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The Philosophical Depths of Sausage Party (2016) – Movie Boozer Review

August 17, 2016

A psychedelic experience can be characterized by a fragment in time when your perception of the world becomes altered, bending in ways that allows the observer to see what is arguably considered the “real world.” Experiences within these moments are segmented by a bolder, brighter view of one’s physical surroundings as the senses are heightened. The observer begins having deep philosophical thoughts on what is around and beyond their current focal point.

The entire premise of Sausage Party roots itself in the psychedelic experience as a form of storytelling. Sausage Party feels like a trip because it is unlike anything before it. I’m not saying that Sausage Partybeing a raunchy comedy veiled in the childhood aesthetics of animation makes it exceptional among those before it. There have been porn films staring puppets, a R-rated animated musical staring adolescents, and a police drama with marionettes that still looms in the public consciousness.

Drink two beers, then read the rest of the review at Movie Boozer.

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4 Reasons You Should Host/Attend a Sharknado 4 (2016) Watching Party

August 5, 2016

sharknado4You know that shark attack in Deep Blue Sea after Samuel L. Jackson’s character gives an impassioned speech moments before a shark jumps out from nowhere and chomps him two? I wonder if Sharknado’s origins derives from that moment in cinema. Were the original writers of the franchise completely stoned out of their minds when they thought up the concept? It feels like they had to be, or at least for whoever wrote Sharknado 4: The Fourth Awakens. I’ve never seen any of the Sharknado films before. I don’t intend to see any of them– well with the right group of people I could. My introduction to the Sharknado world is owed to a random gif on tumblr that tickled me so hard I couldn’t help but let curiosity get the best of me to watch it. And oh my Lord, I’m so delightfully pleased that I did.

Sharknado 4 is stupid. It’s the most idiotic, wackiest plot with the cheesiest special effects you can imagine. That’s a given and duh, obviously it’s charm. But, Sharknado 4 is a lot smarter than it appears…I type this as two characters use two dead electrified sharks as a defibrillator on another character. Sharknado 4 is what it is, but what makes it so damn enjoyable is how straight it plays its own insanity. This is a film that realizes what its doing, and while everyone involved is in on its ludicrous nature, they all still realize this is a legit paycheck they wouldn’t come any other way which results in the team bringing their A-game. Tommy Davidson gives a rousing performance as the creator of the original “Sharknado” epidemic, Aston Reynolds. Ian Zeiring as Fin Shepard, the lovable badass lead, plays up his Evil Dead Ash inspired role with a genial humbleness. Most of the cast dives into their roles with awareness of action sequences and micro-expressions even when they aren’t the focus of scenes. And Tara Reid… poor girl does her best with the most she’s given in this film.

Most of the cameo appearances are well played garnering some fantastic death scenes. The  overall direction of the film is tailored to provide a high-octane thrill ride that ultimately gets exhausting halfway in because this film just throws everything at you. That expression “everything but the kitchen sink” doesn’t apply to Sharknado 4: The Fourth Awakens, they’ve thrown the sink in, the pipes, and all the dirty dead bugs under it. I mean anything that you can think of when watching this movie will likely happen. But you probably wouldn’t think of them because really, how does the concept of a Bouldernado even get brought up? I thoroughly enjoyed watching Sharknado and that was just by myself without a group of friends or the insane amount of alcohol that it will take to make this a greater watching experience. I can’t wait to rewatch it with both of the aforementioned items in tow. Until then, here are the best elements of Sharknado 4 that makes it worth the watch.

  1. The one-liners:

“Did you say Boulderando?”

“Sharkberg right ahead!”

“We gotta blow up the Grand Canyon.”

After a train wreck where (almost) everyone survives: “You guys alright?”

“But, no we gotta stay right here!”

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  1.  Major landmarks… only to see them blown up.

The Grand Canyon, Yellow Stone National Park, Salt Lake City Utah, and the Biggest Ball of Twine in Kansas; these are just a fraction of the landmarks they show before they succumb to various forms of destruction.

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  1. Homages to other films:

It’s seriously too much, but so great when they happen. There’s homages from Texas Chainsaw Massacre to Wizard of Oz, to Men in Black, to Stephen King’s Christine There is no continuity, no consistency, no reason.

  1. The deaths.

A man dies from a sand-covered shark attack. Sharks defy gravity to kill humans. Humans develop extraordinary powers to defeat the sharks. Characters drop like bees on monocultured farms. Sharknado 4 pull inspiration from George R. R. Martin at times by killing off characters you wouldn’t expect and others you totally would.

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SEE IT. There are a multitude of other reasons why this movie, in all of its stupidity, is so worth the watch. I can only imagine watching it in a crowd with a drinking game attached as a necessity.

Examining Gender Identities with Funeral Parade of Roses (1969)

August 2, 2016

Funeral_Parade_of_RosesThere are two things I didn’t know existed in Japan during the 1960s: A hippie counterculture and an open community of LGBT citizens. Homosexuality in Japan has always existed, but I was never exposed to how Japan viewed this part of society. My knowledge of Japanese culture derives almost exclusively from cinema. The films that I have watched over the years curtailed any representation of Japanese counterculture pre-1980s to miniscule images. This lack of insight has giving me a very formal, skewed vision of Japanese lifestyles. Thankfully, Funeral Parade of Roses came into my life via an open screening by Atlanta’s underground movie rental spot, Videodrome. Funeral Parade of Roses metaphorically knocked me on my ass. Not merely for its stunning, avant-garde images, but for its unwavering eye into the world of sex, drugs, and rock and roll in the gay community with an Oedipus Rex twist attached to a brimming social commentary on the period itself.

Funeral Parade of Roses came during the zeitgeist of the French New Wave and Japanese New Wave movements. Godard and Truffaut are often lauded as the forerunners and stable forces within the “new wave” genre of filmmaking that took place largely between the late 1950s-1970s. My own ignorant knowledge has long attributed “new wave” to the French as so much of the movement was gestated, popularized and romanticized by the French. But, their methods of deconstructing linear plots, cutting up narratives, breaking fourth walls and begging the audience to engage their critical mind while watching wasn’t just limited to France. Japan, Czechoslovakia, the U.S., India and Brazil are among the many that sought to revitalize and deconstruct the art of cinema all around the same time frame. Film school, unfortunately, left this part of history out. Although it’s disappointing to know that there are movements I’ve been completely unaware of, Funeral Parade of Roses has led me down an exciting rabbit hole of great Japanese cinema to get lost in.

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The social climate that Funeral Parade of Roses exposes is boldly astonishing for its time. Toshio Matsumoto forces a controversial lifestyle into the faces of viewers with strategic ease and brazenness. While America tiptoed around the topic of homosexuality in 1969 with Midnight Cowboy, Funeral Parade of Roses leaps into the topic with sensuality, rawness, and humor. We bounce around the city into the outings and interrelationships of a group of transsexual and gay individuals while the bitter rivalry between Eddy and Leda rage on in the film’s background. Leda is a Drag Queen in charge of a ritzy nightclub, but now worries about her place in her social group when a younger, more attractive Queen, Eddy, begins to draw Leda’s spotlight away from her. The battle between new and old rages through fashion and cat fights. Eddy’s youth grants her the trendiest outfits and accessories while Leda’s traditional kimono laden style of dress implicates her age as the warring battle of past versus present takes place.

 

Matsumoto does absolute wonders in this film through stunning visuals. Funeral Parade of Roses‘ radical film style completely sucks you in to the eye of the storm then pushes you out into a magnificent world of diversity and bold color despite living within a realm of black and white. Shot without color on 35mm, Funeral Parade of Roses jumps out in audacious tones and schemes. The lighting is a completely adulated physical aspect of the film that highlights all the right angles, expressions and nuances of these characters and their world. Matsumoto doesn’t want you to forget that this a film though. In one particular scene Eddy has sex with a gentlemen she meets at the bar. The low-key lighting of the scene shines from below her face that is framed intimately tight in a close-up as she moans. The scene lingers here putting viewers smack into the middle of this deeply intimate moment behind closed doors before a “cut” is heard. The scene then widens out to show the cast and crew and how the camera managed to make Eddy look so flawless and silver.

These moments of breaking the fourth wall with audiences repeat frequently throughout the film in ingenious bursts. We are shown interviews with cast members in their on-set wardrobe as they candidly discuss the notion of their sexuality. One must remember this was filmed in 1969 so the language seems harsh during Matsumoto’s questioning, but this marks the first time to my knowledge, that homosexuality had ever been addressed in Japan, with such gallant openness. Regardless, the interviews are warm and enlightening expressing the confusion of sexuality, the reality of a sexual spectrum and the honesty of both the joy and sorrow that comes with being non-cisgendered individual.

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Funeral Parade of Roses does a lot in its hour and 47 minutes that should get viewed firsthand to fully enjoy. It’s a film that mixes hippie avant-grade experimentation with a social essay that holds a mirror up to society and begs it to study itself. My love of Jean-Luc Godard and the entire French New Wave movement only speaks to my biased love for what Funeral Parade of Roses does as a piece of art. It breaks apart preconceived notions of film to give visibility to members of society who don’t usually have a voice. All the while it completely draws you into its dramatic story while being able to shock and amaze all at once. It’s a shame more films didn’t follow suit… If they did, please suggest more to me!

SEE IT. And revel in amazement at this highly relevant, impressive gem.

The O.J. Syndrome: Race, Civil Unrest, and America

July 22, 2016

Television has sucked me into a vacuum lately. My screen time has involved a copious amount of historical docudramas, most notably, documentaries and shows focused on famed football player and accused murder OJ Simpson. I’m not sure why in the midst of tragedy around the world I tend to be a glutton for more sorrow, but this long-term form of coping has always been one my defense mechanisms. This tragic head space began months ago with “American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson”. Each episode drew me into the horrific death of Nicole Brown Simpson and the unhealed wounds of systematic racism across America. Just when I thought I could breathe again once the claustrophobic, captivating effect of “The People Vs. O.J.” ended, ESPN’s “30 for 30” series made its way into my sights on the back of the ever-growing, current social unrest in America.

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Despite everything I thought I knew of the O.J. trial based off my own experiences growing up with the case and having just finished “The People Vs. O.J. Simpson”, “30 for 30” managed to further school me on the radical nature of America at the height of the Simpson’s murder trial. Then, halfway into watching the series, news hit that Alton Sterling was killed by police as the chilling video made its way into my consciousness. I was completely at a loss for words and still reeling from the racial tensions already plighting the country. Any semblance of a band-aid of healing got ripped off repeatedly by the wall-to-wall O.J. drama I kept digesting. The next day news of Philando Castile’s murder hit and the video instantly transplanted itself into my memory. That’s when I shut down. I immediately felt drained. Every essence in my body, soul, and mind broke and a miserable depression fell over me. It felt as though I had devoted entire lifetimes on a solution only to see it explode into burnt ashes in my hand.

Over the course of 40 years in America it feels for many as though nothing has changed. This heavyhearted feeling is problematic. In 1965 Marquette Frye, a Black man in L.A. got stopped in Watts for reckless driving. The resulting scuffle between him, his mother, and officers caused Frye to get forcefully subdued by officers sparking anger in the Watts community of L.A. This predominately Black neighborhood subject to routine abuse at the hands of law enforcement fought back. A six-day riot took place. In 1979, Eulia Love, a mother of two, got shot to death on her front lawn by L.A. officers disputing a gas bill. In 1993, 13-year old Latasha Harling was murdered by a convenient store owner. Trayvon Martin’s death on 2014 ignited fervent anger and resentment as well as a chain reaction of Black bodies succumbing to their death at the hands of police on camera. There are hundreds of unnamed victims before, after, and in-between each of the aforementioned citizens. The Washington Post tallies 533* deaths by police in 2016 alone. The website Killed by Police counts 643*.

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Alton and Philando’s deaths along with the shocking murder of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge shortly after had everything to do with me as an individual. Initially, it felt like an odd sentiment to hold, seeing as how these men were adults with their own lives and loved ones who feel a pain that I can’t imagine. I am me, a Black woman with relatively astute privilege in life that has lived ignorantly to the fear of cops over my body. I can only wish love and comfort for the families of these victims. I am not Philando Castle or Alton Sterling. But, these men are my people. Their deaths hit me hard. Once again the historical oppression I have always been aware of and the inherent fear of Black bodies that only recently began to truly get unpack and understood was reaffirmed. 

I am all too aware of the painstaking hardships Black bodies have endured under the oppression of white authority. I am aware of the lynchings, house burning, beatings, forced labor and public scorn men and women of the African Diaspora have encountered so that America could rise to power. I know how Blacks have worked tirelessly to catch up to a society that has been allowed to speed ahead. And, whatever fruits African-Americans have come to own of their own accord have been spoiled and left to rot at the hands of others resistant to change and progress.

I know the long road of the Civil Rights moment, the Black is Beautiful movement, and how disparaging it was for Black citizens who finally felt they had a chance at true freedom, the pure taste of light, only to have their leaders killed, their organizations destroyed, and their people dissipated by crack, heroin, crime, systematic oppression, and violence. These issues were created and still held in place by a society that fears change and refuses to allow Blacks the same agency that they themselves receive. Racial tensions creep beyond skin deep issues, they are a socio-economic matter. This racial construct of “whiteness” even eluded Irish citizens who came to America in the early portion of the 20th century.

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When Alton and Philando died it felt like progress once again not only hit a halt, but barely ever existed. Watching “30 for 30”, “The People vs. OJ”, and CNN’s underrated series “The Seventies,” I came to realize how the exact same issues that plagued our society barely 40 years ago are still chipping away at us today. This notion nearly defeated me and my charge for social and political justices. What’s the point of fighting it anymore? Our leaders were way more organized and closer to the zeitgeist of change in the 60s and 70s than we are now, and we’re still in fighting the battle. I felt depressed. Unwilling to do anything else except shut my brain off and cry.

Then a spark happened. While watching the 3rd part of “30 for 30” when the trial begins and the focus shifts to how the people of America, essentially aided in Simpson’s not guilty verdict. Black America felt so exasperated with the American justice system, a system that had just excused the actions of police involved in the Rodney King beating, that the masses took advantage of their power to mobilize. The trial of O.J. Simpson is an anomaly, a truly awe-inspiring event that changed the course of history leaving ripples along the way that still bubble at our feet today. On an individual level, Simpson somehow transcended race. He looked within himself to be the best and created an impenetrable wall around him that kept him exalted. He avoided controversy early in his life by living a parallel existence.

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While Stokley Carmichael and Fred Hampton fought, got exhaled, and died for the equality of African-Americans, O.J. avoided politics, earned money, then franchised himself to become an entrepreneur that left racial issues in the dust. Simpson’s case is a rare breed, but it opened the door for dialogue on race and society that continues today. This is a topic that many are dying to ignore and others are dying because it’s undeniable. Skin matters. We may not want it to, but it does. The repeated deaths of Black individuals throughout history isn’t as simple as a racist with a badge and gun.

This complex reality is because we live in a society where Black bodies have been feared for centuries. Black bodies are despised. Coveted. Hated. Ignored. Looked down on. Centuries of this type of thinking has embedded itself into our psyche. So much so that it feels normal to avoid certain parts of town because it’s the “Black side of town.” It becomes commonplace to clutch a purse when around Black men or cross the street at night when a Black person is nearby. “Driving while Black” remains a dangerous reality. These biases exist for a reason, and when we don’t contemplate or discuss them in conversations with each other, they only fester to a point of fear and reaction.

We have become a reactionary society in our contemporary time. We react with anger ,then move on forgetting about the past instead of evolving to a better place. We can’t afford to be reactionary and despondent anymore. Innocent lives are hanging in the balance. Now is the time be creative and enlist community help. To change laws. To mobilize. A whole slew of Americans fed up with the lack of justice in their communities ultimately helped a murder, and possible sociopath, walk free to capitalize on his crimes. In 1995, it wasn’t because they didn’t know any better, or because they were race-baiting. It was because they were angry and tired of watching a criminal justice system work for some and not all.

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We as individuals and on larger scale are allowing these injustices to continue when we just sit back and complain. Atlanta alone has shown the power of mobilizing in the wake of these issues. After five days of protesting racial injustice, the city got the attention and ear of the Mayor. We have the power to make change on a larger scale when we are faced with tragedy. We must remember to keep fighting, and not with fire or guns, but with our bodies and voices. We’ve all agreed to a social contract that pits people of color below whites. This social contract gives us credence to fear each other based off race. We are not bound to this contract. We can break it at any time. We must. Lives depend on it. 

Confronting Hard Decisions with 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

July 6, 2016

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You wake up in a strange room tied to pole after a car accident. Attached to you is an IV. A meal has been placed in front of you. No signs of stress or force are apparent. The person holding you captive is convinced he just saved your life from the madness taking place outside of those walls. You’re in his bunker – a specialized place built underground to protect from the sort of chaos and life threatening ills that are transpiring outside of it. You know shit’s hitting the fan, but can you really trust that this stranger is who he says he is? There’s a locked door to the outside and a ring of keys that can open it on your captive’s waistband. What do you do?

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10 Cloverfield Lane presents this scenario for viewers and Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), the film’s lead character, to chew on and ponder during Michelle’s stay with Howard (John Goodman) and fellow bunker mate Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.) after a car accident links their paths. This intelligent sequel to the massively hyped Cloverfield works more as a psychological thriller as it does an alien horror. Our time in the universe where 10 Cloverfield Lane exists thrives in the bunker over a span of days, or weeks, or months. We’re never sure. Like the characters in the film who rarely see the light of day or the glow of night, time isn’t of the essence here. A clock is never a focal point.

Instead, the emphasis is on the relationships built between Howard, Emmett, and Michelle.  This trio must learn to live with one another when they are led to believe that they are the only people left alive after an explosion of apocalyptic proportions takes place. Together the trio experience a full spectrum of emotions, attachments, and paranoia that leads to some of the film’s best moments of intensity and shock. Through tight close-ups and a fantastic emphasis on sound coupled with a deliberate use of color and lighting, the cinematography and sound editing team concocts chilling atmosphere filled with uncertainty and paranoia.

Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken, and Damen Chazelle’s script allows its actors to fit comfortably into their roles feeding into the innocence of some and the mistrust of others. It’s here that the pressure of Michelle’s dilemma is felt in nuanced degrees. What would you do in her situation? Would you try to escape into chaotic, threatening terrain on the outside for the illusion of freedom or would you find comfort in the embrace and hospitality of a mentally unstable person who did save your life from certain death before? This was the question that rattled through my head for a majority of the film as the tension escalated and the pacing of my heart picked up.

Having only directed shorts and television episodes before, Dan Trachtenberg impressively creates confining spaces and nerve-wrecking situations for both characters and the audience. We get to know this bunker and its comforts making the thought of leaving even more difficult. John Goodman delivers a chilling performance filled with amiability contrasted immediately by his cold, explosive demeanor. All of these elements align themselves making for a fantastic film that sets itself apart, and arguably higher than the original that came before it.

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Cloverfield was a great film during its time, but relies heavily on a gimmick to withstand its core. 10 Cloverfield Lane feels like a much more mature sibling with a solid centerpiece and an impressive vision for the story and its future. Other film-goers have even tied its plot to serving as a metaphor for domestic abuse. Still, some viewers have complained about the ending of 10 Cloverfield Lane claiming it doesn’t make sense to the overall story or its connection to Cloverfield. These arguments aren’t necessarily valid seeing as the ending is the only element of the film that ties it to it’s original counterpart. It expands upon and liberates the world created by Cloverfield’s ending, setting itself up for the possibility (likely certainty) of another addition.

SEE IT. What choice would you make in Michelle’s situation?

The Legend of Tarzan (2016); And Safety in Grossly Watered Down History

July 1, 2016

the-legend-of-tarzan-poster-imaxI don’t go to the movies too often anymore. I feel like a bad critic or a failure among film theorists because I realize that I’m not exercising my critical mind by keeping up with what studios think the masses like, and what the masses actually like. There’s a multitude of reasons that I don’t hang out at the theater like I used to years ago. Mostly, I refuse to pay the jacked up prices that inner city movie theaters get away with charging these days. Another large reason is that most films I’ve seen in theaters tend to air on the side of sub par. The gems that I keep unearthing now is through streaming television.

Lo and behold, I got graced with the opportunity to see an early screening of The Legend of Tarzan. This moment of film going cemented itself as the exact reason why I don’t frequent the theaters anymore. Seeing it for free arguably made the film much more tolerable. But, make no mistakes about it, The Legend of Tarzan is barely adequate. It’s the “just right” of Goldie Locks’ testing throughout the 3 Little Bear’s home. I give it kudos for revisiting taxing subject matters of the past, but it never goes too far into controversy.

The Legend of Tarzan is just lukewarm enough to please enough movie goers that it’ll make its millions before vanishing from public consciousness a few years from now. It’s a film that lacks any flavoring. It’s bland enough for those who don’t like salt in their dishes, and peppered just enough to convince others that it has a distinctly different taste.

The story of Tarzan isn’t a relevant tale that stands the test of time. Long ago in the African forests legend had it that a child was raised by apes. That child, shipwrecked and abandoned on an island, grew to become Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgard), a half-man, half-ape being that swings through trees, talks to animals, and married a Western woman named Jane. How director David Yates tells the story, Tarzan’s relevance to our current time is his existence during an age of colonialism, rampant racism, and slavery throughout Africa thanks to the European countries that surrounded it.

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In this telling of Tarzan’s legend, he has escaped the forests and lives with Jane (Margot Robbie) in English civilization. That is until a worried ex-Civil War solider, George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson), convinces Tarzan to return to Africa after he smells something amiss about how the bankrupt King Leopold of Belgium is still able to work on building a railroad system.

Tarzan’s place among the trees serves as a backdrop for him to return to Africa and free the people he’s known and the animals he’s loved from white oppression and greed. For this, I respect The Legend of Tarzan, deeply. My knowledge of Tarzan comes from the Disney version where Africa is filled with singing animals and the people of the land with melanin don’t exist. The Legend of Tarzan gives representation to various tribes in the Congo and other parts of Africa. It also touches on the injustices experienced by minorities due to white commands as George Williams even recalls his own recoil and regret in his role of displacing Native Americans after the war.

The Legend of Tarzan does a menial job scratching the surface of the problem of colonialism and white supremacy, but it’s only superficial. There is no deeper digging or kicking up dust here. Instead, The Legend of Tarzan plays it safe keeping the African characters as background props limiting only a handful of Black men with speaking parts and minuscule back stories that aren’t explored if they don’t have the film’s white counterparts as the forefront. There is a diminutive amount of individuality. Black bodies act as a mass, a dark form to see as “other” and not people with stories, loves, hopes, and fears. Black women don’t speak unless it’s all at once through song. Aside from a few scenes with Djimon Hounsou as a tribal Chief, only Jackson as George Williams gets major screen time as a bumbling, sassy sidekick who I repeatedly expected to say “I’m getting too old for this shit.”

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Jackson is the comedic relief, but leaves much to be desired in his role and character. That’s not his fault, however. Writers Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer were much more focused on developing Tarzan’s relationship with Jane which musters up to nothing more than physical affection. We get the opportunity to see George open up and explore his feelings in the few moments of focus he receives. The same can’t be said for Tarzan and Jane, whom we are constantly reminded are the breadwinners of the film. They don’t open up to one another or goof around like a real couple would. We continuously only hear about how much they love one another.

The Legend of Tarzan chooses to avoid going too deep into the politics and brutality of King Leopold or his advisory, Leon Rum (Christoph Waltz), and their exploitation of human bodies in the Congo. Instead, their heinous legacy gets watered down to slavery for the promise of diamonds. Nowhere in the film does it allude to the reality that Leopold was a mass murder who committed genocide for mere rubber, yet still managed to end up broke and bankrupt. Nowhere does the film mention that Leopold openly abused and mutilated the Congo residents that he forced labor upon. The nameless individuals whose lives were lost to Leopold’s greed is once again glanced over and ignored shifting the focus to a stock evil European bad guy and a bland love story between two unimpressive people.

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The Legend of Tarzan attempts to go there without actually going there which makes for a disappointing tale. Meanwhile, the CGI is so prominent and weak that it actually detracts from the film’s aesthetic potential. Action scenes are rubbery and flaccid sucking out any tension or fear for character’s lives with it. I never worried about Tarzan’s safety because when ever he’d jump into fake trees or into a fake waterfall his body adopted an elastic sheen that I knew would protect him. There’s no magic to Tarzan which is all the more reason to avoid watching this film and wasting your time. Honestly, The Legend of Tarzan would have been better off as a porn film where Alex Skarsgard’s physicality could get showed off properly while all the sexual tension built between him and doe-eyed Jane could work out with better ease.

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AVOID IT. Just read up on the real story of King Leopold’s exploits for yourself. 

Zootopia (2016); One of the Most Important Animated Films of Our Time

June 30, 2016

zootopiaFor some people, movies are an escape. Whether it’s been a long day or even a long life, sometimes you just want to kick back and shut off your brain. For others, myself namely, movies hold a social responsibility to teach viewers. It is the most easily digestible, astute form of media that can convey new ideas, emotions, and cultures to anyone who watches. What I find to be most exalting and spectacular about movies is that when in the right hands it can possess both the ability act as an erasure of monotony or stress while still enlightening us. Zootopia is a perfect example of that ability.

Not only does Zootopia possess insanely gorgeous animation that is clean, textured, and coated in bright vivaciousness, but it carriers a large burden on its back; the desire to show the world simple solutions to our selfishness and fears. Screenwriters Phil Johnston and Jared Bush team up with animators, six other writers, and two other directors to create a world that is stunning food for the imagination. A world where anthropomorphic animals must learn to surpass prejudice thinking and critical self-doubt. Zootopia stages an array of adorable animals to play the parts of catalyst for change, most notable Judy Hops (Ginnifer Goodwin), a tiny bunny with big dreams of being a police officer— an unheard of achievement for a bunny.

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The sheer number of land animals we get the pleasure to encounter is merited to the genius use of landscape and creativity. Zootopia, the metropolitan city of the story, is separated into 12 ecosystems. Easily accessible to any citizen, these ecosystems provide stable homes for polar bears needing colder climates, camels needing heat, and everything in between. This allows the animation department to let their ingenuity run rampant creating a landscape of rivalry systems that substantially complement one another. The integration of these different animals’ lives is hilariously ingenious. There’s an Acacia juicing store with tubes tall enough for giraffes. There are miniature lanes on the road for the rodents that commute from their tiny, rodent city in to Zootopia. Banks are run by simple, singular minded suit-wearing lemmings that follow and copy each other’s every move. Zooptopia is filled with diversity and wonder, but as Judy learns a big city houses bigger problems.

When 12 Zootopian citizens go “savage”, that is reverting back to their animal instincts and out of the civilized clothes wearing society they are used to, it’s up to the Zootopian police force to solve the case. Soon, Judy learns there is a larger conspiracy preventing the case from being cracked. Despite her upbeat gumption she finds herself butting head with her superior, Chief Bogo (Idris Elba). Along the way Judy must face her own inbred prejudices about predator animals, more specifically towards Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a sly fox she finds herself in cahoots with. Meanwhile, Nick must battle his own emotional demons that tempt him to lead a life as society has branded him.

Kids and adults alike will enjoy Zootopia because of its cut and dry silly humor. Regardless of its humorous nature, Zootopia’s gaping social reality check looming throughout the film is unmistakable. It’s not hidden or shrouded in allegory that may get lost on its viewers. Instead, it is refreshingly poured into your consciousness with direct intent. One of the first scenes of the film shows how the negative thought serves as a hindrance when a young Judy gets constantly reminded by her parents and neighbors that she’s only a bunny who shouldn’t aspire to be anything else except a farmer like her folks. Her parents even explain the importance of settling in life. Judy’s farther reveals to her that “if you never try you never have to be disappointed”.

Sloth Laugh - Zootopia - Imgur

Many shenanigans take place sending Judy, Nick, and the citizens of Zootopia on a wild journey of self-evaluation across the city. We meet an array of funny characters and witness some silly mishaps. Nevertheless, it’s the message that the film leaves viewers with that I responded to the most. Zootopia reminded me that change starts from within. It seeks to have every conscious body that views this film take responsibility for their actions as well as their thoughts in order to confront prejudice, small-minded behaviors. My hope for the future is that all films will highlight elements like this in some fashion, but I’m glad that at least one animation film in our time attempts to open our eyes to the truth.

SEE IT. 

Food, Clothing, & Shelter (2013); An Atlanta Resident’s Journey to Combat Homelessness and Hunger

June 23, 2016

food 13A couple of months ago, while walking around Atlanta’s trendy district, Little 5 Points, I walked past a jewelry merchant making copper bracelets and necklaces. I stopped to glance at the wondrous variety sprawled out on a clothed table outside of a small shop. The merchant making the jewelry asked me if I knew of the benefits of copper. I admitted I did not. He then began to relay their beneficial properties. The conversation soon led to a discussion on sustainability and the plight of homeless in Atlanta. This man and I embarked on an intense conversation about the topic for a while as we both passionately bounced our thoughts off of one another.

He revealed to me that he was a filmmaker whose work explored the topic at hand. I told him that I was a film critic looking to highlight films of that nature. He then took me into the store where he showed me a copy of his film, Food, Clothing, & Shelter. It was finished, packaged, and ready to be sold though he admitted he lacked the funding for proper distribution. I grew curious to the content of his film and he offered to sell it to me for a price that at the moment I couldn’t afford. I had no cash on me and his credit card machine was down. He then did something spectacular. He gave me a copy of the film for free and suggested that if I returned to the area I could give him whatever I had. I felt unsure about taking his prized possession, one that he admittedly spent 10 years making along with the copper jewelry he was selling to help finance the distribution. But, he insisted. My only form of payment to him at the time was some cash I ran and borrowed from a friend and the promise of reviewing his film.

That night I watched his film, but life happened as it usually does. I cooked dinner, hung with friends, the next day watched other films, worked, and continued my every day business without ever reviewing or writing about Food, Clothing, & Shelter. That was about six months ago. A few days ago while in my car on the way to meet a friend I heard his voice over the radio as the ignition clicked on. He was on a local radio station discussing the very film I had watched and its upcoming sequel coming to a local theater. My ears perked and I stopped in shock. I had almost forgotten my promise to him though I had never forgotten his film and its message. I remembered my promise and am keeping good on my word.

Food, Clothing, & Shelter is not a professionally made film. It is riddled with amateur mistakes, faulty sound editing, padded moments, and rudimentary direction. This is not a film that will win awards for its technical prowess. Nevertheless, this is a film that is memorable for its message and heartfelt desire for change. Food, Clothing, & Shelter is a passionate look at what plagues our society: growing homelessness and a disparaging lack of healthy food accessible to those who need it. Ebrima Ba, or the street Journalist as he is known to Atlanta residents, narrates, directs, and features interviews with a host of urban farmers in the city as well as homeless members affected by this issue. These people discuss the problems brought on by lack of basic necessities along with offering probable solutions.

Ebrima told me of his awakening and how his impassioned crusade began when I talked to him months before. Born in West Africa, Ebrima’s life has always been wrapped in a sense of healthy community. He grew up using his hands to farm providing food for his community as they did for him. He didn’t know poverty or homelessness until he came to Atlanta. He recalled his culture shock at seeing people sleeping in the streets with no access to food. He was determined to fix it by reminding people of the importance of farming. Ebrima teamed up with a number of local urban farmers further expanding his reputation as the “street journalist” informing those around him about the ease and benefits of farming.

Food, Clothing, & Shelter’s message is simple: utilize our community so that it grows and prospers, therefore, benefiting us all. The experts featured throughout the film talk of humanity’s intrinsic connection to the Earth. They remind viewers of our ability to give life with our hands. They install the very simple truth that we can rebuild the wreckage around us. Ebrima passionately argues for individual’s to rise up and commit themselves to helping one another in the simplest way possible, growing food for all.

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It is embarrassing and shameful to exist in a society where some can choose completely vegan lifestyles and others are forced to indulge in hydrogenated foods that weaken the immune system and destroy the body over time. We should all possess the same access to fresh foods and healthy options. The day we can all individually agree with this fact is the day we can finally change our ways to inhabit a symbiotic relationship with each other, rather than one based on exploitation and disdain. Ebrima Ba is not done with his work in Atlanta. Part two of his film will screen at the Plaza Theater to further enlighten the populace, bring change to the city, and furthermore, benefit the greater good.

Support the fight and hear the message July 18th at 7pm. 

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