Safety plays it pretty safe as far as inspirational sports movies go. Following in the footsteps of Remember The Titans or The Blindside, Safety tells the true story of a freshman college football player who’s got a lot more on his plate than just practice.
Ray (Jay Reeves) is just like any other athlete at Clemson University, until things back home start to fall apart. His mother is an addict, and little brother Fahmarr (Thaddeus J. Mixson) has been alone since her most recent arrest. And things are about to get worse: the good news is, Ray’s mom is going on to a rehab facility to get help. Bad news? That leaves Fahmarr alone, and he’s just a kid. There’s no one else to take him, so it’s either a group home, or…. Or Ray decides to sneak him unto campus where he secretly cares for him for the next month or so, just barely managing between class, football, and childcare, plus the burden of a pretty big secret.
Remember that Ray McElrathbey was a real kid who took on the raising of his younger brother while attending school on a full sports scholarship. He couldn’t really afford to risk his full ride by becoming distracted, nor could he afford to risk his brother’s life. For a while he manages both, but eventually his school and those darn NCAA folks who are sticklers for rules.
Safety skirts around its darker corners, focusing instead on the importance of family and community; if you were feeling cynical you might call it sanitized, but if you were feeling generous of heart you might just find it admirable for its sense of duty, sacrifice, support, and good old fashioned taking care of each other. It’s formulaic and completely unsurprising but it’s also the kind of heart warming stuff that’s hard to resist, especially around the holidays. Director Reginald Hudlin knows he’s got a good story, and tells it in a low-frills, straight forward kind of way, and if it’s a little saccharine, well, we could all use a little extra sweetness this year, couldn’t we?
Dr. Ludwig Guttmann worked in a hospital with British WW2 veterans with spinal chord injuries. He quickly realized that some of the best physical therapy for their healing, both physically and mentally, was sport. In 1948 he organized the International Wheelchair Games. By 1960, no longer open solely to war veterans, the games were dubbed the Paralympics, held in Rome, with 400 athletes competing from 23 countries. Though the games were held for wheelchair-bound athletes, the “para” in Paralympics is not a references to paralysis, though that’s a common misconception. It was compound word formed to indicate that these games would run parallel to the Olympic games, and every year since 1960 they have taken place in the same year. In 1976, athletes with different disabilities were included for the first time. Able bodies all look the same, but disabled bodies can be disabled in so many different ways. The Paralympics can be broken down into 10 eligible impairment types: impaired muscle power (such as paraplegia), impaired passive range of movement (impairment of a joint), limb deficiency (amputation), leg length difference, short stature, hypertonia (reduced ability for a muscle to stretch), ataxia (lack of coordination), athetosis (involuntary movement), vision impairment, and intellectual impairment (the Special Olympics are also for children and adults with intellectual impairments, but it’s for building community and enriching people’s lives through sport no matter their skill level; the Paralympics are for world-class athletes). For many years now, the Paralympics have taken place in the same host city as the Olympics, almost immediately following them, and using the same facilities.
This documentary covers two major wings of the Paralympic experience:
We hear from members of the International Paralympic Committee – Xavier Gonzalez, Philip Craven, Andrew Parsons talk about issues that have threatened the games such as subpar conditions in Atlanta, poor attendance and coverage in Athens, Russia’s refusal to host them at all in 1980 because they “had no disabled people” in Russia, and most recently, Rio’s Olympic committee running out of money before the games and stealing from the Paralympic pot to cover the Olympic expenses.
We hear from the athletes themselves: Jonnie Peacock, the 100m runner who beat Oscar Pistorius; Bebe Vio, a beautiful young woman with no limbs whatsoever who still managed to win gold in wheelchair fencing; Jean-Baptiste Alaize, who survived a genocide to compete in the long jump despite losing a limb to a machete; Ryley Batt, who must be at least a little crazy to ram himself around the brutal court of wheel chair rugby; and many more besides. Everyone has an incredible story, but the athletes seem to appreciate that when they are competing, the sport becomes the story rather than the origins of their disability. The games are not about disability, but about people who have super abilities despite any impairments their bodies may have.
I was fascinated to hear more about the incredible people who work so hard to make these games happen and to learn not just how much they mean to the people who train so hard to compete into them, but to the rest of us, who have our notions of disability challenged when we see people competing at the top of their game. At the top of anyone’s game, frankly speaking.
Prince Harry, or the Duke of Sussex rather, at least at the time of filming, chimes in as the founder of the Invictus Games, which ironically have gone back to Dr. Guttmann’s original concept, giving wounded and sick veterans the opportunity to rehabilitate with the power of sport. We will likely be seeing more of him and wife Meghan since they’ve decamped from the palace to become Hollywood producers, signing an exclusive multi-year deal with Netflix to produce whatever kind of inspirational content they deem fit, be it documentaries, docu-series, feature films, scripted shows or children’s programming – and quite possibly all.
While Harry adds a little something, he’s probably the least compelling subject, despite his title or notoriety. These athletes are more than enough reason to tune into Rising Phoenix, which is inspiring without even trying to be.
Eleven year old Leo (Seth Carr) is going through a bit of a rough time. His mother left and his father’s too sad to talk about it. Only his grandmother (Tichina Arnold) tries to give him a sense of normalcy, hitting the couch with a bowl of popcorn when it’s time to watch his beloved wrestling.
But two things happen to throttle his life straight into awesome-town: the WWE is coming to his town to find the next NXT superstar, and Leo just happens to find a stinky luchador-style mask that brings the wearer magical wrestling powers. Retaining the body of an 11 year old, he suddenly has the strength and agility of the ring’s greatest fighters. Wrestling under the name Kid Chaos, he’s not just a fearsome fighter, he’s suddenly a smooth operator as well, the mask giving him confidence and prowess in and outside the ring.
Leo/Kid Chaos has not one but three challenges to defeat: the gulf between himself and his father, the ego trip that keeps him from being a dependable friend, and the enormous opponent Samson that he’ll have to meet in the cage.
Of course, the movie is at its best and silliest when it’s thinking up ways a kid might take advantage of his mask’s special powers: putting bullies in their place, cleaning their bedroom, impressing girls. And luckily, Leo has a trio of friends that help him live out his dreams (the talented young cast includes Aryan Simhadri, Momona Tamada, and Glen Gordon.
I can see this being a very popular movie for kids and I predict that mothers of 6-9 year olds are in for a weekend full of even more bumps and bruises than usual. Furniture will be climbed, pillows will be leapt onto, little brothers will be pinned. But as long as there’s no real bloodshed, it’s a harmless enough way to keep the kids entertained and maybe even sequestered in the basement during what is proving to be a very long lockdown.
WWE stars Kofi Kingston, Mike ‘The Miz’ Mizanin,Stephen Farrelly (Sheamus), Corey Graves, Mia Yim, Eric Bugez,Otis Dozovic, Babatunde, Keith Lee, and Backstage host Renee Young all appear.
It’s called Go Karts on Neflix Canada, it may be called Go! on yours, but either way it’s a movie you can see this weekend from the corona virus-free comfort of your living room couch (presumably – sorry to those of you who may be self-isolating at home with symptoms; get well soon!).
Go Karts is an Australian film about, well, go karting. Yeah, I’m not sure where they came up with the name either, but I bet they spent OODLES of time on it. Oodles should totally be a measurement of time, and not just noodles.
Jack (William Lodder) and his single mother (Frances O’Connor) move to a small town in Western Australia where there’s literally nothing to do other than go karting. Which is convenient because a lot of Jack’s memories of his dead father are tangled up in driving and/or racing. So not only will go karting confront his grief, it’ll teach him to control his recklessness as well.
Oh, and did I mention that Jack is a cute boy and the “chief engineer” of his go karting team is a pretty girl? So Jack’s got the talent and Mandy (Anastasia Bampos) has the technical know-how and best friend Colin (Darius Amarfio-Jefferson) says dumb stuff and/or falls over things, hopefully providing a laugh or two (it never really works out that way, so Amarfio-Jefferson’s presumed talents are wasted). Oh and the tortured go kart track owner Patrick (Richard Roxburgh) sprinkles his grizzled wisdom throughout. It’s like every sports movie you’ve ever seen, only lamer because it’s go karts. In fact, it’s like a sad live-action Cars but not affiliated with Pixar in any way, lest they cast their litigious little eyes this way.
Anyway, Jack is going to overcome “all the odds” and defeat “ruthless racer Dean” who, to be clear, is another teenager who’s also a little too into go karting. And Patrick is going to Mr. Miyagi him all the way. I bet you can’t guess how it turns out.
But now that I’ve been sarcastially dismissive of this movie, I will say that the kids have kind of a natural charm, and director Owen Trevor sort of shines during the “action” sequences (again: go karts). If you’re looking for a warm-hearted movie to share with your kids this weekend, you could do worse than Go Karts.
It’s fitting that LeBron James is taking the Space Jam reins from Michael Jordan, since last week James passed Jordan in career points scored and the two have always been compared since James was in high school. Jordan would have scored many more points if only he hadn’t taken two years off in his prime to try his hand at baseball. Rumour has always held that Jordan went to play baseball in order to avoid a gambling suspension, mainly because it made no sense at all for the notoriously competitive Jordan to have “retired” at age 30 (Jordan would retire twice more before his basketball career was over).
Jordan’s baseball career features prominently in Space Jam’s loose plot, as if he had been playing basketball at the time, the evil aliens from the Moron Mountain amusement park would have taken Jordan’s skills and he never would have been able to help the Looney Tunes gang. But because Jordan was retired, the aliens had to steal other NBA players’ talent, including Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Larry Johnson, Muggsy Bogues and Shawn Bradley. Jordan is then recruited by Bugs Bunny to play with a bunch of other cartoon characters, with some help from Bill Murray and no help at all from Wayne Knight, as the cartoons take on the aliens in a basketball game to determine whether the aliens will enslave those loony ‘toons as an amusement park attraction.
This movie was probably never any good but it has been made worse with age. The animation is dated, the green screen work is horrible, and worst of all, the “stars” involved in this movie, other than the great Charles Barkley, have been forgotten by all but the most attentive New York Knicks fans (who would punch me in the face for saying anything bad about Ewing and who will never forget LJ hitting a clutch four-point play against the Pacers in 1999’s Eastern Conference Finals). Space Jam also really highlights how much the Looney Tunes feel like variations of one another (cat/duck and man/pig in particular) and pale imitations of their Disney counterparts.
Even with only a 90 minute run-time, a significant part of the movie feels like filler, including an opening scene with a 1- year old Jordan, about 5 minutes of Jordan highlights during the opening credits, and a subplot of sorts that features some really terrible acting by the three kids playing Jordan’s family (like so bad that you figure they have to be Jordan’s real kids, but they’re totally not – I checked).
If LeBron’s career arc is any indication, the next Space Jam is destined to be technically superior to Jordan’s original but lacking the same emotional core. That doesn’t bode well for the reboot when there was no substance or emotion to the first Space Jam at all. Watching it again only makes one wonder why anyone bothered to make it in the first place, as well as why James would want to invite any more comparisons to Jordan’s six for six NBA Finals record against LeBron’s three wins and six losses in his attempts (which I don’t begrudge but I’m in the minority on that point). On the other hand, since the original Space Jam has nothing to offer, the reboot can’t possibly be worse!
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).
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.
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 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 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.
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 because 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.
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 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.