Rollerball or Nothing

Written by :
Published on : August 28, 2017

 

 

In 2018, the world is run by a small handful of large corporations. War, regulation and government have all been eliminated. The upper executive class enjoys all the wealth and technology while everyone else enjoys ultra-violent entertainment made to distract them. No, I’m not describing the not-too-distant future. I’m talking about Rollerball, a sci-fi movie from the sort-of-distant past of 1975 that deserves to be updated.

 

In the film, rollerball is the most popular sport in the world. It is essentially roller derby but with motorcycles and lots of violence. A metal ball gets shot onto the track at about 200 mph. Two squads, each with seven skaters and three motorcycles, compete for possession of the ball. A player must skate once around the track while holding the ball in plain sight before they are able to score. Their teammates serve as blockers that defend them from the opposing team. The game is full contact. Each player wears a helmet, pads and gloves covered with metal spikes.  Injuries, even fatalities, are common.

 

 

James Caan stars as Johnathan E, captain of the Houston Squad, current Rollerball World Champions, sponsored by the ominously-named Energy Corporation. Johnathan is the most popular player in the sport, which is why he’s blindsided by the corporation’s order that he retire immediately. Johnathan refuses, partly because he resents the corporation’s ultimate authority, and partly because he just doesn’t want to retire.  As he continues to play, rules and safeguards are eliminated by the executives, hoping that Johnathan becomes a casualty.

 

 

Adapted from the short story, “Roller Ball Murder,” the movie is a missed opportunity. Made in a pre-Star Wars Hollywood, the film tells its story like an extended episode of The Twilight Zone. Caan plays an average American everyman stuck in a nightmare version The Future just similar enough to modern 1975 to be believable. When Johnathan finally learns that he must retire so rollerball can remain an anonymous bloodsport that reinforces the corporate culture’s “nobody is special, we are all expendable” message to the masses, the result is kind of a letdown. The movie shouldn’t be blamed for putting so much weight into a reveal that feels intellectually tame by modern 2017 standards. But it should be blamed for having too narrow a focus. Besides one of Johnathan’s teammates, a large bruiser named Moonpie, we don’t get a feel for any other rollerball player’s personality. Nor do we see or experience much of the future beyond sports arenas, office buildings, locker rooms and upper-middle class homes.

 

HBO, get on this shit. You love sports (Hard Knocks) and weird vintage sci-fi (Westworld). This is exactly the type of idea best suited for longform television over movies. (The less said about the 2002 remake, the better. Even though it stars LL Cool J and Rebecca Romijn Stamos. But seriously, don’t go there.)

 

Billionaires, make this sport a reality. It’s football/NASCAR/hockey all rolled into one. Big, loud, high-energy and you probably get to see a crash. I’d paid good money to see that.

 

 

 


SBS Film Vault: Mr 3000

Written by :
Published on : May 2, 2017

 

Move over Andre 3000 this is Bernie Mack’s time to shine. Mr 3000 (2004) is kind of like the the How Stella got her Groove back but for Major League Baseball. There are laughs, baseball hijinks and the smooth charisma of one Bernie Mack (RIP). This is the SBS Film Vault for Mr 3000.

 

The story

Bernie plays retired baseball great, Stan Ross aka Mr 3000. That’s 3000 hits in the Majors. Only a few legends can claim that. Ross is an arrogant player and a guy who never really learned anything about team ball. Well the 47-year-old finds out that there was a clerical error and he really only has 2997 hits. Stan Ross’ whole identity is tied to being Mr 3000. He talks with the Milwaukee Brewers and they allow him to unretire and join the team midseason to give him a chance to get back to the magic milestone. Management sees it as a publicity stunt but for Stan Ross, it’s everything.

 

The Milwaukee Brewers are your regular rag-tag team of loveable losers. They are in 5th place in their division and they have no leadership. Ross joins the team and is met with no love after he bashed them to the press. It’s off to a shaky start but all of that changes once Stan gets hit 2998.

 

mr 3000 staduim

 

The cast

Bernie Mack is joined by the talented Angela Bassett (How Stella got her Groove back) who is great in everything. She also looks fantastic in this picture. Total smokeshow. We also have Paul Sorvino playing the tight-lipped coach. You may remember him as Big Paulie from Goodfellas. The catcher is played by Evan Jones who is better known for his role as Cheddar Bob in 8 Mile, you know, he’s Eminem’s friend who accidentally shoots himself in the dick. Chris Noth plays a member of the Brewers upper management but most would recognize him has Mr Big from Sex in the City. Plus there’s career actor and goon Michael Rispoli, Brian White from Stomp the Yard, and Amaury Nolasco from 2 Fast 2 Furious.

 

Oh yeah, there are these hilarious cameos by on-camera personalities like Larry King, Jay Leno, Michael Wilbon, Tony Kornheiser, Tom Arnold, Jon Salley, and Stuart Scott (RIP).

 

 

The lesson

This story is really about redemption. Ross rejoining the Brewers isn’t just a chance to get a few hits and pad his stats, it’s a chance to become the good teammate he never was. But the transformation can’t just stay there. Stan Ross finally discovers what it means to be a mentor and passes his knowledge down to the younger generation. Only then can he get what he needs, not what he wants. Hollywood style.

 

Not the best baseball movie ever. But one of the few starring a black man. In the movie, Ross’ backstory is being poor and growing up on Chicago’s south side where baseball was his only outlet. Well, that is the real Bernie Mac’s story. But maybe comedy was a better outlet than baseball.

 

Feel the Bern.

 

 


SBS Film Vault: Like Mike

Written by :
Published on : April 19, 2017

 

 

2002’s Like Mike is another orphan sports story just like Angels in the Outfield. But our hero isn’t watching from the sidelines, he ends up balling with real NBA pros. It’s really like Angels in the Outfield mixed with something like Rookie of the Year. But with basketball. Time to lace up your favorite sneakers and hit the hardwood for this latest update of the SBS Film Vault.

 

The story

13-year-old Calvin Cambridge (Bow Wow) lives in an orphanage where basketball is his biggest passion. He sells candy bars outside LA’s Staples Center for the orphanage’s crooked proprietor. Calvin remains upbeat and knows he is destined for something big. One day, Calvin finds an old pair of sneakers with the initials “MJ” on the faded tongue. Could they really be Michael Jordan’s old kicks? Well before we can find out, local youth home bully, Ox, tosses the sneakers onto a power line. Cut to later, Calvin and his buds go out in a rain storm with the hopes of getting the shoes down. Lighting, the power line, it’s all very Back to the Future. Calvin survives the lighting strike and now the Nikes seems magically charged.

 

like mike shoe

 

Later, the orphan kids win tickets to the game and then Calvin wins a chance to play 1-on-1 with LA Knights star (yeah, they have a fake team even though the rest of the league is real NBA) Tracy Reynolds (Chestnut) at halftime. Calvin laces up his shoes and wishes to be “like Mike” and after that, he is. He can dribble, shoot and dunk just like his Airness himself. That’s right, 4’8″ Calvin Cambridge can easily dunk the ball. Yeah it shocks everyone. Calvin gets signed to the LA Knights and this flick is off and rolling. The only catch being, he needs to be wearing the shoes for the magic to work.

 

The cast

Starring Lil Bow Wow or Bow Wow or Shad Moss, depending on how well you know him. The funny little kid from Jerry Maguire (Jonathan Lipnicki) and a whole host of real NBA stars. Including: Allen Iverson, Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, Dirk Nowitzki, Gary Payton, David Robinson, Rasheed Wallace and Chris Webber just to name a few. Also real actors like Morris Chestnut, Crispin Glover, Eugene Levy, Brenda Song, Jesse Plemons, Fred Armisen, Reginald VelJohnson and Robert Forster.

 

like mike poster

 

Takeaways

No it’s not the Lakers or Clippers, the made up Los Angeles team is the Knights which is great. Only thing better would have been the Hollywood Knights. Bob Seger rules! Tracy, the Knights other star, adopts the fucking kids at the end! Just like Angels in the Outfield. Both Calvin and his buddy Murph move in with Tracy. Who is another single man who spends all his time traveling for work and he just brings home two human beings like it’s picking up a pizza. Michael Jordan never shows up. You’d expect at least a small cameo, but nothing. I’m sure there was a very important card game he was attending.

 

This flick is really just a 99 minute commercial for Nike. I wouldn’t be surprised if the real Michael Jordan was a secret producer on this project. It’s all one big conspiracy to sell more sneakers and apparel. Seems like a bet MJ would take. I mean he is thanked in the credits. Just saying.

 

It must be the shoes.

 

 


SBS Film Vault: Angels in the Outfield

Written by :
Published on : March 19, 2017

 

Disney’s Angels in the Outfield came out in 1994 and is full of everything that you’d expect when you think of a kid’s sports movie and 90’s Disney. It’s an underdog’s story with slapstick jokes that gets pretty cheesy. But it’s chalk full of charm and movie stars. So let’s dive into the SBS Film Vault and rewatch a nice Christian baseball flick.

 

The story

Angels in the Outfield is the story of Roger (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a young kid from a broken home who loves the local baseball team even though they are in last place. Roger just wants to have a family to call his own because his dead-beat dad ditched him and sarcastically answers the question of “when are we going to be a family again?” with “when the Angels win the pennant.” And that will never happen because the Angels stink. No hitting, no pitching, no chemistry. Nothing. But one night, while praying, Roger asks God for a family and explains that can only happen if the Angels win, “so maybe you could help them win a little?”.

 

This is when things get real wild. Roger goes to the next game and sees a pair of real life angels help the baseball Angels win a game! But no one else can see them but Roger. Christopher Lloyd plays Al, the head angel who talks with Roger. He explains that Roger asked for help so they are here to help. Through some crazy circumstances, Angels manager, George Knox (Danny Glover), discovers that Roger is responsible for the divine intervention and starts bringing him to every game. Roger quickly becomes an integral part of the team and even has a special sign for when he sees his flying friends.

 

angels gif

 

The cast

Talk about a loaded roster, this movie is packing serious firepower from top to bottom. Leadoff with Danny Glover, then star Joseph Gordon-Levitt, followed by Christopher Lloyd. Oh yeah also Matthew McConaughey, Adrien Brody, Dermot Mulroney, Neal McDonough, Ben Johnson, Tony Longo, Brenda Fricker (the Pigeon Lady from Home Alone 2: Lost in New York) and Taylor Negron. Plus the jerky sports announcer guy is played by fantastic character actor Jay O. Sanders. Also, Tony Fucking Danza is in it. Ever heard of him? Most folks agree, he’s the boss.

 

Give me a second. I’m too star-struck to think right now.

 

The insanity

This is the official *****SPOILER ALERT***** If you haven’t seen the movie yet and/or want to watch it with virgin eyes then skip this section. Now, that the children are gone, let’s unpack all the wacky things this movie tries to pull off.

 

In the last game of the season, Al shows up to talk to Roger, he explains no angels are coming to help because it’s a championship game (for the division crown) but that he is there to keep an eye on Danza’s character, pitcher Mel Clark, who will die in 6 months and is picked to become an angel. As Roger tries to process this, Al continues to say that Clark smoked for years. And that’s basically it. They just drop this huge bombshell on this kid, then use all that as an anti-smoking campaign. It’s crazy.

 

tony danza angels

 

That’s not even the most insane thing about this movie. At the end, Danny Glover adopts the fucking kids and everyone is cool with it. This rage-aholic baseball manager gets to adopt two kids even though he has no partner and he works 9 months of the year.

 

Angels in the Outfield is part of the strange sub-genre of orphan/lost kid sports films. There is something about a child with a broken home that makes them the ultimate underdog. My last thought about this picture is that it flirts with being anti-sports and competition. It’s not fair for one team to have supernatural assistance. At least let the other side use steroids to level the playing field. I want Roger to have a family but not at the cost of the integrity of baseball.

 

Believe.

 

 


We Need More Sports Movies Starring Women

Written by :
Published on : October 1, 2016

 

It’s no mystery that SBS loves sports movies. We have done lists of the best ones, covered some of our favs in detail and make callbacks to the best lines and moments in many articles. At this point, these films have become part of the larger culture, an integral part of the modern sports landscape. Which brings me to my point, we need more sports movies featuring women. We have an embarrassingly low amount of them and that needs to change.

 

Boys grow up with a plethora of male athletes in many different sports to act as their role models. Plus all the fictional ones in movies, video games and television. Young women have way less in this department which is tragic because growing minds need movies to show them they can do anything. Cinema is the telling of a hero’s story. It may sound silly but where else does a kid learn that they can overcome any obstacle and win it all with just hard work and determination? Of course from the parents but that message needs to be echoed in the world for it to truly stick.

 

bend-it-like-beckham

 

Sports movies show us a narrative of the underdog and reveals the viewer’s own potential. It is incredibly powerful. Not just for athletes, for everyone. Understanding all that, you can see my call for action. After a little research I found these films. All starring women, set in sports.

 

A League of their Own (1992)

The Next Karate Kid (1994)

Eddie (1996)

Girlfight (2000)

Bring it On (2000)

Bend it like Beckham (2002)

Blue Crush (2002)

Million Dollar Baby (2004)

Against the Ropes (2004)

Ice Princess (2005)

Whip It (2009)

 

I’m sure I’m missing some but still, that’s not a lot. Part of the criteria is that these all had to be theatrically released. No made for TV garbage. Also no dance movies were considered. But cheerleading counts. This is because cheer is deeply rooted in the American sport experience and if I included dance flicks then most of the list would be dance movies and that’s not what this is about. And some of these had sequels but we are talking original sports stories.

 

Original Cinema Quad Poster - Movie Film Posters

 

Shout outs to Wimbledon (2004) and Little Giants (1994) for having strong female roles but the main characters are still men. She’s the Man (2006) is a female lead and has soccer in the background but the sports angle isn’t really strong enough. Amanda Bynes does disguise herself to play on the men’s team which is fun but it’s more of a romantic comedy than anything else. I half considered adding The Hunger Games (2012) but, you know, not a real sport. Still good though.

 

It’s a sad state of affairs when studios make multiple sports pictures about men pretending to be women so they can compete (Lady Bugs, Juwanna Man) but no one wants to make any real stories of female athleticism. And while I’m on my soapbox, let’s get some more diversity on screen. It can’t all be white people. I watch sports. I know.

 

So I challenge Hollywood and all the executives, male and female, make more sports movies starring women. We must have these stories for our kids so they get to see heroics can come from all walks of life. Everyone is an underdog and sports teaches us that it’s okay. We can overcome.

 

Play like a girl.

 

 


SBS Octagon: Slap Shot vs The Mighty Ducks

Written by :
Published on : June 1, 2016

 

 

Welcome to the SBS Octagon, a fictional battle space reserved for hypothetical contests featuring characters from literature, film, television or any other made up source. Think the Danger Room from X Men. This a place where we can stack any opponents against each other for our own enjoyment. Haven’t you ever wondered who would win in a game of H-O-R-S-E between Jimmy from Hoosiers and Jesus Shuttlesworth from He Got Game? Well, that is exactly what the SBS Octagon is for.

 

In our inaugural installment, we turn our focus to the ice. A war pulled from the scenes of some of our most beloved hockey movies. Who would win in a fight? The wild Hanson brothers from Slap Shot or the full team from the original The Mighty Ducks? I’m talking an on-ice hockey brawl in full pads. Let’s jump in the SBS Octagon and see how these two squads measure up.

 

Skating

flying v

 

This is the Ducks’ biggest advantage other than their sheer numbers. They may be young, but these kids can move. Every single member is better than the best Hanson Brother on skates. This edge in speed and mobility is critical to surviving the war ahead. We all know the “Flying V” technique, and the scrappy Ducks are going to need that and other maneuvers that highlight their sound skating. The brains behind the Ducks is former alcoholic turned kids coach, Gordon Bombay (Emilio Estevez). He is named after two different brands of gin. That’s good screenwriting.

 

Toughness

hanson bros

 

I don’t think this is much of a surprise to anyone. The Hanson Brothers are pure brutes. Toughness is the one thing these guys have in spades, other than scars and Rush albums. The Mighty Ducks do have their own enforcer in Fulton Reed, but he is way outclassed here. I’m also letting the Ducks have their coach for the fight. So that’s 14 versus 3. And the Hansons are still the clear favorites. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that these psychos live to brawl and that they wrap their knuckles in tin foil. What badasses.

 

Who wins?

Out of the gate, the Hanson Brothers stay clumped together. They seek out Bombay and Fulton first. A few quick hits and the Ducks numbers drop fast. They realize they will just get picked off one at a time unless they do something. They form the Flying V and charge the Hansons. Using their sticks, they take out one brother with a vicious series of slashes and knuckle pucks, but the other two retreat and split up. Now two groups of six hunt each brother. The Ducks incircle them but since they are basically children: they lack the killer instinct. The brothers pounce in this moment. Brutal bare knuckle destruction. Teeth and blood litter the ice. It’s gory but at least one Hanson is left standing, so they are the WINNER!

 

Tune in next time to see which of your favorite sports icons step into the SBS Octagon: the place where all arguments are settled.

 

Zamboni.

 

 


SBS Film Vault: The Program

Written by :
Published on : April 8, 2016

 

 

I don’t know about you, but I LOVE this movie. Maybe it’s because of the times I enjoyed watching it with fellow high school football teammates and getting pumped up before games or maybe it’s just because it’s a totally badass college football movie. I think it’s probably a little bit of both, but it really has everything you could want in a football flick. Sweet game footage, PED use, a U of M victory, Halle Berry, a Bo Schembechler cameo. Those last parts are more for me personally, but you get my point.

 

Let’s take a look at this wonderful film about the fictional ESU Timberwolves and re-live some sweet 90’s memories.

 

Epic trash talk

There is some seriously great trash talk in this movie. Much of which was co-opted by my teammates and I during our glory days of high school football. Take star linebacker, Alvin Mack for example. This guy knew how to talk some serious shit to the opposition. Many high level athletes, especially defenders, believe that the mental aspect of the game is just as important as the psychical. Alvin Mack would say some wildly fucked up shit to get inside the head of his opponents. Watch below and enjoy.

 

 

Star studded cast

There is some real star power in this cast: James Caan, Halle Berry and Omar Epps. Sure it is more relegated to the 90’s (Epps), and some of it has stood the test of time through the decades (Caan). But no matter how you slice it, there’s some talent in this cast, and it’s needed in order to carry some of the less talented thespians.

 

Caan takes us into the world of the coach of a major college football program who is having the screws put to him by his superiors at the school. In his desperation to keep his job, he shows the kind of moral ambiguity that hollywood would tell us is characteristic of people in his position. Halle Berry and Omar Epps bring one of the stronger romantic relationships to The Program. With Berry’s sharp tongue and Epps’ suave demeanor, there are times when their relationship is one of the better parts of the film.

 

THE PROGRAM, Al Wiggins, Halle Berry, Omar Epps, 1993. (c)Touchstone Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

 

Sick game footage

The game footage in this movie is off the chain. Sure, it’s over the top and probably too artistic, but it is a movie after all. The hits are violent and everything is in slow motion. It really romanticizes a sport that is mostly a lot of standing around interspersed with the occasional 10 seconds of action. For that, I love it. Maybe not everyone can handle watching an entire football game, but I bet everyone would love to watch the game scenes in this movie.

 

The seedy underbelly

Besides all this other totally bad ass stuff, this story shows the dark side of college athletics, and college life as a whole. First off, there’s the use of steroids which wasn’t really a the hot button issue back in 1993 that it is today. We see the coaching staff look the other way as Steve Lattimer, who put on 35 lbs of muscle over the summer and seizes the starting defensive end job while scaring the shit out of everyone around him.

 

 

Other than that, this film touches on substance abuse and sexual assault. Both of which are prevalent on college campuses. In a ‘roid-fueled rage, Lattimer, whose calming presence we witnessed above, attempts to force himself upon a girl at a party. His actions draw the ire of the university and his coaches, but it is all swept under the rug so that the team doesn’t suffer.

 

As for the substance abuse, we all know that alcoholism is something that is ever-present on just about every college campus. The team’s star quarterback is an alcoholic following in the footsteps of his drunken father. After getting a DUI, the coach is forced to send him to rehab. He overcomes his drinking problem and faces his own father in order to address the underlying issues. In the end, he finds peace of mind and gets the girl.

 

 

The movie ends with a few of the coaches walking away from the team’s final game and already discussing next season. Illustrating that college football is a beast that is bigger than it’s individual parts. The faces and the names on the back of the jersey may change, but the program keeps moving forward. Nothing can stop it, and for that we are thankful.

 

 

 


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