Saturday, June 11, 2016

Die Fighting (2014)

When Die Fighting begins, the little red “REC” sign appears in the upper right corner of the screen, and I get a little nervous that this might be one of those “found footage” films, which some filmmakers still think are interesting. But it isn’t, at least not exactly, since the footage was made deliberately. It’s about a group of martial arts enthusiasts who want to break into Hollywood, and are forced into playing roles in someone’s odd idea of a movie. Die Fighting was written, edited and directed by Fabien Garcia, who also plays the lead role, a character named Fabien Garcia.

The first images are of a man watching news footage about a martial arts team called the Z Team winning some award and coming to Hollywood. This man is videotaping himself from behind, from a couple of angles, so what we get are wonderful shots of a person’s back and video monitors. On one of his screens we see a man who has apparently killed a few people and is upset about it. A title card then reads “24 Hours Earlier.”

Twenty-four hours earlier is this guy’s birthday party. It’s Fabien Garcia, leader of Z Team, and one of his friends is videotaping him. Someone is lurking outside, also videotaping him. Fabien opens a present with no name on it, and it turns out to be a camera slate, with “The Price Of Success” written on it. Fabien and the other members of Z Team have come to Hollywood to pursue their dream of making movies. But one member now says he’s going to move to China to take a job there, because he’s impatient for success, and because it’s difficult to get money to make a feature film. (Ha, the joke is on him, as this movie seems to have been made for only a few thousand dollars.) However, after Fabien’s wife is kidnaped, the team stays together to rescue her.

The mysterious villain at the monitors calls the Z Team and starts giving them instructions, warning that if they don’t do precisely what he wants, he will kill the girl. The first thing he has them do is put on special collars with tracking systems in them, and to throw away their cell phones. Now they’ll have other cell phones that he’s given them, which apparently can only call him. Not even 911? Is that possible? They don’t ever try calling for help, so who knows? Their first task is to attack an armored truck. Somehow the villain has control over a ton of street cameras, and we see the fight sequence from several angles. It’s remarkable that four unarmed guys, without any plan or strategy, are able to take out the guards, as well as policemen who happen by, and make off with the money.

So now they’re criminals themselves. And this is all to possibly save some girl whom we’ve seen for only a couple of minutes, a character that is about as interesting and dynamic and human as a sock left in a corner of a laundromat. I say let her die and get on with your lives. Well, the group splits up and Fabien is led to a church, where the priest is tied to a chair and utters that great line, “Why are you doing this?” (From now on, whenever you watch a movie, listen for that line. You’d be surprised just many movies have a character ask that question. This movie uses the line three times.)  The villain calls Fabien and tells him he’s the star of his new movie. So the villain is making the dreams of Z Team come true by videotaping them. Not only has he set up thousands of cameras, but has also hired a bunch of thugs to rough up a priest. Or is the priest an actor too? Fabien spots one of the cameras in the church, but soon there is an excellent fight sequence to distract us from the silly plot. Because, yes, as ridiculous as this movie is, the fights are actually quite good.

Meanwhile, the other three members of Z Team are at an abandoned hospital, and just when they’re considering going to the police, the police come to them. But instead of giving up and explaining the situation (they have the collars, the phones, and so on), and enlisting their help in rescuing the girl, they fight the SWAT team. It’s lucky the villain put hundreds of cameras in every single room and hallway of this hospital. No matter where the Z Team runs, he’s able to get multiple angles of them. How much did the villain spend on this? Wouldn’t it have been better for him to just hire the Z Team to do a real film? After all, they’re hungry for fame, and would have done the movie for very little money. Then the villain would have had more control over the environment, and gotten better shots. There’d be better wardrobe too. And a script. Imagine a script, and what wonders it could do for his movie. (At one point later on, he says “It’s in the script” to one of his hired thugs, but the thug is just as confused by this idea of there being a script as we are.) Hey, when the SWAT guys regain consciousness, won’t they be curious about all the cameras?

When the villain calls the team to congratulate them on escaping from the SWAT team, it sounds like he says “excape.” How can they take this guy seriously? The villain then has Fabien go to a martial arts class and fight the whole lot of them – teacher and students. Don’t these students wonder why there are suddenly tons of cameras all over the room, including some on the mat? Meanwhile the other three get into a gun battle (it’s a good thing one of them picked up three guns earlier). Again, how long until they say, “You know, that bland girl isn’t worth it”? Are they really going to kill people over this? The answer is yes. And one of Z Team is killed in the gun battle. But still the others go on with this guy’s game. Immediately the villain calls to console the other two: “Your friend will live forever through his performance in my film.” I think he’s greatly overestimating the appeal of his little independent straight-to-video masterpiece.

Toward the end, only Fabien and one other Z Team member are left, and the villain wants them to fight each other to the death. And guess what? At some point the villain kidnaped the other guy’s wife too. Apparently, they both married mousy little Asian girls. Isn’t it convenient that these are the two survivors? What if it had been the other two? Whom would he have kidnaped to make them fight? And when did he kidnap the other girl? It doesn’t really matter. At the end, there is a twist that sort of answers some questions, but which is unbelievable and ridiculous. But along the way, there are several completely enjoyable fight sequences. Just watch those and fast forward through the rest of the movie.

Monday, June 6, 2016

The Nasty Terrible T-Kid 170: Julius Cavero (2016)

I’d long had a theory that all graffiti was done by twelve-year-old girls. Because, honestly, who likes to write in big bubble letters? That’s right: twelve-year-old girls. But apparently some grown men also like big bubble letters. The Nasty Terrible T-Kid 170: Julius Cavero is documentary film following one such grown man, Julius Cavero. I knew very little about graffiti art before watching this film. And actually, I hesitate to call “art” something that mars or damages someone else’s property. That being said, I’ve seen some beautiful, vibrant paintings on the sides of buildings, paintings which somehow made an ugly section of city look friendlier, happier.

As the film opens, Julius in voice over, tries to distinguish the artists from those who are just looking for attention, the difference between art and simple tagging. The movie basically stays with him and his perspective. There is quite a bit of pseudo-philosophical musings on his part. He says things like: “The bottom line is with the past there is no future. Remember that. You have to have a past to have a future.” Did he just contradict himself there? Well, it’s clear this isn’t the brightest guy around. There is also a whole lot of bragging. “I’ll always be relevant,” he tells us. And he says, “We took this to a whole nother level.” By the way, everyone, “nother” is not a word. The word you’re looking for is “other.” Remember that.

The filmmaker does ask him why he chose spray paint as his method of self-expression, and he tells the story of being young and seeing two kids spray painting a train. And that moment had a strong impact on him. To the director’s credit, she also asks him, “What do you think about expressing yourself on other people’s property?” He tells her: “I never personally, like, spray painted on somebody’s car or I spray painted on somebody’s house. I did tag my name on mailboxes, trucks, anything commercial.” He says he only spray painted on public property “because I am the public.”

He does talk about joining a gang, and about leaving it. It’s a shame it took him getting shot to leave. And he tells us where the name T-Kid 170 comes from. And when he’s not bragging, he does have a few interesting things to say. Like about getting legitimate jobs. But this documentary is a bit messy, and it’s difficult to know just when certain things occurred. And a lot of shots just aren’t properly identified. For example, there is a shot of him with Brian Grazer, but no explanation of how this meeting came about, or when, or where. Plus, there is a lot of poor-quality old video. And for such a short film (it’s only 49 minutes), there is some pointless stuff, like several moments of him trying to pronounce “Champs-Élysées” while he’s in France.

There are brief snippets of interviews with other graffiti artists, but this isn’t any kind of in-depth documentary on the subject of graffiti. No other perspectives are really presented. For example, we don’t hear from the people who own the property that’s been vandalized. We don’t hear from the police. I thought it might also be interesting to hear from the guys whose job it is to clean up graffiti. And I wish the people who had hired Julius Cavero for legitimate jobs had been interviewed. This documentary is essentially a puff piece. At one point Julius actually says, “We was doing masterworks of art on subway cars.”  Wow.