DVD/Stream of the Week: UNDEFEATED – an Oscar winner you haven’t seen

UNDEFEATED

With football season (finally) approaching, it’s time for a Feel Good, Oscar-winning story set on the gridiron. The extraordinary documentary Undefeated begins with a high school football coach addressing his team:

Let’s see now. Starting right guard shot and no longer in school. Starting middle linebacker shot and no longer in school. Two players fighting right in front of the coach. Starting center arrested. Most coaches – that would be pretty much a career’s worth of crap to deal with. Well, I think that sums up the last two weeks for me.

Undefeated is the story of this coach, Bill Courtney, leading his team through a season. The kids live in crushing poverty and attend a haplessly under-resourced high school in North Memphis.

Undefeated may be about a football team, but isn’t that much about football. Instead of the Xs and Os, it shows the emotional energy required of Courtney to keep each kid coming to school, coming to practice and on task. He gets many of the kids to think about goals for the first time in their lives. He is tireless, dogged and often frustrated and emotionally spent.

The film wisely focuses on three players, and we get to know them. Like the rest of the team, all three are from extremely disadvantaged homes. One is an overachiever both on the field and in the classroom, but surprisingly emotionally vulnerable. Another has college-level football talent but very little academic preparation. The third, recently back from youth prison, is impulsive, immature, selfish and extremely volatile.

Undefeated won the 2012 Oscar for Best Documentary for filmmakers Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin – but it didn’t get a wide theatrical release. It’s available now on DVD and streaming from Netflix Instant, Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.

Elway to Marino: a great story in 1983 and a better story now

 

Dan Marino in ELWAY TO MARINO

ESPN’s fine documentary series 30 for 30 has produced another winner in Marino to Elway, an insider’s view of the 1983 NFL draft.  That year, an astonishing six QBs were picked in the first round, including Hall of Famers John Elway, Dan Marino and Jim Kelly.  That crop of QBs would lead the AFC Super Bowl teams in eleven of the next sixteen years.  The impact to NFL history aside, the draft contained some forehead slapping individual stories:

  • Elway’s threat to play baseball for the New York Yankees if he were drafted by the Baltimore Colts;
  • five QBs getting drafted ahead of Marino, whose stock dropped because of inaccurate rumors of drug use;
  • Jim Kelly swearing that he would never play in Buffalo and jumping to the USFL’s Houston Gamblers;
  • Steeler first round pick Gabriel Rivera, an amazingly fast defensive tackle who paralyzed himself in a drunk driving accident after just 6 games in the NFL;
  • plus an assortment of draft busts and the machinations of NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle and Raiders owner Al Davis.

Elway and Marino were represented by the same agent, Marvin Demoff, who kept a daily journal.  That journal, plus interviews with Demoff, Elway and Marino, is the core of the movie.  But there are also interviews with Colts General Manager Ernie Accorsi, and first-rounders Rivera, Ken O’Brien, Todd Blackledge, Chris Hinton and Jimbo Covert. 

It was a great story in 1983, and Elway to Marino fills in the blanks with nugget after nugget.  It’s a must see for NFL fans.

DVD/Stream of the Week: Undefeated – an Oscar winner you haven’t seen

The extraordinary documentary Undefeated begins with a high school football coach addressing his team:

Let’s see now. Starting right guard shot and no longer in school.  Starting middle linebacker shot and no longer in school. Two players fighting right in front of the coach. Starting center arrested.  Most coaches – that would be pretty much a career’s worth of crap to deal with.  Well, I think that sums up the last two weeks for me.

Undefeated is the story of this coach, Bill Courtney, leading his team through a season.  The kids live in crushing poverty and attend a haplessly under-resourced high school in North Memphis.

Undefeated may be about a football team, but isn’t that much about football.  Instead of the Xs and Os, it shows the emotional energy required of Courtney to keep each kid coming to school, coming to practice and on task.  He gets many of the kids to think about goals for the first time in their lives.  He is tireless, dogged and often frustrated and emotionally spent.

The film wisely focuses on three players, and we get to know them.  Like the rest of the team, all three are from extremely disadvantaged homes.  One is an overachiever both on the field and in the classroom, but surprisingly emotionally vulnerable.   Another has college-level football talent but very little academic preparation.   The third,  recently back from youth prison, is impulsive, immature, selfish and extremely volatile.

Undefeated won the 2012 Oscar for Best Documentary for filmmakers Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin – but it didn’t get a wide theatrical release.  It’s available now on DVD from Netflix and Redbox and streaming from Netflix Instant, Amazon VOD and others.

Coming Up on TV: Pigskin Parade

Football fans may be interested in the silly comedy Pigskin Parade because it shows how college football was played in 1936.  It airs on Turner Classic Movies on April 22.

Like many sports movies, Pigskin Parade ends with a climactic game – and there’s footage of real football being played in a snowstorm (in long shot) interspersed with the comic movie football (in medium shot).  You can see the formations, men in motion and punt formation.  I knew about the leather helmets for the players, but I didn’t know that the referees wore unstriped white Knickerbockers and baker boy caps or that the coaches sent in  substitutions by written note.

Jack Haley plays a dim football coach hired at the fictional Texas State.  His spark plug wife (the very funny Patsy Kelly) is the real football brain.  Out in the countryside, they find a hayseed QB who can throw the ball out of the stadium and outrun a deer when he is barefoot; he is played by Stuart Erwin (who garnered a Supporting Actor Oscar nod).

In the final game, Texas State, referred to as “Texas” by the radio broadcaster, is a big underdog to Yale.  Yale was indeed a power at the time.  Yale players won the Heisman in both 1936 and 1937.

Pigskin Parade was the first feature film for Judy Garland and the second acting credit of over 200 for Elisha Cook Jr.  Betty Grable appears before she became a star.  Judy, Betty and Elisha are all billed below the comic quartet The Yacht Club Boys.  (Creepiness alert:  all but one of The Yacht Club Boys were way too old to be hanging around a college campus acting zany and wearing varsity gear.)

DVD of the Week: Turkey Bowl

This delightful indie comedy is set in a group of friends’ annual touch football game. Take a bunch of friends that haven’t seen each other for a while and put them in a competitive situation, and you’ve got a promising premise. Newcomer writer-director Kyle Smith pulls off a tight, well-paced 62 minutes of smart laughs.

The cast of relative unknowns is very good, especially Tom DiMenna and Bob Turton. At the screening that I attended, Smith said that the football game was tightly structured in the screenplay, but much of the dialogue was improvised by the cast.Smith financed the film with $25,000 that he earned from a reality TV show, and shot it over ten days in an East LA city park.

Smith is a native of Columbia, Missouri, and college football fans will note a very funny reference to an infamous Colorado-Missouri game.

After an earlier release on iTunes and VOD, Turkey Bowl is out on DVD.  Reward this bright and enterprising filmmaker, and rent this film – you won’t be disappointed.

I am adding Turkey Bowl to my list of Best Sports Movies to represent touch football.

Coming up on TV: John Wayne as crooked football coach

On March 17, Turner Classic Movies is airing Trouble Along the Way (1953). John Wayne plays a gleefully corrupt football coach who buys players in an attempt to build up the football program overnight at a small Catholic school.  And he utters the famous coachspeak, “Winning isn’t everything – it’s the only thing.”  John Wayne wasn’t the first to utter that line – it was UCLA coach Red Sanders.  But the Duke said it nine years before Vince Lombardi did.

I discuss Trouble Along the Way and other football movies on my Best Sports Movies (scroll down for football).

"Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing."

That’s a pretty famous football quote, often attributed to Vince Lombardi.  Lombardi did say those words as early as 1959.  But the quote was originated by UCLA football coach Red Sanders in 1950.

It turns out that the famous line was also spoken in a 1953 movie – by John Wayne!  In Trouble Along the Way, Wayne plays a gleefully corrupt football coach who buys players in an attempt to build up the football program overnight at a small Catholic school.

I’ve added Trouble Along the Way to my discussion of football movies in my Best Sports Movies.

John Wayne in Trouble Along the Way

Best Sports Movies

Both of my recommended  surfing films are mentioned in my Best Sports Movies.   I have a list of 10 Best Sports Movies and also a top movie for each sport.  What’s my top pick for a basketball movie?  Or football? Or wrestling?  Or skateboarding?  Or rowing?  Or shuffleboard?  Is shuffleboard a sport?

Here’s a clip from my pick for best bodybuilding movie.  You will probably recognize this guy.