The State of Sports Movies

The State of Sports Movies (photo)

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If you’re like me, you’re trapped in the house under two feet of snow and you’ve got a lot of time on your hands. So it’s the perfect day to read “The Sports Guy” Bill Simmons’ lengthy treatise on the state of sports movies on ESPN.com. It is an interesting (if a tad long-winded) read but, hey, what else are you gonna do? Shovel the driveway? I didn’t think so.

Simmons begins by identifying what a down year 2010 was for sports movies: besides “The Fighter,” you had the inspirational horse drama (obviously — all horse dramas are inspirational) “Secretariat,” the basketball romantic comedy “Just Wright,” (in the proud tradition of “Forget Paris”) and the “Bad News Bears”-y girls’ basketball movie “The Winning Season” starring Sam Rockwell. The dearth of sports movies, a typically dependable cinematic staple, coupled with all the talk about how hard it was for Mark Wahlberg to get “The Fighter,” led Simmons to wonder how sports movies have evolved over the last few decades.

Though he has a bunch of interrelated points (and I encourage you to go to his entire piece to read them all), the big — and I think quite astute — picture is this: that sports movies thrive on familiarity, while modern mainstream Hollywood’s bigggest selling point is what I would call “enormous newness.” Here’s Simmons:

“The movie industry is battling the same issue as every professional sports league: How do you keep dragging consumers to your theater/stadium when (A) the home experience keeps improving (better televisions, surround sound, Blu-rays, season packages, the Internet), and (B) because we’ve become a nation of multitaskers, some people don’t want to spend two or three hours sitting in the same seat focusing on one thing?

So in essence, with so many entertainment options at our disposal, and so many different ways to consume media, what reason is there for audiences to come to the theater instead of waiting for films to come to them? Hollywood’s answer, at least in the short term, is spectacle: provide a 3D action-o-rama that can’t be replicated even on the finest home theater set-ups (and you better believe the studios are sweating bullets at the thought of 3D televisions catching on). A new movie has to be something you haven’t seen before and can’t see at home: hence, “enormous newness” like “Avatar.”

That makes sports movies like “The Fighter” an endangered species, since originality is anathema to their success. Ironically, since they involve men and women pushing themselves to accomplish nearly impossible physical feats, we like sports movies not because they challenge us, but because they reassure us. As Simmons notes, “We’re so accustomed to seeing every boxing movie end the same way — with our hero winning the big fight — that even though we love having curveballs thrown at us in the theater, it always feels disconcerting if a boxing movie ends unhappily.” He’s right; even the “Rocky” films that end with Rocky losses in the ring involve greater and higher spiritual or moral victories; he goes the distance, proves he’s still got a champion’s heart, etc. Sports movies are cinematic comfort food: we know “Rocky III” isn’t particularly good for us, we know it won’t teach us much about cinematic technique (other than, say, how to make an effective training montage) but, dammit, they make us feel so good.

In a sense, sports movies are victims of their own enormous success. We grew to love sports movies so much, that we could only envision them one way: the “Rocky” way, the “Bad News Bears” way, the underdog-makes-good-and-warms-our-hearts-way. Now when a new sports movie comes out it has to try to distinguish itself in some way to earn our money (and to convince us not to wait two years until it’s playing Saturday afternoons on basic cable to see it) while still fulfilling all of the classic sports movie cliches. The easiest and most common way to do that is to simply change the setting and the sport: from boxing to baseball, from little league to kids’ hockey. But that grows tiresome too. From that perspective, sports movies’ decline was inevitable. What else should we expect but decline if we refuse to let a genre evolve?

With all of these issues, plus the proliferation of good sports documentaries and reality television series, Simmons wonders if we still need sports movies at all. Ultimately, though, he believes “there’s more than enough room for both.” If a filmmaker can “just tell the story and tell it well,” he says, then “the rest will take care of itself. You hope.”

I’m not sure if that’s wishful thinking or resigned sarcasm on Simmons’ part. But “The Fighter” tells a story well, and it isn’t exactly lighting up the box office charts. According to BoxOfficeMojo.com, in one week of limited release and two weeks of wide release, the film has earned about $28 million, decent returns for a relatively small film, but certainly not enough of a hit at this point to reverse the decline in sports movies. Because that’s what it’s really going to take. Not a remarkable story of heartwarming courage that demands to be told on the big screen, or a really inventive take on the old formulas; just cold hard box office numbers. A new sports movie renaissance can only start with one massive sports movie hit. Only then others will follow, like the hundreds of kids who trailed Rocky through the streets of Philadelphia in the training montage to “Rocky II.”

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Bro and Tell

BFFs And Night Court For Sports

Bromance and Comeuppance On Two New Comedy Crib Series

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“Silicon Valley meets Girls meets black male educators with lots of unrealized potential.”

That’s how Carl Foreman Jr. and Anthony Gaskins categorize their new series Frank and Lamar which joins Joe Schiappa’s Sport Court in the latest wave of new series available now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. To better acquaint you with the newbies, we went right to the creators for their candid POVs. And they did not disappoint. Here are snippets of their interviews:

Frank and Lamar


IFC: How would you describe Frank and Lamar to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Carl: Best bros from college live and work together teaching at a fancy Manhattan private school, valiantly trying to transition into a more mature phase of personal and professional life while clinging to their boyish ways.

IFC: And to a friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Carl: The same way, slightly less coherent.

Anthony: I’d probably speak about it with much louder volume, due to the bar which would probably be playing the new Kendrick Lamar album. I might also include additional jokes about Carl, or unrelated political tangents.

Carl: He really delights in randomly slandering me for no reason. I get him back though. Our rapport on the page, screen, and in real life, comes out of a lot of that back and forth.

IFC: In what way is Frank and Lamar a poignant series for this moment in time?
Carl: It tells a story I feel most people aren’t familiar with, having young black males teach in a very affluent white world, while never making it expressly about that either. Then in tackling their personal lives, we see these three-dimensional guys navigate a pivotal moment in time from a perspective I feel mainstream audiences tend not to see portrayed.

Anthony: I feel like Frank and Lamar continues to push the envelope within the genre by presenting interesting and non stereotypical content about people of color. The fact that this show brought together so many talented creative people, from the cast and crew to the producers, who believe in the project, makes the work that much more intentional and truthful. I also think it’s pretty incredible that we got to employ many of our friends!

Sport Court

Sport Court gavel

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?
Joe: SPORT COURT follows Judge David Linda, a circuit court judge assigned to handle an ad hoc courtroom put together to prosecute rowdy fan behavior in the basement of the Hartford Ultradome. Think an updated Night Court.

IFC: How would you describe Sport Court to drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?
Joe: Remember when you put those firecrackers down that guy’s pants at the baseball game? It’s about a judge who works in a court in the stadium that puts you in jail right then and there. I know, you actually did spend the night in jail, but imagine you went to court right that second and didn’t have to get your brother to take off work from GameStop to take you to your hearing.

IFC: Is there a method to your madness when coming up with sports fan faux pas?
Joe: I just think of the worst things that would ruin a sporting event for everyone. Peeing in the slushy machine in open view of a crowd seemed like a good one.

IFC: Honestly now, how many of the fan transgressions are things you’ve done or thought about doing?
Joe: I’ve thought about ripping out a whole row of chairs at a theater or stadium, so I would have my own private space. I like to think of that really whenever I have to sit crammed next to lots of people. Imagine the leg room!

Check out the full seasons of Frank and Lamar and Sport Court now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Millennial Wisdom

Charles Speaks For Us All

Get to know Charles, the social media whiz of Brockmire.

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He may be an unlikely radio producer Brockmire, but Charles is #1 when it comes to delivering quips that tie a nice little bow on the absurdity of any given situation.

Charles also perfectly captures the jaded outlook of Millennials. Or at least Millennials as mythologized by marketers and news idiots. You know who you are.

Played superbly by Tyrel Jackson Williams, Charles’s quippy nuggets target just about any subject matter, from entry-level jobs in social media (“I plan on getting some experience here, then moving to New York to finally start my life.”) to the ramifications of fictional celebrity hookups (“Drake and Taylor Swift are dating! Albums y’all!”). But where he really nails the whole Millennial POV thing is when he comments on America’s second favorite past-time after type II diabetes: baseball.

Here are a few pearls.

On Baseball’s Lasting Cultural Relevance

“Baseball’s one of those old-timey things you don’t need anymore. Like cursive. Or email.”

On The Dramatic Value Of Double-Headers

“The only thing dumber than playing two boring-ass baseball games in one day is putting a two-hour delay between the boring-ass games.”

On Sartorial Tradition

“Is dressing badly just a thing for baseball, because that would explain his jacket.”

On Baseball, In A Nutshell

“Baseball is a f-cked up sport, and I want you to know it.”

Learn more about Charles in the behind-the-scenes video below.

And if you were born before the late ’80s and want to know what the kids think about Baseball, watch Brockmire Wednesdays at 10P on IFC.

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Crown Jules

Amanda Peet FTW on Brockmire

Amanda Peet brings it on Brockmire Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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GIFS via Giphy

On Brockmire, Jules is the unexpected yin to Jim Brockmire’s yang. Which is saying a lot, because Brockmire’s yang is way out there. Played by Amanda Peet, Jules is hard-drinking, truth-spewing, baseball-loving…everything Brockmire is, and perhaps what he never expected to encounter in another human.

“We’re the same level of functional alcoholic.”

But Jules takes that commonality and transforms it into something special: a new beginning. A new beginning for failing minor league baseball team “The Frackers”, who suddenly about-face into a winning streak; and a new beginning for Brockmire, whose life gets a jumpstart when Jules lures him back to baseball. As for herself, her unexpected connection with Brockmire gives her own life a surprising and much needed goose.

“You’re a Goddamn Disaster and you’re starting To look good to me.”

This palpable dynamic adds depth and complexity to the narrative and pushes the series far beyond expected comedy. See for yourself in this behind-the-scenes video (and brace yourself for a unforgettable description of Brockmire’s genitals)…

Want more about Amanda Peet? She’s all over the place, and has even penned a recent self-reflective piece in the New York Times.

And of course you can watch the Jim-Jules relationship hysterically unfold in new episodes of Brockmire, every Wednesday at 10PM on IFC.

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