I Need That Record, Blood, Sweat and Cheers, Mine and The Escapist
I Need That Record
A screechy, overly talky, off-puttingly amateurish jeremiad about the death of the American independent record store, I Need That Record has a worthwhile central thesis, but states it so poorly as to push one over to the other side. Advancing the point that local, independently owned record stores are a vital lynchpin of the creative health of a community—serving as a stronghold of integrity and individualism in the face of corporate homogeneity and fascistic taste making—the film’s intentions and heart are in the right place.
However, there’s a certain smugness at work here—a distasteful self-righteousness burbling up in the interviews with record store geeks and militant indie rockers—that immediately dispelled all my good will, and had me nearly celebrating the closing of these bastions of self-satisfied myopia. Surely this was not filmmaker Brendan Toller’s plan, to have us rooting for the closing of indie record shops?
Though the film’s shoddy, ADD-addled execution – a jumble of ranting interviews with indie rock luminaries and cut-and-paste animations—made the actual watching of the film unpleasant, I take more umbrage with its hermetic elitism, the a priori assumption that what is “indie” is qualitatively better than what is mass produced, de facto better than what is “corporately” sanctioned.
It’s an old argument, a boring argument, and one that has become increasingly untenable and mostly irrelevant in the wake of the massive changes to distribution and dissemination of music in the wake of digital technology. Though the film acknowledges the game changing influence of the “rise” of mp3s and Itunes and file sharing, and how much they destroyed the previous paradigms, it still wants to champion the overriding necessity of a model that is no longer economically viable. There’s wistful nostalgia, and then there’s encasing yourself in amber.
Blood, Sweat and Cheers
Blood, Sweat and Cheers dir. Al Ward
Blood, Sweat and Cheers is a fairly standard—and fairly fun—documentary following the training and tournament travails of the Burlington, Massachusettes Junior Midget Pop Warner Cheerleading Squad, competing in the Advanced Small Squad division (got all that down? Because there will be a quiz). Focusing mostly on the girls and their families during the 2007 season, the film closely follows the team as it competes in local, regional, and then national tournaments.
Burlington, for whatever reason, has been a perennial powerhouse on the national cheerleading stage, rattling off wins with startling regularity. However, recent years has seen the team fall short of the brass ring. So expectations for 2007 are high, as is the drama and stress.
The film ends up being a fairly typical portrayal of dedication and team spirit, doubling as a slice of the community pride and spirit that energizes small town America. If Blood, Sweat and Cheers is by necessity a bit provincial, it is all the more refreshing for it, too.
My only wish was that the film had included more footage of full length routines and practice sessions. The cheerleading on display here is far beyond simple rah-rah pompom waving and chanting—it is a bizarre and hypnotic mixture of high level gymnastics and elaborately choreographed group dance routines. It’s fun and intense, a joy to behold, but it’s hard to assess what separates a great routine from a good one, or even follow the action sometimes.
I wish there had been more of it, and that it had been better explained, if only to better comprehend what all the drama, and tears, and exultation is about. But this is just a minor quibble, and the film in its final form is riveting enough. Go team!
Mine dir. Geralyn Pezanoski
By turns heartbreaking and heartwarming, Mine revisits and re-views the tragedy of Katrina through the prism of the relationships between human survivors and their pets. Beginning with a look at the immediate, post-hurricane rescue efforts by a small band of volunteers who go combing through the ruins to rescue lost and abandoned dogs and cats to safety, the film turns into a whole other film entirely in the quick aftermath.
Once unclaimed pets are sent to shelters—some in the immediate vicinity of New Orleans, some far flung all over the country—the documentary becomes an often heartrending story of loss, separation, and reunion, as owners struggle to try to locate and reclaim their beloved dog or cat.
The clue to where Mine goes with its four or five individual stories is right there in the title – the stress put on the word, and whether it’s meant to be used in the possessive, or rather is to connote more of an affectionate, familial bond. It’s a gateway to a densely tangled morass of moral and legal questions and quandaries that are often impossible to disentangle: questions of how we as humans regard animals, as property or as actual family members; who gets to decided the legal status of pets, who actually have no real status; who gets to say what’s in the best interest of an animal, who decides what is abuse, what is abandonment; and where does the true affection of the animal lie, with the passage of time, in the wake of relocation and adoption.
Though it’s not hard to see where the film’s sympathies lie, it does withhold sweeping judgments, and balances out the arguments on both sides of the issues. There are no true villains here, everyone involved has, or at least begins with, the best interests of the animals at heart. What the film calls for is a reassessment of what these interests are, and to make the difficult jump to not conflate the humane with the human, since they are not necessarily always the same.
The Escapist dir. Rupert Wyatt
Solid, gritty and slightly eccentric, The Escapist unfolds at first pretty much like every other entry in the prison break genre… until it doesn’t. And, given that this “break” with convention occurs during the opening scenes, I guess that means that it isn’t much interested in being a standard genre film at all. Except, well, when it is – which is for most of the film. Follow?
The Escapist suffers too much from wanting to have its cake and eat it too – it’s hardscrabble and heavy on action, and yet also wants to drift off into a free floating meditation on suffering, and loss, and redemption, and do triple duty as a heavily stylized art film. It works, mostly, but uncomfortably.
Brian Cox stars as the ringleader, who is trying to bust out of the clink (shot on location in the famous Kilmainham Gaol, also used to great effect in In the Name of the Father) to save his wayward, drug addicted daughter before she kills herself. He assembles a crew, they hatch an improbable plan, meet and overcome sundry obstacles, and execute the plan with some difficulty.
There are no surprises, especially since the film actually kicks off with the beginning of the escape in action. This is a clever, but a bit misleading, disruption of expectation. The great joy in prison movies (or heist movies) is all the careful build up, the accretion of details, the revelation of the master plan, and then the methodical execution. The Escapist throws us right into the mix, before we can get our bearings, and I applaud it for this.
The film then cycles back on itself, focusing in flashbacks on the build up to the escape, on character and narrative exposition, on the shards that will come together to make the whole. It’s a bit fugue-like, except none of the various pieces seems to comment on one another except superficially. There’s no inherent obvious reason the film should be proceeding thus, though it helps keep things off kilter.
With the final gimmicky reveal at the end of the film, the reasons for The Escapist’s narrative and stylistic choices become a bit clearer. It’s a neat trick, though I don’t know if it’s the right one or not. Where you come down on it, whether you buy it, depends on whether you buy Brian Cox, and whether his soulful, craggy performance sells it.
Luckily, Cox himself was in attendance at the Q+A session afterwards. Loquacious and erudite, his explanations for what happened in the film, and what the end all meant, actually redeemed it, at least for me, when I was ready to dismiss it as cheap. He also told several wonderfully detailed and riveting stories about the production, and especially about shooting in the haunting, cavernous abandoned portions of the London underground, which formed much of the backdrop for the latter part of the film.
Though a minor entry into the genre, The Escapist comes out in the end a worthy one, a film whose strength lies in the details.