Category Archives: Sports

Eddie the Eagle

White Men Can Jump

Eddie the Eagle focuses on the story of Britain’s first Olympic ski-jumper. It’s an enduring legend because he only qualified for the 1988 Olympics due to technicalities in the entry requirement.

In this respect it’s almost like if your cat qualified for the pole vault because Eddie (Taron Egerton) proceeded to come last in all his events by a comfortable margin.

British people love an underdog story. My late aunt would always root for the least likely of heroes and I somehow have hazy memories of Eddie even though I was barely “house trained” when he competed.

If there is one thing that British people love more than an underdog it is an eccentric underdog and Eddie is just this. Taron Egerton manages to enliven Eddie Edwards as a character by some fantastic facial expressions and mannerisms.

As an audience we are given every reason to get behind him. His dad constantly tells him he is not good enough. The same happens with the Olympics committee. He stands out for drinking milk instead of alcohol in bars, he’s not well off and sometimes dresses like he crashed into a 1980’s charity shop.

Eddie has to face a lot of personal criticism and his answer comes from his unwavering determination and dedication to his sport. In an age of cyber bullying where those who don’t fit in are irrationally and relentlessly shunned someone who overcomes this in such a positive way is instantly adorable.

What isn’t quite so adorable is Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman) who, in real life, is just words on paper. Apparently he is an approximation of both of Eddie’s coaches and whilst Jackman is enjoyable to watch his role felt obviously staged.

There are attempts to push character progression for Peary but all of it feels too convenient and too staged when compared to bizarre nature of Eddie’s ascension to fame.

One of the unexpected benefits of writing reviews such as this piece of nonsense is that I get to learn things too. Reading up on “true stories” often leads me down a Wikipedia hole that can sometimes turn up facts that can be more interesting than the actual film.

It would be remiss of me to omit Matti Nykanan who was considered to be the best in world at the time. Edvin Endre plays the rather sane and wisely Finnish ski-jumper but after the 90’s he became more famous for drink, drugs, womanising and pop music… oh, he also stabbed someone after losing at a finger pulling contest! Holy shitballs!

Anyway, whilst Jackman’s character may feel like a failure by writers Sean Macaulay and Simon Kelton to produce more than “generic fictional male” the inter-character dialogue is smart and witty, especially since it’s their first writing credits.

Eddie the Eagle, for better or worse, comes with all the expectations of a sports underdog story and is comparable to the likes of Cool Runnings. At times it’s genuinely funny and at others it’s genuinely touching. I think it’s well worth a watch but then again; I am British.

The Good, The Bad and The Outcome:

+ Great underdog story
+ Taron Egerton
+ Funny


– Bronson Peary as coach

– Exactly what you’d expect from an underdog story

 

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Point Break

Point Bland

Extreme sports are awesome. With the most minimal of effort they are both cool and exciting to watch. Pull up any Red Bull challenge or Nitro Circus video on YouTube and it won’t be long before you well up with tears realising that you as co-ordinated as a drunk, stilt wearing, giraffe in comparison to these pros.

In fact, you don’t even need to look at these brands. Simply type “world’s best” and finish it with Snowboarding or free running or moto x and you’ll see some mind-blowing things. But do these translate to film?

Well… yes and no. Extreme sports – to the uninitiated – are short lived spectacles that you can watch, say ‘wow!’ and move on. In this respect it’s a bit like a circus or a fireworks display or a flexible stripper.

Films obviously have the ability to portray the spectacular but it’s made better by wrapping it in an enthralling storyline or evocative cinematography: two things that Point Break doesn’t have.

For what it’s worth the story goes like this: Utah (Luke Bracey) gives up Moto X after the death of his friend and decides to join the FBI. An (unconvincing) head of department, played by Delroy Lindo assigns Utah to the investigation of a daring bank robbery. Thanks to Utah’s past extreme sports lifestyle he identifies that the robbery is linked to other extreme cases of theft and are somehow linked to a set of legendary extreme challenges known as the Ozaki 8.

Utah eventually meets the gang and it’s leader Bohdi (Edgar Ramirez) who tries to covet Utah and bring him into the fold.

The principle of the Ozaki 8 is to do something incredible like skydiving from a plane and only opening your parachute when you go through the Cave of Swallows in Mexico (basically a hole bigger than Jeremy Hunt). After you take your thrills you give something back to nature or the local community or to life itself.

This sort of philosophical underpinning could have been fascinating. I know from practising breakdance for over 10 years that you absolutely can hit zen-like moments when pushing your body to the extreme. Unfortunately any attempt to portray this come across as heavy handed ramblings that don’t fit with the overall feel of the film and clumsily try to achieve moments of poignancy.

Once you have ridden a wave of rubbish dialogue you are left with a hollow and un-fulfilling plot that is frankly nonsensical.

How any one person can be so fucking good at 2 disciplines is remarkable but 8 of them? Come on, man!?

People train for years to just be average at 1 discipline so I can only assume Bohdi’s daily routine is: skydive to a mountain peak, snowboard to a lower level rocky mountain, wingsuit to sea level, surf across a bay to a cliff face, free climb up and motorbike home across untamed wilderness.

If you ignore the plot these nonsensical moments, in isolation, are spectacular. The surfing scene is really cool and truly drives home the enormity of the waves as does the snowboarding scene with the size of the mountains.

It’s perhaps the wingsuit scene that feels the freshest given its rarity in films but for me the most enjoyable and terrifying was the crazy rock climbing sequence. Then again I’m bias as I’ve just started climbing myself.

Point break is a bland and benign story that spouts fragmented dialogue and questionable supporting cast. It does however carve up some cool extreme sports with the leads looking relatively adept at them so that’s something to get amped about at least.

The Good, The Bad and The Outcome:

+ Cool surfing
+ Cool wing-suiting
+ Cool snowboarding
+ Cool climbing


– Bad plot
– Bad script
– Bad supporting cast

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Creed

Rocksteady

“If he dies? He dies!” Those were words that, to this day, I find strangely haunting. I guess it’s probably because I heard them at an age where I could make sense of heroes, villains, life and death but couldn’t comprehend political underpinnings in Rocky IV.

This was also, roughly, the last time I cared about a Rocky movie.

There is a lot to like about Rocky IV, indeed it remained the highest grossing sports movie for over 20 years, but it comes with some of the same problems that made Rocky III questionable and Rocky V question whether there is a god.

To put it simply; Rocky Balboa was a simple character that my younger, more simple self, found it simple to understand. Yet these later films strayed too far from the humble, down to earth, character that made Rocky Balboa loveable in the first place.

Rocky from the first film would never have wanted to get involved with staged fights and Hollywood and street brawls and a fucking robot servant thing; at least not without a severe change of character that was never portrayed in the later Rocky Films.

Creed is a breath of fresh air in this respect because it makes Rocky humble and destructible again. It’s for this reason that I enjoyed the film more than I thought I would.

It didn’t start that way though with the opening line going something like “Adonis has been fighting again”. Adonis? Really? Out of all the characters in Greek Mythology you choose Adonis? It doesn’t really have the same ring as Apollo Creed and the idea of a god of endless beauty doesn’t really work when he’s stopping fists with his face.

Still, I guess it’s better than Apollo’s actual sons in Greek mythology. I’m not sure that Lamus would have worked but is it better or worse than Anius? Anius “The Hole” Creed?

Once I’d stopped gritting my teeth I was drawn in to the storyline. Adonis… #sigh#… Adonis is the son of Apollo Creed and an anonymous Mrs Johnson with whom Apollo had an affair with. Apollo died shortly after conception (spoiler alert for the 1983 Rocky IV film!) and we never find out what happens to Mrs Johnson but we know that Adonis spends time in a juvenile detention facility before being fostered by Mary Anne Creed; Apollo’s widow.

Adonis wants to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a boxer but wants to make a name for himself. Unlike Apollo’s always sunny attitude, Adonis comes complete with trust issues, anger management issues and an abandonment complex which actually sets him aside from his father more than he realises. These issues are acted out with a deft subtlety that makes Michael B. Jordan’s character not only one of fascination but also one that is, like Rocky, surprisingly easy to root for: “Go on Adon… err…. Mr Creed”.

Unfortunately there is not enough screen time for any particular resolution to Adonis’ insecurities so by the end of the film we see the exact same person only this time he is boxing on the world stage.

There is even less time to make his transformation from a home schooled, aggressive boxer, into a world class fighter slugging it out with the number 1, pound for pound, boxer in the world. Taking a step back and finishing the film with him being centre stage against the number 1 would have been enough, perhaps in a classic freeze frame of both fighters going in for a punch in classic Rocky nostalgia.

In fact, the ending was the least satisfying aspect of the film being just another boxing match with no real surprises. However; Adonis undertakes some unlicensed boxing midway through the film in an innocuous but technically amazing way.

Now, I love my long, unedited, continuous shots but the one in Creed is so good that by the time I realised it was a continuous shot it was almost over. The way in which the punches come in and around the camera as it circles around the fighters is wizardry that even Harry Potter would be impressed by.

Equally as impressive is Sylvester Stallone who delivers a truly earnest and heartfelt performance as the hero that time has passed by. Everyone he loved is gone, he’s too old to box and doesn’t have the inclination to train anyone. He is, by his own admission a relic.

It’s perhaps weird to think of Sly as an excellent actor but touching scenes as him poignantly reading to a newspaper to the graves of his dead wife and best friend prove that he unquestionably has it in him.

Strangely then; considering that Balboa himself barely throws a single punch, Creed is one of the best Rocky films ever made. That should ring alarm bells for people who don’t love the franchise and bells of joy for those who do because Creed is to Rocky what Jurassic World is to Jurassic Park and what The Force Awakens is to A New Hope by taking what made the originals great, throwing in a bit of nostalgia then gracefully and respectfully modernising it; even if it does, criminally, leave out that oh-so evocative music.

The Good, The Bad and The Outcome:

+ A sly performance from Stallone
+ Continuous take fight scene
+ One of the best Rocky films

– Limited character development
– Missing musical score
– Final fight is underwhelming

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Southpaw

He Is Phenomenon…nomenon

The problem with boxing movies is that there are only ever seems to be 2 of them. There’s the one where the guy is the underdog who manages to make it big or there’s the one where the dude on top falls from grace – most likely to rise up again.

This is the latter. There is no other way around it because the film feels very much by the numbers. Let’s start with the story. Basically; Billy Hope is the dude on top but then falls from grace only to rise up again. That was easy.

OK, so there is a bit more to it than that. Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) is not well educated and is quick to temper. The more he get’s hit the harder he fights back. Anger is his biggest weapon and let’s face it, it’s done him well. He lives in a big house, drives nice cars and has an entourage to feed his vanity. To keep him organised and calm is his wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams) and his daughter Leila (Oona Laurance).

They can’t always keep him calm though as a gala dinner goes wrong after upcoming boxer Miguel Escobar (Miguel Gomez) goads him into a fight which turns into a bit of a free for all. Shots are fired and Maureen is killed as a result.

Even though the story is nothing revolutionary the film does have knockout cast of top notch actors who all give fantastic performances. It also has 50 Cent. Obviously the stand out performance here is Jake Gyllenhaal who once again immerses himself as fully as he can into the role. Perhaps not as transformative, and I really hate that word, as his role in Nightcrawler but close.

The scenes before the gala where he has to make speeches are fully believable that he is nervous and out of his depth. His world is all about his wife and punching people. So when his wife dies we are shown a heavy slide from grief, right through depression to the edge of insanity where he rests precariously. You go from liking Hope as an underprivileged soul who just wants to live his own life to detesting him as a rather despicable father figure but at least you understand why – he’s lost half of himself.

At this point you have to cheer Leila his daughter who falls out of love with her unrecognisable father figure but feel sorry for her as she is taken into foster care when Hope loses the house, the cars, everything. Oona Laurance delivers a fantastic performance getting the perfect balance of innocence and strength. If she can land the right roles she will have a terrific future ahead of her for sure.

In order to get his daughter back Hope has to give up his pride and find a job cleaning a local gym. Along the way he tries to get himself back into training with an ex pro trainer Tick Wills (Forest Whitaker) and it’s here that my biggest gripe comes into light. Wills is meant to be a reserved and precise, no-nonsense mentor to young boxers yet the script for his character is at times cringeworthy. Gyllenhaal’s character has some questionable dialogue too but this fits his uneducated character. Whitaker’s character seems fairly well educated but is at times as eloquent as an elephant.

So let’s address the elephant in the room. 50 Cent. 50 Cent plays an “it’s all about the money” boxing promoter and whilst I have to admit I was impressed with how well he played the role he simply isn’t in the same league as the rest of the cast and ends up detracting your attention from key scenes.

Still you didn’t come to see 50 Cent you came to see how ripped Gyllenhaal has become and to see people punching people. You won’t be disappointed. The boxing scenes are perhaps not up there with the greatest boxing films but Gyllenhaal did all his own stunts after former professional boxer Terry Claybon had him for more than one training day.

Speaking of training day, if you were wondering where you’ve seen Antoine Fuqua credited before then that was probably it. It probably explains why there is a rapper in one of the key roles, the semi-questionable soundtrack and also the overall feel of the film. It also shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that this is a decent boxing film, even if it’s not quite the heavy hitter you want it to be.

Go See

  • Jake Gyllenhaal
  • Great Acting – Especially Jake Gyllenhaal
  • Fight scenes – Mainly because Jake Gyllenhaal did them

Avoid

  • Janky script
  • Standard boxing story
  • 50 Cent

Overall

4-stars