Little Big League
Posted by will on June 10, 2011
Runtime: 119 minutes
Plot: A young boy is bequeathed the ownership of Major League Baseball’s Minnesota Twins.
Seeing as we are ankle-deep in the 2011 version of our National Pastime, what is more appropriate than looking back on one of the many baseball-centric films of the early to mid 90s? In 1993 – 1994 our nation was plagued by baseball fever at the box office. In the span of two years we were inundated by the family-friendly likes of Rookie of the Year, The Sandlot, and Angels in the Outfield. That doesn’t even include more mature titles such as The Scout, Major League II, The Man from Left Field, A League of Their Own, The Babe, and Cobb.
Little Big League came at a time of fevered passion for baseball. Yet, it also came at the end of a golden era. Baseball had a very strong following and fan base … That is, until the 1994-95 season was lost to baseball’s eight work stoppage and fan interest in our beloved sport waned. Outraged and shaken fans quit attending games and baseball suffered (although, popularity metrics and the actual decline of the love of the game can be infinitely argued upon, this is more from my personal experience).
Growing up, kids of my generation played baseball, religiously followed their team, collected baseball, had their favorite players, and savored visits to the ballpark to see the pros go to work. Baseball, then, was indeed American as apple pie and the Fourth of July. So, what is the state of baseball with American youth now? It’s hard for me to say but I do know I haven’t seen a movie focused on baseball in awhile (sorry, Fever Pitch … which was really a remake on a British film revolving around the game of soccer).
Little Big League manages to play to our childhood fantasies but it also raised the stakes. Whereas Rookie of the Year put a kid in a big league uniform, Little Big League put the a kid in control of a whole team. The premise is simple; the owner of the Minnesota Twins suddenly passes away and leaves the team to his 12 year old grandson, Billy Heywood, who has a prodigious baseball database for a brain. After kicking the unforgiving scuzzball manager to the curb, Heywood installs himself at the team’s helm. The rest of the movie centers around Billy’s attempts to win the respect of the proud and rugged team as they attempt to turn their season around. With every step, Billy must also face the scrutiny of the media, fans, and his friends.
It’s been 17 years since this film was initially released and I am pleased to write that it holds up. The premise is simple but the movie is still a pretty entertaining 119 minutes. While the story is formulaic, there is enough substance for the film to leg out a double. Sure, there are a lot of cornball moments and logic was thrown out of the game in the first inning, but this movie isn’t trying to be an accurate portrayal (a 12 year old is negotiating the rights for Ricky Henderson at one point!).
An added bonus to watching this movie is the nostalgia. Plenty of real life players make cameos, from the legendary (Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson), familiar (Paul O’Neill, Sandy Alomar Jr., Iván Rodriguez, Tim Raines), and the Oh-Yeah-That-Guy (Dave Magadan, Wally Joyner, Carlos Baerga). For those of us Millennials growing up in the late 80′s and early 90′s, Little Big League is a nice memory trip to when baseball was king.
The Social Network
Posted by will on May 6, 2011
Runtime: 120 minutes
Plot: On a fall night in 2003, Harvard undergrad and computer programming genius Mark Zuckerberg sits down at his computer and heatedly begins working on a new idea. In a fury of blogging and programming, what begins in his dorm room soon becomes a global social network and a revolution in communication. A mere six years and 500 million friends later, Mark Zuckerberg is the youngest billionaire in history… but for this entrepreneur, success leads to both personal and legal complications.—Columbia Pictures
I have long been fascinated with the application and practical usage of social interaction online. Not to mention, I have long struggled to balance where I want to be and where I should be when it comes to an online presence. Sure, I have tried them all (at least, it seems like it) and over the years my memberships have been in flux as I have joined and left digital social circles at various junctures and personal whims. These circles have had their niches (blogs, photos, music) and have spanned professional and personal life.
Yet, as we all know, the behemoth of social networking is Facebook. I’ve been a member of the site since 2005. I had to practically beg my friends to join at the time and now, every few months, I’ll go through and “trim the fat” in my friends list. Six years later I still haven’t quite come to grips with my love/hate relationship with the site. Speaking of six years later, who would have thought there would be a movie based on the creation of the site. Not to mention, a 3 time Oscar winning movie?
The plot is crafted around a series of depositions (Zuckerberg is being sued concurrently for ownership of Facebook) which are cut between flashbacks that give us the story of the creation of the company It is best to keep in mind that both the director and writer have claimed that this film should not be intended to be taken as an accurate depiction of the creation of one the most recent and influential business successes of the past 10 years. Many liberties are taken from a basic premise.
Director David Fincher’s technical aspects, from the camera’s movement and framing, really create a visually striking film. There is always a callous, shallow feeling to the movie, regardless of what’s going on. Like Fight Club and S37en before it, The Social Network has an oppressive yet flashy vibe. So, kudos to Fincher for creating an interesting world around, on paper, a pretty boring pretense. Visuals can be a phenomenal aspect to a film but the discussion, the tête-à-tête, is what really separates the banal from the magnificent. Enter Aaron Sorkin.
I love Aaron Sorkin (for the most part). His quick-hit, sharp, biting dialogue turns a so-so tale into a tale with a little bit of grit and intrigue. You know him from the television series The West Wing and Sports Night as well as movies The American President and A Few Good Men. The conversations he crafts for the character interactions are whip-smart and funny to boot. The writing really made this film zing. Credit to you if you caught Sorkin’s cameo as a prospective investor.
So, now that I’ve heaped praise on the direction and writing, let’s take a moment to applaud the acting prowess from the young leads of the film. Jesse Eisenberg’s turn as Mark Zuckerberg crafts the primary character into a multi-dimensional anti-hero. While publicly, the real Zuckerberg appears as an aloof oddball (check out his SNL cameo), Eisenberg instilled a necessary edge to his onscreen (and fictitious?) persona. In a crude sense, he gave the cold, calculating genius a nice pair of brass balls which were necessary to eschew anything to make his idea, his company, a success.
Andrew Garfield, to counter Eisenberg’s Zuck, portrays Eduardo Saverin, Zuckerberg’s best friend. While Eisenberg gave us an mostly emotionless, hyper-active performance, Garfield’s Saverin is the perfect foil; passionate, emotional, and, dare I say, human. Saverin’s sympathetic figure makes Zuckerberg’s portrayal all the more tragic. Eisenberg’s the humanoid, Garfield the human.
I should also mention the performances of Justin Timberlake as former Napster employee, Sean Parker (in the movie, Parker is identified as the founder of Napster, which, in real life, is not correct) as the bandwagon-jumping jackass and Armie Hammer is the upper-crust Winklevoss Twins; both turned in outstanding portrayals and grabbed the appropriate emotional reactions that I imagine Fincher wanted.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the soundtrack. Scored by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, the music underneath all of the layers of complexity keeps a steady hand on the tiller amid the chaos. The tracks are haunting and tense but as they come to a breaking crescendo, they only bend – thus keeping the uncomfortable annoyance buzzing along. Most memorable films contain memorable music and in The Social Network is just another example. Admittedly though, I’ll best remember the first trailer’s backing track than anything from the movie.
Overall, this movie is clever and moves at a modern-day pace. Does it speak for our generation? I would like to think not. Perhaps it’s a Generation X take on a Millennial scenario. Either way, it’s more than worth your time.
The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!
Posted by will on March 16, 2011
Runtime: 85 minutes
Plot: Police Squad’s own granite-jawed, rock-brained cop, Frank Drebin, bumbles across a mind-control scheme to assassinate Queen Elizabeth. Detective Nordberg, Jane Spencer, a stuffed beaver, two baseball teams an odd assortment of others joining the wacko goings-on.
It’s hard to believe that Leslie Nielson was once a serious dramatic actor at the dawn of his career. Yet, with his role of Dr. Rumack in 1980′s satire hit, Airplane!, Mr. Nielson came across a watershed moment. From there on out, he became the undisputed King of Comedic Deadpan. Whether he was the Lord Dracula in Mel Brooks’ Dracula: Dead and Loving It, the titular Mr. Magoo, Dick Steele in the James Bond and action movie spoof Spy Hard, however awful the movie actually was, Mr. Nielson always kept it together with his expressionless poker-face.
The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! is not only Mr. Nielson at his sharpest, the movie as a whole, with its word play, non sequiturs, and visual gags, is actually a very solid comedy.
Mr. Nielson plays Lt. Frank Drebin, a loose cannon cop within the ranks of Police Squad who, while well respected, has a brick for a brain (he once killed 5 actors during a Shakespeare-in-the-Park presentation of Julius Caesar – ’Well, when I see 5 weirdos dressed in togas stabbing a guy in the middle of the park in full view of 100 people, I shoot the bastards. That’s my policy.”). With his partner Nordberg (O.J. Simpson) the victim of a drug bust gone awry and his heart in shambles from being recently dumped, Drebin is in the midst of foiling the assassination of the visiting Queen of England. His suspect only happens to be one of the most wealthy and well-respected men in Los Angeles, Vincent Ludwig (Ricardo Montalbán). When Frank bumbles his way from lead to the other, namely, burning Ludwig’s offices to the ground and putting the Queen in a compromising position (literally), Drebin is removed from the ranks of Police Squad and must prove his theories alone.
The pace of the jokes and gags are rapid-fire. In fact, it feels like every time I watch this movie, there’s another nuance to the comedy that is uncovered.
The writing and directing is simply brilliant. It’s what you might call “comedy gold”. The lines are sharply crafted and the timing is spot on. Yet, the best part, through all the mayhem and dimwitted antics, the characters remain oblivious to what the audience is certainly howling over.
Suffice to say, this movie, even with its one-liners, outrageous and memorable spoofs, and surprise guest appearances still stands tall after all of these years, proving to be watchable over and over (and over) again.
Posted by will on February 17, 2011
Runtime: 93 minutes
Plot: A gang called The Warriors are framed for killing a gang leader trying to unite all the gangs in the area. With other gangs gunning for them they must get back to the home turf of Coney Island… Alive.
“The Warriors” opens with Cyrus (Roger Hill), the leader of the largest and most notorious gang in the city, the Gramercy Riffs, calling a conclave for nine unarmed representatives of all area gangs to convene in his home turf. When the good-for-nothing leader of a bunch of toughs aptly called the Rogues assassinates Cyrus, the Warriors are framed for the cold-blooded murder. Now, with every NYC gang hot on their trail and their leader, Cleon (Dorsey Wright), missing, the Warriors must navigate their way from the Bronx back to their home in Coney Island … alive.
For the most part, once you get over the initial premise and lead-up, the movie melts into a cat-and-mouse chase taking place in dreary NYC locales along the subway route home. The story is simple but it doesn’t need to be complicated, this movie has enough problems.
Boy howdy. Let’s start with our badass heros.
The acting was decent but I wanted a greater sense of urgency from the Warriors. The characters seemed way too flippant to be running for their lives for a crime they didn’t commit. Where was the the fear? The anger? The outrage? Perhaps they were too busy running for their lives to show a smidgen of reaction to their situation. And, I suspect, character development was not really the selling point of this movie.
That being said, it would have made the plodding story more interesting — we don’t exactly need anything deep, just something progressive. This was especially disappointing in the character Swan (Michael Beck), the second-in-command of the Warriors. This guy had potential to grow as the movie progressed but really never showed a spine and was completely wooden in how he dealt with various scenarios the Warriors faced. We’ll just chalk this up as an opportunity lost.
I would be remiss if I didn’t label this movie in the action genre yet compared to today’s level of bloodshed, all of the sequences are child’s play. The combat during the rumbles and clashes was definitely of the Friday-night-at-the-local-VFW-for-the-local-wrasslin’-promotion ilk. So, it struck me odd that a movie so seemingly tame could have been hailed, at the time, as something so controversial. I think it is a good benchmark to see, either for better or for worse, how far we have come, as a society, at portraying violence. Yet, there is something to applaud when it comes to predominately bloodless violence that doesn’t require the watcher to see, explicitly, the brutal process and aftermath.
The highlight of the movie were the wardrobes of each individual gang. The costuming direction was definitely kitschy but highly appropriate and pretty memorable. Our heroes were decked out in what appeared to be the offspring of Native American influences with motorcyclist sensibilities. Other featured players that made up the quilt of posse uniforms include the grease monkey Orphans, overall-over-rugby shirt Punks, kimono-ed Riffs, Marcel Marceau aficionado Hi-Hats, and probably the most infamous of all, the clown-faced, pinstripe pushing Baseball Furies. If you ask me, they could have seriously pushed the limits with some of these identities but it was fun to see all of the unique factions with their distinct looks.
Overall, there was a lot to like and appreciate in a movie with a simple story and few plot devices. The movie, in the end, really relied heavily on the visuals and action and if you can appreciate that, then you can appreciate this film. There is really not much doubt that the Warriors are going to make it home while in the process, clearing their names. Their long ride through the night is made a bit more appetizing when there are a lot of interesting things to look at along the way.
Where the Wild Things Are
Posted by will on February 4, 2011
Runtime: 104 minutes
Plot: An adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s story, where Max, a disobedient little boy sent to bed without his supper, creates his own world–a forest inhabited by ferocious wild creatures that crown Max as their ruler.
Where the Wild Things Are, in literary form, admittedly, was not a book I recall ever loving (that would be The Giving Tree) but one I do remember thumbing through a time or two. That being said, I have no sentimental recollections nor gooey nostalgia regarding said book. I just wanted to set the record straight that I was excited, more or less, from the previews, with The Arcade Fire’s anthemic “Wake Up” (via their seminal album Funeral) giving rise to the internal carnal sensitivities with credits giving all-powerful kudos, in children’s scrawl, to Spike Jonze, director of one of my favorite films (Being John Malkovich) and several of my revered music videos (Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” and Weezer’s “Buddy Holly”).
Phew. Okay, let’s take a step back and catch a few breathes.
But wow, what a major disappointment.
Maybe I was aiming for the sun but watching an angsty child, one that I could find not one ounce of pity or empathy for, lord over a bunch of mopey, depressing creatures (from his imagination no less) was just was not my cup of tea. Sure, sure, I know there is a bunch of symbolism and deeper meaning to the movie and all that jazz. Okay, this was a true-to-life, raw portrayal of a child. Honestly, I just was not inspired to stick around to dig a little deeper into Max’s psyche.
In short, Max, ironically portrayed by Max Records, is the youngest sibling under the roof of his divorced, working mother (Catherine Keener). Maybe Max is a little off, maybe he is misunderstood, maybe he is a thinker before his time. Whatever the case really be, it is painfully obvious that Max is a frustrated little boy.
After a violent outbreak in a show of defiance (either sparked by his mother’s inattention or her gentleman caller), Max runs away not only from his home but from the physical realities of our world to a land of sad creatures with problems of their own.
To be honest, I can only evaluate this movie for half of its running time. Visuals aside, the story and characters were so insipid I was compelled to just turn the movie off. More than likely, what I was not prepared for was a movie detailing, through the eyes of a child, the disparity and dejection of life. I mean, after all, children’s books aren’t supposed to be about imaginary-medicating children who re-imagine their plights but with mopier characters with their own issues to work through, right? However poignant and heroically beautiful this might be, it was not something I found, at the time, appealing.
Don’t get me wrong, I like unrefined honesty in my movies (in some contexts). That’s why it is hard for me to stomach a lot of the crap that gets churned out of Hollywood these days. None of it is real and the material is not relatable. I like my champions of the dispirited to be dressed up in quirk, self-deprecation, or, at the very least, some ambition. I did not find any of those qualities with King of the Rumpus, Max. Maybe I just was not “hip” enough for this film.