Dwarf Tossing and The Damned United

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We are all familiar with the sports movie plot. This is one of the most formulaic sub-genres in film ever. A team of pretty much any sport, I’m going to say dwarf tossing just to amuse myself, (it’s a real sport. If you don’t believe me, google it). Anyway, a dwarf  tossing team is very bad, unable to toss a dwarf three feet. Despicable. First plot twist. The dwarf tossing team has a new coach! No! He’ll mess with their dwarf tossing style. The coach has to prove himself. And he ends up making the dwarf tossers a real team who truly grow to understand the meaning of dwarf tossing. The team improves, learn how to toss a dwarf hundreds of feet, and they win a championship and more importantly, to believe in themselves. All because they can toss a dwarf. That was fun.

My point is, we’ve all seen this sports movie hundreds of times. As Americans, we love underdog stories. We love believing that David can defeat Goliath. And I understand that.

My question, then, is, can’t you mix it up a bit? Make the plot a little more complex? Make it about more than just the underdog story? In response, Hollywood seems to have said no to that question, with a few exceptions. Who doesn’t love Remember the Titans after all?

Which is why I was so happy to find a sports movie that does more than set up the underdog story. It is more a deep character piece that warns of blind ambition and asserts the value of friendship. That and I got to see hot British football players take off their shirts. What more do you need? I’m talking about The Damned United.

This British film about football (soccer to my fellow Americans) was directed by Tom Hooper and released in 2009. It is loosely based on the football managing of Brian Clough (Micheal Sheen), who is offered the intimidating position of manager of the best English football team. Clough has to fight to fill the shoes of his predecessor and bitter rival, Don Revie (Colm Meaney) facing the adverse circumstances of a cheating team only loyal to Revie, and the animosity of Clough’s former partner, Peter Taylor (Timothy Spall (we all know him as Peter Pettigrew)).

What I love most about this movie was the plot structure. The events are not consecutive. It switches between the events of 1974, when Clough if managing the best team in England, and the events leading up to 1974, when Clough and Peter are turning the underdog Darby team into champions. I felt this was a very insightful choice, because at first you don’t really know what has brought these events to pass, and the viewer is eager to understand. This tactic immerses you in the film.

And as I stated before, this movie shows another side of sports other than the underdog side, probably because it’s British and not American. I am not making a racist comment, I am simply asserting that the addiction to underdog stories is usually an American phenomenon considering the nature of the American Revolution. This movie is not about that, and not really even about the sport itself. I think at the heart of it, this movie is about Clough’s blind ambition. It goes to his head and prevents him from managing his team. It’s like Macbeth with a football.

My one complaint with this movie is something very very nit-picky which just shows how good this movie is that I wasn’t able to find a more substantial flaw. During one game, text goes on screen saying the team was having it’s worst start in 20 years. Not two minutes later, the screen cuts to Clough’s boss who says exactly that, word for word. If I just read the info, why does someone need to say it? It’s redundant. Either cut the text or cut the line. But again, very very nit-picky.

So for transcending its genre and for giving me an excuse to say bloody a few times tomorrow, I give the Damned United a 9 out of 10. As they would say in football, OOOOOOLLLLLEEEEE OLE OLE OOOLLLLEEE!

An Education: Don’t Take the Banana, Jenny, Don’t Take the Banana

For my first movie critique, I thought I would assess the quality of a movie I watched just a few days ago, An Education. This British indie film was released in 2009 and received a significant amount of critical acclaim despite accusations of anti-Semitism (I guess director Lone Scherfig didn’t know that making a Jewish character a cradle-robbing conman is just not in vogue).

The film is set in a convincing 1960’s London (actually I don’t have much authority on that considering I’ve never been to London and I’m not, well, in my 50’s) where Jenny, a clever young woman, played to perfection by Carey Mulligan, is in her last year of primary school and dreams of going to Oxford when she falls head over heels for David (Peter Sarsgaard), a man twice her age. In her infatuation, Jenny drops out of school and abandons her dreams of Oxford to marry David, only to discover that he is already married (who didn’t see that coming, really?). Jenny has to pick up the pieces of her shattered life to get back on track and make it to Oxford.

Over all, I really enjoyed this movie. It is witty and sexy. My favorite part is when David makes Jenny actually have to say “I don’t want to lose my virginity to a fruit!” (Just to alleviate confusion, she means fruit in the literal sense). I don’t think such a combination of words has ever been uttered in the English language before. This movie is also appealing because of its feminist implications. It does more than just reaffirm the common female notion that men suck (come on, you know you do). An Education asserts a message of independence.

However, the great thing about this film is that it even transcends a feminist interpretation. Both the title and Jenny’s conflict expresses a very important question: what is the most important kind of education? Is it formal or life experience? The movie suggests that a person doesn’t have to choose between the two, and choosing actually is very limiting, as it was limiting to Jenny. She wasn’t happy just working hard at school, and of course dropping out of school doesn’t work out for her too much. It’s not until the end of the movie, when she’s in Oxford and meets a man (her age, thank God) who takes her to Paris that she finds true fulfillment.

Despite the movie’s great messages, it does have some flaws. I have two specific ones in mind. The first being that at the end of the movie, Carey Mulligan suddenly does a random voice over to explain the resolution of the film, a technique that annoys me to no end. If there is going to be a voice over in a movie, it better be in the beginning, or at least somewhere else. The second is not so nit-picky. When Jenny discovers that David is married and that she has nothing, she goes to her previous teacher and asks for help. The next scene, she is opening her acceptance letter from Oxford. Excuse me, but we are missing a key bit of information there. How exactly was Jenny able to get in to Oxford after she left school? I want to know what that teacher did. The only thing I can guess is that she slept with the dean or something, but considering this movie has a feminist message, I hope that’s not what happened. For me, that is an inexcusable hole of information.

Considering those are the only flaws I could see, I would conclude that for the most part this is indeed a good movie. I give it 7 out of 10.