Tag Archives: Sports

Movie Review: Breaking Away (1979)

Breaking Away poster 1

Rating: B/ A film about bicycling might seem like a odd choice for someone who’s never gotten past peddling up and down the road on their bike as a small child, but I’ve always said that for me a sports movie is only as good as it’s characters and bigger themes. I have literally zero interest in sports or anything physical (as you’d be able to tell from my decidedly lumpy physique,) but luckily, Breaking Away is made up out of all the things in life; coming of age, romance, family, relationships… sure, it’s a little bit corny watching it now, but there’s so much more to this movie than the protagonist’s obsession with biking, a fixation that, like his fascination with everything Italian, only seems to grow over time. Continue reading Movie Review: Breaking Away (1979)

Advertisements

Movie Review: The Bad News Bears (1976)

Bad News Bears

Rating: B-/ While the title of this film is The Bad News Bears, it could also easily be called How Not to Coach a Little League Team: The Movie. Morris Buttermaker (Walter Matthieu) is a alcoholic loser and professional swimming pool cleaner who’s made a total mess of his life. Hoping to make a little money on the side, he signs up to coach a team of foul-mouthed misfit kids, with no intention whatsoever of being a good role model. Continue reading Movie Review: The Bad News Bears (1976)

Inside Out (2015)

insideout

In a weird way, the premise of “Inside Out” is kind of unnerving. Beings inside your mind that click on the control panel to trigger your emotions? Whatever happened to good old free will? It’s kind of a psychological dystopia for tweens (though in a universe where my emotions were living creatures who controlled most aspects of myself, they’d probably be doing a better job than I’m doing now- how’s that for unnerving?)

Take away the disturbing social and psychological implications of this deconstruction of free will (!), and you’ve got a typically delightful, touching Pixar film. The basic plot centers around Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias,) an eleven-year-old daughter of supportive, hockey-crazy parents (Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan) who is going through some tough life changes.

Her dad is having ever-present but obliquely mentioned financial problems, and her parents move her from her much-loved home in Minnesota to a small, shabby San Francisco pad. Luckily (?), the celebrity-voiced personifications of Riley’s feelings are there to help. Joy (Amy Poehler) runs the show, and under her watchful eye everything is mostly fun and pleasant, though  when Sadness (Phyllis Smith) interferes Riley’s mood transitions, predictably, from sunny to gloomy.

Anger (Lewis Black) fumes and rages while flames literally leap from his crimson head while Fear (Bill Hader) timidly and neurotically weighs the possible risk in any given situation. Disgust (Mindy Kaling) is kind of the queen bee of the group, adding a dose of much-needed snark.

Riley’s feelings are kind of a dysfunctional little family held together by the same circumstances (i.e. they inhabit the same brain,) but Joy fails to recognize that melancholy can a valuable, even healthy part of the spectrum that makes up the self until she and Sadness are inadvertently cast into the outskirts of the mind and Riley suffers a kind of an emotional shut-down.

insideoutbingbong

Tender and funny, “Inside Out” didn’t hit me in the feels as much as “Up,” an earlier effort and a personal favorite of mine, but it is an enjoyably creative adventure through an eleven-year-old girl’s mind. If the visuals of the dreamscape that Riley’s emotions inhabit was half as fun to create as they were to watch, then they must not have felt much like work at all as much as a veritable artist’s playground.

Aesthetically, Pixar studios has done it again. “Inside Out” looks gorgeous, both within Riley’s mind and out on the streets, school, and hockey rink she inhabits. “Inside Out”‘s success both visually and in terms of storytelling and pathos prove that filmmaker Pete Docter’s mastery of the craft in “Up” was not a fluke. There’s a lot of psychological jokes that most kids (and maybe certain adults) won’t get but there’s a distinct lack of the thinly veiled sexual humor that Dreamworks flaunts like a Harvard degree.

“Inside Out” has a pensive, melancholic quality that captures the insecurity and fragile uncertainty of adolescence which might go right over little kids’ heads, but they’ll be sure to enjoy the bright visuals and buoyant humor. Parents are likely to empathize with Riley’s parents’ financial and familial struggles without their woes overwhelming the picture.

A few parts of the film seem to drag along a little longer than they should, such as the abstraction sequence, but overall “Inside Out”is an outstanding film the young at heart or those who remember being young, when setbacks felt like crushing failures that seemed like they couldn’t be assuaged or mended with time, and life was made up by the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. This juxtaposition of jubilation and misery, through a child’s innocent eyes, is what makes “Inside Out” a truly singular experience.

Inside-Out

 

 

Million Dollar Baby (2004)

million

Admittedly, I’m not a big fan of boxing. At all. I don’t judge people who like it, but there you are. I just don’t see the appeal in big, sweaty, greased-up guys knocking the piss out of each other, having their remaining teeth flying every which way, and probably acquiring long-lasting brain damage at age thirty. Entertaining? Hell no. Erotic? No, it’s not that either.

So with boxing movies, and by extension all sports movies (football, baseball, basketball, etc.) I need a sort of human interest story to really capture my attention. Well, I can tell you if you’re looking for human drama, pathos, and an extra helping of tragedy,  Clint Eastwood Academy Award-winning film has that and more. There’s guilt, grief, denial, friendship, and major moral dilemmas. I mean big fucking moral dilemmas. The kind that keep you up at night.

Frankie Dunn (Actor/Director Eastwood) is a bit of a cranky old man and well-regarded boxing trainer who doesn’t train girls– period. This moral position doesn’t seem very well thought out- it’s less a legitimate position than a lunk-headed duh... I mean, girls wanting to box. Who’d have thunk it? Next they’ll be asking for equal pay and equal rights in all things.

So, being the kind of crank he is, he turns aspiring boxerette Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank) away like a puppy in the rain. “There’s plenty of people who will train girls,” he says. But Maggie’s determined. She’s come from a trash family (when we later meet her selfish and spectacularly ungrateful mother (Margo Martindale) and sister (Riki Lindhome,) we see where she’s from, and why she wants to get out) and she believes that being trained by Frankie Dunn (who seems to have quite a reputation in the boxing world, despite slumming it in a tiny fighting hall) is the best way to get her where she’s going.

Eddie Dupris (Morgan Freeman) is just the janitor, but he’s inwardly wise and worldly in that quintessential Morgan Freeman (with a smooth as butter voice over and that great voice) and quietly observes the drama between Frankie and Maggie, occasionally sharing a barbed repartee with Frankie and giving him a gentle push in the right direction. Frankie’s heart is rendered stony with personal tragedy, including a long-time estrangement from his own daughter. Will he give Maggie the well-deserved training and fatherly input she needs?

One thing you can say about this movie is it does good by not saddling Maggie with an  unnecessary love interest, rightfully focusing on the paternal relationship between she and Eastwood. The two have good (platonic) chemistry as they somewhat predictably bond, but tragedy lurks just around the corner. I often felt Morgan Freeman was a bit too much of a catalyst to the events rather than a character in his own right.

The thing is, for the first thirty minutes or so I was planning to bitch that the development of the relationships in “Million Dollar Baby” were too trite and predictable (i.e. grumpy old trainer professes his hatred for girls’ boxing, grumpy old trainer is suckered in by girl boxer’s irrepressible enthusiasm, etc.) But then I realized that while these odd couple stories are not the most original premises in the world, they work. They’re compelling. Where would we be without the gruesome twosome in “Up,” or “Men in Black,” or to name a less known title, “Treacle Jr.” (one of my personal favorites?)

If you bawled out every movie that featured a progressing bond by two people who have nothing in common, you’d have no movies left. Which is why I figure, we need our well-worn story lines. To some extent. Because something can be derivative and original at the same time. Well, the acting here certainly can’t be faulted. Outstanding performances all around. Hilary Swank proved her merit as a thespian in “Boys Don’t Cry,” playing trans man Brandon Teena, and once again with tomboyish pluck she shows us why she’s one of the best in the business.

Clint Eastwood is wonderful- he possibly gives an even better performance in this than he does in “Gran Torino,” a top-notch movie in it’s own right. He’s not just a gun-toting Republican tough guy with dozens of Westerns to his name- he shows real range and finesse as a troubled old man who tries to build barriers around his heart and refuses to let himself care about anybody. Morgan Freeman is Morgan Freeman, and that’s certainly not a bad thing. He plays a role we’ve come to expect from Freeman- wise and pensive, with sage advice for the other characters, and he does a fine job.

I didn’t cry at the end because someone had already spoiled the twist for me, but it might have really gotten to me had I not gone in knowing more or less how things were going to go down. I think the characters came off as a little one-note while watching it under a critical eye (Maggie in particular seeming a little too perfect at times,) but overall “Million Dollar Baby” is just a good, emotional, wonderfully acted drama about allowing yourself to legitimately give a shit about someone again- albeit with tear jerking results.

Million-Dollar-Baby

 

 

 

 

Westlake Soul by Rio Youers

westlake

With a premise like this, ‘Westlake Soul’ could be an absolute horror show, but Rio Youers’ skillful blend of liberating fantasy and harrowing reality manages not to fall into this trap; bittersweet, moving, quietly heartbreaking, definitely. A morbid geek show of suffering and tragedy, no. Bad things sometimes happen to good people; the peculiarly named Westlake Soul (former surfing champion and the son of aging hippies) is all too familiar with this. Like Shawn McDaniel, the protagonist of Terry Trueman’s ‘Stuck in Neutral,’ Westlake is trapped within his own body and rendered thoroughly unable to communicate.

While ‘Stuck in Neutral”s principal character suffered from debilitating Cerebral Palsy, Westlake is in a persistent vegetative state following a near-fatal surfing accident. A keen mind trapped within  a broken body, Westlake cannot convince anyone of his sentience. So when his grieving parents decide to disengage his feeding tube, Westlake must prepare for a slow, painful death by starvation while his parents, totally unaware of his cognizance, look on.

This all sounds terribly grim and depressing, but the subject matter is lightened somewhat by Westlake’s sense of humor and resilience concerning his mortality as well as his best-kept secret- Having had 100% of his mental capacity awakened by the accident, Westlake discovers the powers of astral projection and ESP, as well as an active fantasy life (?) where he plays the role of an able-bodied superhero battling the evil Doctor Quietus, the very personification of death.

In between astral projecting himself wherever he wants, carrying on long conversations with Hub, the family dog, and falling in love with his beautiful carer Yvette, Westlake watches as everyone he loves gives up believing in the possibility of his recovery. He is the ultimate passive observer- as inert and impotently defenseless as a lawn ornament, but mentally able and even capable of the most extraordinary power of all, finding humor and hope in his terrible situation.

Sometimes Westlake’s character seems a bit glib and immature as well as overly sexual minded (you can astral project anywhere in the universe so you go to Angelina Jolie’s pad to watch her take a shower??) but we have to remember we are reading the narrative of a 21-year-old guy, one who just months ago was getting smashed at beach parties and nightclubs. The caretaker eroticism is a little icky (the protagonist yearning over his dream girl while she changes his diaper,) but it’s not as disturbing as Yvette’s apparent returning of his affections.

What was with that kiss? Yes, Westlake is sentient and fully willing, but Yvette has no way of knowing that. While Westlake was enthusing about how awesome the kiss was, I kept thinking “she kissed a diaper-clad vegetable? With tongue?” Good luck finding a novel where a male caretaker smooches (i.e. molests) a female patient in a persistent vegetative state. On the other hand, the author does an amazing job of balancing the fantasy elements (Doctor Quietus and Westlake’s special powers) with the heartrending family drama and emotional significance of the family’s final decision.

I’m not ashamed to admit I teared up twice during this novel’s touching passages regarding love and mortality. When you think about it, Westlake’s a pretty profound guy, albeit young and rather immature in some respects. “Westlake Soul” has been described as a superhero book, but to call it a comic book-esque novel would be to misrepresent it, as well as it’s considerable depth. “…Soul” is less of a book about heroes, super or otherwise, and more a book about life- the unfairness of it, but also the beauty, the wonder, and the gift of being human. Westlake reminds us how tenuous our fragile grip on life is, and how we can’t take that fragility for granted. And he makes you laugh as well. That perhaps, is the greatest gift he imparts.

The Winning Season (2009)

the winning season

Remember in “Fight Club” when Edward Norton says that when suffering from insomnia, “Everything is a copy of a copy of a copy”? Yeah, this film is kind of like that. It’s a movie shamelessly derivative of a another movie which is derivative of yet another movie. And here comes the bombshell.

I don’t like sports movies. Now you ask, why would someone who doesn’t like sports movies watch a film directly centered around girls’ basketball? Why, Sam Rockwell, of course, who can be charming and likable even in the most mediocre motion picture.

But for many a Sam Rockwell, there’s a Emma Roberts waiting to bungle up the movie. I just don’t like her in anything. To be fair, though, this time the fault isn’t Emma’s. It’s the script, which plays on every ‘inspirational sports movie’ trope known to man, and does it with the shameless belief that it will move you to tears, endear itself to you, and make you write a glowing review totally different from the one I’m writing now.

The plot is utterly familiar even if you know nothing going in– underachieving alcoholic loser and basketball-playing has-been Bill (Sam Rockwell) is working as a dishwasher when his old friend Terry urges him to coach Girls’ Basketball. The foul-mouthed, half-heartedly sexist Bill is convinced that girls playing basketball is a superfluous pastime, but he reluctantly agrees so he can quit his dishwashing job.

Right off the bat you wonder– what makes Terry think that Bill is up for coaching a bunch of high school girls? Why because he couldn’t find anyone else, of course. No one else? But I digress. Bill is a slovenly pig, a miserable knob who eats chicken fingers off of his customer’s plates and, initially at least, fails to show the girls one ounce of respect while coaching.

But you know off the bat (because this is this type of movie) that Bill will tag his ragtag team of losers and make them winners, inspiring the girls, and maybe, learning to face up to his inadequacies in the process. And of course Bill is the deadbeat father of a neglected teenage daughter (Shana Dowdeswell) and a disapproving ex-wife (Jessica Hecht) who has found Mr. Perfect and now takes every opportunity to passive-aggressively make Bill feel like shit.

As Bill gets embroiled in the girls’ individual dramas, he comes to the well-worn revelation that no, these girls don’t have game, but they have heart, and he can really make something out of their team. Even as Bill mans up and becomes a supportive coach, he isn’t really a very likable protagonist. I think it’s because he lacks any kind of substantial depth. Even his character is nothing more than a tired trope.

And does the director of this film think it’s dramatically satisfying to watch the entire basketball team haul the inebriated Bill into his apartment? It’s a fucking disgrace. If you get so drunk while coaching that you have to be carried like a baby by a bunch of 17-year-old girls, well, maybe you shouldn’t be a coach. It was shameful to watch, frankly.

Then we have the ‘big finale’ where Bill breaks into the  stadium where the climactic game is being held in full costume after being laid off and told to stay away from the team. I wonder if it was really worth it to run away from the police in a cape,  a wig, and full body paint as opposed to, y’know, waiting it out and taking the girls out for Shoney’s afterward.

Despite the film’s flaws (and boy, are they many,) most of the girls give charming performances (including Rooney Mara in a pre- Dragon Tattoo role) and Emma Roberts (as the pragmatic Abbie) isn’t as insufferable as usual. Let me put it this way- if you like basketball and cheesy, feel-good movies, you might like this, so don’t cross it off your to-see list yet.  I guess I’m the wrong audience for this movie. All I know is that Sam Rockwell can do better, and has.

winning_season_movie_image_sam_rockwell_emma_roberts_01

Air Bud (1997)

Air_bud_poster
Okay, so I like “Air Bud.” What can I say?- I was a 90’s kid. Unfairly maligned because of its truly awful sequels, “Air Bud” certainly isn’t the best ‘boy and his dog’ movie out there, but you could do worse for a rainy Saturday afternoon with the kids. Sure, there’s more slapstick than a “The Three Stooges” episode (rule of thumb- if there’s a decadent cake introduced at the beginning of a scene in a children’s movie, said cake will be fallen into before the sequence is done,) but there’s genuine heart  too. Maybe I’m seeing it through the distorted lens of a former soppy, dog-loving preteen, but I believe it’s there.

12-year-old Josh Framm (Kevin Zegers) is having a rough year- his pilot dad died in a plane crash, he’s starting up at a new school, and the bullies have picked him as the target for mild but annoyingly insistent bullying.) Josh has probably been struck by the puberty fairy too, though the more sensitive implications of this have not been touched on for obvious reasons. He’s moody, distant, and unresponsive to his mother (Wendy Makkena)’s attempts to reach him.

Into Josh’s life walks Buddy, an abused, highly intelligent Golden Retriever on the run from his children’s entertainer owner, Norm Snively (Michael Jeter) who’s not a very nice man at all. Buddy takes some urging due to his fear of people, but ultimately proves to be a good and loyal friend to the lonely Josh. Soon, it is revealed that Buddy has a secret- he can play basketball!- and the lovable dog serves as an icebreaker to help Josh get over his shyness and play sports with his classmates.

I really like the late Michael Jeter as a character actor- unfortunately, he doesn’t have much to do here except be knocked into everything. Still, he’s fine in the role he was given, and offers a few laughs (mostly to very small children.) Nevertheless, “Air Bud” is a cute movie with several good subplots going for it. One of these concerns Arthur Chaney (Bill Cobbs,) a former basketball star who now works as a simple janitor at Josh’s school, and offers his friendship and guidance to Josh and ultimately, to the team.

The heart of the film is Josh and Buddy’s relationship, which is carried out effectively for this kind of movie. By allowing plenty of scenes of Josh and Buddy simply spending time together, the movie lets us root for their friendship- which is threatened when the dastardly Norm returns on the scene. I like the way Buddy is allowed to act like a dog, despite his extraordinary sports-playing talents, and I like how Josh has to win his trust by laying down a trail of vanilla pudding containers.

Frankly, I still like this movie from when I was a kid and I enjoyed watching it with my 11-year-old sister and listening to her laugh. “Air Bud” isn’t a great movie by any means, but it’s cute and charming and fun. Let me just save you the time and tell you not to watch the sequels. If your kids have any sense, even they will hate them.
air bud