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Grudge Match: Your Burning Questions Answered

by Ethan Alter December 25, 2013 6:00 am
Grudge Match: Your Burning Questions Answered

What's not quite a Rocky movie and definitely not the second coming of Raging Bull? The old guys punch-a-thon, Grudge Match! We're sure you've got questions about this title bout between Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro and we've got the answers.

Rush: Faster, Thor! Kill! Kill!

by Ethan Alter September 20, 2013 6:00 am
Rush: Faster, Thor! Kill! Kill!

Ron Howard's 22nd feature film, the Formula 1 racing drama Rush, also has the distinction of being his first independently financed vehicle since his days toiling for self-made B-movie king, Roger Corman. But don't get too excited, sports fans -- Opie hasn't gone all Harmony Korine on us. Although produced outside the studio system within which Howard has been ensconced since the early '80s, Rush (which is being distributed in the U.S. by a major) is as mainstream a movie as they come. Still, if it isn't exactly innovative on a formal or narrative level, it does remind you that, when gifted with a particularly strong piece of material, few journeymen directors can craft more skillful commercial crowd-pleasers than the maker of Splash, Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind.

42: Jackie at the Bat

by Ethan Alter April 12, 2013 8:22 am
42: Jackie at the Bat

It's not fair to spend an entire movie comparing it to another film on the same subject that was never actually made. But as I sat there watching the new Jackie Robinson biopic 42, I couldn't help measuring it against the version of the Robinson story that Spike Lee and Denzel Washington spent years trying to get off the ground before they were relieved by writer/director Brian Helgeland. Knowing Lee's penchant for provocation, his Jackie Robinson movie almost certainly would have been more confrontational -- and less commercial -- than the studio funding it would have liked. And, to be honest, there's no guarantee that it would have succeeded artistically; after all, as terrific a talent as Lee is, his stats are inconsistent with big wins like Do the Right Thing and He Got Game sitting alongside such heartbreaking losses as She Hate Me and Summer of Sam. But, win or lose, Lee's 42 would almost certainly have been more interesting than Helgeland's 42, which takes a crucial piece of sports and social history and treats it with kid gloves, substituting Hollywood gloss for real-world grit.

Indie Snapshot: Bully and Goon

by Ethan Alter March 30, 2012 5:02 pm
Indie Snapshot: Bully and Goon

Hey teacher, leave them kids alone!

Moneyball: How to Succeed In Baseball Without Really Trying

One of the perils that comes with this gig is that there are times where I walk into a theater armed with too much knowledge about what went down behind-the-scenes on the movie I'm about to see. Take Moneyball, for instance. This adaptation of Michael Lewis' best-selling baseball book -- which covered a season in the life (specifically the 2002 season) of the Oakland A's and their eccentric, wily GM Billy Beane -- has been on my radar since 2008, when one of my favorite directors, Steven Soderbergh, came onboard to shepherd the project to the big screen. As is often the case with Soderbergh, he had developed a fascinating angle he intended to bring to the proceedings, embellishing the central narrative with documentary segments featuring real-life ballplayers and casting actual members of that 2002 A's squad (including David Justice and Scott Hatteberg) as themselves in the dramatic scenes. This approach excited me, but unnerved the studio, which shut down the film just as shooting was going to start in earnest. Soderbergh quickly departed the project and Capote director Bennett Miller was eventually recruited to replace him.

Applied Sabermetrics 101: The Curious Case of Moneyball

After checking out the movie version of Moneyball earlier this week, we were so inspired by Oakland A's GM Billy Beane's innovative use of "sabermetrics" in building his record-setting 2002 team, we wanted to apply the same close statistical analysis to how the film that's opening in theaters on Friday came together following a few false starts. Originally set to be directed by The Devil Wears Prada's David Frankel, Steven Soderbergh took over the director's chair in 2008 and cast Demetri Martin opposite Brad Pitt's Beane. The following year, Sony Pictures halted production just before the cameras were set to roll and shuffled the deck another time, replacing Soderbergh with Bennett Miller, Martin with Jonah Hill and bringing in screenwriter Aaron Sorkin to punch up a script credited to Steve Zaillian and Stan Chervin. How will these various moves impact the movie's box-office performance? Let's check the stats.

Warrior: Gonna Fly Now

by Ethan Alter September 9, 2011 6:00 am
Warrior: Gonna Fly Now

It's no accident that the best sports movies are also underdog stories. While rooting for dominant winners -- whether it's the Yanks, the Pats or Pacquiao -- is an accepted and even encouraged practice in the real wide, wide world of sports, there's just more drama in cheering on the Rudy's, Rocky's and Bad News Bears' of the big screen. Warrior, the new mixed martial arts film from Gavin O'Connor (who knows a thing or two about rousing underdog tales, having previously directed 2004's Miracle, based on the epic American/Soviet hockey match at the 1980 Olympics) doubles our pleasure of rooting for the little guy by giving us not just one, but two underdogs, both of whom are facing off against each other in the final round of a high-profile MMA tournament hoping to bring home a million-dollar payday. In one corner, you've got Brendan (Joel Edgerton), a former UFC fighter-turned-high school physics teacher that has climbed back into the ring in order to make the necessary extra cash (he's got a sick daughter, see) his public school gig isn't bringing in. And in the other corner, there's Tommy (Tom Hardy), a Marine recently back from the front who intends to turn his winnings over to the widow and children of his dead army buddy. But wait, here's the best part: these guys also happen to be brothers. How can you resist a set-up like that?

From Rocky to Million Dollar Baby to Warrior: The Best Title Bouts in Movies

Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton may appear on the poster, but the real stars of the new fight film Warrior are the brutal, bone-shattering mixed-martial arts bouts that dominate the movie's last hour. After Hardy and Edgerton's brothers go up against a variety of opponents, from trash-talking punks to mountainous Russians, they've got nobody left to fight but each other for the million-dollar tournament purse. That sibling-on-sibling match-up put us in mind of the other great movie title bouts we've enjoyed over the years. Follow the fight card below to see some of our favorites. Two notes: We focused only on movies about fictional fighters -- and not just boxers, by the way -- so don't go looking for Raging Bull, The Fighter or When We Were Kings. Also, even though the statute of spoiler limitations would seem to have lapsed for most of these movies, I'm issuing a general Spoiler Warning for the four people out there that haven't seen Rocky. (C'mon... you knew, that was going to be at the top of the list.)

This Weekend, Experience The World Cup… Of Soccer Movies!

It's World Cup time, and association football fever is sweeping the globe! Of course, if you aren't currently using the metric system, you may know it better as soccer, or possibly as "that game I played in junior high." But even if you aren't a big fan, or have very little tolerance for televised sports in general, there is a way to participate in the soccer mania without enduring an actual match -- namely, by watching a marathon of soccer movies! Like real soccer matches, they take place around the world and run nearly two hours, but at least with a movie you're guaranteed three things: dramatic storylines, big-name stars and far more goals scored than you'd see in an actual game.

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