With pro football taking a deep breath before Sunday’s Super Bowl, still no hockey to chronicle and Academy Awards nominations recently going out, we thought this might be a good time to review what’s new in the sporting theater:
Million Dollar Baby
Highly strung, highly paid and highly irritating wide receiver makes circus-like catches and outrageous demands as he holds an NFL franchise hostage in Minnesota with such antics as “nudging” a crossing guard with his car, telling the media he doesn’t play hard on every down, mock-mooning opposing fans and leaving games before they are completed.
Author of “Angela’s Ashes” gets a co-writing credit in this mock-caper farce about a Boston businessman who persuades baseball owners to allow him to purchase hallowed West Coast franchise in a highly leveraged deal in which he uses real-estate holdings (parking lots) as collateral.
The fun starts when the new owner turns the tables on the organization, sells off the team’s most popular players and alienates a loyal, but increasingly infuriated, fan base.
A pump-fake prodigy raised in the same state that produced the Wright Brothers decides to fly straight from high school to the NBA’s Cleveland franchise, where he astonishes fans and skeptical sportswriters with his uncommon maturity and aerial acrobatics around the rim.
The Motorcycle Diaries
In this hard-to-fathom set-up, the eccentric coach of a premier professional basketball franchise quits his lucrative job after a blowup with the star player and the owner (whose daughter the coach had been dating) and embarks on a cross-country motorcycle trek in which he pens his thoughts on matchstick covers, searches for his “inner self” and tries to arrange a poker game with Michael Jordan.
This cautionary tale explores a powerhouse Big Ten football program’s soul-selling recruitment of a talented but controversial tailback, who helps lead the school to a national championship as a freshman but later rats out the university after he is suspended for committing NCAA violations.
Friday Night Lights
An all-sports cable network based in Connecticut, in cahoots with money-grubbing conference commissioners, threatens to destroy the delicate fabric of high school football nationwide by agreeing to televise low-level college football games on Friday nights in violation of a long-standing, but obviously not contractually binding, understanding.
Balding, middle-aged college basketball coach based in Westwood reexamines his career choices and taps his years spent in the Santa Barbara wine country in an attempt to nurture a dead-on-the-NCAA-vine hoops power back to vintage.
Plot in this film pinot noir explores the frustration of a coach as he tries to figure out which direction his program is going.
In this spy-thriller that not-so-deftly combines the influences of John le Carre and Dorian Gray, a nation on the verge of financial collapse stays solvent by securing a high-interest loan from a 42-year-old Houston Astro pitcher who mysteriously seems to get better (and richer) with age.
Maria Full of Grace
Adapted from the Bud Collins bestseller, “Maria Full of Grunts,” this forehand cross-court winner charts the stunning rise of a Russian-born girl who moves to Florida to learn how to play tennis and emote vocally on the court en route to an astonishing Wimbledon victory at age 17.
Far superior to the cinematic version of “Wimbledon,” starring the non-Russian born Kirsten Dunst.
French-speaking, Canadian-born former hockey player-turned starting pitcher with bad eyesight languishes in the Dodger farm system before a prescient manager moves him to the bullpen in 2002, only to watch in amazement as his goggle-wearing reliever saves 152 games over the next three seasons in a Cy Young-winning performance.
House of Flying Daggers
Fame comes too fast for a young golfer who emerges from nowhere to win a major golf championship only to watch his career unravel as he battles chemical and food dependencies, ex-wives, the yips and country music critics in this sardonic saga of grip-it-and-rip-it, rum-and-Coke ruin, and redemption.
Are We There Yet?
This controversial documentary examines the tedious, chalk-board scratching, two-week buildup to the annual Super Bowl game and tellingly reveals how the NFL leverages the extra week to manipulate media corporations into millions of dollars in free advertising.
A Very Long Engagement
A former baseball beat man turned screenwriter strikes out on three pitches in this low-budget, art-house attempt to capture the essence of eating sunflower seeds during an Arizona Diamondbacks’ 14-game homestand in August.
The fall-and-rise story of an NFL superstar linebacker who bounces back from a murder charge to become a leading pitchman for commercial products, culminating his comeback by landing the cover for the Madden NFL 2005 video game.
An electrifying-but-duplicitous slugger playing baseball in a windy, Midwest city gets traded to Baltimore and is subsequently banned when cork is discovered in his forearms, after which he attempts a comeback as a play-by-play announcer.