Whether you like your movies hot or cold, one of two recently released films can accommodate your tastes.
In “On the Ice,” a small Inupiat community in Barrow Alaska (“Ukpeagvik” in the Inupiaq language) finds itself at odds with two teenagers following a tragic accident. Told against a stark, frozen landscape, this poignant coming-of-age tale unfolds powerfully, but without sentiment. When a fight among three friends leaves one dead, the two survivors attempt to cover up the truth. But their lies quickly escalate into a test of wills, sucking in family and friends who demand answers.
The barren, ice-covered desert seems to reflect the town’s teenagers, many with dysfunctional families, who find limited satisfaction in their isolated surroundings. Stranded somewhere between their ancient tradition of seal hunting and modern conveniences, like riding snowmobiles in lieu of dogsleds, most of these Native kids have nowhere to go.
But 18 year-old Qalli does. Not only does he have a stern, but effective father and caring mother, but he’s also headed for college in four months. Visiting his grandmother while his friends party, Qalli’s the hope for his multigenerational family.
Unfortunately, his best friend Aivaaq is not. When Aivaaq returns from a late night out, his alcoholic mother is in such a drunken stupor that she hasn’t even missed him. And with no dad to mentor him, Aivaaq’s own impending fatherhood seems uninteresting to him, at best.
Along with their peers, the boys hang out; freestyle rapping and making beats, getting high, drinking and doing drugs. Like a ticking time bomb, the film’s pacing insinuates imminent danger on the glacial horizon — a generation about to implode.
On the morning following a party, Qalli, Aivaaq and their friend, James, meet for seal hunting, but the outing goes horribly wrong. Qalli and Aivaaq then concoct an unlikely story of an inebriated James disappearing beneath cracked ice. Soon, their fabrication begins unraveling, thawing like melting snow under a bleak Arctic sun.
Beautifully directed by Andrew Okpeaha MacLean, featuring an all Inupiat non-professional cast, this narrative introduces enthralling ensemble performances. Aivaaq, played by Frank Qutuq Irelan, displays such a range of emotions: from his violent, hair-trigger flare-ups to his vulnerability as an abandoned adolescent. While Josiah Patkotak as the baby-faced Qalli is more constrained, often exhibiting a blank stare, he stows so much depth behind those bland eyes. And, Teddy Kyle Smith, as Qalli’s father, Egasak, instinctively demonstrates his unconditional love for an exceptional son he fears the worst for.
The aptly named “On the Ice” skillfully exposes the cold side of life.
On the other hand, nothing’s hotter than a flying bullet. “Let the Bullets Fly” is the highest grossing film ever in China, but it may just gross you out. Billed as a hilarious black comedy, the film’s graphic scenes of decapitation and disembowelment aren’t that funny, especially when the movie demands speed-reading English subtitles while applying them to Chinese humor.
In 1920 Sichuan Province, a group of bandits rob a train, killing a government official and taking his wife and assistant hostage. Or, is the assistant Tang (Ge You) the real government official pretending to be his own assistant in order to avoid death? In any case, all end up in Goose Town where the bandit leader, “Pocky” Zhang Mazi (Jiang Wen), poses as the new mayor pitting him against mob leader Master Huang (Chow Yun-Fat). There, the fun begins as both groups try outwitting each other in order to take over the town. Using body doubles and double entendres, this film’s complicated plot also features, of course, flying bullets.
The underlying message in the script written by actor/director Wen appears to pay homage to the working class suffering at the hands of inept bureaucrats. Yet, all the female characters are no more than sex objects. And, one gang rape scene is so disturbing it’s hard to fathom how any audience would find it laughable let alone a statement about overcoming oppression. Still, there’s plenty of hot action for heat-seeking fans.
“Ice” is available on DVD at: www.ontheicethemovie.com and opens March 2. ”Bullets” opens March 9. Both show at the SIFF Cinema Uptown.