Jesse Hawthorne Ficks reports from an epic Toronto International Film Festival. Read his first installment here.
Despite notable entries like George Roy Hill’s defining Slap Shot (1977) and Michael Dowse’s remarkable Goon (2011), hockey films have always been a little more overlooked in the US than they should be. Gabe Polsky’s blood-pumping Red Army (US/Russia) is begging to be adapted into a rip-roaring narrative, à la Catherine Hardwick’s Lords of Dogtown (2005) take on Stacy Peralta’s skateboarding doc Dogtown & Z-Boys (2001).
Red Army takes a look at the Soviet Union’s famous Red Army Team of the 1970s and ’80s; it’s a powerful account of the personal and political plights endured by the team’s five stars. Outrageous human-interest story interlaced with gripping flashback sports footage, and all compacted into 85 minutes? Puck yeah!
When Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash (US) won both the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, critics began the inevitable debate: Is it really that good? (Catch it at the upcoming Mill Valley Film Festival, or wait until Oct. 17, when it gets its Bay Area theatrical release.) But for anyone who has questioned their own education methods, whether they be student or mentor, child or parent, artist or technician, writer-director Chazelle’s deeply personal story will hit close to home.
Star Miles Teller has steadily built a cult following with memorable performances in John Cameron Mitchell’s Rabbit Hole (2010), Craig Brewer’s underrated remake of Footloose (2011), and a slew of Hangover knockoffs (including this year’s That Awkward Moment.) But it was his role in James Ponsoldt’s The Spectacular Now (2013) — speaking of Sundance accolades, that film won a Special Jury Award for Acting for Teller and costar Shailene Woodley — that cemented his status as a next-generation one to watch. His turn as a young drummer in Whiplash should continue the trend, alongside another memorable performance by J.K. Simmons as his explosive music teacher.
Whiplash wanders into darker terrain than even film festival audiences were prepared for. Like free jazz, the structure of the film may feel faulty at times, but perhaps that is exactly what this audacious little number was aiming for.
More for music fans: Ethan Hawke’s Seymour: An Introduction (US) is a wonderful documentary celebrating Seymour Bernstein, who is not just an unsung pianist who withdrew from performing publicly, but also an artist who devoted his life to teaching and mentoring generations of students. Beautifully shot, this fascinating and strongly inspirational film is a perfect dose of medicine for middle-aged moodiness.
And Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (Australia/US/Israel/UK) is the third film that director Mark Hartley has made about off-the-beaten-path genre films. His Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! (2008) and Machete Maidens Unleashed! (2010) fleshed out an overwhelming onslaught of low-budget gems made in Australia and the Philippines. This latest is aimed squarely at fans of low-budget 1980s legends Cannon Films, which produced countless action films starring Charles Bronson and Chuck Norris.
Cannon’s overseers — Israeli cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus — often boldly knocked off whatever genre was hot at the box office, as quickly and cheaply as possible. While Electric Boogaloo is packed with tons of wonderful clips from many of the studio’s best films (Andrey Konchalovskiy’s 1985 Runaway Train, anyone?!), the real punch line of the documentary is something that doesn’t even happen in the film: when Golan (who passed away last month) and Globus were told about about Hartley’s film, they refused to be in his movie and immediately started making their own. The Go-Go Boys: The Inside Story of Cannon Films (2014) premiered at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, three months before Electric Boogaloo. Because there’s no such thing as too much Cannon love — and since Go-Go Boys supposedly contains a monumental interview with Jean Claude Van Damme — here’s to one last Golan-Globus masterpiece!