What say I just get all my belated movie reviews over at once, eh?
Although I make a point to post reviews for every movie I see in the theater, I somehow never got around to writing about Bend It Like Beckham, despite having seen it over two months ago. When the film left the theaters several weeks ago, I shrugged and assumed that it would be my first omission since defective yeti’s inception. Today, however, it appears that Beckham has returned to theaters across the nation, thereby negating my excuse. Dad gummit.
Maybe I’m reluctant to review Beckham because I feel like I have already covered this movie a couple of times. It is, in fact, That Movie — you know, the one that comes out every year, where some strong-willed youngster decides to go against tradition and follow his dream, much to the annoyance of his parents who vainly try and thwart his ambition but, in the end, recognize the importance of their offspring’s happiness and reluctantly relent. A couple years ago That Movie was called Billy Elliot, and then it was East Is East, last year it was My Big Fat Greek Wedding, etc. This year it’s Beckham, and apparently he can Bend It, apparently.
Bend It Like Beckham focuses on a strong-willed youngster who decides to go against tradition and follow her dream blah blah blah. The youngster here is Jess, the only Indian (that’s the “from India” flavor of Indian) on an all-girls, British soccer team; the dream is Jess’s ambition to make it to the finals. Unfortunately (and predictably), her parents don’t approve. In particular, her father recalls the racism he faced as an Indian in a British cricket league, and urges his daughter to quit before she encounters the same brand of ugly discrimination. She refuses, the come to loggerheads, and I could keep telling you the plot but there’s probablyy no need.
I can enjoy That Movie once a year, so long as it’s funny, well directed, and at least covers some new ground. Bend It Like Beckham succeeds so marvelously at the first two criteria that I was willing to overlook the fact that there was really nothing new here whatsoever. Beckham is also a perfect Mom Movie. (I know this for a fact because my Mom wanted to take me to see Down With Love, but I talked her into this one instead and she quite enjoyed it. Whew — I dodged a bullet, there.) I wouldn’t recommend it per se, but I can assure you that you won’t regret seeing Beckham if nothing else at the Cineplex floats your boat, as it’s a film that’s almost impossible to dislike.
Another genre of film that I can see once a year and enjoy is the Big Animated Movie Ostensibly For Children, and this summer it was Finding Nemo. I’ve been a big fan of Pixar dating back to the days when you could only see thier flicks at The Festival Of Animation, and I have enjoyed every movie they have ever made. Finding Nemo was no exception, although I’ll confess to it being my least favorite in thier repertoire.
As with all Pixar films the animation is gorgeous, the plot is clever, the voices are well-done, etc., etc. But I couldn’t get over the fact that the protagonists were fish. I mean, I had no problem sympathizing with inanimate playthings in Toy Story and Toy Story 2, the critters in A Bug’s Life, and even the beasts in Monsters Inc., but, I dunno: fish! I had to practically will myself to care about them. (I should acknowledge that, even in real life, I have no affinity for fish whatsoever. I don’t understand the allure of having them as pets, for example. Personally, I am only interested in fish when they are accompanied by chips.) It also didn’t help that within the first 10 minutes this film racked up a higher body count than most horror movies, which kind of made Nemo’s perils seem trivial by comparison.
Still, the worst Pixar movie is better than just about any other American kids’ film out there, so you can still chalk this review up as a rave. Even without getting all worked up over the protagonist (fish!) I still enjoyed the story, and Ellen DeGeneres does some fantastic voice work. Certainly worth seeing in the theater — doubly so if you can muster up the slightest enthusiasm for our fine finned friends.
And speaking of Feel Good Hits Of The Summer, Capturing the Friedmans documents the harrowing story of a family torn apart by allegations of pedophilia and sexual assault.
The story begins in the late 1987’s, when Arnold Friedman, a teacher and father of three, is arrested for the possession of child pornography. After Friedman confesses to being a pedophile, students from a computer course he taught in his basement begin alleging that Arnold, along with his son, Jesse, turned the classes into orgies of child molestation and rape.
The claims seem wildly improbable — parents who picked their children up after these supposed orgies noticed nothing amiss, and many of the “victims” enrolled in the class year after year — but the late 80’s were the heyday of child molestation witch hunts in the United States, so the case is brought against Arnold and his son all the same. As the film progresses, however, it becomes increasing clear that while the most lurid and outlandish of tales concerning what went on in those computer classes are certainly false, it’s not entirely clear that something didn’t happen.
What sets Friedmans apart from the run-of-the-mill “What really happened?” news-magazine stories you’d see on tv is the use of film footage shot while the events were actually taking place. As things began to fall apart, David Friedman, the oldest son, took to filming his family as they discussed, argued, and pondered the charges against Arnold and Jesse. So while Capturing the Friedman makes use of many modern-day interviews (most notably with David and his mother, Elaine) where participants recollect how they felt and reacted to developments in the case, it also incorporates the scenes that David shot on the given day. Some of David footage is painfully intimate, such as one soliloquy by David himself where he looks at the camera and says “This is private, so if you’re not me, you shouldn’t be watching.”
Also setting Capturing The Friedmans apart from the standard news-magazine tv shows is the fact that it doesn’t take a stand as to the truth of the allegations. Each time I was convinced one way the other — Friedman was guilty, Friedman was framed — the film would introduce a new fact or witness who would cast doubt on everything I though I knew for sure. I appreciated this even-handedness, but I occasionally wondered if the filmmakers weren’t bend over backwards to make things as ambiguous as possible, purposely blurring the line between the credible and the outrageous. Still, I’d rather the director err on the side of neutrality than come in with a bias and slant the coverage to bolster a pre-held conclusion. Capturing the Friedmans is one of the most thought-provoking legal documentaries I have seen since Brother’s Keeper, and the best films I’ve seen all year.
Hey Seattlites: Capturing the Friedmans is still playing at the Metro. All three of ’em are, actually.