Rightwing Film Geek

Bad News Bears down the Bear


MIRACLE (Gavin O’Connor, USA, 2004, 6)

Do you believe in miracles … Yes!!! MIRACLES was actually a good movie in a genre that’s usually pretty dire (early-year Disney “Bad News Bears” template movie). I went with a work friend who is not the movie fan I am, but is much more of a hockey fan (he wore a Minnesota Wild jersey to the film); and we were both impressed.

The best thing about the film, the story of the 1980 US Olympic ice hockey team, is the hockey action sequences. To start with, all hail the casting director. The actors who played the US team looked like hockey players, both in terms of general build and gait, and in terms of none being pretty-boys, as opposed to guys who get crashed into boards or have 100 mph pucks reshape their facial features. Their nonstardom made them as anonymous as hockey players (I wouldn’t recognize Mats Sundin or Martin Brodeur if I saw them out of uniform, like I would Tim Duncan or Barry Bonds), and it also underlined one of the most amazing things about the 1980 gold-medal team and their victory over the invincible Soviet Union (um … I guess that’s a spoiler for those of my readers under the age of 20) — that the real-life team was made up of unknowns. And though they got the Wheaties box and all that, none of them went onto especially distinguished NHL careers, even coach Herb Brooks himself, the central character in MIRACLE.

I don’t *know* if the use of unknowns meant the filmmakers had looked to cast skaters or players first and actors second (as Stallone did when casting the opponent for ROCKY 3; he sought a tough, mean-looking guy whom he could train to act rather than an actor whom he’d have to train to fight). But for whatever reason, the game footage (all created anew … they don’t use archive images even for Al Michaels’ famous countdown) is very good and convincing. The actors are actually skating in the frame, and the camera gets on the ice along with them, and follows the action.

miracleskating.jpgOne of the things I hate about a lot of sports movies is that they never get the sport even passably right. Compare MIRACLE to something like BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM, where it was clear that director Gurinder Chadha didn’t even understand the game well enough to choreograph an actual scene of the sport or give any sense of a game’s flow. (I ‘loved’ the moment when the manager actually held up the score with his fingers after a goal, I guess to explain to those in the audience the intricate complications of soccer scoring.) Apart from the opening fantasy scene, there was not in BECKHAM a single moment of action, not even a shot, that was even marginally convincing. The keepers always dove the wrong way when the ball is kicked right at them, which looks good but has nothing to do with the game … like when a fighter’s head always snaps back vigorously and arms go flying every time he takes a punch to the head. The shots in BECKHAM were so short and the sequences so heavily edited, and with so much extraneous moving about [and helpfully obscuring in the foreground], that it seemed designed to hide the fact that BECKHAM’s actors had no chops as athletes. Not MIRACLE. Some of the individual moments *are* of the edited-together “he shoots, he scores” genre, but there were several shots that lasted long enough and they were framed sufficiently clearly that they resembled something like the flow of an actual hockey game. It felt like many lasted as long as 15 or 20 seconds, which doesn’t sound like much (and it isn’t, compared to the real thing, obviously), but compared to 3 or 4 seconds per shot, it *feels* so different in terms of verissimilute and “not cheating by editing.”

In addition, I wasn’t as bothered as I might have been by the sports-movie cliche of “Underdog David slays Goliath” (which is almost never the case; even when underdogs win, it’s usually “underdogs” at the same level, like the Marlins winning the World Series. Nothing like the raw talent gap as it was here). If ever there was a real-life sports contest that followed that template, it was this one. The Mike Tyson-Buster Douglas title fight is the only thing in my lifetime that comes close in terms of a sheer unexpected upset. And even there, nobody doubted that Douglas was a world-class fighter and a legit-contender in some abstract sense; it was just that Tyson was thought to be invincible. But at the same time, MIRACLE doesn’t go overboard. The team won because of strategy and hard work — as most teams do. There’s was a lot of the political backstory (the malaise speech, the second oil shock, Iran’s invasion of the US, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan all came in the previous 12 months) as there has to be. But it isn’t presented as the reason they won, but rather and more-reasonably the reason their victory mattered (thanks, Bilge) — a momentous sports victory as a lifting of national morale.

miraclerussell.jpgThe always-underestimated Kurt Russell is also terrific in the role of coach Brooks. He nails the Minnesota accent perfectly (as my Minnesota-born-friend pointed out), but also got something a little more elusive. There’s a certain taskmaster hardness in the coach’s persona — the sorta tight-jaw-and-cheeks look. It’s so contrary to Russell in real life that it surprised me more that he got it right — it’s like he’s chewing on bubble gum with the texture of rubber.

MIRACLE is not a great film — in fact if you go in with too-high or the wrong expectations, you might be disappointed. The score is overbombastic and redundant, underlining all the significant moments with what it imagines as Aaron Copeland grandeur. It doesn’t really go anywhere you don’t expect (obviously, it couldn’t, but still …) We also get another example of the Wife Complaining About Being Neglected At Home But Is In The Crowd For The Final Showdown. This role cannot be played because it is thoroughly cliche and dramatically redundant. And I will not mention the way the malaise speech was used on account of I think Josh still reads this blog (and congratulations bud).

February 19, 2004 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | 1 Comment

Mao, more than ever

maoposter.jpgMy friend Adam alerted me to this awesome film criticism site for people with a really ironic and ghoulish sense of humor. So naturally, I can’t take my eyes off the Maoist International Movement film site, and I have had hours of time-wasting fun.

I actually think we should keep a few Commies around, and put them in a theme park for display. This Maoist site, at which the critics are identified at most by code names, like MC-17 and PG-13, is a good step in that direction. It makes David Walsh of the World Socialist Web Site look sane. These Maoists are definitely worth a bookmark if you want the Chairman’s Revolutionary Nonrevisionist perspective on:

PATCH ADAMS: the plot points “agree [some] with the proletarian perspective of medicine. The bourgeoisie puts great emphasis on technical training and puts this above common sense and contact with the masses.”

HARRY POTTER AND THE CHAMBER OF SECRETS: I think they liked this one, because they acknowledge that it “deserves not to be banned under the dictatorship of the proletariat.” (I repeat: I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP.) Apparently, it shows the wizard school in a “crisis” situation where learning has to take place outside the context of the status quo system. Which Mao saw. And saw that it was Good.

TANK GIRL: On the down side, she “smokes, which is not MIM’s idea of good in a role model. Tank Girl does not have the advantage of Marxist science.” And “as an individualist Tank Girl’s class awareness appears limited and reactive.” But it gets better and is “overall objectively progressive. It is progressive because it is the story of wimmin and brown skinned persyns (“kangaroos”) fighting against monopoly capitalists.” It is all in all, “about the best culture were going to see under imperialism.” Maybe that means would prevent it from being banned under a dictatorship of the proletariat.

charliesdiaz.jpgCHARLIE’S ANGELS 2 and LARA CROFT, TOMB RAIDER 2: They “perpetuate gender oppression and inequality” by “pornographic portrayals of wimmin.” But not, not NOT from “some Christian purism or moral code.” No, no, no. But CHARLIE’S ANGELS 2 does have one redeeming facet. “In the end the evil Angel wasn’t put in therapy: they killed her, so at least Charlie’s Angels got that right.” Some Christian purism might be a good idea.

CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON: Close, but no cigar … um … uh … close but no communal proletarian rice bowl. It has empowered wimmin, but “aesthetics cannot be separated from political content.” Durn it. And since, the film “fails to deliver any good reason for the wimmin — or the men — to use their [athletic] skill,” I guess it’s onto the Little Red Bonfire.

Some of the reviews were almost coy, though. I was actually surprised it took the Undercover Revolutionary Reviewer as long as it did, the second-last sentence of a 1,000-word review, to get to the (obvious) point that BLACK HAWK DOWN‘s “perspective is reactionary.”

My favorite quote is probably this one, about THE FARM. “Angola was transformed from an old-style slave plantation into a modern day slave plantation (prison) after the Civil War.” I’d never before realized that “police are key weapons in Amerika’s imperialist war against its internal Black, Latino and Indigenous colonies” in the “Amerikkkan Lockdown.” At the end of the same review, it laments the number of people who came to a screening but didn’t sign up to overthrow the state, because they were too racist to associate with the African Diaspora figures being oppressed in Amerikkka.

hammersickle.jpgYou can’t make this stuff up. You wouldn’t think it would be possible to attack Noam Chomsky from the left, but these people manage. Did you know that in POWER AND TERROR: NOAM CHOMSKY IN OUR TIMES, Chomsky is a “cop out” on capitalism and “misleads his audience about the reality of historical activism” because he doesn’t tell people to fight for communism — “an alternative … that has been tested historically and proven superior to capitalism”? I did not know that. Or that even Jean-Luc Godard committed historical errors. His TOUT VA BIEN (starring Hanoi Jane Fonda) “was too much in the direction of economic demands by imperialist country workers — this despite the fact that Godard separated from social-democracy and revisionism while showing how the imperialists exploit the Third World for the benefit of themselves and their lackeys.”

I’m too unsurprised to really be disgusted by the fact that Maoists would not care for such revisionist running-dog films from “Capitalist China” as Zhang Yimou’s TO LIVE, Chen Kaige’s FAREWELL, MY CONCUBINE, and Tian Zhuangzhuang’s THE BLUE KITE. The Zhang “downplays the tremendous gains the Chinese people made under Maoist leadership.” The Chen film “Includes typical revisionist history depicting the Cultural Revolution as anarchic and destructive.” And the Tian doesn’t do enough to emphasize “the important advances made in the Cultural Revolution.” But it does show unintentionally how good the Cultural Revolution was in fighting bourgeois reactionary liberal ideas — yes, you read that right.

Stop laughing, people. This site is real. I think. Oh … and did you know that MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING “may have had some progressive value in feudal times… [but] it’s hard to see this film continuing to have value today.” Or that SCHINDLER’S LIST is a “fitting Amerikan eulogy to one benevolent capitalist who saved people by putting them to work in his factory.” I gotta stop right now. I could be writing in this mode forever.

Just a word to my 5.5 readers (half of David Morrison’s) … if I *ever* start sounding like a right-wing version of that site, just go ahead and shoot me. And cite this post in defense; I’m sure you’ll get off.

February 19, 2004 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Passionate paranoia

passiononesheet.jpgParanoiacs can still create justified enemies. THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST is hacking off a lot of journalists. Apparently professional critics are being stonewalled and generally aren’t being allowed to see the film until a couple of days before the Ash Wednesday opening.

I’ve said here before that I believe pro critics had their knives out for the film long ago, but the press agencies’ paranoia is generating (semi-justified) ill will that won’t make things better. Just because they dislike you doesn’t mean you can’t make it worse. And it’s not just film critics, it’s also religion writers. A while ago, I got this note from the religion writer at a conservative daily paper who is an orthodox Christian, much more inclined to sympathy for Mel over the ADL, about the difficulties she had. She was treated like the enemy. Here it is, reprinted with her permission:


You would not believe what I had to go through to do the 2 stories that ran last week. A Larry Ross’ folks (the press agency managing the Gibson film) gave me permission to sneak in – they even told me how to sign up and get access. They said any confidentiality agreements would not apply to me. So I told my bosses 2 weeks ago everything was all arranged. But when I arrived in Orlando on Wednesday, I found everything had changed. People had to have their hands stamped to get in (the mark of the beast as it were) and they had these draconian confidentiality agreements everyone had to sign. This included the Mel Gibson “interview” in front of 5,000 pastors a few hours before the film was shown. Nothing could be written on what he said and the ushers were told to eject anyone caught with a tape recorder. This was totally unexpected. I signed the stupid form and walked in; took notes on Mel Gibson’s speech (he had nothing new to say), filed my story, then made the mistake of calling Larry Ross’ s folks to say I was in town. Ross’ folks panicked and they flooded my cell phone plus the newsroom with threatening calls – this was all 6:30 p.m. and later – So I called the managing editor and we discussed the legal aspects – we decided to go ahead and run the story on A1. But 3 hours later, Larry Ross was still putting in frantic calls to the newsroom to try to stop the story. WHY they thought Icon Productions (Mel Gibson’s production company) even cared at this point is beyond me.

Finally my immediate boss called me on my cell to find out what was going on – this is 9:20 p.m. minutes before the film is to start – I was in the middle of the church – as I went out into the hall to tell my boss on my cell phone what was going on, Larry Ross himself was standing there, reading to pounce. Being that he’s well over 6 feet tall, he’s hard to ignore. I was caught like a bug in a net, berated by Larry and then kicked out of the church. Standing next to him was the employee who had encouraged me to sneak in. I didn’t want to say much as I was afraid she’d lose her job.

As I was standing there, shivering (January nights in Fla. are cold), pouting and asking God what to do next, I walked around the church – all the doors were locked cept the main doors from what I could see. Went back to a plaza in front of the church where I could at least hear the soundtrack (all in Aramaic and Latin)- this guy (an angel in disguise) came up to me – asked if I was OK – I said no – he asked what I needed – I said I needed to get into the church but not through the main entrance which was under guard.

So he took me around to another door which was unlocked. This let me into a hallway next to a door right in the front of the church (where no usher would dare kick me out as everyone would hear the racket). Then I dashed into the auditorium and watched the rest of the film. (Missed about 20-25 mins but that’s all).

The next day, I bumped into an Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter in my hotel lobby – we were laughing about how stupid the whole secrecy thing is as he too had wormed his way in on a false ID. He had not filed a story for Thursday’s paper like I had, tho. He then introduced me to the 2 guys from the ADL who also snuck into the film under the guise of being from the “Church of Truth” in Brooklyn. The ADL guys were very happy to give us quotes. They were quite inaccurate in terms of certain things the New Testament says – which I called them on – but most reporters do not know and will just repeat all these guys’ accusations of anti-Semitism. Larry Ross called me *back* later that day – didn’t apologize for kicking me out, but was tearing his hair over the ADL folks whose remarks by this time were on the wires.

I think “The Passion” is a great film but the way Icon is going about the security – while at the same time showing it to 5 zillion Christian groups and telling them not to talk about it- is nuts. There was a ton of media people there Wednesday afternoon trying to talk to him after his speech to the pastors – one producer flew down from New York and got nothing – Gibson just ran past the cameras and jumped into a car. I understand he’s got an exclusivity agreement with Diane Sawyer.

February 19, 2004 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment