Engaging, straight forward telling of the rise of Nike in the making of basketball shoes through the securing of Michael Jordan as the name tied to the brand.
In the 1980s, the basketball division of Nike is struggling, accounting for only 17% of sales – a distant third to Converse and the German Adidas company. Basketball talent scout Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon – The Martian, The Last Duel) is appointed to find a new spokesperson. His argument is to put everything on one player rather than spreading money thinly over three or four players. CEO Phil Knight (Ben Affleck – Argo, The Town) is reluctant but Vaccaro and Marketing VP Rob Strasser (Jason Bateman – Horrible Bosses, Juno) convince him they need to secure Michael Jordan.
Perseverance and determination win out as Vaccaro’s infectious energy ensures Nike gets their man – but not without an equally determined Deloris Jordan (a magnificent Viola Davis who defines ‘supporting actress’ in her role as the athlete’s mother) ensuring that respect and financial recompense are forthcoming.
As director, Ben Affleck (Argo, Gone Baby Gone) has ensured that a story so worth telling is told well and packed with strong performances throughout.
A fascinating four part docuseries exploring the recently exposed financial corruption of football’s world governing body.
Following, in 2010, the announcement of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups being awarded to Russia and Qatar respectively, all hell broke loose. Politics regarding the choice of Russia was of major concern – but the controversy in the choice of the first ever Middle East host was off the charts. Politics and human rights certainly featured on the naysayers agenda. But a country of less than 3 million people and 160 x 90 kilometres in size with soaring June temperatures of 40+ degrees centigrade made, according to critics, no sense over the selection of the USA, the pre-vote favourite.
There were so many waves, with the US having unexpectedly lost, that the FBI launched their own investigation into potential ‘buying’ of votes. And what was uncovered shook the very foundations of the world’s most popular sport.
With so much at stake in terms of business, sponsorship, political manoeuvrings on a global scale, deals were worth hundreds of millions of dollars. And where there’s institutional money, there’s corruption. And FIFA Uncovered highlights, over the last four or five decades, brazen pocketing of millions of dollars and the exploitation of votes.
It’s all pretty bleak – particularly when director Daniel Gordon (The Australian Dream, Don’t Look Down) allows disgraced former president Sepp Blatter continually refuse to take any responsibility for the level of corruption under his 17 years of leadership.
Straightforward in its telling of the early, pre-professional tennis years of Venus Williams, King Richard focuses on the influence of her controversial father and his 78 page plan to make Venus and younger sister Serena the world’s best.
As Richard Williams, WIll Smith (Ali, Hancock) hits all the right notes as a man obsessed and determined: yet, for all his wants for Venus (Saniyya Sidney – Fences, Hidden Figures) to be a success, he treads carefully at times, seemingly to the detriment of her success. There’s plenty of confrontations with his wife, Brandy (Aunjanue Ellis – Ray, If Beale St Could Talk) and the tennis world, including top coach Rick Macci (Jon Bernthal – The Many Saints of Newark, Ford vs Ferrari), as Venus (and therefore Richard) takes on allcomers.
Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green (Monsters and Men, TV’s We Own This City) it’s Will Smith’s film as he firmly takes hold of the centre court cajoling, bullying, threatening but with total focus on two of his five daughters. As a narrative, subtle and nuanced it’s not. But as a story it’s totally engrossing with committed performances and a script from first-timer Zach Baylin that simply and effectively does its job.
Nominated for 6 Oscars in 2022 including best film, supporting actress (Aunjanue Ellis) and original screenplay, won best actor for Smith.
An unexpected Oscar winning documentary, Icarus is a two hour expose of a major international sports doping scandal initiated by Russia – with more than a hint the final decision of the reach of the program lying with Vladimir Putin.
What began as American documentary filmmaker Bryan Fogel exploring the opportunities of doping to win an amateur cycling race evolved into something considerably bigger through a chance meeting with Grigory Rodchenkov, director of Russia’s national anti-doping laboratory. As their friendship grows, Rodchenkov reveals to the filmmaker details of the Russian state-sponsored Olympic doping program. Evolving into something of a thriller with Rodchenkov fearing for his life, the level of deception astounds as world sporting authorities respond to the revelations.
It’s an extraordinary tale with the fate of Rodchenkov balancing on a knife edge. But sadly, Fogel cannot resist looking to upstage the Russian scientist as far as screen time is concerned, resulting in an overlong and repititive Icarus where its impact is seriously diluted.
Winner of the 2018 Oscar for best documentary.
Stunningly shot documentary as Alex Honnold looks to become the first to conquer, ‘free solo’, the almost vertical wall that is El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.
A man who lived in his camper van for 10 years, Alex Honnold is genial and obsessed. Free solo (climbing without rope) is his passion and Honnold is one of the best in the world. Free Solo, the documentary from married couple Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi (The Rescue, Meru), follows the climber as he prepares for his greatest challenge.
Interwoven into climbs, abandoned climbs, accidents and reports of climbing deaths are deeply personal moments from Honnold (Chances of falling off are low, but the consequences are high he wryly states), admiration from fellow climbers, reflections by the film crew and concern that they may film him falling to his death and a reluctant acceptance by girlfriend, Sanni McCandless. It’s edge-of-the-cliff heart-stopping stuff as Honnold slowly inches his way up – with the camera crew (roped) ever present.
Winner of the 2019 Oscar for best documentary.
A 1960s black and white British kitchen-sink drama set in Wakefield, Yorkshire, This Sporting Life is the grim tale of the cocky, arrogant hope-to-be professional rugby league player, Frank Machin (Richard Harris – Camelot, Gladiator) as he looks for purpose in his life.
Ruggedly handsome, Machin attracts plenty of attention but it’s his landlady, the widowed Mrs Hammond (a superbly dour Rachel Roberts – Picnic at Hanging Rock, Foul Play) he has eyes for. She’s not so sure – and anxious to avoid any hint of gossip.
Robustly told by director Lindsay Anderson (If…, O Lucky Man!), it’s a raw and violent adaptation of David Storey’s novel as Machin flashes his money as success on the field follows. But the star player is kept firmly in his place by the likes of the club owner, Weaver (Alan Badel – The Day of the Jackal, Arabesque).
Nominated for 2 Oscars in 1964 – best actor and actress.
Saccharine telling of the true story of the younger school days of NFL player Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron – Be Kind Rewind, Halfway) and the wealthy family who take him in.
As good as homeless, a younger Michael ‘Big Mike’ Oher is offered a sporting scholarship at an elite Memphis school. Befriended by S.J. Tuohy (Jae Head – Hancock), the smallest kid in the school, Michael finds himself under the scrutiny of a determined, take-no-nonsense Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock – Gravity, Miss Congeniality). What starts as the offer of a place to sleep one wet, winter’s night changes Michael’s life – with bemused family and friends of the Tuohys looking on.
It’s an extraordinary story with the force of Bullock carrying all before her. But sadly director John Lee Hancock (The Founder, Saving Mr Banks) focusses too much on the feel-good aspects rather than a balanced reality of racism, privilege and prejudice.
Nominated for 2 Oscars in 2009 including best film, won 1 for best actress (Bullock).
A surprising and unexpected best film Oscar winner, Chariots of Fire is the loosely true story of two British athletes and the 1924 Paris Olympic Games.
In a world of privilege and hallowed amateur sporting prowess, Cambridge undergraduate Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross – First Knight, Star Trek) looks to the fastest man alive accolade at the 100 metres sprint. But he faces serious competition from another British runner – Scottish missionary Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson – Gandhi, Greystoke). Abrahams looks to his coach, Sam Mussabini (Ian Holm – The Lord of the Rings, The Aviator); Liddell battles with his faith.
As English tradition of the ruling classes is confronted by the rise of the working class and a new world order of professionalism in sport, so the two men must find a way to overcome their differences and represent their country – even if, as a Scot, Liddell finds the British Olympic Committee less than supportive of his religious concerns.
Episodic and predictable, director Hugh Hudson (Greystoke, Revolution) tells the tale effectively with a memorable score from Vangelis. It’s all very polite, occasionally stuffy but still unashamedly rousing.
Nominated for 7 Oscars in 1982 including best director and supporting actor (Holm), won 4 – best film, original screenplay (Colin Welland), soundtrack and costume (Milena Canonero).
A powerful performance by Matt Levett (TV’s Wolf Creek, A Place to Call Home) as the sexually repressed bully Len provides bravado to an uneven but absorbing narrative.
An alpha male with attitude, Len is top dog at the local Sydney surf life-saving club – as was his dad before him. But younger, gay newcomer Phil (Jack Matthews – 1500 Steps) displaces him. Intimidation and bullying finds Len confronting his own sexual desires as a King’s Cross alcohol-fuelled celebration leads to tragedy.
Brutal and confronting, Drown is not easy viewing. Levett is menacing as the angry Len, but Matthews in his passivity is unconvincing and ineffectual, creating an imbalance. Some scenes work better than others but conflicted and sexually confused, it’s Levett’s film all the way.
Driven and determined, Michael Schumacher is a seven-time Formula 1 world champion. But a severe brain injury in a near fatal skiing accident in 2013 has left him away from the sport he loved and out of the public eye. Directed by Hanns-Bruno Kammertöns, Vanessa Nöcker and Michael Wech, Schumacher, through archival footage and interviews with family members, colleagues and adversaries provides an intimate insight into the man.
From an ordinary German working-class background, so much against the grain of a privileged sport, Schumacher’s love of cars and speed developed through the family go-karting business. Single-minded, he rose to be world number one, idolised the world over. But Schumacher is not the incisive documentary it should be.
Interviews past and present show him to be a loving, caring family man supporting charitable causes and uncomfortable with fame. But there’s a lack of any real analysis of Schumacher the driver beyond the news reports and archive footage. His focus and determination put others at risk. Little of significance is raised as Schumacher sits in neutral, valuing the cooperation of the family above any controversies. But what makes this particular documentary moving is the sense of absence – the lack of the man himself. Little has been seen or heard of Michael Schumacher since the accident.
Michael is here. Different but here says Corinna, his wife of 25 plus years. And that’s all we get in terms of an update of a sporting legend.