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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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 II

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Phoenix (Christian Petzold, 2015)

 

Phoenix (Christian Petzold, 2015)

The biggest tragedy within Phoenix, which deals with a central woman Nelly, who just got out of experiencing the most horiffic tragedy of modern times (The Holocaust), is the nonchalance Nelly’s friends, former acquaintances, and most noteably, her fiance express in the aftermath of the Holocaust. It is dealt in the manner of a ‘skeleton-in-the-closet’ rather than an expression of sincere and devestating grief. Nelly comes back to see her husband, who believes she died in the camps, and her starvation and abusive experience has changed her appearance to the point of not being recognizeable to him (a phoenix, risen from the ashes). What is most hurtful is that he is hatching a plan to get all of her money and uses her (not knowing its his wife, but just a stray homeless woman). The façade here is ironic because it is he, in the end, who is being played. But Petzold’s film isn’t some twisty thriller drama, it is paced, its languid, and it treats its characters such that they would act in real time. Nelly has many opportunities to tell her husband that the woman he mistakes for a stranger is really her, but as she ventures down his rabbit hole, she realizes that the Holocaust has hidden something dark within her, but also exposed the darkness and sheer lack of sympathy amongst her friends. They talk in elitist stilted speech, drinking expensive wine, and when they meet her at the station for the first time since she was taken away, they greet her with the most underwhelming concern… the kind you’d express if one of your friends had a bad break-up, not the kind if they had just nearly escaped a ruthless genocide. Phoenix tells a genuinely sad but ultimately satisfying tale of the different faces we wear, but its greatest achievement is the searing criticism of those distanced from the Holocaust because of their status, race, religion, and national allegiance. It is a reminder of how those of us in our glass castles, protected from the horrors of the world can be so far removed as to be numb to even the greatest of evils.

As We Were Dreaming (Andreas Dresen, 2015)

There is nothing here worth noting in terms of historical significance. The movie takes place just after the destruction of the Berlin Wall, but the reckless youth in this film could honestly be from any European country. Instead, As We Were Dreaming forgoes any sense of connection with its very fertile time-period and place for just a teen angst drama in which a bunch of juveniles get into more trouble than they can handle. We have seen this many times before, but these characters are boring, they curse, they drink, they run around beating people up, but it never amounts to anything. There’s no sense of shock the way Harmony Korine dredged up in Kids, or the care to create eternally compelling characters as in Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting, or any effort to draw socio-political undertones like Matthieu Kassovitz’s La Haine. This movie aims at nothing and still misses.

The Wolfpack (Crystal Moselle, 2015)

I love movies about people who love movies, and The Wolfpack is the latest ode to filmmaking to really come in a very affecting package. The Angulo Brothers, a group of youths who since birth have been fed and raised in the cultist Hare Krishna movement of which their father is a leading follower have been basically locked away from human society for their entire existence. Their lives within a small NYC appartment is filled with nothing but beige walls, dirty carpets, and an incredibly diverse and extraordinary collection of movies. Many filmmakers and critics say that film is their life, but for the Angulo Brothers, it is associated this way in a very literal sense. It is the only thing which connects them to any semblance of an existence. Crystal Moselle’s expose on their lives may be viewed by some as intrusionist and by others as crass exploitation, but in reality, the emotions and passions that these brothers express on camera for movies and for the hope of rejoining society, falling in love, and being able to join the world again, is very genuine and it is filtered through the emotions of film characters. As Govinda, the oldest son, stands in a Batman costume, looking from his bedroom window, his cage, his prison, out into the New York streets he associates Bruce Wayne’s fear of bats and obsessions with avenging his parents death to his own fear of society and one day, avenging the seclusion and abusive totalitarianism his father’s beliefs had in the near death of Govinda’s own life. For many of us, cinema is the greatest thing, but for The Wolfpack cinema, in many respects, is the only thing.

Cop Car (John Watts, 2015)

In the tradition of movies which have a title that is literally the whole plot of the movie, a la Snakes on a Plane and Hot Tub Time Machine, here we have a Kevin Bacon thriller, Cop Car, which is not a comedy, or even an intentionally cheesy display of action thrills, but rather, a darkly fun, genuinely genre-inspired, low budget and high guts thriller which expresses itself in the true sense of independent cinema:

A car, a couple kids, a couple guns, and a cop who’s got a bad attitude. You do the math.