Tag Archive | movie review

An Urban Native Horror debut in Oakland

21768537_10156130200892784_2966529087625262900_o

Movie posters at IFH premiere

Movie review of The Smudging

I had the good fortune to see The Smudging in its Bay Area premiere. The film and event was hosted by Mike Marin, who grew up at IFH, the Intertribal Friendship House, in Oakland.  He began his film in 2015 inspired by his lifelong fascination with horror movies including the sleeper hit, It Follows. After seeing that film, he went to a restaurant and began to write his concept on several napkins. It is based on real-life experiences Mike and acquaintances had at the American Indian Center in Chicago which became the location of The Smudging. The film also pays tribute to stories he heard from family members and mentors.  Mike Marin is quickly becoming the face of urban Native American horror.

One of my dance brothers had posted on Facebook about this film and it immediately got my attention. I have written extensively about my love for horror film and fiction. I’m always excited to support Native American artists, artists of color, and Bay-Area bred artists.  While at the premiere, I met Mike Marin and Kevin Nez, of The Mac Nez podcast. I asked Mike a few questions about how long it took him to make the film and what his plans are in terms of distribution.  According to Mike Marin, The Smudging is his tribute to old school horror with the goal of bringing back moments of terror in the audience and getting away from modern-day Hollywood gimmicks of gore and sex.

The Smudging follows a group of Native paranormal investigators, the Night Stalkers, who are called to investigate The Native American Cultural Center in Chicago. The building was unfortunately the scene of lurid crimes committed by a serial killer.  Both staff and clients have been experiencing increased instances of paranormal activity including voices, moving objects, and general feelings of unease. The young children who attend the center are especially prone to experiences and are then unwilling to participate. Parents are pulling their kids out of the center to combat the resulting nightmares and fears.  The Night Stalkers decide to spend the night filming and learning what might be happening.  It’s a terrifying film. Even though the action mostly takes place in a massive four-story building, the first half of the film is claustrophobic. I was in a roomful of people yet I felt like I was crouching in a corner. The second half of the film brings in the hero figure who also happens to be a veteran and a healer.

As a horror movie aficionado, I enjoyed a film that was original and yet had an old-school feel. Despite its modest budget, this film captivated me for the 90 minutes of its entirety. My heart was racing and I held my breath for most of the film.  I also enjoyed the all-Native cast; it’s refreshing to see so many people of color in a film. The relationships between the members of the Night Stalkers were relatable and often humorous. The moments of humor helped balance the genuine horror the audience was experiencing. There were several cultural references which gave a uniquely Native perspective. The film also included horror movie musts like jump scares, scary music, and a building sense of dread. An underappreciated element of horror is the life lessons the characters gain; the films that resonate with me are those which highlight the best in people and in that respect, this film did not disappoint.  The Smudging met and exceeded my expectations.

After the film, Kevin moderated a Q&A session. We learned more about the process, heard some funny behind the scenes anecdotes, more about the individual cast members, and even some trivia about the props used.  I liked having an insider view of the film.  We were also treated to the trailer for Mike Marin’s next film, Moshego.  We were then encouraged to share our thoughts via social media and I was more than happy to oblige.

I am excited for what is next for #thesmudgingmovie. There is the possibility of another Oakland screening in the next few months.  This is a film we need to support. Whether you are from Oakland or a Native or a horror movie fan or a supporter of artists of color or any combination of these, please make an effort to see the film.

Mike, I wish you ashe and I’m excited to be a supporter of your film.

To learn more about the film, visit #thesmudgingmovie

 

 

 

Advertisements

Running rabbit: Get Out review

2b39a49509a2241c6a8b30054682f493.jpg

Run, rabbit, run, rabbit, run, run, run
Don’t give the farmer his fun, fun, fun
He’ll get by without his rabbit pie…. “Run Rabbit Run” by Flanagan and Allen

The other day at boot camp, our trainer had us outdoors several times running. At one point, I had a strangely increasing feeling of fear. I had seen the #getoutchallenge on social media and not understood it. I had avoided reading reviews or watching parodies because I wanted to see the film. Yet the image of the running had stuck with me. As I ran, different thoughts came into my mind:   invisible minority/majority, the cockroach people, the sleeping giant, His Panic.  I thought about Oscar Zeta Acosta and how he disappeared.  I thought about Ruben Salazar and how he was killed. I picked up the pace which is unusual for me. I may be a half marathoner but I lope along at a comfortable pace. I don’t push myself for personal records; I run because it’s therapeutic.  That evening, I ran faster than ever. The image of running from Get Out which I hadn’t yet seen provoked anxieties I have about racism in America.

I finally saw the film. It exceeded my expectations. I have always been a horror movie fan. Horror books and movies have had tremendous impact on me as a person and as an artist. (My Masters’ thesis in long fiction was a horror novel.) It’s a genre that I gravitate towards both as a fan and creator. As a horror film, it was brilliant and terrifying.  I have had nightmares and strange dreams ever since I saw the movie.  I can’t get the song from the opening scene out of my head.

In terms of social commentary, Get Out is daunting. I know it’s film and fiction yet so much of what was captured was real. While Latinos are absent in the film, the various scenes were relatable. The film feels like a Twilight Zone episode (or several) about racism. There was one particular scene when I finally understood what was happening. I whispered to Rambo, “I’m about to burst into tears.” I put my face in his shoulder and took a deep breath. I meant it because the conclusion I made was so overwhelming in its/my sadness, indignation, and disgust. I didn’t feel shock.  None of the events in the film are shocking; Rambo says “it all seems plausible.” At the end of the movie, I turned to Rambo and said, “This is what I’ve been talking about. I’ve been telling you this about these places. I know this!” Then I made a statement which seems funny but also sad and spooky. “They are lying in wait.” That statement speaks to the fear, paranoia, and acceptance of reality.

la-et-hc-get-out-horror-peele-20161004-snap.jpg

As people of color in a racially divided and divisive society, what we experience is also what we try to deny. Like Chris, the protagonist, we are constantly having to say “it’s fine.” It is never good. We say that as a means to survive.  We can sugarcoat these realities by saying the Geneva “No, no, no,” or the Chris, “It’s okay.” We can choose to stay silent when micro-aggressions occur.   We can accept subtle racism without fighting back.  We can act like it’s our lot in life and it’s still not right. It never was and never will be.  Y ahora que?

Get Out is one artist’s take on complex, deep-seated truths. It’s an important film in what it says about the myth of post-racial America and has deservedly received critical acclaim.  It has resonated with me and will likely haunt me for a long time.

New take on a timeless tale

Beauty_and_the_Beast_2017-Belle_and_Enchanted_Rose

We saw Beauty and the Beast on opening night. The movie is the live action version of the 1991 Disney cartoon. From the beginning to the final credits, it was both a tribute to the original and a beautiful stand-alone.

Casting

Belle is my favorite Disney “princess.” She’s a farm girl, daughter of an inventor (in this version, he’s an artist). She lost her mother at a young age. They are living in a small town where she is often misunderstood because she is bookish. (I love that word.) I wasn’t sure how I felt about Emma Watson being cast in the role. She’s a smart, beautiful young woman. I wasn’t sure if she could be Belle and not Hermione. She proved me wrong as she was Belle in appearance and spirit.

The cast is full of familiar favorites. They can sing and act. I know there were complaints about who played Mrs. Potts but I suppose Angela Lansbury passed up the role. A lot has been said about the Beast. No one is going to be happy when he becomes the Prince. (So everyone needs to calm down on that issue.)

Gaston-LeFou-and-the-Mob-beauty-and-the-beast-2017-40018379-500-208

Josh Gad as LeFou steals every scene where he is featured. He hams it up yet adds a human element to that character. He is a buffoon and a villain, though not as half as mean-spirited as Gaston. In this version, LeFou adds some camp to the film.

Music and additional scenes

I’m grateful didn’t have to listen to Ariana Grande and John Legend sing. (MAC makeup and sleek high pony aside, the girl just doesn’t do it for me.  Be mad!)  Nothing against John Legend but he’s no Peabo Bryson.  As for the new songs which have received mixed reviews, I thought they were appropriately placed into the plot.

Reaction

I cried through the whole movie. I started during “Good Day” through “Beauty and the Beast “and “Something There.”  I cried the most during “Be Our Guest.” For one, it’s a Busby Berkeley-style over-the-top production number; a similar favorite is “Just Can’t Wait to be King” in The Lion King. “Be Our Guest” takes place in the enchanted castle’s dining room and kitchen.  It showcases traditional French cuisine and retells the story of the servants’ enchantment. It didn’t disappoint. At one point, I tearfully looked over at M and her mouth was literally hanging open.  “Be Our Guest” was one of M’s first competition dances. Aside from their cute costumes, they also had a big finish. I found myself remembering many key choreography moments from M’s dance so this added to my wistfulness.

brvobeourguest

The cuteness

On our way out, Rambo made mention of Belle being a victim of Stockholm syndrome.  I had a smart retort since I usually don’t expect him to have a serious read on pop culture. Still, I had no problem taking M to see this film.  Belle is one of the few Disney protagonists I like. Belle is a strong, smart woman.  Gaston shoulda, woulda, coulda been the right match but he was truly rotten whereas the Prince undergoes an n external and internal transformation. I recommend Beauty and the Beast; bring a sense of humor and sense of wonder.