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