Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Tribe (Ukraine, 2014)

Nine Things About the Movie The Tribe

1. OK, so when you think of major contributions to cinema, you may not think of the Ukraine. Until now. The Tribe is a completely unique film that pushes the boundaries of cinema, and serves as an experiment in human communication. It will be taught in film classes until the end of time.

2. The story takes place at a boarding school for kids who are both deaf and mute. Sergey is a teenage boy who has just arrived, and is immediately targeted by a group of boys. They both bully him and accept him, and he becomes part of the group. This ends up not being good for Sergey.

3. What makes the story so amazing is that the movie is "spoken" entirely in Ukranian sign language. There is absolutely no spoken dialogue, no narration, and no subtitles. There isn't even a musical soundtrack. The only sounds in the entire film are peripheral sounds like footsteps and traffic.

4. Unless you are one of the minuscule percentage of people that know Ukranian sign language, this film is the same for everybody in the world, hearing or deaf. You must concentrate and figure out the story entirely from body language, movement, and the way the movie is filmed. I was both surprised and proud that I pretty much understood what was going on.

5. It's pretty odd to watch people fight and have sex without ever saying anything. But it makes sense.

6. This movie could have ended up being a gimmicky stunt, but it's not. It tells a full story like any other movie, except that all the dialogue between the characters is in sign language. Since you don't know what the characters are saying to each other, some scenes don't make sense until a little later, when you get some more context.

7. The actors are actually deaf, and are just regular people - they are not professional actors. This is obvious in a few of the scenes, which feel a little amateur.

8. Though the movie is about teenagers, it's pretty adult, and contains scenes of fairly explicit sex and violence. It's bleak, both visually and emotionally.

9. Because it takes place in almost complete silence, and it's a drama with no special effects or loud noises, this movie is not for everybody. Some people may find it boring, or even fall asleep from a lack of stimulation. And that's too bad. Reflecting on what the movie does and says, I think it's an amazing work of art that opened my ears to parts of life that I didn't realize I could actually hear.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Ant Man (USA, 2015)

Nine Things About the Film Ant Man

1. This is the second-stupidest of all the Marvel films (Thor is still the stupidest).

2. To its credit, the movie knows it can't be taken seriously, and it tries to have fun with itself for awhile. So it's not a complete disaster.

3. It follows one of the usual Marvel superhero formulas (a super billionaire corporation makes a scientific breakthrough and turns it into a super weapon. It ends up in the hands of a regular schmuck, and bad guys try to get the technology). Which means there is absolutely zero suspense to the story, because we've seen it in so many other Marvel movies.

4. The "scientific breakthrough" is a chemical that shrinks the distances between atoms of things but leaves the original power the same - whatever that means. This chemical is put into a suit that not only shrinks the suit, but anybody in the suit. OK, I admit, I'm actually not sure what the idea is, but I don't think I'm alone - the movie doesn't really want you to pay attention to how or why it works.

5. This movie is a weird mix of superhero movie and heist caper. The heist caper part (which was the first half of the movie) was better than the superhero part.

6. There are several scenes and conversations in the movie that let you know where it fits in the larger Marvel timeline.

7. This movie features another clunky Disney family drama, another smart-ass female sidekick/romantic interest, and some racial stereotypes. In addition, true to Marvel's worldview, lots of things can get destroyed with no actual consequences, human or otherwise (well, unless you need to shoot the helicopter pilot).

8. The acting is pretty good, all things considered. Paul Rudd is a good choice to play such a ludicrous figure; his tongue-in-cheek charm is the right approach for the ex-convict who rides flying ants.

9. The movie starts off being stupid, but kind of clever, so it's actually fun. However, by the time we get to the last 30 minutes of the movie, it has lost its cleverness. It's just stupid.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Terminator Genisys (USA, 2015)

Nine Things About the Movie Terminator Genisys

1. This is the fifth Terminator movie in 30 years.

2. The first two Terminator movies told basically a complete story. Parts 3 and 4 gave an alternate timeline for the first two movies. Terminator Genisys combines all four previous movies to make an alternate-alternate timeline.

3. While technically this is a stand-alone film, in order to really appreciate what's going on, you have to know the first four movies. The plot is very complicated, and makes references to all the other films.

4. The film shows the events that led to the original Terminator film - sending the T-800 to kill Sarah Connor, and sending Kyle Reese after it. But something goes wrong at the last second, and the timeline splits, giving Reese two sets of memories.  He ends up in a different 1984 than he was expecting... and different from what we were expecting, too.

5. Part of the movie recreates the original Terminator from 1984. With some new twists.

6. Like all time-travel movies, this one causes problems for itself, especially considering it tries to absorb all the other time-travelling from the other movies. But it commits itself to the story and doesn't get wishy-washy. Like the other movies, you have to just go with it.

7. Combined with the clever but confusing story, there are some great action sequences. The special effects are impressive.

8. The movie ends with some serious unresolved questions and paradoxes (which Kyle Reese is Sarah going to sleep with? Why was there a T-1000 in 1984 if Skynet and the Resistance were basically leap-frogging each other?  And why did it really start in both 1973 and 2017? Are the alternate timelines weaving through each other?).  This is supposed to be the start of a trilogy, so I'm hoping these will be addressed eventually. But they have a lot of explaining to do.

9. Since I've seen all the other movies, I can say this is my favorite of the series, because of its pure audacity in looping everything together. If you haven't seen the other movies - or don't remember them - this can be fun to watch, but frustrating and confusing to understand.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

San Andreas (USA, 2015)

Nine Things About the Movie San Andreas

1. This could have been a fun little piece of disaster porn. Too bad it sucks.

2. The movie basically starts with an earthquake scientist team that thinks they can predict earthquakes by using big vocabulary words (this was made up). When they see signals that an earthquake may hit the Hoover Dam, they don't warn anybody. They just go stand on the Hoover Dam and watch it get destroyed.

3. Super fireman/rescue guy Ray (played by Dwayne Johnson) hears about the destruction of the Hoover Dam and is called in to work, but takes the day off to see his daughter before heading to the disaster site.

4. When the San Andreas fault shifts and the earthquake hits Los Angeles, Ray gives most people the actual, real advice to drop to the ground, cover yourself with a table or up against a wall, and hold on. But he tells his ex-wife to run to the top of a skyscraper and wait for him on the roof so he can abandon his job and pick her up in his helicopter. Then Ray talks to his daughter in San Francisco. When she says she's fine, Ray doesn't tell her to evacuate the city with the rest of the people. He tells her to run back into the earthquake zone, climb a tall building, and wait for him on the roof so he can abandon his job again, fly to San Francisco from Los Angeles, and pick her up in his helicopter.

5. The star, Dwayne Johnson, publicly said that earthquake experts consulted on the film and determined the movie was realistic. This was a lie. Earthquake experts did examine the script but said most of it was crap. The filmmakers ignored the experts and did what they wanted.

6. Earthquakes cannot be predicted. The San Andreas fault isn't the right size to make an earthquake that big. The San Andreas fault cannot make tsunamis. Many buildings in California are built to handle an earthquake, at least long enough to let people escape - they don't collapse like a house of cards. I could go on, but you get the idea.

7. One of the biggest disappointments for me was that the movie was pretty boring. The disaster scenes were fun, but they were only about half the movie. The other half of the movie consisted of Ray and his ex-wife opening up about their feelings, and their daughter falling in love with a random British dude.

8. The screenplay was amateur, the characters were one-dimensional, and the acting was terrible. I cared more about what happened to the buildings than what happened to the people.

9. I went in to this movie with low expectations; I just wanted to see some fun destruction and a halfway coherent story. It turns out that this movie really is a disaster, but not in the way I was hoping.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Coonskin (USA, 1975)

Nine Things About the Movie Coonskin

1. Animator/director Ralph Bakshi helped define alternative and independent film in the 1970's. He is probably most famous for Heavy Traffic and his version of The Lord of the Rings. He made the first X-rated cartoon, Fritz the Cat. But I think Coonskin could be his masterpiece. It's probably also his least seen movie.

2. Coonskin is harsh, vulgar, and challenging, especially (but not exclusively) in terms of race relations. Depending on your perspective, the movie is anti-black, anti-white, anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-religion, or anti-America. Or all of them. It offends everybody. It's an amazing piece of film-making and cultural commentary. And this movie would never be made today.

3. The movie mixes live-action and animation to tell several different stories. It has an all-black cast, and Bakshi made the rare decision to hire black animators and graffiti artists to make the cartoon sequences. The animation is in his usual crude, street-wise style (he calls it "Ghetto Art) in an attempt to symbolize the way in which he and his friends grew up.

4. The movie is best appreciated if you have some knowledge of black history and urban culture. The main story is a cartoon about Brother Rabbit, Brother Bear, and Brother Fox (get the reference?) who move from the American South to Harlem after they lose their house. There, they run into a con man named Simple Savior, who claims to be the cousin of "Black Jesus". Simple Savior is a powerful man who makes a living by convincing the people of Harlem to give him money so he can buy them guns so they can go kill white people. Things happen, and Brother Rabbit ends up in charge of Simple Savior's operation.

5. There are several short stories interspersed in the main narrative. There is a series of vignettes in which a sexy woman symbolizing America seduces and then kills a black man.

6. Bakshi saves some of his harshest criticism for organized crime, and the way America has romanticized the Mafia. "The Godfather" is severely mocked in very disrespectful ways.

7. While the movie is crude in both subject matter and style, that doesn't mean it's dumb. Just the opposite: it's an intelligent, sophisticated satire. It carries both razor-wire and a club, sometimes sharply cutting through American hypocrisy and sometimes bludgeoning issues until there's nothing left to say.

8. When the film was finished, nobody knew what to do with it. The NAACP watched the movie and said that while the movie was "difficult", they supported the film. However, another civil rights organization, CORE, along with the Rev. Al Sharpton, condemned the film without seeing it. They protested and threw smoke bombs into movie theaters. Theater owners were intimidated, and the movie was pulled. It never received a proper theatrical release.

9. This is a hidden American gem that is just now being re-discovered by modern audiences. It sucks in all the racism, sexism, homophobia, and violence of America and furiously vomits it back in the audience's face, making no apologies. It should be seen by those that have the guts to admit that the movie is a mirror of ourselves - even 40 years after it was made.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

White God (Hungary, 2014)

Nine Things About the Film White God

 1. Not since the 2000 Mexican classic Amores Perros have dogs been used as such an effective allegory for the human experience. 

 2. This remarkable Hungarian film is about a girl named Lili, and her dog, Hagen. They are both misunderstood by the girl's father, and everybody suffers for that. 

 3. When Lili and Hagen are separated, they follow parallel but separate tracks, each learning the cruelties of their own worlds. They learn what it means to be taken advantage of, and what it takes to survive. 

 4. Eventually, the dog and human worlds are inverted, and the dogs have the chance to change their destinies. 

 5. There are scenes of animal cruelty that will bother some sensitive viewers. 

 6. While the highlight of the film is the dog uprising, it's important to note that it doesn't occupy very much of the film. The point of the film is what leads to the uprising. 

7. Hundreds of dogs were used in the filming of this movie - all were rescued from animal shelters to make the movie, and all were given homes afterwards. The main dog, Hagen, was played remarkably well by two sibling dogs. The dogs were given a special acting award at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. 

 8. The ending of the film is kind of mysterious; I'm still trying to figure it out. 

 9. The obvious interpretation of the film is that it is a social commentary on racism, though it can apply equally well to any "out group" of society that reaches its breaking point. But however you interpret it, this is a unique movie with haunting imagery and a relevant message.