Posts Tagged ‘review’

The Long Green Line

Joe Newton is to high school cross country as Bob Hurley is to high school basketball. As the coach of a suburban school in a large metro region, he’s been there forever and, in the words of DJ Khaled, all he does is win.

As the 2008 documentary about his York (IL) cross country team The Long Green Line shows, though, Coach Newton cares much more about winning. As he shows many times throughout the documentary, he has the intensity and fire of Bobby Hurley combined with the love and compassion of Dick Vermeil. The Long Green Line follows Joe Newton and the York cross country team during the 2005 season as they attempt to win the school (and Newton’s) 25th state title.

The stars of the movie aren’t necessarily the top 7 (out of 221) boys on the team who wind up runner at the state meet. In fact, John Fisher (an autistic kid with a lot of love for his cross country team) and Connor Chadwick (one of the slowest kids on the team who suffers from cerebral palsy) are as important to both the team and the movie as the fastest kids.

In the middle of the season, Coach Newton kicks off one of his top 7 runners. Shortly thereafter, two of his top 7 runners are arrested (and, of course, kicked off the team) for causing millions of dollars in damage in a starting a house fire the past summer. His top two runners, twins Matt & Eric Dettman, contract a viral infection late in the season and are running nowhere near their best.

The movie has everything you want from a documentary. A great central character, an interesting storyline, and an unforeseen plot twist make this story worth watching for sports fans. Created by first-time director (and former York student) Matthew Arnold at times looks really professional, but has a few sequences that look rather shaky and/or amateurish. Given the lack of budget and lack of experience, it’s probably to be expected (I, for one, have made a movie on a low budget that at times looks less than ideal). As a whole, though, he’s done a fantastic job of conveying an interesting story about a legendary coach.

7.5

out of 10

05

10 2012

Hunger Games

Judging by the box office and cultural impact, I am the last person in America to watch The Hunger Games. I’ve got my excuses for why I haven’t seen it yet. First, when it came out in theaters, I was busy helping coaching in the state basketball tournament. Secondly, I have a woman who lives at my house and is related to me by marriage that sees the description of a movie containing the words dystopian, science fiction, post-modern, and battle to the death and loses interest very quickly. This is not meant as a knock on my wife (if I wanted to do that, I’d snarkily mention that both “8 Seconds” and “Urban Cowboy” would reside in her top 10 favorite movies list). As going to the movies by myself isn’t my favorite thing to do, I wind up watching a majority of movies once they are released on DVD.

As you, no doubt know, Hunger Games is based on the Suzanne Collins novel of the same name. Every year, each of the 12 districts that make up Panem sends to one male and one female “tribute” to the Hunger Games which is a televised spectacle in which the 24 children battle to the death until there is only one victor.

Admittedly, the movie is much better than I thought it was going to be. Following the success of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, Hollywood seemed desperate to take popular literary franchises and turn them into big screen cash. The last big literary franchise – the Twilight series – figuratively and literally… sucked.

I’m not going to go into the details of the plot because, surely, you’ve already seen the movie. Heading into the movie, the biggest question I had was how big of a Battle Royale rip boff was this movie going to be? In fact, knowing I was finally going to watch the Hunger Games this week, I re-watched Battle Royale (review here) last week so I could make a fair comparison.

It’s not as blatant of a rip-off as I expected. There were some elements that were similar, but more that were different than I expected given all of the “The Hunger Games is a Battle Royale rip off” articles I read on the internet. For a true comparison, check out this io9 blog post comparing the two.

Last week, in my review of Battle Royale, I ended with the following

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 The Hunger Games, go check out the (likely) superior movie that it stole the storyline from.

Now that I’ve seen The Hunger Games, I can definitively say Battle Royale is the superior movie. I’m happy to say, though, the gap is significantly closer than I suspected and The Hunger Games isn’t as big of a rip off as I initially thought it would be.

20

09 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