Friday, July 28, 2006


My latest movie reviews: 'Little Miss Sunshine' & 'Once in a Lifetime'

My latest movie reviews appear in The L Magazine and Our Town/Downtown. I didn't care for the slapstick family comedy Little Miss Sunshine, which opened on Wednesday, but I do like Once in a Lifetime, a documentary about the New York Cosmos, currently showing at the Angelika Film Center in New York.

Click here for my review of Little Miss Sunshine.

My review (reprinted below) of Once in a Lifetime is in the July 24 issue of Our Towm/Downtown, which can be found in black sidewalk boxes around Manhattan. It's free of charge.

Soccer Dreams

A doc about the New York Cosmos recalls America’s first flirtation with the world’s favorite sport.

Everyone knows the ’70s was the true golden age of American cinema. Read Peter Biskind’s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls if you don’t believe me. So it stands to reason that any movie set in the ’70s is worth checking out.

What was so special about the ’70s? Well, of course, it came right after the ’60s. America was brimming with hope and excitement following the Vietnam War. All sorts of rights issues – women’s, gay, civil – were at the forefront. The environment and no-nukes took precedence. A standing president was impeached and resigned. Sex, drugs and rock & roll spun their infectious web of promiscuity. Hot pants, roller skates and disco. Funk, soul and afros. Why, the decade was so cool, VH-1 now has a sequel to its popular I Love the ’70s variety series.

I went to college in the ’70s. I traveled around the country when people still hitchhiked. I lived in San Francisco for a year. I carried a boom box. I wore loud Quiana print shirts. I smoked pot and snorted coke. It was a fun time to be an American.

In the New York sports world, the Mets went to the World Series in ’73, the same year the Knicks won their second NBA championship. The Yankees, led by Reggie Jackson and Thurman Munson, became a powerhouse again by the end of the decade. And then there was the New York Cosmos.

I watched the Cosmos out of the corner of my eye. They were the brash, international soccer team led by the Brazilian star, Pele. The Cosmos’ brief run of success from 1975 to 1984 is chronicled in the new documentary, Once in a Lifetime, now showing at the Angelika Film Center. This is no puff piece. Directors Paul Crowder and John Dower celebrate and expose Warner Communications’ grand plan to bring soccer to the notoriously uninterested American sports fan. It almost worked.

Starting out as a semi-pro club that played on a choppy Randall’s Island field, the Cosmos’ original fan base was less than a thousand diehards. But thanks to Warner’s corporate deep pockets, the Cosmos (or Cosmopolitans, named after the Mets’ Metropolitans) would become a fleeting phenomenon in a decade known for fads.

Once Pele came out of retirement to spark both the Cosmos and the nascent North American Soccer League, and the Cosmos moved to Giant Stadium in 1977, the US soccer boom flowered. The team recruited other international stars – Italy’s Giorgio Chinaglia, Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer, Brazil’s Carlos Alberto. Money was no object. At one point, there were 14 different nationalities on the Cosmos’ roster. Soon, 80,000 fans were packing the stadium, tailgating like it was a Giants game.

The era is captured with fuzzy clips and many interviews, from Cosmos boosters Neshui and Ahmet Ertegun (the Turkish founders of Atlantic Records) to former players (Chinaglia, Shep Messing, Randy Horton) to soccer pundits (David Hirshey, Phil Mushnick, Lawrie Mifflin). Pele, dribbling like a sleight-of-foot magician, scores his share of goals. Life with the Cosmos, the doc maintains, was nothin’ but a party

Chinaglia takes center stage as the team’s bad guy and perhaps the ultimate cause of its inevitable downfall. He battled with Pele and won support of the higher ups. After Pele’s final retirement in 1977, Chinaglia and his cronies won control of the team, which is described as the lunatics taking over the asylum.

In actuality, the Cosmos only got better under Chinaglia’s leadership, winning the NASL title five times. Mindless expansion (to 24 teams) and dilution of the product drove the league to ruin. Within months in 1984, the Cosmos dissolved and the NASL disbanded. What began with so much promise ended swiftly and suddenly.

What did the Cosmos accomplish? According to the film, the US has become a regular competitor in the World Cup. Today, all across American, soccer moms in minivans escort their kids to games. There’s the Major Soccer League (MSL). But really, soccer came and went in the national consciousness like a phantom. Just like the ’70s.


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