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Last Jedi Comic Adds New Scenes, Gets Rogue One Writer

Marvel is set to release the comic book adaptation of The Last Jedi this summer and it will feature new content that was not shown in theaters. While the movie itself was one of the more polarizing Star Wars creations, it still killed at the box office, which is a common trait shared by just about anything with Star Wars in the title. Unless it’s China, but that’s another story. Fans who did not enjoy The Last Jedi may be looking forward to the upcoming novelization as well as the new comic series, which will both be available by this summer and will include more information that was left out of the movie.

It was recently announced that The Last Jedi comic series will tell the story of the movie spread out over 6 issues. Marvel is promising that the series will contain “never-before-seen” material, which has led to speculation that we’ll get to see Han Solo’s funeral. We could also get more of the backstory on Rose Tico and her sister Paige as well. But what many are hoping to see is more of Supreme Leader Snoke.

Snoke didn’t get a whole lot of screen time in The Last Jedi and many fans were hopeful that Rian Johnson would explore the villain’s backstory, so we just might see some insight into where he came from. This is all wishful thinking right now since there hasn’t been anything officially announced at this time, other than the promise of “never-before-seen” material. The first issue will come out on May 2nd with the 2nd following on May 16th.

Writer Gary Whitta, who wrote the comic book for Rogue One and Star Wars: Rebels episodes, is teaming up with artist Michael Walsh to collaborate on The Last Jedi comic series for Marvel. The comics, novelization, and Blu-ray release are all around the same time, which will be right before Solo: A Star Wars Story hits theaters at the end of May. Star Wars fans will have no shortage of new products to purchase in the coming months while getting some more insight into the story of The Last Jedi along with scenes that were not included in the final cut of the movie.

Jason Fry has written the novelization for The Last Jedi and Rian Johnson promises that the book will shed light on many topics that he was not able to address in the movie. It is imagined that the Marvel Comics series will do the same thing, but in a visual manner. Star Wars will be able to tear into Rian Johnson’s story in even more detail now, which will lead to more questions that the director will have to answer publicly. As previously noted, the first issue in the comic series will be available on May 2nd. You can check out the covers below, courtesy of Joshua Yehl’s Twitter account.

Breathtaking cover by @DeadlyMike for the Star Wars: The Last Jedi comic book adaption. Took me a second to see the hidden symbol and then I loved it even more. pic.twitter.com/6WygxoXlTO

— Joshua Yehl (@JoshuaYehl) February 2, 2018

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Suicide Squad 2 Is a Big Priority for Warner Bros. Claims Joel Kinnaman

It appears that Suicide Squad 2 is a major continuing franchise for Warner Bros., despite reports stating otherwise. Though the first movie was a critical failure, it was a box office smash, earning over $740 million at the worldwide box office. Talks of a sequel began almost immediately after the release of the first movie and it was announced that the sequel was in development last year. DC Films has been in a bit of controversy after Justice League crashed and burned, but it appears that Suicide Squad 2 is a “big priority” for the studio, according to actor Joel Kinnaman.

Joel Kinnaman played Colonel Rick Flag in the first installment and he’s currently out promoting Netflix’s Altered Carbon and talk of Suicide Squad 2 came up in a few of his press stops. When asked about the movie, Kinnaman said that Warner Bros. is currently working on it and that it’s a big deal for the studio. He had this to say.

“I just know that they are working intensely on it. I know it’s a big priority at Warner Bros., but it’s an equally big priority to get it right. We all felt that we had lightning in a bottle, in a way, and it partly got away from us, a little bit. It’s really important to harness everything that was great about it, and then fix what didn’t really work. So, I know they’re working on it, and we’ll see. I’m very excited to read something, but I don’t have any new information.”

Joel Kinnaman is going out of his way to say that the movie is still being worked on, which is good news for fans who are looking forward to Suicide Squad 2. However, he didn’t have anything else to say about the movie starting production.

As of this writing, Suicide Squad 2 is expected to come out in 2019, if everything goes according to plan. In another recent interview, Joel Kinnaman mentioned that the sequel will be more grounded than its predecessor. The actor points out that there was too much “sorcery” in the first movie. He explains.

“I think the characters are so extreme, so I think it could be more effective if we were seeing them with maybe less sorcery. I think that the characters become more extreme if you see them in conjunction with more real people.”

According to reports from late last year, Suicide Squad 2 is expected to shoot in the fall of this year with the original cast returning, including Jared Leto and Margot Robbie. However, when both actors were asked about the sequel in separate interviews, they both claimed to have zero information about the movie. It is widely believed that out of all of the Harley Quinn projects that are currently in various stages of development, that Suicide Squad 2 will be the next time that we see the now iconic villain on the big screen.

Joel Kinnaman’s comments about Suicide Squad 2 are certainly promising since there has not been any official news surrounding the project released in quite a while. A production start date in the fall is still possible with a 2019 release date probable, especially if Kinnaman’s words are to be believed. A recent report suggests that Warner Bros. was already looking ahead to the future, even before Justice League hit theaters. You can read more of the interview with Joel Kinnaman over at Collider.

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All Five Spice Girls Finally Reunite in New Group Photo

Rumors of a full-fledged Spice Girls reunion have just gotten a huge boost thanks to new pictures of all 5 of women together shared by Victoria Beckham (Posh Spice) and Emma Bunton (Baby Spice). The entire Spice Girls line-up has not been seen together since the 2012 London Olympic Closing Ceremony where they last performed. Ever since then, rumors have been swirling about a full reunion with a tour and album. It isn’t clear if that’s in the cards, but as Emma Bunton said in one of the photos, “the future is looking Spicy.”

Victoria Beckham, Geri Horner (Ginger Spice), Melanie Brown (Scary Spice), Emma Bunton, and Melanie Chisholm (Sporty Spice) reunited at Horner’s home in London to discuss the future of the Spice Girls. Their manager, Simon Fuller, was also spotted walking into the house. Beckham shared the first photo and captioned it with, “Love my girls!!! So many kisses!!! X Exciting x.”

The Spice Girls are the biggest selling British girl group of all time, selling over 85 million records worldwide. The 5-piece reunited for a massively successful tour in 2007 and as previously noted, they last performed at the 2012 London Olympic Closing Ceremony. The women even had a hit movie in 1997 with Spice World, which earned over $100 million at the box office. A lot has happened since then and there have been constant talks of a reunion ever since 2012. Last year, Victoria Beckham responded to rumors of a 2018 reunion by saying, “It is not happening.” She went on to say that Girl Power is still alive and well but said that they were not getting back together.

It looks like Victoria Beckham may have changed her tune. Although nothing is confirmed, it certainly looks like there is something in the works for the future of the Spice Girls. 2018 marks the 20th anniversary of the breakup of the group, so there could be some pretty massive offers on the table for a full-scale reunion of the world-famous group. Or, it could be something small like getting together for a commercial. At this point, it’s too early to tell, so it’s best to sit back and let the reunion photo spice up your life on its own for now. The group did release this statement to Entertainment Weekly

“We have enjoyed a wonderful afternoon catching up and reminiscing about the amazing times we have spent together. We are always overwhelmed at how much interest there is across the whole world for the Spice Girls. The time now feels right to explore some incredible new opportunities together. We all agree that there are many exciting possibilities that will once again embrace the original essence of the Spice Girls, while reinforcing our message of female empowerment for future generations.”

Longtime manager Simon Fuller told the Sun that there was a secret meeting held to talk about the possibilities of “TV projects in China, a new TV talent show, endorsement deals, and a compilation album celebrating their greatest hits.” The one hold back is that Victoria Beckham does not want to provide new vocals to any possible upcoming songs.

Each of the Spice Girls has tried a solo career, but none of them really took off and they definitely did not compare to the world dominance that the 5 original women had. The reunion tour earned over $70 million, so it’s assumed that a new reunion tour could bring in at least that much, not including endorsements and merchandising. We’ll just have to wait and see what the Spice Girls do next, but for now, just enjoy knowing that they all reunited on Instagram. You can see the reunion pictures below, courtesy of Victoria Beckham’s Instagram account.

Love my girls!!! Exciting!
?????????? pic.twitter.com/Whecbap6hm

— Emma Bunton (@EmmaBunton) February 2, 2018

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3 Generations of Shaft Unite as Son of Shaft Begins Shooting

Production on Son of Shaft has officially begun and to celebrate, Isaac Hayes’ son posted a picture of himself along with Richard Roundtree, Samuel L. Jackson, and Jessie Usher. The new Shaft project has been in development for years now, but it was revealed last year that Tim Story was set to direct the project and was followed by the announcement that Roundtree, Jackson, were both returning to the movie. Jessie T. Usher is the newcomer to the series and he is set to play the titular role.

Son of Shaft is set for a June 2019 release date and production has officially begun. Isaac Hayes famously recorded the iconic theme song for the original movie as well as the 2000 sequel starring Samuel L. Jackson. The musician won an Academy Award for his original song and his son was on the set of Son of Shaft to celebrate 3 generations of the character in one picture. Isaac Hayes III is also in the picture, which is cool nod to how much impact his father’s music had on the popular culture of Shaft.

Richard Roundtree originated the iconic role of Detective John Shaft in the 1971 movie that was followed by two more sequels in the 70s as well as a short-lived television series on CBS. Roundtree instantly became a pop culture icon, a status that is just as famous today as it was back in the day. The movies, coupled with Isaac Hayes’ funky theme song have kept that legacy going for decades across the world and the Son of Shaft is set to continue the tradition.

Shaft continued in 2000 when Samuel Jackson jumped into the role of Shaft‘s nephew. The movie also co-starred Richard Roundtree and was a hit at the box office. The movie made over $100 million with a budget of $46 million, but that turned out to be the end of the line for the Shaft franchise. Whispers of a return of Detective John Shaft have been around ever since the last movie came out in 2000. Serious talks about the Son of Shaft weren’t held until 2016 and then confirmed in early 2017 when it was announced that Tim Story was going to direct the movie.

Tim Story has spoken about the movie a few times over the last year and he promises that the movie will not be just a straight up action movie this time around. Instead, the movie will focus more on the comedic aspect of Shaft, which is something that fans have been waiting for. One thing that will not change is the coolness factor of John Shaft. Shaft has never stopped being cool and he’s “Blaxploitation” legend for a reason: he’s a streetwise bad ass. And now 3 generations will unite for Son of Shaft. You can check out the picture from the set of Son of Shaft below, courtesy of Isaac Hayes’ Twitter account.

They say that #SHAFT family are some Bad Mutha#%*!as
3 Generations. 1 [email protected][email protected]#[email protected]#SonOfShaftpic.twitter.com/3PthKpjHH7

— Isaac Hayes (@isaachayes) February 1, 2018

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Keanu Reeves Pulls a Daring Motorcycle Stunt in New Super Bowl Commercial

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Keanu Reeves stars in a new Squarespace commercial for Super Bowl 2018 that features the actor continuing his reputation as one of Hollywood’s leading action stars.

Related: Chris Pratt Is Shirtless & Slinging Beer in First Super Bowl Commercial

The ad is called ‘Make It Happen’ and it is one of many commercial in a series for Squarespace. Keanu Reeves is seen standing up on a motorcycle that is speeding down a desert highway.

While standing on the speeding motorcycle, Keanu Reeves is reciting lyrics to Will Powers’ 1983 hit song “Adventures in Success.”

The commercial sets up a link to Reeves’ motorcycle company Arch Motorcycles. The actor paired with Squarespace to build the website for his company.

In addition to the action that Keanu Reeves is best-known for, the Super Bowl commercial also highlights the actor’s comedic sensibilities.

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J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Books Just Hit An Incredible Milestone

No matter how much Harry Potter is associated with various media, the books will always be what started it all. And now the Harry Potter book series has hit yet another massive milestone.

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Winchester

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The first few jump scares seem to set the tone for the cheesy, but fun ghost story “Winchester.” These eye-roll-inducing shocks bring to mind the humor in the films of horror-comedy gods Peter Jackson and Sam Raimi, both of whom infuse slapstick humor into otherwise by-the-number shock scares. Still, it’s hard to know if you’re supposed to laugh at the first few ghosts that appear in “Winchester,” a period film set in a haunted San Jose mansion just before the Great Earthquake of 1906. The finger that suddenly appears out of a hole in the wall? Or the kid armed with a pitchfork? Or how about that one stray roller skate? Are any of these things supposed to be funny?

Most signs initially point to “yes.” Brotherly director duo Michael and Peter Spierig (“Predestination,” “Daybreakers“) and their co-writer Tom Vaughan leave many suspicious little bread crumbs throughout laudanum-addicted psychiatrist Eric Price’s (Jason Clarke) investigation into the sanity of Winchester rifle heiress Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren). Maybe you see the signs too: a familiar face here, a telling coincidence there, or just the generally peculiar (and forceful) reversal of expected roles between Eric’s doctor and Sarah’s patient. Regardless of how actively disoriented you are by them: the first few jump scares are fittingly misleading. They suggest you’re either about to see a tongue-in-cheek, or earnestly dumb cash-in on the post-”Insidious“/”The Conjuring” trend of jump-scare-intensive, sub-”Poltergiest III” haunted house films. Thankfully, while “Winchester” is definitely trashy and fairly dumb, the Spierigs are also sincere and technically accomplished enough to lean into their story’s tackiest elements, and carry them out with admirable gusto.

Like “The Exorcist” before it, “Winchester” follows a head-shrinker of little faith who eventually abandons his doubts, and lustily embraces his latent superstitions. Unlike “The Exorcist,” “Winchester” is completely corny. Case in point: Eric lost his wife under mysterious circumstances, and now literally carries that baggage with him everywhere in the form of a rifle cartridge that he engraved the words “Together Forever” on. Eric’s past is a weakness that Sarah and her otherworldly tormentors prey upon. But it’s nothing compared to Sarah’s preposterous, but almost true backstory: she’s using a $20 million inheritance to build a house whose design is dictated to her whenever she’s possessed by visiting spirits at the stroke of midnight. Each new room in the Winchester mansion is made to look just like the room where the next random visiting ghost died. Unfortunately, the Winchester company thinks Sarah is too crazy to continue being their leader, and now want a doctor to officially confirm what they already know.

That said: while “Winchester” is loosely based on a true story, the film is never so close to reality. For example, Eric must ultimately must resolve his residual dead-wife-related guilt in order to overcome his skepticism about Sarah’s ghost situation. This, again, suggests that the only surprise that “Winchester” holds for viewers is waiting to see whether the Spierigs and Vaughan will attempt an elaborate twist ending—as the screenwriters of “Jigsaw,” the Spierigs’ last film, did—or just confirm what you probably already know about Sarah’s paranormal situation. The cynic in me repeatedly wondered: is Sarah lying because the filmmakers are nuts, or is she telling the truth because they’re that creatively bankrupt?

Thankfully, “Winchester” leveled my unfair expectations simply by being both silly and fun. Most of the film is genuinely atmospheric, thanks especially to the omnipresent construction noises that surround the house, like hammers on chisels, or saws into wood planks. And several set pieces are also fairly well-choreographed, particularly the one where a rifle slowly but surely fires right next to Mirren’s head. Clarke also gives one of his best performances to date, and even the expository dialogue is florid enough to be enjoyable. Finally: who could resist a haunted house whose eccentrically baroque design is realized without the use of computer-generated imagery? What “Winchester” lacks in originality its creators amply make up for in execution. 

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A Fantastic Woman

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“When I look at you, I don’t know what I’m seeing. A chimera, that’s what I’m seeing.” In Sebastián Lelio’s new film “A Fantastic Woman,” these breathtakingly cruel words are said to Marina (Daniela Vega), a trans woman in mourning for her dead lover Orlando (Francisco Reyes), by Orlando’s ex-wife Sonia (Aline Kuppenheim). Sonia speaks with such calm confidence, such chilling certainty, it pulls the entire film—and the problem it portrays—into sharp focus. Similar to his 2013 film “Gloria,” where a 58-year-old woman struggled to assert her identity—sexual and otherwise—in a world where aging people are supposed to be invisible, in “A Fantastic Woman,” a trans woman fights for simple human respect in a world intractable with hatred. Suffused with fantastical elements, dreamlike sequences and hallucinatory images, “A Fantastic Woman” stars Daniela Vega, a trans actress, and her performance roots the film in a kind of intimate verisimilitude.

Marina is first seen on a romantic dinner date with Orlando. They drink and eat, dance, stumble home together, make love. Orlando is much older than Marina, and clearly wealthy (he owns a textile mill), whereas Marina waits tables and pursues a singing career. But then Orlando suffers an aneurysm and dies on the operating table after a panicked Marina drives him to the emergency room. It is there her trouble begins. She is treated with suspicion by hospital staff. She is referred to as “he” because her license hasn’t been changed to reflect her gender identity. The cops arrive to question her. Orlando had bruises on his body after falling down the stairs during the aneurysm, and there is suspicion of foul play. Marina is asked if Orlando was paying her for sex. She is not granted the respect a grieving wife or girlfriend would receive. She is instantly thrust out of the warm circle of belonging which Orlando represented for her.

Orlando’s ex-wife and son (Nicolás Saavedra) want Marina out of Orlando’s apartment. She is forbidden to come to the wake or funeral. She is not allowed to keep Orlando’s dog. Meanwhile, a detective from the Sexual Offenses Unit (Amparo Noguera) visits Marina at work to ask more questions. She forces Marina to come to the station and submit to a humiliating physical examination. All Marina wants to do is be allowed to say goodbye to Orlando, to grieve publicly. She’s not just treated as a second-class citizen. She’s treated as a non-Person.

Lelio approaches this material with sensitivity and empathy. There’s restraint in his style, eloquent as it is. He weaves in elements from melodrama, from noir. Marina discovers a mysterious key in Orlando’s possessions, and her quest to discover what the key might unlock, makes up a large sequence of the film. “A Fantastic Woman” is filled with color, lights shifting from red to green to blue to yellow, bodies bathing in light, drowning in shadows. It’s an amorphous world, the borderline between night and day, consciousness and unconsciousness, is blurred. Cinematographer Benjamín Echazarreta has placed Vega at the center of every frame, her face, the back of her neck, her full body. She walks the streets of Santiago. Sometimes she is viewed from behind, sometimes she is viewed from across the street, the camera moving with her as she walks past a construction site, or along a block of storefronts. She is usually alone in the frame. Santiago often appears emptied-out of people in “A Fantastic Woman.” These choices suggest Marina’s isolation, as well as her vulnerable visibility. It’s like she’s a walking target.

Marina sees Orlando everywhere, coming back to haunt her. A chaotic dance floor coalesces into a choreographed stage show led by Marina, in a dazzling silver and gold costume, an exaggerated version of womanhood. In one scene, she trudges down a street into a wind so strong her body is almost parallel to the ground, fighting against it. There are times when she stares directly at the camera with a level gaze. These surreal and wordless sequences launch us into Marina’s experience. (In a daringly obvious choice, Aretha Franklin’s “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman” plays on Marina’s car radio as she goes to meet Sonia. “A Fantastic Woman” does not pull its punches.)

None of this would be possible without Vega’s performance. She’s the one who really allows us into the experience of the film, and of the character. There are moments when a horrible grief rises up in her eyes at the loss of Orlando, and yet she has to stuff it down in order to deal with whatever is going on in the present moment. The way she walks is brisk and efficient, but with tension vibrating around her, her shoulders tense and squared-off. A small punching bag hangs by the door of her apartment, and she throttles it before she leaves every morning. Marina bottles up a lot of stuff just to get through the day. Vega shows us why. It may be satisfying to see Marina make a triumphant eulogy speech and win over Orlando’s family, but “A Fantastic Woman” is not interested in anything that simplistic. What does it even mean to be “a fantastic woman”? What does that look like? Does Marina know? She knew who she was with Orlando. Now that he is gone, she questions everything.

“A Fantastic Woman” is not just about a person asserting her right to be treated like a person. It’s also about Marina’s conflicting views of womanhood, and how she might (or might not) fit into it. She lies naked in bed, knees bent, with a round mirror placed over her genital area. She stares down at the mirror, her reflected face looking back up at her from between her legs. It’s a stunning shot, filled with poetic and metaphoric resonance.

Who cares what’s between her legs? Why does it matter so much? Why does it matter at all?

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Bilal: A New Breed of Hero

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“Bilal: A New Breed of Hero” is an animated story about a culture and a piece of history we don’t often see, told from a region and a perspective that’s underrepresented in mainstream film. It’s an inspiring tale based on true events with a worthwhile message about finding your voice and asserting your identity.

If only it were good.

The debut feature from director and co-writer Khurram H. Alavi (and the first film from Dubai-based Barajoun Entertainment) offers individual moments of beauty and it boasts a solid voice cast, led by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Ian McShane and Jacob Latimore. But the character design is so stiff and unnatural that it’s frequently creepy, which is not only a distraction but also an impediment to the emotional connection the film clearly seeks. Background details can be quite lovely in their photorealism: streaks of light through an open window, the pattern on a tile floor or the tactile nature of a horse’s mane. A couple of overhead shots of massive battles in the desert stand out. But the faces resemble the results of early performance capture technology—think Robert Zemeckis’ “The Polar Express,” groundbreaking though it was—rendering them with little or no expression. And that’s a problem when “Bilal” means to stir something profound within us.

The intentions are honorable, for sure, but the execution is awkward, not just visually but tonally. In telling the (fictionalized) story of a 7th century slave who dared to follow his own beliefs and become an important figure in the Islamic faith, Alavi jumps around between action, comedy and drama in jarring fashion. And while his script (which he co-wrote with four other people, including co-director Ayman Jamal) follows the central character from the time he’s a plucky boy until he grows into a heroic man, “Bilal” is way too intense and violent for younger viewers, which seems like a missed opportunity to reach the widest possible audience.

As told here, Bilal ibn Rabah (voiced as a boy by Andre Robinson and as a teen by Latimore) was born into slavery alongside his sister, Ghufaira (China Anne McClain). When we first see him, he’s play-acting in the yard that he’s a great warrior on a makeshift horse, which Alavi intercuts with dark and ferocious imagery of a real battle on horseback. Then it’s back to happy pretend time in the sunshine. Then the kids watch tearfully as marauders strip their mother away from them. This uneasy mix of humor, suspense and violence plagues the film throughout.

Bilal is sold to Umayyah (McShane), a wealthy trader in Hejaz (which, in the present day, is the holy land in the western part of Saudi Arabia). But as he grows older (and is voiced resonantly as a man by Akinnuoye-Agbaje), he increasingly dares to voice his beliefs, which include a monotheism that seems threatening during a time when others worshipped idols. And his history of standing up to Umayyah’s one-dimensionally villainous son, Safwan (Mick Wingert), often leaves him chained, beaten, whipped and—in one particularly disturbing scene—crushed beneath a giant boulder. (Again, parents, I can’t reiterate this enough: Even though “Bilal” is animated and its clunky dialogue often overexplains everything, it is really not for kids. I’m glad I didn’t watch it with my 8-year-old son—and he’s seen “Dunkirk.”)

With the help of the warrior Hamza (Dave B. Mitchell), who becomes his trainer and guide, Bilal fights to free himself from slavery. Eventually, he becomes an inspirational figure to many, preaching the importance of equality and inclusiveness. Those words are more relevant now than ever, nearly 1,400 years later, especially when it comes to the treatment of Muslims around the world. “Bilal” makes you wish it had delivered its valuable message more elegantly.

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The Cage Fighter

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In the parking lot of a gym where he sometimes works as an instructor, Joe Carman is turning a huge tractor tire over, and over, and over. There’s a guy who’s spotting him—inasmuch as you can spot someone who’s manhandling a gargantuan slab of rubber—and Joe asks the fellow, “How old are you?” “24” is the reply, and Joe responds, gruffly but wistfully, “Oh, I wish I was 24 again.”

Joe wishes a lot of things. Mainly, he wishes to continue a sideline career in cage fighting, the semi-pro subset of mixed martial arts. Now 40, on his second marriage, a doting father to four daughters, Joe makes his living in a boiler room working for the Seattle Ferry service, doing maintenance. But he lives to fight. Being 40 isn’t the only problem with this determination. The fact that he’s promised his family that he won’t is another.

“The Cage Fighter” is a documentary directed by Jeff Unay, who has a background doing post-production effects work for movies such as Peter Jackson’s “King Kong” and James Cameron’s “Avatar.” This is not the movie you’d necessarily expect from him, but his background definitely influenced his storytelling style. This brisk, concise movie (it’s only 80 minutes long) combines a you-are-there feel with an innate sense of storytelling structure. Even an ordinary event like Joe making pancakes for his kids is shot and edited with an economy and sense of purpose related to dramatic narrative. This, combined with the fact that Joe is likable, and his daughters at least are appealing foils, makes “The Cage Fighter” a movie that’s a pleasure to watch.

Your mileage may vary depending on how tightly you latch on to the story. Although it’s a documentary, “The Cage Fighter” teems with characters that are familiar from fictional tales. Goodness knows that the almost-washed-up-boxer is a stock character nearly as old as cinema itself. “The Cage Fighter” gets some extra juice from the fact that Joe’s compulsion to continue fighting is in some sense a mystery even to himself. When he’s in the ring, he says to his furious wife, “I’m proud of myself … I like me.” But in a sense you can see he knows he’s making excuses. His oldest daughter, not without affection, calls him out pretty sharply: “One more fight, I have to redeem myself … one more fight, I need closure,” she says in an unsparing impersonation of her dad.

Some clues as to what drives Joe come out when the fighter visits his own dad, a lout of near-staggering proportions who serves as a negative role model. And the mystery of what drives a man to seek glory in cage fights is underscored in two scenes. In one, a colleague observes “Cage fighters are like strippers …we’re cool to hang out with, but not much else … something has to be wrong with us.” And late in the film, Joe sits down with Clayton Hoy, a much younger MMA star whom Joe hopes to at least face off against some time. Over beers, Hoy reveals to Joe just how much of a mess his own life has become. Getting beat up for little money and a very particular amount of attention—what’s the deal with that? Thinking that despite all the good things you’ve got in life, there has to be something more isn’t just a crisis in masculinity, as this movie unavoidably frames it; it’s possibly part of the human condition. “Discipline is an act of freedom” is an adage painted on the wall of Joe’s gym. You could substitute “acceptance” for “discipline” and still be correct. Is Joe’s lack of acceptance a mental block that will eventually deprive him of everything he’s got, or is it a motivating force that will push him to greater heights? The movie ends with the question unanswered … but the odds don’t seem to be in Joe’s favor.

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