Tom and Jerry: Defenders of All Things Right and Good

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Hidden Movie Gems: Super Bowl Edition

We now switch gears from the “Chick Flicks” recommendations of two weeks ago to devoting a "Hidden Movie Gems" entry to the paean to testosterone known as The Super Bowl, or, more accurately,

"The Most Watched Sporting Event Where Only About Half Of Those Tuning In Are Actually Watching The Game"

or

"The Most Watched Event Of Any Kind Where Most Viewers Are More Interested In The Commercials"

It used to be that you could count on the Super Bowl to be a colossal bore: from 1984 through 1997, 11 of the 14 games were decided by 2 or more touchdowns. Recent games have been closer, but there are still several things you can count on seeing Sunday:

• Analyst Phil Simms will make numerous references to the Super Bowl he won with the Giants 20 years ago. Simms started this little "tradition" during the 2000 game. As the Rams and Titans battled down to the wire in a game decided on the final play on the Rams’ one yard line, Simms kept yammering on and on about......the 1987 New York Giants.

• An attractive "sideline chick" reporter will spin a player’s recent embarrassing and possibly felonious off-field incident into a "showing of team unity": "Yesterday, the Miami Herald published photos of Bears’ cornerback Marvin Smith, together with Charles Manson and Osama Bin Laden, snorting cocaine off a dead hooker’s inner thigh, but his teammates say they support him 100%...."

• At least 3 mentions of the Colts’ quarterback Peyton Manning’s "history of failure in big games" will be made. The fact that most of the folks leading the "Manning is a choker who can’t win the big one" charge are 45 year-old, pot bellied, ketchup-stains-on-their-golf-shirt sportswriters who would collapse into the fetal position at the sight of an onrushing NFL defensive end, will not be mentioned.

• The halftime show will feature a musical act that is either a) 10 - 20 years past their prime and/or b) seems to go together with "Championship of American Football" as well as bacon does with peanut butter. Do Enrique Iglesias (2000), Phil Collins and N*Sync (2001), Sting (2003), or Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake (2004) scream "Are You Ready For Some Football ?!?!?"? Did the three-chord-strumming cadavers known as The Rolling Stones entertain you last year or just scare the hell out of you? On tap for Sunday is Prince, another odd choice that fits both a) and b) above. I can only suppose that the NFL chose him to reach the all-important "androgynous pipsqueak" demographic...

• A bunch of teenagers will be imported from the local mall to surround the stage at said halftime show to show fake enthusiasm for a musician whose apex of popularity occurred when they were either in utero or in diapers.

• There will be countless promo ads for mid-season replacement shows, none of which will last longer than 3 episodes.

• For all the hoopla about the commercials, maybe 2 of them will be really good. Sitting through 5 hours of monotony for a minute or so of pleasure? Sounds like my last pre-Lynda first date**...

** - Okay, knock it off, I know what you’re thinking. I meant that I got a good night kiss and no second date. Get your heads out of the gutter, people.


See what you have to look forward to?

Should you desire to get in the football-watching mood, I present the following Hidden Movie Gem:

Any Given Sunday (1999)

I’m actually a little surprised that this movie is making my list for a number of reasons:

• It was hardly a "small" movie; Oliver Stone directed it, and the cast includes Al Pacino, Cameron Diaz, Dennis Quaid, James Woods, Matthew Modine, Jamie Foxx.....Still, a brief office poll revealed that only 3 out of the 9 people (all men) I asked had seen it. I imagine if I asked 9 women, I figure I might get 1 ‘yes’. It did moderately well at the box office, but I think 2 things hurt its ticket sales:

> It's release date: instead of releasing it in late summer or early fall, when interest in football is rising, it was released on a limited basis in late December 1999, then widely in mid-January 2000, when football fatigue has set in...
> Oliver Stone's reputation as a conspiracy theory-addled loon had begun to take hold, and many were apprehensive about what kind of movie he could possibly make about pro football that wouldn't be a train wreck of epic proportions.

So, I'm guessing that a lot of you haven't seen this movie.

• When a film does not obtain rights from the NFL to use their teams and footage, it is left to invent its own league with its own teams, and some of these concoctions can be a little strange. This movie outdid itself in this regard. The movie revolves around the fictitious Miami Sharks, who wear all black while playing in their outdoor Florida stadium (the decrepit Orange Bowl, which hasn’t hosted a pro football game since 1986). Moving past this odd uniform color choice for a team that regularly plays in stifling heat and humidity, we are treated to the Chicago Rhinos, decked out in day-glo lime green and bright blue, looking every bit like the Fighting Aerobics Instructors. In the movies finale, though…yeesh. The Dallas team is the Crusaders, outfitted with a large red cross on the front of their mustard-stain yellow jerseys. Not content with the anachronism of the city of Dallas (the western jewel of the southern Protestant Bible Belt) having a team with a nickname associated with medieval Catholicism, the Crusaders’ logo, emblazoned on their gold helmets and on a 20-30 yard spread comprising the center of their field, is the "Eye in the Pyramid" which.....has nothing whatsoever to do with the Crusades. As to whether or not the placement of a player’s torn-out eyeball (in a scene about halfway through the final climactic game - the least believable scene in football movie history) lying near the "Eye of the Pyramid" in the center of the field is intentional, I have no idea.

• Al Pacino, Scenery Chewer, Take 2 (of 5). Along with Devil’s Advocate (1997), S1m0ne (2002), The Recruit (2003), and Two for the Money (2005), Pacino here seems at times to morph from "Al Pacino, great actor" to "Someone doing an impersonation of Al Pacino, great actor", and can come off as practically a caricature of earlier Pacino performances.


So why am I recommending it? Because I really enjoyed it, and because:

• Quite a few movies have what could generously described as a "thin" plot. Any Given Sunday has enough plot for about 4 movies: the "old school" coach vs. the young hotshot quarterback, the aging veterans hoping their bodies can give them a few more shots at glory, the sometimes overwhelming combination of celebrity and loneliness that come with being a high profile NFL coach, the medical ethics questions that come with being an NFL team doctor, the young female NFL owner trying to live up to her father’s legacy....any of these stories could have been fleshed out further into it’s own movie. Somehow, director Stone managed to weave all these stories into a coherent whole without making me feel like any of the stories was shortchanged (with the exception of the young, idealistic NFL team doctor vs. the older, jaded NFL team doctor; that could have used more exploration).

• It manages to show the seedy side of NFL life without turning into 2 ½ hour anti-authority "Damn The Man" speech. That Oliver Stone, the king of heavy-handed morality plays, managed to restrain himself from turning this movie into another North Dallas Forty is a minor miracle.

• Three of the NFL’s biggest stars of the 50’s and 60’s - Jim Brown, Dick Butkus, and Johnny Unitas – make appearances, with Brown getting quite a few lines as the Sharks’ defensive coordinator. NFL Hall Of Famer Lawrence Taylor also has a role as defensive player who plays each play a hair’s width away from paralysis. Nice to see NFL legends get some screen time.

• Jamie Foxx is terrific as the talented, though brash and foolish, quarterback. This was Foxx’s first dramatic role, after years of TV and movie comedy roles, and a glimpse of Oscar-nominated performances (Collateral, Ray) to come.

• The supporting cast is outstanding. Ann Margaret, Aaron Eckhardt, Elizabeth Berkeley, LL Cool J, Lela Rochon, and Lauren Holly all get their opportunity to "carry the ball" for the movie for a few moments and each of them make solid gains. (OK, no more football metaphors, I promise....)

• While I wasn’t thrilled with Pacino in this movie on the whole, his lockerroom speech before the climactic game is almost Rockne-esque.


If you’ve already seen it, go ahead and see it again. Like other "abundance of plot" movies (Joy Luck Club comes immediately to mind), you might appreciate parts of it that you didn’t the first time.

Happy Hidden Movie Gems viewing!!

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