Posts Tagged ‘Sport’

Bloomfield (1970)

Dir: Richard Harris, Uri Zohar | Cast: Richard Harris, Romy Schneider, Kim Burfield, Maurice Kaufmann | UK Drama 97′

Richard Harris made one foray into directing with this  sports drama that drew boos at the Berlin Festival and came home empty-handed at the Golden Globes.

Harris stars alongside Romy Schneider in Bloomfield, also known as The Hero (and the less promising Fallen Idol in Spain) filmed during a drink and drug induced long weekend that lasted over thirty years before he became beloved of a whole generation of youngsters as the original Dumbledore. Suffice to say, his co-director Uri Zohar left the entertainment world shortly afterwards to become a rabbi.

If the words ‘A Richard Harris Film’ didn’t already instil a sense of dread, the credits then declare that it contains ‘Additional Material by Richard Harris’, since the stoned actor took the film over just a few days into production.

It’s not actually too bad, but it’s not very good either, with Romy Schneider completely wasted as Harris’s whiny high-maintenance wife. On paper an Israeli remake of This Sporting Life, it’s actually more like The Champ, with Harris furiously bonding with cute little tyke Kim Burfield, who’d rather be in Brazil since Israel is “a lousy country for football!!” The film, however, is smothered in local colour, along with all the temptations that befall a first-time director: zooms, slow motion, freeze-frames, shots of sunsets and so on. It even has songs; but mercifully not sung by Harris himself but the wonderful Maurice Gibb ! Richard Chatten.





Slalom (2020) Curzon VOD

Dir: Charlène Favier | Writers: Charlène Favier, Marie Talon | Cast: Noée Abita, Jérémie Renier, Marie Denarnaud, Muriel Combeau, Maïra Schmitt, Axel Auriant | France, Drama

Noée Abita made a name for herself in Lea Mysius’ poignant drama Ava (2017) about a girl gradually losing her sight. In Slalom she stars alongside Jérémie Renier in a love story set in the snowy French Alps.

This coming of age sports drama is an impressive debut for writer-director Charlène Favier who made the Cannes 2020 official selection. Abita plays 15-year-old ski professional-in- training Lyz who falls for her sexually voracious power-tripping coach Max (Renier), already in a relationship with another team member (Marie Denarnaud), in a drama that echoes real life cases in the world of tennis and swimming in France and the US.

Favier and her co-writer Talon show how kids of that age are emotionally vulnerable and subject to hero-worshipping in a world where their collaborative and professional relationship is particularly vital, especially when they have little support from their parents. In this case her mother (Muriel Combeau) makes a new boyfriend a priority, rather than the stability and wellbeing of her daughter who she abandons to rush off on a romantic break over Christmas. Lyz is understanding heartbroken. But not for long.

Deftly interweaving the heart-pumping slalom competitions that will shape her into an Olympic hopeful, and the intense love story at its core, this snowbound affair is as hot as they come – especially when its focus is first love – set in the spectacular mountain scenery of the French Alps where Yann Maritaud creates a real sense of drama on the sparking icebound slopes and frosty moonlit nights-capes not to mention those intimate close-ups.

Lyz experiences a whirlwind of emotions from anxiety surrounding her sporting prowess, to confusion in lust-ridden days of wondering whether Max will be there for her in bed – and on the slopes. Of course, we can all see Max’s own adrenalin- fuelled turmoil as he barks orders, and commands his star pupil’s respect, while being confused by his own feelings.

Abita is terrific as she gradually develops stamina, independence and self-belief – physically, as well as mentally – straining every core of her body to reach peak performance, Her gamine insecurity gathers storm as she develops a fierce sense of pride and integrity. If there was ever a drama perfect for teenage girls – (or adult girls who’ve already been there) this is it!.MT

ON CURZON VOD from 12 February 2021





Athlete A (2020) **** Netflix

Dir.: Bonni Cohen, Jon Shenk | With Maggie Nichols, Rachael Denhollander, Jessia Howard, Jamie Dantzsher; US Doc 2020, 104 min.

Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk (Audrey&Daisy) get behind the camera for this worthwhile documentary that chronicles the ongoing sexual abuse of members of the USA Gymnastic team. The person responsible was none other that their trusted team physician Dr. Larry Nassar, who got a custodial sentence of 121 years in 2017 for molesting over a hundred young women. The feature is shot from the perspective of the investigating journalists of the Indianapolis Star, whose efforts are the basis for this documentary.

But the inquiry also uncovered complaints against 54 coaches were made during a course of many years. The President and CEO of USA Gymnastics , Steve Penny (who resigned and awaits trial), helped to cover up the abuses – and he was not alone. But if there is one weak point of the documentary, it pins the entire blame on Penny as the evil mastermind – in reality the whole organisation has to take the rap for the systemic abuse.

The account of survivors make heart-breaking listening: there is Maggie Nichols (the titular Athlete A, named so after her complaint which was followed by blackballing her); Rachael Denhollander; Jamie Dantzscher and Jessica Howard, their stories telling not only the actual abuse but the cover-up which went on for over a decade. Dantzscher states she was so proud of being an Olympian, but after Nassar abused her during the games in 2000, she associated the Olympics with this vestige of shame.

But this is also a story of the Cold War: Until the end of Stalinism in 1989, gymnasts from the Warsaw pact countries had dominated the sport. In 1981, Bela and Marta Karolyi, Hungarian-born coaches of the Romanian national gymnastic team (along with their choreographer Geza Poszar) defected to the USA. They had been responsible for the success of Nadia Comaneci among others. The Karolyis installed themselves in a training facility near Huntsville, Texas, which closed in 2018. They have both been sued for being part of the Nassar cover-up. There is a clip in Athlete A, with Marta Karolyi (who retired in 2016) admitting her awareness of  Nassar’s abuse at the “Ranch”. Poszar admitted the method of working with the young athletes “was total control over the girls.” Coaches, not only the Karolyis, abused the gymnasts verbally, emotionally and physically: they were slapped, and told that they were fat.

The norm for female gymnasts was to be 5.4 feet and anorexic. Poszar also claimed these method were acceptable in Romania – and obviously in the USA too. The gymnasts in the Huntsville were isolated, parents were not allowed to visit, the gymnasts were forbidden to phone friends or relatives outside the facilities. Former USA National Team gymnast Jennifer Sey (one of he co-producers of the feature), author of “Chalked Up” talked about merciless coaching, overzealous parents, eating disorders and above all, the dream of Olympic Gold. The line between coaching and abuse gets blurred, Athletes were often forced to compete in spite of serious injuries. We watch Kerri Strug winning a Gold Medal at the 1996 Olympics despite a severe ankle injury. But medals meant good business for the USA Team and their CEO Steve Perry.

Perhaps the most saddening statement comes from one of the victims: “Dr. Nassar was the nicest grown-up in the camp”. This most damning sentence calls for a complete reassessment of the next gymnastic competition in the sporting calendar. Shot with a lively camera by Jon Shenk, Athlete A is  another eye-opener: the perverted drive for Olympic medals, reducing young women to “little girls” to be objectified and abused, is just another example of the male gaze and its horrifying consequences, finally emerging after decades of cover-ups. AS


Permission | Aragh-E-Sard (2018) ****

Dir.: Soheil Beiraghi; Cast: Baran Kosari, Amir Jadidi, Sahar Dowlatshahi, Leili Rashidi, Hoda Zeinolabedin, Abbas Moosavi; Iran 2018, 88 min.

Best known for her debut feature Me, Soheil Beiraghi’s second film is based on real events: in Iran, a husband has the legal right to stop his wife from travelling abroad. And this is the case no matter how high profile or successful the woman becomes. At least eight prominent female athletes have fallen foul of this law – not to mention the countless numbers of ordinary women.

Permission plays out like a thriller Beiraghi setting the tone from the opening scenes. The supervisor reminds the national team members about the zero tolerance policy on exposure of female hair or skin – they will be banned if they break this rule. After winning the final qualifier for the finals, the captain of the Iranian Women’s Futsal (indoor football) team, Afrooz (Kosari), joins the players at the airport for the flight to Kuala Lumpur, only to discover she has been grounded: her husband Yaser (Jadidi), a TV presenter, has invoked the law to stop her from travelling. The couple are separated, the relationship irreparable.

Together with her best friend and co-player Masi (Zeinolabedin), Afrooz discusses a strategy to convince her ex to change his mind. This seems to have worked: the suave, reptilian Yaser has signed a document permitting his wife to travel – but in exchange she must give up her half her divorce settlement. Then outside the court, he rips the document to shreds forcing Afrooz to seek help from a feminist lawyer Pantea Aledavood (Rashidi). They argue with Yaser in front of an (unseen) judge, but Yaser is adamant: he simply wants to destroy his wife.

Mostly shot during the hours of darkness Permission sees Afrooz and Masi drive around, hotly pursued through the streets by the angry Yaser: a nightmare of medieval proportions set in the present. For Afrooz the car becomes her home – quite literally, after Yaser throws her belongings out of her flat, changing the locks. She is reduced to an animal in fear of its life. Beiraghi avoids a happy-ending, staying with what is the reality of a society where women are owned by their husbands. Kosari (now blacklisted by Iranian State TV) is brilliant. And there have been few more unlikable villains than Amir Jadidi’s slimy, whining creature who turns into a despicable bully when cornered by his wife.

When Permission opened in cinemas across Iran, Hozeh Honari, a large cultural institution affiliated with the Islamic Propaganda organisation, boycotted the feature. It was not shown in any of Hozeh’s 100-branch cinema chain. And the Iranian State TV, controlled by hard-liners, did not broadcast the trailer. The only consolation for the filmmakers is that the film has gone viral on social media, and has now become a protest watch for vast number of Iranians, and not just women. AS




Diego Maradona (2019) ****

Asif Kapadia | Doc, UK 120′

Asif Kapadia completes his trilogy about child geniuses and how they handle fame with this portrait of star who is still very much alive. The trio started with Senna (2010) that depicted the life and death of the Brazilian motor-racing champion. His biopic Amy went on to win an Oscar and became the highest grossing British documentary after its Cannes premiere in 2015, and was even more popular than his debut doc. Himself a football fanatic Kapadia is clearly fascinated by the Argentine soccer legend’s charisma, low cunning and leadership, but mostly by his sheer ability to bounce back from the lows in his career: “He was always the little guy fighting against the system, and he was willing to do anything to use all of his cunning and intelligence to win.” This all footage foray blends over 500 hours of grainy media coverage with home video material to transform Maradona’s story into an adrenaline fuelled two hours that sees the cheeky mummy’s boy from a poor barrio in Buenos Aires transformed into a charismatic winner whose undiluted hubris was bound to send him Icarus-style on a meteoric mission to the sun. Crucially Kapadia’s film is about both sides of the megastar’s personality: the affectionate insecure slumdog and the epic hero who would finally crash to earth. MT


Minding the Gap (2018) ****

Dir: Bing Liu | Doc US, 83′

Skateboarding is the lifeblood and unifying element for a group of young guys in Bing Liu’s terrific Oscar nominated debut.

They all grew up together in Rockford, near Chicago, where Liu began filming their adventures as the boys moved into early adulthood. It seems they all had difficult backgrounds, in one way or another. But Minding the Gap skates over these in its joyful kinetic playfulness.

Bing Liu’s fluid camera keep pace with the sporty action as the boarders refuse to be diminished by their setbacks, each scene froths with energy and alacrity. And even though the stories of family dysfunction and continuing anxiety are shared there is always at positive feel to the encounters. Clearly boarding is a hobby that makes their adrenaline flow with its mix of risk, dexterity and joy de vivre. In the meantime what emerges is a rich social tapestry of contemporary working class youth in all its pain and glory.

Each story slowly emerges through the wizardry of the skateboarding sequences as Zack Mulligan and his girlfriend Nina, Keire Johnson and the Liu himself share a common experience of camaraderie and togetherness that gets them through the days and offers focus on their lives and futures.

Keire had a controlling father who is now dead. Liu’s life was dominated by a coercive bullying father who manhandled his mother and took away his confidence. Zack has just become a father with his girlfriend Nina, but they are too young and marked by their own difficult childhoods to fall into parenthood easily, and there are trust and vulnerability issues at play, which gradually become resolved in the final segment.

There is a freshness and an appealing innocence to all these encounters. And  combined with the upbeat tone of the documentary Minding the Gap makes for a satisfying and enjoyable experience. MT


Ringside (2019) *** Berlinale 2019 | Generation plus

Dir.: Andre Hörmann; Documentary featuring Kenneth Sims jr. and Destyne Butler jr.; USA/Germany 2019, 95 min.

Chicago’s South Side is notorious for its gang warfare and shootings. But for some whose only strength is in their fists, there is salvation. Andre Hörmann (Seanna – Alone in Hollywood) follows two young boxers from the notorious South Side of Chicago from their youthful exploits at the turn of the century to their professional dream of the present. The way their lives developed could not be more different.

Born in 1993, Kenneth Sims was trained by his father Kenneth sr, and both aim for the Olympics in 2012 via the US trials. Destyne Butler jr., two years younger than Kenneth, has the same dreams, and and shares them with trainer Nate Jones, a close friend of his father Destyne sr. The fathers are the impetus behind these young men: When Kenneth jr. wants to stop boxing, Dad tells him he can only do it, when he’s good enough. But once success is in the bag, the young man gets the taste of the sport, but he loses a decisive trial fight, and it all ends in tears, the dreams of Olympic glory gone.

But worse is to come for Destyne: charged with a minor offence he ends up spending the next four years in prison, failing to get an early release in “Bootcamp”, where the instructors punish him for ‘showing off’. Destyne sr. was no angel himself: dealing in drugs he managed to earn up to $10 000 a day – getting out before he was caught. “At least I got a house, a car – and you just have a few clothes” he berates his son. Nevertheless, he forgives him, after the young man writes him a letter apologising. Meanwhile, Kenneth jr., supported by his father and mother Norma Alexander, celebrate their son eventually becoming a professional in 2014, the boxer calling himself Bossmann, his  parents will be part of his team. To date he has won fourteen out of sixteen fights, and the family moved out of their one-room flat into a bigger apartment in a better part of town. When Destyne jr. is released from prison in 2018, his boxing skills seems to have suffered terminally, but with the help of his father and trainer he finally makes his successful debut as a professional fighter, going on to win his first bouts. Boxing seems to be the only ticket to get out of the South Side, as Destyne remarks at the end. But the sport also has its casualties: both men having seen several of their competitors die in the ring.

Andre Hörmann develops a close rapport with his protagonists, and DoP Tom Bergmann’s hand-held camera underlines that intimacy. Ringside is an upbeat story with a happy ending, but the director leaves us with no illusions about the fate of the not-so-lucky ones –or indeed the future of Kenneth and Destyne when their boxing careers are over.   

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 7-17 FEBRUARY 2019 | Generation 14 plus

Swimming with Men (2018) **

Dir: Oliver Parker | Writer: Aschlin Ditta | Cast: Charlotte Riley, Rupert Graves, Rob Brydon, Nathaniel Parker,  Adheel Akhtar, Thomas Turgoose, Daniel Mays, Jim Carter | UK Comedy | 96′

Oliver Parker is clearly feeling for middle-aged men. His latest film is a  comedy that means well in tackling marriage breakdown and mid-life crisis from a male perspective. It sees Rob Brydon’s bored accountant Eric driven neurotic by his partner’s new success in politics (Jane Horrocks in fine form), while he sits on the sidelines, a disillusioned accountant – so what’s new?. The only thing that makes Eric happy is a dip in the local swimming baths where he bumps into a motley crew of jaded men also down on their luck, but not all past it. Agreeing to keep their personal lives strictly off-poolside, they gradually begin to find the life aquatic gives them a reason for living again. And limbering up with the encouragement of coach Susan (Charlotte Riley) they discover that swimming in sync is the answer to their woes, but not their flabby waistlines. So off they go to Milan.

Sound great, doesn’t it? And you could see where Parker was coming from. The problem is that the direction and writing are the only things out of sync in a comedy of woes that needed to be much tighter and funnier. There are some heartfelt performance from a brilliant British cast (Christian Rubeck is luminous as the token German),  and you can’t help feeling for these guys, particularly Luke (Rupert Graves) and (Thomas Turgoose). But there are hardly any laughs to be had from Ditta’s script, which mostly just feels embarrassingly over the top, or miserably maudlin, and too many lingering close-ups are nobody’s idea of fun.

SWIMMING WITH MEN | nationwide From July 6.

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