Soccer Goes to the Movies

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Posted June 7, 2010 by Kristian Lin in Blotch

I’m Kristian Lin, but for the duration of the World Cup soccer tournament, you can call me Brad Janovich. I’m not as bad as that guy, though. For one, I don’t do the scarf thing. That might work over in the U.K., but it’s too hot here. Also, I don’t go to Super Bowl parties and drone on about how soccer is a more popular sport than football in the rest of the world. The guy who does that is a douchebag, especially if he’s American. (If he’s a foreigner, there’s a small chance that he simply doesn’t know better.) One other thing: The Onion is behind the times. American soccer fans were tiny in number in the early 1990s. Now there are more of them. Everybody says so, even Goldman Sachs. I’ve already posted on this World Cup numerous times, but with the tournament starting on Friday, I’m kicking into high gear.

The internet is buzzing about Nike’s three and a half-minute “Write the Future” commercial directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, the Mexican filmmaker who previously made 21 Grams and Babel. This commercial makes the same point as Babel about the interconnectedness of our world, but does it in a much more compact and funnier way:

The spot delves into the glory fantasies of Didier Drogba (Côte d’Ivoire), Fabio Cannavaro (Italy), Wayne Rooney (England), Franck Ribéry (France), Ronaldinho (Brazil), and Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal). You can briefly see USA stars Tim Howard and Landon Donovan at the 1:09 mark, grinning over Rooney’s misfortune. Since this spot came out, Ronaldinho has been left out of the Brazil team, Drogba is struggling to make the tournament after breaking his elbow, and Ribéry has been mired in a hugely damaging sex scandal. (When the phrase “had sex with an underage prostitute” comes up after your name, that’s never good.) None of that detracts from the breadth and comic invention of this commercial.

In honor of soccer and the way it inspired this filmmaker, I thought I’d run a list of the Top Five soccer movies ever:

1) Shaolin Soccer. Stephen Chow’s 2001 hit didn’t make it to America until 2004, and then only in butchered form. Still, in any form you can appreciate the almighty burst of laughing gas provided by this story of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon-style martial-arts heroes who use their powers to play soccer, firing supersonic shots into the opponents’ nets and leaping 50 feet in the air to head the ball. They meet their match, though, in a corrupt team pumped full of American wonder-drugs. (The bad guys’ team is called Team Evil. How can you top that?) This won’t teach you anything about the beautiful game, but it’s a hugely enjoyable blast of pure silliness.

2) The Damned United. This movie came out last year, and I’ve blogged about it on numerous occasions. Even if you don’t know anything about soccer history, this is still a fascinating drama about a smart, talented, charismatic boss with a proven track record of success who takes over a new team and proceeds to run it straight into the ground. Brian Clough was a quote machine in his day, and the movie shows him making most of his famous statements. (“I wouldn’t say I’m the best manager in football, but I’d definitely say I’m in the top one.”) My favorite Clough quote that’s not in the movie: “Rome wasn’t built in a day, but then I wasn’t in on that job.”

3) Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos. Paul Crowder and John Dower’s vastly entertaining 2006 documentary is about the brief period in the late 1970s when soccer-mania swept America, spearheaded by a New York team that featured some of the world’s best players. The movie also interviews former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and the late music mogul Ahmet Ertegun, who both played key roles in soccer’s rise. Cosmos star Giorgio Chinaglia emerges as the story’s magnetic bad guy, and shortly after the movie came out, an Italian court issued an arrest warrant for him on fraud and racketeering charges. He’s been a fugitive ever since.

4) Bend It Like Beckham: The 2003 crowd-pleaser introduced the world to Keira Knightley and Americans to the dead-ball artistry of David Beckham. (Too bad the L.A. Galaxy star’s Achilles injury will prevent him from playing at the World Cup this year.) I don’t have a great deal to add to what I wrote back then, and I don’t need to proselytize for this movie, since lots of people saw it. One of this movie’s DVD extras shows writer-director Gurinder Chadha and her mother making aloo gobi.

5) Victory: Known as Escape to Victory elsewhere in the world, John Huston’s 1981 drama about World War II P.O.W.’s beating the Nazis in soccer is overheated and just a shade more implausible than Hogan’s Heroes, yet it’s still undeniably rousing watching Sylvester Stallone, Michael Caine, and Pelé leading the fight against their Team Evil, aided by a bunch of Ipswich Town players and some international greats. Apparently Vinnie Jones is angling to star in a remake of this. Why not, since 1980s retreads seem to be all the rage these days?


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