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Movie Review: Off the Hook

Off the Hook

New York City is the “Land of the Film Festival”. I’ve been to three this year, and have skipped about a dozen or more. Of course, my first one was the NY Underground Film Festival, annoyingly recounted in painful detail here. And the two that I’ve been to since have made me very nostalgic for how nicely put together and run the NYUFF was.

This weekend was the 2nd Annual Brooklyn Film Festival which I found out about from my friend John. I’m glad he told me about it because I did end up seeing a great movie, but the affair couldn’t have held a candle to the NYUFF.

The first annoying thing about the BFF is that half of it wasn’t even being held in Brooklyn. The screenings were split between a theater in the neighborhood of Brooklyn Heights and the other on 59th St. in Manhattan. Manhattan? For the “Brooklyn” Film Festival? What’s up with that? That’s a minimum of a 45-minute subway ride if not an hour or more. 59th St. in Manhattan ain’t even close to Brooklyn.

My initial assumption then was that these two theaters were going to share screenings, e.g. a movie shown Friday afternoon in Brooklyn Heights would be shown Saturday night in Manhattan. Alas, this was not the case. Each theater was running it’s own totally unique slate of films every day of the festival. So, if you wanted to catch every movie in the festival it would be physically impossible. It wouldn’t have even been possible if there were such things as transporters like in Star Trek because all the screenings at both theaters were running at the same time. As I said above: What’s up with that?

The second annoying thing about the BFF is that it ran for four days (Thursday-Sunday) from noon to approximately midnight. I’m sorry, this isn’t Sundance. I can’t afford to take time off of work for the “Brooklyn” Film Festival. Not that anybody would miss me at work, but I do have a limited amount of vacation time.

The third, and final, annoying thing about the BFF was that not on their website, nor in their official program were there any descriptions of any of the movies playing. How was I supposed to make up my mind about what I wanted to see? I don’t need full-page descriptions of every 5-minute movie, but at least a sentence would have helped out.

Despite these major annoyances, I thought I’d try some films out anyhow. What else did I have to do this weekend except work on some secret computer projects? I needed to find some excuse to get out of the house. So, I just randomly picked to go to the Brooklyn Heights screenings and since John had called me on Thursday I went to the only feature-length film on Friday night. This film was called TRUE RIGHTS, which I ended up hating. A lot.

Luckily, though, in the lobby of the Brooklyn Heights theater there were plenty of flyers filmmakers had made to promote their films. I snatched up every single one so I could figure out what else to see. But actually, I did have some plans for the weekend, a rarity these days, but I did have a ticket to see the band Unwound Saturday night. So I figured I’d at least see another film Saturday afternoon. Still not in the mood for a short-film collection I chose to see the only feature film playing, which was called OFF THE HOOK, a.k.a. BOUNCE.

The festival was calling the movie BOUNCE, but the promo flyer I snagged was calling it OFF THE HOOK. Good move on the title change. The film, whatever it’s called, is about two young black men living in the South Bronx projects trying to become big time rap stars. OFF THE HOOK is a grittier name, not that the movie is necessarily your typical gritty “ghetto” movie, but a grittier name might attract more people and this film deserves to be seen beyond a schizophrenic film festival (and to think of all those poor schmucks at the Manhattan screenings Saturday afternoon missing this great work).

OFF THE HOOK starts with it’s two main stars performing a rap in a nightclub. Since I had hated the movie TRUE RIGHTS the previous night, I was ready to hate OFF THE HOOK from the first frame and I was looking for excuses to rip it to shreds. So, when I see these two guys rapping, I think to myself “Why does everything about black people have to be about rapping these days?” It’s like if your only exposure to blacks is in the media then you’d think they’re all either rappers, basketball players, comedians or “the voice of reason” (such as any character Charles S. Dutton plays). I mean, I’m not sure if this is true, but it can seem that way, especially when you’re a white guy in a bad mood.

However, my cynic’s heart was quickly melted by this film. It is a fairly obvious flick and within the first five minutes you can kinda figure out how everything’s going to end up. There’s the “good” rapper who dreams of making it big, but in the meantime goes to college and teaches sports to kids to support himself. Meanwhile, his partner, the “bad” rapper, sells drugs and fights with his ex-crackhead mother. The movie, though, is smart enough to avoid being preachy and over dramatic. It’s a painfully real movie.

I think the secret to that is that not only is it based on a true story, but it’s the true story of the guy who plays the main character of the film, Walter Velasquez. There’s nothing but superb acting in the entire film and it’s got a really great visual style. It’s almost got a faux documentary feel to it like Larry Clark’s KIDS. And though, like I described above, the story seems like it’s going to be somewhat predictable the film has so much raw emotional energy it ends up not being predictable at all.

OFF THE HOOK really moved me and I was glad I went to see it, despite the Brooklyn Film Festival’s bizarre scheduling.