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

Ole_Miss_vs_Tennessee_1969_(4233310964)

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: November 2012

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.

For a guide to what scores mean go here.

Ghosts of Ole Miss

If it were in anyway possible, it’d be interesting to examine this 30 for 30 entry in a vaccuum. The reason I say that is: as a film about the integration of Ole Miss with a unique subplot about the undefeated football team that played and was overshadowed by sociopolitical unrest on campus during that year, it’s intriguing. However, the film purports to examine the team and be a testament to the team, to memorialize the forgotten squad. While there are plenty of interviews with players about on campus events and quick chronicles of game events and results, the team becomes a subplot in a film supposedly mainly about them. The struggles of integrating the school ought not be overlooked, but when there’s little overlap between the tales aside from time and place structural balance becomes hard to find.

The film does very well to examine the cultural morass that many face, southerners in this case, that exists when you’re trying to balance pride, heritage and also acknowledging past failings and dark moments. Some of the voice over is very well-written and poetic in a way that seems unique to the south, as much as the music is lyrical and local. However, this personal connection also fights for time with the football team’s tale and the exposition of the events surrounding the integration. Ultimately, the film succeeds by giving you barely enough to get by on each angle, but it would’ve been better served by restructuring and/or delving further into each aspect.

6/10

Benji

It’s a method I generally try to avoid, but perhaps the best way to discuss Benji is via comparative analysis. After I had seen Benji what occurred to me is that there was some structural similarity to 9.79*, and that being that it is mainly a chronology of events (this one far more linear) but there is a late-in-the-game monkeywrench thrown into the mix. I will not expose details to preserve surprise, but the late revelation here only has one side telling the story period, not just on camera. Furthermore, the revelation, in my mind didn’t really shift the legal burden of blame.

Regardless, for the most part, this is an effectively rendered tale for the most part that reveals a mostly unknown personage now. The film does well to just present its case and not comment upon it. The only other issue it suffers from is that there is a slight lack of ebb and flow. There is a definitive rise-and-fall, but its crescendo and decrescendo. The rigidly linear nature of this tale hinders its efficacy some.

7/10

Off White Lies

I find myself commenting on a film’s subtlety quite often. Rather than sounding like a broken record I will expound on that. It’s one think to tell an intricate story without spoon-feeding an audience like say Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and another to tell a simple story in a straightforward way. However, to tell a simple story, subtly; jumping in medias res and making revelations indirectly rather than with overt exposition is quite a feat. As is often the case, it’s not necessarily the end destination that matters with a film, it’s the journey. With necessary information being delivered when absolutely necessary and without drawing attention to itself we are allowed instead to focus on the characters and how they interact. This is especially helpful when dealing with a father-daughter dynamic. We see how they interact and the why becomes more and more apparent as we learn more about them.

The story, such as it is, moves rather smoothly ends at an appropriate time and features good performances all around.

8/10

The Dynamiter

As I tweeted immediately after seeing The Dynamiter, it seems to be par for the course that every year there will be a Film Movement selection that will slowly, subtly work on me and leave me bawling nearly uncontrollably, and almost unbeknownst to myself, by the end. Last year’s film was A Screaming Man. What both films share in common is a simple tale of people with simple desires, facing seemingly mammoth obstacles to overcome and struggling mightily against them.

Yet, even that congratulatory paragraph doesn’t really do this film justice. For the magic this film weaves, it creates in a mere 73 minutes. It’s a running time so brisk you’d never imagine it’d have the power in its finale to sneak up on you, but it does.

In writing up any sort of reaction piece to a film, I am somewhat loathe to quote other works, be they literary or musical, to echo my sentiments. However, that’s really more a writer’s pride than anything because sometimes, with the really good films, they are more accurate. One such work is a spoiler so I’ll avoid it, leaving just one: this film does indeed seem to have “The Invisible Touch,” it takes control and slowly tears you apart.

It’s a film that’s deserving of a re-screening and a bigger write-up, but something tells me I’ll be writing about it again at the end of the year.

10/10

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a cautionary tale, in the best way possible, and part of why I love the year-end sprint to catch up on releases of the year. Towards the end of the year, I get a little less finicky about selections and just watch things, not just to be adventurous but admittedly to bolster the BAM qualifiers. This may all sound quite underwhelming but the impetus to see this film was really a personal recommendation.

I knew of the film but frankly the trailer and all other marketing elements didn’t sell the film. What looked at the outset a rather myopically comedic tale turns out to be, in reality, a wide-ranging inclusive, heart-warming, bittersweet, charming and funny film; in short, one of the more well-rounded experiences.

The character’s narrative threads which start out very disparate reminded me in some ways of Love, Actually but with more interweaving and less contrivance to get things linked up. There is a general emotional over-current that makes this true also, not just some similar cast members.

Through the natural functioning of the narrative there is ample room, which is taken full advantage of, for commentary on myriad topics that is never extraneous, which adds to the enjoyment of the film.

One thing I can applaud the marketing of the film for is that it did leave many of the surprises of this tale in tact, and if you take this journey you will definitely be rewarded.

10/10

Teddy Bear

Teddy Bear is a testament, not only to Film Movement’s Film of the Month Club and the bonuses they include on their DVDs but cinematic acclimatizing. What I mean by that is not necessarily that the packaging of a film, or the presentation thereof, can condition a viewer, but when you’re visiting a slightly different avenue of film a bit of an introduction can be beneficial.

My best and favorite professor in film school was Max Simkovitch. Not only was he an uncanny “bill builder” in terms of doubles and triples, but he also put you in the right frame of mind to absorb the film you were about to see. Is that to say I liked everything I screened in his classes? Not at all. However, it kept me in place where I would and continue to fight against making the film what I thought it ought to be, take it for what it was and judge it on its own merits.

How this relates back to Film Movement is that for the DVD of Teddy Bear they include two prior shorts by Mads Matthiesen an up-and-coming Danish filmmaker. In seeing these two shorts, one of which was the basis for the feature Teddy Bear, you definitely get a taste for his style and in the short Kim Kold shows flashes that, yes, he will convey the effective gentle giant needed for the narrative.

The feature is an effective tussle between mother-and-son, portrait of loner trying to break out of his shell and an underdog love story. The pace is imperfect later on, but the tale is always engaging, endearing and watchable, if not completely realized.

7/10

The Pact

This is the kind of movie that will be referred to as a slow burn. The slow burn in the horror genre, the gradual but consistent build-up, has become more popular as of late. However, like any technique or philosophy it is not inherently good or bad. What I believe is that if you’re going to take this approach you have to take the escalating events to a fairly wild and unpredictable place. The stakes and incidents continue to increase and just when you think you have the film pinned down it expands.

The films imperfections, barring a seemingly nonsensical title and a jolt-shock end shot, are mainly that early pace that makes it a tough tale to get into. The performances are inconsistent, but the story does just enough to buoy it. How much each individual enjoys the film will likely vary on his or her patience, and their embracing or rejecting of the twists.

6/10

A Chrismoose Carol

The review of this film can be found here.

ATM

I often discuss the merits of going into a film as a clean slate. I can’t say I went in 100% clean to this film, however, I don’t see that as a detriment here. I found this was streaming, saw it qualified as a 2012 release, and added it to my queue without further thought for a time. One tweet by a fellow Twitter compatriot who disliked it, didn’t give much away, but intrigued me enough to give it a play.

A few things struck me as odd as it pertained to ATM: the first of which is that it does hold interest and a fairly believable premise through a much larger portion of the film than I expected based on what I heard. While I will credit the film for its set-up and a certain degree of cleverness in it maniacal plan, the second oddity is that the most major twist I was way ahead of, and the resolution was one that doesn’t stand up to harsh scrutiny, and the length of the reveal allows you to scrutinize it. It reminds me a bit of Penumbra but with more annoyance and less impact.

This is also a film that inflated its running time to its detriment. It cut out of the closing credits at least three, if not four times, to additional montages hinting at more villainous plots. Such were the cutaways that it bloated the credits crawl (which were slow to begin with) to nine minutes. The film clocks in at exactly 90 minutes with it included. It wouldn’t have saved the film, but it is OK to run less than 90 minutes. It really is. Add to that a very slow reveal, and you have an end that doesn’t end long after the point where the film becomes completely asinine.

4/10

Home Alone: The Holiday Heist

Home Alone: Holiday Heist (2012, 20th Century Fox)

For my review of this film please go here.

I didn’t quite catch up to the backlog of November titles viewed, seeing as how I managed to get into an end of year viewing groove early. The titles that would’ve been here will appear in the December running post. All these lists also qualify films for the BAM Awards, which have many exciting dates in the month to come.