Office Space may be the definitive cinematic parody of workaday corporate life--which is why I can’t stand hearing people describe The Belko Experiment as a cross between Mike Judge's 1999 cult hit and Battle Royale, a Japanese thriller about murderous high school students. The characters in James Gunn’s screenplay are neither archetypes nor cartoons. They are mostly likable and certainly relatable lower- and middle-income employees who’ve been cruelly thrust into an impossible situation. Like Battle Royale, Belko takes place in a remote location, and centers on eighty office workers forced to kill each other for eight hours, lest they suffer terrible fates at the hands of their unseen captors. The exploding heads, mass shootings, and geyser-like stab wounds are chilling, not thrilling. They heighten an increasingly bleak set of moral quandaries that may just leave you questioning your faith in yourself, your friends, and the company that signs your paychecks.
Bill Condon’s Beauty and the Beast is the rare movie whose form underscores its message. Sadly, Disney's latest 2D-to-live-action adaptation demands that audiences work really hard to suspend disbelief and discover loveliness beneath layers of garish, caked-on CGI. If you’ve seen the 1991 cartoon, you’ve seen this remake, save for a couple of new musical numbers and a poignant but nonsensical scene involving teleportation. Unlike Kenneth Branagh’s expansive and tactile Cinderella, Beauty relies too heavily on sloppy compositing and inconsistent character animation (primarily in the Beast’s face), which crowds out the whimsical, real-world sets and costumes. The film lacks visual splendor, but each performance is winning, and the songs will set your soul ablaze (just close your eyes during “Be Our Guest” and the titular ballroom dance number). In the moment, Condon’s spell hit me intermittently. With each passing hour, Beauty feels like a fairy tale I never quite believed.
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!
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.
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.