A gift as cool as Paul Newman

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Looking for a Christmas gift for that brother-in-law/husband/boyfriend/cousin who never likely will grow up? Easy: A sports movie DVD. (And a six-pack.)

The best of all: Slap Shot. Hands down. (Or it's gloves off.) Not because of any Joe Canadian, "hockey rules!" bias. The reason many sports films are lame-o is because of any combo of the writer(s), director, producers, actors clearly not being fans and having little understanding of it all (Any Given Sunday).

Slap Shot works on all levels -- as a slapstick comedy ("Who h-own da team?!" The Hanson Brothers), emotionally (not every hockey player -- especially then, even now -- is a millionaire diva), geographically (you can smell the Pennsylvania steel mills), and as a portrayal of a sport and its fans.

This isn't some "it's vulgar so it's funny" stretched-out Saturday Night Live skit. It doesn't star Adam Sandler or Will Ferrell. It's Paul Freakin' Newman, the coolest actor who ever walked. (Let alone skated.)

For all the times Newman was ripped off for an Academy Award, this is among his best performances ever. (His greatest role? Being Paul Newman.) But there was as much chance then of Newman being nominated for an Oscar for his role as Reggie Dunlop as Pierre Trudeau being elected premier of Alberta. Or Don Cherry being host of Hockey Night in Sweden.

The director was no one-schtick hack. George Roy Hill's resume? Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid; The Sting.

By the way, Slap Shot was written by a woman -- real-life minor-leaguer Ned Dowd's sister, Nancy.

- Unless your's or a child's life is at stake, avoid Slap Shot 2. Stephen Baldwin is to Paul Newman what I am to Stephen Hawking.

- As a general rule of thumb, the best combine humour with an underlay of reality: Bull Durham; North Dallas Forty (the late, great Oakland Raider, John Matuszak, being a genuine case of funny and all-too-real); Longest Yard (The Burt's, not Adam Sandbag's); Bad News Bears (Matthau's, not Billy Bob Babbit's).

- Too many fall prey to maudlin sentimentality: The overrated Hoosiers and Field of Dreams.

- Sometimes funny is just funny: Caddyshack.

- Sometimes sport is the backdrop for a cinematic artist at work: Martin Scorcese's Raging Bull; John Frankenheimer's Grand Prix.

- I've excluded documentaries, but go for When We Were Kings (Muhammad Ali

was a movie), and/or September 1972, the Canada-Russia Summit Series (Phil Esposito was a king).

- Sins of the father: Both Rocky and Major League lose points for the subsequent blasphemies they spawned.

- Three points for anyone who can find The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh. Or 1937's Idol of the Crowds, starring a youthful John Wayne as a hockey star named -- get this -- Johnny Hanson. (Never mind Gordie Howe, the Duke could play right-handed and left-handed, sometimes on the very same shift!) Ladies and gentleman, start your shopping.

- - -

Let me self-indulge for a moment and respond to a couple of correspondents.

1) I wasn't slamming the NFL. I was slamming NFL zombies who choose one CFL game (Go Riders!) to slam the 95 years of its existence. So I chose one NFL game (the 3-nil waterbed fiasco in Pittsburgh) on the same basis. Besides, half as many NFL "fans" are more obsessed with their Pro-Line cards than the action on the field.

2) I was not dissing Toronto. I was dissing the Toronto Maple Leafs. The team sucks. The city rocks. I just don't want to watch the Leafs on Hockey Night in Canada every Saturday.


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