GLEASON (Clay Tweel, 2016)
Landmark Sunshine Cinema, 143 East Houston St. between First & Second Aves., 212-330-8182
AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13, 1998 Broadway at 68th St.
Opens Thursday, July 28
“It’s not gonna be easy but it’s gonna be awesome,” Steve Gleason promises his unborn child in the extraordinary documentary Gleason, a heartbreaking yet uplifting tale about dedication, family, and never giving up. On September 26, 2006, scrappy New Orleans safety and special teams stalwart Gleason became an all-time inspirational Saints hero when, on Monday Night Football, he blocked Atlanta Falcon Michael Koenen’s punt less than a minute and a half into the Saints’ first home game in the Superdome following the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina the previous summer. The play, which resulted in a touchdown when the ball was recovered by Curtis DeLoatch in the end zone, has been memorialized with a statue titled “Rebirth” in front of the stadium. But Gleason became a different kind of hero five years later when the undrafted free agent was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a generally fatal neuromuscular disease. Right after that, the Washington State native, who at the age of thirty-four was given three to five years to live, found out that his wife, artist and free spirit Michel Varisco, was pregnant with their first child, a boy. Determined to pass on as much of a legacy as he could to his unborn baby, Gleason began a vlog, a series of deeply personal five-minute videos in which he spoke openly and honestly about how they would never have the traditional father-son relationship but he wanted the boy to know that he was loved and cherished. But that is only the beginning of an incredible story that is poignantly told in Gleason.
Directed and edited by Clay Tweel (Make Believe, Print the Legend), the film features powerful clips from Gleason’s video journal; intimate footage shot by Ty Minton-Small and David Lee, who lived with Gleason, Varisco, and their son, Rivers, for two years; and interviews with family members and friends as Gleason’s physical conditions worsens but his heart and will grow stronger. “People will say, ‘Oh, it’s such a sad, tragic story,’ Gleason explains in the film. “It is sad, and so they’re right, but it’s not all sad. I think there is more in my future than in my past.” Gleason, with Michel’s father, Paul Varisco, form Team Gleason, a grass-roots nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people with ALS have a better quality of life, taking them on adventure vacations and giving them access to cutting-edge technology that increases their ability to communicate as the disease destroys their speech and movement. Among Steve’s famous friends and supporters are Saints quarterback Drew Brees and his wife, Brittany, and Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready and singer Eddie Vedder. Steve and Michel hold nothing back, sharing their deepest fears and insecurities while his condition deteriorates. As he tries to get the most out of his limited time with Rivers, Gleason also reexamines his troubled relationship with his father, Mike, a born-again Christian who is often at odds with his son. The real superstar of the film, however, is the brave and courageous Michel, who devotes her life to her husband and son despite increasing difficulties. In a statement about the film, Michel said, “I hope people who need a good laugh or a heavy cry can get that from this film. I hope people who need to be reminded to love their kids or their friends can get that from this movie. I hope people with ALS who want to use this film to show others what their lives really are like can get that from this movie. I hope people who have strained relationships with their parents will want to work on those relationships after they watch this movie. I hope people who have wanted to do something great in life will go ahead and do it after seeing this movie. People have told me that they have gotten all of these things from watching Gleason. And I think that’s pretty awesome.” Gleason, which is not always easy to watch, achieves all that and more, and indeed, that’s pretty awesome. The Sundance hit opens July 28 at Loews Lincoln Square and the Landmark Sunshine, with Tweel and Michel Varisco participating in a Q&A after the 4:45 screening at Landmark on July 30.
On July 14, 1789, a Parisian mob stormed the Bastille prison, a symbolic victory that kicked off the French Revolution and the establishment of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. Ever since, July 14 has been a national holiday celebrating liberté, égalité, and fraternité. In New York City, the Bastille Day festivities are set for Sunday, July 10, along Sixtieth St., where the French Institute Alliance Française hosts its annual daylong party of food, music, dance, and other special activities. There will be a Wine, Beer, Cocktail, and Cheese Tasting in FIAF’s Tinker Auditorium at 12 noon, 1:30, and 3:00 ($25), as well as luxurious ninety-minute Champagne & Chocolate Tastings in Le Skyroom at 12:30 and 3:00 ($75) featuring delights from G. H. Mumm, Piper-Heidsieck, Drappier, Brimoncourt, Billecart-Salmon, La Caravelle, Neuhaus, La Maison du Chocolat, Valrhona, MarieBelle, and Maman Bakery. The annual raffle ($5 per ticket) can win you such prizes as trips to Paris and New Orleans, concert tickets, beauty treatments and gift baskets, lunches and dinners, and more. Food and drink will be available from Babeth’s Feast, Barraca, Booqoo Beignets, Dominique Ansel Bakery, Éclair Bakery, Epicerie Boulud, Financier, Bec Fin, Le Souk, St. Michel, Tipsy Scoop, François Payard Bakery, Mille-feuille, Oliviers & Co., Ponty Bistro, and others. Taking the stage will be cast members from An American in Paris (12:30), CanCan dancers led by Sarah O’Dwyer (1:15 & 2:15), a French puppet show by Samantha Grassian (1:30), the Hungry March Band (2:30), the Sheridan Fencing Academy (3:15), and Myriam Phiro’s Accordion Trio (4:00). The festivities also include a roaming French Mime for Hire (Catherina Gasta), a photobooth, a book signing with Marc Levy (A Spin on the Horizon, 1:00), the annual Citroën Car Show (1:00 – 5:00), a live screening of the UEFA Euro final between France and Portugal (3:00), and more. Vive la France!
The 100th anniversary of Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest is promising to be one of the best following last year’s results. After eight straight victories, California native Joey “Jaws” Chestnut was upset by fellow Golden Stater Matt Stonie, who edged him in a close battle, 62-60. (In 2007, Chestnut dethroned Takeru Kobayashi, who had won the title six consecutive times.) In the women’s division, New York native Miki Sudo defended her belt against South Korea’s Sonya Thomas, the Black Widow, who had captured the first three women’s championships, which started in 2011. Chestnut got ready for the ten-minute Independence Day showdown by devouring 73½ franks and buns in a DC match, breaking his own world record of 69. The festivities begin at 10:00 in the morning on July 4, with the women (Sudo, Thomas, Juliet Lee, Mary Bowers, Noelle Dudzinski, Michelle Lesco, Kassandra Zapata, Nela Zisser, Elizabeth Petra, Meredith Boxberger, Larell Marie Mele, BeeJay Alexander) taking the stage at 10:45 and the men (Stonie, Chestnut, Marcos Owens, Juan Rodriguez, Brian Dudzinski, Rich LeFevre, Crazy Legs Conti, Adrian Morgan, Steven Schuster, Geoffrey Esper, Badlands Booker, Gideon Oji) at 12:30. In conjunction with the event, which you can watch live in Coney Island or on television on ESPN, Nathan’s will donate 100,000 hot dogs to the Food Bank for New York City, which it has been doing annually since 2008.
Drea Cooper and Zackary Canepari’s debut feature documentary, T-Rex, is an exciting, dare we say hard-hitting look at a teenager attempting to literally fight her way out of depressed and troubled Flint, Michigan. When she was eleven years old, Claressa Shields walked into FWC Berston Gym and immediately showed the kind of skill, desire, and drive that made former professional boxer Jason Crutchfield take her under his wing as coach and mentor, thinking she had enormous potential. “A coach always wants a champion,” he says in the film. “Believe me. That’s why we coach. I just never thought it was going to be a girl.” Claressa trains every day, her sights set on becoming the first woman — actually, she’ll be a mere seventeen years old — to win a gold medal in the 2012 London Olympics, which has added the sport of women’s boxing to its wide-ranging roster of competitive sports. It’s not only a personal quest but a way to help get her poor, undereducated, broken family out of Flint. Her parents are divorced and each has a new partner, her father spent seven years in prison, and her tough-talking younger sister dreams of having ten babies. Allowing Cooper and Canepari full access, Claressa shows herself to be an exceptional boxer as well as a smart, intelligent person with a strong grasp of reality. She also has the confidence and swagger of Muhammad Ali; in fact, the relationship between the Greatest and his daughter, former world champion Laila Ali, serves as a major inspiration to her in her gritty, determined quest.
Claressa doesn’t just want to win; she wants to dominate. As the film opens, Claressa is sad and downtrodden at the Olympic trials, surrounded by a handful of media. It turns out that she had just won her bout, but she was disappointed that she hadn’t won by more. Cooper and Canepari wisely let Claressa, her family, and her coach tell her story, dispensing with the usual talking heads providing social or sports-related commentary on her compelling journey from Flint to China to London and, perhaps, beyond. It’s especially poignant when Crutchfield and Claressa start looking into possible endorsement deals, but corporations are not exactly seeking out a poor black teenage girl boxer from Flint to be their next spokesperson. A festival favorite, T-Rex is opening June 24 at Brooklyn’s Made in NY Media Center by IFP. The film ends shortly after the 2012 Olympics, with Claressa deciding whether to continue with boxing; you can find out where she is today by watching the recent ESPN E60 profile of her here.
123-01 Roosevelt Ave. at 126th St.
May 27-29, $25-$525
On October 27, 1986, I was fortunate enough to find myself at Shea Stadium, watching the Amazin’s come back from a 3-0 deficit to beat the Boston Red Sox 8-5 and win their second World Series title, with such stars as Ray Knight, Keith Hernandez. Ron Darling, Darryl Strawberry, Howard Johnson, Dwight Gooden, Jesse Orosco, Lenny Dykstra, Mookie Wilson, and the late Gary Carter. Although the Mets have since made it to the Series in 2000 and 2015, their third championship has proved elusive. However, maybe celebrating the past will inject more victories into their future, as they honor that 1986 team this weekend as the 2016 Mets take on the Los Angeles Dodgers. On Friday night, currently scheduled to be Jacob deGrom against Alex Wood, all fans will receive a replica jersey with the number 86 on it. On Saturday at 6:15, before Noah Syndergarrd takes on Kenta Maeda, there will be a special pregame ceremony on the field, featuring many members of the 1986 team. And on Sunday, when the one and only Bartolo Colón faces off with Clayton Kershaw, the first fifteen thousand fans will get a replica 1986 world championship ring.