HBO to the rescue
January 23, 2009
With films like "John Adams" and "Angels in America," among many others, the cable giant HBO has cemented its reputation for providing outstanding entertainment. During this year’s Sundance Film Festival, the company unveiled two more masterpieces, "Taking Chance" and "Thriller in Manilla."
"Taking Chance" dramatizes a true story about a Marine who volunteers to escort the body of soldier killed in action back to his hometown in Wyoming.
The film is surprisingly apolitical. Families of soldiers as well as antiwar activists will be moved by this powerful story which begins at the Dover Port Mortuary in Delaware where the soldiers’ bodies are reverently prepared for their final journeys home.
Lieutenant Colonel Mike Strobl, a real-life Marine played in the film by Kevin Bacon, volunteers for escort duty and is assigned to accompany the remains of 19-year-old Lance Corporal Chance Phelps home to Dubois, Wyo. Strobl, an admitted numbers cruncher for the Marines, is seeking to come to terms with his desk job while others die in the field. The journey, played with understated intensity by Bacon, transforms him as well as those he meets along the way.
The film is tender and thought provoking, a must see for all ages and all political persuasions. "Taking Chance," directed by Ross Katz, is in Sundance’s dramatic competition and will air on HBO Feb. 21.
On the documentary side, HBO’s "Thriller in Manilla" revisitis the legendary boxing matches between Joe Frazier and Mohammed Ali in the 1970s but from a new perspective. The film uses archival footage and present-day interviews. Those familiar images, though, look very different when viewed through the eyes of an aging and still bitter Joe Frazier.
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Director John Dower interviews Frazier at his modest gym where he and his son still coach young fighters. Frazier walks Dower through his own version of the catcalling and media hype that surrounded the fights, saying he felt betrayed and belittled by Ali. Finally, Dower convinces Frazier to watch a tape of the fight and viewers get to watch as the old fighter’s spirit is rekindled.
Touching on issues of race, class and education, Dower examines how Ali became such an iconic American figure while his adversary sank into obscurity.
"Thriller in Manilla" illuminates some previously murky corners of the cultural upheaval of the 1970s at a time when Americans are re-examining issues like racism, poverty and violence.