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Cynics, Stand Aside
This is a documentary about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Those documented in this film are truly living. They march to the proverbial different drummer. They are the thrill seekers that live among us, people who listen to a different economy and a different system of reward. The carrot on their stick is not a paycheck but the doing of their “thing” itself, from making ice cream, to stunt-flying airplanes, milking cows seven days a week (is it all workdays, or is it all weekends?), to metal sculpting, to [insert your own special ability or interest here].
When the restored “Director’s Cut” of Lawrence of Arabia played at Seattle’s legendary Cinerama theater in 1989, I was naturally at the first showing… even though it meant cutting work that afternoon. As the overture began playing to a fairly crowded house, the lights failed to come down… and the projectionist opened the curtain and unblocked the projection aperture. As the dumbfounded and confused audience looked on, timing marks on the 70mm print were projected onto the screen… and then the curtain closed. So much for the intended effect of the overture.
A Game of Inches? You Bet!
Coach Bill Courtney is a self-made man from the wrong side of the Deep-Southern tracks. He owns a specialty hardwoods factory, and knows what it means to suck it up when misfortune strikes and rise above it. But the coaching… well, he volunteers at Memphis’ Manassas High, and over the course of six years takes the Tigers from scoring maybe 36 points in an entire winless schedule to a shot at the division title, the playoffs… and maybe, even, an undefeated season.
As the action unfolds, you never get the sense that something absolutely ridiculous (Mission: Impossible), leaden (The Expendables), or overly-kinetic (Bourne or anything Statham) is going to happen. If bad guys are gonna get taken out, it’s going to happen quick, and the SEALs are going to move on, fast. If something blows up, it’s going to happen… once, and the SEALs are going to move on, fast. If something technologically sophisticated is required, we’re going to see bits of it—it won’t be belabored and shown off—and the SEALs are going to move right along, fast.
At the crux of the plot is the same dilemma as in Steven Spielberg’s heavy-handed and polemic Saving Private Ryan: Do you show mercy to your enemies? Little’s film doesn’t treat that question in a perfunctory manner, on either end of the spectrum… though, naturally, it just isn’t possible to read this as a “shoot the bastards” tract.
What happens when a headstrong rumrunner crash-lands in the Arctic Barrens? In 2003’s The Snow Walker, this question has to be answered in the context of post-World War II technology, not with the luxury of GPS beacons and satellite phones. So when Charlie Halliday drops the last spare radio tube in his crashed single-prop, and it breaks, the answer is… a whole lot of survival training.
From Jimmy to Michael Bay, Freiburger Impresses
When I reviewed Mark Freiburger’s debut film Dog Days of Summer less than four years ago, I described it as having “the period spookiness of Something Wicked This Way Comes” with “macabre touches hinting of Tennessee Williams… and the lighter moments of Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me.” That’s pretty serious praise for an indie “faith market” film. Since then, Freiburger has worked on three other feature films—as screenwriter on The List and The Trial, both directed by Gary Wheeler, and as director on the straight-to-DVD release Jimmy. Upon the release of the film to DVD last week, I exchanged some emails with Freiburger.
Try This One
You know the drill. Frank Connor has just been released from prison, and has nowhere to go. In the absence of other ideas, he drifts back into the neighborhood and friendships that landed him in jail in the first place. Before long, he’s being pressured into doing “one last job” to clear the “debt” he owes to the goon he “let down” by getting caught. What’s Frank gonna do? There are so few options that only one is really plausible… and we can see the train wreck coming some sixty or seventy minutes away. Still, Pappy executes the story with style and grace. You probably won’t get emotionally involved in Frank’s tale, but you probably will enjoy the slow-burn ride.
Think You’ve Had a Bad Day?
When Jake arises to his shared-apartment corporate-drone world on his birthday, he’s expecting great things. Why? Because his horoscope has told him to. I won’t spoil things for you by going into detail, but let’s just say that Jake does a less than stellar job of interpreting the Delphic oracle that horoscopes tend to be. And when things go spectacularly awry, Jake jets out of town on a mission to debunk astrology. Pro-astro reviewers have noted that 5 Star Day really isn’t about the ways in which the stars influence our lives, or about defending or attacking a particular system of belief. And they’re right. So if you’re looking for a good savage critique of astrology (and I’m not really sure why anyone would be) this isn’t your film.
Great Characters, Good Heart
Dan Reed, the embattled mayor of a small Alaska town, finds his leadership questioned as another Christmas approaches, when who should come back to town but his old high school nemesis Mitch Bright? And what could be worse than finding out that ol’ Mitch is now an atheist activist angling for Dan’s job as mayor… using the constitutionality of town-sponsored Christmas celebrations as a wedge with voters? For personal reasons alone, Dan would love to knock Mitch’s teeth out, and the added religious and political challenges grate heavily on Dan’s already strained nerves. The story itself—which, I must say, very very responsibly deals with the politics (and faith) of the season—is exceedingly well rendered; but the characters really bring it to life.
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