Thursday, July 27, 2023

"Champions" is a gem.

By "gem" it is not meant a blockbuster, but an enjoyable couple of hours with a message or two.  "Champions" (2023) shares a few sport movies cliches, but definitely has a few twists and a definite angle of human relations.

 Marcus is an assistant coach in minor league basketball, but likes to force his ideas on the head coach.  He gets fired.  Very soon after he gets a drunk driving charge and to form he tries to speak over his lawyer and argue with the judge.  The result is he is offered community service as a basketball coach for a group of intellectually disabled people.  Reluctant, but accepts the option as it is better than prison time.  At first it seems like a hopeless cause as we view very sloppy shooting including one who shoots backwards.  One player who seems to have adequate skill will not play for the coach.  Apparently he had once been a talented athlete who was struck down in a car accident by a drunk driver and suffered brain damage.

A complication is from a woman, Alex whose brother is on the team.  We learn her brother will not shower and later we learn there had been a drowning.  This woman provides a romantic interest, but she explains she is only interested in sex and is not wanting a relationship with a man whose ambition is to leave for a pro coaching opportunity.

There are more complications that test relationships.  The brother who lives with Alex and their mom has a group of intellectually disabled friends who are also on the team want him to move in with them.  This is frightening for the sister and the mother.  Marcus does get offered a coaching position in the NBA which shouldn't cause any stress with the sister, but it does.  His team qualifies for a championship, but has their money cut off for the trip to Winnipeg.  One of his players is fired from his job as he wants to take time off to play a game. 

The ending is close to what you might expect, but actually it is a little different.  You will also appreciate that intellectually disabled people are people.  If you like basketball there is slim pickings, but you can tell Woody Harrelson loves basketball.  After the end if you are watching on a streaming service I hope you are able to see a bonus that shows a few deleted scenes and more importantly some shots of the cast and crew.  I saw these features on a DVD.

Such an engaging film has a history and a lot of talented people.  "Campeones" (2018) was the original story filmed in Spanish.  Somehow Woody Harrelson learned of it (he does love basketball) and brought it to the attention of director friend, Bobby Farrelly and the two rounded up some others.  Woody agreed to be an executive producer once he read the script.

Woody Harrelson plays Marcus who has trouble refraining from giving advice.  He got off to a good career when he became a regular on "Cheers"(1985 to 1993) for 200 episodes.  He has 107 film credits including  "White Men Can't Jump" (1992), "The People vs. Larry Flynt" (1996),  "No Country for Old Men" (2007)"Seven Psychopaths" (2012),  "The Messenger" (2009), "LBJ" (2016),  "Shock and Awe" (2017) and "The Highwayman" (2019).  He has also been a producer 7 times.

Bobby Farrelly, director has been director, producer and writer for mostly comic films of questionable taste.  This film elevates his status.

Mark Rizzo adapted the script and has 4 film credits.

 Javier Fesser and David Marquest wrote the original Spanish script for "Campeones" and both have been directors.  Javier is also listed as an executive producer for "Champions".  Another carry over from Spain is Alvaro Longoria as an executive producer who once produced "Everybody Knows" (2018).

Michael Franti composed the music.  He has been a versatile musician covering reggae, rap, jazz, folk, rock etc.  He has also been a political activist.

C. Kim Miles was the cinematographer.  He has 91 film credits.

Julie Garces was the editor.  She has over 20 credits including "Inglorious Basterds" (2005), "Life of a King" (2013), "The Homesman" (2014) and "A Walk in the Woods" (2015).

Kaitliln Olson played Alex, the sister and romantic interest.  She has 45 credits including "Leap Year" (2010) and "The Heat" (2013).

Ernie Hudson plays a basketball coach.  He has 283 film credits including "Grace & Frankie"  He set up to be a writer actually writing plays for the oldest black theatre in America, Concept East.

Cheech Marin plays a sort of supervisor to Marcus in his court ordered job.  He was a draft dodger to Canada and famous as part of Cheech and Chong with a heavy emphasis on marijuana.  He has had a variety of entertainment positions including in a band, voice for cartoon and film characters, and small roles in films such as ""Seven Psychopaths" (2012).

Madison Tevlin is one of the basketball players that are intellectually disabled.  She says that is the most uninteresting fact about her.  Woody is quoted saying "She is not a great basketball player, but she is a movie star."  She has four film credits.

Jalen Rose was an actual star NBA player who transitioned to sports casting and plays himself.

Sean Cullen is mostly known for comic roles including his own tv. show.  In this film he plays a heavy, the restaurant owner who refuses to allow an intellectually disabled employee to play a basketball game. 

This is a sports movie, but not really.  A man with an ego makes a mistake and is forced to deal with unfamiliar people.  They benefit from the contact, but so does he.  And you will too.

As is my habit the first mention of films I have watched are bolded.

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