Pahokee


There is nothing that says optimism so much as high school football.

(2019) Documentary (Topic) Jocabed Martinez, Na’Kerria Nelson, Junior Walker, BJ Crawford. Directed by Patrick Bresnan and Ivete Lucas

High school is a time in our lives that we endure while we’re living it and, often, treasure more when we’re older than when we’re actually there. The rituals and ambitions of high school are pretty much universal but there are places that they take on a more urgent quality.

Pahokee is a small agricultural town in South Florida on the shores of Lake Okeechobee. Most of the residents are either African-American or Hispanic. Much of the work in the town revolves around working in the fields or in the processing plants. There is little more than that for the young people to look forward to; most who have ambitions beyond that know that they will have to leave Pahokee to get a college education

This documentary follows four students in Pahokee High School’s senior class of 2017 in a particularly turbulent year at the school. Jocabed Martinez is the daughter of Mexican immigrants who managed to save enough from working in the fields to open their own roadside taqueria where she helps out after school working the cash register. She has been doing tremendously well academically and has a realistic chance at an academic scholarship to a four-year college. Na’Kerria Nelson is an outgoing and personable cheerleader who is running for the equivalent of homecoming queen. She has ambitions of getting into a nursing program but with fair to middling academics, she needs every edge she can get and will likely have to pay for her own education. Junior Walker is a drum major in the school band who is also father to a cute-as-a-button toddler, a daughter whom he dotes on. With few employment options and a baby to support, college isn’t likely as he seeks employment in the town. Finally, BJ Crawford is the bruising center and co-captain of the football team that is challenging for the state championship. Both of his college-educated parents are fully in support of him getting an athletic scholarship but his dad cautions him to have a plan B just in case football doesn’t work out for him.

The camera follows them through most of the high school high points, from homecoming, the football state playoffs, prom and graduation. In between there will be moments of triumph, disappointment and even tragedy as on Easter Sunday there was a shooting in the local park. The camera crew happened to be there and captured the chaos and terror of the moment.

There are plenty of compelling moments throughout including the shooting sequence. The problem is that the movie really leaves the audience hanging; the football team suffers a devastating blow and it is essentially left without any sort of context or follow-up. We are often flies on the wall but the teens are rarely questioned directly. There are some video diaries recorded on cell phones and those are weaved in skillfully but I would have liked to have seen the teens talk about some of the things that happen onscreen beyond the platitudes you would expect.

As a glimpse of rural life particularly for those of the ethnic groups previously mentioned this is a pretty decent diary. It could have used some more context and more discipline rather than stream of consciousness. There are a lot of shots of fields being tended, distant factories, trucks roaring down small-town roads used as linking devices. There are also some lovely sunset shots. More grating is that there are some wonderful moments all throughout the movie but they are essentially lacking any sort of cohesion. With a bit of a firmer hand in the editing bay this might have been an extraordinary documentary.

REASONS TO SEE: There are some truly extraordinary moments throughout the movie.
REASONS TO AVOID: The story lacks cohesion; the film could have benefited from more disciplined editing.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity and some violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Bresnan and Lucas lived and worked in Pahokee making short films prior to tackling this feature documentary.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/3/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Hoop Dreams
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Ash is Purest White

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Milton’s Secret


The young and the old share a moment.

The young and the old share a moment.

(2015) Drama (Momentum) Michelle Rodriguez, Mia Kirshner, Donald Sutherland, William Anscough, David Sutcliffe, Ella Ballentine, Percy Hynes White, Stephen Huszar, Hays Wellford, Jessica Greco, Jaeden Noel, Auden Larratt, Milo Larratt, Nidal Kabboul. Directed by Barnet Bain

 

As adults, we spend too much time worrying. Worrying about what the future holds; the unknown terrifies us. That can lead us to dwelling in the past, when things were simpler, brighter, better. The sunlit, dappled memories of yesterday make an easier place to live than the harsh, dark and frightening future. So few of us live in the here and now.

At least that’s what Canadian/German life coach, philosopher and self-help guru Eckhart Tolle opines. He’s written bestselling books like The Power of Now and A New Earth but has also gone after the hearts and minds of children with the illustrated kids book Milton’s Secret, adapted here into a movie by Bain.

Milton Adams (Anscough) is eleven with his 12th birthday looming and the poor guy is a bundle of nerves. The economic downturn has affected both his parents; his mom (Kirshner), a real estate agent, has trouble finding qualified buyers when she can find buyers at all while his dad (Sutcliffe), a stockbroker, tries to reassure her that things are going to be okay when the market continues to provide losses month after month.

On top of it all, he’s getting bullied by Carter (White), a neighbor who himself is being bullied by his dad (Huszar) a former football player who is taking out his own frustrations on his kid. Milton’s best friend Tim (Wellford) is too scared of Carter to do anything to help and sometimes it seems that only his teacher Ms. Ferguson (Rodriguez) has any inkling of helping, but even she is locked in to a Parent’s Night presentation when all the kids will be reading speeches based on a subject of their choosing and yeah, that’s got Milton stressed as well. Plus, you know, he’s named Milton.

Into the chaos comes Grandpa Howard (Sutherland), a combat veteran who has found a kind of Zen inner peace. He’s the prototypical wacky grandpa, drinking a seaweed herbal tea that tastes like “serenity,” working on restoring the garden the Adams family has neglected, and dating his Zoomba instructor for which his daughter chides him. Grandpa has ideas about living in the present, while Milton is resorting to alchemy to try and turn base materials into gold to relieve the financial pressure. Can Grandpa help Milton escape Planet Fear?

One gets the sense that Tolle lives in a bit of a bubble. How many kids of eleven have any kind of inkling about alchemy, not to mention who are attempting to practice it? Tolle, who co-wrote the screenplay, doesn’t seem to have a sense that he hangs out with a lot of kids. Milton, Tim and Milton’s crush Anna (Ballentine) are far too precocious; we only get one scene in which Milton is playing videogames and none of the kids in the movie seem to be engaged in any sort of play. I agree that kids are far more aware of the environment around them than Hollywood (and consequently adults) gives them credit for, but kids are also all about impulse gratification. Milton is far too serious and far too un-self-centered to really be relatable as an 11-year-old circa 2016.

Sutherland is marvelous as always; he’s a welcome presence with a twinkle in his eye and a mischievous smile that brightens up the screen, but he’s given ponderous platitudes to offer rather than genuine wisdom. I get that every movie has something it wants to get across and Tolle’s philosophy of putting oneself completely in the now is not a bad message to send, but it seems that we’re getting battered over the head with it somewhat. A little more subtlety would have been welcome.

Still, I liked the movie overall. You get a sense of the realities of financial pressures and how they affect every member of the family; the tensions between Milton’s mom and dad are handled realistically with their attempts to mute their arguments failing while their precocious son tries to hear what his parents are fighting about. You also get that sense of small town life where there isn’t a whole lot to do, which is why kids (and their parents) seem to be glued to their smart phones.

There’s a whole lot of Donovan on the soundtrack and fans of the 60s folk-rocker will be appreciative of that. For my money, his music is used effectively without being too overwhelming. Some purists may grouse that there isn’t very much contemporary music on the soundtrack, but that’s a refreshing change as I see it – or hear it, in this instance.

Certainly the movie isn’t perfect but it’s solid. It is based on a children’s book, but I’m not sure that I would call this a children’s movie although there is that Afterschool Special feel of an issue being addressed and solutions found. In some ways, the movie is a little bit too pat in that department. People under financial strain aren’t going to be happy unless that financial strain is removed and I don’t care what kinds of self-help techniques are employed. Yet I found myself liking the movie despite the flaws or maybe because of some of them. Anscough at least knows how to look and act stressed out which adds to the authenticity of the film. Maybe some of the issues depicted here may be a little too close to home for those still feeling the pressure of trying to make ends meet in a world where that is becoming increasingly more difficult to do so. On the other hand, life is far too short to spend it worrying about what might happen.

REASONS TO GO: A slice of small town life. There are some lessons to be had here about living in the moment.
REASONS TO STAY: This film is infected with precocious child disease with a side order of sitcom problem solving syndrome.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s some brief foul language and some thematic issues involving bullying.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Peter Fonda was originally cast as Grandpa Howard but was replaced by Donald Sutherland.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/30/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 17% positive reviews. Metacritic: 40/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Bully
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Morgan