Early Man is late to the game. What do cavemen and soccer have in common? Absolutely nothing, but Aardman decided to make a movie about it. Of course they do call it football since it’s a British production. After Chicken Run and Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, studio founder Nick Park made Early Man his next project. I really think Aardman needs to choose their projects more carefully. Between The Pirates! and Early Man, no original concepts come close to what came before. It’s an enjoyable cave adventure, but not exactly Oscar material.
Which is why I’m glad it wasn’t one of many stop-motion animated movies nominated. It’s alright to be average every once in awhile. The animation is up to the usual standard, but it does look goofier than usual. This time the talented British cast consists of the mostly unrecognizable voices of Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston, Maisie Williams, and Timothy Spall. Early Man takes place during a semi-modern Stone Age. Dug thinks big as he hunts with his pet boar Hognob and fellow dimwitted cavemen & women.
When their land is threatened, Dug discovers a much more evolved civilization from the Bronze Age. The eccentric and greedy Lord Nooth keeps everyone distracted with soccer matches. Apparently cavemen invented soccer, so Dug challenges the ruler to a high stakes game. He gets help from a lovely Bronze Age vendor named Goona and manages to teach his tribe how to play. Early Man is a funny romp, but I’m still not a big enough fan of sports or cave people to get properly invested.
Dug, Hognob and Goona gather footballs
The Fighter fought its way into the big time. I’ve seen many boxing movies, but The Fighter is just as much a family drama as it is a boxing drama. It’s based on real life Lowell, Massachusetts boxing brothers Micky Ward and Dicky Eklund. Raging Bull director Martin Scorsese and The Wrestler director Darren Aronofsky were both considered to direct, but the reigns ultimately went to David O. Russell. Since The Fighter is something of a comeback story, it made sense that this was his first film in over 6 years. The entire cast was dedicated to making the most realistic boxing movie they could.
Christian Bale pulled another one of his notorious body transformations by losing a lot of weight to play the crack addicted Dicky. The movie within a movie is an HBO documentary that depicted his drug use. Dicky’s struggles were enough to finally win Bale an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Mark Wahlberg is no slouch either convincingly getting into fighting shape and mimicking the real life Micky’s mannerisms. Being from Massachusetts himself, Wahlberg had a lot in common with the former boxer. His struggle was living in his brother’s shadow and not making it with him around.
The Fighter is a family affair with lots of personal drama revolving around Micky’s strained relationship with his controlling mother, meek father, and multitude of seven gossiping sisters. Melissa Leo was equally deserving of her Best Supporting Actress win. Amy Adams was only nominated for her hot-blooded portrayal of Micky’s eventual wife Charlene. Though I’m used to seeing her in “good girl” roles, Adams is just as profane as everyone else in the movie. The cast also includes Micky’s real life trainer Mickey O’Keefe and Sugar Ray Leonard. Matches are more realistic, but the outcome remains the same. The Fighter made Best Picture nominated boxing flicks cool again.
Micky trains with his brother Dicky
The Wrestler brought Mickey Rourke back into the ring. Boxing movies are a dime a dozen, but there really aren’t that many professional wrestling movies out there. Probably because most people think wrestling is fake anyway. The Wrestler feels realistic thanks to director Darren Aronofsky. It’s not disturbing like most of his films, but it is an emotional journey. The camera follows Rourke very closely in his big comeback as pro wrestler Randy “The Ram” Robinson. He’s got the long blonde hair of Hulk Hogan, but his glory days are long behind him.
Randy is old, broken down, and one heart attack away from dying. Forcing him to give up his wrestling career and move on with his life. Rourke is in impressive shape with a performance to match. He won so many awards, yet somehow didn’t win Best Actor. The Wrestler earns its R rating with very brutal and bloody wrestling matches. Randy’s main romantic pursuit is aging stripper Pam played by a very naked Marisa Tomei. Even at 44 years old, Tomei looks really good for her age.
She was also nominated for Best Supporting Actress. Most of the profanity comes from Randy’s strained relationship with his daughter Stephanie played by Evan Rachel Wood. Even when his life starts to get back on track, Randy manages to sabotage his job at the deli and his relationships with Pam and his daughter until wrestling is all he has left. It’s heartbreaking to see Randy risk his life by getting back in the ring, but everything is left on a suitably ambiguous note. The Wrestler puts up a good fight.
Randy “The Ram” Robinson’s final leap
Love & Basketball is the greatest decade spanning basketball romance movie I’ve ever seen. Not that there are any other movies like it. Love & Basketball had a dedicated cult following that I couldn’t ignore for very long. I mostly watched it thanks to my brother’s growing interest. It ended up being my favorite romantic drama with a predominantly black cast. Director Gina Prince-Bythewood based a lot of the story on her own life experiences. Spike Lee took a chance on her work by producing the movie himself. Love & Basketball was intended to be sort of a black version of When Harry Met Sally… and it shows in the best way.
Much like the always present game of basketball, events are separated into 4 quarters. The first quarter explores childhood. the second quarter explores high school, the third quarter explores college. and the fourth quarter explores adulthood. Monica and Quincy end up as next door neighbors with an adorable love/hate dynamic as they bicker, yet end up sharing their first kiss. The film does a good job of pointing out the differences between men and women who play sports. Quincy has his entire career laid out for him, but Monica has to fight while keeping her emotions in check. When Monica gets a makeover, Quincy starts seeing her as more than a friend and they hook up a lot sooner than I thought.
Sanaa Lathan and Omar Epps have natural chemistry thanks to dating in real life. Their relationship gets especially steamy in a strip basketball sequence. Of course their relationship gets complicated when their families and separate aspirations come between them. Quincy isn’t kept in good hands with Dennis Haysbert as his cheating professional basketball playing father ruining their family. Monica has her supportive sister played by Regina Hall, but her greatest obstacle is her unsupportive mother played by Alfre Woodard for the first time. As Monica and Quincy continue to diverge, a final high stakes game of one-on-one just might be enough to bring them together. All’s fair in Love & Basketball.
Monica and Quincy play basketball
Ford v Ferrari is the last 20th Century Fox film nominated for Best Picture. It couldn’t have happened to a more old fashioned movie. In fact, Fox always wanted to bring the racing rivalry between Ford and Ferrari to life. At one point they wanted Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, but Matt Damon and Christian Bale are suitable replacements. After Logan, director James Mangold shifted gears back to the biographical dramas he used to make with acclaimed films like Walk the Line.
I’m still not an automotive expert, but even I know the idea of a Ford beating Ferrari in a race sounds like a pipe dream. Ford v Ferrari is all about Ford being challenged to build a racecar with enough speed to outrace Ferrari at the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans. Damon is the determined automotive designer Carroll Shelby and Bale appropriately portrays his hotheaded frenemy Ken Miles. Shelby is close with Miles’ family and does everything he can to push the racer.
Even when everyone else is trying to get him out of the driver seat. They deal with the heads of Ford played by Jon Bernthal and Tracy Letts. They also deal with a lot of scientific mechanics in order to get the Ford GT40 to crazy speeds. Racing scenes are so fast and smooth that you feel like you’re right there. No wonder Ford v Ferrari won technical awards like Best Film Editing and Sound Editing. Though the outcome isn’t fair, the thrill of the race is more than enough. Ford v Ferrari is an honest-to-goodness sports drama about the American dream.
Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles on a Ford
Rush is a 2 hour long adrenaline rush. I’m not a racing expert, but I stand by my philosophy that a good movie can make anything interesting. Though I’ll admit I primarily watched Rush because I assumed it would be a top Oscar contender. You have Academy Award winning director Ron Howard, the biographical angle, and strong reviews from critics. Yet Rush wasn’t nominated for a single Oscar. Just 2 Golden Globe nominations for Best Motion Picture – Drama and Supporting Actor.
I’ll further admit that Chris Hemsworth was another major draw for me. It doesn’t help that he looks exactly like Thor without a beard. I guess he was kind of typecast with long hair for awhile. Rush explores the Hunt-Lauda sports rivalry of the 1970’s. James Hunt is a British Formula 1 racer who drives a McLaren. Niki Lauda is an Austrian Formula 1 racer who drives a Ferrari. Though the film doesn’t stray away from their mutual admiration for one another, a heated rivalry makes better conflict. Chris Hemsworth gives his all to a more dramatic performance and Daniel Brühl made his presence known.
Imagine Thor racing against Baron Zemo. Both racers are driven to outclass each other and they couldn’t be more different. Hunt is a partying playboy who indulges in drugs and sex (including a very naked confrontation with Natalie Dormer). Lauda is more levelheaded, though he does make a mistake that leads to severe burns. Olivia Wilde and Alexandra Maria Lara have a front row seat as their respective wives. Howard makes every race dramatic with fast cuts, slow motion, and moody lighting. Rush is an underrated slice of racing history.
James Hunt and Niki Lauda
Million Dollar Baby packs a serious punch. I haven’t seen much of Hilary Swank, but she’s an actress who always makes her performances count. She’s far from a typical 2 time Best Actress winner. It only took 5 years after Swank won for Boys Don’t Cry. Both films feature an intense transformation that the Academy Awards couldn’t ignore. Million Dollar Baby is the first movie to win Best Picture after the Lord of the Rings trilogy ended. It’s not the greatest boxing movie ever made, but it does go deeper than most. All thanks to the personal Oscar winning direction of the legendary Clint Eastwood. He also produced, starred, and provided the subtle guitar score.
Eastwood is the gruff but good hearted boxing trainer Frankie Dunn. He has his own personal problems ranging from faith to family. Although initially refusing to train a girl, Maggie Fitzgerald is exactly the aspiring young underdog he needs in his life. Together they train and eventually bound over their shared struggles. Similar to her previous award winning role, Maggie is from a trailer park with a scumbag family and has her life cut tragically short. Million Dollar Baby also gave Morgan Freeman the opportunity to finally win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
Former boxer Scrap has great interplay with Frankie, a lovable mentor role with Maggie, and Freeman narrates as well. The role is practically redemption for not winning for Shawshank Redemption. Several before they were famous actors include Jay Baruchel as a more dimwitted aspiring boxer. Plus many future Marvel actors like Anthony Mackie, Michael Peña, and a very skinny Mike Colter. Swank still steals the show with her impressive muscle tone, heartfelt sincerity, and brutal boxing matches against real life female boxers. The ending is heart-wrenching, but the message of Million Dollar Baby is clear to always protect yourself and fight for your dream.
Frankie and Scrap help Maggie in the ring
Space Jam: A New Legacy is corporate branding run amok. It’s no secret that nostalgia sells. So it was only a matter of time before Space Jam 2 finally entered active development. When Michael Jordan left the project, the closest thing to a sequel became the underrated Looney Tunes: Back in Action. Although Warner Bros. considered other sports icons to focus on, the only constant was other popular basketball player LeBron James. Space Jam has been a personal favorite of mine since childhood, but I never felt the need for a sequel. The already bizarre premise of the Looney Tunes playing a high stakes basketball game will only feel derivative the second time around. A New Legacy is one of many 2021 films released simultaneously in theaters and on streaming. Appropriate considering how much it feels like an ad for HBO Max. My brother and I saw A New Legacy in theaters with an audience of kids who all seemed to enjoy it. A New Legacy has several problems that I can only blame on current trends.
I’m still not a sports fan, but I of course know who LeBron James is. While he is a slightly better actor than MJ, there’s way too much hero worship placed on “King James.” LeBron’s fictionalized life plays out similar to Space Jam, but they include a father/son element that tries too hard to be sentimental. Especially for a movie concerned with IP. Don Cheadle is given a ton of attention as an evil algorithm named Al-G Rhythm. His unusual plan is to use LeBron’s success to insert him in existing properties. Everyone thinks it’s a bad idea, but the movie does exactly that. Al-G takes LeBron’s son Dom and sends him through the Warner Bros. Serververse. The LEGO Movie, Ready Player One, and Ralph Breaks the Internet did the exact same thing, but somehow A New Legacy feels more in your face. It’s nice to see the traditionally animated Tune World, but something about Bugs Bunny feels off. I know it’s manipulative, but I couldn’t help but have fun with Bugs searching several Warner Bros. movies or shows to find his friends.
That of course includes the DC Universe, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, The Matrix, and other more inappropriate franchises. There’s a serious double standard that doesn’t stop there. Daffy Duck, Tweety, Sylvester, Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam, Porky Pig, Wile E. Coyote, the Road Runner, Foghorn Leghorn, Granny, and Speedy Gonzales get to be on the team, but Pepe Le Pew is suddenly bad. Lola Bunny is also a non-sexualized tough girl with the slightly distracting celebrity voice of Zendaya. Granny is similarly given an unusual amount of attention. The Looney Tunes are computer animated against their will in a video game version of basketball attended by all the remaining IP’s that do nothing but watch. The Goon Squad can’t hold a candle to the Monstars since they’re all real life players I’ve never heard of. Neither can the very forgettable soundtrack that doesn’t even include the catchy “Space Jam” theme. Some of the jokes, including one about Michael Jordan work, but a rapping Porky Pig is pure cringe. The overlong sequel tries to have an emotional payoff that’s totally lost in a movie like this. Space Jam: A New Legacy is a no win situation.
LeBron James and Bugs Bunny play basketball
Preceded by: Space Jam
Turbo is The Fast and the Furious with snails. That’s how it was pitched and that’s what we ended up with. DreamWorks Animation is always a toss up, but I can’t say I was expecting a movie about a snail with super speed. Yet like the underdog himself, Turbo is a cute, fast-paced, victory. Albeit one that crashed and burned at the box-office. After the success of The Croods, Ryan Reynolds had two consecutive bombs with Turbo and R.I.P.D. Although it nearly killed his career, Turbo deserves a second chance. The computer animation is sleek and innocent with cartoony snails and realistic locations. Theo is just an ordinary LA garden snail living in a tomato patch. Like most underdog stories, Turbo dreams of racing like his hero Guy Gagné.
Gaining super speed was always gonna be ridiculous, but Turbo literally becomes fast by ingesting NOS in a Fast & Furious style street race. More ridiculous is Turbo developing other car powers like eye headlights, tail lights, and even radio control. It’s a fun enough concept on its own, but a star-studded cast makes things even funnier. Paul Giamatti voices Theo’s doubting safety obsessed brother Chet. They’re both brought to a struggling strip mall called Starlight Plaza where they encounter an ethnically diverse cast of humans and snails. Along with fellow business owners voiced by Ken Jeong, Michelle Rodriguez, and Richard Jenkins, Michael Peña voices taco truck driver Tito. His relationship to Turbo is almost exactly like Ratatouille. Except that Tito uses his “Little Amigo” to attract customers.
His relationship to his brother Angelo also mirrors Turbo’s relationship with Chet. The funniest characters are a posse of racing snails who help Turbo on his journey. All of whom would end up with their own flash animated Netflix show Turbo Fast. Samuel L. Jackson is the crazy Whiplash, Ben Schwartz is the feisty Skidmark, Maya Rudolph is the flirtatious Burn, Mike Bell is the delusional White Shadow, and Snoop Dogg himself is the smooth talking Smooth Move. He contributes to the soundtrack that includes the extremely catchy “That Snail is Fast.” Everyone gets the crazy idea to enter Turbo in the Indy 500 and they accept using Air Bud rules. Turbo’s French Canadian hero, voiced by an unrecognizable Bill Hader, quickly turns into the bad Guy who refuses to lose to a snail. I’m not a NASCAR fan, but high octane races are always fun to watch. Even with a predictable outcome, Turbo is a cliché filled family friendly thrill ride.
Turbo and his crew
The Game Plan opens the playbook of love. Fatherly love that is. Before his acting career really took off, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was starring in kid friendly family movies. The Game Plan was his first family comedy, but last movie to include his wrestling name. It was apparently the last Disney movie under the Buena Vista name as well. I didn’t watch The Game Plan when I was younger since I wasn’t a fan of football or the “Tough guy cares for child” trope. It’s cute, but not something I would’ve enjoyed when I was a kid.
Joe Kingsman is a player on the field and off. He’s an Elvis fan and star quarterback with a carefree bachelor lifestyle. The Rock does his best to maintain his charisma. He’s gonna need it when the scene stealing daughter he never knew winds up on his doorstep. Peyton is adorable, but Disney star Madison Pettis isn’t always convincing. Even by precocious kid standards. They get into the usual father-daughter antics.
She puts his bulldog in a tutu, bedazzles his stuff, and humorously gives him an allergic reaction to cinnamon. Joe teaches Peyton all about a football game plan, but there’s actually not much football in the movie. More time is spent on Joe learning ballet for his daughter. The Game Plan is a bit overly long and gets pretty serious near the end. If you’re fine with a predictable playoff, then The Game Plan may still be a game for the whole family. ❌⭕❌⭕
Joe celebrates his big win with Peyton