Something has always bothered me about the end of The Mighty Ducks. (There’s a great article about what the movie meant to my generation here.) It’s not the fact that the Ducks play terrible, unsound hockey; as coached by Gordon Bombay, the Ducks can only score via trick plays (statue of liberty, flying V) defensive breakdowns (the fact that everyone just gets out of the way whenever Fulton shoots the pucks), or the individual heroism of their star player, Adam Banks (I concur with this post; it’s no contest in any film but the third). D3 acknowledged this element, allowing me to move past it. That the Hawks twice blow a 3 goal lead in the final doesn’t even upset me; the Ducks ability to comeback (their bouncebackability) wouldn’t rate very highly on the cinematic revenge scale (see Kill Bill, wherein the Bride overcomes a bullet to the head). We can all agree: Gordon Bombay is a good motivator, but not a strong tactician.

And it’s not the film’s bizarre class commentary. The social divisions of income inequality are at the heart of the film. Gordon Bombay’s elitist lawyer needs to get in touch with his inner proletariat in order to be a successful coach, correlated on film by dressing down in athletic clothing instead of suits.;Mr. Duckworth can buy the Ducks gear, but he can’t buy membership in the Ducks; Adam Banks’ father has access to the lines of power and can get the league to change its rules in order to accommodate his son; Jesse Hall refuses to acknowledge Banks as a member of the Ducks–despite prolific goal scoring–until he is viciously checked and run into the goal by a member of the Hawks. This symbolically marks him as the enemy-of-my-enemy in the eyes of Hall, transforming him into friend. “Cake-eater,” Hall’s emphatic pejorative of those in upper-income brackets, (how this did not become a widespread insult, I’ll never know!) even becomes a term of endearment. At the end of the day, the class-conflict is left in place. All of this suits a world stung from the Bush 1 recession.

No, rewatching the movie on Encore this morning, I realized why the end of the Might Ducks leaves me frustrated: it’s that Adam Banks’ father has difficulties accepting his son for who he is. We don’t know much about Mr. Banks. We know that he’ll fight to keep Adam on the Hawks. Understandable given that “his older brother was a Hawk; all his little friends are Hawks.” He seems as if he’s on his son’s side.

And yet…during the last game, Mr. Banks is wearing a Hawks jacket. This is the last game of the season, after the Ducks have miraculously made it to the championship game, overcoming ridiculous odds. Banks has clearly emerged as the team’s star player, and the Ducks have gained a sizable fan base, 90% of whom are wearing Ducks’ merchandise. So why is Mr. Banks wearing a Hawks jacket? The only explanation is that Mr. Banks loves his older son more than his younger son. Indeed, he prefers this unseen character so much that he will wear a Hawks jacket to a game where he visibly cheers on his younger son. You don’t have to be a structuralist to recognize that Mr. Banks is projecting mixed signals. Yes, he shows real concern when his son is rammed into the post, but that doesn’t change the fact that he was unwilling to affiliate with him during the game. Do the bonds of Hawkship last so long that Mr. Banks cannot support his son? Is he the film’s anti-Gordon?

Either way, this is a dark cloud hanging over what should have been a magisterial climax.

The State of the Race (pt.2)

December 15, 2008

With the Word of the Year race in full swing, it’s time to turn our gaze on that other great race: what movies will be nominated for best picture?

Let’s start with stating the obvious: this is a weak year. Really weak. As in Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday–weak. Weaker than that pun. One could even say ‘bootylicious,’ as in ‘bootylicious’ adj. ” 1. Of rap lyrics: bad, weak. rare. ”

1992 ‘SNOOP DOGGY DOGG’ Fuck Wit Dre Day (song) in ‘Dr. Dre’ Chronic (album), Them rhymes you were kickin were quite bootylicious.

In 2008, everyone seems to have invested all their energies into electing a democratic president or Ponzi schemes; no-one seems to have wanted to make a great movie. Some movies have been very good (Slumdog Millionare, Rachel Getting Married, and The Dark Knight come to mind) while others have been, “Really? This is supposed to be great?”, a category that includes the vastly overrated Wall*E. (For what it’s worth, I will be offering proper reviews of these movies over the next week, and probably a reappraisal of The Dark Knight, a movie of whose brilliance I’m now certain.)

We finally have enough data to release the first round of our rankings. Here is the top 10. There is a lot of parity.

1. Wall-E, 2.003

2. Slumdog Millionare, 1.729

3. Milk, 1.54

4. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, 1.389

4. Frost/Nixon, 1.389

6. The Dark Knight, .84

6. The Wrestler, .84

6. Gran Torino, .84

9. Burn After Reading, .62

10. Revolutionary Road, .549

10. The Reader, .549

Even though it’s number one, I think Wall-E is the most likely movie of the top 5 to drop out, simply because it’s animated. I also expect TDK to move up as Guild awards come in. I can’t imagine that SAG and the Producers won’t offer up love to the 2nd highest grossing movie of all time, and an ensemble film at that.

1985 was one of those years where everything is endowed with a sense of monumentality. Gone were the light comedies of yesteryear (or yester-yesteryear; see, or don’t see, the Oscars-lite of 1987: Where Everybody Comes of Age!), replaced by a series of Epics and career making performances. It was also the year where Sydney Pollack took home the Best Director statue and Best Picture statue for what really is one of the most wonderful love stories of the second half of the twentieth century, Out of Africa. Sydney Pollack was not one of the directorial luminaries of his generation; he was, at best, the 7th most prominent director of the Hollywood Renaissance. But he was an excellent, unassuming filmmaker who excelled at unironic love stories. He was also a terrific character actor. In the last stage of his career, Pollack got to play that guy, the one lurking in the background who really knows what’s going on, the one you’d have asked for help at the start of the movie if he weren’t so ominous looking. The best of these roles was probably Victor Ziegler in the underrated Eyes Wide Shut. With Pollack’s Ziegler, you’re never too sure what to believe, yet his character has a stability that the others don’t seem to possess. In this often illusory film, Pollack is the perfect emotionless center. Cold, rational, otherwise disposed. In a word: perfect.

But one year, Pollack really was the best filmmaker, the master of the cinematic universe. With that, we turn to 1985.

Wild Card: Ran. A very good film with terrific battle scenes, that happens to be one of the most interesting adaptations of all times. Ran turned one of Shakespeare’s most beloved plays into a Samurai epic, perfectly placing the play in its new cultural context. In fact, Ran might be the second-best Shakespeare adaptation of all-time, behind only the brilliant 10 Things I Hate About You. Ran, however, suffers from a decided lack of freshness. It never escapes the sense of being familiar Kurosawa territory, it never breaks out into any new ground. For an action-epic, it’s also a bit on the slow side. A very well-made movie, but not one of the director’s classics. B+

Nominees: Witness. Witness was one of the unquestioned highlights of the mid 1980s, if only for the sheer number of genres it was able to combine into one still coherent movie: star-crossed lover movies, fish out of water movies, buddy cop movies, buddy cop gone awry movies, sudden action movies, barn-raising instructional videos, and Harrison Ford sure is handsome movies. A highly entertaining movie, Witness deserves to have been mimicked so many times; whether those deserve to be watched is another question entirely. A- Read the rest of this entry »