Wednesday, October 3, 2012


Would you believe it if I told you that one of most emotionally captivating films I've seen in recent times is about jump rope?  Yeah, I'd be skeptical, too.  But here it is, more than a week since I watched Doubletime and I'm still impressed at how deeply the story cuts, the astounding look of the thing, and, most of all, just how personally involving of a documentary director Stephanie Johnes has put together here.

The film quickly sorts out the two main types of competitive jump rope; for those not in the know, there's skip rope and double dutch.  Skip rope is what most people talk about when they refer to jump rope, pretty basic on the surface, but, as the champion-level kids featured in the doc prove, there's a level of mastery within the competitive skip rope world that's far beyond what you'd see being practiced on your local playground.  Double dutch uses two jump ropes at the same time and is just as challenging for the jumper as it is for the two individuals working the ropes.  Additionally, in competitive double dutch, there's a style known as fusion, which incorporates dancing and hip hop culture into standard double dutch technique.

Perhaps the most important distinction between skip rope and double dutch, however, is their division along racial lines.  Double dutch is almost entirely identified with and practiced by the African-American community, while the kids in Doubletime who work at skip rope are primarily Caucasian.  Johnes spends a good amount of time exploring how the split between the two forms of jump rope started, chronicling the history of both sides of the divide.  The big event in Doubletime--and, yes, there's always a big event in these kinds of films--is the annual Double Dutch Holiday Classic at the Apollo Theater, where for the first time a group of competitive skip rope players will compete alongside the kings and queens of double dutch.

Johnes captures an inside view of two teams of kids as they prepare to compete in Harlem.  South Carolina's Double Dutch Forces are, as their name indicates, well versed in the ways of double dutch, but this inner-city team still has a lot to work ahead of them on their way to the Apollo.  North Carolina's Bouncing Bulldogs are the newbies from the suburbs at the competition and they're facing an uphill battle as they try to incorporate the more foreign aspects of double dutch fusion into their repertoire.  Each team has its own set of characters, including their trainers whose own hopes and dreams are caught up in the excitement of the upcoming competition.

Doubletime is a great pleasure to watch.  From its remarkable perspective on both present and historical issues of race in America to the incredibly optimistic and talented kids performing their incredible, near-acrobatic routines, I was sold from the first minute until the last.  Seriously, I was grinning like a damn fool during most of this film and shouting, "whoa," or, "wow," during the rest of it.  If you loved Spellbound, Murderball, or Hoop Dreams, you'll absolutely find something to love in Doubletime.

Doubletime is available on dvd & video on demand now.  More info about how to see the film can be found here.

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The found footage horror trend that kicked off some thirteen years ago with The Blair Witch Project had already worn out its welcome some time back.  But that didn't stop the ensemble of directors behind V/H/S from trying to do something new with it.  They've put together an omnibus presentation of short horror pieces linked together by a promising premise: a group of video-making douchebags break into a house searching for a rare videocassette and, finding it difficult to distinguish the rare one among the many that litter the place, begin watching what's on multiple vhs tapes.

Unfortunately, V/H/S ends up being the definition of a mixed bag and there's very little worth recommending here.  The directors have squandered the chance to have the shorts and the interlocking premise in the house relate to each other.  Perhaps worse are the stupid, lewd, and poorly drawn characters contained throughout the film as a whole.  It doesn't take long before watching the film begins to feel like being trapped in a corner by an unpleasant party guest.  On the plus side, the misogynistic tone and lazy writing of the introductory segment (directed by Adam Wingard) does greatly diminsh one's expectations, so if you stay in your seat for the remainder, it's your own damn fault. 

If you're hoping for surprises, you've stumbled into the wrong movie.  Most of these films go exactly where you'd expect them to.  Probably the best thing here is Ti West's Second Honeymoon, which follows a couple's adventures on a road trip.  The two are stalked at night by a dangerous and mysterious stranger who invades their hotel room as they sleep.

West's reputation as one of the best new horror directors on the scene is well deserved after his work on the excellent The House of the Devil and his much underrated follow-up The Innkeepers.  Most folks who see V/H/S will likely have been drawn to it because of West's participation.  But it turns out that being constrained to a reduced running time doesn't exactly play to his strengths.  As his features have proven, he's at his best when given the time to slowly ramp up tension.  Second Honeymoon feels like it's just beginning to develop into something when it reaches its rushed and unsatisfying conclusion.

Directed by the video collective Radio Silence, 10/31/98 also works better than much of the rest of V/H/S, if only because it finally breaks free from expectation by the end of its story, offering up a few twists to an otherwise basic story of some moronic dudes entering the wrong house one Halloween night.

The rest is all middling (David Bruckner's Amateur Night and Joe Swanberg's The Strange Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Young) to downright awful (Glenn McQuaid's truly terrible, glitch-happy Tuesday the 17th).  But even the better moments of the film are muddied by displays of infantile male sexuality, an overreliance on sharp objects piercing flesh, and the boring predictability of it all.  That last failure makes for an exceedingly flat viewing experience, one that had me constantly wanting to check my watch as the film dragged on; never a good sign.

V/H/S begins its run at the Hollywood Theatre on Friday, October 5th.  More info available here.

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