Title: The Damned United
Release Date: 27 March 2009
Director: Tom Hooper
Production Co: Columbia Pictures Corporation
Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Biopic / Sport
This movie is a highly-fictionalized account of the life of English football manager Brian Clough (Michael Sheen) who was able to lead clubs like Derby County and Nottingham Forest to win the First Division championship. Central to this film is Clough’s short term as manager of Leeds United, one of the most successful clubs of the 1970s and one Clough had been critical of for their dirty style of play. The film is set up to focus on Clough’s relationships with two different men. One is Don Revie (the always great Colm Meaney) Clough’s predecessor as manager at Leeds United. If the film is to be believed Revie’s slight of Clough at a FA Cup match early Clough’s career provided both the motivation for Clough’s success but also his hubris and ultimate failure at Leeds. The other relationship is with Clough’s assistant coach Peter Taylor (Timothy Spall) who has great skill at scouting players for the team. The structure of the film with its historical inaccuracies comes off as melodramatic especially since the true story would make as good or better a film. The Damned United is saved by brilliant acting performances by the Sheen as the mouthy and flashy Clough, Meaney, and especially Spall’s portrayal of the long-suffering Taylor. I also enjoyed the gritty football action sequences that capture an era of sport long gone.
Title: Little Miss Sunshine
Release Date: 18 August 2006
Director: Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris
Production Co: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Country: United States
This dark comedy seems to me as if the filmmakers got together and made a bet that they could make a movie about a dysfunctional family with the most awful characters possible and still have them rally together for a Hollywood ending. If that’s the case, the filmmakers pulled it off quite well in this road trip movie about a family racing to California to fulfill a young daughters dream to appear in a beauty pageant. There’s a lot of this movie that’s too precious and the recurring gags about the family’s VW minibus remind me of a Roger Ebert comment on how funny cars are a sign of desperation. And there’s a lot of scenes that defy belief. Still this movie’s high points stand out and I’m especially impressed by Paul Dano who is expressive despite playing an angry teen who has taken a vow of silence, Steve Carell as the suicidal but droll uncle, and the always wonderful Alan Arkin as the vulgar grandfather.
Title: Princess Mononoke
Release Date: 26 November 1999
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Production Co: DENTSU Music And Entertainment
Language: Dubbed into English
Genre: Anime / Fantasy / Adventure
I don’t have much experience with anime so this was a wonderful introduction. Princess Mononoke is a gripping adventure, imaginative fantasy, and a feast for the eyes. There are many establishing shots that look like fine works of art. The story is centered around Ashitaka, a prince who slays a fearsome demon that attacks his village but is cursed in the process and thus has to go into exile. Seeking the source of the demon, Ashitaka finds himself between the spirits and gods of the forest and a town of ironworkers who threaten the forest’s existence. There’s a clear environmental message here but it’s not too heavy-handed, and I’m impressed that no side is ever seen as good or evil and the viewers sympathies keep shifting as the story goes along. A quite excellent film all around.
Title: Mathematically Alive: A Story of Fandom
Release Date: 2007
Director: Joseph Coburn & Katherine Foronjy
Production Co: Vitamin Enriched Inc.
Country: United States
Genre: Documentary / Sports
This movie is about something near and dear to my heart – fandom of the New York Mets. Set during the historic 2006 season when the Mets lead the National League in wins and made it as far as the 7th game of the championship series, the documentarians track several diehard fans through their game rituals and Mets-centered lives. The premise is very similar to Still We Believe: The Boston Red Sox Movie, but without support of the Mets and Major League Baseball, Mathematically Alive lacks the glitz and production values of the Red Sox film. Major League Baseball trademarks and ballgame footage (and even Mike Piazza’s face!) are pixellated out of the movie. The affect though makes this even more of fan-based film, by fans and for fans, and Mets fans true to their blue-color heritage are not about glitz. I was especially excited to see the son of a good friend near the end of the film pontificating wisely about his favorite team. A must-see for Mets fans, recommended for baseball fans, and others may be interested if sports fandom interests them.