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

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5 Topics 30 for 30 Should Cover and the Next Slate

As I recently noted in my recent, I was glad to finally take the plunge into the Nine for IX series of docs. Aside from the online shorts I have been a very loyal devotee of the series owing both to my love of sports and my need to see more documentaries.

As this new slate shows there are a few titles where it’s about time the topic got covered like No Mas and Tonya and Nancy and some that should be eye-opening like the film on Eddie Aiku.

However, the world of sports filled with intriguing stories both off-the-field and on. Here are a few that came to mind as worthy subjects:

1. Danny Almonte

Danny Almonte

There are a few reasons I bring this topic up, none of them have to do with Almonte’s semi-pro career though. I think Little Big Men adequately covered the fact that Little League success doesn’t necessarily translate to the next level where fields match professional dimensions. However, this scandal did have a significant impact, not only on that tournament, but I feel it impacted a few to come. Furthermore, it changed, based on my knowledge, how Little League has handled some of these incidents since then. Most notably the Ugandan team’s visa issues a few years back. The media spin forces you to read between the lines to spot eligibility concerns, and when those facts came out they were consciously buried.

2. The 1994 MLB Strike

1994-mlb-players-strike

Well before all the NHL’s labor woes baseball took a huge backslide due to this strike. Its impact was a decline in popularity (only revitalized by a now-tainted era), a franchise’s eventual relocation and more. The fact that a stand-alone World Series was considered would only be one intriguing aspect of the story.

3. Colombia 86ed

El Bogotazan

If you look at the Wikipedia article on the 1986 World Cup, eventually hosted by Mexico, it glosses over the issues that lead Colombia to resign its bid four years prior to the actual tournament. It would also be enlightening to learn about the replacement process that led to Mexico being awarded its second tournament in 16 years. A very short span when you consider that other soccer powers (Brazil and England to name just two) have had to wait in excess of 50 years for a second chance. With a rise in the popularity of soccer this story would have an audience and it could be one that is layered.

4. 222-0

Scoreboard-Georgia-Tech-Cumberland

Maybe this is just a pipe dream that I’m better off submitting to Ken Burns, but, perhaps the single most fascinating scoreline I ever saw was this Georgia Tech dismantling of Cumberland in 1916. I first learned of it in the Guinness Book of World Records when I was young. I’m also glad to know I’m not alone in being fascinated by it as there has been a book written on the subject which could be the starting point.

5. 1996 Olympic Park Bombing

Olympic Explosion (CNN)

There are actually a few American off-the-field Olympic tales that could be told. I also considered the tale of the Salt Lake City bid scandal. However, this now-often-overlooked act seems like it’d be more relevant fodder for a documentary treatment.

Mini-Review Round-Up July 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.

Into the White

Into the White (2012, Magnolia Releasing)

Here’s another case where I had a little inadvertent crossover between months. I saw this film towards the end of June and included it in the BAM Considerations there, then I stalled on writing the review until now so it kicks off July.

This film does a few things that are a little out of the norm that I feel work for it every well: first, though it is a wartime tale it’s not really concerned with battle sequences, but rather with human nature and survival. Two World War II fighter planes, one British and one German, are downed in Norway. The crews of both find refuge in the same abandoned hunting cabin and seek to survive the harsh winter. Second, while there is some of the expected banter, power struggles and a effective chamber drama setpieces; the film is the latest in a gray-area treatment of World War II inasmuch as it tell not a black-and-white tale but a more involved human character study and psychological approach to those involved. In short, these are people, not types.

With a common goal of survival this film studies its individual characters both on their own and in relation to one another. Eventually façade come down and they are able to see each other as individuals. One of the pitfalls of a tale like this is that there could be the danger of going too far in the other direction. Things end too well and they get too chummy. The film walks that tightrope well. The performances all around are great by the five central figures particular standouts being Florian Lukas, David Kross and Rupert Grint.

7/10

A Place at the Table

A Place at the Table (2012, Magnolia Pictures)

When one discusses hunger in America there are a lot of seemingly disparate facts that need to be connected so that the roots of the problem are readily understood to all. When No Kid Hungry and other similar charities started to have more of a national presence the dots weren’t quite connecting. That’s not meant to downplay the quality of filmmaking here to one similar to a PSA. I merely mention that to illustrate that some issues have enough layers such that a film such as this one is a necessity. The economic restraints of having and applying for food stamps; concepts such as food deserts, food insecurity; the budgeting of school lunches; the link between poverty and obesity; the dated structure of food subsidies; are all things that cannot quickly be discussed and this film does well to correlate these facts and paint a picture.

However, the film is issue-centric only when needed. As much as it can, it dramatizes these political issues with tales of actual people that personify certain struggles. Thus, the issues are brought home more so than they would be otherwise. It’s yet another documentary that tackles a dangerously large scope but it does fairly well to rein in all the contributing factors. Any who see it will be made more aware and it will likely spur action by many.

8/10

The Iran Job

The Iran Job (2012, Film Movement)

This is a film that very interestingly finds a back door into being a precursor to the Arab Spring movements and a testimonial about how women in the Middle East feel about their current situation. You embark on a film expecting a fish-out-of-water tale about an American basketball player going overseas to earn a living. You get that and the basketball angle, but slowly as he’s there he makes friends. While he wisely tries to stay away from politics as much as he can knowing people starts to bring insights into the state of affairs. There is always a political undercurrent with the election of Barack Obama near the beginning of the film and the controversial Iranian elections coming towards the end.

The Iran Job has a balancing act to pull off and it does so fairly well. It’s a prime example of a documentary going where the footage starts to lead it. Surely, the film may have started out with only aspirations of political undercurrents, ones that may have been shoehorned in had events not conspired otherwise, alas they did and the film is better for it.

7/10

The Brass Teapot

The Brass Teapot (2013, Magnolia Releasing)

This is a film that tells a quirky, fairly originally-spun tale about unlimited riches being made available to a young, struggling couple and the toll that takes on their life. As funny as the film manages to be for a while, it does start to lose its bearings as it moves on. The rules seemingly change on a whim and it builds to a chaotic yet fairly anticlimactic finale.

The film has its moments and its laughs as well as good performances but it ultimately doesn’t keep itself in check and loses its chance to be a quirky charmer as it goes off the deep end.

5/10

Bad Kids Go to Hell

Bad Kids Go to Hell (2012, Phase 4)

This is a film, which in a similar vein to Detention you can’t knock because it’s not trying, but rather it’s the method in which the attempt is made where its issues come to play, and there are several. Namely one persistent issue that comes to the for is that the film never truly justifies my engaging in the stories or the characters. This isn’t a generic likability complaint, the film quite firmly states it’s not going to be a warm-and-fuzzy detention tale like The Breakfast Club (Though parts definitely echo it). However, the characters do have skeletons in their closets that are discussed, and while none of them are ever likable or well-drawn, they’re mostly uninteresting too.

It’s a film that goes down a rabbit hole, and flips the script on you a few times, but each concussant shift in the story makes it a more frustrating journey. It’s built on a flimsy pretext that gets eschewed, questioned, left vague, then gives us rather ridiculous renditions for the detainees punishment and a tangled, overly-contrived web that unravels itself out of the horror genre the film seems to be taking you into the whole time.

However, it is mainly the decisions, execution, casting, performances, characters and writing that are the culprits here and not the genre it plays in. The movie starts out poorly and spirals ever downward from there; the twists only serving to frustrate you as you are still not heading back in a desirable direction.

2/10

Venus and Serena

Venus and Serena (2012, Magnolia Releasing)

Whenever you’re dealing with a documentary about current athletes there is always a undercurrent of concern about the PR spin or publicity angle of the piece. However, Venus and Serena does manage to a bit more even-handed than anticipated in three notable instances once about an early coaching stint and two times about Serena’s more noteworthy on court outbursts. What is also fortunate is that the film was allowed to be a more human tale as for the most part it chronicled the 2011 season where they both dealt with their share of injuries so the film goes back and forth between the rehab process and personal information and their path to that point.

While the film does lack a bit in narrative thrust, it is a good portrait of their lives and career to that point.

6/10

La Sirga

La Sirga (2012, Film Movement)

This is a film where much happens beneath the surface. It’s a narrative wherein we also have few, if any, assurances of what occurred prior to the film beginning and what occurs after it is completed. In fact, what can be considered the climactic moment of the film isn’t visible, but rather takes place behind a closed door. There isn’t too much said, but what is said bears thinking about and reading between the lines; as nothing jumps out and screams “Hey, this is important!”

That’s not to say the film isn’t engaging, or that conflict is absent. It’s just that it’s not as engaging as it might be and the conflict is highly internalized. The cinematography of the film is quite spectacular especially in terms of framing. It features some of the most exacting frames I’ve seen since Found Memories. It’s definitely a film worth viewing and considering.

7/10

Teen Beach Movie

Teen Beach Movie (2013, Disney Channel)

I’ve discussed previously when DCOMs come up that all films are judged on their own and not in comparison to one other kinds of films. Having got that out of the way, save for a few issues, I was taken aback by Teen Beach Movie; inasmuch as there’s one hysterically funny song/commentary on the nature of the musical. Also enjoyable is the fact that it’s a tongue-in-cheek homage to teen subculture cinema of the ’60s spun forward to the present.

First and foremost among the issues is that you have to completely suspend disbelief and go with the concept that a surfboard with magic powers transports the leads into the film they’re stuck in. While it’s the need of the characters that gets it to act, but it’s not as mysterious or as clear as it could be. The second large one was the occasional temporal breaks in dialogue the film-within-film characters had saying things that didn’t feel true to their period.

However, it establishes early what the conflict that arises between the heroes is and there is a clarity throughout that they need to find a way out of the situation. Slowly, almost without they or us noticing, there are consequences of being stuck in the film. It’s less bombastically self-important than other DCOMs with even sillier premises and ultimately it comes back to the main characters and not the parody or the revisionist look at gender roles in the sixties. It’s far funnier and more enjoyable than it likely has any business being.

7/10

Paradise: Love

Paradise: Love (2012, Strand Releasing)

In a very naturalistic and non-sensationalist way Paradise: Love seeks to explore the sex tourism trade. It does so through the guise (and eyes) of a woman who is new to such things. She goes from Austria to Kenya in search of a new experience. Being new and not-yet-jaded she runs the gamut from being shy; falling for lies; falling in love; trying to deal with it coolly, heartlessly and feeling regret.

Where the film finds its difficulties is that it plays things so close to the vest, in a very authentic seeming way, at times, in spite of a great lead performance by Margarete Tiesel, it’s at times hard to decipher if she’s willingly being duped or just duped. The pace suffers a bit through act two despite being usually engaging.

The conclusion feels proper and earned but the climactic sequence, a birthday rent boy party attended by all her “friends” achieves what it seems to want (an uncomfortable ambivalence and tenuous balance between expose and exploitation), but it, too, lingers well after its point has been made.

This is one of the films where it’s about the journey not the destination. It is in the journey where it issues lie.

6/10

Post Tenebras Lux

Post Tenebras Lux (2013, Strand Releasing)

At some point while watching Post Tenebras Lux I paused to make sure I had an a correct understanding of what the title meant. I knew it was Latin, I had a notion of each individual word, but wanted to make sure that in context it meant “After Darkness, Light.”

Slowly after the film was complete I had a theory about what it was I had read as I crossed the terrain. In a fashion not dissimilar to when I first saw Holy Motors, where it has sections that I had to ferret out rather than an ultimate goal, or feeling; here it was a bit of both that needed to be ferreted out simultaneously. I believe I have those answers now. However, the overriding point of a film in the style of Post Tenebras Lux is not ultimately what is its “truth,” but how it weaves its mysterious web, what an audience’s level of engagement is and if you find a connection to it.

It’s almost disappointing to describe it in such an alchemical way, but what it boils down to is do its ellipses, its seeming impenetrability, repel or compel you; frustrate or fascinate; goad or gratify. In the end, I enjoyed the grapple more than I fought with it. I enjoyed parsing scenes, sequences and the whole based on what I perceived to be the perspective; whether I felt it reality or hallucination; past, present or future.

The impact I felt from it may not have been as big as the aforementioned Holy Motors, but it is quite nearly as fascinating, in a quieter, more introspective (just whose introspection it is, is debatable) rumination on life, culture and humanity.

8/10

Stoker

Stoker (2013, Fox Searchlight)

This is one of those films that grabs you from the first frame and scarcely ceases long enough to let go. It’s the kind of film that peels back layers of mystery and intrigue, slowly at first, but, then it escalates them until you find yourself in a delirious whirl of rapt tension and drama. All the while, as it slowly sets the foundation of the most basic facts, it’s setting up reveals of more precisely sinister revelations of motivation and past incidents.

The film is technically constructed to match this narrative drive employing montages, cross-cutting sequences, frames and L-cuts (cuts where audio lingers after a scene, or starts before an accompanying visual) to link what are at first seemingly disconnected events.

Stoker builds mystery regarding enough elements of its story, while keeping things simple, such that it easily achieves misdirection from one unanswered riddle to another. Thus, answers you had half-formed are forgotten briefly as you puzzle something else and when you’re confronted with confirmation of a fact it lands with the desired impact, whether you intuited the information or not.

Practically everything regarding Stoker is precise and stylized to the utmost for impact, yet scarcely ever feels forced when you consider all the pieces in the whole. It’s a mesmerizing portrait that is sure to rank among the best of the year.

10/10

The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia

The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia (2013, LionsGate)

I nearly did a commentary on the rise of, and you may even consider it to be a re-emergence; of nonsensical, paradoxical film titles such as this one. Essentially, I made peace with this silly title by likening it to Halloween III. The fact that a disconnected narrative was lumped into a series should not influence my opinion of the title. Sadly, this film is not quite of the caliber of Season of the Witch.

While I can’t knock it entirely, I can’t say I came away from it liking it. What the film does have going for it are the occasional good scare and an interesting mythology and themes it plays upon. Southern gothic tales seem like they’re the latest milieu ripe for the picking in horror, and this film at least starts the conversation. However, the build is a bit staggered such that the climax is drained of some of its tension by flashing back to fill in blanks that have already mostly been filled in by us being allowed time to reflect.

Unnecessary doubt can always be a bothersome aspect in horror and this film eschews most of that and almost reverses it to be too willing to believe visions, but it works. Thus, there’s not quite balance: there’s a doubter you know is in denial, a fairly silent skeptic and a vocal prodder. Ultimately it is the construction of the myth from near the mid-point in act two into act three which cause issues, and could very well be an editing issue as opposed to a writing one.

It’s not a film I would not be averse to revisiting, and it doesn’t feel like a wasted experience, but also doesn’t feel like it’s quite up to what it could’ve achieved. A lot of what does buoy it is the performances of mother and daughter, Abigail Spencer and Emily Alyn Lind.

5/10

Let Them Wear Towels

Let Them Wear Towels (2013, ESPN Films)

I have been a bit behind but have wanted to start up on the Nine for IX series by ESPN Films. What Nine for IX is is a companion series of documentaries to ESPN’s acclaimed 30 for 30 series. The difference in the two is that this series of films is that this series started to commemorate the passing of title IX, which assured equality of opportunity between the sexes in college sports; and therefore, focuses on stories about female athletes or women in sports in general.

The first tale I took in was the corollary-to-women’s-liberation tale of the struggle for female sports writers to be allowed into pro locker rooms so that they could do their jobs. In factual terms it’s an interesting, incisive survey of the battle in three of the major sports leagues in the US (MLB, NFL and NHL). The NBA is conspicuously absent and why that is so is never mentioned. Another thing is that while it’s effective didactically it’s not as strong dramatically. Its briskness absolves its slightly repetitive nature. It’s an important story that needed telling and deserved being told in a somewhat more compelling way.

6/10

The Deflowering of Eva Van End

The Deflowering of Eva Van End (2012, Film Movement)

I’ve discussed the fact that I quite enjoy the Film Movement film-of-the-month club. One aspect I’ve mentioned less frequently than the included short films on each DVD release, is the fact that on the inside cover there is usually a statement about the film from both the company and the director of the film. I make it a point to not read either until after I’m done watching the feature. The reason I mention that is because what struck me from the first frame is what Eva’s (Vivian Dierickx) look, her persona; reminded me of was Dawn Wiener, the protagonist of Todd Solondz’s Welcome to the Dollhouse, and as the opening scene played out that notion was reinforced. Those sentiments were echoed in the statement. However, I agree this is its own film because it’s not a myopic view of a world but rather a portrait of an entire family.

Eva is our entry into their world. She gives us our first glimpse of them and thus we see them in a very broad stroke. As Veit (Rafael Gareisen), the German exchange student who turns their world upside down, changes their behavior we learn about them, what their insecurities were and what they try to do to take control of an alter their lives.

It’s a very funny film in both its exaggerated renditions of reality, but also a very real one with dramatic consequences. The characters progress but are not perfect; they remain flawed in the end, but better for the experience. Veit could be the only one who walks through it unchanged. He is what he always is, it’s what the family projects him to be that alters.

Through artful cinematography, editorial finesse and music that enchantingly encapsulates this odd world, there are well-executed tonal shifts and visceral impact that far overcome any minor quibbles I may have. The Deflowering of Eva Van End is a film that paints the portrait of a family far more fully than its title suggest and is recommended viewing if you see it about.

9/10

56 Up

56 Up (2012, First Run Features)

It’s a bit difficult to discuss 56 Up in a vacuum. Most of the reason behind that is that it is the 8th installment in a series that ought not be viewed in before the prior films. Starting on the UK’s Granada Television in 1964 the series has revisited its subject every seven years. Starting under director Paul Almond it has since been taken over by renowned director Michael Apted.

As this film touches on, it seems the initial these of the series stated first that the child at seven was a forerunner of the adult, but the more overriding theme of the initial installment was a commentary on the class society in England. I re-introduce the initial concepts because they are touched on by the subjects anew. In fact, of all prior installments this is without question the film that most fully, totally and maturely (with respect to the subjects’ comments) deals with the nature of the series both in terms of the class question and in terms of the odd life of its own that the series has developed over the years, the paradoxical attachment that some subjects have with it no matter how much they may dislike it.

As a follow-up to 49 Up, it’s quite the impressive installment. As always, it’s next to impossible to predict the changes life brings to people, but on the filmmaking end it has perhaps the best order and compartmentalization of subjects yet.

Released in the UK last year it remains to be seen if Apted and the “cast,” a few of whom come and go (look out for a surprising return here),will be back in 2019 with 63 Up, but one can only hope. If only conception, it’s perhaps the most fascinating long-term documentary project in history. However, many of the installments are about as good as documentaries get. I may take a bit of time to see just how this one stacks up.

8/10

Hayride

Hayride (2012, Uncork'd Entertainment)

About the only thing Hayride does in something akin to a proper fashion is create a legend. However, that legend is lodged a bit too deep into the story, nearly usurped by others and leads up to quite a clunker of a climax.

The film spends a bit of time with its characters, which is fine as an isolated fact, but it’s less desirable when they are so simply drawn and so unconvincingly interpreted. There is a supposed hayride attraction that is incredibly poorly staged in both filmic and hayride terms. Lastly, there is the open ending which is not only expected but is quite nearly an anti-jolt. There are very small patches that show promise, but overall it’s quite a wasted effort.

2/10

No Limits

No Limits (2012, ESPN Films)

Here is the second Nine for IX title that I got to in the course of the month, you can find the other above. This film deals both with a sport and an event that I had no familiarity with. In the case of some documentaries that could be a hinderance, in the case of this film it is most certainly not.

The precepts of no limits free-driving are simply told enough and the film dramatically, both through recounting of facts, various interviews and use of split-screens and incredibly harrowing footage that audiences do need to be warned of, recreates events such that as a film it overcomes the lack of cooperation in interviews by the key figure in question.

No Limits conveys this terribly tragic event in jaw-clenching fashion, is not recommended for the feint of heart or weak of stomach, but is an excellent documentary nonetheless.

10/10

The Depraved

The Depraved (2011, Uncork'd Entertainment)

Using the concept of urban explorers this film follows five tourists who seek to look about the tunnels underneath Berlin. It’s hard to say what’s most interesting about this film whether it be the proper execution of an extreme tourism concept that The Chernobyl Diaries failed with, or the fact that it combines in a horror film both tropes of Nazi Germany and the Cold War mindset of postbellum Germany.

The film not only has a strong sense of locale and finds one with tremendous visual appeal but there are also some brilliant practical effects work and strong performances all around, most especially by Nick Eversman and Klaus Stiglmeier.

8/10

Ginger & Rosa

Ginger & Rosa (2012, A24)

One cannot summarily dismiss this film if only for the performances of Elle Fanning and Alice Englert if nothing else. It starts out on a very visual note, it doesn’t quite persist in that regard. In many ways many of its failings can be perceived through the lens of persisting: persisting in an overly-minimal tale and lacking persistence in narrative progression.

The first act seems most concerned with establishing character, the second with slowly unraveling the superficial and actual causes of angst that Ginger feels. This all builds to very subdued if real climax. It’s a climax that could be earned if there was sufficient forward momentum prior, but there is not.

5/10

Byzantium

Byzantium (2013, IFC Films)

If one were to just look at the surface of Byzantium you might think it rings a bit too familiar as compared to other vampire-related films of recent vintage. However, when you consider the fact that this film has Neil Jordan at the helm, or if you just simply watch it then you see that surface similarities are merely what the name suggests: superficial. For what Byzantium has in spades are what other vampire narratives all too often lack: backstory, character, emotion, depth, conflict and humanity.

To put it quite simply, the only thing Byzantium does that is a little tiresome is something that’s true to a teenage character, it’s that it rehashes the same conflict over a few times without true progression of the struggle. However, it does move forward and unravel more of the web that these characters find themselves in.

The film is spearheaded by another brilliant turn by Saoirse Ronan and by far the best performance I’ve seen by Gemma Arterton to date. It’s another film that epitomizes the fact that drama is the foundation of all other genres and is intrinsic to building a good horror tale, and this is a great one.

9/10

Come Out and Play

Come Out and Play (2012, Cinedigm/Cinetic)

Whenever possible I try to give those who may be reading these reviews a frame of reference of where I’m coming from with a particular title. That can in large part become relevant when one discusses a remake. I believe I viewed Who Can Kill a Child? last year and I was not a fan in the slightest. When dealing with a remake, you want to try to have a clean slate, but I realize this can be difficult as certain things are expected. I liked this version just marginally and here’s why:

The biggest faults the film has are in the beginning and the end, there’s far too much unspoken and not enough urgency as the weird situations start to present themselves. I’ve not read the book, but so far as I’m concerned there’s not yet the perfect rendition of this tale, regardless of how faithful each may or may not be to the book.

As the film progresses further from the overly-coy beginning, it does start to address some concerns, seriously up the stakes and after some missteps in the suspense department early playing that up. The score is consistently effective, and the all-too-ghostly children start to have presence, a bit of information to them, which makes them more dangerous, and in turn makes the audience engage further. It creates some mystery and makes you interpret events after a minimal mandatory amount of information is handed out.

Where I feel the film could’ve further excelled was at the very, very end. However, what it manages to do after being a fairly ineffectual carbon copy elevates it oh-so-slightly from its predecessor.

6/10

Mini-Review Round-Up: October 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 will get full reviews, or another kind of write-up as per my recent shift in focus.

For a guide to what scores mean go here.

9.79*

ESPN’s 30 for 30 is back, and I’m glad. More than ever it seems like the landscape of sports fandom and coverage is more reactionary and instantaneous. We’ve almost devolved to the point where we’re immune to revisionism because there is less and less focus on the past, history and progression of certain sports. Not to sound overly dire or pessimistic, but sometimes perception is reality. However, what the ESPN Films documentary series is goes back and finds milestones, overlooked stories and traces the trajectory of the events, themes and trends involved.

Therefore, 9.79* about Ben Johnson’s disqualification after winning gold with a record-shattering time in 1988 Seoul Olympics starts by tracking each of the finalists (some more than others) following the events that lead to that fateful day and the fall out since. It’s not a story told in precise chronology, there are jumps and clearly new interview footage will reflect the past, but it tracks the phenomenon of doping rather well, exposes the testing issues of the time and leaves a lot of great tidbits dangling for your interpretation. One of the more astounding one is ones that gets hinted at early then dropped like a hot potato until very late in the film. In a way, it makes the capping of the story even more potent. There are quite a few players in the game here. My interpretation is that it’s all a moral quagmire when in this era doping was rampant, harder to prove and everyone is seemingly guilty of something. It makes the situation fascinating almost like a “sports noir” tale. No one’s angel, but you fall on one side of the issue or another, and maybe even side with one camp or another on certain claims.

Not only is it an event that I wanted to be more informed about (and now I am) but Daniel Gordon does great work reconstructing the narrative from an impartial place and bringing forth all the opinions and information known and presenting it in a compelling and dramatic way.

9/10

Girl vs. Monster

For a review of Girl vs. Monster please go here.

Excision

What is most successful about Excision is that it is a study in character from the inside out. Which is to say that the fantasy/daydream segments in this film may be too numerous, but the purpose they do serve is to show how the inner-monologue of a disturbed, delusional character come to the fore and affect her everyday life. There are a few dichotomous splits in character: a struggle between adoration and mutilation (both their own versions of body worship), a fight against authority, a struggle between a libertine attitude and a theistic construct. Perhaps, what’s most intriguing about Excision is watching the journey, granted I did figure where the journey would end at some point, but it seems like a basic virginity plot with a very socially awkward lead, but as it progresses you see so much more is going on here. Through all the serious and horrific observations you make there are also some laughs to be had, and many great performances notably AnnaLynne McCord, Traci Lords, Roger Bart, Ariel Winter and Jeremy Sumpter.

8/10

Magic Silver and Magic Silver 2

Without going into a full rehash of recent guest post that I did, what I will say on a wider scale with relation to the Magic Silver films is that it’s prime example of what’s great about Netflix. Here you have two recent and rather popular Norwegian films that I had heretofore not heard of. Physical home video distribution of these titles in North America is a riskier, more expensive proposition so the streaming solution is perfect and brings these films to a wider audience.

As for the films, what drew me to the films at first was the 1980s-like illustrated approach to the artwork. Sure enough, the first film does have that feel, with some 21st Century technique thrown in. The film excels in virtually every level of production and maximizes the values it can get for whatever the budget is.

It’s a fantastical tale about how gnomes can control the weather and their life in a mountain. The sets of the inside of the mountain in the first film are simply but beautifully done and gives everyone just enough room. In the sequel the expanded space is not maximized. Similar to the costuming which in the first film is simple but effective, but in the second gets a bit more intricate and somehow doesn’t work as well. However, the art direction in both is quite good.

The story, however, again more so in the first film than the second, introduces the rules of this world wisely, as we hear it being told to the children of the village. It’s a thin but effective veil on the exposition, and some of the rules are really fascinating dramatically as they have intriguing consequences.

Both films are quite good, but the difference being that the first film has much higher stakes. Not only is the protagonist, Bluerose, coming to grips with overcoming her own fears, she must also learn the consequences of her actions, learn to assume responsibility, deal with mortality and try to do what is best for all concerned; a test of true leadership. Making this an even more intriguing dynamic is the fact that her struggles as princess are mirrored by a child king in the other clan of gnomes. There’s an innocent, subtly played romantic interest, but they both in working together learn how they can face up to their newfound responsibilties.

In these films I expected good escapist fun, what caught me most off guard about the first film was the gravitas of it, how involved and moved I would be by the narrative, and how compelling the performances of the entire cast especially Ane Viola Semb and Johan Tinus Lindgren. The best fantasy tales go to a very real place emotionally, when they are character-driven. When plot-drives a bit too much it’s harder to reach that heightened level. So a film like the former can be fun (read the sequel) but is ultimately disposable. Whereas, the film that finds universal truths in its fantastic settings, and also connects across cultural boundaries is truly special.

One more note about the follow-up film, it is fun and intriguing for randomly deciding to have four musical numbers. The first caught me totally by surprise but the next three are better, and the last one is a great Christmas-themed song that also highlights the climate change subtext of the story.

Very fun and different movies both that lend themselves to consecutive viewings like I had.

10/10 and 6/10

There’s No Place Like Home

ESPN’s 30 for 30 continued last week with There’s No Place Like Home. Here’s another case whereupon seeing the synopsis of the film I was not so interested, but after having viewed the film it’s more effective than anticipated.

The film tells the tale of Josh Swade, a lifelong Kansas Jayhawk fanatic, who organized a grassroots effort to try and win the original rules of basketball as written by James Naismith. When reading the narrative the piece I was missing, either from ignorance or faulty memory, was that Naismith shortly posting these rules in a Massachusetts YCMA took the game to Kansas and started the Basketball program at Kansas. He was at the University for four plus decades after that. So, yes, Kansas has, and had, a very rightful claim to ownership that I was unaware of.

Another moment of enlightenment was the underscoring of the fact was that basketball, as opposed to other sports which became formalized after years of play, was very much created fairly spontaneously. I was always a rules nerd as a kid, and gaining access to rule books was a big deal, and writing down rules to created games was something I’d partake in. Therefore, the provenance of the document also interested me.

However, that’s all information gleaned, which is valuable but not the be all and end all. What’s truly most interesting in this film is that it takes perhaps the most interesting avenue in telling the film. It takes the perspective of a superfan who has the unmatched, undying passion for his team and has him be the mouthpiece, the spokesman for what he knows is something right but hasn’t the means to accomplish: acquisition of the rules. Through sheer will and determination he does get in contact with those who have the connections and the financial means, and it is impressive to see the seemingly spontaneous outpouring of similar emotions from members of the KU family.

There are some occurrences that would’ve been great to see on camera (like the apparent defeat faced), but other portions that seem rather extraneous do come back into play. The film does feel like it could’ve been tightened a bit, however, it builds the personal connection well and gets a lot of tension and drama out of the auction day even though the outcome is somewhat foreseeable.

All in all, it’s a very good dramatic rendering of the situation, and I always like to see the bump where the filmmakers discuss the process, their inspiration, etc. and this one is perhaps the best I’ve seen.

8/10

Sexual Chronicles of a French Family

I discovered that this film existed through Instant Watcher, more specifically their Twitter. It is a website that it perhaps the best source for what’s new to stream on Netflix. I was not surprised to see that this film is a popular streaming choice. The title is designed to intrigue and get people watching. Based on the fact that it’s a French film, and the totality of the synopsis, I expected more scenes like the one between the matriarch of the household and the grandfather. So, my expectation of more of a chamber drama was mislaid, OK. I won’t, and can’t, penalize it for that. What I can penalize it for is that for as short as it is, the insightful, charming, touching, intelligent scenes are few and far between. Instead, you get many love scenes which are protracted and only add minimally, sometimes not at all, to the story. The intention of the film is one I understand and respect, and it is successful in a few of its attempts, but ultimately it left me wanting and a bit bored.

5/10

The Monitor

I will freely admit that Noomi Rapace along with the fact that this film is a subdued Swedish horror film were both selling points. I saw The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series in rapid succession and became quite an admirer of hers rather quickly. Sadly, elevating her global star status was just one of the many failings of Prometheus.

What is perhaps most surprising about The Monitor is not that it reveals twists, and character in wonderfully indirect, yet clear, ways; but that what would be the biggest twist in most films is one you become fairly certain of early on, and I was actively thinking and hoping that “There’s gotta be another one,” and sure enough there are plenty both big and small.

The Monitor is a very interestedly handled narrative that is a great character study not only of the protagonist but of her newfound friend Helge, played wonderfully by Kristoffer Joner.

I watched this on Amazon Prime, but any way you can watch this film would be good.

9/10

Mini-Review Round-Up March 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.

The Snowtown Murders

Lucas Pittaway and Bob Adriaens in The Snowtown Murders (IFC Films)

Note: Potential spoiler below. The ending is discussed but not in detail.

Next to nothing in this film works, that’s just the sad fact. I will discuss them with as much brevity as humanly possible and brevity would’ve helped this film. Typically when I’m discussing pace it refers to certain scenes and shots being truncated and rendered more quickly to allow the totality of the film to flow better in this film the first issue you have is that there are scenes of little to no narrative necessity or consequence that not only are allowed to occur but at times repeat themselves (see the bull sessions about stomping out pedophiles).

Characters are very poorly introduced and the population of the tale is too large. Some of the struggles of this film can be attributed to attempting to remain true to the real-life story upon which its based but not excused. A huge cadre combined with indirectly acquired information and at times implied incidents is not an easy road map to success. The protagonist in the tale is a bit too passive such that it would’ve almost been better told from a different perspective especially since it became clear who the perpetrator would be though the film took a while to formally announce it. The score designed to be grating ends up being just annoying. The film also seems to show where it ought not and have restraint where it ought not. This tact adds importance to the MacGuffin and exacerbates the delusional vigilante angle that’s really just a cover for psychosis. Granted that’s important to convey but once demonstrated that needn’t be reinforced.

The film despite all its massive flaws still keeps on a decent trajectory in terms of narrative build but then meanders irrevocably when it should be building towards some sort of concrete conclusion but instead decides it’s shown us enough horrors such that it’s decided enough is enough and rather than finding an artistic way to convey the deserved downfall of these people they’ll just give us the information in cards. This is information I could’ve acquired in a web search but I’d have preferred to have seen it now that my time’s already been wasted. Finish the job! Give me the epilogue visually. It’s not quite the slap in the face that the end of The Devil Inside is but considering the start this one had the totality may have been worse.

Furthermore, as if that wasn’t bad enough, I really needed convincing in this film and I didn’t get anything to sway me. I thought of This is England while watching this film which has perhaps an even more vile ‘charismatic antagonist’ but both in writing and performance is far more believable as someone who would be followed perhaps even against one’s will. It seems that things occur and are shown here just because they actually happened and no thought was given to narrative propriety and almost seems deliberately sensationalistic at times and never interesting.

2/10

Amador

Magaly Solier and Celso Bugallo in Amador (Film Movement)

In last month’s post I wrote at length about the Film Movement Film of the Month Club so you can read that to get more insight on it. This film as opposed to the prior I have no ambivalence about whatsoever it is absolutely beautiful and brilliant, there’s an effortless grace and artistry to it all that permeates every frame. There are some astoundingly good cuts in thematic terms and a visual language throughout. Themes weave in and out of the story and never really leave, they illuminate a small truth that is part of a larger whole. All this aside with a perfect ending would be enough but then you have the performance of Magaly Solier. It is the first great performance by a female lead that I saw all year, it is captivating, layered and nuanced. Both in her expression and delivery she carries the film. A film which would’ve been good without all its craft is lifted to greatness by it. The premise is simple; a woman in need of work is hired to take care of a bedridden, dying old man. He dies as does her source of income, with the family away she tries to maintain the illusion that he’s alive. It’s a story that’s also a little more light and humorous than one might expect. There’s drama to be sure but it’s not as dour as all that. It truly is a great film and likely to be amongst my favorites of the year.

10/10

The Announcement

Magic Johnson (ESPN Films)

Last year there was a rash of ESPN films such that they all kind of canceled each other out in my year end awards, though they are usually very good. Now they are more sporadic and this one gets to standout. While I admit that these docs where I experienced the event as a spectator spark my interest more this one is more important and more meaningful than that bit of trivia. I, like America, was in the infancy of my understanding what HIV and AIDS were when Magic Johnson announced he was positive. Being a well-reared child I never fell into any erroneous or ignorant notions about how it spread but I still really understood little. This documentary frames the backdrop to Johnson’s announcement very well, and leaves it as a backdrop. It, surprisingly to me, involves Johnson as narrator and main interview subject. He is as candid as he needs to be and makes important points about how we must remain vigilant about prevention. I learned or was reminded of much and I was more moved by this film than any in the series so far. It is well worth watching.

10/10