Mini-Review Round-Up October 2013

Here’s my standard intro to this post:

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, regardless of how they are seen whether in an auditorium or on VOD, will get full reviews [That is when deemed necessary. As I wrote here I do want to focus more on non-review writing wherever possible].

For a guide to what scores mean go here.

The Book of Manning

The Manning Family (Ibid.)

This review was not-so-mini, you can find it here.

The Almost Man

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The man-child has been the topic of comedies, and discussed in film writing, for most of the history of cinema. The brand of childishness in these men changes as society does. The recent trend is skewing toward adolescent man-children who still have the same sense of humor, a similar outlook on the world, and terrors as children do at that formative time (where some grapple with those issues persist into adulthood). Few films have likely, and none that I’ve seen or can think of, taken this character/problem type to a seriocomic place with such commitment and results.

If I had to venture a guess I’d say it’s the inciting incident of this film where (the event that propels the story and sparks conflict) most audience members will go along with or abandon it. If you go along with it and focus on characters, especially Henrik (Henrik Rafaelson), specifically what they want and how they go about trying to get it; then you’ll get into the film. The handling of it is mature even if the act was not: it’s about “what now?” and not “why?” A crossroads has been reached, and, thus, the struggle; the delicate balance of finding true adulthood without losing oneself, begins.

Rafaelson is especially impressive because it’s one thing to play an overgrown goofball and get laughs and another to then get introspective dour and try to assume new responsibility and maturity. He achieves both and engenders empathy as well.

This film is a briskly told tale is one that never feels insincere whether in its stasis (when the young couple enjoys one another’s company and is content to lark about), or later when there is an ebb-and-flow, an attempt to change. Likewise, the film does not end with an insincerely sudden fairy-tale ending, but rather, at a new beginning; the dawn of a new-found maturity.

8/10

Free Spirits

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The difference this ESPN 30 for 30 doc and any other that this is the first to deal with one of the maverick sports leagues of the 1960s and 1970s. While there was already a USFL doc, the ABA and AFL had not been addressed. Of course, the USFL merging with the NFL was never a possibility. This film tells the tale of the Spirits of St. Louis, one of the two teams left out in the cold when the ill-fated league merged with the NBA.

The film mainly just traces the short, but significant two-year history of the team. The reason they were not absorbed, is not really a mystery. However, though there is an abrupt shift in gears late in the game (though the writing is on the wall throughout) the surprise this film has in store is the fallout and windfall from the non-merger.

It seems some of these docs thrive because of their running time and others could use a little more. This one would’ve been served by a little more of a lead-in, but it still tells its tale well.

7/10

Big Shot

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Growing up in New York, but being a New York Ranger fan I was only vaguely aware of the fiasco that was John Spano’s scam to try and purchase the New York Islanders. However, after being fully informed of all that went on here I can say that no team or its fans (no matter how big an arch-rival) deserves to go through this, especially when you consider that the league was at least partly to blame.

Actor-turned-director Kevin Connolly would’ve already scored in my book by not only giving appropriate background on what the Islanders were very early in their existence, but also how they declined, and that he had seen the best and worst of times. However, where the film transcends that is that he actually got to sit down with the man himself and not only faced him in as respectful a fashion as you could ask for, but allowed him to tell his story about how this all happened, and explain (to the extent possible) what he was thinking when things went down.

It’s the kind of story that could only be true and it’s a truly brilliantly rendered account of it quite-nearly blow-by-blow with many of the most concerned parties involved.

10/10

No Más

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I am glad I sought other reviews before sitting down to write this one. In doing so I discovered that the director of this film also directed Renee, which could still be the greatest 30 for 30 installment yet. And he has also covered boxing before. That gives me some perspective but still leaves me perplexed and greatly disappointed.

Firstly, there is a question of balance: whereas the most recent installment, which I will discuss below, evenhandedly presents interpretations of the career of a controversial figure. This one becomes skewed down the line. Both fighters (Leonard and Duran) are introduced. However, after the infamous incident (wherein Duran quit during the rematch), and many theories are examined to no satisfactory conclusion; the film takes a few odd turns.

In one turn, Leonard (at least based on the way this story I knew the bare minimum about) comes off almost like a sore-winner who never faced any backlash for that fact. Almost like the antithesis of Mary Decker Slaney in terms of public perception.

This shift is a weird occurrence because the film, based on what footage they do have, is seeking a resolution and an answer. Yet, it becomes increasingly apparent that no new or publicly acceptable version of why Duran quit would surface. Despite that there they are face-to-face in a boxing ring in the present day, talking in a highly staged manner, and when Duran is giving at least a more detailed version of his truth than he ever told his audio is drowned out for Sugar Ray’s take on it and how he was able to (eventually) let it go.

I’m not saying I believe Duran’s story or questioning Leonard’s right to a vantage point, but in documentary terms starts to bang its head against the proverbial wall insisting on its interpretation of events being told.

At this point in the series a mediocre doc would be the worst 30 for 30, but this one sadly isn’t even good because of its insistence on seeking an absolute truth and its skewed narrative.

4/10

This is What They Want

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Here’s a 30 for 30 that deals with something I witnessed, at least in part, and still have images of seared on my mind’s eye. How final the run was at the time was something I didn’t realize but I knew I liked Connors, and I’m glad that this documentary spent at least some of its time discussing his oft overlooked prowess which is lost amidst his antics, perception and longevity.

As mentioned above, the film is evenhanded. It neither paints Connors as seen through rose-colored glasses nor does it judge. Certain things said about him by other subjects are related back to him and he responds and then the ball is in your court.

However, a bulk of the narrative is chronicling how a 39-year-old Connors (a feat that will likely never be duplicated) made it all the way to the semifinals of the US Open in 1991. It focuses most on the Patrick McEnroe and Aaron Krickstein matches, but also has great insights to the Paul Haarhuis and Jim Courier match-ups.

There are cinematic elements that take this film to another level from the edit (how it humorously illustrates certain perceived notions), the music that underscores the emotions of the film beautifully and the persistent flow. Furthermore, as you might expect from a film crowded with former players, analysts and writers there are great insights for the fan of the game and the layman alike; as well as some illuminating nuances of tennis explained that differentiate it from other sports.

This is What They Want, much like Connors’ improbable run that year, is quite nearly immaculate.

10/10

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2013 BAM Award Considerations – October

Last year I had one massive running list and it became very cumbersome to add to, and to read I’m sure. By creating a new post monthly, and creating massive combo files offline, it should make the process easier for me and more user-friendly for you, the esteemed reader. Enjoy.

Eligible Titles

The Book of Manning
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2
Metallica: Through the Never
The Almost Man
Romeo and Juliet
Machete Kills
League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis
Captain Phillips
Big Shot
No Más
Free Spirits
Gravity
The Stream
Carrie
Escape Plan
Paradise: Faith
Jug Face
Haunter
Bad Grandpa
The Counselor
Stitches
Mother, I Love You
This is What They Want
Enough Said

Best Picture

The Almost Man
Romeo and Juliet
League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis
The Counselor

Best Foreign Film

The Almost Man
Mother, I Love You

Best Documentary

Last year this was an omitted category, due mostly to the fact that too few total candidates existed to make the slate feel legitimate. I will hope to be able to rectify that this year.

The Book of Manning
League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis
Big Shot

Most Overlooked Film

As intimated in my Most Underrated announcement this year, I’ve decided to make a change here. Rather than get caught up in me vs. the world nonsense and what a film’s rating is on an aggregate site, the IMDb or anywhere else, I want to champion smaller, lesser-known films. In 2011 with the selection of Toast this move was really in the offing. The nominees from this past year echo that fact. So here, regardless of how well-received something is by those who’ve seen it, I’ll be championing indies and foreign films, and the occasional financial flop from a bigger entity.

Machete Kills
The Almost Man
Romeo and Juliet
Mother, I Love You

Best Director

The Almost Man
Machete Kills
Romeo and Juliet
The Counselor
Mother, I Love You

Best Actress

Solvei Grimen Fosse The Almost Man
Hailee Steinfeld Romeo and Juliet
Amber Heard Machete Kills
Sandra Bullock Gravity
Maria Hofstätter Paradise: Faith
Lauren Ashley Carter Jug Face
Vita Varpina Mother, I Love You
Julia Louis- Dreyfus Enough Said

Best Actor

Dane DeHaan Metallica: Through the Never
Henrik Rafaelsen The Almost Man
Douglas Booth Romeo and Juliet
Tom Hanks Captain Phillips
Danny Trejo Machete Kills
George Clooney Gravity
Nabil Saleh Paradise: Faith
Michael Fassbender The Counselor
Ross Noble Stitches
James Gandolfini Enough Said

Best Supporting Actress

Laura Morante Romeo and Juliet
Sofia Vergara Machete Kills
Julianne Moore Carrie
Natalya Baranova Paradise: Faith
Penelope Cruz The Counselor
Cameron Diaz The Counselor
Toni Collette Enough Said
Catherine Keener Enough Said

Best Supporting Actor

Thomas Arana Romeo and Juliet
Barkhad Abdi Captain Phillips
Demian Bichir Machete Kills
Mel Gibson Machete Kills
Paul Giamatti Romeo and Juliet
Rene Rupnik Paradise: Faith
Steohen McHattie Haunter
David Hewlett Haunter
Javier Bardem The Counselor
Tommy Knight Stitches
Thommas Kane Byrnes Stitches
Ben Falcone Enough Said

Best Performance by a Young Actress in a Leading Role

Hailee Steinfeld Romeo and Juliet
Noura Jost The Stream
Chloë Grace Moretz Carrie
Abigail Breslin Haunter

Best Performance by a Young Actor in a Leading Role

Jacob M. Williams The Stream
Kristofers Konovalovs Mother, I Love You

Best Performance by a Young Actress in a Supporting Role

Eleanor Zichy Haunter
Kelianne Coughlan Stitches

Best Performance by a Young Actor in a Supporting Role

Kodi Smit-McPhee Romeo and Juliet
CJ Diehl The Stream
Michael Capperella The Stream
Alex Maizus Jug Face
Peter DaCunha Haunter
David Knoll Haunter
Jackson Nicholl Bad Grandpa
Matis Livcans Mother, I Love You
Ryan Burke Stitches

Best Cast

The Almost Man
Machete Kills
Romeo and Juliet
Paradise: Faith
Haunter
Bad Grandpa
The Counselor
Mother, I Love You
Stitches
Enough Said

Best Youth Ensemble

Romeo and Juliet
The Stream
Haunter
Mother, I Love You
Stitches

Best Original Screenplay

The Almost Man
Machete Kills
Haunter
Mother, I Love You
Stitches
Enough Said

Best Adapted Screenplay

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2
Romeo and Juliet
Haunter
The Counselor

Best Score

Romeo and Juliet
Captain Phillips
Machete Kills
Gravity
The Stream
Haunter
The Counselor
Mother, I Love You
This is What They Want

Best Editing

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2
Romeo and Juliet
Captain Phillips
Gravity
Escape Plan
Jug Face
Haunter
The Counselor
This is What They Want
Stitches

Best Sound Editing/Mixing

Captain Phillips
Gravity
Jug Face
Haunter
This is What They Want
Stitches

Best Cinematography

Romeo and Juliet
Gravity
Escape Plan
Paradise: Faith
Haunter
The Counselor
Mother, I Love You
Stitches

Best Art Direction

Romeo and Juliet
Machete Kills
Escape Plan
Paradise: Faith
Haunter
The Counselor
Mother, I Love You
Stitches

Best Costume Design

Romeo and Juliet
Machete Kills
Haunter
The Counselor
Stitches

Best Makeup

Romeo and Juliet
Machete Kills
Bad Grandpa
The Counselor
Stitches

Best Visual Effects

Machete Kills
Gravity
Haunter

Best (Original) Song

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2
Metallica: Through the Never
The Almost Man
Haunter
Mother, I Love You
Enough Said