25 posts categorized "Sports"

May 06, 2013


Venus and SerenaWatching this engaging sports documentary about two of the most daunting players in women’s tennis won’t necessarily help your ability to tell Venus and Serena Williams apart. It does, however, provide an intimate window into the background, lives, and challenges of two of tennis’s fiercest players.

Though they were born more than a year apart, Venus and Serena proved equally talented players from a young age, under the perceptive tutelage of their womanizing father Richard and supportive mother Oracene. Archival footage of Richard training his well-behaved daughters on courts in Compton, California speaks volumes about the heightened level of sportsmanship the girls achieved at a young age and the family’s determination to rise above their surroundings.


This efficient documentary gains emotional weight from specific sequences of tournament play during 2011. In the face of vocal and symbolic racism — from crowds and tennis officials alike — both women display a tenacity of sprit that is all composed energy and skill. Physical ailments take a toll on both women. Venus battles against an autoimmune disease. Serena suffers from a pulmonary embolism. Seeing the women work through their individual illnesses demonstrates their inner character in personal terms. Talking-head interview segments with such luminaries as John McEnroe, Anna Wintour, and President Bill Clinton provide social context.


“Venus and Serena” keeps a safe distance from its furtive subjects. Audiences hoping for a warts-and-all exposé will be disappointed. However, those hoping to gain insight into the physical and mental struggles that Serena and Venus Williams have gone through will be richly rewarded. It’s one thing to watch Venus or Serena play tennis in competition and wonder about their personalities. It’s gratifying in a different way to see how they express themselves and live their lives. Everything adds up: you start to understand their humanity and their mutual need for one another.


Rated PG-13. 99 mins.

5 Stars

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

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November 26, 2012


Waiting for LightningPutting a face to the name of gifted skateboarder Danny Way who jumped over the Great Wall of China in 2005, documentarian Jacob Rosenberg gets inside his subject's ambitious personality.

As a child the charismatic Way suffered a hardscrabble home life. Way’s response was to decide to become one of the best skateboarders in the world. You don’t have to be a sports fan or care about skateboarding to revel in Way's unfathomable sense of balance and technical skill on a skateboard. Concise interview clips with family members, friends, and peers like Tony Hawk and Laird Hamilton fill out Way’s absorbing journey to performing one of the most mind-bending stunts you could ever imagine.

Image result for WAITING FOR LIGHTNING danny way

Not many Americans have their names engraved on China’s Great Wall. Daredevil Danny Way certainly deserves the honor. Get stoked.

Rated PG-13. 80 mins.

3 Stars

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon.

Cole Smithey on Patreon

February 12, 2012



Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This ad-free website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon. Thanks a lot pal! Your kind generosity keeps the reviews coming!

Cole Smithey on Patreon


ColeSmithey.comMemphis Microcosm
High School Football Doc Examines America’s Race Crisis
By Cole Smithey

The underbelly of America’s racial and economic divide is eloquently explored in this unpretentious documentary about a generous Memphis high school football coach and the impoverished young men he attempts to elevate to a better life.

Coach Bill Courtney is one of a kind. A successful white businessman with picture-perfect family living in a mansion on the good side of town, Bill Courtney has a gift for coaching football. He also runs a lumber company, although you’d never guess it from the amount of time and energy he dedicates to coaching football. You’d be hard-pressed to imagine a more perfect model of a coach.

Movie Review—Undefeated: Oscar Night Lights? | TIME.com

With his slight Southern drawl he tells his players, "You think football builds character. It does not; football reveals character."

Indeed, high school football allows the empathetic and fiercely driven Bill Courtney to express his well-placed individuality in the service of helping his players define their potential on and off the field.  

Coach Courtney knows how to motivate his Manassas team of African-American players whose at-risk environment threatens to drag any one of them down in a vicious undertow on any given day. A school bell rings at 3:30 pm. The doughy-faced Coach Courtney addresses his team of brooding players with a list of their teammates who have been shot, arrested, or suspended over the past two weeks. Undaunted by the incremental incidents that undermine his team, Courtney knows how to turn adversity into an advantage without batting an eye.

Undefeated (2011) Review |BasementRejects

Famous for never having won a playoff game in the school’s 110-year history, Manassas High School is the last football team anyone in a 150-mile radius expects to hear anything positive about — ever. Nonetheless, six years of coaching the same group of boys has put Coach Courtney’s squad on the precipice of being able to break that losing streak if only they can focus on the fleeting opportunity before them.


It’s tempting to wax poetic about the energetic 2009 season we witness the Manassas Tigers play through, but the meat of the story comes down to three players. Montrail “Money” Brown is a physically undersized offensive lineman with heart and serious goals for college. An injury threatens to keep Money off the field for the entire season. Money’s vacillating confidence level jeopardizes the necessary physical therapy sessions that could put him back in the game.

Undefeated DVD Review

Chavis Daniels is an ex-con from a youth penitentiary whose skill on the football field is overshadowed by his uncontrollable temper off of it. O.C. Brown is a gifted right tackle with the demeanor of a teddy bear and a remedial level of academic comprehension. How each young man matures under Bill Courtney’s judicious supervision is as inspirational as it is edifying.


Co-directors Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin employ a judicious vérité style that brings a social context to their film. An unobtrusive but effective musical score resonates as an aural background. Intimate interview segments with Bill Courtney allows their de facto protagonist to express candid exposition about crucial elements such as the way his team has historically been mistreated as a punching bag by rival teams. Humorous exchanges occur during car rides. An on-field camera pan blurs left to catch the coach taking a call from a wealthy local supporter willing to pay for one player’s college education. Tight close-ups heighten the drama of the reactions exchanged in one of the film’s most emotionally charged scenes. Tears flow. This is powerful stuff.

The filmmakers’ careful editing of exciting football game footage allows for a dynamic contrast between the energizing, almost magical, effect of the games, and the depressing atmosphere of violence, poverty, and loss that the young players contend with in their daily lives.

Undefeated - Is Undefeated on Netflix - FlixList

An aspect of intrinsic dramatic depth comes from Bill Courtney’s own family. He and his wife have two girls and two boys — aged 11 through 14. Concerned that his commitments to the Manassas Tigers are preventing him from giving proper attention to his own children, Courtney struggles with a decision to stop coaching. His own lack of a father growing up has made him keenly aware of his responsibilities to his children. As an audience member, you really feel like you get to know exactly who this man is. The film’s Academy Award nomination has brought it much deserved attention. “Undefeated” is a brilliant documentary that every teacher in America should see.

Rated PG-13. 110 mins.


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