REVIEW: Gook

Gook is a remarkable film, one that manages to balance both art and emotion. From the eerie beginning of Kamilla, the young black girl, dancing jerkily and strangely in front of what appears to be the burning shoe store, to the end of the movie, Gook is beautiful and poignant. It shifts tones deftly, and will go from making you laugh to inducing rage within seconds without any of that awkwardness one is used to feeling. Furthermore, the film explores the lives of poor Korean-Americans and the strife between their community and the black community whom they share the streets of LA with–in this way, the film already stands out from other films that focus on the lives of those in the ghetto and seeks to tell a story that hasn’t been told before.

Perhaps the film’s greatest strength is its characters. Each character has his or her own set of motives and desires that feel fully fleshed out despite having little if anything to do with the plot (such as one of the brother’s desire to become an R&B singer). None of them are stereotypes, and though viewers are going to be most sympathetic towards the brothers and Kamilla, the “villains” of the movie remain sympathetic, for the film shows how their anger comes from a place of hurt, how no one in this movie has been or will be capable of moving on from an unshown tragedy that happened years before this day, how grief and violence go hand in hand.

Though the movie describes itself as following this set of characters on the day of the Rodney King riots, the riots intersect with the characters only rarely. The drama of the movie is more personal than that. While the riots drone in the background, the characters rush towards their own startling and tragic confrontation, this sort of mirrored image of the riots. To use history in this way is a bold decision–it is easy to make films where the drama lies in a big event that everyone already knows the conclusion of–here, the historical elements are another layer to an already well-made film and not the substance of the story. Still, though the scenes we encounter that have to do with the riots are limited, they are impactful enough that no one would accuse this film as adding them in to give the movie more substance.

It is impossible to talk about Gook without comparing it to last year’s Moonlight. Both are films focusing on race and class matters, adolescence in the ghetto, and both have similar styles in scenes, preferring to hit viewers with dramatic images accompanied by violins, and each work well with their palette of choice. Gook, despite its black and white aesthetic, is probably more approachable for most people–unlike Moonlight, it has a cohesive and limited (the events of the movie occur in one day, instead of over a lifetime) plot and the artistic elements don’t detract from the emotional scenes. Unfortunately, Gook had a limited release and shows no signs of taking off like Moonlight did.

 

PREVIEW: Blade Runner 2049

Blade Runner 2049 has gotten a lot of hype recently, with critics lauding the lead performances of Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling. I first became interested in the movie when Ryan Gosling promoted it by hosting SNL, and since then it’s only come up more and more in conversation. Blade Runner 2049 is the follow-up to the 1982 film Blade Runner— thirty-five years have passed and a lot has changed, so it should be very interesting to see how the film responds to the franchise’s preexisting legacy. Most good sequels—of which there are notoriously few in the world—have to find a balance between remaining faithful to the original and taking the franchise in new directions. It should be very exciting to see whether or not Blade Runner 2049 delivers on this.

Blade Runner 2049 is currently showing at the Rave Cinema theater in Ann Arbor, and will be for much of the rest of the season.

PREVIEW: Gook

Gook is a movie based on the Rodney King riots in LA, 25 years ago. It tells the story of two Korean shoe store employees and a young black girl they have befriended, as they attempt to navigate the day the riots broke out. The film is in black and white, and is supposed to have stunning cinematography. The movie will be playing at the Michigan Theater, Monday and Tuesday, at 9:45. Student tickets are $8.

Review- Maddman: The Steve Madden Story

I arrived early to the Michigan theater- nearly a full two hours before the event began- expecting the interest generated by this one of a kind experience to be more than overwhelming.  It was the premier of the Steve Madden documentary, “Maddman: the Steve Madden Story” by Ben Patterson featuring a live Q&A from the man himself after the movie was over.  Thankfully my friend and I got a spot near the front of the line, but as the line slowly grew and the drizzly rainy day chilled even further you could feel the sense of excitement mounting in the hubbub of the crowd outside.  I had been a long-time wearer of Madden’s shoes, coincidentally having thrown on a pair that very morning without realizing the connection.  Knowing next to nothing about the company or the man behind the company I was very excited to learn exactly how that well-loved pair of black “troopa” boots on my feet came into being.

Finally, it was time to file into the theater, walking by a mini photo op area where individuals dressed far better than I were taking photos, already making the event seem like the fashionable and flashy movie premier that I had expected it to be.  Generously, all attendees of the event receive free concessions (I picked some popcorn and a delicious mocha dark chocolate bar) along with a free goodie bag that featured a mug, a t shirt, stickers and much more.  For a free event this was far more than I expected and a more than welcome first impression. The screening room had a capacity of 200, and by the time the event was ready to begin nearly every seat was full.  A staff member told us to “pretend we were at sea world” and squeeze in so that no seat would be wasted

Finally the lights dimmed and the documentary began with snappy shots of the feet of New Yorkers as they bustled around the city.  The documentary itself was nothing short of fantastic. I thought the director did an extremely good job of capturing both elements of Steve’s life and career, and also the frenzied kinetic energy of the office.  Steve’s story  progressed naturally, one event flowing to another while weaving the overarching story of a dedicated and passionate man becoming the textbook example of “rags to richtes” through hard work and creativity.  They discussed sensitive topics, like Steve’s time in prison due to being caught up in the money laundering scheme made famous by “Wolf of Wall Street,” with special care,  while also maintaining focus on Steve’s dedication for his company and forward momentum.  I remember laughing out loud at more than one occasion and grinning from ear to ear by the time the movie was over.

Last but not least, it was time for the Q&A. Even from sitting near the back of the room, you could get a feel for Steve Madden’s natural charisma and force of personality.  He managed to exude an air of confidence without seeming haughty or arrogant, and seemed to earnestly answer all of the questions presented to him, even the less than comfortable ones about his time in prison.  I particularly liked that when asked why he chose Ann Arbor to premier the movie about his life story, he brought up that many people he know and a large number of people who work from his company were Umich alums themselves, and that the school had a special place in his company.  While the event was a once-in-a-lifetime experience I highly recommend the documentary to anyone interested in business, fashion or just an inspiring story of hard work and dedication.

 

Preview: Maddman: The Steve Madden Story

For any fans of fashion, business, documentaries or any combination of the three, this coming Wednesday go to the premier of  “Maddman: The Steve Madden Story” at the Michigan Theater and attend a live Q&A with Steve Madden himself.  The Madden Company, whose products can be seen adorning the feet and bodies of many students walking around campus has had a tumultuous and interesting history, and this documentary will track their history along with Steve Madden’s own rags-to-riches story.

The event will take place at the Michigan Theater, October 11th.  The doors will open at 7:15 and the screening itself will begin at 8:00.  I anticipate a fair amount of interest in this event so if you want good seats make sure to get there early! The event will be free to the public with limited free concessions. 

REVIEW: Baby Driver

Baby Driver is not your average car or bank heist movie. In fact, it would be a stretch to consider it either of those things because although the plot revolves around robbing banks and driving away, the movie is so much more than that. It deals with a broad range of topics, from deafness to culture as a means of survival–if it weren’t labelled an “action” film, it would be up for a whole host of Oscars and have a good case for winning them.

Unlike most films dedicated to fast cars and grizzled criminals, is not dark, gloomy, nor a blur of speed. The movie is still nonstop, well choreographed, and has spurts of violence–but, like most Edgar Wright films, scenes are well-lit, vibrant, and show all their punches. Likewise, there is plenty of violence in the film but it isn’t brushed over. We see our main character, Baby, constantly confront his own role in the violence and destruction perpetuated by his coworkers–violence that is often directed at innocent bystanders, people in the wrong place at the wrong time. Baby Driver shows us not only how people are implicit in the violence around them, but also how that violence changes them (for better or worse) and creates a self-perpetuating cycle.

Of course, the movie isn’t always gloom and doom–more often than not, this film is hilarious. And the best part about this film is the soundtrack and how that music is incorporated into the plot of the movie. Lots of films using funky older songs to make their movies seem better, but music is not only background here. The music is essential to the film, as Baby uses music to drive. He needs a soundtrack to get away. Usually, you find a song to suit a scene, but here the scenes (even characters’ names) were written with specific songs in mind. So if you like action, humor, and a good soundtracks, Baby Driver will probably be the best movie you see all year.