When I see that a film is about a group of high school or college athletes, I instantly think “overblown inspirational drama concerning overcoming adversity and/or diversity,” and shudder. Will there be a half time speech that changes the most important game these youths face, turning things around for an amazing last second win? Will the awkward teammate who is discriminated against early and often make the difference? Can the coach maneuver through the proverbial minefield put in front of him to turn the unruly and untalented crew into winners? Will David defeat Goliath? It’s not my fault, really, that I am so jaded on these sports films; if anything, I blame 'Remember the Titans,' 'Glory Road,' 'Miracle,' and 'Friday Night Lights' for turning the genre that houses legends like 'Hoosiers' and 'Rudy' into a cliche-riddled regurgitation factory. What happened original, unique youth-oriented sports films like 'Hoop Dreams?'
Perhaps the only way to get an honest, realistic look at sports in the crucial developmental stage is to view a different kind of sports film, like 'Gunnin' for That #1 Spot.'
'Gunnin' for That #1 Spot' is a documentary-like film, directed by Adam Yauch (better known as MCA from the Beastie Boys, also the director of 'Awesome, I Shot That'), that covers the 24 players in the first ever Elite 24 basketball game at what some may consider the shrine for amateur hoops: Rucker Park. 'Gunnin' takes an especially close look at eight of these participants: Donte Green, Jerryd Bayless, Kevin Love, Brandon Jennings, Kyle Singler, Michael Beasley, Tyreke Evans, and Lance Stephenson, as their hoops history is fleshed out through interviews with family, scouts, and home video quality footage of their high school games, before jumping into the game itself.
It's somewhat ironic that 'Gunnin' for That #1 Spot' misses the mark, "gunnin" more for a prolonged introduction to a small portion of the players, rather than mixing these sections into the basketball action. By the time the actual Elite 24 game begins, most of the target audience will have been turned off, or will have turned off the feature itself. There are some cutaways from the game once it starts, but they're short. Still, they show that Yauch didn't intend to present the game uninterrupted. In fact, much of the game isn't even shown (you'll have to visit the extras to see most of the action, sadly), as many shots or plays have rewind/replay in slow motion, or moments where the fake "card" of a player will pop up, with new brands given by commentator Bobbito.
While I did find the opening hour an outright bore, the last half hour was almost pure gold, as the game played already so long ago (September 1, 2006) is chock full of fantastic plays by these youths who didn't have any real chemistry, as they were far more often adversaries than teammates in the past. There are alley-oops galore in this game that had a predominant inside presence, where sharpshooting and defense played second and third fiddle to these players' obvious passion: driving to the hole. That isn't to say these players aren't talented shooters as well, as there is some amazing shooting on display, including a three-quarter court shot (half-court ain't shit these days) that is nothing but net, though it sadly was past the buzzer. There is some trick passing to be found as well, and many youthful mistakes, as these players are obviously used to being men among children on the court, not used to playing against similar-caliber players.
'Gunnin' for That #1 Spot' doesn't pull any punches, as we're given a very raw look at what makes these guys want to play, want to succeed. We're even given some wonderful motivation from one of the coaches, "I'll tell you this...in Africa, they got AIDS. In basketball, they have the disease of me." Yeah, nice political correctness there, coach, you're a fine inspiration to these youths. But that's just it, really. These guys aren't going to be babied their entire lives. Guest speakers Lawrence Frank, Jason Kidd, and Ben Gordon also try to pound home some reality for these players (their entire speeches are found in the extras), as the NCAA and NBA won't treat them like like superstars, they're going to have to earn it.
With a few changes to its formula, 'Gunnin' for That #1 Spot' could have been a true great of the sports film genre, but it will have to settle for a place somewhat near mediocrity, likely to be forgotten with each passing year. Yauch's approach to this film is full of good intentions, but it falters on the execution. Still, there is no arguing the originality, and for hoops fans, this is one that should not be missed.
'Gunnin' for That #1 Spot' is more of a layup than a slam dunk in the video department, but two points are two points. Presented in 1080p with an AVC MPEG-4 codec, the film boasts a wide range footage quality.
The opening shot, a standard def handicam shot which was riddled with tons of artifacts, off colors (blacks were green, for example), and more macroblocking than Lego Land, struck me with fear. Was I in store for another 'Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter?' Thankfully, this film doesn't get anywhere near that low quality, as that opening shot was clearly the weakest in the film.
The film jumps back and forth between solid high def quality shots, to archival/vintage footage, so there isn't a consistent appearance, but it's really not fair to judge the film by the fact that it includes low grade game footage or family videos of the participants. Contrast is good throughout the shots made for the film, with a black level that is fairly decent and never swallows up detail, as fabric textures and patterns remain clear. Colors can be a bit over saturated, on the Elite 24 jerseys, to the point that they appear smeared. The grain level is incredibly soft, while the overhead shots of NYC were beautiful and sharp. I did notice some minor artifacting on the surface of the multi-colored court, but it was nothing major. This release truly surprised me.
Just like the film itself, the audio takes a little while to get into full effect. 'Gunnin' for That #1 Spot' will rattle more than just a few rims with its Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix, that's for sure, though the audio is far from superb.
The freakishly slow opening sequence (everything before the game itself) features a very subdued sound mix, with a few R&B/rap songs that sport a hearty bass. This is a good/bad thing, as the rattles and rumbles completely overpower the rest of the music (which at times had a feedback sound to it), and the film itself. Dialogue, which is the primary component of the first hour of the film, isn't always perfectly clear, even when it isn't drowned out. The pre-game audio doesn't have much in terms of sound design, either, as it has a few instances of localized sounds hitting random speakers, and some echoing effects, but is for the most part a front heavy affair.
Once the game starts, though, so does the sound design. Music bleeds far more obviously to the rears, while the bass rumble is a bit less dominating. I could catch a few moments of in-game trash talking ("You're ugly as shit!"), while the game constantly had rewind and fast forward effects that had isolated basketball sounds (balls bouncing, hands clapping etc.) that were clear as day. I caught some feedback in the voices of some of the interview segments that are cut into the game, though, so it isn't like the film has a completely different or improved feel. There isn't much range of sound, as the only high range noises are the isolated game effects, so this track does sound a bit flat. It's a nice effort, to be sure, and it does well with its obvious limitations, but this track is about as consistent as Shaq's free throw shooting.
The packaging (a BD sized digipak that is very frail, with a sleeve rather than a disc holder) for 'Gunnin' for That #1 Spot' advertises a short list of extras, with "a bunch of other cool things." They weren't joking when they said a bunch. There's a wide range of extras to be found here, with many slam dunks, but a few airballs.
Oscilloscope Pictures (founded by Yauch) made the most of their Blu-ray for 'Gunnin' for That #1 Spot,' as the fun film sports a very nice presentation, and a flat out amazing set of extras that at times outshine the film itself. It's a shame that this Blu-ray seems to have slipped through the cracks widely unnoticed. While I'm more of an NBA guy, most of my friends who like basketball prefer the NCAA, so I can see both audiences enjoying this release, as there really is something for any type of basketball fan. That said, the film is very slow, and would probably bore the living daylights out of anyone who isn't a hardcore fan of the sport.