Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Sat Mar 08, 2003 3:03 pm 
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Authentic surf girls in ordinary picture

The best and truest thing about "Blue Crush" is that the Hawaii surf girls in it are working class girls. They're not just pretty girls off on a spree, much less middle class boys with endless amounts of time to pursue the perfect wave in the endless summer. They have to clean up gross, trashed suites inhabited by pro football players in a luxury hotel on Oahu and take care of their wayward little sisters because their mom has run off, and they have to grab extra minutes to train in the small hours.

All the scenes that illustrate this working class aspect of Anne Marie and Eden and Lena and Kala's and Anne Marie's little sister Penny's life are fresh.

The movie also delineates the difference between haoles and locals: it shows Matt Tollman (Matthew Davis II), Anne Marie's pro footballer temporary boyfriend, getting a beating when she takes him surfing on locals' wave turf, which is something that happens in real life. A haole can get killed for that. Sanoe Lake (with a Hawaiian surf champion mother) and Mika Boorem and Kala Alexander are pretty close to what they're supposed to be and they play really well and naturally together. The scenes between them are fun, whether working at the hotel, or on the beach or at their hutch. Michelle Rodriguez (of "Girlfight") is girl no. 2, Anne Marie's goad and coach, some would say a stronger, more charismatic person than Kate Bosworth. Rodriguez's relentless feistiness can be grating, but still it's easy to believe that she ought to be in the Pipeline competition along with Anne Marie and she has an impressive dignity, not to mention beauty, about the way she holds herself.

The subject of class is further developed by showing a little bit more about the pro footballers the girls run into at the hotel. Matt Davis as the quarterback boyfriend has hunk charisma and a sweet face, a mean combination. Good casting isn't quite enough to make this a great movie, though. It has social awareness and authentic atmosphere, but all the nice surfer bods and the hairiest Pipeline waves can't make 'Blue Crush' different from an average surfer movie climaxing in a competition.

The best surfing action adventure fiction movie is the 1991 'Point Break,' which was made by a woman, Kathryn Bigalow (whose 'Near Dark' is another classic in another underdog genre, the vampire movie). 'Point Break' gets away from the cliché of competition and gets deeper into surfing's mystique than any of the documentaries. Bodhi (Patrick Swayze) and his pals are surfing gurus and romantic outlaws so charismatic that the cop (a strong, wide awake Keanu Reeves) lets Bodhi surf to his doom rather than have to face jail. Every one of Bodhi's crew is sharply individualized - always a good sign. Surfers don't just chase the perfect wave and get inside a tube; they seek Nirvana and they vanquish their inner demons or die trying, and death is no idle threat in this sport. 'Point Break' gets at all that and takes us on a wild ride full of surprises. It's arguably the most original and best action movie of the Nineties. And naturally the surf photography in 'Point Break' is as grand and as beautiful as any on film: it focuses on the huge openness of the sea and doesn't get too hung up on waves. This movie is about boldness. The scenes of the girl teaching a cocky, athletic guy to surf are the same thing 'Blue Crush' tries to do - much less memorably.

The girls in 'Blue Crush' talk a lot about big balls, and they don't mean beach balls. But there's precious little about the mystique of surfing in the movie, and no moments that strongly capture what it's like to go out there and meet the challenge. Why does Anne Marie, who's the movie's heroine after all, wimp out so much? Well, because she nearly drowned in an earlier competition. But we don't really so much see her conquer her fear and live 24/7 the life of an adrenalin junky (a given of all the surfing life in 'Point Break') as get pushed to a good performance and a pro contract by the encouragement of a more seasoned fellow competitor from Australia, real life woman surf champion Kate Skarrett. There are other great women surfers who appear in the movie and they've got the balls they're talking about, no question about it. But they wind up being the usual window dressing.

The affair with the quarterback is left dangling. 'Blue Crush' is good fun, and it's an appealing introduction to the too much overshadowed world of women's surfing, but it hasn't much of a payoff or a truly interesting plot, and the surfing sequences have been accused of too much digitalizing. Another example of a sports movie with women that goes deeper (way deeper) into interesting plot territory while handling its athletic world (track) with exceptional integrity is 'Personal Best' (which some think Mariel Hemingway's one essential performance) - but then that was written and directed by Robert Towne (of "Chinatown"), who's about as good a writer as Hollywood's got. John Stockwell, who directed this one, has had a somewhat checkered career as actor and writer (he wrote the screenplay for 'Rock Star,' which starred Mark Wahlberg, and he's just directed 'Crazy/Beautiful' with Kirsten Dunst), isn't on the level of Towne and Bigelow.

September 8, 2002

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