Friday, September 2, 2016


Writer-director Justin Tipping, from the Oakland Bay Area, where Kicks is set, has taken his own experience of being jumped for a pair of Nikes and turned it (with the help of co-screenwriter Joshua Beirne-Golden) into an R-rated hip hop coming of age version of The Bicycle Thief.  It floored me with its style, grace, and intensity. 

Tipping got his undergraduate degree from UCSB in media studies after spending a semester in Rome, where he became immersed in Italian cinema (he was originally planning to be a Business Economics major).  As an undergrad, he focused on film theory and history, and in particular on applying cultural theory to film.  He then went to the AFI to study directing, where he received his MFA.
Tipping grew up in the same neighborhood as and was friends with Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station); but in my opinion, with this debut, Tipping shows that he can direct hoops around Coogler.  When Tipping got his own kicks stolen as a kid, he was also beaten up.  His brother remarked that Tipping "was a man now."  It made Tipping wonder why masculinity in our culture is so often equated with violence, which he explores in the film along with the cycle of violence that's also perpetuated in our society.

So, imagine a film of contemporary relevance that's shot in the style of Italian neorealism. The lead character, 15-year-old Brandon (a stand-in for Tipping himself), has astronaut fantasies; Tipping has said that those sequences were directly inspired by Fellini's dream sequences in 8 1/2

And then there's the music.  Tipping uses hip hop songs as chapter titles that he said were inspired by Lars von Trier's use of chapters in the devastating Breaking the Waves (one of my favorites).  The soundtrack of Kicks is awesome--mixing hip hop songs with a gorgeous score by Brian Reitzell (Lost in Translation).

It's hard to imagine a more perfect, charismatic cast for this film.  The striking Jahking Guillory (far right, playing Brandon), was only age 13 during filming.  His co-stars are (from left), Christopher Jordan Wallace and Christopher Meyer, who were both age 17 during the shoot.  Tipping said, during a Q & A after a screening at LACMA, that pretty much all the rest of the cast were local non-actors.  Which is hard to believe.

The film is a lean, mean, funny, and graceful 80 minutes.  It's stunningly directed, edited, scored.  Kicks has everything I value in a film:  style, substance, emotion, timeless relevance.  Go see it.

Click on this link for the trailer:

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