Bernardo Villela is like a mallrat except at the movies. He is a writer, director, editor and film enthusiast who seeks to continue to explore and learn about cinema, chronicle the journey and share his findings.
Growing up in New York, but being a New York Ranger fan, I was only vaguely aware of the fiasco that was John Spano’s scam to try to purchase the New York Islanders. However, after being fully informed of all that went on here I can say that no team or its fans (no matter how big an arch-rival) deserves to go through this, especially when you consider that the league was at least partly to blame.
Actor-turned-director Kevin Connolly would’ve already scored in my book by not only giving appropriate background on what the Islanders were very early in their existence, but also how they declined, and that he had seen the best and worst of times. However, where the film transcends that is that he actually got to sit down with the man himself and not only faced him in as respectful a fashion as you could ask for, but allowed him to tell his story about how this all happened, and explain (to the extent possible) what he was thinking when things went down.
It’s the kind of story that could only be true and it’s a truly brilliantly rendered account of it quite-nearly blow-by-blow with many of the most concerned parties involved.
I did a post like this for the Vancouver games a little more than two years ago and I shall unearth it again at some point at least on Letterboxd because that was certainly a lot more fun and in many cases weirder. However, the variety that is provided by the over-stuffed nature of the summer games is nothing to sneeze at. I think that these films that feature the sports of the warmer Olympiad will likely introduce you to something you want to check out. I know I found a few. These picks will be posted in three parts. You can read part one here.
Since the Olympics is global I will use the international name and translate for America, this is soccer. All kidding aside, as I looked through some lists of soccer movies I was struck by the realization that the disparity between the greatness of the game and the quality of films generated by it is greatest here. Most of the ones I saw listed were sad. There are some I heard good things about but have yet to see, like The Damned United, Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos, and Pelada. Many of them in the US are usually about a ragtag bunch of kids on a team the best probably being The Ladybugs. As for the adult version of the game the best most recent one I saw was Rudo y Cursi which gave us this song too:
However, world cinema does provide a few more options which are suitable for all ages. If you like your soccer with genre-bending weirdness, I’d suggest the Die Wilden Kerle series from Germany. However, I’d stress you not watch any of them dubbed. I saw one dubbed the first time and it was some of the poorest collective work I’ve seen, aside from the fact that in the US we for some reason altered the chronology.
Then O Menino Maluquinho (The Nutty Boy) has a climatic game which features brilliant, practically superhuman goaltending by the protagonist, which is one of many great aspects of the film.
Gymnastics (Artistic & Rhytmic)
Unless I’m missing something major, gymnastics hasn’t had a lot of great representation on the big screen. Christopher Campbell’s list definitely makes me want to see Gymkata and it’s certainly more compelling in concept than anything I thought of or found; a rash of biopics, lame parodies and anorexia-themed MOWs and, of course, the most unfortunately executed death in Final Destination 5.
Now, Rhythmic Gymnastics seems to be absent from any real representation. Like synchronized swimming it has its notable parodies like that on Lizzie Maguire and by Will Ferrell in Old School, but I can’t seem to find anything straight. It could be great fodder for a doc in the vein of what I perceive Pina to be, as I still need to see it. There is a niche waiting to be had.
Yup, this is what thew world thinks of when you handball, just another example of our at times jingoistic naming practices, though to be fair Wall Ball is used to describe the one we know better too. Handball is another sport I’m glad to see roll around every four years and I agree wholeheartedly with this Awful Announcing post that it should be a featured on ESPN more often.
With regards to movies there wasn’t much to find. There’s Szansa a Polish film which seems to pit a nurturing, caring, intellectual, literary teacher against a hard-nosed, disciplinarian, gym teacher who crosses the line to win and winning said handball games is good for the school. Then there’s Forever the Moment a fictionalized account of the South Korean women’s handball team that competed in the 2004 games.
Only during my occasional watching in the last games did I finally come to appreciate the version of the game which is played on grass and not ice. The only movie that seemed to jump out was Chak De! India, which is a kind of underdog story about a former player turned coach who takes over the long languishing national women’s team. This title is available to stream on Netflix (US).
Judo is a martial arts discipline I enjoy watching and pretty much always have since I’ve known of the games. The issue, as with many of these sports, has been finding a filmic representation of it.
Some quick searches brought some docs partial and short, but then as it turns out Kurosawa’s debut is a judo film, Sanshiro Sugata, wherein a young man struggles to learn the nuances and meaning of judo and life. This film is available from Criterion in one of their excellent Eclipse collections. This film is accompanied by a sequel and is referred to collectively as the Judo Saga.
Honestly, when I went to search out film ideas for each of these sports the one I pegged as being the hardest was the pentathlon. Truth be told, I only found one movie to pick from, but it’s called Pentathlon and Dolph Lundgren is in it. Essentially, Lundgren’s character and his sadistic trainer meet up eight years after their Olympic sojourn in an ever-escalating series of action nonsense, much of which you could have spoiled for you by the Wikipedia entry. It sounds like one of those movies that’s so brash it’s brilliant or painful – it does strike me as one of those movies I’ve seen on TV and all but forgotten.
I mentioned in the canoe section that rowing could be found in The Social Network, however, there are a few more options to be had. You could pick either of two versions of the same tale, as comparing an original and a remake can be fun in A Yank at Oxford and Oxford Blues. For a more sports-oriented choice there’s True Blue (called Miracle at Oxford on US Home video) about a famous 1987 race. Lastly, if you want your sport as more of a setting for your drama than the premise, you have Summer Storm, which is about relationships and sexuality, and Queen of the Night, with a backdrop of politics, handicaps and romance.
Now, I won’t be vague with shooting because the number of films that involve gunplay are countless. So I sought out films that at least feature competitive marksmen and there are two provided by Honk Kong cinema called Double Tap and Triple Tap, the former spins off from the first. Both involve rival shooters and getting involved inadvertently in crime and intrigue.
Swimming is one of the most populated sports in terms of events, and one of the most popular at the games in general. Even on dedicated websites like Sports in Movies there isn’t a long list of swimming films. It’s hard to imagine that recreational swimming is something that needed to be created, much less that sport needed developing. However, there is a share of cinema in the pool.
Going back to 1931 you can watch Jean Vigo’s 2nd short film Taris, which is a rather artistic rendition and promotion of France’s swimming record-holder at the time. This film is available in the Complete Vigo through Criterion. If you prefer your star-power cinematic The Swimmer stars Burt Lancaster. If your inclinations are more stalker-crazy there’s the fairly recent Swimfan. In the more family-friendly realm there’s the fantastical DCOM The Thirteenth Year and swimming features somewhat in A Dolphin Tale.
With synchronized swimming there is actually rather a balanced choice. You can either enjoy it rendered comically in this classic bit:
On in a light, whimsical, biopic musical called Million Dollar Mermaid.
It is just by its very nature one of the easiest sports to poke fun at but it is really something when done well, and something else when it’s not which both those clips prove.
Not too long ago I was finally missing hockey enough that I decided I should watch Goon (For my rating, which will be omitted from this commentary, please go here). I had the conflicting emotions going in of having high hopes but also being somewhat guarded. As I have discussed with films set in Brazil, but made abroad, I have some trepidation when it comes to handling of subject matter is close to me. Hockey is one of those touchy subjects.
For example, when I was younger, I was obsessed with hockey (mostly with the New York Rangers) quite badly, such that I’ve had to temper that with conscious effort such that a win or loss doesn’t effect not only my day, but also the time that elapses in between. When I was younger I naturally would have had to rented Slapshot at some point. Now, the point of this piece is to discuss Goon, so suffice it to so say I was quite turned off, didn’t find it overly-amusing and didn’t think it got it. To paraphrase what Penelope Spheeris said about why she didn’t do This is Spinal Tap when offered “You’re making fun of these people,” and feeling a part of that scene she couldn’t see herself doing it. That’s how I feel Slapshot dealt with its subject matter, which is the polar opposite of how Goon does it.
I think Goon does understand, touch upon and convey so many nuances of the game that fans, and those involved in the game get that outsiders cannot and what it most amazing is that the film puts these notions in a great movie that’s accessible and enjoyable to the non-fan.
Clearly, Goon will deal mostly with fighting, as it chronicles the unlikely rise of a nobody into a minor celebrity at lower levels of the sport simply due to his prowess in fisticuffs.
While the film doesn’t get didactic about anything I feel it does thoroughly examine fighting as a part of the culture of a sport, the fabric of it really, and the mindset of said fighters. It shows the trade-offs you’re willing to make, what’s tolerated, what isn’t, momentum shifts a fight can cause; essentially the “necessity” of it.
While I, as a hockey fanatic, will grudgingly admit to the “necessity” of fighting I also cannot in good conscience leave it out of quotes and cannot just leave it at that. I think it also important to delineate that this is hockey we’re discussing and I compartmentalize. Just because I accept and understand a brutal, physical practice in a sport played by adults who agree to the risks they take on does not denote my feelings on nuclear proliferation, capital punishment or any other topic.
I think the film shows even while making spectacular out-of-this-world bouts that there are ramifications and consequences of many kinds in fighting. What bothers me most about the perception of fighting, which I hear all too frequently on debate shows when they deign to talk about hockey, is that it is allowed. It’s more accurate to say it’s an accepted practice, but it is not allowed. If it were allowed you’d have something akin to Blades of Steel, wherein only the loser was penalized, or what’s more no one was. If you fight you are assessed five minutes in the box. There can be a strategic purpose to it therefore it really is a more violent version of intentional fouls in basketball, or on rare occasions in soccer (aka football).
However, I can agree that hockey is likely the only sport wherein there are enforcers, whom you don’t expect goals or assists from, but whom you expect to protect said assets. The complaints are old, but some of the facts are new and Goon touches on the head injury issue.
With the growing animus in all sports to keep its participants safer never is the conversation more nebulous than around fighting in hockey. Many head injuries in hockey and football are typically the result of one player being either defenseless or unaware of the oncoming collision, in a hockey fight 99 times out 100, heck I’d wager 999 times out of 1000; you have both combatants know they’re about to deliver blows to one another’s head. It’s probably the clearest case of they know what they’re signing up for there is. Yet it’s the most vilified act in sports it seems, and I think what Goon does amazingly is humanizes these players, even ones that start out as caricatures. However, Doug Glatt, the lead played by Seann William Scott, is so well drawn. He’s a gentle giant, a consummate team player who will do whatever needs doing whether it be fighting or taking a puck to the face.
If the sport were to clamp down on fighting more would I still watch? Absolutely, and I think that those who argue attendance would drop don’t get it. It will only drop where there aren’t real fans of the game. With regard to player safety, I’m far more concerned about enforcement of blows to the head in the middle of a game at full speed than a fight, though I’m not going to act as if there are no cumulative ill effects health-wise there. It seems sports leagues are skewing towards legislating to avoid sudden cataclysmic injury rather than chronic ones.
Now, while I’ve been off on a tangent, what the film does is the polar opposite of what I have, which is what makes it so good. It avoids bombast and soapboxing of any kind. For example, Glatt’s rival Ross Rhea, played by Liev Schreiber, talks to him, seems like an OK guy and steals a comment he made in his speech when having his number retired, but that’s the end of that thread. They have something to settle on the ice and won’t be distracted by off the ice stuff.
The film has pretty effective action sequences and really good looking hockey plays, which go beyond your typical insert of a puck bulging the twine. The totality of the handling of the sport in the film is amazing aside from narrative, performances, aesthetic and other production choices. However, fighting, because it is called Goon after all, is at the center of it and within the sport and without it’s a hot button type of issue and perhaps what I’ve been driving at, aside from letting some things off my chest, is that it dealt with it without pretension, condescension, excuses or even glorification, it just is. It’s in the game and that’s it.
In film one of the terms you’ll hear all the time is “raise the stakes.” Put more at risk, go bigger, bolder or higher for more dramatic impact. So, yes, Glatt is a superhuman fighter, some of the impacts and injuries in the fights are extreme and he does stop a shot with his face, and several subsequent stuff-in attempts, but when the tone, details and spirit and scenarios are all right then the occasional extravagance needed in film is far easier to accept.
If you were to cull through all the video you could find to create a montage, as long or as short as you want, to illustrate why you think a sport is great it probably won’t connect. If you put it in the context of a story then you have a chance of even getting neophytes along. For example, I know very little about cricket but I’ve really enjoyed films about it because of the common themes I could relate to the passion, strategy, desire to play, hero worship and so one (aside from the fact that it’s aesthetically great on film). Now, if you take many elements that make a game great and combine it with a great story that anybody can sit and watch then you’ve got a real winner.
Goon‘s success is attributable to the fact that it cares deeply about its story, its protagonist and the game it’s portraying and that’s all. It’s not trying to make any other statement at all, yet, paradoxically that’s just how it makes one. Hockey is a beautiful game and if those who run the sport treat it as well as this film does then it’ll be in great shape.