Thursday, June 5, 2014

Movies and TV

I've been varying my media diet as of late and ingesting a lot of content that I don't normally favor and it's been GREAT. I want to highlight some of the stand outs.

Movies

1. Hillsborough. This documentary is part of the ESPN 30 for 30 soccer stories that have been produced and are being released in advance of the upcoming world cup. The film draws us into the scene of one of the worst soccer stadium disasters in history during a soccer match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at the Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, England. It's not so much about sports as it is about crowd behavior, police cover up, politics, and the importance of proper architectural design. Even if you're not a sports fan you'll be riveted. It's airing again on June 6th at 10pm on ESPN. If you don't mind spoilers, the in-depth discussion of the film can be found here: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/espns-30-30-soccer-stories-694728

2. Hoop Dreams. This documentary was released in 1994 and it chronicles five years in the life of two teens from an inner city neighborhood in Chicago, focusing primarily on their basketball careers. The teens are both accepted at a prestigious private Catholic high school in the suburbs that is known for getting talented black boys out of the inner city and under the spotlight of college basketball recruiters.  This is the same high school (St.Joseph's in Westchester, Illinois) that took in Isiah Thomas and served as his springboard to basketball success. It's one of the best documentaries I've ever seen and again, even if you're not a sports fan you'll be pulled in by the human interest angle of the film. What happens for the boys over the course of the filming is at times exhilarating and at times demoralizing. You can't help but root for these young men who have so much potential yet face so many challenges as a result of their socioeconomic backgrounds and family dynamics. I came to the end of the film wanting the continued success for the boys more than anything and eagerly googling their names to see how their lives are progressing (they're in their early 40s today). This film was so powerful that it upended the entire process of reviewing and selecting winners in the documentary category for the Academy Awards-  when it wasn't even nominated despite it's overwhelming popularity and recognition for stirring viewers' hearts, it became obvious that somehow the nominating members were gaming the award system and investigations into the "cheating" took place and new guidelines for the award process were established. The film is available on Netflix for streaming and DVD delivery so if you haven't seen it yet you need to get on it today. TODAY. And I'm not going to tell you the name of the boys who are the subject of the film because you absolutely should not google them or look them up in any way before watching the film. You need to go into it blind, trust me.

3. The Damn United. This quasi fiction film (based on a true story) takes us along the journey of  Brian Clough as he rises through the coaching ranks of the UK soccer club scene to eventually coach Leeds United, replacing Don Revie (one of the most famous coaches in UK history). From nearly the beginning to end of his career, Clough is driven by an unending desire to outdo and humiliate his once-idol Revie after a brief encounter between the two leaves Clough feeling dismissed and insulted. This is yet another sports film that really isn't at all about sports. It's about the inner dialogue we feed ourselves regarding our experiences and how much impact this kind of self-talk has on our attitude and behavior.  It's also about how much we can accomplish when we are driven by a deep seated competitive drive to beat a rival and how it can all come tumbling down under our own hubris. You can catch the movie on Netflix.

4. Tucker and Dale vs Evil. Now for something totally different! This dark comedy is a hilarious twist on traditional horror films. Who are the real victims when a group of fresh faced college students venture off into the woods and have an encounter with a creepy looking pair of "backwood hillbillies" that leads to misunderstandings and danger all around? This movie made me laugh from beginning to end. If you liked Shaun of the Dead or Adventureland you will really love this movie.

5. The Who: The Kids are Alright. This music documentary on The Who was pieced together in 1979 and takes viewers from the beginning of the group (complete with 60s mod Austin Power outfits!) up through the last performance with Keith Moon before he died. I'm a child of the late 70s so this group was not really on my radar growing up. In fact, for most of my life, my knowledge of the group consisted entirely of "um, aren't they the ones who wrote that Pinball song or something?" Only recently did I listen to a cross-section of their music and that was enough to pique my interest because, hey, it turns out they're pretty damn talented. So I was happy to watch this film and get a better grasp of their history and discography. Unlike sports films that aren't really about sports, this is a music film that actually is about the music. And the music makers are really more of an intellectual sort of group (when they're not smashing their equipment or destroying their hotel rooms) with raw groundbreaking talent makes most of the hair bands I was exposed to in the 80s look like posers. The film provides a great overview of the group and serves as a good Who 101 for newbies. You can grab it on Netflix here: http://dvd.netflix.com/Movie/The-Who-The-Kids-Are-Alright/60029025?strkid=140027686_1_0&strackid=12f313bf168c4e5e_1_srl&trkid=222336.

6. History of the Eagles. Yep, another music documentary. So so good. First aired as a two part special on Showtime, it's now available for purchase on Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/History-Eagles-Blu-ray/dp/B00BSBUZT6). I've always enjoyed the Eagles music I was exposed to on the radio and over Christmas break I listened to a lot more of their collection when I was visiting friends in Memphis who had a fondness for playing their music so I was well groomed for watching this. The film is exhaustive in its scope and run time (~ 3 hours) but well worth it.  It's definitely about the music and has a ton of great performances but it's also about the dynamics of the band members and their interesting little dramas and conflicts over the years.

7. Umbrellas of Cherbourg. French musical romance (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Umbrellas_of_Cherbourg). One of the most heart wrenching, beautiful love stories I have ever seen. Released in 1964 but re-released this spring for it's 50th anniversary, the film introduces us (exclusively through song) to a sweet young couple, Geneviève and Guy, who are madly in love but are forced to separate when Guy is called off to military duty in the Algerian war. What happens while he is away and the conclusion of their story when he returns is devastating and brilliant. This is a movie that really can't end any other way then it does given the events that transpire over the course of the film and the nature of society at that time. And yet the longing and aching for a different outcome (if only, if only, if only, things had gone differently) haunted me long after the movie was over. The 50th anniversary Blu-ray disc can be purchased on Amazon UK (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Umbrellas-Cherbourg-Anniversary-Edition-Blu-ray/dp/B00GDEZNHM/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top) but since the disc is encoded for playback only on Region 2 players (i.e. Europe) you'll also need to make sure you own a multi-region Blu-ray player (such as this one: http://www.amazon.com/Samsung-BD-F5700E-Region-Blu-Ray-Player/dp/B00GR9CP88/ref=sr_1_1?s=electronics&ie=UTF8&qid=1401983862&sr=1-1&keywords=multi+zone+dvd+players).

TV

1. Silicon Valley. This new comedy/drama series on HBO by Mike Judge is fantastic. Season 1 just concluded this week and I am so in love with the show. The writers have really nailed the brilliant IT geek persona here and the results are engaging. It's a thrill to follow along with the show and actually understand the IT-geek-speak while watching the interactions between the business and tech sides of start up companies as they push for venture capital funding. Definitely a lot more fun to watch the show then I imagine it is to actually go through the stress of striving and struggling to survive as a start-up entrepreneur oneself. Basically, if you're a Wired magazine subscriber or know anything about compiling programs you're going to love it too. And if you're like me, you're going to start off hating the over-the-top ridiculous incubator house dad (Erlich), but eventually he's going to win you over and you'll favor him above the rest of the characters. Can't wait for season two!
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