It doesn’t aspire to high art or try for the sort of emotional engagement that makes you choke up, but Lexi Alexander‘s Green Street Hooligans (Odd Lot, 9.9) is nonetheless a very intense emotional hybrid thing, which is to say a sports movie and a bloody gang-violence movie mashed into one.

The lads doing what they know, love and do best in Lexi Alexander’s Green Street Hooligans (Odd Lot, 9.9)

I don’t know how well this mostly London-based film is going to do in the States given the exotic milieu and the thuggish attitudes (i.e., the world of boozed-up, ultra-violent British soccer fans), but it’s vibrant and original enough to warrant being seen and grappled with. It sure as shit is an experience and an education.

And it’s absolutely a career springboard for British actor Charlie Hunnam, who steals the show with a second-banana performance as a violent, in some ways immature, soccer fan who is nonetheless man enough to bring a sense of balance and compassion to an otherwise loutish lifestyle.
Hunnam starred in Nicholas Nickleby, and was in Cold Mountain, a Katie Holmes thriller called Abandon and the British TV series Queer as Folk, but who noticed? Now this 25 year-old has punched through.

The superficial tag is to call him a younger Brad Pitt with a Brit accent. What matters is that he conveys an inner groundedness and conviction on top of a sense of basic decency that you find yourself recognizing and responding to right away.

Hunnam is not just the star of Green Street Hooligans — he’s a star waiting to happen. Maybe. If he’s lucky and has the right agent and can do an American accent. (There seems to be some question whether or not he appears in Robert Towne’s Ask the Dust, which will debut at the Tellruide Film Festival in a few days). Whatever happens, he’s got it inside.

Charlie Hunnam

Green Street Hooligans is a story about a young American (Elijah Wood) on a visit to London who gets caught up in the violent world of English soccer fandom by joining a “firm,” which is a term for a gang that asserts and defends the honor of a given soccer team by parading around after soccer matches and confronting other firms and kicking their ribs in, or vice versa.

It sounds repulsive and cro-Magnon on one level, but European guys take soccer (which, of course, they call football) very seriously. And a lot of British working- class dudes are extremely furious about…well, I don’t know what precisely but apparently a lack of opportunity within a still-fairly-restrictive social caste system and having to make do with certain economic terms. I’ve been to London a few times and have felt this. The social-rage levels over there are much more intense among the disenfranchised than they are here.

And there are elements that go with being a firm member…tribal love, loyalty, security…that you’re not ever going to find vegging out in front of a computer or a TV, so there’s something to be said for it.
If you’re at all receptive to the values I’m speaking of and you can roll with fairly realistic depictions of street violence, Green Street Hooligans is affecting in a hormonal, territorial way. If it doesn’t exactly speak to Americans where they live in terms of being avid sports fans, it certainly is different and bracing and a movie to kick around and talk about and send your friends to.

Unless, that is, you happen to be one of those absent-sports-gene types who just doesn’t feel it or get it, in which case it may seem too exotic and what-the-hell?

The U.S. release one-sheet (l.) and the British release version (r.)

I’m kind of in this camp (my favorite spectator sports are tennis and baseball), but I get what the film is putting across and I respect the effort and the craft that Alexander and co-screenwriters Dougie Brimson and Josh Shelov have put into making this world come alive.
The German-born Alexander, a late twentysomething who grew up with football fandom and knows this universe fairly well, has made a name for herself with Hooligans and has already gotten a gig out of it — a thriller for Disney called Labor Day.

When you`re watching Hooligans…I’m sorry, Green Street Hooligans …you have to keep telling yourself, “A young woman directed this, a young woman directed this.” But then Alexander is a former World Kickboxing champion who used to scrap with a Mannheim, Germany, firm for three years, so…

Green Street Hooligans won both the grand jury prize and the audience award for best feature at the South by Southwest festival last March, which should indicate something.

(It used the original British title of Hooligans at that Austin venue, and I can’t quite understand why the distributor, Odd Lot Releasing, feels that adding the words Green Street makes the film more appealing to U.S. audiences.)

Wood’s character, a Harvard journalism major named Matt Buckner, is the audience’s tour guide into this bizarre world of Brit football fanaticism. He gets into it by getting kicked out of Harvard only three weeks or so before graduation when his snotty fortunate-son roommate arranges for him to take the rap for cocaine found in their dorm suite.

(This isn’t a very convincing beginning. In Josh Shelov’s original script Matt gets the boot after he and some classmates are accused of having cheated on an exam, and he is specifically ousted because his friends don’t stand up for him — an issue of loyalty that is dealt with later in the film.)

Matt flies from Logan to London to visit his sister Shannon (Claire Forlani), who’s married to a steady-seeming guy with a vaguely pissy attitude named Steve (Marc Warren). But Matt has arrived on a day when Steve is taking Shannon to see Chicago in the West End, so he’s temporarily placed in the care of Steve’s wild-assed brother, Pete (Hunnam).

Suspicious of this wimpy-looking yank, Pete reluctantly takes Matt to his local pub to meet his crew, who are called the GSE — i.e., Green Street Elite, a two-fisted firm devoted to the West Ham soccer…I mean football team.

Matt is regarded with some distance but then wins the respect of the firm when the GSE gets into a street fight with another firm and he throws himself into battle with real ferocity.

I had trouble with watching this at first, with Wood being so small and sensitive-seeming with those big watery eyes of his. But then I understand and sympathize with his having wanted to de-wimpicize and add some machismo to his persona after playing Frodo in the Rings films. (Has there ever been a more dewy-eyed, super-weenyish lead character in a major franchise?)

Trouble arises when a GSE member named Bovver (Leo Gregory) uncovers evidence that suggests (without actually proving) that Matt may be an undercover journalist secretly writing a story about the firm. This leads to all kinds of betrayals and soul-searchings and double-backs, and eventually the GSE gang going up against an especially hated firm whose leader has been nursing a particular rage against Pete’s family for years.

Hunnam again…seemingly two or three years ago.

It’s not hard to step back in the middle of all this and ask yourself, “Why don’t these guys just chill and pull back from this stupid-ass gang attitude that necessitates getting into fights all the time?” It seems so primitive and stupid and unenlightened, etc. I understood the meaning of it and felt it to a certain extent, but it wasn’t exactly coursing through my veins.

Then I read Lexi Alexander’s explanation for the behavior of these guys (who are legion over Europe), and I started to feel it a bit more. As I mentioned earlier, she was part of a firm in Mannheim, Germany, for three years (accepted by the males because of her black belt kick-boxing abilities) and knows the turf.

“Reliable. Protective. Loyal. Consistent. That’s what I remember most about the firm…which was more than you could say about any of our parents,” she writes. “The firm was our family. What we missed at home, we found in each our firm. The riots were about proving our love, because obviously a bunch of guys don’t walk around telling each other, ‘I love you, man.’

“Standing next to your friend when you’re facing thirty guys who want to punch your face in — that’s love.

“Coming back for somebody who fell or was left behind, despite the fact that you’re most likely going to get your ass kicked — that’s love.
“Watching your mates out of the corner of your eye in a fight, and making sure you come to [their] rescue when needed — that’s love.
“Getting arrested and not remembering anyone’s name when the cops question you — that’s love.”

The message of this film, she says, is never abandon a friend when the chips are down.

Green Street Hooligans director Lexi Alexander, star Elijah Wood at Austin’s Draft House after South by Southwest screening last March.

“When your friend is sick, don’t run. When your friend has a crisis, don’t run. When your friend is going through a streak of bad luck, don’t run. When your friend is being treated unjustly, stand behind him/her, or better yet, stand in front. And when you become successful, don’t leave your friends behind.”

That gets me. I know that if I had a dollar for every fair-weather friend I’ve ever had, I could buy a new 100 gig computer. I know I could certainly use a friend or two with a “firm” attitude. Couldn’t we all?
On the other hand, I haven’t punched or even shoved anyone since I was in the seventh grade. And I need my fingers to be agile and unswollen because I have to type all the time. And British blokes can afford to lose a couple of teeth now and then because they have a good national health care system to turn to — I don’t.

There’s a 1988 Gary Oldman film called The Firm (dir: Alan Clarke) that covers the same territory. Here’s the Amazon page for a buyable Alan Clarke DVD package that includes The Firm. I hear it’s strong and worth seeing. Anyone…?

Toronto Feed

“I read your mention about showing caution when it comes to Michael Caton Jones and particularly his Shooting Dogs, which will show at the Toronto Film Festival.
“Well, I saw it in Cannes and it’s very good — a decent, solid drama about the Rwanda massacre of ’94. It’s a fuck-Schindler-Benigni kind of film. No heroes, no innocent little girls, no redemption. And the carnage is great.
“I’ve read ‘A Time for Machetes,’ the Jean Hatzfeld book about the massive killings, and MCJ was pretty precise about a lots of things.

Hugh Dancy, John Hurt in Michael Caton Jones’ Shooting Dogs.

“Cronenberg’s History of Violence, as you know, is splendid. This thing grows in your brain (nyuk-nyuk) many days after the screening. I loved it. You have to see it again.
Free Zone: Crap. Arghh. A cheater. Kiarostami without the ideas, Panahi without the balls. Step aside, you don’t need this.
Cache: Amazing. Dry, cool, disturbing. Did you saw Haneke’s Code Unknown, which was one of the major influences on the 21 Grams narrative? This thing has the same eerie feeling. It’s funny, it works like a twin film with the Cronenberg piece. Besides, Auteuil and Binoche are the best married couple I ever seen in the screen in years. They just nail the atmosphere of ten-years-of-marriage in a way that Kidman-Cruise-Kubrick never did.
L’ Enfant: It’s not as good as Rosetta, but…hmmm, I don’t remember anything good as Rosetta, so…nut it’s very good, it’s worth a look and the only problem is the age of the principal actor. I will leave you to discover on your own what I mean by this.” — Daniel Villalobos, Santiago, Chile.

Just Six

“Dunno if you get the Encore cable channels but Stuart Samuels’ Midnight Movies doc, which is playing Toronto, has been airing there all month.
“It’s an interesting movie that I caught late one night, and while I had hoped it would cover a broad spectrum of films it actually focuses on just six films — El Topo, Night of the Living Dead, Eraserhead, Pink Flamingos, The Harder They Come and The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
“While it’s something I enjoyed watching on TV, and I like five of the six movies, I would’ve felt a little let down if I’d seen it in a theater. It’s not bad, it just didn’t tell me much that I didn’t already know. Still, I always enjoy John Waters interviews and this one has plenty.” — Neil Harvey.


Thursday, 8.25, 7:50 pm.

Fifth Avenue strollers from various walks of American life and of different faiths and political persuasions contemplating the notion of being gay and up for action — Friday, 8.26, 4:20 pm. I took a series of these photos, and for nearly 30 seconds an older woman and her daughter — tourists, I was fairly certain — who happened to be approaching stood to the side and waited for me to finish. It didn’t occur to them that someone shooting a street scene might be cool with a woman or two walking in front of the camera just as he/she snaps a photo. It could make for a more interesting shot…who knows? But this didn’t occur to them, and so they stood there for almost 30 seconds waiting for me to finish. That’s mainstream America for you. Very polite.

Sixth Avenue and 47th Street, or something like that — 8.25, 5:45 pm.

While speed-marching over to Dolby Screening Room (1350 Ave. of Americas) to see Lord of War — 8.25, 5:42 pm.

Iraqi War 101

“I believe you’re familiar with our Iraq doc Gunner Palace. Last week I devoured your column about the upcoming slate of 9/11 and terror films. It was a needed piece. For me especially, as the theme of reality vs. fiction has been at the top of my mind lately.
“Last May I was invited to a DGA panel discussion where they screened parts of Gunner Palace ‘against’ Iraq-themed episodes of ER and JAG as well as the pilot for Bochco’s Over There. Without going into critic mode, I must say it was surreal to sit in a theater watching fictional scenes from a reality that I was preparing to return to in ten days.
“In the last six months, GP has become something of an Iraq War 101 for creative execs. As you must know, there are at least 10 Iraq projects floating around and development people are looking for interesting takes on Iraq, so every so often we get a call.
“In the beginning I was resistant to the whole idea of fiction — that is, until I had the experience of trying to market a distinct reality to a tabloid nation. We’ve had a fantastic run with GP –I’ve only been home six weeks since January — and the film has been held up as emblematic, but we’ve also been keenly aware of both an audience disconnect and war fatigue.

“However, at the same time, I’ve sensed that the disconnect comes largely from an emotional inability to relate to the subject, a faraway reality, and I’ve perceived a certain hunger to understand the war beyond the rants of pundits.
“Your 9/11 piece raised interesting questions. In regards to this ongoing war, I’ve asked myself, when is soon too soon? Perhaps now is the time — and the public doesn’t need a decade for collective memory to simmer — rather, perhaps there is an urgency to get it right, to tell it like it is.
“I found this Roger Ebert quote the other day:
“‘Whether we are for the war or against it, we all know it is a terribly complicated struggle. There is a desperate need in this country for a film that will depict the war in honest terms.”
“I have not been one for emotional button-pushing, especially about a war that has become all too personal to me, however, as flawed as fiction often is, it has the ability to evoke very real emotions. The Deer Hunter comes to mind. Inaccurate? Without a doubt — down to the last detail — but it captured the emotional essence of an experience. From another war, another time, came The Battle of Algiers — fiction, yes, but a fiction so steeped in reality that it was banned in France. Something to aspire to…no?
“So I surrender to fiction and the urge to at least get it right, to answer Ebert’s call to arms, remembering what a 19 year-old soldier had to say about his experience in GP: ‘For y’all this is just a show, but we live in this movie.” — Mike Tucker

Out There

“Those Walk the Line wildpostings are all over San Francisco too. I saw them the other day and thought, isn’t that opening like months from now? I really like the look of it, and the heavy use of graphics over photos. Seems unorthodox for a biopic.” — Tom Kelly, San Francisco, CA.

Grabs 2

You don’t have to put a caption under every damn photo.

The lobby of the famous Brill building on Broadway and 48th (or is it 49th?) I took this last night around 7:35 pm, just after slipping out of a preview screening of Pride and Prejudice upstairs. A romantic breakup scene in Alexander MacKendrick’s Sweet Smell of Success was filmed right here roughly 48 years ago. Susie Hunsecker (Susan Harrison), terrified sister of ruthless columnist J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster), has just called it quits with jazz musician Steve Dallas (Martin Milner). Dallas and his manager Frank D’Angelo (Sam Levene) walk down the hallway and out of the building as a glum-faced Susie leans against the wall near the elevators. As they’re standing outside on Broadway, Milner says to Levene, “Look inside and tell me if she’s still standing there.” Levene looks. “She’s still standing there,” he says.

This newspaper ad on behalf of Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man is apparently aimed at the March of the Penguins crowd. You almost want to pet this guy. Timothy Treadwell, the “star” of Grizzly Man did, in fact, pet a few until one day…

A block or two west of CBGB’s — Sunday, 8.21, 4:40 pm.

Thursday, 8.25, 5:55 pm.