Wednesday, July 30, 2014

SAVE YOUR LEGS: Blu-ray (Madman Entertainment 2012) Twilight Time

History rarely gives us heroes. Thank heaven, then, for the movies; a medium to turn life into rank sentimentality and transform ordinary people into deified creatures worthy of our praise.  Okay, now for the kicker: Boyd Hicklin’s debut movie, Save Your Legs (a.k.a. Knocked for Six, 2012) isn’t about heroes or hero worship. In fact, it takes a very personal – and very flawed history and morphs it into heartwarming/life-affirming plunk, dedicated to the brotherhood of cricketers. All hail the clumsy reprobates! The Aussies have arrived! Save Your Legs does two things spectacularly well. First, it disregards the actual Abbotsford Anglers devastating 6 to 1 losing streak in favor of a mostly fabricated story about triumphant underdogs – telescoping their knockabout tour of India into a victorious showdown against the completely fictionalized rival team: Bollywood Magic. Second, it reconstitutes the actual participants as reasonable facsimiles of themselves, but with totally different names and identities. 
In doing so, Save Your Legs winds up owing absolutely nothing to history. It’s not a biopic per say about this little known – and even less regarded – 2001 match up in a sport rarely seen and even less acknowledged on this side of the Atlantic; rather, a cart blanche escapist ‘feel good’ with a sports twist. The veneer is occasionally semi-transparent. But it never goes beyond this gray area into pseudo-reality. We get colorful culture clash; fanciful and farce-laden. Remember, Brenden Cowell’s screenplay isn’t principally motivated by the facts. It’s probably just as well. Save Your Legs somehow functions better as ‘a story’ exposed, than a truth revealed.  
For those uninformed – yours truly included – the art of cricket remains baffling; the game held together by a few arcane ground rules that seem to go out the proverbial window once the matches get underway; mimicking American baseball and/or crocket only on the most superficial level. This is a problem for anyone living outside the U.K. or Australia. How do we invest ourselves in the Anglers if we don’t understand what the hell is going on? Thankfully, director, Hicklin is well aware of this global shortsightedness. As such, an innate love of cricket is not required to appreciate the film’s comedic value; Hicklin spending much more of his run time getting to know these characters while deftly handling the games as necessary action only, much in the same way Penny Marshall gave us baseball in A League of Their Own (1992); a movie reporting to be about women’s baseball, but actually directing our attentions to a specific group of women who played it.
At its crux, Save Your Legs is a fish-out-of-water midlife crisis bromance; the Anglers in love with the sport as a means to bond with each other. Brendan Cowell’s screenplay is heavy on culture shock clich├ęs (don’t drink the water in Mumbai or you’ll wind up chronically crapping your pants). Yet, the film clings together, chiefly because the actors appear genuinely invested. They perform on the field – if not well – then, most definitely, as a team; as though there is a history between them; an intuitive weight to these relationships forged in the name of good, ‘incompetent’ sportsmanship. Sincerity permeates every frame; also a sad-eyed valor as middle-aged team captain, Theodore ‘Teddy’ Brown (Stephen Curry) struggles with a mind-numbing epiphany: the Anglers are coming to the end – not only of their failed tour of India, but in their lifelong associations with one another; for too long the all-consuming cause of their collectively stunted adolescence.
Screenwriter, Brendan Cowell has a fairly good handle on one of the great societal afflictions of the latter half of the twentieth century and beyond; men who don’t want to grow up but inevitably realize they must. Only thirty years ago, such sports-centric camaraderie between middle-aged men would have appeared vaguely silly to downright fanatical. Alas, today, much of what we see in Save Your Legs gets a pass under the rubric of being ‘a guy thing’.  But Save Your Legs does more than simply display such juvenile navel-gazing: it addresses the fallout full on and with honesty.  We begin with Teddy Brown – a sports store clerk barely able to sustain himself (he lives in the garage of fellow teammate, Stavros (Damon Gameau) and virtually eats, breathes and dreams cricket. Teddy’s even mounted the athletic supporter worn by his cricket-playing idol, Sachin Tendulkar – stolen from the locker room – into a sort of false prophet he daily worships.
Confidentially, Stavros is looking to motivate Teddy into moving out of his garage. Meanwhile, his teammate, batsman/party-hog Rick (Brendan Cowell) is in for his own fitful awakening after he discovers his dalliances with a girlfriend are about to make him an expectant father. Stavros’ aspires to nothing better than playing the field as an amiable playboy, using cricket as his prototypical chick magnet. Finally, there’s Mark (Brenton Thwaites), a wet-behind-the ears pubertal probee – hired by Teddy to keep Stavros in line –but who, even at his impressionable age and vantage of relative inexperience in all things, can plainly see cricket ought to be more a hobby than a way of life.
The other Abbotsford Anglers - The Prince (David Lyons), Gobba (Ryan O’Kane), Shadow (Eddie Baroo) –all have their issues. But the plot is basically focused on the aforementioned foursome - and primarily on Teddy’s growing self-doubt over what life might have in store for him once he’s bitterly retired his dream of playing pro; or rather – playing like a bad parody of one. The Anglers really are a motley brood; about as disciplined as mud caught in a slide. Practice? What for? Technique? They have none. Their plan? Wing it – and have fun besides. There is, of course, a Peter Pan element to Cowell’s plot; these Neverland ‘lost boys’ forced to discover life beyond the game; Cowell, inspired to write his fiction after shooting a legitimate documentary on the real-life Anglers in 2008. And while the Anglers would likely be hard-pressed to see themselves in the physical embodiment of their alter egos; Cowell has captured the essence of these blue/gold and maroon uniformed ragamuffins to a tee.
Save Your Legs boasts some very impressive visuals. Paddy Reardon’s lavish production design includes a Bollywood finale with all the absurdly colorful bells and whistles one might expect, complimented by Cornel Wilczek’s heart-pounding score and Mark Wareham’s very slick and stylish cinematography.  Ultimately, the film is dependent on Brendan Cowell’s screenplay: getting off the ground like a prolonged TV commercial; all voiceover narration, infrequently interrupted by some dizzying graphics with animated title cards. This cribs from the Quentin Tarantino school of film-making: expedited intros with no plot development. In more recent times, this has become something of a standard. It really doesn’t mean much, however; although it has its ‘charm’ in a movie like Save Your Legs which, after all, isn’t meant to be taken seriously.
There is an episodic, TripTik quality to the story; Hicklin chronically employing highlighted maps to acclimatize the viewer where we are on the Angler’s tournament itinerary. We move from the team’s first brutal defeat; decimated by the Madras Cricket Club in Kolkata (Calcutta), on to the spiritual city of Varanasi, where Teddy discovers – and, predictably, misinterprets spiritual enlightenment under the influence of ganga – contracting a particularly nasty stomach bug that leaves him physically depleted. This also becomes the source of some gross-out humor; Stavros discovering Teddy having vomited in a puddle of his own diarrhea. Yes, it is as nasty as it sounds.
In actuality, the Abbotsford Anglers tour of India included confrontations with six regional teams; the Madras, the Tramway Co., Toyshop XI, Junkyard Dogs (whom the Anglers defeated by only two points, giving them their only win), the Mumbai Percept XI, and finally, the Streetwise Sachin XI. We lose all of this in Cowell’s reinvention of the tale; instead invested in a 3-match rivalry against arrogant and dapper, Rai Tusshar (Sid Makkar); a Bollywood movie star who also happens to be the captain of the Bollywood Magic cricketers.
Between games, Teddy and Tusshar vie for the affections of Anjali (Pallavi Sharda), the incredibly sultry daughter of the Abbotsford reluctant sponsor, Sanjeet Thambuswamy (Darshan V. Jariwalla), whom Teddy convinces to sub in after he has temporarily suspended Mark from playing; Sanjeet suffering a mild heart attack on the playing field as a result. This, of course, incurs Anjali’s wrath. What was Teddy thinking, putting her aged and out of shape father into the game? The answer, of course, is Teddy was only thinking of the game. That’s all he’s ever thinking about. It’s what, in fact, he dreams and lives for; the very reason for every fiber in his being. Anjali begins to realize just how all-consuming an obsession cricket is with Teddy. He’s a boy in a middle-aged man’s body. Despite their mutual affection, Teddy and Anjali begin to drift apart.
In some ways Teddy is the Anglers’ divining rod and moral compass, also their inspiration as a self-admitted ‘cricket tragic’ – a.k.a. diehard fan. Hence, Teddy’s fall from grace, succumbing to the wiles and whims of ancient mysticism and temporarily losing himself, as well as his faith in the game, is momentarily disturbing to his fellow teammates; especially stat expert, Colin (Darren Gilshenan). It seems Sanjeet’s blind faith in the Abbotsford Anglers has been thoroughly misplaced, especially after Teddy – suffering from days of dehydration – staggers into a rather posh outdoor nightclub bathed in ritual colors; making a spectacle of himself in front of Sanjeet, Anjali and the private club’s president, Shri Subhash (Prithvi Zutshi), who also happens to be the pumpkin-haired sponsor of Bollywood Magic. Tusshar delights in playing Teddy for a fool. After all, what chance do the Anglers really have? India may not be the home of cricket. But it certainly maintains the beat at a pulsating nationalized frenzy as its heart.
The last act of Save Your Legs is pure hokum too conveniently repackaged as ‘the moral of the story’; Teddy attempting to head back home in disgrace and alone; dissuaded at the last possible moment and reinvigorated to bring his team together in a victorious close match against Bollywood Magic – much to Tusshar’s chagrin; the Angler’s celebratory chant giving rise to an atypical Bollywood ‘production number’ with Teddy and Anjali rekindling their love. Again, Save Your Legs isn’t meant to mirror or even embrace the real Angler’s story. If anything, we get contrivances aplenty and diversions to anesthetize and counteract the seriousness of life’s lessons learned the hard way. Stavros tells Teddy he didn’t mean it about his moving out of the garage. Even Mark, who has been feverishly working toward a lucrative career as batsman for the rival team, returns to the fold; calling out Shri Subhash as an absurd old fool.
Interestingly, Save Your Legs plays very much like an 80’s sport’s themed rom-com; 1988’s Bull Durham immediately comes to mind. It has that pedigree of wicked silliness feathered with more sincere and life-affirming messages to recommend it. And it is well served in its approach of taking a D-grade motley crew of underdogs to the semi-finals of an international sport (Bad News Bears 1976 – remade in 2005). Co-produced by Nick Batzias - one of the original Anglers - Save Your Legs pivots on its solid performances. Curry, Cowell, Gameau, Thwaites are engaging teammates, while Sid Makkar proves a very strong, pleasingly sarcastic nemesis.  Don’t look for too much truth between the often predictable one liners in this arrested development dramady – a potpourri of ball-busting and male machismo run playfully amuck - and you will make out just fine. Save Your Legs gives us the vapors off a sweaty jock. But it is tinged with tangible whiffs of a more cerebrally motivated message: that it’s never too late to realize your dreams – even if you have to grow up to achieve them. You’re meant to enjoy this one with the proverbial grain of salt. At varying degrees, a whole box might help.
You can get excited for other reasons too; because Twilight Time’s Blu-ray is reference quality. The 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer has absolutely zero flaws; the image crisp with richly saturated colors showing off Mark Wareham’s lush cinematography to its best advantage. The color palette is stylized. But flesh tones always appear bang on perfect; ditto for contrast. No crushed blacks and a light smattering of film grain consistently handled. Again, what’s to complain about? Absolutely nothing! The 5.1 DTS audio gives your speakers a real workout; dialogue nicely integrated with SFX and the bass-pumping techo/India underground underscore.  Belly dance, anyone?
Special features include an informative audio commentary from director Boyd Hicklin, who is obviously having a jolly good time reminiscing with producers, Robyn Kershaw and Nick Batzias, also actors Stephen Curry, Brendan Cowell and Damon Gameau. In addition to the isolated score, TT also gives us Hicklin’s nearly hour long documentary on the real Abbotsford Anglers; fascinating in its own right. There’s also a hilarious ‘Bound 4 India with Ted & Col’ featurette with Darren Gilshenan explaining the legitimate reasons for stocking up on meds when traveling abroad to a very reluctant, Stephen Curry. Bottom line: highly recommended with a wink and a nudge!
FILM RATING (out of 5 – 5 being the best)


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