Category Archives: Films

All Eyez on ALiEN Dance Studio

I’ve written about the Kinjaz but I haven’t yet about ALiEN Dance Studio.  In my many YouTube travels, I came across this choreography video of Tinashe‘s song “2 On” and was entranced.  I’ve seen several male-only and mixed-gender dance crew videos on YT with much admiration and excitement, but ALiEN Dance Studio brings a bold and sensually precise dimension to the dance moves.


Their videos of Bruno Mars and Britney Spears songs leave me speechless.

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While we’re on the subject of grooving tunes, I watched All Eyez on Me (Benny Boom, 2017) over the weekend.  While I enjoyed the film and loved the music, I agree with many of the criticisms of the film discussed here on Reddit.  When Tupac Shakur was successfully navigating the rap scene in the 1990s, I was listening to The Cranberries, Cake, Dishwalla, Live, Bjork, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, TLC, En Vogue — basically lots of alternative rock and top 40s pop/rock and r&b.  While I knew who Tupac was and had come across his music by virtue of being a teenager of the 90s and immersed in pop-cultural media, it wasn’t until I saw the music video for “Gangsta Party” (aka “2 of Amerikaz’s Most Wanted”) featuring Snoop Dogg that I paid (more) attention to his voice and presence. I liked the rhythm of the song.

During the late 90s through the mid-2000s, I listened primarily to Asian pop music (Japanese, Korean and Chinese (Mandarin).  Given the way Korean pop, hip-hop, and hip-pop have evolved in the last few years, I feel as though I owe my taste for Tupac’s music to Korean hip-pop. *  Specifically, these kinds of tunes:

 

There is no soundtrack for All Eyez on Me, but Tupac’s albums are available to own.  After YouTubing a few of the songs on his album of the same name, I went to Best Buy and got it.  Let me tell you, driving while listening to “All About You” has been so much fun.  Snoop Dogg’s narration at the end is hilarious.  It’s also interesting to realize that “Recipe” by Kpop girl group Brown Eyed Girls lyrically samples “How Do You Want It.”

 

So why would I watch a movie about a rapper whom I didn’t really listen to when he was still alive?  I saw Notorious (George Tillman Jr., 2009) in theatres out of curiosity and not too long ago watched Straight Outta Compton (F. Gary Gray, 2015).  I figured I’d have to watch the Tupac biopic for symmetry.

* I am aware that American hip-hop heavily influenced Korean hip-pop.

3 Films in 2 Days

When I was in college, it wasn’t uncommon for me to watch three movies over the weekend — one on Friday night, one on Saturday, and one Sunday.  Other times, I’d watch two movies on Saturday at different movie theatres.  It’s been many, many years since I’ve done anything similar (film festivals notwithstanding).

I’ve been wanting to watch three films ever since I knew they existed and this weekend, they came out in my fair city.

 

I saw Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2017) Friday night and Raw (Julia Ducournau, 2016) and T2 Trainspotting (Danny Boyle, 2017) today.  Olivier Assayas’s film stars a Kristen Stewart that resonates with her performances in non-blood-sucking roles (Clouds of Sils Maria, Welcome to the Rileys, The Yellow Handkerchief, and even Fierce People).  She plays Maureen, a woman who can see and sense the dearly departed and yet still doesn’t know what to call them.  The film follows her as she tries to connect with her deceased brother and fulfill her personal shopping job obligations to a high-profile woman.  I didn’t think the film would be genuinely scary (damn sound design and horror film tropes), suspenseful and sad.  It inspired a poem.

Minor spoiler alert — highlight words at your own discretion.  I also wasn’t expecting the film to depict apparitions.  I didn’t think the director would go there narratively, but he did.  And what of the ending, the very last line spoken?  How much of the inexplicable goings-on of the plot were all in the titular character’s head?  As much as I enjoyed the secondary story-line that features onscreen texting with page-turning intrigue, I was much more psychologically invested in whether or not Maureen and her brother ever really connect.

Product placement and branding: Google, Apple, and Cartier.

 

Julia Ducournau’s morbidly erotic examination of repressed appetites focuses on a veterinary school student and the unintended consequences of freshman hazing.  Raised a vegetarian by her vegetarian parents, Justine (Garance Marillier) discovers that not only does she have a taste for animal flesh but her hunger for sustenance is both sexual and cannibalistic.  It’s not suggested, it’s stated.  From a certain angle, she’s more or less a vampire who wouldn’t necessarily let the rest of the kill go to waste.  Raw is reminiscent of Claire Denis‘s Trouble Every Day (2001) in the way it presents the blood/flesh-lust as biological rather than metaphorical to the characters in the story world.  For Justine and her older sister, who is also a veterinary student, sisterly love and hate are taken to a whole new level given certain inherited details.

What bothered me more than watching a vegetarian eat meat (of any kind) was the hazing activities and the periodic representation of enclosed spaces with too many people.  If you don’t like being in small spaces with lots of people, lots of people who are sweating and spilling beverages all over the place, be prepared to close your eyes.

By the time Raw had ended and I was making my way to the other theatre to watch T2 Trainspotting, I was hungry and started making a mental grocery store list.  Danny Boyle’s sequel to his 1996 film was a good way to bring Saturday to an early evening.  I laughed and gasped and went “hmmm” a few times.  I haven’t fully formed my thoughts on it, so I will just say this much: is it ever good to be a tourist in one’s own youth?  Mark Renton was by far my favorite of the group, but was that because he was portrayed by Ewan McGregor?  Considering some of the scenes from the sequel, he’s just as flawed as Sickboy and Begbie.  Is Spud actually the “best” person of the lot?  Be that as it may, I like them still.  All of them.

 

 

Get Out, Get Out, Get Out

It is a daunting endeavor to speak in depth about the brilliance of Jordan Peele‘s directorial debut Get Out (2017) without major spoilers, thus, this post will focus less on plot and more on mise-en-scene and tone.  The trailer sets up the premise quite well, leaving no doubt as to the escalating tension that the audience can expect (but it also includes moments that didn’t make it to the final cut):

When I’d initially read about this film and watched a trailer, I thought it would be scary-and-funny the way the Scary Movies are scary and funny.  I also anticipated a “final girl” motif … except that it would be “final black guy.”  After watching the film today, I realized my assessment wasn’t inaccurate but needed some adjustment.  The events in Get Out take place over a weekend where Rose (Allison Williams) takes her boyfriend Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) home to meet her family.  It quickly becomes apparent that something is amiss with the atmosphere around the house and Chris is uncomfortable.

The film is both humorous and horrifying but not due to crude jokes, paranormal activity or extreme body trauma.  The foreboding and psychological terror reminds me of Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968) — things appear normal on the surface but something is clearly wrong.

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Tragedy and comedy are frequently cited as two sides of the same coin, and as Get Out suggests, horror is a substantial player in that relationship.  If you’ve seen any of Key and Peele‘s skits or Keanu (Peter Atencio, 2016), you’ll be familiar with the sinister-meets-silly quality of Jordan Peele’s humor.  The laughs come because of genuine comedy as well as the dynamic between horror and comedy.  Within the story world, the actions and beliefs of certain characters is the source of terror.  If read ideologically, one can find a reflection or criticism of society.  It’s not the monsters and the ghosts that are scary — real life is scary.  Ostensibly normal situations with just the right amount of distortion or anachronism generates a sense of dread that no long-haired Asian girl or exploding light fixtures can.

As a cinematic experience, the music and sound design create a visceral reaction akin to watching a monster film or slasher film.  Audible jump scares, dissonant juxtapositions between sight and sound.

Because I don’t want to get into even minor spoilers, I’ll leave you with a list of observations and miscellany:

~ Microsoft and Bing branding.  We got lots of close-ups.
~ So, not all TSA agents are misguided?
~ Jordan Peele wrote the screenplay as well and there was only one close-up that made me think what we see would be important later on…and it wasn’t.  Deleted scene maybe.  Many other visual elements come back together for the big reveal.
~ The film shapes very specifically the viewer’s perception of the characters along the way until such time that the narrative unveils true motives.  You don’t get to “figure things out” necessarily before the characters do.

NFC Championship 2017: Falcons crunchy roll the Packers with some Triple X

The NFC Championship game leading up to Super Bowl LI featured the Green Bay Packers at the Atlanta Falcons.  Broadcast by Fox and narrated by Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, the last game played at the Georgia Dome started with the Falcons on offense.  Halfway through the second quarter, they were on top in scoring with 17 points (courtesy of wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, a field goal, and quarterback Matt Ryan running the ball into the end zone).  The Packers made an unsuccessful field goal attempt in the first quarter, then in the second quarter, Packers fullback Aaron Ripkowski lost possession of the ball and Falcons cornerback Jalen Collins recovered it.

The bottom of the second quarter saw Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers throw an interception into the arms of Falcons safety Ricardo Allen.  With seconds left in the first half of the game, Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones made a TD touch, giving Atlanta a 24 to 0 lead.

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The third quarter came to a thrilling start as Julio Jones ran 73 yards into the end zone for a TD.  He had to get Packers cornerback LeDarius Gunter’s hands off of him first (Gunter received a defensive holding penalty).  Aaron Rodgers and wide receiver Davante Adams finally got some numbers on the board about halfway into the third quarter with a touchdown.  Falcons 31 and Packers 7.  Towards the bottom of the quarter, Falcons running back Devonta Freeman caught the ball right smack on the goal line, and the on-field call was fourth and goal.  The Falcons challenged it and won…and then didn’t get the extra point.  Falcons 37 and Packers 7.

The Packers’ offense increased their momentum in the last couple of minutes of the third quarter and got a TD via wide receiver Jordy Nelson.  They went for and got a two-point conversion (Aaron Ripkowski barreled his way into the end zone).  Falcons 37 and Packers 15.  The Falcons increased their lead with another TD at top of the fourth quarter (thanks to running back Tevin Coleman, whose momentum carried him partly into the tunnel, where he high-fived a guy in a Falcons shirt working the game).  The Packers closed the score gap with another TD soon enough but their two-point conversion failed.  Falcons 44 and Packers 21.  Final score.  FALCONS ARE NFC CHAMPIONS!!!

Get game summary, stats, and play by play here.

Observations & Miscellany:
~  Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosaline were in attendance today.
~ Joe Buck and Troy Aikman both wore blue ties; Joe’s was a very sharp, bright blue like this one.
~ There was so much red in the stadium today.
~ Packers backup QB Brett Hundley went into the game for the last couple of minutes of the game.

~!~

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I watched xXx: Return of Xander Cage (D.J. Caruso, 2017) on Friday because Donnie Yen and Kris Wu are in it.  Yes, that Kris Wu who used to be in the Korean boy group, EXO.  He plays a DJ in the film and is there to make things more fun.  One of his songs also plays in the scene when Vin Diesel and his posse first meet Donnie Yen.

The film overall is terrible — the editing, the dialogue, and some of the camerawork, particularly in non-action sequences, were uninspired.  Yet, it’s so much fun to watch  Nina Dobrev was a scene stealer for me; Ruby Rose‘s character was badass (who wouldn’t want to hang out in the African wilderness and inflict injury upon trophy hunters?);  Deepika Padukone demonstrated much onscreen charisma (I hope to see her in more American films of all genres and budgets); and Ice Cube‘s cameo was awesome and cheesy at the same time.

Former NFL tightend Tony Gonzalez was in the previews for Triple X, which was the initial reason I wanted to see the film.  Gonzalez spent five of his seventeen years in the NFL as an Atlanta Falcon and was an incredible athlete.  He also had more screen time than I expected.