Kedi: The Cats of Istanbul

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Kedi (Ceyda Torun, 2017)

Behold, the ultimate culmination of the internet’s craze with cute cat videos. An amusement park specifically built for the new American past-time that has taken over baseball. We’ve seen felines play the keyboard, interact with dogs, failing in the art of jumping, and getting booped on the nose. Now we can interact with them in real life! In Istanbul!

If only interacting with one of Earth’s greatest domesticated creatures was as simple and carefree as we imagine on the internet. Instead, with the documentary Kedi, filmmaker Ceyda Torun examines the complex interaction of cats and humans that has evolved and developed over centuries in the city of Istanbul, and become a relationship of respect and love in equal measure. The film runs through several different “famous” cats in the city and their human friends, all working class individuals who run cafes, markets, hardware stores, and fishing vessels. who develop a neighborlike acquaintance with them. It is clear from the get go that these cats are not pets though they behave in familiar domesticated ways. They are not patronized as playthings. They are truly members of the society and their contributions to the people in the film ranges from simply a source of companionship, to the healing of deep psychological wounds. This idea of feline or canine companionship as a remedy for mental health issues is not new, and it is perhaps a portal into our own fondness for the activity with watching endless streams of kitten and puppy videos on social media. Is it a form of self-medication that we subconsciously engage in?

But let’s not get too bogged down with the weighty issues. Kedi is still overall light-hearted, featuring several sequences of “go-pro” style camera tracking shots that give ground-level point of view shots of the cat’s journey through human-dominated habitats. The film is fun, and it plays perfectly to our unmitigated need to place human characteristics and traits onto non-human animals. A sequence where one of the cats chases after a mouse plays like the tunnel scene from the Harrison Ford movie The Fugitive. The mouse peeks in and out, aware of the cat’s presence but avoiding being seen. It’s thrilling, it’s quirky, it’s exactly the type of thing that gets a million “likes” and “clicks” and “retweets”.

Many of the cats in the film are described with characters you’d see in film archetypes. “The swindler”, “the matriarch”, the “drifter”, the “new kid on the block”. All of these cats may not be any of these things, but an observation of their behavior on a daily basis forces us to relate to them, and because language is a rigid barrier that will never be torn down, our perception of “humanness” is all we have in determining who these fuzzy felines “are”.

*Currently playing at E-Street Cinema in Washington D.C. and possibly other independent cinema’s in your resident city.

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The Oscars 2017! or, something like that

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Ugh, these Oscars… the Best Picture nominees (except for Moonlight) this year are boring. The individual acting and directing nominees (except for Moonlight’s cast and director) are uninteresting and tired. The show is just going to be a sling of overused jokes about a toupeed orangutan all of us are tired of thinking about . I frankly care less about who wins or loses this year (but Moonlight is great, it should win) more than any year in the past.

So here’s just ONE THING you should keep in the back of your troubled minds while you’re sitting on your couch watching this charade thinking about the 6th Mass Extinction that scientists keep mentioning and wondering when it will finally take all of humanity with it:

The Real BEST PICTURE Nominees are in the BEST DOCUMENTARY CATEGORY:

I just made 3 straight not-subtle references to Moonlight if you were paying attention, but even that movie is nothing compared to the merciless bitch-slap across the face the Best Documentary category has in store for you. These movies are challenging, frustrating, the “I want to throw my computer against the wall because what I just watched pissed me off to no end” sort of great realistic, unapologetic and volcanic documentation of LIFE.
I mentioned in my Best Films of 2016 list that O.J.: Made in America was the #1 movie of last year. That hasn’t changed, and I wrote enough about it here to not have to go into an explanation:

But look at the other 4.

The 13th is a film by Ana DuVernay in multiple parts on the epidemic of unlawful and dangerous incarceration of black people throughout American history. There is zero excuse for you not to watch it considering it is on Netflix right now and I know all of you send them $7 straight out of your paycheck every month. Stop wasting that money watching F.R.E.I.N.D.S. for the millionth fucking time and support the voice of a filmmaker in DuVernay who is doing important work.

I Am Not Your Negro is probably the best title for a movie since Leos Carax’s Pola X (the explanation for that film title is here). On the manuscripts of James Baldwin, the film runs through his thoughts on and furious anger over the civil rights violations of a nation coming to grips with its own horrifically racist past, present, and if nothing changes, future.

The Italian documentary winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, Gianfranco Rossi’s Fucoammare (Fire at Sea), showcases the lives of immigrants from Northern Africa who sail to find solace in Europe. The film’s raw footage gives the depth, danger, and peril of the journey of many of these individuals who understand the risks of death and proceed at all costs.

The final film is the least political, but still important. Roger Ross Williams’ Life, Animated showcases the coming of age a young boy with autism, who escapes the isolation and discrimination from society and learns to cope with his disability through his love for Disney movies. Most of our childhoods were defined by the Disney Renaissance, but for some, it wasn’t just a matter of nostalgia. This doc is a great testament to how cinema can change a life.

Watch these movies. If you have watched ANYTHING from the year 2016, makes sure you watch these:

OJ: Made in America (on WatchESPN for free)

The 13th (on Netflix)

I Am Not Your Negro (on Netflix)

Fuocoammare (Fire at Sea) (on Netflix)

Life, Animated (on Amazon Prime)

Top 10: Best Movies of 2016

[Inset “2016 was the worst year ever” joke here]

2016 was terrible on many political fronts, but when it comes to cinema, it forces me to look at the best of things that have passed. As I moved to Washington D.C. I was surprised by the solid film culture that exists here. I guess (or at least I hope) that despite any changes in what goes on in the federal buildings of this district, the cultivation of theaters, movie screenings, and film community will continue to grow and offer more.

I look forward in 2017 to start watching more local cinema, created by D.C. filmmakers, reading scripts by D.C. talents and joining their ranks by continuing to film my own stuff. I also look forward to being more selective in the movies that I watch. As the year went on I succumbed to the glitz and glamor of major Hollywood releases, but I’m going to try to make a point to restrict myself to spending money on smaller filmmakers and production companies that really need the money and funding. I’m sure I’ll catch a big release here of there, but it will be less than last year. I’m also curious to see how this plays into the types of films I try to expose through recommendations. I’ve seen my Top 10 lists become more and more focused on smaller non-blockbuster movies as years go by. That trend I will continue, maybe next year I’ll have a list that is strictly geared towards giving exposure to movies you may have never heard of… trust me, that’s a good thing.

Anyway, here’s a list of 10 of the best movies I’ve seen this year of 2016. I also have additions at the end of the page for movies from past years which I watched for the first time this year (if that makes sense). Hopefully this will see some older movies you may not know you love yet.

#1   O.J. Made in America   (dir. Ezra Edelman  –  U.S.A.)

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OJ: MADE IN AMERICA positions itself as a media-on-media critique. It uses interviews, news broadcasts, movie scenes, commercials, sports clips and analysis, and political speeches and reactions to recreate the aura and mythology of its central character, O.J. Simpson.

But the greatness of this documentary is brought forth in its ability to connect the evolution of a nation with the trajectory of one man’s fame, power, and wealth and the American people’s investment in that story. Full review HERE

#2   American Honey    (dir. Andrea Arnold  –  U.S.A.)

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What sets American Honey apart is that it essentially treats seizing the moment as a survival tactic for its protagonists in conjunction with its traditional depiction as a rebellious act of pure free will…. Opportunistic capitalism meets the self-discovering millennial. The entire film rides an electric current that transfers itself directly from Arnold’s camera. The shaky-cam is a technique many have grown tired of, but its wandering, untamed eye captures the imagination of the film’s characters and their surroundings. Their dance circles bumping to trap songs have the aesthetic of a music video. Full Review HERE

#3    I, Daniel Blake   (dir. Ken Loach  –  U.K.)

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The theater was full of heavy sighs, groans, headshakes, and a clear frustration bouncing off the walls from every corner. Everyone left tsk-tsking. I’ve never seen such a vocally frustrated response from an audience for a character and a story. It made it that much harder to shake off Ken Loach’s remarkable and painfully relevant film.

Full Review HERE

#4   Cameraperson   (dir. Kirsten Johnson  –  U.S.A.)

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Constructed from tape Kirsten Johnson has collected over many years of travel and documentation, CAMERAPERSON is the living breathing embodiment of the phrase “a film is made in the editing room”. All of the sequences in the film jump around geographically and temporally making their juxtaposition more jarring and their lack of context daring in making the audience piece together stories of individuals themselves. It’s as educational and personal of a documentary as I’ve ever seen, and its presentation will make almost anyone search and read endlessly about the topics and historical events it showcases… many of them leading to dark and painful places and revealing terrifying truths about our world.

#5   Moonlight    (dir. Barry Jenkins  –  U.S.A.)

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There is nothing better than seeing a filmmaker have his debut film emphatically stamped with his own vision. The best part of Moonlight isn’t that it sheds light on a neglected class of American society, but that it dares to examine and say a good deal about them with a completely unique perspective. Dee Rees’s sadly forgotten parable Pariah did something very similar.

#6   The Hunt for the Wilderpeople   (dir. Taika Waititi  –  New Zealand)

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I have been watching Taika Waititi’s career since his debut Eagle vs. Shark back when I was a junior in high school, and it’s always rendered as very hit-or-miss, with the misses coming more frequently and missing by a lot. He may have won me over however with Hunt for the Wilderpeople, a fun New Zealander’s take on the American mismatched-pair buddy comedy. Its moments of family dynamics, what it means to be a “man”, and an undercurrent of racial disparities between New Zealand’s white and native Maori populations all come under hilarious satirical examination with Waititi’s ability to balance both cultural relevance and popcorn entertainment seamlessly.

#7   Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping   (dir. Jorma Taccone & Ariel Schaffer  –  U.S.A.)

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Popstar isn’t quite the comedic success that Hunt for the Wilderpeople is, but it manages to play to its central characters’ (Lonely Island trio) built internetz fanbase with hilarious and some cringy moments that make for a light and airy satire on the pop industry’s slow demise into utter ridiculousness. I only wished in addition to the whimsy, the film added a bit of bite the way Eminem’s “Real Slim Shady” track did on this same subject of “pop stardom” 15 years ago.

#8   Les Innocents   (dir. Anne Fontaine  –  France)

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Look here. For all the film critics and viewers fawning over Mel Gibson’s slathering faith-based conundrum Hacksaw Ridge that presents itself with the subtlety of hammering a nail into one’s palm, if you want a truly gut-churning film which both tests and reaffirms belief in a higher power and its place in a world slowly losing hope… look here.

#9   Sunset Song   (dir. Terrence Davies  –  Scotland)

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It’s hard to call the film merely a romantic period-piece because it doesn’t dwell much on its setting or its time-period as a major factor for the relationships of its characters. Yes, there is a war, and its clear its the Scottish country-side, but people can experience what Chris Guthrie goes through in almost any time period. Enduring the abusive relationship with her domineering father, the death of her mother, falling in love, having her loved one changed from the inside-out by war. Davies turns Sunset Song into more a film of human emotion transcending time and place, but the pre-war Scottish countryside adds the nostalgia by channeling a near fairy-tale like setting, but bombarding it with a devastating story filled with every bit of the harshness of real life, but also the warmth.

Full Review HERE

#10   Rogue One   (dir. Garth Edwards  –  U.S.A.)

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There was a lot of noise made about a particular Vox article with an ill-conceived clickbaity title suggesting that this Star Wars film, apart from any of the regular “canon films”, was the first one to acknowledge the “war” part of the Star Wars franchise. Watching this movie proved the article’s meat correct, despite its headline being manipulative. The fact of the matter is, the reason Rogue One resonates with people (me) not really all that enthusiastic about Star Wars movies is that it plays more towards the series biggest strengths, which is the mythos surrounding it and the humanization of its characters to being citizens under distress. Even when Leia’s planet of Alderaan was destroyed, there was hardly an acknowledgment of the weight of such a genocide occurring. It was brushed off as a plot point. We moved on. Rogue One takes the time to, for the first time in the franchise, calculate a loss within each individuals character’s contribution to the fight for a new hope. Rogue One‘s heart is more that of a war movie than it is “space-opera”.  That’s why I liked it better than any of the other ones.

Top Movies From Years Past that I Watched for the First Time in 2016 (in alphabetical order):

  • Babette’s Feast  (Gabriel Axel, 1987)
  • Colossal Youth  (Pedro Costa, 2006)
  • El Sur  (Victor Erice, 1983)
  • From What is Before  (Lav Diaz, 2014)
  • Lady Snowblood  (Toshiya Fujita, 1973)
  • Mumbai Cha Raja  (Manjeet Singh, 2012)
  • My Home is Copacabana  (Arne Sucksdorff, 1965)
  • My Dinner with Andre  (Louis Malle, 1981)
  • Norte: The End of History  (Lav Diaz, 2013)  –  *masterpiece, 2010’s All-Decade List
  • Ratcatcher  (Lynn Ramsey, 1999)
  • Santa Sangre  (Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1989)  –  *masterpiece, 1980’s All-Decade List
  • Shotgun Stories  (Jeff Nichols, 2007)
  • Take Aim at the Police Van  (Seijun Suzuki, 1960)
  • Warrendale  (Allan King, 1968)

2015 Capsule Reviews Part IV

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Spotlight (Thomas McCarthy, 2015)

Spotlight (Thomas McCarthy, 2015)

It’s hard to judge this movie on cinematic terms because the issue and topic it deals with is such a devastating one and has such dire sociological and theological implications that it engulfs any dialogue of artistic merit with dialogue on social consciousness, faith, and morality. It’s really the perfect kind of “Oscar” movie because its contribution is towards a social discussion and making a “statement” which people can gravitate towards. It means that the movie is able to skate to victory on its mere competency. As certain critics have pointed out, it’s “just good enough” for the Academy Awards Best Picture, and when the topic of choice is so timely and the story one of triumph against evil, whatever flaws it may display cinematically and by form or structure in making its argument will be set aside and excused for the importance of its ability to make something horrifying accessible. We don’t nitpick a spotlight story on ISIS for its grammatical errors and questions about its rhetoric, and we don’t care of Spotlight’s level of artistic merit so as long as it gets its all important message out clear and light enough to carry and hold with us.

 

Amy (Asif Kapadia, 2015)

The cliché “the higher they rise, the harder they fall” is a single sentence explanation which is supposed to be tacked on to every celebrity story like that of Amy Winehouse. We’ve heard it before and we will hear it forever. But Kapadia, with this documentary, attempts to examine the reason for the fall, what is the force of gravity which accelerated Winehouse from the tops of music stardom straight in a grave underneath the ground? Well, there isn’t a single reason, and like physics problems, Amy’s fall is acted on by a number of forces, those trying so desperately to hoist her up (her friends) and those accelerating her decline (media, critics). The “saddness” that we keep hearing about celebrity drug problems and their eventual deaths such as in Amy is not simply due to an addiction, but to the fact that it is never taken with the sort of grave seriousness that other diseases are. We see clips of comedian making fun of her, ripping her for her appearance, juxtaposed with images of her crumbling mentally and physically under the stress of her life. It’s not simply a mechanism of the media but of society as well. Our immediate reaction to celebrities expressing disatisfaction with their life is to ridicule them for feeling so because of their immense wealth, legitamizing the notion that money does by happiness of all accounts.

 

Queen of Earth (Alex Ross Perry, 2015)

The whole experience is very off-putting and that’s what makes Queen of Earth a fascinating drama. It’s entire duration evokes a sense of dread within you, and its horror is manifested in our own feelings of embarassment, frustration, betrayal, and lonliness. These are human emotions but they are what makes us afraid and what eventually, if we let them fester, can make us go insane. I would say that Queen of Earth is a psychological horror film in the same way that Charlie Kaufmann’s Synechdoche New York is one, where the central characters undergo an emotionally churning chapter of their lifes which makes them fear their own existence. The sequence where Catherine has a complete psychotic meltdown at the gathering of her friend’s house is similar to Caden being confronted with his stage cast and crew finally asking when the hell their production is actually going to be finished. It’s a realization of all out failure by Catherine, and having the last support beams of her sanity knocked to the ground. It’s horror without ghosts and demons… it’s the horror of realizing how vulnerable she is all of a sudden. A queen stripped of her throne.

 

Addicted to Fresno (Jamie Babbit, 2015)

Scripted incredibly amateurishly, with comedy which forces itself through sexual frustration and cursing. It’s the middle-schoolers brand of jokes with everything spelled out at the end and characters regurgitating information that in real life, they would simply already know and is useless information to us anyway. I’m not sure what Jamie Babbit is getting at with her film career, but even her so-called “cult” classic But I’m a Cheerleader was not shy on its heavy-handed symbolism, obvious in its construction and again, spelling it out every bit of commentary it chooses to make just to make sure we “get it”. Well, Jamie Babbit, if you had any semblance of an imagination, we would have gotten it simply through implication.

 

A Hard Day (Seong-hoon Kim, 2015)

Korean mainstream cinema is something I would recommend to a lot of my American friends because it is directly influenced by style and narrative structure of Hollywood’s mainstream cinema. Unlike Bollywood, which works on its own parallel plane only borrowing off the most rudimentary and simple of cinematic technique from Hollywood’s popcorn cinema, the Koreans go all out dedicated with a replica of which 99% of the DNA is the same. Seong-hoom Kim’s A Hard Day could easily be made into a decent Jason Statham January thriller and its cheesy but believable conundrum of a cop who accidentally commited a hit and run and now has to try and cover it up is ripe for directors to experiment with editing and tension building. Its this type of inspired, light-and-airy popcorn material, with ample cheese melted on top that delivers enough to pass the time while still being respectable. If you’re just lazing around on a weekend afternoon and need to kill some clock before heading out for the night, watch A Hard Day.