Documentaries

Thought-provoking documentary cinema covering horror, culture, music, sports.

Gaga: Five Foot Two

Gaga: Five Foot Two wasted a prime Spinal Tap moment: when the pint-sized New Yorker drops her album, as well as her over-the-top glam in favor of shorts and a black-T. How much more black could it be? The documentary (on Netflix) gives us all-access Lady Gaga, a woman whose fashion audacity is unmatched, but whose music is about as interesting as a basic wardrobe staple.

At 31, she’s at the age that linebackers are cut from the NFL, and pop stars face oblivion (Gaga, aka Stefani Germanotta, references that decade milestone as a time when she can “start to become a woman”). Is Gaga: Five Foot Two a Hail Mary* to stay relevant?

Gaga has always painted herself into a corner, musically: despite avant-garde aspirations, she’s still the equivalent of “the office weirdo” if she worked for an actuarial firm. If she were truly weird, she’d release Metal Machine Music, instead of courting lanky tastemaker-du-jour Mark Ronson, the man behind the boards for Uptown Funk and Rehab, as her career threatens to go gently into that good night.

It’s taken long enough for her to realize she’s a Six Foot Two pop talent, who doesn’t need all the Donatella Versace trappings, meat dresses, songs about fame (always the dullest subject matter in any artist’s repertoire) and assorted nonsense. To wit: the gorgeous acoustic lament, Joanne, written for a late aunt, which has a vulnerable Nico tone lilting into a Rufus Wainwright chorus, “Girl, where do you think you’re going?”

The same could be asked of Ms. Germanotta, and with Interscope money behind her, a bevy of handlers, hangers-on, stylists, physiotherapists — one wonders if the art doesn’t suffer in the process.

And she apparently suffers for her art too. In Gaga: Five Foot Two we get to see her at the doctor, getting hip injections, getting rub-downs, massages, the works, and at one point asking, “what would happen if I didn’t have all this?” [wealth].

At that point, as she gazes forlornly off her penthouse balcony over Central Park, you might want to whistle for the world’s smallest violin, but that’s the neat tension that this doc brings. Seldom do you get to see the creative process laid bare (Metallica’s Some Kind of Monster also  does this), even if the “supporting cast” buzz around her like bees and are barely background furniture.

Most importantly, as far as her image goes, the indifferent will likely become casual fans…

*** (out of 5)

[Editor’s note: The opening sequence is a stunner: Gaga hoisted into the sky to perform for the Super Bowl half-time show]

The Good Son: The Life of Ray Boom Boom Mancini

BOOM_BOOM_MANCINI“You’ll box oranges, apples Ray.”

That’s the kind of fatherly ball-busting Ray Mancini got growing up in Youngstown, Ohio, a dilapidated, crime-ridden mill town.

But box he did.

The Good Son: The Life of Ray Boom Boom Mancini is a heartbreaking documentary about a man trying to please his father (also a pro boxer, Lenny) and the tragic circumstances the family faced. This included the biker gang hit on Ray’s older brother (a pro fighter, who’d gotten mixed up with the local mob) and of course, the tragedy in the ring that night in Vegas, November 13, 1982, which has dogged Ray Mancini for a lifetime and put a black cloud on the sweet science ever since.

In that infamous fight, in front of millions for the WBA title, opponent Kim Duk-koo suffered a subdural hematoma, bleeding of the brain, and died four days later in hospital. He was not the first pro fighter to die in the ring (and certainly won’t be the last) but this one was different as it was on such a high-profile global stage*.

Boom_boom_Mancini_filmIt’s the reunion with Kim’s widow and son that puts this sports documentary into another stratosphere. It’s impossible not to be moved by son Jiwan and his mother’s composure having dinner with the man who killed their loved one.

As “The Real Deal” Evander Holyfield said in the equally exemplary boxing doc, Champs, “if you forgive, you have peace.”

In The Good Son we get to hear from the likes of pals Mickey Rourke and fellow Youngstown kid who made it big, Modern Family’s Ed O’Neill. We find out that Frank Sinatra was eager to meet Boom Boom, whose career never really found its footing again after the tragic incident.

Perhaps most tragic though, is the environment opponent Kim grew up in, fatherless, frequently homeless and living along the coast a few miles from the North Korean DMZ. He’d be forced to fight as a kid by guardians, much like Ray Mancini’s father had been. What kind of adult says “you can’t whip my son” and uses them as pawns to further gambling habits?

The fight game is an ugly business. For the courage displayed by “warriors,” there is the long-term effects: the dementia pugilistica, the Parkinson’s, the post-fight malaise that plagues former champs used to the celebrity spotlights. Like pro wrestlers, boxers frequently meet with tragic ends. We can look no further than Canadian hero, Montrealer Arturo “Thunder” Gotti.

Regardless, courage is courage for a reason. Putting yourself in harm’s way while knowing the risk, is something with which nothing else compares. That kind of mental willpower and strength in combat sports cannot be denied.

***1/2 (out of 5)

[*Editor’s note: Boxing is finished as a sport, the Conor / Floyd Mayweather debacle notwithstanding. Without a single governing sanctioning body, and a piecemeal approach to belts/champions, there is no hope for it. Imagine if hockey didn’t just have a Stanley Cup champion, but had 4 competing “best hockey team” contenders? That’s a pretty good idea about the nonsense surrounding boxing belt title holders for IBF, WBC, WBA, WBO, NABF, etc. There’s no way fans can keep it straight]