Name of film: McEnroe Director: Barney Douglas Year: 2022
Review The psychology of the former bad boy of tennis, now a respected, calm, measured, funny and well loved Wimbledon commentator, comes under scrutiny, by John McEnroe himself.
Barney Douglas’ incisive and stylish film stands along with the great explorative docs on Ayrton Senna and Amy Winehouse. Even if you are not a tennis fan, this film stands up as an insight into the driven psyche of a complex character.
McEnroe has a no nonsense way of communicating – A lot of the doc features McEnroe as he is now, talking to camera in one room, surrounded by interesting CGI graphics. This, along with classic tennis footage from the 70's, make up the majority of the film. It's no bad thing. In his heyday, McEnroe was nicknamed, “Superbrat.” He was considered foul mouthed and rude. He used to meltdown all the time, especially in confrontations with Jimmy Connors and the statuesque Viking figure of Björn Borg. (McEnroe's description) He boosted all ratings as the public grew more curious or angry with him.
Well, whatever McEnroe's motives, this reviewer began following tennis as a child, because McEnroe was unruly, skillful, watchable and unpredictable – pretty much as he is now he has found his new place as an intelligent, and unconventional Wimbledon commentator for British and American TV.
This is a mellower McEnroe from when he used to scream at umpires, “You cannot be serious!” So through his own interview footage and with those close to him, the doc looks in hindsight at his experience of rising up as an underdog teenage phenomenon and then becoming a controversial tennis champion.
McEnroe is a perfectionist. His second wife, singer Patti Smyth says of him, “I married a bad boy who turned out to be a good man with a beautiful heart.”
McEnroe is as anomaly - he seems unable to understand his outer parameters. He is clearly gifted and demands high standards of others (including umpires) - and himself. It is on his own admittance that the search for perfectionism is always going to be flawed – consequently he is always disappointing himself - unable to reach his own mega standards.
In this doc, we learn McEnroe was good at Maths at school. He sees a tennis court in blocks - where he can place his returns or serves...he is exacting.
The doc also reveals that his nemesis Borg, who was always considered super cool and unflappable, also had fire in him - but Borg kept his meltdowns private - to dressing rooms and hotels.
When Billie Jean King was asked to check out a young 18-year-old McEnroe at one of his first appearances at Wimbledon, she took one look at him, decided that he didn't have much muscle and wrote him off - but it was not long before she too became mesmerized by his skill, his ball placement, his inner drive and ability to take the sting out of our opponents' hard shots and serves by returning or blocking them, with seeming ease and accuracy.
This is an outstanding documentary. McEnroe is clearly relaxed and open in this film maker's company - he talks candidly about his disastrous marriage with Tatum O’Neal – their shared cocaine addiction and his inevitable decline in the 80's. He talks of his friendship with likeable, hedonistic womanizer and fellow tennis player, Vitas Gerulaitis who died too young, but encouraged McEnroe to think more openly. “People today use performance-enhancing drugs,” says McEnroe. “We used performance-detracting drugs.” And as for drugs not being good for you, McEnroe says: “They were good so you can appreciate your life a little more.”
Staying at the top seemed to be lonely and stressful for McEnroe. His invincibility faded - the road downwards was also complicated by his disintegrating marriage and an increasingly stressful relationship with his father/manager. McEnroe eventually fired his dad - he said, he wanted a more loving parental relationship with him. His father never fully accepted this.
Well McEnroe is a fantastic commentator for Wimbledon tennis now. His enthusiasm for the game is intact, his observations, insights and humour are priceless.. everybody loves him, so does this reviewer and so do Nadal, Federer, Djokovic and especially Borg (the two are great friends) who in moving cameos, reveal their enduring affection for him as a person, a father, a tennis player and currently as Wimbledon's leading commentating light.
John McEnroe is worthy of having his own film - some have said it is too uncritical, but for this reviewer, Patti Smyth and director Douglas, seem to have the full measure of the depth of his ever interesting, artistic personality.
It is currently playing only in cinemas.
Name of film: Worth Director: Sara Collegeland Year: 2020
Review Keaton, plays Ken Feinberg, a Jewish lawyer who willingly takes on the task of deciding how to fairly compensate those who lost relatives in 9/11- whether some should be awarded more or less, depending on a mass of variable factors.
His initial clumsy approach immediately alienates - he faces anti semitism, accusations of being a 'numbers cruncher' - incapable of humanity – he finds himself the object of irrational hate.
But his job is to act without emotion - he tries to explain this - to negative response. It really is too big an undertaking for one man – deciding what a life is Worth - hence the title of the film. In dealing with the immense tragedy and so many decimated lives, he is forced to re think his position – to try and understand grief and suffering better.
Feinberg apparently felt the need to do something worthwhile, when his firm was one of a small number, approached by the government, to sort out an equitable fund. He willingly took the task on but wanted no payment and studiously developed an equation using financial models.
Feinberg initially only wanted his staff to interview the 9/11 families and relatives – to not be present - they do, and as they become personally involved and moved, they urge him to do the same. His structured approach, they tell him, does not measure up to the reality of the depth of suffering of real lives.
Feinberg's main and eloquent legal opposition comes from Stanley Tucci, a widower, who runs a counter campaign called “Fix the Fund,” which supports victims' families in rejecting the Government/Feinberg approach.
The meetings between the two men, seemingly on opposite sides, are intricate and nuanced and so so watchable as both eventually try reach a place of mutual understanding. It’s a complex subject and Worth avoids making anything easy for the audience to process.
Talented director Sara Collegeland did the same with her previous film, a psychodrama, The Kindergarten Teacher, while a script from Max Borenstein looks at the morals of a subject that could have been made into a straight courtroom drama.
This film however, focusses on character and people, refusing to cave into sentiment, preferring instead, to directly address the depth of suffering as a result of the 9/11.
A humane, immensely moving take on the tragedy of 9/11, with barely any footage of the attacks and Keaton has never been better.
It is playing on Netflix
Name of film: Good Luck to You Leo Grande Director: Sophie Hyde Year 2022
Review This virtual two-hander directed by Hyde, who made the 2019 Sundance hit, Animals, is about a series of secret hotel room meetings between a repressed widow, Emma Thompson and sex worker, Daryl McCormack - Leo Grande.
Thompson is a retired RE teacher who has never had an orgasm, and now has a list of sexual experiences that she’d like to “get through” to understand what she's been missing throughout her long, steady but unfulfilling marriage.
Thompson's sexual experience comes largely from essays from her young students, “Should it be legalised?”
Over their meetings, the two discover more about each other – neither are using their real names – Thompson wants to know why Leo has chosen this field of work, while castigating herself for being as sick as Rolf Harris, for even entertaining an idea of illicit sexual meetings. McCormack has his own issues which slowly reveal themselves.
This is an open and sometimes funny performance from Thompson, veering between clumsiness and charm - someone who genuinely wants to experience more, before the erotic spark deserts her. “I want to play at being young again,” she says.
In early scenes, she seems to be rather unsympathetic, torn by attraction, but lacking empathy, as if she is talking only to herself, but this changes over the course of this undeniably sweet natured film.
Leo is accommodating kind, intelligent, soft spoken, fit and not altogether believable – Thompson eventually describes him as “some sort of sex saint… a master of the menopause.”
Despite their acting skills, neither character actually comes off as completely believable. This movie, for all its charm, is not really a thorough exploration of anxiety and repression vs openness. Thompson asks: “Are you real?” the answer of course is that Leo isn't – he has been hired to adopt convincing role play, which he does with style.
Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, wants to explore this still taboo subject, yet it seems it has really been designed to be enjoyably whimsical - the music score by Stephen Rennicks, keeps the mood in an easy listening, pastoral category.
To this reviewer it works best as a comedy/drama of manners and to watch the ever effortless acting ability of Thompson.
It premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, which at the last minute was changed to an online rather than in-person event because of an increase in cases of the Omicron variant during the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States.
Following the premiere, Searchlight Pictures acquired U.S. distribution rights to the film for Hulu. On 11 March 2022, it was revealed the film would be released on Hulu on 17 June 2022.The film was also theatrically released by Lionsgate UK in the United Kingdom on the same date.
Name of film: Woodstock '99 - Train Wreck Director: Jamie Crawford Year: 2022
Review Love, peace and understanding dies over three scorching days in America, as a recreation of the great hippy love festival of 1966, turns into a riot.
This fast moving and disturbing three part Netflix series is as tense as a Hollywood thriller - it looks at the accusations of rape, arson that destroyed the 1999 festival, the mob behaviour of some of the quarter million strong crowd, the anger of a new youth culture and their exploitation by greedy organisers.
Each hour long episode follows a day of the festival, from a hopeful start on a Friday, to the mess of Sunday night/Monday morning - an onscreen ticking clock counts down to each new catastrophe.
Michael Lang organised the first Woodstock festival held on Max Yasgur's dairy farm. It was full of spirited and uplifting performances by Crosby Stills and Nash, Santana, Richie Havens, Jimi Hendrix, Sly and the Family Stone and Joe Cocker etc. It was called the greatest concert of all time - a three day love celebration.
The 1999 event was again pulled together by Lang and his business associates - but from the start, all assumptions were miscalculated.
Lang had also organised Woodstock '94. That festival had come and gone without fanfare – it actually lost money and Lang didn't want a repetition of that – so an eight-mile perimeter fence was erected around a decommissioned, ugly, cement heavy, military airbase for the '99 festival - no one could get in for free, as they had done in '94.
The '99 infrastructure according to this film, was threadbare - independent vendors were allowed to charge as much as they wanted for food and water – festival goers had their own water supplies confiscated at the festival entrances.
The footage of actual the festival captured here, is all apparent.
Fatboy Slim’s late night Saturday set in a rave hangar, ends badly as crowds get trampled on - he, like many other acts, got out as quickly as possible after their performances.
A cardboard sign saying “show us your tits” is waved at Sheryl Crow as she tried to soldier on through heckles – she left the site immediately after her set.
Teenage topless girls, wanting to express the freedom feeling of Woodstock '69, are groped as they crowd surf.
There was minimal waste collection - the site looked like a massive rubbish tip by the end of the first day, makeshift toilets broke and contaminated the remaining water supply with human faeces. Youngsters were taken away ill and with mouth ulcers from after drinking from taps.
By the Sunday, with a scorching heat beating down, stalls began charging $12 dollars for a bottle of water - the festival goers at this boiling point, began to tear down the flimsy psychedelic coloured cardboard walls and lay under them for any shade. Many were taken to hospital.
But it seems the biggest miscalculation of all was the bands - Korn on Friday and Limp Biskit, on Saturday were two of the heavy metal acts that spread a fuck off to the system message that encouraged a latent anger - Woodstock 99, happened in the wake of Columbine, the mass school shooting only weeks before. Things seemed lawless. . But it isn’t until the final few minutes of the last episode, that the viewer becomes aware of the festival's legacies – reports of rapes, fires all over the site, looting of ATM machines and stalls, and trucks being blown up.
Police, fire fighters and the army were brought in on Sunday night, to the distress of some organisers and flat denial of others – it was just a few people who caused trouble, some said to the gathering hungry press reporters.
Woodstock '99 is compelling. It looks at who was to blame – the series seems to suggest it was everybody - the metal acts who stirred everyone up, the bookers who didn’t vary the genre of the bands, some of the macho dominated young crowd who interpreted the 60's notions of free love as a licence to do whatever they wanted and managers who failed to provide a support infrastructure that might have calmed the crowd. One slogan sprayed on a bit of wall that was still left standing, read, “Down with Profitstock.” That seems to say it all.
It seems Lang and his co-organisers had just not factored in a growing cynism in youth culture since Woodstock 66 - a new, deeper distrust of authority and youth's refusal to be treated as cattle.
However, when The New York Times asked performers, Rage Against the Machine for their opinion of the festival, Tom Morello, the band's guitarist, wrote: “Hey man, leave the kids alone. I've had enough of the frenzied demonization of young people surrounding Woodstock '99. Yes, Woodstock was filled with predators: the degenerate idiots who assaulted those women, the greedy promoters who wrung every cent out of thirsty concertgoers, and last but not least, the predator media that turned a blind eye to real violence and scapegoated the quarter of a million music fans at Woodstock '99, the vast majority of whom had the time of their lives.”
This series holds a different opinion. It does look at the causes, but also leaves you to make up your own mind, yet there doesn't seem to be room for any debate - from the reams of distressing footage itself and from its' many interviews, it does create a spectacle. With some slick editing, Woodstock '99 actually does plays like a train wreck disaster movie - racking up tension from an optimisic beginning to a tragic end.
It is also a sad epilogue to Woodtock '66 that many will not know anything about. This festival combined with the tragedy at a Rolling Stones Altamont concert, seemed to end a hippy love generation's hopes. At Altamont, some festival goers died by the hands of the security staff - Hells Angels.
We are unlikely to see another Woodstock recreation - Lang has now died, six months after his last interviews for this film, interviews in which he showed himself to be in half denial and half reeling for his part in the festival's legacy.
It took three weeks to clean up the site after the festival. Organizers spent an estimated $78,000 re-sodding the grounds in the stage and mosh pit areas.