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Tuesday
Mar142017

Sharknado 4: The 4th Awakens (2016)

If you’re new to all things Sharknado, don’t be fooled by the third sequel’s poster art or subtitle: “The Fourth Awakens” is not “Sharknado in Space” (that was part three, duh!). Whereas previous installments of SyFy’s surprise-smash were contained to Los Angeles, New York, and Washington, D.C., respectively (with a brief stint in orbit), this outing sees ex-surfer-turned-savior Fin Shepard (Ian Ziering) and his family chasing carnivorous cyclones across America. Writer Thunder Levin and director Anthony C. Ferrante quadruple down on the Mad Magazine silliness and pseudo-science (sharknado-sensing defense systems?!). Conversely, the production values have improved (no joke), practically robbing Fourth of the series’ crucial Z-grade-effects charm.  The inevitable (and now in-production) fifth chapter promises to take the carnage international. I just hope Ferrante and company realize they’re on the precipice of mediocrity. Sharknado is the rare franchise where better is not better. My advice: go bad, or go home.

Listen to Kicking the Seat Podcast #201 to hear Ian venture to the heart of the Sharknado with series writer Thunder Levin!

Saturday
Mar112017

A Bridge Between Two Worlds (2016)

In 2000, humanitarian Gilles Raymond moved from Quebec to the Indonesian island of Flores, whose corn and red bean exports netted their impoverished residents a meager $900 per year. Working with a Catholic charity, Raymond created the Otonomi program, through which Canadian sponsors provide seven-year, interest-free "honour loans" to help Indonesian counterparts become ginger farmers (this crop can more than double a family's income). Pascal Gelinas' documentary, A Bridge Between Two Worlds, profiles Raymond's efforts to help a nation find its way out from under a brutal and impossibly corrupt military dictatorship. Raymond works with governments but is not beholden to them, and he insists on a direct link between donors and recipients. Gelinas presents his subject as a bridge not only between West and East, but between slavery and prosperity, making this film a hopeful, unofficial bookend to Joshua Oppenheimer's The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence.

Thursday
Mar092017

Colors (1988)

Though Dennis Hopper’s Colors is almost thirty years old, I won’t (totally) spoil what elevates it above the countless other hotshot-rookie-cop-versus-cynical-seasoned-veteran movies of its weary genre—except to say that the climax involves a character death, enhanced by one of the most upsetting, realistic performances I’ve ever seen. Sean Penn and Robert Duvall play members of a Los Angeles anti-gang task force, who have very different ideas about how to deal with the Crips/Bloods turf war (not to mention the criminal startups looking to make names for themselves). Beyond the Penn character’s obsessive primping; his superfluous fling with a barrio waitress (Maria Conchita Alonzo); and unintentional flashbacks to Hollywood Shuffle’s “Black Acting School” sketch (thanks to appearances by Damon Wayans and Grand L. Bush), Hopper and writer Michael Schiffer paint the boys in blue with bold moral grays. These cops live and die (spectacularly) by codes at once arbitrary and inviolate.

Thursday
Mar092017

The Gathering (2016)

After watching The Gathering, you won't think of “Social Justice Warrior” as a pejorative phrase. Micki Dickoff’s rousing documentary short follows members of Witness to Innocence, an activist organization comprised entirely of exonerated death row inmates. And there are a lot of them. An argument-ending amount of people served decades behind bars based on faulty evidence, bogus testimony, and other matters of corruption inherent to or abetted by the American criminal justice system. The occasional soapboxing against crooked attorneys is a bit much, especially without some sort of “Not All Prosecutors” balance. But Dickoff’s decision to let the voiceless speak without interruption serves as cosmic reparations for these horribly betrayed, often lower-class men and women who now devote themselves to ending capital punishment. The Gathering's emotional testimonials flesh out ideas only hinted at by the talking heads in Ava DuVernay’s 13th. This is a call to action. Indeed, to war.

Wednesday
Mar082017

An Undeniable Voice (2016)

I’m greedy when it comes to really compelling stories. I want to know so much more about Holocaust survivor Sam Harris than Price Arana and Adam Rothlein’s fifteen-minute documentary short, An Undeniable Voice, can offer. Harris was only four when Nazis invaded his hometown of Demblin, Poland, and only slightly older than that when he and four other children were allowed into a concentration camp that doubled as a munitions factory (as opposed to being shot in the train yard). The film artfully intercuts between an on-stage interview with producer Sharon Stone and haunting, archival depictions of Harris’ childhood stories. Like the 1.5 million children murdered in World War II, An Undeniable Voice feels like it was taken from us far too soon. But the filmmakers pack each minute with a gratitude and vigilance that recalls the words of Neil Gaiman: “You get what everyone gets. You get a lifetime.”