REVIEWS AND BLOG

Film Review: American Dynasty

American Dynasty boasts the voyeuristic pleasures and the captivating energy of a film de clef (if such a label exists) with a sophisticated and exciting cultural commentary addressing one of the least cinematically excavated segments of contemporary American society: Chinese Americans. A TV series project accumulating momentum and backing for a launch, American Dynasty is about a Chinese-American family whose remaining members – a colourful motley crew rather than a tightly knit tribe – are trying to come to terms with the legacy of a deceased mother who happens to be a famous author with colossal triumphs and an equally riddling image and personal history.

American_Dynasty-web-8The characters that populate this ark are extraordinarily imagined and played – Chris, one of the personae who happens to be around the centre of the drama, is a haunting mélange of the self-imprisoning tendencies of both worlds: a Western fixation on decorum and Mandarin aloofness supported by an occupation with ‘should be’s that is puissant enough to hide icebergs of repressed sentiment. Nevertheless, the task of ‘keeping the kingdom intact’ – Chris’ particular obsession that marks the intersection of a hi-fi Asian modus vivandi and American social etiquette, which means preserving the appearances and self-convictions in this particular context – is executed with significantly better results by his sisters.

The ‘involuntary sensuality’ scene x-raying Chris’ emotional closet may compete with Nic Roeg’s unforgettable ritual in Don’t Look Now featuring a Venice-struck Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland, in means of heat and bringing the subconscious to the fore.

American dynasty is not simply about being stranded inbetween cultures, or about a limbo of belonging and non-belonging. Having to put dual straightjackets – that of palatial, what-to-whisper-in-the-Emperor’s-hall Chinese politics and that of American garden party politics – may seem to crucify the remaining members of Han family, but as the late mother concluded, her kids are already assimilated, already a part of the new terrain that had once given her plenty of challenges to overcome. In this regard, American Dynasty seems to offer narrative lessons on how to manage ghosts given in person by a festivity of characters – a narrative promise that is pregnant with pleasurable twists and knots.

In this contemporary climate where TV series writing, taking advantage of the crises that haunt silver screen production and attendance, stalks some stunning heights the auds should look forward to salute the emergence of such a daring and written-from-the-heart drama into the white screen.

prepared by Mutlu Yetkin.

Film Review: I am Terry Zou

Penetrating neon colours of Winding Refn and twisted stories of Tarantino crash into each other in I am Terry Zou, the story of a not so well known pop singer being kidnapped by the Chinese mob and trying to find a way out of the mangle.

As in several contemporary ‘rock’n roll’ mob movies, I am Terry  Zou makes a tour de force with its dynamic, almost MTV style editing. Frozen stills, jump cuts, repeats, intros/interventions intercut into the flow introduce a speedy and captivating timeline. Split screens or reaction shots would make it all the more impactful, and one can’t help wishing if slushy C-pop could be replaced by something more rock’n rollish, The pace slows down as story progresses, as Terry Zou charms his way to stage to launch a show that would hopefully save him, appealing to the arch mobster’s wife.

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This Guy Ritchie’esque pathos fails, as expected, on the character development side of the palette. Caricatures abound, as this particular ‘genre’ of mobster tales usually do not require a compelling depth. The fat clumsy mobster who isn’t really that intelligent, the line-managing mobster whose kowtow to the head figure is as passionate as his commanding his minions, the chief of mischief bullied by his want-it-all wife. And lastly,Terry Zou, as stainless and innocent as a swan.

Such takes, with their frenetic flow, compact plots and editing sprees, include some of the ‘musts’ commercial directors should excel at, hence may serve as exercises. Terry Zoumay herald the dawn of a career too, but for a future to solidify, more elusive cinematic tactics, rigorous plot-work and an eye for character development are essential.

prepared by Mutlu Yetkin.

Film Review: The Trial of Everett Mann

How could your entire conception of reality reshape itself if you were doomed to proceed to your death at the mercy seat (or the gallows)? How could one put an end to the self-questioning (if any committed) as the hour is about to come?  The Trial of Everett Mann revolves around this question but goes beyond the ordinary in working out a guess and provokes thought on deeply philosophical subjects of fate, salvation, agony, the nature of reality and sacrifice.

“You set the stage, it’s your show”.

TTOEM_poster_FINAL_1As he awaits the end, Everett Mann, an arrogant death row inmate is told,  by a warden who delivers his last meal that the very torture he was going through could be overcome by playing “as if”. The mind composes one’s own mental environment and though one cannot change reality, one can pretty change how to feel about it. This initial revelation, seemingly unsatisfying compared to what such a spirit would yearn for at that minute, sets the scene for a thorough deus ex machina. The show goes on, the court that tries him doesn’t exonerate Mann. However, a stranger enters Mann’s cell and replaces him on his path to execution, offering his own life instead his after showing him grace.

Asides treating, though as a side-reference, the entire issue of the justice of the death penalty –Everett Mann perfectly pictures the mental agony the death penalty entails – is an impressive tale of salvation that makes sense when read even linearly. Who is the man that replaced Mann? A savior figure cropped out of a religion? His own personal guardian angel? His higher self urged to lend a hand after Mann came to terms with his own fault? Regardless of the answer, we should remember that the stranger’s real work starts only after Mann’s letting go of arrogance and his insistence, accepting his guilt (and maybe applying the warden’s advice and succeeding though not knowing it).

Shot in a historic jail and courtroom (blessed with a bona fide atmosphere in that regard), The Trial ofEverett Mann distinguishes itself also for its style – solid compositions, crisp cinematography, intriguing plays of light, smart use of music, smooth changes of ambiance and last but not least, very impressive acting. Considering its nicely knotted plot and overall success in execution, The Trial ofEverett Mann is a very good short that advertises the talent and commitment of its director, Mike Gerard.

prepared by Mutlu Yetkin.

Film Review: Excitable Eddie

This 2-minutes taster-teaser is an uninterrupted shot of a psych patient having a fit is designed to promote Schizo, a psych-crime novel by author Ilene B. Benator. And by “author”, we mean writer, not an “auteur” in the film world sense.

The two minutes long take of Eddie suffering a psychotic fit before the mirror, trapped in a corner and on the floor, shrinking into himself and then embodying nothing less than a total loss of the sense of reality is accompanied by a narration – that belongs to a saner, more confident voice who confesses to be Eddie’s neighbor. Enter Dan, Dan Greenberg, the protagonist of the novel, a promising med student who is derailed by a schizophrenic patient he is assigned on rotation and embarks on a dangerous journey. Dan confidently states that Eddie’s is a tortured soul, that he cheats the shrinks mimicking stupor after he’s been fed pills, that he is making up plans to break free of the ward and declares that his demons, unlike Eddie’s are… real.

film_posterIs this a good taster? Yes, curiosity-whipping to the bone and very intelligently designed. One can imagine the propaganda effect of popping up other “teasers” focusing on Dan’s other “neighbors”. Imagine Dr. Lecter talking about Multiple Miggs in the neighboring cell, only to drive the camera/fictive focus eventually to his own self and saga. Especially after reading illustrious reviews of Benator’s book on Goodreads lauding her style and fresh promise of fever, I am compelled to read her writing, even though not being a hardcore fan of the genre. Plus, Ilene B. Benator’s being an emergency physician, an insider to the domain of medicine is another wow factor, urging the prospective reader to think about the insights she could have thrown into the story. However, is Excitable Eddie a short film proper? Unfortunately, no. If a story is told only to stir appetite about another story (served on the shelf, not on the silver screen), how can one regard it as a film by reason of its own?

Let’s hope Schizo reaches wide readership and attracts the attention of the industry to be translated into a proper screenplay and to give birth to an feature adaptation.

prepared by Mutlu Yetkin.

Film Review: Brunfelsia

Vaporous purple, whispering lavender and silken, dreamy white, the three colours of the exotic plant species Brunfelsia which gives its name to the short animation directed by Anna Constantinova pervades each pixel of the movie.

This is an animated tale of two space travellers venturing into a new, enchanting and at times forbidden planet, revealing and being astonished before its secrets – a vegetative Eden hiding the remnants of a lost civilisation.

POSTERBRUNLOWDrenched in the feeling of a psychedelic carnival not solely due to its colour palette but also because of the music and the aftertaste it leaves, watching Brunfelsia is like experimenting with a hallucinogen that unleashes its effects through the magic of the screen.

However, the raison d’etre of the film is that it is made to serve as a music video for the band Artefact, a post-pop outfit who are dedicated to weave inebriating soundscapes. Ethereal sonics and psychedelic visuals share a trance-inducing effect. Does the music fit this cinematic dress? Definitely. Would it be better if it was not an uninterrupted stream, hence breaking out of the label “music video” and setting the animation free? Yes.

Techniques and difficulties-wise, Brunfelsia is a very good exercise in character development, which the studio passes with flying colours. A tour de force that lays bare what a dedicated team can deliver to challenge major players of the genre. A taster for bigger ventures to come, hitting the mark.

The film may have narrower screening prospects due to fewer outing opportunities given to animated cinema, but it for sure will enchant the auds at every step.

prepared by Mutlu Yetkin.

Film Review: ‘La liberation de AIEXIS/ The discovery of Santos’

La liberation de AlEXIS / The Discovery of Santos is Ralph Isenberg, the founder of Isenberg Centre for Immigration Empowerment, American advocate of immigrant rights narrating two different stories about the plight of immigrants before the camera along with a parade of images and a small, emotional interview with two kids that mark the final moments.

2Poster_17x20_ElGringoSchindler-02v1The documentary is tailored in a TV show aesthetic and it is stripped of any cinematic wow factor, other than a narrator, Isenberg, speaking before the camera, directly to the viewer. This conscious absence of aesthetics,  which otherwise would be a big minus for any endeavour, serves a definite purpose here. The viewer is forced to face an un-structured, plain reality via the accounting of the experiences of one man.

The story of El Salvador boy Alexis and the mother, a resident of more than a decade who wasn’t allowed into the country on her return flight, leaving her kids motherless, are just two examples out of thousands.

Isenberg’s accounts as well as his storytelling brim with emotion, demonstrating his heartfelt dedication to the cause. On the other hand, what he presents is a solid, irrefutable critique of the system. Both stories reveal the system’s self-serving nature penetrating all of its components. The aid money funnelled to Central American countries “trickles up” via the tentacles of corporate America; the immigration system is set up in such a way that it is meant to discourage and strangle, instead of offering relief and inspiration.

Isenberg reminds the credo of JFK and the very foundations the country is based on, and shares, in a very intimate fashion, what he felt throughout his odyssey to save the futures of those people.

‘La liberation de AIEXIS/ The discovery of Santos’ is an informative piece that, in the long run, may serve as a basis for stories to be filmed with stronger directorial initiative.

prepared by Mutlu Yetkin.

Film Review: Reconnection

MTV’s need-for-speed editing meets promotional video aesthetics highlights Reconnection as, unfortunately yet another film in the line of akin titles, a meaningful tale told through an almost trite grammar of cinema, if any quality above-the-line input or directorial excellence was aimed at, in the first place.

Reconnection is the story of Sean Fletcher, a Western man whose life was a part of the rat race. He is a slave to his own reflection on the mirror of modern society. When Sean is deserted by his girlfriend, unable to win back her love, he heads to, like many Westerners before him, to India to find himself.

Reconnection-Poster-2560x3840The noise and smoke of Delhi does offer a change of scenery yet the real revelation comes with Vrindavan, where Sean will be exposed to a realm that is opposite to the one he is so used to. Through the story of God Krishna and his consort Radha, Sean comes to understand unconditional love, the value of sharing as well as the vainness of his pursuits back in the West. The villagers that surround him, all venerating Radha and using her holy name as a salute, makes him feel he’s home, remind him of the lack of tenderness unto-his-own-self. So do the foreigners/expats who chose Vrindavan as their new home, living a life of service.

The uplifting Holi festival, monkeys stealing things, Indian cuisine in its diversity and colourfulness, temples, cows (a safe space for cows), the concept of timelessness, the merging of the mundane and the sacred in almost untraceable ways, everything that comes to mind when one imagines India is in its proper place in Reconnection.

Nevertheless, what is missing at times is the promise of cinema. For example, when Stephen finds love and meaning in the act/choice of cherishing each and every moment, we are merely “spoken to” about this particular truth. Narration emphasizes this discovery of the protagonist and surrounding visuals point at it. Nothing is “shown” except via scenes that lay bare the beauty of the subcontinent’s nature and environment. Sure, it would be utterly misleading to except a web of symbols from such a story whose central premise is highlighting the beauty in simplicity letting go. Yet the concepts it trace are not as shallow as to communicate through the aesthetics of a TV show. Stunning visuals doesn’t add much to the experience itself, other than serving great pictures that absorb and inspire the viewer.

Reconnection seems to be a part of the project “Vrindavan Experience”, aimed at drawing attention to Vrindavan’s culture from around the world. In that regard, or as a not so challenging but captivating doc, it serves the purpose.

prepared by Mutlu Yetkin.