Tag Archives: Movies

Million Dollar Baby (2004)

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Admittedly, I’m not a big fan of boxing. At all. I don’t judge people who like it, but there you are. I just don’t see the appeal in big, sweaty, greased-up guys knocking the piss out of each other, having their remaining teeth flying every which way, and probably acquiring long-lasting brain damage at age thirty. Entertaining? Hell no. Erotic? No, it’s not that either.

So with boxing movies, and by extension all sports movies (football, baseball, basketball, etc.) I need a sort of human interest story to really capture my attention. Well, I can tell you if you’re looking for human drama, pathos, and an extra helping of tragedy,  Clint Eastwood Academy Award-winning film has that and more. There’s guilt, grief, denial, friendship, and major moral dilemmas. I mean big fucking moral dilemmas. The kind that keep you up at night.

Frankie Dunn (Actor/Director Eastwood) is a bit of a cranky old man and well-regarded boxing trainer who doesn’t train girls– period. This moral position doesn’t seem very well thought out- it’s less a legitimate position than a lunk-headed duh... I mean, girls wanting to box. Who’d have thunk it? Next they’ll be asking for equal pay and equal rights in all things.

So, being the kind of crank he is, he turns aspiring boxerette Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) away like a puppy in the rain. “There’s plenty of people who will train girls,” he says. But Maggie’s determined. She’s come from a trash family (when we later meet her selfish and spectacularly ungrateful mother (Margo Martindale) and sister (Riki Lindhome,) we see where she’s from, and why she wants to get out) and she believes that being trained by Frankie Dunn (who seems to have quite a reputation in the boxing world, despite slumming it in a tiny fighting hall) is the best way to get her where she’s going.

Eddie Dupris (Morgan Freeman) is just the janitor, but he’s inwardly wise and worldly in that quintessential Morgan Freeman (with a smooth as butter voice over and that great voice) and quietly observes the drama between Frankie and Maggie, occasionally sharing a barbed repartee with Frankie and giving him a gentle push in the right direction. Frankie’s heart is rendered stony with personal tragedy, including a long-time estrangement from his own daughter. Will he give Maggie the well-deserved training and fatherly input she needs?

One thing you can say about this movie is it does good by not saddling Maggie with an  unnecessary love interest, rightfully focusing on the paternal relationship between she and Eastwood. The two have good (platonic) chemistry as they somewhat predictably bond, but tragedy lurks just around the corner. I often felt Morgan Freeman was a bit too much of a catalyst to the events rather than a character in his own right.

The thing is, for the first thirty minutes or so I was planning to bitch that the development of the relationships in “Million Dollar Baby” were too trite and predictable (i.e. grumpy old trainer professes his hatred for girls’ boxing, grumpy old trainer is suckered in by girl boxer’s irrepressible enthusiasm, etc.) But then I realized that while these odd couple stories are not the most original premises in the world, they work. They’re compelling. Where would we be without the gruesome twosome in “Up,” or “Men in Black,” or to name a less known title, “Treacle Jr.” (one of my personal favorites?)

If you bawled out every movie that featured a progressing bond by two people who have nothing in common, you’d have no movies left. Which is why I figure, we need our well-worn story lines. To some extent. Because something can be derivative and original at the same time. Well, the acting here certainly can’t be faulted. Outstanding performances all around. Hilary Swank proved her merit as a thespian in “Boys Don’t Cry,” playing trans man Brandon Teena, and once again with tomboyish pluck she shows us why she’s one of the best in the business.

Clint Eastwood is wonderful- he possibly gives an even better performance in this than he does in “Gran Torino,” a top-notch movie in it’s own right. He’s not just a gun-toting Republican tough guy with dozens of Westerns to his name- he shows real range and finesse as a troubled old man who tries to build barriers around his heart and refuses to let himself care about anybody. Morgan Freeman is Morgan Freeman, and that’s certainly not a bad thing. He plays a role we’ve come to expect from Freeman- wise and pensive, with sage advice for the other characters, and he does a fine job.

I didn’t cry at the end because someone had already spoiled the twist for me, but it might have really gotten to me had I not gone in knowing more or less how things were going to go down. I think the characters came off as a little one-note while watching it under a critical eye (Maggie in particular seeming a little too perfect at times,) but overall “Million Dollar Baby” is just a good, emotional, wonderfully acted drama about allowing yourself to legitimately give a shit about someone again- albeit with tear jerking results.

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The Film Club by David Gilmour

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David Gilmour’s occasionally on-point, more often ever-so-slightly smug memoir is best when it focuses on the films he so clearly has a passion for. Gilmour’s rationale is dodgy (he lauds his own decision to let his fifteen-year-old son drop out of high school- but only if the boy watches three films with him a week) and he often comes off as a bit of a self-satisfied chode. The kid, a white boy rapping underachiever who doesn’t seem, in this reader’s opinion, to be the brightest light, emphatically needs all the education, public or not, he can get.

But most disturbing of all is the ugly chauvinism- the male entitlement and thinly veiled contempt for women, especially pretty women- that Gilmour seems to exhibit and passes down to his son. Early on, Gilmour desscribes his son, Jesse, leaving with a Vietnamese beauty with a barbed, and troubling metaphor- he compares the girl to a nice car that he hopes his son won’t scuff or scratch up.

However, when the memoir is all about movies, it’s magical. David Gilmour skillfully incorporates movie facts and anecdotes in his searing prose. I love movies, and never fail to be fascinated by the mechanics, the minutae, the curious hows and whys of them. But I simply didn’t care about Jesse’s teen drama, his adolescent angst, his drug and alcohol habit, his dating and relationship woes.

It was also puzzling and disturbing to me how the father constantly and unreservedly took his son’s side in these issues involving women- doesn’t he understand that relationships involve a constant give and take, that Jesse’s girlfriend Chloe might not of left him because she is a ‘bitch’ (he never directly uses this word to the best of my recollection, but, as they say, it’s right on the tip of his tongue,) but because she is unhappy in the relationship?

Did it ever occur to him that it’s none of Jesse’s business if she sleeps with another guy after she’s already told him, under no uncertain terms, that it is over? That she might not be a two-timing whore, but just human? Gilmour doesn’t says these things, mind you; it’s more what he doesn’t say that floors me. And although I’m sure Jesse’s old flame Rebecca Ng, a bona-fide drama queen, was a royal pain in the ass, do I believe she was the sly manipulative nymphet Gilmour describes her as? No, I don’t. Considering Gilmour’s impotent bitterness concerning the fairer sex, I think he’s the very incarnation of an unreliable narrator.

‘The Film Club’ is a book where the author isn’t a very nice person, which would be fine (writers don’t have to be,) but he’s also the subject, the focus of his self-involved one-man orchestration. And don’t tell me it’s about his son, because I don’t buy it. David Gilmour wants to be seen as the all-time cool dad, a kind of miracle worker for gangly underachieving kids. When the book is about David Gilmour watching movies, it’s sublime. But when it’s about David Gilmour and his self-satisfaction bordering on self-obsession concerning his peer-like relationship with his son, I found myself thoroughly unmoved, and moreover, unimpressed.

Scum (1979)

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“Scum” is an important and controversial example of harsh British realism charting incarcerated teen Carlin (Ray Winstone)’s transformation from wayward kid to brutal thug with the help of a “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” style correctional institution. Only this place makes the hospital ruled under the iron fist of Nurse Ratched in the classic film (a mental hospital, not a Borstal, as portrayed here) look like a trip to Disneyland paired with a ride in the spinning teacups.

The movie might as well be called “You Wouldn’t Want to be a Kid in 70’s Borstal.” It’s grimmer than grim. The facility is a horror show that includes sadistic guards with collective hard-ons for harsh discipline (i.e. abuse,) rape, despair, and suicide. The only thing worse than the “Lord of the Flies”-esque ‘Daddies’ that terrorize and sodomize the weaker children are the cruel, hypocritical, and astonishingly uncaring guards. One such ‘screw’ regards a boy of about thirteen getting gang-banged with a look of smug enjoyment on his face.

These guards, ironically, are ‘upstanding citizens’ in the eyes of the public. They go home, kiss their wives on the mouth, play with their kids and sleep easy, unaware or unconcerned that a massive crime against humanity has been  committed. Because who cares if the ‘scum’ get their human rights violated? But if the boys are scum, what does that make the men? These remorseless cogs in a system that spits out it’s incarcerated youth crueler and more disaffected than before.

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Alan Clarke directs “Scum,” and it’s a harrowing experience. No humor to speak of, few scenes of goodwill or humanity, no soundtrack sporting the latest tunes to remind us that we’re watching a movie… there’s only one scene that contains any warmth whatsoever. Resident  wiseass Archer (Mick Ford) reads a note from home to the illiterate Woods (John Fowler,) who is completely obsessed with the pet dog he left behind and her litter of new puppies. Over the moon, Woods begs Archer to read the note again, a lone relic from the outside world.

That’s it. That’s the extent of the sentiment. The psychological torture combined with the physical violence and cruelty make “Scum” a singularly harrowing experience. The lead performances are incendiary, the most impressive turn not coming from Winstone, but from Julian Firth, who plays the ill-fated Davis. Firth is simply outstanding, especially considering his youth and the emotionally painful rape scene and the resulting fallout the director subjects him to. He doesn’t break character once, and he and Toyne (Herbert Norville) are the emotional heart of an unremittingly bleak picture.

“Scum” isn’t a perfect film. It’s point (that a bleak and hopeless prison system is ultimately more destructive to Britain’s youth than just leaving them on the streets to do what they will,) seems to lack subtlety at times, especially in a scene where Archer shares a moment of philosophical discussion with a guard and in the process pretty much provides him with the entire message it’s director is trying to push. But it gets points for being fearless in it’s portrayal of a broken system, gritty as Hell, and carefully researched by Clarke, who interviewed hundreds of guards and prisoners of Juvenile Detention Centers for this film.

In many ways, “Scum” is a historically important film, and it will definitely put your life in perspective for you when you’re filled with unwanted ennui and angst. Yeah, the kids in this film screwed up, but they’re paying for it tenfold in a system that will either destroy them or release them as half the people they were before, hard and lifeless imitations of people unleashed on a world that suddenly seems much crueler and devoid of hope than it did before they went in. The director sometimes flaunts an obvious political agenda, but also has a natural ability with his actors and behind the camera. It’s a dark, dark journey, but also a valuable one.

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