Thursday, March 27, 2008

And now onto the heart of Bill Simmons's horribly flawed argument that I am for some reason taking seriously...

I said I'd conclude it, and damn it if I'm not going to. There are a few more ridiculous Simmons-isms that deserve the requisite mockery, but like I said in the other post, I think parts of this are worth seriously engaging with. Eh, it's worth trying just this once.

That's why I'm losing hope. Only two classic sports movies have been released in the past 10 years: Rounders and Friday Night Lights. Now, you're probably saying, "Wait, Million Dollar Baby won an Oscar, everyone loved Remember the Titans and Seabiscuit, Miracle and The Rookie were good, and Cinderella Man was well received. How can you say it's been a bad decade for sports movies?"

I definitely think he's selling Miracle short here. Also, I'm shocked Rounders isn't more than ten years old (a release date of September 1998 means it just counts, but only just). Since I know how he feels about Raging Bull (it isn't a good sports movie because it's too depressing to watch more than once), I think I know what the deal is with Million Dollar Baby. Hell, I've been struggling for awhile regarding how I feel about that movie (I'm going to go with powerful but seriously flawed, I think). Remember the Titans is discussed later, although he never does deal with Seabiscuit or Cinderella Man again.

But then, none of that is tremendously important, because what Bill thinks I was saying wasn't what I was saying at all. I was actually saying this: "What are your criteria that led you to this conclusion?" You know, because I'm a scientist and stuff.

Because standards for sports movies are different.

For the record, I'm already not on board with this argument at all. But let's hear it out.

It's not about seeing it that first time; it's about the 10th time, the 15th and the 25th.

This is true of lots of movies. I imagine most people would say there are at least two types of "good" movie; those that are of superior artistic quality and those that are just really fun to watch, with the best movies being those that combine both of these aspects. I'd say The Departed did that pretty well, as do a lot of the Coen Brothers movies. Also Predator, which I will defend to my dying day as a legitimately great film. That's right: FILM. Not a movie, a film. Oh, and if you think that was just my flimsy excuse for linking to that Predator rap video...well, you're absolutely right.

What Bill is really just getting at is how some movies are mostly just entertaining, and for some reason he believes this is especially true of sports movies, a conclusion that I just don't see at all. After all, what's the movie that ultimately led to Semi-Pro, which was the basis for this column in the first place? That's right, Anchorman, which isn't a sports movie. It simply isn't, even if it follows some aspects of the sports movie formula. And what about one of Bill's most frequently cited examples of an endlessly rewatchable movie, Boogie Nights? That's not about sports. It's about fucking. For money. Which, last time I checked, is not a sport. And believe me, I check regularly.

And of everything from the past 10 years, only Rounders and FNL pass the test.

Irritating Bill Simmons habit #42: making up a bullshit test, deciding what passes said test, and then passing this off as sacrosanct. Larry B over at FireJay once deconstructed this in great and awesome detail, but it bears pointing out here as well. Bill is basing the rest of his argument on a set of postulates that he's just making the fuck up. Would it be so hard for the occasional "In my opinion" or "As far as I'm concerned"? Or at least Bill could make it clear he doesn't think his opinions are facts. At least, I hope he understands that.

(Million Dollar Baby may have been great, but as with Raging Bull, one viewing is more than enough.)

Told you.

There's a reason Spike and TNT keep showing Rocky marathons, right? Rocky III is your buddy. You've already seen the Thunderlips scene 935 times, but if it came on right now, you'd go for 936. Be honest.

Honestly? Well, honestly, I don't have cable at the moment, but even though I've had cable for most of my life, I've only seen Rocky III once. I mean, I liked it plenty and all, and I'd probably watch it if I randomly found it on TV. Well, unless I had other stuff to do. You know, like blogging.

Irritating Bill Simmons habit #644: Assuming his life is representative of everyone else's.

Irritating Archie Micklewhite habit #38: Sticking incredibly obscure references into everything, including the numbers of the irritating habits.

Irritating Archie Micklewhite habit #56: Trying to excuse his faults by calling attention to them, hence being meta and thus above criticism.

Irritating Archie Micklewhite habit #498: Beating jokes to death. Also being really wordy. I mean incredibly, just unbelievably wordy and mostly the complete and utter opposite of concise. You know...meta.

Same for Reg Dunlop unleashing the Hansons or Jimmy Chitwood finally joining Hickory High or Terence Mann stopping Ray Kinsella's van by yelling "Moonlight Graham!"

What about that that one scene in Cool Runnings where John Candy goes into that Olympic meeting and gets the Jamaicans reinstated? Doesn't that make the cut? Doesn't it!?

American Flyers was on cable recently. I've seen it 15 to 20 times and own it on DVD. It was going against a full slate of college hoops and NBA on a Sunday afternoon. You know what? I went with Costner and his brother trying to win Hell of the West again. I knew they weren't gonna let me down.

It's official: Bill Simmons is a fucking moron and possibly not a real sports fan. Although since I absolutely detest people condescendingly deciding what "real" sports fans are, I'm leaving that second part alone. But seriously...that's just fucking ridiculous.

See, sports movies fill a void created by the real sports world. So many times we are disappointed by a game, a player, a team, a playoffs.

I agree, there's a lot of disappointment and underwhelming play out there in sports. But as far as I'm concerned, there's only one thing that can fill that void Bill speaks of, and it's the real sports world itself. The Boise State Fiesta Bowl makes up for a hundred, maybe even a thousand Georgia-Hawaii debacles. And then there's George Mason's run to the Final Four, Golden State last year, even Boston coming back from 3-0 down (you know, before it became de rigueur to fucking hate those obnoxious Boston pricks). Hell, it took just one unforgettable drive by Eli and company to make up for what had been a pretty uninspiring Super Bowl.

What makes all of those great is that, to varying degrees, they simply couldn't be scripted. Well, they could, but some of those (especially Boise State and George Mason) would be just too unbelievable, even by modern sports movie standards. It's the authenticity, the fact that you have to believe it because it really honest-to-goodness happened that makes them so magical. And that's why, at least in my somewhat humble opinion, sports movies are never going to be able to replace actual sports in that particular capacity.

But with rewatchably good sports movies, we're always in control. Louden Swain is always going to pin Shute. The Good Nazi will always stand up after Pelé nails that bicycle kick. Carl Spackler's "Cinderella story" will always be funny. Roy Hobbs' final homer will always shatter the lights. And Costner's wimpy brother will always beat the Cannibal by one second as Costner cheers him on with a porn mustache.

Which means they're...entertaining. But not anything transcendent, which I think is what Bill is trying to argue. I'm sorry, I'm just not buying that. And I say that as a guy who fucking loves the likes of The Highlander and Con Air. Also random clips of The Wicker Man remake. And there goes another link...

But the industry has dipped so far that I'll let a movie slide if only a piece of it is worth watching. You need to pop two Dramamine to watch most of Any Given Sunday, but I'll always stick it out long enough to see Steamin' Willie Beamen and Pacino's locker room speech. That's how easy I am.

In other words, Bill Simmons is not a person I should take seriously when it comes to movies. Seriously, even in his chosen field of expertise, he openly admits he has no standards. Almost makes me think I'm wasting my time dealing with any of this.

Nah...

You can reel me in with one quality character, a few football scenes and a single goose-bumps speech. Doesn't take much. And say what you want about Sunday, but at least it takes chances.

And fails. Fails spectacularly.

That's what we've been missing the past 10 years, as sports movies have shifted from "rewatchably good" to "predictably good." I blame Titans for this trend; after it earned a surprising $114 million, inspirational, semisappy, "based on a true story" copycats like Miracle, We Are Marshall, Pride, Coach Carter, Radio, Gridiron Gang, The Rookie and Invincible quickly followed.

Is this maybe just a little bit of a massive oversimplification? You know, just a tad?

I enjoyed each of those flicks to varying degrees, but whenever they pop up on cable, I've already got the remote in hand.

Is it just me, or does Bill Simmons watch an ungodly amount of cable?

Same for slapstick farces (Dodgeball, The Benchwarmers, any Ferrell movie); inexplicable remakes like Bad News Bears, Rollerball and The Longest Yard; and any of the pseudo remakes—and that "based on true events" thing doesn't get them a pass in my book—in which a white cast is exchanged for a black cast (like in Glory Road and Hard Ball).

I believe here is where I could take a completely unprovoked potshot at the state of Boston race relations. But I'm better than that. Not a lot better, but better.

Where does that leave us? I think we're headed for a grisly decade of indefensible remakes (like the bone-chilling news that someone is redoing The Jericho Mile),

Yes, bone-chilling. What's The Jericho Mile? Let's see...huh, no Wikipedia entry. Maybe IMDB...ah, here we go. Yeah, OK, fine, bone-chilling, whatever.

formulaic farces ("Mike Myers as a wacky British boxing champ!")

I'm pretty sure Mike Myers is too busy systematically alienating every organized religion to have time for another exploration of British stereotypes. Although I hear his latest about Shintoism is going to be tremendous. He's got this bit about the Four Affirmations that'll just have you in stitches.

and dozens of based-on-a-true-story sapfests flying off some assembly line (don't be shocked if five Jason McElwain movies are released simultaneously).

I'd be a little shocked, because I would have imagined one studio would have negotiated exclusive rights to his story. You know, because that's how movies work.

Maybe you'll see a couple of indies succeed like Bend It Like Beckham did, and the inevitable Rounders sequel may work.

How the hell is a Rounders sequel inevitable? Matt Damon is the most bankable star in the world, and Edward Norton is busy fucking up the Hulk franchise in ways Ang Lee could never have even imagined. There's almost no conceivable way either of those guys are returning for a sequel. Throw in the fact that poker is at least a couple years past its sell-by date and I have no idea how he's pulling that "fact" out of his ass. Unless we're talking a Slap Shot II type sequel here, with a complete unknown trying to echo Paul Newman.

I'd settle for two more original, well-written, well-acted efforts along the lines of Jerry Maguire and Love & Basketball, as well as three or four more unassuming, entertaining, we're-not-gunning-for- an-Oscar-here flicks like Varsity Blues. But I'm not keeping my hopes up.

Wait, how did Varsity Blues not make the list of "rewatchable films of the last ten years"? That came out a year after Rounders, Bill. It's little logical inconsistencies like that that keep people from taking you seriously. Well, that and pretty literally everything else.

Could the genre of the rewatchable sports movie simply be played out?

Almost certain that's not a genre.

Every idea has been done and redone. Every sport has a defining movie except, oddly, tennis. (Uh-oh, the monster's out of the cage.)

What, Wimbledon not doing it for you? Although I think you could make one hell of an argument for Match Point if you were so inclined.

Every new movie will be forced to compete against the ghosts of old ones that live on in the cable universe. (Inevitably, they will lose.)

Right...in your mind they will have to do this. Other people - saner, more sensible people - might be capable of actually judging films on their own merits.

And since they're still making money with the Mad Libs formula, it's not as if Hollywood will stop anytime soon.

Well, we've definitely entered the diminishing returns phase. I think we're going to see a shift in the formula within the next five years or so. Although the thing about Bill's "Mad Libs formula" is that, as long as a movie can be described in four relatively unconnected words, it can be claimed it was made using that formula. So, you know, like every movie ever made. Consider!

Casablanca: War! Morocco! Regret! Visas!

Taxi Driver: Cabbies! Prostitution! Sociopaths! Gubernatorial!

Metropolis: Allegory! Androids! Classes! Striptease!

What, you don't believe me? Take a look...



Anyway, the point is that Bill has not only made up a bullshit theory, but also one that happens to encompass everything. So it's doubly unfalsifiable. That is some seriously stinky shit right there.

Fortunately, there's hope. Reincarnated as a TV show, FNL resonated with viewers like no sports movie in the 21st century has. Characters evolved; story lines meant something; game scenes compared well with those in movies; and, even better, people cared. It's also a surprisingly rewatchable show. On my cable system, we have a channel called Universal HD, and I find myself getting sucked into episodes I've already seen. I even watched the one about Lyla Garrity's slam page twice in three days.

Ratings for Friday Night Lights: fucking terrible. Not that that's an indicator of quality or anything - as a huge fan of Firefly, I know that as well as anybody else - but if Bill is arguing this is the future for populist sports entertainment, he is barking up about the wrongest tree imaginable. Like so wrong that it's not even a tree at all, it's some sort of monster truck or something.

So maybe that's where we're headed. Sports movies will continue to produce profits and fill a void, but the payoff for our emotional investment will be in complicated series like FNL.

Right, but the problem is, Friday Night Lights is not at all popular. I mean so not popular that an NBC exec basically apologized that there was no way around canceling a show that a small number of people passionately love. There's nothing wrong with that I guess, except that there's almost no way a show like Friday Night Lights is sustainable. That's the big problem for Bill's schemes; none of these shows he wants would likely be able to last more than a season or two.

Thoughtful, carefully crafted shows about a minor league baseball team, a college football team and an inner-city high school basketball team could work just as well, right?

Probably, although I'd guess they'd likely be less popular than a show about high school football. Well, maybe not the college football show, but otherwise? Man, if Friday Night Lights isn't getting traction, what chance do they have? I mean, unless Showtime feels like making one of these, in which case I'm pretty sure ratings don't matter. If anything, they're to be actively avoided to help maintain the niche market.

Maybe they'd work so well, we'd want to watch the episodes more than once. It's a pipe dream, but it's better than nothing.

And it's certainly better than paying $10 to see Semi-Pro.


I'll give Bill this: he knows how to end a column. I wish I did. But I don't. Nope. Uh uh. It gets kinda awkward and then I just finish. Like that. Yep.

2 comments:

Djmmm46 said...

Fuck you, dude. Rocky III is great and Thunderlips might be the best part of that. Along with Rocky on the Muppet Show in the opening sequence. I'm sensing an age gap here...

Archie Micklewhite said...

To be fair, I didn't say anything about the quality of Rocky III, which I agree is tremendous. Admittedly, I'm more of a Rocky IV guy, but either way, my point was more that I object to his assumption of a common experience that doesn't necessarily exist.