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I am a college student who has some free time, and an insatiable, ravenous obsession with film. I have a wide variety of tastes and I try for quality films, and I almost never say Not Interested. I love mind bending films, screwball comedies from the 30's and 40's, romantic comedies, classic and low budget horror, coming of age films, silent slapstick, feel good, and generally 70's cinema. I rate films with a mixture of "What the film is" versus how much I enjoyed it. If you want to read about my opinions on modern film, here's a link to my column in my college newspaper:
This is a well-researched, fully formed case for a change in the structure of the NCAA system that is currently in place. "Student athletes" (christened by Walter Byers) are college students who play on university teams without compensation. There's always been a classic narrative that these students are getting a free education and should be kept from being maligned with corporate sponsorship and big business. Meanwhile collegiate football alone is making billions off of the free labor of student athletes, who often can't afford to eat, who take out loans for college though they barely attend, and therefore don't do as well as other students, making said education a gambit that won't help later in life. Their likeness can be stripped away and sold without their consent, and they make no money from it. If there wasn't such a dissonance between what was actually happening to these students and the traditional narrative, I would agree that education matters as much as salary, but the film presents that that's not the real issue. This system is not only flawed, but at times corrupt, and morally ambiguous with how they treat students. What these students can actually get from this system is slim, and in the process they are physically hurt, monetarily in the red, and always dog tired. It's a complex issue that's handled well, presented knowledgeably, and breaks down our assumptions of what we know about college sports.
This film has been commended for its horror genre type narrative surrounding the urban legend of Cropsey, but what documentarians Zeman and Brancaccio only serve to accomplish is scare themselves. The urban legend surrounds a creepy, somewhat crazed killer, who snatches children for their bad behavior. The two point to this urban legend, in conjunction with the case of Andre Rand, a former care worker at the closed Willowbrook Mental Institution, who was accused of the abduction and murder of four children on Staten Island. The actual mental facility of Willowbrook was closed for abuse from workers and unseemly conditions, its ghosts haunting the hallowed halls and lending shelter to a supposed clan of former workers and residents. Though we do not see these people, nor are they interviewed, Zeman and Brancaccio want us to believe they exist, as well as that Rand is the eponymous boogeyman Cropsey. While these two definitely frighten the viewer with the real story of the closed institution, and intrigue us with a narrative of a misanthropic clan of hermits out in the woods, their link between Rand and Cropsey is tentative. Rand's case is picked apart here, and subjected to questioning by the documentarians, witnesses, the defense, and local residents of the adjoining town. The film doesn't serve to solve any larger mystery, but instead prods at the past in order to show "Hey, this is pretty creepy, right?" It drags on forever, trying to show inconsistencies with the case but also claiming Rand could also be the killer. The film ends ambiguously, which I absolutely hated, since this is supposedly a story of a child killer. They tried to fit this story into the overarching theme of urban legends, showing the inconsistencies between stories and the adding of elements from one person to another like a foul game of telephone, but they end up just throwing their hands in the air and walking off, unsatisfied.
Many have compared this stunning depiction of gang life in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, to Martin Scorsese's seminal "Goodfellas." While I understand this ascertain, and certainly agree that this film similarly deals with the complexities of gangs, there isn't the same kind of honor as in "Goodfellas." Instead of criminals getting made, fitting into a role they have coveted for much of their lives, hoods have no loyalty, as they kill, maim, and threaten with ease, and are always plotting to take over new territory. While there is a level of sophistication and class to the life of a mobster, there is no escape from the toils of hardship when taking on a life of crime in a Brazilian slum. Our story spans twenty years, and mostly follows the story of Rocket (Rodrigues) who doesn't have an inhibition to take up a life of crime. He loses relatives, friends, and acquaintances in this environment, but it's just another aspect of his life in the City of God. There are a lot of narratives threading through this film, like a Gabriel García Márquez novel. We follow Rocket for much of the film, but we also follow gang leader Lil' Dice (later christened Lil' Ze) (Firmino da Hora) as he takes over territory, creates tension amongst his ranks, creates havoc, tortures people, and starts a gang war that lasts longer than others have before. We also follow the exploits of Knockout Ned (Jorge) as he fights against Lil' Ze, Blacky, a low level drug dealer, Shorty (Camilo), an older man who murders his wife, and several others in the slum. Weaving through these narratives is constant violence and police intervention. In this film children of any age are thrust into adulthood, a gun perched on their hips while a lollipop lolls out the corner of their mouths. Children cry from bullet wounds the same as scraped knees, women are commodities, guns are badges of honor, and death is inevitable. The visuals in this film are color coordinated, bright, and informational during time jumps. The editing flashes quickly, but doesn't overwhelm the viewer by overloading the screen. The scenery is gritty and yet evocative of a cultural heritage somewhat trampled and yet thriving. Through the constant theme of violence and cyclical gang warfare we have a huge host of characters, but each of them is memorable and complex in their understanding of the world. All of these side characters are played by amateur or unknown actors, but it doesn't show. They understand the material they are covering, but are also closely linked to this subject, as many of these children were from the actual slums. Lead actor Rodrigues lived in the City of God at the time of filming, which makes his performance that much more heartbreaking, that much more uncomfortable. There were some seriously scary, terrorizing, heartbreaking scenes in this film. It's not just a film about the sound of a tommy gun during a drive by, or the wads of cash in some hood's back pocket. It's more about life, about the wish for escapism that's hardly ever sated, and silent hope, which often dies a strangled, harried death. Watching this film, you won't believe in its realism, but at the very end, before the credits roll, "Based Upon a True Story" flashes, and old wounds are ripped open anew. This is a cultural epitome that not only brutally entertains as did Scorsese's classic, but also edifies its viewer without condescension.
Unmatched in its depiction of modern life in contemporary Iran, "A Separation" delves into the lives of a family during the separation of its husband and wife. Trying to flee the country amidst its regular turmoil, Simin (Hatami) finds opposition from her husband (Moadi), who won't leave behind his father, who suffers from Alzheimer's. The film is pivotal in portraying how difficult life in Iran is, from an institutionalized fear of religious zeal, to the lack of rights for women, to the lack of agency that an Iranian citizen truly possesses. Just in looking at the plot of film you can also argue that it's a very human story, based on the emotion wrought from caring for a parent with a debilitating disease, or having to take care of your family in the wake of your husband's joblessness. It's a riveting story that is all together heartbreaking in execution. The performance from Hatami, as the broken down wife, made strong by the love of her daughter, was a revelation. She is so steadfast and immovable, qualities female characters don't often exhibit, let alone in an Iranian production. Nader's story is quite heartbreaking, as he is fighting against a rising tide, but he is not the victim. Neither is the calamitous Hodjat (Housseini), though he is the one bringing charges against Nader. In this environment no one wins, no one understands, and no one finds closure. Engrossing until the last minute, this is a must see for everyone, anyone, everyone.
Indicative of the kind of comedy the Wayans brothers would make for the next decade, this film threads spoofs through a story about racial discourse. At the time films about the realities of hood life ("Friday," "Boyz n the Hood," "Menace II Society,") were ubiquitous. Taking the template of "Boyz n the Hood," the film follows Ashtray (Shawn Wayans) as he goes to live with his father and learn the tough reality of a life of poverty, gang warfare, and the endemic problems in his community. The film spoofs all the mainstays of the genre, including the one hopeful college bound student's demise, the love interest having many children, and the violence of gangs (and their elaborate tattoos). The film mostly pokes fun at the genre, but also has interesting gags, in-references, and silly slapstick that's all its own. It peters out near the end, because it needs to tie together all the plots, but overall this is a perfectly goofy spoof. Many memorable lines and characters make this a must watch comedy gem, and remains a pivotal start for the Wayans brothers comedy saga.