Wednesday, 12 June 2024

‘Air’ scores on and off the court; new Peacock venture




‘AIR’ Rated R

There was a time when Adidas and Converse were all the rage for their sneakers, and Nike did not have the cachet of being cool or hip, given that athletes did not flock to the brand established by Nike founder and CEO Phil Knight.

Then along came 1984 and a rookie by the name of Michael Jordan, destined to become the greatest of all time star of the basketball court, became, albeit unknowingly, the catalyst for transforming sports marketing.

“Air,” based on the players behind the scenes from Jordan’s parents to the sports agent and the Nike executives, is a fable about capitalism, publicity, and marketing, with the rise of a superstar player more incidental to the overall picture.

Going into the movie theater, no surprise is in store for the outcome of determined Nike’s basketball expert Sonny Vaccaro (Matt Damon) putting his career and even the fortunes of his company on the line in a bold move to sign a deal with a player who was sold on Adidas.

How do you go about creating tension, let alone any suspense, in behind-the-scenes plotting and negotiations with the ultimate result already known? Leave it to Ben Affleck’s dual role as director and playing the Zen-like corporate honcho Phil Knight.

Early scenes depict Sonny as an inveterate gambler at the craps tables in Las Vegas, acting with reckless abandon in high-stakes play. Sonny takes the same rash attitude with his conviction that he can recruit an untested rookie into a lucrative deal.

Obstacles are in Sonny’s path as his colleagues, Rob Strasser (Jason Bateman), the VP of Marketing, and Howard White (Chris Tucker), a former college player and NBA draft pick, are somewhat dubious of securing Jordan, even though they recognize his potential greatness.

With absolute confidence, Sonny confronts his boss with a daring call to take a huge financial risk on Jordan. Phil Knight apparently needed some reminding of the 10 principles from a wild Nike memo, most of which get flashed at one point or another during the film.

Sonny also flagrantly ignores the protocol of dealing directly with a player’s agent when he jets off to North Caroline to make a direct pitch to Jordan’s mother Deloris (Viola Davis).

The upshot of that breach of professional decorum is when Sonny becomes the target of a barrage of profane abuse from fast-talking agent David Falk (Chris Messina). This scene alone earns an R rating, but it is brutally and outrageously hilarious.

Sonny is fully on his game when in a meeting with the Jordan family at the Nike offices he delivers an eloquent, if somewhat maudlin, extemporaneous pitch that seals the deal that results in a shoe designed around a single player.

Sports is mostly a backdrop for “Air” as most of the action takes place in boardrooms and meetings. It succeeds as a fascinating tale, which may “grow on you” as Phil Knight might say.

‘APPLES NEVER FALL’ COMING TO PEACOCK

Australian author Liane Moriarty has already seen two of her New York Times bestseller list books, “Big Little Lies” and “Nine Perfect Strangers” turned into limited drama series on streamers HBO and Hulu, respectively.

“Big Little Lies” was snapped up by Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon for the film and television rights, and they proceeded to star in a series that went on to win multiple Emmy Awards.

Nicole Kidman returned to a star-studded cast for the series adaptation of “Nine Perfect Strangers,” which included Melissa McCarthy, Bobby Cannavale, and Michael Shannon.

Her latest novel “Apples Never Fall,” another bestseller on the New York Times list, has been picked up by Peacock for a drama series now in the works.

Annette Bening and Sam Neill star as Joy and Stan Delaney, former tennis coaches that are still winning tournaments with an enviably contented family by all appearances.

Now that they have sold the family business, Joy and Stan have all the time in the world to relax, as their four adult children are busy living their own lives.

However, Joy Delaney has disappeared and her children are re-examining their parents’ marriage and their family history with fresh eyes.

Is her disappearance related to their mysterious house guest from last year? Or were things never as rosy as they seemed in the Delaney household.

Alison Brie (AMC’s “Mad Men”) plays the role of Amy, the oldest Delaney child and the black sheep of the family. Still renting a room in student housing and jumping from one career path to another, Amy is a mess.

Jake Lacy (HBO’s “The White Lotus”) plays the role of Troy, the second-oldest offspring whose competitive edge he developed as a young tennis player is now his greatest asset as a venture capitalist.

Set against the milieu of competitive tennis, “Apples Never Fall” takes us into a family’s darkest secrets and asks, “Can we ever really know the people closest to us?”

With the author’s track record, this adaptation could turn out to be interesting.

Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.

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