Sunday, February 28, 2021

What to watch this week: Pelé, Tokyo Girl, Creem magazine


Tokyo Girl

reviews by Allan Tong 

TOKYO GIRL (on Prime)

ChinoKino score: A

Tokyo Girl would kick Emily in Paris' ass in a Superbowl game.

Tokyo Girl is a Prime series about a smalltown girl who finds her dreams working in fashion in the big city, while Emily in Paris, the Netflix hit, follows a Chicago girl who trimphs in the European culture capital through her Instagram account. Both heroines are fishes out of water, bore wear gorgeous clothes and they dine in dazzling restaurants with lovers and backstabbing colleagues.

After watching Emily in Paris, I remember gorgeous Paris and posh clothes. After watching Tokyo Girl I remember work triumphs, everyday struggles and broken relationships. I remember watching a real person mature.

This comparison, I admit, can go only so far. Emily is told in real time while Tokyo Girl spans nearly 20 years in the heroine's life. Also, Emily is lighter while TG mixes drama with laughs.

Both shows are helmed by strong actresses, though. Emily takes a lot slagging for being an American philistine, but Lily Collins nails the role. Collins injects her character with unexpected vulnerability at times. (A shout-out goes to Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu who nails Emily's bitch boss.) Asami Mizukawa (pictured above) has a tougher gig in Tokyo Girl, portraying how smalltown girl Aya turns into career woman Aya by age 40, when she wonders what th hell she'll do next with her life. Mizukawa pulls it off.

TG's writing is tougher, smarter and more complex. Guys need to watch this show to understand women better. Emily, in contrast, overdoses on gee-whiz sweetness that would kill a diabetic. But, hey, Paris, is dazzling.

The call: Tokyo Girl by 14 points.


PELÉ (on Netflix)

ChinoKino score: B

Before Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky, there was Pelé. This kid from the slums of Sao Paulo shot to football (soccer) superstardom and put Brazil atop the football map. This doc covers the meat of his career, playing for Santos and leading Brazil to three World Cups, from 1958 to 1970.

Those years were a hell of a ride that lifted Brazilian national pride and made Pelé a rock star. Goals, goals, goals. There's an endless stream of Pelé making acrobatic moves on the football pitch, drawn from vintage black-and-white footage and grainy colour. This doc is thrilling to watch, and captures a lot of Pelé's former teammates and coaches on camera recounting their victories and struggles.

Pelé himself, now 80, tells a lot of his story. He needs a walker these days, undoubtedly a result of many years of taking cheap shots from less-talented opponents. Yet, he still speaks with a sparkle in his eye. All great. However, the issue of him never opposing Brazil's dictator, who imprisoned and murdered his countrymen from 1964 to 1985, is thorny. Credit this film for including Pelé's critics as as well as offering Pelé's own justification for keeping his nose out of politics. Maybe we expect too much from our athletic heroes (Jordan and Gretzky were also apolitical, not Ali), but I winced when Pelé hugs the country's butcher after the 1970 World Cup victory.

A bigger problem are the gaps in his story. The film devotes all of two minutes to his childhood. Pelé's a prodigy—we get it, but do we? Young Pelé was so poor that he played football with a sock stuffed with newspaper. He cut his teeth playing indoor football, which demanded quick moves and forced him to play with older, bigger players. Neither detail is included in this film. And how did Pelé end his career playing for the New York Cosmos? That fact is flashed onscreen for a few puzzling seconds.

I liked Pelé, but it isn't the definitive film on him.



ChinoKino score: A

Drugs, sex, bad behaviour and politics. We're not talking about a rock band, but a rock magazine and it ain't Rolling Stone.

Creem was the other rock mag of the late-1960s and 1970s. It says a lot when rock stars go out of their way to visit their offices in the post-riot wasteland of Detroit and later in smalltown, nowhere Michgan. Creem (named after the rock band, Cream), was really a pirate ship of misfits armed with typwriters who worshipped at the altar of rock. They were headed by iconoclast editor Lester Bangs who worshipped—and openly castigated—Lou Reed. Bangs grabbed the throne from editor Dave Marsh who wanted Creem to be a pulpit of the New American Left during the Vietnam War. When you toss dogshit into your foe's typwriter, you're probably sending a signal.

Overseeing this zoo was volatile, but visionary publisher Barry Kramer, whose father died as he was playing with the boy in his arms. Kramer was hellbent on self-destruction like a lot of the bands his magazine profiled.

How important was Creem? Michael Stipe recounts discovering the magazine, like the Pope picking up the Bible for the first time. Alice Cooper and Joan Jett pay their respects, as well as Cameron Crowe, who freelanced for Creem as well as their arch-rival, Rolling Stone.

The 1970s were infamous were sex, drugs and wasted money, but in this lovingly made doc, all those vices brewed at Creem which somehow stayed one step ahead of insolvency without selling out its soul. After all, Creem embraced punk and metal when Rolling Stone spat on it. If the Stone was the erudite, overachieving big brother, then Creem was the scruffy, little guy who did bottle tokes in the alley. Creem captured the spirit of seventies' rock at its most dissolute and decadent.

Creem is one fun ride through rock and American pop culture.

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