When I was a boy, I remember the first time our family went to visit a poor relative and her family. During the drive, I heard my dad tell my mom that in the housing addition where our relative lived, "all the side streets loop back to Tobacco Road." I asked what he meant and he said the people that lived in the area had very little money and were mostly uneducated. He urged me and my brother and sister not to be judgmental, then resumed making Tobacco Road comparisons to my mom.
I had never given any thought to where my family stood financially. I knew we weren't rich, but we always got by just fine. The prospect of going to a community identified as poor was intriguing, but it turned out to be anticlimactic. Yes, the neighborhood looked run down, but it didn't look any messier than any place with lots of kids playing on a Saturday afternoon.
Rich Hill is a documentary by Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo that focuses on three boys in their early-to-mid teens living in the poor town of Rich Hill, Missouri, population 1,396. The film won the best documentary prize at this year's Sundance Film Festival.
It's been a couple of weeks since I saw the movie, so I scanned a few reviews to refresh my memory. Some of the statements made were striking. Joe Williams of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes that the feature looks at "three dirt poor boys whose lives are effectively over before they are old enough to drive." How about that? The future of three kids between 13 and 16 gets written off because of money. Thanks a heap, Joe. Certainly the boys face major challenges, but tough breaks aren't exclusive to the poor.
About the boys: Harley is 15 and has trouble focusing in school. Early in the film we learn that his mother is behind bars for trying to kill his stepfather. Later we find out that the reason she tried to kill him is because he sexually assaulted Harley. She didn't mention this in court.
13-year-old Appachey has anger issues. His dad split when he was six. Appachey smokes a lot. He's unsure about his future, though he expresses hope that he can move to China, where he can become an art teacher and "get to draw dragons all day."
Andrew is 14. He's a likeable kid whose reflective statements are used as voiceovers throughout the film. His dad is a Hank Williams Sr. impersonator whose feet rarely touch the earth. Andrew is handsome and athletic. His shirtless image appears on posters for the film and accompanies most of the reviews. I wonder how people would react to a documentary that promoted itself using a photo of a good-looking 14-year-old girl in a swimsuit?
Rich Hill is fascinating, maddening and moving. The filmmakers effectively mix picturesque and stark imagery. If you're curious, you can read updates on the boys at richhillfilm.com. Harley is dealing with a brain tumor right now. Appachey and Andrew have high hopes for the future. Apparently they haven't read Joe Williams' review of their fates.
Sin City: A Dame to Die For ★★★ (out of five)
Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller's 2005 original Sin City was a brutal, visually-striking adaptation of Miller's powerful graphic novels. The follow-up is a lurid and rude and crude visual treat. But alas, the damned thing is sluggish. Wait for video, so you can play a game on your mobile device during the draggy parts. Starring Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rosario Dawson, Bruce Willis, Eva Green, Powers Boothe, Dennis Haysbert, Ray Liotta, Christopher Lloyd and Christopher Meloni.
When the Game Stands Tall ★★1/2 Faith-based inspirational sports movie based loosely on a true story. Football coach Bob Ladouceur (Jim Caviezel) gained fame for leading the De La Salle High School Spartans to a 151-game winning streak over 12 seasons — a record breaker. The streak ends — a star player is shot to death, the coach suffers a heart attack, and many key players leave for college — and the challenge is to help the team to pick itself up and carry on. I'm a sucker for inspirational sports movies, but this one didn't stand out. The game scenes are strong, but the other parts are trite. Michael Chiklis, Laura Dern and Clancy Brown costar. Chiklis is very good, far better than Caviezel, who is flat and uninteresting.