Alive Mind // 2006 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // January 7th, 2010
An inspirational feature for all ages.
It's easy to see why someone would want to make a movie about Jack Beers. He's a colorful, intriguing guy; the sort of fellow that naturally makes one exclaim, "You know, somebody oughtta make a movie about that guy!" To a certain degree, I concur. Somebody oughtta make a movie about Jack. However, I'm not so sure that the documentary Holes in My Shoes is the Jack Beers movie that really needed to be made.
The director is David Wachs, who has very little experience in the realm of filmmaking. Wachs cast Beers in a short film he made some years ago, and their relationship developed from there. He is clearly fascinated with Jack, and I'm sure that I would have been too if I had met the man. His story is a larger-than-life tale of adventure and intrigue, an almost Forrest Gump-level saga of one man's many brushes with history. We hear the stories about how Jack was a wannabe strongman during the Depression era, making friends with the likes of Jack Dempsey and getting into scraps with local thugs. We hear about how some of the construction work he did during World War II hastened the creation of the atomic bomb. We hear about the bit roles he played in films of noted directors like Woody Allen, and see pictures of Jack hanging out with just about every movie star of note from the '60s and '70s. Director Arthur Hiller informs us that no other actor has appeared in more of his film, though Beers' roles were typically so small that he only has two credits on IMDb.
Beers has lived a life so full of interesting experiences and colorful stories, so why doesn't this film work? Alas, rather than working to create an compelling narrative out of the high points of Beers' life, Wachs instead simply takes us on an unimaginatively presented chronological journey that manages to rob the spectacular moments of their power and spends far too much time focusing on the trivial and banal. I love to listen to Beers talk, but God bless him, he certainly has a tendency to ramble and repeat himself sometimes. That wouldn't ordinarily be a problem, but Wachs proves to be rather lazy in the editing department. He just lets Beers go on and on, wandering down fruitless rabbit trails rather than putting pieces together in an interesting manner.
The most astonishing thing to me is the way the really fascinating moments are botched. Arguably the most intriguing aspect of Beers' life is his involvement in WWII. It must be quite a thing to live with; knowing that your work considerably hastened the creation of the atomic bomb. Unfortunately, the film explains Beers' involvement in a very confusing, roundabout way that focuses way too much on pointless details and completely fails to accentuate the sheer impact of what he did. There are moments here and there (such as the instance in which Beers recounts the story of a challenge he accepted in a pool hall during his teenage years) that manage to muster up some dramatic impact, but these are happy accidents. In general, the best stories are botched due to a poor presentation.
As such, the strongest moments of Holes in My Shoes tend to be those spotlighting the modern-day Jack Beers, as we watch the man in action on the streets of New York. It's a delight to see him find a muscular 30-year-old man exercising in a local park and challenging him to a series of physical competitions. It warmed my heart to see Beers climb to the top of the Empire state building and start belting out a colorful rendition of, "When You're Smiling." These are special snapshots, or what the folks at MSN Movies like to call "Moments out of Time." It's a shame that they're surrounded by so much filler.
The transfer is just fine, though as is the case with many documentaries much of the film is dominated with rough-looking stock footage. The modern-day interview sequences are fine, but nothing spectacular. New York looks particularly dour throughout much of the film, and colors tend to be fairly muted throughout. The audio is also fine, with a sometimes fun/sometimes annoying little score prancing around during the talking heads sequences. There are no extras included on the disc.
I can't recommend the documentary itself, but perhaps it will serve as the inspiration for a stronger feature film at some point. There remains a great story to be told about the life of Jack Beers.
Mr. Beers is free to go, but this documentary is guilty of failing to live up
to its subject.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Alive Mind
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated