REVIEW: Film Screening: The River and The Wall

“Building a wall from sea to shining sea is the most expensive and least effective way to do border security.”

-Will Hurd, Republican Congressman of Texas

A politicized landscape can be both metaphorical and physical. We preoccupy ourselves with the issues, and the solid ground they concern disappears. But for all those who benefit from this space–wildlife, nature enthusiasts, fishers,–forgetting is impossible. The land is sacred, life-giving, the means for making a living. Politicians in faraway places decide what happens, unaffected by the cascading effects a complete wall would have on the life here.

Important populations which have historically struggled to survive are put at risk by Trump’s border wall. Black bears and mountain lions, just coming back from local near-extinction, will suffer geographic isolation, decreasing genetic diversity and weakening the populations’ ability to withstand disease or other destructors. The meandering nature of the Rio Grande and the unrelenting straight edge of the wall necessitates a wide swath of no man’s land by the river, unjustly punishing local landowners and workers. The US side will lack the river, along with its aesthetic, spiritual, and bodily supportive value.

It’s impossible not to draw a connection from this to Robert Moses’ tyrannical reconstruction of New York during the mid-20th century. Caring not for the residents of its “slums” (read: people of color, the impoverished, undesirable white ethnic groups), he cut straight through with expressways and less-than-affordable new public housing. Rich, dense communities were reduced to identical buildings cut off from the rest of the city. The cultural and physical landscape of their old home had completely changed. He, like the Trump administration, was detached from the people he affected, and in this he lacked the knowledge and empathy necessary to be a leader of that kind. 

The river is our equalizer between us and our neighbors. A source of life, a means of survival and emotional wellbeing. The alluvial river plains, fertilized by upwelling of rich sediments during floods, are extremely productive areas. Losing out on this agricultural resource would be disastrous for farmers and the communities they support.

What bothered me about this documentary was the clearly elevated position on which its subjects stood. It really was not an accurate approximation of a migrant’s dangerous journey. They’re equipped with strong horses, expensive bikes and hiking gear, nice canoes. They are all young, in good health, physically strong. All the methods of transportation the five used (bikes, horses, canoes) are physically taxing. The film failed to bring up the unique dangers that elderly migrants face on their way, and also children, pregnant women, the ill. That side of the issue is an even darker facet, and it should be represented here.

Luckily, the film was able to balance the tragedy of our likely future with the joys of past and present. The cinematography was graceful and rugged at once, the environment lending itself to an exploration of the simultaneous existence of fear and awe. It seems to reflect a migrant’s experience because of that.

The ending was too idyllic for my taste, a little too naively hopeful. We see little direction for viewers to seize and act from. Emotion alone is not enough to argue against the political situation in which we find ourselves.

This website is a great resource for investigating what you can do.

 

PREVIEW: The River and The Wall

Free movie screenings truly are a gift to all, especially when they hit mid-week, the toughest time to get through. And with The River and The Wall, we’ll even learn a little something about the world.

The film follows the experience of five friends realizing just how impactful the in-progress U.S.-Mexico border wall truly is. It combines elements of philosophy, environmental science, politics, and human nature seamlessly, showing us exactly how interconnected such disciplines can be.

Head down tomorrow, Wednesday, February 19, 6 PM to the Gallery in Hatcher Graduate Library to watch with me. It isn’t confirmed, but there will likely be some snacks provided. Just in case, I’ll be bringing my favorite pretzels and some dark chocolate to enjoy.

REVIEW: Oscar Nominated Shorts: Documentary

Not the most uplifting selection of shorts, but these five documentaries were certainly thoughtful and artistic.

They combined beauty with a quiet sadness in the background that came forward only in brief moments. We are offered such an intimate look into personal tragedies and journeys in

this group of films, and that doesn’t always feel completely right. In Life Overtakes Me especially, we observe several refugee children caught in the coma-like state of Resignation Syndrome; they are unaware at that moment of our watching them being taken care of like invalids. The cool, pretty sunlight comes through the window to highlight a delicate hand, the rising and falling of the chest filling with unconscious breath. Their parents are filmed almost as a performance of parenthood, having to ignore the cameras’s eye and the incredible pain of not knowing–their family’s refugee status, whether their child will regain consciousness, what would happen if they were deported. It feels like an intrusion, something I don’t deserve to see.

Walk Run Cha-Cha was the most light-hearted of the five, though it was also the only one that made me cry. Ageism, particularly with women, is strong in the film industry, so I was happy to see an older couple featured in a way that connected them to their bodies and to each other. Too often mature subjects are discounted in their sensuality and ability, instead cast aside as static figures who do not (implied: cannot)

offer anything but old-fashioned wisdom, always from a seated position. They have less 
agency than their younger counterparts, often in a position of needing someone to take care of them. In Hollywood’s eyes, life seems to end somewhere around 35, maybe 50 for men.This shows that as we age there is still plenty more room for learning, for joy, for romance.

St. Louis Superman was touching without letting the audience forget its reality of systematic, racially-charged violence. The incorporation of Franks’ young son King was simultaneously beautiful and heartbreaking (he learns so much so young: his father’s bravery, the effect that one’s drivenness can produce, the hypocrisy of institutions meant to protect, how deeply racism permeates those structures). His innocent eyes take in too much, and as we see him cling fiercely to his father, we’re forced to wonder whether his future will be painted more by cynicism or tenacity. 

 

In the Absence seemed the most abstract. We see almost no video of the passengers of the ferry, which makes sense as most of their phone recordings were destroyed as the ship sank. A large portion of the documentary featured the slowly tilting boat, a big beast of a structure, looking like a dying creature, maybe a whale. It brings to the mind a guilty kind of disgust; we’re meant to be second-hand mourners, but instead we see the government’s ineptitude and this huge, ugly thing taking its sweet time drowning hundreds trapped on board.

Finally is the documentary shorts winner: Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl). The movie was a well-thought-out mix of history, interview, and politics, while getting closer to the heart through a close connection to a group of talented, spunky young girls. In a land that does not allow for any of the activities depicted in the film, it would have been more accurate to incorporate a touch more seriousness here, rather than depicting Skateistan as a magical safe haven. The point was empowerment and fighting for human rights, but these things can so easily be rosily shown, without the terror and violence involved in their capture.

If you haven’t seen these shorts, I’d recommend taking a pal down to your local theater, as it’s still playing for a few more days most places. This website will find a location near you that is showing them.

REVIEW: Frozen 2

Warning: mild spoilers for both Frozen 2 and Rise of Skywalker. This warning will make sense in context.

While I was buying the tickets for this movie, my friend said “Quick q. So you’re here. I’m here. And our other friend is here. Why aren’t we watching Uncut Gems?” And I found myself asking that question multiple times throughout or viewing of Frozen 2.

Frozen 2 was an unnecessary sequel and it was confusing, and it also had the same plot as Rise of Skywalker: a young woman with mysterious powers that nobody else has and that she cannot properly control finds out her grandfather is evil. She then embarks on a solo quest to understand both who she is and how to fully utilize her powers. A young man, while waiting for the young woman to come back from her solo quest, meets someone of a similar background as him and they talk about being sensitive to/having conversations with strange forces/reindeer – things that do not actually talk back to these individuals (a bit of a reach, I know, but hear me out on this next part). During the solo quest, the young woman crosses treacherous waters to reach an abandoned wreck from a previous film.

Now, you may be wondering, which movie was better? I preferred Star Wars because I found Frozen to be quite confusing at times. I did not understand a lot of basic plot points, which I don’t think is the mark of a good movie. The premise of the film is that Anna and Elsa have to free the Enchanted Forest, but they never made it entirely clear what they were freeing the Forest from. The Forest is closed off from the rest of the world by a force field that is never referred to again, even when the curse (?) is lifted. In fact, certain characters leave the forest area at some points during the movie even though the force field should be keeping them in the forest.

I felt like the movie was, in general, unnecessarily vague. It doesn’t really feel like there’s a point to Anna and Elsa’s quest – they’re chasing after a mysterious voice that only Elsa can hear, and when she stumbles upon the truth about her powers, the truth is kind of irrelevant. The truth about the origin of her powers is not significant at all when she and Anna finally save the day. The movie tries very hard to be mysterious to keep the audience engaged, but they never explain anything, and shrug off any plot holes by trying to distract the audience with Olaf and a cute fire-breathing lizard.

Maybe I thought the first film was leagues better than its sequel because I’m not exactly part of the target audience anymore. Judging by the squeals of joy and high-pitched laughter, the kids in the audience seemed to enjoy the movie. However, I did enjoy some aspects of the film. Elsa’s two new songs, “Into the Unknown” and “Show Yourself” showcase Idina Menzel’s incredible talent and vocal range, proving she always fails to disappoint Visually, this film has some stunning animation, especially the scene where Elsa is crossing turbulent waters, creating platforms of ice to run across. In another scene, Elsa is exploring a dark cave-like area which is actually supposed to be an ancient river, and her surroundings are black but contrasted with blue and purple geometric ice crystals. This scene was also reminiscent of the scene in The Last Jedi when Rey falls into the pit and goes through a series of visions, but I digress.

Overall, Frozen 2 is not a bad movie. The first one is 100% the better film and there was really no need for a sequel, but if you don’t take it seriously, it can be enjoyable. The music is great as expected, and it is a very visually appealing film. Still, I wouldn’t recommend you rush to the theater right this second to watch it.

REVIEW: Knives Out

Knives Out is fantastic. It’s funny, clever, well-written, and well-directed. None of the humor is forced, cringy, or cheesy. Many of the jokes reference present-day trends and politics, but it never seems like writer-director Rian Johnson is trying too hard to make the film relatable to the audience. Although the film does follow a classic whodunit formula – discovery of the crime, interviews with the suspects, the following investigation – its premise is very original. The way the events pan out are creative and unexpected. The story itself is very tight and clean; there are no gaping plot holes as the film literally explains everything. Everything that happens was previously hinted at, but everything is very subtle and keeps the audience engaged as a result.

The film would not have been nearly as good if it weren’t for the actors. Every member of the Thrombey family is unique – distinctive – and they all shine in their own ways. Chris Evans came across as over-the-top in the trailers, but in the context of the film, he fits right into the ridiculousness of the Thrombey family. The family dynamic is so fun because all of the characters are so eccentric. Jamie Lee Curtis plays the eldest of three who all benefitted from their father’s tremendous wealth, and her character insists that she started her company from the ground herself, and that her husband works for her. The two youngest members of the family, a juuling feminist and an active member of alt-right twitter, provide underrated and entertaining interactions. My personal favorite member of the family was Toni Collette as a lifestyle guru and essentially Gwyneth Paltrow.

The biggest standouts of the film were the two leads, Daniel Craig and Ana de Armas. Craig plays Detective Benoit Blanc, who has a strange southern accent that somehow works. His character has some of the best lines, including a comparison between a will reading to a tax return by a community theater and a long monologue relating donuts and donut holes to missing evidence. On the other hand, de Armas’s character is much more unassuming, but rather than being a stereotypical Latina maid, she is the heart of the film. Marta is charming, sweet, sly, and ruthless all at the same time. De Armas’s performance shows that she is an actress to be on the lookout for. Since moving to Hollywood where she immersed herself in English lessons, she has starred alongside Robert De Niro, Jonah Hill, and Ryan Gosling. De Armas has spoken about her being able to relate to the character of Marta – both wanted a better life for themselves and their family.

It’s clear that writer-director Rian Johnson took great care in creating the character of Marta, and into allowing a newer actress to shine alongside some of the biggest names in the movie industry today. It’s clear that all of the actors had a blast on set, and it’s impressive that Johnson was able to create a film that is both character and plot driven. Johnson could have easily channeled his efforts into one aspect or the other, but instead he was able to weave absurd characters into an outrageous storyline, resulting in a film that is nearly, if not flawless.

REVIEW: Black Christmas (1974)

Before seeing Black Christmas (1974), I thought that the market for Christmas-themed movies was already saturated with titles. Having seen this film, I’m convinced that Christmas scripts face far less scrutiny than their non-holiday affiliated counterparts. Scary Christmas? You got it. Action hero Christmas? Easy. Low budget Thanksgiving-Christmas-New Years romcom with live action reindeer flights and pyrotechnics? Why not. As far as holiday movies go, Black Christmas, without a doubt, is one of the strangest and most unique titles that I’ve ever seen.

Initially, I decided to see the movie because I was very, very curious to see how Bob Clark blended two seemingly opposed themes: slasher violence and Christmas cheer. I didn’t really expect a masterpiece in Black Christmas, but the film pleasantly surprised me. Instead of getting the wacky, shocking-for-all-the-wrong-reasons hodgepodge that I’d thought the film would be, Black Christmas turned out to be a palatable slasher film with great acting and thoughtful set design.

Although the title of the film is Black Christmas, the character of the picture is truly that of a horror movie, as the plot could absolutely stand on its own legs without the help of holiday synergies. Further, the film truly embodies the spirit of the classic 70’s Slasher: the deranged killer constantly calls the landline to make threats to his victims, the murders are overwrought with gore, and the real identity of the maniac is concealed throughout the entire film. If you enjoy the unsophisticated rampages of Jason Voorhees and Freddy Kreuger, then you’ll surely appreciate Black Christmas.

Additionally, the film contains a few genuinely hilarious moments that occur at very well-timed intervals: the script actively provides for moments of levity, usually using supporting characters, while retaining the emotional gravity of the situation. As such, the movie has a great balance of different character types: instead of relying on the protagonist or the antagonist to provide moments of emotional color outside of their respective arcs, the supporting characters Black Christmas are able to provide humor without compromising the suspense of the plot. I especially appreciated the film’s usage of mischievous characters and painfully cringey situations.

While Black Christmas didn’t disappoint, it didn’t really impress. No single aspect of the film fell short of my expectations, but the overall lack of originality in the movie served to significantly constrain my opinion of it. I was hoping that Black Christmas would have integrated more “Christmassy” paradigms into its plot, but essentially, the movie is a standard Slasher-horror film neatly wrapped in gingerbread wrapping paper. Instead of drawing inspiration from both thematic centers to create a completely original idea, the film just, albeit cleverly, mixes the two distinct film styles. It’s weird, kind of scary, kind of funny, and a great conversation starter. If you have time, give Black Christmas a go, but if you don’t, you’re not missing out on a whole lot.

 

6.3/10