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Movies: Bend It Like Beckham, Finding Nemo, and Capturing the Friedmans

What say I just get all my belated movie reviews over at once, eh?

Although I make a point to post reviews for every movie I see in the theater, I somehow never got around to writing about Bend It Like Beckham, despite having seen it over two months ago. When the film left the theaters several weeks ago, I shrugged and assumed that it would be my first omission since defective yeti's inception. Today, however, it appears that Beckham has returned to theaters across the nation, thereby negating my excuse. Dad gummit.

Maybe I'm reluctant to review Beckham because I feel like I have already covered this movie a couple of times. It is, in fact, That Movie -- you know, the one that comes out every year, where some strong-willed youngster decides to go against tradition and follow his dream, much to the annoyance of his parents who vainly try and thwart his ambition but, in the end, recognize the importance of their offspring's happiness and reluctantly relent. A couple years ago That Movie was called Billy Elliot, and then it was East Is East, last year it was My Big Fat Greek Wedding, etc. This year it's Beckham, and apparently he can Bend It, apparently.

Bend It Like Beckham focuses on a strong-willed youngster who decides to go against tradition and follow her dream blah blah blah. The youngster here is Jess, the only Indian (that's the "from India" flavor of Indian) on an all-girls, British soccer team; the dream is Jess's ambition to make it to the finals. Unfortunately (and predictably), her parents don't approve. In particular, her father recalls the racism he faced as an Indian in a British cricket league, and urges his daughter to quit before she encounters the same brand of ugly discrimination. She refuses, the come to loggerheads, and I could keep telling you the plot but there's probablyy no need.

I can enjoy That Movie once a year, so long as it's funny, well directed, and at least covers some new ground. Bend It Like Beckham succeeds so marvelously at the first two criteria that I was willing to overlook the fact that there was really nothing new here whatsoever. Beckham is also a perfect Mom Movie. (I know this for a fact because my Mom wanted to take me to see Down With Love, but I talked her into this one instead and she quite enjoyed it. Whew -- I dodged a bullet, there.) I wouldn't recommend it per se, but I can assure you that you won't regret seeing Beckham if nothing else at the Cineplex floats your boat, as it's a film that's almost impossible to dislike.

Another genre of film that I can see once a year and enjoy is the Big Animated Movie Ostensibly For Children, and this summer it was Finding Nemo. I've been a big fan of Pixar dating back to the days when you could only see thier flicks at The Festival Of Animation, and I have enjoyed every movie they have ever made. Finding Nemo was no exception, although I'll confess to it being my least favorite in thier repertoire.

As with all Pixar films the animation is gorgeous, the plot is clever, the voices are well-done, etc., etc. But I couldn't get over the fact that the protagonists were fish. I mean, I had no problem sympathizing with inanimate playthings in Toy Story and Toy Story 2, the critters in A Bug's Life, and even the beasts in Monsters Inc., but, I dunno: fish! I had to practically will myself to care about them. (I should acknowledge that, even in real life, I have no affinity for fish whatsoever. I don't understand the allure of having them as pets, for example. Personally, I am only interested in fish when they are accompanied by chips.) It also didn't help that within the first 10 minutes this film racked up a higher body count than most horror movies, which kind of made Nemo's perils seem trivial by comparison.

Still, the worst Pixar movie is better than just about any other American kids' film out there, so you can still chalk this review up as a rave. Even without getting all worked up over the protagonist (fish!) I still enjoyed the story, and Ellen DeGeneres does some fantastic voice work. Certainly worth seeing in the theater -- doubly so if you can muster up the slightest enthusiasm for our fine finned friends.

And speaking of Feel Good Hits Of The Summer, Capturing the Friedmans documents the harrowing story of a family torn apart by allegations of pedophilia and sexual assault.

The story begins in the late 1987's, when Arnold Friedman, a teacher and father of three, is arrested for the possession of child pornography. After Friedman confesses to being a pedophile, students from a computer course he taught in his basement begin alleging that Arnold, along with his son, Jesse, turned the classes into orgies of child molestation and rape.

The claims seem wildly improbable -- parents who picked their children up after these supposed orgies noticed nothing amiss, and many of the "victims" enrolled in the class year after year -- but the late 80's were the heyday of child molestation witch hunts in the United States, so the case is brought against Arnold and his son all the same. As the film progresses, however, it becomes increasing clear that while the most lurid and outlandish of tales concerning what went on in those computer classes are certainly false, it's not entirely clear that something didn't happen.

What sets Friedmans apart from the run-of-the-mill "What really happened?" news-magazine stories you'd see on tv is the use of film footage shot while the events were actually taking place. As things began to fall apart, David Friedman, the oldest son, took to filming his family as they discussed, argued, and pondered the charges against Arnold and Jesse. So while Capturing the Friedman makes use of many modern-day interviews (most notably with David and his mother, Elaine) where participants recollect how they felt and reacted to developments in the case, it also incorporates the scenes that David shot on the given day. Some of David footage is painfully intimate, such as one soliloquy by David himself where he looks at the camera and says "This is private, so if you're not me, you shouldn't be watching."

Also setting Capturing The Friedmans apart from the standard news-magazine tv shows is the fact that it doesn't take a stand as to the truth of the allegations. Each time I was convinced one way the other -- Friedman was guilty, Friedman was framed -- the film would introduce a new fact or witness who would cast doubt on everything I though I knew for sure. I appreciated this even-handedness, but I occasionally wondered if the filmmakers weren't bend over backwards to make things as ambiguous as possible, purposely blurring the line between the credible and the outrageous. Still, I'd rather the director err on the side of neutrality than come in with a bias and slant the coverage to bolster a pre-held conclusion. Capturing the Friedmans is one of the most thought-provoking legal documentaries I have seen since Brother's Keeper, and the best films I've seen all year.

Hey Seattlites: Capturing the Friedmans is still playing at the Metro. All three of 'em are, actually.

Posted on August 01, 2003 to Movies


I'd say you dodged the bullet by missing "Down With Love". What a piece of crapola.

Posted by: Beth on August 3, 2003 8:10 PM

No way, are you serious? Down with Love was great! I mean, it was a little dumb, but it *knew* that it was dumb. The whole thing was very tongue in cheek, and very clever, and loads of fun and bright colors. I highly recommend it! No kidding.

For the record, I think every Pixar movie has been a little bit better than the one before.

Thanks for catching up on the reviews. It so happens the fam & I are going to CtF tomorrow.

Posted by: the kiosk on August 3, 2003 11:32 PM

I wonder if it's significant that Billy Elliot, East Is East and Bend It Like Beckham are all what we think of over here as British movies? British actors, though probably Hollywood money behind them.

Does Britain do That Movie particularly well, I wonder? :-)

Posted by: Chris M. Dickson on August 4, 2003 6:54 AM

Perhaps those are the only British movies that Hollywood thinks will translate well on this side of the Atlantic. I'm sure the Brits make all sorts of fascinating films, but the distributors here don't think "dumb Americans" are intelligent enough to appreciate them.

Then again, I could be completely wrong.

Posted by: StacieDee on August 4, 2003 10:17 AM

Actually, I'm not sure Hollywood is much to blame here. _Bend It_ was the feel-good hit of last summer here in the UK, and probably the most successful (box office + critical reception) British film of last year. The British film industry is in pretty bad shape; there are probably only five films per year that are close to "export quality." Next year, _I Capture The Castle_ will probably be "that movie."

Posted by: blinky on August 4, 2003 12:51 PM

doh! I didn't mean _I Capture the Castle_. I meant _Whale Rider_.

Posted by: blinky on August 4, 2003 1:13 PM

Just after i saw Beckham a friend of mine urged me to go see Whale Rider, and gave me a synopsis of the plot. I was all, like, "Dude, I just saw That Movie ..."

Posted by: Matthew on August 4, 2003 1:18 PM

Thanks for clearing that up, blinky... I was confused. ICTC was a mess. It had so many problems that by the end I lost even my ability to just lay back and enjoy gazing at Romola Garai's beautiful face. Hey, perhaps you were thinking of Castle, as in Keisha Castle-Hughes?

Posted by: the kiosk on August 4, 2003 1:32 PM

regarding the second comment by theKiosk, whom I am sure is a beautiful, intelligent person I would love to hang out with, a movie can be self-aware and still retarded. If it's dumb and it knows it, at least it is out of denial. But it's still dumb then, isn't it? I'm sorry I can't back up this claim by citing examples other than Down With Love. And I haven't even seen that movie, so I guess I have no business talking. I'm sorry for wasting your time.

Posted by: thohan on August 4, 2003 2:38 PM

dumb + fun = dumb fun :)

Posted by: the kiosk is shutting up now on August 5, 2003 12:16 AM

For anyone who's interested, I was googling around and found Jessie Friedman's personal site. Some interesting stuff up there, and I haven't even seen the movie yet (which he provides some clarifications for).

Posted by: ryan on August 5, 2003 8:31 AM

I've also been a Pixar fan since the debut of Luxo at my local Animation Festival. And in this culture of grind-it-out-to-make-a-buck, it's heartening to see a production house that still pays attention to craft. It's a ton of work but obviously, these folks are still having fun.

Posted by: Laurie on August 5, 2003 12:46 PM

Since you still "owe" me for not taking me to see "Down with Love" and since I can't even remember what it was about, I would like you to review "Freaky Friday". I love Jamie Lee Curtis!

Posted by: Mom on August 5, 2003 2:49 PM


Posted by: Matthew on August 5, 2003 3:00 PM

We/they worked damned hard on that movie (Nemo). At least I worked hard on it two years ago, and it was being worked at least as hard on (oh) just weeks before it opened.
I've paid to see it a couple times, even after a handful of free screenings. I hate paying for movies, but (blah sounding evangelical blah).
Ellen is amazing. And if I whispered, offline, who originally was cast as the dad, you might go "gosh, I might almost care about clownfish if..." It was a little extra intense.

I'm not sure I'm going to see Capturing the Friedmans. It's painful enough just reading the interviews.

Posted by: Jessica on August 5, 2003 10:27 PM