Tag: sports

Venus and Serena


Venus and Serena (2012)
★★★ / ★★★★

The reason why I love tennis more than any other sport is because once you get on that court, it is all up to you to fight for every single point. You must hit the ball with controlled strength, you must be incredibly fast to get to the ball, and you must be willing to take on calculated risks to surprise your opponent. In a lot of ways, it is as much a psychological game as it is a physical one.

I am a fan of Venus and Serena Williams because I see a part of myself in how they express their love for tennis, from how they are on the court to how they carry themselves during post-game interviews. I also identify with them exactly because they are black—minorities in a sport that is historically dominated by whites. The documentary, produced and directed by Maiken Baird and Michelle Major, captures their passion for the sport and it is a fascinating behind-the-scenes look into their lives in 2011: an important year because Serena has just undergone surgery and Venus has been diagnosed with Sjögren’s syndrome.

The film is organized and commands a breezy pacing. The first third focuses on the role of Richard Williams, Venus and Serena’s father, during the early stages of his daughters’ careers. He is entertaining to watch because he is tough, to the point, accepts no nonsense. Footages of the young Williams sisters are amusing because their energy is so effervescent, but at the same time the videos showcase their raw potential and how good they really were prior to joining the big leagues. So when important tennis figures like John McEnroe makes a comment about the rising stars, audiences—who may not even be familiar with Venus and Serena’s legacy—will have an idea.

We get a chance to see the subjects wrestle various emotional and mental states. They are simply themselves even when the camera is around, unafraid to be silly, make jokes, poke fun, offer a sarcastic comment. Perhaps the point in which the documentary is strongest involves the sisters dealing with stresses off-court. It completely dispels the idea that athletes are invincible physically and nothing gets to them emotionally and psychologically, that all they really do when they’re not playing is improving their skills by practicing.

It shows that these Amazonian women are people, too. It brings up an important discussion because many are guilty of objectifying public figures, especially those a part of the entertainment business, just because these people are on television and/or getting million-dollar deals. Subconsciously, many of us feel as though we own them on some level and so when these public personalities make a mistake—like yelling at a line umpire—they are skewered and judged. Some even result to making derogatory comments.

The movie emphases the pressures Venus and Serena deal with on a constant basis. At one point, while clearly upset after just having lost a match, Serena makes a remark that she is tired of having to pay for people around her all the time. She expressed that at this a rate, she might go broke. I wished that the directors had further explored the financial angle and how that aspect of fame tend to create tension and cracks among relationships. Still, I commend the filmmakers from not ignoring the topic completely because other documentaries involving popular icons tend to shy away from such a line of conversation.

“Venus and Serena” exudes honesty and instills inspiration. I can imagine young people watching the picture and feeling like they can accomplish their goals as long as they are willing to put in the hard work and make sacrifices. I admired that the material establishes that success—one that is fulfilling—doesn’t just occur overnight and that failure, as well as having the will to learn from them, is both an important and defining part of the process.

Moneyball


Moneyball (2011)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), the Oakland A’s general manager, was about to lose three of its most high-profile players to other teams. Instead of wallowing in pessimism, Beane decided that it was a great opportunity to reinvent the team and win games. Given that the Oakland A’s did not have the budget to pay players millions of dollars, Beane focused on statistics to form his new team. With the help of Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a Yale graduate who majored in Economics, the duo challenged the system and figureheads set on thinking a certain way about baseball. Given that baseball is a sport that I never learned to love or be remotely interested in, I expected to be very confused when the characters in the film used baseball jargon to explain why certain decisions were practical or downright negligent. Surprisingly, I had no trouble catching on because the screenplay by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin was first and foremost a story of a man who was both passionate and tired of the sport. That contradiction in Beane was highlighted by Pitt so convincingly and so lovingly, there were times when I wanted to scream for the GM because no one seemed to understand what he was trying to achieve. With the exception of Brand, everyone was convinced that he was bitter about losing and had decided to sabotage the team. Since the material allowed us to construct an attachment to Beane, we are ineluctably reminded by our own experiences when we tried to make a difference or accomplish something unexpected, but everyone just seemed intent on getting in the way. With every losing battle against his peers (Philip Seymour Hoffman), we had a chance to see a glimpse of Beane’s younger years as a promising baseball sensation. One important conversation was when he had to choose between playing in Major Leagues versus accepting to go to school in Stanford. Obviously, he chose the former given the money involved. But it didn’t work out; he wasn’t the shining star that everyone predicted him to be. Slowly, the audience was given an increasingly complex and interesting portrait of the protagonist and why he was so driven to choose players that were considered out of their primes. Furthermore, the dialogue was easy on the ears because there was a consistent flow in the delivery of the lines. When the flow was interrupted by a silence or a character stopping mid-sentence in order to look at another character a certain way, dramatic beats were appropriately used to maintain dramatic momentum. However, there were about two or three scenes that felt out of place, notably Beane’s interactions with his daughter (Kerris Dorsey). While they shared a sweet chemistry, one was more than enough. Scenes like Beane serving ice cream to his daughter felt like an obvious montage of “Daddy Still Cares Even If He’s Busy at Work.” We knew he loved his daughter from their first scene together. We could see it in the way Beane looked at her while she played guitar in public. Directed by Bennett Miller, “Moneyball,” based on the nonfiction novel by Michael Lewis, was a well-made underdog story about the business side of baseball, yet that isn’t to suggest that it was without nifty surprises clandestine enough to appeal to our soft spots.

Hoosiers


Hoosiers (1986)
★★★ / ★★★★

Norman Dale (Gene Hackman) was hired to coach an Indiana high school basketball team. He used to coach college basketball for twelve years, but he spent the last ten years in the Navy. The small town’s residents seriously questioned Norman’s qualifications and strange methods of training. After all, what could a man who spent his last decade on water impart when it came to basketball? Based on a true story of underdogs, “Hoosiers,” written by Angelo Pizzo and directed by David Anspaugh, made a sport I thought was uninteresting into an exciting, touching, and inspiring film that also touched upon what it meant to give and receive a second chance. Immediately did I admire Hackman’s character because of his determination to turn a team with raw potential into a force that worked as a single unit. Despite the town’s constant interference accompanied by unwarranted threats, he didn’t question himself and his methods. There was something about his confidence that I found comforting. The way Norman eventually earned his team’s respect felt natural because communication and wanting to change were established as a two-way street. There was no one rousing speech that changed everything the next day. Dennis Hopper as the assistant coach named Shooter was equally strong and compelling. In fact, I believed Hopper delivered two performances. The first was an alcoholic who lived in isolation and the other was a father who desperately wanted to make his son, a member of the basketball team, to be proud of him. We weren’t always certain whether Shooter would be able to defeat his alcoholism. Unlike the game which consisted of rules, statistics and a certain level of predictability, alcoholism was indeed another breed. It was a disease and the person inflicted could be fine one day and a complete wreck the next. The picture was successful in generating tension because its backbone in terms of the drama behind the basketball games was consistently in focus. When the big games arrived, it felt like there was more at stake, that winning would mean something more than a trophy and a title. It meant pride for the townsfolk who didn’t quite reach their dreams but nonetheless loved their town unconditionally. It meant a boost of morale for the players who worked tirelessly to improve their game. It also meant unity between newcomers and a town who didn’t like the idea of change. I only wished the romantic connection between Norman and Myra (Barbara Hershey), a fellow teacher, was either further explored or taken out completely. In a film with already so much heart, it didn’t need to feature a romantic interest in order to get us to care more than we already did. “Hoosiers” is often cited as one of the best sports drama depicted on film and with excellent reasons. Given that I’m not a big fan of basketball, I found my eyes transfixed on the ball and the scoreboard.

Rudo y Cursi


Rudo y Cursi (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★

“Rudo y Cursi” stars Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna as brothers who started off as workers in a banana plantation and, with the help of a soccer scout (Guillermo Francella), eventually became Mexico’s soccer stars. One of the things I liked most about this movie was it allowed two very different characters to start off in the same level of happiness (or unhappiness). But when they finally achieved stardom, they were rarely on that same level and that caused tension, resentment, and bitterness which ate them inside out. But what’s even more impressive is that writer and director Carlos Cuarón painted the picture in a light-hearted manner with a real sadness in its core. It was easy for me to buy the fact that Bernal and Luna were very competitive brothers because of their lingering chemistry from “Y tu mamá también.” Although their characters genuinely loved one another, they forget that one time or another because they constantly got caught up in their own problems and inner demons. Such issues were commented on by the narrator who discussed things like the similarities and differences between a mother and a uniform, passion and talent, and the labyrinthine world of fame. The way their luck and fortunes fluctuated from golden fevers to pitiful desperation engaged me throughout. This is far from a typical sports film where a lead character goes through all kinds fo hardship in life and finally gets that big break. It’s really more about the dynamics between brothers who constantly had to build themselves up and could not help but compare themselves to each other in order to determine if they were good enough. (Which kind of works as a cautionary tale.) Carlos Cuarón’s debut film impresses on many levels which, admittedly, could have been a lot stronger if it had a better sense of pacing. I was just glad that it actually had a brain despite the sport.

17 Again


17 Again (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

Even though I’m no fan of Zac Efron (he hasn’t yet proven to me that he can be a versatile actor), I have to admit that I somewhat enjoyed this movie. Granted, that enjoyment didn’t come from either lead actors, Efron or Matthew Perry; in fact, the supporting actors were the ones that stepped up to the plate and delivered the big laughs. Having been down on his luck, Perry gets a second chance to look like his seventeen-year-old high school self (played by Efron) after talking to a magical janitor/spirit guide. In that younger body, he’s able to find a relationship with his two kids (Michelle Trachtenberg, Sterling Knight) and fix his marriage problems with his wife (Leslie Mann). The only person that knows about the whole magical transformation was Perry’s best friend played by the hilarious Thomas Lennon. Lennon stole every scene he was in and I seriously couldn’t stop laughing because of the way he embraced his characters’ nerdy persona. (“Star Wars,” “The Lord of the Rings,” you name it, the geeky reference is there.) He was matched by Melora Hardin (“The Office”), the high school principal with a little secret that she expertly masks. What dragged this film down was its inability to stay away from syrupy scenes and lines, including the so-called dramatic slow motions during the basketball games. Its message was also very vague. I felt like the message it tried to convey was in order to stop feeling like outcast, one should join the basketball team because that’s where the opportunities are found. That would’ve been easily solved if Trachtenberg and Knight had friends who are astute, well-adjusted, and happy with where they are in life. Instead, the two of them are simply outcasts: Trachtenberg is dependent on her boyfriend (played by the lovely, though not-so-lovely in this film, Hunter Parrish) and Knight as a socially awkward loverboy. What this movie is trying to show is not real life and it’s a shame because I know for a fact that teenagers (especially teenage girls) will be drawn to this. “17 Again” has some funny material but I found it confusing in its core and very unrealistic in its portrayal of high school. Or maybe I just need to see Efron play a character who doesn’t know how to play basketball. Perhaps then the cheesiness will decrease exponentially.

American Teen


American Teen (2008)
★★★★ / ★★★★

The true rating I would give this film is three-and-a-half out of four stars (if I did half-stars), but I decided to round up because watching it made me feel like I was back in high school: the drama and the emptiness, the highs and the lows. I found bits of myself with all of the subjects (some more than others) and it made me reflect on who I was in high school and who I am now. The person I could identify with the most is Hannah Bailey (the rebel) not just because she’s into movies but also the fact that she considers herself to be an “in-between” pertaining to the high school spectrum that ranges from ubergeekdom to uberpopulardom. Whenever she’s on camera she truly shines because she offers something refreshing: while the rest of the subjects, more or less, are most concerned about getting into a specific college or feeling peer pressure of belonging in a group, Hannah wants to get out of Indiana as soon as possible and move to San Francisco because she’s so suffocated by both where she lives and who she’s surrounded by (and their ideals). Jake Tusing (the geek/loner) is interesting for me to watch because he’s so socially awkward (that table scene cracked me up so much!) and I feel bad whenever he puts himself down. It irks me whenever someone says a mean comment directed at him (joking or otherwise) but he just brushes it off by agreeing with them. He needs to learn that he can still be a great person while at the same time not letting certain people get away with certain things. As for Colin Clemens (the jock), even though I didn’t participate in competitive sports, I can relate with him because he wants to go to college but his family do not have enough income to pay off the tuition (not to mention I can get really competitive and I know how it’s like to lose once in a while). He needs a basketball scholarship to pursue an education or else he has no choice but to go to military school. I found it very easy to identify with him because I hate seeing people who want to spread their wings but unable to do so because of pecuniary matters. As for Megan Krizmanich (the queen bee), she has her uberbitch moments but she’s far from a monster. I consider her a textbook definition of a traumatized individual hiding behind a false strong front. She reminded me of myself back in high school when I would easily get angry over the silliest things, when in reality, it was more about my own self-esteem rather than people’s behavior that I don’t agree with. Last but not least, Mitch Reinholt (the heartthrob) is another basketball jock and best friends with Colin. He’s a genuinely good person but he succumbs so easily to peer pressure. I wanted to shake him so badly and tell him that in order for him to be truly happy, he should do whatever he feels is right and ignore what everyone else says. Ultimately, the five subjects are admirable and flawed in their own ways. Nanette Burstein, writer and director, paints her audiences a fairly accurate portrait of how it’s like to be a high schooler in America. If the middle portion of the film had been more daring and focused instead of simply exploring what’s on the outside, this would’ve been a stronger. (It did explore what’s underneath at some points but it didn’t do it enough.) Even though one may not agree with stereotypes, it’s undeniable that these people do exist and it’s important for one to look beyond what’s on the surface.