Monday, January 25, 2021

The Five Best Inspirational Sports Movies

As you peruse our list, note that these are our picks for the five best inspirational sports movies. There are many other fine movies about sports (A League of Their Own), sports figures (Brian's SongThe Pride of the Yankees), and sports-related stories (Field of Dreams). The aim of the movies below are to leave you in a feel-good, uplifting mood!

Sylvester Stallone.
1. Rocky (1976) - Sylvester Stallone's quintessential underdog tale has a simple plot: a journeyman boxer gets a shot at the world heavyweight title as part of a publicity stunt. The film's "secret sauce" is how it traces the transformation of its protagonist and the people around him. Rocky comes to believe in himself--as do his grizzled trainer, his shy girlfriend, and most of the residents of Philadelphia. It's not a movie about winning, but rather one about "going the distance" and giving one's all.

2. Rudy (1993) - In the late 1960s, the son of a Pittsburgh steel worker sets off to off to achieve his lifelong dream: playing football for Notre Dame. Unfortunately, Rudy Ruettiger lacks the physique and talent to become an elite football player. He also lacks the grades to get enrolled into Notre Dame. None of that is enough to stop Rudy. As the titular hero, Sean Astin makes it impossible not to root for his underdog character. He attacks every obstacle methodically, so it's impossible for one not to admire his tenacity and cheer for Rudy every step of the way. Based on the true life story of Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger.

Dennis Hopper and Gene Hackman.
3. Hoosiers (1986) -  Screenwriter Angelo Pizzo and director David Anspaugh--the same team responsible for Rudy--made this earlier winning film about a small town high school basketball team. Gene Hackman stars as a disgraced college coach who gets one last chance at Hickory High School. Hoosiers is a tale of redemption and the importance of teamwork. However, it works best as an examination of the importance of sports in small town life in the days prior to the explosion of sports on television. The story was based on Milan High School's basketball team, which won the Indiana state championship in 1954.

4. Remember the Titans (2000) - Inspired by real-life coach Herman Boone, Remember the Titans tells the story of a racially-integrated Virginia high school football team in 1971. I was in ninth grade that year and attended a newly integrated high school in North Carolina. While our conflicts weren't as exaggerated as those in Remember the Titans, much of the film still rings true. This is a sports movie about overcoming barriers and coming together as a team. Told in flashback, Remember the Titans also stands as a testament to how positive, powerful experiences can change our lives forever and shape who we become.

Stallone and Michael Caine.
5. Victory (aka Escape to Victory) - The least known film on this list is actually a remake of a 1961 Hungarian film called Two Half-Times in Hell. During World War II, a British officer agrees to coach a team of fellow prisoners in a soccer match against a German team. Concurrently, an American prisoner plots to escape from the POW camp. Victory is a solid, engrossing movie that doesn't really gel until the ending. But it's the climax that makes this film and puts Victory at No. 5 in our list.

Honorable MentionsBreaking Away, The Longest Yard, Miracle, and We Are Marshall.

Monday, January 18, 2021

The Alternate Movie Title Game (Movie of the Week Edition)

Here are the rules: We will provide an "alternate title" for a film that aired on the ABC Movie of the Week and ask you to name the actual film. Most of these are pretty easy. Please answer no more than three questions per day so others can play. You may have an answer other than the intended one--just be able to defend it!

1. Three Scary Stories.

2. Road Rage.

3. Man vs. Dogs.

4. The Hippy Marine. 

5. The Brampton Witches.

6. The Killer Physician.  

7. The Imitation Spaceman. 

8. Buried Alive.

9. Subway!  

10. The Deadly Buzz.

11. Loup Garou.

12. Lady Assassin.

13. Apes in the Arctic.

14. The Killer Beneath Seattle.

15. Phone Calls from the Dead.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Terence Rattigan's The Browning Version

Michael Redgrave as Crocker-Harris.
After 18 years at a prestigious English boys' school, Andrew Crocker-Harris has accepted a less-stressful position teaching at an institution for "backward boys." Once a promising scholar, Crocker-Harris's career stalled many years ago and he's now plagued by ill health. He won't leave as a beloved teacher. The boys refer to him unaffectionately as "The Crock" and privately call him Himmler, a cruel reference to his disciplinary ways.

Terence Rattigan's film adaptation of his 1948 stage play The Browning Version traces Crocker-Harris's final days at his old school. It's a character study--an engrossing one--and the opening scenes paint a portrait of Crocker-Harris through the eyes of a colleague, his replacement, and a student. Later, Crocker-Harris reveals personal insights to each of those characters. He confides to his new colleague that he's well aware of his wife's infidelity, but partially blames himself for their disastrous marriage. He also reveals his failure as a teacher and that he gave up trying to reach his students long ago. Finally, he inadvertently shows his inner emotions to a student who unexpectedly gives him a thoughtful farewell gift.

Nigel Patrick as a colleague.
Rattigan's one-act play ended with Crocker-Harris receiving the gift. For the film version, Rattigan expands the story, providing the audience with a more complete look at the schoolmaster's likely future. The film ends with Crocker-Harris addressing a school assembly and departing from his prepared speech.

Acclaimed British film and stage actor Eric Portman played Crocker-Harris when the play opened in the West End. However, he turned down the opportunity to do the film in 1951. Rattigan and director Anthony Asquith then turned to Michael Redgrave, who was just 43 years old. It was a brilliant decision, for Redgrave breathes life into the ageing schoolmaster. He captures the "look" of a man that considers his life a failure as well as little idiosyncrasies such as Crocker-Harris's obsession with punctuality and following rules.

Brian Smith as the student Taplow.
Redgrave's supporting cast includes nice turns from Nigel Patrick, as Crocker-Harris's colleague and his wife's lover, and Brian Smith as the student Taplow. Jean Kent has a difficult role as Millie Crocker-Harris. First, her character is unlikable from the beginning, but she also comes across as too blatantly dismissive of her husband. A more subtle approach might have come across as more believable. Frankly, it's difficult to see what Millie's lover could ever have seen in such a cruel, self-centered woman.

Terence Rattigan's plays also served as the basis for two other strongly-recommended films: The Winslow Boy (1948) and Separate Tables (1958).

Incidentally, The Browning Version has been remade multiple times with stars such as Albert Finney, Peter Cushing, and John Gielgud. These are fine actors, but it's hard to imagine anyone being better than Michael Redgrave in the lead role.

Monday, January 4, 2021

The Five Best Episodes of "Banacek"

Banacek with his trademark cigar.
George Peppard starred as free-lance, Boston-based insurance investigator Thomas Banacek in a pilot movie and 16 episodes of Banacek. The series aired as part of the NBC Wednesday Mystery Movie in 1972-74. He was assisted in each episode by his friend, bookstore owner (and researcher) Felix (Murray Matheson) and chauffeur Jay (Ralph Manza). The episodes were typically 75 minutes (without commercials) and focused on elaborate thefts. Here are our picks for the five best episodes:

Stefanie Powers.
1. Let's Hear It for a Living Legend  - A professional football player disappears from the field during a nationally televised game. An ingenious, yet deceptively simple, crime highlights this episode that also features Stefanie Powers as a guest star. She and series star George Peppard have great chemistry; it's a shame she couldn't return for a second outing. An added bonus for NFL fans is the brief appearances from real-life former players John Brodie, Ben Davidson, and Deacon Jones.

2. No Stone Unturned - A massive three-ton piece of modern art is stolen from a museum. We're talking an object so large that the museum's glass front had to be removed so the artwork could be emplaced by a crane. So how was it nabbed during an opening night party without anyone knowing? I admit that my enjoyment of this episode was enhanced by the fact that I figured out how the basics of how the theft was accomplished!

Margot Kidder.
3. A Million the Hard Way - A Las Vegas casino has one million dollars stolen from a tamper-proof display case in the middle of a busy room with an armed guard on duty. This may be the most complex caper in the Banacek series. Plus, Margot Kidder is on hand as a part-time photographer, displaying the kind of spunk that would earn her the role of Lois Lane in Superman (1978).

4. Fly Me — If You Can Find Me - A jet has to make an emergency landing at a small desert airport. One pilot stays with the aircraft while the other crew members spend the night in a nearby motel. The next morning, the airplane and the pilot are gone! This is another crime which is clever despite its simplicity. If you think about it, there's really only one way the plane could have been stolen. But, in this case, another question is why was the plane stolen? The above-average guest star cast features Sterling Hayden and a pre-Dallas Victoria Principal.

5. Now You See Me, Now You Don't - An amateur magician, wanted for embezzling, disappears from a theatre surrounded by the police. This caper employs a trick featured prominently in one of Agatha Christie's mystery novels. It works effectively here, though there's a secondary impact that's pretty hard to swallow (no plot spoilers!).