Quick takes on The White Tiger and other films

I don’t mind a slow movie (I loved Jeanne Dielman and An Elephant Sitting Still after all), but I don’t like slow movies with no surprises or introspection, and there is nothing like that in A White, White Day. It’s about an older man who’s recently lost his wife, who died in a car crash. The first solid hour is nothing more than the comings and goings around the man and his circle of friends, family, and coworkers. After awhile, he’s going through a box of his wife’s things, and sees evidence that leads him to believe she was cheating on him. He recognizes the guy in a photo, and drives himself nuts with what-ifs and jealousies, to a “climactic” conclusion in the end. The only problem is you see everything coming before it happens; there’s no lead up, just a plodding, meandering slow descent. The movie tries to redeem with a weird moment in the very end, but by then it’s too little, too late. ★

The White Tiger was a totally unexpected, amazing viewing experience for me. It follows the life of a boy, and then man, growing up in the lower caste in India. Balram is very bright, but is unable to continue his schooling at an early age, because he must go work at his family’s tea house to pay off debt. Even as a youngster, he is acutely aware of the class differences in his country, supposedly the biggest democracy in the world, and compares himself and those in his situation to chickens stuck in a coop. He has no opportunity for upwards movement, and will always be looked down upon by the upper class (the higher caste). He sees a chance to at least liver an easier life, as the personal driver for the village landlord’s son, who has returned to India after being educated in the USA. Ashok has had his eyes opened to equal rights, mostly at the urging of his American-raised wife Pinky, but the natural tendency to treat Balram as a lesser being is still very much ingrained in Ashok’s way of talking and dealings. The film plays out as a sort of struggle for independence for Balram. First he must change the way he himself thinks, that Ashok is a person and not just “master,” and then Balram has to decide how to make himself an equal. This movie rocked my socks. Though it takes place 10-20 years ago, it isn’t so long ago to think things have changed much. As such, it is an eye opening experience, and a powerful, moving film about the struggle for equality, not just legally or for human rights, but equality of the mind. ★★★★★

Yellow Rose is about a teenager named Rose who is an undocumented immigrant, living in Texas with her mother Gail. They came to America with Gail’s husband/Rose’s father when he got a job, but he died many years ago and the mother and daughter stayed on for the opportunities provided, when legally they should have returned to the Philippines. Gail lectures Rose about studying and doing well in school so she can get a good job, but Rose is only interested in singing country music. Early in the film, Gail is arrested by ICE and sent to a holding camp, in preparation to be deported. Rose tries to live with her aunt, who married an American and is legal, but the aunt’s husband doesn’t want Rose in the house. Rose then tries to stay with a barkeep who runs a country bar and stage, but the place is raided by ICE and several workers are arrested, though Rose is able to escape. While Rose’s situation continues to be perilous, she gets encouragement from an old country crooner, but she lives in fear of being arrested before DACA can be renewed. Eva Noblezada is fantastic as Rose (she has a Tony nomination under her belt already, despite her young age) but she is about the only highlight. The film can’t decide what it wants to be; is it a coming of age, a call for immigration reform, or a film about fighting for your dreams? It jumps around these themes way too much and doesn’t excel at any of them. Whatever your politics are, the filmmakers obviously want you to think about how messed up our immigration system is right now (and it is) but doesn’t offer any solutions. And the dialogue is downright bad, especially between Rose and her guy friend; it is hokey and forced and just atrocious. This is the kind of film that critics will applaud for its subject matter, but honestly not very compelling of a movie. ★★

The Climb is a charming, funny, and unique film about the bond of two adult male friends, Mike and Kyle. Broken up in a half dozen or so segments, which are each spread out from each other, anywhere from a few months to several years. It starts with an unlikely scenario: the pair are cycling up a hill in France, with the athletic Mike cruising along and the out-of-shape Kyle struggling. Mike chooses this moment to admit he has slept with Kyle’s fiancee, Eva. This leads to Kyle and Eva breaking up, and the end of Kyle’s and Mike’s friendship. A year or so later, Kyle shows up and Eva’s funeral, which has made Mike a widower. They get into a fight there next to the newly dug grave. Another year or so down the line, Kyle has gotten fit and is engaged to a new girl, Marissa, an engagement not approved by Kyle’s parents. Mike is now fat and alone, and, feeling sorry him, he is invited to Kyle’s family Christmas by the parents, who know Mike well since he and Kyle were best friends growing up. The film continues on from there, visiting different key moments around Kyle’s life where Mike was involved, in their on-again-off-again friendship. It features lots of off-kilter humor, which is sometimes cringeworthily awkward for the audience. But it is definitely funny, while also endearing in all the right spots. The cast is headed by relative newcomers Michael Angelo Covino and Kyle Martin, who also produced and wrote it together, with Covino directing. The direction shows excellent skill and nuance from the first-timer, and done in a way to let the actors shine. There aren’t any closeups, and actors are never asked to do too much. Much of the camerawork is purposefully backed up away from the on-screen action, to the point that several conversations actually take place off camera, and I found myself leaning forward trying to catch snatches of it, just as I would when trying to overhear a conversation at a party. Very well done, and it matches with the flow of the story. An unexpectedly fun film. ★★★½

Jungleland is a boxing action/drama film starring Charlie Hunnam (a favorite of mine, I was a huge SoA fan) and Jack O’Connell as brothers Stan and Walter, nicknamed Lion. Lion had a promising boxing career but lost his boxing license when his older brother and manager Stan tried to bribe a referee. That’s pretty much all the backstory you need to know to see the trajectory of this family. The duo are completely broke, and Stan keeps self sabotaging any chance they get to move forward. Lion has been reduced to fighting illegal bare knuckle matches in basements, and when he loses his latest match, Stan finds himself hugely indebted to a local thug. Rather than break his knees, the mobster tasks Stan with transporting a young woman west to San Francisco, with the promise of a $100k boxing match at the end to give Lion another chance. Skye is the girl, and her secret past, and her worth out west, is a mystery to the brothers as they begin their trip. Maybe because of my blinders, but Hunnam is great as always, and O’Connell proves again that he just needs good roles to excel. I’m not sure it is a great “film,” but it is definitely entertaining and has all the right uplifting moments you’d expect, a la Rocky, Creed, etc. As a self professed sports film junky, it fired on all cylinders for me. ★★★★

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