Here’s the deal. As a reviewer it’s hard to write about films that are not yet released. I don’t want to spoil the surprise to be had during major events and plot twists, yet I feel obligated to make sure potential viewers know exactly what they going to see.
So is “Bolo” worth seeing? Yes.
Am I going to warn you about one of the scenes? Yes.
Do I care if you agree with me? No.
If you don’t want to hear spoilers, that’s cool. I’m going to give you the story synopsis, a trailer to preview, my general thoughts about the production quality and performances, and my Q&A with the director and writer Mickey Reece. At the very end I will launch into a more thorough review of a “love scene.” Do not read it if you don’t want to be spoiled, just navigate away from the page or whatever.
Synopsis in a nutshell:
Nicolas O’Malley (Jacob Snovel) is an Irishman living the American dream. He’s a sports agent with a roster of successful athletes, he cavorts with beautiful women, lives in a swank apartment in the city, and drives a high status sports car. However, complications arise when one of his prize fighters is knocked out of commission. O’Malley then finds he is forced to revisit his past a decade later as seedy ties with boxing promoter and criminalÂ Tito Pizetti (Danny Marroquin) dictate that he must go back home to Ireland. O’Malley is charged with the responsibility of signing another boxer, Mickey “The Banshee” McMurphy (Mason Giles), to compete in Pizetti’s highly publicized championship. As O’Malley pursues his mission to sign the “The Banshee,” he discovers truths about the family and friends he left behind.
“Bolo” is the the third film I’ve seen from Reece’s production company Fall Films. The other two were “Walrus” and “Mickey and Me.” I did not like “Walrus” for a few reasons, some of which were related to the storyline, lack of sympathetic characters, and level of attention to detail. On the flip side, I really enjoyed “Mickey and Me.” It was cinematic in scope, the camera work was good, the story was tight, and overall the characters were engaging. In short: I found myself caught up in what I was watching.
So how does “Bolo” measure up? I’d say it hits the mark about half way.
Here’s what it has going for it: for the most part the performances were engaging, it is both funny and disturbing, and the camera work is the best I’ve seen yet from Fall Films. I watched this movie with my husband last night, and given that he is not into local indie films as much as I am – mostly because he thinks they’ll be crap, I’m here to report that even he found himself drawn in by the “Bolo”‘s production quality. This film is both creative and cheeky given its budget limitations. And the sound quality blows away most of what I’ve heard in other Oklahoma indie films. (This Oklahoma wind is a problem for man and microphone alike.) Also, I enjoyed the music that scores the film; it fit well with the tone of the film.
So where does “Bolo” fall short? There’s a particular scene that I think could have used some serious thought and revision. Sometimes there are campy details in scenes that would be best served to be a little more serious. That is to say, there are scenes where they play it serious and it works, other scenes were they get campy and it’s really funny, but when the two are mixed in a few scenes that have an overall serious tone, then that little infusion of camp becomes distracting.
On to the Q and A:
okc.net: I’ve got the IMDb pulled up, but I don’t see much in the way of background besides credits, so tell me what inspired you to tell the story of an Irish sports agent forced by circumstance to return to his ancestral home?
Reece: We make 3 movies a year and pull from the same roster of actors/actresses. While that roster is bigger than it ever has been (there are over 50 people cast in “Bolo”) you still see the same faces in every movie, which I wouldn’t have any other way. I’m always looking for ways to make each movie completely different from the next so this time: Irish accents. Once I had the idea and narrowed down the actors I wanted to use, I wrote the story within those guidelines.
okc.net:Â Rebecca Cox told me about your budget and shooting time, but how long did it take you to develop this story line from start to finish?
Reece: I wrote the script right before “Mickey and Me” premiered in late August and I’m pretty sure we started shooting the weekend after that one. The script probably took about two weeks for the first draft. If the writing process takes any longer than that, I give up. I don’t take a break and come back to it. If the story doesn’t inspire me to keep writing until I finish then where would I find the inspiration to shoot it?
okc.net:Â I’m going to tell you now, doing a Q and A without revealing too much about the film is hard, but I noticed there is a fair amount of shenanigans in this film, was that all scripted or did your actors have a chance to improvise?
Reece:Â There’s always room for improv. The script is mostly there as a fallback plan so the shoot doesn’t take forever. That being said, some of the scenes with more complicated camera setups, like when O’Malley gets his hand smashed or when we meet the four pregnant girls, were word-for-word from the script. However, everybody got a chance to throw their own lines into the film.
okc.net: I noticed a few homages to Rocky, what other films did you hat tip in this movie?
Reece: I copied, or attempted to copy, some camera techniques from early Brian DePalma movies like “Blow Out” and “Carrie.” I even went as far as to film two actors in separate focus and split screened it to recreate DePalma’s signature split diopter shots. I rewatched “Trainspotting” again so I may have subconsciously thrown in some Danny Boyle as well. When we started shooting everyone thought we were making a Guy Ritchie movie, but they were surprised when the trailer came out and the story had a lot more heart than expected. I think there is always a sense of machismo thrown in to all of my movies, even “Mickey and Me.” Those kinds of themes, probably brought to my attention by directors like Pechinpah, DePalma and earlier Scorsese, inspire me the most because they’re not for everyone to understand and they often get misread by critics.
okc.net:Â Tell me about your plans for “Bolo” after it premiers?
Reece:Â “Bolo” will be making it’s rounds regionally in the 2013 festival circuit.
okc.net: What are you working on next?
Reece:Â We’re shooting a movie right now called “Tarsus,” which is about some nasty ass crackheads set right here in Oklahoma. I don’t really want to give away anymore than that. We do have a teaser trailer that will be shown in front of “Bolo” Saturday night.
okc.net: What haven’t I asked either about “Bolo,” your production company Fall Films, or anythings else that you feel is important to know?
Reece:Â These premieres are a blast and are getting bigger and bigger with every one we have. It’s free alcohol, we always have the best musical guests Oklahoma has to offer, the movies are getting better and better and it’s a measly 5 bucks.
Check out the event page for “Bolo,” which premieres January 19th at 8 p.m. at the City Arts Center.Â I usually take $10. One for the entrance fee, which Reece uses to pay for the rental of the theater, and another $5 to tip the Titswiggle brewery guys. Their beer is free, true, but I think it is good enough that they should be getting something for it too. I mean, if you’re getting a couple of glasses since you can belly up to the bar as many times as you like, why not tip?
OK. Now here is the part where I talk about the one scene that has my conscience in a twist. On one hand a part of me wants to really support all independent artists here in Oklahoma, because it is such a small community and the odds are never in our favor for attracting mainstream attention. And as creators, we feel compelled to promote and support each others work. On the other hand, sometimes there are issues that get overlooked in the rush to tell people why they should care about the latest efforts from whichever artist is currently doing something. Real progress can’t be made in this model of review, and that is because constructive criticism is not being enacted. I’ve decided that no matter what I am handed, my goal is a simple one: I aim to be true.
If you don’t care to read, this is your final warning. Seriously. Scroll up or navigate away. If you choose to read, then understand this: this is about a social issue that I think is worthy of discussion and closer examination. You may not share this view point, but regardless, I don’t think it kills the movie dead. If anything it kicks open the door for not only constructive criticism, but shines a spotlight upon that which tends to be sheltered from most discussions because it is not popular nor uplifting to focus on, and yet there it is like a thorn in the side. And as a feminist, I’m going to remove that thorn, apply some ointment, and hope all come away better off for it.
MAGIC SPOILER SHIELD ACTIVATED
Alright. We good? Have all the people who loathe spoilers left the building?
So here’s the deal. There is a “love scene” between O’Malley and Margaret that looks an awful lot more like rape than love. So, let’s talk about consent for a moment.
Naturally, there is a double standard at work here. So, let’s launch into it.
It all goes down like this: O’Malley, after a late night tussle with Irish hooligans, is ambushed by his childhood friend on his mother’s front doorstep. It starts out with an awkward hug from his friend, which then morphs into a forced kiss. O’Malley, desperate to get out of this embrace, punches his friend in the face with his injured hand and both men reel away in pain from the encounter. What ensues next is conversation between the two about identifying sexual preference and level of romantic interest. What O’Malley ends up saying to his friend is that he didn’t need to be ambushed and forced into a kiss he did not want, instead he could have been asked if he was gay too and interested in a romantic relationship. His friend concedes that it could have gone better, but that he was stirred up inside with “passion” and had to do it before O’Malley left for America again. This scene ends with the idea that if you really love someone you have to go after them.
Cue O’Malley running off to Margret’s house. She opens the door and from there she is shown cowering away from O’Malley who then proceeds to sexually assault her. He tears her clothing, while she tries to cover herself up and yells at him to stop and when he forces himself on her she fights back and says “No!” repeatedly. Eventually he succeeds in penetrating her and then a few beats later, as often happens in film and television but never happens in real life, Margaret seems to be enjoying her rape. This goes on until Margaret’s son wakes up and comes out of his room to see what is going on. O’Malley then runs off once he learns the kid is his and doesn’t return to engage Margaret except to roll up in his car to watch her send their son off to school, which is right before he departs for America.
Now O’Malley’s character is a borderline sleaze bag when the movie starts, but he’s not as irredeemable as TitoÂ Pizetti. And up until this point in the movie, the audience grows to sympathize with him as he’s the protagonist. The real heart of the movie, however, comes from the way O’Malley interacts with his mother and sister. He loves his mom and he worries about his sister’s seemingly bleak outlook on life. Is he troubled by some past demon? Sure. But he’s not all together a bad guy. And while you never fully learn why he left Ireland, you do get the sense that he does care for his family beyond its borders as he been sending them money regularly. He also seems to care for Margaret up until he assaults her in the middle of the night. Does he pay a price for his actions? Yes. Is there a satisfying resolution? Meh.
Honestly, what really took me out of the story was this “love” scene. In an age where a girl can be drugged, gang raped, and left on her front lawn because she broke up with a disturbed boyfriend, this is not the moment for moral ambiguity in the context of what is clearly rape. Remember, people: we live in a time where politicians have been shown the door for being rape apologists. Reece is also sending this film to festivals, so the views I am expressing here will undoubtedly come up should it be included in indie festival line ups. I hate to make generalizations, but the people who tend to frequent indie film festivals are like me. They think about what they’ve seen and they’re going to identify deeply problematic tropes such as “if I force it on her, and I’m good at it, she’ll come to enjoy it, because even though she says ‘no,’ what she really means is ‘yes’.”
Reece has said there is an element of machismo to his films. I like that about them. What I found to be a consistent issue in each movie I’ve watched, although it was less of an issue in “Mickey and Me,” is the shallow development of female characters. Let me put it this way: a long lost lover knocks on your door in the wee hours of the morning, physically assaults you, rapes you, and then runs off after being confronted with the truth about the parentage of your child. Are you smiling at him the next day when you see him lurking in his car watching you send said child off to school?
My answer is no.
I’m told frequently that I’m kind of uppity. Be that as it may, I can look to other films like “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” where there is a portrayal of two women who’ve dealt with sexual abuse and assault. Each has a different approach to her problem: 1) fight back and 2) run away and hide.
Margaret does neither. And that’s the rub. She’s like a cardboard cut out, you place her where you need her and when you’re done she’s put away on the shelf till she’s needed to further the plot again. This is not to say the actress is not convincing, quite the opposite. I also find it ironic that moments after O’Malley is forced into a sexual situation with his childhood friend, that he is then perpetuating even more forceful and unwanted sexual contact with someone he’s supposed to truly love. The audience spends all this time with him as he slowly reveals that he is not a hopeless douche bag operating in a seedy underworld, only to see him slide down into an even more detestable character.
In retrospect and in thinking about the ways this storyline could have been handled I saw three avenues where it could have been different for poor Margaret. Idea 1: she fights off O’Malley and kicks him the hell out of her house. Then he spends the remaining storyline making it up to her until she takes him back or not. Either way there is a sense of resolution for both. Idea 2: Margaret loses the fight, but instead of having rape victim amnesia she shuns O’Malley and again he spends the rest of the film paying for it. Maybe she forgives him, maybe she doesn’t. Either way his actions have a more believable consequence. Idea 3: instead of attacking Margret, O’Malley has a tender moment with her where both confess their feelings and the scene ends with passionate love making. After that, it would make more sense for her to be smiling at him the next day.
O’Malley pays for his misdeeds. But what use is that to Margaret?
In summation, this one scene does not mean that I think the movie is all together bad. Rather, it leaves the door open for talking about the issues that confront not just our society, but all societies. And the examination of human nature is really what stories do for us.