Directed by: Steve James / 1994
A small percentage of people live their lives without ever living up to their potential or even discovering what their true gifts and talents are. I don't know what's worse, never knowing your part of the game and drifting on by, or hitting your peak early in life, then hitting life's harsh realities. And some people spend their remaining time living their dreams through others or dwelling in the past to get by, or simply being all blow and no go to begin with. Though you might not fully recover from the past, you can certainly learn something from its foundation, complete or crumbled it is the make-up for life. The celebrated documentary "Hoop Dreams" will walk you down sidewalks you might never have considered walking down and in shoes that you'll probably never have to walk in. It will bring you to a neighborhood that many of you might not have ever driven through or interacted with and into lives and ideas that you might never have witnessed. These are real people with real struggles, determination, heartbreak, conquers, defeats, dreams, faith, hope and a strong unity of love. Just down the road from Chicago Stadium, where the great Michael Jordan was dominating the first of six NBA titles for the Bulls, you join William Gates and Arthur Agee on their own quests for basketball super-stardom and tickets to freedom. You might find that they have the same Jordan posters that you probably once had on your walls and the same Jordan moves that you used to mimic. Though, these two individuals potentially have a future in their authentic athletic skills and could change everything and everyone around them. As you join the two boys and their families at breakfast, church, discussions, on commutes, at school, work, play and on and off the court for five years, you realize that you are not the center of the world and that you can't hold it up on your own. You also realize that you can't live life through somebody else's dreams and in order to achieve a dream you really have to take the three hour round-trip with everything. You might even find something in common and/or become completely absorbed to where you become part of the crossed-fingered helping hands in William's and Arthur's dream of getting out of the Chicago ghetto to play professional basketball. This movie will surprise you and have emotions cheering just as hearty for things off the court. Long movie brush-offs and non-sports fans please don't let this film’s three hour basketball theme detour you. If so, you will assuredly miss out on a truly unique experience that you can't keep from. This film is a special gift and a testament to true devotion in documentation of a subject as you are treated with the rare gift of literally watching characters grow and develop, walking in their shoes, rising and falling. What started as a half-hour venture turned into an eight year epic of fully framed filmmaking that critic Roger Ebert hails as not only the best film of the 1990s, but one of the best examples of American life ever. "Hoop Dreams" is more than about the game of basketball, it's about the fundamentals of a game that we all have to play, no matter where we walk, jump or fall.
The Brothers Solomon * * *
Directed by: Bob Odenkirk / 2007
Sometimes all you need out of cinema is a sure shot of stupid-awesome. A like-minded chemistry connection of comedic acting by Will Arnett ("Arrested Development") and Will Forte ("Saturday Night Live") supply their brotherly spirited script with a heaping of stupid and a pinch of awesome. The Wills play John and Dean Solomon, hyperactive and socially-challenged brothers who were raised in isolation on ice in a scientific work station by their father at the top of the world before moving to the city. When their father becomes ill and falls into a coma, the brothers Solomon decide the best way to assure their father leaves life with no regrets is to make him a grandfather. Being that the brothers can't last five minutes with a woman, let alone marriage, they put themselves up on Craigslist.com and find a suitor (Christin Whig of "SNL") for their sperm. I suppose not much more is needed for you to get the ridiculousness that ensues. The brothers go to a few extreme measures, and just when you think they will cross over to gross-out or be another case of the “too much”, they surprise you with a diaper full of popcorn and a dead baby bird, among other darling things. The Wills really do tickle up the screen with an odd naive grace and joy of awkwardly-stupid-awesome-hyperactive antics and brotherly baby love, but I wouldn't let guys like this near a child or an adult.
Charlie Wilson's War * * * 1/2
Directed by: Mike Nichols / 2007
While I was playing Rambo in my neck of 1980s Missouri woods, Texas congressman Charlie Wilson was deep into running his own covert military operations in Afghanistan. Wilson wasn't exactly pulling the rocket launcher triggers, rather supplying the goods, but he had the same mind of Rambo in shooting down the Russian helicopters and helping the Afghan people. I must add that while John Rambo was laying the bodies down and thirsting blood, Charlie Wilson was womanizing and knocking back whiskey and cocaine. I read the forward to the book the film is adapted from this past Christmas at my East Texan in-laws in Charlie Wilson's actual stomping grounds around Nacogdoches. I think I now need to pick it back up as this is probably another strong case of a book being better then the film. Shamefully, I'm more concerned with the '80s pop-culture cannon than that of the historical and political ones of my formative years, but Charlie's little project in the Middle-East is a fascinating subject and one of great significance. Unfortunately, I feel the movie is just so-so in fully translating the story to me and I wanted a lot more out of it than a Hollywood affair. Acclaimed director Mike Nichols seemed to roll very low with his craft and the film felt like it was rushed, though it be oddly-blahly paced at that. At times it felt more of an Oscar bait vehicle for the mediocre middle-aged acting of Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts who just seem of late to be playing extended versions of Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts. Both felt extremely stale and flat to me and weren't very convincing in connecting me to the true story being depicted. However, the one acting nomination the film did get went to the most deserved player and that is Philip Seymour Hoffman, who continues to impress me with every character he slips into. “Charlie Wilson’s War” is not a bad film and at least see it for whiff of the historical document behind the front lines and see it for another great take by Hoffman. But, I think this war would be better served in book form or by Rambo.