Summer Olympic Movie Picks- Part Three

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, this being the last. You can read part one here and part two here.


Table Tennis

If you like your sports inclusion to be tremendously silly there are a handful of recent comedies about table tennis, including Balls of Fury. If you’re OK with the sport taking a backseat but like your featured athlete to be prodigious, then Forrest Gump may be the way for you to go.

Tennis

I haven’t seen some of the more recent very head-on tennis-themed movies but it seems like overall the sport has been vastly overlooked. Clearly with this year’s games being in London and the the fact that tennis fans get an additional Wimbledon-based tournament, Wimbledon would be an obvious choice. Woody Allen’s recent Match Point would also be one to look into and one I’ve yet to see. Tennis has worked very well as a backdrop in many movies most notably Strangers on a Train, especially if you know a bit about the history of the game, it makes the tracking of Guy’s results a bit more creepy earlier.

Taekwondo

I can’t say I’ve seen many martial arts films. However, one interesting thing to consider is that with the martial arts disciplines is where you’re most likely to find the sport blending in to a story under a cloak. This Wikipedia page lists Taekwondo films based on the fact that it’s the fighting method used not necessarily because it’s a straight-up tournament-based story. However, there are a series of films that are a very direct treatment of the sport and that is Best of the Best. The original came out in 1989 and concerns a team from the US going to Korea for the world taekwondo championships. The film features Eric Robers, Philip Rhee, James Earl Jones, Sally Kirkland, Chris Penn and more. Based on some of the stills I found of this film it may be another I’ve seen but forgotten.

Trampoline

I found a movie called Trampoline but as for films about using the device in a gymnastic application they do not seem to exist yet. Rather than offer you nothing there was a documentary in 2008 called Slamball, which, of course, focuses not on the gymnastic discipline, but rather a form of basketball using trampolines for added elevation.

Triathlon

The triathlon doesn’t really have any movies dedicated to it. However, I did find a really good post about that with a very good inventory of synopses of cycling titles (one of the component sports) in it.

Volleyball

As mentioned earlier it was hard to ferret out traditional volleyball from the B-Movie friendly beach variety. However, there are a few indoor tales that have been told. One being a 2000 Thai comedy called Iron ladies, which is based on a true story of a men’s team made up of gays, transvestites and transsexuals who entered the national championship. For something a bit different you can substitute an Air Bud in more of these sports than you realize. Yes, that silly cinematic golden retriever has played many sports. He plays volleyball in 2003’s video release Air Bud: Spikes Back.

Water Polo

Out of all the sports in the summer games that you only really get to watch every four years, water polo may just be my favorite. Part of it could have to do with the underdog mentality that I have at times. Once I learned truly what it was and played impromptu pickup games with my dad, the horses-in-water jokes became tired and I like what it actually is. I also will invariably gravitate to sports wherein certain countries who scarcely win anything else are dominant. Hungary, historically speaking, are the titans of water polo. Whereas they had their one brilliant football team that came close but couldn’t win their consistency in the pool is staggering 15 medals (9 gold, 3 silver, 3 bronze) in 20 Olympic tournaments played.

That’s all a massive pre-amble to say I knew there had to be a water polo movie out there, there had to be a Hungarian one if from nowhere else. Surely enough, I found a dramatization of the 1956 Gold Medal Game versus the USSR on YouTube, the infamous “Blood in the Water” incident, but it was uncredited. Yet, as I searched another title surfaced Freedom’s Fury, a 2006 doc can be viewed on SnagFilms.

Weightlifting

Weightlifting is usually an affectation of a character or featured as cross-training for other sports. However, there are a few instances of films about weightlifting, generally about body building rather than olympic style curls and jerks. The most notable being the 1977 documentary Pumping Iron, which is about the Mr. Universe and Olympia competitions and features Arnold Schwarzenegger amongst others.

Wrestling

Legitimate forms of wrestling feature in movies far less than the entertainment brand but that doesn’t mean they don’t have some fanfare when they do. Win Win won virtually unanimous raves last year and was among my favorites of the year. Wrestling is only a piece of the puzzle but an important one and the fact that it cast Alex Shaffer, champion wrestler turned actor helps it greatly.

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The Best Films of 2011 #15-11

As the number of films I watch has grown so has the number of films I rank among my best of the year. Essentially what matters to me is not so much the number of films included amogst the best of the year but rather the proportion. When I started these picks as a teenager I’d pretty much only be guaranteed a Saturday matinee at the local UA so that amounted to about 52 films a year. Meaning the five Best Picture nominees were equivalent to the top 10%. It’s not a bad rule of thumb. Granted only picking 10 Best Picture nominees of about 222 films deemed eligible equals about 4.5% of the total films I viewed. Therefore it’s not much of a stretch to take my Best List which goes beyond just the nominees from 15 to 25. In fact, I just had to pick the first few that came to mind. Some that wouldn’t show up on another list I did because 30 would be easily achievable.

Without much further ado here is the continuation of my Best Films countdown, you can find the beginning here:

15. Midnight in Paris

Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams in Midnight in Paris (Sony Pictures Classics)

This film in my mind doesn’t mark a renaissance for Woody Allen. I never declared him creatively dead so he had nothing to rebirth from necessarily. Each trip into an Allen film is an uneasy balance for viewers. We want “old, funny” Woody in a new way but those films of which we think are nearly, if not more than, 40 years old at this point. Things have changed and so has Woody. He always does, that’s the thing. So while this hearkens back to some of his more inventive works and comments openly on a man caught in the past; he’s also playing with new techniques in a new city. Allen has always been unafraid but he’s in a full on experimental mode. He’s not just playing with new techniques, he’s playing with house money, and after all he’s done, why shouldn’t he? You may not like some of his films but any director who always gives you cause to discuss his work, perhaps even heatedly, is worth noting.

14. Crazy, Stupid, Love

Ryan Gosling and Steve Carell in Crazy, Stupid, Love (Warner Bros.)

In the previous list section there I discuss Bereavement which is likely my favorite horror film since the release of Frailty. This is a film I have not yet seen a second time so whether I like it more than such-and-such is difficult to say but what I can say is what class I believe it’s in and that’s the likes of Love Actually, French Kiss and maybe, maybe When Harry Met Sally… It’s equal parts funny and insightful, it’s all heartfelt and it weaves love plots deftly when most would be clunky. Too many missed this film, see it now.

13. Win Win

Alex Shaffer and Paul Giamatti in Win Win (Fox Searchlight)

This is the kind of film that you hope and pray will stick in people’s minds as the year goes on as it deserves to land on lists of this type regardless of release date. I’m glad to see it along with some of the performances have been recognized. Win Win in a lot of ways flies in the face of conventions of escalating incidents, constantly raising stakes and climax. Not to say it doesn’t have these things but it plays them differently. It deals in reality and subtext. It has palpable drama and humor but doesn’t always feel the need to remind you of it but you feel it, always.

12. Take Shelter

Michael Shannon in Take Shelter (Sony Pictures Classics)

To see how I feel this film qualifies as a horror film please see my Horror Film list (to be posted).

Take Shelter is a great film. In a few regards it’s the best kind. It features a powerhouse performance by Michael Shannon one that needs to be as great as it is in order to drive the story. If you believe him as an actor there’s a chance you believe maybe what he sees is in fact real and not delusion despite evidence to the contrary. If you believe him, or at least that he believes it, you fear for him and for his family and not just by proxy either. Another way in which this film is great is that it can be interpreted in a few ways and regardless of which path you choose as your own its great either way, the view is just a little bit different on that road is all.

11. X-Men: First Class

Michael Fassbender in X-Men: First Class (20th Century Fox)

Were I one for quotas I may have pre-designated this year as one which would need to have a superhero film representative. However, I didn’t hold my breath for any of them and came away blown away by this one. The one most near and dear to my heart that I needed to succeed to continue to have faith, or optimism, in those with powers on the big screen. I discussed much of what love about this film in my review so suffice it to say that X-Men clearly did not get here because I needed a superhero film and conversely it’s not a slight that it ends up at number 11. Precisely the reason I started to make lists to accompany my awards is because it would allow me to echo or restate my affections for certain film regardless of how they fall down the ladder when separated by an iota or two from one another.

Review- Prom

Aimee Teegarden and Thomas McDonell in Prom (Disney)

This isn’t a review that’s easy to write and I’ll tell you why straight off the bat. It’s due to the duality of my feelings about the film in question. As I plotted it in my head it seemed appropriate that it be somewhat similar to the Win Win review, in as much as it would focus heavily on performance. The reason for that in this film is that I’m sad to say I didn’t walk away from this film liking it but in watching it and re-watching it I really did love the cast that was assembled for it and what they did with the material with which they were asked to work.

To get the negative out of the way first a lot of my dissatisfaction in the film can be attributed mainly to narrative and script. It’s a difficult task to juggle multiple storylines, especially in a romantic comedy. You’ll find varying degrees of success in this kind of film because it’s hard to balance the stories, tell enough of them, keep them fresh and make them equally compelling. A lot of the strands while they are engaging enough are all too easily predictable.

The film also struggles with believability as it does have a tendency to transpose Nova’s (Aimee Teegarden) pie-in-the-sky feelings about the prom to a few characters. In the beginning it’s contained just to her but it spreads. Aside from the strands being predictable none of them are really stories we haven’t seen: there’s the Triangle, the Jilted Girlfriend, The Presumably Imaginary Girlfriend, The College Split-Up, The Honor Student and the Bad Boy and so on. Again no inherently bad templates but there’s not enough of a twist to freshen these up and of course all these tales each have their own arc and thus we have to wait as each starts a little awkwardly and ends nicely in due course. The only truly refreshing end of any strand was Corey’s. Corey (Cameron Monaghan) being the friend who feels left behind when his friend Lucas (Nolan Sotillo) falls for Simone (Danielle Campbell).

In spite of all of this the cast does wonders with the material. The main thrust of the film is, of course, The Nova and Jesse (Thomas McDonnell) tale. It starts as love-hate as they are forced to work together to rebuild the ruined prom decorations. There is real chemistry in this pairing. Months ago I had read that McDonnell’s performance had created some pre-release buzz in the industry and it’s easy to see why. There’s a potential star in the making there. Teegarden overcomes some very clunky and awkward dialogue at times to deliver a very good performance that is a step above what she showed on Friday Night Lights and the flip-side of her Scream 4 turn.

The Triangle of the film is actually two, which is not an easy trick to pull off so the film does deserve credit for that. Tyler (DeVaughn Nixon) is dating Jordan (Kylie Bunbury) but he’s cheating on her and wants to be with Simone. Simone also gains the interest of Lucas and Lucas likes her. It’s this dynamic where you’ll find some of the better dramatic moments of the story. Nixon, while getting his comeuppance, does give a good portrayal of the guy who will never really get it and is just out for himself. Bunbury of the four probably has the least amount of screen time but she always exudes a nobody’s fool air and she’s waiting to catch Tyler in flagrante to unleash her claws. Danielle Campbell shines as she is consistently torn throughout the film once you see the crack in her facade she is a confused character pained by the situation she’s been placed in.

Nolan Sotillo and his frequent scene partner Cameron Monaghan frequently steal the show in this film. Their chemistry is great and they work really well off one another. They also bring some of the most genuine comedy to the film and genuine emotion in general. It’s that very word that popped into my head as Lucas was fighting for Simone’s affections and was getting swatted away, he and she are quite genuine in their emotion in those scenes. Furthermore, Sotillo adds a song to the soundtrack of the film which is fantastic, it’s just a shame that it’s buried as the second song in the end credits it really could’ve been a boon to the climactic moments of the film.

The next major pairing is that of Mae (Yin Chang) and Justin (Jared Kusnitz). It was in watching these scenes that I really realized the arduous task these actors were given, few if any of them deal with scenes that allowed their to be a rhythmic ebb and flow to their performance, they were either dealing in just one note or they were constantly at high tension. Yin Chang is constantly at high tension it’s just a matter of how much she shows it that changes and her performance is very good. It’s a shame, however, that the talents of these two are utilized in one of the least compelling narrative strands.

The loners of note are: Rolo (Joe Adler) who offers a necessary and perfectly offbeat dose of comic relief and Lloyd (Nicholas Braun) who is the nice guy desperately trying to find just one girl who can or wants to go out with him. As if that wasn’t enough story Lloyd also has a constant companion, his stepsister played wonderfully by Raini Rodriguez.

In the adults of this tale a few more issues are brought to the fore. Yes, of course, there has to be an obstacle to Nova and Jesse going to the prom but the machinations by which her awkwardly played father (Dean Norris) goes through to prevent it are hard to swallow. Not neglecting to mention that somehow this high school is big enough such that people can go there for four years and not speak to one another but Nova’s dad instantly knows who Jesse Richter is at the mention of his name.

Ultimately, I’d say if you want to see a group of young actors you’re likely going to want to see again in something else go out and see this film. If you’re all about narrative and don’t care about the acting, sadly I can’t recommend it and as much as I do like this cast and what they did with what they were given, sadly I can’t give this film a passing grade.

5/10

Review- Win Win

Paul Giamatti and Alex Schaffer in Win Win (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

When writing a review I am not one who revels in deliberating on flowery prose with which to acknowledge the contributions of actors in a film. This is not to say an actors contributions to a film are insignificant, the prevailing reason for this fact is that as wonderful or irrelevant as a performance is, my opinion usually boils down to the narrative and how well it functions. However, on occasion you’ll find a character-driven piece that is so perfectly cast that it bears mentioning front and center.

That’s the case in Win Win. This film is all about its characters and each of the actors assigned to their respective characters could not be more well-suited, it’s quite literally pitch perfect. Paul Giamatti plays a more humbled and down-to-earth character than he’s usually given to toy with. The vulnerability there allows us to identify with him even when he makes mistakes and we know it at the time. He is flanked by friends who despite very different outward personas hide hurts from which they seek refuge. Each is played brilliantly by Bobby Cannavale and Jeffrey Tambor respectively.

The mentions of the cast will continue as necessary but I can proceed because what works best in this film is that it never devolves into a self-indulgent character study but allows the plot to flow from the characters.

It takes a sufficient amount of time to develop the characters and then allows the information to progress the story rather than have the plot move ahead and character development is left chasing. A prime example is Alex Shaffer’s character, he first shows up as a complication in Mike’s (Paul Giamatti’s) plan then we learn who he is, he wrestles to have something to do and then we discover he’s good. Director Thomas McCarthy’s gamble to find an actor who was a wrestler first paid off big time, as Shaffer plays the role of a disaffected teenager to a tee and adds more dimension to the role than perhaps was even written.

The dialogue in this film is funny and like everything else is character-driven. Nothing is flippantly tossed out for a laugh but everything grows out of who we learn these people are and how they’ll react to given situations. Jackie, Paul’s wife (Amy Ryan) is a prime example of this. A lot of her dialogue is hysterical but only within the context of who we discover she is and not inherently.

The characters get introduced to in drips and drabs such that we quickly, without being spoonfed, discover what makes them tick. The family dynamic is introduced with a triad of scenes each punctuated in profanity, the depths to which Terry (Bobby Cannavale) is suffering from his divorce is revealed slowly and almost as an aside and even wrestling, which ends up being a major component of the film, doesn’t get thrown into the mix straight away.

The film benefits greatly from having a very tight and neatly structured script that paces itself to perfection. Aside from making sound and effective narrative decisions it is great mechanically. As I was watching it I wondered if Newmarket Press had picked it up for the Shooting Script series (it seems it has not but hopefully it will).

The title of the film reflects itself in the narrative in a subtle way in as you get the resolution you wanted. Yet, it’s the manner in which it’s handled that’s the most satisfying. It’s not a sappy or stereotypical ending. Ultimately, the characters end up with what they want but not how they expected to get and not without sacrificing.

The climactic conflict that needs resolving to get to said point is also very well dealt with. To put it simply it’s wordlessly and cinematically resolved. There are times in life when we know words are futile and an action must either be forgiven or not and life must go on. This is even more true in cinema and few films realize and this one does.

This is a great serio-comic film that resonates with truthfulness and is the rare film I’d categorize as a must see.

10/10