Sunday, February 15, 2015

Boxing, Porn & the JFK Assassination

I recently noticed that my cable TV provider was offering free On Demand films from Starz for a weekend.  I had never heard of Starz.  As I was browsing the titles they offered, I saw a few obscure films which had come & gone from the theaters.  I ended up watching three films that weekend.

Facing Ali; documentary; directed by Pete McCormack; (2009) - Official Website
Meet Monica Velour starring Kim Cattrall & Dustin Ingram; directed by Keith Bearden; (2010)
Parkland starring Zac Efron, Billy Bob Thornton, Paul Giamatti & Marcia Gay Harden; directed by Peter Landesman; (2013)

These three films took me back to my youth as they touched upon three interests which don't interest me so much anymore - boxing, porn & the JFK assassination.

I also cannot remember the last time I watched so many films (in their entirety) on television.  I will admit to pausing and stopping the films.  Now that I think of it, I cannot remember the last time I watched one film in its entirety on television.

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Of the three, Facing Ali was the most engaging film.  That's not surprising given that Muhammad Ali's life has provided the source material for so many tremendous documentaries.  I consider When We Were Kings (1996) as one of the best boxing documentaries I have seen.

Facing Ali tells Ali's stories from the perspective of ten men who fought against him.  Ali was not interviewed for the film although the fillmmakers use archival footage of interviews with Ali.  The 10 boxers were:   George Chuvalo, Henry Cooper, George Foreman, Joe Frazier, Larry Holmes, Ron Lyle, Ken Norton, Earnie Shavers, Leon Spinks & Ernie Terrell.

My father was a boxing fan and as a child boxing was on television quite a bit.  The World Heavyweight Championship Boxing Match was quite a societal event in the 1970s and even into the 1980s.  My father did not like Ali and I won't speculate as to why.  By the time I started watching boxing with my father in the late 1970s, Ali's greatest matches were behind him.  I didn't think much of Ali except that he seemed kind of sluggish and not very impressive for the self-proclaimed "Greatest."  It was only later that I learned of Ali's life and saw his earlier matches (particularly against Foreman & Frasier) that my opinion of Ali's boxing abilities increased.

The structure of the film is to provide a recap of Ali's boxing career in chronological order.  When the match featuring one of the ten interview subjects is featured, the filmmakers interviews the subject for his thoughts on Ali, their match and what has happened to them in the intervening years.  Most of fighters are gracious to Ali and recognize his contributions to society.  Of the 10, Larry Holmes was the only one who didn't lose at least one bout to Ali.

I was unfamiliar with several of the fighters and their matches with Ali.  Two observations about the fighters:  several of them seemed to suffer the effects of their boxing career; their words were slurred.  Joe Frasier was barely intelligible and his words needed to be subtitled.  Ken Norton seemed to be worse for wear as well.  In contrast, some of the boxers seemed to have no ill effect due to their boxing careers and were quite the raconteurs.  George Chuvalo (an ethnic Croatian from Canada) and George Foreman were very entertaining.

Foreman got off a great line.  In the lead-up to the fight between Ali & Joe Frasier, Ali was verbally haranguing Frasier unmercifully.  As recounted by Foreman, Frasier confided to him that all the insults from Ali meant nothing to him except Ali's charge that Frasier was an "Uncle Tom."  Frasier complained to Foreman that he didn't want his wife to think he peeked into women's bedroom windows.

For boxing fans of the era (1960s & 1970s), Facing Ali is extremely entertaining.

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In Meet Monica Velour, Kim Cattrall plays the titular 1980s porn star whose fortunes have changed much in the 35 years since her heyday.  Dustin Ingram is the socially awkward teenager who thinks all the best things in life happened before he was born.  He's into old songs, old movies & old porn videos.  A self-styled connoisseur Monica Velour's pornography,  Without plans after graduating from high school, Tobe (Ingram) plans a cross country trip to sell his grandfather's hot dog themed food truck and see Monica Velour perform at a seedy roadside strip club.

Velour has her own troubles which includes an ex-husband who is keeping her away from their daughter, money woes and a drinking problem.  Both Velour & Tobe get kicked out of the club and form an uneasy friendship.  For Tobe, it is a case of hero worship but Velour is more circumspect of the young man's attention.

Perhaps if the script was better developed, quite a bit could be made of this May-December "romance" but Meet Monica Velour suffers from a lack of execution.  Pathos & quirkiness are the hallmarks of the independent comedies but the film's reach exceeds its grasp.  The script is sparse and the film depends on the performances of its two lead characters.  Ingram isn't up to the task and I get the sense Cattrall took the role to be as different from her Sex in the City character as possible.  Although the film has a few comedic moments, it largely falls flat.  Meet Monica Velour felt like a cut rate Napoleon Dynamite which I was less than enamored with.

At the end of the film, Tobe & his more age appropriate girlfriend by a Honeymoon Killers movie poster from a yard sale.  By coincidence, the 2015 Noir City film festival closed with that film.

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Parkland reminds me a little of Selma - a flat almost documentary film about historic events.  Parkland covers the Friday through Sunday in November 1963 when JFK was assassinated.  The title refer Parkland Memorial Hospital, the location where JFK was brought after he was shot & two days later, Lee Harvey Oswald was brought after he was shot by Jack Ruby.  According to the film, the same doctor treated both men in the emergency room.

Parkland follows several plot lines.  First it follows the Secret Service detail assigned to the president from the time they arrive at Parkland to the time they return the body back to Air Force One.  The second plot follows Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti) as he deals with various government officials and the media as they become aware of his film from Dealey Plaza.  Another plot thread deals with FBI agent James Hosty who had contact with Oswald in the months before the assassination.  The final plot line focuses on Robert Oswald (Lee's older brother) who lived in Dallas and had to deal with the fallout of his brother's actions and displaced anger directed toward him.

It's hard not to make an interesting film dealing with the JFK assassination and Parkland delivers.   James Badge Dale gives a strong performance as Robert Oswald.  Jeremy Strong impressively captures the mannerisms & appearance of Lee Harvey Oswald.  Rounding out the Oswald family is Jacki Weaver as their mother Marguerite Oswald who makes you think that Lee was not the crazies one in his family.

The disparate threads of Parkland do not allow for a cohesive plot but I thought that was one of the film's strengths.  It captured the chaos of that weekend in Dallas over 50 years ago.

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I don't think I'll subscribe to Starz as a result of the preview weekend but I enjoyed two of the film I watched and even the third wasn't a complete miss.

I have digressed from the unifying theme of these films.  My father introduced me to boxing as a spectator sport.  I've never boxed in my life.  I will still watch a boxing match occasionally on ESPN but I watch more MMA now.

In college I was exposed to quite a bit of porn.  Like any young man, I have watched porn but it bored me with its formulaic action and rigidly adhered tropes.  I can't remember the last time I watched porn.  I wonder if that says more about my advancing age and possible Low T rather than my feelings about porn.  I am also amazed at the attitude of young people today towards pornography.  There is actually a website called YouPorn.com (YouTube for porn).  My attitude is why would anyone post their own porn on-line without getting paid?  However, many young people think of homemade porn as part of their "brand" and it fits in nicely with their obsession to constantly update the world on the minutiae of their life which I consider a form of narcissism.  Of course, that is coming for a man who maintains a film blog...

Starting at a young age, I became aware of the conspiracy theories surrounding the JFK assassination.  I'm not sure how many books I have read but I have read quite a few.  I haven't read one in many years.  I'm ambivalent about the Lone Gunman theory.  Nowadays, I'm more interested in the broader topic of the number of high profile assassinations in the 1960s and the curious circumstances surrounding them.

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