That's my motto. I'm gonna get it tattooed in Olde English letters across my stomach, "Thug Life"-style. With the two question marks and everything. Here's a couple of new recommendations for my doc-loving homies.
Tonight on IFC: the premiere of Rank, director John Hyams' look at the elite ranks of the professional bull-riding circuit. (Hyams previously made a film for HBO about mixed martial arts fighting called The Smashing Machine. What's scarier, an extreme brawler or a hulking, pissed-off bull named Crossfire Hurricane?)
Rank follows the top three riders as they vie for the Professional Bull Rider World Champion title. Visits to their family farms, bible study classes, doctor's appointments (injuries are frequent and not often minor), bowhunting excursions, and the like pivot around the PBR's culminating event in Las Vegas -- illustrated with heart-stopping footage of men who are either brave enough or foolish enough to climb aboard multiple bucking beasts over a seven-day period. The prize? A million bucks and a gold belt buckle, plus the pride in knowing you've beaten the odds by not breaking your dadgum neck.
For a movie about such a violent sport, Rank is surprisingly beautiful and reflective. Give Hyams credit for looking past the macho, patriotic, boot-scootin' trappings of bull riding (though, of course, they're in there too) and seizing on its more poetic aspects. The camera seeks out small details -- a quietly staring bull's eye, the curve of a rope -- and focuses on camaraderie over competition. As one rider points out, the men are competing against the bulls, who'd just as soon stomp a hole through their heads, rather than each other. The film's most moving scene comes when a rider's grandmother -- who lost her husband in a bull-riding accident -- veers from proudly remembering her own bull-riding days to breaking down, overcome by memories. "It's bad business," she sniffs, as her grandson, who earns his money betting his life eight seconds at a time, looks on from the back of the frame.
Now that The Last King of Scotland is in theaters -- complete with fiery lead performance by Forest "Ghost Dog" Whitaker -- it's the perfect time to brush up on your Idi Amin fun facts. First stop should be Barbet Schroeder's chilling 1974 doc General Idi Amin Dada, available in a Criterion Collection edition that features an interview with Schroeder and a timeline detailing Amin's Ugandan reign.
Where Whitaker blusters, the real Amin sits calmly, laughs frequently, and rambles guilelessly to the camera. A smidge of clipped voice-over sets the scene and occasionally provides context, informing us, for example, that a cabinet member who gets a dressing-down at a government meeting was found two weeks later floating in the Nile. Mostly, though, the material needs no explanation. The happy-go-lucky Amin plays the accordion, dances, strides about overseeing military exercises, swims, introduces a handful of his 18 children, and -- in a standout segment -- conducts an impromptu nature cruise: "I like very much elephants," he confides, as his boat sails past a zoo-ready menagerie of native animals, including a creature Amin singles out as "the captain of the crocodiles."
The film's most shocking element -- besides its access, about which Schroeder notes that he captured incredible footage every single day of the shoot -- are Amin's anti-Israel views, which are stated here in no uncertain terms (he believes The Protocols of Zion as fact, voices his support for "suicide squadrons" in pursuit of the "war against Israel," and offers up his country as a safe port for terrorists hijacking Israli planes -- which of course ended up actually happening.) Though we'll never see images of Amin ordering mass killings (300,000 or more were said to have died under his watch), General Idi Amin offers plenty of evidence that the man masked evil behind his genial grin.
Anyone looking for a more comprehensive take on Amin's rise to power should check out his A&E Biography episode. A&E also has an episode of Greatest Raids dedicated to the 1976 raid on Entebbe, which pitted Israeli commandos vs. those Palestinian and German hijackers Amin threw his support behind.
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