Maiden


Sailing takes on a different attire in the oceans of Antarctica.

(2018) Documentary (Sony ClassicsTracy Edwards, Jo Gooding, Bruno Dubois, Barry Pickthall, Skip Novak, Bob Fisher, Howard Gibbons, Sally Hunter, Nancy Harris, Jeni Mundy, Claire Warren, Dawn Riley, Angela Heath, Marie-Claude Heys, Tanja Nisser. Directed by Alex Holmes

 

We like to characterize women as the fairer sex, but there’s always the underlying “the weaker sex” that goes unspoken except in actions which are, of course, much louder than words. Over the last century or so women have been struggling to prove that myth wrong and have done so, sometimes in triumphant fashion.

Sailing has always been a man’s world. There was the unadulterated bull excrement that it was bad luck to have a woman on board sailing vessels, as if vaginas somehow brought on the wrath of the gods. For longer endurance races, however, there was always the need for physical strength and endurance, something that admittedly men possess in greater amounts.

Tracy Edwards grew up in England a rebellious teen who was devoted to her father who sadly passed away at a young age. When her mum remarried, she found her stepdad to be a loathsome individual so she left and took on odd jobs from flight attendant to bartender, eventually working on the crew of yachts for hire. There she fell in love with sailing.

When she heard about the Whitbread Endurance Race, the longest of its time, she was eager to be part of it. However, the nearest she could get was to be a cook on one of the entrants. She was treated as a second class citizen and felt that she wasn’t contributing as much as she would have liked to. She realized early on that the only way to run the race as an on-deck crew member would be to captain her own boat, something that had never been done before. And since few male crew members would work for a woman, she would need to hire herself an all=female crew.

She was met with a great deal of skepticism if not outright hostility. It’s expensive to enter a vessel in the Whitbread and finding sponsors was a heck of a mountain to climb. Most were at best apathetic; others treated the idea as a joke. There were some sympathetic to her plan but quite frankly they were concerned about the publicity that would be incurred if the ship sank during the race and they went down with all hands – a distinct possibility particularly in the rough and treacherous Antarctic seas. Nobody could believe that she could actually do it.

By random chance, she met King Hussein of Jordan who grew to believe in her. He arranged for Jordanian Air to sponsor her and through that she was able to buy and refurbish a second-hand boat which was re-christened the Maiden Great Britain (get the aural pun?) and entered the vessel in the race. Journalists were skeptical with one, Bob Fisher, going so far to call the entry a “tin can full of tarts.” Nevertheless, she entered the 1989-90 Whitbread and journalists eagerly and with more than a little snarky glee took bests on how far they’d get. The rest would be history.

You can be forgiven if you’ve never heard of any of this. I confess I didn’t even know about the Whitbread (which is now called the Volvo Race after their current sponsor) and knew even less about Edwards. All this occurred 30 years ago and frankly I don’t really follow sailing at all. This isn’t a situation unique to me and an obstacle director Alex Holmes has to overcome.

He does the best thing possible to overcome it – he tells the story simply and lets the power of the narrative and the character of the participants draw the viewer in. Utilizing a lot of interviews with the participants in the race, their rivals aboard other boats and the journalists who covered the race as well as home movies and archival coverage, Holmes weaves the story nicely. The sequences in the Southern Ocean are particularly harrowing as we watch the tiny boat navigate rough seas that would put the North Atlantic to shame.

Edwards loathed the term “feminist” although her deeds mark her as a feminist to the core. The movie does lack a bit of context; what sort of effects did the Maiden voyage (see what I did there?) have on the world of yacht racing and on women in sports in general? Have there been any other all-female crews since? I can’t answer that but I can imagine that plenty of young girls who watch this movie may end up inspired enough to put together a team of their own.

REASONS TO SEE: A gripping story told well. The cinematography is spectacular as is the score. Edwards and her crew make for engaging subjects. Brings to light a little-known historic event.
REASONS TO AVOID: Really doesn’t delve into how the voyage of the Maiden changed things and the effect it has had on how women are regarded.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity. Mature situations and some sexually suggestive content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film debuted at last year’s Toronto Film Festival.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/21/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 97% positive reviews: Metacritic: 79/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: All is Lost
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT:
The House (2019)

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Invincible


Invincible

Greg Kinnear and Mark Wahlberg practice the Philadelphia Eagles' secret handshake.

(2006) True Sports Drama (Disney) Mark Wahlberg, Greg Kinnear, Elizabeth Banks, Michael Rispoli, Kevin Conway, Michael Nouri, Paige Turco, Kirk Acevedo, Dov Davidoff, Michael Kelly, Nicoye Banks, Stink Fisher, Lola Glaudini. Directed by Ericson Core

Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones once said “Never tell me the odds.” Vince Papale not only heard him say it, he lived his life by it.

Papale (Wahlberg) was like many people in South Philadelphia in 1976, fighting for survival. He was holding down two jobs, as a substitute teacher and as a part-time bartender. When the school district cut back on teaching positions, Papale found himself in a bind. His wife Sharon (Glaudini) could handle no more and she left him, writing a vitriolic note that left no uncertainty about how she felt – the man she married was a loser who would never amount to much.

The Philadelphia Eagles NFL team was in similar straits. They’d suffered through three consecutive losing seasons, and not just losing seasons, humiliating seasons. The fandom in Philly, never known for being particularly tolerant of losing teams, was angry. Already in a bad mood because of the economy, strikes and unemployment, the lift they were looking for from their football team just wasn’t there. Owner Leonard Tose (Nouri), looking for a way out of the downward spiral, knew the team needed a change in the head coach position. Rather than hiring a well-known name, he selected a college coach with no previous professional experience – Dick Vermeil (Kinnear) from UCLA.

Vermeil was coming off an inspiring Rose Bowl win over Ohio State. He knew that he would be in the crosshairs to win immediately, but also realized that he didn’t have much in the way of personnel. In order to build more interest in his team, he announced that he was going to hold open tryouts. Keep in mind that open tryouts are virtually unheard of for an NFL team, who normally add players through trades with other teams or through the college draft. 

Papale’s friends, like Pete (Kelly), who had never been the same after his brother was killed in Vietnam, and Tommy (Acevedo) who was on strike at Westinghouse, and his employer at the bar Max (Rispoli) all urged Papale to attend the tryout. Not only was Papale a superfan, he was also dominant in the pickup football games played in a loose league that pitted the employees and customers of various South Philly bars against one another. When Max’s comely cousin Janet (Banks), a hardcore Giants fan, chimes in, he finally gives in despite the misgivings of his father (Conway).

The local media treats the tryouts as a joke and for the most part they are, but Papale, who is big and speedy and also has heart and determination catches Vermeil’s eye. Of all the tryouts, Vince is the only one to be invited to training camp. The guys at the bar are ecstatic and all of South Philly picks up on it. Vince is their hero, living a fans dream.

The other players in the Eagle locker room are not so sanguine. They look at Papale as an upstart, an invader and an affront. They all expect him to be cashiered after a few days as does Vince himself. To everyone’s surprise, he hangs in there. Papale doesn’t know the meaning of the word quit and he gives everything he can, figuring he might as well leave it all on the field. After all, he is 30 years old. When is he going to have another chance to try out for an NFL team?

For Vermeil, the pressure becomes exponentially more intense. As the Eagles lose game after game in the preseason, the press is howling for blood, the fans are right there with them and only his wife (Turco) seems to be in his corner. Still, Vermeil knows what it takes to win whether in college, high school, NFL, pee wees what have you. And although it is getting harder to keep Papale, who is taking quite a beating from the resentful veterans, he just can’t deny the attitude which is precisely what he wants to instill in his team. 

At last, he relents and gives Papale the last spot on the team to play on the special team squad. Although the media spotlight on Papale brings the kind of attention to the team that sells tickets (which makes Tose happy), if Papale doesn’t perform in the games, it is going to be very bad for Vermeil. Their fates are now inextricably linked.

Of course, this is a Disney sports film so you know immediately how the movie is going to end. It is totally formula, but it is a successful formula. Wahlberg is convincing as a big hearted fan full of self-doubt. Director Core has captured the atmosphere of South Philly perfectly. Da Queen’s family is from Philly (although not the south side) and she vouches for the authenticity. It has the feel of a working class neighborhood, where everybody knows each other and they’re all in the same boat together.

The football scenes didn’t ring as true to me, with players leaping like gazelles (although the pop of the hits was captured nicely on the soundtrack) and shimmying and shaking. Frankly, Friday Night Lights caught more of the feeling of being on the field than Invincible did. Still, that can be overlooked, particularly when you throw in the awkward romance that is generated between Janet and Vince, two wounded souls that are gun-shy but drawn to each other like a moth to a flame.

Disney has created itself a new niche in the sports underdog movie, with things like The Rookie and Remember the Titans among others. Invincible doesn’t disgrace itself and in fact hits a lot of notes really nicely, much the same way Miracle did. If you’re looking for a reason to feel good, here’s a movie that will generate the warm fuzzies in just about anyone.

WHY RENT THIS: Successful sports underdog movie hits all the right notes. Wahlberg captures the never-say-die attitude of Papale perfectly. The romance between Wahlberg and Banks works.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: You’ll feel like you’ve seen this movie before.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a little bit of foul language and some football violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Both of Papale’s real life children make cameos in the film, during a pick-up football game his daughter Gabriella play the quarterback who throws the ball to her brother Vincent, wearing the makeshift #83 jersey.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: There is a terrific feature on the real Vince Papale, “Becoming Invincible” which nicely imitates the NFL Films documentary style. On the Blu-Ray edition, “Becoming the Vet” shows how the filming took place at Franklin Field, the Eagles’ home field from 1958-1970; the filmmakers used computer graphics to give the stadium the look of Veteran’s Stadium, where the Eagles played at the time the movie was set but was imploded in 2004, shortly before filming began.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $58.5M on an unreported production budget; the movie broke even and possibly made a little money.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: The Fog (2005)

The Fighter


The Fighter

Mark Wahlberg thinks he's in the next Batman movie; Christian Bale thinks he's the newest membrer of NKOTB.

(2010) True Sports Drama (Paramount) Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, Jack McGee, Mickey O’Keefe, Melissa McMeekin, Bianca Hunter, Erica McDermott, Jill Quigg, Dendrie Taylor, Kate O’Brien, Frank Renzulli. Directed by David O. Russell

We all have our burdens to bear in life, and sometimes those burdens are our own families. They may mean well and have our interests at heart, but their own demons sometimes get in the way. There are even occasions where their only interests in their heart are their own.

Micky Ward (Wahlberg) is a prize fighter whose career has stalled. He has entrusted his training to his brother Dicky Eklund (Bale), himself a fighter whose moment in the sun came when he knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard during a 1978 fight. The pride of Lowell, Massachusetts has sunk quite a ways since then, becoming addicted to crack. However, he has high hopes of a comeback, and HBO has sent a documentary crew to film it.

In the meantime, Micky has a fight to take care of and he has prepared diligently for it, no thanks to Dicky who is often a no-show. Their mother Alice (Leo) is their manager, and she is not so much a typical manager as she is a force of nature to be reckoned with. She is sort of like Mamie van Doren gone to seed, a blonde bombshell who smokes like a fiend and wears too-tight pants and too-high heels, not unlike a moll in a mobster movie. Nobody in the business really takes her seriously, although nobody else in the family – including the seven sisters of the boys (acting as something of a drinking-chain smoking- bickering Greek chorus – is willing to say so.

Micky’s dad (McGee) thinks his son has the talent to go farther with better management; so does family friend Mickey O’Keefe (playing himself) who is also a Lowell cop. So does Micky’s new girlfriend, comely barmaid Charlene (Adams) who is derisively labeled an “MTV Girl” by Micky’s sisters because she had the temerity to attend college. The only one who doesn’t seem to think so is Micky himself.

That’s until the fight Micky has been preparing for collapses when his opponent gets the flu and Micky is forced to fight someone 20 pounds heavier, much stronger and much faster than he is. Of course, the results are predictable; Micky gets his ass handed to him. Disappointed and ashamed, he hides out in his house, seriously thinking of getting out of the fight game.

In the meantime, Dicky runs afoul of the law trying to raise some money to get Micky trained (typically for Dicky, he tries scamming local guys into giving them his wallets by impersonating a police officer arresting them in a prostitution sting). During the course of the arrest, overzealous police officers shatter Micky’s hands, ending any opportunity for a fight.

As the months pass by and Micky’s hand slowly heals, his relationship with Charlene gets stronger while he continues to drift further away from his mom and Dicky. Micky finds himself a new manager and begins training with O’Keefe, under the condition that Alice and Dicky not be involved with his career. As for Dicky, his life sinks to a new low when he discovers the documentary that he thought was about his comeback was in fact about how drugs destroyed his promising career and his life. The rift in the family starts to heal when Dicky gives Micky some advice for an upcoming fight that turns out better than their original plan formulated by O’Keefe and his manager (Renzulli).

Micky begins to go on a winning streak and eventually wins himself a title shot. He would seem to have it all, but can he continue to keep his family out of the picture or can he figure out a way to reconcile everyone and in doing so, become the champion he was always meant to be?

This is based on a true story, which in itself is kind of amazing because Micky’s family is not portrayed in a terribly flattering light, but assuming that the events are as depicted here, you have to admire the Wards and Eklunds for allowing this to be filmed as it was. The family is torn apart by drugs and by their own ability to see past their own self-interest. Alice is more about being the center of attention, and shamelessly favors Dicky over Micky. Micky acts somewhat numb, unable to stand up for himself or even voice dissent until he finally gets the support from Charlene he desperately needs.

Bale, who has done stellar work in the past, gets a role he can sink his teeth into. He lost a considerable amount of weight to get the gaunt junkie look of Dicky Eklund, and utilizes a rubber-limbed, rubber-faced demeanor that is half-clown, half-tragedy. We never get a sense of what Dicky was like before the drugs destroyed him but we do see him destroyed, unable to pull himself out of the mire until he gets clean in prison. Bale is a front-runner for a supporting actor role come Oscar time, and deservedly so. This may be the role that finally wins him the statue.

Wahlberg is an actor who can be depended on to do a solid job and occasionally (as in The Departed) stellar work. He almost never turns in a bad performance and here, he is given a role which is far from easy. It’s not that Micky is a complicated role; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Micky is actually a little bit boring, and yet he needs to be the centerpiece of the film. It’s hard to have someone so without inertia at the forefront of a movie, but Wahlberg manages to make the character one we can root for due to his natural charisma and likability.

It doesn’t hurt to have two of the better actresses in Hollywood in the supporting cast as well. Ever since Leo attracted notice for her work in Frozen River, I can’t say as she’s performed poorly in roles supporting (as this one is) or starring. She imbues Alice with shades of both fragility and strength, overwhelming her younger son at the same time desperately seeking approval. It’s a brilliant performance and deserves Oscar notice as well, although it may not be as slam dunk a nomination as Bale’s.

Amy Adams is a terrific actress who can assail anything from dramas to comedies to musicals and pull them off with equal skill. Here, she is at her sexiest and her most vulnerable. She is also strong and able to stand up for herself in a tough crowd, both at the bar where she works and among the Eklund women who are a formidable bunch themselves.

Director Russell resists the temptation to drag this movie into sports movie clichés and treacle, making instead something that resonates powerfully rather than going for cheap chest-pounding scenes of sports triumph. Micky Ward’s pursuit of the championship takes a back seat to his pursuit of his own identity, out of the considerable shadows of his mother and brother and that’s what makes this movie so good.

REASONS TO GO: The performances are all top notch and in Bale’s case, Oscar-worthy. The story is compelling and inspiring without being smarmy.

REASONS TO STAY: The boxing scenes could have been better.

FAMILY VALUES: One of the HBO cameramen in the film was played by Richard Farrell, who directed the original HBO documentary High on Crack Street: Lost Lives in Lowell that depicted Dicky Eklund.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: There’s a hidden Mickey in the film; check out the back of Sam’s motorcycle helmet.

HOME OR THEATER: This works as well on the home screen as it does at the multiplex.

FINAL RATING: 9/10

TOMORROW: The Tourist