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Best in Show
Adam Duerson
May 14, 2007
First-rate sports films surfaced at the Tribeca Festival
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May 14, 2007

Best In Show

First-rate sports films surfaced at the Tribeca Festival

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SOME OF the best sports movies ever made—including Hoop Dreams and Chariots of Fire—have been indie films, so it was natural for one of the nation's premier festivals to add a jock element. The first Tribeca/ ESPN Sports Film Festival wrapped last week after 14 movies were screened in New York City. Most are still looking for a distribution deal—and several showed they are worthy of one.

Sons of Sakhnin United
In 2004 the mostly Arab B'Nei Sakhnin soccer team won Israel's State Cup and, with it, the right to go on to the UEFA Cup. The victory landed Sakhnin's top player on the Israeli national team, and Arabs and Jews cheered for the team side-by-side. Sons, a documentary, picks up the story the following season, but director Christopher Browne saw anything but another feel-good tale. New coach Eyal Lachman insisted on playing Arabs instead of high-priced new foreign players. ("The Arabic people in this country feel that this team is their flag," he said.) The fans got restless and resorted to racist hooliganism. Sons is a reminder that while sports can bring people together, it can also drive them apart. [4 stars] (of four)

The Hammer
The man best known as Jimmy Kimmel's sidekick doesn't exactly look like a boxer. But then again, neither did Buster Douglas. What Adam Carolla (above) lacks in brawn, he makes up for with a snarky wit. He plays boxing instructor Jerry Ferro, who is nicknamed the Hammer despite his failure to succeed as both a fighter and a carpenter. After turning 40, Ferro suddenly discovers he has a thunderous left hand, sending him on an improbable path to the Olympic trials. According to Carolla, who once taught boxing in L.A., The Hammer is largely autobiographical. But don't worry: Unlike much of Carolla's career to date, The Hammer is actually quite funny. [3 stars]

The Final Season
The script is littered with clich�s and platitudes, often spoken across a solitary Iowa ball field at twilight: "We grow ballplayers here like corn"; "Baseball is the only game on Earth where the object is to get home"; "You'll never become a .300 hitter unless you take the bat off your shoulder." But David Mickey Evans's film, based on a true story, is bolstered by the performances of Powers Boothe (above, left) and Rudy himself, Sean Astin (above, right). Boothe plays the coach of Norway High, a tiny Iowa powerhouse that is to be merged with a larger school 20 miles away, and Astin is his successor. The Tigers' run at one last state title is an endearing tale of small ball and small town values. Former Orioles ace Mike Boddicker lent an arm: The real-life Norway alum had an off-camera role providing throws for many of the baseball scenes. [3 stars]

The first two thirds of Ch�vez is a typical biographical documentary of Mexican boxer Julio C�sar Ch�vez, who was once considered the best pound-for-pound fighter around. All of the expected elements are there: impoverished beginnings, heart like a champion, left hook like a wrecking ball, etc. But Diego Luna's film becomes something extraordinary in its poignant last 20 minutes, which could have been called Requiem for a Light Welterweight. Cameras followed Ch�vez as he prepared for his 116th and final fight, against journeyman Grover Wiley in 2005. Suffering from chronic shoulder pains and having trouble sleeping, Ch�vez struggles to come to terms with the widening chinks in his armor and the knowledge that young fighters he would have dispatched easily in his youth are now out to make a name by beating him. "Revenge is cruel," he says before that last fight—fitting for what can be, as the film shows, a cruel sport. [2� stars]

Playing Donkey Kong is not the most traditional of sports, but it's hard not to admire the passion Billy Mitchell and Steve Wiebe have for the arcade classic. It's also a little hard not to laugh at them, but that's part of what makes The King of Kong so watchable. As Seth Gordon's documentary opens, Mitchell (above), a long-locked Florida restaurant owner, is the world-record holder; Wiebe is the Washington state school teacher who's hot on his heels. Wiebe breaks the record twice—once as his toddler, who's in dire need of a bottom wiping, implores him, "No more Donkey Kong!"—then suffers a heartbreaking setback a short while later when he is shown a videotape of Mitchell setting a new mark. (The current record is 1,049,100, in case you're wondering.) A fellow gaming fanatic sums it up best: "There's the Yankees--Red Sox, Maris-Mantle, Heckle and Jeckle, and now Billy and Steve." [3� stars]

The Grand
Almost everyone in the partly improvised (and largely hilarious) poker comedy The Grand has been on Bravo's Celebrity Poker Showdown at some point—and their knowledge of the game helps the actors come up with off-the-cuff riffs that are trenchant as well as funny. The cast includes Chris Parnell, Dennis Farina and David Cross, but the best is Woody Harrelson (above, right, with Farina), who plays a druggie who's snorted, smoked or gambled away almost everything he owns, including his late grandfather's casino. [4 stars]

The Power of the Game
Director Michael Apted (Gorillas in the Mist) delivers a beautifully shot film that travels to five continents to explore the nature of soccer fever. Occasionally the movie takes itself too seriously, but it's hard not to feel that the game can't make a difference when Apted's cameras go to South Africa (which will host the 2010 World Cup), where Winnie Mandela calls the beautiful game a chance "to restore the pride of a youth that lost their youthfulness." [3 stars]

The First Saturday in May
Filmmakers John and Brad Hennegan caught a break when they chose Barbaro (above) as one of the six horses they'd follow on the road to the 2006 Kentucky Derby. But Saturday is about more than the world's most popular horse. The Hennegans—whose father was a race official at Churchill Downs for 37 years—deliver an engrossing look at the often grueling life of a trainer. [3 stars]