TV Party is a Friday feature in which Film Editors Dominick Mayer and Justin Gerber alongside Editor-in-Chief Michael Roffman suggest one movie apiece to enjoy over the weekend. Joining them each week will be two rotating film staff writers to help round out the selections. Seek out any of the films via Netflix, Amazon, Redbox, Hulu, OnDemand, or abandoned Blockbuster and Hollywood Video stores — however you crazy kids watch movies these days! Enjoy ’em for the first time, a second, or maybe a redemptive third.
Okay, so Cool Runnings isn’t exactly a masterpiece of the cinematic form. It’s the sort of inspirational sports vehicle based (loosely) on real events, the kind that Disney turns out every few years to this day and has been for some time now. But as they go, it’s absolutely one of the better. After all, ‘90s nostalgia only goes so far, and what carries Cool Runnings the rest of the way toward rewatchability is the late, great John Candy’s turn as disgraced bobsledding coach Irv Blitzer, who was an Olympic medalist in the ‘70s until he was exposed for cheating and cast into ignominy, which led him to a bookie’s life in Jamaica. It’s there he meets Derice (Leon), Sanka (Doug E. Doug), Junior (Rawle D. Lewis), and Yul Brynner (Malik Yoba), all of whom except for Sanka recently had their Olympic track and field hopes dashed when Junior tripped during a qualifying run.
Candy injects some heart and passion into a fairly well-trodden role; his Irv is less a bitter, old coot than a man who made a mistake out of hubris and is seemingly hell-bent on spending the rest of his life in self-induced punishment for it. It’s fairly deep stuff for a vehicle of this sort. However, the unlikelihood of a Jamaican bobsled team is one that virtually every character in Cool Runnings drives home at every possible moment, right down to the menacing East Germans, who don’t care for these wacky misfits and their unconventional ways. Their inevitable showdown, which for some reason takes place in a country-western bar in the middle of Canada, leads to a truly delicious line-reading on the East German leader Josef’s part. Phonetically: “Cahm on, Jamaica. Say sahm-sing.”
It’s a film that could be written off as Disney shlock with relative ease, but the rapport between the primary cast and the film’s evident affection for them is enough that Cool Runnings still holds up as one of the less ponderous and more enjoyable offerings of the misfits-succeed-at-sports subgenre.
I don’t know if Mickey (the late great Burgess Meredith) is so much a shoulder to cry on as he is tough, but that’s not the point. Mickey is the father figure young Rocky Balboa needs at his crossroads, and the wizened old trainer is more than willing to offer up love, albeit of the “tough” variety. Before they team up, Rocky asks why the old man gives him so much shit, and he answers with the stuff Oscar-nominated performances are made of: “Okay, I’m gonna tell ya’! You had the talent to become a good fighter, but instead of that, you become a leg-breaker to some cheap, second-rate loan shark!” When Rocky replies, “It’s a living,” Mick counters with, “It’s a waste of life!”
And he’s right, of course. From this point on, Rocky’s focus begins to change. He will be a boxer, first and foremost. He will commit to Adrian. He will be the best he can be. There’s a reason why Rocky is considered not only one of the greatest sports films of all time, but one of the flat-out greatest movies of all time. The film inspires us to go out and kick ass after we watch the protagonist himself get inspired. There is a hope that is instilled in Rocky by his mentor that many of us long for at certain points in our life, and we should all be so lucky to have a Mickey in our corner.
“I’ll bet your neighbor the accountant can’t drive the ball four hundred yards. I’ll bet your neighbor the accountant doesn’t have a shot to get on the Pro Tour!” Such are the inspiring words of the great Chubbs Peterson (Carl Weathers) in Denis Dugan’s hilarious 1996 sports comedy, Happy Gilmore. As the one-handed, former pro golfer, Chubbs attempts to guide Adam Sandler’s titular character up the ranks of the PGA Tour by sharpening his talents, expanding his rare, aggressive swing into a proper, dynamite form.
Look, if you’ve never seen Happy Gilmore — the crass mid-section of Sandler’s essential ’90s trilogy, which also includes 1995’s Billy Madison and 1997’s The Wedding Singer — then you could be in for a good time. Just try and remember that all of the comedian’s on-screen antics, which have become tiresome for many by now, were once fresh and bizarre. Though, to Sandler’s credit, the screenplay he wrote alongside Tim Herlihy remains up to snuff, capitalizing on that rare middle ground between ribald humor and heart.
Much of that heart stems from Sandler’s eccentric gallery of supporting characters: his helpless grandmother, his homeless caddy, and, yes, his true believer, Chubbs. In later films, Sandler would attempt to re-capture that curious buddy coach bond (see: Henry Winkler in The Waterboy), but no one could rival Mr. Weathers’ magic. The Predator and Rocky star lights up each scene with his trademark charisma, the likes of which could make Lorne Michaels blush. Of course, there’s also Shooter McGavin.
But you’ll discover that treasure on your own.
Good Will Hunting
As much as Steve Carrell’s coach John du Pont in Foxcatcher is abusive and terrifying, Robin Williams’ therapist and mentor Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting is that much more of the opposite: warm and wonderful. How could you not love Sean? For one, he is embodied by the late, great Williams in one of his most stirring and empathetic roles, which also won him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. And his monologues, written by Williams’ co-stars Matt Damon and Ben Affleck — who also won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay — are perfect.
Take the scene in which Sean confronts Will (Damon), a 21-year-old genius and former foster kid, about the abuse that was inflicted upon him as a child. “It’s not your fault,” repeats Sean, until Will, first deflective, then combative, finally breaks, sobbing, into Sean’s arms. And then there’s Sean’s two other big moments, which highlight not only the great care and tenderness imbued into his character by Affleck and Damon, but the full range of Williams’ immense and incomparable talent: the admonishing of Will’s cocksure attitude on the park bench (“You don’t know about real loss, because that only occurs when you love something more than you love yourself”) and Sean’s epic yarn that ends with “I had to go see about a girl”, which is, without a doubt, one of the most romantic stories ever told on film.
If you need a palate cleanser from du Pont, there is no better choice than Williams as he is here: bearded, wise, fiercely loving, and heartbreakingly missed — although his John Keating in Dead Poets Society ranks a close second.
The Bad News Bears
A man like Coach Morris Buttermaker would never, ever be allowed to coach a little league team today. There’d be too many complaints, too much cigar smoke, and a BAC that would most definitely get him slapped with an injunction so fast that he’d never be able to look at a child, let alone a baseball field for the rest of his life.
But that’s 2014 talking. This is 1976! The Bad News Bears exist well before “stranger danger,” or “child endangerment” entered the popular vernacular. This is when you could be drunk and scary around kids, and it was met with an “oh you” sort of laugh. Take that context into consideration, and Walter Matthau’s portrayal of Buttermaker, the washed-up, ex-minor league dreamer turned pee-wee coach is one of the greatest coaches of all time. Of all time. Say what you will about his methods (getting a bail bond company to sponsor his team), but the man gets results. The Bad News Bears is piss and vinegar goods, a kids sports flick with a surly bent; it’s a classic for its underdog story with attitude. Offensively funny (oh god the children swearing), the movie gets a little better each year.
Fun fact: Buttermaker is more or less drunk the entire film but is never seen drinking the beer. That sounds like some sort of drinking game if you ask me — just don’t bring the victory to your kids game.