The Spectator ● May 17, 2012
Arts and Entertainment TriBeCa Film
Niki Chen / The Spectator
Insomnia Is Preferable To This Sleepless Night By Mollie forman
Struck by Lightning By Anika Rastgir
Niki Chen / The Spectator
High school senior and aspiring journalist Carson Phillips (Chris Colfer) doesn’t let anything get in the way of his attendinggetting into his dream college. In “Struck by Lightning,” Carson relies on getting into Northwestern University as his ticket out of his small town, which is based on where Colfer grew up. However, the dream will never be reality, as Phillips dies after he is struck by lightning in the very beginning of the film. The remainder of the story focuses on his high school life a couple of weeks before the freak accident. The dark comedy balances frequent witty one-liners with an array of caustic personalities. In a memorable scene, Carson’s mother, Sheryl (Allison Janey) lets her son know that she used to hide attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medication in his food when he was younger when he wouldn’t behave. Carson, with his single-minded pursuit to become a journalist and his disdain for his apathetic peers, is humorous to watch, but not always relatable. Through advice from his unreliable counselor (Angela Kinsey), who has never heard of Northwestern, he decides to start a literary magazine and submit it to the school to better his chances of acceptance. Keeping in the vein of teenage movies, Carson is only able to get people to write for the journal after he blackmails the crème de la crème of the school, mostly using their various sexual indiscretions as bargaining chips. While he is nuanced, the other teenagers in the movie fall into the stereotypical roles, such as the cheerleader afraid of leaving home (Sarah Hyland), the jock (Robbie Amell), and the closeted gay theater aficionado (Graham Rogers). The film doesn’t spend too much time on the blackmailing, however, which allows the movie to be humorous without relying too much on a gimmick. Malerie (Rebel Wilson), Carson’s best friend, provides charm and spunk as she records everything around her with her camcorder. The film disperses her shaky video recordings throughout, including an especially poignant scene where Carson describes why he writes. Colfer, who wrote the script, focuses much of his attention on the adults in the film, who give strong, thoughtful performances. Carson and his mother have a comfortable, albeit non-traditional, rapport with each other, as they trade barbs constantly. In an especially haunting scene, Sheryl confronts her estranged husband’s fiancée (Christina Hendricks), reminding her that she was once in the younger woman’s position as well. By dint of an absentee father (Dermot Mulroney), a constantly inebriated mother and a grandmother who suffers from Alzheimer’s and cannot recognize her own grandson, it is easy to see why Phillips is so jaded. The film ends the way it begins. We are shown his death, only this time it is in sequential order. Carson does not leave behind any legacy nor does he die loved by the student body. Carson dies before having the chance to reach his prime and while his absence is noticeable, there is no dramatic immediate change, fitting well with the small town society Colfer has crafted in the film.
Last year, “Attack the Block,” a British film about London hoodlums fighting aliens, perfected the formula of action, suspense, and several truckloads of camp to create something brilliant. “Sleepless Night,” directed by Frederic Jardin, might be attempting the same feat—though it’s never clear if the filmmakers are serious in their ineptitude—but comes across as a boring thriller that is funny only in it’s utter insipidity. The film opens with a pair of men, Vincent (Tomer Sisley) and Manuel (Laurent Stocker), chasing down and murdering a pair of drug traffickers for their enormous bag of cocaine. Despite the canned action music, it is a passable action sequence, and probably the film’s peak. The next scene reveals that Vincent and Manuel are actually cops moonlighting as porters for the local nightclub owner. Vincent even has a sweet little boy named Thomas to return home to, which is bad luck when his buyers get antsy and decide to kidnap and hold Thomas and hold him as collateral. Thus begins the titular sleepless night, in which Vincent staggers back and forth across the club, hoping to stumble into the rescue of his son. The film would be nothing more than a harmless TV timefiller if not for the blatant and disgusting misogyny that even the most exploitive Bond films avoid. A woman Vincent saves from being date-raped (taking out his manly frustrations on her date by beating him to a pulp in front of her) follows him around like a sick puppy, allowing him to kiss her whenever he spots people to avoid, and even has a pathetic make-out session with his cheek as he scans the club for his pursuers. The real crime, however, lies in the lady cop (Lizzie Brocheré) who suspects Vincent of his illicit activity. There is an attempt at a fantastic device when she sees him hide the drugs in the ceiling of the men’s room, and promptly switches it to the same place on the ladies’ side. This is a missed opportunity not just in the epic cat-and-mouse game it might have created, but also in the attempt to craft a single meaningful character. When Vincent and the woman come face to face, he grabs her hair and shoves her into the kitchen freezer, slamming her around and crouching behind her as she moans in a disturbingly pornographic manner, not even attempting to fight back. After twisting her arm and leaving her locked inside, Vincent spends the next ten minutes in a pitched battle with her male colleague as she huddles crying in the freezer. There is literally no use for her character but as a punching bag for the surrounding males, who really deserve a solid beating themselves. By the end of a meager 100 minutes, nearly half the time has been spent hoping for the main character to meet his demise, just so the movie might end. Whatever the director’s intention, this film failed at achieving it; if you want an adrenaline rush, your time is better spent reviewing the Bourne films on payper-view.
The Fifth Estate By Tong Niu It is said that when the government fails to protect and address the interests of the people, the job is passed down to the fourth estate. But what happens when the press becomes another arm of the government? Director Stephen Maing offers his answer in “High Tech, Low Life,” a documentary about two Chinese bloggers, Tiger Temple and Zola, reporting on the news the government feels is “unfit” to publish. Zhang Shihe, known online as Tiger Temple, is a fifty-something “citizen reporter” whose distrust of the Chinese government has prompted him to travel and report the overlooked issues in impoverished rural China. The quirky, cat-loving bachelor began blogging when he captured a brutal murder on his phone’s camera. When police arrived on the scene, their primary concern was not catching the culprit, but questioning Zhang about the photographs he took. Zhang reminds us that perception is power, and the Chinese government will go to great lengths to preserve its image. Turning to the newer generation is the story of Zhou Shuguang (Zola) whose attitude towards Chinese censorship is far more volatile. As interested in social awareness as he is in personal fame, the thirty-something blogger reflects a cheekier attitude. While Zhang’s contempt for the government comes from its failures to provide for the people who built it, Zhou’s views are more Westernized. The youth seeks not to protect the forgotten peasantry and elderly, but to promote individuality over the group thinking that dominates Communist culture. Loud and self-promoting, Zhou’s blogs always frame himself— his interactions with locals and his reactions. The full force of the Chinese propaganda in the film is lost in translation. Best viewed in its original Chinese, “High Tech, Low Life” excels in its ability to capture the irony of modern Communist China, a world best demonstrated by one Beijing local whose shanty home was scheduled to be demolished by the Reconstruction Bureau. He put up posters of Communist party leaders and the great Mao so any destruction of his property could be construed as anti-party actions. This move has halted demolition plans. Throughout the film, the clash between Tiger Temple’s view of blogging and Zola’s view of blogging is very evident. Nevertheless, the result is the same��a gradual knocking down of the Great Firewall of China.