I’m linking and recommending you to two websites that have Hot Docs coverage, because I write for both. The first is Nathaniel R’s The Film Experience (link below), where I write my first impressions on the Hot Docs line-up, intimidated by a few stand out movies that have too serious of subjects. Or at least that is true with some of the festivals’ opening movies such as The Invisible War and Outing. The former captures talking heads who have firsthand experience of the rape within the military while the latter is about a man who, at fifteen, discovers his sexual attraction to children. But there is a silver lining to the festival’s programs as I’ve discovered other, fringe-y subjects who look at the bright side of their imperfect circumstances.
The second is Entertainment Maven, where our friend Kirk Haviland has written a preview of the festival. He starts his coverage by reviewing Brett Whitcomb’s Glow: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. I share reviewing duties with him, starting with the Ross Brothers’ Tchoupitoulas, a movie sharing a name with a bustling street in New Orleans’ French Quartier. I’ve also seen Najeeb Mirza’s Buzkashi, about a traditional Tajik sport that’s raising Western eyebrows. I also have pending tickets about Tajikistan’s powerful neighbours in The Boxing Girls of Kabul. I’m sensing that my coverage is more international than I previously thought. I’m also looking forward to our co-reviewer Nadia Sue Sandhu who is bravely facing the James Franco doc, among others. This week will be tiring, as most scary fun things are.
- Hot Docs: Paolo’s Opening Reactions (thefilmexperience.net)
From my childhood third world perspective, looking through a keyhole into the widely disseminated First World pop culture, sports were the furthest thing. But I have a sneaking suspicion, that Oliver Stone‘s portrayal of the public and private lives of a football team in Any Given Sunday feel inaccurately cartoonish. For the pats decade, there has been a different quarterbacks who would host SNL once every four years and another one who would announce his blindly conservative views. And mind my traces of nerdy, anti-jock prejudices but anyone who gets to college through a sports scholarship should never be in front of a microphone ever.
That said, I don’t remember the late 90’s with the memory of men Willie Beamen (Jamie Foxx). He starts out as a nervous last resort on this movie’s football team, the symbolically named Miami Sharks, replacing quarterback Jack ‘Cap’ Rooney (Dennis Quaid), the latter feeling varying degrees of pressure from his coach Tony D’Amato (Al Pacino) and his wife to play on, has taken it to himself to swallow his pride and make way for the new blood.
Then becoming its unlikely rising star, and it’s inevitable that this new fame, the fake friends that go with them and the endorsements get to his unprepared head. For some reason, he would be allowed to embarrass himself through a nationally broadcast sports channel and a rap music video. The movie also gives us access to his semi-private life, with his stupid crass boring ass parties and such. It was as if Stone was conflating that decade’s football stars with those in basketball, like actor Michael Jordan, rapper Shaquille O’Neal and model Lebron James. Beaman is the cringe-inducing manifestation of the black masculine ego, Stone’s inadvertent racial, gendered caricature. I’m not saying that this movie’s racist but if someone told me that it was, I wouldn’t object to his or her opinion.
Knowing that characters within the Sharks are less surprisingly coarse, what interests Stone are stories with trashy narcissists who have no business in becoming figureheads of America’s institutions, whether they be political, financial or athletic, but they end up doing so because of luck and some talent. Timing is important to them, entering these systems in dire times, and their presence within their new worlds make these institutions more precarious, the same way the Sharks’ standing within the NFL is vulnerable. Speaking of talent, I can’t fully discredit Stone’s anti-heroes or villains no matter what they do or how they get to the top, Clay Shaw is well-connected and an efficient taskmaster, Gordon Gekko knowing stocks at the back of his cranium. Of course after vomiting spells and surprisingly, Tony coaching, Beamen can magically pass the football to the other side.
It also helps to know who’s on scriptwriting duties. Helping Stone out is John Logan, responsible for the expanisve, ambitious, masculine and violent A-list vehicles like The Last Samurai, Sweeney Todd and the Oscar-winning Gladiator and Daniel Pyne, whose work in Fracture and the TV series “Miami Vice” bring equal amounts of flash and contemporary grit to this movie.
Back to Stone’s characters, if the ‘trashy’ character is a secondary protagonist like Beamen, there comes a more major character who has to make us less cynical and make us believe that the Sharks and football are holy institutions with integrity and rules. That’s what Tony is for. Pacino amazes here, as we can hear his vocal restraint even when he’s yelling at his players and calling them ‘an embarrassment.’ He has a good rapport with the other actors playing athletes, guiding these characters individually especially in times of need, like injuries, ego deficiencies and the like.
There’s also owner-by-nepotism Christina Pagliacci (Cameron Diaz). Both are conflictophiles, Tony and her respectively representing old and new ways of handling a sports team, both of them being right in their own ways. There’s a short yet innately caricature-like moment when Diaz is sitting on her desk, “Thinker” pose and all. She’s absent in chunks of the movie and neither is she perfect, especially in verbal clashing with a commanding presence like Pacino, but she’s aware of the pressures that faces her character.
Supporting cast includes Aaron Eckhart as an offensive coach impatiently waiting under Tony’s wing, Ann Margaret as Christina’s alcoholic, chagrined and emotionally abandoned mother Margaret and LL Cool J as an endorsement hungry player resentful, like everyone else, of Willie’s refusal to follow the playbook.
The rest of it I’m not a big fan of. Stone’s indulgent camerawork were effective in his earlier movies. He tries to use the same techniques to capture the game’s frenzy but it doesn’t work, especially with adding the aggressive, multi-genre popular music. Scenes of football games portrayed with pathetic fallacy, either with glaring, desert-evoking multiple spotlights or the rain and mud, either weather condition showing every anguished sinew of the athletes despite all that padding. That and the flashbacks were needlessly fetishistic. The more subtle the better. And of course, Charlton Heston appears some commissioner who says about Christine that ‘she’ll eat her young,’ reinforcing the movie’s xenophobic streak in thinking that a woman could be in power is if she’s evil. Please.
- Are You Ready For Some Football? (Oliver Stone Style) (moviesinpurgatory.com)
Since the titular institution in Frederick Wiseman‘s Boxing Gym runs for 24 hours, it would be right for the film to have, structurally, a cyclical and impressionistic feel instead of having an arc. We see the Austin-based gym owner interviewing new applicants. Yes, the gym has its share of professionals and attractive ones – which might motivate someone like me to keep going to a gym, honestly – but the most captivating ones are the amateurs. The owner talks about how the more braggart newbies are the kind that never stays, tell a young mother that her newborn is safe in his environment and ask a young. He also asks a college age applicant whether the latter is joining just to beat up a man he doesn’t like.
From his applicants we see that the owner is pretty hands on by training some of the members are running some creative strength and cardio classes himself. In one scene, a mother, while binding and gloving her son’s hands before training, shares how the owner has helped her in her boxing stance. Another scene showing one of the cardio classes is the most visual in the film. Start just after sunrise, the yellow-brown bricks making up the buildings of Austin depicted like a de Chirico painting, the class running up and down a grey multi-story parking lot closer to the downtown core.
Wiseman captures these people learn to box on their own. The film closes up on the members’ backs while throwing punches in the air or their feet while a timer intermittently goes off in the background, latently providing the film’s rhythm. Some of these scenes and be considered as endurance tests for say, a five-minute long scene just showing a member’s sneakers. It’s reminiscent of what Jake Cole said in review of Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, especially with watching Nina Sayers practice her multiple spins without Tchaikovsky’s piano music nor a partner. It feels awkward watching these boxers in a private dance in their own heads, although most of the time there’s some spiritual and communal connection to the space even when these people are alone.
The Fighter‘s first sequence places the camera behind Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), as his brother Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale) throws fake punches behind him. They play fight as Dicky welcomes a documentary crew to his hood at Lowell, Massachusetts. You see the brothers, the crew, the neighbors yet the neighborhood feels uninhabited and thus, artificial. The rest of the film feels that way, the small city, both depicted with interior and exterior space, feels sunny bot not vibrant. The camera then zooms out with the same speedy feel as director David O. Russell’s earlier work Three Kings or the opposite yet reminiscent of, dare I blaspheme, a shot in Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil.
Lowell, Massachusetts, where everyone wears a size too small except for Dicky, who, despite revealing musculature later in the film, has an emaciated face floating above ratty oversize t-shirts, and for a while, Micky, better dressed than his brother, who tries to hide that he’s getting fat for lack of exercise. When they’re physically in shape, Micky and his girlfriend Charlene (Amy Adams) would have their enviable three percent body fat sticking out on top of their boxing shorts or cutoff jeans.
The movie also makes Micky look short (in reality Wahlberg is 5’9″), since no one that jacked could weigh 145 pounds. I’m not saying that the clothing nor the physicality does all the characterization – I’ll have a lot to say later about those aspects of the movie. I just like those details within the costume or mise-en-scene popping up once in a while.
I’ve previously said that I can’t relate to trashy characters. How many times do I have to say that I hung out with a bad crowd in high school or work with the working class now before it sounds like I’m appropriating something that isn’t mine culturally? I don’t feel comfortable in saying that I can relate to the characters and the situations they get into. It has already thrown and turned off some audiences against the film. But I feel like I can relate to these characters.
The playacting violence that for some reason is associated with both fun and survivalist thinking more than performed working-class masculinity. Their gestures. Dysfunctional families and in-laws. Women who are tough and foul-mouthed. Trouble with the law. Characters who are oblivious to the self-serving nature of their actions. I especially like scene when Dicky realizes that he’s hours late to train his brother. Of course he’s late. I can assume, consuming drugs in his level, that if he starts a session at 8 o’ clock, he’ll be lucky to realize that he had to get out.
Or like mother Alice (Melissa Leo) booking Micky into one badly matched HBO fight after losing another, not realizing she’s hurting and exploiting a son who may not wanna continue into this career. Expecting different results. O. Russell shows how poverty can induce insanity without harshly labeling these characters as insane. If any of us does the latter, then that’s our fault.
Harsh verbal and physical confrontations. Terrible ideas of trying to unsuccessfully scam people out of their money. Any of these things can be a subject for one movie. And it all feels real coming from these actors.
Like movies with trashy characters, we see a substantial amount of physical antics, bad decisions and yelling here, but none of those three things take the forefront in the film. Or at least we aren’t welcomed into the storm, as the film’s continues that with the family explaining which of their members are Eklunds and which are Wards, treating this fact of their lives matter-of-factly and without shame. And then two bar fights happen, one between Micky and another guy and another between two women. O. Russell knows how to stir the pot at the right time.
Another instance showing the character of the Eklund-Wards is when they’re watching a documentary about Dicky’s crack addiction – they’re bravely confronting the reality of their situations. The only time they’re hesitant about the material is when Alice tells Dicky’s son to stay upstairs or when Dicky, now in jail, unplugs the big TV set to stop the schadenfreude from the other inmates. If anything they’re prouder to watch this than to watch the first rounds of Micky’s fights. While that doc is playing on HBO, Micky’s college dropout girlfriend Charlene (Amy Adams), instead of avoiding ‘white trash,’ knocks at his door and slowly, like a human being, reaches for his hand.
It also helps that Charlene has the best lines of the film and steals the show. From contending with pretentious film patrons on a better side of town while on a date with Micky as well as confronting his family members, she sure knows how to stand her ground. A scene with her in the lions’ den of Micky’s sisters and another when Dicky makes an impromptu visit to her house make her an integral part of the best ensemble acting this year. Even in a scene when Alice tries to explain to her why he’s not sitting on a stool. Yes, that was Alice’s moment but it says a lot about her character that they have made peace that way.
There are negative effects and connotations to the film’s ‘team effort’ feel. From the first sound of the film – hearing Dicky’s voice as he talks both about his career and his brother’s, the audience knows that this isn’t Micky’s film. Charlene and Alice dissuade Micky from giving up, which would be encouraged even by a different peer group within the town. Micky’s dependence towards other characters shows how weakly written his character is, and that can be said about the rest of the characters too. The script then, despite its wonderful cadence, serves to be a impressionistic work on characters grinding against each other’s nerves. The characters then, have to have these fights and verbal exchanges a hundred times to grow as human beings.
So is this movie trying to say that what happens about the characters are more important within the characters? And it is true that it takes a long time for people to grow, and that evolution gets slowed down by poverty, lack of education and drugs. Although those things allow perseverance.
I didn’t have those questions while watching the movie. If you sat in the same theatre as me, you’d think I was watching the best movie ever. 4/5 rating because of the arguably shabby script, but it created characters I’ll love and cherish until another charismatic ‘hillbilly’ comes along.
Offside reminds me when a friend of mine who visited Saudi Arabia disguised herself as a boy so that she could play tennis. She called herself Muhammad because there is a Muhammad in her name somewhere. Yes, Muslim girls get away with stuff all the time. Restriction always leads to rebellion. This film shows the apartheid between men and women in Iran, but it’s just as much about the joy these girls have in almost having something inches away from their fingertips.
ph. SPC via thecia.com.au
Offside begins with a father looking within crowds watching a qualifying futbol game between Iran and Bahrain in 2006. He doesn’t notice the girls in disguise. This film is translatable to any other about a city, depicted by a film packed with many themes. The frustration of not seeing balanced with the game’s energy emanating through the stadium walls and bars. Soldiers from the country who are outsiders like the women they’re guarding in a makeshift prison. Independent Tehrani girls who come from respectable families, can go to the movies, can go to college and want to cheer for their country that oppresses them even if it means a criminal record.
This is the definition of gonzo, new generation neo-realist film making, having to make it in real-time, a movie about breaking the law while actually breaking the law. And yet there’s time for shot countershots and great amateur actors playing off each other so well. You can’t help but sympathize for all the characters, even the cute, grouchy soldier.
After-after thoughts on Canada winning gold on hockey:
- The hot straight guys came out of hiding.
- Same hot straight guys are too heavy for body surfing.
- Optimus Prime hit a lady.
- You guys wouldn’t have been there if it we won gold for curling instead. You should.
- I wouldn’t have been there if I didn’t sell my ticket to see a documentary about the Rwandan genocide.
- Watching drunk people melts cynicism.
- This is probably better than the time Michael Jackson died and everyone came to Dundas Square, which I missed.
- We litter so well.
- I feel bad for anyone who came to Dundas Square barefoot.
- It’s true Americans, everyone in Canada knows everybody else.
- Traffic lights are for sitting.
- A crowd chanting “Let him go!” is more powerful than the court of appeals.
- Canadian flags are also used as shawls.
- Hockey gold makes white people krump.
- Sidney Crosby is a BOY! A well talented boy, but nevertheless…a boy!
- You’re saying ole like it’s the World Cup. Which makes me really excited for the World Cup.
- We won’t get into the World Cup.