WHAT ELSE I'M WATCHING #5

I started this series of articles just over a year ago and yet I have only made it to the fifth entry. I don't know if that's from a lack of watching other things outside of the newest film releases in an attempt to drive as much traffic to my site as possible, but as I write this fifth entry I'm thinking of plenty of things to talk about. I like to think I watch enough stuff, even if it's not Walking Dead or Game of Thrones and even if I still haven't made it around to cracking open the Kubrick collection I received for Christmas last year (I'm going to do it! Next month! I'm promising myself now!). As far as what other films I've been watching though, there are a few. Most are things on Netflix that I either started and abandoned, destined to come back around to at some point (I'm talking to you, Shakespeare In Love), or one of ESPN's 30 for 30 documentaries that I have become fascinated with and can't seem to stop watching. The first one I consciously took a look at was Jordan Rides The Bus. I followed this up with Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks. As a child of the 90's who loved basketball this was my way in, my introduction to this world of the narrative combined with sports history and the first of many "what-if" circumstances that would come to the forefront of my consciousness as these types of scenarios surround each and every player in each and every game. It segued from basketball to football and back and forth from there. I've even ventured out and watched one concerning baseball, Fernando Nation, while currently having a total of thirty-four more in my Netflix queue that range from the likes of tennis and track to hockey, boxing, cycling and even more baseball.

After breezing through the analysis of why Jordan quit professional basketball after his first three-peat to try his hand at minor league baseball then following it up with a story of true rivalry played out like an old western it was time to see how else these kinds of stories could be told. What could be made of the politics that go on behind the scenes of grown men playing a sport and getting paid ridiculous amounts of money for it? That was answered with Elway to Marino, a film about the landmark 1983 draft that ushered in a new generation of superstars to the NFL when six quarterbacks were selected in the first round. I loved Marino as I was growing up, he was my favorite player and the Dolphins became my favorite team because of him. I wore the number thirteen any chance I could and sported his jersey with my NFL mock tutrleneck underneath it at least once a week in elementary school. Let's just say, watching this documentary from director Ken Rodgers only made me appreciate my favorite childhood player all the more while realize something I hadn't about the Bronco's superstar: he was kind of a dick.

From there I caught up on one of the latest in the series, I Hate Christian Laettner, which was more than downright fascinating as it explored the psyche of a man who was villainized and probably always will be no matter the amount of humanity and perspective his interviews bring to those situations that will now live in infamy. This kind of facade from your early adult years that you are forced to try and live down the rest of your life comes up again in Brian and the Boz. What do you do as a man trapped in a world that has long left you behind, but defines how others perceive you forever? It is a sacrifice, a question of worth in the long run, but so many athletes (and student athletes at that) don't think about the long run-they think about the here and now. One group of guys who certainly didn't think to care about legacy, but were more about instant gratification were that of the eighties Detroit Pistons. The plight of Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer, Vinnie Johnson, Joe Dumars, Rick Mahorn, John Salley, Adrian Dantley and Dennis Rodman became one of adopting an uber-physical, defense-oriented style of play that would earn them the nickname "Bad Boys." Villains drive ratings and they make money though so who is to argue with their antics? To continue to use the word fascinating is a disservice to the thoughts elicited by the reflections and contemplations that take place in these documentaries, but I can't seem to find another word that does the feelings I have while watching these movies justice.

Where this kind of pondering really becomes effective though is in the realm of possibilities that never saw the light of reality. This idea of "what-if" and the sad realization that your one shot has passed you by and that you missed it is haunting. Director Jonathan Hock (who has now made three of these films) confronts this reality head on in his 30 for 30 debut, The Best That Never Was. From the beginning there was giant expectations, but the subject of The Best That Never Was, Marcus Dupree, never seemed to struggle to meet them. Instead, Dupree struggled with all of the outside influences. Dupree was a natural athlete with talent beyond what any mere mortal could hope to be blessed with. In high school he was already on his way to eclipsing Herschel Walker's record for the most touchdowns in high school history, but whether it be his sleazy uncle or a manipulative pastor/small town college President it seems Dupree couldn't tell who truly had his best interests at heart. He simply chose the wrong people to trust. Dupree would attract recruiters from schools in every major conference and eventually committed to Oklahoma. What followed, though, was a maligned college career littered with conflict, injury and influences that would derail what would have certainly been true greatness. At least Dupree was given a real shot though, for as I learned in Without Bias, not everyone makes it far enough for us to even glimpse what might have been.

If I were to go into each 30 for 30 with such detail this article would stretch on for paragraphs and maybe one day I will take the time to go one by one and give each film I watch in this series their due, but for now I'll simply say that the other six films in the series I've seen so far (June 17th, 1994, Rand University, You Don't Know Bo, No Crossover, When the Garden Was Eden and Sole Man) only make me more and more interested in continuing to explore the stories around historical sports events that I wasn't aware of as I watched them as well as those I never knew about in the first place. It should also be noted in something of a correlation to the 30 for 30 approach that I watched 7 Days in Hell, the parody of sorts that chronicles the fictional tennis match between Charles Poole (Kit Harrington) and Aaron Williams (Andy Samberg) that is, in short, completely ridiculous. It's pretty damn funny though, I laughed a lot.      

As far as other television I've been watching, I'm struggling to make it through America Horror Story: Coven (it's the latest season available on Netflix), but strangely enough I'm still excited for Freak Show. I've also been indulging in my guilty pleasure that is Pretty Little Liars along with the wife who has also picked up Gossip Girl recently, but while I can stomach and am genuinely invested in the ABC Family show (I chalk it up to the murder mystery aspect) the Blake Lively project seems too far removed and outlandish for me to buy into (I realize the potential hypocrisy of that sentence). Otherwise, I don't feel as bad about admitting we're also sticking with the M. Night Shyamalan produced Wayward Pines as it premieres its season finale tomorrow night and I'm anxious to see how they go about wrapping everything up. I've also been keeping up with the second season of True Detective and frankly don't understand the heat it is receiving. I'm finding it just as intriguing if not more entertaining than the overly-hyped first season. It may be that I came to the first season so late that it didn't necessarily live up to all it was cracked up to be, but beginning with a clean slate and moving forward with multiple character arcs and strong performances from the main cast has proved to be more satisfying so far this year. That said, I haven't finished watching episode 5, "Other Lives," yet which apparently takes things in a completely different direction so I guess I could change my tune. I also watched the first three episodes of Dwayne Johnson's Ballers and while I found aspects of it interesting, I don't know that it is something I'll stick with. We'll see.

And finally, I have actually watched a few movies that I missed in their theatrical runs, most notably Clouds of Sils Maria which has been highly praised from pretty much every critic I read. Given those expectations I was eager to see what the fuss was all about, but came away from the film more confused than anything else. Sure, I get what the film was going for in that its plot concerns an aging actress taking on a role in a revival of the play that gave her her big break when she younger. I get that this opportunity and the contents of the play mirror the current mid-life crisis the actress is experiencing with her real-life assistant (played wonderfully by an understated Kristen Stewart), but I don't understand the impact it is delivering to others. Maybe it's because those I've read who have written about the film are older than I am and have more life experiences on their resume to the point Juliette Binoche's character resonates with them more. I don't know what exactly I was missing as I sat and watched this straight through in one sitting at home, but couldn't help but feel there was always something just below the surface of what was being discussed that they couldn't quite scratch. Maybe my tastes aren't refined enough yet or maybe I'll never be intelligent enough to figure out why people adore Clouds of Sils Maria, but I simply didn't get it and I don't really care to revisit it-at least not for another twenty or so years when it might be interesting to see if my perspective has shifted enough.

Next up, and probably making me sound even more juvenile and low-brow to all you snooty cinephiles out there is The DUFF, which I really enjoyed. The DUFF seems to be one of those films that will garner a certain amount of affection over the years as it is more regularly and consistently viewed. After only a single viewing though it is clear there is a certain amount of charm to it that is both unexpected and absent from films of this genre and of this nature that don't typically care about the emotions and circumstances of its characters. That isn't to say this isn't somewhat recycled and re-branded for the current generation as the film could cynically be boiled down to She's All That with the internet, but whether you like it or not the quick wit of the script (which comes from source material by Kody Keplinger) and the endearing performances of Mae Whitman (Arrested Development) and Robbie Amell (The Flash) make this more than tolerable and a fair amount of fun if not being overly obvious in its message. All of that said, what I'm not saying is that this will necessarily turn out to be this generation's Mean Girls (it's not THAT quick-witted) and it's certainly not on par with Easy A (the slyness and irreverence of that humor is untouchable), but it combines plenty of bits that made those high school comedies great in order to deliver a comedy that is more than competent, wholly appealing and no doubt perfectly delightful when taken in through the context and circumstances it was intended.

Finally, and this is not helping my reputation any more than the previous paragraph (I realize) is the Backstreet Boys documentary, Show 'Em What You're Made Of. There are a few too many moments that feel staged or where the overly-emotional Kevin or overly-dramatic Nick burst into tears, but there is something insanely interesting at play here as well. Never revealing enough for us to feel like this isn't just a PR-stunt to promote the groups 20th anniversary album and tour, the film ultimately capitalizes on the interested audiences nostalgia while at the same time gleaming an existential crisis within the groups aging members. How does one function as a grown man when they're a member of a boy band? The film doesn't so much try to answer that question, but instead goes the route of how these guys, clearly knowing their best days are behind them, are forced to embrace that truth while accepting those days were such a whirlwind of obligation that they probably wouldn't choose to go back if they could. The acoustic-laden tracks that litter their new material is expected as these guys are now more mature and mellow, but the more fascinating aspects of the Backstreet Boys story lies in their beginnings with Lou Pearlman. Pearlman gathered the five unknown talents out of a massive audition process (American Idol before Simon Cowell) in order to mimic the success of New Kids on the Block due to their massive earnings. A scene where the guys return to Pearlman's mansion (Pearlman is now in jail after being sentenced to 25 years in prison for perpetrating one of the largest and longest-running Ponzi schemes in American history) where they once rehearsed and partied is both unsettling and cautious in a way that hints there is more to the story than is being told. Despite coming up short so as to stay safe in these territories that might otherwise prove controversial, Show 'Em What You're Made Of is nothing short of an eye-opener both for its subjects and those in the audience aspiring to such fame and affection.

That's it for now! Hopefully by the time I come back around to this column I will have knocked out that Kubrick collection I keep going on about. As always, we'll see.