Archive for the ‘Sport’ Category

McFarland-movie-poster-2Following an incident in the locker room of a high school football game, Jim White loses yet another job, leaving his options nearly depleted. Taking a job in McFarland, he and his family quickly feel like fish out of water in a primarily Hispanic community. With a smaller home and unfamiliar surroundings, they barely pull the strength together to give their new life a shot. Jim starts his new job as the life science and gym teacher, and has to bite his tongue about being the assistant coach for football. When he immediately clashes with the head coach, he loses his connection to football but gains an opportunity to pursue something new. Noticing the talent of some of the boys, he proposes starting a cross country team and recruits seven students to compete in state competitions. With they sights on the first state championship meet, their training challenges his perceptions of the community and the students’ perceptions of their future.

Review: Disney took another shot at promoting a feel-good sports story. Considering all of the films that look at cultural differences and the coach learning as much as the kids and their families, the question remained whether this film would establish itself as something different. Niki Caro ended up choosing a sport and a population rarely promoted together. Although the overall feel was not drastically different than similar films, it contained a lot of heart, cultural discovery, and positive messages.

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Kevin Costner (Jim White) seems to be the king of these types of movies. While his acting was somewhat flat and lacked emotion, the focus of the story was less about him and more about the kids. Carlos Pratt (Thomas Valles) led the runners with a dramatic story, including a difficult home life and strong inner drive to find a life more than picking. Ramiro Rodriguez (Danny Diaz) also shined as a young start showing heart through his inability to give up and take the abuse of his coach and peers. Jim White’s family, including Maria Bello (Cheryl White), Morgan Saylor (Julie White), and Elsie Fisher (Jamie White), help to round out the positive forces that change his opinion of the town of McFarland.

The running was a significant part of the film, but the community interaction was just as meaningful. This was not revolutionary, McFarland, USA was heartwarming and inspirational.

Dan’s Rating: 3.5/5

unbroken__2014__by_myrmorko-d78zol0As a young child, Louis Zamperini found a way to regularly get into trouble, but he also became aware of his opportunity as an athlete. He shifted his focus to running, finding incredible success and attention. Entering in to the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, he found himself in last place, but a burst of speed near the end allowed him to still break an American record. Jumping ahead to World War II, Louis is now enlisted in the military and stationed in Hawaii awaiting reassignment. On his next mission, his plane is shot down, leaving him and two other survivors stuck in the open waters of the Pacific. While they are found by a passing ship, they are taken prisoner and await their fate at the hands of an evil Japanese officer nicknamed The Bird.

Review: Although not Angelina Jolie’s first film, there seems to still be a lot of work left to do to establish herself as one the directing stars in Hollywood. She appears to have an interest in telling war stories and tales of strife, but her pacing and imagery still has not met the scale of her storytelling. While the time on the open water and in the POW camps was long, the film seemed to drag out certain experiences while allowing others to be glazed over a bit unexpectedly. In contrast, the cinematography is stunning. Lost on the open seas, the scenes are bold with a vast, unforgiving environment. Once captured, the conditions of the POW camps are bleak and devastating. There was a real sense of horror and hopelessness that was projected throughout the film, following the initial track and military scenes.

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The film was headlined by two very strong acting performances. Jack O’Connell (Louis Zamperini) went through quite the transformation as his character developed into a survivor on the open seas and in the POW camps. While his character’s will was being tested, he was able to project a clear sense of hope and belief that he could survive. More impressive was the performance by Takamasa Ishihara (Watanabe/The Bird). Takamasa brought fear into every scene. It was not because of his size or physical appearance, but rather the way he carried himself with confidence and control.

It was interesting to see this film and expect much more out of the intensity of the torture and harshness of Louis’s trials. There were a number of strong moments and individual performances, but the overall film fell just a bit short of expectations.

Dan’s Rating: 3.0/5

foxcatcher__spanAlways in the shadow of his older brother, Dave Schultz, Mark Schultz grows restless and frustrated. When he is approached by the wealthy John du Pont about starting a team and moving out to his estate, Mark seizes the opportunity. Seemingly with more respect and support than he feels he has ever received, Mark starts to build his confidence with his training for the next world games. Unfortunately for du Pont, Mark’s newly-developed friendships with the team and interactions with du Pont have also caused him to lose focus. Du Pont admits that he would prefer Mark to convince Dave to join the team, but Mark only makes one attempt before feigning effort toward getting his brother to join. As challenges develop at the preliminaries for the Olympics, Dave gets involved and is lured to continue working with Team Foxcatcher.

Review: This was a film of excellent acting and a surprisingly eerie storyline, but above all were the performances by Steve Carell (John du Pont) and Mark Ruffalo (Dave Schultz). Playing the tempered but obsessed du Pont, Carell truly transformed his career with this role. The soft-spoken nature that he brings to the screen initially hides the deep-seeded insanity that reveals itself as the plot develops. Du Pont’s supportive obsession caused him to ignore the affect he had on others, particularly the corrupting affect he had on Mark. This was Carell’s best role of his career, at least when it comes to movies.

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While Mark’s attempt at significance and glory was certainly central to the story, the more interesting conflict was the brotherly feud over their definitions of work and success. While Channing Tatum (Mark Schultz) presented the more naive and impressionable younger brother, Mark Ruffalo’s (Dave Schultz) appeared to be the more measured and emotional performance. Possibly due to his story arc or his position opposite Carell, Ruffalo just appeared to be the most intriguing of the two Schultz brothers. While out for the same goal, Dave had found a way to be a success in the sport and in life, while Mark always felt less than his accomplishments.

The dark tone of the film truly helped to accentuate the individual performances. As du Pont continued to fall deeper into madness, he dragged Mark down with him. When it all got to be too much for Mark, he found a way to quit, but it did not stop du Pont’s obsession with winning or exerting his will. Though slow-moving at times, the cast were able to make the most of the experience.

Dan’s Rating: 4.0/5

WGST_DOM_1SHEETSitting on a win streak virtually unmatched by any other team across any sport, De La Salle High School in California also possessed 12 championships during their record-breaking period. At the end of another winning season, the team took its leave and the drama finally caught up to them. A combination of health issues, attitude, and the loss of a member of their sports family all led to a surprisingly rough start to their next season. Lacking their honored coach and seemingly missing their trademark focus on teamwork, De La Salle dropped their first two games to opponents on the road. Feeling defeated and torn, they faced the toughest opponent in their recent history, Long Beach Polytechnic. Feeling undersized and outmatched, Coach Ladouceur and his team had to find a way to save their season. Regardless of the outcome of the game, they still faced a number of challenges that needed to be faced before they could truly feel like champions.

Starring: Jim Caviezel (Bob Ladouceur), Alexander Ludwig (Chris Ryan), Michael Chiklis (Terry Eidson), Laura Dern (Bev Ladouceur), Clancy Brown (Mickey Ryan), Ser’Darius Blain (Cam Colvin), Stephen James (TK Kelly), Matthew Daddario (Danny Ladouceur), Joe Massingill (Beaser), Jessie Usher (Tayshon Lanear), Matthew Frias (Arturo), LaJessie Smith (Jamal), Richard Kohnke (Rick Salinas)

Director Thomas Carter’s sports drama retold the story of how the De La Salle Spartans amassed such an impressive winning streak, lost their way, and found their honor and pride again. While the film had many of the elements one would expect in an engaging sports story, the acting and attempts at telling the dramatic elements fell a little shorter than anticipated. The obsession with the streak was clear in many of the scenes, but the impressiveness of the achievement was very unevenly represented between the overly pensive coach and the combination of his players and fans. There were several smaller stories that had significant potential, but each of them seemed to lack the appropriate development or missed an opportunity to be more prevalently features.

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Of the different elements of the story, the coach’s challenges were the most clearly highlighted. Starting with his hesitation about the upcoming year and his inner conflict about how he performed as an effective coach, teacher, and father, his smoking and the stress finally got to him. Taking the spring and summer away from coaching, his son distanced himself while looking for his father to be more of a coach and the team seemed to lose its way. The losses certainly got his attention, but he was more concerned with their shifting focus of his players toward obsession with the streak and not on each other. Nearly leaving it all for a chance at a college position, he stuck it out through the remainder of the season and remains at De La Salle ever since.

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As for the players and other coaches, much of the story followed the death of TK Kelly, Chris Ryan’s pursuit of a state record, Danny’s issues with his father, and Tayshon’s me-first attitude. Each of these stories were highlighted through the coach’s involvement at varying degrees, but there always felt to be a lack of energy in the telling of the drama. Some of the more powerful moments involved the strained relationship between Chris Ryan and his father, but the storyline seemed to be missing a sense of resolution (even in the final game of the film). Danny’s issues seemed to be more that of an entitled teenager who expected a lot of his father. Tayshon’s selfishness had forced moments where he became more team-oriented and then lost his way again. TK Kelly and Cam’s relationship seemed to have the most opportunity and elicited the greatest emotion but also seemed out of place when the focus went back to the current team rather than the former teammates.

The messages are positive and the intent was clear, but the overall presentation left a lot to be desired.

Dan’s Rating: 2.5/5

draft-day-kevin-costner-movie-posterSun Tzu once said that “every battle is won before it is ever fought.” This quote is proudly displayed on the wall in Sonny Weaver’s office with the Cleveland Browns. With the NFL Draft having finally arrived, months of speculation have turned into hours of intense speculation of what teams are going to selected specific players to be their franchise and their future. Sonny is caught in the precarious position of receiving threats from his owner to make a splash, pressure from the fans to make something of the team, guilt from some prospects that want to make it in Cleveland, and disorder between his selection team and his head coach. Meanwhile, life does not stop because of his need to focus on the draft. With the seventh pick, he could take the expected move of selecting RB Ray Jennings, take a calculated risk on LB Vontae Mack, or try to do something more spectacular than anyone was ready to expect.

Starring: Kevin Costner (Sonny Weaver Jr), Jennifer Garner (Ali), Patrick St. Esprit (Tom Michaels), Chi McBride (Walt Gordon), Denis Leary (Coach Penn), Chadwick Boseman (Vontae Mack), Terry Crews (Earl Jennings), Arian Foster (Ray Jennings), Frank Langelia (Anthony Molina), Timothy Simons (Marx), David Ramsey (Thompson), Wade Williams (O’Reilly), Sean Combs (Chris Crawford), Josh Pence (Bo Callahan), Ellen Burstyn (Barb Weaver), Tom Welling (Brian Drew)

Costner clearly had a lot on his mind while playing this character. While there was so much that he seemed to endure during one of the most stressful days of his character’s life, he seemed to be able to promote a tempered panic in a man getting attacked from all angles. While Costner’s level-headedness was more intriguing based on his pressures, Garner’s caused her character’s level of being memorable diminish significantly. Her story lacked the energy one would expect from her. Langelia and Leary were much the opposite. Both the owner and the coach promoted their level of intensity from start to finish.

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Most sports films focus on the experience of the game. When the story tracks the process leading up to the play on the field, there is still a lot of action with game elements like scouting and preseason games. Ivan Reitman flipped the script and focused purely on the experience of the draft itself. From the “war room” to the communication with potential players, Sonny was inundated with the pressure of protecting his job and doing what was best for the team. He truly started the day with a splash by trading up for the #1 pick but forfeiting their next three drafts of their #1 picks. With the presumed top pick in the bag, he immediately realized that there was something wrong about their situation. He was doubting himself and knew that his owner’s excitement was not truly justified. Using the rest of the day and the beginning of the draft to sort out the mess, he was able to do something that truly surprised the football world.

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While the main storyline is gripping, there are two challenges with the film. The first was the lack of surprise in the end result. While the path to get there was not truly clear, the fates of Brian Drew, Bo Callahan, Ray Jennings, and Vontae Mack were not a surprise. This challenge was not a major one since the story was truly compelling. The problem with the film seemed to be with the other side stories and personal challenges with Sonny. Ali’s pregnancy and relationship drama did not feel like drama at all. The emotionless storytelling seemed to just serve as filler. It felt like there was an opportunity to present the female experience in a male-dominated industry that fell short. Similarly, Barb’s intrusion on Sonny’s important day felt like an annoyance, where Sonny’s reaction felt totally justified. Stories need to be multidimensional and complex, but there may have been a better way to include those elements.

Draft Day is a great presentation of the drama associated with arguably the most important event in the season of the NFL. With actors and real NFL affiliates combined to tell the story, it is definitely a fun and exciting new angle to respect the industry.

Dan’s Rating: 3.5/5

Playing-for-keeps-posterAfter his remarkable international career was cut short due to injury, George decides to move to Virginia to be closer to his son, Lewis. Without a job and without many options, he is just scraping by until a public display of skill at his son’s soccer practice causes the parents to ask him to take over as the coach. Though he begrudgingly agrees, he quickly starts to reestablish a relationship with his son while catching the attention of a number of the mothers of the other players and one really high-energy dad. As the friendships begin to evolve into interesting experiences, he realizes that his relationship with Lewis will continue to be underdeveloped unless he can make some serious changes in his life. The more he spends time with his son, the harder it is to resist his feelings for his ex-wife and reconcile the possibility of moving to Connecticut to take a job with ESPN.

Starring: Gerard Butler (George), Jessica Biel (Stacey), Noah Lomax (Lewis), Dennis Quaid (Carl), Uma Thurman (Patti), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Denise), James Tupper (Matt), Judy Greer (Barb), Abella Wyss (Ally), Iqbal Theba (Param), Sean O’Bryan (Assistant Coach Jacob)

Though the film had elements of a higher energy sports film, the cast kept the actual energy fairly low-key. Butler attempted to take a more dramatic approach but lacked a bit of the allure of a man struggling to find his way. Biel seemed a bit too passive during the film, but that may have also been how she appeared in contrast to the wilder, imbalanced performances of Quaid, Thurman, Zeta-Jones and Greer.

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Gabriele Muccino’s film is one that focused on the choices that people make for the sake of their families. When George’s career was taking off, he abandoned his wife and son to pursue international success. When all of that went away, he was left to pick up the pieces and ended up in shambles. He had all the recognition but none of the earnings. The chance to coach his son’s team was a double-edged sword. He was confronted by desperate parents wanting to get a chance to get to know the handsome bachelor more but the extra exposure to his ex-wife caused him to long to return to their once happy relationship. Lewis also started to get confused by the presence but continued feelings of disappointment from his father. While the ESPN deal and the women throwing themselves at him was attractive, he realized that he was looking for something else.

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While this film has moments of heart and an occasional laugh, it really struggles from a lack of chemistry and lackluster overall performances. Some of the characters, particularly Dennis Quaid’s, is just a bit too eccentric and only added to the story with his last scene. Theba only added a few moments of awkwardness. The story seemed to not know if it wanted to focus on the family relationship of George, Stacey and Lewis or just on George’s struggles with his conscience.

This is an easily forgettable film, but was not without its couple moments of entertainment.

Dan’s Rating: 2.0/5

42-poster-2__spanMajor League Baseball was a white man’s game until 1947, after World War II and the return of the greats of the game. At the time, the only way that black men could play the sport was in the Negro League. Among those hidden gems was Jackie Robinson. Believing that there was a chance to change the game and take the Brooklyn Dodgers to another level of competition, Branch Rickey decided it was time to invite a black man to the Major League. There was still a question of who that trailblazer would be. When Branch decided to select Jackie Robinson from the Kansas City Monarchs, he was aware of Jackie’s temper but intrigued by his talent and competitiveness. The first test before getting to play in the big leagues was to make it with the Montreal Minor League team. Impressing people left and right, Jackie was an all-star in his first season playing with white men. There was hope, fear and curiosity with how his presence in the Major League would affect the history of the game.

Starring: Chadwick Boseman (Jackie Robinson), Harrison Ford (Branch Rickey), Nicole Beharie (Rachel Robinson), Christopher Meloni (Leo Durocher), Ryan Merriman (Dixie Walker), Lucas Black (Pee Wee Reese), Andre Holland (Wendell Smith), Alan Tudyk (Ben Chapman), Hamish Linklater (Ralph Branca), TR Knight (Harold Parrott), John C. McGinley (Red Barber), Toby Huss (Clyde Sukeforth), Max Gail (Burt Shotton), Brad Beyer (Kirby Higbe), James Pickens Jr. (Mr. Brock), Jesse Luken (Eddie Stanky), Jamey Holliday (Pete Reiser)

Playing the historic legend with grit and emotion was Boseman. Taking an onslaught of abuse from all angles, Boseman was able to show the levity, caution and emotional release of a man trying to survive a game-changing decision. Ford was absolutely fantastic with his controversial yet kind-hearted hero. In some ways more impressive than the two main characters, Tudyk had to take the challenging role of the disgusting Phillies manager who spends about 10 minutes of the film yelling racist and derogatory comments at Boseman. The rest of the cast playing Boseman’s team are a balanced group of hateful and supportive men struggling with their new teammate and the chaos that followed him.

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Putting together the screenplay and directing the film, Brian Helgeland aimed to bring the challenges and successes of the Jackie Robinson story to light. Jackie was a rather cocky player in the Negro League and had no problem voicing his opinion. When he got called up, Branch was sure to instill in Jackie the sense to control his anger to rise above the negativity that was coming his way by blasting through an exclusionary tradition. He was immediately shunned by many of his teammates and his opponents, but his play on the field challenged the criticism he received. Once he finally elevated to the professional game with the Dodgers, he saw both a rise in his opposing talent and the amount of hatred received by people from all angles. Though Rachel provided much support through the pain, his relationship with Branch, Ben and Pee Wee served to truly support his transition into hero status.

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A movie of this kind is certainly a combination of the retelling the significance of historic events while also educating the current generation about the fight against racism. Throughout the film, Helgeland revisited moments in Jackie’s story that paved the way for integration, many of which were powerful and well acted. When Jackie first left on the train and tossed the ball to the little boy, it was only later revealed that the boy grew up to follow in Jackie’s footsteps and was a member of the Miracle Mets World Series Champions. Walking along the sidewalk in Florida, Jackie and Rachel are approached by a repairman and think they are about to be yelled at or attacked. Instead, the man kindly acknowledges his support for Jackie’s success. The most intense, frustrating and significant moment was later in the movie with the little white boy who follows in his father’s footsteps by joining in the racist yelling at Jackie, only to then see Pee Wee’s support for his black teammate. The young boy acting in this scene was actually quite impressive with the range of emotions and inner conflict her was able to portray on-screen.

42 has the possibility of becoming a classic baseball film, headlined with an intriguing story and fine acting by an impressive cast. There is a reliance on reminding the viewer the positive relationship experienced between Jackie and Branch and the improvements that followed this controversial decision, but it does not distract from the story or take away from the drama or brief humorous moments.

Dan’s Rating: 4.0/5