Tag: joseph kahn


Bodied (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★

The subversive satirical comedy “Bodied” tells the story of a white and privileged UC Berkeley graduate student whose thesis involves the usage of the word “nigga” within the context of battle rap. It is energetic, propulsive, clever, and takes no prisoners. Screenwriter Alex Larsen and director Joseph Kahn are teeming with ideas—about race, gender and sexual identity, trigger warnings, fame, campus politics, political correctness—they pack them all in here—at times at the expense of creating major imbalance in storytelling. But this is the kind of risk daring filmmakers are willing to take when they are so confident that the material works. And it does. Here is a movie that hooks you all the way to the finish line.

The earnest graduate student and eventual battle rapper is named Adam. He is our protagonist but he is far from the hero of this story. Adam is smart, articulate, and adaptable—not dissimilar to a mad scientist but whose expertise is history, literature, and poetry (“humanities”—there is irony here) as opposed to science and mathematics. The character is played with terrific and alarming intensity by Calum Worthy, capable of exuding a mix of goodness and wildfire obsession to hide the fact that his character, deep down, is a scumbag. Worse, he thinks he’s a good person. There is no redemption arc to be had here—appropriate because the film’s approach to the subjects it touches upon is unapologetic. Like standout satires, this one holds a mirror on our society, points at what’s wrong, and demands that we take responsibility.

Yet the picture offers no solutions—the correct decision since it is not enjoyable to sit through a lecture in a comedy. Instead, the majority of the movie is composed of highly amusing—often laugh out loud—battle raps among personalities so colorful (Jackie Long, Jonathan Park, Shoniqua Shandai, Walter Perez), we get to know them not just in how they relate outside of the match but also how they are like when within the headspace of competition, when faced with an opponent whose goal is to humiliate and break them down. And in the age of insta-share culture, everyone not only learns of your humiliation within seconds, you get to live it over and over outside of the match. So there is plenty at stake.

At its best, the picture reminded me of Martin Scorsese’s “Raging Bull” in terms of how the camera is utilized to get in someone’s face and capture minute moments of, for example, a competitor’s defenses being broken down. Blink and you’ll miss specific jabs that really hurt even the most seemingly insurmountable Goliath. Although produced by Eminem (along with Paul Rosenberg, Adi Shankar, Jil Hardin), this is no “8 Mile.” It is another level because nothing is off the table. Insults range from physical and mental disability; homophobia; transphobia; being white, black, Asian, Latino, Middle Eastern, Jewish; even vegans are not safe. Every rap battle is exciting because the attitude is risk-taking—risking of offending a certain group even though there are truths—a lot of truths—in what is being communicated and lampooned.

There are moments in “Bodied” when I caught myself thinking, “They did not just cross that line,” “Did they really go there?,” “…How far will they take this?” Clearly, the work is meant to induce shock, horror, and aggressive laughter that hurts. It possesses an understanding that a satire is rendered ineffective when it takes the middle of the road. And so perceptive filmmakers play upon the extremes. Do not miss this gem; it deserves a cult following.


Detention (2011)
★★ / ★★★★

When Taylor Fisher (Alison Woods), a self-proclaimed “B.I.T.C.H.,” woke up, she turned directly to the camera and gave us a tour of her fabulous daily routine: bragging about being on top of the high school food chain, expressing her hatred toward her mom after French toast was served for breakfast, and acknowledging that her life was not only pretty much exactly what she wanted, she felt that she deserved every bit of it. But when Taylor turned around, a masked figure similar to the newly released film, “Cinderhella II: Beauty Scream,” swung an axe at her throat and her body was thrown out the window. Although Taylor was the most popular girl in Grizzly Lake High School, it seemed like her former classmates couldn’t care less. Prom remained the most important event in everyone’s brain. A conflation of slasher horror, high school satire, and science fiction, “Detention,” written by Joseph Kahn and Mark Palermo, did not always reach its potential in terms of delivering emotional thrusts that rang true but it almost never ceased to be entertaining. Its jokes were a mile a minute and very self-aware, at its best biting and with enough little nuggets of wisdom, mostly in a form of hope, in terms of a life outside of the limiting walls of high school. Its characters grabbed my attention immediately when they uttered lines like, “You are more concept than reality” and “Sting is the Bruno Mars of 1992.” In the real world, no one should expect to hear teens conversing like these characters (let alone know the cultural impact of Sting) but that, alongside its 90s fetishism, was a part of its charm. The script was drenched in post-irony, from its attention-grabbing soundtrack to the films the characters referenced. And yet at the same time, irony within ironies made the material almost unforgivingly cold. Even though we got to know some of the teens in the most rudimentary way, they remained sheep heading for a slaughter. I couldn’t help but consider an alternative and imagine the statement it would have made if, in the end, there was only one dead teen in Grizzly Lake and the rest only involved chase sequences. For instance, when Riley (Shanley Caswell), a suicidal vegetarian who also happened to be our heroine, was chased by the axe-wielding killer around the neighborhood, it was quite thrilling despite its inherent silliness. I felt disappointment at the missed opportunity because if no one else was gutted after the first scene, the final product would most likely have been the same. This was due to the film not really being about the stabbings. It was about the hormone-induced confusion and histrionics of the young people on screen. While quite sophomoric most of the time, it was forgivable because I cared if Riley would end up with Clapton (Josh Hutcherson), a longtime friend from across the street who happened to eye Ione (Spencer Locke), the pretty cheerleader with an interesting background story. What really threw me out of the moment at times, however, were a few unconvincing takes. For example, Nolan (Parker Bagley) was supposed to be a big, menacing bully but there were shots when I saw nothing but sensitivity in the actor’s eyes. He growled, grunted, and yelled as if he were on steroids but all the commotion felt like an empty threat. I’d be more scared of the quiet guy in the corner you could be hiding weapons in his baggy sweater. Another involved the way a police officer handed her card to Riley after she had been attacked. For a movie that was more than aware that small details could lead to big consequences, I was surprised that the director, Joseph Kahn, overlooked the lack of effectiveness in the aforementioned examples and others similar to it. “Detention” is certainly not for everyone especially with its drastic changes in tone, but most people will find at least one amusing thing in its hip smugness.