Tag Archives: Jeremiah Zagar

We’re Gonna Need a Montage


by George Wolf

Adam Sandler’s passion for basketball is fairly well known, so the fact that Hustle is a love letter to the NBA shouldn’t be a huge surprise. And, this being a sports movie, you can expect some familiar benchmarks the film wisely doesn’t shy away from.

But this film about the heart and commitment that’s required in the Association boasts plenty of both from nearly everyone involved, landing Netflix an enjoyable winner.

Sandler plays Stanley Sugerman, a road-weary scout for the Philadelphia 76ers whose devotion to team owner Rex Merrick (Robert Duvall) is finally rewarded with a job on the bench as Assistant Coach.

But with clear shades of the Buss family drama in L.A., Rex’s son Vince (Ben Foster) wrestles control of the team from his sister (Heidi Gardner), and Stan is back living out of a suitcase while he scours the globe for a susperstar.

Writers Will Fetters and Taylor Materne set some nice stakes early, as Vince dangles a return to coaching in front of Stan. The quicker he finds the team a game-changing phenom, the sooner he can be home closer to his wife (Queen Latifah) and daughter (Jordan Hull).

On a gritty playground in Spain, Stan thinks he’s found his unicorn in the 6’9” Bo Cruz (NBA vet Juancho Hernangomez). The talk of big money lures Bo to Philly, but the path to a payday hits some roadblocks, and Bo’s longing for this mom and daughter back home creates some effective character-driven parallels with Stan.

Sandler and Hernangomez share a sweet, funny chemistry, and a constant stream of past and present NBA stars adds plenty of authenticity. Even better is director Jeremiah Zagar’s (We the Animals) skill in framing on-court action with speed, sweat and a tense, in-the-moment feel that gives the standard sports themes some needed vitality.

Hustle is a story of father figures, redemption, perseverance, and leaving your mark. No one’s claiming to re-invent anything here, and the winking nod to an iconic Rocky moment cements a self-awareness that only adds to the film’s charm.

It’s also another example of Sandler’s versatility, and the good that comes from surrounding himself with unique voices. When Sandler cares, he shines.

And he clearly cares about basketball.

Animal Logic

We the Animals

by Rachel Willis

Imaginative Jonah is the focal point of director Jeremiah Zagar’s family drama, We the Animals. Based on Justin Torres’s novel of the same name, Zagar and co-writer Daniel Kitrosser successfully enter the realm of adolescent boys.

The youngest of three brothers, Jonah is the film’s narrator. His quiet observations allow him to remain nearly invisible to the adults around him. He sees things others might miss, and with an artist’s eye, he renders his observations into illustrations that jump off the page.

With his two older brothers, Manny and Joel, Jonah navigates his parents’ volatile relationship. Though there is love between his Paps and Ma, there are also moments of violence.

While the time period of the film is never explicitly stated, based on a few clues it’s likely the mid-1980’s. It’s a time when kids ran wild outdoors without cell phones or tablets in hand. The cinematography captures the sunny summer days when aimless kids roamed far and wide. It perfectly evokes the innocence and curiosity of young children.

As Joel and Manny enter into adolescence and leave childhood behind, Jonah falls further into his own world. The three brothers, at first inseparable, start to drift apart. While Joel and Manny seek to become men just like their father, Jonah tries to carve out his own identity. It puts him at odds not only with his siblings, but his parents as well.

There’s a dream-like quality to the movie reminiscent of films such asĀ Beasts of the Southern Wild and Pan’s Labyrinth. Though Zagar’s approach is slightly less fantastic than either film, there is still a lovable, magnetic child at the center. As Jonah, Evan Rosado joins the ranks of child actors whose talent belies their age.

Zagar proves his mettle as both writer and director. His previous works include a number of solid documentaries (Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart, In a Dream), but as his first feature film We the Animals is a marvelous addition to his body of work.