Notes from the back row 

On Munich and Murderball

Okay, back to it. The holidays are over, the New Year is upon us and there are two big entertainment events looming in the next few months: the Olympics and The Oscars.

Okay, the Oscars aren’t all that special and January is often the month when Hollywood dumps all their dung out in the field and hopes at least one golden mushroom will pop up. The Olympics, however, while sporadically corrupt, are still pretty special and at least somewhat entertaining.

It’s sort of ironically timely then, that one of Hollywood’s early films of the new year is The Ringer , a Farrelly Bros comedy about a goodhearted fellow who acts "like a ‘tard" in an effort to fix the Special Olympics to help a friend pay for surgery (and pay off his corrupt uncle’s gambling debt). Starring Johnny Knoxville (typecast perhaps) The Ringer ’s premise sounds like it could be hilarious to all us crass, insensitive pricks out there who don’t mind a predictable plot as long as we’re laughing at someone else’s expense.

Unfortunately (or maybe not) this is not that kind of movie. In fact, The Ringer is PG-13, totally endorsed by the Special Olympics, and more sweet and uplifting than so-bad-it’s-good funny. It’s predictable, cliché ridden (hot-girl-love-interest-who-already-has-a-jerk-fiancé again?) and although it’s still kinda funny and the actual handicapped actors hold their own with Knoxville, it watches like a bit of a letdown.

Sticking with the Olympics, Steven Speilberg’s Munich , now playing, is anything but a letdown. The film, not a historically true account, focuses on Israel’s response to the kidnapping and murder, at the hands of Palestinian terrorists, of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Starring Eric Bana ( Hulk, Troy) as the Israeli Mossad officer in charge of hunting and killing the 11 main people responsible, Munich is half espionage thriller and half morality tale depicting Bana’s descent from pure patriotism into moral chaos and ambiguity.

Although set in 1972 the themes in Munich are just as important to today’s society. Speilberg makes a point to not openly choose sides in this war on terrorism and he goes to great lengths to give us glimpses into the lives and personalities of the hunters and the hunted. Somewhere amongst the kidnappings and murders of the athletes, the brutal retaliations, and the even more brutal retaliations to those retaliations, the line between good and evil, right and more right, gets blurred until everyone is operating and living in a sort of grey zone. Speilberg openly ties the themes in Munich to the 9/11 attacks (the Twin Towers make an appearance) and shows that when a nation is truly tested and backed into a corner its morals and values are often the first things to go.

Long at 164 minutes, Munich is also a compelling and interesting movie but I found it, as well as Syriana to which it will draw comparisons, ultimately depressing. People should have listened to Ghandi, "An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind."

The DVD of the week is Murderball , a spectacularily raw, Vancouver-made documentary about the Canada-USA rivalry in wheelchair rugby. First of all, who even knew such a sport even existed? Murderball introduces us to the U.S. team of quadriplegic rugby athletes and follows them for a year, climaxing with a match against a hated ex-teammate who now coaches Canada. While utterly inspirational and totally engaging Murderball also dispels a lot of misconceptions and should really be required viewing for anyone living in a town set to host the Paralympics; i.e. All y’all. This is another one of last year’s best flicks.

AT VILLAGE 8 Jan. 6-12: Munich; Ringer; Cassanova; Syriana; Rumour Has It; Memoirs of a Geisha; Fun With Dick and Jane; King Kong; Chronicles of Narnia.

AT RAINBOW THEATRE Jan. 6-12:

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