Tag Archives: movies

Getting the Job Done in Hoosiers

After several months of starts-and-stops, finally I finished watching David Anspaugh‘s 1986 basketball film Hoosiers.  Starring Gene Hackman, Barbara Hershey, and Dennis Hopper, this sports-inspirational applies the triumphant underdog storyline to demonstrate how small-town Hickory Huskers goes all the way to the top in high school basketball under the guidance of Coach Norman Dale (Hackman) in 1951 Indiana.

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During the first pep rally, before the first game depicted, Norman Dale tells the student body that the team will play twenty-three games over four months.  The film includes basketball game-play via two practices [meeting the team and meeting Jimmy Chitwood (Maris Valainis)] and nine+ games (including a montage that likely represents two or three games).  Although Hoosiers foregrounds the significance of turning the team around, specifically, convincing Jimmy to play ball again, it doesn’t impress me as a generic sports film.  Basketball could be replaced with hockey, football, futbol, and possibly baseball through much of the film and I would still perceive the plot as showcasing a man just trying to do his job.

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That is until the last two games (the sectional finals and then the Indiana High School Basketball Championship game) when the sports film conventions become clearer as does the reasoning for why it has to be basketball.  Each of the games leading up to the championship acquaints the viewer with an aspect of the team member’s personality/athletic traits.  For instance, Rade (Steve Hollar) thinks he knows it all; Strap (Scott Summers) takes his time with ritualistic pre-game/play prayer; Ollie (Wade Schenck) is insecure about his height; and Everett (David Neidorf) is simultaneously ashamed of and desperate for the support of his oft-drunken father, Shooter (portrayed exquisitely by Hopper).  The nature of basketball mandates that each player plays together not just effectively in their unique roles in unison.

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The way writer Angelo Pizzo shapes Norman Dale and Hackman’s portrayal of the purposeful and quick-tempered, new coach and history/civics teacher as well as what he endures to gain the town and the team’s respect and trust culminates in a supremely satisfying visual spectacle as the Hickory Huskers begin to win games.  Moreover, Barbara Hershey’s Myra Fleener doesn’t understand why basketball means so much to everyone.  Her character is not a hindrance to attempts to play ball, but she just doesn’t get it.  She’s holding an armful of folders (or wielding farm tools) throughout the majority of the film and isn’t enthusiastic about Jimmy returning to basketball, but she’s not functioning as a source of conflict per se (the “worst” she does is find a newspaper article elucidating the trouble that Coach Dale got in that led to his having a falling out with the NCAA).  Thus, when it’s time for the final two games and the camera goes in for a few close-ups of her watching intently, you know she’s starting to comprehend.

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The cinematography and editing of the game-play in the championship game consists of slow-motion, close-ups, and other compositional choices that make me wonder if they were inspired by televised basketball of the 1980s.  The film is set in 1951 and was released in 1986.  What do you think?

The last pre-game peptalk is phenomenal because it is so short, sweet, and to the point.

Coach: We’re way past big speech time. I want to thank you for the last few months. It’s been very special for me. Anybody have anything they want to say?
Merle: Yeah, let’s win this one for all the small schools who never had the chance to get here.
Everett: I want to win for my dad.
Buddy: Let’s win for coach. You got us here.
Coach: Thank you.

Here’s the full scene:

~ Find more clips here.
~ For additional information about the film, hop on over to Hoosiers Archive.
~ Check out this Bleacher Report piece on the real Jimmy Chitwood, whose basketball talents were instrumental in helping his teammates to victory.
~ Dennis Hopper talks about the film with AFI.

Miscellaneous Musings:

1.  Once I noticed Barbara Hershey holding folders and papers in so many scenes, I became somewhat preoccupied with what she did exactly at the school.  Was she a teacher? an administrator?  She became interim principal halfway through the film, but what was she?  Did I miss it in a dialogue scene?  Ultimately, it’s so trivial as to not be worth my curiosity, but I need to know if the film reveals her job title.

2.  I like watching movies with subtitles even when I understand some, most, or all of the spoken languages.  The Hoosiers DVD that I have only comes with French subtitles, which is fine because I took four years of it in high school and I’ve always been better at reading and writing it than listening comprehension.  Usually, when I read French, I automatically “translate” it into English in my head.  In this case, though, when I read the French and compared it to the audio, I gained a better appreciation for the art of translation.  For example, there’s a snippet of the National Anthem before the championship game.  The English lines of “Oh say does that Star-Spangled banner yet wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave” becomes “Oh, c’est la banniere etoilee qui danse au dessus de la terre des hommes libres et du foyer des valeureux” in French.  Literally, “Oh, it’s the starry banner that dances under the earth of free men and the fireplace (hearth) of the valorous/valiant.”

3.  Hoosiers is based on a true story.  The Grueling Truth provides some historical/social context from someone who grew up in Indiana in the 70s and 80s.  CBS News details some of the differences between film and reality.

Impressions of Bull Durham

Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) worships at the church of baseball. When she isn’t teaching English 101 and Beginning Composition part-time at Alamance Junior College, she’s mentoring a chosen minor league player with the Durham Bulls via the recitation of poetry and the exchange of bedchamber intimacy.  She also carries an enormous handbag that must be filled with hair and makeup tools and quite possibly started that fashion trend in the late 80s and early 90s of women wearing a bazillion dangly bracelets (which calls to mind the Brighton Jewelry version of the Desperately Seeking Susan look).

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In Ron Shelton‘s 1988 part-drama, part-comedy Bull Durham, Annie takes pitcher Ebby Calvin ‘Nuke’ LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) under her tutelage.  He has a great throwing arm but not enough game-smarts to really shine, so catcher Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) is assigned essentially “technical adviser” duties (such as telling him not to let his shower shoes get moldy).  Even though it’s clear that Annie and Crash have chemistry, she sticks by her rule of mentoring one player per season.

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I remember watching Bull Durham on television when I was a kid but all I could recall of it was Susan Sarandon and Kevin Costner.  It received the Criterion treatment in 2018 and I recently picked it up on DVD on impulse when I was at Barnes & Noble (50% off Criterion sale).  One of the reasons I really like Bull Durham is that it’s about baseball — actually about baseball.  It’s not a generic sports film.  Yes, it follows three characters heavily invested in minor league baseball and incorporates some cliches (pre-game rituals, unintelligible play-calling/pep-talking by the coach, insecurity, what happens once you make it to the majors), but the sport itself is not a stand-in for something else.  In a more traditional sports film that’s executed well thematically and narratively, the sport depicted could be switched with a different one (keeping the solo sport or team sport factor the same) and the film wouldn’t change that much.

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The cover art for the Criterion edition speaks to its baseball-at-the-core quality.  It’s nearly all sports paraphernalia…and one wrist tied to a bedpost, hinting at some of the plot points that will unfold.

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Another reason why Bull Durham may be one of my favorite sports films is Susan Sarandon name-dropping Susan Sontag while hitting balls in a cage, Tim Robbins’s heavy metal t-shirts, and the bit about William Blake:

Crash: Wait a second.  Who dresses you?
Annie: What?
Crash: Who dresses you?  I mean, don’t you think this is a little excessive for the Carolina League?
Annie: ‘The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.’ — William Blake.
Crash: William Blake?
Annie: William Blake.
Crash: William Blake?
Annie: William Blake!
Crash: What do you mean, William Blake?
Annie: I mean William Blake!

The special features on the Criterion edition of Bull Durham are fantastic.  Apparently, Ron Shelton used to play baseball in the minor leagues and he’s felt that most sports films are made from the POV of the fan and not the player.  Maybe that’s why I liked this one so much.

Here’s one such gem:

 

Pic creds: imdb and Criterion Collection

Seeing Double in A Stolen Life The Pretty One

When there’s someone else who looks like you and sounds like you to the untrained eyes and ears, it might not take much for the world to believe there’s only one of you.  But, when everyone knows there are two of you, persuading anyone (including yourself) that you are who you say you are necessitates mastering the art and craft of playing twins.  Cinema has an expansive track record in this department.

Behold:

The Dark Mirror (Robert Siodmak, 1946)
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Dead Ringer (Paul Henreid, 1964)
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The Parent Trap (David Swift, 1961)
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The Parent Trap (Nancy Meyers, 1998)
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Along with all the films on this list.

It’s easy to play twins when each one has a different hairstyle, fashion sense, food preferences, and body language.  It’s easier for the viewer to distinguish between the two as well, such as the twins in the story of The Pretty One (Jenee LaMarque, 2013).

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But when the twins have very similar hair and clothing choices, the demarcation lines lie
in much more subtle factors like facial expressions and demeanor.  If one twin were to pretend to be the other, while still displaying their own personality traits occasionally, she can’t forget own her identity.  Bette Davis nails it in A Stolen Life (Curtis Bernhardt), 1946).  Zoe Kazan does it pretty well in The Pretty One.

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The audience sees so much more of both sisters in A Stolen Life, therefore it highlights more of Bette’s skill in portraying two different people in and between scenes.

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The Pretty One focuses mostly on one sister and explores the journey that she embarks on to figure out who she is without her twin…while everyone else thinks she is her twin.

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Zoe Kazan as Audrey and Laurel in The Pretty One

The corollaries between the films:
~ The good-natured sister is a painter.
~ There’s an accident and the rebellious sister dies.
~ Complications arise with the incidental/deliberate mistaken identity.
~ When to reveal the charade of being someone you’re not.

Beyond those plot points, the two films delve into different aspects of self-identity and second chances.  A Stolen Life follows Katie Bosworth (Davis), a woman with fine arts aspirations, who falls in love with a lighthouse keeper (Glenn Ford) but loses her chance at his romantic affections when her twin sister Pat charms him away.

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Bette Davis as Pat Bosworth and Glenn Ford as Bill Emerson in A Stolen Life

 

When a sailing accident claims Pat’s life, Katie pretends to be her so she can have a chance at a life with Bill.  Little does she know, though, that Pat did not try hard enough to deserve his love in the year they were married.  Katie must decide how and if she can move on with her life.

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Glenn Ford as Bill Emerson and Bette Davis as Kate Bosworth in A Stolen Life

 

The Pretty One centers on Laurel (Kazan), a painter who helps her dad make copies of famous paintings while her twin sister, Audrey, lives a more exciting life as a real estate agent.  When a traffic accident claims Audrey’s life, Laurel doesn’t correct people’s assumption that she was the one who died.  Laurel may not be going into the name-switch with a concrete goal like Katie, but what she experiences and accomplishes in the end is definitely worth the medium-sized con.

 

Watch Bette Davis in action:

Trailer for The Pretty One:

Pic creds: imdb

For somber Waves of pain

Today’s post is brought to you by yet another of Jordan and Eddie‘s reviews.  I read Eddie’s thoughts on Waves (Trey Edward Shults, 2019) a week ago and was deeply intrigued by his remark that the film “tackles some weighty issues…[with]… a serious intensity and emotional surrounding as every camera movement, every blast of ambient sound and every drop of neon-like color helps create a wholly unique movie going experience that is just the type of unexpected and untamed type of imagination that cinema needs in today’s more carbon copy playbooks.”

I wanted to know what that observation looked like on screen as well as hear the “[Trent Reznor] and [Atticus Ross] experimental and at times hypnotizing soundtrack.”  I am so glad I watched this film.

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Waves is comprised of two sections (the son, the daughter) with the son’s downfall organically linking the two halves.  The first seventy minutes (out of a rough 135 minutes) devotes itself to Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), a high school student counting on success in wrestling to get him to college, but like many main characters in a sport film storyline, a physical injury can derail his plans.  A scan reveals that he has a SLAP tear — or a Superior Labrum Anterior and Posterior tear.  The doctor (Holland Hayes) says it’s extreme and needs surgery.  As the camera takes in Tyler’s face for a close-up, it’s evident that he’s anxious and doesn’t completely understand the ramifications of his shoulder pain.  He offers quickly that he could get surgery after the season is over.  The doctor responds, “I can’t see you making another match let alone another season.  Then, to be honest, recovery would take much longer than just the summer.  You’re likely never to fully recover to the way that you were.  But the sooner we address this the better.”  These words catalyze a downward spiral for Tyler.

Up until this scene, our protagonist only has to consciously worry about pleasing his dad (an impeccably stern and coolly concerned Sterling K. Brown) and whether or not his girlfriend Alexis (Alexa Demie) is pregnant, but once that medical assessment comes, Tyler’s life unspools.

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The cinematography mirrors that transformation from joyous chaos to tormented frenzy and finally stillness.  Specifically, from frame one, the camera is a roving vantage point of restlessness and excitement without being shaky.  Whenever Tyler is having fun, it encircles his immediate environment.  After this turning point, though, the circulatory movement of the camera is tense and claustrophobic as evidenced in the wrestling match following the doctor’s diagnosis.  It’s not at all freewheeling like in the beginning.

I shan’t divulge the plot details of the tragedy that Tyler, and thus his family, experiences in the middle of the film, but suffice it to say, the theatrical, garish colors and lights evoke giallo of the Dario Argento persuasion with a glimmer of Gaspar Noe‘s aesthetic sensibilities.  From the son and the consequences of his actions, Waves shifts its attention to his younger sister Emily (Taylor Russell), who gets a boyfriend (Lucas Hedges) and has equally life-changing experiences that bring her closer to her parents.  Although the film explicitly touches via a conversation between father and son on why Tyler has to work that much harder to succeed in life as a black man, thereby referencing a reality that not all viewers can ever totally comprehend, Shults (who also wrote the screenplay) does not confine the characters to a single facet of their existence.  The conflicts this family faces could happen to any family.

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I’m not sure why, but my favorite scene in the entire film happens in the first ten minutes when the family is at church.  The minister (Albert Link) talks about love, that it’s patient, kind, and not rude.  “It doesn’t boast.  Love also forgets wrong.  If we spent more time loving one another, hate would cease.  So, you have a choice.  Love works better.  Love is better for us.  It makes the world better.  But we have to be in action.  How do you want to love?  How can I love? Well, you know what?  It could be just by a smile.  A smile.  Amen.  A smile could change somebody’s day.  Now, you choose whether you use love correctly.  So I want to remind you that love is a four-letter word, and so is hate.  We’re in a world full of hate right now.  Everybody’s pointing a finger at somebody else.  And you’re no good.  And you’re no good.  And we’re no good.  And they’re no good. Ain’t nobody good right now.  So we need love to bring people back.  There used to be an old thing when I was growing up that says it takes a village to raise a child.  It’s gonna take that same village to bring us back to love as a country.

(Truer words couldn’t have been spoken any better regarding the state of Les Etas-Unis maintenant.)

In the middle of this sermon, Tyler is about to fall asleep and his dad looks over and shakes his head.  Sterling K. Brown has perfected “disappointed dad” when he shakes his head in equal parts disapproval and disappointment.  Tyler then chuckles as he looks at his dad.

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Miscellaneous Musings:

1. Do audio bridges have a special place in Trey Edward Shults’s heart?  So many scene transitions are flanked by audio bridges where the camera will linger on the end of one scene and the dialogue from the next scene is audible or the audio from the current scene continues as the visuals for the next scene appear.

2.  Minor spoilers ahead, highlight relevant words at your own discretion.  That whole sequence of Alexis not getting an abortion and what she and Tyler say to each other in the car is a little after school special.  And then that other scene where they text and she informs him that she’s keeping the baby with her parents’ support, he loses it and throws his furniture around; he trashes his own bedroom.  The emotion behind the meltdown is authentic, the audience feels it too — that loss of control — but is it cliched?  Drinking heavily is believable as a coping mechanism but doing a line of coke (if that’s what that was)?

3.  According to the making-of feaurette on the DVD, the director wrestled in high school and suffered from a shoulder injury.

4. My only complaint — not enough cat screentime!
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Check out the trailer.

The music in this film is marvelous.

Pic creds: imdb

Underwater Feels

If you don’t like being in or imagining enclosed spaces, proceed with caution.

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The trailers for Underwater (William Eubank, 2020) suggest that a small team of scientifically, mechanically, and even geologically inclined subterranean personnel have a job to complete and there’s something in the water that they must investigate and defeat in order to accomplish their task.  And based on the atmosphere and genre(s) of the film, one might be anticipating science-fiction horror tropes (a la Pandorum or the Alien franchise) and ensemble cast psychological breakdown cliches (think any horror, action, or suspense film where each person in a group functions in a specific way to create tension and induce frustration from the viewer; there’s nearly always the one who mutinies and then things go really bad for everyone).

Yes, there is a (very) small team in Underwater that has to get from point A to point B, but the aforementioned motifs do not present themselves as expected.  There is little to no introduction to the individual members of the group.  The film opens with Norah (Kristen Stewart) brushing her teeth and within a couple of minutes, all hell breaks loose and she along with her mission mates are vaulted into full survival mode.

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Pic cred: IMDB/Twentieth Century Fox

Something has destroyed the integrity of their workstation and water is powerfully and quickly seeping into the corridors.  From that moment on until the final five minutes of the ninety-five minute film, there is a lot of running, crawling, mumbling, screaming, anxiety-laced walking, and mouth-breathing.  So much mouth-breathing — narratively or tonally justified or not, if you cannot tolerate that sound but still want to watch Underwater, wait until you’re able to do so while muting the relevant moments.

I like Kristen Stewart‘s persona and work, so I had to watch this film.  It was not what I assumed it would be in terms of story or thematic formula.  As an example of the science-fiction horror genre, it adheres to the continual manifestation of suspense because the characters are often unable to see more than a few feet in front of them (and they as well as the audience have seen the marine monsters in full, thus, it’s just a matter of who dies and when).  The camera also adopts the characters’ perspective from inside and just outside their helmets, which heightens the sense of claustrophobia.

Underwater is worth a theatre screening if you’re slightly curious about what happens.  It doesn’t require too much emotional or intellectual investment, there’s a stuffed bunny that serves as a quasi-running gag, and the only time you’re compelled to shout at the movie is when Kristen Stewart doesn’t put on her shoes and socks (but only if you’re the kind of person who would put on your shoes and socks first and not think about how those thirty seconds could mean the difference between life or death).