An Olympic Film Review: Blades of Glory (dir by Josh Gordon and Will Speck)


All good things must come to an end and the Winter Olympics have done just that.  Tonight, here in the States, NBC will wrap up their coverage of the Games and they’ll broadcast the Closing Ceremonies.  As NBC tends to do, they’ll pretend that they’re broadcasting live but the truth of the matter is that the Winter Games are over and now we’ll have to wait two years for the far-less exciting Summer Games.

I enjoyed the Winter Olympics this year.  I was one of those obsessive people who would watch all of the recaps at one in the morning.  Medal-wise, Norway dominated with a total of 39 medals.  The United States came in fourth with only 23 medals but that’s still 22 more medals than Latvia got!  (Just kidding, we love you, Latvia!)  Overall, though, it was a pretty good Olympics.

That said, there were a few things missing.

For instance, no one attempted to recreate JFK’s affair with Marilyn Monroe on ice.  I thought that was definitely a missed opportunity.

There weren’t any frantic chase scenes.  No mascots were injured over the course of the Olympics.  I guess we should be happy about that, all things considered.  Still, it’s hard not to feel that this break with Olympic tradition left something lacking in the games.

Finally, none of the skating routines featured the risk of decapitation.  Again, I guess this is a good thing.  I mean, we really don’t want to see anyone lose their head, especially not when the games are being broadcast across the world.  But again, it was hard not to feel that lack of the Iron Lotus was unfortunate.

In short, the Winter Olympics may have been good but they were nothing like the 2007 film, Blades of Glory. 

Blades of Glory tells the story of two very different ice skaters.  Jon Heder is Jimmy McElroy, who was adopted by a hyper-competitive, kinda creepy millionaire (William Fichtner) and practically raised to become a gold medalist.  Will Ferrell is Chazz Michael Michaels, who is a hard-drinking, hard-living, sex addict.  Jimmy is all about technical perfection.  He’s a non-threatening, almost child-like celebrity, the type who has earned himself his own obsessive stalker (Nick Swardson).  Chazz is, on the other hand, is a self-styled rock star, as well as being something of an idiot.  In 2002, when they both tie for the gold, they get into an argument that 1) leads to a mascot getting set on fire, 2) brings shame upon the “World Winter Games,” and 3) leads to them getting banned from men’s single competition.

But, as Jimmy’s stalker figures out, that doesn’t mean that they can’t compete in pair skating!  The former rivals may loathe each other but it’s either that or a future of skating in cheap ice shows and working in retail!  Under the guidance of their burned-out coach (Craig T. Nelson), Jimmy and Chazz learn to work together.  And what better way to win the gold than to do an extremely dangerous maneuver that could potentially lead to one of them losing his head?

However, not everyone is happy to see Chazz and Jimmy return to competition.  The reigning champions — Straz and Fairchild Van Waldenberg (Amy Poehler and Will Arnett, who were still married when they played creepy siblings in this film) — have no intention of allowing themselves to be upstaged.  And if that means using their younger sister (Jenna Fischer) to try to drive a wedge between Chazz and Jimmy, so be it…

So, obviously, Blades of Glory is not a serious look at the world of ice skating.  The plot is really just an excuse to highlight the absurdity of putting people who clearly don’t belong there on the ice.  This is another Will Ferrell comedy where the majority of the laughs come from the absolute dedication that Ferrell brings to playing an almost absurdly stupid human being.  Ferrell has the ability to deliver even the most nonsensical of dialogue with total sincerity and conviction.  In Blades of Glory, he’s well-matched by Jon Heder, who brings his own odd style to the role of Jimmy.  If Ferrell is all about aggressive stupidity, Jon Heder is all about impish stupidity and it becomes surprisingly compelling to see whose stupidity will ultimately win it.

While it never quite reaches the highs of Anchorman, Blades of Glory is still a funny movie.  It made me laugh and that’s always a good thing.

A Winter Game Film Review: Goon: Last of the Enforcers (dir by Jay Baruchel)


Here at the Shattered Lens, Leonard Wilson is our resident hockey expert.  He can tell you all about the in and outs of the game in general and the New York Rangers in specific.

Myself, I know very little about hockey.  Here’s what I do know:

  1. It’s played on the ice and with a puck.
  2. There are a lot of fights.
  3. All of my Canadian friends love it.
  4. It’s a sport that is mentioned many times on Degrassi.
  5. Two hockey players won the 22nd season of The Amazing Race.
  6. Back in 2011, I followed Arleigh’s suggestion and watched a hockey movie called Goon.  Surprisingly, I really, really liked it.

Six years ago, I started my review of Goon by admitting that I didn’t know anything hockey so not much has changed.  However, while I still may not know much about hockey, I am currently obsessed with the Winter Olympics.  And, of course, hockey is a big part of the Winter Games.  Since I’m currently watching movies about winter sports, today seemed like the perfect time to watch 2016’s Goon: The Last of The Enforcers and get caught up on the story of Doug Glatt.

Who is Doug Glatt?  As played by Seann William Scott, Doug Glatt is probably one of the nicest guys that you could ever hope to meet.  He’s not particularly smart.  He’s the type who responds to almost comment with a slightly confused smile.  He tend to take things literally.  But he’s a genuinely sweet guy and it’s impossible not to like him.

Except, of course, when he’s on the ice.  Doug is a semi-pro hockey player, playing for the Halifax Highlanders.  Even his biggest fans will admit that Doug isn’t the best hockey player of all time.  However, no one can throw a punch like he can.  Doug’s an enforcer.  His specialty is beating up the opposing team.  When his coach (Kim Coates) needs to intimidate the other team, he sends Doug out with orders to beat someone up.  Doug has no problem breaking someone’s nose but he usually apologizes afterward.  He’s known as The Thug.

Doug is married to Eva (Allison Pill), who loves hockey but, now that she’s pregnant, she worries about Doug getting seriously injured.  These worries come true when Doug gets into a fight with Anders Cain (Wyatt Russell), a fearsome enforcer on another team.  (Anders just happens to be the son of the owner of the Highlanders.)  Cain not only leaves Doug crumpled up on the ice but he also injures Doug’s right shoulder, making it difficult for Doug to throw a punch with his right hand.  It appears that Doug’s playing days are over.  Doug ends up working in the storage room of an insurance company while the Highlanders continue on without him.  Adding insult to injury, Anders is soon signed by the Highlanders and given Doug’s old position as team captain.

As much as Doug tries to move on, he keeps finding himself drawn back to hockey.  When he runs into a former rival, Ross Rhea (Liev Schreiber), who is now making a living as a glorified gladiator, Doug realizes that he can learn how to fight with his left fist.  But with Eva not wanting him to fight anymore, Doug is forced to decide which team he’s going to play for, the Highlanders or his family?

Especially when compared to the first Goon, Goon: Last of the Enforcers is an extremely busy film.  Beyond Doug trying to adjust to life off the ice, the film also deals with Anders Cain’s relationship with his father, the locker room shenanigans of the Highlanders, Ross Rhea’s attempt to make a comeback, and the antics of obnoxious sports reporter Chad Bailey (T.J. Miller).  That’s a lot for one film to deal with and it’s not surprising that the end result is an uneven mishmash of raunchy comedy and sports-themed melodrama.  Whereas the first Goon worked because it kept things simple and sincere, Goon: Last of the Enforcers is way too complicated for its own good.

That said, as played by Seann William Scott, Doug is just as likable as he was in the first film and Scott and Allison Pill still make for an adorable couple.  In fact, the entire cast does a pretty good job, especially Wyatt Russell and Liev Schreiber.  The film doesn’t really work but, for fans of the first film, it’s still enjoyable enough.  If nothing else, it’s nice to see how things work out for Doug Glatt.

An Olympic Film Review: Cool Runnings (dir by Jon Turtletaub)


Like all good people, I am currently obsessed with the Winter Olympics.  Earlier this week, I asked some of my closest friends if they could recommend some good films about the Winter Games.  Almost everyone who replied recommended that I check out Cool Runnings, a film from 1993.

So, I did.

And I’m glad that I did.

Cool Runnings is one of those sports movies that’s based on a true story, though I imagine it’s probably a very loose adaptation.  Jamaica is a country with a long and proud Olympic history.  Since the 1948 Summer Olympics, Jamaican athletes have won a total of 77 medals, the majority of them in individual and relay sprinting events.  However, Jamaica didn’t compete in the Winter Olympics until 1988, when the Jamaican Bobsled Team made their debut.  According to contemporary news reports, the Jamaicans were folk heroes at the ’88 Winter Games and other teams would frequently help them out by lending them equipment.  Though the Jamaicans were never really a medal contender, they were personally popular and everyone was upset when their bobsled crashed during one of their qualifying runs.

That, of course, isn’t exactly the story that’s told in Cool Runnings.  In Cool Runnings, the Jamaican bobsled team is ridiculed by all of the snobs on the other teams, with the Germans especially going out of their way to be condescending.  Their first run is a disaster but their second run puts them into medal contention and causes people all over the world to spontaneously break into applause.  It’s a sports film, after all.  For a sports film to work, there has to be adversity before there can be victory.  Cool Runnings does stick close enough to the real story that the Jamaicans do end up crashing their sled.  However, in the film version, the team proudly carries their bobsled over the finish line while, again, people all around the world applaud.  Even a woman with a Russian flag claps.  And yes, it’s all pretty hokey but who cares?  It made me cry.

It’s a well-done film, one that is unapologetically sentimental and all the better for it.  Before I watched the film, I didn’t know anything about how the bobsled worked, beyond the fact that it involved four people and that everyone had to jump into the sled after launching it.  But, ultimately, it didn’t matter that I didn’t know much about bobsledding.  From the moment that film started, with scenes of aspiring Olympians running across sunny Jamaica, it had my attention.

When the film starts, Derice Bannock (Leon Robinson) is hoping to compete in the Summer Olympics but, at the qualifying trial, Derice and another runner, Yul Brenner (Malik Yorba), end up tripping over yet another runner, the likable and enthusiastic Junior Bevil (Rawle D. Lewis).  Out of contention for the Summer Olympics, Derice decides to try to find a way to go to the Winter Olympics.  Fortunately, there’s a former Olympic bobsledder, Irv Blitzer (John Candy), living nearby and Derice’s best friend, Sanka (Doug E. Doug) is a champion push cart racer.

The film follows Irv and the four Jamaicans on their unlikely journey to Canada.  It’s a comedy with a dramatic heart.  Yes, Sanka may need help getting his helmet over his hair (“Thanks, coach,” he says whenever Irv pounds down the helmet) but the film also takes the time to explore why it’s so important for these four to compete in the first place.  It might be tempting to make fun of Yul Brenner when he talks about how he wants to live in Buckingham Palace but the film makes clear just how important this improbable dream is for Yul and everyone else.  No one may give the Jamaican bobsled team a chance but Jamaica never stops believing in them.

It’s an incredibly sweet little movie, featuring likable performances and a heart-warming story.  I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a good sports story.

A Kind of Olympic Film Review: Cloud 9 (dir by Paul Hoen)


Technically, 2014’s Cloud 9 is not an Olympics film.  Though it is a sports film and deals with a big competition and features a lot of talk about winning gold medals and all that good stuff, the film doesn’t take place at the Olympics.  Instead, it takes place at the annual “Fire and Ice” snowboarding competition in Summit Valley.

But let’s be honest.  Would I have watched this movie if not for the fact that I’m currently obsessed with the Winter Olympics?  Probably not.  Would the film have been made in the first place if not for the 2014 Sochi Games?  Again, probably not.  Cloud 9 may not take place during the Olympics but it might as well.

Cloud 9 was made for the Disney Channel, with everything that suggests.  It’s not a dramatic or realistic examination of the world of competitive snowboarding but then again, it never claims to be.  Instead, it’s a cute little romantic comedy about falling in love, pursuing your dreams, and not allowing your life to be determined by an overbearing parental figure.

Kayla Morgan (Dove Cameron) is a part of the Swift snowboarding team.  Since the Swift Team is known as the best in Summit Valley, that therefore makes Kayla the best.  At least, that’s what Kayla believes.  Of course, a lot of other people believe that Kayla isn’t that good and the only reason she’s been given a place on the team is because her father (Patrick Fabian) owns the local resort.

Kayla is also dating Nick Swift (Mike C. Manning), the son of Coach Sebastian Swift (Jeffrey Nordling).  Coach Swift is about as evil as you would expect someone named Sebastian Swift to be.  He believes in victory at all costs and he relentlessly pushes his son to be the best.  Coach Swift has reached the conclusion that the Swift Team will never be the best as long as Kayla is a member.  He tells his son to take care of it…

OH MY GOD, IS NICK GOING TO MURDER KAYLA!?

No, don’t worry.  Things never go that far.  Instead, Nick and the members of Team Swift frame Kayla for destroying an old sign.  When the sign collapses, it also manages to destroy a sled belonging to Will (Luke Benward).  Will used to be a champion snow boarder, until he attempted to pull off a new move called the Cloud 9.  Not only did Luke fail to pull off that move but he also broke his leg and ended up as the star of a YouTube video called “Epic Fail.”  Now, Will works at his family’s dog kennel.

And soon, Kayla is working at the dog kennel as well!  Her parents are willing to pay for the sign but Kayla is going to have to replace the sled herself.  Even worse, she gets kicked off the Swift Team…

So, what do you think happens?  Do you think Kayla eventually learns humility as a result of having to take care of a bunch of dogs?  Do you think Nick dumps Kayla?  Do you think Kayla and Will are going to fall in love and then form their own team to compete in the Fire and Ice competition?

Well, yes, all of that happens.  Of course, it does.  There’s not a single surprising moment to be found in Cloud 9 but it’s a sweet-natured movie and Dove Cameron and Luke Benward make for a cute couple.  Some of the snowboarding footage is impressive.  It was a nice and inoffensive way to spend 90 minutes.  When it comes to a movie like this, that’s all you can really ask for.

An Olympic Film Review: Downhill Racer (dir by Michael Ritchie)


For the past few days, like all good people, I have been totally obsessed with the Winter Olympics!  Last week, I asked my friends to suggest some Winter Olympic-themed movies that I could watch and review.  More than a few of them immediately recommended that I check out a film called Downhill Racer.

First released in 1969, Downhill Racer tells the story of David Chappellet (a very young and very handsome Robert Redford).  When we first meet David, he’s just arrived in Switzerland.  An alternate to the U.S. ski team, David has been summoned by Coach Eugene Claire (Gene Hackman) to replace an injured skier.  From the minute that David arrives, it’s obvious that he’s not interested in being anyone’s friend.  He’s upset that he was an alternate.  He’s upset that he’s going to be skiing so late in the competition.  He’s upset about … well, almost everything.  Unlike the rest of his teammates, he’s a loner and he rarely has much to say.  He cares about one thing: winning championships and being recognized as the best.  David is not a particularly likable character.  However, the fact that he doesn’t seem to care what anyone thinks about him is one of the things that makes him compelling.  Add to that, David quickly proves himself to be one of the best.  He may be arrogant but, more often than not, he can back up his pride.

Why is David so driven?  We get some clues when David returns to his hometown in Idaho.  Even though everyone in the town knows him and he doesn’t have any trouble convincing a former girlfriend to go off with him, David still seems out-of-place.  When he visits his father, the taciturn man is not impressed by David’s success.  As his father puts it, the world is full of champions.  Why should David deserve any more praise than anyone else?

Standing in contrast to the reservered David is Coach Claire.  Whereas David is reserved, Claire is passionate.  Whereas David is an unapologetic loner, Claire is willing to fight for every member of his team.  Whereas David reacts to a crash by refusing to accept that he made a mistake, Coach Claire is always brutally honest.  David couldn’t be a champion without Claire’s help but, in the end, the Coach is destined to remain in the background while David signs lucrative sponsorship deals and becomes a hero to television viewers everywhere.

It’s a familiar story, though perhaps it wasn’t as familiar in 1969 as it is today.  Today, we’ve grown accustomed to the idea that celebrities can be jerks and that “heroes” are often just manufactured idols.  (Downhill Racer has a good deal of fun with the shallowness of the media’s coverage of David Chappellett’s career.)  That said, familiar or not, there’s a good deal of authenticity to be found in the performances of both Redford and Hackman.  It takes a bit of courage to play a character who is as narcissistic and arrogant as David Chappellett but, even more so, it takes talent to make that character compelling.  As for Hackman, he’s the ideal coach.  He knows both how to get the best out of Chappellett but also when to call him out on his crap.  From the minute we meet the Coach, we knows that he cares but we also know that he’s seen a lot of David Chappelletts come and go over the years.

Of course, the main reason to watch Downhill Racer is because of the racing scenes, many of which were filmed as a point-of-view shot, putting you in the skis as the frozen landscape flies past you.  They are amazing to watch.  I’ve never been skiing, which is probably a good thing when you consider that I’m a bit accident-prone.  But the skiing sequences in Downhill Racer left me breathless, shaken, and exhilarated.

Downhill Racer is definitely one to watch, during the Olympics or any other time.

An Olympic Film Review: Miracle (dir by Gavin O’Connor)


(Back in 2011, Chris Mead — who wrote under the name Semtex Skittle — reviewed Miracle for this site.  At the that time, I had not seen the film.  Below are my thoughts but please, also be sure to read Chris’s review as well.)

 

Like all good people, I’m currently obsessed with the Winter Olympics.  Earlier this week I asked a couple of friends if they could recommend some good Winter Olympics movies.  A lot of movies were suggested but, without fail, everyone thought I should see Miracle.  (A lot of people also suggested Cool Runnings, which I’ll be watching next week.)  Having watched Miracle earlier today, I can see why everyone recommended it.

The year is 1980 and two hockey teams are about to face off at the Winter Olympics in upstate New York.  (The location, to be exact, is Lake Placid.  Fortunately, the giant alligators are nowhere to be seen.)

On one side you have the Russian team (or the Soviets as they were known back then).  They are widely considered to be one of the greatest hockey teams in history.  They are big, fierce, and determined.  Coming from a system that has declared individuality to be a crime against the state, the Soviet team plays like a machine.  The Soviets have won the gold in the last four Olympics.  As one American coach puts it, their greatest strength is that every other hockey team in the world is terrified of them.

On the other side, you have the American team.  However, this isn’t the type of American dream team that one would expect to see today.  In 1980, professional athletes were not allowed to compete on the U.S. Olympic team.  Instead, the 1980 hockey team is made up of amateurs and college players.  Unlike the Soviet teams, the American don’t have a government that grooms and supports them.  Instead, win or lose, they have to do it on their own.

Of course, it’s not just two hockey teams that are about to face off.  It’s also two super powers and two very different ways of life.  In 1980, the U.S. and the Soviet Union were the two most powerful rivals in the world.  The Soviets were trapped in an endless and unpopular war in Afghanistan.  Meanwhile, in the U.S., the economy was shaky, American citizens were being held hostage in Iran, and an ineffective President gave long-winded speeches about how unhappy everyone in the country appeared to be.  Both countries needed a victory but only one could win.

And it would take a miracle for that winning team to be American…

I don’t think it requires a spoiler alert to tell you that’s exactly what happens.  I mean, after all, I’m reviewing a film  called Miracle!  On top of that, it’s based on true events.  The U.S. hockey team — made up of college students and led by Coach Herb Brooks (played, in one of his best performance, by Kurt Russell) — not only managed to defeat the highly favored Soviet team but they went on to win the gold medal.

Even if you didn’t know that the Americans beat the Russians, you would never have any doubt about how Miracle is going to end.  Miracle is a film that utilizes almost every sports film cliché but it manages to do so with such sincerity and such style that you don’t mind the fact that the movie doesn’t exactly take you by surprise.  Is there any actor who is as good at project sincerity and human decency as Kurt Russell?  Whenever he says that he’s going to make his team into champions, you believe him.  When he says that he’s being hard on them because he wants them to be the best, you never doubt him or his techniques.  When he says that he’s proud of his team and his country, it brings tears to your eyes.  If there’s ever a movie that deserves a chant of “USA!  USA!  USA!,” it’s Miracle.

Film Review: The Cutting Edge: Fire and Ice (dir by Stephen Herek)


 

Right now, like all good people, I am totally obsessed with the Winter Olympics.  The skiing, the figure skating, the bobsleds, the luge .. even that silly speed skating thing that they do.  For the next two weeks, I’ll be loving all of it.  Last night, I not only watched the Opening Ceremonies but I also watched two movies about figure skating: Ice Princess and The Cutting Edge: Fire and Ice!

The Cutting Edge: Fire and Ice tells the story of Alex Delgado (Francia Raisa) and James McKinsey (Brendan Fehr).  Alex used to be a champion figure skater until her partner (both on the ice and in romance) retired.  This led to Alex not only retiring but also breaking up with the man who she thought was the love of her life.  Now, she spends her time teaching children how to skate and not going out on dates.  Her mother worried about Alex.  Not only is she throwing away her dreams but she also appears to be destined to be alone forever.

James was a champion speed skater, until his cocky attitude and his anger management programs got the better of him.  After punching out one of his teammates, James is suspended from speed skating.  However, James and his agent have a plan!  What if James becomes a … figure skater!?  He just needs a good coach and a great partner.  The coach is easy to find.  Zhen Zheng (Zhenhu Han) may not speak English but he loves a challenge and he travels with a translator (Russell Yuen).

But what about finding the right partner?  No one wants to skate with James, especially since everyone assumes that this is all just a publicity stunt until he’s able to get his suspension overturned.  When Alex is first approached about coming out of retirement and partnering up with James, she refuses.  But then, she realizes that, even if she doesn’t like James, she loves to skate and she loves to compete…

It’s not a match made in heaven, for all of the usual PG-13 reasons.  James is cocky and, instead of getting rest before practice, he goes to a party and then he has to skate with a hangover.  Alex is determined and disciplined but she’s afraid to take chances.  When James comes up with a spectacular move, Alex isn’t sure if they should do it or not.  At first, it doesn’t seem like they’ll ever be able to work together but then, things change.  Alex discovers that James loves children.  James discovers that Alex can shoot pool.  Add to that,  they’re the best-looking people in the movie and that means that they’re destined to get together.

The Cutting Edge: Fire and Ice is a film that is all about montages.  The film proves that you can learn anything in a montage.  As long as the right music is playing in the background, you can go from being awkward on the ice to a championship skater in one montage.  You can go from hating each other to being madly in love in montage.  Any questions you may have about the film’s plot can be answered by a montage.

This movie was made for Freeform, back when it was still ABC Family.  So, don’t expect anything too edgy.  At one point, James and Alex play strip poker and are both in their underwear when Alex’s mom drops by.  That’s about as wild as things get.  That said, this was a sweet if predictable movie.  Brendan Fehr and Francia Raisa had a lot of chemistry and the skating scenes were fun to watch.  I liked the fact that Alex refused to put up with anyone’s crap and the film celebrated her for that.  (Just compare this film to the original The Cutting Edge.)  I also liked the fact that James and Alex initially bonded during a bar fight.  Seriously, some of the greatest relationships in the world began with a brawl in a bar.

The Cutting Edge: Fire and Ice was a sweet, little movie.  It won’t change the world but I enjoyed it.