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Review: Slalom

Competitive sports are hell on the body and the mind. Even more so when you’re a teenager with no support system. In Slalom, Lyz (Noée Abita) is an ambitious and talented young skier who eyes the fulfillment of her dreams when she’s accepted at a prestigious ski training school in the French Alps. She’s just 15-years-old and still in high school, and pretty naive about the world. But ski pro-turned-coach Fred (Jérémie Renier) sees something in her and takes her on as his special case, training her hard and pushing her to be the best. And it works. She starts winning all the big prizes. But that’s not all he wants from her. He’s a predator, a control freak, and a sleaze. And she’s too young to have to deal with that, especially when her mother is nowhere to be found. Writer-director Charlène Favier, herself a former competitive skier, says the film isn’t exactly autobiographical, but it depicts the uneven power dynamic between athletes and their coaches that can and has crossed the line all too frequently in the sport. It’s a powerful #metoo film with great performances.

Review: The Way Back

Ben Affleck was fresh out of rehab when filming began for The Way Back, and that had to make the process extra challenging, awkward, even painful – for the actor, his costars and the filmmakers. Affleck, an alcoholic who acknowledges that his addiction contributed heavily to the implosion of his marriage plays an alcoholic whose addiction (compounded by personal tragedy) contributed to the implosion of his marriage. Now both are on the path to redemption. Hopefully.

Review: Olympic Dreams

Olympic Dreams is an odd little indie meet-cute that takes elements of a romantic dramedy, sports movie and documentary, puts them in a blender, and spits out an uneven story that is overshadowed by a very cool setting: the 2018 Winter Olympic games in PyeongChang, South Korea. It’s about a relationship that develops between cross-country skier Penelope (Alexi Pappas) and volunteer dentist Ezra (Nick Kroll). They are two lost souls at a crossroads in life.

Review: What Men Want

What men should want is not to be dragged to this movie for Valentine’s Day. And what men – and women – deserve is a stronger spin on a plot device that worked quite well in Nancy Meyers’ 2000 romantic comedy What Women Want, starring Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt. Gibson (before he went all weird on us) played a chauvinistic executive who learned something about himself – and his treatment of women – after a mishap gave him the ability to hear women’s inner thoughts. This time around, the genders are reversed. Taraji P. Henson plays Ali Davis, a successful sports agent in Atlanta who gains the ability to hear men’s inner thoughts. She hopes to use her newfound power (a blessing and a curse) to score a high-profile client, and land the promotion she is entitled to in the boy’s club that is her workplace.

Mainstream Chick’s Top Picks of 2018

It’s insanely difficult to do a “Top 10 Movies of 2018” list when you’ve seen about 200 movies in 365 days – everything from blockbusters, to arthouse films, to documentaries, to films that simply defy classification. I reviewed some of them for Chickflix; others I just bantered about on the Cinema Clash podcast; still others I never got around to reviewing, ‘cuz sometimes, Life happens and the catch-up game aint worth playin’.

Movies are subjective – and so is my list. And no movie is a “bad movie” if somebody out there “gets” it and likes it. My list is different today than it was yesterday. And it will surely be different tomorrow. But at this particular moment in time – as we enter 2019 – this is where I stand with my top picks, and why.

Review: Creed II

I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Creed 2 hitting theaters by 2018.” That’s the last line of my 2015 review of Creed, the solidly entertaining spin-off of the Rocky franchise starring Michael B. Jordan as up-and-coming boxer Adonis Creed (son of Apollo) and Sylvester Stallone as his mentor, Philly boxing legend Rocky Balboa. As predicted, here it is – Creed II. And while not as strong as its predecessor, Creed II is still very satisfying, especially if you’re a fan of Rocky IV, one of my favorite films of 1985!

Review: The Miracle Season

The Miracle Season is one of those inspiring and bittersweet sports dramas about athletes overcoming adversity. In this case, the athletes are members of a high school girls’ volleyball team who struggled to regroup — and play on — after the tragic death of their team leader and star setter Caroline ‘Line’ Found. Here’s what the movie has going for it: The uplifting story is basically true; And, it stars two Oscar winners, Helen Hunt as tough-love coach Kathy Bresnahan and William Hurt as Caroline Found’s grieving father Ernie, who lost his wife to cancer just one week after his daughter died in a moped accident. Here’s the rub: Hunt and Hurt are all-stars. The rest of the cast is junior varsity. Not exactly a level playing field.

Review: Battle of the Sexes

Battle of the Sexes is okay, but far from the grand slam I was rooting for. I love the story, especially because it’s true: tennis great Billie Jean King agrees to play ex-champ and self-professed male chauvinist pig Bobby Riggs in a high-profile televised event and kicks his butt, scoring a huge victory for the women’s rights movement in the 1970s. That’s not a spoiler. It’s a well-known fact in sports history. Unfortunately, without the dramatic climax that typically drives a sports drama, Battle of the Sexes is forced to look for bonus points off the court. They include: an exploration of Billie Jean’s sexual awakening as a lesbian and the strain that puts on her marriage; Bobby’s marital woes, childish antics and addiction to gambling; and, my favorite part of the film, Billie Jean’s willingness to take a stand for equal rights and social justice by, in part, organizing other players to break from the establishment and form the Women’s Tennis Association.

Queen of Katwe

Queen of Katwe is a feel-good movie, typical of what we’ve come to expect from a Disney sports drama based on a true story. The “drama” is a bit limited considering the sport is chess. But the story itself is interesting and inspiring, and delivers a good message for girls and boys – and adults as well – about discipline, mental toughness, and overcoming adversity. The movie is based on an ESPN article and book about Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga), a young girl from the slums of Katwe, Uganda who beat the odds to become an international chess champion.

Race

It’s a shame that Race, an inspiring biopic about American track-and-field superstar Jesse Owens competing in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, and Eddie the Eagle, an inspiring biopic about an awkward British ski jumper competing against all odds in the 1988 Olympics in Calgary are both hitting theaters at about the same time (with Race first out of the gate). Both are good. Neither is great. Race has far deeper political, historical, and sports-related significance, and despite some dramatic license (and omissions), has a story and supporting characters based in fairly well-documented fact.