players (anthony harvey, 1979)

Quentin Tarantino thinks Players is unjustly maligned. It's pretty hard to find anyone else with something nice to say about the film, so let's give Quentin his say: "As a Hollywood tennis sports movie it’s pretty good.... Dean Paul Martin, in his only feature film lead, is pretty good as the tennis bum turned tennis star. His tennis is terrific, and while I didn’t necessarily need to see him star in anything else, as a tennis pro he’s pretty fucking convincing ... The film's best moments are Dean Paul Martin training with his coach, real life tennis giant Pancho Gonzales."

Where I come from, this is called "damning with faint praise". You've got a two-hour movie that's only "pretty good", with a star who you didn't need to ever see in a movie again, where the best scenes are a tennis player in training. Dean Paul Martin has something going for him: he was actually a tennis player, so the climactic match with Guillermo Vilas is believable in ways better movies like Challengers can only fake. But Martin isn't much of an actor, and he's paired with Ali MacGraw, about whom you could say at least her acting is the equal of Martin's. The romantic plot is old-fashioned in a predictable way, and I never cared about the lovebirds. It's fun to see tennis stars of the 1970s playing themselves, and the footage of Wimbledon will cause fans to swoon, but this is a bad movie. One thing people have praised is the score by Jerry Goldsmith, but I thought it was just as crappy as the rest of the movie. The most interesting thing about the film is the tragic story of Martin, whose father was Dean Martin. As a teenager, Dean Paul was part of the pop band Dino, Desi, & Billy, he grew into a talented tennis player, and was also a National Guard pilot who sadly died in a plane crash.

borg vs. mcenroe (janus metz, 2017)

The IMDB tells us, "In Nordic countries, film was titled 'Borg'." This is apparently because the director is Danish and the star is Swedish. But it's an appropriate title, no matter the country, because while the actual title suggests an even matchup between two tennis greats, in fact, Borg vs. McEnroe is much more about Borg than about his American counterpart, enough so that if this movie was Oscar-worthy, Shia LaBeouf as John McEnroe would properly fall into the Supporting Actor category.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but at the time these two titans played, Björn Borg was known at times as a "machine", while McEnroe's emotions were famously explosive on the court. The film spends more time with the man who internalized than with the one who wore his heart on his proverbial sleeve, which means the feel of the movie is also quieter on the surface. To balance this a bit, there are segments of the two players when they were younger, and from this, we learn that Borg too was known as temperamental growing up. This allows us to better see the effort Borg endured to maintain his famous composure as an adult. Ultimately, though, the movie might be more entertaining if McEnroe was the primary focus.

To an extent, this mirrors the times ... tennis fans often favored Borg or McEnroe, and a case can be made for both ... these are two of the greatest tennis players of all time. The film is pretty accurate about all of this, I just feel it needed a bit more of McEnroe's fire.

One uncanny note: Sverrir Gudnason and LaBeouf look enough like their real-life characters, thanks partly to the wigs they wear. But Gusnason looks so much like Viggo Mortensen, it drove me crazy until I figured out the resemblance.

music friday: 1993

Salt-n-Pepa, "Shoop". From Wikipedia: "Salt stated: The objective was to turn the tables on men - make them the objects. When writing my verses, I was thinking of tongue in cheek ways to objectify men. When you really like a song, it's easy to record. Fun fact: I had my daughter Corin in my arms while recording Shoop.''.

Radiohead, "Creep". The "1993" part is a bit of a cheat ... the single came out in '92, the album on which it was featured in '93. The band got tired of the song ... hard to blame them, I guess, but it's their own fault for making such a perfect record. This video has more than one Billion views on YouTube.

R.E.M., "Everybody Hurts". I identify with "Creep", but I once put "Everybody Hurts" on repeat and listened to it about a dozen times in a row.

Bonus: Liz Phair, "Fuck and Run". The one person on today's post that I saw live. It was 1995. "I can feel it in my bones. I'm gonna spend my whole life alone."