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Entries in Extreme Sports (3)

Wednesday
Nov012017

CONOR MCGREGOR: NOTORIOUS

Features: Conor McGregor, Dee Devlin, Dana White, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jose Aldo and Nate Diaz.
Director: Gavin Fitzgerald.

Rating: 3.5/5

Whether you are of the ‘fairytale rise to his generation’s greatest athlete’ view or bend more towards the ‘self-proclaimed messiah of bro-culture arrogance’ stance, there is enough to please/infuriate both extremes in Conor McGregor’s lovingly authorised bio-doc, Notorious. Is it a hagiographic monument to the true potential of unyielding egotism, capturing hubris as ‘high cinematic art’? Or is it just clip-after-clip of an over-groomed dude living well between beating people up? Two camps…

A celebration of the man, the mission and the material spoils of 'only-in-America' size success, director Gavin Fitzgerald and editor Andrew Hearne (both countrymen of McGregor), weave a mythological narrative that determinedly honours the MMA brawler’s Irish roots yet portrays little of his life prior to climbing into that first octagon. Footage has been gleaned primarily from the last four years, covering the period from when he and his loyal girlfriend Dee Devlin were shacking up with the fighter’s mother to the monstrous circus and massive wealth of the Las Vegas fight scene.

The first words spoken are “Let’s school this mother****er”, a declaration of intent from McGregor to the audience. Notorious works to both strengthen his existing brand power and let those new to the Conor-verse know what they are in for. Structurally, the film is pure sports fairy tale; the rise, fall and resurrection of a champion, achieved through hard work, self-belief and a lot of people telling you how great you are.

It is a vision of a world that adores the alpha-male, which will play as tone-deaf to some given the current climate. The only woman afforded any significant minutes in the film is the charming Devlin, yet she is given little backstory; her support is clearly integral to his success, though she's rarely seen doing more than existing in McGregor's shadow. The filmmakers also appropriate African-American culture, while not really featuring any African-Americans; from the connotations associated with the film’s title to the overuse of rap/hip-hop language, Conor and his very white entourage assume mannerisms stereotypically ‘street’. 

And yet Notorious remains an admittedly compelling story. The man himself is a polarising and fascinating personality, presented here as being consumed by a rare determination to achieve success for the sake of success. During an interview, he provides a PR-friendly soundbite that suggests he courts untold wealth so that his kids and grandkids can live well, yet nothing in Fitzgerald’s film supports that claim. The film is all about a working-class man’s ascension into the top-tier tax bracket, of that fantasy moment when your new wealth allows you to shout your family a new car.

Notorious revels in capturing Conor McGregor as he seeks fame, achieves fame and flaunts fame. It is crass and cringe-y cinema at times – like an episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians with more punches and blood - but it is also textbook bigscreen fantasy fulfilment for those who have hitched their fandom to McGregor’s star. And for the star himself.

 

Thursday
Apr282016

YOU AND ME

With: David ‘Barney’ Miller, Katherine Southwell, Mick Fanning, Drew Derriman, Ella Chowdhurry, Lara Sonntag, Tania Brown, Sharron Southwell, Jason Southwell, Ken Ware and Jan Carton.
Writers: Shaylee Gomes, Taylor Montemarano and Lorenzo DeCampos
Directors: Lorenzo DeCampos, Michael Lawrence and Taylor Montemarano.

Rating: 4/5

The bonding of two broken souls and the combined strength to survive that they inspire in each other makes for a heartfelt, deeply moving character study in You and Me. This stirring, superbly crafted feature deserves breakout success for its backers, Garage Productions, the Sydney-based action-sports distributor whose principal, co-director Michael Lawrence, oversaw the four year shooting commitment.

As the title suggests, You and Me is an ‘everyman’ narrative; the fate that befell David ‘Barney’ Miller, a larrikin Aussie surfing protégé struck down in his prime and Kate Southwell, the country girl who finds her own resurrection while sharing his struggles represents the type of interpersonal journey that will be familiar to many. To the great credit of Lawrence and his team of co-directors, You and Me finds the extraordinary in the everyday; the warm familiarity of the lives touched by the hardships faced by David and Kate ensures resonance and empathy.

Archive footage and first-person recollections paint a picture of the young Miller as a charming, blokish, decent teenager, well known and well liked in the New South Wales north coast surfing enclave of Sawtell. In 1999, a speeding car in which he was a passenger left the road and struck a tree, leaving him a C6 Quadriplegic with no chance of independent movement for the rest of his life. Home video of Miller’s rehabilitation and subsequent descent into self-medicated depression is gruelling to watch, rendered starkly real via the heartbreak conveyed straight-to-camera by the man himself.

At Miller’s lowest point, the film shifts focus to the inland township of Cowra where we meet the Southwell family and their vibrant little girl, Kate. A mixed heritage has made her the target of bullies and the teenager is soon sliding into her own alcohol haze and misguided life path. To save their daughter, her parents send her to family in Coffs Harbour, the largest regional centre nearest to Sawtell.

After a fateful meet-cute (Lawrence utilises his ‘stars’ to recreate sweet moments from their blossoming romance), the extraordinary details of their journey are pieced together with slick filmmaking clarity. The storytelling brio and passion for surfing culture that Lawrence oversaw as producer on the doco hits Bra Boys (2007) and First Love (2010) are keenly evident in You and Me, nowhere more so than in sequences featuring world champion Mick Fanning, whose mateship with Barney is conveyed in some of the film’s most endearing moments.

One cannot begrudge the production for laying on the inspirational music and sweeping coastline photography a little thick at times; at it's core, it is the true story of a deeply enriching, achingly sentimental journey. That it also serves to highlight the endeavours of such institutions as Project Walk, Wings for Life World Run and Aussie Ken Ware’s neurophysics functional performance initiative is to the film’s credit. The ‘advocacy documentary’ has become an overworked genre in recent years but when skilled filmmakers keep the focus on the human struggle, any inherent call-to-action is earned, even welcome.

The mending of Barney and Kate’s lives and the shared spirit they embody pulses through You and Me. As one of the family friends predicts early in the story, the feel-good crescendo to which the film truthfully soars will not leave a dry eye in the house.

Friday
Jun132014

IMAGINE: LIFE SPENT ON THE EDGE

Featuring:
RIDERS SKI: Jeff Annetts, Sam Favret, Mickael Lamy, Wille Lindberg, Tim Swartz, Drew Tabke, Jeff Leger, Nate Siegler, Casey Wesley
SPEED RIDING: Ueli Kestenholz, Dominik Wicki, Florian Wicki 
SNOWBOARD: Matt Annetts 
SURF: Matahi Drollet, Keala Kennelly, Alain Riou, Hira Teriinatoofa 
WINGSUIT FLYING: Ludovic Woerth, Mathias Wyss 
KAYAK: Shannon Carroll, Mariann Seather, Katrina Van Wijk, Martina Wegman 
KITE SURF: Tetuatau Leverd, Manutea Monnier, Mitu Monteiro, Rony Svarc 
STAND-UP PADDLE: Patrice Chanzy, Aude Lionet-Chanfour.

Director: Thierry Donard

Rating: 4/5

The latest from Europe’s leading sports documentarian, Thierry Donard, is a soulful, contemplative vision that posits the extreme sportsperson as the modern keeper of life’s great truths. Imagine: Life Spent on the Edge may prove too earnestly reverential for those venturing indoors simply for ‘The Rush’, but Donard has crafted an inspiring work that defines a spiritual unity between the athlete, his environment and our search of fulfilment.

Donard, whose Nuit de la Glisse (Night of Skiing) series of films have chronicled athletes pushing their bodies and skills to breaking point, wields the new Go-Pro mini-digicam unit with stunning efficiency and clarity. The sports footage is immersive and, at times, giddying. Skiiers dropped onto mountaintops weave fearlessly down sheer mountain faces as waves of avalanche snow cascade around them; Tahitian surfers glide through the tubes of giant waves; kayakers plunge over Icelandic waterfalls. Genuinely jaw-dropping is the helmet-cam coverage of wingsuit experts Mathias Wyss and Ludovic Woerth, the pair pulling 4Gs as they hurtle past rock cliffs and snow plains.

But the director also invests in an inordinate amount of backstory to provide an intimacy to his subject’s exploits. Champion surfer Matahi Drollet is the focus of Donard’s camera in Tahiti, but moreso for his decision not to ride the Teahupoo break given he has a one month old son. Similarly, Keala Konnelly returns to the ocean that nearly tore her face off in a horrific spill, determined to conquer her demons. Snowboarder Matt Annetts (labelled as a 'soul rider') speaks at length about the support his family has afforded him, allowing him a life of self-discovery via his sport.

Imagine: Life Spent on the Edge dwells not only on the beauty of the sport but also on the value of life balance. This is not a film drenched in sponsor’s tags or glammed-up with the shallow by-products of the macho sports machine (there is nary a bikini-clad beach beauty in sight). What Thierry Donard captures are dedicated, mature individuals for whom an adrenalized existence focuses the mind on what is ultimately most important – integrity, loyalty, family and friendship.