61 Days of Halloween – Films to Keep You Awake: To Let (2006)

Intorduction

For an introduction to the concept of 61 Days of Halloween, and a list of previously featured films, please go here.

To Let (2006)

This is perhaps the hardest of the series to write about. Juame Balagueró is a filmmaker whose work, form what I’ve seen (which is a handful of his titles), I usually like. He has a way of layering his tales, a disturbed sensibility (essential for horror) and usually paces his tales very well. This is not the film to watch if you want to see that statement exemplified, however.

As has been a pattern in posts about these films there had been much discussion of pace because when the running time is something outside the norm then the film needs to do something outside the norm to make it work. This does not. It is the shortest of the six films and feels like it’s the longest by far. There are both editorial and narrative reasons for that.

However, pace is not the only issue this film has. This film has a fairly outrageous premise, which in and of itself isn’t a problem, especially for a horror film. However, it’s one that’s fairly well telegraphed. Only the details are twists. There is in a film like this a “get outta there” element that has to be dealt with. And it is, but the turns it takes make it further and further insane, aside from the fact that they occasionally waste time in an already short yet long-seeming film.

For a tale such as this one to work the acting has to be spot on and it’s perhaps the least effective in the entire series, which contributes to the telegraphing that this woman plans to keep this couple as long as possible, whether they like it or not.

But wait there’s more, it’s also visually disturbing in the wrong way. There is excessive and artless jiggly-cam at the most inopportune moments.

I could go on to further enumerate the faults I find with the film but that would become tiresome. Needless to say this is one of those movies where even the more basic things like business (the actor’s actions) are poorly staged and executed. If you were to skip just one of the six films this would be it.

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The Book of Manning: A Personal History and Mini-Review

Introduction

This is another post that was intended as a Mini-Review Round-Up entry, but then grew legs and so I decided to post it separately.

Personal History

To be completely honest, though I knew about the upcoming slate of 30 for 30 films for this fall; I was caught unaware by this installment of the ESPN Films series under the banner of SEC Storied.

And apparently this was not the debut installment, but rather part of plan to have four conference-specific titles per year. However, when the subject of the Manning family came up it’s not a wonder that I heard about about it and then saw the documentary.

It’s only now with hindsight that I could see that my fascination with this family has gone on longer than I realized. I was too young to witness Archie Manning’s career as it was happening, but I remember seeing footage of the fleet-of-foot gunslinger left on an island and run ragged when playing for the mostly hapless New Orleans Saints. In fact, in my nameless-player, league-branded NES game he was a large reason I “created” my own similarly gifted and bedraggled field general for the same team.

NFL (Nintendo)

Later on I, of course, became aware of Peyton in his college days and when he joined the Colts, though I am not a Colts fan, that would be the team I’d most consistently watch (besides the my own) to see him play. Peyton Manning is must-see TV.

Almost anyone can note how the story of the Manning family, at least in football terms, is like a fairy tale. However, it becomes a bit more so in my case. Of course, part of the fascination in watching Peyton play is not just his prowess, but a bit of envy, “Why can’t my team’s quarterback be just a little like that?”

I became even more aware of the fact that Eli was a college quarterback than I was of Peyton. Partially because he was the little brother. I think he was a sophomore when the pipe dream of his ending up on the New York Giants entered my mind and I laughed it away as an impossible notion. In fact, I never entertained it as something tangible until rumors started coming around about his not wanting to play in San Diego.

Super Bowl XLII (ESPN)

I can’t remember who else was in the running but the Giants weren’t the only team to need a quarterback that year, but were the only one’s who could pull the trigger on the deal. Eli Manning was a quarterback for the New York Giants something less than two years after I had the crazy idea. Not only that but later that same ill-fated 2004 season I lucked into a ticket for a late-season, virtually meaningless game against the Atlanta Falcons. Eli’s first start was a close-run loss wherein I screamed myself hoarse. After that history it’s not a wonder I was one of his few staunch-yet-silent-supporters as he and the Giants struggled to get their bearings. Despite the start to this season, two borderline-miraculous Super Bowl runs later, what’s not fantastical in that story?

The Film

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As intimated above the footballing aspect of the Manning family seems to be a fairly tale. Yet I long ago learned of the unfortunate circumstances Cooper Manning faced in his freshman year of college. However, what makes this an interesting tale is that there are in Archie and Cooper’s stories highly unfortunate events. The first molds Archie in his personal life as a man, the next fuels Peyton in his will-to-win on the field.

So there’s a redemptive aspect to Peyton’s section of the film. Yet, although brief there is one to Eli’s as well because of the perceived slight the state of Mississippi felt that Archie and Peyton had levied upon them. Though there was no such slight and the reasoning each had for their actions were justified.

In editorial terms there is a slightly repetitious nature to the film. However, that’s one of the few things you can quibble about. There are a few brief, well handled re-enactments. The stills, pictures as well and the one-on-one interviews give you a more complete version of the tale than if there had just been game footage involved.

The college football, the Southeastern Conference, slant on the story allows it probably a better structure than one that took in more of each of the three pro careers involved and it ends up working better for it.

I could almost disqualify myself from a rating based on the aforementioned personal history, but you can consider that the grain of salt portion of the review. It still does work and I think, since it is a family story even more than a football one, and Olivia is interviewed quite a bit as well; non-fans will also enjoy it.

8/10

Mini-Review Round-Up October 2013

Here’s my standard intro to this post:

I had quite a review drought to end 2011 so I think the remedy for this kind of post would be to have the post be cumulative monthly. Therefore, after each qualifying film a short write-up will be added to the monthly post. The mini-reviews will be used to discuss Netflix and other home video screenings. Theatrical releases, regardless of how they are seen whether in an auditorium or on VOD, will get full reviews [That is when deemed necessary. As I wrote here I do want to focus more on non-review writing wherever possible].

For a guide to what scores mean go here.

The Book of Manning

The Manning Family (Ibid.)

This review was not-so-mini, you can find it here.

The Almost Man

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The man-child has been the topic of comedies, and discussed in film writing, for most of the history of cinema. The brand of childishness in these men changes as society does. The recent trend is skewing toward adolescent man-children who still have the same sense of humor, a similar outlook on the world, and terrors as children do at that formative time (where some grapple with those issues persist into adulthood). Few films have likely, and none that I’ve seen or can think of, taken this character/problem type to a seriocomic place with such commitment and results.

If I had to venture a guess I’d say it’s the inciting incident of this film where (the event that propels the story and sparks conflict) most audience members will go along with or abandon it. If you go along with it and focus on characters, especially Henrik (Henrik Rafaelson), specifically what they want and how they go about trying to get it; then you’ll get into the film. The handling of it is mature even if the act was not: it’s about “what now?” and not “why?” A crossroads has been reached, and, thus, the struggle; the delicate balance of finding true adulthood without losing oneself, begins.

Rafaelson is especially impressive because it’s one thing to play an overgrown goofball and get laughs and another to then get introspective dour and try to assume new responsibility and maturity. He achieves both and engenders empathy as well.

This film is a briskly told tale is one that never feels insincere whether in its stasis (when the young couple enjoys one another’s company and is content to lark about), or later when there is an ebb-and-flow, an attempt to change. Likewise, the film does not end with an insincerely sudden fairy-tale ending, but rather, at a new beginning; the dawn of a new-found maturity.

8/10

Free Spirits

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The difference this ESPN 30 for 30 doc and any other that this is the first to deal with one of the maverick sports leagues of the 1960s and 1970s. While there was already a USFL doc, the ABA and AFL had not been addressed. Of course, the USFL merging with the NFL was never a possibility. This film tells the tale of the Spirits of St. Louis, one of the two teams left out in the cold when the ill-fated league merged with the NBA.

The film mainly just traces the short, but significant two-year history of the team. The reason they were not absorbed, is not really a mystery. However, though there is an abrupt shift in gears late in the game (though the writing is on the wall throughout) the surprise this film has in store is the fallout and windfall from the non-merger.

It seems some of these docs thrive because of their running time and others could use a little more. This one would’ve been served by a little more of a lead-in, but it still tells its tale well.

7/10

Big Shot

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Growing up in New York, but being a New York Ranger fan I was only vaguely aware of the fiasco that was John Spano’s scam to try and purchase the New York Islanders. However, after being fully informed of all that went on here I can say that no team or its fans (no matter how big an arch-rival) deserves to go through this, especially when you consider that the league was at least partly to blame.

Actor-turned-director Kevin Connolly would’ve already scored in my book by not only giving appropriate background on what the Islanders were very early in their existence, but also how they declined, and that he had seen the best and worst of times. However, where the film transcends that is that he actually got to sit down with the man himself and not only faced him in as respectful a fashion as you could ask for, but allowed him to tell his story about how this all happened, and explain (to the extent possible) what he was thinking when things went down.

It’s the kind of story that could only be true and it’s a truly brilliantly rendered account of it quite-nearly blow-by-blow with many of the most concerned parties involved.

10/10

No Más

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I am glad I sought other reviews before sitting down to write this one. In doing so I discovered that the director of this film also directed Renee, which could still be the greatest 30 for 30 installment yet. And he has also covered boxing before. That gives me some perspective but still leaves me perplexed and greatly disappointed.

Firstly, there is a question of balance: whereas the most recent installment, which I will discuss below, evenhandedly presents interpretations of the career of a controversial figure. This one becomes skewed down the line. Both fighters (Leonard and Duran) are introduced. However, after the infamous incident (wherein Duran quit during the rematch), and many theories are examined to no satisfactory conclusion; the film takes a few odd turns.

In one turn, Leonard (at least based on the way this story I knew the bare minimum about) comes off almost like a sore-winner who never faced any backlash for that fact. Almost like the antithesis of Mary Decker Slaney in terms of public perception.

This shift is a weird occurrence because the film, based on what footage they do have, is seeking a resolution and an answer. Yet, it becomes increasingly apparent that no new or publicly acceptable version of why Duran quit would surface. Despite that there they are face-to-face in a boxing ring in the present day, talking in a highly staged manner, and when Duran is giving at least a more detailed version of his truth than he ever told his audio is drowned out for Sugar Ray’s take on it and how he was able to (eventually) let it go.

I’m not saying I believe Duran’s story or questioning Leonard’s right to a vantage point, but in documentary terms starts to bang its head against the proverbial wall insisting on its interpretation of events being told.

At this point in the series a mediocre doc would be the worst 30 for 30, but this one sadly isn’t even good because of its insistence on seeking an absolute truth and its skewed narrative.

4/10

This is What They Want

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Here’s a 30 for 30 that deals with something I witnessed, at least in part, and still have images of seared on my mind’s eye. How final the run was at the time was something I didn’t realize but I knew I liked Connors, and I’m glad that this documentary spent at least some of its time discussing his oft overlooked prowess which is lost amidst his antics, perception and longevity.

As mentioned above, the film is evenhanded. It neither paints Connors as seen through rose-colored glasses nor does it judge. Certain things said about him by other subjects are related back to him and he responds and then the ball is in your court.

However, a bulk of the narrative is chronicling how a 39-year-old Connors (a feat that will likely never be duplicated) made it all the way to the semifinals of the US Open in 1991. It focuses most on the Patrick McEnroe and Aaron Krickstein matches, but also has great insights to the Paul Haarhuis and Jim Courier match-ups.

There are cinematic elements that take this film to another level from the edit (how it humorously illustrates certain perceived notions), the music that underscores the emotions of the film beautifully and the persistent flow. Furthermore, as you might expect from a film crowded with former players, analysts and writers there are great insights for the fan of the game and the layman alike; as well as some illuminating nuances of tennis explained that differentiate it from other sports.

This is What They Want, much like Connors’ improbable run that year, is quite nearly immaculate.

10/10