Saturday, April 13, 2013

A Fistful of Inspiration! (Brad's Picks)

The Jackie Robinson story gets another go around on the big screen this weekend.  It's a crucial bit of pop culture that lead to genuine social change in America.  But my fear, based on what little of the trailer I've seen, is that 42 will ultimately be another stale biopic that fails to capture the excitement of the events, and simply delivers bullet point history.  As impressed as we all were by Jaime Foxx's mimicry in Ray or Joaquin Phoenix's hangdog wannabe jailbird in Walk The Line, they were simply just pale imitations of their real life subjects.  Icons are hard to portray.  We're all taught the basics in school.  Plunging new depths can be difficult.  It's best to either narrow your focus (like last year's Lincoln) or deal on the little known fellas (see my #5 pick on this list) instead.  The most appealing thing about 42 is director Brian Helgeland, the man to come the closest in adapting Richard Stark's Parker with Payback (The Straight Up Edition, avoid the theatrical cut).

So, this Fistufl is not a Top Five of Biopics (although some do appear).  Instead these are the top five films that inspired me the most as the credits rolled.  Films that either inspired me creatively, lovingly, or patriotically.  Films that put a lump in my throat and a chill down my spine.  Films that made me mutter "yer damn right."

5.  American Splendor:  Harvey Pekar was a grumpy little shit.  After some hard time in the Navy, a barrage of odd jobs, and an almost life sentence as a file clerk, Harvey Pekar found an outlet for his everyday rage in underground comics.  A friendship with R. Crumb encouraged the "anyone can do it" attitude and Harvey Pekar soon became the Poet Laureate of Cleveland.  Ma & Pap America may not know his name, but anyone with the slightest interest in non-spandex comics appreciates the autobiographical revolution sparked by Pekar and his peers.  The film, directed by Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini, balances fictionalized accounts with actor Paul Giamatti as well as interviews with Pekar himself.  It's not the type of film to raise hoots and hollers, but after each viewing I find myself struck by that "anyone can do it" attitude and I'll inevitably leap to the written word.

4.  A Very Long Engagement:  You can't have a list like this without an epic love story.  When her fiance disappears in the trenches of the Somme, Audrey Tautou refuses to believe that her love was lost to The Great War.  She begins an epic quest to find him or his body.  She unravels a mystery involving five french soldiers convicted of cowardice and sentenced to die in the abyss of No Man's Land.  She's kind of like a lovelorn Sherlock Holmes, cutting her way through a venomous French government and freeing the spirits of the men lost on the front lines.  Both breaks and warms the heart.

3.  King Kong:  On the surface, this might seem like a weird one for the list.  Part of the inspiration comes from the craft of it.  Willis O'Brien brought genuine life to a tiny mechanical puppet.  I'm not being cute or foolish when I type this, but even after the 30th rewatch, there are moments in this film in which I forget I'm watching an inanimate object.  I see Kong and I react in the same manner I would with an anthropomorphized puppy dog.  He's Lassie.  He's Hooch.  The other part of the inspiration comes from the tragic story itself.  Not the "Beauty that Tamed The Beast" bit, but the hateful story of the poor bugger stolen from his home in chains and staked on a stage for our entertainment.  And I respond deeply to his skyscraping climactic rage.  Inspirational anger.

2.  Ed Wood:  This is not an "anyone can do it" movie.  It's a "you have to be a passionate mad man to do it" movie.  Made back in the good old days of Tim Burton talent, Ed Wood is the frenzied saga of a wannabe cinematic maestro who might have lacked the talent, but certainly had the blind will to burn his stories onto celluloid.  Portrayed by Johnny Depp, Ed Wood is a gleeful, lovable loon.  Through sheer love, he got his stories out to the people - and when their love was not quite like his love, it hurt.  Painfully relatable, but also delightfully inspiring.

1.  12 Angry Men:  This should be required viewing every 4th of July.  Nothing makes me more proud to be an American than 12 Angry Men.  On a hot sweaty day in New York City, 12 jurors file into the room and decide the fate of an alleged murderer.  11 men are quick to vote guilty.  One man, Juror #8, raises his hand.  He has a few questions and doesn't believe a man's life should be settled in the manner of minutes.  For the next 96 the 12 men shout, scream, and exhaust each other.  But the defendant is granted the conversation.  Thanks to one man with a raised hand.  Henry Fonda exudes morality.  He speaks, I listen.  He's the man I aspire to be.  Group think is evil.  Be an individual, be Juror #8.


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