Waititi’s films have a lively energy that provides a delicious counterpoint to the understated comedy. The story is told with wry chapter titles, beginning with “A Real Bad Egg.” Ricky is described as “a bit of a handful” with a history that includes “disobedience, spitting, running away…and that’s just the stuff we know about.” But we can see that this chubby kid who says he intends to grow up to be a drug dealer and rap star and get killed in a drive-by wants to be part of a family, even though he does not know exactly how. Bella has just the combination of bluntness and generosity of spirit to make Ricky begin to feel welcome. He’s not looking for cuddles and compliments. There is a bracing reality to Bella that begins to help him thaw. She kills a pig with a knife and says, “There’s dinner, sorted. Want to help me gut it?” He gets a dog and comes up with three possible names: Psycho, Megatron, or Tupac. This is a place where those names are just fine.
On the run, he is back to trusting no one but himself. He says he lives in Rickytown, population: Ricky. Hec tells him it’s time to get back to Realitytown. But that trip has to wait when Hec is injured and they have to stay in “Broken Foot Camp” until he is well enough to walk. And that gives them a chance to get to know each other, and become enough of a team to take on some of the challenges they meet along the way.
They meet some delightfully quirky characters, including three hunters who mistake Hec a child molester (an attempt at humor that does not work at all well), a paranoid hermit known as Psycho Sam (Rhys Darby), and a girl on a horse who brings Ricky home, where her father asks him if he can take a selfie. Waititi’s affection for the independent spirits of the people who live in the wilderness make us, like Ricky, glad to spend time with them.
(NOTE: look for writer/director Waititi in a small role as a clergyman)
Parents should know that this film includes extended peril and some violence including guns, with characters injured, a sad death, themes of abandonment, references to molestation, a drug reference, and some strong language.
Family discussion: When did Ricky and Hec begin to trust each other? When were they in the greatest danger?
If you like this, try: “Big Game” and “The Dish”
The new film about group who refused to fight for the Confederacy and established a free community in Civil War-era Mississippi is based on a true story. Matthew McConaughey stars as Newton Knight, a nurse in the Confederate Army who deserted because he did not want to fight for slavery or for wealthy plantation owners. In “Free State of Jones,” co-written and directed by Gary Ross (“The Hunger Games”), Knight is a Robin Hood-like figure, with a swamp taking the place of Sherwood Forest.
There was a Newton Knight and he did lead a rebellion, one of several groups who seceded from the Confederacy as the Confederacy seceded from the United States. The story was filmed in 1948 as “Tap Roots,”with Van Heflin, Susan Hayward, and Boris Karloff (as an Indian).
“Free State of Jones” is based on more recent research that indicates that Knight was opposed to secession and considered his “Jones” state a part of the union. The film’s website has detailed information with citations explaining the historical basis for characters like the real-life Newton Knight and Rachel and characters like Moses who are based on several real-life former slaves. The Smithsonian has a comprehensive article with the history of the story and the film.
Incidents described in a book by Sally Jenkins, including Knight’s rescue of an “apprenticed” black child captured by a plantation owner during the post-Civil War period and his decision to live in an all-black community, are in the film. The film also depicts the 1948 miscegenation trial of one of Knight’s descendents, who, allegedly one-eighth black, had violated the law by marrying a white woman. The real story is not as romantic as the one portrayed in the film, but the film is correct in stating that the ruling against the couple was overturned on appeal on a technicality because the Mississippi court did not want a Constitutional challenge to its laws prohibiting marriage between people of different races. Those laws would remain in place for almost 20 more years, and a film based on that case, Loving v. Virginia, will be released later this year.
PrettyFamous has a graph showing which summer blockbusters made the most money. What will 2016 show?
Morgan Neville is the man behind some of my favorite documentaries including “20 Feet from Stardom” and “Best of Enemies.” His latest film, “The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble,” is about cellist Yo-Yo Man bringing together international musicians to share their sounds and traditions in a group called The Silk Road Ensemble. As we learn more about the challenges faced by performers from Spain, Syria, China, and other countries, the music they create together becomes even more moving.
That does not mean it was not a challenge for Neville to work with people from so many different cultures, whose only common language was music. “It was difficult but incredibly rewarding. I mean this was such an ambitious film that I think if I had known how ambitious it was at the beginning I would have been a lot more scared. I think when you make films it’s like being like a mother who’s had a baby. Your body forgets the pain; you have this conscious amnesia where you convince yourself that it won’t be that hard. And this was hard. We shot in seven countries in six languages and so from a production point of view it was hard, but creatively it was fascinating. Trying to take the ideas and the music and the scale of what is happening in the Silk Road Ensemble and trying to put that into a movie was daunting, but it was amazing experience at the same time.”
The film goes back to the first gathering in 2000, and some of the film was archival, coming from a local PBS station. “I didn’t know when I started making the film that any of that stuff existed but we just found little bit and pieces in archives that helped us tell the story and helped shape the story. But I basically filmed everything from 2011 on.” There were so many musicians he had to select a few to focus on. “Not only did I want to represent the diversity of the geography and background and experience but at the same time they had to be on the same type of journey. There were other great musicians and great stories in the ensemble but their stories are less related. I think the thing that united everybody that we focused on was that they all made a decision to leave, to not do the obvious thing or take the road less traveled and to go out into the world and then all returned back to home with some new found perspective on what made their home special or made that tradition special.”
The musicians all cherish their traditions and cultures, but they clearly relish the musical adventure of combining sounds and trying something new. Neville agreed that those two impulses could create some tension. “In all these cultures there are traditionalists, people who basically don’t want things to change, and I get that, but I think what Yo-Yo says in the film is that all traditions are born of real innovation. In a way what they’ve all tried to do with their tradition is the best way of preserving it. They are trying to keep it growing. What you are doing with a bagpipe or a peepa; a Galician gaita or a pipa, it’s taking it and expanding the vocabulary of that language. That’s a way of celebrating its uniqueness and making sure it stays relevant, it doesn’t die out like you see with the Xang Family banned in China [who are no longer able to support the music and puppet shows their family has put on for generations]. To me they are just tremendous, they are amazing, but there is no future for it. And there is a whole other counter-argument you could make, which is why the metaphor the Silk Road is so appropriate. Things that seem like pure embodiments of specific cultures usually aren’t, whether we are talking about pipas or pasta. I will give you one example, the Persian instrument which is a Kamancheh, a very traditional, personal instrument. It has four strings on it; it used to have two strings on it until they saw violins and said, ‘Well, if they’ve got four strings we should have four strings.’ And now people want to protect it but it already has a vocabulary, it’s already in dialogue with the rest of the world even going back before this tradition. People like Wu Man [from China] and Kayhan [from Iran], even though actually they left their homes, they’ve done more to preserve their tradition than the people that stayed. If you look at how China regards its own traditional music now or how Iran regarded its traditional music after the Gulf War, they not only stopped all Western influence, they stopped all traditional music in the cultural Revolution and that’s part of why Kayhan had to leave, everybody had forgotten how to play the Kamancheh.”
While Neville has made documentaries on other subjects, his favorite topics begin with music. “To me, the best music films are not about music. Music is a way of telling the story. It’s a language but it’s got to say something with that language. I think Yo-Yo is very much about that. I feel like it’s an amazing tool to have as filmmaker and I love investigating those stories. But every music film I’ve done is about something beyond the music. This one is about all these ideas. I mean it’s really about these big questions in its most elemental form, the importance of culture. Does culture matter, how does it define us and connect us in ways we don’t see? How can culture help us humanize the other in a world where we are so caught up in building walls and demonizing the other, how does culture work as antidote to that? I mean all of these kinds of questions I think we’re the ones we were investigating.” He gave as an example one moment in the film he said was one of his favorites: when Yo-Yo Ma is playing a Bach piece and another musician is singing a very traditional Taiwanese song as a mashup between the two seamlessly.” At first, the film had more expert explanations, but “at the end of the day it just felt like we were talking more than showing and that the music expressed so much that we just kept pulling back on it and trying to find the emotional story.”