Looping back onto last week's musings on the art of sport (with a nod to the start of hockey season), the download of the week is Red Army, a documentary peek behind the iron curtain of the Cold War-era Soviet Union and their formidable Red Army hockey teams.
Written and directed by frequent Werner Herzog collaborator Gabe Polsky (Herzog executive produced this one), Red Army hits the obvious themes of how the Russian hockey teams were a microcosm of the entire Soviet ideology and a propaganda vehicle to prove the inequities of the west (it kinda worked too).
The film, told mostly through the voice (and epic interview presence) of Russian star defenseman Slava Fetisov, goes deeper though and also touches on the sheer magnificence of the Soviet approach to the game — and the artistry of the five-man unit. There really may never be a line as fluid, creative and artistic as the top Soviet players of the 1980s.
But at what cost for the men? Through stirring interviews and incredible archival footage, Red Army peels back the layers to reveal just how mechanical and inhuman the Soviet system was, and the toll it took on their players. Hockey fans will love this one but the Red Army story transcends sport, borders or political ideologies. It's about the art and cost of near-perfection, but also the unpredictable creativity of the human spirit.
Keeping that Cold War vibe going, Bridge of Spies opens at the Village 8 this week. It's a Steven Spielberg flick so naturally it stars Tom Hanks as a hotshot American attorney tasked with defending an accused Soviet spy, then later brokering a deal to exchange him with the communists.
Set in 1957, Bridge of Spies is classic Spielberg filmmaking and both Hanks and Soviet spy Abel (played excellently by actor Mark Rylance) are built as equally heroic, despite being on opposite sides of the belief spectrum. The film benefits from script work by the infamous Coen brothers (Fargo, Barton Fink) and the final product is very solid, if slightly pandering. Spielberg doesn't push his themes as adeptly as he did in Munich but he certainly crafts a watchable flick.
Keeping it in the family, another film worth checking out this weekend is All Things Must Pass, a documentary about the rise and fall of Tower Records, directed by Colin Hanks (Tom's son). The story can't help but be engaging — in 1999, Tower Records made over a billion dollars, just five years later they were filing for bankruptcy. Hanks digs deep into the crates to shine a light on not just what happened at the end, but also how it all came to be.
In the process, he paints a nostalgic tapestry of times gone by where music lovers would congregate to share ideas and talk about what music meant to them. Hanks has good instincts and allows his subjects to tell the story, from Tower founder Russ Solomon to music legends like Elton John, Bruce Springsteen and Dave Grohl. Younger viewers may not pick up on the significance and legacy of record stores as much as people who remember them, but Hanks has crafted a pretty solid and heartfelt film considering it's essentially about a massive corporate entity who was unable to evolve with their fans and the times that were a'changin'. All Things Must Pass opens this weekend but you'll have to hunt it down in the city or hope it makes enough money that they bring it up here down the road.
For the kids this week, Village 8 also has the Goosebumps movie opening and it features Jack Black back in a teacher role (albeit not quite the same as in School of Rock). Based on the popular children's books, the plot to this one is Scooby-Doo basic but also self-aware and fun — some meddling kids are dicking around where they shouldn't be and they end up unleashing a host of real-life monsters based on the books of their mysterious teacher (Black).
It's noisy, clanky, goofy but also emotionally sincere enough to appease the under-10 age group. Jack Black anchors a slightly unwieldy thematic flotilla (because you gotta have those real kid fears of acceptance, abandonment and moving to a new town in amongst the yetis and zombies), but it's hard to come down too hard on any movie about the power of imagination and the magic worlds that await inside books. Especially when the Whistler Writers Fest is on. "There is no frigate like a book...."