Friday, January 30, 2015

Whiplash (2014)

Written & Directed by Damien Chazelle

In a year where I didn’t make it to the cinema nearly as often as I would have enjoyed, I wonder what gems I may have missed throughout the year, films that perhaps slipped through the cracks or critical or popular acclaim that I would appreciate and find a place in my heart to fall in love with, films that I could have done the legwork to find out more about and seek them out. One of my resolutions this year is to do better at seeing what I want to see, and seeking out more hidden gems. While this pursuit is still in its first month, I have already found redemption for the errors of my way from last year. I had a desire to see Whiplash when it originally came out, but by the time I sought it out, it had already come and gone. Thankfully awards season has brought it back to the forefront, and I was able to enjoy it in the theater.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

ESPN 30 for 30: Requiem for the Big East (2014)

Directed by Ezra Edelman

The Big East Conference was an enormous success. Then it wasn't. It never existed. Then it did. It was all over. Then it wasn't. The story of the Big East Conference is a bit of a strange one, full of prideful allegiances and disloyal actions. When first conceived, there were many struggling basketball schools in the Northeast part of the country. The Pac-10, the SEC, the Big 10, those were the successful conferences recruiting prime talent out of a Northeast region who had basketball schools, but no conferences and no exposure. That was until Dave Gavitt hatched the idea to bring the best schools of the region together. His enterprising idea was timed perfectly with the launch of a fledgling cable sports channel looking to make a splash, ESPN.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

National Gallery (2015)

Directed by Frederick Wiseman

My first experience, that’s right, my first experience with Frederick Wiseman was an eye-opening one in many different ways, both good and perhaps some bad. Wiseman has been a renowned documentarian for many years, but often his films have felt a bit unattainable to me, focusing on very specific subjects and coming with intimidating run times. National Gallery is no different as Wiseman focuses on the museum of the same name in London, England. The National Gallery is a place I would love to go and explore, as I love losing my way in a museum, and especially one with a collection like the National Gallery.

ESPN 30 for 30 Shorts: The Sweat Solution (2015)

Directed by David Beilinson & Neil Amdur

Gatorade has been a part of my athletic life for ever and ever, but it was curious doctor named Robert Wade at the University of Florida that originally developed the elixir to prevent the football team from dehydrating on hot Florida days at practice or during games. The problem that Wade encountered was the way the body processes water. We all think that water is the key to hydration, and it is, but along with water we sweat out tons of nutrients, most notably sodium and electrolytes. With water, it takes the body a long time to put it to use, causing a bloated feeling upon initial consumption. It keeps us from getting dehydrated, but in the world of fast, competitive sports, water was not a viable solution.

Enter Gatorade, a nasty formula created in the 1960s in Gainesville, Florida, in swampland. Upon its origin, the flavor was hardly pallet-able to players. Thankfully, Wade's wife suggested adding lemon to the formula for better flavor. The Gators football team saw results immediately, outlasting the energy of opponents and often winning games in the fourth quarter while the other teams were tired and broken down. With Gatorade, Wade found a magical formula that entered the body and went right to work, so the player could seem immediate results without the bloating side-effects of water.

What makes the film all the more interesting, other than the fact that how has there never been a documentary about Gatorade before!?, is its creator, Robert Wade. Wade seems to be somewhat of an eccentric, dabbling in numerous hobbies including restoring Studebakers, playing the violin/viola, and seeking a solution to any problem presented to him (he even tried to develop a helmet when a colleague had a concussion). His creative appetite is what most great inventions are often fueled by. His appreciation of athletes was also a perspective I had never heard before. He describes the natural talents and reactions of athletes as impressive for their ability to complete geometry and physics in split seconds while playing the game. While that is impressive, Wade's contribution to that computation is equally impressive. Many sports drinks have followed the original Gatroade, but nothing quite beats the original Lemon-Lime.

*** - Good

Monday, January 26, 2015

Selma (2015)

Directed by Ava DuVernay
Written by Paul Webb

I was born in the year 1988, which may immediately raise a red flag as you read any or all of my reviews of movies that I see. As a 26 year old I have many movies yet to see and much to learn both about watching movies and especially writing about them. From this statement, however, it should also be quite easy to discern that I was not alive during the Civil Rights Movement in this country, and as a result it would be quite easy and especially convenient for me to say that I would have happily volunteered to join up with the movement, myself a Midwestern, middle class white. That statement, of course, would be based on pure 20/20 vision of the past and a severe misunderstanding of history. Selma was bigger than I could dream of being, more intense and brutal than I would care to imagine. So yes, it is very easy for me to sit on my 21st century values and say I would have joined up with the movement, but saying something as petty as that truly does belittle the strength it took for these men and women to make the sacrifices they did for their own basic human rights.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Song One (2015)

Written & Directed by Kate Barker-Froyland

The modern movie musical has taken some interesting and really good turns in the past decade or so. Hollywood doesn't utilize the triple threats like Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire anymore, so when a musical comes around, its much more rare. It's rarer still that a true musical is anywhere near as good as the likes of Singin' in the Rain or Top Hat. So instead of the sing and dance routine, we've been treated to music-centric films like Almost Famous, Once, and Begin Again, movies with music at the core of what they're doing and what they're about, but also much less about organized musical numbers. With her debut film, Kate Barker-Froyland is attempting to hit that connective note of music that has made other modern musicals before it so successful.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

ESPN 30 for 30: The Price of Gold (2014)

Directed by Nanette Burstein

Figure skating, to me, has always been one of the marque sports in the Winter Olympics. I can remember as a kid growing up watching such greats as Michelle Kwan and Tara Lapinski. If you too are a fan of the sport, that reference tips you off to the fact that I was in fact just too young to have experienced in full the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan debacle. With that in mind I may not have the personal perspective to fully evaluate the case, but it also means I hold allegiance to neither, which is both good and bad because what a soap opera this thing was. For me, it was like watching All My Children for the first time and not knowing whether I’m supposed to love or hate Susan Lucci, or both.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Force Majeure (2015)

Written & Directed by Ruben Ostlund

Given the opportunity, would you be a hero, or a coward? Of course the vast majority of us would like to think the answer to that question is “hero”. We’d all be heroes if we could. But the problem with the question is that we don’t really know the answer. Until that moment presents itself in our lives, none of us truly know how we will react because it’s just that, a reaction to a situation. It takes the thinking out of it. Sure, we can try as we might to condition ourselves to react in such a way, but ultimately, in the moment, we are going to react, one way or the other. Does it make us a hero, though, should we react heroically? Does it make us a coward if we do nothing? Or does it simply make us human, imperfect?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)

Directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu
Written by Alejandro G. Inarritu & Nicolas Giacobone & Alexander Dinelaris & Armando Bo

In this era of superhero movies and blockbuster special effects bonanzas galore, we see reputable movie stars making a lot of money at the expense of the willing movie goer. There is nothing wrong with this structure. The public wants it and is willing to pay for it, so why not produce want the audience wants? But then we get a crossover film like this, which speaks to filmmaking as an art industry and not just an entertainment one. Birdman takes the current spectrum of action hero and slants the light to twenty years in the future, to see what these action heroes of today will look like, feel like after their heyday on top of the box office is over.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

American Sniper (2015)

Directed by Clint Eastwood
Written by Jason Hall

War is an intricate part of American history. America was born out of a war, a war of freedom. We celebrate our military heroes with great pride and admiration. Many, including George Washington, Ulysses Grant and Dwight Eisenhower, later have become our presidents. The recent war in Iraq, however controversial for its motives, is no different. This country has rallied behind its armed forces for the service they provide to protect our freedom, and we hold those soldiers in the highest regard. Sometimes there are soldiers deserving of a little more praise.