Southpaw

Boxing movies. Tough to make a good one. People get all excited about Clint Eastwood’s “Million Dollar Baby,” but I found it to be utterly, irredeemably cliched. And so that’s a primary danger of the subject matter. One more chance. One last fight. One more obstacle to overcome. The loss. The comeback. Redemption in the balance. Blah. Blah. Blah.

Southpaw veers in that direction, but maybe somehow manages to stay just this side of it? Or only a little over the line? It’s okay…

Foxcatcher

Steve Carrell in a dramatic role knocks this out of the park. Too many people will say that the role is all about the prosthetic schnoz, but his performance outshines the very good work also put in by both Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo.

There is nothing unnecessary here, no frills or extras. The story unfolds slowly, and we are given time to understand the characters and their motivations. Not everything is shown to the viewer directly; it’s up to us to watch closely and draw inferences and conclusions. Strange, engrossing, satisfying.

Bigger, Stronger, Faster

Glad to see my buddy Lance makes an appearance. But the real story here revolves around the average joes who are using PEDs, in this case steroids. The reasons given, for both amateurs and pros, amount to this: Everybody else is doing them.

And not only that, but why are the rules so seemingly arbitrary? Altitude tents and EPO provide the same benefit. One is legal, one is not. What is the rational? How much caffeine is okay? Can I take a multi-vitamin? Doesn’t that give me a competitive edge over those who don’t? The lines are fuzzy…

Rising from Ashes

Jonathan Boyer comes off looking pretty good in this. In the most unlikely of places – post-genocide Rwanda – redemption rolls in on two wheels. It’s almost a fairy tale: The disgraced cyclist has a chance to make good, his underdog protégé cyclist almost gets the gold medal, cycling teaches life lessons… it would seem corny if it were fiction, but in that case he probably would’ve won the Olympic race…

The Armstrong Lie

Lance has had so many chances to make this right. Or at least to apologize, and make us think that maybe he’s just human, after all. But he keeps blowing it. The overwhelming sentiment one is left with at the end of this documentary is the feeling that Armstrong really has not fully repented, that he still believes somewhere deep inside that he is the one who has been wronged in all of this.

Fascinating and infuriating and ultimately frustrating. It almost makes me want to take some PEDs to see if then I could win some bike races…

Invictus

I have really tired of Clint Eastwood as a director. Maybe since Unforgiven. Just cliche after cliche, with heroic stories that for me get trivialized by over-written, over-acted, and over-obvious characters.

There’s a bit of all that on display here as well, but Eastwood’s heavy hand is not so obvious as it usually is. Perhaps because he is not starring in this one. And while Matt Damon does a fine job in a pivotal role (and I didn’t think his accent was so bad as his critics claimed), the movie belongs to Morgan Freeman. Utterly perfect casting, and an understated marvel of a performance. Did he win anything for this?

 

Bend it Like Beckham

A rewatch for me. I really like this movie; while it’s formulaic, clichéd, and predictable, it overcomes all of its shortcomings with a massive amount of charm, and a supporting cast that nearly steals the show. As a genre movie that goes far beyond the expected, it reminds me of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, only with an accent and a far better soundtrack…

Fightville

“Gritty” is overused but appropriate here. A well-done documentary on the lower rungs of the MMA fight ladder. These guys are good, but as usual, being good is not nearly enough. Hard work, determination, focus, and one other thing you always hear about but which is harder to define, or to understand, if you are not an athlete yourself: heart. If you have all these things, and in addition a little bit of luck, you might make it.

Talladega Nights

I fell asleep, which is pretty rare. I mean okay, I was really tired, but I did not think that this was as funny as everyone had told me it was. Lots of chuckles, yes, but no gut-busting laughs.