Air Bud – 1997
Dir: Charles Martin Smith | Starring: Buddy the Dog
Review: A boy finds a dog that can (sort of) play basketball and since there is no rule specifically saying “Dogs can’t play basketball” his team is allowed to use the dog to help them win a Junior High Championship.
There is also a very controversial court ruling on who the rightful owner of the dog is; despite the original owner having the dogs papers the judge decides that possession should be based on whom the dog runs to when called upon. This ruling was decided outside the courtroom on the lawn in front of the courthouse.
“For the underdog in all of us!”
Victory (aka Escape to Victory) – 1981
Dir: John Huston | Starring: Michael Caine, Sylvester Stallone, Pelé, Max von Sydow
Review: A British soldier P.O.W. agrees to coach a Allies squad of soccer players/prisoners against a German Nazi commanders squad of elite German super stars. The game escalates from a “friendly” match to be held within P.O.W. camp to becoming what the Germans hope to be a show of power and propaganda within a large stadium in recently occupied France. The Allied soldiers are expected to escape during the match but players are apprehensive because of their desires to show up the Germans on the field.
This film is a reinterpretation of the infamous “Death Match” that was believed to have occurred in 1942 within occupied Kiev between German artillerymen and former star players from two prominent Russian Soccer Clubs. At the time of the filming the U.S.S.R. had still been spreading the rumors that after the Soviet players embarrassed the German officers (despite German referees trying to fix the match) that the SS shot several of the Soviet players dead on site. However, after the fall of the U.S.S.R. eyewitness’ from the match began to speak freely on the game and discounted the Soviets story as propaganda and that several of the Soviet players believed to have been shot dead had died due to events unrelated to the game many months later and in separate War related instances. The film merely chooses to take the aspects of Germans playing Soccer against their enemy and how that could be a pretty risky endeavor and added in various escape plots that occur both in the prison camp and at the soccer stadium to try and make a grand WWII fable.
The only aspects of the film that are very much worth watching is the Soccer match held at the last 3rd of the film. Michael Caine seems to be fairly uninterested in his role as player/coach during the portions of the film that are very weakly trying to emulate The Great Escape and Stallone is an awkward fit throughout the film and seems like he was just jammed in at the last minute by a producer. John Huston would have been 74 or 75 during the filming of this and pretty much saved any creative touches for the Soccer match and left the P.O.W. camp portions to be directed on autopilot. Its an interesting bit of history (albeit false history) but I can’t recommend it to anyone except for Soccer fans who want to see Pelé deliver some silly lines in broken english and show off his amazing Soccer skills.
This Sporting Life – 1963
Dir: David Storey | Starring: Richard Harris, Rachel Roberts, Alan Badel, William Hartnell
Frank Machin (played by Richard Harris) is a hard-shelled English factory worker who decides he’s good enough to play for the company owned League Rugby team. When the factory/team owner decides to give him a shot Machin proves his skills and immediately becomes a star player. With his newfound wealth and stardom he hopes to win over his woefully depressed landlord whom he had been failing to make progress with. Both she and he are tortured and complicated people with a mountain of baggage to try and overcome before they can ever hope to become a happy pair.
This is a really interesting look at ego and early 60′s sports stardom with a unique lead character; but has a love story that takes center stage and begins to beat a dead horse and you find yourself hoping the film wraps up sooner than later. Richard Harris is fairly good in this, but the character is wildly boorish and mopey in such a strange way, he delivers on being a real weirdo who you aren’t sure what he is capable of. The problem with such a character is that when paired with a dower old maid of a love interest the interactions become tiresome and I found myself loudly groaning at their slog of a “love affair”. Many of their scenes could have been paired down to shorten the film length and also so that it wouldn’t drown out a lot of the Rugby/Celebrity aspects, which were very interesting and handled quite well. There is a really great movie in here if it were just edited down a fair amount.
These old trailers really liked to make a movie seem like it will forever change your very being after having witnessed it:
Breaking Away – 1979
Dir: Peter Yates | Starring: Dennis Quaid, Dennis Christopher, Daniel Stern, Paul Dooley, Jackie Earl Haley
Sport: Bicycle Racing
A group of 19-something townies are living an idle existence between adolescence and adulthood within the shadows of the University of Indiana. They desperately hang onto their last teenage year before the expectations and pressures from their families will become all too much for them to pass the days away swimming in the quarry or just cruising around Bloomington. Dave Stoller finds a purpose within his bicycle and is aiming to be a racing champion like his Italian heroes; when the University decides to allow a local non-student team to enter into their annual race it becomes a watershed moment for everyone in his life.
Coming of age films are a genre almost unto themselves but this belongs in the high echelons with films like Stand by Me and American Graffiti. This is a sublime film. The direction, acting, script (Best Screenplay Oscar), and characters are all so organic that the entire film just breathes-into you like an experience you are actively taking part of. Sports is woven into this picture far beyond the base bike racing of the central character, it’s a presence that finds it way into every character in the film at different depths and with its own unique history. The authenticity and accuracy of these characters is what makes the film sing and it’s in a tune that I would imagine would be agreeable to many generations of Americans well beyond its 1979 setting.
Its unfortunate that the massive yield of teenage angst films harvested in the 1980’s may have drowned out this picture from the history books. I give this my utmost recommendation.
It should be noted that this film has one of the greatest movie Dads of all time – bravo Paul Dooley!
This trailer is a bit hokey and feels like those weird re-edited trailers you see for a movie just before it starts on local TV: