Movie Review – Hoop Dreams

Hoop Dreams (1994)
Directed by Steve James

Since the first African people were captured, sold through European markets, and forcibly transported to “The New World,” Black bodies have been commodified by white supremacy. African people were not the first slaves, but their subjugation under the institution of chattel slavery is a defining aspect of humanity in the Western world. To pretend that it “was a long time ago,” that we live in a “post-racial world” or any other white copium is just that. It’s a complete dismissal of material facts and accurate historical analysis. Today, Black people are still seen as white commodities in capitalism’s gaze. Instead of working the fields of cotton plantations, American society works Black men as gladiator figures, tossing them in arenas to destroy their bodies and damage their brains for our entertainment. The thought of what these men will do when natural aging & physical strain catch up to them is not even contemplated by most people.

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Patron Pick – Tracktown

This is a special reward available to Patreon patrons who pledge at the $10 or $20 a month levels. Each month those patrons will pick a film for me to review. They also get to include some of their own thoughts about the movie, if they choose. This Pick comes from Matt Harris.

Tracktown (2016)
Written & Directed by Alexi Pappas and Jeremy Teicher

The Olympics-to-movies track is not one populated with much success. You need only look at the quality of Gymkata (starring gymnast Kurt Thomas) or Can’t Stop the Music (starring track star Caitlyn Jenner) to see how dubious these pictures can be. In a recent pre-Oscars interview, when asked about what movies he’s watched recently, director Paul Thomas Anderson namedropped Tracktown as one he’d watched and liked. Intriguing, yes? I have to wonder how closely Mr. Anderson was paying attention to the film as it played on his television because there is something so off about Tracktown.

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Movie Review – Slalom

Slalom (2021)
Written & Directed by Charlène Favier

In recent years, films across the globe have begun tackling the horror of sexual assault experienced by women & girls for centuries and more. Some critical decisions have to be made when presenting such sensitive content, the largest of which is “How graphic should the depiction of assault be on screen?” This is made even more potentially troubling when it involves an underage victim. In her debut feature, writer-director Charlène Favier doesn’t hold back much when showing her protagonist slowly being groomed and then used by an important authority figure in her life. There are only two sexual encounters throughout the picture, but the director lingers in these moments, which leads to that stomach sinking feeling as you watch how helplessly the young girl just gives in.

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Movie Review – The Color of Money

The Color of Money (1986)
Written by Richard Price
Directed by Martin Scorsese

The Color of Money is a very appropriately titled film because it feels like Martin Scorsese made it to progress other projects, mostly The Last Temptation of Christ. This was essentially a work-for-hire picture that helped keep Scorsese busy and honing his craft. He doesn’t really use any of the stable of actors you might expect, even in minor roles. John Turturro, who had a “blink and you’ll miss him” cameo in Raging Bull, has a small supporting role, but overall, this is a group of performers Scorsese was working with for the first time. Paul Newman and Tom Cruise are the co-male leads, with Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as the female lead. It’s also a sequel to a film made twenty years earlier. All these elements make for a movie you probably wouldn’t guess Scorsese made unless you saw the opening credits.

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Movie Review – Raging Bull

Raging Bull (1980)
Written by Paul Schrader & Mardik Martin
Directed by Martin Scorsese

By 1979, Martin Scorsese wondered if he might die soon. The depression that hit after New York, New York’s box office and critical failure was tremendous. He entered into a period of wild partying, with cocaine being his self-medication of choice. Scorsese abused his body to the point that he was hospitalized for internal bleeding and was thoroughly addicted to cocaine. Robert De Niro is credited as one of the people vital in saving Scorsese’s life. He visited the filmmaker in the hospital and proposed that the two collaborate on adapting a book DeNiro had given Scorsese years earlier. The book was Raging Bull, a memoir by Bronx boxer Jake LaMotta. Scorsese had been reticent to make the film because he didn’t get it initially. Now, as he lay in a hospital bed, his body ravaged, he began to understand how people destroy themselves and climb to get back to where they started.

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DocuMondays – Dogtown & The Z-Boys

Dogtown & The Z-Boys (2001, dir. Stacy Peralta)
Narrated by Sean Penn

As anyone who knows me well can tell you, I am by no means a sports enthusiast. However, even I know the names Stacy Peralta, Tony Alva, and Jay Adams. I can’t say I knew a lot about them before I watched this documentary, but I did know they were big names in the world of skateboarding. In the early 1990s, skate culture was a big deal. I was about 9 or 10 years old and in all of child-focused media you had skateboard bound characters; from Nintendo’s Skate or Die to the skateboard bound Michelangelo in TMNT. There was an entire aesthetic movement backing it as well: Chicano graffiti inspired neon clothing is what I remember most vividly. All of that started back in 1971 in South Venice Beach, California.

The story of the Zephyr Skate Team is the story of the class divide in America. The young men and women who skated on Zephyr were children of broken homes who lived in the “wrong side of the tracks” part of Venice Beach. The shoreline there was not one tourists ever visited and its most prominent landmark was the decrepit hulking skeleton of an abandoned theme park. The figures in the film began by surfing amongst the treacherous collapsing roller coasters and pier, and were forced to seek recreation elsewhere as the waves only came in at a very specific time of the day. As a lark they took up skateboarding, which had faded away as a fad in the mid-60s. The invention of polyurethane wheels, replacing the easily chipped and locking up clay ones, allowed the boards to grip the pavement and provide a smoother ride. Thus, many surfing techniques were brought in by the skaters. Basically, the modern skateboarding aesthetic is a direct result of the play these young people engaged in day after day.

The economic conditions of the key figures seemed to be one the largest driving forces. Many of the young men who skated on Zephyr came from homes where the fathers had left or, poor economic conditions resulted in, aggressive and abusive fathers. They found the Jeff Ho Surfboard Shop as a second home, where proprietors Jeff Ho, Skip Engblom, and Craig Stecyk encouraged the skaters to develop their own individual styles of the riding the boards. South Venice was a community envious of the North Venice mansions, and as fate would have it, a heavy drought struck California during the early 1970s. This left a lot of dried out pools and some of the more inventive skaters began to see the similarities between the flourishes and curves of the cement pools and the waves they were used to riding. And so, vertical skateboarding was born, skaters attempting to leave but one wheel touching the very rim of the bowl they rode in.

Much like a VH1 Behind the Music episode, we’re given a traditional Rise and Fall story, but what makes it so remarkable is that the key players were all teenagers for both the Rise and Fall portions. Stacy Peralta came out as the most successful, going on to champion and mentor skaters like Tony Hawk. Tony Alva struck out as a very successful entrepreneur, becoming the first skater to break away from the companies and start his own. The saddest of the lot was Jay Adams, whom all the interviewees agree could have been the best in history, but he got caught up in a drug lifestyle that included crystal meth that sent him to some rather difficult places. The film does an excellent job of structuring its narrative, and does everything I want from a good documentary: It causes me to have interest in a subject I have thought little about, tells me an interesting story about very human people, and leaves me wanting to know more.