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Entries in sports (34)

Thursday
May142015

Tim's Toons: Biking through Belleville

Tim here, to celebrate National Bike to Work Week in the only way I possibly could. Because when it comes to animated movies about bikes, there's nothing that can top 2003's The Triplets of Belleville, Sylvain Chomet's lightly mocking love letter to the most quintessential elements of French and American culture. Wine and frog-eating on the one side, obesity and urban rudeness on the other, and most importantly for our current purposes, the Tour de France, the most famous bike race in the world.

The bubbly, convoluted story pivots on Champion, raised by his grandmother, whose only interest as a lonely child was in biking. This translates, years later, into his competition in the Tour, from which he's kidnapped by the French mafia as part of their underground gambling ring, from which his grandmother can only rescue him with the help of a trio of elderly cabaret performers. I said "convoluted", right? Because that's a nice word to describe how random and weird Triplets of Belleville can be in its pileup of absurd plot developments. But also, always, delightful and beguiling.

Chomet's tribute to the bike culture in France is, like everything else, predicated on outrageous grotesquerie: in a movie where the entire cast have impossible, distorted body shapes, Champion himself is one of the most extreme examples.

It only takes one glance at his rail-thin body and enormous legs to grasp that this is what a lifetime of single-minded dedication to competitive bike-riding looks like. It might seem like a nasty-minded commentary on athletes destroying their bodies, except that the whole film is based on exaggerated caricature; we could just as easily say that Champion's malformed body is the expression of a soul-consuming passion that's so important to him that he doesn't even realize when the mafia has him chained in front of a movie screen, biking on an endless loop.

That went and got a little nihilistic on me, so let me switch tracks over to the film's other big biking-related sequence: the Tour de France itself, a beautiful little parody of the over-the-top, carnivalesque enthusiasm that crops up when a small town has a great big national event to celebrate, going out of its way to realign everything around this one chance to shine.

And on the more generous side of things, the film also shows off the undulating beauty of its animated countryside, a tribute to the landscape of France that wonderfully shows off the justification for having an internationally well-known biking tour all throughout that country in the first place. The films resting state is to be sardonic as all hell, as often as possible, but it doesn't lack for heart, or even a kind of sentimental affection for the textures of rural France.

The fair concession to make is that The Triplets of Belleville isn't really "about" biking in any sustained way; it's not about any one thing at all. But those things it chooses to glance at get treated with quite a lot of imagination and flair. This might not be cinema's most probing, deep consideration of bikes and the Tour de France, but it's certainly one of the most memorable.

Sunday
Mar292015

Yes No Maybe So: Southpaw

If this post were a sportsmovie, it would be like the first hint of a redemption arc to come after a downward spiral. Yes, I'm (gasp) over 48 hours late saying "yes" to Jake Gyllenhaal.

It's always "yes" so what's the rush?

The occasion is the first trailer to Southpaw, Jakey's new boxing movie from director of dark violent machismo programmers Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, Olympus has Fallen, The Equalizer). In other words, we'd have no interest at all if it didn't star actors we obsess over. But we're already jumping into the Yes No Maybe So breakdown so let's just get the eternal "yes" that is Jake Gyllenhaal and our Gyllenhaalism out of the way first.

The only thing that could make slo mo and fetishisizing body shots of Jake Gyllenhaal's physique better is if his tattoos were more relatable, like...

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Friday
Jan092015

Animated Feature Contenders: Henry & Me

Tim here. With the Oscar nominations coming in just under a week, this is our last chance to look at the little odds and ends on the list of 20 films submitted in the Best Animated Feature category, and pretend that the race isn’t down to The LEGO Movie and five movies vying for four runner-up slots. And of all the odds and ends, they don't come a whole lot odder than our final subject, Henry & Me.

Henry & Me is a direct-to-DVD feature that finagled a courtesy theatrical release, no doubt in part so that it would show up in articles like this one, and win some free publicity as a calling-card for young Reveal Animation Studios, and raise the profile of a release that’s seeing a healthy chunk of its sales going to charity. The risk of such a gambit is that it relies on the reviewer playing nice with a sweet-minded but rather dim bit of nonsense.

More...

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Monday
Dec012014

10 Questions I had while staring at that pic of Jake Gyllenhaal

Manuel here voicing the various queries I had upon staring at this new pic from Jake Gyllenhaal’s upcoming Antoine Fuqua directed flick, Southpaw.

 

  1. Did the Prince of Persia get on a shredding regimen?
  2. Is Jake the new Christian Bale in terms of weight loss/gain yo-yoing?
  3. A troubled teenager, a paranoid reporter, a gay cowboy, an easily scared interviewee, a James Baldwin connoissieur, and now a jacked middleweight champion; is there anything Jake can’t do?
  4. Is Jake still this ripped? Will he look like this as he makes his Broadway debut?
    Related: do you think the Gyllenhaal siblings made it a point to be on Broadway at the same time?
  5. Between Prisoners, Enemy, Nightcrawler and now Southpaw, will we need to come up with a portmanteau for his resurgence? Jakeaissance? Gyllenhawakening?
  6. Where are his co-stars Naomie Harris and Rachel McAdams?
  7. Related: why does IMDb’s “star meter” (also: what is IMDb’s star meter?) rank McAdams higher than Gyllenhaal in the Southpaw credits?
  8. Will Fuqua’s Southpaw follows the likes of The Fighter, The Wrestler, Ali, Million Dollar Baby, Rocky and Raging Bull at the Oscars and nab Jake a nomination? Weinstein is behind the pic so Oscar is bound to factor into the conversation to some extent.
  9. Is this Jake’s version of stealth campaigning, showcasing his range after picking up an Indie Spirit nom for Nightcrawler?
  10. And of course, I can’t not leave you with this question from Glenn:

 

 

 

I honestly would stick with Jarhead Jake, but I’m curious where everyone else lies: do you like Gyllenhaal’s latest look? I can’t be the only Gyllenhaalic in the room so, do you have any answers for my questions above?

Tuesday
Sep092014

TIFF: Two to see again in "Foxcatcher" & "Song of the Sea"

Nathaniel's adventures at TIFF. Days Whichever.

Here are a two films that I feel I should see again, primarily because they're ambitious works and I wonder if my response would change if I had more familiarity with their visual language. You know how that goes with more complicated art.

FOXCATCHER

Bennett Miller, a remarkably consistent auteurial voice, once again demonstrates great aptitute at exploring masculine intimate true stories and mining them for larger weighty themes, without any of the glazy sentiment that tends to be slathered onto both sports movies and biopics. His best move here is to study the alien body language of wrestlers, like it's a foreign tongue for which close visual track is your only form of subtitles. Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo speak this foreign tongue fluently. They play Mark and Dave Schultz, Olympic Gold Medalists in wrestling, "a low sport" (that's Mother DuPont's words as perfectly uttered by Vanessa Redgrave). Into their lives comes a would be patron and "coach" John DuPont, a filthy rich patriotic nutjob who completely takes over and irrevocably and tragically alters their fate.

I was interested the whole time, but unfortunately it never fully engrosses, and moves as if mired in grandiloquent molasses. The line deliveries follow suit with simple sentences feeling as long as paragraphs. The movie improves as it goes, though, ending with a gut punch. I'm not sure why I found it offputting, exactly, despite easily identifiable strengths, but I'm going to chalk it up to its over confidence in its own greatness and the conception and execution of the catalystic figure Steve Carell's John DuPont. It's a very prosthetics and mimicry-based performance of a very difficult role -- to say these words and bring nuance rather than "i'm a dangerous pathetic nutjob!" I can't imagine -- and it's hard to feel the inexorable gravitational pull of any of the great tragedies (which I think this wants to be) when everything is so telegraphed as to its danger and when that gravitational pull towards tragedy is so slow, that any able bodied athlete out to be able to outrun it.

Best in Show: Easily Channing Tatum, who holds his jaw and body so distinctively that you feel, at all times, the monotonous life of this character: the training, the muscle soreness, the lack of any stimulation outside of the physical. He's heartbreatking, really, unable to articulate what meager thoughts are in his easily manipulated mind and body. His body is thick but his skin is thin with easily bruised feelings. Tatum totally understands the character, a manchild who just can't wrestle himself out from under any father figure's shadow.

Honorable Mention: Mark Ruffalo, also excellent throughout, is particularly sensational in one of the movies rare scenes that plays as much for uncomfortable comedy as it does for dramatic arc. He's asked to be a talking head on a documentary and finds his lines thoroughly distasteful. B (but Channing & Mark are total "A"s)

Oscar chances: A threat in all categories but particularly Supporting Actor and maybe Director 

SONG OF THE SEA

This Irish animated film, from the team that brought you The Secret of Kells, is so visually impressive that my eyes were twice their normal size trying to take it all in. I'd need a second pass to focus on the story which might be presented a touch too juvenile, like it's an animated film for very young children when its beauty and imagination are such that it really should be thinking bigger and aim for all ages. It's the tale of a little boy who loses his mother in the birth of his sister, who he then blames for everything for years. Some time later he discovers she's a magical being which means the fairy tales his mother told him in the film's prologue were true. In this world which is our world but filtered through animation that sees everything in glorious watercolor style backdrops, two dimensional lines, bright circles, and dazzling color patterns (my god its beautiful), all the magical beings are slowly being turned to stone. But why and how can he save his sister from the same fate?

Other than the fairies, who I didn't really enjoy, the character designs are compelling, especially for the central family and any animals in the film. The two best characters are the family's giant sheepdog, all bangs and tongue and loyalty and a memorable villain in "The Owl Witch" whose motives and arc are unusually strong and fascinating for this sort of movie. B+

Oscar Chances: it's so unlike any American CG animated film that it will really stand out in the crowd. I'd call it a certain contender for the  Best Animated Feature Oscar - GKids will qualify it this year - but the category sure is getting competitive so who knows.

Also at TIFFA Little ChaosWildThe Gate, Cub, The Farewell Party, BehaviorThe Theory of Everything, Imitation Game1001 Grams, Labyrinth of Lies, Sand DollarsThe Last Five YearsWild Tales, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on ExistenceForce Majeure, Life in a Fishbowl, Out of NatureThe Kingdom of Dreams and MadnessCharlie's Country, and Mommy

Monday
Sep082014

Robert Wise Centenary: Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956)

For Robert Wise's centennial, we're looking back on a random selection of his films beyond the familiar mega-hits (The Sound of Music & West Side Story) which we are far more prone to talk about. Here's Nathaniel on the Paul Newman boxing drama...

The poster art for Robert Wise's 1956 biopic on Rocky Graziano reminds us that the more things change the more they stay the same. We're still getting taglines like "A girl can lift a fella to the skies!" (see: Theory of Everything) but Pier Angeli's role as Rocky's wife Norma in the Paul Newman boxing pic is actually fairly minor. She straightens him out primarily by giving him something consistent to hold on to in a life that's been previously totally adrift in noncommittal boxing matches for money and petty crimes. Not that his crimes were always petty, mind you, but we'll get to that in a minute. 

Up until Somebody Up There Likes Me Paul Newman had been doing minor TV roles and successful work on the stage. But his film debut in the biblical epic The Silver Chalice (1954) was an embarrassment. He won poor reviews and later stated...

 The moment I walked into that studio I had a feeling of personal disaster..."

Newman's Breakthrough after the jump...

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