A young woman from the lower caste, or Dalit, in southern India named Thulasi dreams of becoming a professional boxer. While the stigma of being Dalit already constitutes one obstacle to her dream, Thulasi finds that in the women’s boxing world are other, hidden obstacles to moving forward in the sport in the country. First-time joint directors Beathe Hofseth and Susanna Østigaard accompany the 24-year-old Thulasi and her efforts to push through these obstacles. They employ principally an observational approach to present Thulasi’s life and story. Concomitantly, their editing privileges short cuts that make the film feel more like a fiction feature than anything else. Though the film is not without its uneven lows in terms of form, Thulasi’s struggles and character are undeniably powerful.
Leatherheads, starring and directed by George Clooney, features Dodge Connelly (Clooney), the captain of the Duluth Bulldogs, a football team in an American league that’s slowly losing popularity. In an effort to save the league and to get his team to go pro, he decides to recruit Carter Rutherford (John Krasinski), a top-notch college football player who became America’s darling after coming home a war hero. Things don’t go smoothly at first, and the intrusion of reporter Lexie Littleton (Rene Zellweger) only makes things more complicated. She thinks there’s more to Carter’s war story than he lets on, and Dodge will do anything to protect the integrity of this team, even as he’s swept away with Lexie’s charm.
Rush from Ron Howard is quite simply a cinematic experience. This is a boys own adventure story built around the intriguing world of Formula One and the sport’s stereotypical elements of fast cars, playboy drivers, willing groupies and intense rivalry. The thing is though that amongst these extremities of life lies an almost unbelievable truth, a story that is so laden with fantastically uplifting and tragic moments that surely it must be exaggerated?
Lucy Walker is an exceptional filmmaker and her latest film adds to an impressive resume that includes: Waste Land (2010) and Devil’s Playground (2002). The Crash Reel follows 2010 Winter Olympics hopeful, Kevin Pearce. Pearce’s specialty is the high-flying snowboard half-pipe. Leading into the Olympics, Pearce went toe to toe with the sport’s most famous athlete, Shaun White. The two shared the podium at events worldwide. Their rivalry pushed each of them to their limits. One terrifying moment took it all away from Pearce. During a training session Pearce crashed while performing a dangerous trick, his face took the brunt of the impact. The crash is introduced quickly in the film and Walker peels back the layers to reveal the boy Pearce was before the crash and the man he would become after the crash.
2003 marked the start of the “poker boom,” when Chris Moneymaker won the coveted World Series of Poker Main Event. Moneymaker was an everyday Joe who turned a satellite (Earned his spot by winning a $39 tournament before the WSOP) entry into 2.5 million dollars. Poker received another boost in popularity from the TV show the World Poker Tour. The WPT glamorized poker and made an otherwise boring spectator sport into a cultural phenomenon. The tour had heroes (Gus Hansen), villains (Phil Hellmuth) mad scientists (Phil Ivey) and weirdos (Phil Laak). Online poker sites like Party Poker and Full Tilt exploded and teenage millionaires were created overnight through online poker.
20 million dollars is cheap for an American film. For an Argentine film, however, it’s madness. And that is without considering the product being financed, an Argentine CGI fairytale bulging with local references. In it, a young man named Amadeo must save his small town from being destroyed by the construction of an immense soccer stadium, rescue his girlfriend from the clutches of the greedy soccer star behind the gargantuan venture, and assemble a crew of tiny heroes to help him out, a team of foosball figurines who spring to life when Amadeo weeps for his homeless, loveless future. He had always played with these figurines, and now, magically animated, they join him on his adventure. Foosball has not a prayer of recouping its investment at home, which means that, from the start, it has always been aimed at international markets. In the past, when Argentine cinema has reached abroad, as it did during the 1940s, it has tended towards neutral Spanish accents and adaptations of European literature or theater. Even a recent HBO-financed miniseries shot in Argentina, Epitafios, neutered the Argentine accent in order to make it more palatable to Latin American and Spanish ears, replacing the local second-person pronoun “vos” with the generic “tu.”
One of the most difficult, and potentially exciting, things about directing a documentary about events as they unfold is the unpredictability. Making a movie about events that have already occurred allows the filmmaker to develop themes and to editorialize through focus in the way narrative directors often do. This is not a luxury afforded to people telling a story as it occurs; sure, they have the luxury of editing as any filmmaker does, but a story can sometimes get away from a director by going off in unexpected directions and changing its shape. Last Woman Standing transmogrifies several times as it builds toward the 2012 London Olympics and its aftermath, but directors Juliet Lammers and Lorraine Price maintain an admirable level of control over the stories they end up relating.
Great rivalries compel sports. These professional games are designed to extract the fiercest competition, pin the most talented participants against one another and put on display their remarkable ambition for supremacy. In the states, we have a particular affinity for the underdog, but there is also the dynasty and the inverse of the underdog, the fall of the favorite. Oftentimes in film, the sports heroes face off against something more systematic. In Invictus and Remember the Titans, the teams were agents against social injustices. Rocky never had a real rival; those films were more anthological, concerned with the determination and integrity of an individual who must overcome several diverse foes. A rivalry emerges when that opposition is tightened in scope from the macro for the micro. Mano a mano.
Home Run (2013) is the feature debut for long time cinematographer David Boyd. The story is that of a professional baseball player, Cory Banks (Scott Elrod) who is an alcoholic, flips out during a game, hurts a bat boy (who turns out to be his adopted nephew, but he doesn’t know that) and is suspended by his team and forced by his agent, Helene (Vivica A. Fox, who hasn’t had a decent role since Kill Bill and is virtually unrecognizable here) to go back to his home town in Oklahoma (though she nor he ever says that it is his home town) to do a PR stunt with the kid showing that everything was okay and to enter a 12 step program. She doesn’t expect him to get sober, it’s all for appearances.
42 (2013) is the latest film from writer/director Brian Helgeland. It documents the rise of Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman), the first African-American to play major league baseball in 1947. He got there thanks to the tenacious owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers by the name of Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) who wants to shake things up in baseball and feels it’s time to integrate. He and his staff of two sift through hundreds of files from the Negro League and he settles on Robinson because he is talented, well-educated, a veteran and played integrated baseball in college proving he can play with white people. Rickey tries Robinson out for the farm team in Montreal and he makes the team. After a year, he gets called up to the Dodgers.