CIRCLE – (2015)

“Held captive and faced with their imminent executions, fifty strangers are forced to choose the one person among them who deserves to live.”

Produced by Felt Films and directed by Aaron Hann and Mario Miscione, this Netflix-distributed sci-fi horror movie is, by far, one of the best things I’ve seen in this particular genre.  With the creative use of a single-location, real-time storyline, Hann and Miscione made something that, while lacking social commentary,  relates to the audience a sense of the human consciousness enacted by the strangers trapped in a circle of democratically-selected sacrifice.

It was harrowing, it was exciting and heart-wrenching, sometimes it was even comical with the juxtoposition of dialogue and the raw mortality of the content.  It was, literally, just people getting killed for an hour and a half, but with an exciting and unexpected series of twists.

“Circle” was really a film that got the audience to pay attention, to think, to wonder what they would do if they found themselves, mysteriously, waking up in a presumably alien space ship.   Althought a strange use of point of view, it demonstrated exactly what an unreliable narrator would look onscreen.  Everyone had questions with no way to find the answers, and the audience was as shocked and awed by the results as the characters.  This only helped bring the audience closer, got them (at least me) more involved.

Every second of the heavy dialogue, acted brilliantly by a wide and diverse cast of established and unknown actors at a natural and harried speed, challenged the morals of the characters and the audience.  Making them doubt with a comfortably distant hand of just watching a movie what they would do, who they would kill.

While the ending was underrated and unenthusiastic as sci-fi endings go, it was exactly the smooth polish of closure and narrative suspicion that neither over-explained or dropped off completely that the movie needed.  Highly, highly recommend this movie for the next night at home with Netflix.

Power Rangers (2017)


It’s Morphin time.  Directed by Dean Israelite. 
Power Rangers is a concept that everyone has been exposed to either in youth watching the show or subjected to the satire in some form, and as someone who had only seen the latter I’m pleased with this one.
It has everything we want in a new action movie: super hero aspects with human reality to build the stakes of action and emotion.  It’s seemingly fast paced but juggling six storylines without the lengthyexpositional silioquies is not a job that’s easily done.  Props to screenwriter John Gatins for delicately laying out story in a more interesting way.  

Of course the use of a campfire is a good portal to exposition, some storylines were shallow and didn’t have the depth they should have been allowed, but I’m giving benefit of the doubt for the sequel.  And there will be a sequel with all the set up: everything from the possibility of a green ranger to Elizabeth Bank’s single-dimensional antagonist threat of future villains.
Overall it wasn’t too new-aged to lose the nostalgic niche nor too overwritten to succumb to the bash clanging narrative of an action packed superhero movie.  Personally I was manipulated by the careful story, the balance of action and emotion, and the satisfying end make this to be a hit action movie. 

THE RED CHAPEL (2009)

Darkly funny and painfully informative, “The Red Chapel” from director Mads Brügger, invites the audience along to see the strange-ness that is North Korea, under the pretense of having two Korean-born Danish comedians  perform a vaudeville act for an auditorium of students.

With Brügger narrating his true thoughts and his final conclusions about the difference aspects of North Korea and the effects it had on Simon Jul Jõgenson and Jacob Nossell, the two comedians, this documentary enlightens from the side of a skeptic and the heart of two boys who feel a connection to the people of the state.  The footage and political access is highly restricted, and the team is kept by Mrs. Park who’s loyalty to Kim Jon-Il, the Great Leader as he is so affectionately called,  is what puts her in charge of the foreigners.

Through her translations, the innocent attempt to exchange classic Danish comedy sketches with their North Korean counterparts is tailored to fit a more linear, narrative fanfare.

Brügger goes from being a filmmaker trying to bring to light the North Korean oppressions, to a manager trying to keep his comedians alive and safe in the hands of prejudiced, scared people.  Most of the political detailing comes out in the narrative, or via Jacob’s interactions with the people around him.

Jacob is disabled, and probably the reason the troupe was invited to North Korean, as a show of propaganda and goodwill, since it is common to know that handicapped babies and children are either killed or shipped out of the country.  That fact came out powerfull when Jacob was asked not to talk (albeit kindly and very indirectly) and the lack of a single handicapped citizen in the two weeks he’d been a visitor.  He speaks with a speech impediment, too, and uses it to a comedic effect as he must be translated for most of the movie from his “spasdic” Danish to Brügger or Simon’s English.

In one scene, when he’s prompted to salute, he tells them he won’t, that he doesn’t understand why they’re doing it.  Brügger tells their guides that Jacob can’t function with so many people, undermining his friend and admitting his own weakness in a foul swoop, only to protect them from the unseen, terrifying government.

Overall, the commentary may be limited, but the message is apparent.   It is a communist state that keeps the people in fear, keeps them from the rest of the world and afraid that if they show the sadness their Great Leader has caused them, they’d be killed for it.  When the troupe is allowed to tour the school for the gifted, seeing so many talented and aspiring youths singing, or playing accordion, I couldn’t help but choke back the tears knowing their talents could never be shared with the world while their country is locked down from the inside out.

The views of the audience: the indignation and hopelessness in the face of the dictatorship, and the underlying, unattached grief of being solely a witness makes the two boys, Simon and Jacob, more powerful than their performance was as comedians.  Jacob, at one point, breaks down with his helplessness, making him, essentially, the heart of the story.

If you would like to be enlightened to the plight of North Korea, this is the film.

 

HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE (2016)

I’ve had this movie sitting in my iTunes, downloaded and at the ready to watch, since it’s release in September last year.  It was only until now that I thought to watch it, and what a mistake that was to wait.

Taika Waititi’s hilariously dramatic adventure of an old, seemingly one-dimensional geezer, Uncle Hec (Sam Neill), and the plump city orphan, Ricky (Julian Dennison), getting chased further into the New Zealand bush when Child Protective Service agent Paula (Rachel House) thinks Ricky’s been kidnapped.  With her tenacity to leave “no child behind” she gathers the police to flush them out, only pushing them further into the wildnerness and closer together.

He strings along a beautifully funny tale of grief and human connection in the purely New Zealand way.  The over-sensative moments of heart-to-heart seen too often in American films is skipped over, just barely touching the surface when Ricky talks about his chances of survival or happiness if he’s brought back into the foster system.  Instead, Waititi builds an understanding between the two, enlightening the cliches of the geezer and the unreachable, young boy, and having them fall into an easy friendship after the initial ill-temperedness.

I would highly recommend anyone to this pseudo-eighties adventure homage that uses creative scores and spirited dialogue to keep the audience engaged, even though the masterful shots of New Zealand would make up for any lag in the story (of which there is none).  It’s exciting from beginning to end, and Waititi does such a brilliant job of building character against stereotype, making their personalities so vibrant, yet natural and constantly funny.

NETWORK (1976)

 

“Prepare yourself for a perfectly outrageous motion picture!” 

When the aging UBS news anchor, Howard Beale (Peter Finch), reacts badly to the news that he’s fired due to low ratings, the network give him his own show to bring in a new audience who tune in every week to see his lunacy play out on television. 

This story follows the people making the moral decision to capitalize on an old man’s ravings and delusion and just how far they are willing to go for ratings.  

Watching this, I was floored by the realism in the dialogue, with the natural human thought just vocalized on the screen!  With all the poeticism amongst the harsh reality of this “possibly fairy tale” of redemption and realization, it’s no wonder this one Cheyefksy an Oscar for best original screenplay. 

It’s funny, it’s crass, it’s sexy, disappointing, real, angry, and makes you think about your place.  Are you one of the lambs that stick your head out of the window and scream you’re fed up with everything, or are you calling the shots?