Tuesday, June 28, 2016

I'm Back with The Fits

So, I haven’t posted on this blog for a while.  I’ve seen plenty of movies, but haven’t felt inspired to write.  But I’m out of my funk, so to speak, and want to tell you about an indie called The Fits, which was an Official Selection at this year’s Sundance Festival.  

The film’s protagonist is Toni, a tween girl who seemingly spends all of her time at the local community center boxing with her older brother.  However, most, if not all, of the other girls at the center are involved with the championship dance team known as the Lionesses.  Intrigued by the older girls who run the Lionesses, Toni decides to step out of her brother’s cocoon and join the dance team.  Soon after joining the Lionesses, some of the older girls begin to suffer from a mysterious illness that induces a trance-like state and a jerking of the body similar to what one might witness in an old-school church when a parishioner “catches” the Holy Ghost.  Toni and her friends are frightened by what they see and no one understands what’s happening to the girls, especially since the boys at the center are unaffected.  

As the  film progressed, I kept wondering if I was watching some sort of stealth horror movie or some cautionary tale about drinking the water (i.e., Flint, MI).  But it’s not the water, we learn, or some demon possession.  As the “fits” begin to plague more and more Lionesses, the girls start swapping stories of their experiences and a clear line emerges as to those who have had the fits and those who have not.  If this film had a Hollywood treatment, our Toni would probably forge her own way and not be influenced by what everyone else is doing.  But Toni is a keen observer of the other girls and their motivations and she is not confused by the choices she makes.  And so in the final scene, we are treated to a rapturous dance by Toni to an ephemeral song that asks, “Must we choose to be slaves to gravity?”  The other girls ooh and ahh as Toni takes her turn at the fits, and, just as the screen fades to black, Toni’s clear eyes stare back at us.

As my description indicates, The Fits is quite an unusual coming of age story, but that’s a good thing. [And yes, it is a girl's coming of age story, which some might equate to true horror.  But I digress.]  The film’s  uniqueness, however, is not what struck me the most.  I was captivated by the sweet relationship Toni has with her older brother and I was overjoyed to see African-American children being portrayed as children rather than mini-thugs or world-weary mini-adults.  The visuals were also stunning. Indeed, I am always intrigued by films that can convey a rich story with very little dialogue.

The Fits is currently playing in Atlanta at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

My Youthful Heart is DOPE

Dope is the type of movie I wish had come out when I was a teenager.  Watching as a 40-something black woman, there were moments when I wondered whether I was too old to appreciate such a film anymore. [My tolerance for stoner comedies and gratuitous use of the n-word have declined over the years.] The movies available to me as a tween and teen were those trifecta of John Hughes films Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, and The Breakfast Club.  And while those films resonated with my feelings on the inside, nothing on the screen was depicted to coincide with my outer reality, including characters who looked like me.  

Dope, which was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, tells the story of Malcolm, a straight-A high school senior looking forward to applying and going to Harvard.  He and his two sidekicks, Diggy (a girl) and Jib, are nerdy teens who like girls, computers, playing in their punk band, and 90s fashion and hip-hop.  [When was the last time you saw a Cross-Colours shirt or hat?]  But life for Malcolm and friends is not easy as they navigate the streets of Inglewood, California where dangers lurk in the form of gangbangers and drug dealers.  Things go awry when Malcolm unwittingly ends up with a bag full of cocaine and has to get rid of the drugs, while also nailing his entrance interview and recommendation for Harvard.  If I had to compare Dope to any film of my generation, it would be Risky Business, minus the prostitutes, tighty whities and that old time rock n’ roll; but just as full of all the angst and exuberance that young people experience when coming of age in the modern world.  Thrown in with the comedic elements is some consciousness of the times, as Malcolm dons a hoodie, looks into the camera and asks, “Am I a geek or a menace?”

So Dope speaks for a generation that is not me anymore, but syncs up to my youthful heart just the same--and, unlike then, has characters who look like me. As icing to the cake, Dope also features a catchy 1990s soundtrack which put a big smile on my face.  If you don’t come out of the theater doing the Humpty Dance, then something is wrong with you.  Check it out.

P.S.  I need someone to make a "Dopeified" version of Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Malevolent Robot

The first thing I thought after watching Ex Machina was that I needed to disengage myself from all of my social networks.  Did I do that? No (of course not).  But just what is being done with all that data?  Surely there must be a use for it beyond just trying to sell us stuff.  What if all that data was being funneled and archived to create the most sentient artificial being imaginable?  This question is one of the thought-provoking premises addressed in Ex Machina.  The story follows Caleb who has just “won” the opportunity of a lifetime to spend a week with his reclusive employer Nathan.  Nathan is some sort of coding prodigy who has built a social networking empire called BlueBook.  [Really? Facebook much?  Not only is this the partial name of a car-buying guide, but it’s also the name of a legal citation guide published by my alma mater.  A big fat D for originality on this bit.  But I digress.] Nathan asks Caleb to test his latest and greatest creation, Ava, an artificially intelligent robot, to gauge her human-like qualities.  But like all dystopian thrillers, Nathan isn’t quite what he seems and neither is Ava.  And Caleb, to his detriment, is the last to know.

It occurred to me that in many stories about intelligent machines, the circumstances of human beings take a turn for the worse.  Is this because all machines are inherently evil or because machines inevitably take on the worst characteristics of the human beings who build them?  Pinocchio was a liar before he was a real boy, after all.  Are we gods creating superior gadgets, or are we men creating flawed apparatuses?  The Terminator series of films answered similar questions with sturm und drang; Ex Machina, in contrast, is quiet and subtle, but just as dire in its examination.  In a year that has so far been unsatisfying in its cinematic offerings to date, Ex Machina is a welcome respite from mindless fare cluttering the cinemaplex.  
[In addition, the  visuals are quite striking, including the Norwegian mountainside used as the site of Nathan’s home.  Also, listen out for echoes of the chords from Close Encounters of the Third Kind throughout the score.]