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Thread: New York Film Festival 2019

  1. #31
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    JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH ( Shaka King 2021)

    SHAKA KING: JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH (2020)


    DANIEL KALUUYA (CENTER) AS FRED HAMPTON IN JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH

    TRAILER

    Black radical history framed very successfully as action thriller

    Judas and the Black Messiah is a great film that deserves to be more widely seen in theaters than the pandemic situation allows. But what is it exactly? And what is its purpose? Those are daunting questions that stand in the way of writing a review. We'll try to answer them by starting with a glance at its genesis.

    It is not a biopic of the meteoric life and tragic death of chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panthers Fred Hampton, though that was what writer Will Berson had been working on for a while when writer-director Shaka King found him. King had material supplied him by the comedy team of twins Kenny and Keith Lucas. Had they been attracted because Fred Hampton was very funny? The Lucas brothers are black, they originally were going to be lawyers, and they tell in an interview about how they were simply thrilled by what seemed to them an exciting, shocking, and little known story when they first encountered it in an African-American studies course. They wound up working for a decade on a script that showed Hampton through the eyes of Bill McNeil, the FBI informant, and hence became a thriller. The Lucas brothers' script was handed over to Shaka King. Together Berson, who is white, and King, who is African American, worked through many versions to forge a genre movie along the lines of a period crime thriller. Trust me, it works, on many levels.

    Upping the action element, the screenplay also acquires dimensionality through the gentle romance of a sometimes shy Fred Hampton and bold revolutionary poet Deborah Johnson. This is not the story of any one of these things. McNeil is always around, but the film doesn't push any pat contrasts or relationships between him and Hampton. The message there is only that around messiahs there are always judases. Alongside the purity of the messiah is the confusion and self-hatred of the betrayer. Both are tools of social forces.

    In the thriller Berson and King forged together, Hampton comes out not funny but eloquent, which he also clearly and more importantly was. He could thrill and galvanize the audience, and here is where the performance of Daniel Kaluuya particularly sings, though not the only place. He comes through showing Fred Hampton's gentle, quiet side in the scenes with an Dominique Fishback as Deborah Johnson, Hampton's girlfriend, who, when Hampton died, executed by the Chicago police using a ground plan supplied by McNeill, was in the room sleeping with him and pregnant with his son. That son, Fred Hampton, Jr. later took up the mantle, and he and other family members played an advisory role in the making of this movie, another interesting story on the periphery.

    The not-biopic element is bolstered by the presence of Bill McNeill (Lakeith Stanfield), the FBI informant (evidently not the only one) who infiltrated the Chicago Panthers, taking orders from and feeding information to FBI Special Agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons). McNeill is the "Judas" and Hampton is the "Black Messiah." Messiah isn't truly an accurate description of the revolutionary socialist Hampton in the eyes of his activist community. As in Oakland, where the Panthers were born, these activists provided breakfasts to youths and other community services, as well as openly carrying arms. The activists called Fred simply "Chairman."

    "Messiah" is a reference to the paranoia-fed predictions of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen), whose COINTELPRO of illegal search-and-destroy policies against black American leaders is another higher-level element that raises this movie's pulse. We see enough of Hoover here to learn of his white-supremist orientation. He wanted to destroy blacks, wipe them out, the Panthers first. He says in the movie "The Black Panthers are the single greatest threat to our national security," echoing something Hoover actually did say more than once.

    Obviously we can see this movie through other lenses than that of an action thriller. One of these is the actual history of the Black Panther Party, which has been covered in a number of documentary films, but rarely dramatized in major league feature films.

    Part of the excitement of Judas is that it's full of rising stars and King with this sophomore feature becomes a major player - even though the Hollywood execs insisted, as King told Jelani Cobb in a New Yorker interview, that this film would "bomb." It seems in their stats no black film, not even Ryan Coogler's, could possibly be a winner. (Coogler, now a black Hollywood star-maker like Ava DuVernay, produced Shaka King's new film.)

    In the contemporary context Steve McQueen's "Small Axe" series, Coogler's other Black Panther, and the recentMa Rainey's Black Bottom and One Night in Miami reflect how significant black-dominated films have recently become in Hollywood and continue to be. Let's not forget Barry Jenkins' Moonlight won Best Motion Picture Oscar in 2016, with Green Book, with its black main character (Mahershala Ali) winning two years later. Whatever the relative merits of these films, the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag rearranged hierarchies, even though the execs' race-motivated gloom persists.

    Recently also there have been black-made documentaries like Stanley Nelson's 2015The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution and Sam Pollard's MLK/FBI (NYFF 2020), the latter showing how under COINTELPRO the FBI constantly dogged Dr. King's footsteps and pried into his private life yet somehow were unable to prevent his assassination. Let's not forget Spike Lee's return to form in his Cannes Grand Prix-winning BlacKKKlansman, which has parallels with the undercover FBI thread of Judas. In his review of Judas, the Times' chief film critic A. O. Scott notes that it's a "tense, methodical historical drama" that grows in richness in the context of all these recent movies that collectively "make a strong case for the vitality of historical filmmaking in yet another era of political crisis."

    We know Kaluuya mainly for his underdog role in black director Jordan Peele's provocative 2017 Get Out, a global hit the white Hollywood execs were also sure would bomb). Kaluuya explodes in Judas and the Black Messiah, his evocation of the engaging eloquence of Fred Hampton the more impressive in a British actor who seamlessly blends a southern edge to his Marxist stance. We learn of Hampton's contempt for dashikis and willingness to forge links with black Chicago clans and gangs of poor whites.

    Stanfield, always the cool, ironic one, has the less flashy but perhaps more subtle job of depicting the very young "career criminal" who is blackmailed into his Judas role for crossing state lines in a stolen car (the - flashy - opening sequence, where he steals the new big red late sixties convertible from a black hoodlum by impersonating an FBI agent.

    Both Kaluuya and Stanfield deliver career best performances here and are likely up for major awards, as is Fishback. Let's not forget Plemons as the FBI manipulator of McNeill, delivered with complexity too, so you want to hate him but you can't, quite, just as McNeill soon disbelieves his false motivator that the Panthers are just as bad as the KKK, yet falls for his mentoring, his camaraderie, his scotch, and his envelopes of money.

    This is also a winner in the screenplay and editing, costume and score categories. This is a rich and tightly packed script with well-designed action sequences delivered for forward drive, while the acting and dialogue keep the movie character-centered from first to last.

    Despite mainstream ignorance, in fact much is known about Fred Hampton and about the Illinois chapter of the Black Panthers and the murder of Fred Hampton in a police break-in to their headquarters where multiple members were sleeping. The event has been thoroughly chronicled on film as far back as Howard Alk's 1971 documentary The Murder of Fred Hampton (which you can watch on Vimeo or Amazon Prime today). The Lucas brothers report studying 7,000 pages of FBI records and the detailed "Eyes on the Prize" interview with Bill McNeill, which this movie directly references near the end. You can read the transcript of the entire interview with McNeill online . In the movie, even Deborah Johnson's bathrobe matches the one her historical original war the night of the killings. And Costume designer Charlese Antoinette Jones works wonders with the detail of crowd scenes where all the Panthers' outfits look period and right. This was a time when everybody looked cool, and the Panthers, with their Afros and berets and leather jackets and shades, were a group who had a sense of style lacking today.

    What's not to like? Well, even though this is an entertaining, really well made movie with black "creatives" behind it, the question remains all the more, why? What is the purpose of the movie? Take a look at the recent blog entry of young African American freelance writer, David McCloud entitled "My Problem with My Problem with Judas and the Black Messiah." He had only seen the trailer when he wrote this, but McCloud describes the content of the movie knowingly. He is aware of the story and he says, "Bro, I’m a 30-year-old black man, I don’t NEED to see Fred Hampton being set up by his people." McCloud concludes: "It just seems like I’m going to be watching Fred Hampton be assassinated again, and I honestly don’t need to see that. I don’t want white people to see this and feel like they’re making a difference because they’re able to view radical blacks from a safe distance. I don’t want black people to see this and become reminded that all of our heroes are dead, and THEY killed them." McCloud seems to contradict himself, because he has just said it was really the FBI who killed them. But his discomfort with having Fred Hampton's story sprawled excitingly all over the screen is understandable.

    The fact is, achieving mainstream status involves loss of subtlety of content and context. And don't even look at what gay, black, conservative, Christian film critic Armond White writes about this film in National Review. Typically he claims to prefer King's 2013 stoner comedy first film Newlyweeds, which few have seen. He's shocked Warner Bros. took on the film. He is horrified that this film may be "woke corporate advertising" holding up the Black Panthers of the sixties as a solution relevant to #BlackLivesMatter today. White calls this a "would-be spiritual parable" and says it's a "facile, false romantic fantasy." He seems to get some of his facts wrong, though. For instance, the clip of the Bill McNeill "Eyes on the Prize" interview at the end isn't a "reenactment," as he says, not does the film promote Afro-centrism; it shows Hamptons rejection of that stance. And White's framing black "media professionals" as today's "race traitors" replacing FBI informants is a low blow.

    My feeling is, if only we had an active, vibrant Black Panther Party today, #BlackLivesMatter would have an organizational backbone. And then we'd see how liberal Joe Biden is. (Judging from his hard line against Iran and recent authorization of bombing in Syria - warmly approved by Israel, not very.)

    Basically, Judas and the Black Messiah was simply something involving the Panters and the murder of Fred Hampton that could get made. And personally, I'm glad it did. In years to come, we'll see how it stands up.

    Judas and the Black Messiah, 126 mins., debuted at Sundance Feb. 1, 2021, released in many countries and the US virtually Feb. 12, 2021 (also in AMC and other theaters). Screened for this review at home on HBO. Metascore: 86%.


    KALUUYA, LEFT, AND STANFIELD, RIGHT, IN JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-26-2021 at 10:14 PM.

  2. #32
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    MALNI - TOWARDS THE OCEAN, TOWARDS THE SHORE (Sky Hopinka 2020)


    STILL FROM maɬni - TOWARDS THE OCEAN, TOWARDS THE SHORE

    Opened yesterday, April 2, 2021 at Metrograph in New York

    Two meditative interviews with Pacific Northwest Native Americans

    The title "maɬni" (pronounced "moth-nee" uses the letter ɬ (capital letter L) denoting a "th" sound, a symbol adopted for transliteration of Native American languages. As explained in a review by Antonio D Sison in National Catholic Reporter, "maɬni" denotes the "cyclic ebb and flow of life, death and afterlife inspirit." Hopinka, who directed, shot, and edited,has made a number of documentary shorts related to Native American experience, indigenous myths and language acquisition; this is his documentary feature-length debut.

    It is important to focus on sound and language because more than half of this film is largely in the near-extinct Chinuk Wawa language. Hopinka learned this language in his twenties in Portland, Oregon where he was a student at Portland State. The filmmaker is much concerned with how culture and experience are embedded in language, and lost when a language dies out, a central fact of Native American experience. The language here is a whole story to itself, which is not told, but left to us to ponder and learn about on our own. This film follows two people, separately (but do they get together at the end, for the most spectacular sequence?). They are Jordan Mercier and Sweetwater Sahme.

    Jordan, who speaks to the camera, to Hopinka, only in Chinuk Wawa (as does the filmmaker in is occasional voiceover narrations), drives a truck. He talks about gaining the courage to grow his hair long, the native way, again; he says young boys do it, and then are laughed at and called girls and cut it short, but it makes him feel good. It is an affirmation of identity. He talks about his young son, Vincent: he says they learn from him, and recounts that an indigenous saying goes that a young child comes into the world knowing everything, and then forgets.

    Sweetwater, who speaks in English (with subtitles, presumably in Chinuk Wawa), is bright-eyed and smiling. She is pregnant, in the third trimester. She speaks of having lived a life somewhat like her grandmother, who raised her and nephews together; of her getting sober and of how things might have been different, presumably better, had this happened sooner in her life. A scene where they visit a waterfall, one of her favorite places, she says, and she bathes in it, in all her clothes, smiling, she seems purified and happy.

    This film has been called "stunning" in a Ebert.com review. Ela Bittencourt, Hyperallergic, called it "Rapturous" and said it "Feels like a richly woven ghost story." He, who has seen the filmmaker's shorts as I have not, says they "often" are in the nature of "dense, syncretic visual poems." These comments are not untrue, but they may be influenced by viewings of Hopinka's short films. Here, in talking to the two subjecdts, there is no effort at cinematic pyrotechnics.

    Spiritual matters are repeatedly touched on, however. In particular there is consideration of the Chinookan people’s circular origin-of-death myth, sourced at the film's end to a report recorded from an elder in the 1930's, probing questions about humanity’s place both on earth and in other worlds. The spiritual, thoughtful mood of the film is underlined by quiet music (which sometimes works really well, at others seems more conventional). But the virtue of this film is that it's so understated, and in an interview Hopinka has said he eschewed fancy devices and likes film about his friends to be "flat," unmediated.

    Perhaps in the same spirit, the film does not hit hard on a single agenda but lets you ruminate about what you like among a number of suggested topics: Native American world views, the struggle to maintain a hold on the culture, the ravages of American Indians everywhere from their near-extermination by white people to their persistent poverty, poor education, and addiction problems, together with the pride and collective memory, sometimes through joint celebrations, as well as through language.

    There is a big giant canoe event shown, that's awesome; the boats are awesome in size, the number of people who gather to bear them along from the water. There is a big Grand Ronde Community where men drum and sing and the women dance. There is the song Jordan sings to the camera that he is teaching to Vincent, and the talk of always drumming. An unspoken story is that of the land and the people: that this land in its pristine beauty once belonged to the native peoples, it was taken from them, but it still survives and they still preserve their bond with it. Throughout the film its scenes often visit the natural world of the Pacific Northwest. Sweetwater mentions the beauty of the woodlands, and we can't but notice that, and how there are still swathes of splendid unspoiled forest, and the eternal Pacific Northwest landscape of ocean and shore. These include the grand rocky landscape with a great gap in its midst that leads out to the Pacific. Walking up to and out through that is a hard act to follow and Hopinka edits wisely in ending with it.

    Sky Hopinka was born in Ferdale, Washington. He teaches teaches film, video, and animation at Simon Fraser University (British Columbia, Canada). He has taught Chinuk Wawa, used here. It is a language indigenous to the Lower Columbia River Basin. It once seems to have a kind of lingua franca in the whole Pacific Northwest. One would like to see a documentary on Native American languages.

    maɬni – towards the ocean, towards the shore, 82 mins., debuted at Sundance Jan. 2020, and showed at a dozen other mostly documentary festivals, including True/False and DocuFest and shortly to include the San Francisco festival. Friday April 2, 2021 it opens for a one-week exclusive digital enagagement at metrograph.com., rolling out in subsequent weeks nationwide starting 4/9 in Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, D.C, Philadelphia, Denver, Seattle, Baltimore, Detroit, etc. and will also be available online. A Grasshopper Film release.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-03-2021 at 09:58 PM.

  3. #33
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    BEAST BEAST (Danny Madden 2020)

    DANNY MADDEN: BEAST BEAST (2020)


    SHIRLEY CHEN AND JOSE ANGELO IN BEAST BEAST

    The young people today, oh my

    American teen life has long had alcohol, drugs, petty crime, sex, heartbreak, clothes and laziness as distractions. Now there's an even more dangerous threat to a good education: the internet. Is further schooling even worth it if you can get an audience of thousands or millions and make a living with cool videos on YouTube? But sometimes it's hard getting there. This is the predicament of Adam (Will Madden, the director's younger brother and star of his earlier film, the 2013 Euphonia). He's still living at home at 24, he's quit his part time job, and his pro-gun channel has yet to take off. Comments are derisive and humiliating. He's a privileged white boy whose parents are breathing down his neck: when is he going to accomplish something? Mom is sympathetic, the old man, ready to kick him out.

    Adam lives somewhere near the other two main characters in this Georgia town. One is Nito (Jose Angelo), a whiz at skateboarding and parkour who could be a YouTube star if his father would buy him a new smartphone. He is new in town and at the school, he's a poor Latino boy whose dad has no time or money for him and who makes him stay out on nights when he's having "company."

    Proximity of school lockers leads the bright smile of Nito to catch the eye of popular drama fan Krista (Shirley Chen). "Beast, beast ready to act!" is a chant her acting class teacher leads to whip up energy in the group, which bookends the film. Theater is everything for Krista. But her drama coach seems to think she lacks the courage or depth to work up intense emotion for her lines. A look at Krista at dinner with her parents - silent, everyone staring into space - is an obvious hint at why this might be so: her home "schooling" has been in repression and affectlessness, not the free expression of feelings. Obviously Krista is Asian, completing the multiculturalism of the trio. (Black people there are none.)

    Angelo is an actual YouTube skateboarding and sign spinning star whose cheerful manner and light voice make him seem real. He is fluid, but the movie manipulates him. I found it at best painful to contemplate Nito having a play-date romance with Krista continuing to develop when a friendship with an older neighbor leads him to more and more trouble.

    Adam's gun advocacy, together no doubt with his isolated status, closed in a room making unsuccessful YouTube videos, pushed by his unsupportive dad into growing frustration and rage, leads him to tragic action with ironic consequences. The twists and turns come hot and heavy toward the end. But unlike various reviewers who think Madden "swerves into melodrama" or "accelerates from reality to sensationalism," I see clear hints of coming violence and tragedy in the disjointed, cacophonous early sequences of this choppy, energetic film.

    Beast Beast,85 mins., which grows out of his award-winning short film , debuted at Sundance Jan. 2020 and was shown in a few other festivals through the year as well as streaming on Tubi in Feb. 2021. In select theaters April 16, 2021, online May 4. Metascore 63%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; Yesterday at 10:05 PM.

  4. #34
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    ABOUT ENDLESSNESS (Roy Andersson 2019) US release Apr 30, 2021

    Gloom as high art and profound philosophy

    In Swedish, the title is Om Det Oändliga, which sounds so different, it may have different overtones to it. People speculate (in English) about what he means by it. Last things? Is it ironic, focused on the finiteness, rather than the endlessness, of our petty existences? For me it's a mystery, perhaps, but alludes to human limitation. We are small beings, our actions but a flicker in the vast firmament that opens the film with the "Chagall" image of the supine, embracing couple floating horizontally in the sky, which fades into tiny floating stars that form into the words of the title.

    What follows are a series of short scenes, more tableaux than tales. In them, people often move slowly, imperceptibly - except, notably, for the big central dream sequence (thankfully it is a dream, if - worse luck - a recurrent nightmare) of the man carrying a huge wooden cross pursued b ay mocking, abusive crowd, a modern Jesus on a Stockholm street. This is the storyline most carried on through various episodes. He is the dream of a priest who has lost his faith, and his daymare ordeal goes on.

    Andersson sees this as a terrible fate, not only the sadness of lost purpose, but what he sees as being stuck in a demanding job you can't get out of, so this priest must go on celebrating mass, etc., feeling like a fraud, encouraging parishioners when his heart is no longer in it. Leaving the priesthood is not an option, as the director sees it. Inertia contributes to endlessness. Perhaps that is what the word means: no way out. No end, no exit.

    The sadness can be interpreted biographically, Frank Kermode, inThe Observer, explains that " The fact that Being a Human Person (a documentary tribute by Fred Scott released last yar) depicted Andersson creating these scenes while struggling with alcoholism and detox (the latter at the insistence of his friends and family) simply adds a further layer of frailty." Did Andersson drink because he was depressed, or was he depressed as an aftereffect of too much drink? A very Scandinavian question, perhaps. But while I've heard Sweden has a drinking problem, worldwide statistics show alcohol consumption to be as high or higher in Europe, Australia, Canada, Korea and above all, Russia.

    Anyway, relief from this film's very depressive (and perhaps that is Swedish) worldview is that, aesthetically, more than ever, Andersson has made a film that's a delight to the eye, every shot finely crafted - the result of largely being made inside the studio where Andersson likes to work. The color is of a pervasive, delicate pearl gray. Every set is denuded of anything unnecessary. For a while, the "look" is so distinctive and so pleasing, simply drinking it in (in moderation) from sequence to sequence is enough. Though the world seen here is dry, drained of energy as of color, there is compensation in the sense of control the style exudes that so amply satisfies the director's and our own rage for order.

    I said in reviewing the director's 2007 You the Living, he is "master of the static middle distance shot" and noted for his wit, "which ends every scene with a smile." There's not as much wit here, but the style still reigns, and this like that earlier film (I missed his 2014 A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence), is a series of little skits unified by worldview and style. These are linked this time by a godlike woman's voice often saying "I saw..." defining how to see what we've just witnessed. As I said in 2007, "there's a kind of stillness that comes out of the visual style, the pacing of scenes, and the detached humanism of the overall outlook. There's something about a fully mastered style that's calming, reassuring." Well, with Andersson there is.

    And yet though I respect it, I do not love it. If we compare Andersson with Aki Kaurismäki we find Aki Kaurismäki also has a dry, droll, dark worldview and style, but a more expansive, easygoing one. My memories of Kaurismäki films are happy. Andersson doesn't leave a warm glow of any kind. But he may prompt more philosophical reflection. Every tiniest scene seems universal and general and points irresistibly toward last things so our thought must go there too.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; Today at 04:01 PM.

  5. #35
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    WAIKIKI (Christopher Kahunahana 2020)

    CHRISTOPHER KAHUNAHANA: WAIKIKI (2021)


    DANIELLE ZALOPANY IN WAIKIKI

    A film about poverty in Honolulu's tourist center

    Waikiki may be the first feature written and directed by a Native Hawaiian filmmaker. He is Christopher Kahunahana, a Sundance Lab alumnus who says his screenplay comes straight from personal experience since he himself would have been homeless, like his protagonist, had he not been rescued by his family. Kahunahana's overall aim is to show the ugliness behind the tropical Paradise, to present the grim realities of Hawaiian urban life as exemplified in the tacky, overpriced Las Vegas-style neighborhood that is the Honolulu tourist trap Waikiki. What we see in the foreground are sordid lives going nowhere. Meanwhile the air is full of the noise of construction as new hotels and condos are constantly going up.

    We witness all this from the point of view of Kea (Danielle Zalopany) a young Native Hawaiian woman working at multiple jobs, in a bar, as a hula dancer, and teaching local kids the Hawaiian language, while she has been reduced to living in a van, a lowly status convenient at least for getting quickly from one gig to the next. She doesn't seem to have a family to rescue her. All she has, and can intermittently reach on her flip phone, is her abusive boyfriend Jason (Jason Quinn). In the background of one scene, viewed through a big hole Jason has just knocked in a flimsy wall, we seem to see that he and Kea also have a small kid, and a live-in granny. He wants her to come home, and maybe there is a home. And appropriately, he works in construction. But he's hardly welcoming, since his dialogue consists entirely of shouting and F-words.

    Kea wants to avoid Jason's abusiveness. She prefers to wander earnestly and confusedly in and out of the company of the long-haired "pilau" (filthy) vagrant named Wo (Peter Shinkoda) whom she runs over in the opening sequence after a fight with Jason, who has dragged her out of the bar where she's hsostessing. Not knowing what to do after hitting the man, Kea pulls him into her van. Later, when the van is towed by police when she is away, she seems to live in a world of sad memories and ride around with Wo on a small bike she has found, though these sequences may or may not be real. She has become deranged. Can Brandon rescue her? We don't know, but he seems to want to.

    Jon Olsen, one of a number online writers enthusiastic about this movie (while others dismiss it), says on Letterboxd that the director "has an uncanny gift for blending gritty social realism with visionary nightmare surrealism." Indeed that is what he endeavors to do here. But he doesn't reveal a corresponding gift for telling a coherent story or keeping the action moving along. The first forty minutes feel like ninety. There is little actual social detail, and the second half of the film is nothing but a collage of shots. Some are beautiful, but they do not cohere into anything but the bare first sketch of a story.

    Waikiki is weighed down by first-film earnestness. Moments of visual beauty frequently arise, though, through the cinematography of dp Ryan Miyamoto, which veers back and forth between the grim and the gorgeous. Hawaii is a beautiful place if you're happy and well off, but a mockery if not. Or maybe it still looks beautiful, but just not real.

    The film had awards for Best Feature Film and Best Cinematography at the Hawaii International Film Festival and the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. See the more glowing, but still reserved, account by Stephen Saito for MoveableFesst.

    Waikiki, 77 mins., debuted Nov. 25, 2020 at the Hawaii Film Festival, and has shown at several others, including Seattle Apr. 9, 2021, also included in the San Francisco Film Festival. Watched for this review on a screener at home Apr. 10, 2021.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; Yesterday at 10:23 PM.

  6. #36
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    BEAST BEAST (Danny Madden 2020) publish April 15

    for chrisknipp.com


    SHIRLEY CHEN AND JOSE ANGELO IN BEAST BEAST

    The young people today, oh my

    American teen life has long had alcohol, drugs, petty crime, sex, heartbreak, clothes and laziness as distractions. Now there's an even more dangerous threat to a good education: the internet. Is further schooling even worth it if you can get an audience of thousands or millions and make a living with cool videos on YouTube? But sometimes it's hard getting there. This is the predicament of Adam (Will Madden, the director's younger brother and star of his earlier film, the 2013 Euphonia). He's still living at home at 24, he's quit his part time job, and his pro-gun channel has yet to take off. Comments are derisive and humiliating. He's a privileged white boy whose parents are breathing down his neck: when is he going to accomplish something? Mom is sympathetic, the old man, ready to kick him out.

    Adam lives somewhere near the other two main characters in this Georgia town. One is Nito (Jose Angelo), a whiz at skateboarding and parkour who could be a YouTube star if his father would buy him a new smartphone. He is new in town and at the school, he's a poor Latino boy whose dad has no time or money for him and who makes him stay out on nights when he's having "company."

    Proximity of school lockers leads the bright smile of Nito to catch the eye of popular drama fan Krista (Shirley Chen). "Beast, beast ready to act!" is a chant her acting class teacher leads to whip up energy in the group, which bookends the film. Theater is everything for Krista. But her drama coach seems to think she lacks the courage or depth to work up intense emotion for her lines. A look at Krista at dinner with her parents - silent, everyone staring into space - is an obvious hint at why this might be so: her home "schooling" has been in repression and affectlessness, not the free expression of feelings. Obviously Krista is Asian, completing the multiculturalism of the trio. (Black people there are none.)

    Angelo is an actual YouTube skateboarding and sign spinning star whose cheerful manner and light voice make him seem real. He is fluid, but the movie manipulates him. I found it at best painful to contemplate Nito having a play-date romance with Krista continuing to develop when a friendship with an older neighbor leads him to more and more trouble.

    Adam's gun advocacy, together no doubt with his isolated status, closed in a room making unsuccessful YouTube videos, pushed by his unsupportive dad into growing frustration and rage, leads him to tragic action with ironic consequences. The twists and turns come hot and heavy toward the end. But unlike various reviewers who think Madden "swerves into melodrama" or "accelerates from reality to sensationalism," I see clear hints of coming violence and tragedy in the disjointed, cacophonous early sequences of this choppy, energetic film.

    Beast Beast,85 mins., which grows out of his award-winning short film , debuted at Sundance Jan. 2020 and was shown in a few other festivals through the year as well as streaming on Tubi in Feb. 2021. Produced by Alec Baldwin. In select theaters April 16, 2021, online May 4. Metascore 63%.

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