Category Archives: Sports Films

Raging Bull-1980

Raging Bull-1980

Director-Martin Scorsese

Starring Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci

Scott’s Review #1,256

Reviewed May 14, 2022

Grade: A

Raging Bull (1980) might be director Martin Scorsese’s most personal film and certainly his most character-driven. His other films contain great characters, rich with life, but with the focus firmly planted on controversial real-life boxer Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro) there is much to explore.

His descent into madness is hard to watch but also impossible to look away from.

It’s tough to top the De Niro/Scorsese pairing featured in Taxi Driver (1976) when the actor simply kicked the audience’s ass with his ferocious portrayal of maniacal Travis Bickle. LaMotta arguably surpasses that portrayal because the boxer experiences the highest of the highs with the lowest of the lows.

And the audience is whisked away with him on the journey from heaven to hell. Arguably director and actor’s finest film, Raging Bull is often painful to watch, but it’s a searing, powerful work about an unsympathetic hero who we can’t help but explore.

A double-pairing film extravaganza of watching Taxi Driver and Raging Bull is a fabulous idea though the viewer may need a Valium to combat the resulting anxiety after experiencing these films.

I love the title that is Raging Bull because it is so apt and central to the film. Fueled with machismo, testosterone, and anger, Jake LaMotta certainly is a raging bull.

Screenwriters Paul Schrader and Mardik Martin, frequent collaborators of Scorsese’s, adapt the story from Raging Bull: My Story, a 1970 memoir written by LaMotta.

Raging Bull tells the story of an Italian-American middleweight boxer as he struggles through the ranks to earn his first shot at the middleweight crown. He possesses a self-destructive and obsessive rage, jealousy, and animalistic appetite that destroys his relationship with his wife and family.

Wonderfully cast as his wife Vickie is Cathy Moriarity who is a gorgeous girl from the Bronx who falls head over heels in love with Jake. Joe Pesci plays his well-intentioned brother and managerJoey, who unsuccessfully tries to help Jake battle his inner demons.

Jake’s inability to express his feelings enters the ring and eventually takes over his life. He is sent into a downward spiral that costs him everything.

Comparisons to the exceptional Rocky (1976) are cute and perhaps contain some merit on paper but whereas the former is heroic and compelling, the main characters are nothing alike except that they are both struggling boxers who achieve success.

Both are sports films but Raging Bull is much, much darker and purely a character study.

The cinematography by Michael Chapman and the Film Editing by Thelma Schoonmaker are deserving of accolades and make the picture as flawless as it is.

Scorsese adds enough boxing scenes to showcase the fantastic editing that is required for these difficult scenes. The editing is lightning quick and the thunderous bombast makes the viewer feel each blow of the glove on the skin. The blood and sweat are legendary components of these scenes.

The black and white cinematography is jaw-dropping especially powerful during the kitchen fight scene between Jake and Joey. The brutal buildup is hard to stomach as Jake’s dementia becomes evident.

Despite the other qualities of the film that bring it all together, my favorite aspect is the performance that De Niro delivers, winning him a much deserved Best Actor Oscar.

He is powerful and animalistic playing both subtle rage and explosive anger. His tragic final act as a much older and fat man is shrouded in heartbreak and pain for both the character and the viewer to experience.

All the pieces of Raging Bull (1980) add up perfectly into a masterpiece. The violence and pain are enshrouded in poetic dialogue and beautiful illuminating camera work exploring one man’s battles and struggles both inside the squared circle and internally.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor-Robert De Niro (won), Best Supporting Actor-Joe Pesci, Best Supporting Actress-Cathy Moriarty, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing (won), Best Sound

The Karate Kid-1984

The Karate Kid-1984

Director-John G. Avildsen

Starring Ralph Macchio, Pat Morita

Scott’s Review #1,241

Reviewed April 2, 2022

Grade: B+

The Karate Kid (1984) is a wholesome and predictable film from the commercial entrails that were the 1980’s cinema. With a clever marketing pitch about a bullied boy overcoming obstacles, the film is utterly predictable. But the warm message and chemistry between the two leads make the film work marvelously.

It’s a truthful film that showcases the power of friendship.

The film was a smash at the box office becoming one of Hollywood’s biggest sleeper summer hits of 1984, making the lead actor Ralph Macchio an enormous star and household name. It also successfully brought karate to American households spanning a  new trend and appreciation for Asian sport.

The film was followed by three tired sequels before the franchise finally ran out of steam. A re-launch emerged in 2010 with mixed results.

Daniel (Macchio) moves to Southern California with his mother, Lucille (Randee Heller), but quickly finds himself the target of a group of bullies who study karate at the Cobra Kai dojo. This heightens in severity when he becomes smitten with the ex-girlfriend (Elisabeth Shue) of the lead bully, Zabka (Johnny Lawrence) who vows revenge on Daniel.

Fortunately, Daniel befriends Mr. Miyagi (Noriyuki “Pat” Morita), a kindly repairman who is a martial arts master himself. Miyagi takes Daniel under his wing, training him in a more compassionate form of karate, and prepares him to compete against the brutal Cobra Kai.

The Karate Kid is very sweet but never too saccharin-laced and is easy to compare to Rocky (1976). In a clear example of manipulation and copycatting, Robert Mark Kamen, who wrote the screenplay, was instructed to write something similar to Rocky which won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Avildsen also directed that critically acclaimed film.

The result is Rocky-lite. The Karate Kid would be a great warm-up film before the headliner Rocky takes the screen.

The mission is to tell a story about an underdog rising to glory while staying true to himself. The Karate Kid is a product but is extremely likable and a fist-pumping good time. It’s not the sort of film one necessarily needs to see repeatedly nor will it be studied in film school.

The main reason that The Karate Kid works is because of the chemistry and connection between Macchio and Morita. The latter is terrific casting since Morita was usually known for comedic roles but works against type in his memorable role. His character is kind and humble and impossible not to fall in love with. As a mentor, he coaches Daniel with valuable and truthful life lessons.

Macchio surprisingly carries the film. Handsome and charismatic, he also represents to the audience anyone who has ever felt like an outsider or different from everyone else. He’s the boy next door but with an ethnic overtone. He is clearly different and therefore unliked by some.

The elements that don’t work as well are the traditional love triangle, hardly a triangle because one of the three is the villain, and the stereotypical nature of the bully gang. Shue plays her part well but the romance between Ali and Daniel is the supporting act to the fight scenes which inevitably show up mostly towards the end of the film.

The finale is one very familiar in sports-type films because it’s all too obvious how events will play out. Surprisingly though, it’s a satisfying payoff as every character wins out, even the villainous Johnny. Though he is soundly defeated, he learns a lesson from Daniel and comes to respect him. So, he repents.

It’s a powerful message that stayed with me and made me appreciate the approach to valued storytelling.

Safe and sturdy for a PG audience, The Karate Kid (1984) may feel dated and flounder for modern audiences but the message remains poignant and fresh. Hard work, determination, and respect equal success and satisfaction.

This may be a point easy to ridicule and pick apart but the film works well.

Oscar Nominations: Best Supporting Actor-Pat Morita

King Richard-2021

King Richard-2021

Director-Reinaldo Marcus Green

Starring Will Smith, Aunjanue Ellis

Scott’s Review #1,238

Reviewed March 13, 2022

Grade: B+

King Richard (2021) is an inspirational, feel-good, Hollywood film with a strong message. It champions the little guy rising beyond expectations to achieve greatness. Audiences will be left with a warm feeling of possibility and that nearly anything can be achieved with hard work and determination.

The story of the world-famous tennis stars, the Williams sisters, and their parents, just happens to be true, lending the necessary credibility to make this film quite enjoyable. It’s a conventional film and contains many cliches but is a heartwarming family drama.

Richard Williams (Will Smith) is determined to write his daughters, Venus and Serena, into the tennis history books while also keeping them educated and away from the drug-infested streets of Compton, California where they reside. Along with his wife Brandy (Aunjanue Ellis), they defy all odds in their meteoric rise to fame and fortune just as Richard had planned.

The Williams family story is told in an uplifting fashion as they face trials and tribulations along the way like gang violence and racism. The sisters would soon become two of the world’s greatest sports legends.

The film is led by an excellent performance by Smith though I’m careful to make the bold statement that it’s his best role ever. I haven’t seen Ali (2001) but have heard he brings down the house in that role, again playing a real-life figure.

Time will tell.

The lesson learned about Smith is that when he skirts away from his usual summer popcorn blockbuster action roles in which there are many, he is truly a great actor. Plenty of backstories is given to Richard and the violence and marginalization he has faced in his past, living as a child in Louisiana. His occasional shrewdness and feistiness can be forgiven as the character is explored very well.

Aunjanue Ellis, unknown to me before this film, is a revelation. As Brandy and the assumed second-in-command supportive wife role, she does way more than one might have expected. In one tense scene, she lays down the law with Richard and refuses to play the second fiddle. Ellis brings a subdued toughness and quiet to the role that not all actresses can bring.

The casting all around is strong. Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton as Venus and Serena are believable though they are not given the material that Smith and Ellis are afforded. Delightful is Jon Bernthal and Tony Goldwyn in supporting roles as coaches.

Director, Reinaldo Marcus Green, sticks to a straight-ahead approach and achieves what his intention seems to be. He forges into R-rated territory with some of the gang relationships and an occasional racist remark but the effect is soft-touch only and the main message is how a struggling black family can succeed.

I enjoyed the depictions of California and then sunny Florida throughout the 1980s and the 1990s and finally into more recent times. It felt realistic and appropriate to the film especially when real-life incidents like the Rodney King police beatings were shown.

The editing team is flawless, especially in the multiple tennis match sequences which are very difficult to shoot and make seem real. The continuity is exceptional and a massive undertaking.

A safe passage and not a film to be watched a second time or dissected much with post-credit discussions, King Richard (2021) is nonetheless a winner. It provides enough positive vibes to leave its viewer smiling and determined to beat any odds.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor-Will Smith (won), Best Supporting Actress-Aunjanue Ellis, Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Original Song-“Be Alive”

A League of Their Own-1992

A League of Their Own-1992

Director-Penny Marshall

Starring-Geena Davis, Tom Hanks

Scott’s Review #970

Reviewed December 18, 2019

Grade: B

Sports films are too often predictable affairs with fairy tale endings. They are also typically male-driven.

A League of Their Own (1992) is warm and sentimental, and while director Penny Marshall plays it way too sweet and safe for my tastes, there is a measure of feminism that is admirable and a bit different.

The cast is well-known and provides professionalism and energy, but the film is little more than mediocre and strikes out towards the end with a far too pretty ending, doing exactly what these genre films normally do. It’s as if Marshall has a great idea but then decides not to teeter too far left of center.

Beginning in 1988 (present times), elderly Dottie Hinson attends an opening of the new All-American Girls Professional Baseball League exhibit at the Baseball Hall of Fame. She reunites with several of her former teammates and friends, prompting a flashback to 1943 when the main story takes place.

With many young men off fighting World War II, the Major League Baseball franchise is at risk. A women’s league is bankrolled which prompts the recruitment of several players, forming the Peaches and the Belles. They face off in the World Series to dramatic effect.

To be fair, the film is nice and welcoming, providing a haven for filmgoers seeking a solid story and a heartwarming sensibility. The lead actors, Tom Hanks and Geena Davis, respectively the team manager and star player, provide strength and do the best they can with the roles given.

During the early 1990s, both were big stars, and while their characters are not romantically linked, their chemistry is zesty. Hanks as Jimmy is a bit predictable and gruff, at first being little more than a male chauvinist, but eventually coming around to respect the women.

For fans of the sport of baseball, the film will be delightful. With enough action scenes on the outdoor diamond to please those fans, one might forget that the teams are made up of women. The demographic sought after is clearly female, but the sunny settings and standard hot dogs, peanuts, and popcorn result in the film drawing a wholesomeness that should also please men.

The supporting characters are too one-dimensional and cliched. The biggest offenders are the characters of “All the Way” Mae Mordabito (Madonna) and Doris Murphy (Rosie O’Donnell).

The pop star, a horrid actress, in my opinion, is written way too corny, cracking gum and talking tough, while O’Donnell is intended to be her sidekick. The duo is street smart and grizzled New Yorker’s, but the casting never really works, and the action feels very formulaic, losing its luster very early on.

While Marshall incorporates brief moments of tragedy, one minor character’s husband is killed in action during the war, all the action is safely in the United States, the war serving as more of a backdrop than a major player. More common are syrupy scenes between characters who at first have a miscommunication or misunderstanding, but then forge their way to a close bond. And do we ever really believe Jimmy will not become the women’s biggest fan?

A League of Their Own (1992) is a decent watch and marginally enjoyable in a fluff way. It provides little edginess and could have provided darker story points than it does. Instead, it shows a slice of Americana and Apple Pie approach that while not all bad, is not all good either, feeling limited by its own sentimentality. The film could be much worse and possesses characters that the viewer can root for and cheer along with a home run or a safe slide into third base. This is mainly a result of the stellar cast that Marshall presents.

Million Dollar Baby-2004

Million Dollar Baby-2004

Director-Clint Eastwood

Starring-Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank

Scott’s Review #798

Reviewed August 2, 2018

Grade: A

Million Dollar Baby (2004) is arguably Clint Eastwood’s best-directed film of his career. Rivaling Mystic River (2003) by a hair, the film has a raw emotional appeal, empathetic and richly carved characters, and mainstream sensibility. These combined elements resulted in huge box office success and Oscar wins for Picture, Director, Actress, and Supporting Actor in the year of its release.

Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood) is a hardened boxing coach who owns a run-down Los Angeles gym. He works with his best friend and assistant, Eddie (Morgan Freeman). When an aspiring female boxer, Maggie (Hilary Swank), arrives and begs Frankie to train her, he initially declines, but at Eddie’s urging, eventually relents and leads her to great success as a top female boxer. Frankie and Maggie forge a close-knit, father/daughter relationship, a substitute for the damaged one he has with his own daughter.

The final portion of Million Dollar Baby takes a very dark turn, as Maggie is illegally punched during a fight by a fellow boxer, causing her to become a quadriplegic. These events are what change the tone of the film from a very good sports drama to a great tale in morality. Many emotions and debates transpired after this film was released and the common question of, “What would you have done?” engulfed viewers for months, all through awards season. The heartbreaking effects of the story events raise the film head and shoulders above most typical sports films.

Too often Eastwood creates films that are palpable, but in a way generic, and very Hollywood. Grand Torino (2008) and Invictus (2009) are good examples of this- especially Invictus given the sports drama element.  Some assumed that Million Dollar Baby was to be a female Rocky (1976) and the film was indeed marketed as such. For this reason, some felt robbed or duped, but I celebrate this film as leaning a firm left of center with a refreshing, progressive approach.

The performances are amazing all around, even by Eastwood- never known for his acting talent. The characters are written as character-driven, but not caricatures. Wounded, grizzled, and flawed, in his senior years Frankie is seeing his life has passed him by, having achieved nothing. Never has Eastwood portrayed a character as complex and reserved as Frankie.

Swank deserved her second Oscar (1999’s Boys Don’t Cry was her first) for simply becoming a boxer- her pre-filming prep schedule reportedly was insane. More than the muscle and toning she achieved, are the raw acting talent and wounded emotions she possesses.

The character is written as pained and vulnerable, but also very strong. She has achieved little in her life- working as a waitress in Missouri and stealing scraps of leftovers to survive. Her family is trash through and through, only wanting her eventual riches for themselves. The character is inevitably championed as we empathize with her plight emotionally.

Finally, Freeman deserves recognition for being the ultimate supporting actor. Eddie Dupris, a former fighter blind in one eye, is the center point of the story and frequently narrates the actions of others, oftentimes offering a glimpse into the psyche of individuals. The voice of reason, he is observant and analytical, almost knowing Freddie better than Freddie knows himself. They quarrel and disagree, but are forever friends and loyal to a fault. Freeman possesses quite a reserve as the audience becomes curious about his past life.

In my opinion Million Dollar Baby (2004) is Eastwood’s best film- Mystic River comes a close second, however. A seemingly formulaic story and genre are weaved into a web of humanism, emotions, and power. The film is about the characters, which makes it succeed. Eastwood has not been able to quite surpass this beautiful story, but thankfully received dripping praise and accolades for a film not soon forgotten.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture (won), Best Director-Clint Eastwood (won), Best Actor-Clint Eastwood (won), Best Actress-Hilary Swank (won), Best Supporting Actor-Morgan Freeman (won), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing

Battle of the Sexes-2017

Battle of the Sexes-2017

Director-Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris

Starring-Emma Stone, Steve Carell

Scott’s Review #691

Reviewed October 11, 2017

Grade: A

Battle of the Sexes is a film that achieves worth on many levels- equal parts sports film, drama, and biography, the film excels across all genres, with exceptional acting and crowd-pleasing storytelling.

To boot, the film is a true story based not only on the very famous pro tennis match of 1973, termed the “Battle of the Sexes”, but a story of the sexual identity conflict of one of the opponents, in a time where being ones true self was not easy, especially for a public figure.

Emma Stone might very well have given her best portrayal of her young career as Billie Jean King, the talented tennis pro featured in the film. She is kind and fair, but a fierce proponent of women’s rights in a time in the United States when feminism was beginning to first take shape and women, and their male supporters, demanded equal treatment.

At first uncertain whether Stone could pull the role off (not because of lack of talent, but the women seem so different), she truly shines as the tomboy athlete with shaggy, feathered locks, and a toothy grin.

Equally worthy of praise is Steve Carell, who bolsters his film credo by tackling the role of King’s opponent and foe in the big match, Bobby Riggs.

Portrayed as a certifiable “jerk” and a sexist pig, Carell somehow pours the perfect amount of sympathy and likability into the part. We witness scenes of Riggs’ playfulness with his young son and tender yet troubled relationship with his wife, Priscilla (Elisabeth Shue in a well-cast role), that never seems neither trite nor contrived, but rather quite genuine.

The acting in Battle of the Sexes is across the board good.

Sarah Silverman drips with confidence and humor as Gladys Heldman, founder of World Tennis magazine and leader of the troupe of female tennis players parades around southern California seeking the same respect and pays as their male counterparts.

Bill Pullman, makes the most of his one-dimensional role of Jack Kramer, a wealthy and male chauvinistic promoter, while the talented Andrea Riseborough is brilliant as Marilyn, the bisexual, closeted lover of Billie Jean- giving a blend of vulnerability and toughness to her role.

The romantic scenes between Stone and Riseborough smolder with tenderness and heart as they forge ahead with their forbidden romance.

The film makes clear that a same-sex romance in those days, while accepted by those around them, would be met with shame and rejection by a large part of King’s legions of fans- this is a heartbreaking reality.

One of the most tear-jerking scenes comes at the end of the film when a victorious King is unable to acknowledge Marilyn- her openly gay male dresser earnestly whispers to her that one day she will be free to love who she truly loves- the scene is poignant.

Directors Dayton and Faris carve a finale that is careful not to fall into the cliched territory. Given that Battle of the Sexes is a sports film, this is a real risk, as typically these genre films teeter into the “good guys beat bad guys” fairy tale land.

Rather, while the film does champion King in the end, the moment is laced with good humor, drama, and sentimentality that does not seem forced, but rather honest and real- I enjoyed the final act immensely.

As the film progressed I found myself drawing parallels to the ever-dramatic and historical 2016 Presidential election- sure to have films made in years ahead-and King in many ways mirrors Hillary Clinton while Riggs resembles Donald Trump in the sexist department. The political and sports “Battles of the Sexes” warrants an amount of analysis.

My point is a sad one and as much as I love the film, I was left with a cold feeling that forty-five years after the famous Billie Jean King versus Bobby Riggs match, male superiority and chauvinism is alive and well in the United States- we still have so much progress to make.

Battle of the Sexes is a film with fantastic acting, stellar casting, passion, excitement, and a telling of a historical, true story.

In short, the film contains all of the elements of a compelling cinematic experience.

The Blind Side-2009

The Blind Side-2009

Director-John Lee Hancock

Starring-Sandra Bullock

Scott’s Review #580

Reviewed January 2, 2017

Grade: B-

The Blind Side is a 2009 film that garnered huge buzz and accolades largely based on rave reviews for Sandra Bullock’s performance. Bullock subsequently went on to win an Academy Award for the role (I personally would have awarded any of the other four nominees instead).

The story is surmised as a rich, white couple from the suburbs “rescues” a poor black football player and gives him a decent life that he otherwise would not have been able to have.

I was impressed with Bullock’s performance, but I left the theater a little disappointed. I know this is a true story, but do we really need yet another movie about a poor black kid being “rescued” by rich, white people? Think Finding Forester. This film is riddled with the typical stereotypes (rednecks, racist friends, political/religious views)that seem a bit overdone.

Disturbing to me are folks that think The Blind Side is the best film in decades- no- it is certainly not. It is definitely a feel-good, warm, fairy tale sort of movie, that, besides Bullock’s performance, seems rather ordinary.

I was expecting a bit more due to the success of the movie and would recommend this as a rental only for anyone who aspires to watch all of the Oscar-nominated features.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Actress-Sandra Bullock (won)

Invictus-2009

Invictus-2009

Director-Clint Eastwood

Starring Matt Damon, Morgan Freeman

Scott’s Review #579

Reviewed January 2, 2017

Grade: B

As sports films go, it is very difficult, especially a sports film based on real-life actions, for a director to avoid cliches and make the film not a sappy, saturated mess. I will point out some of the latter-day Rocky films as examples of cheese, not that those are true stories.

Nevertheless, Clint Eastwood has given us Invictus, and while the film is certainly predictable and sappy, somehow it also works as an above-average offering.  This is undoubtedly helped by the superior acting of stars Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman, who give both compelling and nuanced performances.

While not a masterpiece, for the sports genre, it is above average, as it combined a South African history lesson along with good drama. Freeman portrays the famed Nelson Mandela, during the period when he took over as President and subsequently ended apartheid. He used the 1995 World Cup rugby matches as a way to unite his people. Damon stars as a key rugby player.

Invictus is a rousing, triumphant sports film with a happy ending one can see for miles away. There is particularly a rooting value and rallying cry to the film since the subject matter is an important social issue and historically significant.

I wish that the film might have contained more character-driven elements, but it was clear the type of film that it was. Nothing very surprising ever developed as the film was certainly straightforward. Still, a worthy effort that is a feel-good film.

Oscar Nominations: Best Actor-Morgan Freeman, Best Supporting Actor-Matt Damon

The Fighter-2010

The Fighter-2010

Director-David O. Russell

Starring-Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale

Scott’s Review #546

Reviewed December 11, 2016

Grade: A-

The Fighter is an excellent film. Being a sports film there are the inevitable cliches, which make the entire sports film genre rather predictable. But this film is a very well-done story and based on real-life figures (the Ward brothers).

Tremendous acting by Wahlberg, Bale, and Melissa Leo, in the role of Mama Ward- a role of a lifetime.

The telling is a true story of Mickey Ward, a boxer from Massachusetts, and his battle to stardom, dealings with family members, and his love life. The characters may be ever slightly overdone in the rugged, rough, Bostonian way, almost appearing New Jersey-Soprano-ish instead of New England, but the message is clear- they are in the boxing world and tough guys (and gals).

This film is much more character-driven than many similar sports movies. thank goodness and the casting is spot on. There are the inevitable final boxing match and the standard reaction shots, but again sports films are riddled with cliches. The real win here is with the characters layered, complexities as they love and hate each other.

Bale and Leo deserved their Oscars for their respective roles, specifically Bale for the shocking weight loss and spot-on character imitation.

Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-David O. Russell, Best Supporting Actor-Christian Bale (won), Best Supporting Actress-Melissa Leo (won), Amy Adams, Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing

Creed-2015

Creed-2015

Director-Ryan Coogler

Starring-Sylvester Stallone, Michael B. Jordan

Scott’s Review #495

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Reviewed October 16, 2016

Grade: C+

Creed will certainly please die-hard fans (and there are legions) of the Rocky franchise, eager for a trip down memory lane to revisit with Sylvester Stallone’s “Rocky Balboa”.

For those yearning for a slice of nostalgia and a harkening back to 1976, when the first Rocky was released, Creed will be a crowd-pleaser. For others expecting something new or innovative to the story will not be as satisfied.

The film is predictable for sure, with all of the expected elements of a sports film.

Instead of Rocky Balboa being the main attraction- he is now a senior citizen and long since retired, now owning a modest Italian restaurant in Philadelphia, the action centers on a young fighter- the bastard child of Apollo Creed- Rocky’s nemesis turned friend from the first few installments.

Adonis Johnson Creed (played by up and coming star Michael B. Jordan) is his name and until rescued from a group home (he has a temper and fights a lot, naturally) by Apollo’s wife (Phylicia Rashad) he does not know fighting is truly in his blood.

Determined to make it big in the boxing world, he moves to Philadelphia and convinces Rocky Balboa to train him.

Along the way, he meets a love interest-Bianca (played by Tessa Thompson), a musician.

The main positives for me are the nods to history and a few sentimental moments throughout the film. How wonderful to see Rocky Balboa again- like catching up with an old friend we have not seen for years.

We learn that sadly, Paulie and Adrian (Rocky’s brother-in-law and wife) have long since died and a sweet moment shows Rocky visiting their side by side graves, pulling up a chair, and reading the newspaper to them. Rocky’s son has moved far away so Rocky is left a lonely man- and Apollo’s son revives a father figure element within Rocky.

Also nice are some flashback scenes to the earlier Rocky films and we see portions of Rocky’s and Apollo’s fights. The plethora of external Philadelphia scenes does bring authenticity and familiarity to the film and this is a wise decision, instead of too many interior scenes in a studio.

Otherwise, the film is largely a miss.

The formulaic, predictability must have been intentional to make Creed an ode to fans and a film that is easy to watch.  We are served the many “inspirational” training scenes as Adonis trains and trains for the big match- with conveniently an arrogant, loud, Londoner, with an equally unlikable coach.

The “good vs. bad” mentality that the film develops is contrived and completely plot-driven- it makes Adonis that much more likable and gives him the rooting factor.

This occurs time and time again in sports films. Why not make both fighters nice guys?

But, of course, the film also gives Adonis a temper- to insure that he appeals to the testosterone-driven fans expecting such.

Phylicia Rashad and Tessa Thompson are stock characters- we get the standard reaction shots from both as they wince along with the blows that Adonis receives, and Rashad gets an unintentionally comic moment- when Adonis lands a flattening blow on his opponent, she proudly professes “that’s what I’m talkin’ about!”.

Interesting to note, however, is the clever decision to make Bianca suffer from progressive hearing loss. Having her handicapped gives her nice humanity, though once the fight scenes begin this is never mentioned again.

A standard boxing film with the expected elements- testosterone, brutal fighting, a bit of sentimentality for good measure, and dutiful female characters with little substance, Creed is a guys movie, basic and predictable, with a little edge and lots of machismo.

However, it does capitalize on the Rocky franchise and offers a nice little nod to the past. Otherwise, it is a rather forgettable film with a mediocre story.

Oscar Nominations: Best Supporting Actor-Sylvester Stallone

Unbroken-2014

Unbroken-2014

Director-Angelina Jolie

Starring-Garrett Hedlund, Domhnall Gleeson

Scott’s Review #260

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Reviewed August 1, 2015

Grade: B

Unbroken tells the true story of Olympic athlete Louis Zamperini, a runner during the World War II period, who was also serving in the military during this tumultuous time in history.

His story is one of bravery, courage, and endurance, as he survives a hellish experience in a Japanese prisoner of war camps after having crashed in the Pacific Ocean, stranded for 47 days, as if that were not enough to break a man.

Mainstream Hollywood fare to the hilt, this film is surprisingly directed by Angelina Jolie (a woman) and written by the Coen brothers, the latter usually emitting less traditional and more quirky fare than this film.

Jolie directs what is arguably a “guys movie” that contains very few women in the cast, and the ones who do appear are either loving mother or giggling schoolgirl types, so the big names associated with Unbroken surprise me. I would have taken this work as a Clint Eastwood film.

Unbroken, which was expected to receive several Oscar nominations, was shut out of the major categories.

Visually, Unbroken is slick, glossy, and shot very well- it looks perfect. The cinematography, sound effects, and costumes look great.

The cast of good-looking young men looks handsome even while battered and bruised and half-starved. While in a way this is a compliment, it is also not one. Unbroken lacks any grittiness and plays it quite safe. Even the scenes of abuse and beatings lack an edge to them.

This is not to say that the film is not good. It is good.

I found myself inspired by the lead character of Louis, played by Jack O’Connell, for his resilience during his ordeals. O’Connell gives a very good performance as his motto, “If I can take it, I can make it” is repeated throughout, and who will not cheer at his accomplishments?

Zamperini, who has traditional Italian parents having relocated to the United States, is strict but fair. Louis’s older brother, Peter, is his best friend and is the person who has the most faith in him. At first, Louis is on the verge of becoming a punk, in trouble with the law, if not for the interference of his brother, who gets him interested in the sport of running.

As the years go by and war erupts, Louis embarks on a tour of duty in the military and his plane crashes in the water providing yet another test of courage and stamina. Louis is strong and in many ways always the leader of the group he is intertwined with.

The scenes of the three survivors stranded on the raft for days become slightly tedious, but perhaps this is the intention of the film, as they eat raw fish and raw birds to survive. Much of the remaining action is set in two Japanese war camps as Louis (and others) struggle to survive until the massive war has ended- they do not know if they will live or die.

The central antagonist- a vicious Japanese sergeant named “Bird”, perplexed me. Blatantly targeting Louis and administering cruel beatings and heaping tests of strength upon Louis, presumably out of jealousy because Louis was an Olympic athlete, why did Bird not simply kill him?

His motivations were also odd- In one scene, Bird tearfully tells Louis that he knew they would be friends from the beginning and seems to admire him. Bird’s father, going by a photo, seems a hard, mean man. Is this why Bird is so vicious? Bird’s character is not well thought out.

Also, every single Japanese character is portrayed in a very negative light, which sadly is common in war movies. Surely, despite being a war, there had to have been a few Japanese people who were not cruel.

Character development and depth are not a strong suit of this film.

At the end of the day, Unbroken is a good, solid, war drama with an inspiring message of triumph, faith, and determination.

Indeed, it is a positive message to viewers of all ages.

The abuse/torture scenes are tough to watch, but the result is a feel-good story.

The snippets of the real Louis Zamperini at the end of the film are wonderful to watch.

Oscar Nominations: Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Cinematography

Rush-2013

Rush-2013

Director-Ron Howard

Starring-Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Bruhl

Scott’s Review #162

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Reviewed August 31, 2014 

Grade: B+

Rush, a film directed by Ron Howard, delves into the world of auto racing with the true story of the 1970’s rivalry between racing superstars of the day James Hunt and Niki Lauda.

The film mainly focuses on the period from 1970-1976 and the series of races and championships involving the two with some of their life trials and tribulations thrown in. At first bitter enemies, respect, and friendship slowly build over the years.

Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl both give excellent performances as Hunt and Lauda, respectively.

Ron Howard, a very mainstream, Hollywood-style director carves a nice film that is not edgy or particularly risk taking, but is a solid biopic that works and will hold the viewer’s interest.

The film is not gritty and has a definite safe feel to it, but that is unsurprising since Ron Howard directed it and is a characteristic of his films.

Reportedly, the feud between Hunt and Lauda is slightly embellished from the low-key real-life feud and some events are created for effect- Hunt never beat up a reporter in Lauda’s defense.

The racing sequences are compelling and are not overdone or take away from the human aspect of the film. I loved seeing the real-life Hunt and Lauda at the end of the film as is quite common these days when telling a true-life story.

Bruhl, an unknown to me, received a deserving Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Rush is not a movie to go down in history nor will it leave one thinking about or asking questions days from viewing it, but a slick, competent, entertaining story with impressive acting by the two leads.

Undefeated-2011

Undefeated-2011

Director-Daniel Lindsay, T.J. Martin

Starring-Montrail “Money” Brown

Scott’s Review #134

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Reviewed July 25, 2014

Grade: B

Undefeated is an emotional documentary, a true story of a high school football coach brought into a struggling, poor, suburban Memphis area high school and leading the team to a championship title.

The story of the coach taking various students under his wing, father figure style, and helping them succeed in, not only football but scholastics as well is inspiring and heartwarming. The coach’s passion really shines through to the viewer in this story.

As wonderful a story as it is, I felt slightly let down by it is as, yet again, the slant on the story is of an affluent white family swooping into a poor black neighborhood and saving the black kids with their mighty influence.

Why can’t we see a film that is the reverse?

In the 21st century, this is becoming slightly offensive and one-sided. It is The Blind Side with real people! With that rant made, the documentary is pretty awe-inspiring and the coach is portrayed as a fantastic, truly caring human being. I laughed, cried, and rooted for the struggling football team to victory.

The portion on what has since happened to the football players is interesting to see.

Undefeated won the Best Documentary Oscar in 2012.

Oscar Nominations: Best Documentary-Feature (won)