Tag Archives: sports

Bleed For This

“Some hits, you don’t have to take.”

That time of year is here again, boys and girls. It’s “based on a true story” season. That time of year where we are all forced to sit and watch as many and varied true stories that are paraded out in front us to stare at, mope over and guess which one will be winning an award for its excellent depiction of a story no-one ever heard of before release weekend.

This week, it’s the story of boxer Vinny Pazienza.

A local hero and world champion boxer, Vinny “The Pazmanian Devil” Pazienza (Miles Teller) has dragged himself up from being a stepping stone to a card-carrying, belt-wielding force to be reckoned with in the ring. But it all seems to be over when a near fatal car crash leaves the fighter with a broken neck and no guarantee he’ll ever walk again.

But an inspirational story, such as this, can’t end there.

Vinny refuses surgery that would guarantee his mobility, but destroy his career, in favour of wearing a surgically fitted “halo” (essentially scaffolding for his head) in the hope that once healed he can train again and get himself back in the ring. After a torturous few months living like an invalid in his parents living room, Paz starts working on getting himself back in fighting shape in secret. Dragging in his trainer Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart) to help, the pair turn the basement into a makeshift gym to work while Vinny is still wearing his headgear. Once out of his halo, the former champion works to get his arse back in the ring.

We’ve had a couple of really good boxing movies the last few years, from Creed and Southpaw last year covering the fictional side of things, to 2010’s The Fighter covering the true story side.

And honestly, all of those films are better than this one.

The opening scene for this film sets the poor tone as we watch Vinny spend all of thirty seconds trying to cut weight for his next fight, only for the crowd to be insanely happy when he does. The dramatic music kicks in, the crowd applauds and we are clearly supposed to be super-pumped that he’s able to fight. Problem is, I don’t even know who this guy is yet. The film tries to manufacture that “Rocky wins the fight” feeling in its audience without even introducing the character to us (or showing him fighting). He then montages himself to victory without anything close to a moment to make me care about him.

And it doesn’t really improve after that.

Maybe I am just a callous motherfucker, but nothing here got any kind of emotional response from me. The car accident and subsequent surgeries, the suffering, nothing really makes me want to see this man succeed. And it’s not because I don’t like the guy, it’s because the film hasn’t yet given me the opportunity to even get to know him. I mean, I care more about his parents (played very well by Kathy Sagel and Ciarán Hinds) and his trainer than I do about him because the movie just doesn’t seem to want to tell me about him. I’m just supposed to care, and cheer, and applaud, just because he’s a boxer? No.

Teller’s performance doesn’t help either. I don’t think he’s a good actor anyway, but here he’s not convincing as a fighter, or a man in pain, or a man crippled by life events he had no control over. I mean, this should be a simple thing to communicate to its audience, but neither Teller nor writer/director Ben Younger (who wrote and directed the awesome Boiler Room) seem to know how to put this across to those of us watching.

Eckhart, on the other hand, is the best part of this film. His insane portrayal of Vinny’s trainer Kevin Rooney comes across like a bizarre mash up of TV actors and characters, playing like The Wire‘s Domenick Lombardozzi is channeling Tony Soprano for most of the film. He is definitely the part of the film that’s the most watchable, as little praise as that may actually be.

Younger’s direction is perfectly fine, but it fails to bring drama to any of the areas that it really should. Boxing matches feel short and lifeless, with no real focus on the sport what so ever. While training montages and periods of quiet drama just don’t emote any feeling for the characters involved. It feels like it’s been put together by a committee that watched the great history of boxing films and tried to just put the bits they thought were best into one film.

Essentially it’s a greatest hits of boxing movie moments with little or no context to get you engaged. Considering both last year’s entries into this genre left me a blubbery mess by the end, I expected the same here. What I got instead was a tired, fidgety arse and an overwhelming shrug of the shoulders as people asked if I liked it.

Disappointment at every level. That’s pretty much how I felt about Bleed for This.

Failed Critics Podcast: Sports Triple Bill II

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Refusing to stay down on the mat and not allowing our coach to throw in the towel, the Failed Critics are steadily climbing to their feet for one final round of the sports triple bill. The first of which was concluded back in August 2012, in time for the London Olympics. This one, coincidentally, is being released just ahead of the Rio Olympics! Almost as if it were intentionally planned that way…

Hosts Steve Norman and Owen Hughes are joined by Andrew Brooker and – fresh from his local Richer Sounds with a brand new microphone – Brian Plank. Each Failed Critic chose their three favourite sports movies. Did Owen try and shoehorn in Brewster’s Millions again? Did Steve just list the three Mighty Ducks movies? Did Brooker choose a film featuring a sport that isn’t American Football? Is there a single book about sports that Brian hasn’t read? You’ll have to listen to find out.

Also this week, due to the quick turnaround in podcasts, with the last Star Trek Beyond episode only released a few days ago, not much has happened in the world of film that wasn’t discussed previously, so the team forgo the news section for a slightly extended Olympics-themed movie quiz and a chat about the Bourne franchise – including a review of this weekend’s big release, Jason Bourne.

Join us again in just over a week’s time as we get back to our regular recording schedule for a review of the hotly anticipated Suicide Squad.

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Creed

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“One step, one punch, one round at a time.”

Forty years after we first saw Rocky Balboa take on champ Apollo Creed in Philadelphia in Rocky, putting together another film in a franchise that had some pretty extreme ups and downs was a definite risk. With a literal 50% success rate across the series, you’d be forgiven for going into Creed a little dubious. Thankfully, the series has now all-but-retired its original hero and in his place, given us a new underdog to cheer for.

Seventeen years after Adonis Johnson, the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed, was taken in by Creed’s widow Mary Anne, Johnson jacks in his job and decides it’s time to follow in his father’s footsteps and heads to the ring. Having been boxing on his own for years, Donny realises he needs a trainer – and when his brother refuses, he heads to Philadelphia in search of the man that beat his dad. Whilst Rocky might not be the guy Johnson expected, after he track’s him down at the restaurant the long-retired boxer spends his days in, Donnie sets about convincing the Italian Stallion to get in his corner and teach him how to go from the rough-around-the-edges brawler he is to a refined fighter ready to take on anything.

Donnie starts to make a bit of an impact locally, getting himself known around town and soon takes a fight with another local guy who’s had his upcoming bout cancelled. Expected to be a bit of a squash match, Johnson takes it to the more experienced fighter and beats him decisively. An impressive win is one thing, but once it gets out that Johnson is in fact Apollo Creed’s lad, the publicity sky rockets and the call comes in from the reigning champion’s guys offering Donnie a chance to climb in the ring with Liverpool’s Ricky Conlan in what could be Conlan’s last fight.

After last year’s Southpaw, and spending my Christmas holiday catching up with the Rocky saga, I thought I’d be all burnt out on boxing movies. It turns out that all I needed to blow the dust away was a great film, brilliantly made, with a stellar cast.

Starting with Michael B. Jordan, a guy I’ve been waiting to appear in something big and special since he finished his time in the awesome Friday Night Lights, plays the titular Creed. Cast perfectly in the role of the upstart son of a champion, Jordan; and his in-film brother played by The Wire‘s Wood Harris, not only look enough like each other to be brothers, but look like they could easily be Carl Weathers’ sons. Having been disappointed by half of the films in this series, I wasn’t sure even a guy I thought was great would be able to make a watchable film. But Jordan not only took to the role and made it his, he managed to embody everything that the original Creed was and bring it to the screen. Having clearly trained hard to not only look good for the role but to make his boxing convincing, Michael B. Jordan is nothing short of a revelation in his performance.

Similarly, Sylvester Stallone’s performance as Rocky is just wonderful. Over the last forty years he’s gone from bruising boxer to sage-like mentor and he just plays it so well. Spending his days sharing stories and advice, the retired champion finds a new lease of life training Donnie and it’s evident that Stallone feels the same way playing the role. Slipping himself into his most familiar, comfortable slippers, Sly looks at home in his position as Donnie’s trainer, taking on the Mickey role from previous films and passing the torch on, in more than one way, to Michael B. Jordan and Adonis Johnson. The same goes for his audience; Rocky’s dulcet tones have a calming effect on us watching him, like listening to a war veteran in his rocking chair telling stories of his time battling, Balboa is the wise old man we all feel comfortable with.

I’ll be honest and say that my biggest surprise came from Ryan Coogler’s writing and direction. I had never heard of him prior to the film’s release and I haven’t seen his previous work. Although the fact he’s being tapped to helm Marvel’s Black Panther gave me a little confidence – add to that the fact that for the first time in the series, Stallone relinquished writing duties and handed them over to Coogler as well; hopefully getting a completely fresh perspective on Philadelphia’s hero and the boy he’s training.

It turns out that Ryan Coogler is actually a damn good director. Starting relatively straight and by-the-book, Creed’s direction is very good throughout, but it ramps itself up to amazing in Johnson’s first time in the ring under Rocky’s tutelage against Leo Sporino, a local light heavyweight. Coogler takes a page out of Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s handbook and films each round, from within the ring, on a steadycam in one long take. Each round lasts three minutes and you can’t help but be on the edge of your seat, fists clenched, wanting to throw punches with him. Any longer than that three minutes and there would be people passing out from holding their breath with tension and fear. Coogler’s writing and direction are outstanding and let you care for everyone on the screen; this guy has a hell of a future.

Creed is a stunning film. Heartfelt, beautifully acted and a joy to sit and watch. It’s kept enough of its legacy to feel like it’s part of the Rocky series, whilst simultaneously feeling new and fresh enough to stand on its own two feet and be a film on its own. That, in itself, is a slight miracle. This year’s Oscar race has finally heated up for me.

Now, it may seem like an insult to the film to say that Creed isn’t the best film I’ve seen chasing an award or three, it is second only to The Revenant in my book; both surpass anything else I’ve seen from this year’s race up to this point that I’d be happy for either or both of them to be taking home the statues next month.

Rocky: A Retrospective – Part Two

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“The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it.”

Creed is getting closer. Just a few more days until one of Stallone’s most beloved characters returns to the big screen and has a go and relighting that fire we all saw in 1976. It’s been a fun time to revisit these films that have such a special place in the hearts of so many; and getting to spend some time with one of Sly’s most iconic creations has been amazing.

Last time, we left our hero, the Italian Stallion, having just beaten the mohawked Mr. T and won his title back much to the delight of us and the crowd. Having beaten the monster that embarrassed him, this should have been the official retirement of Rocky Balboa, the boxer with a legendary will to keep going. But common sense be damned. Unbelievably, we are only at the halfway point of Rocky’s story. So what do you say? Before this year’s latest chapter in Balboa’s saga comes through the curtain, you want to join me in seeing through the last of the iconic boxing franchise’s entries?


Rocky IV (1985)
Budget $28,000,000
Box Office – $300,400,000
Rotten Tomatoes Score – 40%

Mr T is done, Apollo and Rocky have had their little bit of fun, now it’s time to retire. Surely, now it’s time to retire?

Sadly, no. After watching his friend, Apollo Creed, die at the hands of a pre-Masters of the Universe Dolph Lundgren; our hero swears revenge on the seemingly indestructible Russian wrecking machine. Calling out the monosyllabic monster, Rocky and his entourage of mainly former Creed trainers and his lifelong pal, Paulie, head to a frozen cabin in Russia to train for the latest in a long list of biggest fights of his life.

After Creed embarrassed him with his Stars and Stripes entrance that includes fireworks, flags and James Brown, Lundgren’s Ivan Drago turns the tables and gets his own super-patriotic entrance for the Russian crowd. With Rocky getting nothing but boos from those in attendance as his entrance music, the stage is set for another dominant Drago performance.

Another fifteen round barn burner ensues, with the tables balancing well between the two. Drago knocking Balboa on his arse in the first round, with our hero coming back and opening up the challenger’s face in the second. It’s a tough match with both men having to dig deep for the win they both so desperately need. Call it luck, call it will, call it what you like, but Rocky pulls out a final round miracle as he floors the Russian monster and gets the knockout win. His victory speech includes a rousing call to the Russian people to remember that if they can change their tune towards him, the world can change its tune towards each other.

I think, at least quality wise, diminishing returns kicked into full gear here. Rocky III was passable as a film but there was a definite dip in quality; this time around I felt the struggle to keep watching was more powerful than the film I was sitting in front of. We were on the fourth straight copy/paste film in the series and I was beginning to lose my patience with watching the same formula over and over again. Simply changing location doesn’t change the fact you’re watching the same film. If this was a horror movie, it would be the one set in space hoping the change of scenery would fool the audience! I wasn’t invested in the fights at all. Worse, I just wanted them to be over. The subtle-as-a-sledgehammer implications with the beefy Russian juicing on multiple steroid cocktails versus the good, wholesome American were maybe the clumsiest “America! Fuck Yeah!” moments I’ve seen in a film in quite some time.

Rocky IV substituted the first film’s Oscar nominations for more than a healthy amount of Razzies. Stallone’s direction, writing and a large amount of his cast all fell foul of the Golden Raspberry nominations with quite a few wins to boot. The first film in the franchise to not have “Gotta Fly Now” in its soundtrack is much worse for that fact. Don’t let that box office take fool you; this film isn’t worthy of the Rocky name.


Rocky V (1990)
Budget – $42,000,000
Box Office – $119,900,000
Rotten Tomatoes Rating – 29%

Diagnosed with brain damage from years of taking abuse and suffering from a severe lack of money after a crooked accountant loses the Balboa fortune, Rocky and his family head back to where it all began. The dirty streets of Philadelphia.

Slumming it in a house much like the first one Rocky and Adrian bought together, the man of the house finds solace back at Mickey’s gym with no thoughts of being back in the ring; categorically turning down an offer to fight again. When Balboa gets the chance to mentor a young, raw boxer named Tommy Gunn, he jumps in so deep that it strains the bonds of his family. Caring more for the success of his young protégé than the problems his own son is having with bullies at school, Rocky quickly begins to lose all touch with his family.

After a string of healthy wins, Tommy is poached from Rocky by George Duke; a loudmouth, unscrupulous promoter who gets Tommy a title shot with the champion he also manages. After an easy win for the belt and little time for Tommy to celebrate, Duke’s intentions become very clear: He wants the fight with Rocky to happen whether it’s with his champion or Tommy Gunn – and now, he doesn’t even care if there is a ring involved. After an embarrassing press conference, Gunn seeks out his fight with Balboa in Rocky’s home town where a war of words ends with a war of fists in the street.

After both nearly killing each other, Rocky defeats Gunn; leaving him beaten and bloodied on the floor where our hero quickly puts Duke next to him.

Bringing back John G. Avildsen, the director of the original Rocky, was supposed to be a shot in the arm for the franchise. Hoping to rekindle the magic that made the early films such a success, Stallone went from boxing drama to family drama with-a-bit-of-boxing to try and change the tune a little. Sadly, it was a miserable failure. Undoubtedly the worst of the franchise and barely recognisable from the inspirational drama that saw us join the Italian Stallion on his path a mere fourteen years previously.

This killed the series for sixteen years, until…


Rocky Balboa (2006)
Budget – $24,000,000
Box Office – $155,700,000
Rotten Tomatoes Score – 76%

The world has long forgotten about Rocky Balboa. A former champion who now runs a restaurant named after his dead wife, he shuffles through life from one day to the next, passing on his little pearls of old man wisdom and thinking nothing of the life he once had.

That is, until a computer simulation shows an in-shape, championship holding Rocky of times long gone beating the current champ. Spurred on to do what he was born to do all along, realising the fire hasn’t quite fizzled out yet, Rocky gets his license back and heads out to train after securing himself an exhibition fight with the reigning title holder. Using current events as an opportunity to mend fences with his estranged son, Rocky becomes his most humble self as he looks to everyone around him – from his family to his community – for the inspiration he needs to dig deep for just one more training montage.

The big night rolls around and in modern boxing fashion, we are in Las Vegas. Champion Mason Dixon and Rocky lock horns for another full length boxing match where the pair trade blows almost evenly ending in a loss for Rocky via a close split decision.

Rocky Balboa brings back everything you loved about the early films: A reason to get behind our champ. A great, well built boxing film and (most of all) an amazingly written and directed drama that, once it gets to the ring, doesn’t pull any punches. A great, great fight is the delicious icing on a perfectly made cake that packs as much emotional punch as it does ACTUAL punch.

Easily the best of the Rocky series for me.

That brings us completely up-to-date and leads up nicely to…


Creed (2015)
Budget – $35,000,000
Box Office – $109,000,000 (so far)
Rotten Tomatoes Score – 93%

Stallone has handed both directorial and writing duties off to other people to focus on acting this time around. His and Michael B. Jordan’s performances (and the film itself) have been critically acclaimed since it released in the US at the end of 2015.

Come see me in a few days, when I can give you my full opinion on the film and whether or not it’s been worth me trudging through this series over the last couple of weeks.

Rocky: A Retrospective – Part One

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“When we fought, you had that eye of the tiger, man, the edge! And now you gotta get it back.”

As I write this, we are a few weeks away from the UK release of Creed, the latest film in the Rocky saga. Having already been released to critical acclaim in the United States, I expect nothing but an amazing drama that has me punching along with its stars and wanting to scream at the screen the entire time I’m in the theatre.

Much as I did with Mad Max back in May, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to have myself a little Rocky refresher course before release and share it with you guys.

It’s been a long time since I watched the Rocky films; I’m certain I did a quick run through back when Rocky Balboa, the series’ comeback sequel, was released. “That wasn’t that long ago, right?” I thought to myself. Wrong. It was in 2006 that Stallone’s comeback film rightleft-hooked us to the canvas. Two years before Rambo’s comeback; four years before he assembled The Expendables for the first time and – by the time we get Creed on UK shores – ten years before the Italian Stallion took up the Mickey Goldmill role of trainer to long time opponent/friend Apollo Creed’s son, Adonis Johnson – a pornstar name if ever I heard one.

Forty years since we first cheered for Rocky Balboa. Forty years of ups and downs for our hero and forty years of films that don’t always live up to their heritage, but do try very hard. The original classic film and five sequels between 1976 and now; won’t you join me on my journey through the life and times of Rocky Balboa, Philadelphia’s number one son?


Rocky (1976)
Budget – $1,100,000
Box Office – $225,000,000
Rotten Tomatoes Score – 93%

The story of a down and out debt collector who makes a few bucks on the side boxing in clubs has become the stuff of legend. A fighter who has never lived up to his potential, almost reviled by the owner of the gym he works out in and errand boy to a petty loanshark; Rocky Balboa inexplicably gets a chance to prove himself to everyone as Carl Weathers’ Apollo Creed gives the unknown fighter a shot as his World Championship when the original contender for the belt has to drop out.

Determined to grab at this opportunity with both hands, Balboa trains harder than he has ever trained before to prove to himself, his new girlfriend Adrian, and everyone watching that he deserves the shot he’s been given. Trained by gym owner Mickey, a burnt out boxer who’s happy to berate Rocky for being a bum – a recurring theme in these films, until I watched these again I never knew the insult “bum” was either used that often or really that offensive – Rocky captures the heart of boxing fans across America as he steps into the ring with he champ to fight for his self respect as much as the belt.

Ending with a tense fight between the pair, Balboa fighting his heart out to prove himself and Creed fighting a guy with more spirit than he could have imagined, Rocky’s eventual split decision loss after fifteen rounds of hard hitting action leaves the world believing that Rocky won the fight, whether or not he came out with the title.

Rocky is a rags-to-riches American Dream story as poignant as any made before it or since. Written by Sylvester Stallone and made on a shoestring budget, Rocky’s journey from unknown to worldwide sensation was mirrored by its star who, after the film made two hundred times its budget back at the box office, went from nobody to household name overnight. Winning three Oscars for best film, director (for John G. Avildsen) and editing, also earning Stallone nominations for his writing and acting, there can be no doubting the pedigree of the series when it starts this well.

And let us not forget the two most memorable parts of Rocky. First, that most quoted and parodied call from the down and dirty bruiser after his loss, “ADRIAAAAAAAN”, and second the most famous training montage music in the history of film, that montage that made Bill Conti’s “Gonna Fly Now” one of the most recognisable songs in movie soundtrack history.


Rocky II (1979)
Budget – $7,000,000
Box Office – $200,100,000
Rotten Tomatoes Score – 73%

There was no way a film as profitable as Rocky wasn’t going to get a sequel. We only had to wait a couple of years until Sylvester Stallone not only returned to writing duties, but took the spot behind the camera to direct as well.

Minutes after his defeat at the hands of the champion, Rocky finds himself face to face with Apollo Creed in the halls of the hospital they have both been carted off to. Angry that his win wasn’t decisive, Creed immediately goes back on his word, calling out our hero for a rematch that Rocky refuses. Opting instead to retire, recover from his bout and become the family man he wants to be with Adrian. But Creed won’t accept that, spurned on by hate mail and a bruised ego, he sacrifices the high ground and bullies Rocky into a return fight.

But Balboa’s heart simply ain’t in it. But the promise of a growing family means that going back to his old ways of earning money simply isn’t going to cut it. However, training for his bout puts more strain on his family than financial troubles ever would. When the stress takes its toll on a heavily pregnant Adrian, things look dire for the Balboa family as their son is born a month premature and complications leave Adrian in a coma.

Spurred on by the birth of his son and his wife waking up with a new found love for Rocky’s chosen career, the Stallion gets back to training harder and working to get faster and break not only some bad habits, but his lifelong fighting stance. Training orthodox instead of his natural southpaw – something that isn’t mentioned again across the next few films, I’m guessing it was a production choice to make it easier for a right-handed star to train and fight convincingly – to fool his opponent and get an early advantage over an angry Creed determined to knock out Rocky in the first couple of rounds.

Once again he’s seen running through the streets of Philadelphia to get his stamina up, but this time joined by a few hundred kids for his stroll through the community that looks up to him so much. In a repeat of the original’s montage, his run ends at the top of the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art to the same “Gonna Fly Now” soundtrack, but this time joined by a school full of children clearly bunking off in the middle of the day!

Fight night! Win, lose or draw Balboa has the moral victory over the champion, but this time Rocky wants to win decisively. Another tense fifteen rounder that has me on the edge of my seat the entire time is the order of this sequel. This time, a last second knock out of the champion gets Rocky the belt, Adrian the win she made her husband promise and us out of our seats cheering.

No Oscar nominations for Rocky II, but as the second of a one-two punch after the first, an excellent, beautifully filmed drama that gets the palms sweating and the heart pounding.


Rocky III (1982)
Budget – $17,000,000
Box Office – $122,800,000
Rotten Tomatoes Score – 63%

Two films grossing over 200 million dollars? A third film was absolutely on the cards. Although, in a post Raging Bull world, Stallone’s writing and direction had to come up big to make a statement and, depending on who you talk to, it either blew those expectations away, or failed miserably to meet them. Me? I kind of sit somewhere in the middle.

After taking Creed’s title from him, Rocky rolls through every contender put in front of him for the next couple of years. Content to enjoy his celebrity life and retire an undefeated champion, Balboa is called out and bullied into a title defence by the number one contender, a dangerous man named James Lang, nicknamed “Clubber”. Played by a relatively unknown Mr. T (just before his A-Team days), Clubber hands Rocky his most vicious and calculated beating, taking his title and embarrassing our hero in front of his home town.

Beaten, broken and dealing with the loss of his friend and trainer Mickey, Rocky wants a shot to get his title back but lacks the tools to get the job done. Enter Apollo Creed. Rocky’s long-time rival offers to train him, to get him fighting fit and to teach him to be a boxer; not just the bruiser that once won him the championship. His only fee? Rocky owes him a favour once it’s all over.

Flying out to California and going back to Creed’s original gym, Apollo and Rocky set about preparing the former champion for his bout against the monstrous Clubber. New fitness regimes, new ways to train and new techniques has Balboa as well prepared as he is going to be to face the man that took his title.

In his rematch, Rocky utilises all he’s learned from Apollo and outfights Lang, forcing the bigger, stronger man to tire himself out early on and sets him up for a nice, early victory; knocking out Clubber Lang in the third round and winning back his title.

And Creed’s favour? A third match between the pair, no crowds, no cameras, the decisive rubber match to see which of the pair is the greatest.

In my opinion, Rocky III doesn’t live up to the previous instalments. It was the beginning of a drop in quality for the series that was only slight at this point. Besides cementing Mr. T’s “I pity the fool” catchphrase into the annals of film history and introducing the world to Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” – a song that became so famous that just me mentioning it back there will have it stuck in your head for a bit – this third entry to this franchise should have been the end of it.

Sadly, it wasn’t. More on that a little later on…

Ronaldo

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Cristiano Ronaldo may appear on the surface to be an uninspiring and uninteresting subject for a documentary. After all, despite being one of, if not the best footballers in the world, he is a preening, arrogant superstar more interested in his image and individual glory more than anything else.

However, Anthony Wonke and Asif Kapadia, the team behind the documentaries on the late Formula 1 driver Aryten Senna and singer Amy Winehouse have managed to produce a film that gives an insight into the person as well as the player.

The central themes are his rivalry with Lionel Messi, his desire to be the very best player he can be and his relationship with his family; especially his son.

Without giving too much away, it is his family life and learning about where he came from – a relatively less well-off life in Madeira – that provides the most interest, especially as a football fan.

The major difference between this and Wonke and Kapadia’s previous work is that the subject, Ronaldo, is alive and well and probably had some say over what could go in to the final cut. Whereas Senna and Winehouse were long dead when their life stories were told by the duo.

Ronaldo himself is very divisive. In this and subsequent interviews given around the release of this film he comes across as both very arrogant and very humble. He knows how attractive he is, how good he is at football and how loved he is and he loves to let people know as well.

But also he comes across as an excellent father (to a son he named after himself), a loving son and sibling and somebody who can talk openly and honestly about his strained relationship with his now deceased father and the fact that he does not drink because if his dad’s alcoholism.

Perhaps the one thing it doesn’t make much of is his charity work, how much he does for various charities in terms of both work and donations, and that he does not have any tattoos so he can continue to give blood a number of times a year.

Although including this may have made the documentary come across as sycophantic, too heavily influenced by the player himself and more of a publicity piece than an insight in to the man.

There are better sports documentaries out there; most of ESPN’s 30 for 30 series and Senna to name a few. But this is worth a watch, especially for fans of the beautiful game.

If you are a football fan, you might not take anything away from this. You may know enough about the Portugal international already, or your allegiances to certain clubs and nations may have already given you an unwavering opinion on the man.

However, if you do not know much about football, or much about Ronaldo the person, you may just learn that the way he comes across on the pitch and off the pitch are very different.

Ronaldo is in cinemas across the UK right now. Check out the trailer below.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=33gTb1v3wds]

Owen’s 2015 in Film: Part 9 – September Refuelled

As yet another month passes in 2015, it’s time for the next entry to Owen’s year in review series, looking at a selection of the films that he’s been watching throughout September. As with each of the previous articles in the series, the month will be broken down by week, with a review of one arbitrarily chosen film seen during each period.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

everest-base-camp-movieNormally in this series I’d pick whichever movie that I happened to fancy writing about. Be it the one I found the most interesting, the one I loved most, one that I hated, etc. It typically changes with each new entry.

However, having taken a look back through the whole month, it appears that I’ve seen at least one new release in each week of September. Therefore, I’m going to do something slightly different for this month’s article, I think. After all, it’s been a month of new starts for me personally, beginning life as a full time University student.

I’ve learnt a lot over the past five weeks; how to be a better writer, the essence of what being a journalist actually means – and just how much I missed going to work. Seriously. I spent just over one solitary week unemployed, having left employment on Friday 11th September before enrolling at University on Thursday 24th. It was horrible. My expectations were that it would feel like a holiday. A nice, albeit short break before my life completely changed.

Wrong.

It was a tedious, slow, excruciating week of sitting around doing nothing, getting more and more anxious about whether or not I’d done the right thing. I do not envy anybody who has to spend longer than that out of work. But at least it did give me a chance to reflect a little. Some time to think about the decisions I’d made; about what I had let myself in for.

Contrary to the seemingly popular opinion that student life is all about causing queue congestion by paying for everything with a cheque, staying in bed until 2pm and eating Pot Noodles for breakfast, it’s been bloody hard work. Rewarding and exciting. But hard.

It’s certainly threatening to scupper my plans to resurrect my Horrorble Month sequel, the project I completed last October where I watched a horror movie every day in the lead up to Halloween. It’s actually where I conceived the idea of doing this as a more regular thing.

Although, back in September, I did still manage to actually get through a decent number of movies. Starting with…


Week 1 – Tuesday 1 – Sunday 6 September 2015

Tuesday – Star*Men (2015), Welcome to Leith (2015), No Tears For The Dead (2014); Wednesday – [absolutely nothing]; Thursday – [absolutely nothing]; Friday – The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of A Window And Disappeared (2014); Saturday – Area 51 (2015), Blood Lake (2014); Sunday – THE TRANSPORTER REFUELED (2015)

transporterI know it’s weird how I constantly feel the need to defend my preference for action movies; quite frankly, it shouldn’t be an issue. Taste is a subjective thing, of course. However, there is a stigma attached to the genre that suggests those who enjoy mindless action on camera are morons. Personally, I don’t subscribe to that opinion. People are entitled to enjoy whatever the hell they want and it’s not necessarily a reflection on your level of intelligence. Laugh at Adam Sandler if you want, cry whilst watching My Little Pony, ponder the nature of existence during the three hours of motorway footage you found on YouTube. It’s your choice. That said, what an absolutely enormous waste of everybody’s time the latest entry to the Transporter franchise is. From its tacky opening scenes trying (and failing) to revive the swagger that the original Luc Besson movie had in swathes, to its boring and overdue conclusion; I had no fun watching this whatsoever. The only thing more annoying than Ed Skrein’s Statham impersonation is the missing ‘L’ in the movie title. I love the original movie as much as anyone should, but the sequels have been subpar. Even The Stath agrees, given his comments in an interview with Sabotage Times about working with Ben Foster:

“…for me to be able to work opposite someone like that and not some hairdresser cast off the street – which is what happened with Transporter 3 – well, it was fantastic.”

At least The Transporter Refueled wasn’t quite that bad, I suppose. Also in its favour is that it did introduce the always watchable Ray Stevenson as the father of the notorious getaway driver Frank Martin. The plot too is acceptable (if badly structured) for this sort of film, with the delivery package this time being four women enacting their revenge. But it was in essence a dull, unexciting and incredibly stupid crapfest.


Week 2 – Monday 7 – Sunday 13 September 2015

Monday – Tabloid (2010)Tuesday – [absolutely nothing]; Wednesday – [absolutely nothing]; Thursday – Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002); Friday – [absolutely nothing]; Saturday – SONS OF BEN (2015)Sunday – The Hunted (2003)

sons of benOrdinarily I wouldn’t cover a film in this series that I’d already written a review for on the website and talked about on the podcast. Nevertheless, it: a) fits the criteria I set out in the introduction; and b) is an indie documentary that deserves a bit of extra publicity. As such, here are a few snippets from my original review to give you an overview:

“What happens when you’re a fan of the beautiful game in a country where football is not even close to being in the top three most popular sports on the continent, never mind without half a dozen teams a stones throw from your bedroom window? Well, if you’re in Philadelphia, then of course the only viable solution is to set up a supporters club called the Sons of Ben for a team that doesn’t yet exist. That’s exactly what Bryan James, Andrew Dillon, and David Flagler did in January 2007 hoping that one day a Major League Soccer franchise would open in their beloved home town.

“Director Jeffrey C. Bell tells the entire unbelievable story of this passionate community of soccer fans coming together to support a non-existent team, from its humble beginnings as a conversation at a bar, through to its surprising conclusion.

You can purchase Sons of Ben: The Movie on DVD directly from their website. They have other outlets such as streaming and digital download planned to happen soon so keep an eye on their Twitter and Facebook pages for updates. In the meantime, check out the trailer below.”

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sqAFIAHox6w]


Week 3 – Monday 14 – Sunday 20 September 2015

Monday – L’eclisse (1962)Tuesday – Mortal Kombat (1995), Legend (2015)Wednesday – Starry Eyes (2014); Thursday – Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie (1994)Friday – Class of Nuke ’em High (1986), Pernicious (2015)Saturday – Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997)Sunday – EVEREST (2015)

60ea71a0-dcbf-4e43-92f6-415984fbdbd6-1020x612To borrow an often used football cliché, director Baltasar Kormákur‘s Everest is a film of two halves. The first hour of this adventure-turned-disaster movie is mind numbingly slow. It drags. There’s a lot of emphasis placed on the characters involved in this 1990’s expedition to the summit of Mount Everest, led by Jason Clarke as real-life New Zealander Rob Hall. I understand why the film is purposefully designed to be this slow, as it builds up enough backstory to make you care about the characters involved, hoping that you’ll be bothered by them if something were to happen. Perhaps the reason that this drudges on so tamely is because there are too many characters, each with their own stories to tell. This may be a very slight spoiler, so apologies in advance, but once they finally got to the top of the treacherous mountain, it did occur to me that surely there wasn’t much of the 120 minute run time left. And yet! I was wrong. I glanced at my watch and there was still somehow an hour to go. But what an hour of cinema it was. I was surprised by just how invested I became in these people given the fact that I was certain that up to that point, I’d been bored. I’d have liked to have seen a little more about what Rob Hall’s wife (Keira Knightley) was going through back home but otherwise it was a very emotional 60 minutes. It’s probably the first movie for years that has caused me to well up in the cinema whilst watching. Apparently a lot of the footage was actually taken at camp one on the real mountain too. The film looks amazing for it and between the visuals and the latter half of the story, it’s definitely a film worth seeing and makes up for a tepid opening half.


Week 4 – Monday 21 – Sunday 27 September 2015

Monday – Bride of Re-animator (1989); Tuesday – Dawn of the Dead (1978)Wednesday – Day of the Dead (1985), Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015), Sicario (2015); Thursday – Day of the Triffids (1962), From Beyond (1986)Friday – Invaders From Mars (1986), Return to Oz (1985); Saturday – [absolutely nothing]; Sunday – THE MARTIAN (2015)

maxresdefault-3I’m going to spare your eyes from going even more square whilst staring at your computer screen for any longer and suggest you click the link below and instead listen to my review of Ridley Scott’s latest sci-fi movie:

FAILED CRITICS PODCAST: THE INTERN, THE MARTIAN & SICARIO (29 Sep 2015)

Alternatively, read on below if you’d rather.

There appear to be two types of ‘Ridley Scott’ in this world. There’s the Ridley Scott who makes ambitious, misunderstood or sometimes simply just plain bad movies such as American Gangster, Exodus: Gods & Kings, Robin Hood, Kingdom of Heaven (the theatrical cut at least) and The Counsellor, to name but a few. Then there also appears to be a Ridley Scott who makes exciting, intelligent and often influential science fiction movies with an enticing premise and wondrous, imagination-capturing special effects and plots. Think Blade Runner, Alien and (yes, even) Prometheus. Where that leaves The Martian is definitely more towards that of a studio-led film than a recognisably Ridley Scott movie. There’s very little character in the picture; you certainly wouldn’t guess from looking that it was Ridley Scott rather than, say, Steven Speilberg, Robert Zemeckis, Ron Howard etc. Not that this is necessarily a problem. The lack of identity in respect to its director is moot considering just how enjoyable The Martian is. Adapted from the Andy Weir novel of the same name, the plot revolves around wise-cracking astronaut and botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) who is stranded on the planet Mars where his crew have abandoned him, assuming him dead. Although there’s a large support cast of talented actors (Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benny Wong(!) etc) the majority of the run time is carried by Damon, whose antics and humour make his time on the red planet seem all too brief. Even though the final third descends into Gravity with pop tunes sound tracking it, the biggest compliment I can think to pay The Martian is that I wish it were a biopic simply so I could spend more time learning about this fascinating and epic adventure.


Week 5 – Monday 28 – Wednesday 30 September 2015

Monday – Vamp (1986); Tuesday – Wolf Cop (2014); Wednesday – SKIN TRADE (2015)

skintradeheaderAh, Netflix. From time to time, you throw up some real gems that I would otherwise have overlooked. Usually they’re films starring Scott Adkins or Donnie Yen. On this occasion, Skin Trade lured me in by plastering martial arts movie icon Tony Jaa’s name all over it. If that wasn’t tempting enough, they only went and got Dolph Lundgren involved too. What the double team that is, eh? But wait! Ron Pearlman, as well? Well, blow me down with a feather (or flaming flying kick – Onk Bak, anyone?). The truth is, Skin Trade is complete and utter tosh. Quelle surprise, right? Maybe that’s a bit unfair as for at least 10 minutes, it’s OK. It’s alright. It’s not horrendous. Dolph plays a NYC cop who teams up with a Thai detective (Tony Jaa) to stop the Serbian crime boss (Ron Pearlman) and his human trafficking gig. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that; I’d even stretch that a bit further and say Jaa’s first action scene in a small room was impressively well choreographed and set the bar too high too early. You can see he’s clearly still got it in him to pull out some fantastic moves on screen. Unfortunately, it just gets progressively worse from then on. Its great cast are left to scrape together something resembling a cohesive plot but without fully capitalising on the potential of its concept. I will keep my fingers crossed in the hope that Tony Jaa gets another crack at the lead role in an American movie, Skin Trade somewhat remarkably being his first. He definitely proved he’s capable enough during his cameo role in Furious 7.


And that’s it for another month. Join me again roughly this time in November for part two of my “horrorble month” lists, where once again I aim to watch at least one horror film every day through October. Until then, feel free to comment below on any of my reviews – or send me a tweet!

Sons of Ben

A city spurned. A dream born. A brothergood forged. Owen takes a look at the documentary Sons of Ben: The Movie to see how a group of die-hard American soccer fans embarked on a mad quest to bring a professional soccer franchise to their city.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

Sons of Ben the Movie - posterWhere did you grow up? I ask because here in the UK, it most likely determines the football team you support (unless you’re a Manchester United fan, in which case you could be a “glory hunter” from practically anywhere from London to Thailand – basically anywhere except the North West, fnar fnar.)

I was born and raised in the Black Country, surrounded by a veritable plethora of professional teams like West Bromwich Albion, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Aston Villa and Birmingham City who were all within a 15 mile radius of my home (two of which were within an hours walk) and each with over 100 years of history. Let’s not forget the lower league local teams too, such as Kidderminster Harriers, Walsall, Stourbridge and Halesowen Town. Hell, I could have tripped down the stairs and landed at the gates to Tividale FC, a club over 60 years old with a 200 seater stadium that Google estimates is just 0.3 miles door-to-door.

Love it or hate it, football is ingrained in the United Kingdom’s culture. It’s a sport that we made professional when our cricketers were bored during the winter season some 150 years ago. There are perhaps only two historical dates in our country’s past that every British citizen knows off by heart: 1066 and the battle of Hastings and 1966, the year England won the FIFA World Cup on home soil. Have we ever mentioned that before? I don’t think we ever talk about it these days. We’re very humble about it.

The point I’m making is that even people here who can’t stand football know the relevance of that summer nearly fifty years ago. It’s so well known because football is so connected to our identity. There are few conversations more satisfying than those that take place in the pub, pint in hand, mulling over the latest results or football news.

But what happens when you’re a fan of the beautiful game in a country where football is not even close to being in the top three most popular sports on the continent, never mind without half a dozen teams a stones throw from your bedroom window? Well, if you’re in Philadelphia, then of course the only viable solution is to set up a supporters club called the Sons of Ben for a team that doesn’t yet exist. That’s exactly what Bryan James, Andrew Dillon, and David Flagler did in January 2007 hoping that one day a Major League Soccer franchise would open in their beloved home town.

Director Jeffrey C. Bell tells the entire unbelievable story of this passionate community of soccer fans coming together to support a non-existent team, from its humble beginnings as a conversation at a bar, through to its surprising conclusion. For some of us here in Europe who might not follow the league that closely, when we think of the MLS, we think of Beckham and Keane at LA Galaxy, or Lampard and Pirlo at New York City, so I will refrain from spoiling whether or not this motivated group of individuals went on to realise their dream. Just in case!

Over the course of the relatively tight 75 minutes, we learn how a sport like this can bring people together from all kinds of different backgrounds. By the time we’re introduced to Nick Sakiewicz, a business executive with a genuine affection for soccer, the scope of the project begins to hit home. You share the optimism of these guys; their longing to create a team of their own. It’s in part due to Bell’s direction. There’s an overwhelming sense of pride in these fans and you, as the viewer, are constantly willing them to succeed. When tears are shed by the (self-dubbed) Negadelphians suffering set-back after set-back, you can’t help but share in their misery. Equally, their triumphs are greeted with a huge smile.

Sons of Ben: The Movie does capture a story greater than just the hopeful formation of a soccer team. Unfortunately parallels can be drawn to controversial FIFA president Sepp Blatter’s promise of the World Cup rejuvenating entire regions (we only have to look at the $270m parking lot in Manaus to see how wrong he could be), so too do we see how promises are made by high ranking officials in Philadelphia for investment in the run down small town of Chester on the outskirts of the city. Chester, a poverty stricken, crime-ridden ghost town that was once a thriving community back when former resident the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr was there, it is an area crying out for enhancement. Tax-payer money being invested in a football team subsequently leading to a revitalisation of the surrounding area is an all too familiar dubious promise that rarely comes to fruition. There’s little more than anecdotal evidence on display here to suggest that beyond the honourable charity work conducted by the Sons of Ben – and the personal investments that they have made through their donations – that not a huge amount of what was promised has actually been accomplished. What has been created in Chester feels like a small token gesture rather than a platform from which the area can progress.

However, given the short run time and nature of the documentary, admittedly it would be out of key for Sons of Ben: the Movie to veer off into a socio-political commentary. With events being told in retrospect by various talking heads, it has the air of a fascinating story being recounted by mates rather than possessing the gravitas of a heavy, investigative documentary. Nevertheless, it is an entertaining story with plenty of twists and turns along the way. Most of all, it shows that across the pond, there are still die hard football fans out there.

The commitment to turning up at MLS games for other teams in full Sons of Ben colours, occupying a section of the support, chanting ‘Philadelphia’ louder than the home crowd until somebody somewhere with power and influence takes notice, it’s a highly commendable attitude. The perseverance to commit to that level of support, often at personal expense, is hugely impressive. The fact that their goal was to achieve 100 fans within one year of the group’s inception, yet ending up with over 1,500 members for their movement, it goes to show how within all of us, there’s a desire to belong, to feel a part of something bigger than ourselves. All I know is, I know which team I’m picking the next time I boot up a game of FIFA.

You can purchase Sons of Ben: The Movie on DVD directly from their website. They have other outlets such as streaming and digital download planned to happen soon so keep an eye on their Twitter and Facebook pages for updates. In the meantime, check out the trailer below:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sqAFIAHox6w]

Southpaw

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)

southpaw 2015She’s hurting too. You’ve got to let her hate you, so she can get better.

I got hit by a southpaw guy once. I honestly thought he’d broken or popped something the second that his foot hit my unguarded and unprepared ribs. As the pain of the hit went through me, I thought I was going to die! I wheezed, I hit the deck and I called time on what was nothing more than a typical Tuesday night training session. To fight “southpaw” is, for want of a better description, to fight lefty. To switch your stance in such a way that punches (and kicks) are thrown from the wrong direction for your opponent. It provides a tactical advantage over the guy in front of you, fighting what is essentially a mirror image of yourself isn’t easy to combat. It’s harder still when a well trained fighter switches stance halfway through a fight, suddenly changing how you have to fight and defend and opening you up for a world of hurt.

Now, my little story is from an MMA point of view, and no matter the discipline, the term “southpaw” always means the same thing, but it’s primarily a boxing term and boxing is where we find ourselves with Jake Gyllenhaal’s latest drama, a film about a man who suddenly loses everything and simply doesn’t know how to cope without the things most precious to him.

Gyllenhaal is Billy Hope, a champion boxer with 43 wins and no losses under that huge championship belt. Nicknamed “The Great”, Billy’s strengths lie in his ability to take a beating, to get hit over and over again and still have the strength in him, in his arms to throw enough punches to get the win. Always moving forwards, always getting in close is Billy’s key to success. A man impossible to beat into submission, a rabid dog who knows only how to bite and keep biting until he’s pulled off of his victim. But, on the flipside of that coin, once Billy is outside of the ring, he’s a doting family man; living only for his wife Maureen, his childhood sweetheart who came through the fostering system with him, and his daughter Leila, a headstrong kid who adores her fighter dad.

“The Great” Hope’s life is turned upside down when a charity dinner turns bloody and Maureen is the victim of a stray bullet fired in the heat of the moment. As Billy is forced to watch the life drain from the love of his life as she dies in his arms, as the light leaves her eyes, it begins to leave Billy’s too. With the woman that anchors his life suddenly gone, Billy spirals out of control and, try as he might, he can’t drag himself up from the hole he has found himself in and his daughter is beginning to feel the consequences of her dad’s actions.

After Billy is pushed into his next fight by his manager, uncaring of Billy’s situation and only smelling the money, the once proud, undefeated warrior lets himself take a beating in the ring hoping for some kind of deliverance in the hits he’s taking. Not defending himself, not fighting back, after the fight is stopped, events quickly take a turn for the worse and a rash decision on the boxer’s part quickly snowball and leave him without a home, without an income and with the State of New York taking Leila into care subject to Hope getting his act together and proving that he’s a man worthy of the title of “Father”.

At rock bottom and needing help clawing his way back up, Hope turns to Forest Whitaker’s Tick Willis. A former pro coach turned gym owner who spends his time training the neighbourhood kids and keeping them out of trouble. In a last-ditch attempt to get back his pride, his dignity and his little girl, Billy puts his trust in Tick to lead him down the right path to find some form of salvation from the road that he’s found himself on.

Southpaw comes to us from a pretty heavy hitting team-up. Starting with a great turn from Jake Gyllenhaal, a man who was robbed of an Oscar nomination for last year’s Nightcrawler, puts in an outstanding performance as the broken and beaten Billy Hope. A man who couldn’t be beaten in the ring but couldn’t hold it together outside of it. Direction duties come courtesy of one of my favourite directors working at the moment, Antoine Fuqua. Apart from the fact that he made Training Day, one of my all-time favourite films, he’s turned his hand to a few different genres with a few well known actors and has always been able to make an enjoyable film with what he’s given and that trend absolutely continues with Southpaw. But maybe my biggest surprise was when I discovered that it had been written by Kurt Sutter. A man not everyone knows, but those that do, know that his work is outstanding. Most famous for creating motorcycle drama Sons of Anarchy and being on long-term writing duty for The Shield, Sutter has put together a powerful film with enough emotional pull to get the heart straining at what you’re seeing on screen.

But, outshining all of them, even Gyllenhaal’s impressive change into Billy Hope and his spectacular performance, is (at the time of writing) twelve year old Oona Laurence’s performance as Leila Hope. As Billy’s heart, soul and reason for living, she stole every scene from Gyllenhaal and put in an award worthy show as the distraught little girl who’s lost her mum and is being wrenched from her dad. As one half of Billy’s “fighter” and “father” moniker tattooed along his arms, her fight is almost as great as his as she has to grieve and try to be a grown up for her dad. All of the magic of Southpaw comes from her performance. Every look of anger and disappointment from her will make your heart sink and every glimmer of pride for her old man will make all but the soulless weep for her.

The bottom line, is that Southpaw doesn’t really break any new ground. It’s a redemption story that has been told a hundred times before. Jake Gyllenhaal’s transformation to Billy Hope is a spectacular one and a testament to how hard he worked to make his fights look as painful as they do with Fuqua’s direction making every hit hurt and every quiet moment tense. The film’s Oscar worthy performances, its strangely under-stated direction and its great script make it shine above other similar films. Fuqua and Sutter do an amazing job of subtly playing to the fears of every guy wanting to be a dad to their kids and NEEDING to be a man to their daughters. By the time I left the film last night, I was suitably emotionally drained and desperate to get home and hug my little girl, that’s praise enough for me.

You already know if you’re Southpaw‘s audience. Those that are, will love the little over two hours you’ll spend with Billy Hope on his journey for salvation. Those that aren’t, well, I’m sure there’s a talking animal film on for you somewhere.

Gascoigne

An insightful, honest and nostalgic character study into the career and personal demons of one of England’s most naturally gifted footballers to have ever played the game.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

gazzaDon’t worry, this article will evolve into a review of sorts eventually. But I feel that a touch of context is required first to perhaps disclaimer the lack of objectivity.

I can pinpoint the exact moment I fell in love with football. I was just nine years old on Saturday 15th June 1996. At around 4.35pm, whilst sat in front of the TV with my family, I witnessed a midfielder with short bleached blonde hair, wearing the number 8 on his shirt, flick the ball over the head of a Scottish defender with his left foot, then control and volley it with his right foot in one movement, putting England 2-0 ahead against their rivals at Wembley.

Before that moment, football was just something I played with friends at school or down the park, or with a tennis ball on our sloped driveway or in the neighbour’s back garden etc. Something to be enjoyed as a fun game, but not something I treated particularly seriously. I’d check the teletext scores so I knew roughly how our local teams were doing, mainly to be able to keep up with school chums about how Wolves or the Baggies would be getting on. Schmeichel, Shearer, Cantona, Fowler, Ginola and Steve Bull (well, if you were from the West Midlands) were the heroes of the playground. I remember a kid at school, a Villa fan, even had ‘SAVO’ shaved into his head in honour of Savo Milošević! They were the players you pretended to be. But Paul Gascoigne? No, he was just a little before our time.

You see, Gazza was the hero of the generation immediately prior to mine. The most talented English player possibly ever who took our country to the brink of a World Cup final in 1990; I’d love to say I remember it, or that it inspired me in some way, but in truth I was just three years old at the time. I was still too young for our disappointing elimination from Euro 92 (which Gazza was injured for anyway) and with England not participating in USA 94, I’m afraid Paul Gascoigne played little to no part in the footballing education of my youth. I only finally watched in full that fateful semi-final match between England and West Germany for the first time ever last year during the build up to the 2014 World Cup.

Anyway, back to that Saturday afternoon in June 1996. This Gazza chap, who I only knew about mostly because of my parents, suddenly in a split second became an instant hero for my generation too. Such is the power and magic of football that it can ingrain itself in your psyche so vehemently that the status of players can be elevated from ‘good’ to ‘legendary’ in a mere moments. I maintain to this day that I’ve never seen a better strike partnership than the one between Shearer and Sherringham after that match against the Netherlands. David Seaman’s heroics during the penalty shootout against Spain convinced me to beg my parents to get me that yellow and purple goalkeeper kit with his name on it. To this day, I still can’t really say Gareth Southgate’s name without getting a little bit upset. Hell, the first CD I ever owned was Sugar Coated Iceberg by Lightning Seeds thanks to Three Lions, which I’ll never tire of listening to. And Paul Gascoigne will forever be the player who scored the most staggeringly beautiful goal that made me love football.

Fortunately, I wasn’t aware of his personal problems back then. His injury record, his loutish behaviour and of course his much documented battle with mental health issues and alcoholism. Even at that point in his career, his private difficulties were anything but. Whilst (much like the opening 500 words of this article) Jane Preston’s documentary, Gascoigne, plays mostly on nostalgia, there is an honesty and integrity that comes from Gazza speaking directly into the camera. Whether recounting his incredibly distressing childhood traumas, or even reeling off hilarious anecdotes about the antics he’d get up to in training, it definitely feels like you’re listening to a sober, wiser man.

Although you might be expecting all 88 minutes of this documentary to consist of apologies, regrets and excuses for the way he treated his close family and friends during his darker moments, it actually plays out more like a character study. Beginning with Gascoigne talking candidly about growing up in the North East, Preston lets Gazza tell in his own words the tragedy that befell his friend on the way to training one afternoon, shaping his outlook on life and even the way he would play football. It’s only the first of many other segments to really examine what he was like beyond the legend, of how he became the person he is today, that’s tinged with a palpable emotion.

Over the course of the film, there are three other talking heads that pop up to add their own take on what Gazza was really like. Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, who worked with one of Paul’s former managers and mentors, Sir Bobby Robson, talks about his relationship to the English midfielder. Former teammate Gary Lineker also shares stories of playing with such a talented and self-destructive player. Even current England captain Wayne Rooney, who was breaking through into the youth team at Everton during Gazza’s short stint there, talks about how influential he was to him. However, it’s only really Lineker who seems to have any worthy input, adding extra dimensions to Gascoigne’s own words, leaving Rooney and Mourinho left sounding like little more than popular names hired to sit in front of the camera and tell nice stories for padding.

You can pretty much approach this film from one of two angles. You’re either watching it for a nostalgic look back at the career of one of our greatest ever footballers, or you’re watching it because it’s about the wife-beating crazy drunk who turned up with a fishing rod, beer and fried chicken to the site of a police stand-off with an armed killer. There’s no getting around the fact that he’s both, but if you’ve purchased Gascoigne with the former in mind, you’re going to be more satisfied than if you’re after the latter.

That said, it does rather curiously switch tact about 65 or 70 minutes in, virtually not discussing football at all post-Euro 96; somewhat disappointingly leaving out tales about his omission from the World Cup 98 squad. Instead, it again shifts back to this character study. He talks about his addiction to alcohol, being sectioned by his own sister and his legal struggle for justice with the News of the World who tapped his phone calls for eleven years, assisting in his paranoid delusions. It’s why the fact that even though the documentary hardly feels any bigger than a 60 minute BBC production, it’s pretty much inconsequential. Every time Gazza is onscreen, you listen, you laugh or you cry a bit too, regardless of production values.

It would be naive of me to suggest that everyone will feel the same way I do. There are certainly people out there who cannot forgive Gazza for some of the things he’s done in his life, and that’s their prerogative to do so. However, Gascoigne certainly sets out mainly to help people like me to understand how the man whose right boot could ignite a passion for the sport he adored in others, yet who ended up the butt of many jokes and became the subject of outright disgust in some people, can still be held in such high regard by a nation of football fans. Who can still be seen as a national treasure in some parts. All the while, asking us many questions that Gazza must ask himself daily. If only he hadn’t recklessly injured himself in the FA Cup final and again whilst playing for Lazio. If only he had mustered the composure to take a penalty in Italia 90. If only he had stretched his leg out just that little bit further at Euro 96. If only he’d signed for Ferguson’s Manchester United instead of Spurs. If only…

Gascoigne had a short theatrical release here in the UK and is now available to rent or buy on DVD or VOD. Owen will also be talking about the documentary on this week’s podcast.

Foxcatcher

Career defining performances from its three leads leaves you astounded as this bizarre true story unfolds in front of your eyes.

by Andrew Brooker (@Brooker411)

foxcatcher 2It’s no secret amongst filmmakers that some of the best ways to get the Oscar committee’s collective genitals tingling is to give them a true story or a good sports film (note: GOOD sports film. Adam Sandler’s crap “The Longest Yard” remake doesn’t count). So every couple of years a great sports film comes along that’s based on a true story and you just know that it’s destined for one of those DVD covers with its nominations and wins proudly displayed all over the front.

Personally, I never quite know how “famous” a story is. I’ve always loved American sports, combat sports especially and I love to know as much as I can about the sports I watch. It’s how I can spew random American Football facts few in the UK will know or even understand. But it’s also how I went into Foxcatcher already knowing the story of the Schultz brothers Dave and Mark and their time spent with John DuPont and team Foxcatcher. As such, I’m not entirely sure how well known the story is in the UK so for the sake of keeping this review spoiler free, I will keep to the basics and not reveal the end to this tragic true story.

Shortly after winning Olympic gold with his brother, wrestler Mark Shultz (Channing Tatum) is invited to meet with eccentric multi-millionaire John DuPont (Steve Carell) who proposes Mark’s relocation to Pennsylvania to train for the upcoming wrestling World Championships at the newly formed Team Foxcatcher. Encouraged to bring his older brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo) along with him to the team, Mark jumps at the opportunity. His sibling opts to stay where he is and not move his family, leaving Mark alone with DuPont.

A man used to getting everything he wants, John DuPont’s pursuit of wrestling success from his team is as unrelenting as his pursuit of Dave Shultz. What he can’t win honestly, he’ll buy. And what he can’t get dishonestly, just isn’t worth his time. Seeing success with Foxcatcher in the championships and beyond, DuPont starts to build his own little empire with him, and his ability to talk Mark Shultz into anything, at the centre of it.

It’s a bizarre true story to tell. John DuPont is a petulant child in a grown man’s body. Literally stomping his feet when things don’t go his way. But as an insanely wealthy grown up, he gets to throw money at the problem and get exactly what he wants one way or another. Combine this with him forcing himself into Mark Shultz’s life as a much needed father figure and using it to control him, there isn’t much that the weird philanthropist can’t do or get where his wrestling aspirations are concerned. As the story progresses and we see things come apart at the seams for all involved, it’s DuPont’s instability and it’s affects on all those he surrounds himself with that takes centre stage.

Director Bennett Miller is beginning to make a habit of bringing us outstanding, Oscar worthy pictures. Previously directing the late, great, Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Capote and Brad Pitt in Moneyball, his latest addition to his filmography easily compares to either of his earlier offerings. I think it’s important to mention 2011’s Moneyball because I believe it holds more significance than being just another great, Oscar nominated sports film. Miller gave the world an opportunity to see Jonah Hill as more than a doofus comedy actor. He worked so hard and left such an impression on the audience that it earned him a Best Supporting Actor nomination and I think this may be where Miller’s directorial genius will be recognised in the future.

Steve Carell surprised me with his performance. Besides his strange posture throughout the film that makes it look like he’s scared of his makeup slipping off. He looks like a dog trying to balance an invisible biscuit on his snout and a glass of water on his head. The entire top half of his body barely moves! That said, his portrayal of John DuPont was simply out of this world and he deserves all the fanfare that he’s currently receiving for the role. DuPont is obsessed with his power. The power he buys and the power he forces upon others. His obsession with wrestling and his need to turn himself into Team Foxcatcher’s mentor and an all-American hero consumes him and there is an air about the man that it will eventually be his downfall. Carell is almost unrecognisable as the teams self-made patriarch and if there aren’t awards in his future, I would be very surprised.

Equally deserving of praise are Carell’s co-stars. Of course, we’ve all seen Mark Ruffalo in dramatic roles before and as the older Shultz brother, he’s as impressive here as he has been in any other role. His commitment to the part shows in his build and his demeanour. Telling as much of his story with his body as the rest of the film does with dialogue. The man that’s equally as committed to his family as he is his sport shows a weariness in his movement telling of a man working hard for his team.

Channing Tatum though. I was genuinely in awe of his performance here. His portrayal of Mark Shultz opposite Carell’s DuPont is absolutely outstanding. The mental and physical abuse he allows DuPont to subject him to is played just right by an actor that constantly surprises me. What differentiates him from his Jump Street co-star’s turn in Moneyball is subtle hints of being weak willed and simple minded. Hill went from comedy actor to drama actor with a great turn. Tatum has gone from comedy actor and beefcake to a dramatic actor who stops quite a bit short of his Jump Street “my name is Jeff” performance and shows how easily the world class wrestler is influenced through his body language and his interactions with Steve Carell. We’re not talking Forrest Gump or Rain Man here. But we are talking just enough for the audience to look at Shultz and say “Man, is that dude ok?”, a turn like that from an actor mainly regarded for his abs, is just as worthy of recognition as any other actor in this piece.

Foxcatcher is a consistently brilliant drama. Stunning performances from its stars that deliver every line, every look and every grapple convincingly. All set to a perpetually gloomy atmosphere with an underlying air of menace making for an amazingly directed and brilliantly acted dramatic masterpiece.

Interview with Nicky Salapu (Next Goal Wins)

Nicky Salapu holds an unenviable record. He conceded more goals than any other goalie in international football history. Back in 2001 his American Samoa side lost 31-0 to Australia in a World Cup qualifier.

He stuck with the national team though as they looked to improve. Ahead of the DVD release of Next Goal Wins this week, a documentary telling the story of the American Samoan national team, Nicky took time out to chat to us.

ngw 2Steve Norman: What was your initial reaction when you found out that people from the UK wanted to make a documentary about the American Samoan national football team?

Nicky Salapu: I felt blessed and shocked at the same time. I kind of felt ‘why us?’ Why have these guys come over to film us? I was shocked when I went to New Caledonia for the South Pacific Games and I saw these guys, I thought ‘are we in trouble?’ It’s a blessing and I thank them for making American Samoa more known around the world and making this film.

SN: It is an interesting story, especially with American Samoa being, at the time, bottom of FIFA’s world rankings and on the end of the heaviest ever defeat in international football to Australia. You played in that game, how did you feel going into that game? How did you approach that match and how did you feel playing against the best team in your region?

NS: I knew it was going to happen. Back then most of the good players didn’t have a passport and FIFA have this rule that says if you don’t have a passport, you can’t play. I was the only experienced player back then because I was playing for the national team. I thought ‘I don’t know how we’re going to face these guys’, especially guys like Mark Viduka, for God’s sake, who played for Leeds United and Mark Schwarzer, you know. How am I meant to face these people. The only reason I’m playing is to make sure my team don’t get beat 50-0. But I knew what was going to happen, I knew the score would be high. I can’t go back and change those things. Whatever happens, happens. It’s embarrassing. It’s a shame.

SN: How did you deal with things after the game, after losing by that scoreline? It seems, from the documentary, that the result affected you a lot.

NS: Yeah, I carried that around with me for a long time, for 13 years. It’s something that I never forget. After the game we walked into the locker room, I bowed down my head and I cried a little bit. I felt very embarrassed and like I don’t want to play soccer anymore. But I also felt that I am a soccer player and I’m not the kind of guy to just give up on it. I felt like I wanted to put my team and my country in a different perspective and get them out of the embarrassment.

SN: Thomas Rongen had experience of playing at Ajax and in the USA with the likes of George Best and Johan Cruyff and had coached the USA youth sides, what did he bring to the American Samoa set up?

NS: The experience and knowledge we never had before. The professionalism we never had before. He brought and installed a commitment that some of the kids don’t have. He said that if you don’t commit yourself fully to the team, we will cut you off, you know. This made a lot of people think ‘oh, this guy is serious’. Thomas was more professional and had a lot of passion for soccer. We have to thank him for bringing his experience and the way he motivated a lot of the kids and make them want to keep playing. His knowledge, experience and professionalism helped us a lot.

SN: At the time Thomas came in as coach, you were living in America. How did he convince you to return to the national team?

NS: [Laughs] good question. He asked me if I wanted to remove the embarrassment of that game, the 31-0 to Australia. He said this was a good moment, that he was a professional coach, that we had good players and some from here in the States [Rongen called up two players based in the USA with American Samoan heritage]. He kept telling me all these things. I was working hard for my family, they really needed me. I didn’t feel like going. When he told me all these things – and telling me he wanted to put the embarrassment of the 31-0 to the side and become winners – he said that this was the best squad with the best players and the best coach. I was like, ‘ok, this will be the best moment to go back and come out of the embarrassment.’ I’m glad he called me and thankful to him for letting me come back to play.

SN: Under Thomas, the team achieved its first ever victory, against Tonga, how did that feel? Especially considering your journey with the team from the loss to Australia to the first ever win.

NS: Oh, it felt incredible. Amazing. I thought I was dreaming. Is this happening? Did we win a game? At the time I felt like we were never going to win but I believed in my team, and the management and the support from our country that came over to support us. I believed we had something and that we would accomplish something. It felt exciting. It was the best thing that ever happened to me in football.  I even forgot that the 31-0 ever existed. It was a joyful moment. I have the movie at home. I watched it last night with my son and my wife and every time I see that part where we won the game I still cry no matter what. I still cry. It means a lot to me and I cannot thank enough Thomas, the coaches and my team-mates for helping that happen.ngw

SN: One of the most uplifting and engaging things about the film was the sense of togetherness between the squad and players and inclusion of the people who may not have come from American Samoa but were of American Samoan descent, or and the people from different backgrounds on the island. Did this help the team?

NS: It helped us a lot. With the culture and religion of the island it makes us come together as a team as we have a respectful way of living. It makes us respect other players and our management. We always show respect everywhere we go. Down in the islands it’s like almost every family is related and that is why we call each other brothers and sisters because we are close and it helps us a lot. Being spiritual was the best thing for our team. Lots of people say that it has nothing to do with God but if you believe in God and believe in football, things happen.

SN: Are you still involved with the team?

NS: Yeah, I’m still connected with Larry [one of the coaches] and I practice with his youth soccer team and I still maintain myself because most of the people say they want me to come back and play. I play six times a week here in Seattle, although I don’t actually play that much in goal. I’m actually pretty decent on the field, in midfield. I sometimes play sweeper as I am taller than most of the opponents. I play goalkeeper when it’s a hard game to make sure we secure our rank as I play in a tough level. At the moment we are top of the league and every time we play a top team I go in goal.

SN: What next for American Samoa?

NS: In June we will start training and finding some teams to play against. We will have a camp in Hawaii and the first match in July with the World Cup Qualifiers starting in November.

SN: What did you think of the movie, Next Goal Wins?

NS: What I say at the end of the movie is true; I still want to go back and play against Australia. I really want to. If it doesn’t happen to me, my son loves football and he always tells me he wants to play Australia if I don’t. I hope the movie motivates the kids to play football. I hope the defeat to Samoa doesn’t put them off and they get the motivation to play football. I love football, it’s my world. I can’t live without it.

SN: You’re not the only one.

NS: My wife gets mad at me and says when will you stop playing football? And I say ‘never, I will surely play until I die’. My son keeps telling me he will one day play for the American Samoa national team. Hopefully. I want to thank Steve, Mike and Christian for coming down to make this movie.

Next Goal Wins is out on DVD now. You can find out more information about this extraordinary documentary on their website and find all of our coverage (including interviews, podcasts and reviews) here.

Competition Time: Win a Copy of ‘Next Goal Wins’ on DVD

NGW-300x225In conjunction with our sister site, Born Offside, we have been given 3 copies of Next Goal Wins on DVD to give away.

The documentary tells the story of the American Samoan national team, the victims of the heaviest ever defeat in international football, 31-0 to Australia, and at one point the worst national team in the game, as they look to achieve their first ever win.

To enter just tweet @FailedCritics the answer to the following question:

In what position are American Samoa in the current FIFA World Rankings?

with the hashtag #NextGoalWins

The competition will close at 11pm on Tuesday the 2nd of September when the winners will be chosen at random.

Next Goal Wins is out on DVD to buy from Monday the 1st September.

Keep your eye on Failed Critics for an interview with the American Samoa goalkeeper Nicky Salapu. In the meantime, you can read our interview with the film’s director Steve Jamison, listen to our podcast review of Next Goal Wins, or read the written interview from back in May.

Million Dollar Arm

Million Dollar Arm could be a very good sports biopic… it’s just focussed on completely the wrong character.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

million dollar arm 2I am going to be blunt, folks.  In a sports biopic about the first Indian athletes that are signed to an American Major League Baseball franchise, your main protagonist should not be The White Man.  See, despite that subject matter, Million Dollar Arm is not about the athletes; it’s about the sports agent who plucked them out of India and how their eventual success saved his agency.  Look, I, like any man, love Jon Hamm; I could stare at his ruggedly handsome looks and chiselled jaw for hours, as I in fact did, but he should not be the lead character of this movie.  J.B. Bernstein, his character, should be a secondary character instead.  The athletes and their translator, Rinku Singh (Suraj Sharma), Dinesh Patel (Madhur Mittal) and Amit Rohan (Pitobash Tripathy), should be the leads.  Hell, if you must make it about a sports agent, then why not make it about his Indian partner, Ash (an always nice to see Aasif Mandvi)?

But no, instead they’re side characters for absolutely no discernible reason.  Hell, I even hate to use that phrase because their characters basically amount to being J.B.’s MacGuffin for both his business and character arc, and repeating “Thank you, Mr J.B. sir” over and over as if that somehow substitutes for actual character work.  I count about six scenes that are solely dedicated to them and nobody else, the rest of the time they are basically children for J.B. to babysit; his love interest (Lake Bell, hopefully just taking a paycheque) even makes that comparison openly and his treating-them-right is basically what convinces her to open her legs to him.  There could be a brilliant sports drama about their struggle to adapt to life outside of their small little Indian village, of their homesickness, of being stuck in an unfamiliar and rather uncaring country, and the immense pressure for them to perform here.  Hell, there should be, this film is two goddamn hours, there’s no excuse for them having absolutely no character of their own outside of their brief introductions.

I know that I am supposed to review the movie we’ve got, not the one I want, but, dammit, this shit should not have happened!  Especially since this creative decision actually hampers the film we have totally, as well.  Not only are there no real dramatic stakes, seeing as the only thing we really know about these boys is that their success is important to The White Man and that makes it rather hard to care about how well they’re doing (it’s like when action films put a child in danger and they expect you to suddenly become really worried for the kid’s safety solely on the basis that it’s a kid, even though it has no character), it actually exposes the film as hypocritical.  J.B.’s character arc is that he learns to treat and see these kids as actual people instead of just walking contracts and deals, except that the film almost never portrays them as anything but walking contracts and deals for J.B. whose future rides on their success.  So if the film can’t be bothered to see them as people, then why are we the audience supposed to step in and do the film’s work for it?  Again, this film is two goddamn hours!  There is no excuse for this!

What’s worse is that if Rinku, Danesh and Amit were the lead characters, or at least had an equal amount of attention as J.B. gets, I’d be giving Million Dollar Arm a passing grade and maybe a light push to go and see it!  It’s a solidly made sports biopic.  It doesn’t bring anything new to the table (except an over-use of handheld cameras that all seem to have been operated by people desperate for a piss) and it’s too long, but it has good and charming performances, a nice light and warm mood, a pretty good soundtrack by A.R. Rahman, and a good grasp at the beats of the sports drama genre.  It’s nothing great, but it is comfort viewing and sometimes the cinematic equivalent of a nice slice of sponge-cake makes a good alternative to the relentlessly loud and cynical noise of everything else.

But they’re not and the fact that they’re not actually incenses me as I type these words.  I imagine that there will be some people out there who will think that I am getting all worked up over nothing and that, again, I should just give a passing grade to the film we’ve been given instead of a failing grade due to it not being the film I want.  Well, no.  I am not going to do that.  Not only does Million Dollar Arm blow the chance to say something interesting or do something new with its premise by not making the Indian athletes the leads, it reduces them to mere pawns and MacGuffins in The White Man’s personal journey, giving them no agency or character of their own and not seeming to care one bit about that fact.  I find that reprehensible and I refuse to let it off the hook for that.  This could have been avoided.  This could have oh so easily been avoided.  Instead, we’re here and Million Dollar Arm has nobody to blame but itself.

Callum Petch is looking for new maternal embrace.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!