Directed by Patricia Riggen
“The 33” is a dramatized version of the true story (even if not in all of the smaller details) of the 2010 collapse of a gold and copper mine in Chile’s Atacama Desert. The mine, which already had a poor safety record, was poorly equipped and unfit to respond to such a major collapse and the odds were stacked against the 33 trapped miners.
Initially, there was no way to know if the men were alive and later, after the period of emergency rations were assumed gone, their well-being seemed even less like. Part of the problem was they were so deep underground that even slight deviations in test bore holes, drilled in an attempt to make contact, would deviate enough over the distances involved to completely miss the target area.
However, once contact was made, their rescue became a national and international media spectacle, involving teams from multiple countries. In this regard, while watching the film, it was hard not to think that the best piece of rescue equipment is often a camera and the public gaze that so often goes with it.
As is often the case in films of this nature, we only get to know a handful of the 33 men and it was often tempting to count the people on screen – which isn’t a sign of an engaging film. Some of the casting choices also seemed a little odd, with an imported leading cast surrounded by a supporting cast that looked more authentic. It’s not hard to figure out who we’re likely to be focusing on when you only recognize two of the 33 men underground.
Sadly, for such an intense real life experience, the film itself generally feels a little lifeless. It’s hard to sell suspense when there’s a known outcome and “The 33” ends up feeling like a poor substitute for a good documentary on the same subject.
Love the Coopers
Directed by Jessie Nelson
There’s nothing terribly original about “Love the Coopers” – it’s the familiar story of a largely dysfunctional extended family coming together for the holidays – and yet it somehow manages to pull off the tired old joke. The film starts out, using splitscreen and narration, by showing us all the folks we’re going to be spending time with – and then slowly shows us how they all fit together.
The gathering is set to take place at the home of Charlotte and Sam Cooper (Diane Keaton and John Goodman), who have gradually drifted apart over the course of a 40 year marriage. And yet they might still be the happiest people at the start of the film – with the possible exception of Sam’s Aunt Fishy (June Squibb) who lives in a nursing home and in her past. They are surrounded by four generations of other Coopers, each with their own problems including failed relationships, non-existent relationships, and at least one relationship getting off to a very sloppy start.
It’s often the case that I find myself watching films that feel like they teetered on the edge of working and ended up just missing the mark. “Love the Coopers” felt like the opposite of that – a film that could so easily have gone wrong, and often even felt like it was, which ends up functioning through all the dysfunction that it’s throwing around. Much of that success is vested in the ensemble cast who are generally just enjoyable to watch – with those mentioned already working alongside Olivia Wilde, Alan Arkin, Marisa Tomei, Ed Helms, Amanda Seyfried, Anthony Mackie, and some less well known actors also doing fine work, most notably Jake Lacy and Timothée Chalamet.
One scene represents the problem films like this often face. At one point, a character is running through a hospital trashing almost everything and everybody in her path. It’s funny in a slapstick kind of way and if the film is working well enough, we want her to succeed in her quest. But there are also all those uninvolved people she’s plowing her way through, whose days and moments are being ruined – and we have to care enough about her to not care at all about them.
That’s a fine line – but one that “Love the Coopers” manages to navigate by being reckless rather than mean spirited. I walked in feeling like I was going to see a film I had seen a dozen times before, but I walked out pleasantly surprised and similarly amused.
Directed by Angelo Pizzo
“My All-American” feels a little like a combination of the above two films in that it tells a true story but also feels instantly familiar, running the risk of being forgotten (or ignored) before it even starts.
Somewhat reminiscent of “Rudy,” it tells the story of Freddie Steinmark, a football player who had to try exceptionally hard to overcome being relatively small, at least in football terms. As with “The 33,” there may be many in the audience (if many people watch it) for whom there are few surprises. However, the film avoids that trap by focusing so closely on Steinmark himself and his immediate reactions to events as they unfold, that any forewarning is diminished. It also allows each milestone (making the team, making the cut, etc.) to be as important in their own time as a major game. Steinmark is played by Finn Wittrock, who delivers a generally solid performance but who never looks the right age for the role.
One of the more interesting aspects of the film, to me at least, is how it addresses the topic of religion. Steinmark was a devout Catholic and the film reflects this, as part of his daily routine and belief structure. But the film doesn’t feel overtly religious and we’re not, for example, asked to believe that each victory or advancement came as a result of prayer. It’s a film about a person of faith but not one which asks the audience to believe anything in particular. Which seems to run counter to some of the film’s marketing, as it arrives in at least some theaters accompanied by trailers for multiple upcoming biblical adaptations.
I enjoyed “My All-American,” although to be honest my expectations were easy to meet. But it shoots itself in the foot to some extent by being another film that gives us actual historical content during the end credits, except that this is content that doesn’t look or sound much like what we’ve just watched.