If it ain’t Ali G, it ain’t for me – Sacha Baron Cohen, please use your comedic talents for better than this.
auroch, bathtub, beasts, ben richardson, benh zeitlin, cannes, david gordon green, delicious, drinking buddies, elysian fields, george washington, hurricane, hush puppy, iu cinema, juicy, lucy alibar, mescaline, southern, sundance, swanberg, wiesner, wild, wink
As I passed the 40 or so people waiting in line to get tickets for Benh Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar‘s Sundance- and Cannes-winning Beasts of the Southern Wild this past Saturday at the IU Cinema, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this film. It’s rare that a film lives up to its hype, and in this case, what little hype I read about BotSW seems completely and totally deserving. I came out of the experience totally in awe.
A cross between David Gordon Green’s George Washington and David Wiesner’s children’s book Hurricane dipped in mescaline, BotSW has incredibly magic moments of wonder and excitement and some of utter devastation as we follow Hushpuppy (played as well by Quvenzhané Wallis as any performance by a child actor I’ve seen) as she, her father Wink (Dwight Henry) and the residents of a long forgotten fringe community in Louisiana, known as the Bathtub, fight for survival as forces both natural and human try to end existence as they know it. Director Benh Zeitlin and screenwriter Lucy Alibar (whose play Juicy and Delicious the film is based on) manage to balance these moments quite nicely, never tipping the tone of the film too much in either direction.
At the heart of this story is the struggle to survive. The Bathtub is a swampy island area barely above sea-level where laws are set by the residents and outside law doesn’t intervene, at least at first. In the wake of weather that unleashed storms like Hurricane Katrina, the residents of the Bathtub are just waiting for one more big disaster to wipe them off the map. Zeitlin establishes this peril by intercutting shots of giant pieces of Arctic ice sheets shucking off of the polar ice caps and crashing into the sea, which is very effective considering the constant debate about global warming and its effects on our climate. When Wink disappears for a few days, 6-year old Hushpuppy is left to fend for herself as her mother left them some time ago. Wink returns wearing a hospital gown and she knows that something isn’t right. When he bans her from his “house” (they live in separate dwellings – one can’t really call them houses as they are slapdash, pieced together with bits of detritus and scrap), she gets angry, burns down her dwelling and makes a choice she believes effects the whole community for the worse.
As most of the community exits in order to save themselves from the fury that Hushpuppy believes she has unleashed, Wink and a few others stay around vowing never to leave the Bathtub and join the regular world – we only see a few glimpses of “civilization” in the form of factory or refinery buildings on the edge of the levee that separates them. Here, one of the many fantastical elements begin, and we see the once living, now extinct Auroch (which we hear about from the teacher/medicine woman Bathsheba [Gina Montana]) begin their chase to presumably eliminate Hushpuppy and the residents of the Bathtub. Even though traditionally the Auroch is the ancestor of the cow, those in the film look more like wild boars with four menacing tusks. One can’t help but to notice its resemblance to the giant pig that lives on Hushpuppy’s land, fat and lazy as if it’s a reflection of so many in modern society – something the Auroch of the past wishes to stamp out.
After the swell ends, the residents who remained in the Bathtub remain are faced with other more natural perils as the water that gives them food in the form of crab, shrimp and other fish becomes toxic. They are faced with one choice – engage the civilized world even though their actions can spell certain doom for their very existence. Once this barrier is breached, the outside law intervenes, forcing the evacuation of the Bathtub. It is here that Wink’s demise is confirmed, as if his life essence is tied to the health and existence of the home he has had for so many years. When he is removed, his sickness accelerates. They are all shuttled to a refugee camp of sorts where they receive care and shelter, the children put into a classroom.
This world isn’t for them, and it’s not long before they break out. The children under Hushpuppy’s guidance take off and swim to catch a boat out at sea. Here the film takes another of its more fantastical interludes and the children are diverted to Elysian Fields Floating Catfish Shack/strip club operating somewhere on the water.
The children, all girls, are swarmed upon entering the boat by the women strippers (?) who are all dressed in lacy white nightgowns, angelically lit by the twinkle Christmas lights, seeming to float on the billowy red background. Since Elysian Fields is the final resting places of the souls of the heroic and the virtuous in Greek mythology, this leads us to wonder the exact nature of what transpires here. Is it real? The ethereal photography of this scene adds to the wonder. These women scoop the girls up, hug and dance with them. Hushpuppy meanders through the boat until she sees a woman, someone who may indeed be her mother. The only shot we see of her mother previously is of her derriere and there is a nice match shot here to lead us to believe that’s who this woman is. Is she alive? Or is this her version of Heaven?
We are led back to the Bathtub where Wink finally succumbs to his illness, whose funeral pyre is lit like a Viking warrior-king on his rickety makeshift boat fashioned out of an old truck bed and an outboard motor in a scene that really touched me. Maybe it’s because I am a father of two sons 5 and 7, and imagining the effect my death might have on them at their age is too much to consider. Here she also has the inevitable confrontation with the Aurochs. She explains, like them, that she needs to go back to where she began, that they are friends.
Nevertheless, at the end of the film, we come full circle. The remaining children of the Bathtub celebrate in similar fashion as the opening sequence – the torch is passed from one generation to the next who go on celebrating more holidays than anyone else in the world as Hushpuppy tells us in the beginning. The waters of the Bathub wash over their feet as they celebrate as if baptizing them, born anew, cleansed. And despite their home’s grit and lack of anything we might consider civilized, I couldn’t help but to want to celebrate with them.
Ben Richardson‘s photography was out of this world and the silent star of the film. I expect great things from him and I am curious to see his work on the new Joe Swanberg film, Drinking Buddies. If you get a chance to see this film, don’t pass it up. It is a visual feast and one certainly worthy of the ticket price. How many films can you say that about?
Here’s the trailer:
If you aren’t from planet Earth, you might not have known that the Olympic Games just wrapped up in London this past Sunday. However, since you’re reading this, it’s likely that you were aware of these games and perhaps even swelled with pride as an athlete from your home country took home a gold, silver or bronze medal. It’s also likely that you heard some mention or saw footage of the 1972 Olympic Games which took place in Munich, Germany, and that coverage likely was of 11 Israeli athletes taken hostage and murdered by Palestinian terrorists in the Black September organization. On the eve of the 40th anniversary of what was undoubtedly the biggest tragedy in Olympic history, I decided to delve into Kevin MacDonald’s Oscar-winning One Day in September about this event.
Having heard about the Munich event since I was a kid (I was born in 1974), I never knew the whole story behind it all. MacDonald did such a great job presenting the Israeli athletes and their back stories, in particular fencing coach Andre Spitzer (whose wife and daughter make an appearance), that it wasn’t hard to be invested in the film as the tale of their demise unfolded. While giving a tremendous amount of screen time to the Israeli side of the story, MacDonald might well have devoted more time to the Palestinians as it would have been a good chance to hit home the complicated nature of the relationship between Israel and the Palestine Liberation movement, something that is as pertinent to today as it was back then.
With the table set, MacDonald puts forth an interview that really shocked me from Jamal al Gashey, one of the three terrorists who survived the ordeal, who emerged from hiding in North Africa to tell his side of the story. The paranoid al Gashey, who was disguised, still fearing for his life, described in some detail how the operation went down, and from what I understand. He said, “I’m proud of what I did at Munich because it helped the Palestinian cause enormously … before Munich, the world had no idea about our struggle, but on that day, the name of Palestine was repeated all around the world.” To see someone be so brash about being responsible for the murder of 11 people is unsettling. He even points out that the Palestinians were helped into the Olympic Village by American athletes that were returning late after a night out on the town.
With the Germans providing no Army or armed security for the Olympic Village with jitters still existing in the world regarding an armed German presence after their role in starting two World Wars, the perfect situation existed for this type of act of violence to occur. The fact the Jewish blood was again spilled on German soil made this act of violence all the more symbolic and disturbing.
The best part of this documentary is that MacDonald and his fellow crew members were able to create such an air of suspense even though I knew what the outcome of the ordeal was. His use of diagrams highlighting what should have happened at Fürstenfeldbruck Air Base and what did actually occur really shed light on what an absolute disaster the operation to stop the terrorists was. The Germans were ill-equipped to handle any type of scenario such as this from start to finish and this is confirmed when it comes out how the three terrorists that survived were able to leave Germany after they had been arrested and jailed for their involvement in the incident almost uncontested. The revelation al Gashey sets forth would be truly unbelievable…if it weren’t the truth. The flippancy of the German generals and officials about this disaster is also mind boggling. How can one, even after all of these years, laugh about this tragedy as they do in their interviews?
All in all, this documentary is well crafted. However, I will echo the same issue that Roger Ebert had with this film and that is we are never really shown who the Palestinians were/are, ideologically speaking, and why this was such an important event for them shy of the quote listed above by al Gashey. This film added to the dialogue about the event and ultimately, that’s what a good film does. Even though he is not Errol Morris, MacDonald is still a fine documentarian.
I’ll just say I’m a Woody Allen fan. I own every one of his films on DVD with exception of Curse of the Jade Scorpion – let’s face it, it’s an unfunny piece of shit. I try to see every one of his films in the theater and fortunately for me, living in Bloomington, Indiana, doesn’t keep that from happening. For some reason, every film of his makes it here to at least the local AMC (which dubs Allen’s films “arthouse”). I was lucky to see To Rome with Love at the world-class venue, the Indiana University Cinema, which is the best thing to happen to Bloomington since Breaking Away was filmed here.
Allen is the pure embodiment of consistency – he has made at least one film each year since 1982 and at 77 years old, he’s still going strong (he ain’t no Manoel de Oliveira, but who is?). His newest effort is typical Allen – characters stuck in many quirky dilemmas revolving around love with their ability to win or lose it hanging in the balance. Allen centers his film around a few couples – a newlywed couple Milly and Antonio (Alessandra Mastronardi and Allesandro Tiberi) and who move to Rome to start a new life together pending a job from his wealthy uncle, an American architectural student Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) and his girlfriend Sally (Greta Gerwig), and another American student Hayley (Alison Pill, who rocked in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) and a left-wing Italian lawyer Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti).
This film runs long for an Allen film, which are normally around 90 minutes, at almost two hours and you can feel it. Some of the story lines run past their freshness. Unfortunately, the Jesse Eisenberg narrative is the weakest of three, even though Sally (Ellen Page from Juno) was inserted as a new love interest. Greta Gerwig, who is so special in Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress, is criminally underused. Her bright charm is so muted and Allen made her look dumpy. Shame, really. The only part that is enjoyable in this storyline is Alec Baldwin showing up (in spirit) as Eisenberg’s devil’s advocate.
The Antonio-Milly thread allows Allen’s sexual comedic talents to shine. When small-town Milly gets lost in Rome, things go awry. Her shy husband (who was a virgin when they married) is confused for another man and a hooker, Anna (played so wonderfully HOT by Penelope Cruz), shows up in his hotel room just prior to an important meeting with his virtuous uncle who is to give him a job. He has to pretend that Anna is his wife throughout the day. His wife, still lost, later ends up on the set of a film and is introduced to her favorite actor and goes back to his hotel room. As you can guess, shenanigans involving both parties ensue. The best surprise of this plot line is seeing Ornella Muti again. I hadn’t seen her since her turn in the ever awesome Flash Gordon (1980).
The final thread (Hayley/Michelangelo) yields some funny moments as we see Woody being Woody as his character Jerry, a former classical music-exec and avant-garde opera director, discovers the father of Hayley’s fiancée, Giancarlo (famous tenor Fabio Armiliato), is an amazing opera singer…but only when he’s in the shower. This plot line plays itself out in very funny fashion and is reminiscent of Allen’s earliest work like Take the Money and Run.
The best part bar none, however, did not revolve around these three main narrative pieces, but around Leopoldo Pisanello (played pitch-perfectly as always by Roberto Benigni). Leopoldo one morning starts to go to work when out of the blue he is surrounded by paparazzi and Entertainment Tonight-esque reporters asking him the most inane questions about what he had for breakfast and other thoughts. He is immediately swept up as a beloved “famous” person whose opinion on anything is now valid, revered, important and worthy of news. Allen’s send-up of celebrity and the arbitrariness to whom we ascribe celebrity is hilarious. Leopoldo is given a promotion at work, gets invited to movie premieres and is chased after by beautiful women who want to sleep with him. When he asks what’s he’s done to deserve this, he is told he is “famous for being famous”. Sound familiar Kardashian and Hilton clan, you worthless cultural leeches?
All in all, this film is a middle of the pack release for Mr. Allen. Midnight in Paris was so amazing, the follow-up was bound to be a letdown. And it was somewhat. By trimming the Jack/Sally/Monica plot line, this film would have been more cohesive and funny. I still enjoyed this film and I look forward to Woody’s next project, still untitled, starring my fave Cate Blanchett.
And just when I thought that the entertainment industry had already dredged the bottom of the barrel for content to produce (hello Battleship producers – I’m looking at you), out comes this news: ALF (short for Alien Life Form), the ridiculously unfunny show from the 1980s, will now be getting the silver screen treatment.
Not only is this getting produced (are things really that bad at Sony?), it will be live action AND CGI. I’m sure all 7 people who remember this show fondly are VERY excited, like this guy :
They say it takes all kinds…
Screw Spielberg. I daydream that it’s Ol’ Steve DDL is giving the shankeye…
charlestown chiefs, dickie dunn, dr. hook, eddie shore, george roy hill, hanson brothers, joe mcgrath, lindsay crouse, m. emmett walsh, maxine nightingale, moose jaw, ned braden, oglethorpe, ontkean, paul newman, reg dunlop, slap shot, strother martin, toe blake
Slap Shot (1977) is my favorite movie of all-time. There. I said it. I make no apologies for this. It is not the technical best film of all-time. It is not the best acted film of all-time. However, it is the one film that I can return to at any given time and it can still make me feel as good as, if not better than, the first time I watched it. Its comedy endures, its humanity endures and its fashion endures…well, perhaps not that part. It is the finest example of why I watch movies and it will forever occupy that coveted #1 spot in my all-time top 10.
Slap Shot follows a hockey team, the Charlestown Chiefs, based in a town where the local iron mill employs the vast majority of its inhabitants. The players on the team are as blue collar as the mill workers – journeymen working a job to get paid and survive, some putting more into it than others. Past his prime player-coach Reg Dunlop (played masterfully by the best actor of his generation, Paul Newman) is the architect of the fifth place Chiefs. Reg is a local celebrity who once played with great players like Toe Blake and Eddie Shore. However, it’s clear he’s way past his prime, both as a player and a coach.
The players seem to just go through the motions of being hockey players and are the subjects of hurled insults from the fans who likely come as much to heckle them as to cheer them on. League-leading scorer Ned Braden (played by David Lynch-fave Michael Ontkean) is an ace on the ice, but off the ice is another story. He and his booze-fueled wife Lily (played by a young Lindsay Crouse) are at odds with their lifestyle. Ned was all-Eastern at Princeton, but loves playing hockey. Lily wants nothing more than to leave the dingy arenas of minor league hockey for a more stable environment far from mill towns like Charlestown.
Around Dunlop and Braden circle a cast of the most sordid characters: Denis Lemieux, the French Canadien goalie prospect who has an “allergy” to fans who attend the games, sex-crazed Morris Wanchuk, playboy Billy Charlebois (from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan – best name for a town ever?), willing-to-please-the-coach-at-any-cost Dave “Killer” Carlson and none more famous than the bespectacled Hanson Brothers – Jack, Steve and Jeff. The Hansons come to the Chiefs in a trade from the Iron League, notorious for its vicious fights. But after Dunlop spots them in their hotel room playing with toy cars and putting foil on their knuckles before their first game (pictured above), he’s convinced there is something wrong with them and they are banished to the bench.
When word is out that the steel mill that supports the vast majority of the town’s populace is closing, the status of the Chiefs’ existence comes into question. After general manager Joe McGrath (frequent Newman collaborator Strother Martin) unexpectedly makes a road trip with the team, it is announced that the Chiefs will fold after the season is over. The whole team panics, unsure of their futures. Braden, with his college degree, at least has a backup if another team doesn’t sign him. Captain Johnny Upton (played by long-time Altman 2nd Unit director Allan Nichols) sums of the bulk of their situations – “fucking Chrysler plant, here I come!” Dunlop makes a last ditch effort to save the team, however. After being told by his ex-wife that he needs to retire and he can no longer count on hockey anymore as he is no good as a coach and can’t make the Chiefs win, he adopts the “I’ll show them” attitude. He begins by installing the Hanson brothers in their first game after Carlson is ejected for fighting. And this is where everything changes. The Hanson Brothers don’t disappoint. They wreak havoc on everyone who steps on the ice, pulling no punches, literally, even when a referee intervenes. They are all ejected from the game, but the once morose fans are injected with excitement and enthusiasm by this new display of violence, a typically American reaction. And it spirals from there. The Chiefs begin a winning streak and cultivate a larger and larger fan base, winning fans hearts at home and terrorizing them on the road. Fans fill the stadium wherever they go and the Chiefs are enjoying a period of prosperity that they haven’t seen in years. The players hopes are inflated when Dunlop gives local sports reporter Dickie Dunn (whom this site is named for, played by character actor M. Emmet Walsh) a scoop that the Chiefs are on the verge of being sold to an investment retirement group in Florida. But this is all smoke and mirrors put forth by the far-more-crafty-than-you-would-think Dunlop. He’s really just trying to find out who the real owner of the team is in an attempt to save his own ass and hopefully those of the rest of the team by making them profitable.
Meanwhile, Braden, who is a scorer not a “goon” (as those who are prone to fighting are called in hockey), refuses to play the new Chiefs strategy. He tells Dunlop, “We win cos I score goals.” Dunlop retorts “Oh, kiss my ass. We win cos I make ’em crazy!” And he benches Braden. On top of this, Lily has left Ned and concentrated on herself for once. And this drives Ned crazy.
After blackmailing McGrath, he is finally able to locate the owner, Anita McCambridge (played by Kathryn Walker). After a back-and-forth, she admits that she could sell the Chiefs as there has been some interest; however, her accountant tells her it’s better to fold the Chiefs and take a tax loss. Infuriated, Dunlop delivers one of the most memorable lines of the film, one perhaps best left for him to say.
That evening the Chiefs are to play in the Federal League Championship against the Syracuse Bulldogs. Dunlop has had a change of heart, though. He tells his team the that he made the Florida deal up. “You know, we ain’t hockey players. We’ve been clowns. We’ve been goons! We’re the freaks in a fuckin’ sideshow.” And they vow to play their last game together playing old time hockey, the way it should be played, a notion that is constantly echoed by Maxine Nightingale’s anthem “Right Back Where We Started From” throughout the film.
However, in retribution for an earlier altercation with their captain Don “The Hook” McCracken, the Bulldogs have gone out and signed the games most legendary goons and cementheads – Gilmore Tuttle, Andre “Poodle” Lussier, Ross “Mad Dog” Madison, Clarence “Screaming Buffalo” Swamptown, and the biggest goon of all, Ogie Ogilthorpe (based on real-life goon, Bill “Goldie” Goldthorpe).
The final game is rife with humor and an unexpected resolution as the colorful cast of characters battle it out putting the proverbial cherry on top of what, to me, is the most fun ride in sports film history. Director George Roy Hill and cinematographer Vic Kemper (whose work also includes Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon and Elaine May’s Mikey and Nicky) did such a great job capturing the on-ice action. They are literally able to situate the viewer in the middle of all of the crushing checks and scoring rushes.
“She’s just scrappin'” is one of my favorite lines of any movie (and so perfectly delivered by Newman). It sums up so much, not just about Lilly Braden, but of the other characters in the film as well. These characters have to claw and scratch, and yes “scrap”, to get everything they’ve got, which isn’t much. It is also a phrase that can sum up blue-collar-to-the-bone Charlestown and most of its inhabitants. Kemper’s shots of Charlestown are bleak, filled with gloomy, grey skies, rowhouses, mill workers and dingy bars filled with drunks watching soap operas in the middle of the day. One of the few shots where we see the opposite is when Dunlop goes to Anita McCambridge’s house. In her world it is sunny, birds are chirping, grass is green, and a Volvo station wagon filled with groceries sits in the driveway. All is well on her side of the tracks, which is quite a contrast for the 10,000 mill workers who’ve been placed on waivers.
This line also could have easily applied to the film’s screenwriter, Nancy Dowd, who based the film on her brothers exploits in hockey’s minor leagues and specifically playing for the Johnstown Jets. Writing in Hollywood has largely been a man’s game. And writing about tough guys sports like hockey? Forget about it. Dowd brought a compelling story with incredibly colorful characters to light and for that I am eternally grateful. She should be cheered on high. This film has been the source of endless entertainment for me, my family and friends. How many quote sessions have we had? How many video game characters have we named after its characters? Too many to count.
It is also an honest portrayal of blue collar people, tough economic times and making the most of what situation you are in. The lessons put forth in this movie are ones that are still important today, perhaps most importantly summed up by words of The Bard – “to thine own self be true; And it must follow, as the night the day; Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
Paul Newman called this his favorite film role and when that is taken in context, that speaks War and Peace-sized volumes. This from the man who played Butch Cassidy, Fast Eddie Felson, Hud Bannon, Luke Jackson, Ben Quick, Henry Gondorff and Lew Harper. Perhaps he likes it so much because he got to spend nearly all of his off-ice time in the film in a sweet caramel colored leather suit. Maybe not. It’s hard to believe that Al Pacino was considered for this role (and Nick Nolte for the Braden role). Good thing Pacino couldn’t skate.
This film endures to this day and is widely regarding as one of the best sports movies of all-time. In my opinion, it’s the best movie of all-time…and my opinion is pretty damn good.