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A historically accurate portrayal of an American triumph
Just what I needed to get in the mood for spring training.
The first thing I like to do after seeing a film about historic events is to check the accuracy as portrayed.
Burt Shotton was actually the manager of the Dodgers in 1947, after the firing of Leo Durocher, the team was without a manager on opening day until Shotton was hired by Branch Rickey. Clyde Sukeforth served as interim manager for one day. All of the Dodgers portrayed were actually members of the team at the time: Ralph Branca, Eddy Stanky, Pee Wee Reese, Dixie Walker, and Kirby Higbe (Higbe was 2-0 with Brooklyn before his ill-fated trade to Pittsburgh, where he was 11-17).
Ben Chapman was indeed the manager for the Phillies, and Fritz Ostermueller was a pitcher for Pittsburgh.
There were also pretty realistic images of Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds, even though those ball parks have been long ago torn down.
I especially like the guy who played Leo Durocher, by the way, though I believe the real reason for his suspension from baseball for one year was due to his association with gamblers and some shady underworld characters, not for his running around with women. His world-famous quote, though, "Nice guys finish last" made it in the script.
My only concern is, this film and almost all of the Academy Award nominated films this year depicted racism at its ugliest. Why is Hollywood so interested in continuing to stir up hatred between the races over something that happened so long ago, very few people are still alive today who even remember it? By the way, Jackie Robinson was not the first black player to play in the major leagues. Moses Fleetwood Walker played 46 games for the Toledo Blue Stockings in the American Association in 1884, 63 years before Robinson.
He's Just Not That Into You (2009)
A Romantic Comedy That Rings True
A romantic comedy about relationships -- 3 or 4 of them going on at once. It's all about the "games" people play in relationships and gives a pretty realistic picture about how hurtful some of them can be.
Fans of the genre can see a little of "(500) Days of Summer" or "When Harry Met Sally..." in this chick flick. Yet, it's a little different perspective that can definitely stand on its own.
One little unbelievable scenario was how at the end, every one of them suddenly cast aside their entire belief system they had been practicing for years and everything turned out o.k. What happens when they go back to being who they really are? Maybe we should be glad there's not a sequel.
Glad to see Jennifer Aniston finally get an intelligent script to work with. I've always liked her but usually have come away thinking the roles she has been getting are beneath her. Good job here. Hope that is an indication of what is to come.
Worth a look.
Love Actually (2003)
A Great British Romantic Comedy
Recently hooked on the Romantic Comedy genre, I ran across this jewel and found it to be a winner.
An all-star cast helped make this a top-notch film. You can rarely go wrong with Hugh Grant and Emma Thompson on board, but it was a generally unknown who carried the show. I had to go 'way down in the cast to even find out who she was, but Portugese soap star Lucia Moniz was amazing. I think I'm in love.
All of the intertwining romantic stories had their moments of sweetness. I can't think of a single character in the film that wasn't likable, even with all their faults exposed. We all have our good points and bad, don't we? That's what made it so human.
One of the best things about the film was that these story lines were all centered around the Christmas season. Wow! You can actually say "Merry Christmas" in Britain? And you don't have to spell it "X-mas"? How politically incorrect is that? A very good film worth watching. If you like Romantic Comedies, give it a look. If you don't like the genre, you might be surprised.
Ryan's Daughter (1970)
The Artistry of David Lean
The long-awaited release of RYAN'S DAUGHTER on DVD brought back the awareness of just how great an artist David Lean was.
This time, the beautiful Irish coastline was his subject. Lean uses his camera as a brush to capture the lush scenery. Every scene has Lean's penchant for perfection, even the cloud formations coming over those rolling hills. The director waited for several weeks for just the right storm to come along to produce one of the most dramatic moments of the film. He does for motion pictures what Thomas Kincaid does for a canvas.
Against such a magnificent backdrop, the story is relatively simple. The eternal triangle is depicted as the young Rosy marries her older former teacher, who opened up the world of music to her. A young British officer opens up another world -- of passions she never knew existed. It is a time of the British occupation of Ireland in the early 1900s and the soldiers are despised by the townsfolk. It is an ill-fated romance that ends in betrayal and tragedy.
It is a travesty that the critics so lambasted RYAN'S DAUGHTER than Lean took a 15-year sabbatical. He finally returned to do his last film, A PASSAGE TO India in 1984. But, oh, what we missed in the interim.
Though not on a par with THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI, LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, and DOCTOR ZHIVAGO, this film should still take its place among Lean's classics. It inspired me to check out the aforementioned A PASSAGE TO India, which I had never seen, as well as to go back to some of the director's earlier work, such as BRIEF ENCOUNTER.
The cinematography, the music (by Maurice Jarre), and the classic performances by Sarah Miles, Robert Mitchum, Trevor Howard, and John Mills make RYAN'S DAUGHTER a worthwhile viewing experience.
Little Manhattan (2005)
The Agony of Adolescense
Remembering my own youth, growing up and discovering girls for the first time, I was able to relive some of those moments, some funny, some agonizing, all right on.
Josh Hutcheson and Charlie Ray both did an outstanding job portraying the (sometimes) pain of growing up -- the sweaty palms, the horror of not knowing what to say, or saying it and being afraid of sounding so stupid. Oh, the lost opportunities! At least, I never got cooties.
What a great performance by Miss Ray in her screen debut. She can do more with a smile and a raised eyebrow than most actresses can do with a thousand pages of script. Hope she keeps brightening up the world.
This film was recommended to me by a conservative organization that promotes traditional family values and decency. It is worth a look.
Open Range (2003)
The opening scene of OPEN RANGE treats the eye to the beautiful vista of a high mountain prairie. From that point you immediately know you're in for something special as the film draws you in to a story of love, honor, and justice in the old west.
The film opened to some of the most positive reviews of the summer and may indeed go down as one of the classic westerns in screen history. Time will tell. It certainly has become my personal favorite, at least since THE BIG COUNTRY (1958).
I predict an Oscar nomination for Rubert Duvall (Corleone family lawyer Tom Hagen in THE GODFATHER and General Robert E. Lee in GODS AND GENERALS). His portrayal of Boss Spearman, in charge of the trail drive taking his cattle to market is a very natural role for him. Duvall turns in one of the best performances this reviewer has seen in years.
Kevin Costner directs and stars as the reformed gun-fighter attempting to forget his dark past, but is forced to return to his former ways by the corrupt Denton Baxter (Michael Gambon) and his gang who run the nearby town of Harmonville and are opposed to "free grazers". Costner, beaten up by the critics in recent years, is really in his element here and plays his best role as Charley Waite, probably since DANCES WITH WOLVES. Costner should also be in the running for an award for excellent direction.
Annette Bening (AMERICAN BEAUTY) continues to show her versatility as a rough woman of the west, Sue Barlow. Sue works with her brother, the town doc who spends most of his time patching up Boss and Charley's trailhands, Mose Harrison (Abraham Benrubi) and Button (Deigo Luna). Sue becomes the love interest for Charley and inspires his desire for a gentler life.
The plot moves slowly, but this is intentional as the pace of the period is depicted accurately and the characters are well-developed. As you get to know Boss and Charley, you genuinely like and respect them and root for them in their battle with the bad guys. Unlike HIGH NOON, when the townspeople realize someone has finally come to stand up to Baxter and his gang, they pick up their arms and join in the fight.
A lot of the film's criticism concerns the violent gun battle at the final showdown. I contend it is not the violence so much as it is the realism that may be disturbing, but I doubt if those confrontations in the old west were a thing of beauty.
It can't be that bad a year for movies with the strong return of two great genres long missing from the screen. I hope OPEN RANGE does for westerns what CHICAGO did for musicals.
The Trip to Bountiful (1985)
You Can't Go Home Again.....
The effects of the aging process is touchingly portrayed by Geraldine Page in this warm human drama set in rural Texas in 1947.
Carrie Watts (Page), now a lonely widow, is being taken care of by her son, Ludie (John Heard) and his wife Jessie Mae (Carlin Glynn) in a cramped two-room apartment in Houston.
The two women spend all of their time being irritable to each other while Ludie is caught in the middle. Though trying admirably to do the right thing by the two women in his life, the situation is tense.
Carrie yearns to return to the family farm where she grew up, hoping to recapture some of the happiness of her youth. She has even tried to run away a few times, only to be stopped by her son and daughter-in-law who, in spite of their differences are only trying to spare her the disappointment of what she may find.
Her hometown, Bountiful, now basicly no longer exists. The people just "used up the land and moved on". All that remains are a few abandoned and deteriorating buildings, including her childhood home. Nevertheless, Carrie finally succeeds in slipping away.
On the way, she meets a young wife, Thelma (Rebecca DeMornay), whose husband is overseas in the military behind enemy lines. As they converse, it is obvious they are both on a quest, Carrie to recapture her youth and Thelma to hold on to hers, not knowing if she will ever see her husband again. Until he returns, she is going back to stay with her parents. The two women form a bond and find each other a source of strength on the long bus ride. Though we hope for Thelma's eventual happiness, somehow we know that only disillusionment awaits Carrie in Bountiful.
Filmed as a play with the advantages of outdoor scenery, the entire cast and crew did a splendid job, presenting a difficult subject in a tasteful manner. Page won an Oscar in what was to be her last role shortly before her death. Besides the other supporting players, Richard Bradford was also outstanding as the compassionate Sheriff who helped Carrie obtain her goal. The period pieces, all of those old 40's automobiles and the architecture and scenery, the general "feel" of small-town Texas during that era, helped add to the realism of the film. THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL should be recognized as a national treasure.
What happens when that light turns green?
A very intense thriller about what happens when there are consequenses for our actions. UNFAITHFUL has been billed as the "other side" of FATAL ATTRACTION, perhaps because that film was also directed by Adrian Lyne. Another Michael Douglas film comes to mind, though, A PERFECT MURDER (with Gwyneth Paltrow as the cheating wife) when making comparisons.
This time it is the wife who has a fling, even though she is obviously happily married to a husband who truly is devoted to her. She was not seeking an affair, she did not go out looking for a lover, but a coincidental moment provided the opportunity--an unguarded moment--and she acted on it.
For once Hollywood paints a true picture. Indescretions come with a high price-tag. Are we willing to pay the price? Can one brief moment of excitement be worth the cost of living with the consequences for the rest of your life?
The acting was top-notch, especially from Diane Lane (The Perfect Storm) and Richard Gere (Primal Fear). The final scene where they are at a stop light right in front of the police station contemplating whether to turn themselves in or run away to Mexico and start life all over is thought-provoking. What would you do? It seems every wrong decision creates a succession of other decisions.
Give this one a look. It is worth your attention.
The Ultimate Road Rage
David Mann is a mild-mannered businessman on his way to an important meeting with a client. David has been non-confrontational all his life. He goes out of his way to avoid conflict. He is henpecked by his wife, he failed to defend her honor by standing up to a drunk who was trying to flirt with her at a party, it is even obvious he is afraid to stand up to his bosses at work. He drives an old beat-up faded-red company car and lives in a plain house in a plain neighborhood.
Suddenly, David is thrust into a situation where he cannot run from his problems. He HAS to face them. On the road he passes a slow-moving 18-wheeler spewing ghastly fumes. The driver takes exception to being passed and zooms ahead of David, nearly running him off the road. The duel is on.
For some unknown reason, the driver of the truck has picked out David to be his victim in a cat-and-mouse game of road rage and doesn't let up in his pursuit for the rest of the film.
The driver is never seen. He is a faceless entity. The ominous truck seems to have a mind of its own. Yet he knows David is easy prey--he-man truck driver vs. mild-mannered business executive; 18-wheel diesel vs. compact Plymouth Valiant. Yet, when David does find the courage to stand up to his assailant, the "bully" is surprised and runs away, at least temporarily. But the chase continues. In the end, David is forced to meet the challenge head on.
Anyone who has ever been involved in a road-rage incident will feel the terror of the situation. Who hasn't seen a driver demonstrate his anger over some perceived slight and decide he's going to "show you a thing or two." We can all identify with the horror experienced by David, not to this degree in most cases, but depending on the psyche of the driver, it could accelerate into something tragic. A little road courtesy never hurt anybody.
This was one of Steven Spielberg's first films, originally made for TV, later released theatrically with some additional footage. It remains one of his best. Some of the devices he employed here has been used in some of his later, more notable films which has made him one of Hollywood's greatest directors.
Dennis Weaver stars as David Mann (Yep! That Dennis Weaver--"Chester" on Gunsmoke) and gives a credible performance as Mr. Everyman who we root for as he does rise above himself and emerges victorious over evil.
The Collector (1965)
The ultimate DID film of all time
Fans of the "damsel-in-distress" genre will undoubtedly consider it a classic--the best of all-time. Redhead Samantha Eggar is stalked and ultimately kidnapped by Terence Stamp (Freddie), a nerdy bank clerk who wouldn't know what to do with a girlfriend if he ever had one. His one diversion in life is his elaborate butterfly collection.
Freddie suddenly wins the football pool and is able to quit his meaningless job and indulge his every whim. He buys an old farmhouse out in the country that has a wine cellar which he plans to put to better use.
Eggar (Miranda) is a lovely art student who is unaware of Freddie's obsession for her until she finds herself his prisoner, chloroformed and spirited away and locked up in the dungeon he has prepared for her.
Freddie never takes advantage of her while Miranda is his prisoner, even when she offers in a desperate attempt to win her freedom. He is repulsed by such an obvious feminine ploy. Their entire time together becomes a cat-and-mouse game to see which will outwit the other.
The only time Freddie lets her out of the cellar is to bring her up to the house so that she can bathe and take care of her personal needs, as there are no facilities in her prison. Even then, he is careful to bind her to discourage any attempt to escape.
During one of these moments of respite, Miranda is peacefully soaking in the tub when a neighbor pays an unexpected call. Upon hearing the knock at the door, Miranda is about to elicit a scream but Freddie is quick to respond, stuffing a washcloth in her mouth and securing it there to silence her. Then, he ties her to the bathroom pipework, rendering her helpless as he nervously goes to the door and tries to get rid of the unwanted intruder. As the neighbor (Maurice Dallimore) is reluctant to leave right away, Miranda goes to work. Reaching out with her long, slender legs, she is able to turn the water on with her toes (a really ingenious trick). The tub runs over and the water starts to run down the stairs, much to the amazement of Freddie and the astonished neighbor.
Freddie explains the incident away that his intellectually-challenged cousin is there for a visit and needs his attention and quickly dismisses the inquisitive neighbor.
Miranda finally has one opportunity to escape. She convinces Freddie to tie her hands in front rather than behind her on the way back to her cellar. She feigns dropping her container of toiletries during a pouring thunderstorm, and while Freddie is momentarily distracted, gathering up the scattered articles, Miranda quickly grabs a nearby shovel used for gardening and belts him over the head with it.
As she gains momentary advantage over her captor, Miranda, instead of finishing him off, drops the shovel and recoils in horror at what she has done (being a non-violent person). This gives Freddie enough time to recover sufficiently to foil her escape bid.
She tries to run away, but Freddie easily overtakes her and drags her, kicking and screaming to her dungeon where he locks her in and drives to the hospital, blood gushing from his wound.
THE COLLECTOR does not have a happy ending. Miranda, soaking wet from her escape attempt in the rainstorm, trips over the cord to her electric heater, causing it to short circuit. With no way to get warmth, food or water while Freddie is in the hospital, she catches pneumonia and, by the time he does return, she is already near death.
Although nominated for three Academy Awards (Best Actress-Samantha Eggar, Best Director-William Wyler, and Best Screenplay), THE COLLECTOR came away winless. Samantha Eggar did win the Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival, however. The film is a dark, moody work, depressing in its message, nevertheless expertly done.
Family Plot (1976)
Hitchcock...A Tribute to the Master
Every five years or so, I get on a Hitchcock kick and yearn to go back and revisit some of his greatest films, particularly the period beginning in 1954 with DIAL "M" FOR MURDER, REAR WINDOW, etc. Hitch ran up an impressive string of 15 straight hits over nearly a quarter of a century before his death, shortly after his last film, FAMILY PLOT in 1976.
Although far from being his best film, FAMILY PLOT is still a Hitchcock Classic, employing many of the devices of telling a suspenseful story in a way only Sir Alfred could do it.
The story involves Blanche Tyler, played by Hitchcock's latest blond, Barbara Harris. Blanche is a phony psychic trying to bilk her wealthy clients out of their fortunes. One of them, Julia Rainbird (Cathleen Nesbitt) is willing to pay Blanche $10,000 to locate her long lost nephew so that she can make him her heir.
The nephew turns out to be Arthur Adamson (William DeVane), a respected jewel dealer with a darker side. It seems Adamson murdered his step-parents and faked his own death. He now operates a kidnapping ring with his partner, the mysterious Fran (Karen Black), collecting rare diamonds as ransom in exchange for their well-known victims, including a politician and a Catholic Bishop. William DeVane later gained fame as Greg Sumner in the long-running prime-time soap opera KNOTS LANDING (1983-1993).
Blanche's boyfriend is George Lumley (Bruce Dern), who makes his living as a cab driver, but does a lot of the investigative legwork for Blanche to make her "psychic powers" appear legitimate. Why he was wasting his time driving a cab I can't figure. He would have made an excellent private eye.
Sound complicated enough? It really gets intriguing as the two couples' paths eventually cross, with Blanche trying to track down the presumed-dead nephew to tell him the good news of his inheritance.
The highlight of the film is, of course, the car sequence. With Blanche and Lumley hot on his trail, Adamson sends his "hit" man, Joe Maloney (Ed Lauter) to meet them at a mountaintop cafe. Maloney never shows up for the meeting, but while Blanche and Lumley wait inside, he drains all the brake fluid out of their car. After giving up on the meeting with Maloney, the couple start to drive back down the mountain, suddenly realizing they have no brakes on the steep mountain grades.
This sequence is classic Hitchcock. The entire episode, which lasts for several minutes, is filmed entirely within the car, making the audience a part of the ongoing event. The expressions and reactions of Blanche and Lumley, plus the views out the front window as the car careens around sharp curves, passing all the other vehicles recklessly and with abandon, is done with comedic tongue-in-cheek as well as high drama. Many have copied Hitchcock's techniques. Compare Robert Zemeckis' filming of the plane crash scene in CAST AWAY.
Comic relief is one technique often employed by Hitchcock to break the tension of constant suspenseful action. NORTH BY NORTHWEST is another good example of this. Two other films come to mind, though, VERTIGO and PSYCHO that keep you on a wild ride of suspense from beginning to end with NO relief--NO chance to even catch your breath. Ironically, I consider these Hitchcock's two greatest films.
I'm glad we still have access to all of The Master's old classics, via the magic of VHS and DVD. I never tire of watching them.
What Women Want (2000)
Gibson and Hunt Surprise in Romantic Comedy
***SPOILERS*** ***SPOILERS*** Wow! This has to be the surprise hit of 2000. I passed this up in the theatres, unable to visualize Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt in a Romantic Comedy--("What a case of horrible miscasting"). However, out of curiosity, I did watch the video and found it to be a very worthwhile, enjoyable movie.
Can Mel Gibson do it all, or what? Shakespeare (HAMLET), Action/Adventure (BRAVEHEART, THE PATRIOT, etc.), Drama (RANSOM)--we were even treated to a little dance number (a la Gene Kelly)--o.k., so he's no Gene Kelly, but it was still a nice touch.
We got to see a softer, more feminine Helen Hunt here--even though that part of her character may have been inappropriate for a "Man-eating bitch, Darth Vader of the ad world." But, if she were totally in that role, a romantic interlude would have been even more inappropriate. I believe this is Helen Hunt's best role to date.
The story line is similar to DISCLOSURE, with Michael Douglas and Demi Moore. Nick Marshall (Gibson) is in line for a promotion to Ad Executive, but in a surprise move, Darcy McGuire (Hunt) is brought in from another agency because the company wants to explore the woman's market and they consider her ideas invaluable toward that end.
Gibson, meanwhile, is the ultimate charmer, a real ladies' man. Or at least, so he thinks. In a funny scene where Nick is "trying out" several women's products (pantyhose, wonderbra, hair removal, etc.) in order to understand the feminine psyche, his teenage daughter and her boyfriend walk in on him.
Nick slips and falls in the bathtub with a hair-dryer, and the resulting shock somehow affects his brainwaves so that he can "tune in" to what a woman is actually thinking--read their minds. CAUTION: Men, don't try this at home. You might actually find out what women ARE thinking, "I wish you were dead, you rascal, you." There are some things we are better off not knowing, trust me. As men, we are just not strong enough to handle it.
Nick, as the cad he really is, uses his new "power" to try and usurp from Darcy the job he thought should have been his to begin with. He reads her thoughts, steals her ideas--the company CEO, played effectively by Alan Alda, thinks the ideas are Nick's and not Darcy's. When the agency lands the prestigious Nike account, Nick gets all the credit, and Darcy is fired. But there's one problem. Nick is falling in love with Darcy and realizes what a heel he is. He goes to her and confesses and, well, you know the rest of the story.
Good supporting performances by Marisa Tomei as Nick's bratty teenage daughter, Lauren Holly as Gigi, the ever-rejected girlfriend and Judy Greer as Erin, the geek with glasses who carries around all those files. There is even a cameo by Bette Midler as the lady psychiatrist.
I'm not even going to comment on the film's constant referrals to gays, I just wish Hollywood didn't spend so much time striving for political correctness.
Although this flick may not have the staying power of a WHEN HARRY MET SALLY, FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL, or GROUNDHOG DAY, it is a very enjoyable romantic comedy. Guys, rent this one if you want to impress your date on how introspective you are to a girl's needs--just be sure to keep a trigger-lock on your hair dryer.
Groundhog Day (1993)
It's Deja Vu---all over again
Have you ever had a bad day--a REALLY bad day--and replayed all of the horrible things that went wrong in your mind, wondering what you could have done differently to make things turn out better? This is the dilemma facing Pittsburgh's Channel 9 weatherman Phil Connors as he journeys to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania for the seventh year in a row to cover the annual ritual to see if his namesake, Punxsutawney Phil, the town's resident groundhog will emerge to see his shadow, thus consigning us to six more weeks of winter before the arrival of spring.
Bill Murray is Phil Connors, and things have not been going too well for him. Life's experiences have made him cynical, arrogant, self-serving, and just plain hard to get along with. His producer, Rita (played charmingly by Andie MacDowell) and Channel 9 cameraman Larry (Chris Elliott), who accompany Phil to Punxsutawney, can barely tolerate him. His life has sunk so low, the only way to go is up--and the road to redemption takes a strange turn.
Forced to remain in Punxsutawney when the Channel 9 crew is trapped by a sudden snowstorm, Phil Connors awakens the next morning to the realization it is groundhog day--again. All of the events of the previous day play themselves out all over again--but Phil is the only one who is aware the day is repeating itself.
Thinking it is all a bad dream, Phil Connors returns to his bed-and-breakfast, only to awaken the next morning to find--it is groundhog day all over again. Now in a panic, he realizes he is stuck in some kind of a time warp and turns to Rita for help. Naturally, she does not understand what he is talking about and thinks he is going crazy.
The next morning, guess what? It is groundhog day again. And again the next morning. And the next. It seems Phil Connors is doomed to relive the same day over and over again forever. At first, he tries to end it all by committing suicide, but the next morning, he wakes up in his bed again. After all, it is groundhog day again and yesterday never really happened.
After awhile, Phil begins to realize he has the power to change the circumstances of the day, since he already knows in advance what is going to happen. He begins to fall for Rita and attempts to develop a relationship with her. At some point, though, she rebuffs him. He then is able to figure out what he did wrong and the next day makes an adjustment which moves him closer to his goal.
At first, true to his character, Phil has ulterior motives. However, somewhere along the way, he figures out that the way he responds to people affects the quality of his own life. His redemption is complete. He wins Rita. He becomes the most popular person in Punxsutawney and when he wakes up the next morning, groundhog day is past and his life can move on.
There is a real lesson for us all here. We can improve the quality of our lives, not by our circumstances, but by how we respond to them. We, too, have the power to change our lives just by changing our attitudes. GROUNDHOG DAY is a parable of the redemption of a lost human spirit, in the tradition of A CHRISTMAS CAROL and IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. It is an up-to-date adaptation of this theme, some element of which everyone can identify with. Murray and McDowell make a terrific team. A look at this film always improves my outlook on life, no matter the circumstances.
For Love of the Game (1999)
I have always loved baseball. I have always loved the movies. Somehow, a marriage of the two has never worked, with the exception perhaps of A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN. Even Kevin Costner's two previous highly rated diamond films BULL DURHAM and FIELD OF DREAMS struck out with me.
Other baseball films, such as THE BABE, make me cringe to think a whole generation of kids are growing up believing one of the greatest athletes of the twentieth century was only a stumbling, bumbling, overweight slob who, everytime he came to bat, wound up on his ass with two strikes on him, only to somehow get back up and hit the ball out of the park on the third pitch.
FOR LOVE OF THE GAME finally delivers the goods to make a film about the national pastime believable. Even if it were not about baseball, the dramatic, romantic story of Billy Chapel, played by Costner, and his love interest, Jane Aubrey, played by Kelly Preston, is intriguing.
Chapel is a 39-year-old pitcher, in the twilight of a Hall-Of-Fame career, pitching for a beleaguered Detroit Tigers franchise that, like Chapel, has seen better days. As a long, frustrating season winds to a close, Chapel learns the team has been sold and, as part of the deal, he is being traded to the San Francisco Giants. On the same day, Aubrey, Chapel's long-suffering girl friend who has stood by him through his ups and downs for five years, announces she is leaving him. Chapel has always put baseball first throughout their relationship, never giving Jane the same commitment he has given the game.
As he pitches against the Yankees in his last game of the season, Chapel ponders his fate. Will he go along with the trade and continue his career with another team? Will he retire and call it a career, going out on top? What about Jane? All during the game, told through flashback, Chapel remembers how he met Jane and what she has meant to him over the past five years.
But something else is developing. As the game reaches the 7th inning, Chapel realizes he is on the verge of something only 16 pitchers in the history of baseball have ever attained....he is pitching a perfect game. The tension builds with every pitch as the game reaches a climax, and the outcome may well determine what Billy Chapel decides to do about the rest of his life.
A great supporting cast of John C. Reilly as Tiger catcher Gus Sinski, Jena Malone as Heather, Jane's rebellious teenage daughter, and Vin Scully, probably the greatest baseball announcer ever, playing himself, give this film credibility. The Yankee Stadium shots are stunning. But it is the performances of the two leads, Kevin Costner and Kelly Preston, that makes FOR LOVE OF THE GAME a winner.
Even if you don't like baseball, you'll like FOR LOVE OF THE GAME. If you do enjoy the game, don't miss this one. See if you don't agree it is the best baseball movie ever made.
Broadcast News (1987)
The World of Network News...
BROADCAST NEWS brings the world of network television newscasts to the screen in a very realistic way--where ratings rule and flash wins out over substance and the "charisma" of the anchor who brings us the news is seen as more important than the news itself.
The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and acting nominations for each of the three leads. Amazingly, no statuettes were achieved.
Holly Hunter deservedly won an Oscar six years later for THE PIANO, but her portrayal of Jane Craig, the no-nonsense producer for the Washington News Bureau, is perhaps her most memorable performance.
Craig is an "old-school" newswoman who came up the hard way, by being a good reporter. She is disturbed over what is happening in the broadcast industry as she sees quality being sacrificed over the battle for good ratings with a cheap pricetag. Hard on her peers in her demands for excellence, even against the flow of pressure in the other direction, she manages to turn everybody off, including potential relationships. Whenever she's alone with her thoughts, even for a moment, Jane breaks down in tears, then is incredibly able to go right back into a professional mode at a moment's notice.
William Hurt is Tom Grunick, the young newscaster with no experience but plenty of good looks--and, after all, that's what the public wants. Tom finds himself attracted to Jane, but she is at first upset with what she perceives is his undeserved success. Tom Grunick is exactly what Jane Craig has been campaigning against.
Later, though, even Jane succumbs to Tom's charm, much to the dismay of newswriter Aaron Altman, played by Albert Brooks.
Altman is the antithesis of Grunick--a gifted journalist who really knows his stuff, but lacks the presence and confidence that Tom displays before the cameras--and he's been secretly in love with Jane for years.
Brooks is one of the funniest actors of all-time. When the station starts to cut back in personnel to cut expenses, Brooks' character, Altman tries to save his job by trying out for the weekend anchor position. In the middle of the newscast, Altman breaks out in the worst case of "flop-sweat" in history--"Even Nixon didn't sweat this much."
Frustrated when he sees Tom getting ahead of him career-wise as well as winning the affections of Jane, Aaron pours out his heart to her, calling Tom 'the devil.' "He'll be attractive, he'll be nice and helpful...he'll get a job where he influences a great God-fearing nation...he'll never do an evil thing, he'll never deliberately hurt a living thing...he'll just bit by little bit lower our standards where they're important...just a tiny little bit.........and he'll get all the great women."
In the end, Jane finally recognizes Tom for the phony he really is, but that doesn't stop him from going all the way to the top. Altman, rather than compromise his standards, leaves the Washington Bureau and goes to work at a small station in the Pacific Northwest where he will be appreciated. Years later, they all meet again and find they've come to accept each other and how they fit in the grand scheme of things.
Anyone who has spent any time in the broadcast industry will recognize some of the inner workings of this crazy business--and will be able to laugh and cry right along with Jane and Tom and Aaron.
OH, WHAT A BEAUTIFUL MOVIE...
After seeing OKLAHOMA! on the screen in Todd-AO for the first time 44 years ago, it immediately became my all-time favorite film. Today, it still holds that lofty ranking.
The beautiful Rodgers & Hammerstein score includes some of the greatest music ever written. The two collaborated on nine broadway musicals, many of which were adapted to the screen, notably CAROUSEL, SOUTH PACIFIC, THE KING AND I, and THE SOUND OF MUSIC, but OKLAHOMA! tops them all.
Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones are perfectly cast as the young couple experiencing the magic of first love, and their singing of some of the show's classic tunes, such as "Surry With the Fringe On Top" and "People Will Say We're In Love" is a pleasure to listen to.
Miss Jones, making her screen debut as Laurie Williams, instantly establishes her image of the "girl next door"--did I grow up in the wrong neighborhood? She is captivatingly charming as she tries to make Curly (MacRae) jealous by accepting a date to the box social with her Aunt Eller's hired farmhand, Jud Fry, played menacingly by Rod Steiger.
It is the supporting cast of characters that really bring this musical to life--particularly Aunt Eller, played by Charlotte Greenwood. Doesn't everyone have an Aunt Eller in their life? Then there's Ado Annie Carnes (Gloria Grahame) and her longsuffering boyfriend Will Parker (Gene Nelson), who lights up the screen with a great dance number. Throw in a travelling salesman, Ali Hakim (Eddie Albert); Gertie Cummings (Barbara Lawrence), who tries to steal Curly away from Laurie; and Mr. Carnes (James Whitmore), who insists on a shotgun wedding for his daughter, Ado Annie, rather than see her marry Will; and you have some unforgettable characters indeed.
The film's one dissenting note was the class distinction warfare between the handsome, clean-cut Curly, who everyone knows "Laurie has her cap set fer" and the rough and dirty, working-class Jud. Jud meets his untimely end, but, after all, he is the villain.
Not to fear, it's a happy ending for all. Curly gets Laurie, Will gets Ado Annie, and Ali Hakim gets....Gertie? When Ado Annie and Gertie get into a jealous fight which Will attempts to break up, explaining "I'm trying to keep Ado Annie from killing your wife", Ali Hakim responds, "Why don't you mind your own business?" In the end, the farmer and the cowman do learn to get along and become friends, the new schoolhouse gets built, and the Oklahoma territory is about to become a state.
OKLAHOMA! won two Oscars, for Best Sound Recording and Best Scoring of a Musical Picture. How could they go wrong with great orchestral direction by Robert Russell Bennett and the musical score by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II? The American theatre will never see their equal again.
One True Thing (1998)
ONE TRUE MOVIE...THREE GREAT PERFORMANCES
The movies I enjoy most are the ones I can relate to, or at least identify with a character to the point I can be moved by what they are experiencing. Such is the case of ONE TRUE THING. I lost both my mother and sister to cancer and had the agonizing experience of watching them both deteriorate before the end came. Meryl Streep gives the greatest performance of her life as Kate Gulden, whose life has been totally dedicated to giving herself sacrificially to her family. Now, as this debilitating illness overtakes her, she can't accept the fact her family now has to take care of her. Yet, it is only in this transfer of power that her family comes to know and appreciate just how strong she really is. How Ms. Streep was overlooked by the Academy is beyond me. Perhaps it is, as another has said, we just take her great talent for granted. To watch her character change through the progression of her illness and the resulting chemotherapy was astounding to watch. She is truly one of the greatest actresses ever to grace the screen. Renee Zellweger is convincing as the daughter who is forced to come back home to care for her dying mother, who she has never been close to. It is a traumatic experience to, once you have worked so hard to earn your independence, have to return home to live with your parents again. Even Ellen Gulden is not aware of the family values that have been instilled in her by her mother but, although naturally rebellious at the thought, she is willing to give up her promising career as a writer for a New York magazine to take on this responsibility because "It's the right thing to do". This character trait is revealed again later in Ellen's pursuit of a hot story that could make her career--the expose of a Senator and former classmate at Harvard whose political career is in jeopardy because of a variety of indiscretions. Ellen gets the interview, but lacks the "killer instinct" to pull it off, knowing her article would ruin not only his career but his family as well. Renee turns in a really sensitive performance. Her comedic genius comes through as well in the scene where she attempts to make a luncheon for her mother's ladies' club meeting and nearly sets the kitchen on fire. For some reason, the women barely touch their lunch, but they are still so impressed by her efforts, they make her an honorary "Minnie". It is then Ellen's greatest fears are realized; she is starting to feel trapped in the very world she tried so hard to escape. William Hurt is the father and husband, George Gulden, literary professor at the local university, winner of the American Book Award. He is an intellectual giant whose acquaintances include some of the great authors of the day. He does not understand his wife's housekeeping and ladies' club lifestyle, but finds it a convenience to him and a complement to his own career. In literary circles, George is a master of words, but in communicating to his family, he suffers "inflammation of the sentence structure and hardening of the paragraph". George was Ellen's idol when she was growing up, but now, as an adult, she sees his vulnerabilities and cannot accept them. Ellen's entire work ethic was motivated by her dad, now he has become, in her eyes, weak and helpless in a time of crisis. ONE TRUE THING is a story of how a family, so diverse yet so much alike, can be drawn together by tragedy. In the end, they all learn to accept each other as they really are--flaws and all. The film and the characters all come across as very real and, yes I cried even though I'm a guy. Anna Quindlen's story is very moving and thought-provoking. The music in the film really helps to set the mood, the score by Cliff Eidelman, and a very beautiful rendition of "Silent Night" by the Morrow Memorial United Methodist Church Choir of Maplewood, New Jersey (the film was shot in and around areas of New Jersey, not in Langhorne, Pennsylvania). There is also a terrific song by Bette Midler, "One True Friend", sung over the ending credits. Some of those who leave a movie as soon as the last scene fades and don't stay for the credits don't know what they miss. Unfortunately, neither of these two songs are on the soundtrack CD. It could have been the greatest soundtrack of all time and they blew it. Bette's song is on her CD "Bathhouse Betty" for all you Midler fans who might be wondering. Nevertheless, ONE TRUE THING has become one of my all-time favorite movies.
Son of Zorro (1947)
Continued next week...
Growing up in the 40's, especially before TV, meant the week's best entertainment was the Saturday matinee at the downtown theatre: a western feature with Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy or some other cowboy hero; 5 cartoons; a comedy short featuring the 3 Stooges, Edgar Kennedy or some other slapstick comedian; and, of course, another thrilling chapter of a serial--all of this for only 15 cents. "Son of Zorro" was my first introduction to this great fictional character of the old west, even before Disney's popular characterization by Guy Williams. Though this is not the original Zorro, the hero of this piece, Jeff Stewart (George Turner) is a decendent and the story line is similar. Stewart is returning home after serving his country in the Civil War about 1869, only to find while he and the other able-bodied males were away, crooked politicians got themselves illegally elected and are abusing Box County citizens with their unfair taxes, high tolls, and acts of terrorism against any who dare resist. Though initially trying to settle matters peacefully, Stewart is forced to assume the role of his ancestor to battle the evil that has disrupted his hometown. The only people who know Jeff Stewart is Zorro is Pancho (Stanley Price), his faithful ranch foreman and pretty Kate Wells (Peggy Stewart) Box County's postmistress. Kate becomes the perfect "Damsel in Distress", week after week getting knocked unconscious or tied up, only to be rescued by Zorro. Don't let anyone kid you, Peggy Stewart is an excellent horsewoman and did all of her stunt riding herself. She still rides today, even at 77, though she is retired from acting. The Box County bandits' top heavy, Boyd (Roy Barcroft) was constantly in Zorro's hair. Was Barcroft the movies' all-time best bad guy or what. The other crooks who ran the town were Sheriff Moody (Edward Cassidy) and Judge Hyde (Ernie Adams). But, who was the real brains behind the gang? Well, you'll have to see chapter 13 to find out, though I'll tell you it's one you might least expect. Over 40 years after seeing "Son of Zorro" in the theatre, I have to admit I still loved it and found it just as exciting as it was when I was a kid. Zorro became a favorite with Republic's cliffhanger serials, producing no less than 5 episodic adventures featuring the masked avenger. I was a real fan of the serials during that time period and this is still my favorite. If you are nostalgic about this part of Americana, give it a look. It will bring back memories.