By Paul Keelan / Jordan Puga
Cinematic Underdogs is a joyful, intellectual, and nostalgic look at sports movies of all forms, shapes, and sizes. Hosted by Jordan Puga and Paul Keelan, this overlooked genre is re-evaluated with the sincerity that it deserves.
65. Over the Top (1987)
On this episode, JB Huffman of Manly Movies joins us to un-ironically champion the many heartfelt virtues & rah-rah moments of Sly Stallone's heartfelt 1987 father-son reunion melodrama, Over the Top. If you're on quest to find the definitive movie about child custody, truck driving, and arm-wrestling, this is your one-stop pitstop. Tune in to join in on the fun as we chat about Stallone's equally understated & overblown melancholy, the legal logistics of parental custody, inverted sports movie tropes, why Laughlin should have replaced Vegas for the final tournament (given the fact that Kingpin already snagged Reno), the film's unexpectedly deep life lessons, the vein-throbbing theatricality of bicep-centered athletes, and cinema's most annoyingly entitled child protagonists.
June 29, 2022
64. Top Gun / Top Gun: Maverick
Does the Top Gun franchise exist within the domain of sports movies? You bet your callsign it does! On the latest episode, your friendly Underdogs discuss how sports archetypes and tropes (practice adversaries, player-coaches, and the importance of camaraderie) dominate both movies. Also stayed tuned for our divisive take on the legacy sequel (our respective opinions on its formulaic elements & banging soundtrack diverge quite dramatically). Do beware: you will be exposed to small doses of toxic negativity infiltrating the never-ending hype machine. So what are you waiting for? Queue up that mental image of Tom Cruise sprinting full steam. Queue up that swooning feeling you got when Lady Gaga began crooning her throwback 80's monster ballad before the end credits. Queue up that loving feeling and get ready for some old time rock n' roll: i.e., another heated back-and-forth about the predictability of genre movies. Queue up the guts to handle g-force levels of bantering. Strap in, buckle up, and enjoy!
June 19, 2022
63. Death Race 2000 (1975)
Our resident sci-fi/dystopian sports film expert, SF Covell, returns to discuss the grind-house, b-movie classic Death Race 2000. Our convo quickly turns as unhinged & unruly as the movie -- traversing all kinds of detours and unexpected landscapes! We discuss how the film oddly parallels the Herbie franchise, Around the World in 80 Days, Rat Race, Mad Max: Fury Road, and countless oddball, race-based, cinematic escapades. We compare the film's ultraviolent westward trajectory to American Bloodsport, our Frontiersman Mythologies, & Manifest Destiny. We vehemently disagree about the quality of Stallone's acting. We wax nostalgic for the pre-Zoom days of watching trash movies with friends. Beers are chugged, expletives are hurled, passionate interruptions run amok, and no take is safe on this wild and crazy episode for the ages. Enjoy!
June 12, 2022
62. The Karate Kid (Live at The Majestic)
Enjoy our short, sweet, & trivia-infused live episode, recorded just after a live screening of The Karate Kid at The Majestic Tempe. The recording includes some audience questions, hot takes, a brief background lesson on where the film exists in the overall trajectory of American-made martial arts movies, and a totally random tidbit about a fitness company called Body by Jake. We kicked off the discussion seconds after the packed theater erupted in roaring applause for the 1984 classic! The energy is palpable! Enjoy!
June 05, 2022
61. The Karate Kid (1984)
This is a special one! Welcome to the in-depth prelude to our live episode on The Karate Kid! We discuss this everything there is to discuss about this heartfelt, feel-good classic in a short 1.5 hours. Sure, that's a decent chunk of time. But when you consider there is a podcast in the cosmos that devotes hour-long episodes to every minute of the movie, we become paragons of brevity & economy. So if you're ready to hear us wax on and wax off about crane-kicks, sweeping legs, shower costumes, motorbike gangs, & 80s bangers, you've come to the right place! We gush about Mr. Miyagi's prudence & sagacity, Daniel Larusso's spunk & wiliness, and the grey contours of Johnny Lawrence. We also discuss the socioeconomic divide between Reseda & Encino, the mysterious & untold backstories to Miyagi's oil-derrick compound & lot of classic cars, the connections between The Karate Kid & Rocky, and why this rightfully deserves to be recognized as one of the better sports films of all time. Enjoy!
May 15, 2022
60. Cliffhanger (1993)
On this episode we are joined by Matt Strohl, author of Why It's OK to Love Bad Movies, to discuss the Sylvester Stallone-led action (with a sports twist) flick Cliffhanger. We discuss why this outrageously fun 90s blockbuster far transcends any one genre and the multiple Razzie awards it undeservedly garnered. Matt's thesis about viewing films charitably and establishing a love for the intertextuality of genre systems perfectly aligns with our own mission to admire the nuances within cinematic formulae. If you are a kindred soul who also loves to celebrate unfairly overlooked & maligned genre entries, this episode is for you!
May 03, 2022
59. Victory (1981)
Hello Underdog Nation! We're back and our bark is louder than ever! On this episode, illustrious cinephile & Sylvester Stallone super-fan Lauren Knight joins us to discuss 1981's overlooked Victory (aka Escape to Victory) starring Michael Caine, Pele, and Stallone himself. The fact that this film is not slotted in the pantheon of classic sports movies is downright criminal. Set during WWII, Victory is the story of a ragtag group of POWs who are propositioned to play a propagandistic soccer match in Paris against their Nazi occupiers. The purpose of the game is to showcase German superiority; for the fascists, things don't go according to plan. John Huston gives the film an elevated air (infusing many scenes with the gravitas of golden-age Hollywood movies), while Stallone's boyish charisma animates the margins with humor, action, and a goofy panache. If you can imagine a mash-up between The Longest Yard & The Great Escape, you'll have a pretty darn good idea of what to expect. You can rent Victory on Amazon Prime for a meager $2.99. It's well worth the price. But first, prime yourself for this once-in-a-lifetime cinematic experience (maybe hyperbole, maybe not) by listening to our rollicking fun conversation. Enjoy!
April 22, 2022
58. Baki (2018)
Howdy fellow Underdogs!!! We're back with our second deep dive into sports-themed anime! This time we are joined by Matt St. Jack of Anime Talk! and cover Baki, a Netflix series featuring muscular martial artists with sinewy veins, bulging eyes, & bloodthirsty intentions. The narrative focuses on Baki Hanma, a young high-school fighter extraordinaire diligently training to eclipse his legendary father's status as a legend in the world of ultimate fighting. Meanwhile, five ultra-violent death row inmates have escaped in synchronicity and are descending upon Tokyo to take him on. *We apologize for the distorted audio & spotty edits ahead of time. I did my best to clean out some feedback the recording picked up, and there's a few clumsy segues as a result. All in all, the meat and potatoes of this conversation, which covers wide-ranging Anime territory (Matt is a veritable connoisseur of the genre!), is hearty and worth your time! Thanks for listening and don't forget to like, review, and promote our podcast to your friends and family. We love the support!
April 17, 2022
57. Yowamushi Pedal (2013)
What's happening, underdogs? We're back and now pedaling into a totally new terrain -- covering our first Japanese sports anime, Yowamushi Pedal. Joining us and holding our hand through this episode is David Weinberger of the Shonen Flop podcast. David does an amazing job breaking down the five types of anime (shonen, shojo, seinen, josei, and kodomomuke) and explains why Yowamushi Pedal is derivative and cliche. Meanwhile, our unvarnished critical perspective within the world of anime at-large lends us a more charitable view toward the series (which chronicles the evolution of an otaku into a competitive cyclist). Filtering the archetypes and tropes through a narrow and naive lens, we leaned positive -- finding its themes of companionship & dedication quite wholesome and heartfelt and endearing. Sometimes, perhaps, ignorance is bliss. But more often than not, cynicism is wicked fun, too! Check out the series on Netflix if you'd like. It was a wicked pop-punk intro and outro & a pastel-hued aesthetic. OR just listen to us revel in a fruitful discussion of sports anime series and their varied rewards. Enjoy! Ruff, ruff!
April 08, 2022
56. American Underdog (2021)
This week Don Shanahan of Every Movie Has a Lesson / Cinephile Hissy Fit joins us to discuss American Underdog. Directed by the Erwin brothers, American Underdog chronicles the inspirational rise of Kurt Warner (Zachary Levi) as he bags groceries, bides his time, slings the football in the Arena league (AFL), and scraps his way back to the NFL. Backed by his equally resilient wife, Brenda (Anna Paquin), and her family, Kurt proves to everyone that persevering against all odds can pay off. It is not difficult to deduce that this film fits our podcast's overarching theme to perfection from the synopsis and movie title alone. Yet, we can be a finicky bunch, and sometimes are the most critical toward film's that hit closest to home. On this episode, we discuss the sweet spot for making biopics when the iron is hot, the odd and unfair dismissiveness toward secularized Christian cinema, and the real possibility that Kurt Warner would have never become a Super Bowl winter and league MVP if he hadn't polished his skills in the ultra-kinetic AFL. Hear us debate the merits, demerits, and sort our varied opinions on this lovably subtle faith-based underdog story today! Ruff, ruff!
April 01, 2022
55. Speed Racer (2008)
On our latest episode, we veer slightly off the post-apocalyptic path in our sci-fi / futuristic sports movie extravaganza to discuss Speed Racer! Devout Speed Racer fanboy Jed Bookout joins your regular underdogs (Jordan & Paul) to discuss the Wachowski Sisters' singular adaptation of this classic anime entry. We colloquially swerve, meander, and careen as we chat about everything good & bad about the film, including its over-the-top DayGlo color palette, Matrix Resurrections adjacent anti-corporate messaging, white-washed cast, use of vanguard digital camera techniques & technologies, pitch-perfect verisimilitude of childlike sensibilities, sugar-high/candy-coated pacing, controversial accusations of animal cruelty, and boundless imagination. Like the opening sequence in which Speed daydreams about racing by designing a flip-book of the Mach 5 zipping at hyper-speed, the Wachowskis' adaptation simulates the untainted wonder & unbridled creativity of cinema in a way that few blockbusters have captured before or since. You won't want to miss our celebration of why Speed Racer is so well-worthy of its place in the unofficial pantheon of modern cult-classics. Enjoy! Ruff Ruff!
March 25, 2022
54. Rollerball (1975)
We welcome sci-fi maestro SF Covell on the pod to wax nostalgic about the killer 1975 dystopian thriller Rollerball. In perhaps our most off-the-cuff & critical divisive episode of CU yet, we get heated (Jordan blasphemously claims the nu-metal-heavy 2002 Rollerball remake is better), hairy (discussing James Caan's chest and John Houseman's nose), & hoarse (from praising how kick-ass, paranoiac, & stylishly cynical this mid-70's flick can be). Rollerball is definitely an underrated gem (ignore Jordan's opinion) and listening to SF Covell relish while reminiscing on decades-old memories of shouting and screaming at a screening during its initial theatrical run is all the proof you need to know that sports films don't get much more immersive & visceral than this. With its dreamy interludes, extravagant zoom shots, surrealistic sense of ecological/corporate foreboding, and prescient narrative digressions, sports movies don't get much weirder and savvier than Rollerball either. It's a cinematic curio well worthy of our combative and kinetic conversation. Enjoy! And don't forget to like, rate, chirp, and spread our shit -- our doggie doody is hot of the press and calling your name!
March 18, 2022
53. The 10th Victim (1965) w/ Justin & Joey
Hey fellow Underdogs!!! This week we welcome bak Justin and Joey from The Average Joe’s Movie Club Cast (YouTube, Buzzsprout, & Apple Podcasts) to discuss the 1965, swinging-sixties satire The 10th Victim. Starring Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress, this futuristic Italian films takes the manhunt, battle royale genre to fashionable extremes. A modish, spy-film adjacent, sci-fi farce filled with hideously ugly toy pets, lunar cults, femme bot bra-embedded weaponry, suave saxophonists, and Roman romance, The 10th Victim is a must-see cult classic for anyone who loves 60s avant garde, the Austin Powers trilogy, and/or Bond movies. Enjoy our freewheeling discussion! Then like and follow us wherever you listen! Every rating, comment, and feedback helps us get noticed by more sports movie fans like yourself! Ruff, ruff!!!
March 04, 2022
52. Home Team (2022)
Welcome to our first true foray into the wide world of a Happy Madison sports movies! No, Home Team is not in the same ballpark as Happy Gilmore. Hell, it wishes it was half as funny and entertaining as The Waterboy. But as champions of the genre and apologists for its formulaic gags and set pieces, we find the silver lining in this half-assed tale of Sean Peyton's post Bountygate comeuppance: returning to small-town Texas to coach his estranged son's hapless peewee football team. Part kids-focused sports film and part tale of redemption and penitence, Home Team's tone is about as unreliable as a pee-wee football field goal kicker. Luckily, for us, the wild misses are more entertaining than anything. And we milk Home Team for every ounce of humor and wit it gives us -- celebrating Kevin James' surly pout, Rob Schneider's bohemian/vegan schtick, and the wild antics of side caricatures (the rambling bus driver, the nosy hotel attendant, the drunk assistant coach). Enjoy!!!
February 23, 2022
51. National Champions (2021)
This week, your favorite Underdogs get timely & topical -- discussing 2021's National Champions. Directed by Ric Roman Waugh (Greenland, Angel Has Fallen), and adapted from a stage play written by Adam Mervis (21 Bridges), National Champions follows star quarterback Demarcus James (Sephan James) and his teammate/friend Emmett Sunday (Alexander Ludwig) as they boycott the national championship less than 72 hours before kickoff. Like other behind the scenes sports films we've covered (High Flying Bird, Draft Day, etc), the film is a savvy and cynical take on the economics of sports. Tidily scripted & sufficiently nuanced, Mervis' adapted screenplay questions the ethics of the NCAA and collegiate programs, which exploit athletes -- cashing in on the multi-million dollar revenue stream without paying college athletes for their contributions (beyond a scholarship, that is). In doing so, the play-turned-film sharply examines the multiple tiers of college football, including: the coaches (J.K. Simmons as James Lazor & Lil Rel Howery as Ronnie Dunn), the donors (Time Blake Nelson as Rodger Cummings & King Bach as Taylor Sheridan), and the NCAA figures (the commissioner Jeffrey Donovan as Mark Titus and Uzo Aduba as Katherine Poe). There is also a key subplot with Coach Lazor's wife (Kristin Chenoweth as Bailey) and a philosophy professor named Elliott Schmidt (Timothy Olymphant). With so many moving parts, the film can feel a bit overstuffed and forced at times. It left us more ambivalent than any other film we've done thus far; please note: ambivalent is not the same as indifferent. We felt a lot about this film: as roused by its stirring speeches as we were turned off by its melodramatic flourishes. Fortunately, by the end, what starts off seeming like a very one-sided exploration of this complex issue turns out to be anything but that, as new layers and perspectives prove the debate is not as black-and-white as it may initially seem. Enjoy listening to us struggle to make sense of its blurry moral shadings on our latest episode! And don't forget to like, share, and spread the Cinematic Underdogs love around town!
February 16, 2022
50. Untold: Breaking Point (2021)
This week on Cinematic Underdogs, Harry LaBollita, Nick Morelli, and Aaron White of Feelin Film' join the pod to discuss Untold: Breaking Point. As our third entry into the fantastic Netflix-produced docuseries, this episode chronicles Mardy Fish's poignant rise, fall, & eventual search for equanimity. If you've never heard of Mardy before, you are not alone. For most of his professional tennis career, he flew under the radar, consistently bested by his childhood best friend Andy Roddick. Then, nearing 30, something clicked. Seemingly overnight, Mardy transformed his work ethic (sleeping in an hyperbaric pod, trimming 35 pounds, and practicing militantly), and he career went into supersonic overdrive: shooting straight to the top of America's rankings. However, this sudden and precipitous rise came at a cost — crippling Mardy with a severe mental health crisis. He first suffers tachycardia (likely due to psychosomatic stressors) and soon confronts a sequence of paralyzing anxiety/panic attacks. Suffice to say, "Breaking Point" could not be any more relevant to the long-overdue emergence of mental health conversations in the sports world. It is a heartwarming story of friendship and perseverance that tackles many of the issues endemic to this specific sector of American culture: from the unfair pressure we impose on athletes to the inhumane assumption that athletic superstars are somehow impervious to external critique. Mardy Fish is clearly not alone in this battle for mental health awareness. Along with Simone Biles, Naomi Osaka, and Kevin Love, his story is a stark reminder that we need to look in the mirror and increase our collective empathy toward the mental duress and traumatizing pressure that professional athletes endure. Please do yourself a favor and check out Untold: Breaking Point on Netflix, and then supplement your viewing with this wonderful conversation.
February 09, 2022
49. Endgame (1983) w/ Will Johnson
Now this is a wicked fun episode. Will Johnson of Cinephile Hissy Fit joins the pod to geek out on Joe D'Amato's 1980's Italian post-apocalyptic cult classic Endgame: Bronx Lotta Finale! The film is a wild pastiche. It begins as a battle royale TV game-show and morphs into a story of a gruff antihero named Shannon (Al Cliver) leading a telepathic mutant (Moira Chen), an oracle-child archetype, and their troupe to safety. Filled with ninjas, blind assassin monks, radiological wastelands, and gratuitous nudity, Endgame is the cinematic equivalent of a 13-year-old boy's wet dream. Chatting about everything from Italian exploitation cinema, to the evolution of the NFL QB, to the artistic pulse & pragmatism that drives second-tier/low-budget movies, to Will's all time sports movie favorites (Any Given Sunday, White Man Can't Jump, He Got Game), this is an episode for sports fanatics and cinephiles alike! Enjoy!
February 02, 2022
48. Blood of Heroes (1990) w/ SF Covell
On this episode, we briefly flip the script* and begin our Post-Apocalyptic Sports Movie Series with David Webb Peoples’ Blood of Heroes. Starring Rutger Hauer (Sallow), Joan Chen (Kidda), Vincent D’Onofrio (Young Gar), and Delroy Lindo (Mbulu), this one-of-a-kind sports film is criminally overlooked. A strange fusion of Mad Max sensibilities and underdog sports movie tropes, Blood of Heroes delivers a surprisingly feel-good story about a ragtag troupe of amateur athletes who drift around and survive by playing Jugger against rivaling tribes in the barren Australian wasteland. Jugger itself is a fascinating invention: a fully-realized yet fictionalized sport that sort of resembles lacrosse or field hockey, only with a dog’s skull as the ball, makeshift shields & steampunk-esque gear as equipment, and spiky Q-tips & lacerating chains as choice weapons of carnage. Combining physical dexterity with bludgeoning brutality, Jugger is as gritty and unforgiving as the harsh and rugged Outback. The brilliant, genre maestro SF Covell joins us for a riotous conversation of this soon-to-be anointed cult-classic. In addition to an illustrious career spent preaching the potency and power of sci-fi, western, dystopian, and Shakespearean texts on college campuses, Covell is also a bonafide bard (effortlessly turning everyday musings into thespian poetry) and a self-published author. You can find his latest novel (a postmodern/fanfic triumph!) Gatsby’s Revenge on Amazon today! *Going forward, we are going to switch things up from time-to-time — jumping between concurrent themes/mini-tournaments to make sure we stay fresh, upbeat, and always on our toes!
January 26, 2022
47. Untold: Crimes & Penalties (2021)
The Dostoevsky allusion in the title of latest Untold episode we cover ("Crimes & Penalties") is apt in more ways than one. Like the hard-hitting Russian novel, this episode about a small-town mafia-run hockey team comprised entirely of goons blurs the lines of orthodox morality. The premise is simple: Jimmy Galante (kingpin of Connecticut's trash empire and the purported real-life inspiration for Tony Soprano) buys his son, AJ, his very own minor league (UHL) hockey team. AJ is a bonafide WWE/The Mighty Ducks fanatic & a former ice hockey enforcer (who's burgeoning career prematurely ended due to a debilitating injury). Equally intimidated and thrilled, AJ does what any 17-year old would do with an expansion team: he molds it after his obsessions, assembling an eclectic ensemble of outcasts, goons, rejects, and ‘heels’. Known as the Danbury Trashers, AJ's bizarre vision quickly becomes the bane of the UHL and the talk of the town (ultimately, the country, too, after being featured in multiple segments on Sportscenter). Embracing their ethos as a bunch of troublemakers, rabble-rousers, and misfits, the Trashers run amok: turning the ice rink into a three-ring circus of broken bones, dirty equipment pranks, toothless smiles, and the infamously rowdy goading of Section 102. Meanwhile, the owner, Jimmy, keeps the players happy with under the table duffel bags of money, meals at 4 star restaurants, and lakeside estates. By the time the FBI enters the story, we’ve already witnessed extortion, bribery, and death threats all for the sake of beer league hockey. Yet, as wildly irreverent, crude, and notoriously rowdy as the Trashers became, you can’t help but to cheer them on — which is a testament to their unapologetic personalities and lovable underdog ethos. As underdog advocates, we found ourselves won over as well! So, without further adieu, enjoy this fast-paced & inspired free-for-all of an episode where we take turns oohing and aahing about this wildly entertaining and downright insane story!
January 18, 2022
46. Untold: Malice at the Palace w/ Aaron White
We have finally finished our Summer Olympics Sports Movie marathon and are excited to begin our much anticipated deep dive into Untold, a riveting Netflix Docuseries created by Chapman and Maclain Way. To kick off this riveting docuseries, we welcome the consummate podcast maestro and perennially insightful Aaron White of Feelin' Film for an in-depth discussion of Malice at the Palace. The first entry of Untold, Malice at the Palace explores infamous Pistons-Pacers brawl that occurred on the fateful night of November 19th, 2004. Deconstructing the monolithic media narrative that vilified Ron Artest & his Pacers teammates (Jermaine O'Neal, Stephen Jackson) for becoming embroiled in a chaotic melee after a fan threw a beer at Artest, this documentary reminds the viewer that there are multiple sides to every story. Hopefully, after watching this episode and listening to our podcast, you'll be a little less eager to jump to conclusions and a little less certain about who is truly at fault for what the Associated Press deems to be "the most infamous brawl in NBA history." We certainly are.
January 06, 2022
45. Personal Best (1982)
As Robert Towne's directorial debut, Personal Best is anything but safe. His commitment to realism is impressive, but the results can be maudlin and melodramatic. This is also a very fleshy/horny film, and at times, it is hard to tell whether the film's rampant nudity is naturalistic, gratuitous, perverted, raw, or an amalgamation of all these qualities. Regardless of how one perceives the film's gaze (which, from reading reviews, is quite polarizing), Personal Best definitely seeks to deglamorize the female body to show its unvarnished beauty, prowess, and athleticism. And it does so with ambitious technical merit. From isolating a drip of water in a sauna, to accentuating the banality of physical exertion by shooting the film in hard/flat images, to creating leitmotifs with car ignitions, there are layers of meaning to every shot. With so much subtext and subtle experimentation, it absolutely deserves its slot in the Criterion Collection and is equally worthy of a lengthy conversation, as we give it here. Moreover, for anyone studying representations of gender in film, Personal Best can easily be considered a seminal and groundbreaking work (Ebert and Kael, among others, championed it with glowing reviews about its authentic treatment, through style and substance, of femininity and passion). But as a modern viewer, it can feel dated and dry -- despite all the sweat and tears dripping off the screen. Because of our ambivalence to the film -- simultaneously impressive and unmoved -- our dialectic runs in curious circles on this episode, trying to reconcile the contradictions with mixed results. It may not be our personal best, but it is definitely one of our most unique episodes yet. Enjoy!
December 20, 2021
44. Top 5 Sports Films w/ Justin & Joey
On this episode of Cinematic Underdogs, we bring you Justin and Joey from The Average Joe’s Movie Club Cast, which can be found on YouTube, Buzzsprout, & Apple Podcasts. Joey & Justin are mega sports movie fans, and so for this episode we discuss their top five all-time faves (including everything from Bloodsport to Rocky to Field of Dreams to Days of Thunder), some honorable mentions (Varsity Blues, Any Given Sunday, Baseketball, Fever Pitch, etc...), the greatest tearjerker (Rudy) and laugh-my-ass-off (Happy Gilmore) sports movie moments, & finally, in solidarity, we knight Kevin Costner as the GOAT of the genre. IF you love sports movies on a broad scale, this one's for you!
November 15, 2021
43. Race (2016)
As an old-fashioned sports biopic, Race (2016) is serviceable. IT is exactly what one might expect of such a film: a sepia-toned, self-congratulatory, anti-fascist/racist flick about Jesse Owens. Jesse Owens, however, is sadly overshadowed by familiar beats and 'sophisticated' cliches in this Focus Features slog. An incredible/preternatural athlete and seemingly charismatic individual, Owens is bogged down by white savior narratives and a syrupy bromance with Ted Lasso himself (Sudeikis, before he made a name for himself on the pitch) as the Ohio St. track-and-field coach Larry Snyder. The film also stars Jeremy Irons as Avery Brundage (the sometimes virtuous/sometimes mercenary head of the Olympic committee), Carice van Houten as Leni Riefenstahl (the famous/infamous director & Nazi propagandist who is given a sugar-coated hagiographic treatment), and Barnaby Metschurat as Joseph Goebbels (perfectly insidious and awful in every way). With so many talented actors and powerful historical source material, Race is not bad by any stretch of the imagination. It is just exceptionally mediocre and ethically dubious at times when it is most trying to virtue signal and coddle modern audiences with bromides and platitudes.
October 30, 2021
42. Flatball (2016) w/ Raj Maitra
On this special episode, we welcome Raj Maitra to the podcast to talk about the niche albeit electric sport known as Ultimate Frisbee. Raj has played Ultimate at a professional level (even appearing on ESPN) and now coaches a local team in Minneapolis. He is also an old, close friend of Paul's from a summer they both spent studying abroad in Cambridge (carousing about the hallowed halls of Cambridge a la the young blokes in Chariot's of Fire). The documentary under discussion is Flatball. Narrated by Alec Baldwin and chronicling the history and rise of the esoteric sport of Ultimate Frisbee, the documentary is easily accessible streaming on Tubi. Please check it out. It is well-made, fascinating, and, best of all, free! That said, Flatball really serves as a launching pad to dive deep into stories and anecdotes about Raj's experiences playing Ultimate Frisbee and the ins-and-outs of this exciting, underdog sport. We bombard Raj with questions about the technicalities, economics, history, and politics of the game, and he graciously offers in-depth answers. For anyone seeking a truly in-depth breakdown of everything you need to know about Ultimate Frisbee, this is the episode for you!
October 05, 2021
41. Prefontaine (1997)
In our last episode on Prefontaine, your fellow Underdogs breakdown the 1997 film starring Jared Leto, Ed O' Neill, and R. Lee Ermey. Enjoy!
September 27, 2021
40. Prefontaine Biopics w/ Juan
This extra-special episode of Cinematic Underdogs welcomes Juan — former track star walk-on, unabashed Steve Prefontaine super-fan, and current rockstar psychology PhD student at ASU. Studying the intersections of exercise & dieting (among other factors), Juan is teeming with the type of esoteric insights we cherish so much on the pod: offering a uniquely immersive, heady, and self-reflexive perspective and all around good vibes. Discussing everything from the logistics & phenomenology of competitive running, to the tenuous conjectures & over-localized correlations we tend to make between what we eat and how we perform, to the larger-than-life persona of our boy Pre, this conversation is for anyone as titillated as we are by the subcultural nuances of collegiate running, biometrics, and the dire economics of amateur athletes. Mostly though, we debate the merits of 1996's Without Limits vis-à-vis 1997's Prefontaine: exploring the commensurately incisive & elusive mythology of an iconic young man from Coos Bay, OR, whose impassioned devotion to running inspired these indelible biopics and so much more.
September 10, 2021
39. Tokyo Olympiad (1965)
On the latest episode of Cinematic Underdogs, we welcome Cows in the Field's one & only Justin Khoo back onto the pod to discuss Kon Ichikawa's monumental Tokyo Olympiad (1965). Commissioned by the Japanese government, this subversively playful and poetic depiction of the '64 Olympic games is a tour de force of cinematic techniques: filled with freeze-frames, still photograph montages, image masking, temporal intercutting, rack focus, fragmented close-ups (transforming athletes into abstract figures), smash cuts, animated transitions, Technicolor and black and white shots, shadow / telephoto shots, disruptive zooms, associational edits, and slow motion. Instead of venerating Japan's resurrection after WWII, the film concentrates on the game's oddities and idiosyncrasies: an umbrella in the crowd, a pastiche of elderly mens' gullets, a lemon placed on the race track, the food served at the Olympic Village cafeteria. It is also as concerned with the sting of defeat and the despairing fatigue of athletes who faltered as it is with the triumph of victors. Focused on peripheral elements and isolating specific limbs with metonymic humor and wit, Tokyo Olympiad is truly a tribute to the "tiny things that quicken the heart" (to take a quote from Chris Marker's Sans Soleil). Praises aside, the tension between the filmmaker and the financiers make for an interesting viewing. Interspersed throughout are orthodox sports moments, sloppy edits, and incongruous bouts of jingoism. Edited down for over 70 hours of footage, the end product feels a bit slapdash and haphazard. Nevertheless, with endless style and panache and a commitment to seeing the aesthetic formalism lurking underneath the hegemonic narrative of competition, Tokyo Olympiad is infinitely engaging and a must see for any fan of cinema or Olympics sports. It is currently streaming on HBO Max as we speak - so there's no excuse not to check it out! If you love art-house moviemaking and unique historical documents, you will thank us wholeheartedly. Finally, we apologize for getting to Tokyo Olympics content a month late. We got a bit too caught up watching all the live Olympic action on TV (which we talk about at length in this episode, as well). Nevertheless, for those suffering from an Olympics hangover (as we are) and for those who love experimental / daring avant-garde cinema (this is the first Criterion film we get to cover -- don't worry Rumble in the Jungle, you're still on the docket), this episode is not to be missed!
September 03, 2021
38. Chariots of Fire w/ Patrick Hicks
Co-founder / cohost of Feelin' Film and writer at This is Patch, Patrick Hicks is a bonafide sports movie lover. His passion for the genre is resonant and inspiring to hear, and this episode is stuffed wall-to-wall with great insights on everything from being oversaturated with content to the future of movie theaters to the emotional beats in sports movies that can get even the most stoic among us to shed a tear. Patrick also has a long history of ebbing and flowing with his appreciation of and apprehensions towards Chariots of Fire. He adores it for all the right (and fascinating) reasons and also has a very mature take on its shortcomings. Providing the much silver lining we needed after singularly critiquing it on the last episode, Patrick's charitable and infectious appreciation of the Best Picture classic offers a refreshing perspective. Enjoy!
August 27, 2021
37. Chariots of Fire
On this episode, we continue our Summer Olympics themed sports movie mini-tournament with the 1981 Best Picture winner Chariots of Fire. An historical drama, Chariots of Fire offers a little dash of everything: an epic Vangelis score, pastoral shots of Scotlands' heath and heather, anti-semitic and anti-Protestant hostilities, and stuffy Cambridge rituals. It is as much about class and social stratification and micro-aggressions in post WWI Great Britain than it is about Olympic running. However, despite its lofty ambitions, soaring electronic backdrop, and Oscar winning accolades, Hugh Hudson's dual biopic may very well be one of the most overrated sports movies and Best Picture winners of all time. That doesn't mean it is not a good or worthwhile watch/listen, though. It just means it is overrated. For more context and depth about our opinions on this matter, check out the latest episode of Cinematic Underdogs!
August 21, 2021
36. Without Limits (1998)
Hey fellow UNDERDOGS!!! This week we welcome the uplifting perspective of Caless Davis (Twitter, Instagram, & Letterboxd) from the supremely awesome Feelin' Film crew! Caless joins us for an exciting discussion on Without Limits: an insanely underrated mega-box-office bomb / heartfelt biopic about the one and only Steve Prefontaine. Produced by Tom Cruise, directed by Robert Towne, and featuring a pair of ultra-game performances by the ever elegant Donald Sutherland as Bill Bowerman (yes, that guy that co-founded Nike) and always handsome Billy Crudup as Prefontaine (a runner of headstrong zealousness and undiluted passions), Without Limits is, like Whiplash, a film about two ego-centric / steadfast personalities (pupil & mentor, student & coach) colliding head-on. Exploring complex binaries and philosophical quagmires, Without Limits gives the viewer no easy answers. It leaves you wondering what is superior: Competing with blunt conviction or tactical strategy? Seeking a canny athletic advantage or ardent-hearted performative aesthetics? While dabbling in these complex existential predicaments, the audience is treated with nuanced insights about the subtle technicalities of track & field — learning about the pitfalls of front-running and the difference a mere ounce on a pair of sneakers can make in the grand scheme of a race. There are also sporadic gags throughout. From Bowerman pressing running shoes on a waffle iron and making tenuous correlations between hair length and natural masculine endowments, to Prefontaine handing out Adidas to groupies, the film intermittently exudes a silly sense of 90s humor, and even shoehorns a romantic subplot in there, too. All said, Without Limits is a thought provoking and entertaining, but still just slightly above average 1998 sports drama. Sloppily edited, shaggily paced, and fairly formulaic, isn't a masterpiece by any stretch. It is just a solid story about a nonpareil track star and his clever coach. Sadly, despite these winning attributes (and Ethan Hunt himself contributing behind the scenes, in-between takes on Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut), it somehow got lost in the late '90s mix (going up against the likes of How Stella Got Her Groove Back, There's Something About Mary, and Saving Private Ryan, just to name a few). Eclipsed by its box office nemeses, Without Limits made a paltry 700k back on its 25mil dollar production and has sat on dusty shelves for over two decades since it’s release — unseen by multitudes of worthy specimens. It still metaphorically sits there, lost and forlorn like a sad puppy. Until now that is!!! And thus, without further ado, we bring you the latest and greatest (they're all the greatest) Cinematic Underdogs episode... WITHOUT LIMITS!!! (Cue pump-up sports music: "Are you ready to rumble....duh duh du duh duh duh duh"). Don't forget — like us, retweet us, give us yummy treats, clean our paws, or review us! If you don't, we'll be happy to give you doggie rabies or just pee on your lawn!
August 13, 2021
35. Space Jam (1996) vs. Space Jam: A New Legacy (2021)
We heard it all. A shameless commercial grab bag. IP overload. Jumbled tech references. A WB universe that makes zero cohesive sense. Lebron, like Jordan, can't act. And there is a lot of truth to all those statements. But at the same time, we didn't forget that this is SPACE JAM we are talking about! Let me say it again: SPACE JAM!!! You know the franchise where WB execs decided to team up their Looney Toon squad with NBA superstars, and pass it off as a summer blockbuster? The franchise that is truly remembered for R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly" more than anything else. It IS supposed to be the equivalent of a two-hour McDonald's commercial. It is supposed to be a craven, impudent form of capitalism. It is supposed to have the nutritional value of a Happy Meal, or a bowl of Wheaties, at best. And you know what, for a SPACE JAM film, the sequel isn't merely good: it is damn good. It's Easter Eggs are absurd. It's algorithmic plotline is overwrought. And it's scoring system makes absolutely no sense. That said, as a dumb, summertime, candy-coated, rainbow-hued flick that is made to titillate kid's eyes and wink and nod at the nostalgic audience just enough to keep us awake, it more than succeeds! It is a total slam dunk! Suffice to say, here at Cinematic Underdogs WE DID NOT drink the Haterade! Not even a single sip. Hear why we think Space Jam: A New Legacy is an absolute blast in this episode, and listen to us debate about whether it trumps the original or not! Don't forget to like, subscribe, and talk shit about our podcast wherever you engage. That's all for now, fellow Underdogs! Toodaloo-Fruitaloo!
August 07, 2021
34. Indian Horse w/ Kathryn Mitchell
On our follow up episode to Indian Horse, we speak at length with the profound and insightful professor Kathryn Mitchell. Kathryn is of Comanche descent and has spent 25 years teaching Native American literature. She offers a bounty of knowledge about the horrific history of America's Boarding Schools, Canada's Residential Schools, and the strength and fortitude of North American indigenous people who have survived the atrocities of colonization. We contextualize this deeply edifying history lesson with the poignant and powerful themes of Indian horse, discussing how the motifs of circularity, community, and perseverance in the film reflect the spirit of a people who have retained their culture and ways of life in the face of formidable hegemonic threats. This is a very different Cinematic Underdogs episode that you won't want to miss! If interested in watching Indian Horse first, you can check it out on Netflix. It is an underseen and underrated film that deserves your attention and will reward you tremendously. Please like, subscribe, or talk trash about us on social media! We are lonely little puppies who love all of your attention :)
July 31, 2021
33. Indian Horse (2018)
If you have read any of the new stories about the mass unmarked graves unearthed recently in former Canadian Residential Schools, you will already be slightly familiar with the horrors depicted in Indian Horse - a harrowing tale of assimilation, abuse, and survival. Far from the feel good hockey movie you may expect stumbling upon this film on Netflix, Indian Horse is a powerful revelation of past trauma and grief. It is not an easy watch, but certainly an important watch. Telling the tale of a precocious First Nations hockey virtuoso who finds solace on the ice only to have his sole means of escape turn into a nightmare itself, Indian Horse realistically reminds fans of the sports movie genre that love of the game can only heal so much. Sometimes, as we see with Saul's courageous endurance, victory is bigger than pucks and ice rinks. Sometimes, it is simply returning to your roots and reconciling with the hauntings of the past. This is an important film. Please watch it on Netflix, and then enjoy our discussion. An even more in-depth and edifying conversation, with the highly esteemed Native American literature professor Kathryn Mitchell, will be dropped in days to supplement this prologue of a podcast episode. Enjoy!
July 28, 2021
32. The Puck Hogs (2009) w/ Warren P. Sonoda
Join us for a very special episode of Cinematic Underdogs where we welcome Warren P. Sonoda, the director of one of the funniest sports comedies you have probably never heard of: The Puck Hogs! The Puck Hogs is not only a well-constructed sports film, but also a criminally underrated hockey flick that should be required viewing for anyone who has ever laced up a pair of skates inside a musty, sweaty locker room in an aging hockey rink. From its savvy script to its energetic style and pace to its DIY heart, there is so much to like about The Puck Hogs. Sonoda's use of the handheld camera and minimal lighting techniques make the movie’s dingy settings — the strip clubs, dive bars, and rundown hockey rinks — feel like something you might find in any town where over-the-hill degenerates hang out and nurse their aches after a beer-league tournament. Utilizing a clever mockumentary framing device that creates a pseudo-anthropological angle into the silly subject matter, Sonoda, along with the writer Eric Lunsky, work wonders: conveying the raw and unabashed humor that comprises this groups’ shared ethos so genuinely that it earns The Puck Hogs a spot on our “first line” of go-to hockey movies. The film’s ragtag group of over-the-hill yet lovable losers are perfectly constructed characters that seamlessly occupy the film's dingy settings. Each player on the team is idiosyncratic, painfully ordinary, and flawed. They all struggle with everyday problems (well, sort of), ranging from psychological impediments (a phobia of Girl Scouts and chasing pucks into the corner boards), to failed relationships (with the captain’s fiancé marrying the villainous Lance after a hockey tournament made him tardy to his wedding ceremony), to infertility (and the struggles of copulating whenever a wife’s hormonal watch detector goes off), to unsavory careers (an ophthalmologist who wants to be a porn director), to inept children (a Russian goalie who is distraught over his son’s flawed goalie technique). Yet, despite all of these obstacles, neuroticism, and setbacks, the Puck Hogs still find a way to fall ass-backwards into the tournament championship. Don’t let the prospect of a happy ending scare you away though — this movie isn’t in any way filled with sappy, feel-good, underdog cliches (At least not without a wink and sense of irony!). Instead of asking the Puck Hogs players’ to elevate above their immature obsession with holding onto juvenile habits, the film wholeheartedly celebrates the futile absurdity of their vulgar and puerile antics. Due to tight schedules, Warren literally Zoom-bombs us at the 33-minute mark (so jump ahead if you prefer to get right to the juicy conversation at the center of this episode). Talking about everything from the current state of Canadian cinema in the world where imperialistic streaming giants rule the game, to hanging out in a Vegas suite with Flava Flav, Lou Diamond Phillips, and MC Hammer, to shooting The Puck Hogs in under two weeks, Warren constantly emanates undiluted enthusiasm and love for the world of independent filmmaking. His resume is insanely prolific, and his passion always shines through in whatever he does. To hear him elaborate on his career and share some funny anecdotes and backstories was a pure pleasure, and we are confident you will enjoy listening to this episode as much as we enjoying recording it!
July 08, 2021
31. Goon (2012)
Witten by Evan Goldberg and Jay Baruchel, directed by Michael Dowse, and starring Seann William Scott, Jay Baruchel, Liev Schreiber, Eugene Levy, and Alison Pill, amongst others, "Goon" boasts a fantastic comedic team. Surprisingly, the film depends most of all on the charm and fists of its breakout lead, an actor known first and foremost by the name of the infamous character he played in "American Pie": Stifler. Seann William Scott is pitch-perfectly cast in the role of Doug Glatt, a boorish Massachusetts bouncer who goes viral after head-butting a minor league hockey player so hard during a brawl in the stands that the guy falls flat on his back and his helmet breaks. Called up to be an enforcer in the minor leagues to protect the PTSD-stricken all-star LaFlamme (Marc-André Grondin), Glatt brings an earnest, brutish, zealous spirit to his team, the Halifax Highlanders. And he does so with zero finesse or talent: so clumsy on the ice, he can barely skate across the rink without stumbling. Somehow tender and vicious at the same time, the screenplay and Scott's performance both manage to delicately reconcile his Hanson Brothers'-like outbursts of sportive violence with his morally upright, puppy-eyed sensibility that is equally lovable and every bit as iconic as Rudy. At once a pariah in the eyes of his snobbish / wealthy / successful Jewish family, and a folk hero to his teammates and local Canadian hockey fans, Doug soberly and humbly heeds to his new calling as a bodyguard on ice: even as it leads him to a life of black-eyes, bruised fists, and missing teeth. Blood-spattered, profanity laced, and ardent-hearted, Goon is a grandiose modern sports opera that is not to be missed! And neither is our deep dive podcast conversation, where we cover everything from the deeply entrenched and unspoken code of goons, to the paradoxical morality of sanctioned hockey violence, to the fanatical subculture of hockey addicts. Enjoy!
June 14, 2021
30. Mystery, Alaska (1999)
With "Mystery, Alaska," Cinematic Underdogs is officially a year old. Happy anniversary to us! It felt very apropos to celebrate our first anniversary with a perfectly mediocre sports film. That's what we are here for! Not to bring you the greatest movies ever made. Not to bring you the coolest horror flicks or underrated indie gems. None of that! We are here for nostalgic sports movies that kind of suck, but also make you feel cozy and warm and like a child again. "Mystery, Alaska" isn't very good, but it isn't very bad either. It is benign, inoffensive, utterly anodyne. It is a 90s flick about a small town who gets to play an NHL team for very tenuous reasons. But who cares about believability when you have Russel Crowe, Burt Reynolds, and Hank Azaria leading your cast? At least, that was the logic of the late 90s. And it was kind of a fun time to watch movies during that time. Your average Saturday matinee could be lightweight and melodramatic, frivolous and filled with feel good charm and you'd have a blast and yet file it into the cognitive trash by the time you got home. Run-of-the-mill 90s sports dramas were more often than not extremely enjoyable and yet completely forgettable, which brings us back to this film. Neither of us could remember if we'd even seen it. We merely remembered one scene: something pertaining to a jock strap, and a lot of ice. And as that scene emerged from the depths of our memories and replicated onscreen, it was a most uncanny experience: both familiar and unfamiliar, a sort of cinematic dejavu. There is a bittersweetness to this liminal, dissociative feeling. It reminds one that memories fade, cells decay, time flies, and we all die. But it also reminds us to cherish every moment, and all the small things we give our time to, including so-so films like these. That is the real power of "Mystery, Alaska": in being forgettable, it had the power to evoke long lost and latent recollections of time live, and time passed. It worked a similar kind of magic on us like a madeleine once stimulated Marcel. Who would have guessed a sports movie podcast would have such a Proustian slant? Anyways, I guess the bottom line is that "Mystery, Alaska" is a pretty blah film. But it was fun as hell to discuss. And so, on that note, it was a victory as usual! That is the best part of Cinematic Underdogs: we always win because the process is what we're in it for! So, ya, thanks for listening even if you don't! It is very possible we blather, bloviate, equivocate, and slander to mere ghosts! Either way, we'll keep making content! It's a nice little ritual, and fills life with meaning and fun. And we plan to do this until our stupid little podcast becomes so embedded in the archives of our past that we dust episodes off and enjoy them, like this film, as middling relics of a strange segment of time where we dedicated our minds and energy to documenting opinions and sentiments for reasons that will ultimately seem alien, enigmatic, and inscrutably bizarre.
June 04, 2021
29. Youngblood (1986)
Welcome to yet another zany podcast episode dedicated solely to shooting-the-sh!t about a classic hockey movie! This time we discuss the 1986 film "Youngblood" with Justin Peterson of The Average Joe's Movie Club Cast. This is largely forgotten 80s film is truly a product of its time: drenched in sweat, synth-music, and montage sequences. It is basically "Dirty Dancing" and "Flashdance" on ice. Homoerotic, melodramatic, and starring a trio of beloved Hollywood hunks—Rob Lowe, Patrick Swayze, and Keanu Reeves—this has all the makings, even 35 years after it premiered, to be a sleeper hit and a sudden cultural phenomenon. Its heyday will come, we are sure of it! No, it's not a masterpiece. But it's pretty damn entertaining, and hilariously horny too. And thats why its renaissance in the cinematic zeitgeist is due to arrive. When? Who knows! Maybe this episode get the puck flowing... Finally, if you are not a bot, but a real life human (or humanoid, whatever you prefer in this cyborg age) listening to this, get that hand out your nose and press like, or better yet, write us a comment praising how brilliant, charming, funny, and handsome-sounding we are. It's the least you could do you slothful consumer—yes, we see you in your rooms and cars decaying away. Go ahead and make that entropic energy a bit more useful, and be Cinematic Underdog puppets. We'll never repay you.
May 17, 2021
28. Slap Shot (1977) w/ Don Shanahan
On this laid-back, throwback episode of Cinematic Underdogs, the boys welcome Every Movie Has a Lesson's very own Don Shanahan to shoot the sh!t about 1977's scrappy rough-and-tumble hockey classic "Slap Shot." Pull out a case of Stroh's, or Root Beer if you want to be blasphemous, and get ready to indulge in an hour-and-a-half of locker room movie talk on everything from the amount of F-Bombs in the film, to a debate about which actor exudes Burt Reynolds energy, to drinking in Chicago with Michael Shannon. How do these topics manage to work their way in our conversation? Well, anything goes in locker room talk, and the same could be say for this episode. So get ready strip down, take the hockey gloves off, and lose a tooth or two.
April 21, 2021
27. Another Round (2020) w/ Justin & Laura Khoo
On this bonus, quasi-sports themed, Oscars-affiliated episode of Cinematic Underdogs, I (Paul Keelan) join Laura and Justin Khoo of the always superb Cows in the Field podcast to discuss the philosophical leaps of faith and pratfalls in 2020's "Another Round." This is a hybrid release, and is also available on any platform streaming Cows in the Field. Now, for those familiar with "Another Round," I know what you are thinking: what on earth does self-experimenting with life by examining the effects of living under the influence of a steady buzz have to do with sports? The answer: nothing, directly at least. However, "Another Round" definitely delves into many tropes of sports films. It is a tale of for men who find friendship, camaraderie, and reinvention by joining together on a unique adventure. It is a tale that taps into Norwegian drinking culture, which is apparently filled with competitive rituals like binge drinking during relay races. It is a tale that taps into jazz ballet dance. And it is also a tale in which one of our four main character's is the school's soccer coach, and whose arc largely revolves around the emergent confidence of a previously timorous boy named Specs (a subplot that might sound familiar for anyone who loves kids' based 90's sports classics like "Little Giants" and "The Big Green" as much as we do). Most importantly, "Another Round" forces us to question how we relate to our lives and what risks we are willing to take to feel alive again. Questioning the thresholds and limitations of our physical endurance, and the sacrifices we make in terms of sabotaging our bodily health for psychological / hormonal benefits, it is neatly aligned to many sports themes that we've become acquainted with already. Anyways, all of these arguments, while fun to conjure up, are nevertheless kind of a stretch. The real reason why "Another Round" is on here is it is an awesome conversation that deserves as many listeners as it can hypothetically reach. So, if you've stumbled upon it, put your preconceptions of Cinematic Underdogs aside for an episode and enjoy!
April 09, 2021
26. The Queen's Gambit (2020) Pt. II: Episodes V-VII
On our finale installment of our two-part discussion of "The Queen's Gambit," we really dig into how the coming-of-age narrative at the center of this lovely Netflix Miniseries parallels the key stages of Joseph Campbell's "Hero's Journey." Tracking Beth's rise to stardom, downward spiral into addiction, regenerative return to her homeland / orphanage, and ultimate ascent to chess supremacy, we celebrate how well crafted and inspiring her story truly is. We also examine the savvy ways in which Cold War motifs, like collectivism vs. individuality, are depolarized and investigated by the countercultural, punk-rock ethos of the late 60s American chess troupe that teams up to support Beth; and we even explore the ways in which traditional gender roles and expectations are refreshingly subverted. For those who loved this 7-part Bildungsroman as much as we did, you will not be disappointed as we inspect "The Queen's Gambit" with quirky analogies and idiosyncratic lenses. That said, we must issue a quick warning: the sound quality in this episode is subpar, becoming quite tinny, muffled, and echoey at times. Sadly, we recently upgraded our podcast equipment and haven't fully figured out all the controls yet. The audio sounded perfectly solid live, and yet distorted once it was compressed and recorded. We totally blew it on this level, but we are nevertheless proud of the conversation and are just going to stick with what we got. It is still an extremely rewarding listen for those who can deal with lo-fi quality. However, for those with high standards in terms of sonic quality, I'd suggest skipping this episode and choosing any of the others we've previously published! We promise it'll sound better than ever by next time...when we get to our next MiniTournament of Sports movies focused on perhaps our most beloved sport of all: hockey! Until then, apologies for the sound, thanks for listening nonetheless, and thanks as always for your continuing support!
April 02, 2021
25. The Queen's Gambit (2020) Pt I: Ep. I-IV
Join your favorite Underdogs, Jordan and Paul, as they deconstruct the definition of chess as a sport, the moral ambiguity of using mental enhancement pills (and how that aligns with other sports controversies involving steroids / substance abuse), and whether or not The Queen's Gambit is a vapid / middlebrow miniseries or prestige TV. It is a deeply philosophical conversation that really gets into the tropes of the sports genre - harkening back to many of the quandaries first brought up in the introductory episode of Cinematic Underdogs. Finally, don't forget to like / share / spread the Cinematic Underdogs love! A single review on whatever platform you listen upon would make us bark with gratitude!
March 26, 2021
24. March Madness Special: Basketball Films W/ Aaron White
To get into the spirit of March Madness's long awaited return, Aaron White of Feelin' Film and Paul Keelan of Cinematic Underdogs have combined forces to release a special bonus episode that covers four 90's-era hoops classics: "Blue Chips" ('94), "Above the Rim" ('94), "He Got Game" ('98), and "Love and Basketball" (very early '00)! From Nick Nolte's channeling of Bobby Knight-like anger management issues in "Blue Chips," to Tupac's wild on-set pot-smoking antics during the shooting of "Above the Rim," to Ray Allen's gutsy biblical-themed performance as the pointedly named Jesus Shuttlesworth in "He Got Game," to the iconic "double or nothing" match at the end of the oh so romantic "Love and Basketball," we unpack all sorts of splendors. So fill out your brackets, heat up your nachos, and enjoy our quick-paced one-on-one rundown of this Final Four matchup of basketball-focused films—all four of which depict the tumultuous, temptation-laden recruitment tactics endured by elite collegiate-bound prospects.
March 18, 2021
23. Chess Movies W/ Aaron White
In preparation for our discussion on "The Queen's Gambit", Aaron White of Feelin' Film and I (Paul Keelan) went on a bender with chess movies. In under a week's span, we both watched "Pawn Sacrifice," "Searching for Bobby Fischer," "The Coldest Game," "Queen of Katwe," and "Computer Chess" (on top of "The Queen's Gambit" miniseries). After this whirlwind of research, it quickly dawned upon the both of us that the content stored in our brains would inspire way too much dialogue to fit into a single podcast discussion. Thus, we decided to create extra-special 'chess extravaganza' episode so that we could dissect this eclectic selection of chess films and the sub-genre at-length. Moving at a rapid-fire pace—as fast as a game of speed chess—we talk about everything from Toby Maguire's odd portrayal of Bobby Fischer, to the poignant focus on parenting in "Searching for Bobby Fischer," to the idiosyncratic & polarizing curio that is "Computer Chess" (Beware: it is not (I repeat it is not!) a documentary about computers playing chess). We also outline the various tropes common to chess films: including the themes of madness, addiction, paranoia, Washington Sq. Park, and Cold War / Soviet vs. US politics that pervade nearly all of these movies. Finally, Aaron and I both rank all of these chess films (with "The Queen's Gambit" included in the mix): separating once and for all the blundering pawns from the promotable queens to-be. One of the more succinct Cinematic Underdogs episodes to date, this episode packs a ton of insights and canny commentary that you will not want to miss. Enjoy!
March 12, 2021
22. Aaron White's Top 5 Sports Films & The Queen's Gambit
On this very exciting episode of Cinematic Underdogs, we welcome a very special guest to the pod: Feelin’ Film’s very own Aaron White! Given that Feelin’ Film is itself an amazing resource for passionate sports movie conversation, and a formative influence on the genesis of Cinematic Underdogs, Aaron's guest appearance on the podcast is a very special one. Over the course of our heartfelt discussion about movies, podcasts, and sports in general, you will get an inside scoop on the origin story of Feelin’ Film, Aaron’s impressive regimen that allows him to watch a ton of movies, and also his favorite five (well, sort of five—you’ll see) sports films / tv series of all time! In the episode, we swoon over an epic and diverse array of powerhouse sports movies (including “Free Solo,” “Warrior,” “Creed,” “Rush,” “Miracle" and “Happy Gilmore,” to name just a few), and ultimately cap the episode off with an in-depth analysis of what we loved and didn’t love so much about Netflix's breakout hit, “The Queen’s Gambit.” Aaron is a true aficionado of the sports film genre, and his enthusiasm is utterly infectious. This is definitely one episode you will not want to miss! For those who would like to hear a particular topic described above, there are three distinct segments: Start - 45min — the origin story of Feelin’ Film 45min - 1:43min — Aaron’s Top 5ish Favorite Sports Films of All Time 1:43 - Finish — "The Queen’s Gambit" Finally, if you are enjoying the podcast, please share it, like it, add it, subscribe to it, and comment on whatever platform you are engaging with Cinematic Underdogs on! You can also find us on Twitter, Anchor, and Letterboxd by clicking those hyperlinks, or just by searching for 'Cinematic Underdogs' on each platform!
March 07, 2021
21. The Last Dance Pt. II: Episodes VI-X (2020)
Part II of our official breakdown of “The Last Dance” is here and it doesn’t disappoint. In it, the Underdogs talk the latter half (episodes 6-10) of ESPN's comprehensive look at Michael Jordan’s iconography and the Chicago Bulls’ epic run in the 1990s. Nothing is left on the cutting room floor here as we waltz through all the juicy gossip at the heart of this doc: touching upon gambling addiction, impromptu WCW Nitro appearances, incinerated haikus, managerial backstabbing, flu games, the “Space Jam” basketball summer camp, practice fistfights, premeditated slights, and temper tantrums. Don’t forget to like / subscribe / review our Podcast on iTunes / Spotify / where you stream / listen to it. Most of all, enjoy!
March 03, 2021
20. Justin Khoo's Top 5 Sports Films & The Last Dance
On this episode of the podcast, Cinematic Underdogs welcomes a very special guest—Justin Khoo. Philosophy professor at MIT and podcast host at Cows In The Field (https://cowspod.wordpress.com/), Justin is someone who is never at a loss for edifying insights. His capacity to parse the complex ethical and structural elements of cinema elevates the medium well beyond the realm of mindless visceral entertainment. And yet, his intellectual focus is anything but dry—a pure giddiness radiates whenever he reflexively contemplates and tests out a new way of seeing something. Given that Justin is steeped in the analytic tradition of philosophy, whereas I (Paul) was primarily schooled in continental philosophy, we amicably challenge one another in the best of ways throughout this episode: bringing both of our respective interpretative sensibilities and epistemological predilections toward cinema and morality and life in general to the table. Throughout, we actively attempt to clarify, exemplify, and reconcile our erudite philosophical divide using movies as idealized examples. Our shared passion for language, human psychology, and ontology directs most of the conversation, becoming the primary focal point of this particular episode's relationship to sports films. The discussion is very much steeped in movies, nevertheless. In particular, Justin reveals his top five sports films (the wildly brilliant Diamantino made the list, amongst other gems!), and we ultimately embark upon a meticulous dialectic about whether or not the arc of pathological competitive success—as ostensibly illustrated in the case of Michael Jordan's portrayal in The Last Dance—is conducive for a rich and fulfilling and happy life. It is a lovely and emergent conversation, and a pleasure to share with all of you! If you enjoy Cinematic Underdogs, don't forget to like / subscribe / spread the word and love with all your friends!
February 24, 2021
19. The Last Dance Pt. I: Episodes I - V (2020)
On this special edition episode of Cinematic Underdogs, we cover the first half (episodes 1-5) of our first Wild Card Flick: "The Last Dance"! Given that "The Last Dance" is a sports documentary series and thus veers outside of the realm of feature films (it is actually not even a flick, come to think of it), your friendly Underdogs will be the first to acknowledge that we outright broke an explicit rule outlined in the introductory podcast: that we would not deviate from the insular domain of 'cinematic' sports movies. But for Michael Jordan, Phil Jackson, Dennis Rodman, Scottie Pippen, Steve Kerr, and the superlative 1990's Chicago Bulls dynasty, an exception felt more than warranted: all rules were made to be broken anyways, right? Even more integral to our decision to go renegade with this episode was the craze surrounding "The Last Dance" after it was released on ESPN at the start of the pandemic, in late April 2020. Without any live sports to occupy our restless energy, and claustrophobically confined to our houses (piled ceiling high with toilet paper and surgical masks), this documentary was expedited with the same zealous celerity that drove companies like Pfizer to so swiftly concoct, test, patent, and manufacture the Covid-19 vaccine. In a similar vein, the Powers-That-Be knew that sports addicts like ourselves needed an antidote, and so they offered us this addicting 10-part documentary that quickly became the cynosure of the digital 'water-cooler' squabbles: Was MJ a megalomaniac? Should we trust the hagiographic aggrandizement of himself, given that his production company had the rights and last word on the editing of "The Last Dance?" Should athletes be praised solely for taking a route of political activism, or can the stance of apolitical neutrality itself be a moral virtue? Was Jerry Krause fairly portrayed in the documentary as being the squat, bumbling, evil overlord? Did Scottie Pippen get screwed over by his lowball contract, or did he simply not know his own worth when negotiating? And did Pippen get screwed over again by being marginalized in this documentary? Were the Detroit Pistons the dirtiest team of all time? These are just a smattering of the many controversial contretemps that we cover, squeezing out countless juicy subplots from the almost 10-hour running time of the immersive exploration of basketball greatness and high-stakes drama in "The Last Dance." Finally, if you enjoy the Cinematic Underdogs podcast, please share it, like it, add it, subscribe to it, and comment on it wherever you are engaging with it. You can also find us on Twitter (https://twitter.com/CinematicUnder) or Letterboxd (https://letterboxd.com/synemastehsia/) by clicking those links or just searching for 'Cinematic Underdogs' on the websites. A quick side note: this episode's audio admittedly oscillates between hi-fi & lo-fi. Due to a buzzing microphone, lots of post-production techniques had to be implemented to silence the feedback. Fortunately, with some help from tutorials on YouTube, our raucous 2-hour celebration of "The Last Dance" was salvaged. That said, when listening you will likely notice conspicuous shifts in sonic quality. Our advice is simple: think of it as no different than how "The Last Dance" leaps between grainy footage of old NBA Playoff clips and glossy interviews with the now retired Bulls players & coaches / the bevy of other cultural icons & talking heads (Obama / Justin Timberlake / ESPN analysts). What truly matters is that the content of our conversation is absolutely discernible, and our conjectures, nostalgic riffs, and playfully combative debates are as fully fleshed out as ever. Enjoy!
February 03, 2021
18. Don Shanahan's Top 5 Sports Films & Moneyball
On this special bonus episode of Cinematic Underdogs, we have the always sincere, insightful, & poignant Don Shanahan (https://www.everymoviehasalesson.com/ — Twitter: @casablancadon) on the podcast. If you are looking at the running time, your eyes are not lying: we dauntlessly enter Joe Rogan territory, enthusiastically chatting for nearly 3 hours. Don’t let this be intimidating though: you won‘t want to miss a single second of this ever engaging conversation that touches upon how auteurism, film criticism, American politics / socioeconomics, the shifting nature of popular mores, & the rise of technology is changing the landscape of sports / sports movies. Ultimately, our focal point is the 2011 film “Moneyball”, but this podcast episode far transcends the goings on of baseball diamonds / stats sheets—swinging at huge societal & existential questions. To those of you who are inclined to jump around in search of certain topics, we’ve provided a cursory chronological breakdown of the episode below so that you can fast forward to segments that sound most appealing. Enjoy! 0:00 Introduction / The Often Unrecognized Art of Film Criticism We talk about film critics we idolize, the immense intellectual demands & productivity of the profession, & our own habits / regimens in regards to watching films. 23:30 Tree of Life Debate: Pretentious or Earnest Masterpiece / What If Terrence Malick Made a Sports Movie? We discuss Don’s “Hot Take” on Terrence Malick’s polarizing “Tree of Life” as he posits that highbrow cinema, like overpriced whiskey, can be gratuitous overkill & repulsively off-putting. 34:45 Creatively Versatile vs. Redundant Auteurs We deliberate and enumerate those auteurs who repeat themselves with each film, those who have a handful of narratives they recycle, those who reinvent themselves with every feature film. 45:45 Don’s Top-5 Sports Movies: Rudy, Field of Dreams, Rocky, Slap-shot, The Sandlot While discussing Don’s top five sports movies of all time, we repeatedly dive into the greater context of cinema and auteurism: debating the ethical pitfalls of inaccurate biopics, the gradual conflation of documentary & fiction filmmaking, the redemptive quality of directors who return to their aesthetic roots vs. those we believe still need to, the sad state in which cancel culture infantilizes our individual prerogative to engage with art with intellectual autonomy, & the most carnivalesque barfing scene ever (hint: chewing tobacco is involved). 1:28:15 The Powerful Life Lessons, Nostalgic Allure, and Socioeconomics of Sports/Sports Films We discuss the rise of a mercenary ethos in pro sports, the decline of blue collar sensibilities, & how the capitalistic narrative of sports in real life has affected sports movies. 1:39:15 The Negative Consequence of Politics Pervading Sports We discuss sports as a cathartic release valve that traditionally brought people together, & how the heated intrusion of politics into the national pastime is detrimental to our collective psychological health & civic sense of togetherness. We also discuss the need for social programs that employee ex-athletes & serve underprivileged youth. 1:47:00 Moneyball From here on out, we discuss the relevancy of “Moneyball’s” themes within the greater framework of American society and the MLB. Do the mathematical strategies / concepts behind “Moneyball” work? Is Billy Beane a hero or anti-hero? Was he successful or a failure? Should we rely on statistics instead of human intelligence / intuition? How do we adapt as data upends human skill, rendering us obsolete? Tune in to find out!
January 26, 2021
17. Moneyball (2011)
With technology and mathematics continuing to replace the human workforce, the relevancy of "Moneyball" far supersedes the baseball park. Nevertheless, while the plot of this Oscar-nominated film can feel numerically engineered at times, it never forgets its more sentient roots as a veritable sports movie. With statistically-driven montage sequences, an ecstatic portrayal of the Oakland A's record breaking twenty-game win streak, and the depiction of a ragtag team replete with unorthodox personalities, "Moneyball" balances its heady & arithmetical proclivities by adding all of the classic sports tropes we've come to love in this traditionally 'feel good' genre. From the opening shots of the Oakland A's forlorn front office to its moody final close-up of a General Manager's staring straight ahead with bittersweet tears outlining his eyes, "Moneyball" is much more emotionally complex than your ordinary baseball flick. Written by Steven Zaillian ("Searching for Bobby Fisher") and Aaron Sorkin ("The Social Network"), directed by Bennett Miller ("Capote" / "Foxcatcher"), and starring Brad Pitt (playing Billy Beane) and Jonah Hill (as Peter Brand), the film is a truly ensemble effort: with each member of the all-star roster pulling their weight. Even the smaller roles in the film—from Phillip Seymour Hoffman performance as the beleaguered A's coach Art Howe to Chris Pratt's performance as an aging catcher relocated to first base—fill in the margins of "Moneyball" with the necessary layers of subtext and texture the film needs to drive its philosophical home. Recognizing the impact and moral weight that these players give the film, Jordan Puga and Paul Keelan analyze the many philosophical and ethical predicaments that are provoked by the growing popularity of SABRmetrics in baseball and beyond: Have we become too consumed with empirical data and lost our instinctive human edge? Was Billy Beane's all-in bet on the hypothesis that OBP trumps all other factors the predominant factor in spurring the Oakland A's toward their miraculous turnaround season? And if the money is simply reallocated to overpaying GM's and sabermetricians in the aftermath of the growing prominence of this practice, has anything really been circumvented or changed? These are big-time questions, and "Moneyball's" ambivalent ending—leaving the viewer stewing and pensive at best—serves as the ideal catalyst for meaningful discourse: providing a ton of existential pickles to be scrupulously parsed and pondered over. - As always, thanks for listening! Please follow us on Twitter (@CinematicUnder) or Letterboxd (Search: Cinematic Underdogs, or just click on this link https://letterboxd.com/synemastehsia/)! And don't forget to subscribe, review, and like the podcast via whatever platform you are listening to it on.
January 22, 2021
16. Jed Bookout's Top 7 Sports Films & High Flying Bird
On this very special bonus episode, Paul geeks out with the ever entertaining Jed Bookout (Twitter / Instagram: @jedbookout) as Jed enumerates and extrapolates upon his top seven sports films of all time. Jed's list is tailor-made for cinephiles, straddling the eclectic margins of the genre: a celebration of genre-defiant game-changers like "Speed Racer" & "Shaolin Soccer" & "The Wrester" to name just a few. From here, we segue into a fruitful discussion revolving around Jed's favorite Soderbergh films (spanning from "Magic Mike XXL" to "Sex, Lies, & Videotape" to "Out of Sight") before finally delving into some intriguingly hot takes on "High Flying Bird": likening moments in the 2019 Netflix film to everything from John Ford's "The Searchers" to Sidney Lumet's "Network" to Spike Lee's "Bamboozled" the snappy, dialogue-heavy style of Aaron Sorkin's works. Do not let the title of this episode fool you. A comprehensive overview of quirky / under-appreciated sports movies & Soderbergh's immense oeuvre, the conversation dribbles all over the court in the best possible way! Thanks for listening, and don't forget to subscribe / like Cinematic Underdogs on whatever platform you are using!
January 12, 2021
15. High Flying Bird (2019)
Spearheaded by Steven Soderbergh's resourceful / expedient directorial ingenuity (producing a gorgeous motion picture from nothing more than an iPhone & some affordable stabilizers / lenses), Tarell Alvin McCraney's lean screenplay (seething with a biblical heft and a savvy subversiveness toward the capitalistic status quo), and a crackling cast (led by the smooth and silky André Holland, playing the ever clever sports agent Ray Burke), "High Flying Bird" is a disruptive game-changer on many levels. Released directly onto Netflix—and bypassing just about every buffer / middle-man possible—the production of this film nicely mirrors the core message of the movie: preaching the power of intellect & cunning in circumventing the hegemonic powers that be. Sure, the aforementioned streaming service is a hegemonic power in its own right; but in many ways, a film like "High Flying Bird" would hold a very small probability of being made if it sought out funding & a platform in the superficial movie-scape of modern Hollywood. Leading by example, "High Flying Bird" thus showcases just how invaluable the schemings of a sharp mind can be in terms of bringing the big boys (whether that be the NBA or major studios / producers) to the negotiation table. With zingy dialogue, a taut / melodious pace, and a few unexpected twists that boast the rewards of outsmarting one's adversary in the internecine marketplace of modern capitalism, there is not a boring or vapid moment to spare. Devoid of excess & superfluity, "High Flying Bird" is truly a feat of economic filmmaking; and though sports are never directly depicted in action, the philosophical, fiscal, and even spiritual elements of what it means to have a love for the game—and what it means to position oneself in a way that demands and earns respect from the game that has been placed "on top of the game"—are ever palpable: sermonized onscreen from the pulpit of pointed cynicism and adroitness. Suffice to say, if you have not yet seen this film, do not let "High Flying Bird" burrow too deeply into the catacombs of Netflix's bizarre algorithm; and as always, it is recommended that you watch "High Flying Bird" first if you do not want key plot developments to be spoiled. Finally, if you enjoy the podcast, please like / subscribe / share the word with your friends!! And we look forward to seeing you again when we publish our final episode of this segment of sports movies (the "Behind the Scenes" sub-genre), which will analyze on the recent classic, "Moneyball". Happy New Year!
January 08, 2021
14. Jerry Maguire (1996) - Bonus Interview W/ J.B. Huffman
Hello everyone! If you enjoyed the last Cinematic Underdogs podcast episode on "Jerry Maguire", and were craving just a little more content on what is inarguably one of the most iconic 90s flicks, today is your lucky day: here is a bonus, heartfelt thirty-minute interview with J.B. Huffman! On this special episode, we manage to cover some totally new territory about the film, and deconstruct the characters' arcs—thematically, tonally, and emotionally—from an entirely different perspective. Don't forget to subscribe / like on whatever platform you listen on! Thanks, enjoy, and happy holidays!
December 26, 2020
13. Jerry Maguire (1996)
From #MeToo indictments (Cuba Gooding Jr.) to scientology scandals & Covid-19 fulminations on set (Tom Cruise) to excessive plastic surgery (Renee Zellweger) to fading into cultural irrelevance (Cameron Crowe) to a tragic death due to breast cancer (Kelly Preston) this year, pretty much everyone involved with “Jerry Maguire” (except for Regina King & some smaller bit characters—Jay Mohr / Bonnie Hunt / Jerry O'Connel) has aged neither smoothly nor gracefully. Nevertheless, as children of the nineties and proud fans of the self-indulgent romanticism of Cameron Crowe flicks, this little film about an unhinged sports agent, a midlife crisis, and the difficulties of confronting the tumultuous daily battles of adulthood in a cutthroat world never ceases to win over even our most cynical, irony-oriented hearts. Between the flamboyant antics of Cuba Gooding Jr’s Rod Tidwell, the headstrong composure of Regina King’s Marcee Tidwell, the kinky feistiness of Kelly Preston’s Avery Bishop, the earnest quixotism of Renee Zellweger’s Dorothy Boyd, the obligatory cuteness of her son Ray’s loquacious asides about head sizes, and the manic vulnerability of Tom Cruise’s clearly unstable Jerry Maguire, Crowe’s outstanding web of characters undoubtedly live on as one of the most quotable, histrionic, and memorable ensembles from the decade of cinema where Blockbuster Video dominated the industry. So pull out those dusty VHS tapes from your closet, toss on this obliquely holiday-related movie, enjoy its maudlin majesty, and then listen to our in-depth discussion on everything about there is to say about this film—from the generic music choices to the overtly plastic metaphors to why the swooping sentimentality of its biggest moments still works. And finally, don’t forget to subscribe / like this podcast on whatever platform you are enjoying it on! No need to show us the money—a simple click will do!
December 21, 2020
12. Draft Day (2014)
Ivan Reitman's "Draft Day," our first foray into a group of films that illuminates the behind-the-scenes worlds of sports, is an absolute winner. Written by the playwright and Pulitzer Prize finalist Rajiv Joseph and Scott Rothman, this film is a lovely moral play. Filled with complex characters, the film centers around Kevin Costner's Sonny Weaver, the GM for the Cleveland Browns, and follows him from the moment he puts on his suit's cuff links until the annual draft comes to its nightly conclusion. Beleaguered from all sides by imbroglios and conundrums - a mistress / co-worker (Jennifer Garner) who is pregnant and wants to get the verdict on whether to have the baby or not, an owner (Frank Langella) threatening to fire Weaver if he doesn't make a "splash," a head coach (Denis Leary) who is combative and headstrong about the players he wants, a current QB (Tom Welling) struggling for job security, a mother (Ellen Burstyn) who wants to spread his late father's ashes on the Browns's practice field (apropos, given it is named after him - he was, after all, the former Browns coach), and a trio of primary prospective players (Chadwick Boseman / Josh Pence / Arian Foster) who all have different blemishes, flaws, skills, and character traits - Sonny endures a day for the record books. Filled with dramatic last-second negotiations, witty dialogue, and lots of interpersonal revelations that offer insight and poignancy, "Draft Day" is gripping and unpredictable and always well written. With comedic aspects (Rick the intern!), a realistic romance (grounded by the always wonderful Garner), and in-depth explorations of all that goes into the draft, this film earns the viewer's respect and attention. Intermingling real life NFL personalities, and lots of references to classic NFL trivia, "Draft Day" does a spectacular job of interweaving its fictitious world with the real one: creating an end product that feels both elevated yet mostly credible.
November 24, 2020
11. The Replacements (2000)
The Replacements came out at the turn of the millennium as a strange follow up for Keanu Reeves to The Matrix. Also starring Jon Favreau (in ridiculously aggro / full-throttle mode), Orlando Jones (bug-eyed / timorous / hilarious in every scene), and Gene Hackman (oddly sentimental for the otherwise goofy film), the movie boasts an all-star cast, off-the-wall humor, and a great comeback narrative inspired by a real life replacement team (the 1987 Washington Redskins) that filled in for the players on strike and who won three games at the tail end of the season; many even credit these wins for securing a top seed and enough momentum heading into the playoffs that the original team, after settling with the NFL and returning, ultimately won the Super Bowl. Both silly and serious, absurd and heartwarming, and filled with an all-star but totally jarring 90's soundtrack (Lit, The Wallflowers, The Offspring), The Replacements is a quintessential composite of sports films that dominated cineplexes over the course of the decade that preceded it. Sure, there are moments that come off as borderline misogynistic and slightly racist and just simply in poor taste. During these moments, it is perhaps best to just wince or cringe, and to be grateful for how quickly our culture has changed and matured for the better. Flaws and spiders and quicksand notwithstanding, the film can be as fulfilling, if in the right mood, as a bowl of hard boiled eggs (shout out to the diet of the Sumo wrestler linesman). With the sound of John Madden broadcasting, a juicy side-plot love story cheesy enough to win over the ironic romantic within us all, some circus-like brawls and melees, and lots of impromptu renditions of "I Will Survive" (accompanied by 400 lbs. dudes line-dancing), The Replacements will shamelessly pull everything out from its dated bag of tricks to win you over. Best watched with a six pack and a few sarcastic friends.
November 14, 2020
10. Invincible (2006)
Starring Mark Walhberg, Greg Kinnear, and Elizabeth Banks, and tracking the unbelievable story of Vince Papale - a Philly bartender and substitute school teacher who somehow earned a spot on one of Dick Vermeil's late 70's Philadelphia Eagles teams - Invincible has all the ingredients to be a bonafide feel good underdog sports movie. Unfortunately, something went afoul with the recipe of cliches on display here as the film came up bland and lacking in flavor. Detailing the unpalatable qualities of Invincible, we discuss Disney's sugar-coated depiction of the economic woes of the late 70's, the diluted depiction of the iconically vulgar Philly fanbase, how much more tangy the It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia spin-off episode of the film is, and just the overall lack of sport's movie 'feels' that left us more craving for something less neutral, lackluster, and unsatisfying.
October 29, 2020
9. Concussion (2015)
Whether it was due to its criticism for being Oscar-bait, or Will Smith's valiantly manufactured but still awkward Nigerian accent, Concussion never really got hold of the cultural zeitgeist. A slick legal and scientific procedural, filled with tons of exposition and salacious exposés about the damning evidence of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) and the iniquitous cover-up antics of the National Football League (NFL), Concussion is a smooth way to cram in a cognitive overload of information. Sure, it is a bit syrupy; and sure, the dialogue feels stilted and manufactured for most of the movie. But as an indictment of how corporate America will shamelessly shield the truth from its employees and customers, even at the detriment to their physiological well-being, the film is as timely as ever. If anything, it is pretty amazing to note how little of a dent Concussion and the controversies around CTE made on the thick skulls running and celebrating the NFL. Nevertheless, as incriminatory as this synopsis sounds, we do our very best to empathize and consider the arguments of all sides while unpacking the pros and cons of this somewhat predictable but also easily digestible little guy vs. big corporation entry into the canon.
October 06, 2020
8. Any Given Sunday (1999)
Visceral, gritty, immersive, oversaturated, raw, unfiltered, cynical, decadent, cutthroat: telling from the frequency of descriptors such as these in this podcast episode, Any Given Sunday is in no way a film for the feint of heart. Oliver Stone's reimagining of a war film on a football field, this film is unlike any other in the genre in that it delves into the dirty backstories and underbelly of the sport is has chosen to probe: the NFL. With epic performances by Dennis Quaid, Jamie Foxx, Cameron Diaz, Aaron Eckhart, and Al Palcino, to name just a few, Any Given Sunday also serves as a time stamp on a the pop culture sensibilities of the late 90's, and as a marker for what Oliver Stone was up to in a year in which filmmakers went big. Criminally underrated, and marginalized by many critics simply for being about football when it is really is about the rich tapestry of capitalism and greed and insecurity and ambition via the milieu of professional athletics, this is one of the most ambitious and sprawling and aesthetically intriguing sports films ever made. Also: we speak about how authentic this film is with J.B. Huffman, a former football player and a podcaster / host on SEC Tavern Talk.
September 01, 2020
7. Little Giants (1994)
Starring Rick Moranis, Ed O'Niell, and a very young Devin Sawa (so young, in fact, he had not yet proliferated the cover of Teen Bob), there are few other kids' based 90's sports films as quintessentially 90's as the little gem: Warner Bro's 1994 entry, Little Giants. Produced by Steven Spielberg, directed by the man who brought you Homeward Bound & Halloweentown, inspired by a 1992 McDonald's Super Bowl commercial, featuring cameos by Emmitt Smith and John Madden, and based upon a budding sibling pee-wee football rivalry (the fraternal foes here are the coaches) in the small Ohio town of Urbania, this film is as about American as apple pie. The only non-Disney entry in our bracket/cluster/tournament of movies about underdog pre-teens who valiantly triumph over evil (whether that invidious force appear in the guise of The Hawks / The Knights / Iceland / Tony Perkins / Shitty Dads / Eden Hall Academy's Varsity Squad), the Little Giants is a worthy inclusion: a seminal kids' film from this wickedly rich decade of the genre. Revolving around familial conflict, the culture of bullying, and the obnoxious stereotypes of gender-based prejudice, Little Giants exudes a realism and naturalness that feels fresh, and yet it still makes sure to pile in all of the usual juvenile antics for a welcoming bevy of laughs: including snot bubbles, concussions, go-kart races, pratfalls, crappy / eclectic equipment choices, milquetoast warriors, and chubby kids who hide food in unlikely places (a PB&J in a football helmet) / torment their environment with hilariously puerile bouts of unstoppable flatulence. So get a PB&J yourself and perhaps a roll of toilet paper to toss around with a friend, and treat yourself to our very personal breakdown of this incredibly nostalgic film: a dissection that is hopefully as brilliant and elaborate as the ingenious Annexation of Puerto Rico trick play. Plus, enjoy a mid-episode interview with Michael Visy, a fellow Little Giants enthusiast, a lifelong NY Giants fan, and a co-host from the wildly charming Michael Scott Guarantee Podcast (https://www.buzzsprout.com/908746).
August 08, 2020
6. Heavyweights (1995)
On this episode of Cinematic Underdogs, Jordan Puga and Paul Keelan are confronted with a film that exists on the threshold of the podcast's dedicated genre: should Heavyweights be considered a sports film at all? Beyond this dilemma, we are also perplexed by the assortment of tones and sensibilities in this strange curio. Produced, created, distributed, and marketed by Disney as a kid's comedy, Heavyweights veers into foreign territory and is certainly not the expected lightweight fare that its brand name is so famous for. The reason for this incongruity is plain and simple: Ben Stiller's character Tony Perkins. A sociopathic fitness guru celebrity without a shred of compassion in his overzealous, caloric-obsessed brain, Tony Perkins is a riot from the moment he steps onto the screen: disrupting the otherwise hackneyed screenplay of a misfit group of obese kids enjoying a summer camp with similarly built peers. Zany, intense, unpredictable, and hard to pinpoint, Heavyweights is anomalous in almost every way one chooses to look at it. And that is what precisely makes the film so irresistibly intriguing, flaws and all. So grab a sub sandwich, a glass of wheatgrass, enjoy our dialectic about a film that has slowly attracted a cult following, and decided for yourself: is Heavyweights an overrated or an underdog entry into the universe of 90's Disney Kids Sports Movies?
July 14, 2020
5. The Mighty Ducks' Sequels: D2 (1994) & D3 (1996)
In this episode, Jordan Puga and Paul Keelan delve deeper into The Mighty Ducks trilogy, geeking out the world of Gordon Bombay and his quack attack. We compare and contrast the pomp and pizazz of D2, which is set in Los Angeles and features the iconic Iceland team as the primary rival, with the juvenile pranks and mopey adolescent moodiness of D3, which finds the Ducks back in Minneapolis at Eden Hall Academy (a fictional, prestigious prep school). More importantly, these films allow us to unpack our nostalgia for childhood and the 1990's: summer days playing roller hockey in the streets, our admiration for some of the great NHL players of this era, our love for the snacks and slang and pop culture references of the time, and our enjoyment in rewatching unforgettable scenes and reciting entire lines from this often absurd and silly albeit always cherished trilogy. The Mighty Ducks may have dated awkwardly, but our love for it still soars high in the sky and glides along the ice: embedded in knuckle-pucks, flying-v's, Fulton's deathly slap-shot, and Goldberg's timely farts.
July 09, 2020
4. The Mighty Ducks (1992)
On this episode, Jordan Puga and Paul Keelan look at the film that really started the fad of Disney-based 90's Kids Sports Movies: 1992's The Mights Ducks. Written by Steven Brill, directed by Stephen Herrick, and staring Emilio Estevez and Joshua Jackson, amongst many other recognizable actors, this cult classic has some of the most memorable scenes and quotable lines of its decade. The film not only spawned a lucrative box office trilogy (with a soon to be released series about to premiere on Disney +), it also inspired an era of youth recreational hockey and led to the creation of a second professional hockey team in Southern California. Like other Disney Kid's films, The Mighty Ducks blends pathos and poignancy with silly narrative hijinks and incredulous scenarios. The clash of tones, plot development, and believability only makes the film all the more entertaining to watch, scrutinize, and celebrate. Plus: this episode includes a fun conversation / interview with Justin Peterson (@MovieJustin198), another The Mighty Ducks aficionado with a lot of insights on why this film is such a lasting success. Check out his podcast / youtube channel: The Average Joe's Movie Club Cast and his Letterboxd (/petersonj198) to see / hear more of his thoughts on film.
June 17, 2020
3. The Big Green (1995)
On this episode of Cinematic Underdogs, we discuss how our memory of The Big Green was upended by our adult viewing experience of the film. Nevertheless, there was a lot to take from this film, despite the fact that it doesn't have the same emotional payoff as other classic Disney 90's Sports Movies. In some ways, The Big Green is more politically relevant than ever: dealing with issues of immigration / deportation, the plight of rural America, the urgency for narratives that cultivate self-worth and belief, and the warring biases between cosmopolitan and small-town mindsets. However, despite being an effective underdog film in celebrating the margins of American society, we also critique how The Big Green may be relevant politically, but still comes off as ultimately lackluster due to its derivative and haphazardly patched together narrative and character development. Given the fact that this was a 90's children's classic that sat in VHS boxes on thousands of living room shelves, The Big Green is a uniquely forgotten time capsule that elicits a lot of emotions: nostalgia, annoyance, mild laughs, incredulity, and curiosity. Look past the 0% Rotten Tomatoes score, and the film's perpetual place on the bottom of miscellaneous "best of 90's" lists, and there are a lot of silver linings in exploring this strange Disney release.
June 09, 2020
2. Angels In The Outfield (1994)
On our first podcast for the Disney Kids' Sports Movie bracket, Jordan Puga and Paul Keelan discuss why they still find the 1994 Angels in the Outfield so adorable. With a stellar cast, a heartfelt story, and a whole lot of angelic hijinks, Angels in the Outfield is a film that is ripe for analysis. Exploring the themes of faith, family, and the complicated dynamics of being a child in the foster care system, this episode delves into the humane themes and very fun and silly conceit at the center of this fun children's sports movie. This episode also touches upon the ethics of a baseball team being handicapped by divine intervention and the uncomfortable parallels the plot-line has with major cheating scandals (steroids / sign stealing) that have tarnished the MLB in recent years, the "woke" nature of the progressive screenplay and diverse cast, and the strange experience of reconciling one's rational critiques with emotional generosity. Finally, Jordan and Paul decide whether or not they consider Angels in the Outfield to be an "Underdog" or an "Overrated" film.
June 02, 2020
1. Cinematic Underdogs - Introductory Podcast
On the very first episode of Cinematic Underdogs, Jordan Puga and Paul Keelan discuss, debate, and circumscribe the scope of what their podcast will focus on: sports movies. What exactly defines a sports movie? Is it the setting? Is it simply any film with an athlete or a sports franchise in it? Are skateboarding movies sports films? What about chess films? The Big Lebowski? Ace Ventura? The outline of the podcast is also established: Cinematic Underdogs will entail monthly clusters (Adam Sandler sports movies, female-centered sports movies, chess movies, etc..) in which Jordan and Paul will debate the merits and compare and contrast films within similar sub-genres within the broad scope of "sports films". Finally, they go over a few of their favorite sports films going into the podcast and discuss some of the tropes, curiosities, and ambitions they hope to pursue through cataloguing and analyzing at length a new sports film each week.
May 26, 2020