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JDIFF 2015: Red Army // 99 Homes

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Red Army

★★★½

red army

Gabe Polsky’s documentary tells the story of the Soviet ice hockey superstars of the early 1980s as they went from Olympic losers to winners and, as the Cold War died down, began to permeate the previously closed-off confines of North America’s National Hockey League.

At the film’s centre is the “Russian Five” and in particular, the character of Slava Fetisov, one of the most famous defencemen in hockey history. He’s a fascinating character and was one of the first people to stand up to the Russian government’s policies of keeping their players at home, away from the wealth and glamour of the NHL. He had a glistening career in the USSR and the US and eventually returned to Russia to act as Putin’s Minister of Sport, bringing the 2014 Winter Olympics to Sochi.

There’s a wealth of wonderful archive footage in place but there are issues with how Polsky put the story together. He has almost all the major players on-board for interview, access to NHL and Olympic archive and yet the whole thing doesn’t flow together too well. The fact that some typos crept into the on-screen captions almost reinforces the idea the whole thing was rushed together with nothing but a permanent reliance on a bouncing score to pull it together.

Issues with pacing and structure aside, this is blast and tells a really brilliant story. It even packs in a few absurdities and daft moments typical of any film that has Werner Herzog attached as a producer. In the hands of a more experienced director this would have been up there with the ESPN “30 for 30” series and the likes of The Battered Bastards of Baseball as a modern sporting classic, as it is it’s a little away from the final product.

Director: Gabe Polsky
Year: 2013
Country of Origin: USA / Russia
Duration: 76 minutes

99 Homes

★★★

99 homes

Roger Ebert favourite Ramin Bahrani has crafted a film that does its damnedest to be about America – its greed, its naivety and its character.

99 Homes tells the story of two men. Michael Shannon plays Rick Carver, a Florida real estate broker who works on behalf of the bank to evict people and manage the property’s foreclosure. We see him evict Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield) – a man who re-financed the family home where he lived with his mother (Laura Dern) and his son (Noah Lomax as Connor). Nash struggles to find construction work and somehow ends up on the payroll of Carver, eventually becoming his right-hand man.

The films starts brilliantly but slowly descends into the form of a parable, with Nash’s descent into a moral quandary eventually being too over-bearing to take. Garfield is usually an incredibly likeable performer but he’s too naive here with his woes being represented by squinty eyes, frowns and a gaping mouth. It’s hard to take him as “the poor American dad”, with Bahrani giving him cigarettes and tattoos to try and age him. A quirk of the whole film – and representative of a wider issue with pacing and editing – means we don’t really find out much about his back story or how he ended up looking after Connor solo.

Shannon is, as always, a delight on-screen and is responsible for plenty of great lines. As Bahrani opts to shift the story away from him and more toward Garfield, he starts to lose his audience. This is still a good American film, with plenty to say about their people’s desire to have a big box that they can call home.

Director: Ramin Bahrani
Year: 2014
Country of Origin: USA
Duration: 112 minutes
Writers: Ramin Bahrani, Amir Nadari, Bahareh Azimi
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Laura Dern, Michael Shannon

 

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Nigel

Nigel loves stupid films almost as much as he likes clever films. He'll watch anything but is usually drawn to documentaries, North American independent films, Irish cinema and gung-ho, balls-to-the-walls Hollywood blockbusters. Here's what he's been watching.

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