Archive for the Sport Category

Grudge Match

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Sport with tags on March 14, 2014 by Mark Walker

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Director: Peter Segal.
Screenplay: Tim Kelleher, Rodney Rothman.
Starring: Robert DeNiro, Sylvester Stallone, Kim Basinger, Alan Arkin, Kevin Hart, Jon Bernthal, LL Cool J, Barry Primus, Anthony Anderson, Ireland Baldwin, Rich Little, Roy Jones Jr, Evander Holyfield, Mike Tyson.

Yeah, look at us! We’re not dead! Everyone’s laughing at us! The whole world’s laughing at us! But we’re not dead! In fact, I feel more alive now than I ever felt!

Although their careers have went in very different paths, Sylvester Stallone and Robert DeNiro have been around roughly the same amount of time and have, on occasion, come together. In 1976, they were Best Actor nominees for two of their most successful roles in “Rocky” and “Taxi Driver” (both losing out to Peter Finch in “Network“) and in 1997 they shared the screen for the first time in “Cop Land“. Now they’re at it again…

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Rush

Posted in Action, Biography, Drama, Sport with tags on January 22, 2014 by Mark Walker

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Director: Ron Howard.
Screenplay: Peter Morgan.
Starring: Daniel Brühl, Chris Hemsworth, Olivia Wilde, Alexandra Maria Lara, Stephen Mangan, Christian McKay, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Jamie de Courcey, Pierfrancesco Favino, Natalie Dormer.

A wise man can learn more from his enemies than a fool from his friends“.

Before he became a director, Ron Howard was originally known for his acting as Richie Cunningham from “Happy Days” and that character seems to have plagued his career since. Howard can certainly resemble the character’s name in some ways; He makes production companies ‘rich’ and he most certainly delivers ‘ham’ but he lacks the ‘cunning’ to be the truly great director that he perceives himself to be. Please excuse the very poor puns but if Howard can get away with as many clichés as he does, then I deem myself the right to use as many bad puns as I want. “Rush” is further proof of Howard’s over-praised talents and no amount of money or positive word-of-mouth will change that.

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Moneyball * * * *

Posted in Biography, Drama, Sport with tags on March 11, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Bennett Miller
Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin, Steven Zaillian
Starring: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright, Chris Pratt, Stephen Bishop, Reed Diamond, Brent Jennings, Ken Medlock, Tammy Blanchard, Glenn Morshower, Kathryn Morris, Nick Searcy, Jack McGee, Arliss Howard, Spike Jonze.

A slow moving, dialogue driven Baseball film – that features very little actual Baseball – will almost certainly ostracise a large amount of viewers. However, this actually works on a surprisingly dramatic level from acclaimed stage director Bennett Miller.

Based on the true story of financially crippled baseball team, the Oakland Athletics and their general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), who tried to hold them all together. In order to make a winning team with no money, he had to change the sport. To do this, he enlisted the help of smart young analyst Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) and attempted to use a new formula of computer-generated analysis to acquire new players.

How this film manages to maintain your interest – with constant boardroom discussions and talk of Baseball statistics – is testament to everyone involved. Miller’s direction is low-key, adding an almost documentary feel; Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay is full of natural dialogue and Pitt’s central performance is subtly brilliant. This doesn’t rely on special effects – or even on the game itself that much – to entertain. It relies on a basic story well told. The formula of sports films are left far behind for this fly-on-the-wall approach to the business side of things. There’s no players pointing to the sky before knocking the ball out of the park: there’s no clock ticking as the underdog tries to overcome the big-hitters. Well, in some cases you could say this happens. But it happens less on the park and more in the offices and boardrooms of the backroom staff. This inevitably leads to talking. Lots of talking. But thankfully, the cast are more than up for the challenge. Pitt (in an Oscar nominated turn) is an actor that has grown in the maturity of his recent roles and handles the difficult role of Billy Beane to perfection. The normally profane Jonah Hill (also Oscar nominated) is effectively reserved and even Philip Seymour Hoffman, in a vastly underwritten role, manages to speak a thousand words with his expressions alone. The only downside it had was it’s over-length. At over two hours long, it’s hard to maintain your concentration with a film that is primarily concerned with number crunching. However, most of the time, surprisingly, flys by.

An unconventional sports film that focuses on a side of the game that is rarely addressed. In our current financial climate, this has been released at just the right time.

Mark Walker

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Warrior * * * * 1/2

Posted in Drama, Sport with tags on March 6, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Gavin O’Connor.
Screenplay: Gavin O’Connor, Anthony Tambakis, Cliff Dorfman.
Starring: Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, Nick Nolte, Frank Grillo, Jennifer Morrison, Kevin Dunn, Maximiliano Hernandez, Kurt Angle, Erik Apple, Gavin O’Connor, Noah Emmerich.

2011 was a good year for movies. Even the ones that tread old ground still achieved their own identity. Just look at the Oscar winning “The Artist“, for harking back to silent films; “Hugo“, for reminding us of the origins and the magic involved in making them; “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” remake also found an audience, a mere two years after the Swedish original. This is another, that manages to take an old formula and still make it work.

Tommy Conlon (Tom Hardy) returns to his hometown Pittsburgh after serving time as a Marine. When back, he prepares for the world’s biggest mixed martial arts tournament, reconnecting with his father, Paddy (Nick Nolte), who takes up his training. Meanwhile, his estranged brother, Brendan (Joel Edgerton), realises he has to return to his old fighting ways if he has any hope of saving his family from crippling financial debts.

This is no basic rags to riches sport flick; there’s personal history to the three main characters. It has the working class background and fighting montages that lead to the obvious comparisons to “Rocky” or more recently “The Fighter“. But even though this is on similar, well worn territory, it’s greatest achievement is in delivering something surprisingly fresh and all it’s own. The two lead performances are excellently delivered by Hardy and Edgerton but it’s Nolte, as their estranged alcoholic father, that really stands out. A great moment, in particular, between the tortured characters of Nolte and Hardy in a diner where the tables turn. As soon as Nolte takes over as trainer, he becomes the patriarch once more. Meanwhile, Edgerton (reminding me of a younger Russell Crowe) combines the family man with ferocious fighting abilities more than competently. The sport itself has rarely been covered on screen. David Mamet touched upon it in 2001 in his impressive film “RedBelt” but that didn’t take much of the fighting into the ring. This does. It has the usual sports flick cliches; the underdog; the montages; the friends and relatives watching at home; the opinionated commentary at ringside. If truth be told though, it’s a winning formula. But where this film succeeds is in it’s human drama. The characters are real and instill a sympathy and sensitivity while building to it’s inevitable conclusion. There are moments that genuinely have you on the edge of your seat and ultimately punching the air with delight. (particularly Edgerton’s fights).

Despite the formula and abundance of cliches, this still manages to transcend them and come out a winner. A great sports film that hits all the right buttons.

Mark Walker

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Redbelt * * * *

Posted in Drama, Sport with tags on February 2, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: David Mamet.
Screenplay: David Mamet.
Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tim Allen, Alice Braga, Emily Mortimer, Rodrigo Santoro, Joe Mantegna, Ricky Jay, David Paymer, Max Martini, Rebecca Pidgeon, Ray Mancini, Jose Pablo Cantillo, John Machado, J. J. Johnston, Jack Wallace.

After the arguably awful “Spartan”, writer/director David Mamet delivered this. It could be called a genre picture but if you know Mamet, you’ll know he doesn’t really follow conventions.

Mixed-martial-arts instructor Mike Terry (Chiwetel Ejiofor) has money problems. He could earn $50,000 in a competition, but honour precludes him from fighting for money. Then a series of chance encounters leaves him no choice but to step into the ring.

The film opens dramatically, introducing several of it’s key characters in quick succession and manages to maintain this drama for a lenghty period. In fact, for almost the entire film. The acting is marvellous with Chiwetel Ejiofor’s central, dynamic performance a real highlight. He’s a fine actor, deserving of more major leading roles. As always, David Mamet’s dialogue is sharp and natural, helping his characters come to life. At first, so many strands to the story are introduced, with no explanation, before eventually bringing them all cleverly together. Mamet is known for his writing skills and again they are on display here. Despite the undeniable power though, as it progresses, it starts to veer toward the formulaic side (which I suppose is difficult considering it’s subject) and ties it’s many strands up rather quickly, in a nice red bow (or quite literally ‘belt’). It was far too neatly done and gave the feeling of being rushed, letting down an otherwise superb film.

Although flawed, it’s still absorbing and one of David Mamet’s better films. It’s not a major demerit but I found it to be a bit short, I was enjoying it so much that I could have done with an extra half an hour. Then again, maybe there is no higher compliment than this.

Mark Walker

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Any Given Sunday * 1/2

Posted in Drama, Sport with tags on January 12, 2012 by Mark Walker

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Director: Oliver Stone.
Screenplay: Oliver Stone, John Logan.
Starring: Al Pacino, Cameron Diaz, James Woods, Dennis Quaid, Jamie Foxx, Aaron Eckhart, LL Cool J, Matthew Modine, Jim Brown, Lauren Holly, Ann-Margret, Elizabeth Berkeley, John C. McGinley, Charlton Heston.

Considering the talent involved and the fact that American sports tend to be good stock for film material, you’d think that this film would be a winner. Sadly, not on this occasion.

Tony D’Amato (Al Pacino), is the coach for the Miami Sharks, a team who have hit a real slump in form and are struggling to hold their own on the football pitch. The team has too many Chiefs and not enough Indians and D’Amato not only has to manage the on-field antics of his players but also the off-field antics and spiraling ego’s. This is all done with new hard-ass owner Christina Pagniacci (Cameron Diaz) breathing down his neck and demanding results.

There is such a brash in-your-face kinetic energy to this film that you dont get a minute to relax throughout it. Pacino has several of his usual in-your-face rants, Oliver Stone’s direction and dreadful cameo are in-your-face, the sharp and edgy editing is in-your-face. The whole exhibitionist sport is in-your-face. So much so, that it becomes very abusive and quite frankly, tiresome very early on. Added to this, the film goes on for at least an hour over its recommended running time, bombarding us with some very high testosterone and machismo. The only positives rest with the impressive use of close contact football scenes, complete with disorientation and crunching tackles and the fine cast, particulary Cameron Diaz who shows she can match the rants and aggression of Pacino. It’s just disappointing that the film couldn’t supply the great ensemble with some material to work with.

Wonderful cast. Wonderful director. Woeful film.
On Any Given Sunday, I’d avoid this stinker.

Mark Walker

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