Thursday, August 07, 2014

Seen in July (2014) 

A Sunday in Hell image via Art. Spoke. Soul.

Summer is full of sport; the World Cup, the Tour de France, Wimbledon, the Blue Jays’ winning ways, the Blue Jays’ losing ways… so it’s not too surprising that there were three sport movies in this month’s viewings. It seems with all the television shows in hiatus, there’s nothing on TV which I think explains why, despite being out at farmers markets and cycling through city parks and swimming, when I come home, I watch movies rather than television shows. Mind you, I think I saw three or four of these, either in a hotel or on an airplane so that may shoot a hole in my theory.

There's blood on the roads in A Sunday in Hell image via BFI

A Sunday in Hell
The classic documentary from the 1976 one-day road classic Paris-Roubaix professional cycling race. Staged in May, this infamous race may have any kind of weather a spring day may offer; cold and wet, thus muddy treacherous riding or hot and dry, thus an incredibly lung-filling dusty ride. The race which has been run since 1868, is one of the oldest organized races and since 1968 the route is slightly different every year, but always includes 60 km or more of “paves” or brutal cobblestones. The weather and road conditions have led to the event being nicknamed the Hell of the North or L’enfer du Nord (amongst other names such as Queen of the Classics, or The Easter Race). Some of the legends of the sport, such as the Belgian Eddy Mercx have won Paris-Roubaix, and many of them are in contention in this film. The film combines road side filming, filming in team support cars, and helicopter shots all set to some incredible music that sounds like Gregorian chants but was composed for this film. The way road races are filmed today owe something to this film which is a testament to the poetry, beauty, brutality, strategy and incredible struggle that is riding your bike faster than someone else. It’s also a snapshot of a time when cyclists still road friction-shifting steel steads while donning wool jerseys and cotton caps. Beautiful. If you’re a fan of the Tour de France or of racing films such as Steve McQueen’s Le Mans, Grand Prix or Rush, you’ll like this.

Hunger Games: Catching Fire
I still don’t get this series. Is it another planet? An analogy of our own world gone wrong? So many things don’t make sense? Segregated districts that are universally poor and downtrodden have two of their children (why teen-agers?) kidnapped and chosen to fight to the death. The winner’s district gets a one time tribute of food and becomes a propaganda tool for the governing wealthy Capital? I think? Anyway. Jennifer Lawrence continues to kick-ass within the game becoming a symbol of the coming revolution. I think there are supposed to be subtextual messages about the nature of humanity and citizens being held down by oppressive regimes or by “being true to yourself” is all it takes to conquer evil. Or maybe it’s a commentary on the sort of X-factor, American Idol, America’s Got Talent, So You Think You Can Dance, The Voice style talent/reality shows. Yet it also seems to celebrate the individual and glorify individual spirit. Whatever. It is high on entertainment value even if it’s an inconsistent goop of philosophy.

Bad Words
Jason Bateman plays an adult with photographic recall who enters regional and eventually a national spelling bee through a technicality, besting his pre-teen competition through nefarious means. Why someone with photographic recall would have to intimidate children is unclear other than the fun of the juxtaposition I suppose. Of primary concern is why has he entered these competitions at all? Revenge as it turns out. Revenge against an AWOL father. I’m not sure why the bitterness of children raised by a single parent or in orphanhood is such a popular American cinematic trope but there you have it. Bateman turns in a typical performance as the likeable yet cynical rogue whose cold heart begins to melt when he befriends one of his lonely, young competitors. It’s fun for awhile until the screw is turned. Good for a few chuckles but short of a the kind of chuckles you’d hope for.

Dark Shadows
An 18th century vampire is resurrected in a late 60s New England village, starring Johnny Depp and directed by Tim Burton. Slam dunk, right? Air ball. Totally missed the net. You can miss it too.

Fever Pitch
After enjoying a month of World Cup Soccer, I decided to watch this story of an unbelievably dedicated Arsenal Football fan. Based on the Nick Hornby novel, (and since remade in the American mould of a die hard Red Sox fan) Colin Firth stars as Paul, an English teacher who counts himself among the millions of English football fans obsessed with the Arsenal Football Club. Arsenal is the one constant in Paul’s life it seems to the point where he passes on promotions and romance. The intersection of romance, friendship, career and football come to a climax as Arsenal is on the precipice of its first championship in 18 years. The one thing the film asks but doesn’t really answer very well is why is football so important to Paul? Or anyone for that matter. Footie fans love to really deeply believe there is no other sport like it and that there is no greater obsession for any sport than football. Well, I’m pretty sure you could name a dozen or more other sports with equally rabid fanatics, except the only thing that separates English football fans is they just won’t believe you. Especially when Paul extolls, “I’ve been waiting 18 years for this!!” Try 47 years, pal. As any buds or Red Sox fan will tell you, 18 years is a drop in the bucket. Less than a drop. Despite that, this is an enjoyable movie.

Don Jon
If Steve McQueen’s Shame is the New Yorker intellectual take on modern male sexual addiction and dysfunction, then Don Jon is Joseph Gordon Levitt’s New Jersey Boy comedic take on porno obsession for the modern douche. While Shame focussed on the emotional isolationism of sexual addiction, Levitt’s Don Jon looks at how and why the male eye is so drawn to Internet porn; essentially it fulfills a male fantasy of uninhibited sexual desire with zero hang-ups. Well, there is one hang-up. You can never look another person in the eye and connect on an intimate level again. There is an oddly Hollywood ending (if not also a “happy ending”). Levitt’s Jon winds up rejecting the club girl of his dreams and the pornography of his fantasies (and fetishes) for an unexpected and imperfect but real live personal relationship. Having a person reject the computer for a real world interaction makes an odd bookend to the film Her, where the person is rejected by a computer for a digital interaction (no pun intended).

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
What future has man wrought? We bend the shape of nature at our will but sometimes, nature snaps back. In this second installment of The Planet of the Apes redux, we find a colony of humans eking out survival in a cloistered neighbourhood of San Francisco. Ten years have past since a manmade plague that has Ebola-like effect on humans has devastated human society and these survivors are hanging on by a thread. They are desperate enough for electricity that they’ve sent a small team to resurrect an out of service hydro station. Meanwhile, the genetically altered apes of Caesar’s followers and lineage have blossomed and are happily living… wait for it, near the abandoned hydro station. The incursion of folks into ape territory and vice versa initiates the conflict between man and ape. Despite overtures and open hands, a few bad apples lead to an all-out conflict where only one side can win. As with any science fiction there are some glaring leaps of logic, but the underlying fable of the apes realizing they are no better than humans and that humans have generally made a mess of things is persistent. Other themes of respecting differences, respecting nature and the inevitability of our own instincts all find room in this entertaining big budget flick. It should be said the effects are phenomenal. I would even say better than the fantastical Lord of the Rings and Hobbit series. There isn’t a single frame where you think about the apes at all. The effects are that good that you don’t even think about it. They disappear entirely leaving you to get lost in that frightening new world.
“It’s like it’s always right now.”
This is the much hyped film by Richard Linklater which he filmed over a 12 year period allowing his 4 main actors grow up and age right before our eyes in particular a 5-year-old boy named Mason. Oddly, 12 years flows by us in 2 hours and you never even blink. Much like genuine parenthood I imagine. The inherent beauty of the conceit is never lost here. I don’t quite understand it. One of the funniest comments I’ve heard was someone saying they were stuck in a meeting that was like a reverse-Boyhood; it was two hours that felt like 12 years. I’d like to tell you what happens but like life, nothing much does. The final quote of the film feels very much like what it’s all about:
Girl: You know how they say, “Seize the day” well I think it’s the other way around. The day seizes you.

Mason: I know, we’re always in “the present”. It’s like it’s always right now.

Which seems to encapsulate Mason’s zen sense of the moment. He’s always in the moment, never looking back, never looking ahead, always aware of “now”. Life is really the moments that stick to us and who can say when you can seize it or when it will seize you, but you have to be ready, all the time, right now.

I got the feeling watching this movie that I got watching Biutiful and Melancholia, that it will stay with me long after I’d left the theatre and is easily one of the best films of the year.

Men in Black 3
Um… I think I saw this before. I’m pretty sure I did. An odd couple pair of super secret agents save the world from an invasive alien or something. Seeing Josh Brolin deliver a dead on impression of Tommy Lee Jones is pretty fun but yeah, that’s all I got…

Baseball players are sometimes called the boys of summer. In this documentary, we’re only interested in two “boys”. The two remaining pitchers who make their living pitching the most unpredictable of pitches, the Knuckleball. The film spends most of its time with the Tim Wakefield, about to end his career and R. A. Dickey who is finally in the up/hockey stick curve part of his career. In part it seems it’s more about the transitory and fleeting life of a pro ballplayer but there is just enough of the mysticism and romance of this one strange remarkable and weird pitch to make it unique. It’s especially interesting now that Dickey is the only guy really throwing this way and he now earns his keep, doing his craft for the Toronto Blue Jays. If I were to meet either of these men, I’d tell them, “Honour you work and respect your wife” as this film makes it clear, the wives are not just home makers but in many cases they are the people who have sacrificed a lot to make their husband’s careers possible.

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