Sports Movies!

*This column appears in the 3.9.11 issue of The Stylus

Two things I love: sports and movies. One thing I rarely like: sports movies. It’s weird, but for the most part sports movies are so predictable and cliché. The same themes are found in every movie. The system works and it’s definitely profitable, but how much longer is this going to go on? It seems every sports film follows the same exact pattern.

Which Mighty Ducks movie made the list? I'll give you a clue, it's the one with Trinidad and Tobego on its movie poster.

Dysfunctional team, dysfunctional coach, things are tense at first, but they rally together, they win a little bit, but then something terrible happens. The team struggles to find their true identity, but they ultimately become greater for triumphing over their prior problems. Then the team ultimately wins the game. But after the team wins the game, the best player and coach share a sort of uncomfortable “I wish you were my dad” moment followed by some Queen music.

With the exception of a handful of films — don’t worry, we’ll get there — sports movies are usually a lousy date movie or a forgettable family film. That’s why when there’s actually  a good sports movie, it resonates and becomes a classic. Our society is so accepting of athletics, that any artistic associations are often overblown.

But give some credit where credit is due. There have been some great sports movies. I’m about to give you my top five in greater detail, but here’s a list of my honorable mentions. The Little Giants, Space Jam, Varsity Blues, The Waterboy, Caddyshack, The Replacements (Falco!), Rudy, Friday Night Lights, Rocky IV2 and The Blindside.

Sorry, but Hoosiers didn’t make the cut. It doesn’t really resonate with younger generations. And, it fails “The Drumline Test.” Drumline that movie with Nick Cannon that is always on cable TV. Disagree as you’d like, but Nick Cannon’s married to Miriah Carey, so…

But “The Drumline Test” asks: if movie X was on TV at the same time Drumline was on TV, which one would you watch? Maybe you’re a huge Hoosiers fan, but you’d probably admit it’s pretty dry and its re-watchability value is on par with movies like Pearl Harbor: Good for one watch about every six years. Basically, it doesn’t along on the list of the truly great sports movies.

However, these movies do:

5) The Sandlot — Most of you probably just nodded and said “classic” quietly to yourself. If you like The Sandlot, you know why it cracked the top-five. If you don’t like The Sandlot, then you’re probably the type of person who wouldn’t accept somebody’s 21 year old ID at a bar on their birthday because it expires that day4.

It breaks cliché rules: Little wiener kid moves to new neighborhood, then Ivan Rodrigeuz’s uncle — Benny “The Jet”3 — reaches out to little weiner kid and introduces him to the fellas and the sport of baseball. Great fun.

It’s cheesy, but there’s something to be said about the innocence of that movie. Even today when I watch it, I think back to my youth and some of the precious memories associated.

Selling Point: I was unsure about putting The Sandlot over The Little Giants for my top five, but  the Jets’ mustache at the end when he’s on the Dodgers was more than enough to seal the deal for The Sandlot.

4) Mighty Ducks 2 — By far the most lighthearted of the Mighty Ducks trilogy, and subsequently, the most enjoyable. The cute childhood story from MD1 was turned on its head in the sequel, as the Ducks became a hockey team of teenage rock stars who had to deal with their egos as much as their opponents. Every one knew that tournament was a two-team race between U.S. and Iceland, but the Americans didn’t disappoint. Charlie Conway, Adam Banks Goldberg and the rest of the Junior All-America squad did our country proud. Until the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics — when the real U.S. hockey team put in a great performance against Canada in the semifinals — I thought the Ducks’ destruction of Trinidad and Tobego in the first round was the most inspired hockey I have ever seen by an American side.

Selling Point: The Bash Brothers. I love those guys.

Selling Point No. 2: Julie “The Cat” Gaffney comes off the bench and makes the game-winning save on Iceland’s Gunner Stahl in shootouts, leading to the memorable Stahl quote (in his thick accent that sounds like a sexy mix of Russian and Scandinavian, perhaps with a tinge of Borat) after the game when the Iceland scorer approaches Charlie Conway and simply states, “Good game, captain Duck.” Priceless.

3) Happy Gilmore — Some people call it a stupid golf movie. Others call it “Adam Sandler’s greatest performance.” I tend to lean toward the latter. It’s certainly between Gilmore and Billy Madison for Sandler’s best movie, but because we’re in the sports section, I’ll just go with golf.

But the movie’s not amazing just because of Gilmore. Chubbs and Shooter are great No. 2 and 3 guys for the cast. Since I’m obligated to keep these columns sports-related, I’ll make the sports analogy that compares Happy Gilmore to the ’96 Bulls.

Gilmore is Jordan, Shooter is Pippen (Like Pippen, Christopher MacDonald —the guy who played Shooter McGavin — was always a great side role, but could never be a leading man), Chubbs is Rodman. Ben Stiller, as the insane guy who works at the retirement home has to be Steve Kerr. The “Grizzly Adams did have a beard guy” is Toni Kukoc and for giggles, our sixth man would be Kevin Nealon as the eccentric Garry Potter who would stand as Ron Harper (you know, a solid 7.4 points per game. Doesn’t look great in a star box, but you know he helps in 5-point games).

Selling Point: The cast is amazing, and it makes this movie as memorable as 70-win ’96 Chicago Bulls.

2) BASEketball — It’s vulgar, it’s dirty, it’s inventive and it’s amazing. It’s everything you could want in a satirical sports movie and so much more. Trey Parker and Matt Stone —creators of South Park — star as two friends whose backyard made-up game turns into a professional sports league. The witty dialogue makes fun of how corporate sponsors have taken the fun out of sports. On the outside, it’s just a hilarious movie about how a silly game became a real sport. But deeper, it’s the story of how commercialized sports have become.

Selling Point: Al Michaels and Bob Costas calling the championship game. Michaels — you know, only the guy who called the “Miracle on Ice” game — desperately declares, “Oh no! It appears La-Z-Boy boy has popped!” It’s amazing — just go watch it.

1) Remember The Titans —  It breaks just about every single sports cliché rule. Dissention between the squad: the school’s football team takes on the task of desegregating schools. New coach has to prove his worth: Denzel Washington replaces the legendary Bill Yoast (His story isn’t cliché: successful white man in an extremely racist era lets his ego take a back seat for the greater good) and is given the ultimatum that if his team loses a single game, he will be let go as head coach. The “come-together” period: After the hostility in training camp, the jog to Gettysburg helps the team grow and the players become best friends. Inevitable drama: The now buddy-buddy team returns to the racially tense T.C. Williams and the players begin to struggle with external forces. Perseverance: The team puts the B.S. aside and plows away all season, racking up win after win until they earn a spot in the state final. The “Titanic hitting the iceberg” moment: All-American defensive end and most vocal team leader, Gerry Bertier, gets in a nasty car accident that leaves the Titan’s best player paralyzed. The “We can do this!” moment: They come out in the first half of the state final slowly, and at halftime, Coach Boone, demoralizing, tells his team for the first time that they’re doing okay.

“It’s alright,” he tells his team in the locker room. “We’re in a fight. You boys are doing all that you can do. Anybody can see that.” He wants his team to understand that there’s more to life than this game. Even if Coach Boone doesn’t actually believe that, he continues, “Win or lose … We’re gonna walk out of this stadium tonight with our heads held high. Do your best, that’s all anybody can ask for.”

But from the team’s most imposing presence, Julius, doesn’t approve of the attidude adjustment. He thinks Coach Boone’s sudden change in acceptance is, well, unacceptable.

Julius stands up during the coach’s halftime speech and says, “No it ain’t all right coach.” Every pair of eyes in the locker room turn to Julius as he continues, “With all due respect, uh, you demanded more of us. You demanded perfection.” He gets up, confidence growing his voice, “Now I ain’t sayin’ that I’m perfect, ‘cause I’m not. And I ain’t gonna never be. None of us are. Not by ourselves anyway. But we have won every single game we have played until now. This team is perfect. We stepped out on that field that way tonight; perfect.” Julius pauses, he turns, and he looks his coach dead in the eyes “If it’s all the same to you, Coach Boone, that’s how we want to leave it.”

The team realizes what’s at stake. They know in that moment that as a team, together, they had come way too far to lose the opportunity given to them. They put on the hurt in the second half and finish the game with another cliché I hate: The “Annexation of Puerto Rico” moment: You know, when the good team scores miraculously on the very last play of the game to win. For Remember the Titans it was a realistic play — an option pitch to the left — but it just seemed way too easy as Rev effortlessly guided down the sideline. It also breaks the most important most reoccurring sports cliché: based on a true story.

Selling Point: Remember the Titans is No. 1 because it takes on every reusable, boring, same-old same-old cliché, but viewers don’t mind it. The way the team comes together and overcomes their adversity as one unified group is done so well, that even the most cynical of people couldn’t help but say, “That’s a hell of a story.”

Selling Point No. 2: Julius’ mustache at the Bertier funeral just before the credits. Any time you can drop an unsuspecting ‘stache on somebody just before the movie ends is a win.

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Harry Porter review

*My review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows PT 1 which appears in the Dec. 1 edition of The Stylus

The first installment of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is an odd combination of satisfaction and disappointment. The film itself does a fine job of keeping the audience’s attention, maximizing on emotional scenes and delivering random laughs. But, fans can’t help but leave the theater feeling a bit teased knowing that the exciting conclusion is only months away.

Fans of the books will be excited, as DH is perhaps the best book-to-film adaptation of the series to date. Director David Yates did a tremendous job of capturing the essence of the book from the action-packed Weasely wedding in the beginning all the way to the madness at Malfoy manor at the end.

Also, much like the book, the slowest, most boring parts of the film came during the middle. During this time, Harry, Hermione and Ron are hiding in the woods, planning how to defeat Lord Voldemort, finding his Horcruxes and destroying them. Although a lot of people will say these scenes are great – with the tension rising between the tree and eventually reaching a boiling point – the reality is that these scenes are boring and forgettable.

Prior to the film, Potter fans were trying to predict what scenes would be included in the first installment of the Deathly Hallows, and most weren’t disappointed, as Yates picked the best parts from the first half of the seventh book. They were all executed well. It was fun to watch all of Harry’s friends take polyjuice potion to look exactly like him as they escaped from Privet drive.

Later in the movie, Harry, Hermione and Ron used the same potion to break in to the Ministry of Magic in a scene that captures the desperation and anxiety of the text perfectly. Rupert Grint (Ron) and Emma Watson (Hermione) truly owned their characters, as they have for most of the series, but once again, Daniel Radcliffe as Harry was disappointing.

The best thing about Radcliffe being Potter over the years is the unintentional, hilarious one-liners he so often delivers. DH boasted a great one at the end when Radcliffe looked up and lazily said, “I’m going to bury him. With my hands.” It’s supposed to be the big moment of the film – the emotional pay off as Harry is dealing with the loss of a friend. But instead of people crying, most in the theater were merely trying to choke back their laughter as they witnessed another botched performance from the chosen one.

Harry Potter fans know what they are getting with part one of the Deathly Hallows: an exciting story with great scenery and even greater characters. But they also know that the film concludes with a tease. The real spectacle will be in part two, with the Battle of Hogwarts. While part one was a solid watch for any Harry Potter fan and a good movie by itself, it’s just an introduction to what we’re all really waiting for.