Thursday, October 15, 2015

Documentaries: Peace Officer & Fastball

This wasn't quite both ends of the GlobeDocs Film Festival, although one of the first screenings of that event was going on at the Kendall Square theater as I caught one of the last screenings of Peace Officer. That ran as part of "HubWeek", which I've seen described as Boston attempting to build something like Austin, TX's South-by-Southwest festival, although it's much more slanted toward science and academics even if there is still a healthy dose of arts & entertainment as well. It's not close to that big yet, obviously, but that's quite okay; I suspect that it's not quite an easy sell with that focus.

Still, the closing night of the film component was fun, as they found an appropriate venue for Fastball:

You might say it has stadium seating, even.

That's the view from the State Street Pavilion, among the fancier seats with the best view of the field at Fenway Park. I've only been up there for a game once or twice, but it was amazing. As a spot to watch a movie - well, as gigantic as the center-field video screen is, it's still pretty far away, and with them running the same thing on the televisions around the area, you can't help but notice that it's a bit of an odd shape (maybe a 16:10 aspect ratio compared to the 16:9 of a standard HDTV), not enough to make things look stretched, but different.

Nice to have a trip to Fenway in mid-October despite the lack of playoff baseball, though.

Peace Officer

* * * (out of four)
Seen 8 October 2015 in Landmark Kendall Square #9 (first-run, DCP)

"Dub" Lawrence is a disconcertingly cheerful face with which to sell the idea that the militarization of American police forces is out of hand; it's a serious, life-and-death subject to which he has a highly personal connection, and yet he spends much of the movie with a big grin. Maybe the idea of being the center of a movie just tickled him, or maybe he's just glad to get his message heard. Or maybe he figures that the people who need to absorb this lesson are so used to being lectured and browbeaten that they need to be approached with a smile. Maybe that will actually help.

His particular story pivots around the events of 22 September 2008, when the former sheriff's son-in-law was killed during a standoff with dozens of police officers, including a full SWAT team, despite apparently only being a threat to himself. Lawrence begins an investigation of how things went so wrong, and eventually becomes involved in reconstructing two similar incidents in his home state of Utah. His work with the families of those involved appears to indicate a disturbing pattern of excessive force leading to tragedy followed by half-hearted official investigations, but only rarely leads to justice being done.

Of course, those on the other side of the case would beg to differ, and directors Bard Barber & Scott Christopherson give them enough chances to speak that, depending upon where a viewer stands going in, he or she will feel that they have been given enough rope with which to hang themselves, a fair chance to speak their peace, or a bad edit. I personally don't think there's a lot of doubt that the filmmakers have made sure to include the moments which highlight the growing belief that there's a growing and dangerous "us versus them" mentality in policing, and suspect that there will be some objections along the lines of how the civilians' own flaws are downplayed despite the filmmakers' spending a fair amount of time early on focusing on the faults of Lawrence's son-in-law.

Full review on EFC.


* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 10 October 2015 in Fenway Park (GlobeDocs Film Fetival, digital)

The professional sports industry churns out a tremendous amount of non-fiction films every year, and the number is probably only going up with the sheer number of cable sports channels with time to fill, especially during the off-season. It's not uncommon for greatness to come out of this factory - the larger-than-life personalities and strong passions can create terrific stories that reflect ideas beyond the games themselves - but more often you get something like Fastball: Competently-produced and an easy watch for fans, it will probably fill a lot of hours on the MLB Network during the winter but it doesn't transcend its title.

Heck, the viewer won't even learn the mechanics of supplying power to a fastball or controlling it via the release; This film is almost entirely a celebration of the let-'er-rip, blow-the-batter-away pitch and pitcher, with a particular emphasis on determining who, among major leaguers, was the hardest thrower ever. As a result, it's not exactly dry, but there is very little opportunity to learn here: You can spend a segment or two talking about Nolan Ryan's feats on a pitching mound, but director Jonathan Hock can't do much more than stand back and be amazed; there's no talk about what made him different from so many other hurlers, even to the point of acknowledging that, to throw as many pitches as hard as he did for as long as he did, he had to be a freak of nature.

Don't expect much mention that he walked enough people that his reputation is fairly inflated, either; Hock spends much of the film content to repeat familiar lore that much of his audience is likely very familiar with, even seeming to offer only token resistance to the claim that pitches can rise on the way to the plate. That makes things go down easier, for sure, but the film gets more interesting when Hock digs into things that are somewhat lesser-known - the story of Steve Dalkowski, a fireballer who could never control his pitches enough to make that speed useful, or how a good fastball can fool the brain because it's right at the edge of what the human eye can see and how the brain extrapolates motion. The mechanics of how pitch speeds have been measured are nifty and potentially new information for many viewers as well.

Full review on EFC.

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