Special Notes:*(We are going to do this review a little bit different this time around. Inspired by the motion picture being reviewed, In a heading format, whatever heading is bolded, make sure you listen to suggested song, during each segment of this review. Read, listen, and enjoy!)*
INTRO-J. Cole (Album: 2014 Forest Hills Dr.)
“Sometimes I wish I had a spaceship. Just hangout in space where its quiet; and no one could fuck with me.”
As the pulsating first frames of Justin Tipping’s feature film debut Kicks begins, we see our main protagonist Brandon (Jahking Guillory) running from some kids in a basketball court in slow motion, during the dead of night. As the veins pop from Brandon’s forehead, the sweat beads drip, and his pearly white teeth are clinch together desperately (in fear of being caught), one can’t help but wonder, what exactly did Brandon do? A young, naive and innocent high schooler who just wants a pair of Jordan One’s Bred (Black and Red), a kid who just wants to be accepted and treated equally as everyone else, and not be picked for his height, size, economic status and old, worn out sneakers, Brandon is tired of running. As the film unfolds, we never really know why Brandon is being chased, as one may quickly observe, there may very well be no good reason as to why he is being chased at all. In Big Bay, Richmond, California, Brandon runs away from everyone and everything. That is until, Brandon makes a fateful choice, which, in the course of two days, shifts his world in heart-achening and consequential ways.
Brandon is an obvious target for bullies; his stature is frail, his body is small, his mannerisms are delicate and his look is quite feminine. Yet, Brandon knows that there is still a shred of hope for him amongst his schoolmates, peers and on the street; and thats getting the pair of shoes he wants. As a young boy growing up in Toronto, Canada, the subculture of sneakers could never be as understood as the subculture of sneakers then, evenmoreso, the subculture of sneaker culture now, especially within the modern ghetto’s of the United States. Once you have some worthy ‘kicks’ (slang for shoes or fancy sneakers), it doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, what your parents do or how you got them. All that matters is that, they’re yours.
As we become submerged into Brandon’s world, we are introduced to some of the important people in Brandon’s life; his best friends Rico (Christopher Meyer), a ladies man who has his way with women; and wannabe ladies man Albert (Christopher Jodan-Wallace, son of Notorious B.I.G and Faith Evans) who talks endlessly about his questionable conquests with women. It soon becomes clear that, in the world of high school and gangsters in Big Bay, California, parents and adults are absent in the roles in their children’s lives, and thats usually because of their dedication to their entry-level and minimum wage paying jobs to keep their low-income homes and families afloat. No parents are shown or introduced throughout the course of the film, even within the homes of each of our protagonists. It can only be suggested that Tipping sees the presence of parents as unimportant in the world of adolescents, especially since the streets of Brandon’s hood are run and dominated by the high school bullies and low-level gangsters of the street blocks, which rings even more true during the hours of school. The adolescents in the film, as well as the rawness of these very real situations happening in every slum in America, are the true stars of Kicks.
Nikes- Frank Ocean (Album: Blonde)
Tipping, who almost simultaneously introduces each and every new character by zooming his camera onto their feet and shoes, does a masterful job of associating shoes with personas. Which makes for an interesting allegory of character, especially in the case of Brandon.
Brandon is an only-child, fifteen year old kid navigating through the rough terrain of ghetto America. So after countless rainy days spent on the corner of a busy intersection, combined with all the saved up “emergency” birthday money he has accumulated over the years, as well as the advice of his mother, the day that some hustling street salesmen by the name of Daryl (Mistah F.A.B), with a van full of Nike boxes entices Brandon over to his direction, Brandon is more than hooked. “Your foot game is everything in this world. Let me show you deez. I got something thats gonna be nice for you. Stores don’t even got deez, deez exclusive. You see deez, but deez right here, deez cost more than your life.” As if Daryl was some kind of future reading physic, the subtlety of this statement, couldn’t refer more to Brandon and the journey he is so quickly going to face.
Left paralyzed with the idea of popularity and acceptance on the streets, in his school, with his friends and most of all, with girls, Brandon buys his dream Nike’s impulsively, spending all of the money he owns, including his money hustling on the street, for his Nike Jordan One’s. Once purchased, Brandon gazes at the shoebox on top of a vintage vinyl player, like an astronaut gazing out the window of his rocket-ship, looking at the stars, Brandon is in complete and utter awe.
Touch The Sky- Kanye West (Album: Late Registration)
As the morning dawns, Brandon walks out of his house, invincible. Reminiscent of romantic comedy scenes of girls revealing their prom dresses, or transformation scenes of ugly duckling characters into beautiful swans, Tipping treats the big reveal of Brandon’s new kicks as extravagantly as possible. Old shoes in hand, laces tied to one another, Brandon disposes of his old kicks in front of his house. As he throws his old shoes vehemently at the power line in front of his house, a symbol of his coming out and evolution, Brandon is reborn.
Pants sagging, crisp black-tee on point, and new kicks rocking, Brandon shows off his new kicks to his friends. Fresh to death and excited with his new purchase, Brandon reinvents the story of how he gets his new shoes. Harmoniously, the three treat the day as a celebration. Missing school altogether, the trio make their way to the local convince store where they steal some bottles of soda, ride fly on their bicycles (Brandon riding on the front seat) and occupy the basketball court, where Brandon spends most of his time on the court, licking any scuff and mark off his new kicks, showing off for the first time in his life, and giving minimal attention to girls who finally notice him. Luckily for Brandon, his new kicks gain the attention of all the right people, and unfortunately, all the wrong people as well, including a local thug and feared high school bad-boy Flaco (Kofi Siriboe), who steals the kicks right off of Brandon’s feet less than a few hours after his purchase.
It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World- James Brown (Album: B-Side Singles)
One thing we need to understand in Tipping’s daring and ostentatious debut is how quickly tides change and moods are disrupted on the streets. Brandon, who, within hours, was swagging’ on the streets, lip syncing raps to himself walking home alone, feeling so fresh and so clean, undisturbed by anyone, becomes a boy robbed of on of his most accomplished and sought after worldly possessions. Yet, as Brandon makes his way home after the mauling, bruised, beaten and lifeless, Tipping doesn’t fish for empathy for any of his characters, especially since we know that Brandon was robbed of something much more than his shoes. Flaco, the young man responsible for Brandon’s pity, has his own story of strife, sadness and reasons as to why he steals Brandon’s shoes. Flaco’s story becomes just as powerful as Brandon’s, yet, each young boy struggles with the loss of innocence and consequences of their own actions, entirely differently, yet, strikingly similar as well.
Kicks becomes a very brisk and straightforward journey of possession and attaining the impossible. The quest of each man’s attainment of dignity, street credibility and bravado takes very similar turns and paths, yet Tipping is more interested in each characters motives and formulas, then the overall reveal of their final destinations. Tipping’s direction and style lends itself to the great films of the past, and contemporises them for not only great political commentaries, but economic and most of all, social commentaries as well.
The harsh realities of Brandon’s world begins to come crumbling down once he is forced to do what he always vowed not to do; wear flip-flops to school (an obvious sign of poverty, even in the ghetto). Refusing to give up on his dream and most valued possession, Brandon begins a journey of self-discovery that puts him face to face with his criminal uncle Marlon (Mahershala Ali) who runs the shady side of Oakland, California; his gangster cousins Ryan and Gabe (twin brothers Donté & Dante Clark); a beautiful young girl named Gorda (Nessma Ismail); a gun, and a version of himself who never knew existed.
Still Hanging On- Lee Fields and the Expressions (Album: Faithful Man)
Kicks jumps and runs to places that you may very well expect, but like any good ball game, one which delivers twists, turns and come-backs you may not see coming, Tipping’s main concern is redemption for his characters, whether it be within themselves of from others, each character resolves an inner demon they have been internally fighting within. Kicks is an organic journey of self-discovery, discipline and pushes the boundaries of its protagonist well beyond the limits he once thought he had.
Kicks is a very fast-paced and kickin’ film that showcases the strengths of its very new and young cast, a visual style that is both gritty and stylishly raw, and a soundtrack that is part science fiction inspired, and urban-ryhtmed. Thanks to the fresh new faces of Christopher Meyer, Christopher Jordan Wallace, Kofi Siriboe and of course Jahking Guillory, Tipping’s slo-mo shots of street kids ruling the streets in search of respect and masculinity, is triumphantly captured.
Much like the Astronaut (Molly Shaiken) who follows Brandon for the majority of the film, inducing symbols of innocence, youth and determination to his overall quest into manhood, Kicks will easily be one of the most bumpin’ and everlasting films of 2016 and places the spotlight on a very exciting career for a new, fresh, and upcoming director who does marvellous things with very little. Kicks is straight M.O.N.E.Y!
Night Film Reviews: 9.5 Out of 10 Stars.
What did you think of Kicks? Kick-ass or lame urban contemporary urban fare? Does the film have you running to your local independent feature theatre or running for the hills? Leave your thoughts below!