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Tuesday, August 27, 2002
10 Burning Questions for the experts

Page 2 staff

We know what you're thinking: Page 2 columnists and editors are nice and all, but what do they really know about movies? Where are the experts? Where are the objective voices?

Rudy
Norman Chad admits that he's a sucker for the sappy story of "Rudy."
We hear you, we hear you. We took our movie poll questions to some movie guys. Got the straight dope from a few folks in the know. Page 2's Eric Neel sat down with Kenneth Turan, the film critic for the Los Angeles Times, and Norman Chad and Jeff Cesario, the hosts of "Reel Classics" on ESPN Classic, and hit them with 10 Burning Questions on anything and everything about sports movies.

Here's what they had to say:

1. Page 2: What is your guilty pleasure sports movie, the one you are embarrassed to say you like?

Kenneth Turan: "Go Man, Go," the Harlem Globetrotters movie, where Marques Haynes dribbles around Abe Saperstein in his tiny hotel corridor.

Norman Chad: "Rudy." You know where it's going, and it pulls the heart strings, but it still makes you well up inside. It's just about some "5-foot-nothing" kid trying to make the football team and trying to get into a game, and, amazingly, at the end,I'm standing up on my couch cheering for him. And you will watch it repeatedly. If you turn on "Rudy," five minutes in or 30 minutes in, you're going to stay with it, even though you've seen it before.

Jeff Cesario: I gotta admit that I like "The Best of Times." Robin Williams can get pretty irritating, but I thought it fit the character, and Kurt Russell is pretty amazing in it. I could be biased, there is a prominent usage of an American Motors Gremlin in the movie and I grew up in Kenosha, Wis., which was a huge American Motors town.

2 If you were given the chance to make a sports movie, what sports story would you most want to tell?

Dan Gable
A movie about Iowa wrestling coach Dan Gable would definitely be intense.
Turan: I might want to make a film on Dan Gabel's career. It's such an astonishing story on so many levels. I love college wrestling; it's one of my favorite sports, and I'd love to see a movie that would really show people why it's such a great sport. It's an agonizing sport. I saw the nationals one year in Ames, Iowa, and you know, you see these guys cry when a match is over; it's just so intense. It's the essence of sport to me.

Chad: I guess I'd probably do a bowling film. I'm a bowling fan. I like to bowl. I like to watch bowling on TV.

Cesario: The heartfelt one would be the '93 Wisconsin football team, which was not expected to do anything and ended up going to the Rose Bowl and beating UCLA, breaking a 30-odd year drought for Wisconsin even getting to the Rose Bowl. There were a lot of lunch-bucket guys on that team, several walk-ons in starting positions, and I just think it would be one of the last stories you could tell about college football that evoked some honest emotion.

And for more of a goof one, I think these timber sports are up for a shout-out. What I'd really love to do is the Jimmy Houston story.

3. Is there a story from the world of sports that you hope is never made into a movie?

Turan: The year the Dodgers lost the pennant in 1951. The Ralph Branca year. I was such a big Dodger fan. Too heartbreaking to make into a film.

Lance Armstrong
Chad says we don't need a movie about Lance Armstrong. The real story is too amazing to duplicate.
Chad: I'd prefer they didn't make a movie out of Lance Armstrong's story. It's a natural to make, but I'd prefer not to see it. Sometimes I just like stuff to play itself out.

Cesario: Anything auto racing never quite seems to get over the hump. There's going to be another giant cry for another attempt at a NASCAR movie because it's so popular, but I will stand alone in defiance to not have another NASCAR movie. I think it would be a huge mistake.

And maybe McGwire's home run story. There's not enough depth to it, not enough underbelly to even play with -- he forgot to tip a limo driver one time, that's probably as deep and nasty as you could get with him.

4. Which actor has given the best performance as an athlete?

Turan: This is gonna surprise you. Recently I was pretty impressed with Dennis Quaid in "The Rookie," but in an odd way, my favorite sports movie is "Downhill Racer." Redford and Hackman have one of the best coach-athlete dynamics I've ever seen put on film. There's a scene I can still remember ... it's after a race and they're sitting in a coffee shop and Redford is making excuses, saying he didn't have a good start number and the course was bad, and Gene Hackman looks him right in the eye and says, "You weren't good enough." And it gets at the heart of how coaches can play with athletes. It's one of the most realistic coach-athlete scenes.

Dennis Quaid
Dennis Quaid looks and moves like a big-league pitcher in "The Rookie."
Chad: It wasn't Gary Cooper in "Pride of the Yankees"! I'll say Robert De Niro in "Raging Bull," because it's a convincing portrayal of a character. I've seen other people portray boxers better than him, but as far as Jake La Motta the person, the character, the athlete, you couldn't ask anyone to do a better job than De Niro did.

Cesario: It's a toss-up between De Niro in "Raging Bull" and Burt Reynolds in "The Longest Yard" -- he just immediately reeks of tainted football player thrown out of the NFL.

Which actor has given the worst performance as an athlete?

Turan: Oh god, Al Pacino as "Bobby Deerfield." Poor Al, I hate to pick on him.

Chad: The guy who is worse than Gary Cooper is Anthony Perkins playing Jimmy Piersall in "Fear Strikes Out." You hate to say someone threw like a girl, ran like a girl and hit like a girl, but he did.

Cesario: It's hard to get around Robby Benson in "One on One." Anthony Perkins in "Fear Strikes Out" is bad, too. When he raises his arm to throw, they cut away while it's still going back toward his shoulder.

5. If you were taking a non-sports fan to a sports movie tonight, what movie would you choose?

Turan: I might take them to "Downhill Racer." Even though it has big stars and it's a Hollywood movie, it's surprising realistic about the way athletes and sports work in the real world.

Chad: I would probably take him to see "The Hustler," maybe "Breaking Away" -- it's a sports movie, but it has so much else going on, and all the performances are really good. If I wanted to take them to see a really dark sports film, I'd take them to see "Requiem for a Heavyweight."

Cesario: "Hoosiers," because the story is really about the redemption of a flawed human being, in the Gene Hackman character. It's a period piece, so it's not tainted by what modern sports has become. And the acting is top-notch across the board.

If you were taking a die-hard sports fan to a sports movie tonight, what would you see?

Turan: There's something about "Hoosiers" that I think is really satisfying. It's one of the classic American sports stories and, you know, given how classic a story it is, they did a good job with it.

Hoosiers
Die-hard sports fans will watch movies like "Hoosiers" over and over.
Chad: Die-hards? You take them to see "Rocky," you take them to see "Slap Shot," "Caddyshack" and then, you know, they're just pigs in slop. You don't even have to buy them cotton candy. People worship "Rocky." I actually don't even put it in my Top 10, but people love it. And "Bull Durham," by the way. These movies are over the top.

Cesario: You know, line-for-line, you'd be hard-pressed to top "Raging Bull." It is such an awesome movie. Die-hard sports fans are so used to the arc of your average sports movie, which is individual or team, both of whom are rag-tag, somehow find a way, overcome personal flaws and whatever fate throws in their way, and wins in the end. "Raging Bull" so bucks that.

6. What are your favorite sports movie scenes or moments?

Turan: That Marques Haynes moment in "Go Man, Go." And there's a scene -- is it in "Pride of the Yankees"? -- when a woman tells Babe Ruth that he's tipping his pitches.

Chad: There are a lot of great, true scenes in "Eight Men Out," which has a tremendous cast. There are so many scenes that ring true in there. I'd also take scenes out of "The Hustler" or "Raging Bull," too; those are the two best sports films, in my mind.

Cesario: The scene where Gleason beats Newman in "The Hustler" is one of the most incredible scenes, because they've taken pains to make sure Gleason is not a jerk. So when he beats the hell out of Newman, the scene succeeds at conveying a sense of pity toward the Newman character.

In terms of frivolous but great moments, I would put two in a dead-heat. One would be when Rocky tells Paulie, "I see three of him," and Paulie says, "hit the one in the middle." And then just the moment where Charlie Sheen walks out of the bullpen in "Major League" to just crushing applause and the crowd chanting his name -- that's a goosebump moment in a movie where you just wouldn't think you'd get a goosebump moment.

Burt Lancaster, Kevin Costner
When Moonlight Graham steps over the foul line in "Field of Dreams," it's a magical moment.
And I'll also say the moment in "Field of Dreams," when Burt Lancaster crosses the line and sacrifices himself to save the little girl. Stunning. Stunning freaking moment.

7. What would you say is the most overrated sports movie?

Turan: "The Natural." They did violence to the book in a way that was overdoing it. They put an arbitrary happy ending on it. I also didn't like "Bang the Drum Slowly," with Robert De Niro as a catcher. Egregious emotionality, just overdoing it.

Chad: I really believe the "Rocky" series is overrated. I know a lot of people worship at the temple of "Rocky." It's a remarkable story in terms of Sylvester Stallone getting it made, and the budget and time in which he did it, and it's a pretty good film, but over the years it's just been elevated.

Cesario: Might be "The Pride of the Yankees," but it's probably "The Babe Ruth Story," with William Bendix.

8. Which film gets your vote as the best sports documentary?

Turan: I'm going to cheat because this isn't a sports documentary, but "One Day in September" was excellent.

Chad: "Hoop Dreams." Retire the category after that. Nothing close.

Cesario: I really like the HBO documentary on the 1968 Olympic track team. The whole fist-in-the-air thing. As a white kid growing up, it was the first thing that really jolted me into a new reality.

Best biopic?

Turan: Should I be a classicist and say, "Pride of the Yankees"? Why don't I say, "Pride of the Yankees."

Chad: I wish biopics would go away. I have a problem with any of them, because they become our de facto history, and filmmakers take a lot of liberties with factual stuff.

Cesario: Again "Raging Bull," although, let me go with "The Great White Hope" -- I was stunned at how good that movie is.

Kid flick?

Turan: "The Bad News Bears."

Chad: You know we had to watch "Lovebug" on "Reel Classics." They told us it was a sports movie. I never saw it as a kid and I didn't want to see it as an adult, but I tell you what, "Lovebug" is well made.

Cesario: "Bad News Bears," without a doubt.

9. Your top five all-time sports movies?

Turan: "Downhill Racer," "Breaking Away," "The Rookie" ... "Raging Bull," you've got to have "Raging Bull" in there.

Chad: "Raging Bull," "The Hustler," "Hoosiers," "Slap Shot," and I'm gonna throw in "North Dallas Forty," my favorite football movie of all-time; it blew away "Any Given Sunday" ... "Any Given Sunday" is just loud, violent ... it's just loud. "North Dallas Forty" did everything "Any Given Sunday" did, and it did it 25 years earlier and better.

Cesario: "Raging Bull," "Never Cry Wolf," I really like "Field of Dreams," the original "Rocky" and I might go with, I have sort of a fondness for a very obscure auto racing movie with Steve McQueen called "Le Mans."

10. The worst sports movie you have ever seen?

Chad: "The Bad News Bears Go to Japan." It's a low point for Tony Curtis as the manager. He's in a baseball uniform and he's wearing bell bottoms. There's a sumo wrestling match in it. The film is completely ridiculous.

Cesario: "The Babe" with John Goodman, whom I love.