Long-time contributor to Failed Critics, Paul Field, recently reviewed Dangerous Game for the Independent, which unseated United Passions as “the worst football film of all time”.
Cristiano Ronaldo may appear on the surface to be an uninspiring and uninteresting subject for a documentary. After all, despite being one of, if not the best footballers in the world, he is a preening, arrogant superstar more interested in his image and individual glory more than anything else.
However, Anthony Wonke and Asif Kapadia, the team behind the documentaries on the late Formula 1 driver Aryten Senna and singer Amy Winehouse have managed to produce a film that gives an insight into the person as well as the player.
The central themes are his rivalry with Lionel Messi, his desire to be the very best player he can be and his relationship with his family; especially his son.
Without giving too much away, it is his family life and learning about where he came from – a relatively less well-off life in Madeira – that provides the most interest, especially as a football fan.
The major difference between this and Wonke and Kapadia’s previous work is that the subject, Ronaldo, is alive and well and probably had some say over what could go in to the final cut. Whereas Senna and Winehouse were long dead when their life stories were told by the duo.
Ronaldo himself is very divisive. In this and subsequent interviews given around the release of this film he comes across as both very arrogant and very humble. He knows how attractive he is, how good he is at football and how loved he is and he loves to let people know as well.
But also he comes across as an excellent father (to a son he named after himself), a loving son and sibling and somebody who can talk openly and honestly about his strained relationship with his now deceased father and the fact that he does not drink because if his dad’s alcoholism.
Perhaps the one thing it doesn’t make much of is his charity work, how much he does for various charities in terms of both work and donations, and that he does not have any tattoos so he can continue to give blood a number of times a year.
Although including this may have made the documentary come across as sycophantic, too heavily influenced by the player himself and more of a publicity piece than an insight in to the man.
There are better sports documentaries out there; most of ESPN’s 30 for 30 series and Senna to name a few. But this is worth a watch, especially for fans of the beautiful game.
If you are a football fan, you might not take anything away from this. You may know enough about the Portugal international already, or your allegiances to certain clubs and nations may have already given you an unwavering opinion on the man.
However, if you do not know much about football, or much about Ronaldo the person, you may just learn that the way he comes across on the pitch and off the pitch are very different.
Ronaldo is in cinemas across the UK right now. Check out the trailer below.
A city spurned. A dream born. A brothergood forged. Owen takes a look at the documentary Sons of Ben: The Movie to see how a group of die-hard American soccer fans embarked on a mad quest to bring a professional soccer franchise to their city.
by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)
Where did you grow up? I ask because here in the UK, it most likely determines the football team you support (unless you’re a Manchester United fan, in which case you could be a “glory hunter” from practically anywhere from London to Thailand – basically anywhere except the North West, fnar fnar.)
I was born and raised in the Black Country, surrounded by a veritable plethora of professional teams like West Bromwich Albion, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Aston Villa and Birmingham City who were all within a 15 mile radius of my home (two of which were within an hours walk) and each with over 100 years of history. Let’s not forget the lower league local teams too, such as Kidderminster Harriers, Walsall, Stourbridge and Halesowen Town. Hell, I could have tripped down the stairs and landed at the gates to Tividale FC, a club over 60 years old with a 200 seater stadium that Google estimates is just 0.3 miles door-to-door.
Love it or hate it, football is ingrained in the United Kingdom’s culture. It’s a sport that we made professional when our cricketers were bored during the winter season some 150 years ago. There are perhaps only two historical dates in our country’s past that every British citizen knows off by heart: 1066 and the battle of Hastings and 1966, the year England won the FIFA World Cup on home soil. Have we ever mentioned that before? I don’t think we ever talk about it these days. We’re very humble about it.
The point I’m making is that even people here who can’t stand football know the relevance of that summer nearly fifty years ago. It’s so well known because football is so connected to our identity. There are few conversations more satisfying than those that take place in the pub, pint in hand, mulling over the latest results or football news.
But what happens when you’re a fan of the beautiful game in a country where football is not even close to being in the top three most popular sports on the continent, never mind without half a dozen teams a stones throw from your bedroom window? Well, if you’re in Philadelphia, then of course the only viable solution is to set up a supporters club called the Sons of Ben for a team that doesn’t yet exist. That’s exactly what Bryan James, Andrew Dillon, and David Flagler did in January 2007 hoping that one day a Major League Soccer franchise would open in their beloved home town.
Director Jeffrey C. Bell tells the entire unbelievable story of this passionate community of soccer fans coming together to support a non-existent team, from its humble beginnings as a conversation at a bar, through to its surprising conclusion. For some of us here in Europe who might not follow the league that closely, when we think of the MLS, we think of Beckham and Keane at LA Galaxy, or Lampard and Pirlo at New York City, so I will refrain from spoiling whether or not this motivated group of individuals went on to realise their dream. Just in case!
Over the course of the relatively tight 75 minutes, we learn how a sport like this can bring people together from all kinds of different backgrounds. By the time we’re introduced to Nick Sakiewicz, a business executive with a genuine affection for soccer, the scope of the project begins to hit home. You share the optimism of these guys; their longing to create a team of their own. It’s in part due to Bell’s direction. There’s an overwhelming sense of pride in these fans and you, as the viewer, are constantly willing them to succeed. When tears are shed by the (self-dubbed) Negadelphians suffering set-back after set-back, you can’t help but share in their misery. Equally, their triumphs are greeted with a huge smile.
Sons of Ben: The Movie does capture a story greater than just the hopeful formation of a soccer team. Unfortunately parallels can be drawn to controversial FIFA president Sepp Blatter’s promise of the World Cup rejuvenating entire regions (we only have to look at the $270m parking lot in Manaus to see how wrong he could be), so too do we see how promises are made by high ranking officials in Philadelphia for investment in the run down small town of Chester on the outskirts of the city. Chester, a poverty stricken, crime-ridden ghost town that was once a thriving community back when former resident the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr was there, it is an area crying out for enhancement. Tax-payer money being invested in a football team subsequently leading to a revitalisation of the surrounding area is an all too familiar dubious promise that rarely comes to fruition. There’s little more than anecdotal evidence on display here to suggest that beyond the honourable charity work conducted by the Sons of Ben – and the personal investments that they have made through their donations – that not a huge amount of what was promised has actually been accomplished. What has been created in Chester feels like a small token gesture rather than a platform from which the area can progress.
However, given the short run time and nature of the documentary, admittedly it would be out of key for Sons of Ben: the Movie to veer off into a socio-political commentary. With events being told in retrospect by various talking heads, it has the air of a fascinating story being recounted by mates rather than possessing the gravitas of a heavy, investigative documentary. Nevertheless, it is an entertaining story with plenty of twists and turns along the way. Most of all, it shows that across the pond, there are still die hard football fans out there.
The commitment to turning up at MLS games for other teams in full Sons of Ben colours, occupying a section of the support, chanting ‘Philadelphia’ louder than the home crowd until somebody somewhere with power and influence takes notice, it’s a highly commendable attitude. The perseverance to commit to that level of support, often at personal expense, is hugely impressive. The fact that their goal was to achieve 100 fans within one year of the group’s inception, yet ending up with over 1,500 members for their movement, it goes to show how within all of us, there’s a desire to belong, to feel a part of something bigger than ourselves. All I know is, I know which team I’m picking the next time I boot up a game of FIFA.
You can purchase Sons of Ben: The Movie on DVD directly from their website. They have other outlets such as streaming and digital download planned to happen soon so keep an eye on their Twitter and Facebook pages for updates. In the meantime, check out the trailer below:
Following on from last month’s article, Owen continues his ongoing year in review series by reviewing the films he’s seen in June. As with each of the previous articles in the series, the month will be broken down by week, with a review of one arbitrarily chosen film seen during each period.
by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)
I thought football was supposed to be over for the summer? The World Cup was last year, the Euro’s are next year. The season ended in May and yet somehow I seem to have spent so much time being disappointed with the England U21 side out in the Czech Republic and cheering on the women’s team over in Canada. I even stayed up until 3am watching football! This isn’t meant to happen. At this time of the year, it’s only supposed to take up half an hour of your day. Reading the transfer gossip columns over lunch, guffawing at Twitter rumours about Pogba to Man City, Angel Di Maria to Barcelona, or famous baldy Gervinho to Al Jazira including £85k per week wages, his own private beach and personal helicopter…
Hell, even two of the films I’ve watched in June have been football related. However, I did manage to squeeze both of them into the same day’s viewing so in reality they didn’t take up too much time away from other, proper, serious films. Like the myriad of Chuck Norris movies and micro-budget horrors listed below. Ahem.
Coupling these unexpectedly exciting international football tournaments and hilarious football transfers (Spurs mugging some Chinese team off by selling Paulinho for £10m?!) with new seasons of Hannibal and True Detective starting, plus the last few episodes of Game of Thrones and various other TV shows, I’m as surprised as anybody (probably, er, more than anyone else I guess) that I’ve actually watch so many films last month. Especially as quality seems to have gone completely out of the window in place of quantity, all thanks to a certain documentary. But I’ve tried to pick out a few of the more interesting movies seen lately to talk about below.
Week 1 – Monday 1 – Sunday 7 June 2015
Monday – Kung Fury (2015), San Andreas (2015); Tuesday – [absolutely nothing]; Wednesday – Spy (2015); Thursday – The Redwood Massacre (2015); Friday – Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015), Fist of the North Star (1986); Saturday – COBRA (1986); Sunday – The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988)
Eight films, five of which were released this year, including three cinema trips, plus two films from the year I was born and one classic 80’s comedy (that Steve recently revealed he has somehow never seen before despite it being on TV constantly.) As you can tell, I started off June with a bit of a mixed bag. A neat little indie film, a couple of decent comedies, a long boring blockbuster and a classic Sylvester Stallone 80s crime thriller released in the UK 10 days before I was born. I’m not quite sure what it was I was expecting from Cobra. It’s just one of many blurays on a Stallone box-set I own, it looked kinda cheesy but was fairly short so I stuck it on late one Saturday evening after Barcelona battered Juventus in the Champions League final (yep, more football). I don’t know whether it was due to a combination of the beer in me and sleep deprivation, or what, but man it was so much fun. From the moment Lt. Cobra rocks up in his first appearance with a hugely inappropriate muscle car and ‘AWSOM 50’ license plate, proceeding to take out the crazed gunman inside the supermarket delivering the one liner “you’re a disease, and I’m the cure”, I knew it was going to be a film I’d love. Sly is effortlessly cool as the policeman personally protecting a witness from the New World crime wave. I can’t believe I’d never seen it before but will absolutely be watching it again. And again. And again.
Week 2 – Monday 8 – Sunday 14 June 2015
Monday – Insidious (2010); Tuesday – Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013); Wednesday – Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (2015); Thursday – Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (2015), SAFETY LAST! (1923); Friday – The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959); Saturday – Jurassic World (2015); Sunday – [absolutely nothing]
It was bitterly sad news on Thursday 11 June as the iconic Sir Christopher Lee passed away. I knocked up a quick article highlighting some of my favourite performances of his and remembered I’d never seen The Hound of the Baskervilles before. In short: it was fine, not going to make me re-think my list, but Lee and Cushing together were absolutely brilliant. The best film I watched this week was actually the Electric Boogaloo documentary about Cannon films, but I’ve already written a review of that (and you should go watch it right now!) However, the film I’m actually going to talk about is the classic Harold Lloyd silent comedy, Safety Last!, which I saw at the Ultimate Picture Palace in Oxford with a score performed by Unsilent Movies live in the cinema. It was immensely entertaining; both witnessing this unbelievably talented duo keeping beat with every movement on screen, as well as the movie itself. I’ve confessed many times before that I like watching the odd silent film, but when it comes to silent comedies, I’m a little out of touch. Chaplin is pretty much my only point of reference. I’ve not seen any Laurel & Hardy, for example. The only Buster Keaton film I’ve seen (The General) had just one scene that made me laugh. Nevertheless, I genuinely found that the quality of the gags and humour in Safety Last! matched the joyful experience I was having at the UPP. The plot was simple enough to allow for some fantastical scenarios to occur, as Harold Lloyd moves to the city to get a good enough job to impress his sweetheart back home in the country, pretending to have a better job than he actually has. It’s constant gag after gag after gag, but each one is so well crafted that even now, 92 years on, you can still admire them and, more importantly, laugh at them. I guess you could say that it’s timeless. And yes, that is a shoe-horned in pun on the film’s most famous scene, that doesn’t really work. No, you shut up.
Week 3 – Monday 15 – Sunday 21 June 2015
Monday – Weaverfish (2015), Over The Top (1987); Tuesday – American Ninja (1985); Wednesday – La Grande Illusion (1937); Thursday – Invasion USA (1985); Friday – Dragon Lord (1982); Saturday – Gascoigne (2015), UNITED PASSIONS (2015); Sunday – Mr Holmes (2015)
This is possibly only the fifth time this year that I’ve actually watched at least one film every day for an entire week. Despite that, the film I’m going to talk about is probably the least deserving of any minor publicity my reviews might bring. In fact, have we ever talked about a film on Failed Critics more obsessively than United Passions? I suppose Star Wars gets a mention every so often when Steve and I are in full-on argumentative mode. Kill Keith lingered like a chip van outside of an inner-city school at lunch time, refusing to go away despite repeated attempts to get rid of it. But this God awful piece of FIFA propaganda, this slimy, abhorrent garbage, this offensively obnoxious drivel, this nauseating, badly directed, badly written, badly acted detestable xenophobic filth just won’t leave us alone. I’ve listed the release year for the movie as 2015, but if this ever sees wide distribution in the UK, I will eat Sepp Blatter’s oversized hat off of his humongous head, once he’s finally extracted it from his fetid engorged colon. I’m aware that you have to allow artistic license for these kinds of biopics, so most of the film is based on fictional events (or at least highly exaggerated events), but to portray Sepp Blatter as a virtually infallible hero of world football, protecting it from the corruption all at the same time as being solely responsible for the promotion of the women’s game and saving Africa, it’s a fucking embarrassment. £16m of FIFA’s money was pumped into this smug circle jerk. Sixteen. Millions. Pounds. That’s £16m that has been taken out of the game, money that could be put back into developing football at a grass roots level in countries that would benefit from the investment. Instead all of it is splurted over Blatter’s scrotum-textured face like a FIFA-backed money-bukake. His resignation from FIFA cannot come soon enough, but knowing what a cowardly conniving bald fat twat he is, based on his real-life exploits not just those of Tim Roth’s portrayal in United Passions (Tim-bloody-Roth, what the fuck are you doing for crying out loud) he’ll no doubt renege on his promise, stand for re-election and miraculously win it it. Again. Ugh.
Week 4 – Monday 22 – Sunday 28 June 2015
Monday – Zombeavers (2014); Tuesday – The Terminator (1984); Wednesday – [absolutely nothing]; Thursday – [absolutely nothing]; Friday – Delta Force (1986), Pet Semetary (1989); Saturday – TWIN WARRIORS (AKA TAI-CHI MASTER) (1993); Sunday – Minions (2015), Through The Lens (2015)
Having seen The Terminator for the second time this year (albeit on this occasion on the big screen for the very first time) I thought I’d give you all a break and talk about something else. In the first ever article I wrote for this series back at the end of January, I mentioned how I’d seen a boat-load of kung-fu movies. Well, it seems that itch returned as I sought out a few more in the latter part of June. Partly because after trying to think of my four favourite actresses for a Twitter trend that’s taking over my feed lately, I named one of them as Michelle Yeoh. It then got me thinking how few of her lesser known films I’ve actually sat down to watch during these recent binges. A quick trip to America to search for Yeoh’s films on Netflix revealed a 1993 martial arts action-comedy co-starring Jet Li that was quite highly rated at 4.5 stars. Whilst Yeoh herself is more of a side character who helps out Jet Li’s banished monk-turned-political rebellion activist after his long-time friend’s lust for power drives them apart, I still thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s occasionally funny, has some excellently choreographed combat scenes with both Yeoh and Li involved in some high-wire stunts. It even possesses quite a well crafted morality play throughout the plot. The sides of good and evil, right and wrong, friendship and enemies etc with not all of the important scenes involving fisty-cuffs. It’s balanced well enough to keep you engaged even when there’s no wave after wave of useless goons being pummeled by Jet Li’s furious fists…
Week 5 – Monday 29 – Tuesday 30 June 2015
Monday – The Last Dragon (1985), The Big Sleep (1946); Tuesday – Police Assassins (AKA Yes Madam) (AKA Huang jia shi jie) (1985)
On Monday, I had the evening to myself as my wife was away. I played a bit of Star Fox 64 on my new 2DS (it’s still rock solid) before spending a few hours watching two and just-over-a-half films. Don’t get too excited. I’m not going to name the ‘half a film’; not solely because I didn’t make it to the end before switching it off, but because it was a preview screener for review and don’t think it would be fair to name-and-shame unless I’d seen it all the way to the end. Who knows? That last 20-25 minutes could’ve been spectacular. Alas, of the hour and a bit I did see, it was, without doubt (bearing in mind I also watched United Passions last month) one of the worst, most incoherent, horrendously edited, joyless, completely devoid of any redeeming qualities and downright appalling movies I have ever seen in my entire life. To be fair to it, I personally think that werewolf films are the most difficult Horror sub-genre to tackle. They’re very rarely done right, particularly if you have no money for decent CGI or proper practical special effects. An American Werewolf In London might be one of my favourite films, but An American Werewolf In Paris ain’t. Ginger Snaps, Curse of the Werewolf and Dog Soldiers = good. Ginger Snaps Back, Never Cry Werewolf and Strippers vs Werewolves = bad, bad and ‘just fuck off’ bad. This particular screener for an as-yet unreleased werewolf film was just gibberish. If there was a main character, protagonist or antagonist, I couldn’t tell you. It seems stuck between avoiding replicating PG-rated teen romance dramas, and copying violent, more explicit OTT Japanese animes, whilst trying to construct an appalling superhero origin movie. Random characters would occasionally have exposition read out during mid-scene narration sequences. Think of the line “Jim never has a second cup of coffee at home” from Airplane! and you’re half way there. In some scenes, the actual conversational dialogue was inaudible due to the overbearing dubstep background music, yet explosions and sound effects were ear-bleedingly loud to the point that Michael Bay would’ve been proud. I genuinely rued that wasted hour of my evening. It was so bad I actually began questioning whether or not I even enjoy watching movies any more… before putting on The Big Sleep and realising I do enjoy films, just not this particular one. To make matters worse, I was actually going to talk about The Last Dragon in this review, Mo-Town’s funky kung-fu film about a (seemingly autistic) virgin dubbed Bruce Leroy, with a bordering-on-racist phony Asian accent, despite being from Harlem, who fantasises about achieving a “glow”. Ah well. Maybe I’ll get around to that should I ever rewatch it in the next 6 months. (Spoiler: that’s very, very unlikely.)
And that’s it, I guess! I’ll be back around about the same time next month to round up the stuff that I’ve been watching throughout July. No doubt more kung-fu films, a couple of classic movies and some 80’s cult Cannon films. As ever, if you’ve any comments to make on the films I’ve talked about (or not talked about) above, leave them in the box below or send me a tweet.
An insightful, honest and nostalgic character study into the career and personal demons of one of England’s most naturally gifted footballers to have ever played the game.
by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)
I can pinpoint the exact moment I fell in love with football. I was just nine years old on Saturday 15th June 1996. At around 4.35pm, whilst sat in front of the TV with my family, I witnessed a midfielder with short bleached blonde hair, wearing the number 8 on his shirt, flick the ball over the head of a Scottish defender with his left foot, then control and volley it with his right foot in one movement, putting England 2-0 ahead against their rivals at Wembley.
Before that moment, football was just something I played with friends at school or down the park, or with a tennis ball on our sloped driveway or in the neighbour’s back garden etc. Something to be enjoyed as a fun game, but not something I treated particularly seriously. I’d check the teletext scores so I knew roughly how our local teams were doing, mainly to be able to keep up with school chums about how Wolves or the Baggies would be getting on. Schmeichel, Shearer, Cantona, Fowler, Ginola and Steve Bull (well, if you were from the West Midlands) were the heroes of the playground. I remember a kid at school, a Villa fan, even had ‘SAVO’ shaved into his head in honour of Savo Milošević! They were the players you pretended to be. But Paul Gascoigne? No, he was just a little before our time.
You see, Gazza was the hero of the generation immediately prior to mine. The most talented English player possibly ever who took our country to the brink of a World Cup final in 1990; I’d love to say I remember it, or that it inspired me in some way, but in truth I was just three years old at the time. I was still too young for our disappointing elimination from Euro 92 (which Gazza was injured for anyway) and with England not participating in USA 94, I’m afraid Paul Gascoigne played little to no part in the footballing education of my youth. I only finally watched in full that fateful semi-final match between England and West Germany for the first time ever last year during the build up to the 2014 World Cup.
Anyway, back to that Saturday afternoon in June 1996. This Gazza chap, who I only knew about mostly because of my parents, suddenly in a split second became an instant hero for my generation too. Such is the power and magic of football that it can ingrain itself in your psyche so vehemently that the status of players can be elevated from ‘good’ to ‘legendary’ in a mere moments. I maintain to this day that I’ve never seen a better strike partnership than the one between Shearer and Sherringham after that match against the Netherlands. David Seaman’s heroics during the penalty shootout against Spain convinced me to beg my parents to get me that yellow and purple goalkeeper kit with his name on it. To this day, I still can’t really say Gareth Southgate’s name without getting a little bit upset. Hell, the first CD I ever owned was Sugar Coated Iceberg by Lightning Seeds thanks to Three Lions, which I’ll never tire of listening to. And Paul Gascoigne will forever be the player who scored the most staggeringly beautiful goal that made me love football.
Fortunately, I wasn’t aware of his personal problems back then. His injury record, his loutish behaviour and of course his much documented battle with mental health issues and alcoholism. Even at that point in his career, his private difficulties were anything but. Whilst (much like the opening 500 words of this article) Jane Preston’s documentary, Gascoigne, plays mostly on nostalgia, there is an honesty and integrity that comes from Gazza speaking directly into the camera. Whether recounting his incredibly distressing childhood traumas, or even reeling off hilarious anecdotes about the antics he’d get up to in training, it definitely feels like you’re listening to a sober, wiser man.
Although you might be expecting all 88 minutes of this documentary to consist of apologies, regrets and excuses for the way he treated his close family and friends during his darker moments, it actually plays out more like a character study. Beginning with Gascoigne talking candidly about growing up in the North East, Preston lets Gazza tell in his own words the tragedy that befell his friend on the way to training one afternoon, shaping his outlook on life and even the way he would play football. It’s only the first of many other segments to really examine what he was like beyond the legend, of how he became the person he is today, that’s tinged with a palpable emotion.
Over the course of the film, there are three other talking heads that pop up to add their own take on what Gazza was really like. Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, who worked with one of Paul’s former managers and mentors, Sir Bobby Robson, talks about his relationship to the English midfielder. Former teammate Gary Lineker also shares stories of playing with such a talented and self-destructive player. Even current England captain Wayne Rooney, who was breaking through into the youth team at Everton during Gazza’s short stint there, talks about how influential he was to him. However, it’s only really Lineker who seems to have any worthy input, adding extra dimensions to Gascoigne’s own words, leaving Rooney and Mourinho left sounding like little more than popular names hired to sit in front of the camera and tell nice stories for padding.
You can pretty much approach this film from one of two angles. You’re either watching it for a nostalgic look back at the career of one of our greatest ever footballers, or you’re watching it because it’s about the wife-beating crazy drunk who turned up with a fishing rod, beer and fried chicken to the site of a police stand-off with an armed killer. There’s no getting around the fact that he’s both, but if you’ve purchased Gascoigne with the former in mind, you’re going to be more satisfied than if you’re after the latter.
That said, it does rather curiously switch tact about 65 or 70 minutes in, virtually not discussing football at all post-Euro 96; somewhat disappointingly leaving out tales about his omission from the World Cup 98 squad. Instead, it again shifts back to this character study. He talks about his addiction to alcohol, being sectioned by his own sister and his legal struggle for justice with the News of the World who tapped his phone calls for eleven years, assisting in his paranoid delusions. It’s why the fact that even though the documentary hardly feels any bigger than a 60 minute BBC production, it’s pretty much inconsequential. Every time Gazza is onscreen, you listen, you laugh or you cry a bit too, regardless of production values.
It would be naive of me to suggest that everyone will feel the same way I do. There are certainly people out there who cannot forgive Gazza for some of the things he’s done in his life, and that’s their prerogative to do so. However, Gascoigne certainly sets out mainly to help people like me to understand how the man whose right boot could ignite a passion for the sport he adored in others, yet who ended up the butt of many jokes and became the subject of outright disgust in some people, can still be held in such high regard by a nation of football fans. Who can still be seen as a national treasure in some parts. All the while, asking us many questions that Gazza must ask himself daily. If only he hadn’t recklessly injured himself in the FA Cup final and again whilst playing for Lazio. If only he had mustered the composure to take a penalty in Italia 90. If only he had stretched his leg out just that little bit further at Euro 96. If only he’d signed for Ferguson’s Manchester United instead of Spurs. If only…
Gascoigne had a short theatrical release here in the UK and is now available to rent or buy on DVD or VOD. Owen will also be talking about the documentary on this week’s podcast.
Frequently funny, United We Fall is kept from greatness by a lack of structure, weird editing choices, and an uncertain attitude towards its cast.
by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)
United We Fall is one of those movies where it is very abundantly obvious that somebody came up with an idea one day and then went straight to filming no more than three days after the fact. In fact, that’s pretty much exactly what happened. The film was apparently wholly improvised – which explains the lack of any credited writers – and shot on a shoestring budget over the course of four days. It shows, but much less than one might think. In fact, let me make this abundantly clear, despite anything that I am about to say, I got a very good number of laughs of varying levels out of United We Fall, especially surprising since I had literally no expectations for it whatsoever. It’s just that the film’s various faults are more interesting to talk about than explaining when and why I laughed.
So, with that in mind, our conceit is an alternate reality in which, in 2010, Manchester United were on the verge of winning The Treble (Premier League, FA Cup, Champions League) before cocking it up spectacularly. Four years later, five members of the squad – posh self-obsessed pretty boy Olly Hunter (Jack Donnelly), working-class Manchester-native Danny Keegan (Ryan Pope), disruptive practical joker Stevo Fallis (James Rastall), superhuman and super-earnest German goalkeeper Kurt ‘Kurtzie’ Kurtz (Johnathan Broke), and late-season addition and extremely poor rapper Kwasi ‘Modo’ Amoako (Matthew Avery) – are reunited together by a documentary film crew, why they picked those five specifically is the film’s best joke and I will not even allude to it here, to tell that story in their own words.
In simplest terms, it’s The Class Of ’92 as fed through This Is Spinal Tap but on a miniscule budget. How miniscule? The majority of the film is quite literally just the five players talking to the camera with the same background. This isn’t a problem most of the time, but it becomes one when it comes to describing events on the pitch during those three crucial games. Watching players watching the footage back as they pull faces is the order of the day and, whilst this works for the finale (which, again, I am not spoiling), it feels awkward. The more ridiculous instances make creative sense, as one’s imagination amplifies whatever the cast are describing, but the more mundane ones, like a successful free-kick or a goal save, end up having their impact robbed somewhat. I understand that it’s a budgetary thing that can’t be helped, but it does affect the film to a degree.
Admittedly, though, that doesn’t hurt the film anywhere near as much as its incredibly poor editing does. Despite having a very clear structure for it to follow – backstory on the team members, the three games, a reunion dinner at the end – United We Fall still hops about madly like Rippa Roo from Crash Bandicoot, jumping from segment and topic to segment and topic with little rhyme or reason. Some segments get started and dropped only to be picked up later, some just get dropped completely, some have no reason for existing. There’s a part of me that wants to read it as a clever satire of amateurishly and aimlessly edited real documentaries, but the film is a bit too stuffed full of filler and too sloppy in said editing for me to give it a pass like that.
Speaking of, despite running a lean 89 minutes, United We Fall still barely gets far enough to justify this being a film instead of a one-hour BBC special or the like. So, to pad out the runtime, we get filler segments. Scenes of the players practicing or hanging out or the like make sense, they help deepen their characters even if they are often just really awkwardly shoved into the film at random points, but the film also has frequent cutaways to the Prime Minister (Robert Portal) – whose presence at least crosses into the main story at one point – and “Unofficial FIFA Ambassador” Farhad ‘Frank’ Farougi (Dana Haquoo) who specifically adds… absolutely nothing. Seriously, I have absolutely no idea what he was going on about half the time, his various scenes have that little correlation to the narrative of the film. It’s like he’s here purely because everybody thought they needed to parody corrupt FIFA execs, but had no idea how to integrate him into the film and never really got a handle on his character. I’d forgive such a thing if he were funny, but he’s just really boring so his presence sticks out as pure filler or an excuse to go on holiday for a day.
More damningly, and ultimately the main reason why my recommendation for the film is a soft one at best, United We Fall can’t ever seem to quite decide whether it views its cast with affection or contempt. To put it in simple terms, you know how This Is Spinal Tap always knew exactly how it felt towards its protagonists? Affection but still calling them out on their stupidity and arsehole behaviour? United We Fall keeps flipping between deserved derision and desperate attempts to make us sympathise with them. The latter is when the film really falls down because, well, its cast are terrible people. They’re really entertaining, which is why spending 90 minutes in their presence isn’t an exercise in self-flagellation, but they are terrible people. Casually sexist, racist, homophobic, childish, petty, and a whole other bunch of words that express negative personality traits. You can probably tell why attempting to make them sympathetic is a terrible idea.
The problem isn’t so much their characterisation – they remain terrible people right up to the end with the only redeeming aspect of them being their continued inexplicably strong friendship bond with one another – it’s that the film can’t decide if it’s on their side or not. For a lot of the film’s runtime, the mishaps that ruin their games come from outside factors that have nothing to do with the characters – only the Champions League game commits to how ridiculously crappy the cast are – which gives off the impression that film wants you to genuinely feel sorry when these terrible people fail miserably. Similarly, all of its cast are sexist, racist and homophobic, where the jokes are about how sexist and racist and homophobic they are (read: you’re supposed to laugh at them, instead of with them), but the film sometimes ends up siding with them in service of a quick laugh. As an example, the film’s lone female interviewee, a PR at the club who contributes pretty much nothing to the film, is introduced with a secondary job descriptor of “Slapper”.
Again, that’s ultimately why my recommendation for United We Fall is rather soft instead of nice and secure, or something. I must restate, though, that despite all of its flaws I got a lot of laughs out of the film. The cast are all really damn good improvisers, it turns out, as there was rarely a prolonged stretch of time where I wasn’t laughing to some degree and there has been some genuinely great character work put in here to keep them from just feeling like five interchangeable shallow parodies of the public’s perception of footballers. United We Fall brushes up against genuine greatness enough for me to be disappointed that it’s not better than it is. If it had a few more days of filming, a bit more of a handle on its overall tone and much better editing, then it would undoubtedly have been my favourite surprise of 2014.
That being said, it’s a damn sight better than the majority of comedies I’ve seen so far this year, and those had scripts and actual full-on budgets. So, if you’re starved for comedies, then you should give United We Fall a shot. It is pretty damn funny, enough to be worth the ticket price and enough to make one wish it could have instead been really damn funny.
If there’s one thing that gets Steve more excited than football related news, it’s football related film news. And we’re not referring to the revelation this week that Michael Owen hates all movies.
by Steve Norman (@StevePN86)
One of my favourite, and most under-rated comedies, Mike Bassett: England Manager, has a sequel. Personally I’m worried it will not live up to the original although a title of Mike Bassett: Interim Manager hints that it may still take a witty, satirical look at the beautiful game.
For £5k I could have a speaking part. So come on, put your money where your mouth is and get me on the big screen.
The Viewing Dead
Zombie series The Walking Dead broke all US cable records this weekend with the premier of its fifth season. 17.3 million tuned in to see Rick, Daryl and their group of survivors fight back against their captors at Terminus.
This beat the previous record of 16.1 million set by the shows fourth season premier. The show’s popularity was further enhanced due to the fact that over 12 million illegal downloads were made worldwide within the 24 hours after it aired.
The action packed opener will hopefully set the tone for a good series. Most previous seasons have featured strong beginnings and ends but have sagged in the middle. With the story taking slight deviations from the comic book we may see some fresh and interesting ideas and characters.
Where’s the News?
A lot of the time when researching this weekly article websites pass off new trailers or posters as news.
Is that actually news? Not in my book. It’s advertising.
Why Are Pirates Called Pirates? Because They Javi-ARRGHHH
Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tells No Tales looks set to be the fifth POTC movie and is due for a 2017 release. Former Bond villain Javier Bardem has been linked with playing the protagonist to Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow.
Big news coming out of Marvel this week with the announcement that Robert Downey Jr. will play Iron Man in Captain America 3.
No plot details have been revealed as of yet but the poster/artwork released may suggests, and will no doubt fuel the Twitter rumours that Steve Rodger’s third solo movie will take the Civil War storyline from the comic books to the big screen.
In Civil War Iron Man and Cap go head to head along with many other superheroes, good and bad, and has far reaching implications for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, even more so than Cap 2.
Of course this could all be bluff and double bluff and the film is comprised of completely original material.
Outside of Marvel Michael Keaton has revealed that he would be up for playing Batman again. Hardly a huge revelation, I’m sure Adam West would be as well if you asked him.
DC have also said that Wonder Woman’s origins will be revealed in Batman vs Superman but rather than an Amazonian she will be the daughter of Zeus, according to producer Charles Roven anyway.
Quite why the origin of a popular and well established character needs to be changed is beyond me, and most people and it just gives another reason for people to doubt the movie.
Join us again next week, where we will return to give you another round up of the latest in film news.
Nicky Salapu holds an unenviable record. He conceded more goals than any other goalie in international football history. Back in 2001 his American Samoa side lost 31-0 to Australia in a World Cup qualifier.
He stuck with the national team though as they looked to improve. Ahead of the DVD release of Next Goal Wins this week, a documentary telling the story of the American Samoan national team, Nicky took time out to chat to us.
Nicky Salapu: I felt blessed and shocked at the same time. I kind of felt ‘why us?’ Why have these guys come over to film us? I was shocked when I went to New Caledonia for the South Pacific Games and I saw these guys, I thought ‘are we in trouble?’ It’s a blessing and I thank them for making American Samoa more known around the world and making this film.
SN: It is an interesting story, especially with American Samoa being, at the time, bottom of FIFA’s world rankings and on the end of the heaviest ever defeat in international football to Australia. You played in that game, how did you feel going into that game? How did you approach that match and how did you feel playing against the best team in your region?
NS: I knew it was going to happen. Back then most of the good players didn’t have a passport and FIFA have this rule that says if you don’t have a passport, you can’t play. I was the only experienced player back then because I was playing for the national team. I thought ‘I don’t know how we’re going to face these guys’, especially guys like Mark Viduka, for God’s sake, who played for Leeds United and Mark Schwarzer, you know. How am I meant to face these people. The only reason I’m playing is to make sure my team don’t get beat 50-0. But I knew what was going to happen, I knew the score would be high. I can’t go back and change those things. Whatever happens, happens. It’s embarrassing. It’s a shame.
SN: How did you deal with things after the game, after losing by that scoreline? It seems, from the documentary, that the result affected you a lot.
NS: Yeah, I carried that around with me for a long time, for 13 years. It’s something that I never forget. After the game we walked into the locker room, I bowed down my head and I cried a little bit. I felt very embarrassed and like I don’t want to play soccer anymore. But I also felt that I am a soccer player and I’m not the kind of guy to just give up on it. I felt like I wanted to put my team and my country in a different perspective and get them out of the embarrassment.
SN: Thomas Rongen had experience of playing at Ajax and in the USA with the likes of George Best and Johan Cruyff and had coached the USA youth sides, what did he bring to the American Samoa set up?
NS: The experience and knowledge we never had before. The professionalism we never had before. He brought and installed a commitment that some of the kids don’t have. He said that if you don’t commit yourself fully to the team, we will cut you off, you know. This made a lot of people think ‘oh, this guy is serious’. Thomas was more professional and had a lot of passion for soccer. We have to thank him for bringing his experience and the way he motivated a lot of the kids and make them want to keep playing. His knowledge, experience and professionalism helped us a lot.
SN: At the time Thomas came in as coach, you were living in America. How did he convince you to return to the national team?
NS: [Laughs] good question. He asked me if I wanted to remove the embarrassment of that game, the 31-0 to Australia. He said this was a good moment, that he was a professional coach, that we had good players and some from here in the States [Rongen called up two players based in the USA with American Samoan heritage]. He kept telling me all these things. I was working hard for my family, they really needed me. I didn’t feel like going. When he told me all these things – and telling me he wanted to put the embarrassment of the 31-0 to the side and become winners – he said that this was the best squad with the best players and the best coach. I was like, ‘ok, this will be the best moment to go back and come out of the embarrassment.’ I’m glad he called me and thankful to him for letting me come back to play.
SN: Under Thomas, the team achieved its first ever victory, against Tonga, how did that feel? Especially considering your journey with the team from the loss to Australia to the first ever win.
NS: Oh, it felt incredible. Amazing. I thought I was dreaming. Is this happening? Did we win a game? At the time I felt like we were never going to win but I believed in my team, and the management and the support from our country that came over to support us. I believed we had something and that we would accomplish something. It felt exciting. It was the best thing that ever happened to me in football. I even forgot that the 31-0 ever existed. It was a joyful moment. I have the movie at home. I watched it last night with my son and my wife and every time I see that part where we won the game I still cry no matter what. I still cry. It means a lot to me and I cannot thank enough Thomas, the coaches and my team-mates for helping that happen.
SN: One of the most uplifting and engaging things about the film was the sense of togetherness between the squad and players and inclusion of the people who may not have come from American Samoa but were of American Samoan descent, or and the people from different backgrounds on the island. Did this help the team?
NS: It helped us a lot. With the culture and religion of the island it makes us come together as a team as we have a respectful way of living. It makes us respect other players and our management. We always show respect everywhere we go. Down in the islands it’s like almost every family is related and that is why we call each other brothers and sisters because we are close and it helps us a lot. Being spiritual was the best thing for our team. Lots of people say that it has nothing to do with God but if you believe in God and believe in football, things happen.
SN: Are you still involved with the team?
NS: Yeah, I’m still connected with Larry [one of the coaches] and I practice with his youth soccer team and I still maintain myself because most of the people say they want me to come back and play. I play six times a week here in Seattle, although I don’t actually play that much in goal. I’m actually pretty decent on the field, in midfield. I sometimes play sweeper as I am taller than most of the opponents. I play goalkeeper when it’s a hard game to make sure we secure our rank as I play in a tough level. At the moment we are top of the league and every time we play a top team I go in goal.
SN: What next for American Samoa?
NS: In June we will start training and finding some teams to play against. We will have a camp in Hawaii and the first match in July with the World Cup Qualifiers starting in November.
SN: What did you think of the movie, Next Goal Wins?
NS: What I say at the end of the movie is true; I still want to go back and play against Australia. I really want to. If it doesn’t happen to me, my son loves football and he always tells me he wants to play Australia if I don’t. I hope the movie motivates the kids to play football. I hope the defeat to Samoa doesn’t put them off and they get the motivation to play football. I love football, it’s my world. I can’t live without it.
SN: You’re not the only one.
NS: My wife gets mad at me and says when will you stop playing football? And I say ‘never, I will surely play until I die’. My son keeps telling me he will one day play for the American Samoa national team. Hopefully. I want to thank Steve, Mike and Christian for coming down to make this movie.
Next Goal Wins is out on DVD now. You can find out more information about this extraordinary documentary on their website and find all of our coverage (including interviews, podcasts and reviews) here.
In conjunction with our sister site, Born Offside, we have been given 3 copies of Next Goal Wins on DVD to give away.
The documentary tells the story of the American Samoan national team, the victims of the heaviest ever defeat in international football, 31-0 to Australia, and at one point the worst national team in the game, as they look to achieve their first ever win.
To enter just tweet @FailedCritics the answer to the following question:
In what position are American Samoa in the current FIFA World Rankings?
with the hashtag #NextGoalWins
The competition will close at 11pm on Tuesday the 2nd of September when the winners will be chosen at random.
Next Goal Wins is out on DVD to buy from Monday the 1st September.
Keep your eye on Failed Critics for an interview with the American Samoa goalkeeper Nicky Salapu. In the meantime, you can read our interview with the film’s director Steve Jamison, listen to our podcast review of Next Goal Wins, or read the written interview from back in May.
Muddled, poorly paced, and saddled with an atrocious English dub, The Unbeatables is a sloppy, bargain-bin effort.
by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)
This is a tricky one to review, folks. See, what the ads have been hiding is the fact that The Unbeatables (incidentally, my spell-checker would like the head of whoever came up with and signed off on that name) is actually a foreign film. Argentinian, to be exact, by the name of Futbolín (in Spain) or Metegol (in Latin America), and the version that’s been released in UK cinemas this weekend is a UK-specific dub. This means that it makes it harder for me to confidently assign blame for this movie. How much of it is the fault of the original film itself? How much is the fault of the script used for the dub? Can I really call the animation cheap-looking when the film is actually the most expensive Argentinian film ever made? Stuff like that.
I mean, make no mistake, this is a bad film and I am still confident enough in my reasons for why it is so bad that I am going to spend the next 10-or-so paragraphs bashing it relentlessly, but it shall be done with a permanent tinge of regret. Of uncertainty, maybe a bit of guilt. Much like Khumba: A Zebra’s Tale from earlier in the year, The Unbeatables is at least trying which makes it failing and my writing of this resultant negative review an act that causes me a tiny bit of sadness. It’s not The Nut Job, a film that truly deserves the bile that I spewed its way for it not once trying, is what I’m getting at. The Unbeatables (OK, seriously, that name is terrible and I can’t believe it got through an entire company of people) is clearly trying… one of its biggest problems, though, is that it’s never clear as to what exactly it’s trying to be, besides a movie.
Our plot concerns Amadeo (Rupert Grint), a boy who lives in a tiny village, nurses a crush on Laura (Eve Ponsbury), and whose only special talent in life is that he is a whiz at table football. One day, he beats the town bully at a game which causes the bully, who is skilled at actual football, to fly into a fit and swear vengeance upon the town because… he’s a jerk, I guess? Anyways, years pass, Laura has become friends with Amadeo (but not his girlfriend like I thought she was for a good hour and ten of the film’s run-time) whose standing in life hasn’t really changed, he still spends his evenings hanging out in the bar playing foosball and reliving the night he beat the bully. Then the bully returns, now a world-famous footballer rechristened Flash (Anthony Head… that’s not a joke, they really did cast Anthony Head in this role), buys the deed to the village from the mayor and plans to tear it down because… he’s a jerk, I guess? He takes Amadeo’s foosball table from him (he desperately wants the players on it for really, really stupid reasons), “kidnaps” Laura, and leaves the village ready for destruction. But just as Amadeo is on the edge of despair, his foosball players reveal themselves to be living creatures and he sets off to rescue Laura, the other foosball players and the village from Flash.
So, here’s the thing, this film seems permanently confused about what it wants to be. From that description, one gets the feeling that it’s supposed to be about Amadeo getting over that one night, moving on with his life and leaving his obsession behind. It’s an idea the film itself seems to believe in to begin with, as well, the foosball players are all very selfish, self-centred twits who operate on a sexist “bros-before-hos” mantra with Amadeo, like this is all set-up for both their character developments and Amadeo realising that he should move on with his life. Except nothing ever comes of that. It’s not even one of those things where it’s clearly not building to anything, I get the feeling that this stuff was actually planned but then the ending of the arc was literally just cut out at some point in a later draft and nobody went back and rewrote the rest of the film to remove its groundwork. So there’s all this build-up that just stops.
And as for the foosball guys… you honestly could just cut them from the film and nothing would be different. Despite being the central gimmick for the film, they’re actually rather pointless in its overall picture. They only interact with each other and Amadeo, they don’t actually play in the final game (Amadeo recruits some of the village people for that), and I thought they might have been setting up a twist where it turned out he just imagined them being alive as a way for him to work up the confidence to be the hero or something but nope. The end of the film rolls around and no such twist occurs. I think I’d actually prefer that scenario, in all honesty, as their involvement in the final game is negligible at best and I feel that explaining away their bigger touches in it as accidents or what have you would have been much better for its moral about the power of football. Besides, it’s not like we’d end up losing some world-class characters or anything, the extent of their characterisations are the funny voice that they’re given and the borderline racist or just plain stereotypes they’re saddled with.
These are just two of the ways in which the film is weirdly muddled and uncertain (I haven’t even mentioned Laura; prior to the final game, there’s a recruitment montage where they come up a player short and it seems like they’re going to put Laura in, but then they just get a random old woman with a moustache). It all reeks of a script and story-structure that’s several drafts away from being complete, or one that changed halfway through, or one that mistakenly believed that all animated films need to be aimed at kids in some way; especially odd seeing as co-writer and director Juan José Campanella’s last film was the Academy Award-winning The Secret In My Eyes. As a narrative, it’s all over the place. Tonally, it’s all over the place; Flash, in particular, should be a funny smarmy villain who’s only really effective on the pitch, and he kind of is, but then he attempts to sexually assault Laura (you know, good clean family fun) before going right back to being simpering, petty and ineffectual whenever a football isn’t involved. Pacing is a mess, too, this is a film that lasts over 100 minutes yet doesn’t actually get to the really obvious point for a full hour. In place of narrative momentum, we get extended sequences devoted to the foosball players who, as previously established, are completely irrelevant in the grand scheme of things and who aren’t funny enough to make up for that fact. Actually, let me correct that, they’re not funny period.
Animation-wise… I feel bad saying this, again I really do because a lot of money was sunk into this thing relative to the country, but this one looks bad. It gets the detail of the foosball players excellently, scuff marks and worn colours and just general decay are very well displayed, but everything else is poor. Character designs are both distinctive (primarily lanky, angular and honestly not-all-that pretty) and derivative (which is what happens when you come up with about three or four human designs and practically palette-swap the rest), animation is frequently jerky which would work great for the foosball players except that they instead move too smoothly, motion-blur is excessively deployed to hide corner cutting in the animation, the size and proportion of various objects and characters in relation to one another are rarely consistent, lighting and shadows aren’t convincing (bits of characters that are supposed to be shaded are frequently just plain black), shot geography often makes no sense… I know that everyone was clearly trying their best, but it pains me to say that their best simply wasn’t good enough. This is not a good-looking movie.
The dub, meanwhile, is one of the worst I have come across. Re-written and translated lines often don’t actually match mouth movements, there are many, many instances where there will be great pauses in the dialogue but the mouth will keep moving or the voice actor will rush to deliver the rest of the line. Localisation, what little there is, often makes reference to English football teams despite the film clearly taking place in an Argentinian village. And as for the performances? Hoo, boy. Flat, lifeless, wildly mis-delivered, poorly directed, occasionally bordering on unlistenable… The best performance, otherwise known as the only decent one, is Jonathan Pearce who plays an off-screen commentator in the final game and, despite this being a likely low-paying dub job for a film that nobody will remember in this country after this opening weekend, acts like he’s commentating on a real football match. It’s full of life, energy, passion, the work of a man either desperately trying to will some of this film to work or a man who just cannot half-ass a job that requires him speaking into a microphone. No exaggeration: everyone else is terrible, he is great.
The Unbeatables comes alive once and that’s for the final game. It contains the one genuinely funny gag in the entire run-time, its one successful play for heart and is a decent love-letter to football. It’s extremely generic, including its outcome which, despite attempting a mild subversion, will surprise no-one who has seen their share of underdog stories, but it does eventually work. For those keeping track, that’s a total of five minutes out of 100-odd where the film becomes watchable or engaging. The rest of the time, it is endlessly dull above all else. I can’t even see kids finding it particularly funny or entertaining, unless they’re the kind that like funny voices and borderline racist stereotypes (if anyone else was in the screen, I’d tell you what they thought, but there wasn’t anyone else). A lot of effort has been put into The Unbeatables, enough to make me feel like I’m kicking a puppy to death as I type out each one of these words, but it can’t disguise the fact that, in a year that has seen no shortage of dreadful animated films, this is a film that lands right near the bottom of the year’s animated output. It’s so bad that I can practically guarantee that even seeing it in its native language, where I imagine its cast aren’t so clearly phoning it in, would have me saying the exact same things.
There are a million better animated films on the market, folks, and they all deserve your time more than The Unbeatables does.
Steve, James, and Owen are joined by Born Offside’s (and regular Glasgow Film Festival podcast contributor) Dave McFarlane to discuss the uneasy relationship between film and football, and in Triple Bill we choose our favourite football stories that we want to see made into films.
Next week sees us return to normal with reviews of 3 Days to Kill and Jersey Boys.
Following his review of the exciting new documentary on the American Samoa national football team, Next Goal Wins, Steve got chatting to one of the co-directors, Steve Jamison:
Steve Jamison: No problem, thank you for your interest and your support of the movie. I’m very happy to talk about it, it’s been an amazing experience.
SN: What made you want to make a documentary about the American Samoan national team?
SJ: It’s a really good question. Our inspiration really came from two sources. First of all me and my co-director Mike (Brett) have been working in the commercial space for a few years now and for four or five years have made a lot of sports related brand films for some big sports brands and we were looking for a purer form of story I suppose.
We had been making these short brand films of like a minute, a couple of minutes or half a minute and we really wanted to dig a little deeper and tell more engaging, character driven story. What we really wanted to do was capture the purest form of the game that we love.
Mike and I are long time friends and actually met playing football back in university so we really wanted to capture the purest form of this sport that brought him and me together.
We met with Kristian Brodie who works for Agile Films and he said how about American Samoa? They were defeated 31-0 in 2001 by Australia and he was pretty sure at the time they were bottom of FIFA’s world rankings.
Of course Mike and I were aware of the 31-0 defeat, it is something that has gone down in football folklore so it seemed like a great place to start if you wanted to explore the purest form of football. The best place to start would be with a team that still come out for the second half if they are 15 or 16-0 down.
I think, at the time we started filming with them, their best result was a 4-0 defeat, which was a kind of benchmark for them.
So that was our inspiration, football is an amazing game with the power to bring people together. I know that sounds very cliché but it’s true. This film has led me to meet so many people and it all stems from this sport.
So out we went to American Samoa to see if we could find out what kept this team playing in the face of almost certain defeat.
SN: How difficult was it to get the ball rolling and get out to American Samoa? And how helpful were their football association? I read that previously that they were wary of people giving them coverage because they thought people were coming to poke fun of the fact they lost 31-0 and were bottom of the world rankings.
SJ: You’re absolutely right, in the first few minutes of the film we have a montage of all the newspaper headlines that followed that famous defeat. Some of the headlines are really quite cruel and there was a lot written in 2001 that was mickey taking.
The football association of American Samoa had endured many an enquiry from many a film-maker or journalist who were quite keen to come and tell a funny story. So you’re right. It was quite difficult. In fact just to get in touch with them is quite difficult because the time difference is about 13 hours and they’re not big users of email so to get through to them on their landline took a few weeks.
Once we were in contact it took a few weeks to earn their trust and convincing them we weren’t interested in telling the story that had been told before and we weren’t interested in ridiculing them for past defeats or the negative headlines and in fact we wanted to celebrate the fact that these guys should be held as example of true sporting heroes because they go out there and play for the love of the game.
They are not playing for a win or a big money contract or sponsorship, they’re just playing for the love of it.
I think once we convinced them of that fact they were happy for us to head out there and start filming with them. Then we had to work out how to get 300 kilos of filming equipment 10,000 miles to the middle of the Pacific, which was a 52 hour trip door to door.
The funny thing is I don’t think they believed that we would actually show up because they agreed to pick us up from the airport but they never showed up. I think they thought we said we would come but never actually would. When we did start filming with them we put out cameras down and went and had a kick a bout. As I said before football has this power to bring people together. It’s such a cliché to say it’s a universal language but it genuinely is.
SN: It’s an interesting contrast with the World Cup coming up where we will see the best of the best in football. This documentary is coming out just prior to that. With respect to American Samoa and the team this is very much the opposite end of football. It’s quite interesting to see what teams go through at the other end of the game.
SJ: Exactly. First things first, in every World Cup I can remember, and I suppose the first one I can remember was in 1986, my favourite moments were never when the star player has done something incredible. It has always been when a small nation or developing country has staged an upset and I think and there is something about that sport that gets people drawn in by that.
Whether it’s Roger Milla for Cameroon in 1990 or four years ago in South Africa when South Africa took the lead in the opening fixture they’re really the things that captivate an international audience. It’s the little guys, the underdog story, that people like to get behind and I think there’s a little bit of that in our documentary.
When we went out there to start filming it was not long after the last World Cup. The English game had suffered a few little dents with the behaviour of some players, clubs or managers catching the headlines for all the wrong reasons. I don’t need to go into those specific cases now but the sport had been a little bit dented, or its reputation had, and that frustrated us. I don’t want to make it sound more grand than it was but we kind of wanted to rescue the reputation of soccer in our own minds and prove that these few isolated incidents weren’t representative of the sport as a whole.
That’s why we went to American Samoa, football is so pure there you can’t help but fall back in love with the game.
SN: At the start of the documentary Thomas Rongen, the Dutch coach, was not involved with the team. Did you know of his impending arrival before you started filming?
SJ: Absolutely not, we weren’t aware of it at all. When we first went out there we went to film with the local teams and local coaches and we filmed there for almost six weeks and then we came back to the UK.
It was only then after the poor initial results in the South Pacific Games that the CEO decided to ask the US Soccer Federation for some help but we had no idea if it would happen and we were quite worried that Thomas’s arrival might mean the emphasis of this film might shift.
He came in from the MLS, the highest level of soccer in the United States and he might actually turn round and say we can’t film his training sessions because they need to concentrate or they need less distractions.
Far from thinking that this guy might be the making of our film, we were worried that he might break our film but in the end it very much played into our favour in terms of the overall narrative because Thomas arrived and was another amazing character to add to the story and he goes on an amazing journey.
I think Thomas, by his own admission, arrived there and had some preconceived ideas and working with the guys on the island really softened his approach. He builds this relationship with the team where they kind of soften him up but he really toughens them up.
It was quite an amazing thing to witness. Some of those scenes, to witness first hand from behind the camera was pretty amazing and I don’t think I’ll experience anything like that again.
SN: Before Thomas arrived the players all seemed really committed and really dedicated but lacking professionalism which is what he appeared to bring to the team.
SJ: When Thomas arrived he took one look at the squad and said ‘I can’t make you technically any better.’ Tactically his work was cut out because he didn’t have long to make any big changes to the way that the team is organised. He tried to make them a little more organised but a lot fitter. In three weeks he worked them really hard and improved their fitness.
SN: How much did the 31-0 loss to Australia affect not just the players but the country and its mentality towards football? Nicky (the goalkeeper from the 31-0 loss) seemed really affected by the result.
SJ: Nicky has been carrying that defeat around with him, and the scars from that defeat, for over 10 years. It really did play on his mind. I mean in the film Thomas jokes that Nicky plays on his XBOX against Australia, leaves the Australia controller on the sofa and just plays against the computer to try and exorcise himself of those demons.
That was absolutely true. Nicky said exactly the same thing to us. He really suffered from that defeat and the same was true on the island. There weren’t many players left from that day. Ace, the coach was around on that day and Larry was involved as well but the rest of the team didn’t really wear the scars of that day.
American Samoa has trouble getting a competitive team on the field. For a start you can’t naturalise to America Samoa because they have US passports. They have an immigrant population with talented footballers, either from Samoa, or Fiji or even some Koreans who have all ended up there because of the fishing industry but none can naturalise and play for the national team.
Also soccer is perhaps the fifth sport on the island. It comes way after American Football, rugby, basketball, baseball and even a form of cricket they play so soccer is not the most popular sport.
Then when you reach 18 or 19 and graduate from high school there aren’t many jobs there so they join the US military or try to find further education or employment in the US. So if you look at the age group of 18-25, the age group most other national teams would be made up of, there really is slim pickings.
I think what their FA is trying to do now, and I’d love to think the film could help with this, is try to get football played at a grassroots level from around 5 years old and make it a more popular sport there and hopefully that will encourage some of the guys leaving the island to come back and represent their country and all take pride in it.
When you’re bottom of FIFA’s world rankings it’s hard to get people to come and engage with the sport so hopefully that won’t be the case in the future.
SN: Finally, have you planned in the future to go back and revisit the team and some of the people from the film?
SJ: Yea, 100%. Mike and I, and Kristian, and everyone involved, weren’t just in this for just one film. We’re really in it for the long haul and we’d love to find ways we can help develop soccer on the island.
Soon after the upcoming World Cup American Samoa have to start qualifying for the next one (Russia 2018). Not far into 2015 they begin their qualification process. Hopefully by then people will be more aware of the team and we can find ways of supporting and developing the game on the island.
We’d like to make American Samoa everyone’s second favourite team. The response here in America to the film was electrifying and if we can direct some of that positive energy towards the next qualification campaign then who knows, maybe American Samoa can go beyond that first stage of qualification.
NEXT GOAL WINS is out on 7 May (nationwide previews) and 9 May (select cinemas)
American Samoa are an unlikely team to be etched in football folklore. The small Pacific island nation are in the record books with the heaviest defeat in international football, a 31-0 defeat to Australia in a qualifying match for the 2002 World Cup back in 2001.
The result had a number of effects on football. It led to preliminary rounds in Oceanic World Cup qualifying to reduce the chance of other embarrassing and crushing results and it kick started Australia’s campaign to move into the Asian Football Confederation as they looked to become more competitive. It also turned the American Samoan team into the butt of many joke and the answer to many a football quiz question.
Next Goal Wins, directed by Steve Jamison and Mike Brett, starts just prior to qualification for this summer’s 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Most telling about the quality and standard of a team who were, at the time, ranked bottom of FIFA’s world rankings, were heavy defeats, to fellow minnows such as Vanuatu and Fiji.
The players try hard, and the coaches are certainly encouraging, but there is a lack of professionalism and nous among the camp which limits this team. The American Samoan FA use their connections with the United States to bring in a professional football coach for the opening round of qualifiers where the team will face Tonga, the Cook Islands and Samoa.
That man was Thomas Rongen, a graduate of the Ajax academy, one of the most renowned in football, and a veteran of American soccer, having played with the likes of George Best and Johann Cruyff as well as coaching DC United and the US under 20 national team.
His impact on the team was massive. After struggling initially with a negative mentality he had to change the way the team thought as well as improve them physically and tactically. Rongen, whose wife accompanied him in this new venture, threw himself in, took on the challenge head on and endeared himself to the team.
He is just one of many characters in this documentary that make it so entertaining, funny and heart-warming. Another is goalkeeper Nicky Salapu. He was the ‘keeper in the 31-0 defeat to Australia and for many defeats after. He seems a glutton for punishment and keeps coming back for more. The heavy defeat seems to have affected him deeply and really left its mark.
Perhaps the most important person in Next Goal Wins, especially from a football perspective, is Jaiyah. She is the first transgender player to play in a FIFA sanctioned match. In American Samoa transgendered people are accepted, certainly more than they are in other parts of the world, and there is even a name in American Samoa for this ‘third gender’ – ‘Fa’afafine’.
Jaiyah is accepted as one of the team and is perhaps one of the most important in the team. She is constantly positive and Thomas recognises her importance to the mentality of the squad, however on the pitch she really shines as well.
It is refreshing to see how she is accepted by a team full of men, especially when you consider the problems surrounding gay footballers, or the lack of those who are out, in football at the highest professional level.
Homosexuality and transgenderism are of course two completely different things but the inclusion of somebody ‘different’ is great to see when the likes of Tomas Hitzlesperger feel they have to wait until they retire before they can come out. Saying much more would ruin the film for people, although you could search online and find out the team’s results under Rongen and in the time since he left.
Next Goal Wins transcends football and is a story about togetherness, ambition, and triumph over the odds and against adversity. While Next Goal Wins will find fans among the football community it has something for everyone and will serve a broader audience than just football supporters. And with a World Cup fast approaching that will feature the world’s best, and best paid players, this fantastic documentary shows what football is, or at least should, really be about.
Steve Norman is not only the host of the Failed Critics podcasts – he writes for the excellent football site Born Offside, and hosts their podcast as well (which he’s also persuaded our editor James diamond to contribute to). In his first piece for Failed Critics he examines the difficult relationship that football and cinema have had over the last century.
Football and cinema have been intertwined since the early part of the twentieth century when both were rising in popularity. With the Beautiful Game becoming ingrained in society, especially now in the United States with David Beckham hanging out with Hollywood’s finest, it’s no wonder it continues to find its way onto the silver screen.
Obviously more prevalent in British films than American, football can either be central to the plot, referenced in the background, or be some part of a characters persona.
The first film to really have football central to the plot was the 1939 Arsenal Stadium Mystery. Arsenal are set to play against a fictional side, the Trojans, and one of the Trojan’s players dies during the match having been poisoned. [Arsene Wenger claims not to have seen the incident – Ed.]
Shot at Highbury the film features many Arsenal players and their manager George Allison who has a speaking part. Match footage came from a league game with Brentford who actually wore a special ‘Trojans’ kit for the filming.
Many, when asked to think of a film about football will, almost by default, go for Escape to Victory starring Hollywood heavyweights Sylvester Stallone and Michael Caine and football heavyweights Bobby Moore, Pele and the Ipswich Town team of the time.
The film may be cheesy at times but is thoroughly enjoyable even with ‘Rocky’ being the least convincing goalie of all time. It has everything you would want from both a football film and a POW escape movie.
Another Michael Caine movie featured football as a plot device. In the Italian Job the heist takes place on the day of a game between Italy and England which helps add to the traffic chaos needed to pull off the robbery. Some of the gang escape the city disguised as football fans.
Mike Bassett: England Manager is another football film that should consider itself a triumph. A comedy starring Ricky Tomlinson the film is funny throughout, poking fun at football culture and ripping on the infamous Graham Taylor documentary ‘An Impossible Job’ (which spawned the catchphrases “Do I not like that?”, and “Can we not knock it?”) perfectly. Part of its success is down to it not being lowest common denominator stuff which often happens when football and comedy collide.
Football and Hollywood then met spectacularly, or at least it was meant to be spectacularly, for the GOAL! Trilogy. Santiago Munez is a young Mexican playing local football in America, he is seen by an ex Newcastle scout and given the chance of a lifetime, to play for The Magpies (apparently Newcastle were picked as they were both recognized and well liked outside of Sunderland).
The obvious plot hole is that this Mexican illegal immigrant to the United States who hasn’t received a call up at any level for either nation is granted a work permit to play in England.
The trilogy continues in Goal!: Living the Dream where Munez earns a move to Real Madrid and features all the stars of the team of the time.
To give the films credit they are watchable and the match/training footage does involve the actual players from the teams involved. Although not as good as Sky One’s Dream Team it is often believable.
The final film of the trilogy flopped though. It was meant to be big. Munez would be playing in the World Cup, maybe for Mexico, maybe for England as he’d married an English girl and somehow claimed citizenship, or for Spain through ancestry or some other contrived plot device.
However this big budget end to the trilogy never materialized and it ended up being a direct to DVD effort hardly featuring any of the favourites from the first two and generally disappointing.
Kes has one of the most iconic football scenes from film with the P.E. teacher (played by actor and professional wrestler Brian Glover) pretending to be Bobby Charlton and generally being a prat and trying to show up the children in his class. Gregory’s Girl involves a socially awkward teenager, his football team and…and…a girl joining the team.
There are plenty of terrible efforts as well – with a ‘soccer’ based remake of The Longest Yard titled Mean Machine starring Vinny Jones, and There’s Only One Jimmy Grimble being among the worst culprits. When Saturday Comes, starring Sean Bean as a factory worker who gets signed by Sheffield United, isn’t much better either.
Fever Pitch fared somewhat better. The film starting Colin Firth and Arsenal Football Club gets a credible 6.5 on IMDB and is a decent enough film, while Bend it Like Beckham received positive reviews globally and helped launch the career of Keira Knightly. Telling the story of a young girl who wants to play football but is deterred from it by her parents, it holds the honour of being the first Western-made film to be broadcast on North Korean TV.
Film-makers seem to find it hard to get football right. When they do the results can be very good, as seen in Escape to Victory and Mike Bassett: England Manager but more often than not they get it wrong and we end up with Green Street, all unconvincing Cockney accents and a hobbit as a hooligan.