The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com
Tuesday, March 24, 2009 - 5
Playing for keeps
Sp endid 'Hazards'
It's a bummer that Michigan was cured
of its March Madness. To top it off, that
hockey game on Saturday blew, and let's
not forget that crazy Rich Rod. Blue athletics
can be distressing these
days, but I have a working
form of athletic alleviation.
I cherish sports movies
- when you watch them,
not only can you can pick
your plays, but you can
watch true drama. Sports
movies are real, brutal, BLAKE
insightful, poetic and awe- GOBLE
inspiring. Sports are dra-
matic; plain and simple.
That's why I'm here to present to you the
finest sports films of all time. Who am I to
make such bold claims? First, being a former
athlete - pre-paunch, I participated in varsity
swimming and water polo - I can say I know
how sports films connect. I've screened loads
of these flicks. And like any sport, I have rules.
Rule one: No Kevin Costner films. Rule two:
No boxing films. Rule three: "Hoosiers" is dis-
qualified, because it had the same director as
"Rudy." And rule 4: A sport can only present
itself once, meaning no two baseball or basket-
ball films. Don't like the rules? Tough. I don't
have to justify them. So without further adieu,
let's get it on.
"The Hustler" was unglamorous, yet ultra
hip. Paul Newman plays "Fast" Eddie Felson,
the most bodacious billiards man you'll ever
see. "Hustler" gets the nod because of New-
man's iconic portrayal of a man trapped by
Speaking of talent, "This Sporting Life" is
the most emotional piece on this list. If you
haven't seen Richard Harris ("Camelot")
give a total performance in this kitchen-sink
drama about the trials of gifted rugby player
Frank Machin, you must see this movie.
But even without revealing harsh realities,
sports can be beautiful. Yes, there's a tainted
quality to Leni Riefenstahl's "Olympia" films
about the 1936 Berlin Olympics - juxtapos-
ing Jesse Owens with Adolph Hitler is too
awkward to ignore. But Leni was the first and
best filmmaker to understand the beauty of
the physical form and she showed it with slow
motion, low-angle athletes in fluid form.
The filthiest, funniest and most furious
film here, "Slap Shot" is raw athletics. Look up
the fashion show scene online. But as a sports
story, it is a great dramedy, capturing the
unexpected in the best way possible. Oh, and
the Hanson brothers are the funniest perpe-
trators of sports violence you'll ever see.
Then there's the original "Bad News Bears,"
the most accurate depiction of youth sports.
Argue hard about "Sandlot" capturing your
youth, but "Bears" is way more honest. Who
didn't razz on other teams? Just look up "Bad
News Bears Tanner" on YouTube for proof.
Kids are cruel, but funny too. I certainly earned
my water poloblack eyes and stitches at 16.
That's not to say sports can't imbue hope.
Sports will always inspire. Granted, the Dis-
ney sports movie formula has been packaged
and resold just like the worst junk food. But
"Remember the Titans" was the first in Dis-
ney's recent string of athletic dramas, and it's
I just hate 'Field
still the greatest. You really do want Denzel
Washington to be your coach. And for once it's
OK to win a game.
So what are arguably the two best sports
film ever made? The first is Roger Ebert's pick
for best film of the 1990s. As the most compre-
hensive movie on sports, "Hoop Dreams" is
incendiary. It's a three-hour documentary on
two teenage Chicago basketball players, and
it never lets up. Witness the heart-breaking,
spirit-lifting experience of their quest to
someday play in the NBA. It's a landmark.
However, without apology, I believe
"Breaking Away" is the perfect sports movie.
Funny, fast, pretty and completely involving,
it's ekactly right. Four townies at the Univer-
sity of Indiana compete against locals, and
that's it. But there's much beneath the surface.
"Breaking Away" is about finding and chal-
lenging yourself, and about uncorrupted com-
petition. We learn from, enjoy and take part in
this experience as it connects with us all. This
is all that is good in sport and film.
These are the sports movies that get it. And
I hate "Field of Dreams."
Goble is looking for a new tennis
partner. E-mail him at bgoblue@umich.
edu if you want to hit the court with him.
An ambitious opera,
The Decemberists' new
LP beats expectations
By JEFF SANFORD
Daily Arts Writer
So The Decemberists have made a
It's a necessary label,
but an unfortunate
one -when an album The
is touted as any type
of "opera," it's nor- DeCemlbeists
mally an indulgent, The Hazards
incoherent mess. It'soThe
simply too difficult of Love
for most bands to Capitol
strike that delicate
halance between pretension, ambition
and actual musical quality when mak-
ing these beefed-up concept albums.
But it goes without saying that The
Decemberists are not a typical band.
Colin Meloy, the group's bookish front-
man, is well knownfor his peculiar fond-
ness for arcane and obscure vocabulary
(a sample line from 2006's The Crane
Wife: "Its contents watched by Sycorax
/ and Patagon in parallax"). Guitarist
Chris Funk once battled Stephen Col-
bert in a guitar duel on live television.
They're weird dudes. Maybe that's why
they were able to turn out a rock-, indie-
or whatever-opera that's both musically
and thematically compelling.
Conceptually, Hazards of Love is a
sylvan fairytale describing an evil tree-
queen and a fair maiden named Marga-
ret who (I'm fairly sure) gets raped by
a morphing fawn and kidnapped. Natu-
rally, her lover seeks revenge.
Needless to say, it's a strange album.
But coming from Meloy and his merry
band of troubadours, it all fits into place.
The story is told not only coherently but
poetically - here's Meloy describing
Margaret's abduction: "All a'gallop with
Margaret slung roof crossed withers /
Having clamped her innocent fingers
in fetters / This villain must calculate
crossing the wild river."
"We shot 782 pounds of game, but were only able to carry 200 back to our wagoe.
In less capable hands, an album like
this could be disastrous. It's grandiose.
It's campy. But for The Decemberists, it
works. The way the album structurally
mimics a real opera makes the bizarre
subject matter much easier to stomach.
Three different vocalists play the three
lead characters. The chaste-voiced
Becky Stark (from the band Lavender
Diamond) is the distressed Margaret,
takingup lead vocals wheneverthe story
calls for it. My Brightest Diamond's
Shara Worden voices the evil queen
with Disney-esque prowess. Meloy,
meanwhile, is convincing as both the
noble hero and the conniving evildoer
in "The Rake's Song." Each track segues
into the next, demanding the album be
listened to from start to finish.
Even Wagner would be proud - leit-
motifs are used masterfully throughout
Hazards (for example, whenever the
treacherous queen is about to sing, a
brooding, distorted guitar line comes in).
Sometimes with concept albums,
excessive narrative and structural con-
cerns take top priority and the music
suffers. Not here. Meloy has an almost
preternatural gift for melody, routinely-
turning clunky; word-heavy phrases
into dulcet melodic lines. "A Bower
Scene" and "The Queen's Rebuke/The
Crossing" see The Decemberists blast-
ing off into new, distortion-and-solo
territory. These harder-rock songs not
only set the mood for the album's more
narratively menacing moments, but
also unveil a refreshing sound for The
Decemberists; more than any other time
in its career, the band actually sounds
like it's rocking out and having fun.
This album was a definite risk. The
Decemberists seemingly ignored com-
mercial and credibility issues and made
the ambitious, thoroughly odd record
they wanted to make. And it paid off.
Like all good rock-operas or concept
records before it, Hazards is more than
an album - it's a.theatrical, fully engag-