Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

The Wrestler

Movie Review #703

This review is dedicated to my first cousin, Bryan, who is a wrestler.

untitled

Wild Bunch
Protozoa Pictures
Saturn Films
Top Rope

Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Country: USA – France
Spoken Languages: English

Directed by Darren Aronofsky. Produced by Darren Aronofsky and Scott Franklin. Written by Robert Siegel.

Rated R by the MPAA – violence, sexual content, nudity, profanity, infrequent drug material. Runs 1 hour, 49 minutes. Premiered in New York City, New York on December 8, 2008; and in Los Angeles, California on December 16, 2008. Limited release in the USA on December 17, 2008. Wide release in the USA on January 30, 2009; and in France on February 18, 2009.

Starring Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, and Evan Rachel Wood. Also starring Mark Margolis, Todd Barry, Wass Stevens, Judah Friedlander, Ernest Miller, Dylan Summers, Tommy Farra, Mike Miller, John D’Leo, Ajay Naidu, Gregg Bello, Ron Killing, and Giovanni Roselli. Featuring credited cameo appearances by Ryan Lynn, Andrew Anderson, Austin Aries, Blue Meanie, Nicky Benz, Brolly, Lamar Braxton Porter, Claudio Castignoli, Cobian, Doc Daniels, Bobby Dempsey, Billy Dream, Rob Eckis, Nate Hatred, Havoc, DJ Hyde, Inferno, Joker, Judas, Kid U.S.A., LA Smooth, Toa Mairie, Kevin Matthews, Devon Moore, Pete Nixon, Paul E. Normous, Papadon, Sabian, Jay Santana, Sugga, Larry Sweeney, and Whacks; and uncredited cameo appearances from Michael Marino, Robert Oppel, Emanuel Yarbrough, and John Zandig.

Cinemaniac Reviews three stars

“The Wrestler” is an imperfect but intense drama. Its muscles are as strong as they could ever be, built up by its heavy meditation on the main character’s soul-in-action. Wrestling is a drug for Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke). The eighties was his heyday as a pro wrestler, and after two decades of withdrawal, he’s brought his body back to fight.

Battered. Tattered. Torn.

It’s as if instantaneously that this man is sucked into the glory of wrestling once more; to himself, Randy swears he’ll never give up wrestling again. Twenty years, he realizes, would have been no different for him if he was on hiatus or asleep. But with his beaten body, he’s prone to damage, not just the pain he so relishes. Things just won’t feel right for him when he suffers a heart attack, and is forced to put aside wrestling for good.

Darren Aronofsky directed and produced “The Wrestler”, and much like anything else in his canon (“Pi”, “Requiem for a Dream”, “The Fountain”, “Black Swan”, the soon-to-be-released “Noah”), the movie is extremely bleak. He’s using the same setup he began with in 1998, which is that a character with an obsession will end up in the hell of self-destruction if he doesn’t restrain himself. This journey from purgatory is an engaging one, if a bit too bleak. I say this only because the tone works against the tale. The story is a thorough slice of life, but it often gets caught up in the art of depressing its audience. Our interest in the movie just isn’t in the gloom, but in the tragic hero who is surrounded by this gloom.

The drama is everything and nothing a sports movie. Perhaps someone who avidly watches pro wrestling would enjoy this more than myself, or perhaps that has nothing to do with it. The drama was written by Robert Spiegel, who formerly wrote–get this–news satire for The Onion. It’s nearly impossible to tell, and in fact, the most over-the-top sights only enhance the living, breathing quality of the movie. Despite how much worse it could have gotten, scenes when staple guns and ladders enter the ring are not easy to watch.

It goes without saying that with a less genuine centerpiece, “The Wrestler” wouldn’t work as the movie it was positioned to be. Mickey Rourke gives this hero lungs and a heartbeat. His understated, powerhouse delivery channels the interesting role to a point that lands not too far from a description as real. The whole movie is superbly acted, with him in the unmistakable lead. (Evan Rachel Wood, in her riveting performance, would classify as a runner-up.)

In an Aronofsky movie, it’s that very last moment that counts. What “The Wrestler” offered in this case was underwhelming. He doesn’t than depict or even suggest the character’s self-destruction this time. Between the last shot, the long pause before the credits, and the solemn entrance of Bruce Springsteen’s “The Wrestler” (a great song that creates an overly sudden contrast with any of several preceding hair band songs), Aronofsky suggests the ambiguity of either self-destruction or life continuing as-is. The finale is new, but it feels decidedly underwhelming.

That’s half of my thoughts on the ending. Everything before is fantastic, and perhaps the closing half hour is the best half hour one could extract from the movie. Rourke’s numero uno in this movie makes for a gripping finishing act, to the point where that extended final scene had me shaken.

Tomorrow’s Review

Winter’s Bone

THE WRESTLER IS AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD.

42

Movie Review #646

forty_two_ver2

Warner Bros. Pictures & Legendary Pictures present…

Distributor: Warner Bros.
Country: USA
Spoken Languages: English

Directed by Brian Helgeland. Produced by Thomas Tull. Written by Brian Helgeland.

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA, for thematic elements including language. Runs 2 hours, 8 minutes. Wide release in the USA on April 12, 2013.

Starring Chadwick Boseman and Harrison Ford.

Cinemaniac Reviews two stars

Summer 2013. My friend and his brother, 12, were over watching “Django Unchained” with me. You’re probably wondering what kind of person I am to show “Django” (and four other Tarantino films) to a twelve-year-old. Their mother was wondering, too. I recall her asking me why I didn’t show her son to an alternative: “feel-good” movies.

I have nothing against wholesome, but there’s something that irks me about “feel-good.” There’s no feeling good when watching them because they’re just too corny. They’re never so bad they’re good, because their optimism makes you want to drive a screwdriver straight through your skull. “42” is pure fluff entertainment of that sort. It takes a cheesy approach to racism and does nothing at all to compensate for its manipulative charms. Hell, it’s a movie about Jackie Robinson, but it’s just as much about baseball as “Django” was about horseback riding.

In other words, if you look at the 1989 Oscar annals, this is 90% “Driving Miss Daisy” and 10% “Field of Dreams”. Both far better movies, by the way. The racism is distracting in “42”, which gives it no chance at any awards ceremony. It’s the central theme, but we don’t want a movie where the racist white guys start to become fond of the meek black guy who has to have others defend him. We don’t want a movie where that’s shown to be how Jackie Robinson’s career began, and we don’t want a movie that makes that little sense. We want baseball.

“42” takes the Disney approach so unstoppably, I’m having trouble understanding that Warner Bros. distributed this. Expect cornball dialogue and an agonizingly straightforward narrative. It’s funny that this narrative isn’t even introduced in a way that wants to interest us. War done, America loves baseball, now here’s Jackie Robinson! That’s what the opening montage seems to say, and after something so immensely predictable about Jackie Robinson, I was ready to ask, “What was that you said about the war being done with? Explain, please.”

I’m kind of sugarcoating it, guys. It’s worse than you think. Brian Helgeland wrote and directed “42”. Less than two decades back, he co-wrote “L.A. Confidential”. And won awards for doing so! Thankfully, there is a savior out there in the production. Harrison Ford is the beacon of light here. He transforms himself so well, you’d have to have seen every permutation of Ford to recognize his face, his voice, even his character. He sounds like an announcer on a game show. Thank you, Johnny Gilbert, for making this a watchable, maybe even tolerable experience.

I seem to remember Michelle Obama recommending “42” when it came out early this year. Has she recommended “Lincoln” to anyone? I mean, that’s about racism. And a U.S. President. And it’s a good movie. Oh yeah I think it’s won a few awards, too, hasn’t it? It’s won a few, oh what are those awards called…Otters, Oslos–Oscars! It’s won a few Oscars. Regardless, that’s something we’ll never be able to say about “42”. I really wonder what she could have possibly seen in that.

Hoosiers

Review No. 422

hoosiers

The Bottom Line: Hoosiers: A True Underdog Story.

Directed by: David Anspaugh
Written by: Angelo Pizzo
Coach Norman Dale: Gene Hackman
Myra Fleener: Barbara Hershey
Shooter: Dennis Hopper
Cletus: Sheb Wooley
Jimmy Chitwood: Maris Valainis
Merle: Kent Poole
Rade: Steve Hollar
Buddy: Brad Long
Ollie: Wade Schenck
Also Starring: Brad Boyle, David Neidorf, Fern Persons, Scott Summers

Distributed by Orion Pictures and Hemdale Pictures on November 14, 1986. Produced in English by the United States. Runs 115 mins. Rated PG by the MPAA (mature themes; violence; language).

Hoosiers was watched on February 17, 2013.

“Forget about the crowds, the size of the school, their fancy uniforms, and remember what got you here. Focus on the fundamentals that we’ve gone over time and time again. And most important, don’t get caught up thinking about winning or losing this game.” –Coach Norman Dale (Gene Hackman)

It’s difficult to find a sports movie that’s not uplifting, even in the slightest sense of the word. I’ve seen more sports movies than I can physically count, and I can come up with merely two examples that go against this grain. One is Raging Bull, Martin Scorsese’s psychosocial shredding of an aggressive and dedicated boxer. The other, Bull Durham, a goofy but nonetheless straightforward sex comedy about the groupie for a minor league baseball team.

Hoosiers does conform, but it conforms like almost no other movie. In the end, I was left with one small but somewhat meaningful question:

Why were the stadiums so packed? We learn in one scene that there are 63 male undergraduates at the small town high school Hoosiers focuses on squarely, which probably means no more than 130 students total attend. My own high school has something between eleven- and thirteen-hundred undergraduates, yet the stadiums at our basketball games aren’t much more packed than the ones we see in Hoosiers.

Now let’s suppose the head count was lesser. Empty a single seat seat and I can’t imagine being so easily captivated by Hoosiers. The film tells a simple story that we’ve likely heard already, one you wouldn’t so easily cheer for if you didn’t feel the need to cheer. The year is 1951, and a basketball coach, Norman Dale (Gene Hackman), was fired twelve years ago for an aggravated assault on one of his students. Now he’s brought back–temper and all–to coach the crumbling basketball team at Hickory High School. And the team surely isn’t one to instantly skyrocket to the top. The renowned player of the team has left because his father has died. The coach has an anger issue that keeps him from a good number of games. The team can’t function as one unit.

Yet despite all this, there’s no question that Dale will succeed in coaching the team to win, win, win. It’s the plague of nearly every sports movie. Without overly spoiling too many endings: You watch Jerry Maguire, and you know from the moment Tom Cruise lays eyes on Renée Zellweger that they’ll be a couple by the end. You watch Rocky, and every training scene only makes you more sure that he will beat Apollo. Hell, you watch Dodgeball–which I do, deep down, consider a “sports movie”–and it’s always clear the Average Joes will win.

We all know that it doesn’t always happen this way. As I understand it, the majority of sports studies work by handing us weak underdog characters, and then moving forward to show how they are determined to succeed. A sudden loss at the very end would entirely kill off the message.

And despite ending on a predictable note, the climactic scenes in Hoosiers are some of the most dynamic a sports drama has ever delivered. I wouldn’t say I felt inspired by the film in a literal sense, since never would I ever play basketball by choice. I did, however, feel involved during quite a few scenes.

Hoosiers is flawed here and there. It’s not too unconventional in how it tells its “feel good” story, especially when that was “based on a true story.” But I do feel like I got something out of this one, and I did feel good in the end. The alternative is a story so banal and unrealistic that you feel cheated; Hoosiers offered far more slam dunks than technical fouls.

B

A Good Day to Die Hard

The Color of Money

color_of_money

Bottom Line: It ain’t silver, but it’s worth summa’ yer silver.

Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Fast Eddie: Paul Newman
Vincent Lauria: Tom Cruise
Carmen: Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio

“I’ve got to admit it’s getting better,
A little better all the time.
I have to admit it’s getting better,
It’s getting better,
Since you’ve been mine,
Getting so much better all the time!”
–”Getting Better” by The Beatles

Had The Color of Money not been crafted in the hands of director Martin Scorsese, I may have easily given it a pass. This is (in technicality) the sequel to The Hustler, and there’s certainly a fear of a similarly slow work. But essentially, this isn’t a sequel. It has a different style, color cinematography, and it sets up two and a half decades after its predecessor. Sequels have certainly done this, but what we’re dealing with here feels like something more broad. If The Hustler is the appetizer, The Color of Money is the main course. Watching the two consecutively, the 1961 work feels as if it were produced for the sake of its own successor. The back story is a decent supplement (particularly during the opening twenty minutes), but it isn’t at all necessary to fully enjoy this later, slightly better work.

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The Hustler

hustler

Note: I really had trouble writing a conventional review for The Hustler. I hope what I resorted to was even better: a reworking of a number from The Music Man–”Ya Got Trouble”. You may want to listen to the original version before reading my review. It’s a) free-verse and b) a mouthful, but the review will make much more sense once you’ve heard it. Also, don’t hesitate to question my sanity once you’ve finished reading.

Bottom Line: On certain levels, I do recommend it. Otherwise, I don’t. You decide.

Directed by: Robert Rossen
Fast Eddie: Paul Newman
Minnesota Fats: Jackie Gleason
Sarah Packard: Piper Laurie
Bert Gordon: George C. Scott
Also Starring: Cliff Pellow, Michael Constantine, Murray Hamilton, Myron McCormick, Stefan Gierasch

Well, ya got The Hustler, readers.
Right here, I say The Hustler right here in Movie City

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Chariots of Fire

Bottom Line: Though well-made, it often feels like an eternal flame.

Directed by: Hugh Hudson
Starring: Ben Cross, Daniel Gerroll, Ian Charleson, Ian Holm, Lindsay Anderson, Nicholas Farrell, Nigel Davenport, Niger Havers, Peter Egan, Sir John Gielgud

Chariots of Fire is a truly uplifting film, but in whole, it doesn’t burn bright enough. If you kept up with the Olympics this summer, you probably saw Rowan Atkinson/Mr. Bean delivering his own rendition. Being a fan of Atkinson’s slapstick humor, I laughed very hard at his five-minute skit, but I feel I would appreciate it even more, had I already experienced Chariots of Fire. There were some moments of pure joy peppered throughout the picture, and thus redeemed it from the rest. I felt like Rowan Atkinson as I watched: just like he was pulling out his iPhone and whatnot as he tapped out a single note over and over on the synthesizer, I often found myself glancing down at my watch, hoping and praying for the film the pick up the pace.

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Fight Club

Bottom Line: Stylish, preposterously original black comedy.

Directed by: David Fincher
Starring: Brad Pitt, Christina Cabot, David Andrews, Edward Norton, Eugenie Bondurant, George Maguire Helena Bonham Carter, Meat Loaf Aday, Richmond Arquette, Zach Grenier

1st RULE: You do not talk about Fight Club.
2nd RULE: You DO NOT talk about Fight Club.
3rd RULE: If someone says “stop” or goes limp, taps out the fight is over.
4th RULE: Only two guys to a fight.
5th RULE: One fight at a time.
6th RULE: No shirts, no shoes.
7th RULE: Fights will go on as long as they have to.
8th RULE: If this is your first night at Fight Club, you HAVE to fight.

By definition, I’ve already headed myself in the direction of heavily fracturing the first and second “rules of Fight Club”, as famously spoken by actor Brad Pitt as Tyler Darden. But what do I care? Moreover, why should I care? In the modern age, especially, we could take a walk around any given city and perhaps spot out a couple hundred people whom present themselves as reminders of the psychosocial, nihilistic main character. If there was one person living on this earth who had a story this bizarre to tell–and actually lived to tell it–I’d actually be a bit more scared than impressed. Fight Club opens with a following of a bored, stressed man (Edward Norton) who would give anything to be just about anyone at a higher status than him. He works at an office by day, and by night, he spends his spare time in a necrophobic state, attending group therapy for just about every imaginable disease that he doesn’t have–only to find himself back at home losing another night of sleep to his chronic state of insomnia. Everything changes when this man, whose name beyond “Narrator” is not once revealed, meets Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) on an airplane he has boarded for a business trip. The word “carefree” in no way begins to describe Tyler; “reckless” is only slightly better. It’s fairly ironic that even though he works as a retailer for soap bars, his lifestyle, domicile, and speech are all filthy in their own rights. To look up to someone as disgusting as Tyler would dig our Narrator, whose condominium has now been burned down, out of his almost bottomless pit. After being taken under Tyler’s wing, and into his dilapidated house, he is hesitantly brought into a world of reckless behavior, self-destruction, ignorance, and–above all–the co-foundation of Fight Club.

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Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Bottom Line: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is a charming dramedy fishing for a sufficient plot.

Directed by: Lasse Hallstrom
Starring: Amr Waked, Catherine Steadman, Conleth Hill, Emily Blunt, Ewan McGregor, Jill Baker, Kristin Scott Thomas, Rachael Stirling, Tom Beard, Tom Mison

It’s an odd title, I understand, but quit gawking at it as if it has three heads. It serves a purpose to the whole film. A title like SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN catches my eye; it’s the sole reason I was so curious about what the film might entail. It wasn’t until after finally watching it and devoting a moment of thought that it that I realized how just the simplistic way in which the title so peculiarly yet beautifully flows, represents the similar substance you’d find in the film. It’s a quirky film that acts naturally. It’s lighthearted and fresh, but there’s not very much quirk beyond the story. Also similar to the title, the story this British dramedy speaks is entirely original and unique. It goes so far with its unusual atmosphere that it would take a very long time to seek down a film that shares so much as fifteen percent of the tale’s blood. However unique the story itself may be, there isn’t much elaboration to prohibit the script from wandering in search for a way to fill a feature-length narrative.

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Jerry Maguire

Bottom Line: (Time for another horrible pun:) A film that had me at “hello”, but didn’t quite show me the money.

“SHOW ME THE MONEY!” –Tom Cruise as Jerry Maguire

Directed by: Cameron Crowe
Starring: Bonnie Hunt, Cuba Gooding Jr., Jay Mohr, Jerry O’Connell, Jonathan Lipnicki, Kelly Preston, Regina King, Renee Zellweger, Todd Louiso, Tom Cruise

I’m not all too wild over sports. There isn’t much in the activity I find exciting. Whenever the Super Bowl plays on television every February, I do watch it, but not for the game: for the national anthem, the commercials, and the halftime show. Films which narrate sports are something completely different. The messages delivered to a non-sports fan–and possibly even those who live, breath, sweat, and bleed sports–usually speak along the lines of, “There’s more to it than what you see on TV.” Within the first minute, JERRY MAGUIRE establishes itself with a promise to fulfill that phrase, perhaps more than most other films of the genre do. We are drawn in by that statement, and the film does deliver, but not in the most steady or thoughtful of ways.

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Raging Bull

Bottom Line: Furious classic.

“You didn’t get me down, Ray.” –Robert De Niro as Jake LaMotta

Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Cathy Moriarty, Frank Vincent, Joe Pesci, Robert De Niro

Martin Scorsese is the motion picture industry’s equivalent to Ludwig van Beethoven. He’ll go as definitively superlative as he can with a production as far as the fashion in which the mood and emotion are presented, as long as in the end it all threads together seamlessly. RAGING BULL is the perfectionistic example of how Scorsese puts his successful style to work. This is the biographical story of Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro), a middleweight boxer known by his nickname “Raging Bull” in the 1940s and 1950s. This cinematic splendour of a film is a well-acted record of this segment of his life, in which he struggles with his outrageous temper that is raising him to the pinnacle of his career, but is bringing him to an emotionally self-destructive state outside the ring.

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  • Quick Recommendations

    No film is recommendable to everyone, because if it strongly appeals to many audiences, it's going to be poorly received by at least one audience. These 25 classics, however, I would recommend to eight and a half, if not nine in every ten people.

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    KILL BILL: VOL. 2

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    MARIO PUZO'S THE GODFATHER: PART II

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    REQUIEM FOR A DREAM

    THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED

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