November 18th, 2015 — 7:43am
This is an excellent film that should score a touchdown on several counts. Significantly, it may put an unwavering light on the brain damage that football brings about due to the repeated slamming of the brain in its fluid container inside the skull, which is so characteristic of our highly popular American sport. The viewers of this film will take in this awareness in the course of this most dramatic presentation. The audience will also witness an outstanding sensitive performance by Will Smith who plays Dr. Bennet Omalu, the true to life Pittsburgh pathologist who discovered and named Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy as a result of performing autopsies on three former professional football players who died at a young age. Their death was often preceded by memory difficulties, mood alterations which included depression and labile mood which often led to out of control behavior and even suicide.
Will Smith deserves Oscar consideration as he brought to life the persona of this brilliant Nigerian born doctor who had numerous degrees but yet was sensitive to his deceased patients and felt compelled to be sure that their true story was told. He worked in a Pittsburgh morgue under the supervision and support of famed pathologist, Dr. Cyril Wecht who was played very well by Albert Brooks. Wecht was portrayed as quite wise yet with a smidgen of comic undertones, which made him quite warm and believable. Dr. Julian Bailes (Alec Baldwin) who was a former loyal NFL team doctor who once he appreciated the solidity of Dr. Omalu’s discovery, stood by him in his confrontations with the NFL.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw sensitively portrayed Dr. Omalu’s girlfriend, who became his wife. The film may have taken on a little too much unnecessary poetic license in at least one place by showing Dr. Omalu’s wife being harassed by some people following her while she was driving alone in her car, which led to her having a miscarriage. Director/Writer Peter Landesman in response to MB’s question admitted that this incident shown in the movie was not exactly what happened. He said, it was meant to symbolize and condense the real harassment that Dr. Omalu and his new wife had from the many football fans in his community when some of them realized that the essence of professional football was being challenged by this one unknown doctor who documented and published scientific articles backing up his findings which challenged the safety of football at all levels from the NFL down through college, high school and even at the youngest level.
We know that ultimately lawsuits were brought against the NFL and were settled for large sums of money with the caveat that the NFL does not have to acknowledge how long they knew about the possibility of brain damage in the players. Practices have since been adopted to take players out of the game who show signs of head injury. However, it has been estimated that at least one-quarter of professional football players will develop evidence of brain damage. We do not know what the full extent of these injuries will be especially in high school and college players or even at the most junior level who are playing the sport.
The authenticity of this film is confirmed by the fact that the real Dr. Omalu and Dr. Cyril Wecht are consultants to the movie. There was one line in the film, which states that if 10% of parents hold back their children from playing football, it could destroy football as the big time multibillion-dollar sport that it is today. We don’t know if that statistic is true. We also don’t know if this film will get wide enough distribution to make this impact. The filmmakers wondered if the NFL would use their influence to stop the film from being advertised during NFL TV games. Apparently, that is not going to be the case. So the general public is going to get a chance to learn about this outstanding movie and parents as well as young people will decide if the youth of America is going to play this game knowing what they know about concussions, brain trauma and aftermath of these events. (2015)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History, Sport
February 19th, 2015 — 7:05pm
McFarland, U.S.A. – sp –
What could be more all American than a sports film staring Kevin Costner? (think Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, Tip Cup, For the Love of the Game) Add to this, a New Zealand director who has established credentials in understanding cultures, not her own, by immersing herself within these places. That is Niki Caro who previously made the award winning film “Whale Rider” about an obscure Maori tribe. On top of that , Disney Studios is backing the film. McFarland, U.S.A. is certainly a United States story, but it is also an authentic depiction of first generation Mexican immigrants living in the Central California town of McFarland. The community lives by picking fruit and vegetables that will be on American tables. The kids attend school but are also employed in the fields doing the back-breaking “picking” work to add to the support of their families. Along comes a new teacher, Jim White, (Kevin Costner) who had had problems in his previous jobs and comes to McFarland as the only place which was so desperate for a teacher that he is hired. He arrives in this small, dusty, impoverished town with his wife and two daughters, none of whom is happy to be coming to this place so alien to them. He is to be the assistant football coach and teach life sciences courses. While his job as football coach soon ends, he realizes that while the kids have little going for them, some of them are incredibly fast, strong runners. The story takes off from there. On one hand you might think that you can guess the drift of the film, but this is much more than a “Chariots of Fire” lookalike. It is a moving story based on the lives of real people who you will hear about in the closing scenes and rolling credits. It will touch you, excite you and make you laugh. It will send a chill up your spine, bring a tear to your eye and you will walk out of the theater knowing you have experienced an outstanding film. (2015)
Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, Family / Kids, Sport
February 5th, 2015 — 8:22pm
The Red Army-sp The Red Army is a film about hockey, except that it isn’t! We agreed with several people in the audience, with whom we saw this film, who stated that they had not been looking forward to this documentary about the national hockey team of the Soviet Union. However, we, like they, were entirely captivated by this incredibly well executed documentary written, directed and produced by the young filmmaker, Gabe Polsky. While much of the film showed actual footage of hockey games played by this extraordinary team, the scenes were beautifully put together between photos of early years of some of the players, magnificent interviews with a wide range of people and footage of life in the soviet union over the years. Mr. Polsky created a film that was enlightening, poignant and engaging by focusing mainly on one player, Viacheslav (Slava) Festinov and telling his story. By doing that, he told the story of the proud Russian people and their culture. He was able to explicate the determination and love of country, even in the face of adversity and lack of freedom that existed. Festinov as a young boy was like millions of other youths who wanted to play hockey and dreamt of being on his national team. Because of his skills he became part of the national hockey-training program that selects the best and vigorously trains them for several years. Through carefully constructed and interwoven interviews and film clips we come to see the total dedication to the game that these young men developed. We are introduced to the coaches who revolutionized the game by treating it on the level of complex ballet and complicated chess games, both of which the Russians had been known to be masters. We also see the unrelenting, even cruel training techniques that required total dedication and the total power that a coach with support of the government could have over the players. The film shows the fascinating years of the amazing world wide successes, then the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” in which the United States Olympic hockey team upset the Soviet Union and went on to win the Gold Medal at Lake Placid and the redoubled efforts following that loss which created a whole new “must win” era in the Soviet Union. The events that then occurred with all the twists and turns of a “must see” thriller are captured in the film keeping the viewer totally engaged. The events in Festinov’s life as well as the changes in the Soviet Union are compelling. With hockey as a platform, it is what happens in the lives of the people in this space that makes for a film that compels you to become involved. It is the best of what a good documentary does. You see, you learn and most of all you care. (2014)
Comment » | 5 Stars, Documentary, History, Sport
November 24th, 2014 — 6:39am
Foxcatcher rm– Steve Carell establishes himself as a serious actor as he plays John Dupont, one of the wealthy children of the Dupont family. He seems filled with his own narcissism but yet insecure and desperate to prove to his mother and the world that he is a wonderful, worthwhile person. He is going to try to do this by investing in his great passion and that is wrestling. He envisions himself as a wrestling coach and father figure to what he hopes will be the US championship team of the 1988 Olympics. This film is based on a true story with a screenplay by Dan Futterman and E. Max Frye and is directed by Bennett Miller. It is mainly about three characters, Dupont, Mark Schultz ( Channing Tatum) and David Schultz (Mark Ruffalo) The latter two are brothers who have already won Olympic Gold Medals in wrestling. Mark comes across as quite introverted, islolated pliable and almost too wooden as he quickly agrees to move to the the Dupont estate and train for the next Olympics. It is hard to say if his rather blunted personality is what was intended by the story or perhaps it is some underacting by Tatum. David, the older brother and already a family man with a wife and two kids is also in a coaching mode, exudes warmth and relatedness, all of which is projected quite well by Ruffalo. He ultimately decides to bring his wife (Sienna Miller) and two kids to join the US wrestling team on the Dupont estate under the irrational auspicious of John Dupont. The ambivalent relationship and tension between the two brothers is subtle and interesting to ponder. Vanessa Redgrave has a brief role as the Dupont mother who loves valuable horses and doesn’t think very highly of wrestling much to the despair of her son John. If you were into high school or college wrestling you may appreciate all the wrestling moves in the various scenes on the mats. The plot is also interesting to grapple with in this sad but very interesting story. (2014)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, History, Sport
September 27th, 2014 — 5:38am
Draft Day- rm You have to give credit to a movie that comes up with an original theme about which millions of Americans will feel great passion. The subject is football and one of the most important, if not crucial days of the football season, which is the NFL Draft Day. In this fictional story, leading up to this day, Sonny Weaver (Kevin Costner), the general manager of the Cleveland Browns, trades away his team’s number one draft pick, for three years of future number one picks. Which player he chooses with that pick, who he doesn’t choose and the drama behind all the deals and horse trading that does go down, is the essence of this movie. Costner is supported by Jennifer Garner who plays his girl friend. She is a football executive with the Browns in charge of keeping track of the “cap” (football fans will know what this means). Dennis Leary plays the coach of the Browns with the Super Bowl ring and a million dollar salary, who is supposed to lead next year’s team to that very Super Bowl. Only he is not so sure that he likes Weaver’s intended draft picks. Speaking of million dollar salaries, Roger Godell the real Commissioner of the NFL, who is known to have a multi-million dollar salary, plays himself in the movie (obviously not for the money). By coincidence, the day that we saw this film on a cross-country air flight, the NFL is in the headlines as Roy Rice, an NFL star, has been suspended for punching out his fianceé, which was caught in an elevator video. There is a somewhat related theme in this movie, as the question is raised of how should the character of the potential draftee influence whether he is chosen as a high draft choice as compared to being chosen solely on the basis of his athletic accomplishments. You can guess which one wins out. The film is directed and co-produced by Ivan Reitman (Ghostbuster I and II and other mainly comedies). This movie won’t be at the top of our ‘picks” and we rate it a notch below Moneyball, which dealt with a related theme in professional baseball. However, we know that football fans will eat it up and there are lots of them out there. (2014)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Sport
April 28th, 2013 — 7:32am
42 rm- When a movie can tell the story of an important 20th century historical event, gets it right with the subject being our national pastime, baseball, and racial prejudice, it has achieved an extra base hit. If that movie can appeal to youngsters from pre-teens upwards and can push all the buttons of baseball fans who lived (one of us in Brooklyn) through the time frame of this story, it has hit a homerun. After experiencing this film with our two grandchildren we certainly felt that way. Jackie Robinson was chosen by Branch Rickey, general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, in 1947 to become the first black baseball player in the major leagues. This film traces Rickey’s decision and Robinson’s journey out of the all black baseball league, first to the Montreal Royals, the Dodger’s premier farm club, then to the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Major Leagues. The film portrays racial slurs, threats, bean balls to the head, being refused check-in at hotels, mixed reaction from the Dodger teammates who included Dixie Walker, Pee Wee Reese, Ralph Branca, Gene Hermansky and Eddie Stankey. It showed tough manager Leo Durocher (Christopher Meloni) who got thrown off the team for an extramarital affair with actress Lorraine Day and kindly manager Burt Shotten (Max Gail) who wore street clothes whila managing because he promised his wife he would never put on another baseball uniform after he retired. Director and screenplay writer Brian Heigeland (who previously wrote Mystic River and won an Academy Award for his adaptation of LA Confidential) apparently got his love of Brooklyn and the history of the Dodgers from his dad. Once he got interested in this story he won the rights and the blessing of Robinson’s widow Rachel. He went out of his way to bring authenticity to the story and chose his baseball scenes from the actual box scores. Adding Brooklyn sportscaster Red Barber’s (John McGinley) play by play was a good touch. Relative newcomer Chadwick Boseman did an excellent job as Robinson, as did Nicole Beharie as Rachel. Their chemistry was wonderful and apparently was very moving to the real Rachel. However, if anybody other than Jackie Robinson was stealing anything other than second base it may have been Harrison Ford as Dodger GM Branch Rickey stealing the movie. His cigar chewing inflections, his determination and the glint in his eye must have channeled the real Rickey and certainly brought his spirit to the film. It may even bring an Oscar statue to Mr Ford. Of course the star is Jackie Robinson and this film will certainly allow him and his legacy to live on for future generations- a most worthwhile outcome.(2013)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History, Sport
February 8th, 2012 — 5:44pm
Undefeated- sp Friday night football is a great American tradition throughout many parts of the United States where families watch their high school boys battle it out for the glory of the their schools . For so many of these football warriors, it is the prelude to moving into the real world and starting their careers which for many will include further training in college. Win or lose their high school football memories should be one of the many experiences, which will add to their development as young adults. However members of the Manassas High School football team in Memphis Tennessee who are black, poor, most without fathers almost all have close relatives who have recently been in jail, don’t have too much to look forward. They certainly might not be inclined to get too much out of their football experience. That is until Bill Courtney, owner of a nearby lumber factory decides to volunteer his time and knowledge to be the team football coach. Courtney missed growing up with a father and in addition to raising his own kids, he gives of himself to be a father figure to this team. Within 6 years he has instilled in the players who are drawn to the team, a philosophy of teamwork and recognition that it is how you deal with loss and setback that will make the difference in life. Rich Middlemas, a junior movie executive read in a local newspaper about some of the transformations occurring in the team. He convinces filmmakers Daniel Lindsay and T,J Martin to go to Memphis and shoot some film of what is going on there. They are able to get funding to spend a year with with this team and shoot within a 9-month period 500 hours of film which is boiled down to 113 minutes of an intimate documentary of these young men and their quest for a successful football season. It particularly captures the personal stories of three of them and reveals the inspirational nature of Mr. Courtney. The team does something that no other football team from Manassas has ever done and that is make it to the playoffs. And Mr. Middlemas does something that very few documentary filmmakers have ever done and that is to be nominated for an Oscar. (2011)
P.S. The movie won an Oscar !!
Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, Sport
September 24th, 2011 — 7:07am
Moneyball- rm A major movie which deals with the complexities of baseball stands a good chance of capturing a big piece of the American pie. When you add a star such as Brad Pitt you have the recipe for a perfect dessert. However, this film which emerges on the scene as major league baseball is gearing for the playoff season, deals with more than just our national pastime. It is a metaphor for the problems facing so many businesses today as they realize that in order to win in today’s competitive world, you have to be more than the biggest guy around with most bucks. You have to be smart, understand modern technology and be creative. That is exactly what Billy Beane, General Manager of the Oakland Athletics and his trustworthy Assistant Manager and computer nerd, Yale graduate Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) set out to prove when he realized that the meager salary cap that his owner gave him for his team couldn’t hold a candle to the one that the New York Yankees had available to them. Baseball fans, most of whom understand the fine points of the game will appreciate the logic of the idea that three guys who all together get on base as often as the big gun who makes several times all their salaries combined might be better value to draft or hold on the team. This thesis based on real events is played out with drama, humor and much realism assisted by very realistic actors playing baseball, real baseball video clips and the voices of real baseball announcers. Brad Pitt infuses into Billy Beane the determination, inner confidence and likeability that holds the attention of the audience. We shouldn’t forget a very strong (as usual) supporting role played by Phllip Seymour Hoffman as Art Howe, the A’s manager. The movie is directed by Bennett Miller and the screenplay co-written by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, the latter being well known for producing riveting dialog which also characterized this production. (2011)
Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Sport
March 12th, 2011 — 8:00am
Win Win sp- The unglamorous struggles of people’s everyday lives can be the making of a good story and a good movie. Writer /Director Thomas McCarthy who seems to specialize in this approach (The Visitor and Station Agent) takes us to small community in New Jersey where Mike (Paul Giamatti )volunteers as the high school wrestling coach of the very anemic wrestling team, while he works as a lawyer who helps the elderly. Mike is feeling the stress of the economy and asks the court to appoint him as guardian of a client with some assets as well as early dementia (Burt Young) so he can get the financial commission. He puts him in an assisted living facility rather than arranging for him to be cared for at home as he promised the court.. The old man’s taciturn grandson Kyle(Alex Shaffer) appears from out of town and moves in with Mike , his wife (Amy Ryan) their two young daughters and attends the high school . Kyle happens to be a great wrestler and this is exciting for the high school team, the Coach and his two assistant coaches (Jeff Tambor and Bobby Cannavale). The conflict is complete when Kyle’s young mother(Melanie Lynskey) also blows into town. She has been an addict, not a very good mom or daughter but now wants to be involved with her father because she needs the money. There is poignant meaningful interaction between the main characters by which the audience gains insight into their struggles and growth. As might be expected Giamatti is the glue of the film as the audience feels his pain, understands his choices and wants to see him work through the jam that he has created for himself. Alex Shaffer apparently a true curly blond teenage boy was a Michigan state high school wrestling champ but had absolutely no acting experience when McCarthy cast him as Kyle and put him under his wing. He carried off his role quite well and needless to say the wrestling scenes were very realistic. Veteran producer of this film Michael London who produced Sideways, was guest speaker at our screening along with Melanie Lynskey. When a screening is accompanied by an army of security guards as this one was, who search you for cell phones and the like which had to be kept out of the theater, one tends to expect a blockbuster of a movie. That was not the case with this film, but it was a character driven movie that showed real people “wrestling” with the conflicts of their lives and trying to make the best of their situations.(2011)
Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Sport, Uncategorized
January 30th, 2011 — 7:37am
The Fighter rm– Why is it that a good fight movie in the end will push your emotional buttons and bring a tear to your eye when it comes to the conclusion? Think Rocky. However, this movie isn’t really about boxing although there is lots of boxing in it. It is about family, loyalty. dreams and aspirations, self determination but not forgetting where you came from. It is based on a real people and a true story. It is the story of the boxer Mickey Ward(Mark Wahlberg) and his relationship with his older ½ brother Dicky (Christian Bale), a former boxer who once fought Sugar Ray Robinson but became involved with drugs and spent time in prison. Dicky comes back after much family interaction and soul searching and he trains his brother for the ultimate championship fight . Writers Scott Silver and Paul Tamasy along with Director David Russell provide a story with great character development where you understand them as well as seeing them grow and change. The acting is fantastic. Mark Wahlberg does a very good job getting into shape and carrying off the role of boxer and the sensitive brother here. But the major acting kudos have to go to Christian Bale who brought the older brother and his fantasies for himself and his kid brother to life. No matter how he came to this portrayal it would be a worthy tour de force but at the very end of the film there is a brief film clip of the real brothers interacting and you can see that Bale nailed all mannerisms of his character. If this film should get two acting awards, the second one would be for Melissa Leo who plays the brother’s Mom as an insensitive, selfish mother who had been managing her son’s boxing career as it was going downhill. Maybe deep down she loves her kids perhaps the older one more but you won’t feel neutral about her. We have seen Leo in other great performances in Frozen River and Conviction. The latter film along with Kings Speech, 127 Hours , The Social Network, including this one are in our opinion among the best of the films of 2010 and are all based on true stories. Truth may be better than fiction but you have to be able to tell a good story and this one certainly did.(2010)
Comment » | 5 Stars, Biography, Sport