Saturday, March 20, 2010

My Eyes On...March 21, 2010

For the last month, I was pretty much sitting on four Netflix movies that I couldn't find time to watch. The service doesn't charge late fees, but the longer you keep the movies, the more they cost. So, last weekend, I decided to get through them all...

I only got through two.

But, oddly enough, there actually were a few good things on TV.

Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals
HBO Films, 2010

Brian Lowry of Variety writes: "Thanks, HBO, for another one of those scintillating documentaries that give grown men an excuse to cry."

He liked the film.

I did, too.

Growing up, I lived and breathed the Lakers. I was a Laker for Halloween one year, making my own uniform out of a gold sweatpants suit -- this was well before the throwback jersey era. I'll never forget watching the Lakers in the playoffs at my grandparent's house during those Showtime years. And, of course, I'll never forget all those classic Lakers/Celtic matchups, both regular and post-season.

I hated the Celtics passionately. And especially that blonde afro wearing hick, Larry Bird. I hated his arrogance on the court. He was silent and deadly. And it seemed that everytime the Celtics needed him, he was there to make a big bucket. Just thinking about it makes my stomach curl in anger.

This documentary helped me relive those days, but see them in a new perspective. We get the typical backstory of Magic -- a story we all pretty much know if you're a basketball fan. But, it's Larry Bird's story, and the story of his unusual relationship with Magic, that gives the film power. Bird is a soft-spoken man, to say the least, yet here he is engaging, funny, and honest. He relishes in the times he beat Magic, openly acknowledges comparing himself to the 6'9 freak-of-nature point guard, and has a real, genuine love for his friend. When Bird talks about how he reacted to Magic's bombshell about getting the HIV virus, I will admit I was in tears. I never thought I'd like Larry Bird so much, but this documentary made me see him as a real man, not just the ball player every Laker fan loves to hate.

Winning Time: Reggie Miller v. The New York Knicks
ESPN Films
Dir: Dan Klores

We're so used to getting documentaries about champions and American-Dream-styled stories. Dan Klores, who produced and directed the absolutely brilliant documentary, Black Magic, about African American history in basketball, makes another great film about basketball. This time he finds his inspiration in his own New York backyard and the mid-90s playoff battles between the Indiana Pacers and the New York Knicks.

What I liked best about this doc is that it's not about winning championships. It's about proving yourself. When we talk about sports, we focus on winning, on great performances, but seldom do we look at the players as prideful individuals. We talk about them like they are in a video game. Klores' film focuses on the pride of all those involved during these playoff matches in the mid-90s. His take is operatic, inspirational, and at times absolutely hysterical.

Metal: A Headbanger's Journey
Dir: Sam Dunn

I listen to all genres of music, but one genre I've always struggled with is Metal. There are some Metal bands I like -- Metallica, Megadeth, System of a Down, Mastodon, Sabbath, Zeppelin -- but by and large Metal alienates me. This is most likely because of all the family members I had who were addicted to drugs back in the late 80s/early 90s that listened to Metal. I also remember seeing videos on MTV's Headbanger's Ball by WASP and Queensrhyche that scared the shit out of me. So, Metal and I never really saw eye-to-eye.

In his documentary, Metal: A Headbanger's Journey, anthropologist and Metalhead, Sam Dunn, explores the culture of Metal throughout its unique history as an underappreciated musical genre. I have to say, after watching this doc, I have a much greater understanding and appreciation for Metal and its fans. Dunn takes an anthropologist's perspective to the material and shows the connections between the sub-genres of the music and the beliefs and values of its creators and fans. Doing this also gives him the ability to ask some interesting questions of his interview subjects. He gets excellent interviews from Bruce Davidson of Iron Maiden, Dee Snider of Twisted Sister, and Tomy Ionni of Black Sabbath. In addition, one of the most unique segments of the film takes Dunn to Sweden to interview a few of the artists in Death Metal scene.

If you love Metal, or are merely interested in learning more about it, check out this doc!

Dir: Lee Daniels

I was going to do a longer post about this film, but I just haven't been able to find the time. Precious, which was nominated for a few Academy Awards (and took home two), is an excellent and powerful film. It tells the story of Precious Jones, a struggling African-American girl living in the heart of Harlem's ghetto. She's obese, poor, illiterate, and pregnant with her second child. When I first heard about this movie, my inital thought was "oh shit, not another Hallmark movie." Poor, abused kid manages to get out of the hood because of education -- been there, done that too many times.

But Precious hits all the right notes, right from the beginning. She is an amazing character, and the performance of young Gabourey Sidibe brings her to life. We love Precious and root for her to succeed. Thankfully, this movie doesn't attempt to overextend its reach, though. While we love this character, the movie is still grounded in reality, and that's what makes it heartbreaking, yet inspiring.

Also, Mariah Carey's in the movie and you don't even know its her. She's not annoying or anything.

Other Movies Worth Noting...

The Brothers Bloom (dir: Rian Johnson)
Bronson (dir: Nicolas Winding Refn)
Whip It (dir: Drew Barrymore)

The Brothers Bloom is a fun con-artist romp that will keep you guessing up till the end. Mark Ruffalo and Rachel Weisz steal the show. But it's Adrian Brody's turn as the younger brother Bloom that makes the movie. Tons of fun!

Bronson is an odd film about Britain's most notorious inmate. Charles Bronson (not to be confused with Mr. Death Wish) is in jail for assault, but stays for over 30 years. Why? Because he's the world's biggest asshole with the world's biggest chip on his shoulder. He takes shit from no one. This leads to lots of graphic fights between Bronson and a slew of prison guards. The film could have stopped there, but instead it angles toward finding deeper meaning in the life of this low-rent thug by telling the story through Bronson's fame seeking eyes as he imagines himself the star of a stage monologue production of his life and crimes. This conceit is both interesting and engrossing at times, and at others it's distracting and breaks the fourth wall. It's worth a watch, though, if only for the stellar performance of Tom Hardy, who completely disappears into the skin of this fightening character.

Whip It is Drew Barrymore's directorial debut, and it is good. She assembles a quality cast, starting at the top with Ellen Page. She plays Bliss Cavender, a 17-year old girl stuck in a small town attending beauty pageants at the behest of her domineering mother (Marcia Gay Harden). But Bliss discovers something else she loves more than trying to be pretty: roller derby. She lies to everyone and gets a slot amongst the hardcore babes on the roller derby team, The Hurl Scouts. The film follows most of the sports/coming of age cliches. But the performances are so stellar, and the film has so many excellent "moments" that it rises above the cliches to be one helluva fun film to watch. Lastly, the roller derby action scenes are not to be missed. If there's any one thing Barrymore got right in the direction, it was her ability to capture the confusion and excitement of the derby. Yet, she is also able to help us understand what the action means, too. This is no easy task.

Coming Soon

Black Dynamite
In the Loop
The Devil's Backbone
The Fantastic Mr. Fox

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