.............................................................TRAPPED INSIDE A WORLD UNDER LEAGUES OF OCEAN........................................................

Friday, January 27, 2012

Monday, January 9, 2012

movies: dock ellis & the lsd no-no

This short animated film recently screened at Hot Docs, rather appropriately before the Bill Hicks film.  For those that didn't make it to the screening, I found it online.  It's a hilarious little film, and if you don't know the backstory, now you do.

movies: sports

I checked out a few sports-themed films last weekend, one a doc, one a feature, and one somewhere in-between; all three are well worth a look.

The doc, Harvard Beats Yale 29-29, takes its title from a Harvard newspaper following the match, and is a gripping re-telling and remembering of an epic 1968 college football game between (surprise!) Harvard and Yale. Both teams had gone undefeated in the regular season and were to play a tie-breaker to determine playoff status (I think). Through a series of interviews with surviving players from both sides and actual game footage spliced between, director Kevin Rafferty (of Atomic Cafe fame) weaves a suspenseful tale that leads to the near-laughably unbelievable conclusion.

The game footage is fantastic, but what sticks are the interviews with the one-time players. We are shown a range of personalities from Ivy League lawyer types to working class heroes, all lifted to glory on the gridiron, but somehow faded and human in present day. There is, in that sense, a bit of nostalgic melancholy to the interviews, but it never veers into saccharine territory.

The film is well-paced, and you don't have to be a football fan to appreciate it as a wonderfully crafted narrative that a thousand Hollywood hacks could only dream of scripting. Well worth the time investment, and highly recommended.

The second film I watched was the highly acclaimed baseball drama Sugar, which charts the rise of a young man through Dominican baseball and into American professional ball. I admit I picked this up only because of the baseball theme, but as I watched, I realized that the focus is less on the sport, and more on the man, and the film has far less in common with Rookie of the Year than it does with Latin American films El Norte, City of God, and Maria Full of Grace.

Sugar is an excellently acted drama that just flirts with sentimentality, but never crosses the line, mainly due to the performance of Algenis Perez Soto, who plays Miguel 'Sugar' Santos. The cast of side characters comes and goes fluidly, and the brief glimpses of simple kindness shown to Sugar had me thinking a bit of Wendy and Lucy. I liked the honesty (or, rather, what I can only imagine to be honesty) of the scenario - not every rising star makes it to the top. In fact, far more often fizzle out far before they even catch a glimpse, whether due to personal demons, lack of talent, lack of confidence, or a combination thereof.

While Sugar has an upbeat ending, it's probably not what most people would expect.  The film has much to offer; it's a touching and truthful drama where "going to the show" isn't always getting to the big leagues, and in which the main character comes to the hard realization that sometimes dreams are simply just that.

The third film was The Chief, an intriguing little film, er, play, er, play on film.  What Steve Parys has done is filmed the long-running one-man play starring the stunning Tom Atkins (familiar to genre fans from his work in The Fog, Night of the Creeps, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, etc, etc) in what may be the role of his life: Art Rooney, Sr.  Stylistically, the film is a bit odd at first, as we are actually shown the audience with the camera briefly behind Atkins in some scenes.  But once you get used to this, it kind of works.  It’s still a bit jarring at times, though.

For those not familiar with Rooney, he came up from humble roots in Pittsburgh’s rough and tumble “The Ward”, inhabited by mostly poor Irish immigrants, a few Poles, and a handful of other ethnicities tossed into the mix.  Rooney eventually got into the fledgling NFL seemingly for a lark, and built up one of the most abysmal dynasties in sports histories in a town where fans died a little bit with every Steelers loss, and a win meant a glimpse at the possibility of greatness for themselves, too.  Anyway, after decades of losing, Rooney drafted some of the better players the NFL has ever seen and in the span between 1974-79, the Steelers had won four Superbowls.  You may be thinking, “Why would I care?  I’m no sports fan!”  Well, the great thing is, you don’t have to be to appreciate Atkins’ marvelous turn as the loquacious and gruff but kind Rooney, quick with a joke and filled with a genuine warmth and humour.  In fact, the play is nearly halfway over before he even starts talking football, so fond is he of the neighbourhood brawls of his youth and his great love, the track.

Rooney is such an interesting character that it really doesn’t matter whether Atkins is talking ponies, boxing or gridiron gaffes and glories, you can’t help but be enthralled at this master storyteller.  At times the material has the opportunity to come off a bit rich, but Atkins keeps it all in check.  If you’re not a fan of ’80s horror, you probably won’t recognize Atkins in this “serious” dramatic role, but he handles it with the deftness and guile of a veteran of stage and screen.

I watched The Chief twice, once through alone, and because I found the film so moving and evocative, a second time over the holidays with my dad, a huge football fan who remembers the Steelers’ halcyon days well.   I know next to nothing about football, in fact, don’t really like the sport at all, but it’s interesting that two of the most affecting sports films I’ve seen in the past year have been centred around the game – this and Harvard Beats Yale 29-29.

If you can appreciate a character study in the style of Altman’s Secret Honor (although this film is nowhere near as masterful), or simply like a good story, you’ll find something to enjoy in The Chief.