Classic Style ~ Modern Story

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Sorting the Magic: Review of “David Holmes: The Boy Who Lived”


What is it like to be 21 years old, at the top of the world in your career with millions of fans screaming your name and secretly know the person who made your performance possible was paralyzed doing so? What is it like to be 25 years old, in top physical condition doing a job you love with your whole heart and have it all stripped away in 5 seconds? David Holmes: The Boy Who Lived eloquently, honestly answers both of those questions.

Did you know Daniel Radcliff’s stunt double was paralyzed from a stunt accident filming Harry Potter? I didn’t- and I’m pretty up on the Wizarding World. Turns out David Holmes has worked with the studio to keep this a very quiet reality because he “didn’t want to ruin anyone’s love for Harry Potter.” What’s more amazing than that selfless view is the fact that though the gymnast and stuntman has lost nearly everything that made him who he was – he still loves Harry Potter, and he loves Daniel Radcliff, too,

HBO sets their documentary standards high and this film falls right in that expectation. It’s not a toxically positive “yeah, I’m paralyzed but I have my faith and life lessons” kind of story. David Holmes’ life is hard, and his grief over the loss of his mobility and the job he adored is so heavy. Yet, he practices a presence and generous nature that is admirable and inspiring.

Coupled with David’s journey is Daniel Radcliff’s terrible remorse and the staggering guilt the stunt coordinator feels every time he looks at David. It definitely changes the images of those Harry Potter press junkets where Radcliff blinks awkwardly at millions of fans, knowing his “like a brother” friend who had taken the journey as his double for 7 films was in a hospital, never to walk again. Radcliff maintains a deep friendship and love for Holmes but the reality of their painful bond is never far from the surface.

Watching the now older stunt coordinator sigh with such incredible sorrow, “I was the last person to touch him when he could walk, and I was the first person to touch him when he was paralyzed.” is heartbreaking. This is a film of actual inspiration where the achievements are real and the journey is not easy. Beautiful shot, well resourced, the film covers complexity with ease.

25 years after the Harry Potter films entered our world, there is still magic in them. The price of that magic continues to wait for the sorting hat to put everyone, and everything, in place. Yet, as Harry Potter taught us all these years since – friendship is still the strongest magic.

**Note: I learned of this movie from an article on a writing site that said, “Daniel Radcliff thought he knew how to direct a film and discovered he didn’t.” That shocking revelation led Radcliff to pick a director who knew what he was doing and instead fund this project because he wants his friend’s story to finally be told. That tells you everything you need to know about Daniel Radcliff, David Holmes, and this film.

Pulled Punches: My review of “Sly”

What:  Sly

Type:  Documentary Feature  95 Minutes

On: Netflix

Worth Watching:  Not really, unless Sylvester Stallone was influential in your life.

Score: 2 brain numbing upper cuts (2/5)


After watching the exceptional “Arnold” – I had high expectations for “Sly” – the Netflix documentary about Sylvester Stallone.  Sadly, this particular doc is the lesser event in every way.  It’s shorter, less insightful, makes a smaller impact and overall is the two things a documentary about Sylvester Stallone should not be:  tepid and boring.

It’s hard not to compare the two documentaries because Schwarzenegger and Stallone have been compared throughout their whole career.  In the 80’s war of the box office, each one tried to out-do the other as the stories got dumber, the guns got bigger, and they both were household names.  However, when it comes to the presentation of life stories, Arnold emerges a hero and Sly falls off a cliff hitting every painful rock on the way down.

The visual choices made for Sly seemed primed straight from the Rocky. Gritty, dimly lit action shots of Stallone moving from one place to another are so stark it’s like watching a home video taken by the movers as they unpack the truck to ensure nothing is broken.  The narrative choices also reflect a hero who, even though he has an Academy Award for screenwriting, has a hard time putting sentences together and just sort of huffs through history.  While Arnold speaks introspectively of his abusive father as a “broken man from a village of broken men,” Stallone says of his abusive dad, “He was always physical! He hit me! It was hard!”   Choppy dialogue and sometimes inarticulate thoughts are punctuated (as sweet relief) by interviews with others – Talia Shire, Arnold, Stallone’s brother, and Henry Winkler – who sort of re-explain what Stallone is trying to say.

The abrupt “And then this happened” narrative (“No one would cast me, so I wrote a film for myself”) bounces from one event to the next with no nuance or details.   Sadly, Stallone’s over-reliance on Botox and facelift procedures makes it a hard movie to watch sometimes. The more the camera lingers on his unnaturally lifted eyebrows and bloated face, the more alien he appears. The entire film suffers from “tell not show.”  Stallone meanders around talking about movies he made but instead of seeing clips from those films, we are watching him stare out windows or gesture at the rocky statue in his home.  The few clips we do see don’t always match the voice-over narration.

There are interesting topics that arise in the film – how he actually wrote 17 screenplays before Rocky, the fact that with Adrienne he was able to do what most Hollywood writers can’t – create a well-rounded, authentic female character who is neither a victim nor a vixen, and how his wife and kids (who we learn nothing about) are everything to him.  As quickly as these ideas arise, they vanish like smoke before we can grasp on and get something.

Like most people who were kids in the 80’s I grew up watching Rocky and Rambo – cheering for the underdog and singing Eye of the Tiger.  I liked Stallone then, and I like him now. This documentary, however, shows little of the man, the myth, or the movies that made him.




What:  Documentary

Type: Limited Series – 4 Episodes

On: Netflix

Worth Watching:  No.  Overly long, nothing new, and nothing gained.

Score:  – 2 Smoldering cigarette butts and a trigger warning  (2/5)

I was intrigued when I saw a documentary was being filmed about the Haysum killing.

When I moved to Virginia in 2007 I was offered a job at 2 places –Fluvanna Women’s Prison (where Elizabeth Haysum was held) and the Williamsburg AIDS Network (WAN).  The prison was under a 6-month hiring freeze, and I didn’t want to wait so I took the WAN job.  When I was studying Fluvanna for the interview, I learned all about Haysum, who was one of their most “notorious” and pampered inmates.  She was kept in a pod by herself (but not in isolation) and she was allowed to write a column in a local newspaper about life in prison.  The reason?  She had already been there 20 years and had at least 25 more to go.  Her case was “famous”, and she appeared to still suffers from rich white girl syndrome.

“Til Murder Do We Part” promises a rich he said/she said whodunit about the brutal stabbing death of Haysum’s parents by the two college age lovers.  What it delivers has all the excitement of an old school article on microfiche.  You literally could read a PowerPoint slide presentation of the murder and trials and learn everything they show here.

He said:  Soering claims he bought the alibi movie tickets and stayed in DC while she went to Bedford and murdered her parents.  His confession in Britain was false, because he loved her and wanted to take the blame (until she broke up with him and he discovered the blame could mean life in prison).

She said: Haysum stayed in DC, bought the tickets, and he went and killed her parents. She admits she wanted them dead – because they were trying to control her life, had a lot of money she could inherit, and there was a history of maternal sexual abuse.  But, according to Haysum, Soering was the hand that held the knife.

After a flight to England, extradition to the US, and 2 trials – both were found guilty. She was sentenced to 2 consecutive 45-year terms as an accessory. He was sentenced to life.

The series gets all the recorded facts right and lays them out in a row – but for a 4-episode program it adds stunningly little context.  “He was a jerk, no one liked him but Elizabeth” is all we really learn about Jens.  “She had a drug problem and hated boarding school” is what we learn about Elizabeth.  Much of the runtime is just re-readings of their cringy adolescent melodramatic love letters.  You know – the kind you wrote in high school and turn red if you read them out loud now?

The series hits a low with its treatment – then and now – of Elizabeth’s claim of a life of sexual abuse from her mother (a distant relative of Lady Astor who thought she as above it all).  We watch a lawyer badger the clearly traumatized young woman in the 80’s, then in an age where a documentarian should be at least “trauma informed,” the narrative digs into the “well, that was true” aspect with no empathy, context, or fairness. It is traumatizing to watch how ignorantly this topic is handled.

Both Haysum and Soering were released from prison early (with John Grissom convincing his Democrat friends (via money) that 18 is too young to have such a harsh sentence – the back-end shady deal would have made a much more interesting story) and deported.  They had been incarcerated for 33 years.  From Canada, Elizabeth is in seclusion and expresses regret.  From German Soering won’t shut up and is still banging his “I was innocent” drum that is as unbelievable today as it was then.

If you are intrigued by this tale of rich kids, dead parents, and court – google up an article and read it.  Don’t spend your life’s precious time on this plodding retelling.

The Unanswered Question: My review of Savior Complex.

What: Savior Complex
Type: 3 Part Documentary Series
On: HBO Max
Worth Watching: YES. Complex and nuanced it brings up a lot to think about and discuss about Missions, Christians, and their victims.
Quick Take: If your god tells you to give medical care to children – maybe your god is saying, “go to college.”
A friend of mine who works in IT once told me, “The problem isn’t the old lady who says ‘I don’t know anything about computers.’ The problem is the young person who THINKS they know about computers, gets into the programming and messes everything up.”
Never was that more true than the specific case of Renee Bach, and the larger issue of Christian mission work across the globe. A white, privileged, 19 year old homeschooled girl with no formal medical training opens a church funded medical clinic in Uganda and acts as a nurse, doctor, and savior. What could go wrong? 105 dead children. (Yes, most of them would have died anyway, but Bach’s actions added needless suffering to the process).
The documentary focuses on both sides of Bach’s rise and fall in a balanced way, which must have been hard considering the facts. It doesn’t say “Renee was a bad person.” It shows Renee as a young person with a good heart who got lost in the twin towers of ignorance and arrogance while riding the magical thinking school bus.
There’s been controversy about allowing Bach to share her side of the story, which comes off as wildly self-pitying and revealing. At one point, she tries to read a critique and cannot even pronounce the word “colonialism” nor does she know what it means. She quips, “Maybe I’ll look it up. Later.” (I’m guessing she never did).
So a white girl going to another nation taking her religion and her way of helping them without consultation or respect for them can’t explain colonialism but you know what she can do? Put in IV’s. Give blood transfusions. Diagnose diseases. Prescribe, dose, and administer medications she can’t even pronounce. Why? Because God. And money. God’s money.
While Bach cries about the unfairness of her expulsion from Uganda, the real unfairness is to the mothers of dead children in Uganda, the people of Uganda, and the many organizations who carefully, intelligently work WITH and support indigenous efforts with cultural competence and dignity.
There’s a barrel of blame to go around: The American church culture that glorifies mission workers while dehumanizing and infantilizing nations and communities without asking hard and important questions. The “No White Savior” group – which also had a good heart and bad practices – who is so desperate to shine a light on the damage they inflate the truth into a lie to get enough “clicks” to make a difference. The failure of people giving money to this organization based on heart-tugging photo ops to investigate exactly what their money was going toward.
In all the carnage, there are two amazing people that inspire and are absolutely worth watching. The young nurse (with an actual license and education) who shows up to help and says “WHOA… This is wrong, wrong, wrong.” and the Ugandan lawyer who has such clarity, and power to separate the story from the fact, focus on the victims, and work solely for them – not herself, not fame, not anything else.
The only thing that bothered me was the one question no one ever seems to ask Renee. – not her church, not her parents, not her funders, not the people at the clinic, and not the documentarians.
Why didn’t you just go to school and get an education to properly do the work God called you to do?
If her church can pay for her to pretend to be a medical person, I’m pretty sure they could have paid for her to go to nursing school. But that’s not as blog-worthy or heroic, is it? Maybe the lesson for Christians is – we need scholarships before mission trips.
Savior Complex shows a story with no easy answers and should be talked about in churches as they consider both the help and the damage their “good hearts” can do. Watch, talk, and explore.

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