By Paul Keelan / Jordan Puga
Cinematic UnderdogsMay 26, 2020
96. Quarterback (2023)
On this episode, we continue with our (un)cinematic streak of sports-themed streaming docuseries. This time, we’re talking Netflix’s Quarterback (2023), produced by none other than Peyton Manning and featuring 3 of QB’s at very different junctures of their career: Patrick Mahomes, Kirk Cousins, and Marcus Mariota. Justin Peterson of the Average Joe’s Movie Club Cast joins us discuss their work ethic, weekly regimen, off-the-field personalities, legacies, pregame preparations, football IQ, perseverance, in-the-pocket ingenuity, and behind-the-snap theatrics. It was a magically “scripted” season and Quarterback captures all of the fun, striking gold by picking arguably the most entertaining in-season QB (Cousins) and then chronicling one of the most impressively gutsy playoff runs of all time with Mahomes unflappable quest to hoist the Lombardi trophy.
95. American Gladiators: Muscles & Mayhem vs. 30 for 30
On this episode, we compare and contrast two docuseries on American Gladiators released in 2023: Muscles and Mayhem: An Unauthorized Story of American Gladiators (Netflix) and The American Gladiators Documentary (ESPN/30 for 30). American Gladiators was always one of our favorite TV programs from childhood and we had a blast recounting our memories of the toys, the ‘roided up gladiators, the madcap fun of 90s Trash TV, the exploits of the athletes bodies for meager pay, the scab-like underpinnings of the series (which gets aired every time there’s a picket-line), and the dubiously murky origins of this gaudy, ostentatious product of pop entertainment. Enjoy!
94. Untold: Jake Paul the Problem Child
On this episode, we talk about the rise of Jake Paul in the ring. From a YouTube hellion and obnoxious Influencer to a boxing star, Jake Paul has become one of the truly improbable sports transformations of the 21st century. He may be polarizing and milage varies greatly on his likability. But as a celebrity committed to a sudden calling after a quarter life crises and cultural cancellation, Jake Paul is a pretty remarkable figure, who has only proved himself time and time again as a formidable contender against a ragtag albeit talented group of ex-MMA fighters and seasoned athletes.
Is this a puff piece? If the ubiquity of Prime drinks is any indication, the Paul brothers’ trademark self-mythology and promotional acuity is all over this thing. And there’s no doubt the Jake Paul has some warranted behind-the-scenes stains on his past — along with some overblown controversies. He’s played the heel, the villain, the antihero, and the problem child for years, making a killing out of marketing himself as the person people want to see being pummeled in the ring. What’s crazy is that the opposite happens, repeatedly, putting the likes of Mike Tyson, Oscar De La Hoya, the Fury family, and Dana White on blast as they’re forced to chew their words, eat crow, and watch in awe.
Whether you’re frothing at the bit to see where Paul’s boxing career goes next or prefer to hate watch one of Influencer culture’s prime public enemies, there’s no denying that the entertainment factor is off-the-charts. He may be a douchebag, a shameless self-marketer, a chauvinist, or whatever, but he’s also chosen a wise venue to pursue: a space of pugilistic primality where one’s moral shortcomings and social pretenses are stripped away by the savage ferocity of sparring and spectacle. Carrying the dying sport of boxing on his bulky tattooed back, Jake Paul is a bleach-haired pug with a rabid will to power. He’s as American, for better and worse, as an acidic apple pie smashed straight to the jugular.
93. Untold: Johnny Football
Untold: Johnny Football represents an iconic era of college football, and offers an astute examination of one of the most immature quarterbacks to ever win a Heisman Trophy, Johnny Manziel. An affable, perennial partier, Manziel was notorious for his off-the-field antics and partying. He played the game with the same freewheeling sense of intuition and exigency he seemed to live, transplanting his unhinged frat boy personality onto the field. He also transformed the Texas A&M program into a powerhouse over the course of a critical two year stint, pulled off a ridiculous heist to get drafted in the 1st round of the NFL draft, and became a mythic bust for the Cleveland Browns.
In the episode, we discuss Johnny’s wild shenanigans, the WTF moments of the documentary (his father faking a cardiac arrest, his friend planting a story about a false oil inheritance to deflect attention from under-the-table side hustles that violated the NCAA, his infamous bender in Vegas), and our letdown that the doc didn’t press Johnny harder with pointed, direct questions about his insane life of drugs, celebrities, and debauchery. For those who know nothing about Manziel, this is a great place to start. For those who’ve been fascinated by his mythic downfall, this is a bit too broad and breezy. Nonetheless, it’s a great conversation starter on one of the most stupefyingly immature yet likable athletes of the 21st century.
92. Cinematic Underdogs Q&A
A bonus episode consisting of two separate interviews of Jordan & Paul on The Average Joe's Movie Club Cast. We discuss or movie tastes, preferences, and habits. Enjoy!
91. SK8 the Infinity
This week, we return to the world of Manga adaptations & join our friend Matt St. Jack of Anime Talk! to chat SK8 the Infinity (you can watch it on Crunchy Roll!). In the episode, we discuss the series' nostalgic tone, ardent-hearted appreciation of skateboarding, controversies surrounding queer-baiting, technical/scientific descriptions of boarding, quirky biblical allusions, and notable popularity. Check it out!
90. Blackberry (2023) w/ Feelin' Film
We’re back with our friends Aaron & Patrick from Feelin’ Film to talk 2023’s underdog sleeper hit of the year, Blackberry: a riveting, fictionalized biopic detailing the rise & fall of the now-infamous phone. Equally funny and thrilling, Blackberry taps into the spirit of Fincher’s The Social Network or Boyle’s Steve Jobs. It is filled with amazing performances and panache—appropriating Nat Geo-style long-lenses (a stylistic riff stolen from D.A. Pennebaker’s The War Room), leaning into faux-documentary comedic beats (Christopher Guest films, The Office), celebrating the by-the-bootstraps/punk-rock ethos of indie filmmaking (Primer, Slacker, Clerks), and heavily stylizing itself with erratic camera shifts and short, snappy, WanderCam pans (which approximate a sense of eavesdropping on tense, anxiety-inducing affairs). It’s also a topical cautionary message about the dangers of unchecked greed and myopic business decisions, and in this way it resembles the recent slate of streaming mini-series documenting market-driven folly (The Dropout, WeCrashed, Fyre Fraud, etc.).
Although it is only tangentially affiliated with sports (there is a fairly prominent side plot involving an attempt to purchase an NHL team), we felt like this would be a perfect companion piece to our conversation on Air. Both films track the origins of a culture-altering IP, showcasing the competitive ferocity of entrepreneurialism. Both films also examine the ways cutthroat business acumen, team camaraderie, rivaling companies, and creative playfulness clash, dictate, and shape the way technology and commerce operate. Yes, to call this a sports movie would be disingenuously lenient, even for our criminally lax standards. But sometimes it’s good to question genre boundaries, as trespassing outside stringent confines can help delineate and expand one's understanding of the immanent tropes, archetypes, leitmotifs, and structural parameters that can't be compromised.
89. Ted Lasso (Seasons 1-3)
In the wake of Ted Lasso's series' finale, we decided to talk about Apple TV's feel-good sports-themed sensation by covering the show's entire 3 seasons. Painting broadly, we discuss the recurring pattern of gradually inverting character traits & expectations, contextualize the aesthetic choices/references/silliness/garishness within the canon of classic sitcoms, analyze the pavlovian opening credit sequence, debate the subtle 2nd and 3rd season shift toward prestige TV runtimes and overtones, and proclaim our overarching verdict on whether it deserves to endure in infamy or posterity.
88. Netflix's Break Point (Season 1)
On this episode, Harry LaBollita returns to discuss Netflix's hit series Break Point. Helmed by the same team behind F1: Drive to Survive, Break Point chronicles the world's up-and-coming tennis stars as they prepare and compete on the international professional tennis circuit, including all four Grand Slams and ATP and WTP tournaments. In Season 1, the cast of characters includes Nick Kyrgios (a "bad boy" from the Land Down Under), Matteo Berrettini (an Italian stallion with high ambitions and an equally successful girlfriend, Ajla Tomljanovic) Taylor Fritz (a So-Cal native who overcomes injury to out Nadal in the Indian Wells championship), Paula Badosa (a Spanish model dealing with mental health issues), Ons Jabeur (a Tunisian standout representing an entire continent), and Felix Auger-Aliassime (a Montreal-based wunderkind who just might be the next great).
We focus on a few primary themes: namely, the emergence of mental health crises and the perils of neuroses in the sport. This leads us into a fascinating discussion about the inherent pressures of tennis, the grueling attrition of playing year-round on the pro circuit, the attrition of mental fortitude due to the overwhelming speed of the game, the isolated vulnerability of playing a singles tournament, and the relativistic medley of psychological approaches and philosophies deployed by the various teams in hopes of curbing negative thoughts before they spiral into destructive self-sabotage on the court. We also debate who we think might be the next poster child for tennis as the Big Three (Nadal, Federer, Djokovic) begin to retire or suffer from the law of diminishing returns with age.
87. Nacho Libre (2006)
We're back and this time we brought both Justin & Laura Khoo of Cows in the Field on the pod to discuss the 2006 cult sports-comedy classic Nacho Libre. Little did we know that this movie holds a truly special place in the Khoo's hearts (you'll have to check out the episode to hear exactly why). In addition to anecdotal associations, we get down to the nitty-gritty on what makes this such an indelible movie. We chat about the artisanal needle drops, the meticulous costume design and visual craftsmanship, the unique tonal blend of childlike silliness (fart jokes) and hipster cleverness (including satirical jabs at Catholicism), the endlessly quotable one-liners, the hilariously off-putting accents, the comedic mastery of Jack Black's eyebrows and inflections, and the overall feel-good timelessness of this endearingly ridiculous tale about a monastic cook clandestinely pursuing a career as a Luchador to subsidize field trips for the orphans.
So go snatch some eagle eggs, nurture your mystical powers, and get ready to enjoy our conversational smackdown on everything there is to know about Nacho Libre. And always remember: It is fun to wrestle. A nice pile-drive to the face; or a punch to the face; but you cannot do it because it is in the Bible not to wrestle your neighbor.
86. Ready to Rumble (2002)
What's up, Underdogs!? ARE YOU READY TO RUMBLE!? Well, you better be because we're back, we're joined by Lou Moon, and we're diving headfirst into a raunchy sports comedy about the wonderful world of WCW wrestling. Yes, that's right: we're powerbombing 2000's puerile cult classic Ready to Rumble! This fatuously fun film is absolutely stacked. It stars David Arquette, Scott Caan, Oliver Platt, Joe Pantoliano, Martin Landau, and an ultra-hot Rose McGowan; it features epic, Slim Jim-inspired cameos from a horde of professional wrestlers (Goldberg, Booker T, Sting, Diamond Dallas Page, Randy Savage, Sid Vicious, Bam Bam Bigelow, Rey Mysterio Jr., and of course, Michael Buffer); and it's written by the king of juvenilia/silly kid-skewing sports comedies, Steven Brill.
What are you waiting for? Grab those dusty spandex, queue up your entrance song, and join us as we perform a tag-team suplex on this hilariously dumb movie, which achieves something rare in Cinema, becoming the equivalent of mixing Red Bull & an Icee. No doubt, this thing is frozen in time - stuck in that strangely boyish space we knew as the late 90s/early 00s. It's one hell of a brain freeze: a serially ridiculous prepubescent buddy comedy with a shit-eating grin on its face. Why are you still reading this? Wipe that Cheshire grin away and get in the damn ring!
85. Air (2023) - Feelin' Film Guest Appearance
84. Field of Dreams (1989)
Jed Bookout joins us on this episode as we explore Phil Alden Robinson's 1989 paternalistic, cornfed, heartland classic Field of Dreams. We discuss the film's disquieting subtexts and alternative readings, grappling with multiple surrealistic and existential readings. We discuss its similarities and lack thereof to the filmography and sensibilities of Douglas Sirk & Frank Capra. We discuss whether the central conceit and deus ex-machina of the film -- the mysterious, uncredited voice -- is the remnants of a Berkeley acid trip, a biblical parable, or the summoning of a cult leader. We discuss whether the film would turn into a sinister horror movie if the James Horner score was removed. We discuss Kevin Costner's salt of the earth gravitas and onscreen persona. In fact, we discussed so much we ended up matching the official runtime of the movie.
83. The Color of Money (1986)
Marc Dottavio of Unwatchables joins us to discuss Martin Scorsese's 1986 The Color of Money. A legacy sequel to The Hustler, this pool-hall classic incorporates all of Scorcese's usual obsessions, stylistically and thematically, in very sly ways. The whip pans, snap zooms, time-lapse sequences, needle drops, and gritty mise-en-scene nicely complement the slow-burn tempo and 8-ball sequences, setting the tone for a cunning exploration of authenticity and integrity in life and sport alike.
Often overlooked in discussions surrounding the filmographies of Tom Cruise, Paul Newman, & Martin Scorsese, The Color of Money is a complex character study within a neorealist milieu. It is filmmaking that deserves to be celebrated as one of the best of its decade: both raw/unvarnished & filled with directorial flair, frigid & impassioned, literal & filled with subtextual layers (including a meta commentary on weaponizing the power of observation & acting).
We kick off the pod with a topical discussion on how we'd compare The Color of Money's 3 Academy Awards nominations (for Best Supporting Actress, Best Art/Production Design, & Best Adapted Screenplay) to the 2023 Oscar nominees (we recorded on the eve of the 95th Academy Awards ceremonies). It's an insightful conversation, illuminating the ways the zeitgeist and even the industry's definitions of these awards can evolve over time.
82. Sudden Death (1995)
Hello, fellow underdogs! We're back with Matt Belenky — film producer/film writer/film aficionado/Pittsburgh native — to discus one of the best Die Hard clone movies ever put to screen: Peter Hyams' 90's classic, Sudden Death. Matt recently celebrated Sudden Death's timeless charm and Pittsburghian ethos in the Pittsburgh Orbit article Terrorism in Overtime: Sudden Death Turns 25, and he fills us in on all the local details you'll want to hear: the casting of real-life Penguins broadcasting duo Mike Lange and Paul Steigerwald as themselves, the story being conceived by Karen Elise Baldwin (daughter of then-Penguins owner Howard Baldwin, who produced the film), and the strange circumstances in which the hockey game was filmed during the NHL lockout.
We also talk about how well the film marries action genre tropes with the sports genre tropes, the fast clip at which the deaths pile up and the plotting skates along, whether or not this is Jean-Claude Van Damme's best or most iconic role, the savvy inclusion of the props/backrooms/corridors/interstices of the now-demolished Civic Arena, the hilarious culinary-themed kills (i.e., the death of the Pens mascot, Iceburgh, in an industrial-sized dishwasher), and the stunningly shot stunt work/action set pieces (i.e., the helicopter crashing into the Jumbotron). Oh, and to break the ice, we have a blast breaking down the entire slate of box office releases in late December 1995 (Waiting to Exhale, Grumpier Old Men, Nixon, Dracula: Dead & Loving It, Balto, Four Rooms, Tom & Huck, Cutthroat Island, etc...) — with each of us picking the one movie we'd choose to see if we had only enough allowance to buy a single ticket on opening weekend.
81. Hustle (2022)
On the latest episode, we go back to the basics and cover a newly released yet old-fashioned formulaic sports flick: Hustle. Released on Netflix in 2022, Hustle finds Adam Sandler in a groove. This film sits nicely between his prestige work in Uncut Gems and the juvenile sensibilities we've all become accustomed to expecting from the Happy Madison brand. It is packed full with NBA cameos and call-outs, and delivers its emotional and athletic beats with panache and intensity.
For a feel-good and by-the-numbers underdog sports flick, Hustle is a winner. Enjoy our conversation as friend and NBA super-fan Juan joins in to chat this refreshing return of The Sandman to fine form as the film's lead Stanley Sugarman. Juan lends the episode a ton of insight on AND1 mixtapes and Anthony Edwards' sassy personality and the fun ways this film played with NBA icons' identities both on and off-the-court.
It's a fun chat, if we say so ourselves! Thanks of listening!
80. Hard Knocks in Season: The Arizona Cardinals (2022)
In anticipation of Super Bowl LVII, we're back with a follow up to our episode on Hard Knocks: Training Camp w/ The Detroit Lions, this time tackling Hard Knocks in Season: The Arizona Cardinals. This is easily our most sporty episode yet. As always, though, we transfer the narratives on the field into the world of celluloid dreams. Quite literally: To break the ice, we enumerate the stories and moments from the 2022-2023 NFL season we each think might one day translate fluidly to the silver screen. Purdy, Brady, Hamlin, & Wilson all make our cut (for very different hypothetical movie genres). Finally, after confabulating wild movie premises of our own, we dig into main event and discuss the AZ Cardinal's grueling, abysmal, train-wreck season, marred by motivational apathy, nonstop injuries, and serial underachievement.
The lackluster display on the field turned so dour, in fact, it took its toll on HBO's show. Noting the gloomy moroseness of each successive episode, we end up in a caustic discussion over whether Hard Knocks in Season: The Arizona Cardinals might be best viewed as an unintentional workplace farce or a tragicomedy. On this line of thought, we have a grand old time nitpicking the depressing details and sporadic silver linings from the season, which include Kyler's conspicuous absence, Kingsbury's bro-chic MTV Cribs-style mansion, JJ's boyish enthusiasm and lovable personality, Budda's unflinching tenacity/affable sibling rivalry, Hopkin's resilient mother/artsy sensibility, and the endless carousal of random, washed-up QBs emerging in the starting lineup every week.
If you're in the mood to listen to lots of football chatter with some heady thematic extrapolations, you've found the perfect tailgate background noise to toss onto the car radio. So open up a big bag of Lay's potato chips, throw back a few cold ones, and enjoy some goofy Pre-Game bantering before the Big Game!
79. Shaolin Soccer (2001) w/ Ashley Naftule
78. Captains (2022)
We're back and chatting Captains, yet another underrated Netflix docuseries. This 8-episode journey chronicles the heartbreaking lows and glorious highs of 7 international captains as they lead their country's squad through qualifying matches for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Mikey from Screen Nerds Podcast joins the conversation and we have a blast discussing the doc's diverse cast of characters and cultures. (Given a few vague references, it will be helpful to know this episode was recorded the same day Argentina knocked Croatia out of the World Cup in the semi-finals)
Following the chosen leaders of Vanuatu (Brian Kaltak), Lebanon (Hassan Maatouk), Brazil (Thiago Silva), Jamaica (Andre Blake), Gabon (Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang), and Croatia (Luka Modric), Captains offers an intriguing investigation into the varied qualities that define leadership. It also provides an inspiring, in-depth look into the political and economic hardships endured by these resilient figures. Each captain had to overcome immense challenges on their rise to the world stage -- growing up as a refugee, a wartime expatriate, a poor kid in the favelas, an islander with minimal resources, etc.
Each of these captains display an uncompromising love for the game and a gratitude to represent their country. They also lead in wildly different ways. We found the juxtaposition of their respective roles and personality traits to be existentially riveting, and highly recommend this series to anyone interested in not only the World Cup but sports psychology in general. We hope you enjoy our conversation.
77. FIFA Uncovered (2022)
On this special bonus episode, Mikey from Screen Nerds Podcast joins the pod to discuss the timely 2022 Netflix docuseries, FIFA Uncovered. Dropped just before the World Cup in Qatar, this sprawling doc exposes the decades of corruption (wire fraud, embezzlement, money laundering, bribery) staining FIFA. For those who love true crime/in-depth investigative journalism, this might be right up your alley.
Declared as the World Cup of fraud, the takedown of dozens of FIFA officials by the FBI stunned the world. FIFA Uncovered digs behind the scenes and gets to the bottom of these indictments. We hear from whistleblowers, former FIFA presidents, financial assistants, widowed spouses of incriminated officials, smarmy Qatari ambassadors, journalists/novelists who've covered this scandal, and countless other relevant individuals. The doc also takes a deep look into the use of the World Cup as an act of sports-washing and the way geopolitics and soccer/futbol politics clash behind closed doors.
Our conversation even delves into the ethical hypocrisies and latent xenophobia surrounding the entire scandal and the western world's tantrum re: the 2022 World Cup being hosted by Qatar. Now is as good of a time as any to reflect on FIFA. The festivities may be over and Messi may be nestled snugly in bed with the World Cup between both arms, but you can bet those slimy FIFA representatives behind the entire pageantry are undoubtedly scheming already: thinking of novel ways to circumvent the system and pocket their next big paycheck.
76. Welcome to Wrexham (2022)
We're back with another Docuseries. Resembling in ways a real-life Ted Lasso, Welcome to Wrexham chronicles the purchase of Wrexham AFC by Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenny. The Wrexham Red Dragons are a fifth-tier Welsh football club, meaning they sit at the very bottom of the pyramid of professional UK leagues. Thus, the immediate goal of this venture is pretty simple: Promotion. Ryan and Rob certainly have the capital to make a splash. The question is whether money will translate onto the field.
Marketed as an underdog story, Welcome to Wrexham is anything but and with a cynical lens we look at the odd setup of this program. Sure, as the 3rd oldest football club in the world bolstered a small blue-collar town whose fed-up with years of poor results, Wrexham AFC is a team worth rooting for. However, given the deluge of money & prestige immediately put into the club by their Hollywood owners, they become, in some ways, the evil villain of the fifth-tier league.
Fortunately, the series takes a wise approach and democratizes its focus. Sure, much of the runtime is filled with vainglorious self-promotional bits for Reynolds and McElhenney (after all, everything Ryan touches is branded to death). But many episodes give us, the audience, a direct and intimate glimpse into the small, tight-knit Welsh community of Wrexham. We listen to the pub's boorish bickering and drunken bloviation; we learn about the history of football hooliganism; we get an in-depth backstory on the corruption and subsequent cooperative takeover and ownership of the Red Dragons.
By the end, it's nearly impossible not to cheer on Paul Mullin, Ollie Palmer, and teammates as they claw their way to the cusp of promotion. Even for cynics like ourselves, it's nearly impossible not to feel a bit charmed, instead of vexed or embarrassed, by the team's rise to dominance. It's hard not to forgive Rob and Reynolds, despite their football illiteracy (Ryan literally asks bystanders to explain offsides during a critical matchup at Wembley late in the season). And that's a testament to the power of the world-building. Enjoy some good old-fashioned ranting and rowing as we wildly vacillate between positive and negative overreactions.
75. Hard Knocks: Training Camp w/ the Detroit Lions (2022)
On the latest episode, we continue to explore the long-form format of docu-series by tackling HBO's Hard Knocks: Training Camp w/ the Detroit Lions. Sure, it's classifiable as Reality TV, but when it comes to getting an in-depth, behind-the-scenes, all-access look at the ins and outs of running a professional football team, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more illuminating source than the first and longest-running sports documentary series in TV history.
Produced by NFL Films and narrated by Liev Schreiber (a tidbit neither of us were privy to during the recording and were both undeniably shocked to learn), the flashy series feels shackled by some of its dated/vestigial stylistic traditions. The narration, aping David Attenborough's Nat-Geo style of zoological/anthropological objectivism and wonder, feels oddly at ends with the subject matter - somewhat dehumanizing the players and team. Fortunately, the voice-over framing device is seldom applied, and outside of its gaucheness, the show shines.
Detroit & its eternally underperforming, down-and-out Lions offer a riveting subject matter. The team/season is helmed by the imposing yet affable presence of Dan Campbell, and led by spirited personalities, including Jamaal Williams, who's passionate post-practice speech about the previous year's abysmal record went viral for good reason. Another standout is Aidan Hutchinson, the darling 1st round draft pick who knocks it out of the park with another viral bit: a spunky, training camp performance of MJ's "Billie Jean."
What makes this season particularly riveting is the focus is largely on players on the cutting block still trying to make a name and earn legit, 6 or 7-figure paycheck. Instead of spending time with Swift and Goff, this pre-season look at the Lions details the ups and downs of those seeking the last spot on the depth chart - Craig Reynolds (the RB3, maybe RB4 with an older brother in jail), Obinna Eze (the Nigerian), Malcolm Rodriquez ("Rodrigo"), David Blough (the 3rd string QB), and Kalil Pimpleton (the juggling, super speedy, but butterfinger-hands slot receiver).
Witnessing these players practice, prepare, and put it all on the line during pre-season matches elevates the otherwise meaningless games. For an outsider, preseason football is but a glorified practice - a chance for football teams to workout the kinks. But for players on the cutting line, each snap is a tryout - a matter of keeping their job or getting sent packing home or to another team's practice squad. For sports fans who care more about the existential dynamics of the humans behind the pads, this element couldn't be more riveting. It made the season more profound and pathos-filled than any in-season glimpse at x's and o's could ever hope to be.
74. California Split (1974)
73. Untold: The Rise & Fall of AND1
In no time, the scrappy company and its ragtag group of Harlem Globertrotters/carnivalesque ballers would end up inspiring an ESPN-run reality show, a national grassroots sportswear movement, and an emergent style of acrobatic basketball. For any virtuosos who lacked the classical talent required by NBA metrics, AND1's tour and emphasis on showmanship offered another outlet - a space for athletics to overcome their shortcomings with flair, panache, and dexterity.
For your resident Underdogs, AND1's primetime years neatly paralleled our concurrent obsession with skater demos/videos. As a result, we spend amble time waxing nostalgic about how similar these scenes' sensibilities, branding/marketing strategies, and ethos were to one another.
Unfortunately, due to the pettiness of the money-holders, the ephemerality of subcultural trends, the rise of new technologies, and the shark-ish dominance of hegemonic corporations like Nike, AND1's heyday was short-lived. Nonetheless, the spirit that surrounded the brand lives on in the memories for all those who participated in it: for better and worse.
We had a blast reminiscing on this time capsule of an Untold episode. It may be far from the most riveting entries in the series, but it is easily one of the most wistful.
72. Poker Movies & Rounders (1998) w/ Matt Belenky
71. Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn't Exist (2022)
Season 2 of Untold has arrived and it's more viral than ever! That's right: Our favorite Netflix-produced sports documentary series is officially back! To commemorate the occasion, Aaron White of Feelin' Film joins us to discuss the incredibly bizarre and wacky 1st episode, Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn't Exist.
As a two-part season opener, this jaw-dropping Untold entry chronicles Manti Te'o's miraculous senior season at Notre Dame and the public downfall that resulted when Deadspin doxxed the truth behind Manti's illusory dead girlfriend. This is one of those "you have to see it to believe it" stories, and easily one of the most infamous catfishing incidents in modern times. It also inspired one of our most feisty and tendentious conversations yet. We debate the tricky role of faith in our hyper-deceptive Internet age of (dis)information, the difference between empathy and sympathy, the ethical thresholds of exploring sexuality/identity at the harm of others, the pillars of virtue vs. the pragmatics of cynicism, and whether a gullible adult should be considered culpable for being innocently duped/blindly naive.
Join us as we combatively sort through some pretty deep questions about pigskin politics, journalistic priorities, sheltered belief systems, the human right to redemption, the social benefits of healthy skepticism, the gracelessness of media dishonesty, and the placebo power of personal fictions. It gets a bit testy, at times, but we never lose sight of our shared goal: the intellectual synthesis and moral edification that can be achieved by recognizing an antithetical opinion. I'm not sure we reached harmonious reconciliation, but we at least openly and respectfully heard each other out. Sometimes, that's enough.
70. The Running Man (1987)
We're back with yet another episode about a film that fits squarely into the surprisingly extensive dystopian/post-apacolyptic game-show subgenre: 1987's mega hit The Running Man. For this round, Chad Lott and Marc Kate from Scary Thoughts join us to chat about Arnold's epically stilted line readings, the eternal humor of nut shots, deepfake technology, the artistic versatility of a well-timed one-liner, Paula Abdul supremacy, TV personality Richard Dawson's rousing villainy, iconic mustard-hued tracksuit fashion, arrantly misogynistic motifs in 80's action cinema, video game tropes in movies, the apathetic endgame of pervasive disinformation, and whether a piece of mainstream entertainment can ever successfully critique the spectacle of media without appearing hypocritically complicit.
It's a rollicking good time! Enjoy!
69. Karate Kid 2 (1986)
On our latest episode, we discuss Karate Kid 2 with the prolific and ever-insightful Gene Ching: layman disciple of the original Shaolin Temple, former publisher of Kung Fu Tai Chi magazine, sword/weapons guru, and resident Cobra Kai expert on Den of Geek. Alongside Gene, we tackle everything that works and doesn't work in the second installment of the Karate Kid canon -- reflecting on the film's genre shift from sports tropes to kung fu tropes, deriding its moments of egregious cultural appropriation / misrepresentation, and celebrating the charms and silver lining within this much-maligned sequel.
Sure, Karate Kid 2 may not be the greatest entry in the franchise but it still offers a fun journey back to the homeland of Mr. Miyagi -- giving Daniel San and its 80's audience a rare glance into Japanese life and culture. From its So-Cal beginning to its rousingly ridiculous Okinawa death-match finale, Karate Kid 2 covers a ton of territory, touching upon the ethics of legacy, regret, pacifism, romance, loyalty, eco-harmony, and owning up to one’s past. We do our best sorting it all out.
68. Untold: Caitlyn Jenner
67. Untold: Deal with the Devil
We're back and chatting about yet another excellent episode of Netflix's Untold series. This time, we enter the purgatory to discuss the insanely tumultuous highs and lows of Christy Martin's boxing career and personal life in Deal with the Devil. The title itself is quite revealing: it overtly hints at the Faustian bargain Christy made by marrying her wickedly abusive/controlling real-life trainer/promoter/coach Jim Martin. It also obliquely acknowledges the fact that she not only entered into a partnership with this devilish figure, but that she "dealt" with him: even surviving Jim's very visceral attempt to take her life.
Christy Martin's story is truly one-of-a-kind. Hailing from a small, backcountry mining town in West Virginia, she becomes a worldwide phenomenon after a bludgeoning, broken-nose performance on a Tyson card at MGM Grand. Soon, she's being picked up by late-night TV shows, placed on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and promoted by Don King. She also ends up playing a homophobic heel (despite being a closet lesbian), becoming addicted to cocaine, and getting into a life-or-death scuffle (replete with stab wounds, gun shots, and battered skulls) with her furious husband/boxing coach.
Described as having a stone chin, Christy's resilience and stamina is unrivaled. She is a fighter in every sense of the word and this episode is a testament to the wild, admirable, and unbelievable story of her life: both inside and outside of the boxing ring.
66. Driven (2001)
Driven is a notoriously (and criminally) maligned, high-octane car wreck of a movie you have to see to believe. Tracking the CART open-wheel circuit, Renny Harlan’s adaptation of Sly Stallone's bloated script delivers ADHD-addled thrills from start to finish. This thing peels out at 200+ mph and refuses to let you breath or think — only pulling over to recharge at a few well-timed soapy, melodramatic pit stops.
If you're down for a flashy, jam-packed spectacle of gonzo, over-the-top filmmaking with little emotional or narrative credibility, hop right in! This is the celluloid equivalent of an amphetamine-infused deep-fried Twinkie — reimagined on screen. Sure, it's aesthetically grotesque and undeniably unhealthy. But it's also seeping in salaciously delicious goodies.
Join your fellow Underdogs and our special guest, Michael of the Screen Nerds Podcast, as we celebrate Driven’s absurdly kinetic editing style, Gina Gershon’s sassy denim-donning revision of the femme fatales, Stallone’s pouty-eyed moues, the soundtrack’s smooth jazz flourishes, and Harlan’s over-embellished dissolves.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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!
59. Victory (1981)
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!!!
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).
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!
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.
49. Endgame (1983) w/ Will Johnson
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!