Archive for the Sports Category

Everybody Wants Some!!

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Sports with tags on April 8, 2016 by Mark Hobin

 photo everybody_wants_some_ver2_zpslbpknplz.jpg photo starrating-4stars.jpgLike Stand By Me or Pretty Woman, Everybody Wants Some!! is a movie that found fame as a song title first. The tune was the B side to “And the Cradle Will Rock”, a Van Halen single released in May 1980. That date is pretty appropriate because 1980 is exactly when this story is set – just 4 years after Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused. This has been billed as a spiritual sequel to that film. Despite the year, this really feels like the last holdover of the lazy, hazy 70s. The action takes place in August over a weekend just before the start of classes at a small Texas college. The events make for a much lighter, brighter and upbeat comedy.

Once again Linklater has selected an attractive cast of talented up and coming unknowns. Our lack of familiarity with these actors actually helps because it makes the account seem like some long lost document of the era. The ensemble meshes together like a band of friends. The loosely constructed story revolves around Jake Bradford (Blake Jenner), a college freshman, the weekend before classes begin. An aspiring baseball player, he’s living off campus with a bunch of jocks. They’re united by a talent for baseball, but the sport is merely an excuse to round up a bunch of guys united by the same interest. There’s a genuine camaraderie amongst the group but there’s also a sense of competitiveness as well. These guys aren’t lacking in self-confidence.  They all live, eat, drink and argue under the same roof.  They also chase girls together. There’s a certain bro mentality that permeates the proceedings. I’m talking about hard partying males looking to meet chicks. There’s even more emphasis on that particular pastime of sorts. I think it’s a safe to assume the movie title refers to that mindset.

Predicting which, if any, of these unknowns will become the next breakout star is tough because, to borrow a title from one of the many soundtrack songs, “Every 1’s a Winner.” Blake Jenner is a magnetic lead as freshman Jake. He’s the main protagonist. Fast talking Finn (Glen Powell) is the apparent leader of the gang. He suggests Matthew McConaughey with his easygoing charm. Tyler Hoechlin is the arrogant Glen. He’s the best prospect at becoming pro and the one with the most swagger. Actor Hoechlin actually has some real life baseball experience. Incidentally if hasn’t shaved, given his bushy stache, he should seriously consider doing The Keith Hernandez Story next. Actors Wyatt Russell (son of Kurt) and Juston Street get a couple of the more flashier bit parts, but honestly everyone here makes an impression.

I could spend paragraphs applauding the mostly male cast. There’s too many to analyze each actor one by one. However attention must be paid to the one significant female role, Zoey Deutch as Beverly. She provides a contrast as a theater major who invites Jake to a party of her drama geek friends. They’re not exactly the kind of people Jake and his friends usually hang out with.  But Jake is truly smitten by her and she plays a major role in revealing his sincere heart.  Their interactions, particularly during an awkward phone call, expose a tenderness that truly exists underneath Jake’s frat guy tribe attitude.

As with any chronicle of another time, we’re dealing with generalizations, but Linklater truly gets the spirit of the age down. It’s a time period the director knows well as Linklater himself was a hopeful baseball player at Sam Houston State University in 1980. The affection he has for this subject matter comes through every lovingly recreated scene. There is such an eye for key details, right down to the fashion of the time. Those short shorts, skin tight polyester shirts and abundant mustaches establish the time period just as well as the corsets and cleavage in a costume drama do.  Additionally, music is beautifully woven into the fabric of this production. The scenes in the clubs almost play out like the production numbers in a musical. These dudes have an inclusive zen like impartiality about life. It doesn’t matter the style,  be it disco, country or punk. They just want to meet women. 1980 was a period when a wide range of various musical styles reigned supreme on the charts. Rock, pop, country, soul, disco, punk, even the very beginnings of rap, were all part of the musical landscape of the times. A diverse range of styles had an equal opportunity on the radio airwaves. It was a very egalitarian musical era. Everybody Wants Some!! celebrates this spirit with sincere joy. It’s infectious.

04-03-16

Concussion

Posted in Biography, Drama, Sports with tags on January 11, 2016 by Mark Hobin

 photo concussion_ver2_zpsn7swvjsa.jpg photo starrating-2andahalfstars.jpgBefore I launch into my review of Concussion, I thought a little primer on biology might help. So the brain floats inside the skull surrounded by something called cerebral spinal fluid (CSF). When the body is suddenly stopped after a blow to the head, like after being tackled for example, the brain continues to move in the CSF until it hits the next solid surface – the inside of the skull. Sure a helmet will protect the skull, but it cannot protect the brain. If this happens enough times, the nerve fibers break off and proteins start to build up in the brain leaving scar tissue. That’s bad.

Concussion is a medical drama about Dr. Bennet Omalu. He works for the Allegheny County Medical Examiners Office in Pittsburgh. A forensic pathologist, Omalu conducts the autopsy on Hall of Famer Mike Webster – legendary center for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Webster had not been well. He was suffering from amnesia, dementia, depression and died from a heart attack at only 50 years old. What Omalu finds, leads to his discovery of a new disease that he names chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE in 2005. The complications of which somewhat resemble Alzheimer’s, however they occur much earlier in life. The depression, memory loss and erratic, aggressive behavior experienced by ex NFL players, continues to this day. Concussion does a nice job at emphasizing the severity of these symptoms.

Given the subject matter, this could’ve been a much more incendiary film. The research calls the very sport of professional football into question. (I assume athletes in boxing, soccer, hockey, rugby and wrestling would be at risk as well.) As you might expect, the publication of Dr. Bennet Omalu’s research is viewed as extremely controversial by the National Football league. The NFL had a choice. Join Dr. Bennet Omalu and try to solve the problem, or use their considerable power to discredit him. The NFL choose the latter and they certainly do not come off well. They’re presented as this monolithic corporate entity as headed by commissioner Roger Goodell (Luke Wilson).

Dr. Omalu’s fight to get people to acknowledge he is right, becomes a veritable David-vs.-Goliath match. He was born in Nigeria. Dr. Omalu earned his degree in medicine there before coming to the U.S. where he completed his residency. Despite all of his education, he is seen as an outsider. “They insinuated I was not practicing medicine; I was practicing voodoo,” he has said. Not only is Dr. Omalu an immigrant, he is indifferent to that quintessentially American of pastimes called football. Nevertheless he does gain a powerful ally in former Steelers team doctor Julian Bailes (Alec Baldwin).

I really wanted to love this movie. Concussion has the best intentions. It dramatizes a serious story that needs to be told. At the heart of this biography is a compelling performance by Will Smith. Historically he has often had a difficult time disappearing into the persona of another person. We see mega celebrity Will Smith – the brash movie star, not an actor fading within a role. Here however, he manages to convincingly present a different personality – accent and demeanor included. It’s his most impressive achievement since The Pursuit of Happyness. Unfortunately, the diffuse narrative spends way too much time on tedious details involving his personal life which includes love interest and eventual wife, Prema Mutiso (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). She is far too great an actress to be saddled with this expendable role. Concussion is at its best when it’s delving into the science of Omalu’s work, chronicling his study and the ensuing struggle to get his important research acknowledged. The production ends unresolved. According to the film, his research still has yet to be taken seriously by the NFL. Although some concessions have been made, very little about the sport has changed. Apparently the issue is far from over. Stay tuned.

12-29-15

Creed

Posted in Drama, Sports with tags on November 23, 2015 by Mark Hobin

 photo creed_zpsdktsugdb.jpg photo starrating-3stars.jpgBefore this picture, the need for another “Rocky” movie was right up there with the urgency for another Friday the 13th installment. Creed is the latest entry in the franchise following 2006’s Rocky Balboa. The series stopped using numbers after Rocky V because well it’s more classy I suppose. This is the first Rocky movie not written by Stallone, but judging from the story, it may as well have been. Creed (or Rocky VII, let’s be honest) is essentially a note for note remake of the original Rocky. That doesn’t mean that it’s bad. On the contrary it’s surprisingly solid. It’s just that this is a tried and true formula. It has worked before and I’m happy to report it works again.

In this episode, Michael B. Jordan portrays Adonis Creed or “Donny” as the son of Rocky’s late rival/friend Apollo. He’s the titular star, an underdog with a shot at the big time and something to prove. Sylvester Stallone is still Rocky but now he’s in the manager capacity, kinda like Burgess Meredith as Mickey. There’s also Tessa Thompson as love interest Adrian, er uh excuse me, Bianca. She’s a singer but suffering from hearing loss. Instead of Apollo, it’s “Pretty” Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew), the title holder that Donny must challenge. Phylicia Rashād is the extended family member of the narrative. Mary Anne is Apollo’s widow but not Donny’s biological mother. Donny was apparently the illegitimate son of Rocky’s former opponent, a confusing detail that isn’t very clear at first.

Creed announces its focus up front. This isn’t a tale about Rocky. Michael B. Jordan personifies a restless spirit in the finance world that quits his job to pursue a love of boxing. Deep down he’s always been a combative fighter, a product of the LA foster care system. Donny heads to Philadelphia and coaxes Rocky Balboa out of retirement to train him as a professional boxer. There’s no question that Michael B. Jordan can physically embody the part. The actor has packed on so much muscle since 2012’s Chronicle it’s ridiculous. Substantially he’s a completely different person. Yet he never breaks out into a fully realized and unique character that subverts expectations. Rocky drank raw eggs, trained in a meat locker and awkwardly pursued an even more socially awkward girl from the pet store. Donny is simply a smart guy. However he’s an incredible athlete too and the pugilistic displays do pack a punch. Director Ryan Coogler stages two fight scenes and the results are mesmerizing. You experience every connect as if you felt the punch yourself. I wish they had been longer.

Creed is a perfectly enjoyable flick. It should really score with audiences unfamiliar with the 1976 film. Rocky was a landmark. I mean c’mon it was nominated for TEN Academy Awards and won 3 including Best Picture. Subsequent entries were less critically exalted but no less crowd-pleasing. What made Rocky III and Rocky IV so entertaining was the charismatic opponents that cast a legendary shadow. Remember when Clubber Lang told Adrian to come to his apartment to “come see a real man” or when Ivan Drago uttered “I must break you” in his thick Russian accent. Those villains were iconic in their mythic evil. Tony Bellew is the nasty opponent in this entry, a Liverpudlian bruiser. While the individual, who is a cruiserweight prizefighter in real life, has an authenticity, he’s not enough of that larger than life personality that can carry a production. Nonetheless, the picture utilizes enough mythology to curry our favor. The effort is impossible to hate. There’s the “Rocky Steps” outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Apollo’s red, white & blue trunks, Bill Conti’s soaring theme during the climax and most importantly, Sylvester Stallone. The 69 year old actor settles into the mentor role like a comfortable pair of shoes. He’s a wise, old soul and his presence in this film feels like a comforting hug. Stallone’s performance is worth the price of admission.

11-19-15

Pawn Sacrifice

Posted in Biography, Drama, Sports with tags on October 1, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Pawn Sacrifice photo starrating-3stars.jpgIt’s easy to see how a chess match between American Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire) and Russian Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber) became the ultimate Cold War showdown amongst two superpowers. Boris Spassky of the Soviet Union was the defending champion. The Soviet Chess School had long held a monopoly on the game at the highest level and Spassky was the latest in an uninterrupted chain beginning in 1948. The political rivalry separating the Soviet Union from the United States laid the foundation for a clash of mental dexterity that played out in a chess tournament on the world stage. It fascinated America and ignited a widespread chess fever at a height that has never been duplicated since.

Pawn Sacrifice is a handsomely mounted period piece – a fastidiously rendered production with shifting cinematography styles. Director Edward Zwick combines archival footage with shots made to look like the real thing. He uses cinematic tricks like digitally inserting Tobey Maguire into The Dick Cavett Show, as well as using real news reports from the era. When Fischer goes AWOL at the championship, a dozen different news anchors question Bobby’s whereabouts. These filmmaking techniques are showy but they’re never quite as satisfying as good old fashioned conversation between two people. Zwick has assembled an impressive supporting cast including Michael Stuhlbarg, Peter Sarsgaard and Robin Weigert as his attorney, his coach, and his mom respectively. Liev Schreiber speaks Russian as Boris Spassky, though his performance is mostly emotive. Each extracts a component of Fischer’s intense intellect.

Ah but Bobby Fischer was one of those marvels tinged with madness. I’d fault the “tortured genius” narrative for endorsing a biopic cliché if it weren’t actually true. Pawn Sacrifice is undoubtedly a skillfully constructed docudrama. However for those hungry for a movie about chess and the intricacies of the game, they will be disappointed. This is a chronicle detailing paranoia, with chess as a backdrop. The filmmakers are more concerned with Fischer’s fragile psychological state than his brilliant mind. The child prodigy that became the youngest international grand master at the age of 15 is merely subtext. Many of the chess matches are kept off screen. Tobey Maguire plays Jewish Brooklyn born Bobby Fischer as a man haunted by demons. He’s a seething ball of neurosis. He tears apart his hotel rooms searching for wiretaps. He complains that his food has been poisoned. The script doesn’t explicitly say chess made him crazy, although the association seems to be that chess exacerbated his mental illness. Why chess became his obsession, and not another pursuit, remains unclear.

Pawn Sacrifice presents Bobby Fischer as a most unlikeable individual. He suffers from moods that fly into a rage at the drop of a hat. He avows the Soviets have been cheating by throwing games to create draws. His devotion to the Worldwide Church of God and its radio evangelism is presented as peculiar. He is anti-Semitic, even though he himself is Jewish. When Fischer finally gets to Reykjavik for the World Chess Championship, he makes everyone wait, taking the stage at the very last possible minute for his first game. Then forfeits the second game by not turning up at all. His prima donna behavior escalates with one outlandish demand after another. He complains that the audience and the TV video cameras are too noisy, refusing to continue unless the tournament is moved from a public hall to a private room. Save for a few coughs, the room appears quiet to us. When Fischer threatens to quit, Henry Kissinger calls to offer words of encouragement. The organizers relent anyway, giving into his demands. This doesn’t endear Bobby to us. Certainly it isn’t necessary to like the central character in order to appreciate a film. Yet we should feel something for this man. The movie entertains in parts but while showing how Bobby Fischer could be a jerk, it neglects to present his humanity. I was captivated during much of Pawn Sacrifice. I wanted to know more about this boy genius, particularly in his early life. It wasn’t until the climax that finally I realized that, after getting to know fellow American Bobby Fischer, I found myself rooting for Boris Spassky.

09-28-15

Everest

Posted in Adventure, Biography, Drama, History, Sports with tags on September 28, 2015 by Mark Hobin

Everest photo starrating-4stars.jpgLace up your boots, strap on your pack, and let’s hit the trails. Everest concerns an ill-fated climbing expedition in 1996 to summit the world’s tallest mountain. The account mainly focuses on a crew in the Himalayas headed by Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), a guide for Adventure Consultants.

Everest has an extended cast of famous names. Most don’t get more than a few lines of dialogue, but nevertheless their familiar presence aids in our affinity for their characters. Rob’s clients include Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), a seasoned hiker, Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), a former mailman pursuing his dream, and climbing veteran Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori), who has scaled 6 of the 7 summits. Only Everest remains for her. Another excursion is led by Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal), the chief guide for Mountain Madness. These tourist treks highlight the commercialization of Everest, which is an underlying theme. Initially they happen to each meet at the base camp first, in preparation for their attempt to reach the apex. The two caravans communicate with Helen Wilton (Emily Watson), who manages the base camp compound. Everest is loosely inspired by the book Into Thin Air by Outside magazine journalist Jon Krakauer. He’s portrayed here by Michael Kelly.

Icelandic born director Baltasar Kormakur (Contraband, 2 Guns) ups the ante over his previous American films and produces something far more ambitious. Granted this isn’t intellectually deep or technically rich. Narratively it’s fairly straightforward. However there is grace in trusting that the genuine drama of the true story will captivate the viewer….and it does. Green screen technology is used sparingly. Everest was shot on location at Everest base camp. The Dolomite mountains in northern Italy stands in for higher elevations. At times, the chronicle has such a visceral quality, it almost feels like documentary. It does a nice job in depicting the physiological effects of the climb. At higher altitudes even breathing becomes a task because the percentage of oxygen in the air is lower. The conditions force the team to acclimate to the low atmospheric pressure first before continuing.

Everest is a rather simple tale about a quest that ended in tragedy. It’s an old fashioned rip roaring adventure ideally suited to the big screen. Early theater engagements were shown exclusively in IMAX 3D. The attributes of those formats serve this subject well. The visual splendor is beautifully conveyed. Sweeping vistas and aerial photography convey a sense of grandeur. One dizzy overhead shot above a high suspension bridge triggers feelings of acrophobia. This is a saga where nature is the enemy. A grueling storm, frostbite, blindless and the wind all threaten the safety of our courageous explorers. I am neither an experienced mountaineer nor was I present on the actual expedition. Therefore I am not here to vouch for the authenticity of facts of the sport or what really happened. What I am is a film critic, and I can say that Everest absolutely delivers thrilling entertainment.

09-24-15

McFarland, USA

Posted in Drama, Family, Sports with tags on March 2, 2015 by Mark Hobin

McFarland, USA photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgMcFarland, USA would seem to be your standard run-of-the-mill tale about a rag-tag band of underdogs that nobody believed in, only to come from behind at the end to prove everybody wrong. To a certain extent that would be true. The difference is in the fabrication; how well the piece is put together. McFarland is indeed really good. What separates this from a lesser film of this sort is in the sincerity of the story. There’s an honesty to the performances that draws you in to the plight of these kids. Let’s start with star Kevin Costner who plays a world weary coach that is on the outs, trying start a new life with his family. Compare that to the athletes who attend a school that has never excelled in athletics. That is until they decide to add cross country to their roster of sports. The young actors have a lot of heart. The script allows enough time to detail their individual stories. It gives us a reason to care. Their separate goals but shared ambitions unite in a very appealing way that adds weight to this chronicle.

Despite utilizing the conventional plot points of the sports drama, McFarland, USA doesn’t suffer for it. On location shooting in Kern County, California, imbues the production with a grit that it wouldn’t have if it been filmed on a Hollywood lot. The Latin tinged soundtrack with a score by Antonio Pinto additionally adds to the chronicle’s credibility. Spanish guitar pops up in several compositions. The townspeople are portrayed by people who don’t look like they were hired out of central casting. Some would even appear to be genuine citizens of the town. Kevin Costner and Maria Bello are an exception but that‘s perhaps a concession to box office. He and his family provide an interesting contrast to the townspeople. Granted the idea of a white savior to these economically disadvantaged teens could have been a cliché. I would argue that it is his down and out coach that is more “saved” by these students.

Can a movie be completely predictable and still be entertaining? With McFarland, USA the answer is an unqualified yes. I will admit that the narrative follows the familiar beats of inspirational sports dramas. Disney has made an industry of this genre. Remember the Titans, Cool Runnings, The Rookie, Miracle – they’re all examples of how this subject has been done many times before. In these cases, it’s been accomplished successfully. The variation to formula in this case is cross country track. Okay so that’s a minor difference, but the picture has an authenticity to it. McFarland, USA is an genuinely heartfelt story worth revisiting. I feel compelled to justify why I enjoyed this. Those viewers who already find these traditional tales difficult to enjoy, will not be taken in by this film’s simple charms. However of you’re open to a nicely acted production that makes you feels good, you should give this a try.

02-22-15

Foxcatcher

Posted in Biography, Drama, Sports with tags on November 16, 2014 by Mark Hobin

Foxcatcher photo starrating-4andahalfstars.jpgThere’s something very disturbing about Foxcatcher. It’s more than a mere biographical drama. It is a multilayered character study detailing 3 personalities – an expose on humanity so raw, that it becomes uncomfortable viewing. On the one side we have John Eleuthère du Pont, an heir to the family fortune of the chemical company. On the other we have Mark Schultz, Olympic gold medalist in wrestling and younger brother to the even more celebrated wrestler David Schultz.

Foxcatcher highlights career best performances by the three principals. Steve Carrel, outfitted with a prosthetic nose and old age makeup, is unrecognizable as John du Pont. He is a multimillionaire, philanthropist ornithologist and most importantly, wrestling enthusiast. He aims to fund the U.S. team and get Mark to the ’88 Olympics. But he is a peculiar fellow. He lives in the shadow of his disapproving mother (Vanessa Redgrave) and indirectly seeks her blessing in his endeavors. Regrettably his prodigious net worth obscures his lack of expertise. When she appears at a practice one day, he immediately leaps to his feet, taking control of the class with his awkward directions as she looks on. As he continues to address the class in his mock coaching effort, she exits the room unimpressed. For all his wealth and privilege, an air of melancholy surrounds him. His philanthropic efforts notwithstanding, he is someone to be pitied more than admired.

Mark eats fast food alone in his car. Later he heats instant noodles in his spartan apartment. These scenes are shortcuts that establish a grim milieu. Despite his athletic titles and awards, Mark’s life isn’t that spectacular. Channing Tatum may look like a wrestler but he is cast against type as the callow youth seeking approval. His ever increasing despondency is a concern. Then he is invited by du Pont (Steve Carell) to help form a team to train for the 1988 Seoul Olympics at his new state-of-the-art training facility. Schultz jumps at the opportunity. Du Pont wants his brother Dave too, but he is unmoved by the offer at the moment. Family comes first in Dave’s life. When Mark checks into a cottage on his estate, things seem too good to be true. It seems that Mark has finally stepped out from under his more successful sibling, Dave.

Mark Ruffalo has perhaps the most difficult role as Dave Schultz. It is the slightest of the three parts and the least awards bait-y. Yet his positive presence helps alleviate the tension. He conveys such admirable devotion to his younger brother in simple gestures. The brothers engage in sparring fights intended to sharpen their wrestling skills, but even those have a tender intimacy. Their competitive affiliation goes through several stages during the course of the film. Their bond is exacerbated when du Pont makes an offer Dave can’t refuse. As the events unfold to the inevitable conclusion, there is an anxiety that hangs over the surroundings like a thick fog of fear. Sounds like I’m describing a horror movie. Indeed, this rumination transpires not unlike a tale of dread. If you are unfamiliar with the true life story, you should keep it that way until after you’ve seen the production. Though not vital, the saga is best appreciated without prior knowledge.

Foxcatcher is about insecurities, validation and obsession. As such, the dark drama relies heavily on mood. The narrative is quiet, insidious even. As it sneakily unfolds you never quite know where the focus lies. Certainly this is an attack on how wealth can buy standing in arenas to which you don‘t belong. John du Pont and Mark Schultz are two dejected souls that initially needed each other. The screenplay logically makes connections between the various characters and ties them together. As du Pont seeks support from his mother, so too does Mark seeks the same from du Pont. Their interdependence is a portrait of unease. Additionally the genuine fraternal love amongst brothers is contrasted with the oppressive demands that du Pont puts upon Mark. Du Pont is needy to the point of being unstable. His complicated rapport with Mark is rooted in unrealized hopes. Undoubtedly he lives vicariously through the success of these developing athletes. But the full extent of those desires are cryptic and belie a tortured personality. The script subtly hints at things that are implied but never explicitly stared.  Foxcatcher brilliantly handles all of these emotionally complex relationships in a skillful way. Capote, Moneyball and now Foxcatcher – Director Bennett Miller has established a knack for these fables based on fact. It is a deeply troubling film and I mean that in the most profound way.

11-10-14

Rush

Posted in Action, Biography, Drama, Sports with tags on September 29, 2013 by Mark Hobin

Rush photo starrating-4andahalfstars.jpgI should come clean right now. You can debate whether NASCAR vs. Formula 1 racing is better till blue in the face. The whole discussion is rather uninteresting to me I must confess. Car racing has always remained a fringe sport in my eyes. Not that I don’t admire the skill involved, because I do believe it takes remarkable talent (and money) to succeed. It’s just that there are so many other sports I’d prefer to watch than blurry cars zipping around a track. That’s kind of the attitude to which I approached Rush, the new Formula 1 racing movie regarding two drivers of which I knew nothing. I’m happy to announce that this is an extraordinary film – a firing on all cylinders, exhilarating sports drama.

At heart, Rush is an account concerning two bitter rivals. Niki Lauda is an Austrian perfectionist. He’s portrayed by Daniel Brühl (Good Bye Lenin!, Inglourious Basterds), a German actor still relatively unknown to most Americans. Lauda is a driven (excuse the pun) individual that enters the sport like an outsider crashing an exclusive party. A standoffish intellectual, he is nevertheless extremely gifted. Chris Hemsworth (Thor, The Avengers) is James Hunt. He’s a Brit, equally accomplished – but more charismatic and handsome in contrast. He’s also an arrogant womanizer who goes through women like boxes of Kleenex. Given Hemsworth’s marquee name, it might seem like you could guess how the screenplay might gently guide one to take sides. But you would be wrong. In recounting the saga of Niki Lauda vs. James Hunt, the production does the unexpected. Director Ron Howard working from a script by Peter Morgan (The Last King of Scotland, The Queen) brilliantly introduces the tale as two separate fully formed individuals. Instead of taking sides and having a narrow point of view, it proffers both with their various strengths and shortcomings in equal measure.

Rush is quite simply the greatest movie about auto racing ever made. It combines the best of both worlds: adrenaline pumping, intense action sequences featuring the sport along with an emotionally engaging character study between two fierce rivals. The mix is intoxicating as the viewer is constantly encouraging each man at different parts of the production. An evenhanded, nuanced portrait, both Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl give heretofore career defining performances. They perfectly embody these two passionate adversaries. In presenting these Formula 1 race car drivers that outwardly hate one another, the script makes the brilliant case that they are actually deeply indebted to their opponent. They each push the other in their pursuit of the World Championship. I was prepared to root for Hunt, but walked away rooting for Lauda. You might see the story differently and therein lies the brilliance of this film.

Happy Gilmore

Posted in Comedy, Sports with tags on July 30, 2013 by Mark Hobin

Happy Gilmore photo starrating-3stars.jpg
Shooter McGavin: You’re in big trouble though, pal. I eat pieces of sh– like you for breakfast!

Happy Gilmore: [laughing] You eat pieces of sh– for breakfast?

Adam Sandler is Happy Gilmore, an unsuccessful ice hockey player with a powerful slapshot. After a challenge, he discovers he has a talent for golf. To be specific, he has an easy facility for driving a golf ball 400 yards. His putting, on the other hand, is horrible. Under the tutelage of club pro Chubbs Peterson (Carl Weathers), he joins a golf tournament. Happy hopes to win enough money to help out his grandmother whose house is about to be repossessed.

Sandler’s second major starring vehicle is his riff on 1980’s Caddyshack, another golf comedy. His idea of funny is to transplant the loud obnoxious environment of the hockey rink to the quiet, sophisticated atmosphere of the golf course. It’s clear Happy has an anger problem and he’s frequently given to losing his cool. The humor is lowbrow and a lot of it rests on Happy Gilmore’s boorish demeanor as contrasted with stuffed shirt Shooter McGavin, a villain embodied in full hissable glory by Christopher McDonald. There’s sort of an idiotic joy in seeing Happy’s aggressive behavior conflict with the civilized gold pros. A confrontation with Bob Barker of TV’s The Price is Right is a savage delight. But he doesn’t remain that way. As the plot develops, Happy becomes more likable. I think it’s relevant to point out that Happy begins as a flawed character, unable to control his temper. By managing his emotions and finding his “happy place” he finds success. Nice moral. It’s not as inspired as something like There’s Something About Mary from the same era. However Happy Gilmore has achieved a cult status and like all such films it improves with repeated viewings.

Note: Will Damron over at Papa Kenn Media was my inspiration for revisiting Happy Gilmore. He is examining vintage Sandler movies from the past. He prompted me to watch this so I could provide my own insight. Please check out his page as well.

42

Posted in Biography, Drama, History, Sports with tags on April 15, 2013 by Mark Hobin

42 photo starrating-3stars.jpgThe life of Jackie Robinson gets the treatment you’d expect in Warner Brothers’ perfectly serviceable biography. The chronicle is a suitable document of the first African American to play Major League Baseball (MLB) in the modern era. Director Brian Helgeland (Payback, A Knight’s Tale) beatific depiction of Jackie Robinson is befitting of how Disney handles their sports pictures. It’s reverent, didactic and compelling. However given the magnitude of Robinson’s breakthrough, I was expecting a bit more grit. Perhaps in the hands of a more contentious director, the action would have seemed more controversial. There’s a brief moment of that in one particular scene involving actor Alan Tudyk as Ben Chapman, the manager of the Phillies who vociferously opposed Robbins’s presence in MLB on the basis of his race. The scenes in which he taunts Robinson with racial epithets was even more disturbing than the many uses of the N-word in the movie Django Unchained. Perhaps that’s because this is a true story but also because of Robinson’s pacifist approach to the abuse that was forced on him. It’s is one of the few instances where you genuinely get a feel for the weight of his struggle.

42 is a polished biography. It’s got beautiful music, bright cinematography and is populated by some nice performances. Chadwick Boseman notably underplays Jackie Robinson in a way that doesn’t feel like he’s grasping for the Academy Award. He’s quite effective. As is Nicole Beharie who plays “the wife” but with an effervescence that made me want to see more of her in future films. Harrison Ford reminds us that he doesn’t always just phone it in. As Branch Rickey, the General Manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers that signs Robinson to the team, he is truly engaging. 42 hits all the dramatic notes you’d except in a memoir such as this. It’s not particularly deep or insightful, but it is inspiring. Robinson becomes more a symbol through which other people unleash their racial hatred against. I would’ve appreciated a little more detail in the script about the man himself. More vignettes involving his personality as well as his athletic accomplishments in the world of baseball would‘ve been welcome. The lesson appears to be talent and money speak louder than hate. 42 is an admirable addition to baseball pictures that dutifully dramatize the subject in a way that is both pleasant and entertaining.