Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Modus Operandi and Boxing Gym

The Roxie Theater has been programming some interesting stuff since new ownership took over. They still screen some second run films like The Social Network but they also have steady offering of the artiest of art house films such as Hadewijch and some old foreign films.

I caught two films there in December.

Modus Operandi with Danny Trejo; directed by Frankie Latina; (2010) - Official Website
Boxing Gym; docuemntary; directed Frederick Wiseman; (2010) - Official Website


I had targetted one of the two 11 PM screenings of Modus Operandi since I first saw it on the Roxie calendar. The synopsis was too much to pass up. It would either be glorious or incomprehensible...or both.

Two briefcases are stolen from a Presidential candidate, setting off a deadly series of double-crosses and betrayls in Frankie Latina's totally awesome, totally authentic blast of exploitation. Lovingly filmed in Milwaukee, Wisconcin [sic] and Tokyo, Japan on Super 8 over the course of four years, Modus Operandi has all you could ask for in a movie: murder, beautiful ladies, stylish cinematography, suave spies and Danny Trejo. “Latina is paying tribute to the ’70s here, but in a bizarre, formalist way: One scene might play like a retro spy spoof, the next like a British gangster flick, another like an experimental Warhol piece, and yet another like Italian neorealism ... It’s never boring, as Latina throws enough random nudity and hilariously odd scenic juxtapositions at the audience to keep them amused..” - LA Weekly

I can't even begin to describe the film because I still don't understand it. There was a lot of gratuitous nudity (a surprisingly large amount was male) and violence and smidgen of Danny Trejo dressed like Mr. Roarke from Fantasy Island. Who knew that the CIA Director conducted business from Superfly's apartment?

The plot involved two stolen briefcases. One of them contained VHS tapes of snuff films involving a candidate for the US Presidency. I can't remember what the other one's not important. A bunch people go around killing each other for the briefcases or information regarding the briefcases. I couldn't keep track of the sides and each character was so poorly developed or killed so quickly that the characters were only distinguishable by their costumes - there was a cowboy, a sexy black woman, a Japanese dominatrix/torturer, etc.

Anyway, the film was just didn't hold my attention. I think director Frankie Latina was trying too hard spoof other movies and turn the plot twist dial to 11 that he forgot to write a plot for the film. If this film took four years to make, I wish he would have stopped at two.


I had no desire to see Boxing Gym by acclaimed documentary director Frederick Wiseman. I previously watched (at the Roxie), Wiseman's previous film, La danse - Le ballet de l'Opéra de Paris. At over two and a half hours, I found La danse in need of editing and was not fan of Wiseman's laissez-faire attitude towards crafting a narrative. I was going to skip Boxing Gym because I figured it would be more of the same.

Then PG&E intervened. I arrived home one night to find there was a power outage. I decided to try potluck at the nearest movie theater which is one I don't frequent much because parking is a hassle and it's a Century Theater with a bunch of films I don't want to see. Alas, that theater was affected by the outage as well. So I drove to a BART station with no particular destination in mind. I realized that my first opportunity to grab a bite to eat and watch a film was at 16th Street Station and the Roxie. So it came to pass that I had a falafel and watched Boxing Gym.

Boxing Gym is set at Lord's Gym in Austin. The gym was founded by former professional boxer Richard Lord who reminded me of boxing trainer Freddy Roach. In Boxing Gym, Wiseman once again eschews a cogent narrative and lets Lord and his boxers guide the film. Boxers may not be the right term because many of the peole at his gym appear to be there for exercise. One mother explicitly forbids sparring for her son due to his epilepsy and Lord immediately agrees.

The audience is treated to numerous scenes of people (a suprising number of females with infants in car seats) shadow boxing, hitting the speed bag, striking a punching mitt or swinging a sledgehammer against a tire. Through this repition, we see that everyone trains the same way and "everyone" is a pretty diverse set of people - young men, older men, women, Hispanics, whites, boys and teenagers, a few professionals, etc. Based on the film synopsis, this melting pot environment is what interested Wiseman.

At 90 minutes, Boxing Gym hasn't much time to veer off and explore various subplots. That was plus for me. Unlike La danse where I lost interest for long stretches of time, Boxing Gym kept me engaged. It still lacked the payoff punch but the overall effect of the film on me was to stimulate a slight interest in Lord's Gym, its members and Richard Lord.

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