The actors' flared jeans, Jim McKay's garish blazer and Howard Cosell's nasal drone aren't the most striking reminders that Steven Spielberg's long-awaited Munich is a period piece. Rather, it's the ease with which Palestinian terrorists sneak into the Olympic Village at the 1972 Summer Games in the opening scene. With machine guns tucked into gym bags, the men simply hop a fence in the darkness. A day later, 11 Israeli athletes and coaches are dead, and the world--and sports' place in it--has been irrevocably altered.
That's where Spielberg picks up the story: The fictionalized Munich, which opens on Dec. 23, follows a secret Israeli assassination squad sent to avenge the attack. It's complex, riveting and well-acted--Eric Bana seethes as Avner Kauffman, the team's anguished leader--but it's not a traditional sports flick: We learn little about the slain Israelis; we don't even see them compete.
Spielberg calls Munich, which he shot in secrecy to avoid meddling from either side of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, a "prayer for peace." It's also a brilliant study of sports as moral and political prism. The attack violated a utopia thought to be immune to worldly strife. We know now that's a fantasy--witness the security at the 2006 Games. In the film Prime Minister Golda Meir authorizes Israel's violent reprisal, saying, "Today, I'm hearing with new ears." After Munich, we all did.
The Brow Beat
Sundance audience award winner MURDERBALL explores the lives of quadriplegics who play a brutal wheelchair sport, quad rugby. Watching them yearn for their old lives as they play can be heart-wrenching, but by the end, viewers won't feel pity for these men. More likely, they'll come away inspired.
KICKING & SCREAMING has two things in its favor: Will Ferrell and caffeine. The comedy about a youth soccer coach who has an addiction to coffee is pure silly fun.
By the Numbers
The top grossing sports movies in the U.S. this year
(Through Dec. 4. Source: Exhibitor Relations Co., Inc.)
1. THE LONGEST YARD .......... $158.1m
2. COACH CARTER .......... $67.3m
3. CINDERELLA MAN .......... $61.6m
4. KICKING & SCREAMING .......... $52.6m
5. FEVER PITCH .......... $42.1m
6. BAD NEWS BEARS .......... $32.9m
7. DREAMER .......... $30.0m
8. ICE PRINCESS .......... $24.4m
9. TWO FOR THE MONEY .......... $22.9m
10. ROLL BOUNCE .......... $17.3m
Strong to the Hoop
The reissue of an 11-year-old classic is the DVD of the year
Not much could be done to improve the poignant 1994 documentary Hoop Dreams, but Hoop Dreams: the Criterion Collection found a way. The DVD extras--especially the commentary by protagonists Arthur Agee and William Gates--remind us what the former high school stars have been through since we last saw them, heading off to college. Both fell short of the NBA, and both have been touched by tragedy. (Gates's brother, Curtis, was fatally shot in 2001; Agee's father was gunned down three years later.) Both have families of their own in Chicago, where Gates is a minister and Agee a clothing designer. At 32, their childhoods feel like ancient history. As Gates says over a scene of him receiving an award, "I don't even know where that MVP plaque's at, man." In the movie's famous last line Gates says, "When somebody says, 'Man, you know when you get to the NBA, don't forget about me.... ' I should say to them, 'Well, if I don't make it, don't you forget about me.'" Thanks to this superb disc, that's not likely. --Ben Reiter
Déj√† View All Over Again
A pair of lovably flawed heroes from the 1970s returned to the big screen in 2005: Bad News Bears coach Morris Buttermaker and The Longest Yard quarterback Paul Crewe. The now-and-then of it all
A typically curmudgeonly Walter Matthau.
A typically lecherous Billy Bob Thornton
Knowing he can't out-rumple Matthau, Thornton wisely goes in a different direction. His darker Buttermaker (he beds a player's mom) undergoes a more pronounced redemption, which makes the remake--while not as charming as the 1976 original--a more involving film.
A typically cool Burt Reynolds, who played football at Florida State.
A typically goofy Adam Sandler, who played football in The Waterboy.
The subversiveness of the 1974 version is gone, thanks to Sandler's defanged Crewe. The original made a statement to its Watergate-era audience about power tending to corrupt. The remake features a cameo by Rob Schneider. 'Nuff said.
Admirable Trend in DVDs
Twenty-five years after its release, Raging Bull was reissued as a two-disc DVD set that includes a side-by-side comparison of Jake LaMotta and Robert DeNiro (right) in the ring showing just how uncanny DeNiro's portrayal of the champ was. And just shy of its 20th birthday, Hoosiers was also given the two-disc treatment. Among the extras: the 1954 Indiana title game between powerful Muncie and upstart Milan, which served as the inspiration for the fictional Hickory High.
Annoying Trend in Movies
HOLLYWOOD'S DEARTH OF ORIGINAL IDEAS.
Of the top seven grossing sports movies, six were either remakes or based on true stories. The nadir was Lords of Dogtown, which told the story of skateboarding pioneer Stacy Peralta and his pals--the exact same story the documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys told much more engagingly only four years ago.
Welcome News for Completists (and/or Fans of Men Hitting Each Other with Chairs)
Why settle for mere highlights when there are UNABRIDGED COLLECTIONS to be had? Red Sox fans can watch every out from the 2004 ALCS and World Series on 12 discs. If you've got a long weekend to kill, and your brain has already expired, you can check out the 21-disc, 69-hour WWE Wrestlemania: the Complete Anthology 1985--2005, featuring all 21 wrestling extravaganzas. And while Magnificent 7 doesn't give you the full 21-day Tour de France, its 12 hours of coverage certainly feels exhaustive.
Maddeningly Missed Gimme
THE GREATEST GAME EVER PLAYED took the tale of underdog Francis Ouimet's upset win over Harry Vardon in the 1913 U.S. Open and turned it into a clumsy movie that repeatedly made the less-than-startling point that country clubbers don't cotton to blue-collar outsiders invading their hallowed links. In other words, Caddyshack without the comedy.
Impressive Performance by an ex-Commissioner's Kid
PAUL GIAMATTI, son of A. Bartlett Giamatti, got no love from Oscar voters last year for his sadly funny portrayal of a lonely-guy wine snob in Sideways. (He didn't even get nominated.) They'll have a hard time overlooking Giamatti (right, with Russell Crowe) again after his turn as Jim Braddock's dedicated manager, Joe Gould, in Cinderella Man.
KAREN BALLARD/UNIVERSAL/IMAGE.NET (BANA & KASSOVITZ)
DRIVEN Bana (right, with Mathieu Kassovitz) leads an Israeli squad hell-bent on vengeance.
[see caption above]
UNIVERSAL/EVERETT (MUNICH POSTER)
[see caption above]
EVAN AGOSTINI/GETTY IMAGES (ZELLWEGER); SUZANNE HANOVER (KICKING & SCREAMING); THINKFILM COMPANY INC. (MURDERBALL)
PENNY DE LOS SANTOS (GATES & AGEE); CRITERION (HOOP DREAMS)
DREAMERS Agee (left) and Gates in 2004.
EVERETT COLLECTION (MATTHAU & REYNOLDS); PARAMOUNT/EVERETT COLLECTION (THORNTON); PARAMOUNT HOME ENTERTAINMENT (REYNOLDS & SANDLER); PHOTOFEST (DENIRO); CHRIS CARLSON/AP (HOGAN); GEORGE KRAYCHYK/UNIVERSAL STUDIOS (GIAMATTI & CROWE)