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The great internet arbiter Judge John Hodgman has a saying: “Nostalgia is a toxic impulse.” While I don’t necessarily fully agree with that sentiment – I think there can be real value in reengaging with aspects of our past that we remember fondly – I also acknowledge that the tendency to get lost in our own personal pop culture ephemera-strewn memory palaces can result in some dark turns.

All this is to say that while I understand why “Space Jam: A New Legacy” was made and the thoughts and desires that led to that outcome, enabling the nostalgic impulse without any critical regard to the reasons behind the memory can result in something hollow and ultimately unsatisfactory.

As a late Gen-Xer, I’m a hair too old to have the same fondness for 1996’s “Space Jam” that many millennials carry. However, I do still carry a soft spot for the film – I mean, Michael Jordan, the Looney Tunes and a pre-folk hero Bill Murray? What’s not to like?

That said, the sequel – this one starring LeBron James – fails to achieve even the modicum of loose charm that surrounded the original, exchanging the winking self-awareness and quirkiness of the original for a seemingly unending cavalcade of product placement and self-celebratory IP exploitation.

Directed by Malcolm D. Lee (who replaced original director Terrence Nance a few weeks into filming) from a screenplay with no less than six credited writers, “Space Jam: A New Legacy” is the unfortunate result when you attempt to recreate something whose appeal you don’t fully understand; there’s a goofball kitschiness to the original film that is lost here, the lunacy (sorry – “Loon-acy”) replaced by an overstuffed commitment to the idea that instead of using references to make jokes, the jokes ARE the references.

Published in Sports

Sports documentaries are always a mixed bag, but that bag is particularly mixed if the doc is about a single individual. It’s a fine line; a person isn’t going to sign onto a film that’s going to be a hatchet job, but venturing too far into the realm of hagiography undermines the credibility of the filmmakers and the credulity of the viewer.

“Tony Parker: The Final Shot,” currently streaming on Netflix, manages to find its way into the middle ground, albeit considerably closer to the hagiographic side of the equation. Directed by French filmmaker Florent Bodin, it’s a journey through the career of Tony Parker, the retired NBA point guard who is generally considered to be the greatest player in the history of French basketball.

Published in Sports
Monday, 14 December 2020 15:31

‘Safety’ a feel-good football film

Full disclosure: I am a sucker for an inspirational sports movie. No matter the sport, no matter the story – I’m in. Give me athletes overcoming obstacles and coming together as a team in the course of that overcoming. Heck and yes.

All of this is to say that I was always going to enjoy “Safety,” the new film from Disney now streaming on Disney+. Based on the true story of football player Ray McElrathbey and his little brother Fahmarr, it’s a tale of perseverance in the face of adversity, as well as of the different ways people can be (or become) family.

Now, this is a Disney production, so the grittier aspects of the story have definitely had those rough edges sanded down. Still, for the most part, director Reginald Hudlin manages to keep the proceedings from moving beyond the sentimental into the saccharine. The beats will ring familiar to anyone who watches this sort of film, but the emotions still resonate. And make no mistake – this is a movie that is both aware of which buttons to push and unafraid to push them.

Published in Sports

One of the many things that we lost to the pandemic this year was the 2020 Olympic Games. Set to take place in Tokyo this summer, the event has been moved to 2021. It’s easy to forget, however, that losing the Olympics means losing more than just those Games.

Specifically, we also are deprived of the Paralympic Games, an event that is not only a way to celebrate differently-abled athletes on the global stage, but is actually the third-largest sporting event in the world.

“Rising Phoenix,” a documentary by Ian Bonhote and Peter Ettedgui currently streaming on Netflix, is an in-depth look at the Paralympic Games through the eyes of its organizers and its competitors. It is a heartfelt and inspirational journey through the history of the Games, both in terms of how it came to be and what it means to those who participate.

Watching the best in the world do what they do is always compelling. Compounding that excellence with the remarkable fortitude that comes with overcoming additional hurdles to reach that apex is exponentially more so. This is a remarkable portrait of some remarkable athletes, a film that celebrates the multitude of ways in which someone can excel in the world of sport.

It should also be noted that “Rising Phoenix” is an absolutely stunning film to look at. These athletes are presented in ways that reflect their outsized talent and determination, with images reminiscent of superhero origin stories or renderings that recall statuary representing Greek gods. This bold aesthetic, matched with incredible footage of both competition and training, allows these athletes and their accomplishments the larger-than-life appearance that they warrant.

Published in Sports

The world of elite competitive sports is a fascinating one, studded with stars and fantastic feats. We watch and we marvel and we revel in the incredible athleticism that plays out on the fields and in the arenas that make up the grandest stage. We LOVE sports.

But there’s another side to that love affair – a side that can be unpleasant, harmful and, sometimes, utterly horrifying.

“Athlete A” – a documentary by Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk, currently streaming on Netflix – tells a story that reveals just how dark the dark side of sports can get. It’s the story of the USA Gymnastics sexual abuse scandal, in which team physician Dr. Larry Nassar took advantage of his position to abuse hundreds of girls over the course of decades – and in which the leadership of USA Gymnastics attempted to cover it all up. The film walks the viewer through the investigation, led by reporters at the Indianapolis Star, while also engaging with some of the first women to go public with their allegations of abuse.

Watching this film isn’t always easy – there are some gut-wrenching moments that will land hard no matter how much you already know of the story. But “Athlete A” is important filmmaking, a cinematic document of a story that forces us to take a long hard look in the mirror of our fandom. It’s a reminder that a win-at-all-costs mentality can be dangerous – because some costs are devastatingly, unconscionably high.

Published in Sports

The evolution of sport is a fascinating thing. In some ways, the games we love are trapped in amber. The size of the court or the field stays the same. Certain distances haven’t ever really changed – 60 feet from home to first, 10 yards for a first down, 10 feet from floor to rim.

But in other ways – the ways the games are actually played – have seen significant alterations over the years, even as most sporting stalwarts are staunch traditionalists with regards to how things are done. “We do them this way because that’s the way we’ve always done them” has long been the rallying cry of the athletic establishment.

But there will always be players who challenge the status quo. Players who, for whatever reason, deem it necessary to do things in a different way. Players who see the opportunity to find success by way of something new.

Players like Kenny Sailors.

You’d be forgiven for not recognizing that name, but as you’ll discover in the documentary “Jump Shot: The Kenny Sailors Story” – written and directed by Jacob Hamilton and available for rental at altavod.com – you are almost certainly familiar with his work. You see, there is a sizeable contingent out there that believes that Sailors, a man born nearly 100 years ago, is the inventor of the modern jump shot.

The doc itself is a brisk run through a remarkable life, one that features some names and faces you absolutely will recognize – NBA legends such as Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Durant and Steph Curry (who also serves as an executive producer on the film) – as well as a number of other NBA figures, former players and league historians. Through archival footage, photographs and interviews, “Jump Shot” presents a strong case that in many ways, Sailors is the progenitor of how modern basketball is played.

Published in Sports

There’s nothing quite like a sports movie, is there? Especially an inspirational sports movie. We love to see an underdog overcome tremendous odds to scrap his/her/their way to success, battling for every step and learning important lessons along the way.

“The Way Back,” directed by Gavin O’Conner from a script he co-wrote alongside Brad Ingelsby, checks a lot of those boxes; it’s the story of a once-great basketball player, long removed from the game, returning to his high school alma mater and taking the reins of their struggling basketball team. Perfect (albeit familiar) fodder for sports movie inspiration, right?

But there’s another level here, one that can’t help but color the story being told.

The film stars Ben Affleck, whose personal struggles have been part of the larger narrative surrounding him for some time now. One could argue that some of those struggles are reflected in the story being told on-screen; that inherent understanding results in some of the best work we’ve seen from him in years.

Published in Sports
Tuesday, 19 November 2019 11:57

Race to the top – ‘Ford v. Ferrari’

One of the complaints surrounding awards shows like the Oscars in recent years is the fact that often, the movies up for these honors aren’t necessarily movies that a lot of people have seen. They are critical darlings, but that acclaim only sometimes translates to significant commercial success.

“Ford v Ferrari” is that relative rarity, a film intended to win both at the ballot box and the box office. It’s pure Oscar bait, but with a big-budget sensibility – no surprise considering we’re talking about Disney here. It’s a sports movie and a biopic – the story of Ford Motor Company’s efforts to usurp Ferrari’s place atop the racing world back in the 1960s – with two no-doubt movie stars heading up the cast.

This kind of movie was once a mainstay of mainstream Hollywood. Now, it’s an unexpected treat. And it is a treat – you’ve got a talented and flexible studio director in James Mangold, with A-listers Matt Damon and Christian Bale taking turns driving. Just like the race cars produced by its namesakes, “Ford v. Ferrari” is sleek and fast; a powerful and expensive machine.

Published in Movies

Leave it to Steven Soderbergh to make a sports movie with hardly any sports action in it.

The auteur’s latest offering is “High Flying Bird,” released direct to streaming via Netflix. It’s the story of the game behind the game in the world of professional basketball as one agent, in an effort to do right by his client during a lockout by the owners, threatens to upend the entire model and throw the league into chaos – and one could argue that he’s right not just in economic terms, but ethical as well.

Soderbergh’s malleable ideas with regards to what it means to be an upper-echelon filmmaker in the 21st century continue on their merry way with this one. Following experiments both successful (shooting last year’s “Unsane” exclusively via iPhone) and not-so-much (the self-distribution effort to sidestep the system with 2017’s “Logan Lucky”), he’s keeping what works – the iPhone – and tweaking what doesn’t by letting Netflix wrangle the eyeballs.

The end result works – not surprising considering you’ve got Soderbergh directing a script from Tarell Alvin McCraney. It’s an insightful look behind the curtain of pro sports that feels genuine, a compelling illustration of how the sausage is made.

Published in Sports
Wednesday, 28 November 2018 14:07

‘Creed II’ an exceptional rematch

The success of 2015’s “Creed” was surprising in a lot of ways. The notion of creating a torch-passing sequel to the “Rocky” franchise seemed like a reach. And yet, thanks to the talents of writer/director Ryan Coogler and great performances from Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson and a shockingly nuanced turn courtesy of Sylvester Stallone, it turned out to be an outstanding film.

After that film’s success, of course we were going to get a sequel to the sequel, which brings us to “Creed II.”

It’s not the same behind-the-camera team – Coogler is gone, replaced by Steven Caple Jr., while the screenplay was co-written by Juel Taylor and Stallone from a story by Cheo Coker and Sacha Penn – but the on-screen talent remains, with Jordan, Thompson and Stallone all returning. And while this new movie doesn’t quite ascend to the same level as the first film, “Creed II” is an excellent movie in its own right, finding ways to ground its titular character in life’s realities while also presenting him with a terrifying new foe.

Published in Movies
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