LFG, the new documentary on HBOMax, is about a mission that is right and just. From other reviews on this website, you know that I am 100% behind the USWNT’s fight for equal pay. But LFG (Let’s F**king Go!) is in some ways a disservice to the cause, because the film is too long and becomes boring. The first rule of soccer movies should be: Don’t take more than 90 minutes to tell your story.
When creating a biopic about a footballer, who you claim to be one of the best that ever played, the rule is that the film must have some football in it. At least have enough soccer to show the viewer that the player’s greatness cannot be denied.
Strike is the story of Mungo, a footballing mole with a goal to win the Wild Cup for England. Mungo is torn, because like many footballing greats from the olden days, he has to work in the mines and uphold the proud tradition of his forefathers and everyone else at the Diggington gold mine.
A rather sinister story
For Mungo and his friends, working in the mine is enjoyable, even though the gold mine seems to be a bit of a bust. But Mungo still has a dream to play football and is afraid to tell his father what he really wants to do.
From that point, the story gets a bit convoluted with bad guys who want to take over the mine; they resemble James Bond villains and the cartoon duo Boris and Natasha. The villains also, for some reason that I can’t recall, sabotage the England team by poisoning the players. A social media video of Mungo’s footballing skills inside the mine gets him a call up to a depleted squad for the Wild Cup.
The bad guys also enlist a seemingly kindly old rat to sabotage the mine by blowing it up while Mungo’s dad is inside. To keep Mungo out of the final against Germany, they kidnap his mom and friends, feed the rat to piranhas, chase Mungo and his friends back to the stadium, and and and use a giant magnet to whip Mungo’s goggles off his head.
I failed to mention Mungo’s goggles. My 5 year old granddaughter asked why Mungo wears goggles to play soccer. The dark goggles are invented by his friend Hedy to allow the mole to play in the bright stadium lights. Hedy is a girl (possibly a badger) who is a bit on the autistic spectrum and hence a fabulous innovator; she also maintains the equipment in the mine.
The film was privately financed by producers Jeremy Davis and Edward Catchpole. First-time Director Trevor Hardy has said that when the film suddenly got the go-ahead, there was no pre-production phase, and writer Neil James put the script together in 22 days.
That would certainly account for the ideas that don’t seem very child-friendly, such as children going off to work in the mines, and the National Team manager sidling up to Mungo’s newly widowed mom after the WC.
A good film for fans of stop motion
For fans of stop motion, such as John Ikuma of Stop Motion Magazine, the low budget nature of the film is actually one of its selling points. The detailed artistry of the puppet and set makers excels at charming the educated viewer. The model making work is provided primarily by students from Northbrook College. Ikuma’s Nov-2020 Facebook interview with Director Hardy is very informative on how things were done.
The animators did a pretty fair job on the stop motion football play. It conveys the game with a lot of spliced shots, similar to most live action soccer movies where the actors don’t know how to play.
Missing a market window
On the business side, Strike is an example of what happens when a movie misses its market widow. Most soccer movies are timed to hit theaters in the first half of a World Cup year, and I assume filmmakers Gigglefish Studios, who began collaborating in 2016, meant to release ahead of WC 2018.
However, midway through production, they learned that Aardman (makers of Wallace and Gromit) was producing Early Man. I think the Aardman film was reviewed by every English-speaking newspaper in the world. But Gigglefish’s Strike didn’t hit theaters until 2019, and like most soccer movies, it is pretty difficult to find a review of it. It also doesn’t help that the film is low-budget (£13M versus Early Man‘s £69M) and looks low-resolution.
In a key way, Gigglefish’s marketing situation was analogous to the USMNT’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup and the 2020 Olympics: too little too late turns a project into an afterthought.
After seeing Early Man, watching Strike often reminded me of the 60+ year old TV series Gumby, whose characters had very limited mobility (they slid everywhere) and weird mouth movements. Cath Clarke of the Guardian thought viewers might find the puppets twee. And that sums it up for me as well — the film’s a bit twee, but it’s watchable by adults. Whether or not it is appropriate for children is up to their parents to decide.
6 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 6
Once you’ve served prison time for match fixing, what is the easiest way to keep making money? Claim yourself notorious, become a consultant, and get paid to give interviews about corruption in FIFA.
The story of match-fixer Wilson Raj Perumal first broke in 2010, when as a FIFA Match Agent, Perumal arranged an international friendly between Bahrain and a fake team from Togo. The resulting outrage brought the match-fixing to light.
Sikandar opens with the activities of a small Muslim village in a beautiful mountainous setting. As school lets out, children stream downhill to the market plaza. A child spies a loose soccer ball, kicks it, and it explodes, blowing apart everything and everyone in the plaza. Welcome to routine life in Kashmir.
Gulbahar Singh is a director who wants to make feature films on humanity, and The Goal (द गोल) is an unusual football drama in that its coach decides that overcoming prejudice is more important than winning.
Gujarat 11 is promoted as the first Gujarati sports film and stars popular and handsome Gujarati actors Daisy Shah and Pratik Gandhi. The story mixes in a number of themes, but while each theme has good points, they are not enough to forgive 2 hours and 20 minutes of banality.
Feature length sports documentaries about real high school teams commonly focus on a theme of social good. In contrast, The El Paso Conquest covers the boys soccer team at Del Valle High School in El Paso, Texas in it ups and downs, but it avoids social themes.
If you know who Edin Džeko is, do you need to watch this movie? If you don’t know who he is, should you watch this movie? My answers are yes and no.
Is there life after football hooliganism? This short documentary on Jason Marriner tells us, if nothing else, that hooligans retain many fond memories, most of which as perpetrators they can’t really talk about on screen.
And the other reason they can’t talk about it is because they want you to read their book instead.
Der nackte Mann auf dem Sportplatz is not really a soccer movie. This 1974 film from the East German director Konrad Wolf is about a sculptor (Kurt Böwe) in a small town, who gets a commission to create a monument for the local football stadium. Since the artist is fairly well known, the local authorities hope such a public artwork will help increase game attendance.
The career of Sir Stanley Matthews is so long — he retired at age 50 — and the footage so slim that it is hard to understand why Gary Lineker calls Stanley “the Messi of his day”.
It’s a difficult mission for the documentary Matthews – The Original No. 7. How do you make a 78-minute film more compelling than Tifo Football’s 5-minute animation “A Brief History of Stanley Matthews”?
The Arsenal Stadium Mystery is one of those old-time whodunits that would normally disappear in the depth of film archives but for one redeeming grace: it has unique football scenes of Arsenal FC. It is also touted as the first feature film where football is a major part of the story.
Based on a popular 1939 mystery novel of the same name, the movie was released the same year. In the story, Arsenal plays a charity match against the Trojans, the best amateur team in the nation. During the game, a Trojan player falls dead on the field. The game is terminated and rescheduled for the following week, and Scotland Yard is called in.
Leslie Banks plays Inspector Slade, a clever but quirky detective more engrossed in the charity theater revue he is putting on and the hats he wears for different stages of an investigation. In classic film detective trope, the Inspector figures out that ladies man Doyce was poisoned, finds the weapon, lines up the suspects, and figures out how to identify the killer in the Wednesday makeup game. One of the key suspects is model Gwen Lee (Greta Gynt), who is having an affair with Doyce even though she is engaged to his teammate.
A snapshot of that football period
The soccer action is game footage from the last match played at Highbury Stadium before the advent of World War 2, between Arsenal and Brentwood FC. Much like in The Great Game, you get a feel for the crowds, the uniforms, the play, and even how football was filmed back then. I don’t know how authentic the stadium interiors are, such as the dressing rooms and the treatment room that separates them.
The film starts off in Arsenal’s smoke filled screening room, where various players, manager and staff are puffing away while watching the newsreel that will go out to theaters.
Another scene is in an Arsenal meeting room where real-life Arsenal manager George Allison plays himself conducting a strategy session with the team on how the Trojans will play. Unaware of this fact, I remember thinking during that scene that the actor must have really studied football in order to speak those lines so quickly and confidently. 🙂
Also, take note of the makeup of the Trojans — educated men whose careers include chemistry (the maker of the pharmaceutical poison), investors in the pharmaceutical project, and graphical design. No bakers or plumbers on this team!
I most enjoyed Banks’ performance as Inspector Slade, which was apparently a role that went against type. Though he’s only in half the film, Anthony Bushell drew my eye because of his resemblance to a young William Hurt.
I watched this film on youtube but had trouble understanding the audio, which was a bit muffled. If you can find a good copy to watch, The Arsenal Stadium Mystery is a sweet little detective classic, and if you’re really a soccer movie buff, you have to add it to your arsenal.
6 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 6
I enjoyed Lee Hicken’s Take Us Home: Leeds United series so much, I was compelled to watch his earlier documentary on Leeds. Both are on Amazon Prime. Do You Want to Win covers Leeds’ last successful seasons in the early 1990s, when they won promotion to the top division and 2 years later won that division in the last season before it became the EPL.
Before there was esports and online gaming, there was Foosball, a staple of family rooms, dens, and arcades. Back then in the dorms, it was one of those games you migrated to after you lost at ping pong.