Monday, February 23, 2015

ESPN 30 for 30: When the Garden was Eden (2014)

Directed by Michael Rapaport

The New York Knicks are one of the most famed NBA franchises in the history of the league, but the NBA was not always so popular. Rising from the depths of crummy gyms, the New York Knicks overcame the popularity of the college game in New York City to become the toast of the town and its famed arena, Madison Square Garden. What is so curious about this particular entry into the series is its proximity to the similar Bad Boys, about the team building development of the Detroit Pistons in the 1980s to overcome the powerhouses of Boston and Los Angeles. Another curiosity, the director, Michael Rapaport. A selection reminiscent of the entries produced by NBA, MLB and other league-centric production companies, Rapaport is a fan of the Knicks, and as such, delivers a sugary celebration of a great NBA team.

ESPN 30 for 30: The Day the Series Stopped (2014)

Directed by Ryan Fleck

Ryan Fleck’s entry into the 30 for 30 series had me a bit excited, especially after he, and fellow directing partner Anna Boden, delivered such a good sports film as Sugar just a few years ago. With the 30 for 30 series, which claims to bring acclaimed directors to the table, it is often hit or miss whether I’ve heard of the director or not. Some great installments feature such helmsmen as Alex Gibney, Steve James, and Barry Levinson, so seeing Fleck attached to the project was reason for hope of a good output. Instead, The Day the Series Stopped seems incomplete, suffering from a short runtime that touches on many interesting stories from the event, but never delving into enough depth to show a narrative heft to bring everything together into a unified presentation of a devastating event that occurred simultaneous to a great sporting event.

ESPN 30 for 30: Playing for the Mob (2014)

Directed by Joe Lavine and Cayman Grant

Goodfellas seems the most logical place to start with this review of 30 for 30 film Playing for the Mob. In essence, it’s the real life version of the famed Martin Scorsese film, but on a much lesser scale. Back in the late 1970s, Henry Hill, with the help of then Boston College basketball player Rick Kuhn (no relation) fixed basketball games, allowing Hill and his cronies to cash in big. So what goes into a fix like this? Well, sports have been full of sports gambling scandals, most notably in baseball, and on a few occasions, basketball. In baseball, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and Peter Rose are the two most infamous, Jackson for accepting money to throw the 1919 world series (though his statistics suggest he didn’t perform to throw it), and Rose for betting that the team he managed would win.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Song of the Sea (2015)

Directed by Tomm Moore
Written by William Collins

Director Tomm Moore wowed me with his debut animated feature The Secret of Kells back in 2009. The style of animation was massively impressive for its attention to detail and tremendous display of artistic imagination. Paired with a mythical fairy tale, the animation added an additional layer to the film that another medium could have never hoped to add. With his follow up film, Song of the Sea, Moore has managed to outdo himself by continuing down the same path. Still dealing with the supernatural, and using the same impressive animation techniques, Moore is able to achieve a cinematic fairy tale that is equal parts magic and achievement. Staying in the realm of Irish fairy tales proves a good decision.

Friday, February 13, 2015

ESPN 30 for 30: Slaying the Badger (2014)

Directed by John Dower

Whenever I see a film like Slaying the Badger, I always recall the beautiful words of Roger Ebert in his glowing review of the British film Chariots of Fire: “I have no interest in running and am not a partisan in the British class system. Then why should I have been so deeply moved…” While also loving Chariots of Fire, it is the sentiment that often rings so true in many other scenarios for me. Slaying the Badger is a film about cycling. I have no interest in cycling or the Tour de France. And yet, with all its thrilling narrative and competitive spirit, the film manages to amaze and electrify the event of the 1986 Tour de France, which pitted French legend Bernard Hinault (“The Badger”) against up and coming American Greg LeMond in a battle of teammates, seeking to attain the same goal, victory.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

ESPN 30 for 30: Bad Boys (2014)

Directed by Zak Levitt

The NBA of this day and age just isn’t what it used to be, and I say that with no definite favorite team from previous years. For whatever reason, my interest in the professional level of the sport of basketball has waned significantly, and I wonder how much of that has to do with personalities in the game today, and team dynamics. Let’s be honest, the 80s and 90s were the glory days (in my lifetime anyway). Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, and the list goes on and on. Today’s game doesn’t feel like it has the same passion and stakes to me. Of course, I’m not sure who the villain is in the story anymore. LeBron? He might be the closest thing, but not for the reasons that make for really good sports villains.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Black Sea (2014)

Directed by Kevin Macdonald
Written by Dennis Kelly

The submarine thriller sub-genre of moviemaking, in my opinion, is a severely underrepresented and underappreciated genre today. Sea-faring films in general really aren’t quite as prevalent as I may like. If this sounds ridiculous so far, I’m not surprised; it is a very niche world under the thriller heading, and I’m not sure what apart from the great, can’t escape the ship/sub setting attracts me to it so much, but there are some darn good entries (Das Boot and Master and Commander for instance). Hearing that director Kevin Macdonald was set to helm a new such thriller, well, color me excited, but I guess, as it goes, there will always be movies that result a bit like this one, and I’m not entirely sure where to place the blame.

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.