Fantasia 2016: Second Report

For the Love of Spock is a tribute by Adam Nimoy to his father Leonard’s life and career.

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If you’re one of those people interested in anything and everything related to Star Trek, you’ll definitely want to see For the Love of Spock, a tribute by Adam Nimoy to his father Leonard’s life and career. It’s an unabashedly personal film, featuring home movies and lots of photographs of Leonard with little Adam and his sister Julie, interviews with family and friends as well as colleagues from Star Trek and elsewhere. The son of Jewish immigrants who were less than thrilled about his choice to pursue a career in the arts, Nimoy worked a number of odd jobs (one involved setting up aquariums in physician’s offices, which was a thing at the time) while getting his start, and eventually went on to have quite a career as an actor. He worked his way into acting, beginning with bit parts and moving up from there, and the little clips of his various roles are one of the great delights of this film.

Early in his career, Nimoy was often cast in small roles a Native American (“John Walking Fox” on Gunsmoke, “Yellow Wolf” on Mackenzie’s Raiders) or Hispanic (both “Emeterio Vasquez” and “Joaquin Delgado” on Wagon Train). Then came stardom with Star Trek, which led to more significant roles like “Dr. David Kibner” in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, as well as reprising his role as Spock in the Star Trek movies and the animated series. Many of the stories recounted in For the Love of Spock will be familiar to fans—the failure of the original Star Trek pilot, the origin of the Vulcan salute—but in my experience Trekkies can’t get enough of this stuff. It’s a little heavy on the director’s life story, and his sometimes difficult relationship with his famous father, but that’s built into the nature of the film. The personal moments are counterbalanced with a good selection of clips from the original series as well as discussions of matters such as why so many people identify with Spock and the enduring popularity of Kirk/Spock shipping.

I’m a sucker for sports films the way some people go for all things Star Trek, so of course I had to check out Ji-woo Jung’s Fourth Place, which looks at sports fanaticism through the story of a Korean swimmer, his mother, and his coach. It begins with a black-and-white flashback to the 1990s, when a female Korean swimmer became a national heroine due to her success in an international competition. She’s seen only on television, but we do get to know one of her contemporaries, Gwang-su (Hae-Joon Park), a talented swimmer who gets sidetracked and misses some training sessions. As punishment, he is beaten with a stick by his coach, and quits the sport.

Jumping forward 16 years and switching to color, the story changes focus to the schoolboy Jun-ho (Jae-Sang Yoo), who likes to swim but doesn’t care about winning. In fact, he always seems to come in fourth, one place out of the medals, which does not please his mother Jeong-ae (Hang-na Lee) at all. She needs him to win, and doesn’t care about how he feels about it. She hires Gwang-su to coach Jun-ho, hoping he can turn him into a champion. No longer the poised young swimmer we saw in the flashback, Gwang-su has become a dull-eyed, angry man who doesn’t hesitate to use physical violence and psychological warfare against his young charge. Mom isn’t allowed at practice, but she sees her son’s growing exhaustion and the bruises on his body, yet does nothing to intervene.

Fourth Place is certainly a sports film, but it’s also a study of how the cycle of authoritarian violence repeats itself across generations. It’s a melodrama that pushes a point of view, with a schematic plot line and simplified characters (the mother character in particular is a one-note stereotype), but no more so than many other popular sports movies. It’s also a visually interesting film: The black and white prologue is reminiscent of film noir, which seems appropriate for a story of the loss of innocence, while the present-day section includes some great action photography and uses underwater shots to fine effect. | Sarah Boslaugh

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