On its third Tuesday, the Seattle International Film Festival continued its amazing parade of special guests by presenting the upcoming HBO documentary 3 1/2 Minutes, 10 Bullets, a documentary following the aftermath of Florida’s 2012 Loud Music Shooting, by bringing the father of the victim to speak with the audience. For those that don’t remember, let me recap the incident. A group of 4 black teenagers drove into a gas station in a red SUV blaring their music, as teenagers are wont to do. Michael Dunn, an old white dude, asked them to turn it down, starting up an argument. Eventually, Dunn would retrieve a handgun from his glove box and shoot 10 bullets into the SUV, ultimately murdering Jordan Davis. He would defend himself using the Stand Your Ground, the same law that George Zimmerman successfully cited in his defense following the murder of Trayvon Martin.
HBO docs always seem to give a certain amount of leeway in terms of their construction. Where the PBS construction is fairly formulaic, as was the case with The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, HBO’s docs can take on different forms that might better fit the subject. The majority of 3 1/2 Minutes is a repeated pattern of court room footage of the first trial, phone calls into a conservative radio station, reflections on the trial and case, and abstract scenes. Director Marc Silver filmed abstractions such as Jordan’s mom staring out a window while riding in a car, or Jordan’s Dad swimming underwater, in order to explain their emotional state, but he doesn’t always succeed. 3 1/2 Minute‘s big struggle is to master four topics: the details of what happened at the gas station, the details of the trial, examine the emotional devastation of Jordan’s death, and bridge the case to larger national conversations. It masters the first two, but Silver’s attempts at the last two are so weak they might have been better silenced.
SIFF brought Ron Davis to talk with the crowds about the deeper meanings and political implications of the film, which reinforced many of the same thoughts that were stated by Ericka Huggins after the Black Panther documentary on Friday, but in a somewhat less nuanced manner. Ron Davis, for all his strength, isn’t an eloquent speaker and spoke to the masses about the direct impacts that the violence is having on the black community. More importantly, Ron Davis was seen as a pillar of strength in the face of tragedy. Some of the audience members had been touched by police violence, even in the Seattle metro area, and used Ron Davis as a source of power to build their own recovery.
Dagur Kari’s Virgin Mountain plays like an Icelandic Zach Braff film, only without the visual inventiveness to even hold it accountable. The title character, Fusi, is a tall mammoth 40+ manchild who lives with his mother. His only interest is in his model army stagings of old military battles, and his only friend is a married guy with a teenage son. At Fusi’s job as a baggage handler, he tries to stay quiet and out of the fire from the his male coworker bullies, whose pranks go way too far all the time. But, Fusi has endured humiliation his whole life. After his mother’s new boyfriend gets him line dancing lessons for his birthday, Fusi befriends a bipolar pixie dream girl, who pushes and pulls at Fusi who believes he found a friend or a love interest.
Virgin Mountain is great if you’re interested in watching a visually dull, bland, formulaic film which runs through a lot of familiar tropes to best serve its white, male, depressed male character. The emotional toll that bullying has is acutely realized by Kari, almost to the point that aspects of it feel personal, but it is surrounded by such bullshit that it brings down the whole movie. The screenplay of Virgin Mountain feels like Kari (who also wrote the screenplay) is working through his high school/college angst by creating a character who never matured past the age of 12. The usage of the Pixie Dream Girl formula seems like Kari never experienced a human woman. She’s mainly a tool, and that’s fairly terrible.
On Wednesday, the Hungarian Liza The Fox-Fairy traps its female character in an amusing curse by a male ghost. Liza was a house-servant to the ailing widow of a Japanese ambassador. The widow introduces Liza to Japanese culture, teaching her to read Japanese, and introducing her to Japanese pop star Tomy Tami. On the day that the widow dies, Tomy’s ghost visits and falls in love with Liza, starting a movie long haunting where any romantic object that enters the house dies by ghostly reasons.
Liza the Fox-Fairy is styled in the manner of Amelie, but is far less complicated. Where Amelie is narratively overstuffed to the point of hyperactivity, Liza‘s idea of a substory is having Liza obsessed with a fake fast food joint that plays an annoying jingle every couple of minutes. Another “substory” is a detective moves in with Liza in order to investigate the murders. The pathetic lack of plotting combines with the hyperactive quirky pacing to make a repetitive experience as annoying as a repeated mechanical jingle.
Does Liza have anything to say? No. It’s just about a dude ghost who obsesses over a woman and makes it hard for her to have a date. The ghost is a creepy stalker, but is rendered almost cute. It doesn’t confront its own darkness with any amount of seriousness, leaving the story to be merely amusing. Unfortunately, it doesn’t hold enough water to even be that.
The real show of toxic masculinity is on full display in Cub, which was the midnight movie I missed due to the Black Panther documentary. Cub is a horror movie where a bunch of boy scouts go into a forest and confront the urban legend of a kid who turned into a werewolf named Kai. Sam, one of the targets for the bullies in the pack, meets a feral boy wearing a wooden mask, whom he thinks is Kai. Soon enough, people die.
If its not obvious from the outset, Cub‘s message becomes pointedly obvious by the end. Cub documents male puberty with a feeling of the unknown and unfamiliar. Emotions run high, sex pervades everything, Playboys come out, things go missing, and outbursts of violence tend to happen. Some people may never grow out of their pubescent state of violent confusion, and that leads to a complicated narrative.
What Cub has in thematic richness, it lacks in suspense and surprise. It’s an interesting movie, but it isn’t a good movie. The scares are few and far between, and the deaths are graphic but feel like half of them have been done before. There are flashes of genius throughout the film, but they are wholly inconsistent and spread out through a film that, even at its slim 85 minutes, feels a touch too long. It just doesn’t have the energy needed to sustain a great atmosphere.
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