Mini-Review: 9.79*

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

9.79*

ESPN’s 30 for 30 is back, and I’m glad. More than ever it seems like the landscape of sports fandom and coverage is more reactionary and instantaneous. We’ve almost devolved to the point where we’re immune to revisionism because there is less and less focus on the past, history, and progression of certain sports. Not to sound overly dire or pessimistic, but sometimes perception is reality. However, what the ESPN Films documentary series does is goes back and finds milestones, overlooked stories; and traces the trajectory of the events, themes, and trends involved.

Therefore, 9.79* about Ben Johnson’s disqualification after winning gold with a record-shattering time in 1988 Seoul Olympics starts by tracking each of the finalists (some more than others) following the events that lead to that fateful day and the fall out since. It’s not a story told in precise chronology, there are jumps, and clearly new interview footage will reflect the past, but it tracks the phenomenon of doping rather well, exposes the testing issues of the time, and leaves a lot of great tidbits dangling for your interpretation. One of the more astounding anecdotes is one that gets hinted at early then dropped like a hot potato until very late in the film. In a way, it makes the capping of the story even more potent. There are quite a few players in the game here. My interpretation is that it’s all a moral quagmire when in this era doping was rampant, harder to prove, and everyone was seemingly guilty of something. It makes the situation fascinating almost like a “sports noir” tale. No one’s angel, but you fall on one side of the issue or another, and maybe even side with one camp or another on certain claims.

Not only is it an event that I wanted to be more informed about (and now I am) but Daniel Gordon does great work reconstructing the narrative from an impartial place and bringing forth all the opinions and information known and presenting it in a compelling and dramatic way.

9/10

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Mini-Review: The Diplomat

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

The Diplomat

As I was a young when the Berlin Wall came down and communism collapsed in Eastern Europe, documentaries like this that take a more focused look at things are really beneficial. For example, I was under the impression that it was just because I was young that it felt like the wall’s coming down was fairly sudden; as it turns out, it was, compared to other similarly seismic sociopolitical touchstones. However, that’s a detail about a larger event. What this film does is take the diplomatic, athletic lightning-rod that was Witt and examines East Germany, both their sports regimen (pro and con) and the Stasi (only cons) through that guise and billows out from there to close relations and the everyman – and it has great and significant interview subjects on the matter. However, it’s also about Witt, some of conflicting feelings about the time, about her relationship with her coach; and how her coaches struggle molded her path to an extent. It’s a film that made me want to delve into that period, into other films about East and West Germany, made me want to see Carmen on Ice; in short, I wanted more and lots of it, and there’s hardly a higher compliment one can pay a film.

10/10

Mini-Review Round-Up: October 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, or another kind of write-up as per my recent shift in focus.

For a guide to what scores mean go here.

9.79*

ESPN’s 30 for 30 is back, and I’m glad. More than ever it seems like the landscape of sports fandom and coverage is more reactionary and instantaneous. We’ve almost devolved to the point where we’re immune to revisionism because there is less and less focus on the past, history and progression of certain sports. Not to sound overly dire or pessimistic, but sometimes perception is reality. However, what the ESPN Films documentary series is goes back and finds milestones, overlooked stories and traces the trajectory of the events, themes and trends involved.

Therefore, 9.79* about Ben Johnson’s disqualification after winning gold with a record-shattering time in 1988 Seoul Olympics starts by tracking each of the finalists (some more than others) following the events that lead to that fateful day and the fall out since. It’s not a story told in precise chronology, there are jumps and clearly new interview footage will reflect the past, but it tracks the phenomenon of doping rather well, exposes the testing issues of the time and leaves a lot of great tidbits dangling for your interpretation. One of the more astounding one is ones that gets hinted at early then dropped like a hot potato until very late in the film. In a way, it makes the capping of the story even more potent. There are quite a few players in the game here. My interpretation is that it’s all a moral quagmire when in this era doping was rampant, harder to prove and everyone is seemingly guilty of something. It makes the situation fascinating almost like a “sports noir” tale. No one’s angel, but you fall on one side of the issue or another, and maybe even side with one camp or another on certain claims.

Not only is it an event that I wanted to be more informed about (and now I am) but Daniel Gordon does great work reconstructing the narrative from an impartial place and bringing forth all the opinions and information known and presenting it in a compelling and dramatic way.

9/10

Girl vs. Monster

For a review of Girl vs. Monster please go here.

Excision

What is most successful about Excision is that it is a study in character from the inside out. Which is to say that the fantasy/daydream segments in this film may be too numerous, but the purpose they do serve is to show how the inner-monologue of a disturbed, delusional character come to the fore and affect her everyday life. There are a few dichotomous splits in character: a struggle between adoration and mutilation (both their own versions of body worship), a fight against authority, a struggle between a libertine attitude and a theistic construct. Perhaps, what’s most intriguing about Excision is watching the journey, granted I did figure where the journey would end at some point, but it seems like a basic virginity plot with a very socially awkward lead, but as it progresses you see so much more is going on here. Through all the serious and horrific observations you make there are also some laughs to be had, and many great performances notably AnnaLynne McCord, Traci Lords, Roger Bart, Ariel Winter and Jeremy Sumpter.

8/10

Magic Silver and Magic Silver 2

Without going into a full rehash of recent guest post that I did, what I will say on a wider scale with relation to the Magic Silver films is that it’s prime example of what’s great about Netflix. Here you have two recent and rather popular Norwegian films that I had heretofore not heard of. Physical home video distribution of these titles in North America is a riskier, more expensive proposition so the streaming solution is perfect and brings these films to a wider audience.

As for the films, what drew me to the films at first was the 1980s-like illustrated approach to the artwork. Sure enough, the first film does have that feel, with some 21st Century technique thrown in. The film excels in virtually every level of production and maximizes the values it can get for whatever the budget is.

It’s a fantastical tale about how gnomes can control the weather and their life in a mountain. The sets of the inside of the mountain in the first film are simply but beautifully done and gives everyone just enough room. In the sequel the expanded space is not maximized. Similar to the costuming which in the first film is simple but effective, but in the second gets a bit more intricate and somehow doesn’t work as well. However, the art direction in both is quite good.

The story, however, again more so in the first film than the second, introduces the rules of this world wisely, as we hear it being told to the children of the village. It’s a thin but effective veil on the exposition, and some of the rules are really fascinating dramatically as they have intriguing consequences.

Both films are quite good, but the difference being that the first film has much higher stakes. Not only is the protagonist, Bluerose, coming to grips with overcoming her own fears, she must also learn the consequences of her actions, learn to assume responsibility, deal with mortality and try to do what is best for all concerned; a test of true leadership. Making this an even more intriguing dynamic is the fact that her struggles as princess are mirrored by a child king in the other clan of gnomes. There’s an innocent, subtly played romantic interest, but they both in working together learn how they can face up to their newfound responsibilties.

In these films I expected good escapist fun, what caught me most off guard about the first film was the gravitas of it, how involved and moved I would be by the narrative, and how compelling the performances of the entire cast especially Ane Viola Semb and Johan Tinus Lindgren. The best fantasy tales go to a very real place emotionally, when they are character-driven. When plot-drives a bit too much it’s harder to reach that heightened level. So a film like the former can be fun (read the sequel) but is ultimately disposable. Whereas, the film that finds universal truths in its fantastic settings, and also connects across cultural boundaries is truly special.

One more note about the follow-up film, it is fun and intriguing for randomly deciding to have four musical numbers. The first caught me totally by surprise but the next three are better, and the last one is a great Christmas-themed song that also highlights the climate change subtext of the story.

Very fun and different movies both that lend themselves to consecutive viewings like I had.

10/10 and 6/10

There’s No Place Like Home

ESPN’s 30 for 30 continued last week with There’s No Place Like Home. Here’s another case whereupon seeing the synopsis of the film I was not so interested, but after having viewed the film it’s more effective than anticipated.

The film tells the tale of Josh Swade, a lifelong Kansas Jayhawk fanatic, who organized a grassroots effort to try and win the original rules of basketball as written by James Naismith. When reading the narrative the piece I was missing, either from ignorance or faulty memory, was that Naismith shortly posting these rules in a Massachusetts YCMA took the game to Kansas and started the Basketball program at Kansas. He was at the University for four plus decades after that. So, yes, Kansas has, and had, a very rightful claim to ownership that I was unaware of.

Another moment of enlightenment was the underscoring of the fact was that basketball, as opposed to other sports which became formalized after years of play, was very much created fairly spontaneously. I was always a rules nerd as a kid, and gaining access to rule books was a big deal, and writing down rules to created games was something I’d partake in. Therefore, the provenance of the document also interested me.

However, that’s all information gleaned, which is valuable but not the be all and end all. What’s truly most interesting in this film is that it takes perhaps the most interesting avenue in telling the film. It takes the perspective of a superfan who has the unmatched, undying passion for his team and has him be the mouthpiece, the spokesman for what he knows is something right but hasn’t the means to accomplish: acquisition of the rules. Through sheer will and determination he does get in contact with those who have the connections and the financial means, and it is impressive to see the seemingly spontaneous outpouring of similar emotions from members of the KU family.

There are some occurrences that would’ve been great to see on camera (like the apparent defeat faced), but other portions that seem rather extraneous do come back into play. The film does feel like it could’ve been tightened a bit, however, it builds the personal connection well and gets a lot of tension and drama out of the auction day even though the outcome is somewhat foreseeable.

All in all, it’s a very good dramatic rendering of the situation, and I always like to see the bump where the filmmakers discuss the process, their inspiration, etc. and this one is perhaps the best I’ve seen.

8/10

Sexual Chronicles of a French Family

I discovered that this film existed through Instant Watcher, more specifically their Twitter. It is a website that it perhaps the best source for what’s new to stream on Netflix. I was not surprised to see that this film is a popular streaming choice. The title is designed to intrigue and get people watching. Based on the fact that it’s a French film, and the totality of the synopsis, I expected more scenes like the one between the matriarch of the household and the grandfather. So, my expectation of more of a chamber drama was mislaid, OK. I won’t, and can’t, penalize it for that. What I can penalize it for is that for as short as it is, the insightful, charming, touching, intelligent scenes are few and far between. Instead, you get many love scenes which are protracted and only add minimally, sometimes not at all, to the story. The intention of the film is one I understand and respect, and it is successful in a few of its attempts, but ultimately it left me wanting and a bit bored.

5/10

The Monitor

I will freely admit that Noomi Rapace along with the fact that this film is a subdued Swedish horror film were both selling points. I saw The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series in rapid succession and became quite an admirer of hers rather quickly. Sadly, elevating her global star status was just one of the many failings of Prometheus.

What is perhaps most surprising about The Monitor is not that it reveals twists, and character in wonderfully indirect, yet clear, ways; but that what would be the biggest twist in most films is one you become fairly certain of early on, and I was actively thinking and hoping that “There’s gotta be another one,” and sure enough there are plenty both big and small.

The Monitor is a very interestedly handled narrative that is a great character study not only of the protagonist but of her newfound friend Helge, played wonderfully by Kristoffer Joner.

I watched this on Amazon Prime, but any way you can watch this film would be good.

9/10

Summer Olympic Movie Picks- Part Two

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. You can read part one here.


Football

Since the Olympics is global I will use the international name and translate for America, this is soccer. All kidding aside, as I looked through some lists of soccer movies I was struck by the realization that the disparity between the greatness of the game and the quality of films generated by it is greatest here. Most of the ones I saw listed were sad. There are some I heard good things about but have yet to see, like The Damned United, Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos, and Pelada. Many of them in the US are usually about a ragtag bunch of kids on a team the best probably being The Ladybugs. As for the adult version of the game the best most recent one I saw was Rudo y Cursi which gave us this song too:

However, world cinema does provide a few more options which are suitable for all ages. If you like your soccer with genre-bending weirdness, I’d suggest the Die Wilden Kerle series from Germany. However, I’d stress you not watch any of them dubbed. I saw one dubbed the first time and it was some of the poorest collective work I’ve seen, aside from the fact that in the US we for some reason altered the chronology.

Then O Menino Maluquinho (The Nutty Boy) has a climatic game which features brilliant, practically superhuman goaltending by the protagonist, which is one of many great aspects of the film.


Gymnastics (Artistic & Rhytmic)

Unless I’m missing something major, gymnastics hasn’t had a lot of great representation on the big screen. Christopher Campbell’s list definitely makes me want to see Gymkata and it’s certainly more compelling in concept than anything I thought of or found; a rash of biopics, lame parodies and anorexia-themed MOWs and, of course, the most unfortunately executed death in Final Destination 5.

Now, Rhythmic Gymnastics seems to be absent from any real representation. Like synchronized swimming it has its notable parodies like that on Lizzie Maguire and by Will Ferrell in Old School, but I can’t seem to find anything straight. It could be great fodder for a doc in the vein of what I perceive Pina to be, as I still need to see it. There is a niche waiting to be had.

Handball

Yup, this is what thew world thinks of when you handball, just another example of our at times jingoistic naming practices, though to be fair Wall Ball is used to describe the one we know better too. Handball is another sport I’m glad to see roll around every four years and I agree wholeheartedly with this Awful Announcing post that it should be a featured on ESPN more often.

With regards to movies there wasn’t much to find. There’s Szansa a Polish film which seems to pit a nurturing, caring, intellectual, literary teacher against a hard-nosed, disciplinarian, gym teacher who crosses the line to win and winning said handball games is good for the school. Then there’s Forever the Moment a fictionalized account of the South Korean women’s handball team that competed in the 2004 games.

Hockey

Only during my occasional watching in the last games did I finally come to appreciate the version of the game which is played on grass and not ice. The only movie that seemed to jump out was Chak De! India, which is a kind of underdog story about a former player turned coach who takes over the long languishing national women’s team. This title is available to stream on Netflix (US).

Judo

Judo is a martial arts discipline I enjoy watching and pretty much always have since I’ve known of the games. The issue, as with many of these sports, has been finding a filmic representation of it.

Some quick searches brought some docs partial and short, but then as it turns out Kurosawa’s debut is a judo film, Sanshiro Sugata, wherein a young man struggles to learn the nuances and meaning of judo and life. This film is available from Criterion in one of their excellent Eclipse collections. This film is accompanied by a sequel and is referred to collectively as the Judo Saga.

Modern Pentathlon

Honestly, when I went to search out film ideas for each of these sports the one I pegged as being the hardest was the pentathlon. Truth be told, I only found one movie to pick from, but it’s called Pentathlon and Dolph Lundgren is in it. Essentially, Lundgren’s character and his sadistic trainer meet up eight years after their Olympic sojourn in an ever-escalating series of action nonsense, much of which you could have spoiled for you by the Wikipedia entry. It sounds like one of those movies that’s so brash it’s brilliant or painful – it does strike me as one of those movies I’ve seen on TV and all but forgotten.

Rowing

I mentioned in the canoe section that rowing could be found in The Social Network, however, there are a few more options to be had. You could pick either of two versions of the same tale, as comparing an original and a remake can be fun in A Yank at Oxford and Oxford Blues. For a more sports-oriented choice there’s True Blue (called Miracle at Oxford on US Home video) about a famous 1987 race. Lastly, if you want your sport as more of a setting for your drama than the premise, you have Summer Storm, which is about relationships and sexuality, and Queen of the Night, with a backdrop of politics, handicaps and romance.

Shooting

Now, I won’t be vague with shooting because the number of films that involve gunplay are countless. So I sought out films that at least feature competitive marksmen and there are two provided by Honk Kong cinema called Double Tap and Triple Tap, the former spins off from the first. Both involve rival shooters and getting involved inadvertently in crime and intrigue.

Swimming

Swimming is one of the most populated sports in terms of events, and one of the most popular at the games in general. Even on dedicated websites like Sports in Movies there isn’t a long list of swimming films. It’s hard to imagine that recreational swimming is something that needed to be created, much less that sport needed developing. However, there is a share of cinema in the pool.

Going back to 1931 you can watch Jean Vigo’s 2nd short film Taris, which is a rather artistic rendition and promotion of France’s swimming record-holder at the time. This film is available in the Complete Vigo through Criterion. If you prefer your star-power cinematic The Swimmer stars Burt Lancaster. If your inclinations are more stalker-crazy there’s the fairly recent Swimfan. In the more family-friendly realm there’s the fantastical DCOM The Thirteenth Year and swimming features somewhat in A Dolphin Tale.

Synchronized Swimming

With synchronized swimming there is actually rather a balanced choice. You can either enjoy it rendered comically in this classic bit:

On in a light, whimsical, biopic musical called Million Dollar Mermaid.

It is just by its very nature one of the easiest sports to poke fun at but it is really something when done well, and something else when it’s not which both those clips prove.

The list will conclude tomorrow!

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).