Saturday, August 17, 2013

What a Way to Go!

Year 5, Day 229 - 8/17/13 - Movie #1,512

BEFORE:  OK, I admit I saw parts of this film when I was a kid, but I decided that movies I saw way back when that I don't remember very much about also needed to be included in this project - because if I don't remember all the details, then I haven't really SEEN it, have I?  Besides, when I was a child I thought like a child, and that means I may not have had the experience necessary to understand a film like this.  Paul Newman carries over from "Slap Shot", so it's an excellent opportunity to redress a wrong and put things right.

THE PLOT:  A woman discusses her four marriages, in which all of her husbands became incredibly rich and died prematurely.

AFTER: OK, it's tough to make something like sense out of this one, even though I'm an adult now.  At first this comes off like a romance pic, but it soon turns into dark comedy.  See, as a kid I didn't understand how a woman could get married or 5 times - I didn't even know if I'd grow up and get married once.  And what did it mean to be married?  And what was all that "til death do us part" stuff about, anyway?

Then I grew up, of course, and got married, divorced, and married again.  And with each change came a little bit more self-awareness, or so I'd like to think anyway, and now suddenly I've got old stories to tell.  I've been in touch this past year with a couple of people who I haven't seen since college, and that inevitable question comes up - what have you been doing for the last two decades?  So I tell my story and listen to theirs, and I try not to judge (myself, that is) - because it's easy to become one's own harshest critic.  I made THIS choice, and boy, that turned out to be a good (or bad) one.  But, at the time, it might have felt like the opposite - or had no feeling attached to it at all, it was just a choice.

It's a great time to be alive, because we do enjoy so many personal freedoms.  People can get married, or choose not to, or have kids, or not have kids.  People can strive for success, or maybe try not so hard.  People can stay at one job, or bounce from company to company.  These are all choices to be made, and hopefully when you look back 20 or 30 years later, you can be proud of, or at least comfortable with, those choices.

That said, I have to place this film in its proper historical context - released in 1964, which may or may not have been a great time to be alive, I wouldn't know.  But it's clear that women were enjoying some measure of personal freedom - they could get married and raise kids, or get married and be frustrated in a career.  (I think later in the 1970's, women got to say, "Wait a minute, there should be a few more choices...")

The main character here just longs for a simple life with a husband, but each time she thinks she's found it, her husband gets a sudden urge to strive and succeed, which means more time away from her, and then their jobs end up killing them, in one way or another.  What's the overall message here?  That men who try to provide for their loved ones end up spending too much time away from those very same people?  People should try to be successful, but not TOO successful?  That fame and fortune are elusive, because after all, you can't take it with you?

It's a muddled message, at best.  But just like those choices everyone makes, it's better to not assign too much meaning to the events which have taken place.  Our heroine here does just that, and comes to the conclusion that she's a jinx, that it's somehow her fault that her husbands overworked themselves, and perhaps she should have done things differently.  Hindsight is 20/20, but no one should beat themselves up over choices made with good intent.

It's also a radical notion of what constitutes success, or at least I'm guessing the idea was radical at the time - was this seen as some kind of hippie socialist message film?  Did the notion that a janitor could be more happy than, say, a billionaire executive even make sense to anyone at the time?  Does it even make sense now?  Can someone even be "doomed to success"?

I'm probably overthinking this.  Perhaps whoever put this together just wanted to do crazy send-ups of different movie genres.  Each marriage is compared to a different style of film, like silent comedies, dance musicals, big-budget epics, or stylized foreign films.  Maybe it's just one big in-joke, using the language of film to parody the history of film.  Yeah, let's go with that.

The blog will be dark for a couple of days, since we have to go to Philadelphia for a friend's wedding.  That makes the scheduling of this film seem really timely, doesn't it?

Also starring Shirley MacLaine (last seen in "Ocean's Eleven"), Dean Martin (last seen in "Robin and the 7 Hoods"), Dick Van Dyke (last seen in "Fitzwilly"), Robert Mitchum (last seen in "The Night of the Hunter"), Gene Kelly (last seen in "An American in Paris"), Bob Cummings, Margaret Dumont.

RATING: 4 out of 10 charging elephants

Friday, August 16, 2013

Slap Shot

Year 5, Day 228 - 8/16/13 - Movie #1,511

BEFORE:  This is it, the end of the line for sports, I'm clearing the category tonight.  I've learned quite a bit, and I didn't expect to discover that all sports movies are essentially the same, but that's about where I've found myself.  With that, it's time to move on to other topics.  Linking from "Goon", Eugene Levy was in "For Your Consideration" with Paul Dooley (last heard in "Cars 2"), who has a cameo in tonight's film as a hockey announcer. 

THE PLOT:  A failing ice hockey team finds success using constant fighting and violence during games. 

AFTER: I'm going to tread a little lightly tonight, since this film might actually be the progenitor of modern sports movies, the ones that are more comedy-oriented and not just bio-pics of famous athletes like Jim Thorpe or Jackie Robinson.  It's not hard to see "Major League" as a direct descendant of this film, someone just changed the sport from hockey to baseball and wrapped up the Hanson brothers in a Charlie Sheen-shaped ball and re-named him "Wild Thing". 

But even with that in mind, I found this film to be pretty disjointed.  It sort of came off as a collection of wild anecdotes, rather then a strong connected narrative.  I get that the team might be shut down, I get that there's a plan to save the team, but I feel that it might be a nice idea to clue the audience in on exactly what the plan is, and how it works. 

Again, not understanding the mechanics of hockey, it's hard for me to follow the steps - we start fighting more at the games, more people get interested, attendance goes up, and the team is saved.  Umm, OK, if you say so.  But if the mill is closing in the town, doesn't that mean that people will have LESS money, and be LESS likely to spend money on something frivolous like hockey tickets?  It's just tough to follow the logic, that's all. 

I'm once again how genuine the actors are - did they cast real meatheads to play meatheads, or are the actors just that good?  I could kind of believe the Hansons are the "real deal", but they're also too much like stereotypes of hockey goons to be taken seriously, so I'm a little confused. 

The sexual politics and locker-room talk were a little confusing, too.  Admittedly I was not an adult during the swinging 70's, but I can sort of extrapolate.  You'd expect a depiction of athletes to include a lot of screwing around on road trips, and there is some of that here, but less than I'd expect.  Some of the players are married, and marriage is depicted as sort of a less-than-ideal situation, which perhaps it is for some.  But all of the gay + lesbian references seem a little off, as if the writer didn't fully understand those orientations.  A woman who is married to a man but also sleeps with women would today be called bisexual, not a "raging dyke".  And twice in the film, people wonder that if a man has a lesbian wife, does that make him a "fag"?  Umm, unless he's also sleeping with men, then no, that's not really how it works. 

NITPICK POINT: Even in the minor leagues of hockey, I find it hard to believe that a team would be allowed to go to the playoffs with a different line-up of players than the one they used during the regular season.  There's got to be some rule about this, right?  It makes for a great film moment when the opposing team is shown to be stocked with goons, but who allowed this to happen?  There is simply a point before the post-season where the roster has to be locked - I'm not a sports expert but I'm fairly sure about this. 

Also starring Paul Newman (last seen in "The Long, Hot Summer"), Michael Ontkean (last seen in "The Descendants"), Strother Martin (last seen in "Cool Hand Luke"), Jennifer Warren, Lindsay Crouse (last seen in "The Verdict"), Jerry Houser, Swoosie Kurtz (last seen in "Reality Bites"), M. Emmet Walsh (last seen in "Youth in Revolt"), Andrew Duncan, Brad Sullivan.

RATING: 4 out of 10 radio interviews

Thursday, August 15, 2013


Year 5, Day 227 - 8/15/13 - Movie #1,510

BEFORE:  Sure, I could have watched "Mighty Ducks" #2 + #3, but honestly, I don't feel the need.  Plus that would screw up the schedule that I just re-worked.

I haven't really been talking about my progress in making my watchlist smaller, mainly because there just hasn't been any.  I've got 230 movies left on the list, and 6 months ago, I also had 230 movies left on the list (not the same 230, obviously...).  So every day I've watched a film, I've also found one to add.  It makes the whole process seem rather futile, but now, thanks to the dispute between CBS and Time Warner, I'm not getting the CBS-owned channels like Showtime and The Movie Channel, so I've got my best chance in a long while to get that number down.  And I've got 90 more chances to move that needle before I close up shop for the year.

Linking from "The Mighty Ducks", Joshua Jackson was also in "Scream 2" with Liev Schreiber (last seen in "The Manchurian Candidate").

THE PLOT:  Labeled an outcast by his brainy family, a bouncer overcomes long odds to lead a team of under performing misfits to semi-pro hockey glory, beating the crap out of everything that stands in his way.

AFTER:  I'll be honest, when I read the plot summary I was afraid that this was just going to be another rehash of the same old sports movie clichés - (come on, say it with me...) a ragtag bunch of losers (with one outstanding player, and one grizzled veteran) have to overcome adversity to form a team and, through hard work, determination and a few trick plays, take an unlikely run at the playoffs. (see also: "Bad News Bears", "Major League", etc. etc.)

And this film sort of meets those expectations, then it kind of exceeds them, or perhaps it finds a way around them.  For starters, no one is court-mandated to coach the team - the coach here is a pretty realistic minor-league hockey coach (one assumes) and the whole thing is told from the point of view of the "unlikely" player - though he's sort of like that giant kid in "The Mighty Ducks" who could shoot the puck well, but couldn't skate.  Tonight's hero can fight like crazy, so he just needs to learn how to play hockey.

Or, maybe not - since the coach only puts him in when one of his players gets fouled, so he can go pick a fight with the player who committed the foul, and beat the daylights out of him.  This is what I've been looking for in a hockey film - something that really gets into the mechanics of the game.  I thought that a hockey fight was something that just happened, but according to this film, it's a major part of the strategy.  After all, one of the players from the fight is bound to get a penalty, which leads to time in the penalty box, which leads to a power play, where one team has more players on the ice and can score more easily.

Actually, I'm still really confused by hockey, because it seems like players come in and out of the game very frequently, like in the middle of the play, and this seems odd.  I guess I'm used to baseball, since you wouldn't change your second baseman in the middle of an inning unless he got injured on a play, and if that happened, all game activity would cease for about a half-hour.  But hockey just keeps on going, and guys keep jumping on and off the ice, seemingly at random.

Another cliché that gets touched on here is that of rivalries - there's a veteran player that's been sent down to the minors because of his rough play, and it turns out the guy he injured is a teammate of the central character (who got sent down because he lost his "mojo" after the injury).  But since each team has sort of an "enforcer" character, the veteran's real rivalry is with our hero, Doug "The Thug".  But they've never met, so how can they be rivals?  Ah, but they're destined to meet, and they're destined to fight in the end.

What's interesting about the long build-up to this fight is that it suggests that hockey (and therefore, logically, boxing) is really a mental game.  But if that were the case, then two boxers would step into the ring and try to out-think each other, meaning no punches would get thrown, and that's just ridiculous.  Boxing (and therefore, logically, hockey) is a brutal, non-thinking game, and that's what gets depicted here.

(ASIDE: Hockey sort of reminds me of chess boxing, which intrigues me, and yes, it's a real sport.  It's just like it sounds, two men box each other for a round, then switch gears and play chess for 5 (?) minutes, then it's back to boxing.  It seems stupid, until you realize that it's an intense physical activity that involves being hit in the head, followed by a mental activity that could be made more difficult by being hit in the head.  The Olympic biathlon (cross-country skiing and target shooting) didn't make much sense either, until I realized it's an intense activity that increases the heart rate, followed by a activity that requires complete calm and a low heart rate.)

But why is the dialogue so terrible in this film?  It's so bad, it feels like a half-written film - they couldn't even think of proper comebacks when one player insults another.  (OK, maybe they're trying to show the other character is stupid, but come on....even stupid people can yell back.)  In the end I couldn't tell if the actors themselves were dumb, or just good at acting like dumb people.

The main character himself is really a big void here, I wasn't sure if he went into hockey because he'd finally found his calling, or he just thought it would be fun, or if he was trying to make his friend (who hosted a public access show about hockey) very happy.  A little insight into a character's motivation goes a long way, and just saying he's "dumb" is a poor substitute.  There's one scene where he defends himself to his parents (who don't quite get the hockey thing), but that's about it.  

Here's what I think happened: a few years back, Kevin Smith announced he would be making a hockey movie, titled "Hit Somebody" - based loosely on the Warren Zevon song in which David Letterman made a vocal cameo as a hockey coach yelling the title phrase.  So some other company decided to rip off the idea and they fast-tracked a hockey movie, even cast an actor who'd been in one of Kevin Smith's films, and by the time they got it released, Smith switched gears and decided to make "Red State" instead.  Which is a nice fake-out, except it left the under-developed opposition with the topic all to themselves.  (Ha, a little research proves my theory - the lead actor here was originally cast by Kevin Smith for his hockey film, and then was replaced.)

You miss 100% of the shots you don't take, Kevin Smith...

NITPICK POINT: And this is not against the movie, it's against bagpipes, which appear in the film playing at the games of the Halifax Highlanders.  There's that signature tune, the one you always hear bagpipers playing in movies, and it has that really high note that always, always, sounds out of tune.  Maybe it's just difficult to hit that note, but for Christ's sake, can't anyone play this instrument correctly?  Or is every set of bagpipes everywhere just constantly in need of tuning?  And if there's no possible way to play this song right on the bagpipes, why does everyone keep trying?  Hire better bagpipers, or pick a different damn song, one where people can hit all the notes right.

Also starring Seann William Scott (last seen in "Cop Out"), Jay Baruchel (last seen in "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian"), Alison Pill (last seen in "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World"), Eugene Levy (last seen in "Almost Heroes"), Marc-André Grondin, Jonathan Cherry.

RATING: 5 out of 10 head-butts

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Mighty Ducks

Year 5, Day 226 - 8/14/13 - Movie #1,509

BEFORE: Let's keep the hockey theme rolling - er, skating.  Linking from "Miracle", again I rely on the film "The Safety of Objects", which starred both Patricia Clarkson and Joshua Jackson (last heard in "Racing Stripes") from tonight's film.

THE PLOT:  A self-centered lawyer is sentenced to community service coaching a rag tag youth hockey team.

AFTER:  Did I really need to watch this one?  Isn't it the exact same film as "Hardball", only with a different sport?  Callous adult, forced to coach a little league/peewee team, but this enables him to eventually find himself as a caring person, enter a relationship and realize the value of fair play, and that it's not all about winning (even though the team does exactly that).

Oh, there are subtle differences - "Hardball" was set in Chicago, this one's in Minnesota.  "Hardball" had inner-city black kids, this one has mostly white suburban kids.  The coach in "Hardball" was a gambler, this one centers on a lawyer.  But that's all just window-dressing, right?  Both films feature a company sponsoring the team, which of course is full of unlikely athletes except for one with real talent, unusual training methods, and an improbable shot at the championship.  To say these are both by-the-numbers is really an understatement.

Side by side, "Mighty Ducks" shows a bit more restraint.  "Hardball" really oversold it by making the kids a little TOO poor and cute, the coach a little TOO desperate, and the relationship a little TOO improbable.   Plus the flagrant rules violations were a bit much - hockey's a harder sport to cheat at, I think.  Everything from distracting the goalie to running fake plays to faking injuries, it all seems like fair game.

(Again, I maintain that I know nearly nothing about hockey rules.  I start hearing about blue lines and the neutral zone and clearing the puck, and my mind just goes blank.  I know more about the Neutral Zone in "Star Trek" than I do about the one on the hockey rink...)

I still had troubles watching kids act, or perhaps fail to.  The line readings here are broad and oversized, the kind of thing you expect to see on the Disney Channel (this IS a Disney movie, after all) and I just can't take that style of acting seriously.  I wish the kids could have been a bit more natural - couldn't they just watch the adult leads act deadpan, and do what they did?

Also starring Emilio Estevez (last seen in "The Breakfast Club"), Lane Smith (last seen in "The Legend of Bagger Vance"), M.C. Gainey, Heidi King, Josef Sommer, Joss Ackland (last seen in "Miracle on 34th Street"), Eldon Henson.

RATING: 4 out of 10 broken eggs

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


Year 5, Day 225 - 8/13/13 - Movie #1,508

BEFORE: I'm going to close the Sports Report with hockey, 4 films' worth (5 if you count last night's film, which had a bit of hockey in it).  Hockey is the only major league sport I haven't covered, part of that is because I understand hockey even less than I understand golf.  When it comes to sports, I often defer to the wisdom of the late great George Carlin, who declared that there are really only three main sports - baseball, football and basketball - and that hockey doesn't count because it's not played with a ball.  Everything besides the big 3 is an activity.

He also said that in essence, hockey is three activities in one - skating, hitting a puck with a stick, and people beating the crap out of each other.  Is it a coincidence that in the last week my films have covered figure skating, golf (hitting something with a stick) and boxing?  Somehow my subconscious must have remembered Carlin's rules and assembled movies on those three topics in a row, culminating in a hockey chain.  So, welcome to Team Golf (plus Boxing) on Ice.

Linking from "The Cutting Edge", Moira Kelly was also in "The Safety of Objects" with Patricia Clarkson (last seen in "The Dead Pool").

THE PLOT: The true story of Herb Brooks, the player-turned-coach who led the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team to victory over the seemingly invincible Russian squad.

AFTER: This film is set during the Winter Olympics of 1980, and if you can remember the Games of 1980 like I can, well that means you'll feel really old when I point out that was 33 years ago.  I was 11 at the time, so that makes me...well, let's just say 39+, OK?  But in a way that was a different time - the Russians had invaded Afghanistan, and because the U.S. was thinking about boycotting the Summer Games in the U.S.S.R, the Soviet countries were threatening to not come to Lake Placid.  Today, the U.S. has occupied Afghanistan, and because of human rights policies, some people in the U.S. want to boycott next year's Olympics in Sochi, Russia.  See?  Totally different.

Before getting around to hockey, this film details the events of the 1970's, like the Iran hostage crisis, the energy crisis, inflation, and even Watergate, as if to suggest that the nation was broken, and needed some unifying force to rally back.  Later in the film President Carter's famous speech is played, the one where he said that "the erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and political fabric of America".  The suggestion here is that Olympic hockey saved the nation, and I'm not sure I'm willing to go that far. 

Sure, we all tuned in to watch Olympic hockey, and sure, the games were exciting, but let's keep some perspective here.  After all, there continued to be political scandals and mistrust in our elected officials in the decades that followed.  A sports victory can only do so much, it can't fix a broken socio-economic system, OK?

Putting that aside, the film does a pretty good job of reminding us how thrilling it was when the scrappy young U.S. team beat the more experienced, genetically superior Soviet team that had been functioning as a unit for a much longer period of time.  In addition there's great detail about the extensive training the team underwent to face their opponents.  And there's a great connection made between WHAT the coach makes them do, and WHY he makes them do it.  The only downside comes with the extensive shots of the coach staring at pieces of paper, or making diagrams on a glass board.  There's just no way for the details of the training to come through, at least not to me.

The adversities that needed to be overcome in order to win medals included both the physical (battling injuries during games and exhaustion during training) and the emotional (rivals from different colleges forced to work together).  So this fits in perfectly with my new theory about proper sports films.

My rating is for the sports aspect, minus the overblown political implications.  I suppose I should deduct points for not depicting the gold medal round against Finland, but then again, we all know that was sort of an afterthought to the game against the U.S.S.R. anyway.

Also starring Kurt Russell (last seen in "3000 Miles to Graceland"), Eddie Cahill, Noah Emmerich (last seen in "Super 8"), Patrick O'Brien Demsey, Michael Mantenuto, Nathan West, Kenneth Mitchell, Eric Peter-Kaiser, and the voice of Al Michaels.

RATING: 6 out of 10 bodychecks

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Cutting Edge

Year 5, Day 224 - 8/12/13 - Movie #1,507

BEFORE:  I know, it seems a little strange to be watching a film about a winter sport like figure skating here in the middle of summer.  But a sports film is a sports film - they all share the same DNA, right?  Besides, the Winter Olympics is just 7 months away, so I'm really ahead of the curve - and said Winter Olympics were in the news last week due to rumblings of a possible boycott over Russia's anti-gay policies.  Which I think could be really bad news for some male figure skaters.

Anyway, D.B. Sweeney carries over from "Hardball", so that re-affirms my choice to transition this way.

THE PLOT:  A tempermental but talented figure skater's coach recruits a hockey player to partner with her through the difficult training for Nationals and the Olympics.

AFTER:  As often happens here at the Movie Year, an unintended secondary theme has surfaced.  This chain was put together merely to reference different sports and find the commonalities among them, and the common thread this week turned out to be desperation.  I can trace it all the way back to "Here Comes the Boom", where a teacher desperately needed to raise money to fund a school music program, through the boxing films, golfers who were desperate to regain their perfect swings, a baseball scout desperate to keep his job despite his age, and a man so desperate to escape his gambling debts he'd become a baseball coach.  Oh, yeah, and the knuckleball was portrayed as the go-to pitch for guys desperate to salvage their baseball careers.

Tonight we've got a hockey player who gets injured, and is desparate to get back in the game - and when he fails, he transitions to figure-skating, still desparate to get a medal of some kind.  And the figure skater is equally desparate for a medal, and having been through countless partners, she is forced to partner with a man she does not respect in order to be part of a prominent skating pair and have a shot at the gold.

What is it about desperation that fuels these athletes?  Or is that just a shortcut to portray an underdog to the audience, since we all want to see the little guy win, or at least be competitive.  We identify with the underdog, the unlikely or incompetent hero who just needs a little bit of an edge to have a shot at winning, because we like to think of ourselves in the same position, even though we're probably completely out of shape, and the closest we'll come to the Olympics is watching them on TV.

You just wouldn't want to watch a movie about a superior athlete who hit the genetic jackpot and doesn't have to train very hard, or a team that buys up so many superstars that winning the championship is practically an afterthought - where's the drama in that?  So every sports movie has to be an underdog story in some way, or show the central figure overcoming some kind of physical, mental or cultural adversity.  "We Are Marshall", "Rudy", "Chariots of Fire", "Cool Runnings", "The Scout", "Days of Thunder", "Bad News Bears", "Kingpin", "The Hurricane", "Million Dollar Baby" - I can go on and on...

I'm sure there must be some exceptions, but I kind of feel like I've cracked the code.  Overcoming adversity or physical limitations goes hand-in-hand with winning, according to the language of film.
(A film that showed someone who was merely good at their sport, and won by just plain being "better" would probably feel like half of a film...) And "The Cutting Edge" is a prime example.  If these seemingly mismatched atheletes can't find a way to work together, then they can't succeed.  And it's only when their personal lives get straightened out, and they finally admit the attraction between them, that they are able to perform at their personal best on the ice.

Which, in addition to feeling a little contrived, also seems like something of an over-simplification.  I think it's safe to assume that there are plenty of athletes playing professional sports who also have fairly screwed-up personal lives.  How many people have to take the field each weekend (any sport, pick one...) who are having marital troubles, or are cheating on their spouses, or are just plain sleeping around?  As seen at the start of this film, the Olympics is a chance for people from all different countries to compete, and have casual sex with each other afterwards.  And if I needed to list every pro player with complicated relationships, well, I don't have that kind of room.

But let's take one prominent example, Tiger Woods.  His adulterous affairs came to light in 2009, and once his wife finished beating his car with a golf club, he took a break from golf, and people are still waiting for him to return to form.  So perhaps there is some connection between a happy personal life and a successful sporting career.  But what if he was playing at the top of his game WHILE he was having all those affairs - what does that signify?

NITPICK POINT: If Kate was such a great skater, then why did she need a partner at all?  Why wasn't she competing as a female solo skater?  I guess they kind of addressed this point late in the film, but still...

NITPICK POINT #2: If Doug had a medical injury that prevented him from playing hockey, specifically his vision, why didn't this injury also affect his performance as a figure skater?  Surely having a blind spot while skating was a potential problem in the new sport, too, right?

Also starring Moira Kelly (last seen in "Billy Bathgate"), Roy Dotrice (last seen in "The Scarlet Letter"), Terry O'Quinn (last seen in "The Rocketeer"), Dwier Brown, Chris Benson.

RATING: 5 out of 10 tequila shots

Sunday, August 11, 2013


Year 5, Day 223 - 8/11/13 - Movie #1,506

BEFORE:  Wrapping up the baseball films with a look at Little League ball.  I can't really link properly out of "Knuckleball!" either, so I may have to suspend my rules to accommodate documentaries.  But Derek Jeter was also in "Anger Management" with Woody Harrelson, who was also in "A Scanner Darkly" with Keanu Reeves (last seen in "Johnny Mnemonic").  So that's something.

THE PLOT:  An aimless young man who is scalping tickets, gambling and drinking, agrees to coach a Little League team from a housing project as a condition of getting a loan from a friend.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "The Bad News Bears" (Movie #94)

AFTER: At first this seems like a modernized version of "The Bad News Bears", only set in the projects for more relevance, and with the lead coach character made younger for more appeal.  And in a sense that's what it is, since it doesn't seem to aspire to be any more than that.  The plot also reminded me of "Here Comes the Boom", with the main character trying to go further out of his way to help everyone in a cascading chain.  He needs more players on the team, so he has to promise their parents he'll help them with schoolwork, so he needs to get permission from the teacher, and she needs something else, and so on.

And in the process he learns to put others first, and not be always thinking about himself, and thus he redeems himself from being the self-centered gambling addict we see at the beginning of the film.  (How DARE those Chicago Bulls not cover the spread!  It's like they didn't consider my needs at all!) And I'm fine with that as character development, really.

But in the process, it delivers an odd message - it's OK to bet your way out of owing money to a bookie?  Just place bigger and bigger bets, and when one of them pays off, you can cover all the other bad bets!  Meanwhile, since he had a way of earning money by coaching the team, it would have been a stronger message if he'd paid down his debt week by week.  Also, he didn't feel the need to teach the kids the mechanics of the game, or at least we didn't see it, so it seemed like he was only interested in dropping off the equipment and letting them figure it out.  Or, even easier, just taking them to a major-league game, and letting them just pick up the fundamentals from watching.

Also, somehow it's OK to lie about a kid's age if you're short one player?  Again, that's a strange message to be sending out to the kids, that it's OK to break the rules if you need to.  I agree that the other coach seemed to have it in for our hero's team, but that doesn't make it OK.  And why the sudden turn-around made by the other coach?  Why did he suddenly decide to look the other way, rather than take a forced forfeit?

Furthermore, the film takes some liberties with the editing of the final few games in the season.  It's an odd choice to show the a decisive game-changing moment only in flashback, and then to not show any footage from the final game at all - almost saying that the final game doesn't even matter, when in fact it should be the most significant game of all.

NITPICK POINT: The film is set in Chicago, but the coach takes the kids to Tiger Stadium.  In Detroit, which is taking kids across state lines without parental consent.  That would seem to constitute a felony.  I look forward to the sequel where this guy was sued by the parents and has to coach a baseball team while in prison.

Also starring Diane Lane (last seen in "Man of Steel"), John Hawkes (last seen in "Congo"), Michael B. Jordan (last seen in "Chronicle"), D.B. Sweeney (last seen in "Memphis Belle"), Michael McGlone (last seen in "The Bone Collector"), Mark Margolis (last seen in "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective"), with a cameo from Sammy Sosa. 

RATING: 4 out of 10 slices of pizza