new, independent life for herself and her children. After getting a job as a waitress, she eventually rises to own a chain of restaurants and a pie business while dealing with her rebellious daughter. While that might sound pretty pedestrian, anybody who's seen the film or read the book knows that it's a story that packed full of sex and intrigue, the former of which the 1945 version could really only hint at. Luckily for us, HBO has produced a new, five-part version of the story, starring the very tasty Kate Winslet in the title role. Definitely one to check out, given the source material and HBO's record of quality projects.

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