Tag Archives: sports movies

Uncle Drew

If anyone was going to love Uncle Drew, it would have been me. After all, in the early 90s my bedroom walls were covered with posters of Shaquille O’Neal and Reggie Miller, among others (Michael Jordan’s posters covered the most real estate, of course). Also in the early 90s, I watched Chris Webber call a timeout he didn’t have (after travelling first) and cost his team a championship (which would have been lost either way since that team has been erased from the NCAA record books).

Many years later, I got to watch Kyrie Irving take on Russell Westbrook live in Oklahoma City, as Kyrie made everyone besides Russ look like they were standing still.

And like most basketball fans, I never sought out Nate Robertson or had any of his posters, though I am sure I saw him win a few dunk contests (somehow he won more of those than Jordan).

Kyrie Irving plays Uncle Drew, an old guy who’s still got game, and who gets recruited onto a streetball team by Get Out’s Lil Rey Howery in order to beat a team coached by Howery’s childhood nemesis, Nick Kroll. Uncle Drew has one condition: Howery has to help reunite Uncle Drew’s old team. Reluctant but out of options, Howery agrees and heads out on a road trip to search for a bunch of old guys made up to look slightly older (the three all-time greats I mentioned above, along with Robinson).

From L to R: Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Webber, Nate Robinson, Reggie Miller and Kyrie Irving on the set of UNCLE DREW. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate.

Seeing Shaq, Reggie, and C-Webb team up with one of the most exciting players in today’s NBA should have been enough for me to somewhat enjoy this movie (with superdunker Aaron Gordon and WNBA/Team U.S.A. legend Lisa Leslie as added bonuses). But it wasn’t. The basketball scenes really weren’t exceptional, and with such a skilled roster, they should have been. They NEEDED to be, because as hard as Howery, Kroll and Tiffany Haddish try, the attempts at comedy in this movie fall flat. So all that’s left is the basketball, which is not even Blue Chips quality (at least Blue Chips features prime Shaq instead of Uncle Drew’s heart attack Shaq).

The Uncle Drew concept made for an entertaining Pepsi ad because Kyrie Irving made highlight-reel plays wearing several coats of old man makeup. Not surprisingly, that concept wears very, very thin when stretched to feature length. The old man gimmick and a bit of nostalgia are really all that Uncle Drew (the movie) has to offer, so it’s simply not strong enough for me to recommend, as much as I wish I could.

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The Rebound

Like any good sports movie, The Rebound has an impressive training montage. The men push themselves to be stronger, go longer, play harder. They are fast, they are dedicated. They get up at ungodly hours to work out, and their grocery bills reflect their need to ‘feed the machine.’ But the stars of The Rebound aren’t your usual athletes.

In basketball, a rebound is when a player regains control of the ball after a shot is missed. It’s the second chance play. In the NWBA, the players contend with a different kind of rebound. It’s how a man picks himself up after a life-altering accident has left them paralyzed. The W stands for wheelchair.

This documentary follows a few key players on the Miami Heat Wheels as they push toward a national championship. But for the Wheels, it can never be as simple as playing well. Funding, for them, will always be an issue. The county gave them $2500 for the season when a trip to nationals alone will cost 11 grand. So between playing, traveling, and training, they’ll also be fund-raising.

Some of these men will discuss their accidents, and since many are a result of GSWs, they discuss, by extension, the need for gun control. Some of them are hoping to earn athletic scholarships for school. One is trying to break into the music industry. But they’re all really passionate about basketball, which is good, because when you’re strapped into a chair and careening at high-speeds on a court, the game looks brutal and dangerous. But they make it look easy. Physical, yes, but sometimes also surprisingly elegant.

Like lots of movies about sports, this documentary is about triumph over obstacles – it’s just that these athletes encounter challenges both on and off the courts.

Ronnie Coleman: The King

Ronnie Coleman ripped the bodybuilding world in two in 1999 when he appeared on the already crowded scene. A former cop and powerlifter, he ties the record for most Mr. Olympia wins with 8, count em – 8, victories. That’s how you get a nickname like The King.

But since his retirement, he’s been plagued with injury as a result. He’s had numerous back surgeries, and both hips replaced. He needs crutches just to walk. The documentary catches up with him on the eve of his 8th (count em – 8) surgery, and he’s crippled with pain. It’s awful to watch him walk.

His accomplishments are enormous (bodybuilding pun!) and veiny, but told through the MV5BN2M0YmFmM2MtNGIyZS00NjY4LTk1MjgtNGRmNjdjMjE1MDk5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDMxNTQ3MTk@._V1_SY1000_SX675_AL_prism of his disability, they’re not exactly dimmed, but the context is clearly costly. Too costly, some, in fact most, would say. But as Ronnie pulls up to the supplement store, he parks in the handicap accessibility parking – and even then he barely makes it in. But what is he even doing there? Well, despite the fact that he’s popping the max dosage in pain pills, Ronnie is still drinking his protein shakes because Ronnie is still training. It’s killing him, but he can’t stop.

It’s really interesting to watch someone attain the absolute top in his field, and it’s interesting in a different, guilt-laced way to watch him fall. But Ronnie Coleman with a broken body proves there are different kinds of strength. It’s a mental fortitude he’ll need to cope with his loss. His smile and positive attitude go a long way.

This documentary has everything – the highs and lows, tragedy and comedy. Well, this documentary has almost everything. You don’t achieve 300lbs of lean muscle, go down in history as the greatest bodybuilder of all time, without a little help. But director Vlad Yudin does not so much as whisper the word steroids. So no, there is not complete transparency here, perhaps an effort not to tarnish the king’s image. The picture is incomplete but on the whole it’s still an enjoyable, heartbreaking, uplifting (bodybuilder pun!) watch.

 

 

Transformer

Janae Marie Kroczaleski was just going about her business in 2015 when she was publicly outed by a Youtuber without her consent. Her parents disowned her, her sponsors dropped her: overnight her life had been decided for her. Born Matt Kroczaleski, she had known for a long time that her true identity was female. Matt joined the Marines to help “push down the feminine stuff.” He married and had 3 children. But Matt never felt right in his skin. If he had to live as a male, he had to be the biggest, strongest guy he could be, and he was. A power-lifter known to his fans simply as ‘Kroc,’ Matt became the strongest man in the world for his size.

Still, he thought constantly about living as a woman, and didn’t feel authentic in his body. Over a period of 10 years, he began transitioning many times. He didn’t quit VWrtDx-gbecause it was difficult, or because he was unsure. He’d quit because he couldn’t reconcile the two halves of himself: the need to be strong AND be a woman. In his male skin, he needed to be the biggest, the most muscular, but as a woman he wanted to be petite. When he cut weight, dieted and stopped lifting, he deprived himself of his friends, his support system, the world he knew and the lifestyle he loved. Muscles were a security blanket of sorts. It’s hard to let those go.

Director Michael Del Monte makes a fascinating documentary because he’s chosen a subject who is open and accessible. Janae is courageous and enlightening. It may not have been her idea to go public, but she embraces it bravely. I loved her willingness to speak candidly about failed transitions. I adored scenes with her family – her sons are terrific people who are not only supportive but engaged in her transition, asking intelligent questions while treating her in the same loving way they’ve always treated their father – they know this is the same person, only happier and more honest. These young men have a lot to teach adults twice their age.

The documentary bracingly follows Janae as she makes this transition her last. She’s going to learn that all women are strong, by necessity, no matter what they look like on the outside. Matt Kroczaleski went through a lot in his life, but Janae understands that her path will be hardest to follow. In this documentary, she loses her job, encounters protesters, has “elective” surgery that for her is life-saving, life-embracing, is a supportive and knowledgeable judge at transfitcon, and evaluates her ass in a pair of skinny jeans. The world is complex. Janae is realistic. Transformer doesn’t speak for all transgendered people, but it speaks wonderfully to one woman’s experience. It’s personal, it’s intimate, and it’s a beautiful portrait of a life in transition and a woman coming in to her own.

 

 

SXSW: First Match

Monique is not your average high school student. She acts tough and gets into a lot of fights. But it’s easy to judge someone when we don’t know anything about them. I’d say her home life isn’t good, but Monique doesn’t have a home. She has had a series of foster situations since her mother died that all end badly. Her father’s in prison, and she can’t help but daydream about the day he gets out and she can live with him and have some sort of regular life again. Until she runs into him on the street. The daydreams come to a crashing halt right about then. He’s out and hasn’t told her, hasn’t contacted her, and now that she knows – well, he’s not really amenable to her vision of their shared future (to be fair, he’s eating at soup kitchens and engaging in at least semi-criminal behaviour, so he’s not exactly capable of providing a “stable home life.”)

Anyway, poor Mo decides the only way she attract her dad’s attention, and maybe neutralize some of her school’s ire, is to join the wrestling team. There is no girls team so she joins the boys team, despite the protestations of nearly all of the boys.

First Match distinguishes itself from other similarly-themed sports movies because the team is not really Mo’s problem. If a little MV5BNWI5ZTc1MGEtZTU2Ny00M2QxLWEwNmItZDEwMzI0NDVlNjIzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzQ0MDUyMzg@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_adversity from the boys were Mo’s only problem, she’s probably feel blessed. Instead, Monique excels at the sport and it becomes a source of pride and power for her. Even if doesn’t win her father back, it’s earning her some self-respect, which she needs and deserves. Monique is obviously supposed to be some problem child, but it’s impossible not to sympathize with her.

There are no easy fixes, and the script is bold enough not to offer any. Life is stacked against this kid, and even if the viewer is the only one rooting for her, at least there’s that. I’d like to give her a hug if I wasn’t totally positive she’d roll her eyes at me for even trying.

This movie is grounded in realism that bites. The team becomes her de-facto family, but First Match still retains a sense that Monique is, if not lucky, at least relatively unique in her community because she knows her father and has him in her life. It’s tragic and depressing the lengths she’ll go to in order to keep him there; she’s got daddy issues, but at least she’s got a daddy. The premise seems to imply that this will be a movie about a lone girl in a male-dominated sport, but this turns out be an afterthought. But there’s a lot else to contemplate, and Elvire Emanuelle’s performance is not to be missed. Coming soon to a Netflix near you.

I, Tonya

Margot Robbie is convinced this film will change your mind about Tonya Harding. Is she a villain or a victim? Abused or abuser? The truth is, your opinion doesn’t really matter and truth doesn’t really exist. What does exist: a wholly funny film that never fails to entertain.

{In the unlikely event you’re in need of a refresher: Tonya Harding was an American figure skater in the 1990s, and competed twice in the Olympics. She was known for two things: for being the first American female to land a triple axel in competition, and for bashing in her Nancy Kerrigan’s knee.}

Margot Robbie is well-cast as Tonya Harding. She’s still just a little too pretty to play elm120117intelmovies-007-1512400299white trash, even with the poofy 90s bangs, but she comes down low and it’s pretty glorious. Sebastian Stan plays Harding’s good for nothing husband, Jeff Gillooly, and he disappears into the role of dumb fuck. Jeff’s dumb ass best friend Shawn (Paul Walter Hauser) pretends to be an international spy even though he’s a grownup who lives with his parents. Not exactly criminal masterminds, but this is the trio that brought us the most delicious scandal of 1994 (until OJ Simpson that is – if you thought Lillehammer was competitive, try being a celebrity fuck up). But for my money, I’d have to say that the real cast stand-out was Ms. Allison Janney, who plays Tonya’s mother LaVonam who, by sheer comparison, makes bathtub scum look appealing. She’s the dirtiest of dirts with not a kind word or intention in the world. If being a crummy mother was an Olympic sport, she wouldn’t have to resort to breaking any kneecaps.

The first thing that may surprise you about this film is that it’s funny. Actually funny, though pretty dark – the kind of laughs you feel slightly guilty about succumbing to, but you’ll need to just embrace the absurdity. It is¬†farcical, in the way only a true story can be when it’s populated with idiots.

The second thing that surprised me anyway, was that it actually does dredge up sympathy for our poor Tonya. Her guilt (or innocence) is not really the point. This is Tonya’s story, hers alone from beginning to end. No one’s trying to excuse what happened, but putting “the incident” within context is actually very interesting.

I, Tonya is funny, dramatic, pumped full of energy, and even the sports angle is well-done. Certainly Margot Robbie can be commended for all the hard work she put in getting skate-ready, but she gets a lot of help from choreographers, stunt people, and CGI – effects that are pulled off almost seemlessly. But it’s the camera work that makes the figure skating extra exciting – you really get a sense of the speed and athleticism, two hallmarks of Harding’s style in particular. No matter your experience of “the incident” at the time, I, Tonya turns tragedy into triumph.

Battle of the Sexes

In 1973, a tennis has-been named Bobby Riggs thought of a great way to become relevant again: he challenged current champion Bobbie Jean King to a game. No, not just challenged her: assured the world that he would win, because he was male, and that was enough. Bobby Riggs probably didn’t truly believe in most of the chauvinistic slogans he chanted, but he knew they’d get him attention in the era of “burning bras” and “women’s libbers”, and he was right. He was a Kardashian of his time; he knew how to work the media and how to gain attention for himself. It just so happened that the women’s movement generally, and women’s tennis particularly, needed exactly this kind of opportunity.

Battle-of-the-Sexes-posterSteve Carell does an excellent job of making the buffoon Riggs more than just a brash loud mouth; in fact, Carell was probably my favourite part of the film. And that’s maybe a little sad considering this really should have been Billie Jean King’s story to tell. And to some extent, it is. It’s just that I thought Emma Stone’s version of her was pretty beige. She’s more than just a prominent pair of glasses with a side of closeted lesbian.

But at least the film is layered and tries to establish the game within the context of its time, not just within the characters’ lives but societally as well. The film may bear the name of The Battle of the Sexes but directors¬†Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris seem to know that the most interest part of the conflict happened off the court.

This film hit theatres in a very timely fashion – a reminder of how incredibly not very far we’ve come. Now that it’s available to rent, why not watch it as a drinking game, and take a shot of female empowerment every time a Grand Slam title champion is referred to as a “little lady.” On the press circuit, the real Billie Jean King reminded us that at the time, a married woman couldn’t hold a credit card in her own name. But here we are in 2018 (happy new year) and you just know this movie didn’t get made without someone getting sexually harassed. In 40 years, what will the #MeToo movie say about us?