Judge Ryan Keefer is a campeone, campeone, olé olé olé!
Delving into the A-Z's of soccer…John Cleese style.
Anyone who's read my other reviews on soccer DVDs for the Verdict, or who knows me personally, knows that I have a slight affinity for soccer, better known to the world as football. I'd do anything to see the same type of visibility that the sports sees in other areas of the world get realized in America. I was slightly surprised to see that John Cleese had done an instructional DVD of sorts on the sport. I thought of a couple of thing. First of course was joy, that a member of the legendary Monty Python comedy troupe would be headlining a feature on the world's game, but then I thought of what John Cleese has been doing lately, outside of the occasional film appearance. He's been doing occasional films on non-entertainment topics, and a feature with him discussing wines was even released to DVD and reviewed on the Verdict, so I had some trepidations.
As you go further into it, The Art of Soccer isn't an entirely horrible documentary on the topics of soccer from A to Z. In fact, it's quite entertaining. He gives a much needed dressing down on American football which he ridicules for its lack of spontaneity and improvisation ('[soccer] is like jazz,' Cleese says), gives a well-intended poke in the eye to supporters and their, well, "love" of the team, and provides some comic relief with sidekick Tom Konkle (Arrested Development). Cleese introduces Konkle into the mix when discussing things like the offside rule, refereeing, and other various topics that have various letters of the alphabet in them. As a special bonus of sorts, one of the letters is basically a way for Cleese to show the "Philosophy Football" sketch from his Python days. In and of itself, listening to the sketch without an audience in the background is great, you can hear some of the smaller jokes a little more and it makes the sketch all the more enjoyable.
As it turns out, this feature isn't Cleese showing Python sketches for almost two hours, it includes participation from many of soccer's legends and its growing stars, as well as devotees of the game. Current stars include German Michael Ballack and France's Thierry Henry (who strangely enough play on English and Spanish club teams, respectively). Some of the greats include Pele, German legend Franz Beckenbauer and French hero Michel Platini as they discuss their thoughts and feelings on things like forwards, the press, the fans and other items of note. Americans Mia Hamm and goaltender Kasey Keller also talk about their love for the sport. When it comes to the fans, it's a diverse group of people, that's for sure. Where else can two Nobel Peace Prize winners (Bishop Desmond Tutu and Henry Kissinger), director Wim Wenders (Don't Come Knocking) and Dennis Fricken' Hopper (True Grit) get together and talk about one common interest? I mean, other than the love of first-person shooter videogames. In all sincerity, Hopper recalls going to the 1998 World Cup final with Jack Nicholson (The Departed), and talking about how the French supporters painted his and Jack's faces, which instantly makes Jack all the more cooler in my book. The feature also doesn't hesitate to shy away from some of the warts of the sport, namely ugly fouls by players (a player's leg is shown ripped open by a tackle) and xenophobia, or the increasing amount of racism in games, which is discussed at length by Henry, one of the targets of this behavior by fans. I don't know if FIFA (the sport's governing body) was behind this production in general, but even if they were the frankness was surprising and welcome.
If there was something that grated me about watching the production, it's that it seemed a little too Euro-centric. I know that when you take into account that Brazilians Pele and Kaka were interviewed, along with Americans Hamm and Keller, there shouldn't be that much to complain about, but Pele gets interviewed for damn near anything that has soccer/football in the title. I think Keller isn't the first name or two that comes up when you discuss men's soccer in America, he just happened to be playing in Europe at the time. There have been 18 World Cup tournaments, and South America has won half of them, so can we get a little more love than we do?
The Art of Soccer is capably hosted by Cleese and, when it comes to the novice fan, is both an entertaining and potentially addictive jumping off point into soccer in general. For more familiar fans, this is both an entertaining look at the sport's broader aspects, with some nice game footage thrown in to boot (see what I did there?), which automatically makes The Art of Soccer appealing to all interest groups and worthy of examination.
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