Summer Olympic Movie Picks- Part One

I did a post like this for the Vancouver games a little more than two years ago and I shall unearth it again at some point at least on Letterboxd because that was certainly a lot more fun and in many cases weirder. However, the variety that is provided by the over-stuffed nature of the summer games is nothing to sneeze at. I think that these films that feature the sports of the warmer Olympiad will likely introduce you to something you want to check out. I know I found a few. These picks will be posted in three parts.

Archery

The very first sport alphabetically is one that will illustrate to you rather quickly that there are two ways you can see a sport portrayed in a film: direct (e.g. sports movies) or indirect (wherein the sport is a component of the film but not the focus). Archery is an ancient practical discipline, which is rather visually appealing. Thus, it makes cameos in myriad ways: whether the super-human precision of Hawkeye in The Avengers or the cold brutality of Kevin, as in the one who needs talking about.

Films about the sport itself are harder to come by but with all the Robin Hoods there should be something that tickles your fancy.

My official pick will by Walt Disney’s Robin Hood, though of course Disney/Pixar’s Brave also features a prominent competition, and Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games is quite skilled too.

Athletics

Another permutation of the sports movie you get is that of the biopic. This seems to be a particular purview of Athletics, specifically track and field events. Clearly, Chariots of Fire is the first title that comes to mind. Then there are the lesser known but still worth looking out for like Prefontaine and Saint Ralph.

Badminton

Here is the first of the challenging sports on this list. In looking into it I was reminded that badminton, like so many other things, has been included on The Simpsons. In film terms, I learned of two features that involve it, one I’d be interested in seeing and one not so much. The first is National Lampoon’s Golddigger, a newer and prior to this unknown to me installment of the series, and then an Indonesian biopic about Liem Swei King simply called King, which is clearly more appealing for the purist.

Basketball

Basketball is one of the sports that has most frequently made for popular or entertaining films. Now, the two that jump immediately to mind are Hoosiers and Blue Chips. Having said that, since there are so many basketball titles, such that you can specifically cite the Olympics in some; I’d choose HBO’s documentary :03 from Gold about the ’72 Gold Medal Game between the US and USSR.

Beach Volleyball

It was incredibly difficult to parse beach volleyball films from traditional volleyball ones. Beach ones are clearly more popular, but rather than being crass and to respect the differences between the two disciplines, they will each get their own films. The beach volleyball choice is Side Out, which I do believe I’ve actually seen Side Out (so help me God).

Boxing

Boxing is the sport where I’m sure you’ll find the most movies to choose from. Of course, a movie about Olympic boxing is disqualified since the scoring system instantly introduces plot holes and confusion, but you can pick among the classics here Rocky, Raging Bull or whatever your preference may be you’re spoiled for choice with this sport.

Canoeing


Any of the paddle sports will be rarely found on screen and usually as a background element. In the Social Network the Winklevoss twins were part of a crew legacy, which could qualify that as a rowing movie.

With regards to the canoeing/kayaking end of the spectrum that’s where you get to fudging it a little. The first thing that came to mind was White Water Summer, that was immediately followed by more Kevin Bacon in The River Wild, which is a rafting film but less all around odd and not at all ’80s. You could also turn to A River Runs Through It.

With regards to paddle sports it all depends on how ensconced you want to be. If you want just a hint of it you can certainly fudge a movie in in easily.

Cycling

With many of these films I’m discovering them and wanting to find them at some point, with some they are oddities that I have seen and want to recommend. When it came to cycling I’ve seen two of the bigger cycling movies Breaking Away and American Flyers thanks to a family member who is obsessed with the sport.

They have their moments but have also bred some inside jokes based on the fact that it’s a “shown movie,” as in a “You should see this” kind of thing. However, in fairness, they seem to be the go to choices for enthusiasts.

One of those sports that pops up at the Olympics that grabs my interest are the track cycling events, which are more intriguing to me that the other disciplines. The Flying Scotsman seems to be a popular choice for that particular modality.

Diving

Diving, whether it be platform or springboard, is usually an affectation wherein we witness the externalization of a protagonist’s fear and his overcoming it, and rarely the focus of a film.

Perhaps the most notable examples are Greg Louganis: Breaking the Surface, and now with the games in London, Tom Daley four years on from a debut at the age of 14, wherein he finished 7th and 8th in his two events; has a BBC documentary about him to his credit along with being a serious medal threat.

Equestrian

I’m not going to say I’m a horse whisperer or even any kind of an expert, but what invariably ends up bugging me in some horse movies is the whole nature of them participating in a sport. A notable example being The Black Stallion. The beginning, say the first 40 minutes is a gem, a perfect replica of a silent film. Then the horse becomes a racehorse and it’s kind of trite from there. I think that’s one of the greatest things about the handling of Secretariat, it makes it seem like the horse is more willful than his jockey.

When it comes to equestrian disciplines that’s less of a concern because I believe that typically it’s the rider facing more danger and if the horse doesn’t want to jump, he won’t jump; or whatever maneuver is intended. That and watching these maneuvers is rather hypnotic at times.

A recent film I saw that dealt well with equestrian if nothing else was Harley’s Hill. In reading a similar list I was enlightened towards International Velvet. If you can’t drop your reservations about equine sports, and are a member of the Disney Movie Club, you can look up The Littlest Outlaw wherein a boy frees a showhorse.

Fencing

Fencing is another sport wherein you can shoehorn many a film into your viewing to suit your taste. Any Zorro, Three Musketeers, Peter Pan will feature fencing-like swashbuckling. You can take your pick from those oft told tales or you can be a little more literal with something like By the Sword, a 1991 film featuring Mia Sara, Eric Roberts and F. Murray Abraham. Or perhaps The Fencing Master, there was one in 1915 and 1992, I suspect the latter would be easier to find.

However, if you want to get creative I suggest Theatre of Blood. Not only does Vincent Price play a crazed, thought-to-be-dead Shakespearean actor seeking vengeance on a critics circle but he recites the Bard as he kills and once such scene is a fencing duel!

That’s all for now. Suggestions are more than welcome, and tomorrow’s films start with those about or involving football (aka soccer).

Mini-Review Round-Up April 2012

I had quite a review drought to end 2011 so I think the remedy for this kind of post would be to have the post be cumulative monthly. Therefore, after each qualifying film a short write-up will be added to the monthly post. The mini-reviews will be used to discuss Netflix and other home video screenings. Theatrical releases will get full reviews.

For a guide to what scores mean go here.

Meeting Evil

Samuel L. Jackson in Meeting Evil (Magnet Releasing)

Perhaps what’s most enjoyable about Meeting Evil is that it really plays with your expectations. It’s kind of a down the rabbit hole scenario wherein the protagonist (Luke Wilson) unwittingly gets himself further and further ensnared in a web of murder, duplicity and intrigue. Where we the audience come into play is that the film never cheats but has some really great twists along the way playing into one trope or another and then pulls a switch on us. It’s great stuff because what it does is keep you engaged and stays just a step or so ahead of you but you never feel bamboozled, for better or worse.

It’s also a film that allows its actors some room to play, Samuel L. Jackson in particular seems to truly relish this part and does great things in this film. Jackson is menacing, funny and truly a character in this tale, there’s a depth and intelligence to his madness. When all is said and done and you look back upon it you’ll see Luke Wilson does well too, faults you may find are more likely attributable to his character, but necessary for the story to function. The film also has a great sequence at a dilapidated farm house. It’s sequences like this and performances in small roles that can sometimes stick out most in a movie, granted the nature of the film makes it memorable regardless, but this sequence is where it shines. The performance in a small role of which I speak is that of Ryan Lee (Super 8) who has a brief but intense interaction with Jackson that stands out in similar fashion to Young Erik’s backstory in X-Men: First Class.

Meeting Evil
is a film that does not stand still for long and is memorable for it, and for refusing to be run-of-the-mill. It will be in limited release on May 4th and is available via Amazon, Vudu and iTunes streaming right now.

8/10

Ghoul

Nolan Gould in Ghoul (Chiller)

To start off with the positives on this film: Firstly, on a personal note, I was thrilled to discover I even get Chiller via my cable provider, as I had not in the past. Secondly, any time a fledgling network is branching out into original programming be they series or films I support that wholeheartedly. Thirdly, this is a very ambitious story, even more so when you consider it’s the first production you’re airing so that bodes well for the future, but sadly it feels like a bit of an over-reach here.

The main issues are with performance and adaptation. For the tale this film entails you need every single person in the cast to have serious chops and to fit the role to a tee and you don’t quite have the depth here. The only two noteworthy turns are Nolan Gould, best known as Luke on Modern Family, in the first truly dramatic piece I’ve seen him do and Trevor Harker, who shows the most promise in the young ensemble. With regards to the adaptation: First, the dialogue issues are rampant, and second, it seems like it might have been a bit slavish structurally and when telling a tale a bit more involved than most it makes the end seem rather abrupt and certain portions disjointed. It’s not an easy task, as there are a few pieces of commentary being attempted but all the more reason to do it properly. Few things are worse than well-intentioned commentary in an unfortunate vehicle.

I don’t know the source material but it seems as if they needed to get a bit creative in structuring and editing material, as well as streamlining events. This also throws the pace way off. There are some issues with production value like the not-quite-so-period costuming and the intolerable scoring.

While the film does end much stronger than it starts it’s still too much of a mess to be passable, however, I am looking forward to what else Chiller has to offer in the future.

4/10

7 Below

The Cast of 7 Below (Arc Entertainment)

There’s a bunch of random stuff that ends up at Redbox that never really gets on your Netflix radar so if you’re looking for a quick, cheap rental it’s a good resource to check every so often. Redbox also seems to be attracting, and placing in a more prominent way, some indie titles that are getting overlooked as other outlets balloon. That leads me to 7 Below. This is a horror film which boasts brief turns by both Val Kilmer, very brief, and Ving Rhames, not as brief, however, it’s carried mainly by its as of yet unknown cast. There’s a lack of focus in the early going with regards to the MacGuffin and a lack of detail and an air of mystery about everything. It’s a film that would be better served by not playing things so very close to the vest. There are some good and surprising twists to be had and the results of which I actually enjoy, but the whole film plods towards them such that I waited for them and expected them I just wasn’t sure quite what. It truly is a shame that certain aspects were quite predictable when others weren’t it just required a bit more fine-tuning to get just right.

5/10

Harley’s Hill

Kirstin Dorn in Harley's Hill (eKidsFilms)

Not to sound cute but, Harley’s Hill really is run-of-the-mill. It’s your standard low-rent family geared entertainment. In it you have a girl and a found horse and you can likely fill in the rest of the blanks yourself. What makes it even more standard is that from the adult ensemble has forgettable and at times regrettable performances while the few young performers are much better on the whole and do have their moments to shine. Most notable in the youth ensemble is Kirstin Dorn in the lead and main sidekick Lexi Di Benedetto, they are also well supported by very promising turns by Jacob Rodier and Elmo Riley. There are a few weak spots in the script but for the most part it sticks to its prefabricated plot fairly well. What is refreshing is that there are several passage of time montages, which although in need of tightening, allow the film to be more visual than anticipated. Typically, when a film is innocuous enough, as this one is, the line between a good rating and a bad one is very hazy. This film likely would’ve been for more enjoyable were I in the target demographic, however, seeing as I’m not and I found some issue with it I must give it:

5/10

With the caveat that I would recommend it if asked. It’s likely to be enjoyable for younger viewers and I did really enjoy the fact that it focuses on the equestrian discipline of dressage that you don’t see often on film.

Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life

Mira Sorvino, Maxwell Beer, Ryan Simpkins and Daniel Cosgrove in Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life (Phase 4 Films)

In the interest of full disclosure this film and the one added yesterday were really only viewed to start populating the Performance by Young Actress in a Leading Role field in the BAM Awards and thank goodness I felt compelled to do so. It wasn’t all at once, but boy was I in for a surprise when I started watching this film. Based in part on the some what mystical illustrations on the cover image, I was likely more wary of this rental than the former.

I was not only pleasantly surprised but rather blown away. I have not seen an independent family film of this quality since The Dust Factory, which I believe I only saw in 2005 when it was on DVD.

The title character is most definitely the lead in this film, and newcomer Maxwell Beer is outstanding in this part. Based on the nature of the story it’s quite possible that the shooting schedule was rather continuous, and it really shows as he especially grew as the movie progressed and it turns into a rather special performance. It gets better because not only does he pair very well with Ryan Simpkins but she is quite a scene stealer both comedically and dramatically, which I love, and her performance is very powerful.

For all its quirks, and it does have a few, this is a film that stays very grounded and rather real, it may seem as if it’s skewing outside of that realm but bear with it. It’s set in New York but uses the setting tremendously as the world of the story, as is that of the protagonist, is very insular. This is something I can relate to quite a bit, as big as New York is you can find your own little corner and tuck yourself away there, and that is part of its charm.

It also does things like building character so seamlessly such that its not rote and you don’t feel your attachment to these characters and their problems growing and it does.

I was moved greatly by it, probably even more so than by Fireflies in the Garden, whereas this film had zero casting stumbling blocks to overcome.

Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life is currently available from Amazon both on DVD and on Instant Video and Redbox. I highly recommend it.

10/10

Smitty

Brandon Tyler Russell in Smitty (Phase 4 Films)

My favorite film of this post (above) has the same distributor as this film, which just goes to show you that family-geared entertainment can really run the gamut quality-wise regardless of budget and production values. In fact, it also shares a cast member with the aforementioned film (Mira Sorvino), and while her part here is larger, it’s not quite up to par with her turn in Jeremy Fink, wherein she also played a mother albeit an eclectic one.

Comparisons aside, for they are ultimately irrelevant, Smitty stays middle-of-the-road at best and what’s frustrating is that it wouldn’t have taken much to make it pretty good. There’s a director who’s had notable works (The Sandlot, Radio Flyer [uncredited]) and an experienced, award-winning and -nominated cast members like Peter Fonda and Louis Gosset, Jr. but the script is tepid, standard and repetitive, and doesn’t give the actors a lot to work with. There are some curious structuring decisions, which doesn’t even include the “non-guffin” of the local hoods, who serve minimal purpose except to bloat running time and coax our protagonist into bad choices, dramatically as well as morally.

The film could be decent, fairly light family fare but as indicated above there are many missteps, and it also falls into the standard family film mold in this way: the young lead being the bright spot. Brandon Tyler Russell is raw, but quite convincing in his emotional moments and perhaps the most under-served by the script, in as much as many of his scenes are hard to believe textually much less when played. However, there is a lot of potential there and it’d be great to see him with better material supporting him.

5/10