Lightning Review: Goal! The Dream Begins

This review was originally posted as part of theΒ Play to the Whistle Blogathon, hosted by Film and TV 101 and Reffing Movies.

Goal! The Dream Begins movie posterSynopsis
Santiago Munez (Kuno Becker) is an illegal immigrant in Los Angeles working multiple jobs to support his family. However, his passion is to play football professionally. When Glen Foy (Stephen Dillane), a retired Newcastle United player, notices Munez talents, Foy sets him up with a try out with Newcastle United. In hopes of making his dreams a reality , Munez travels to England.

Review
As a soccer player and cinefile, it can be difficult to find a movie about the sport, let alone a decent one. Thankfully, Danny Cannon realized this and worked with FIFA, the international soccer organization, to create Goal! The Dream Begins. What makes this a good soccer movie is that it gives a down and dirty look into the sport. The camera angles are low and near the ground during the action, not up high like a commentator’s booth like you would see on television. You feel every hit, clearly see every move, and feel like you are on the field with the players. What makes this a good movie is the sincerity and heart it brings. From the beginning, Santiago Munez’s (Kuno Becker) love for his family and humility are felt very clearly. This gives the audience a connection with Munez and a reason to want to see him to succeed. It is nothing new to films, let alone a sports film, but it is used effectively. Becker brings an innocence that makes it that much easier to connect with and relate to.

I thought Goal! The Dream Begins was GOOD πŸ™‚ It is very much like many other underdog, rags-to-riches sports films, such as Rocky, but that isn’t really a bad thing. There is a lot of heart to the story and Santiago Munez is the type of character you can relate with and can’t help but root for. Goal! is a soccer movie that fans and players of the sport alike can enjoy.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Danny Cannon – Director
Mike Jefferies – Story / Screenplay
Adrian Butchart – Screenplay
Dick Clement – Screenplay
Ian La Frenais – Screenplay
Graeme Revell – Composer

Kuno Becker – Santiago Munez
Cassandra Bell – Christina
Alessandro Nivola – Gavin Harris
Stephen Dillane – Glen Foy
Sean Pertwee – Barry Rankin
Marcel Iures – Erik Dornhelm
Tony Plana – Hernan Munez
Miriam Colon – Mercedes
Jorge Ververa – Cesar

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Rocky Balboa Review

Rocky Balboa movie posterSynopsis
Years after retiring from professional boxing, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) is challenged by the reigning heavyweight champion, Mason ‘The Line’ Dixon (Antonio Tarver), when a virtual fight predicts Rocky would win in a match between the two.

Review
Rocky V had a good premise and some good ideas but it didn’t quite work in portraying a retiring Rocky Balboa. For a while, it seemed like this disappointing entry is how the Rocky series would end. Then sixteen years later, Rocky Balboa comes along and gives the series the conclusion it deserves.

One of the things I felt Rocky V did well was build the relationship between Rocky and his son. Rocky Balboa builds on this and explores what it was like for Rocky, Jr., who goes by β€œRobert,” to grow up with a famous father and to be in Rocky’s shadow. I like Robert’s arc from how he acts towards Rocky in the beginning of the film to where they end the film. It can be called cliched but it works. If it’s not broke and all that.

The movie begins with Rocky visiting many places that were important to him and Adrian. This leads to a stroll down memory lane for not only Rocky but fans of the series as well. There are good explanations as to why each place is important for those who may not have seen the first movie. However, for those who have been with the characters since the first movie, it’s an emotional journey and a fantastic way to kick off the film. As the film continues, there are many other homages and references to previous films, particularly Rocky. They never feel forced or shoe-horned into the story. This film is a perfect example of how to give fan service while still being able to appeal to new viewers.

From the beginning, I could already tell Rocky Balboa was going to be stronger than the later Rocky movies because the first ten minutes had more emotion than Rocky V had in the entire film. The feels train never stopped after that. There were times I got teary-eyed, there were times I laughed, there were even times I cheered. It truly is impressive how many emotions I experienced while watching this movie. Part of the emotions came from nostalgia but most of it came from fantastic writing. After being involved with these characters for thirty years, Sylvester Stallone knows them well and injects each of them with a lot of character and heart.

Maybe I’ve just missed it in the previous five movies, but Rocky has some pretty fun banter. Whether he is talking to Paulie, his son, or any of his many restaurant customers, he seemed to make me smile or chuckle with his stories or bad jokes or sound life advice.

If you have read my reviews for the other Rocky movies, I always talked about the boxing matches and how I wish there were more. Over the course of watching the entire series, I have come to appreciate the films as a character study rather than a sports movie. Where I thought the previous films needed a better balance between Rocky inside and outside the ring, Rocky Balboa knows what is right. Even though it has the least amount of actual boxing in the whole series, it still feels like it’s the right amount.

These films are all about Rocky and his huge heart and Rocky Balboa knows that. Its blend of complex characters and huge emotional beats creates a brilliant and worthy end to the Rocky series. Rarely does a film have such a vast array of emotions the way Rocky Balboa does. Although there are many reasons to love this film, that reason alone is why this is my favorite in the series.

Rating
4.5/5

Favorite Quote
Marie: You know, tomorrow you’re going to prove the last thing to age on somebody is their heart.

You can also read my reviews for the rest of the Rocky series: Rocky, Rocky II, Rocky III, Rocky IV, and Rocky V.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Sylvester Stallone – Director / Writer
Bill Conti – Composer

Sylvester Stallone – Rocky Balboa
Burt Young – Paulie
Antonio Tarver – Mason ‘The Line’ Dixon
Geraldine Hughes – Marie
Milo Ventimiglia – Robert Balboa, Jr.
Tony Burton – Duke
James Francis Kelly III – Steps
AJ Benza – LC

Million Dollar Baby Review

Million Dollar Baby movie posterSynopsis
Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood) is a veteran boxing trainer who has never had a boxer in a title match.Β  He isn’t fond of training women, either. But when his best friend, Eddie Dupris (Morgan Freeman), insists on training the persistent Maggie Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank), Frankie takes her under his wing. Working together, Frankie and Maggie work towards their dreams of a championship, forging an unbreakable bond in the process.

Review
Every once in a while a movie comes along that leaves an impression on you long after the credits have rolled. For me that was Million Dollar Baby. I first saw this more recently, even though it came out way back in 2004. It’s too bad I didn’t see it sooner because I had no idea what I was missing.

Million Dollar Baby is a movie about boxing, but it doesn’t follow the conventions of other boxing movies, or at least the last act doesn’t. This film starts off like similar movies, showing the rise of the boxer, their training, and some of their matches. But something happens that catches you (or at least me) by surprise and really changes the tone of the whole movie. It’s in these final thirty minutes or so that have some of the best character moments in the entire film.

Easily the strongest aspect of this film is how well the characters are fleshed out. Over the course of the movie, we learn a great deal about Frankie, Maggie, and Eddie. And not just their backstories, but who they are as people and the motivations behind their actions. By the end of the Million Dollar Baby, I felt a relationship with the characters that I don’t usually get when watching a movie.

There is not one bad performance in this movie. Eastwood is normally known for more action-oriented roles, but he does phenomenal in this quieter role. He just seems to get better and better as he’s grown older. Freeman is always great in any role he plays and I am a fan of a Freeman voiceover. The biggest surprise was Swank. Granted, I haven’t seen very many of her movies, but after watching this one, I look forward to watching her again. Even the lesser seen supporting cast, like Anthony Mackie and Jay Baruchel were great.

I have mentioned before how much a good score can add to a movie. Usually it’s very big and dramatic, but the score of Million Dollar baby is much more subdued and simple. The score, surprisingly composed by Eastwood, is still dramatic, but in a different fashion. It consists mostly of a single acoustic guitar or piano that is very much in line with the feel of the movie but it is every bit as emotional as the full orchestral scores.

Cinematography isn’t something I normally bring up, but I would have a hard time talking about this movie with discussing about the cinematography. There is a great use of shadows and lighting. During the boxing matches, the camera gets close to the action, but too close that you can’t see much. It’s really great work that I think few movies can compare to.

I missed Million Dollar Baby when it was released in 2004 and when I finally did see it, I regretted not seeing it sooner. The characterization is brilliantly written and it’s easy to become invested in the characters and their struggles. It is hard to pick a stand out performance because every actor was fantastic, even the supporting cast. A simple but fitting score and top notch cinematography enhance the experience even further. If you want a movie that has great acting, excellent characterization, and superb cinematography, then Million Dollar Baby is the movie for you.

Rating
5/5

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Clint Eastwood – Director
Paul Haggis – Screenplay
F.X. Toole – Stories from Rope Burns
Clint Eastwood – Composer

Clint Eastwood – Frankie Dunn
Hilary Swank – Maggie Fitzgerald
Morgan Freeman – Eddie Dupris
Anthony Mackie – Shawrelle Berry
Jay Baruchel – Danger Barch
Brian F. O’Byrne – Father Horvak
Margo Martindale – Earline Fitzgerald
Michael Pena – Omar

Lightning Review: The Fighter

The Fighter movie posterSynopsis
Boxer Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) is an up-and-coming boxer who has been living in the shadow of his half-brother, Dicky (Christian Bale), a local boxing hero. With his brother as his trainer, Micky hopes to bounce back from a string of defeats and win a title, a feat his brother was never able to accomplish.

Review
I don’t know what it is about boxer movies, but the last several I have watched have been phenomenal. The Fighter doesn’t break that trend. Easily the strongest part of this movie is its supporting cast. Bale, Amy Adams as Charlene Fleming, and Melissa Leo as Alice Ward were fantastic, Bale especially. I think Bale’s portrayal of Dicky Eklund has been his best performance I have seen. The Fighter‘s message about family and never giving up is powerful and comes across without being sententious. Although this is a movie about boxing, not too much time is spent in the ring, except for the final fight. Any time spent inside the ring is used to progress the relationship, or rift, between Micky and his brother. This lack of time spent on boxing matches allows for a tighter focus on character relationships, driving the movie forward. The Fighter has one of the strongest supporting casts of any movie in recent memory and should not be missed by any movie lover.

Rating
4.5/5