Glory Road

Posted on January 10, 2006 at 12:23 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for racial issues including violence and epithets, and momentary language.
Profanity: Some mild language, racist epithets
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Tense and emotional scenes, racist vandalism
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: 2006
Date Released to DVD: 2006
Amazon.com ASIN: B000EXZFCQ

A man who coaches high school girls’ basketball gets a job at a small Texas school and not only takes them to the nationals, where they defeat the long-time champions in a stunning upset, he changes the course of college sports history by being the first coach to have five black players in his starting line-up.


Now, that sounds like a Disney movie.


And it is, but before that, it was the true story of coach Don Haskins (Josh Lucas), and his career at Texas Western college (now University of Texas at El Paso).


Haskins arrived at Texas Western in 1965. The school was so poor that the coach’s family had to live in the men’s dorms. There was no money to recruit players. But it had an NCAA spot, and Haskins came to play.


Haskins did not intend to be a civil rights pioneer. He just wanted the best players he could find. And in that era, there were plenty of black basketball players who were not getting offers from anyone else. So Haskins put together a team with a lot of talent and a lot of passion for the game, and then he showed them how to be better players and an even better team than they had ever imagined.


So, yes, there are stirring half-time speeches and montages of winning games, players who are intially wary and resentful and then learn the true meaning of teamwork, heart-stopping overtime tie-breakers, brief “what became of” summaries, and everything else we expect. And you know what? It works just fine because it makes us care about the details and the characters — and the game. The performers serve the story, acting with humility and respect, never going for the glamour or the drama. Derek Luke (Friday Night Lights and Lucas have all the movie star magnetism in the world, but here they show us (again) that they are actors first. The only one who is over the top is Jon Voight, who seems to be working his way through an increasingly grotesque series of putty noses in his recent roles, appears as Coach Adolph Rupp of Kentucky.

The relationships feel real. The games are exciting. The story is touching and exciting. And over the credits, we get to see and hear from Haskins and the real members of that legendary team — and from Pat Riley, who explains why Haskins’ team beat him and his teammates for the national championship. “They were just better.”

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Remember the Titans and Hoosiers. They may also like to read Haskins’
book.

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Drama Movies Sports

First Descent

Posted on December 4, 2005 at 3:29 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for brief strong language and a momentary drug reference.
Profanity: Very strong language for a PG-13
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking, video tape of drunken behavior, references to drug use, discussion of marijuana use while in competition
Violence/ Scariness: Peril, accidents that clearly cause pain, stunt attempts gone awry
Diversity Issues: Strong, competitive female snowboarder
Date Released to Theaters: 2005
Date Released to DVD: 2006
Amazon.com ASIN: B000E0WJKK

When the helicopter takes you to the snowy peaks at the end of the paved road, where “backcountry” describes a style and a philosophy as oppose to a location, you know you are about to see something beautiful. As if snowboarding was not amazing enough in its gravity-defying freestyle and its seemingly-unstoppable downhill speed, this movie takes you to “first descent” snow, untouched and dangerous, to watch the experts glide down avalanches, rock faces and that dauntingly large jump to show the sport off against a vast, wild playground.


It doesn’t matter a bit that “First Descent” follows a well-established formula for sport movie/documentaries. There are the requisite clips from the sport’s beginnings; the gorgeous scenery of snowy peaks; the focus on a handful of the sport’s defining athletes, past and present; and, of course, the representative soundtrack. What matters here is that it welcomes you into the sport like a friend and introduces you to the joy of finding that great “line”. For those who get sweaty palms and nervous stomachs at watching someone stand atop a cliff face, this extreme snowboarding, ranging from free-style to backcountry, will leave them hugging the floor.


The movie is part documentary — describing snowboarding’s roots and its rapid ascension to the fast-growing, mainstream phenomenon it is today — and part field trip, focusing on six athletes who are taken to Alaska for back-country snowboarding. The six are: Shawn Farmer, who was one of the sport’s wild poster boys; Terje Haakonsen, whose no-nonsense style and fearless approach have made him legendary far beyond his native Norway; Nick Peralta, another who helped define the sport; Travis Rice, whose experience in Japan demonstrates a whole new way of looking at snowboarding; Hannah Teter, a game and gifted young Olympian; and, the 18-year-old surprisingly humble superstar, Shaun White, five-time X Games winner. They range in age from 40 to 17 and one of the movie’s strengths is demonstrating how they all learn from one another as they swoosh down the mountainsides.


The choppy cuts back and forth between Alaska, past clips and footage of competitions are at times a bit clumsy and the back-stories for the six are incomplete snapshots (where’s Peralta’s montage?), however these are small bumps on the slope of an otherwise successful movie. It is doubtful that true fans will learn much that they do not already know or that audience goers will remember anything particular once they leave, but the images of snowboarders weaving down vast snow plains or spinning far above the ground make even the least snow-minded understand the businessman who took up the sport at age 60 and whose eyes sparkle as he admits to being a “complete addict”.


Parents should know that this movie is about a sport that can be quite dangerous. These athletes suffer injuries, wipeouts and other bad falls while the potential for a fatal accident is present in many scenes. Anyone who has a fear of heights should avoid the movie unless they are trying to desensitize themselves. In looking at the history of snowboarding, the movie includes some footage of off-the-slope behavior of the “Jackass” variety, including people breaking bottles over their own heads, jumping from high surfaces onto concrete and other extreme stunts. There are scenes of drinking, drunken behavior, and references to drug use. A recap of the Nagano Olympics, when a snowboarder tested positive for marijuana use, is retold with approval. Youth rebellion through new or dangerous sports is a theme of this movie.


Families might talk about the different subcultures within snowboarding and how they defined themselves as well as how those definitions changed with the sport’s increased popularity. They might also discuss the professionalizing and commercialization of sports in general and the impact those changes have, not just on demographics, but on defining a sport. For example, NASCAR, briefly touched on in “First Descent”, had its roots in prohibition-era liquor smuggling: can you see its links to its past?


Families that enjoy this movie might be interested in other extremely photogenic sport films and documentaries. The prolific Warren Miller has made over 40 movies about downhill skiing filled with scenes of graceful skiers leaping and slaloming down beautiful slopes.


The skateboarding culture touched on in “First Descent” is delved into in Dogtown and Z-Boys. While those who like their adventures at sea level might enjoy the surfing classic The Endless Summer as well as more recent surfing movies such as Step into Liquid and Riding Giants.


The majesty of the Alaskan mountains is also the backdrop for the jaw-dropping film diary about Dick Proenneke who heads to the mountains to test himself in a much less athletic but even more impressive way. The film comprises footage that the self-reliant 50-year-old made as he builds himself a cabin and readies himself for winter over the course of 1967, the first of 30 plus years he ends up staying Alone in the Wilderness.

Thanks to guest critic AME.

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Documentary Movies Sports

Chariots of Fire

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

A+
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for adult situations and language
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Tense moments of competition
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: 1981
Date Released to DVD: July 9, 2012
Amazon.com ASIN: B00284AVN

In honor of the 2012 Olympics in London, this 1981 classic and winner of the Oscar for Best Picture has been reissued.

This is the true story of two athletes who raced in the 1924 Olympics, one a privileged Jewish student at Cambridge (Ben Cross as Harold Abrahams), the other a missionary from Scotland (Ian Charleson as Eric Liddell). Wonderfully evocative of the time and place, with superb performances, the movie shows us the source of the runners’ determination, for one a need to prove his worth to himself and the society that discriminates against him, for the other, a way of connecting to God.

The movie begins with the memorial service for Harold Abrahams, and then goes back to his first day at Cambridge, just after World War I. A speaker reminds the entering class that they must achieve for themselves and for those who were lost in the war. Abrahams is a bit arrogant, but finds friends and impresses the whole university by being the first to meet a long-term challenge and race all the way around the quad within the twelve strokes of the clock at noon.

Liddell is deeply committed to missionary work. But when his sister asks him to give up running so that he can go with her, he explains that “I believe God made me for a purpose. He also made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure.”

Abrahams is devastated when he loses to Liddell, saying he won’t race unless he can win. But his girlfriend reminds him that he can’t win unless he races. Both Abrahams and Liddell make the Olympic team. There is a crisis when Liddell’s event is scheduled for a Sunday, because he will not run on the Sabbath. But Lord Lindsay (Nigel Havers) graciously allows Liddell his place in a different event, “just for the pleasure of seeing you run,” and both Liddell and Abrahams win.

Both of the athletes must make difficult choices with a great deal of opposition. One uses a coach (who isn’t even English), in defiance of tradition and expectations. The other resists the urging of his sister, the person he loves most, who wants him to quit racing and defies the Prince of Wales, who wants him to race on the Sabbath.

One of the themes of the movie is the problems that the Jewish athlete has dealing with the prejudice of society. The other athlete has to confront the conflict between the dictates of his religion and the requirements of the sport (including the entreaties of the heir to the throne) when he is asked to compete on the Sabbath.

Families who watch this movie should talk about these questions: Why was running so important to these men? Was it different for different athletes? Why does Harold Abrahams think of quitting when he loses to Liddell? Have you ever felt that way? What did you do? Why doesn’t Eric’s sister want him to race? Why does he race despite her objections? Why don’t the teachers at Harold Abraham’s school think it is appropriate to have a coach? Would anyone think that today?

This movie deservedly won the Oscars for best picture, screenplay, costume design, and music.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy a two-part made for television miniseries called “The First Olympics — Athens 1896,” about the American team entering the first modern Olympics in 1896. It features Louis Jourdan (of “Gigi”), David Caruso (of the original cast of television’s “NYPD Blue”) and David Ogden Stiers (of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast”). While it does not have the resonance and meaning (or the production values) of “Chariots of Fire,” it is heartwarming, funny, exciting, and a lovely period piece. Not currently available on video, it usually shows up on television around the time of Olympic competitions. An extremely silly movie about the first modern Olympics is “It Happened in Athens,” with Jayne Mansfield and real-life Olympic athlete Bob Mathias.

“Miracle on Ice,” another made for television movie, is the true story of the 1980 U.S. hockey team, which astonished the world at the Olympics in Lake Placid. Yet another Olympic made for television movie, “The Golden Moment,” is the story of a romance between a Soviet gymnast and an American athlete. Its primary charm is the fact that it takes place at an Olympics in which, in real life, the U.S. never competed — that was the year the U.S. protested the Soviet invasion of Afganistan by boycotting the Moscow Olympics.

See also “Cool Runnings” about the 1988 Jamaican bobsled team, “The Bob Mathias Story,” with the real-life decathalon champion playing himself, “The Jesse Owens Story,” with Dorian Harewood as the legendary athlete, and “Babe” with Susan Clark as Babe Deidrickson Zaharias.

On the silly side, try “Animalympics,” an animated spoof of the Olympics with some comical moments, and the very funny “Million Dollar Legs,” with W.C. Fields as the President of Klopstockia, a country entering the Olympics.

And of course Bud Greenspan’s documentaries about the Olympics are always worth watching, for the stories and the personalities as much as for the athletic achievements.

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Based on a true story Classic Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week For Your Netflix Queue Movie Mom’s Top Picks for Families Spiritual films Sports

Love and Basketball

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

About eighty percent love and twenty percent basketball, this is a romance about two basketball-loving kids who go one-on-one in both games for almost twenty years before they get it right.

The movie is divided into quarters, like a basketball game. Monica moves next door to Quincy when they are both 11. He is so affronted by her skill at making baskets that he knocks her to the ground — and so impressed that he asks her to be his girl. They kiss for an agreed-upon five seconds, and then break up when they argue over whether he gets to be the boss.

Seven years later, they are seniors in high school, and both star players. Monica (Sanaa Lathan) and Quincy (Omar Epps) are friends, very aware of each other, but awkward at expressing their feelings. He is heavily recruited, but opportunities for girl players are more limited. At the last minute, she gets recruited, too. On the night of the prom, they acknowledge how they feel about each other and become intimate.

At USC, they each face challenges. Quincy learns that the father he respects has not been honest. Monica must deal with a demanding coach and with competition from teammates. They part, and Quincy drops out of school to play professional basketball. In the last quarter, they meet again, for one last chance at love and basketball.

Writer/director Gina Prince-Blythewood has crafted a nice, old-fashioned story. There are a few modern touches, like Monica’s independence in addressing the conflicts between her love for Quincy and her love for basketball, but it is surprisingly traditional in structure and outcome. For example, Quincy is permitted to have had many romantic encounters, but Monica, our heroine, is as hopelessly devoted to her one love as Olivia Newton-John was in “Grease.” And when she sees Quincy again, years after their college break-up, she apologizes to him for leaving him when he was upset so that she could get back to the dorm before her curfew. She says, “I should have been there for you. But I didn’t know how to do that and be all about ball.” There is also a “Star is Born” element as Monica becomes successful as Quincy is having difficulty.

Monica and Quincy must also resolve standard-issue family conflicts. Monica feels unappreciated by her mother (a criminally underused Alfre Woodard), who is happy to be a very traditional housewife and subordinate her life to her family. It turns out that Monica’s mother feels unappreciated too. Quincy’s father, a professional basketball player, turns out to be less than the hero Quincy thought he was. Quincy says to him, “How come you couldn’t be the man you kept trying to make me?” Both must learn to forgive their parents for not being perfect before they can truly become adults.

It is especially nice to see a movie with a primarily black cast that has a genuine feel for the culture but avoids the usual clichés. Monica and Quincy live in an upper middle class neighborhood and each has two loving parents.

Parents should know that the movie has strong sexuality for a PG-13, including descriptions of some sexually aggressive women, a strip basketball game and a scene of Monica and Quincy having sex that has no nudity but is fairly explicit. (It also includes the use of a condom.) A character is accused of fathering a child out of wedlock. Quincy’s father admits that he married Quincy’s mother because she was pregnant. A character gets drunk when she finds out that her husband has been unfaithful. A mother slaps a grown child.

Families who see this movie should talk about how people reconcile the demands of love, family, and career, and why it is that Monica and Quincy had so much trouble telling each other how they felt. Teenagers may also want to talk about the different views Monica and Quincy had of their relationship at different ages, and how the key element linking them through all of them was not basketball but friendship.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy a very different basketball movie, “Hoosiers,” about a 1950’s championship high school team, and a very different romantic movie, “Claudine.”

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Romance Sports

Rocky

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

Plot: Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) is a sweet-natured but not very bright boxer and small-time enforcer for a loan-shark. He has a crush on Adrian (Talia Shire), the painfully shy sister of his friend, Pauly (Burt Young). Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) is the heavyweight champion, whose big upcoming fight is canceled when his opponent is injured. Creed and his promoters decide to give an unknown a shot at the title, and pick Rocky.

Rocky has never really committed to anything before, but this opportunity galvanizes him. He works with Mickey (Burgess Meredith) a demanding trainer. He takes Adrian on a date, and they fall in love. When her brother becomes furious over their relationship, she moves in with Rocky. Rocky knows he cannot beat Creed; his goal is to “go the distance,” to conduct himself with class and dignity in the ring and still be standing at the end of the fight. Apollo, sure of himself and busy marketing the fight, neglects his own training. Apollo wins, but it is a split decision. Rocky goes the distance. Surrounded by fans and the press, he bellows over and over “Adrian!”

Discussion: In Rocky’s first fight, we get a glimpse of his potential. But it is also clear he has failed to make a commitment to anything. Mickey wants to throw him out of the gym because he doesn’t take boxing seriously enough. It is less an insult to boxing than an insult to himself. He takes pride in small things, like his pet turtles, and the fact that his nose has never been broken. When he gets the call from Apollo, he assumes that he is going to be invited to be a sparring partner for the champion, the greatest honor he could imagine for himself.

But Apollo’s impetuous offer gives Rocky a chance to see himself differently. That offer does for him what Paul does for Billie in “Born Yesterday,” what Miss Moffat does for Morgan in “The Corn is Green,” or Obi-Wan does for Luke in “Star Wars.” Rocky has a chance to think of himself as someone who can hold his own with the world champion, and once he has that image of himself, it is just a matter of taking the steps to get there. That image also gives him the courage to risk getting close to Adrian. Rocky also gives Adrian a chance to see herself differently. He was told when he was young that he was not smart, so he should concentrate on his physical ability; she was told she was not pretty, and should concentrate on her mental ability. Each of them sees in the other what no one else did. He sees how pretty she is; she sees how bright he is; each sees the other as loveable, as no one has before. This, as much as anything, is what allows both of them to bloom.

Rocky is realistic about his goal. He does not need to win. He just needs to acquit himself with dignity, to show that he is in the same league as the champion. In order to achieve that goal, he will risk giving everything he has, risk even the small pride of an unbroken nose. He develops enough self-respect to risk public disgrace. This is a big issue for teenagers — adolescence has been characterized as the years in which everything centers around the prayer, “God, don’t let me be embarrassed today.” Rocky begins as someone afraid to give his best in case it is not good enough, and becomes someone who suspects that his best is enough to achieve his goals, and is willing to test himself to find out.

It is worth taking a look at Creed as well. Like the hare in the Aesop fable, he underestimates his opponent. He is so sure of himself, and so busy working on the business side of the fight that he comes to the fight unprepared.

It is especially meaningful that the action behind the scenes paralleled that in the movie. Stallone, a small-time actor, was offered a great deal of money for this script, which he wrote. But he insisted instead on selling it for a negligible sum, provided that he play the lead. The entire movie was made for less than $1 million. Stallone beat even longer odds than Rocky did when the movie went on to win the Oscar as Best Picture. Stallone also became only the third person in history (after Charles Chaplin and Orson Welles) to be nominated for both Best Actor and Best Screenplay.

Questions for Kids:

· Why did Mickey want to throw Rocky out of the gym?

· Why didn’t Rocky have higher aspirations, until after he got the offer from Apollo?

· How is Apollo like the hare in the fable about the tortoise and the hare? Why is it so hard for Rocky and Adrian to get to know one another?

Connections: There are four sequels, all increasingly garish and cartoonish. They are barely more than remakes, and are only for die-hard fans.

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Drama Series/Sequel Sports
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