Sunday, November 23, 2014

Getting on the Bus

The We and The I (2012) - Gondry
 photo c866172e-fa55-4e6b-916f-ffe45e1de549_zpsb3584d89.jpg
Michel Gondry did a 2 year workshop with teenagers from the Bronx for The We and The I, a one-day-in-the-life-of-real-innercity-teens on screen. It's a unique social experiment that is rarely seen in American cinema. Kids talk like themselves, loud and obnoxious, oblivious to their surroundings. No one in the film is made-up, snapshot-ready pretty. And all of it takes place inside a public bus.

It's the last day of the school before the summer recess, and about 30 High School kids gets on the MTA bus to go home. They bully people out of their seat, gossip incessantly, furiously texting into their blackberries, exchange funny youtube videos, make guest lists for parties, flirt and fight. There is a hierarchy even in seating arrangement inside the bus. Asshole bullies all the way in the back, then cluster of other cliques scattered through out. There are gay kids, popular girls, artistic kids who always draw in their sketchbooks, musicians and so on. As they intermingle with each other, playing unending musical chairs, the ever mobile camera jumps from one chat to another. This overlapping cacophony of interactions are like old Altman movies but given that it's a confined, noisy space, you don't really get to grasp everything they say. There are some Gondry moments but he keeps his visual gags to a minimum (for comic relief), only accompanying only small portions of kid's recounting their many stories and anecdotes.

Things become a little more coherent as kids get off (or kicked out) at their destinations or middle of the road. The rhythm kind of settles and the meat of the story emerges: Teresa and Michael, once a couple but not anymore, she not attending school at the moment and he the part of asshole/bully clique. Without sentimentalizing, Gondry observes their insecurities and misunderstandings and finds gems in the rough. Much more real than Laurent Cantet's The Class, partly because the absence adults save for the no non-sense, tough as a nail bus driver, The We and The I is a one of a kind, beautiful observation that's all about kids.

Scary Movie Well Done

Babadook (2014) - Kent
 photo 07ebde76-dc44-4d2d-aa9a-9bbcadcb1652_zps521f4dc0.png
Babadook takes a well-worn premise, i.e.: monster under the bed/in the closet, and makes a superbly effective scary film. Amelia (Essie Davis) is a single mom working at a retirement house, raising a troublesome 6 year old son Samuel (Noah Wiseman). The death of Dad in a car crash 6 years ago really affected them both and Amelia is really struggling to make ends meet. Sam's fear of monsters and the thought of his mom's mortality makes him being extremely paranoid and result in increasingly violent behavior. He finds a scary children's storybook named Babadook which contains horrible drawings of Amelia commiting murders. Only he can sense this Babadook at night but soon enough, the monster haunts Amelia and scares her stiff.

What makes Babadook way above average horror is first and foremost in writing, among other things: Jennifer Kent's script is psychologically apt and plausible, therefore doesn't have to rely on CGI or easy scare to fill up the gaps in the plot. The second is superb acting. Both Davis and young Wiseman are not only perfectly cast but amazing in their roles as troubled, paranoid nuclear family. The third is the absence of overwhelming score. I mean, I can't remember any recent horror that don't rely on music to create tension? Babadook makes a case for 'less is better'. Too bad this didn't come out in Halloween.