Bro Movies. Films reviewed: Bigger, First Man, Free Solo

Posted in 1930s, 1960s, Biopic, Bodybuilders, documentary, Montreal, Movies, Space, Sports by CulturalMining.com on October 12, 2018

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

It’s Fall Film Festival season in Toronto now, meaning more movies than you can shake a stick at. Toronto After Dark will thrill and chill you with horror, cult and fantasy pics. Cinefranco brings brand new French language comedies, dramas and policiers from Quebec and Europe. And Rendezvous with Madness plays fascinating films accompanied by panel discussions on addiction and mental health.

But this week I’m talking about bro films, two biopics and a doc about men with lofty goals. One wants to climb a sheer cliff, another wants to build the perfect body, and a third one who just wants to fly to the moon.

Bigger

Dir: George Gallo

Joe Weider (Tyler Hoechlin) is a poor jewish kid in depression-era Montreal. On the streets tough kids beat him up and steal his paper route money, and at home his cruel mom beats him for not keeping clean. At least his little brother Ben (Aneurin Barnard) looks up to him. Joe finds inspiration in unusual places: a strongman at the circus and photos of weight lifters he see at newsstands. He begins to obsessively draw pictures of perfect male bodies, copying from textbooks at the McGill library. He wants to promote beautiful physiques, bodies that are muscular, symmetrical and healthy. But fitness for health and looks is still a new concept. In those days people guzzled booze, smoked like chimneys, and thought exercise was a dangerous thing best left to olympic athletes.

Weider challenges all that with self-published magazines, promoting new exercises, diets and weight training, illustrated with glamour shots of barely-dressed muscle men. It’s a smash hit, he gets a US contract and Joe and Ben’s empire expands to bodybuilder contests, weights, and a wide range of magazines. And when business takes him to Hollywood, he spots a bleached blonde pin up model working out at Jack LaLanne’s gym.  Betty (Julianne Hough) is everything he desires: beautiful, fit and smart (he is separated from his first wife). Is this true love? Later he discovers Austrian bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger – the personification of his childhood drawings – and brings him to America.

Bigger is a fun, if idealized, look at the life and career of Canadian fitness mogul Joe Weider. It’s a bit corny, with Montreal-born Joe talking in an unplaceable, choppy accent. And it steers clear of his lawsuits and scandals. But Hoechlin and Hough are enjoyable as Joe and Betty, and there’s even a super villain, a racist, anti-semitic homophobe named Hauk (wonderfully played by Kevin Durand) who is his business rival and real-life enemy. Not a great movie, but an enjoyable one.

First Man

Dir: Damien Chazelle

It’s the 1960s in America, the space race is on, and the Soviets are winning. Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) is a test pilot exploring the skies. He can land any plane, even one about to explode. He’s married to Janet (Claire Foy), a pixie-ish woman with a fierce temper. They have a young daughter they both love. But when the girl dies of an incurable illness, and Neil loses his job despite his skills they know things have to change. So Neil makes a big decision: NASA needs astronauts, and he’s going to be one. They move down to Houston and settle in to suburban life.

First Man follows the career and home life of the renowned astronaut, from Gemini missions, to Apollo’s first landing. Armstrong is portrayed as a strong silent type, a no-nonsense guy who drives off alone to handle anger and depression. It also deals with astronauts and their uncertain lives (lots of them died). And director Chazelle makes you feel like you’re there with them in the planes and rockets. He even inserts showtunes into his astronaut movie. (Wait — showtunes?)  So why didn’t I Iike it? First Man is too heavy, too long, too ponderous. It’s one of those overly stern and patriotic American movies about national heroes. And where’s the suspense? We already know he was the first man on the moon. What’s the point? Ok, there are a few powerful scenes, but First Man consists mainly of rattling cockpits, brooding astronauts and suburban housewives yelling about their husbands.

Ryan Gosling is wasted in this boring example of Oscar Bait.

Free Solo

Dir: Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin

It’s 2016 and Alex Honnold has one obsession: to scale a sheer cliff in Yosemite. Mountain climbers have done it before in teams rapelling with ropes, pitons and caribiners. But Alex wants to do it “free solo”, that is, by himself and without safety ropes. One slip, one miscalculated reach, will send him plunging to his death. But he really wants to climb El Cap, and if it’s not free solo, what’s the point?

Alex is a boyish, wiry vegetarian who cares little for material things. He’s a loner who lives out of a trailer. He’s also in perfect shape, lithe, bendy and incredibly strong. He has to be to hold onto a crack in a rock with just a few fingers while stretching his body sideways to the next outcropping. He intensely studies the cliff, practicing each stage in separate small climbs using ropes. And he is accompanied by the filmmakers, who are accomplished climbers themselves. Alex proves to be a bit camera shy, hesitant to “let go” before the cameras. Is it performance anxiety? And will Alex make it to the top of El Capitan… or plunge to his death?

Free Solo is an amazing and spectacular look at one climber attempting the nearly impossible. I have no deep-seated passion for rock climbing – I even have a fear of falling – but this movie kept me riveted the whole time. Scenes that show Alex’s quirky nature and the people around him —  including other climbers, his family and his girlfriend – help give him a more rounded portrayal. But it’s the climb itself, and the truly amazing photography, that really keeps your attention.

Bigger, First Man, and Free Solo and open today in Toronto; check your local listings.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com.

Bro Movie Week. Movies reviewed: Before We Go, Meru, The Transporter: Refueled

Posted in Action, Adventure, Crime, Cultural Mining, Docudrama, Drama, Movies, Romance, Snow, Sports by CulturalMining.com on September 4, 2015

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Summer is almost over, so this week is Bro Movie Week. There’s an action-thriller about a driver who wants to get from here to there; a documentary about three mountain climbers who want to get from the bottom to the top; and a romantic dramedy about a guy who wants to help a woman he meets to get home.

11755254_1690148554546489_391372841939396319_nBefore We Go

Dir: Chris Evans

Nick (Chris Evans) is a bearded busker who’s playing his trumpet in Grand Central Station. He’s in NY City for an important audition the next day – the chance of a lifetime to join a famous jazz band. But he’s dogged by memories of a long lost love. Brooke (Alice Eve) is a well-dressed woman in a hurry. She wants to get back to her home in New Haven as fast as she can. And if she doesn’t get there in time… big 11012648_1694040134157331_8491743828569222621_ntrouble.

The problem is she missed the last train, and is penniless and without any ID. Her purse got snatched in a bar that night. So as the station is closing, Nick goes out on a limb for her, and says he’ll help her get home. At first she’s cold and standoffish but soon realizes he’s her only chance. And so they step out into the scary streets of the city that never sleeps.

Over the course of the night, they find themselves in a dangerous den of thieves, performing on a stage at the wrong wedding, and running into lost 11807391_1694040120823999_4338576212858907929_oloves at a party. Will Brook ever tell Nick why she has to get home? Will Nick find closure with his own relationship? And have the two of them forged a new friendship — or possibly a lasting romance — of their own?

Before We Go isn’t terrible, it’s just OK. More meh than anything else. The plot is uninteresting and predictable, and the characters are mediocre. Chris Evans is better known as Captain America so I guess this is his try at directing a movie. Nice try Chris, but try again. I’ve seen Alice Eve in lots of TV shows and movies, but she’s also unremarkable in this one. If you really need to watch a “Night in Manhattan” movie see Martin Scorsese’s After Hours instead.

The North Face Meru Expedition, 2011Meru

Dir: Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi

Renan Ozturk, Jimmy Chin and Conrad Anker are three American mountain climbers. They’re not ordinary hobbyists. These are the guys with weather-beaten faces you see staring sternly at a cloud on the cover of Outside magazine; or dangling from a sheer face of rock in National Geographic. Climbing is their life. Profession, too. They make a living partly from taking the pictures and videotape of the mountains they’re climbing. But their white whale, their unconquerable peak, is a mountain Meru Expedition, Garwhal, Indiacalled Meru.

Meru is a formidable, bare, sheer peak of rock on a snow-covered mountain in the Himalayas. Its top is known as the Shark’s Fin. In comparison, Mt Everest is a popular tourist spot with plenty of sherpas there to help would-be climbers. Meru – at the source of the river Ganges in northern India – is a do-it-yourself climb. Basically, you carry, on your back The North Face Meru Expedition, 2011everything you need to eat, wear or use. You’re on your own. This movie chronicles the two attempts made by these driven climbers to get to the top of the un-climbable Meru.

The photography in this movie is quite spectacular. And some of the incidents caught on film – like an avalanche on a mountain side, or shots of the climbers inside a tent pinned near the top of a peak – is amazing. So if you’re into outdoor or extreme sports, or chronicles of guys who risk their lives climbing mountains just because they’re there, then you’ll love this movie. Otherwise… I think it only has niche appeal.

Transporter RefueledThe Transporter: Refueled

Dir: Camille Delamarre

Frank (Ed Skrein) is a driver in Monte Carlo. He’s known for his unmatched skills in a car. He can get anyone anywhere they want to go, no questions asked. Cops or robbers can’t stop him. So when he’s hired for a large

Still_-_Transporter_Refueled_9But there’s more to the story than that. They hire Frank again for another job, and just to make sure he comes through, they kidnap his dad, Frank Senior (Ray Stephenson). And give him a time-release poison to which they hold the only antidote. They want to take down the mob, including Karasov (Serbian actor Radivoje Bukvic). But can Frank’s lightning-fast fighting and driving skills teamed with the vengeance-driven sex-workers defeat the worst gangster-pimps of Monaco?

This is the latest installment in an endless action movie franchise, that Transporter Refueledstarred Jason Statham as the Transporter in earlier versions. It’s dumb and ridiculous, and sexist of course, and riddled with logical impossibilities and melodramatic acting. And the dialogue is atrocious: did they take an already bad French script and feed it into Google Translate? Still, I have to say I actually liked it. The chases, the fights, and the shootouts were all good, and Ed Skrein (Game of Thrones) is credible as the new, artfully-scarred driver. It’s a crime action thriller, a B movie (maybe a C movie), but I still enjoyed it.

Transporter: Refueled opened earlier this week and Meru and Before We Go both start today in Toronto and on V.O.D. Check your local listings.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

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