Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Gathr Previews: Next Goal Wins, The Forgotten Kingdom, On My Way

I missed one Gathr preview series during the sci-fi festival, and I was actually kind of disappointed about that one; Adult World with John Cusack, Emma Roberts, and Cloris Leachman looked like it could be entertaining. On the other hand, that was the night of Bunker 6 at the festival, and that was one of the best, so I'm guessing that in the duel of Things I Had Prepaid For was won by the proper presentation.

The next week was an interesting one - I had done the 24-hour marathon from noon Sunday to noon Monday, and spent the afternoon kind of woozy, although I was able to pick up a second wind in time for Next Goal Wins. Fun little movie, although it was kind of amusing that the Regent guys filled as many seats as they could by contacting local youth soccer programs and seeing if they'd be interested - only to be a little surprised at all the swearing Thomas Rongen and the other coaches did. On the bright side, I didn't hear anybody complaining about the transgendered player who figures prominently in the documentary, so that was good.

The 24th was my first time in the new "Regent Underground Theatre", which is part of the Dance Inn next to the main theater. It's an odd little space, next to the rehearsal area, with folding chairs and café tables set up ahead of a stage area with the screen in the back. It says something, I suppose, that seeing a movie there feels genuinely unusual, what with the open area to the left and obvious evidence that it's not purpose-built for this function; not so very long ago, movies like The Forgotten Kingdom would have been exclusively shown in places like that, or wherever a film club could set up a screen and a 16mm projector. Now we go to something like that and ponder whether paying $10 for the experience is a good value in comparison to paying roughly the same amount to rent it as a new release on Video On Demand or via Amazon Instant Video.

It was back upstairs yesterday for On My Way, with folks from Belmont World Film handing out programs for their upcoming series, which I thought was kind of odd, as that one is also scheduled for Mondays, albeit over at the Studio Cinema in Belmont. It turns out that won't be the case; instead, the Gathr Previews Bookings look to be shuffled to Sunday through the length of that series. It looks like it's going to be really tight for Tiger Tail in Blue this week - the theater is booked until 8pm, so the movie will be starting at 8:15 - although it will be back to the regular 7:30pm time for The Raid 2: Berandal on the 16th.

I'm a bit of two minds about this - on the one hand, this makes it a bit more difficult for me to get there, as I'll be trying to fit it into my weekend rather than hopping off the 350 bus early, but I suspect that it might be more enticing for the people who don't go directly past this theater on public transportation every day. Gripping hand is that it does get this away from the other Monday-evening programs, whether in Belmont or at the Coolidge.

At any rate, this is proving to be a fairly resilient series, and it does seem to be starting to gather regulars aside from me. It also seems to be getting some slightly better movies right now - there was a pretty barren period late last year, but I am kind of excited about The Raid 2 - which can only help going forward.

Next Goal Wins

* * * (out of four)
Seen 17 February 2014 in the Regent Theartre (Gathr Preview Series, digital)

Next Goal Wins is an inspirational sports story that follows a familiar enough template that if it were fictional, we might be tempted to roll our eyes at just how far the filmmakers were pushing it. This kind of extreme-underdog story does occasionally happen, though, and one of the great things about sport is the way that it occasionally serves this kind of story up. The story of American Samoa's national team is a button-pushing crowd-pleaser, sure, but it's a darn good one.

The American Samoan side, you see, was infamously bad at soccer. They were 0-32 in FIFA-sanctioned matches, with the most infamous loss coming in 2001, when they lost to Australia 31-0, an absurd score for a game where the point totals are usually in the low single digits. The film picks up ten years later, with a volunteer coach attempting to lead this team of amateurs in their first international competition in for years. When that doesn't go so well, they turn to help from the US Soccer Association, which helps them hire fiery Dutch coach Thomas Rongen, who helps recruit Samoan-American Rawlston Masantai & soldier Ramin Ott to join captain Liatama Amisone Jr., Jaiyah "Johnny" Saelua, and redemption-seeking goalkeeper Nicky Salapu.

It's easy to forget just how difficult sports can be at the highest levels, not just for spectators but for the coaches. There are a ton of laughs to be found in how both Rongen and volunteer coach Larry Mena'o react with mounting levels of frustration and profanity, not having realized just how far below their expectations a national team could fall (amusingly, the parents who brought their young soccer-playing kids to the screening I attended did not anticipate the amount of swearing involved). It's what makes Salapu kind of a fascinating story; he's probably the best player in his Seattle rec league, for example, and during the clips of various matches, the commentators almost seem sorry for him, implying he's a good keeper who is not helped by a porous defense or being just a cut below the pro-quality guys he's facing. It helps firmly establish what a lot of sports movies can't, that just making a respectable show against some of these other teams is in some ways just as good as a victory.

Full review at EFC

The Forgotten Kingdom

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 24 February 2014 in the Regent Theartre Underground (Gathr Preview Series, digital)

Anybody who has ever owned a globe or a world map has probably found himself or herself curious about Lesotho; the small landlocked kingdom in the middle of South Africa is one of only two or three nations in the world to be completely encircled by another. And while director Andrew Mudge's new film set there doesn't necessarily give much insight on how that geography affects life there, it's still a fine, intimate story set in a place many in the audience haven't even visited cinematically before.

It starts out in Johannesburg, where Atang Mokoenya (Zenzo Ngqobe) is spending his twenties getting into trouble. A trip out to the township for a rare visit with his father reveals that the man has died, and has already set money aside for a burial back in the village in Lesotho where Atang was born. He intends to return to the city after the funeral, but seeing childhood friend Dineo (Nozipho Nkelemba) gives him his first reason to stick around a little longer, while other things will also prevent a speedy return to the city.

It's actually almost comical at times how Atang finds reasons to get off a bus although Mudge has something a bit heavier in mind to get him to have a greater appreciation for his father and the land he called home. It's far from subtle - at the start of the movie, he's using a European name and eager to sell the mementos that have been handed down to him and even get some money by downgrading the casket - and at times, it's quite forced, as when Atang takes a job in a textile plant for no apparent reason. Sure, it has been mentioned that his father once had that sort of job, and Atang does need to be kept occupied while some other things happen elsewhere, but that's a reason for Mudge to put him there, not for Atang to go along that path.

Full review at EFC

Elle s'en va (On My Way)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 3 March 2014 in the Regent Theartre (Gathr Preview Series, digital)

At one point in On My Way, Catherine Deneuve's Bettie looks at the kid singing some English-language song in the passenger seat, then at the freeway outside the window, and grumbles that she feels like she's in America. It's a funny bit that nevertheless makes me wonder if the road trip, and therefore the books and movies chronicling same, is a particularly American phenomenon, seldom seen in countries that connect their urban areas with quality passenger rail systems. A bit of a shame, if so, because On My Way is a fine example of the freedom that sort of story brings.

Bettie, being French - Miss Brittany for 1969, in fact - didn't really intend to go on a road trip, of course. Frazzled from running a restaurant that is starting to run worrisomely late on its bills, she is further stressed out when he mother Annie (Claude Gensac) makes sure Bettie know that her longtime lover has finally left his wife, but for a 25-year-old girl, and take a quick drive to clear her head. And keeps driving, because this is the sort of situation that makes one start smoking again, but it's hard to by cigarettes on Sunday except at a bar. Then... well, is the next day, and her daughter Muriel (Camille) calls, asking if she will come pick up her son Charly (Nemo Schiffman) and bring him to stay with his grandfather (Gérard Garouste) while she travels for a job interview. And then...

Well, a number of other things happen. Bettie does not particularly have adventures as she makes her way around her corner of France - what happens probably doesn't even rise to the level of misadventures - but she does have encounters. Some are very brief, such as the people at the food truck who let her charge her phone, and some go on for long enough to form some sort of a bond, if a temporary one. In many cases, things seem to go easier with lesser connections, but there is generally someone worth meeting at each stop and a nifty little scene as Bettie stop and speaks with them.

Full review at EFC

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