Stockwell: Sports film triple play shares tons of heart

As the calendar and weather move from summer to fall, there is a slight lull in new releases at theaters. For this week, let’s go back to at-home viewing options for those of us who want to curl up on the sofa with a warm blanket and some hot cocoa.

After years of studying cinema, it is truly amazing how multidimensional films can be. On the surface, a movie may come across as slapstick comedy, but underneath there are powerful messages being relayed. A story might be based in a particular subject or genre, but after watching it, an audience has been treated to an effective idea that stays with them long after the viewing has been completed.

The micro genre of sports films has this concept down to a science. Yes, we want the underdog to win or the team to overcome the odds, but occasionally one finds the hidden gem that teaches more than just winning and losing – it teaches us a lesson in life.

The following films do just this, and be advised that the impact is often quite emotional.

“Brian’s Song” (1971)

With the passing of NFL Hall of Famer Gale Sayers last week, it is fitting to mention this film. Based on his autobiography, “I Am Third,” the film focuses on his relationship with teammate Brian Piccolo.

Sayers is played by a very young Billy Dee Williams, although the football star was going to play himself had his training camp and season not coincided with the production. James Caan takes on the title role, with the great Jack Warden playing legendary coach George “Papa Bear” Halas, which would earn him his only Primetime Emmy Award.

And while the 73-minute, made-for-TV movie is based on football, the story and moral are much more. With Sayers being a Black man and Piccolo being white, their friendship crossed not only the lines of competition but race as well. “Pic,” as he was affectionately called, was the main reason Sayers returned to playing after a knee injury. The two formed an extremely close bond and their families became like one.

It is impossible to not spoil the ending of the film, because it is obvious what happens to “Pic” when he discovers he has a cancerous tumor. What makes the film so special is it shows the power of friendship and brotherhood. It is often referred to as the greatest “guy-cry” film ever made – and if you can make it through without shedding a tear, you probably don’t have a pulse.

The G-rated film is right on the mark and can be found on Pluto TV for free or Prime for $2.99

“The Cutting Edge” (1992)

Paul Michael Glaser’s rom-com is a unique look at adversity in the sports world, along with the dynamics of talented prodigies and their relationships.

When deeply touted hockey player Doug Dorsey (D. B. Sweeney) and ice skating princess Kate Moseley (Moira Kelly) literally run into each other at the Olympics, tempers and sparks fly. When both suffer setbacks in their pursuit of the gold, they find themselves teaming up as an unlikely figure skating duo.

The film has the Shakespearean residue of “Taming of the Shrew,” and the “meet cute” is original, as the story follows the two unlikely partners through their training and competition. The acting is very good, as Sweeney and Kelly banter back and forth (the hockey scene is particularly fun) with the chemistry of a disgusted, yet attracted couple. Glaser (yes, Starsky himself) directs the film with believable flair, as the skating scenes are realistic and exciting.

Outside of the standard clichés, the film sends a message about how we may push our youth who show athletic promise. Kelly gives Moseley a fierce competitive side that has a vulnerable interior. The pre-final skate argument is emotional and touching, and Glaser gives the ending a boost of adrenaline and tenderness. It's great for a stay-at-home date night.

The PG-rating is fair due to suggestions and situations; it is on Hulu.

“Field of Dreams” (1989)

As the MLB postseason is underway, it makes sense to mention a baseball film, even though it is about more than baseball. Ray and Annie Kinsella own a corn farm in Iowa, and Ray hears a voice telling him, “If you build it, he will come.”

The supernatural element is not really all that scary, and director Phil Alden Robinson compassionately gives the film a beating heart. Ray (Kevin Costner) builds a baseball diamond in the middle of his cornfield, complete with everything from a set of bleachers to lights. Once he does, ghosts of the players from the 1919 Chicago White Sox appear and begin playing on the “field of dreams.”

Unlike most sports movies, there's no championship or winning objective or standard formula. Baseball is the backdrop as the story follows Ray and his quest to discover who “he” is. Ray travels to Boston to pick up author Terence Mann (James Earl Jones) and the two embark on the return trip home. Along the way, they stop in Minnesota and come across Archie “Moonlight” Graham, who adds to the intrigue of the narrative.

The climax of the film is where the emotions will flow as do the tears. Ray realizes who “he” is and utters the phase that will make all viewers look for their mitt and child or parent. What is really cool is that if you travel to Dyersville, Iowa (about three and a half hours from Crystal Lake), you can act out the ending on the actual movie set – just bring your camera and some tissues.

The PG-rating might be a little strong; the 107-minute film is worth every second. It is on Starz or Prime for $3.99.

So there you have it, three for the at-home show of more than just sports films – friendship, romance and the opportunity to amend a past regret. Sounds like a great weekend of movies.

• Jim Stockwell is a tenured instructor at McHenry County College. He looks forward to resuming the role of host for the Second Monday Film Series at Classic Cinemas in Woodstock.

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