American Honey

american honey

Popular culture is deceiving. Perhaps it is no fault of its own, since massively consumed entertainment has to provide diversion for audiences; the deceit is implicit, so it is not meant to be taken too seriously. A quick glance at the current social landscape, however, indicate that celebrities and songs and Netflix originals hold as much sway over the cultural conversation as they probably never had before. Popular culture doesn’t become an escape, but a pep talk; something that inspires, teaches and sells dreams that will never come true.

In American Honey, as sultry and hypnotizing as films can be, the teenagers selling magazine subscriptions door to door across the American Midwest have more in common than just a fractured home life and a penchant for booze and sex. It seems that while their parents, or parent surrogates, were passing out drunk in couches and overdosing on crack, they were left in the care of movies and music, which proceeded to raise them. It is through these media that the itinerant life of mag crews acquires such seductive glow.

Not once does the film lay blame or judge the teens for the behaviors and actions they engage in. Just like Star (Sasha Lane) joined the crew to escape an abusive father figure, so does every other member in the team has a reason that makes their decision to join rational instead of delusional. And yet there is no happiness in the business. Everything the camera captures for close to three hours reeks of sadness and destruction; the decaying state of things mirrors the hopes of Star and everybody else. It is a document not only of the near depressing conditions of the hidden America, the segment that supposedly led Donald Trump to victory last November, but of the last throes of youth. Teens abandoned by everybody but popular culture, which instilled in them the idea that what they are doing is liberating, and that money is the ultimate indicator of success.

I mention this because the mag crew sings along to every single song that comes on during every leg of their journey. No matter the time or day or genre, everybody knows the lyrics to everything. But it is not only homeless teens whose dreams have been influenced by outside forces. The first house that Star visits is hosting a birthday party for a girl who cannot be more than fifteen years old. She is with three of her friends and a dance song begins blasting through the air, and the teens start to move along with the music, eventually putting their bodies in poses that are inappropriate for children their age. She is just following along with the song, she reasons with the screams of her God fearing mother.

“I hope He comes all over your car!”, shouts Star to a passerby vehicle that has “God is Coming” sticker plastered over the rear window, after it refused to slow down for her and her two half-siblings.
The anthem of the movie is “we found love in a hopeless place”, which works wonderfully with the hopelessness that infects the entire film. I really hope the sticker the car announced comes true, for I don’t see any other way for teens and adults to have real hope again.

A-

Cartel Land

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Up until 8 months ago, I was living in El Salvador, a small country that had seen me born and been my home for 24 years. It is also one of the most violent nations on Earth, with dozens of murders each day, most of them caused by gang violence.
Some of the gangs are involved in drug trafficking, and my country serves as a bridge between Mexico and others. Drug related violence then, has naturally increased.

Watching Cartel Land, I knew how this story was going to end because I’ve already seen this many times before. I know the corrupt and subservient government; I’ve seen the godless activities gang members engage in; I’ve heard the noble activist rally for their cause and become part of the problem they vowed to fight.

This is a war that cannot ever be won, because you can exterminate as many lousy politicians and bloodthirsty mafiosos as you want, and there still will be no difference. This is a war for the souls of everybody in these Godforsaken places. As the end of this documentary shows, our human tendency for pleasure overcomes whatever previous selfless desires we had.

B+

The Night Before

nightbefore

As I was scouring Netflix one night in the hopes to find a decent comedy that would entertain me for two hours, I was assaulted by the following question: Why is Netflix so popular if its cinematic offerings are substandard?

It brought me back to the quote I saw on the internet, which said “Netflix selection so bad no wonder people just start $@%6$”.

The questions remains. Why is Netflix so used if 90% of the films offered are so horrendously mediocre?

My answer: I don’t think people pay much attention anymore, which is why every major blockbuster seems to be a slight variation of the same boom boom bang formula. Maybe people just use Netflix to kill time and be entertained, and not necessarily to watch good cinema. And while there is certainly nothing wrong with that, it could maybe lead to a decrease in quality film making, since people are mostly watching the latest Adam Sandler offering instead of whatever (insert name of respected filmmaker here) is doing.

B

Glass Chin

glass chin

Because it is only the second week of January, and there will be dozens upon dozens of new movies I am yet to watch throughout the year, I feel it right that I should extol Glass Chin‘s virtues before it gets lost in the midst of all the new footage I will be watching, thinking, discussing, dreaming and ultimately writing about.

I do not think I have ever watched a movie this early in the year and gone “man, I really wish I would have watched this two weeks ago so I could have included it in my Favorite of {Insert Year Here}”. Not only is this the case with Glass Chin, but I am fairly certain it would also have made my Favorite Scenes list.

Bud (Corey Stoll) and Ellen (Marin Ireland) lie in bed at night and they converse. There is nothing flashy or cinematic about it. For most of the time the camera is situated a few inches away from the side of the bed, so we watch both lovers as they talk about boxing, poetry and the human mind. The joy of it comes from the scene feeling extremely down to earth. This is how normal people talk, not in the overtly romantic tones that most movies would have us believe.

Bud and Ellen are actually one of the most interesting characters I have seen in a movie in a very long time, and throughout most of the film’s running time I kept asking myself why in the heck I had not heard of this movie before. A quick online search revealed that although well received at the festivals where it played, it quickly vanished after that. It currently holds a One Star rating on Netflix.

A-

Beasts of No Nation

beasts-of-no-nation-posterI loathe movies that hold your hand and tell you exactly how you should be responding to their every scene. It is almost as bad as those prestige pictures which are more concerned with awards than providing a true cinematic experience.

With its subject matter, Beasts of No Nation could have very well be one of those. Thankfully, Cary Fukunaga’s camera is brave enough to never sacrifice realism for the sake of emotion. The result is an unflinching and memorable picture.

B+

Wet Hot American Summer

wet-hot-logo-2013-webIt’s certainly fun to see household names like Bradley Cooper, Amy Poehler, Elizabeth Banks, Ken Marino, Paul Rudd, and Michael Ian Black, back when they were barely recognizable to the masses.
Could a director get such a talented and hilarious cast all in one movie today?

Yes!
The prequel series that will premiere on Netflix is the only reason I watched this comedy.
It’s incredibly stupid, although the film probably takes that as a compliment.

D