(Article originally published as “Movie Review: ‘The Short Game’” on Blogcritics.org)
Fifteen hundred golfers, 60 countries. six months preparation, one championship, and not a single athlete over the age of eight. Those stats form the bones of Netflix’s latest original venture (and first ever documentary), The Short Game. But the flesh that hangs off those bones has more to do with passion and personality than numbers.
The documentary chronicles the personal ups and downs of eight of those 1500 child athletes as they compete in the U.S. Kids Golf World Championship in North Carolina. While the content of The Short Game isn’t earth-shattering, it’s an enjoyable watch as it draws you into the lives of the people involved. Moreover, it manages to make the game of golf compelling by making it about the golfers, not the golf. It depicts the kids well — so well that you’ll find yourself rooting for every single one of them, because really, despite their extraordinary circumstances, they’re all just little kids with big dreams.
Non-golf fans, take note: You don’t have to love the game to love this movie. Yes, you will watch people stand for minutes lining up their putts. Yes, you will listen to accounts of driving practice and bogies. And yes, you will watch rigorous training routines, hear talk about core strength, and see more collared microfiber shirts than you could ever imagine. But the real stars of the film — the real impetus behind it altogether — are the kids. I challenge you not to love at least one of these kids. I challenge you not to be touched by Zama’s infectious smile and goofy demeanor, or by Kuang’s quiet, philosophical approach and measured confidence. They’re all painted so vividly that it’s easy to see these aren’t the heavily coached, obsessive robots you might have been expecting to see in a wunderkind documentary; despite their incredible skills (and despite their sometimes insanely competitive parents), they’re just kids. They want to play tag and build sand castles, and their good luck tokens are stuffed animals. They know everything there is to know about a sport, but they’re naïve about the rest of the world. They want their dads to marry Lady Gaga. They think farts are super funny. Their talent and drive and grueling training regimens haven’t marred them or made them wise beyond their years. They’re still playful and curious. This is a relief (at least it was on my part), and makes it a little easier to believe that these kids are still golfing because they want to, and not because their parents are making them.
Though there are definitely shades of “stage mom”-calibre parenting in the mix. In some parts, the film almost becomes a study of these kids’ folks as much as it is of the kids. Take Augustin’s mom, a woman who seems to think that her genetic line is one of unparalleled talent, and that her son is just one more in a long line of supreme geniuses. Her narcissistic ramblings and judgmental parenting style are more than a little off-putting. Similarly off-putting is Alexa’s dad. A heavily tanned, strongly opinionated pusher with a big mouth that never stops spewing advice on technique and motivation, he does more to illustrate his daughter’s patience than anything else. Then there’s Kuang’s dad, quietly watching from the sidelines, more bewildered by his son’s talent than anything else. Just as with the kids themselves, their parents represent a spectrum of human personalities that you can’t help but be intrigued by — whether you love ‘em or hate ‘em.
While the film is mainly about these kids, their personalities as athletes, and the parents who got them there, wider themes do come into play. Global perspectives of sport are touched upon, as we get glimpses of how different cultures pump themselves up to compete — praying, celebrating, diligently practicing… The financial realities of golf are also briefly acknowledged by one athlete’s father; a mention of the sacrifice and struggle this level of competition requires for many people. I couldn’t help but think of all the kids who would’ve wanted to be in Amari or Sky’s shoes if it wasn’t so cost-prohibitive. Golf has a lot of elitist stereotypes attached to it for a reason, and these 7- and 8-year-olds aren’t exempt from that. Though really, the mention of finances is brief, and then the film goes quickly back to glossing over the class-specific nature of the sport.
As a documentary of not much consequence, The Short Game does a good job of giving you an entertaining look at what competitive sports are all about: the athletes. In this case, some rather charismatic, incredibly young athletes. I won’t ruin the ending for you, but after getting to know these kids, you just might cry when you see how proud the champions are. Also, there’s a kitten!
The Short Game premieres across all Netflix platforms on December 12th.
As a continuation of its efforts to branch into new genres of entertainment, Netflix recently announced the release of its very first original children’s show. It’s a CG cartoon called Turbo: FAST, and it’s about snails. Racecar snails. Which, if I take off my grumpy hat for one second, actually sounds pretty darn cute.
But they’re being smart about it in a way that while I wouldn’t have thought of it myself, makes perfect sense (which is why I’m not in charge of strategy at Netflix Originals). Instead of releasing the entire first season of the show at once, they’re doing it in several batches of five episodes each, with each release timed around a holiday. The first bunch will launch Christmas Eve; the rest are still TBA.
This is an excellent strategy because it fits perfectly with kids’ viewing habits. Kids don’t binge on strings of episodes; they watch the same thing over and over again until every adult around them wants to puke at the very mention of the thing in question. So what’s the use in releasing a show all at once if it’s not going to be consumed all at once? Might as well wait it out, give it time to sink in, and then give kids a fun new thing to look forward to later. And the holiday releases are an excellent strategy, too. When do kids have the most free time, no school, and parents who are so fed up with them not being in school that they just want to park them in front of the tube to zombify? During the holidays. Give the kids something to obsess over; give the parents some quiet time. Boom.
Meanwhile, adults can look forward to Netflix’s fantastic first documentary venture, The Short Game, premiering December 12th (my review is forthcoming). So everyone in the family is getting a little gift from Netflix for the holidays! God, I love Netflix so much. Have you noticed..?
(Article first published as “Alec Baldwin Deserved to Get Canned And He Should Take a Lesson From Donald Trump” on Blogcritics.org)
Everybody could benefit from some mentoring, even Alec Baldwin.
After his most recent tirade (against a photographer this time, not his daughter or a flight attendant or a paparazzo), during which he used a nasty, homophobic slur, Baldwin’s MSNBC show got cancelled. This was kind of expected in TV circles, and there wasn’t really any fuss. ‘Cause he deserved it.
The entertainment industry is pretty free-wheeling in a lot of ways, but network TV is still rather puritanical when it comes to language; it’s fairly well understood that, as a television personality, there are some words you just can’t use. As arguably arbitrary the division between appropriate and inappropriate language may be, there are rules, and Alec broke them. He obviously can’t be trusted to live life without a script. He’s a liability. He’s a loose cannon. He’s not worth the trouble.
But really, Baldwin should take a lesson from another notoriously outspoken and combative TV personality: Donald Trump. Continue Reading
Guys, I can officially call myself an Editor now. Like, a real one — not just a person who spell-checked all her own essays in high school. I’ve been lucky enough to join the folks over at Qodda Mag as their TV Editor, and I couldn’t be happier. The Jeffersons theme song has been my personal soundtrack for the last week. The site just launched last weekend, and we’re working on becoming a destination for info and opinions on everything from pop culture to tech, politics to LGBT issues, with a decidedly youthful slant. So far, so good! Check out the site to find out more, and follow @QoddaMagazine on Twitter for updates.
Now that I got my bragging outta the way, let’s talk about Awkward.
MTV really likes Awkward. So much so, that they’ve already pre-preemptively ordered 10 more episodes of it for next year. So it seems the folks behind the show have some bragging of their own to do… Read more about Awkward’s season 4 windfall over on Qodda!
(This post was originally published July 26, 2013.)
The new age of celebrity is all about selling lifestyle. It’s not enough now for an actor to be in movies or on TV, it has to be more; it has to be perfumes, memoirs, make-up lines, and clothing brands. Maybe a charity or a restaurant for good measure. Celebrities are now marketing to every aspect of our lives, not just entertainment. And it’s reciprocal. Step 1: Celebrities invade every nook and cranny of our consumerist lives. Step 2: We consume not only celebrities’ work, but their entire lives.
It’s easy to see this consumerist shift at work. Drew Barrymore sells us Flower Makeup while giving us tips with the intonation of our BFF and lamenting her pimples. George Clooney sells us tequila by bringing us into his bedroom to make jokes about wife-swapping with his best friend. Jessica Alba pretty much stops acting to become a celebrity mom, push organic baby products, and do Android commercials about how she balances work and family. Gwyneth Paltrow is maybe the best example of all: with GOOP, the cookbooks, the designer collaborations, the exorbitantly expensive wardrobe recommendations, and the anecdotes about her pubic hair, Paltrow wins the game of selling us her whole life — and we win the game of buying it.
These kinds of lifestyle brand extensions bother me. They feel so cloying, so desperate, and so exploitative. Mutually and reciprocally exploitative, sure — they are asking for our money, but we are demanding they reveal their lives to us in return — but icky all the same. I also feel like celebrities should stick to what they do best — act if you act, sing if you sing, but please don’t pretend you can formulate the world’s best tequila. And please don’t try to pass a savvy marketing opportunity off as a genuine life’s passion.
Nicole Richie joined the ranks of the lifestyle celebrity a while back with her web series for AOL, Candidly Nicole. And… it doesn’t bother me. GOOP bothers me. The Honest Company bothers me. I’m not even indifferent to it, like I am to Flower Makeup or Clooney-approved liquor. Surprisingly, in the arena of obnoxious ploys to leverage fame into dollars, Candidly Nicole comes off as remarkably sincere. Charming, even. FUNNY, if you can believe it. Continue Reading
(This post was originally published December 24, 2012.)
For the past couple years, Louis CK’s career has been on fire. He’s a comedy darling, has been for a long time, but now he’s also a household name thanks to his show Louie on FX. Before watching Louie, I thought I liked Louis CK. At least, I liked him as Officer Dave Sanderson on Parks and Rec. Was that enough to say I liked him? I used to think so. Continue Reading
Peter Sarsgaard and AMC swooped in to save The Killing last time around, but this time it’s Netflix to the rescue. After it’s temporary cancellation, the online distribution route was discussed by many folks in the blogosphere (my most favourite lame word ever) as the obvious solution. Netflix and other SVOD services have made their name in part as a home for the under-appreciated, the under-funded, and the cult classics, and The Killing fell into two of those categories. But then AMC decided that a renewal was maybe possibly potentially a good investment, and they cancelled their cancellation.
But after its second cancellation, The Killing is finally heading online for a brief and final season. This feels right. Netflix is the right place for a show like this, because it’s the kind of show you want — even NEED — to binge on. The first two seasons and their drawn-out Rosie Larsen case seemed interminable if you were waiting a week in between each crawling step in the investigation. But if you watched it online after it aired, it felt more like a carefully and gently paced thriller, with the unhurried roll-out of a civilized British mystery. The slowness of each individual episode served to build tension and pull you in, not make you huffy and impatient.
So this feels good. This feels right. And though there’s no word yet on plot or release date (the thing doesn’t even have writers yet!), this is definitely something I intend on watching.
We, the TV viewing public, have been conditioned to expect a specific caliber of entertainment from HBO. I’m not just talking about production values and aesthetic quality; I’m talking about a certain feel. HBO is gritty (Boardwalk Empire). HBO pushes boundaries of acceptability (Hung). HBO is not afraid of nudity (Girls). HBO is not afraid to make you a little uncomfortable (Curb Your Enthusiasm). And then HBO is also Looking.
To me, the trailer makes it look like a Richard Curtis movie. It looks like a young, idealistic guy searching for love in the big city, naively hoping for a soul mate and having his hopes gently dashed. I’m imagining that a grand romantic gesture from a good friend/potential lover will close out the season 1 finale. Oh, and the shtick is that everyone’s gay. It looks like a gay Love Actually.
Don’t get me wrong — I don’t have a problem with this. I actually get sick of HBO’s often brooding tone, and I think it could use some lighter fare, something that isn’t violent and doesn’t scream “NEUROSES, WE ALL HAVE NEUROSES”, something that doesn’t look like it was written by Woody Allen’s intern. Hello Ladies and Veep have been a good start, and maybe Looking will continue in this lighter vein. Or maybe it’s just a wildly misleading trailer.
Guess we’ll find out when it premieres January 19th…
I do a lot of reading online. Call it research, call it recreation, call it procrastination — whatever the justification, it happens. I read a lot of things I like, a lot of things I have no opinion whatsoever about, and a few odd things I detest. But sometimes, it’s not the article or blog post that draws my attention the most; it’s the comments. One particular commenter caught my eye the other night, and I instantly launched into a pretty intense obsession. Like, I NEEDED TO KNOW who this person was. I needed to know their every online move. Because he/she was either pretty much insane, or a talented aspiring writer for The Colbert Report.
The article I saw the comment on was about why Glee is great, and it was written by a bright, insightful teenager and was full of very valid points which I wholeheartedly agreed with. It was sensitive and thoughtful. And then I scrolled down (because I can never resist the cluster f-ck of an online comments section), to see this: