Archive for the ‘B’Category

Benji

benji-toon

I’d read a couple months ago when Benji first aired that it got pretty good reviews. In fact, every sports person I saw who commented on it mentioned how much they enjoyed it. I’m of the opinion that when nearly everyone likes a tv show, movie, album, or whatever, you probably should do yourself a favor and check it out.

Benji is the story about Benjamin Wilson – the top ranked high school basketball player from the class of 1985 – who was gunned down a few weeks before the start of his senior basketball season. At 6’8″ with a silky smooth jumper, Benji was nicknamed “Magic Johnson with a jumpshot” by his high school coach.

Much of the sadness shown in Benji is all to familiar with those who have followed the careers of Len Bias, Reggie Lewis, Hank Gathers, and others. Benji was more than a sad story about a great player who died and that was the end. His legacy lived on through his mother, who was very impressive in how she handled his tragic death, teammates and players that followed him and wore his number (Nick Anderson, Juwan Howard, and Derrick Rose all wore the #25 for Wilson and #1 player and future Duke recruit Jabari Parker has #25 on his shoes), and the change that came because of his high profile murder (laws about where ambulances brought gunshot victims were directly affected by his death).

It was a sad movie and a movie that certainly could’ve been made better had the directors been able to get an interview with former girlfriend Jetun Rush and/or son Brandon (no doubt they made every attempt). The inclusion of an interview with his killer – Billy Moore – was surprising, but I’m not entirely sure it added a ton to the story. Good to see that he’s seemed to turn his life around, though.

24

01 2013

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Frame grab from opening fireworks sequence

This past September, the local Whiskey Creek Film Festival was once again playing a half hour from my home in Wadena, MN. For the past five (or so) years, they’ve had a week-long film festival that featured a whole bunch of documentary, indie, foreign, and otherwise obscure really good movies that just don’t get played on the big screen. This year, the feature films included Moonrise Kingdom, To Rome with Love, The Kid with a Bike, Bully, The Intouchables, and Beasts of the Southern Wild. Of all of the movies, Beasts of the Southern Wild seemed to get the best overall reviews. However, when my wife and I watched the trailer, it just looked a little bit… strange. Fireworks. A young black girl in her underwear. Aurochs.

We went to Bully instead.

Turned out to be a great decision because Bully was fantastic and will certainly be on my 2012 top 10 list. Beasts of the Southern Wild, on the other hand, was quite possibly the most disappointing of the year. Certainly it was the weirdest movie I’ve seen. And the dullest. Worst ending. Worst story.

I just didn’t connect with this movie. I get what the filmmakers were trying to do. They were trying to be bold, original, and make a statement. They were trying to take a chance similar to that of 2011’s Tree of Life only, for me, it flopped horribly.

That all being said, the movie is well made. The cinematography is simply gorgeous. The performances by the two main characters – neither of whom had acted before this – were pretty impressive. Beasts of a Southern Wild is a really good example – similar to a movie like Eyes Wide Shut – of how a movie can be really well crafted in very capable hands, but will just drag with a poor story.

5.5

out of 10

21

12 2012

The Bourne Legacy

The-Bourne-Legacy

It was a really long time ago since I’ve last seen it, but I really enjoyed the first Bourne Identity movie. I purchased the book and was really disappointed because after Jason Bourne is found in water, the book is a 100% different story than the first movie. I was subsequently disappointed in the action of the second movie. I enjoyed the plot, but I found the shaky cam effect too much to handle. Finally, they won me back with the Bourne Ultimatum. Upon author Robert Ludlam’s death, Eric Van Lustbader has put out 7 additional books, so you can expect more of these movies in the future.

The first of the reboot of the Bourne series (by the way, how weird is it that the Bourne Identity and Spiderman are “so old” they are considered in need of a reboot?) stars Jeremy Renner as Aaron Cross. He’s essentially the same character as Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne only in a different yet simultaneous overlapping situation.

The plot is similar to that of the Bourne movies (rogue agent versus the spy institution) yet this still manages to feel somewhat fresh. Jeremy Renner, who’s been fantastic in such films as The Hurt Locker, The Town, and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, once again proves he’s more than capable of carrying a major action thriller.

As far as spy thrillers go, the Bourne series has raced the stakes for all other thrillers that followed. Watching Haywire a few weeks ago, I could definitely spot Bourne influences on action and pacing. Thankfully, The Bourne Legacy doesn’t disappoint.

8.0

out of 10

20

12 2012

Ballplayer: Pelotero

Miguel Sano is the object of Ballplayer: Pelotero - a documentary about baseball in the Dominican Republic

Earlier this summer, I was feeling rather down on my Minnesota Twins. I was checking out TwinDaily (which I check, quite ironically, daily) hoping to read about some great prospects (mainly: Miguel Sano) that are going to save the Twins and turn them back into World Series contenders three years from now. I was really interested when friend of the blog (and former little league coach Seth Stohs) posted a review of Ballplayer: Pelotero, a documentary that focused highly on gem of the Minnesota Twins farm system Miguel Sano. Instantly, I wanted to see the movie, but kept dragging my feet. I’ve nearly purchased it no fewer than 10 times on iTunes. One time, I was planning to purchase to watch it on a bus trip only to find out I didn’t have enough free space on my phone to watch it.

Finally, since it was added to Netflix two weeks ago, I got around to seeing Ballplayer: Pelotero. It’s a story about how the Dominican Republic baseball system is set up. Currently, around 20% of the major league is made up of players from the Dominican Republic including stars like Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez, Hanley Ramirez, David Ortiz, Albert Pujols, Ubaldo Jiménez, José Reyes, Sammy Sosa, Vladimir Guerrero and many more. However, the Dominican baseball system is setup very differently than it is here in America. Players are signed once they turn 16 on July 2nd. Big signing bonuses are handed out to the most elite prospects with everyone else grabbing whatever signing bonuses they can. Kids enter training camps in their early teens and spent hours training in hopes of one day impressing a major league team at tryouts. Most of these kids are poor and can’t afford to pay for training, so deals are struck among the trainers – often also the agent for the players – who often receive up to 35% of the signing bonus in exchange for the past few years of training.

Ballplayer:Pelotero focused on two major prospects. Miguel Sano (called Miguel Angel throughout most of the movie), trained by Vasilio Tejada, is thought of as the prize prospect in all of the Dominican Republic likely to receive the largest signing bonus in DR history. Jean Carlos Batista, trained by Astin Jacobo, is thought of as an elite prospect who hopes to get a signing bonus in the $1.5 million range.

Quick tangent – I don’t pretend to be a great baseball talent evaluator, but I couldn’t have been more impressed with Miguel Sano. His swing reminds me of Manny Ramirez… it is just looks good to the untrained eye.

As July 2nd nears, Miguel Sano and his family is informed that he is being investigated by the MLB for possibly lying about his age. Name and age falsification have been a major problem for years in the Dominican Republic (google “fausto carmono name”, “miguel tejada age” or “david arias”). New rules have been put in place where a player who is found to have lied about their age will be suspended for a full year. Players, in search of the biggest signing bonuses possible, along with families, trainers, and many others will falsify documents or, in some cases, completely swap families in order to appear to be younger than they are.

I won’t spoil what happens in the movie, but the age concerns play a huge part in the final third of the movie. Of course, we know Sano winds up with the Twins and has destroyed the minor leagues thus far.

My lone complaint about this movie is I think they could’ve added one more scene at the end of the movie. Show Miguel Sano living in the United States. Talk to him about what changes there are playing professional baseball. They easily could’ve added 20 minutes about his first professional season which would’ve allowed the movie to come a little more full circle.

7.5

out of 10

Watch the trailer:

17

10 2012

Broke – 30 for 30

Last night saw the return of ESPN’s rightfully acclaimed 30 for 30 documentary series. Director Billy Corben, who also director one of my personal favorite documentaries on the first go-around (“The U”), explore how such a high percentage of athletes who makes unbelievable fortunes wind up literally broke.

The Broke 30 for 30 documentary featured interviews with athletes who have seen their personal portfolios take a turn for the worse (Bernie Kosar, Andre Rison, Keith McCants, Curt Schilling, Cliff Floyd, Leon Searcy, Sean Salisbury, and more) along with an assortment of financial advisers, bloggers, coaches, and athletes who’ve managed their money well.

Many of the common athletes you hear about going broke (Mike Tyson, Antoine Walker, Allen Iverson, Michael Vick) are touched upon, but one major disappointment for me was the lack of any real in-depth look at one particular athletes financial history as an example. Instead of really digging in, the movie just glosses over everything without digging in deep.

The documentary is certainly thought provoking and I applaud Billy Corben for getting a bunch of professional athletes (typically among the most prideful people alive) to talk about their financial mistakes. Watching the movie, though, I couldn’t help but feel the same way before I felt before watching this. During the entire 90 minutes, I felt like I was being manipulated into trying to feel sorry for athletes, but I can’t help but think that these guys are either a) dumb, b) poorly advised, or c) both. Of course, the documentary does touch on just that, as well, but I find it difficult to feel incredibly sorry for athletes who are buying thousands and thousands of dollars in jewelry & cars while paying tons of money in alimony and child support. The excuse, used over and over again, is these guys generally come from poor backgrounds and they are young. I made some financial mistakes in my early 20’s, as well. To spend as exorbitantly and irresponsibly as these guys did (and likely do), it’s not altogether surprising that they have the trouble they do once they retire.

This isn’t in the top tier of the 30 for 30 series. Rather, it’s just a solidly average sports documentary that I’m glad I’ve seen once, but probably won’t go back and revisit (as I have with Corben’s “The U”).

6.5

out of 10

03

10 2012

Battleship

The long awaited question of “What is the dumbest movie you’ve seen in 2012?” has now been answered. Directed by Peter Berg (who I generally like) and starring Taylor Kitsch (who I generally like), Battleship is a movie based on the uber-boring board game from your childhood. When the movie concept was announced, I was skeptical. However, when both Berg & Kitsch were attached, I thought it might be worth a shot.

The plot of the movie is whatever synonym you want to use for dumb. In fact, I’d almost say it’s so cliched it’s almost insulting. The slacker is dating the daughter of the boss who doesn’t like him. Chaos ensues and he’s forced into an important role. Once the smoke clears, his boss respects him and everything is cleared up.

There are just so many incredibly stupid things about Battleship. First of all, we are led to believe that after the aliens attack the battleship and kill all of the senior officers, Alex (Kitsch) is left in charge as he’s the highest ranking officer still alive. Really? Not a single guy over 32 years old is on this ship? There isn’t a single lifelong military guy among the 100s of people on this ship? When Denzel Washington took over command from Gene Hackman in Crimson Tide, it was somewhat believable because he was 40 years old and much was made about his military history. Taylor Kitsch is two months older than I am and the movie paints him out to be a slacker who didn’t enlist in the Navy immediately and nearly got kicked out. I’m supposed to believe that guy is the highest ranking guy left?

It’s a little thing, but it’s all of the little things that this movie gets wrong. The movie looks like a million dollars although if you aren’t a fan of the optical flare, you aren’t going to enjoy the look of the film.

Having really enjoyed Berg and Kitsch’s work on Friday Night Lights, I was expecting more from this. Kitsch actually does show he’s got the ability to be a great leading man despite the terrible role. He definitely has that Samuel L. Jackson ability in looking good in a terrible movie.

3.5

out of 10

03

10 2012

Bully

Alex Hopkins (age 12) from "Bully"

Rarely do I watch a movie and immediately afterwards think an entire segment of the population needs to see it. After watching Bully at the Whiskey Creek Film Festival, I can’t help but think every kid who is older than about 10 years old needs to see this movie.

The movie follows five children and families who have been victims of bullying. Alex is 12-year old social awkward kid from Sioux City, Iowa who wants to fit in, but is bullied mercilessly at school and on the bus. Even his little sister is worried about going to his school next year because she’ll be picked on simply for being related to him. Kelby is a 16-year old lesbian from the small town of Tuttle, Oklahoma who’s family has been ostracized by the community. Ja’Meya is a 14-year old girl who was picked on every day on the bus who pulled a loaded gun on her tormentors and was incarcertated. David and Tina Long the parents of Tyler Long – a 17-year old who hung himself after years of bullying – demand accountability from the school officials who ignore their attempts and sparked a conversation within the community about bullying. Kirk and Laura Smalley – the parents of 11-year old Kirk who committed suicide – launched an anti-bullying organization Stand for the Silent.

The documentary attempts and succeeds in bringing light to a very scary subject. Middle school and high school can be downright scary for a normal teenager, but Bully depicts just an awful quality of everyday life for kids who are bullied every day. Bully gives us a look at what life is like for those who are bullied.

Although the movie focuses on five different families, the family from Sioux City, Iowa seems to be the focal point. Alex, who was born nearly 16 weeks before his due date, has trouble making friends. On the bus, he’s stabbed with pencils, told by another kid he’s going to “(effing) end him” with a knife, and he has his head bashed into a school bus seat over and over again. In one absolutely heart wrenching scene, Alex’s mother is trying to convince him that these kids aren’t his friends. Alex, in what is one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen on screen, replies “…if they aren’t my friends, who is?”

After the bullying on the bus gets so severe, filmmakers decide to share footage of bullying with the Iowa family and school officials. As I’m watching this, I can help but think how scary it is that the bullying was this bad with a camera crew five feet away on a bus? The family meets with an assistant principal Kim Lockwood who is quick to remedy (but not fix) the problem by letting Alex ride a different bus. When the mother asks why the kids aren’t being kicked off the bus, the assistant principal gets defensive and tells the family “I’ve been on this bus… they kids are just as good as gold.”

I suspect the goal for the filmmakers was to make a movie that will spark some conversation which I’m sure it will do. After the movie, my wife and I probably talked for two hours solely on the topic of bullying, what can be done about it, and why this movie needs to be shown to kids.

My one major criticism of the film is it didn’t address everything I would’ve liked to seen it address. For one, it doesn’t really interview any of the “bullies” or (more importantly) the parents. I suspect that an inordinate amount of these bullies come from less than ideal home situations (as did a few, but not all, of the kids who were bullied). I really feel like the demise of the “traditional family” is a growing concern that isn’t getting enough attention. Actual parenting of children is no longer one of the requirements of being a parent.

Also, many school officials (especially Lockwood) were vilified in the film. Many of them come off as quite incompetent. Since the film premiered, Sioux City Superintendent Paul Gausman has acknowledged “in that film, you see us fail one of our students.” At the same time, little attention is paid to parental backlash. School administrators, to some degree, have their hands tied. I’ve seen countless situations where one student gets in trouble and instead of supporting the administrators and punishing their child, this new generation of helicopters parents will come back at the school teachers/administrators with great vengeance and furious anger. The message inadvertently sent by these parents to their kids is they can do no wrong. The threaten to pull their kids out of school (a loss of funding for schools) or to sue the school. The end result – the parents do nothing to parent the child, school administration’s hands are somewhat tied, and the situation worsens.

In this review, I’ve only highlighted the family from Iowa, but the other five stories – especially the two in which families lost children to suicide – are haunting, but well told.

Bully may be at times difficult to watch, but it is as emotionally of a movie-going experience as I can remember. I can’t emphasize enough that this is a movie you need to see. The good news is much like how Super Size Me positively impacted the fast food industry, it appears change will come. This past April, the movie was shown to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Valerie Jarrett, President Obama’s senior adviser. I applaud director Lee Hirsch for making not only a beautiful looking, emotionally charged film, but more important something that will hopefully start a conversation to make real change.

9.5

out of 10

If you are in the Perham area, this movie is playing tonight (9/17) at 7:00 at the Cozy Theatre in Wadena. I can’t recommend highly enough you go watch this movie and bringing a handful of teenagers with you, as well.

Checking out the trailer below:

17

09 2012

Battle Royale

Earlier this year, I was at the state basketball tournament enjoying our “off” day on Thursday. On my way to the games on Thursday night, I saw a boatload of people waiting in line for a movie. Knowing there was no more Harry Potter’s left and Batman didn’t come out until July, I was stumped at what movie they could possibly be waiting for. A little browsing on my iPhone told me that they were in line for “The Hunger Games” – a little movie I’d never heard of that would go on to gross over $150 million that weekend.

Admitting that I’d never heard of one of the top 3 grossing movies of the year probably isn’t a wise thing for a guy trying to start up a website about movies. Besides, what does The Hunger Games have to do with a slightly under-the-radar 12 year old Japanese movie anyway? The answer, quite simply, is The Hunger Games is a huge rip-off of Japanese film Battle Royale from the year 2000.

Battle Royale is a story about a group of 42 high school students who, because of their growing lack of respect for adults, are forced into playing a game by the government where they must kill each other until only one is left (the movie is based heavily in realism). Each student is assigned a number and given a bag with good, water, a map of the island, and a weapon. Each bag contains a different weapon. In fact the word “weapon” is used loosely for some student as they get a saucepan lid or a paper fan while others get knives, guns, and tracking devices that show them where everyone else is located. Each student also has a collar placed around their necks that monitors their position, their health, and has the ability to detonate and kill the student if they wind up in one of the random “hot zones” that change throughout the day.

The movie is shockingly violent. To say it isn’t for everyone is a huge understatement. I don’t know if I’ve ever even used this term, but Battle Royale contains gratuitous violence. It’s probably on par with some of the harsher scenes you’ve seen in Tarantino movies… there are just far more of them in a two hour movie than I’m used to. In fact, Quentin Tarantino named it as his favorite movie that’s been released since he started directing in 1992.

Despite the violence, I can’t help but agree with (Ahmad Rashad voice) “my main man” QT and say this is a fantastic film. Like I kiddingly joked earlier, the film is not realistic whatsoever. Yet, the reactions between the different cliques of students – some decide to fight, some refuse to fight, some panic and do nothing, and others try to different non-violent methods of getting out.

If you can withstand the violence (have I mentioned that there is plenty), this is a film that I can highly recommend. While I’ve yet to see The Hunger Games, I’m putting the odds at 1,000-to-1 that it’s a better movie than Battle Royale. If you haven’t yet seen The Hunger Games, do yourself a favor and check this one out first. If you (likely) have already seen Hunger Games, go check out the (likely) superior movie that it stole the storyline from.

9.0

out of 10

11

09 2012