Tag Archives: sports movies

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.

 

 

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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?

TIFF: The Bleeder vs. Bleed for This

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s now time for the main event of the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival, coming to you live from the beautiful, historic Elgin Theatre.  

Introducing first, in the red corner, standing six feet five inches and weighing 223 pounds, with a professional record of 35 wins, including 17 by knockout, 14 losses and 2 draws, the former New Jersey State heavyweight champion, from Bayonne, New Jersey, please welcome from the Bleeder, Chuck “The Real Rocky” Wepner!!  

His opponent, in the blue corner, standing five feet eight inches and weighing in at 170 pounds,  with a professional record of 50 wins, 30 by knockout, against 10 losses, fighting out of Providence, Rhode Island, a former world champion in the lightweight, light middleweight, and super middleweight divisions, from Bleed for This, please welcome Vinny “The Pazmanian Devil” Pazienza!!

Jay was gracious enough to agree to include not one, but two boxing biopics in our TIFF schedule: The Bleeder, starring Liev Schrieber, and Bleed for This, starring Miles Teller.  In an all-out battle to capture my vote, who came out on top?  Let’s go ringside and find out!

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The Bleeder:

The Bleeder opens perfectly, introducing us to a guy we know even though we don’t know it.  That guy is Chuck Wepner, a human punching bag who took a punch so well he could go 15 rounds with anyone, even the Greatest.  Yes, the man himself, Muhammad Ali.  Wepner got the fight because he was the only white guy in the top ten, and during the fight he acquitted himself so well that he inspired Sylvester Stallone to write Rocky.

Along with taking a punch, Wepner’s other notable trait is the ability to consistently make the worst possible decision.  To the credit of Wepner and the Bleeder, the movie does not pull any punches with Wepner’s character.  He is a flawed person but the kind of flawed person who you can’t help but be charmed by.  Liev Schrieber is almost unrecognizable as Wepner and does a fantastic job of showcasing the charm while also making us feel for Chuck as he suffers some severe consequences, including losing his family and going to prison.

In the end, the Bleeder does justice to the Real Rocky’s story and gives us a true underdog who makes good in a real way, in his own way.  Somehow, the Real Rocky turns out to be the furthest thing from a cliche, and yet still manages to come out on top in the end.

 

Note: this movie has been renamed ‘Chuck’ and will hit theatres May 5.

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Bleed for This:

While the Bleeder features the Real Rocky, Bleed for This features a comeback story too unbelievable to be used as a plotline in the Rocky franchise.  And that’s saying something considering Rocky has come back from: (a) Mickey being shoved to death by Mr. T; (b) Apollo being beaten to death by Drago; and (c) Adrien being written to death by Stallone as a convenient reason to make yet another goddamn Rocky movie.

Miles Teller makes a good showing as Vinny Pazienza, a champion boxer whose neck was broken in a car crash.  Told by doctors that he may never walk again, Paz somehow was able to return to the ring just 13 months after his accident and went on to fight boxing legends like Roberto Duran and Roy Jones Jr.  Teller looks like Paz and looks like he belongs in the ring, but in the transition to the screen the real-life magic that Paz possessed is lost and Bleed for This ends up feeling like just another boxing movie.  And that’s a shame, because overcoming this level of adversity should truly feel triumphant.

The Judges’ Decision:

The match goes the distance as both the Bleeder and Bleed for This are enjoyable films with charismatic turns by their stars.  There can only be one champion though, and by unanimous decision The Bleeder takes the belt.  The Bleeder is far more memorable because it’s not your typical happy ending, and it’s less about boxing and more about the trappings of fame.

The bottom line is that if you like boxing, you’ll enjoy both of these.   The difference maker is that even if you don’t like boxing, I am still confident in recommending that you watch the Bleeder.  It’s a fascinating story that captures the essence of the most interesting loser imaginable, a story so powerful that it inspired an entire movie genre.  It’s a credit to Paz and his tenacity that things were even this close, as in the end Rocky always wins.

TIFF: The Rest

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Carrie Pilby

Awkward, isolated and disapproving of most of the people around her, a precocious 19 year-old genius is challenged to put her convictions to the test by venturing out on to the NYC dating scene, in this adaptation of Caren Lissner’s best-selling 2003  novel.

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I was especially excited about the world premiere of director Susan Johnson’s debut feature because I knew I would get to share the experience with my parents. I also liked the sound of Carrie as described by the TIFF website. I’ve always enjoyed unlikeable characters who become easier to empathize with once we get to know them.

As it turns out, Carrie Pilby isn’t nearly as misanthropic or as unsympathetic as the website would have you believe. In fact, when played by Diary of a Teenage Girl’s Bel Powley, she’s actually quite charming. She may be a little too sarcastic for her own good but she’s never mean and her posture suggests such obvious vulnerability that you may just want to give her a hug.

You may find Carrie’s exasperation with those around her easy to relate to considering the unforgivably forgettable supporting cast. Nathan Lane and Gabriel Byrne phone in their performances as her therapist and father and potential love interest Jason Ritter finds a way to make sleazy seem boring. Only Saturday Night Live’s Vanessa Bayer, who I was pleasantly surprised to see at the premiere, holds her own against Powley as Carrie’s co-worker and new friend.

In the end, the script is nowhere near as smart as Carrie is. Though it offers a number of big laughs and some seriously sweet moments, the dialogue is way too obvious most of the time. I found I was able to anticipate line after line almost as if I was dreaming the film into existence myself.

 

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Headshot

The indomitable Iko Uwais (The Raid) stars in this fast and furious actioner as an amnesiac whose mysterious past as a killing machine comes to the fore when he takes on the henchmen of a vengeful drug lord.

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I ended my first night at TIFF 2016 the best way I know how- with my annual Midnight Madness screening. You never know what you’re in for with the Midnight Madness program but this year I felt like I was in good hands. Back in 2011, I caught a midnight screening of The Raid at the festival and I was so exhilarated by the experienced that I’ve made sure to catch at least one midnight film each year. No matter how many bad movies I have to sit through.

The Raid isn’t just a bloody good time. It’s actually an impressive film. There isn’t a wasted moment in the whole movie and every shot serves to build suspense. This combined with outstanding fight choreography and a less-is-more approach to dialogue make The Raid one of the best action films so far this century.

The Raid works in large part because of director Gareth Evans who I really wish was directing Headshot. The latest vehicle for Indonesian martial arts superstar Iko Uwais is nowhere near as tense or as tightly edited. Not that directors Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto do badly. They do an admirable job of capturing every chase and fight so that we always know who’s kicking who. But there’s something missing. Maybe it’s that The Raid managed to avoid the kind of silliness that Headshot has so much of (amnesia, for example, not to mention a sometimes corny love story).

That being said, Uwais’ hands, feet, elbows, and whatever else he can find always connect like they’re supposed to and Headshot manages to outgore The Raid. Friday’s Midnight Madness crowd seemed to have a good time and if you don’t mind a few heads being split open I’m sure you will too.

 

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A Monster Calls

Liam Neeson, Sigourney Weaver and Felicity Jones star in this adaptation of the award-winning children’s book by Patrick Ness, about a lonely young boy struggling with the imminent death of his terminally ill mother who is befriended by a friendly, shambling monster that arrives in his room nightly to tell him stories.

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I read on Wikipedia that Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall holds over 2,300 people. I am quite sure that on Saturday afternoon I heard 2,000 cry. I could hardly stop myself from crying through the final moments of the latest film from director J. A. Bayona (The Impossible) and didn’t do much better through the closing credits or walking down King Street after.

I was surprised by my emotional reaction given that I was finding most of the film disappointingly uninspired. As much as I loved the design of the monster and the outstanding voice work of the great Liam Neeson, I expected more wisdom from his stories (which are brought to life in lovely animation).

Only in the end do the monster’s lessons really become clear. As frustrated as the young boy is by the seemingly pointless stories at first, it becomes clear that he is being taught lessons unusually mature for a children’s story. I can think of several family films where a child has to learn to cope with the loss of a parent but I can hardly think of any that are less condescending and more painfully honest.

 

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Hello Destroyer

Jared Abrahamson (Fear the Walking Dead) plays a painfully shy but ruggedly capable enforcer on a minor-league hockey team who discovers the cutthroat nature of his locker-room “family” in the forceful first feature from Canadian director Kevan Funk.

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Tyson Burr (Abrahamson) may not be the star player of the Prince George Warriors but he’s an enforcer – the guy you can count on when the game gets rough. In one particularly rough game, Tyson puts someone in the hospital and soon sees how quickly his team, his coach, and the community at large can distance themselves in hopes of avoiding responsibility for the culture of violence that they helped to create.

When introducing the film on Saturday, Funk was quick to insist that Hello Destroyer is not intended as a commentary on Canada’s infamously violent national sport. He’s more concerned with violence in general and the social context around aggressive behavior. There’s very little hockey played onscreen and some fans of the sport may be disappointed by the slow pace of the film. I’ll admit to being frustrated as it slows down even more in the second half. (It was my third film of the day and I was starving). It’s only after the fantastic Q and A with Funk and the cast that I let it all sink in.

This is one tragic, hard-hitting, and beautifully acted film. It’s the kind of movie that gets better and better the more you think about it.

 

Eddie The Eagle

everything-you-need-to-know-about-taron-egerton-s-new-movie-eddie-the-eagle-823764Dear god. Is this the cutest kid in the whole wide world? Little Eddie has Olympic-sized dreams. He’s not much of an athlete but he’s always a-training. He’s got a tin to hold all his medals but so far all it holds are the glasses he breaks while working out (did I mention he’s not much of an athlete?).

If they gave a gold for perseverance at the Olympics, Eddie would have a neckful. They don’t (I checked. And probably so did he.). But eventually he finds his niche: downhill ski. He’s still not Olympic material (so says a man with a friendly hand on his shoulder) but he does remain mostly upright. So if he’ll never make the downhill team, should he just get on with his life already? Not Eddie. Eddie’s a dreamer. And a finder of loopholes. Turns out, England doesn’t have a ski jump team. Know what that means? No competition! Even if he’s the worst, he’s the one and only, which also means he’s the best, which means automatic qualification! Kind of genius, eh?

Eddie Edwards is a real person and you may remember his story. As a character on the eddie_the_eagle_114967screen he’s incredibly likeable and his optimism is incurable and catching. If optimism was VD, he’d be positively syphilitic. But his country’s not behind him. Heck, even his coach is reluctant at best, and a bit of a drunk (hello, Hugh Jackman!). Meanwhile, Taron Egerton as Eddie is nearly unrecognizable but instantly warms you to the role.

Is this a feel-good movie? Yes it is. And normally I’d say that with a smirk. But this is the kind of feel-good that doesn’t make you want to poke your eye out. The movie avoids biographical truth in order to cling to sports-movie cliches and I still can’t fault it – it’s simple, it’s predictable, and by god is it endearing.