30-for-30: One and Not Done

Release: Thursday, April 13, 2017 (ESPN)

→ESPN (re-air) 

Directed by: Jonathan Hock

As someone who spent his college days getting lost amidst the sea of brilliant orange and bright white on Rocky Top Tennessee, I’m about to admit something that could very well lose me some friends: this documentary gave me a new appreciation for Kentucky basketball. It made me not only more fascinated by head coach John Calipari, it made me a fan. There, I said it. And I know it’s heresy. If I am to be made an example out of like an outsider in an old western, the one request I have is that you don’t string me up over the Goalpost Tavern or Cool Beans.

Traditionally Big Orange Country shows out for football far more than for in-door games played on smaller rectangles in really squeaky tennies. Maybe that’s because football there is a culture defined by Phillip Fulmer, Peyton Manning and Neyland Stadium, a gigantic fortress that beckons the faithful on crisp autumn Saturdays when the changing leaves coordinate themselves to match the student dress code. If atmosphere is what you seek in your sporting events, visit Knoxville in the height of football season.

However, the area between checkerboard-style end zones isn’t where our rivalry with Kentucky really lies. In the arena, the Wildcats are perennially great, and a perennial nuisance. The measure of greatness in college basketball is not simply judged by your regular season résumé, but how deep your runs take you in the annual NCAA Tournament, a single-elimination style pool play in which Kentucky is 126-51 all-time, with 17 Final Four appearances and eight national titles, most recently in 2012 under Calipari.

The Wildcats have for some time been the bane of their SEC opponents, mostly because of Calipari’s uniquely relentless efforts in recruiting the best of the best of the best of high school talent. These are the so-called “one-and-done”s — the 18-20 year-olds who are so good they play one season in college before going pro. As a result his pond is never less than fully stocked with some pretty big fish. The problem with this is that expectations rise accordingly, and when you’re merely ‘good’ but not GREAT in Rupp Arena, you call upon the collective strength of Big Blue Nation for a show of even greater support — as Coach Cal did earlier this year when his team, the youngest he has ever coached, hit a four-game skid and doubts of a tournament bid began to mount.

Jonathan Hock’s sixth contribution to the Emmy and Peabody Award-winning documentary series 30-for-30One and Not Done, offers a detailed and provocative look into the personal life, career and coaching philosophies of a controversial collegiate sports figure. The vocal, prone-to-spasms-on-the-sideline leader is loved by many but viewed as a problem by many more because of the reputation that has preceded him. After stints at UMass, where he got his first head coaching gig in 1988, and the University of Memphis, Calipari has seen two seasons ended in NCAA investigations that led to the vacating of tournament wins, with UMass’s star player Marcus Camby being charged with receiving improper benefits (some $40,000 by someone unaffiliated with the school) and Memphis’ Derrick Rose being ruled academically ineligible.

It isn’t often a coach regains legitimacy after the sledgehammers the governing body of the NCAA delivered, and Calipari has had this happen twice. The documentary gives you a sense of how he has been able to survive and advance beyond very public scrutiny. Whether he deserved those chances is for you to decide. The early days are certainly interesting chapters, but ultimately the film is more concerned with the phenomenon he has created since being called up to the big kids’ table, coaching one of the more recognizable brands in college basketball, with his aggressive off-season strategies for talent scouting. Today, the “one-and-done” craze has spread far beyond the reaches of the Southeastern Conference. Look at any major blue blood school now and you’ll find at least one. (Vols fans, remember when we had Tobias Harris? You probably don’t actually.)

The overarching interview with Coach — his expressive face and irrepressible energy all up in your grill during the bulk of this tightly-shot conversation — acts almost as a promotional tool for future scholarship hopefuls. He gets you to buy in to the sales pitch — that he is as committed to the players’ athletic future as much as their future in general (Kentucky has a much higher than average graduation rate amongst student-athletes but you won’t hear that as often as you will about the latest controversial thing Cal said or did). He gets you to listen to his story, how far a cry his current $7.5 million salary really is from the reality his immigrant parents faced. How he has built himself up, and subsequently became a thorn in the sides of those who couldn’t stand the way he comported himself either in press conferences or in games — some of whom call him “Satan on the sidelines”.

Whether he ultimately earns your respect and/or empathy is almost beside the point. Director Jonathan Hock expressed a desire to present as complete a profile of a very complicated, divisive personality as possible and he succeeds in balancing the scales of opinion and perception. One and Not Done includes interviews with many of his supporters, friends and family but there is also the obvious disdain Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim can’t help but express in his responses. For me, a Vols fan, the best thing about this documentary is that it changed my perspective in a significant way. Maybe I’m too easily manipulated by the media. And maybe it’s just Cal (isn’t it obnoxious how I’m calling him Cal now, like he’s my pal or something!) being a great talker and sales pitchman, it made me believe this guy truly does care for his players, and believes in their futures, even if it’s off the basketball court.

Click here to read more 30 for 30 reviews.

Recommendation: Absorbing film centered around a high-profile college basketball coach makes for a must-watch this time of year. (Yeah, yeah — I’m like a year late to this one. But the 2018 Tournament is still in play, so it still counts.) John Calipari is unquestionably a compelling and polarizing sports figure. I still see why people are rubbed the wrong way by him, but I don’t feel the same way anymore about him. And I am grateful for that. 

Rated: NR

Running Time: 102 mins.

Quoted: “I tell ’em, ‘you’re gonna hate me.’ But if I do right by them, they’ll win.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.kentuckycrazies.com; http://www.cbssports.com 

Windsor Drive

Release: Friday, August 28, 2015 (limited)

[Vimeo]

Written by: T.R. Gough

Directed by: Natalie Bible’


This review happens to be my fourth contribution to Mr. Rumsey’s Film Related Musings. I’d like to thank James for giving me the chance to check this one out!


While there are some momentary glimpses of inventive horror film-making, there’s little doubt the short format would have served Windsor Drive‘s purposes better and that’s the only thing that’s clear after sitting once through.

Obscured by an overwhelming number of confusing and convoluted scene changes and music video-style edits, Windsor Drive strives for conjuring a moody, noir-esque vibe but instead results in an exasperating experience lacking in logic and inspiration. Knoxville, Tennessee native Natalie Bible’ has something on her mind about the degree of psychological asylum people are willing to sacrifice for the sake of a shot at the big time (specifically for an acting gig in this case) but unfortunately whatever that message is supposed to mean to anyone not in showbiz is extremely difficult to access.

In fact, trying to deduce what Windsor Drive is saying — other than that crazy people are drawn towards crazy professions like acting — is like digging through a stack of needles to find a single straw of hay. It’s painful and damn tedious. I’m having flashes of Shawnee Smith in Saw II, rummaging through a knee-deep stash of filthy syringes dumped into a pit in that decrepit home. I may not have bled as much (or at all), but the effort to keep going was, well . . . cut to the shot of her Amanda falling to the ground after finding the key and having completely expended her physical and psychological strength.

Film features a bevy of soap opera stars who are as easy on the eyes as they are grating on the ears. These relative unknowns unfortunately aren’t convincing in the slightest; luckily T.R. Gough’s haphazard script doesn’t have much time for dialogue, so most of the awkwardness presents in the stiff way these people carry themselves. With the exception of star Tommy O’Reilly fully committed to the fragile actor role — his River Miller’s archetypical tall, dark and handsome physique offers a fairly threatening character — supporting roles, mostly female, are sketches of actual people. Samaire Armstrong’s Brooke, one of River’s exes, is relegated to line rehearsals like, ‘No, please don’t leave. You should stay and have sex with me again,’ only the dialogue isn’t quite as profound.

River moves to the L.A. area to find a proper acting gig, wanting to leave his past behind in which a girlfriend tragically took her own life. He takes a room in a house run by two hipsters, hipsterly named Wulfric (Kyan DuBois) and Ivy (Anna Biani) who have, I don’t know, something weird going on. Most of the narrative is spent in this place, a brooding ground where the three roommates occasionally interact and ruminate on how hard it is to find a good gig as an actor. Then River finds out there’s a small part in a remake of the Windsor Drive movie. Bible’ teases out a few of the lines he has to rehearse in a sequence of admittedly brilliant shots that blur the line between the head space he gets in in character and the one he leaves behind in the real world. There needed to be more of that.

Should Bible’ have gone the short film route, one of the piece’s most nagging issues would have most assuredly been eliminated: feigning creativity in order to reach a certain run time. Shots cut and re-cut so that they play over and again upside down, in reverse and in different color palettes (all semi-related, of course) and framing speeds become so commonplace it’s clear that passing time is the primary objective. Best case scenario, Windsor Drive is amateurish with a bit of potential; at worst it’s one of the more pretentious bits I’ve seen. Condensing the timeline might not have guaranteed its salvation, but tightening the focus would have steered the project away from pretense quickly.

Recommendation: Windsor Drive features a few pretty cool scenes but there are far more minuses than pluses to this one. I can’t really recommend the film on its acting or directing pedigree but it does look good despite the horrible decision to cut it like an extended music video; and the lack of dialogue in favor of visual cues makes for occasionally stimulating viewing. Though rough, this film won’t stop me from keeping an eye out for Bible’ going forward.

Rated: NR

Running Time: 78 mins.

Quoted: “Some might find it a little odd, strange perhaps, but there is a method to the madness. There are only two relevant human emotions, love and fear. All others are meaningless.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.traileraddict.com; http://www.imdb.com

When the Game Stands Tall

WGST_DOM_1SHEET

Release: Friday, August 22, 2014

[Theater]

Dignity and courage. Those are two words you cannot separate out of any sports movie, good, bad or ugly. Whether handled delicately or with blunt force, there comes a point where the film either shoehorns in these values or cleverly suggests them through a combination of strong writing and impassioned performance.

When the Game Stands Tall is a film based on the trials and tribulations experienced by the De La Salle Spartans, a central-California high school football team put through the wringer when they first surrender an unheard-of 151-game winning streak to a team they could have beaten. They then lose their head coach temporarily to overwhelming stress that culminates in a heart attack and his sitting out for a good portion of the season. And finally the increasingly desperate Spartans tragically lose a key player and good student to a senseless act of street violence.

Reality is often more like a nightmare, and this is hardly the first time young players’ mettle has been tested for the sake of general audience entertainment. The fact’s not offensive so much as it is uninspiring. As trying a time as this is for a once-proud team (goodness only knows what it was like for the real community), this particular film — one built almost exclusively out of cliches — is much more so.

Beginning with a ruthlessly jejune Jim Caviezel as head coach Bob Ladoucer, any honest evaluation of this poorly-conceived model of sports-as-therapy must take note of him and his flat delivery first and foremost. After all, this is ostensibly his movie, given the fact he was responsible for building such a winning team over the years. However, his part is written so poorly and unfortunately Caviezel delivers so awkwardly that whatever dignity remains in the film, it pertains more to side-line issues. Where Coach is meant to inspire and invigorate his team — indirectly, us — with spirited pep talks that emphasize brotherhood, faith and character, he instead lectures and recites, driving any interest to continue listening right out the door. . .along with any reasonable viewer or casual sports fan.

The many tough faces of Ladouceur are intended to reinforce the unique circumstances; evidence of how thin he had stretched himself to make the team exceptional. But Caviezel takes it to the point of effecting numbness. Even the practice dummies players drill themselves into repeatedly have more personality than he does. It should be mentioned that the emphasis on his listless expressions throughout many scenes is one rather ill-advised move on the part of director Thomas Carter. The actor is absolutely not the only one to blame. Unfortunately he bears the distinction of being caught in the act.

When moving away from this disastrous crusade to prove the head coaching position ain’t for everyone, we thankfully intercept only decreasing levels of terribleness on the offensive and defensive ends. Supporting cast isn’t exactly impressive but they at least offer up something akin to what is expected of a sports-film, performance-wise. Richard Kohnke, along with Alexander Ludwig, Matthew Daddario, Stephan James and Ser’Darius Blain round out the key players at the quarterback position and offensive line, respectively.

While Kohnke’s Rick Salinas is at the star position, he’s largely bereft of complexity but that’s not really a problem, as he doesn’t have much screen time. Ludwig follows the trajectory of every most mis-interpreted jocks who have issues at home. In this case, he’s slave to an overly-enthusiastic father (Clancy Brown) who demands the best from his son, and wants nothing more than for De La Salle to get back on track. Who knew statistics were more important than family? Meanwhile, Daddario is handed the part of the coach’s son Danny, whom Ladouceur is compelled to protect until the very last minute. No need to worry; nothing terrible happens, though I’m sure you’re aware already of that kind of conflict resolution. “Show me what you got, kid.” (And then he does precisely that.)

The Game somehow finds a pulse in James’ T.K. Kelly, an impressive athlete and genuinely nice guy who is struck down at the ripe age of 18. Not only is his story the strongest of the lot, the young actor offers up an affectionate spirit we can actually support. Sports fans often seek enthusiasm out of the stories they seek out on the silver screen. James is  one of the few who doesn’t look disinterested in being on set. He’s also not an uncompromisingly stereotypical player, though his journey to a heartbreaking premature end isn’t the biggest break from convention.

There’s no denying some of the emotional build-up is actually earned. An overt religious overtone actually helps elevate moments of sadness rather than drown them in off-putting sentimentalism. One particular speech comes to mind. And Caviezel has a moment or two where he doesn’t seem to be rehearsing his lines. But as far as I am concerned and the way I like my sports represented, I should have come equipped with more padding for the beating I was going to take when it comes to the cliched and predictable.

When it comes down to it, When the Game Stands Tall forgets to really take a stand for anything.

Michael Chiklis un-bald is a very different Michael Chiklis

Michael Chiklis un-bald is a very different Michael Chiklis

2-0Recommendation: One can probably do much worse than Thomas Carter’s woeful interpretation of a community rallying around their local sports team in the wake of multiple difficult circumstances. But that’s a coin with another side to it, and of course you are going to come across far superior versions. Hopefully one day there’ll be a better movie to represent this incredibly resilient community. I don’t really recommend this one even to sports buffs considering the other competition that’s out there waiting.

Rated: PG

Running Time: 115 mins.

Quoted: “Family isn’t just blood relatives. You’ve got me and 60 brothers. . .”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa

bad-grandpa-movie-poster

Release: Friday, October 25, 2013

[Theater]

In this episode, Johnny Knoxville is back as Irving Zisman, the vulgar old man with a big fake. . . well, you know where this is going.

Only this time around, instead of interacting with one of the worst-looking grannies ever (Spike Jonze never ceased to amaze me in those skits in the show) Zisman has been saddled up with his grandkid, whose mother just got sent to prison on drug charges. Now Irving finds himself with no other option but to drop young, impressionable Billy (a surprisingly entertaining Jackson Nicoll) off at his pop’s place, all the way across the country in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Along the way Irving will get his genitals caught in a vending machine, hit on black male strippers, kill a penguin and crash a funeral, a wedding and a beauty pageant. 90 percent of what I just listed can be seen in the trailers, but should you assume that there will be more, perhaps better skits throughout the movie, indeed you won’t be letdown. (Oh yes, and for those who are local, how’d you like that shot of the Henley Street underpass heading into downtown Knoxvegas??)

I got giddy over a two-second clip of my home town because it was far more than what was expected. And speaking of, this movie was actually quite good. Not only are the stunts suitably hilarious with this tandem of old-gramps with a cute, “innocent” little kid working together, but their hidden camera road trip is outfitted with a somewhat heartfelt story as well.

Where plot and prank combine in this outrageous film, this is where Bad Grandpa manages to rise above something more than the montages of ball-busting, stomach-wrenching skits that somehow called for three full-length motion pictures. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for what these guys are doing. . .sort of. I just have always been amazed they managed to put together three such films, on top of the show they had been doing for some time.) Really, it’s pretty impressive to see Knoxville’s 42-year-old body (in an 86-year-old man costume of course) jettisoning through a store window on a coin-operated kiddie ride.

At first Irving can’t stand the thought of having Billy clinging to his side now. After his wife has passed away, Irving’s finding himself a free man for the first time in over forty years. Not even the strongest of Viagra formula is going to be of assistance to him, now that he’s got a grandkid by his side. There’ll be no chatting up the honeys with Billy around. . . or will there be? As the story and journey unfold, Irving and the kid begin to bond over a series of ridiculous situations and you can’t help but find yourself enjoying their camaraderie. The fact that you’ll be feeling something else other than the pee in your pants might surprise you, too.

The other element that Bad Grandpa benefits generously from is the heavy usage of reaction shots. Unlike the other Jackass films, where all of the comedy was confined within the group, this expedition relies heavily on how innocent bystanders take to Zisman’s “parenting” skills. True, there’s always been a few skits here and there where Knoxville will harass some random people for a minute or two, but here’s a movie that completely runs away with that concept. And it works brilliantly. I’d even argue that this film is far funnier because of the way certain people respond to what goes on. Some are so good you want to believe they were directed to act a certain way. But the end credits sequence will reveal that in fact, no one is in on the joke other than Knoxville, Nicoll and the camera crew.

Taken altogether, with clever camera placements, a good performance from the very young Nicoll, and a premise written by fellow jackasses Preston Lacy and Jeff Tremaine that actually enhances the selected stunts, Bad Grandpa is one of the better conceits the crew has concocted. Consider it the ultimate “big” prank, similar to how their other films always concluded in some elaborate scheme — only this time with a lot more loose skin.

sorry-as-hell

3-5Recommendation: This section should be pretty self-explanatory this time! You’ll either be there laughing your fool head off or you’ll be at home, skipping over channels that are showing the previews for this thing. Very little I can say or do to convince the latter kind, which is completely understandable. I’m just relieved this movie actually worked.

Rated: R

Running Time: 92 mins.

Quoted: “You are sorry, you’re sorry as hell, Mister!”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com