Pages Menu
TwitterRsslogin
Categories Menu

Posted by on Jul 11, 2018 in Blog, Essays, General Poker, Movie Reviews | 0 comments

Doyle Brunson’s All-Time Favorite Movie Westerns — Part 2

 

 

I recently went to dinner with poker legend Doyle Brunson.

Prior to this interview, which took place at Roma Deli in Las Vegas in May 2018, I asked Doyle to come up with a list of his “20 favorite westerns.”

Doyle couldn’t restrain himself.  He not only came up with 20 great westerns.  He tripled the request and listed more than 60 favorites.  Doyle probably could have listed at least 100 movies and talked about every single one of them.  Most incredible, without any notes or references, even at age 84, Doyle was able to remember and recite intricate details about each movie and shared with us why each film on his list meant something special to him.

Here is PART 2 of the series, which ranks Doyle’s favorite movie westerns — numbers #11 through #30.

 

Miss the previous episode?  Here’s a link to PART 1 — numbers #31 through #60.

These video clips last about 25 minutes each.

You can also see the complete list of Doyle’s favorite westerns ranked here at the 5th Street Sports website once Part 3 has been posted.  The final segment will be posted shortly, which contains Doyle’s “Top Ten” list.

This video series is brought to you by 5thStreetSports.com.

__________

Read More

Posted by on Jun 7, 2018 in Blog, Essays, General Poker, Movie Reviews | 0 comments

Talking Westerns with Doyle Brunson

 

 

I recently went to dinner with poker legend Doyle Brunson.

Prior to this interview, which took place at Roma Deli in Las Vegas in May 2018, I asked Doyle to come up with a list of his “20 favorite westerns.”

Doyle couldn’t contain himself.  He not only came up with 20 great westerns.  He tripled the request and listed more than 60 favorites.  Doyle probably could have listed at least 100 movies and talked about every single one of them.  Most incredible, without any notes or references, even at age 84, Doyle was able to remember and recite intricate details about each movie and shared with us why each film on his list meant something special to him.

Here is PART 1 of the series, which ranks Doyle’ favorite movie westerns — numbers #31 through #60.  The video clip runs about 20 minutes.  CLICK LINK HERE

You can also see the list of Doyle’s favorite westerns ranked at the 5th Street Sports website.

__________

 

Read More

Posted by on Apr 8, 2018 in Blog, Essays, Movie Reviews | 2 comments

Here’s a List of Movies Where I Walked Out….

 

 

Last night, I almost walked out of my first movie the year.

But morbid curiosity kept my ass parked in the seat and my eyes fixated on the screen.  This movie has to get better — I thought to myself.  It just has to.  So, I decided to stick it out until the very end.

Big mistake.  It didn’t get better.  It got worse.  Way worse.

The two lead characters kill themselves in the final scene.  They offed themselves by inhaling the poisonous exhaust fumes of a 1975 Winnebago.  No folks, I didn’t make this up.  Seriously.  That’s how the movie ended — two lifeless bodies charred like day-old brisket locked in a smoker.  Roll the credits!

Anyone up for some Lucille’s barbecue, afterward?  Never mind, doggie bags.  Two caskets, please.

Oh, and the movie was advertised as one of those light comedy-romance road trips supposedly filled with lots of wisdom and reflections of life.  Buckle up!  Start the engine!  Pure joy!

Man, I wish I’d walked out.

On average, I see about 20 to 25 movies per year in theaters which comes to one film every two weeks.  My walk-out frequency is about ten percent, which means I don’t fuck around, folks.  Yes, I storm out of 2 to 3 movies per year.  My departure rate would be much higher if I didn’t do some serious screening and filtering.  I do read critics reviews and tend to see movies on subjects that interest me.  I stay away from horror films and Adam Sandler movies, which for me is kinda’ the same thing.

Here’s a short list of ten well-known movies I remember walking out on.  Obviously, I’ve stormed out of many lesser-known (now forgotten) movies.  This list of ten movies includes some better-known and even widely popular films I couldn’t stomach until the end:

 

BIRD [1988] — This was Clint Eastwood’s pet project for many years and for him a departure from the usual westerns and crime dramas.  It’s an overly-long film biography based on the all-too-short life of jazz great Charlie Parker (a.k.a. “Bird”).  This sure sounds like a compelling story.  The soundtrack alone stacked with Parker’s original recordings and outtakes would seem to be more than enough to carry the film through to the end.  But I made it only about midway.  Every note is flat instead of sharp.  Parker sure loved his dope.  If he shared a few snorts, I might have lasted a bit longer.  Congrats, Bird — you were my first walk out.

 

LA DOLCE VITA [1960] — This Italian classic directed by Federico Fellini was made two years before I was born.  I saw it much later on at a retro-cinema which played nothing but old movies.  Wow.  What heaping pile of shit.  Yeah, sure.  I get all the cinematic breakthroughs film students woo about that were abundant throughout this film, and I sure love European period pieces from this era.  But holy spaghetti, couldn’t someone at least have written a decent script for starters?  Unsure if perhaps my earlier impression was wrong, I tried watching this again on television many years later (perhaps my tastes had changed, or perhaps I even matured — wishful thinking, indeed).  The second viewing, I didn’t make it as far as the first time.  Don’t ask me how La Dolce Vita ends.  I don’t know.  I don’t want to know.  I will never know.  I don’t care.  But if someone’s made it through to the end and can report it involves Winnebago exhaust fumes, please message me.  I’d be delighted to give it a third try.

 

STAR WARS [1999] — I forgot which Star Wars movie I hated.  Well, just about all of them.  But the one with Liam Neeson as a swordfighter with a giant man-bun where Natalie Portman plays a queen who looks like she has lip cancer was the worst of the worst.  I kinda’ liked the first Star Wars movie, but everything made since then has been horrible (I’ve only seen three films to be fair — realizing this franchise with spaceships, special effects, and grunting gorillas isn’t suited to my taste).  I made it through about an hour and 20 minutes of the Neeson-Portman Star Wars (Phantom Menace) but then gave up.  It was playing at the $1 movie.  I was tempted to ask for my buck back but the manager might have called the cops.  Damn place was packed with geeks, many apparently seeing the movie for the up-teenth time, hanging on every word from Portman’s lip melanoma.

 

LORD OF THE RINGS [2001] — I’m not into midgets, dancing ferries, and weird-looking old wise men with wild hair and long beards — although that last remark hits just a little too close to home.  I bought a ticket to the first Peter Jackson movie (I hear this was a trilogy — but all it took for me was ONE STRIKE, and I was OUT).  Beforehand, I was kicking and screaming and knew I’d hate it.  But hey, it won “Best Picture,” so everyone’s right and I must be wrong.  Well — I was right, again.  About 40 minutes into a parade of waddling midgets and doddering old people, I turned to Marieta (wife) and said, “fuck it….we’re out of here.”  She replied, “thank you!!!….I thought maybe it was just me.  Let’s fucking go!!!”  Great minds think alike.

 

MONSTER’S BALL [2001] — I had to see what all the hoopla was about surrounding Halle Berry’s Oscar-winning performance, even though from what I can tell she’s never made a decent movie — including this one.  At one point, Berry screws hillbilly hunk Billy Bob Thorton, who plays a redneck racist (I know, so hard to buy into the casting).  If the scene of Thorton banging Berry isn’t enough to make you squirm and storm out and head straight for a shower with a fresh bar of Lava, then nothing else will.  Afterward, I felt as though I’d overdosed on a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken at a Ku Klux Klan rally.  Bwwwwwaaaaah.

 

NAPOLEAN DYNAMITE [2004] — Dumb as fuck.  I lost IQ points inside the theater.  Give me some credit, please.  I gave it the old college try.  I gave it my best shot.  The movie theater was packed with pimply 14-year-olds all giggling like schoolgirls high on paint fumes.  Looking back now, I think the scene of the suicidal Winnebago I witnessed last night was funnier than Napolean Dynamite.  Total dreck.   By the way, what happened to the actor who played the lead?  Did he do a McCaulay Culkin?  No one’s seen him sense.  So, perhaps the film wasn’t totally without redeeming qualities.

 

THE BLACK DAHLIA [2006] — Not exactly Brian De Palma’s best work.  Wish I had a Full Metal Jacket because after seeing this I sure felt like Scarface.  Pre-crazy Angelina Jolie stars in this movie about a true crime that happened in Los Angeles during the 1940’s.  Josh Hartnett co-starred.  Something about Josh Hartnett seriously creeps me out.  I can’t stand the guy.  Gawd, this movie sucked.  Lasted about 40 minutes and then split the cinematic crime scene.  De Palma should have been charged with pickpocketing in a mass class-action lawsuit for making this film.

 

CASINO ROYALE [2006] — I’ve seen just about all the James Bond films.  This marks the downfall, the turning point where the franchise turned sour for me, which wasn’t entirely Daniel Craig’s fault (though he desperately lacks the panache and humor of his predecessors).  Casino Royale was a dull remake of an earlier film that wasn’t very good to begin with.  The Bond franchise has since become an extended 2-hour commercial, a shameless succession of product placements and little more than an excuse to squeeze every last dollar out of a corpse of creativity.  Even the once-great villains in Bond movies are boring as fuck.  Producer Barbara Broccoli, who inherited this film dynasty from her late father should not be allowed anywhere near a movie studio unless she’s holding a garden hose.  And besides, the poker scenes were atrocious.

 

TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY [2011] — Someone should have received an Oscar for somehow making writer-spymaster John le Carre so boring as to be utterly unwatchable.  I thought such a thing would have been impossible.  Hard to believe the great Gary Oldman couldn’t salvage this snoozefest that seemed to be shot through a cloudy camera lens that desperately needed a blast of Windex.  This might be dullest, slowest-moving, most pointless movie I’ve ever attempted to stick through.  I didn’t make it and surrendered to the Russians about an hour in.  So dull, it makes the thought of attending an insurance seminar instead seem like a wild sex orgy.

 

ANCHORMAN 2:  THE LEGEND CONTINUES [2013] — I blame myself entirely.  What in the hell was I thinking even remotely considering this would be something I’d enjoy?  It can’t really be that bad, can it?  Well, yeah — it was that bad.  Holy shit — what an awful movie.  A painful experience.  Makes Mall Cop seem like Serpico.  Of course, defying all human decency, Anchorman and Anchorman 2 earned millions at the box office and they’ll probably make a dozen more.  The official title of this excruciating exercise in filmmaking is “The Legend Continues.”  Please, dear god.  Don’t let this legend continue.  Makes Police Academy 6 look like Vertigo.

  ______

Read More

Posted by on Mar 29, 2018 in Blog, Essays, Movie Reviews | 1 comment

My Ten Favorite Baseball Movies

 

 

Baseball season starts today.

I’m not much of a baseball fan, that is, except when I gamble on the games.  Then, I become a fanatic.  I don’t have a favorite team.  I cheer for whichever team I bet on.

Baseball is strange.  Unlike football, baseball doesn’t come across particularly well on television.  Yet for reasons I can’t explain, baseball is far superior when it comes to being the subject of movies.  At least a dozen outstanding baseball movies and documentaries instantly come to mind, which you’ll read about shortly.  Meanwhile, I struggle to come up with even a single great movie about football.  Or, basketball.  Or, most other sports.  Go figure.

What follows are my all-time favorite movies about baseball.

First, let’s begin with my four “Honorable Mentions.”  This means movies well worth seeing, but didn’t quite round all the bases and crack my top ten list:

 

HONORABLE MENTION:

Mantle (2005)

Mickey Mantle carried the weight of a nation on his shoulders.  He was the most popular athlete in America on the most storied franchise in sports history during an era when the country was at the height of its world power when nothing seemed impossible.  Mantle’s towering home runs and infectious “aw-shucks” attitude masked deeply hidden insecurities.  He played hard on the field and then partied much harder off of it.  Was Mantle, as some insist, a tragic hero?  That’s for us to decide in this mesmerizing film directed by George Roy, who produced several other terrific sports documentaries.  Mantle steadfastly refuses to lionize the ex-New York Yankee great.  Instead, this gripping hour-long biography from HBO Films provides an honest and revealing portrait of a shy country boy from rural Oklahoma who made it big in New York City and then slowly threw it all away one drink at a time.  His story passionately told through surviving family members and several notable celebrities who grew up worshipping “the Mick.”  The final scenes of a once-great Mantle reduced to a broken man overwhelmed with grief and consumed by regret is heartbreaking.  “You talk about a role model….,” Mantle tearfully says during his dying final hours.  “….Yeah, I’m a role model — don’t be like me.”  This documentary can be watched in its entirety HERE.

 

A League of Their Own (1992)

Penny Marshall directed this fun caper about an all-ladies baseball team based on a real pro baseball league for women which existed during the 1940’s.  Buoyed by a terrific script, an outstanding musical soundtrack, and excellent performances throughout from an all-star cast, A League of Their Own has become one of the most successful baseball movies of all time — both at the box office and by critical acclaim.  Geena Davis, Tom Hanks, Madonna, Jon Lovitz, Rosie O’Donnell, David Strathairn, Garry Marshall, and Bill Pullman are each perfectly cast in a movie that will leave you laughing and cheering in equal measure.  See the movie trailer — HERE.

 

Sugar (2008)

For every multi-million dollar earning superstar who makes it big in the majors, unnamed thousands do not.  Failing to make it as a pro is a tough reality for anyone to face.  But it’s even more of a devastation to ballplayers born in the Caribbean, for which baseball has become one of the only exits out of a life of poverty.  Over many decades, a vast number of “immigrant athletes” arrived in America dreaming of success.  Each young man carried the longshot hopes of their families back at home.  Most struggled in the minor leagues for a few years before eventually being cut by management.  They return to the barren sandlots where the seeds of ambition first took to bloom and fade into oblivion.  Sugar is a little-known movie (mostly in Spanish with English subtitles) about a once-gifted pitcher from the Dominican Republic.  He’s determined to use his left arm and a wicked curveball to lift himself and his family out of the slums of Santo Domingo.  He dreams of buying a Cadillac with his first paycheck.  Then, upon arrival in the Midwest, reality sets in.  Trapped in a foreign land, riding buses between ball fields, and lacking the language skills that might offer other alternatives, Sugar increasingly feels isolation and loneliness.  The stress of making it to the majors and signing the big contract that can alter the lives of loved ones back at home is slowly corroded by the ticking time clock on every young ballplayer, leading to the depressing self-realization that for most people, dreams don’t come true.  If this movie sounds sad, well it is sad — in parts.  But it’s also surprisingly uplifting.  I’ll leave it at that and let the suspense linger.  Watch the movie trailer HERE.

 

Brooklyn Dodgers:  The Ghosts of Flatbush (2007)

No team meant more to the people of a place than the Brooklyn Dodgers.  The Ghosts of Flatbush is the true story not just of a baseball team, but of neighborhoods otherwise segregated by race, class, ethnicity, and religion — which all unite as one community to cheer on the beloved team at Ebbets Field.  This documentary does a terrific job explaining why the so-called Brooklyn “bums” were such an integral part of so many people’s lives.  Oddly, the Dodgers weren’t popular because they were winners.  To the contrary, the club struggled for a half-century — in glaring juxtaposition to their two snobby rivals across the East River — the glorious dynasty known as the Yankees up in the Bronx and the deep-rooted Giants who played in uptown Manhattan.  Brooklyn’s Flatbush Avenue may have been just a subway ride away from Yankee Stadium and the Polo Grounds, but the working-class team and its loyal fans might as well have been from a different city on the other side of the planet.  We learn why the great Jackie Robinson was such a transformative historical figure, not just in sports as the first Black man to break baseball’s longstanding color barrier, but as an icon for American culture.  After spending decades near the bottom of the standings, by 1947 (Robinson’s first year) the Dodgers were every bit as talented as the hated Yankees.  Then, just when Brooklyn finally beats the Yankees in the World Series for the first time which sends Flatbush into a frenzy, it all vanishes.  The Dodgers break millions of hearts by packing up and moving to Los Angeles.  The move wasn’t just a devastating blow to fans.  The club’s abandonment came to symbolize an economic shift and cultural sunset on Brooklyn that plagued the borough for the next half-century.  The full two-hour movie can be seen HERE.

______

Now, here’s my top ten countdown:

TOP TEN:

[10]  Major League (1989)

Before Charlie Sheen went cocaine crazy, he starred in some really good movies — most notably Wall Street.  However, Sheen is better known for playing “Wild Thing,” the erratic pitcher in the romp camp comedy Major League.  Never to be taken too seriously, this fun movie features a rogue team of misfits who play for baseball’s perennial laughingstock (at the time) — the last-place Cleveland Indians.  Comprised of by an ideal cast — including  Tom Berenger, Rene Russo, Wesley Snipes, and Corbin Benson — Major League became an instant crowd-pleaser and grossed millions at the box office.  Unfortunately, that massive success led to two awful sequels which followed.  But later misfires don’t detract from our enjoyment of the original.  Watch the movie trailer HERE.

 

[9]  Bull Durham (1988)

I’ve heard several movie buffs insist Bull Durham is a woman’s movie.  Are we allowed to say “Chick Flick?”  I’m not sure about that.  Writer-director Ronald Shelton based his film on real-life experiences when he was playing minor league baseball years earlier for the Durham Bulls (hence, the film’s unusual title).  Susan Sarandon is caught in a love triangle between a rising baseball star (played by Tim Robbins) who is destined for the major leagues versus a fading has-been who’s aging fast and likely in the last months of his final season (played by Kevin Kostner).  Bull Durham successfully blends drama, romance, baseball, and comedy into a film that’s established a lasting legacy with movie audiences.  It’s often ranked among the best sports movies ever made.  I don’t rate it quite so high, but it’s certainly a well-crafted film carried by excellent performances throughout.  Bull Durham’s trailer can be seen HERE.

 

[8]  Bang the Drum Slowly (1973)

One year before Robert De Niro was cast in his breakthrough Academy-Award winning role in The Godfather: Part II, he played a struggling major league catcher with diminished mental capabilities.  Adding to the challenges of trying to be a regular guy on the team and fit normally into society, he’s diagnosed with a terminal illness during a midseason pennant race.  Fearful that his disease will create even more problems and quite possibly trigger a release from the team, with the help of his best friend (a pitcher played by Michael Moriarity), the duo tries to keep the catcher’s terminal illness a secret.  Based on a book of the same title written 15 years earlier, Bang the Drum Slowly is sometimes referred to as baseball’s Brian’s Song.  This mostly-forgotten film often gets overlooked in the broader pantheon of great sports movies.  But it certainly merits a place.  The chemistry between catcher De Niro and Moriarity, along with club manager Vincent Gardenia is often deeply moving.  There are scenes which stick with me to this day, decades after seeing the movie.  The film’s credibility is enhanced by being shot on location at old Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium during midseason while the respective pro teams were away on road trips.  From the empty beer cups littering the outfield to the towels laying all over the locker room, everything looks and feels very real.  This isn’t really a romanticized story about baseball.  This isn’t a story about illness and death.  It’s the story of friendship and the power of the human spirit.   Watch the film trailer HERE.

 

[7]  Eight Men Out (1988)

What really happened with the ill-fated 1919 Chicago White Sox?  They were a great team which intentionally lost the baseball World Series to satisfy personal grievances with their tight-fisted owner and collect bribes from shady gamblers determined to bet on the fix.  Why they did it and which specific players were involved and to what degree is one of the worst scandals in sports history remains a subject of lively speculation nearly a century later.  This movie won’t reveal any hidden secrets, nor solve lingering mysteries.  Still, Eight Men Out remains a thoroughly entertaining account of what made eight players on the very best team in baseball abandon their desire to win a championship in exchange for revenge and profit.  Critical reception to this film was (and is) mixed, and I can appreciate both sides.  Non-baseball fans may be underwhelmed by the story of corrupt ballplayers who were kicked out of the game and were given lifetime bans from baseball as a fitting punishment.  Yet, most hard-core baseball fans love this film and many sympathize with the players as victims.  As the umpire, my ruling is — Eight Men Out is a broken-bat lead-off stand-up triple.  The official trailer can be seen HERE.

 

[6]  The Natural (1984)

Every boy dreams at least once about being Roy Hobbs; stepping up to the plate in the bottom of the 9th; glaring at a mighty fastball; taking a backbreaking swing; then cracking a game-winning home run out of the park into the upper deck light towers.  It’s the stuff boyhood dreams are made of.  Director Barry Levinson completely understood this fantasy.  Accordingly, he crafted one of the greatest baseball movies ever — The Natural.  Robert Redford plays the aging ballplayer Hobbs with a mysterious past.  Glenn Close plays his long-lost love interest and muse.  Audiences will also recognize the rest of a stellar cast — which includes Robert Duvall, Kim Basinger, Wilford Brimley, Barbara Hershey, Richard Farnsworth, Joe Don Baker, Darren McGavin, and Michael Madsen.  However, the dramatic film score by the great songwriter-composer Randy Newman steals the film.  Combined with mystifying visuals in the hands of a masterful filmmaker like Levinson, this makes for a cinematic grand slam.  When old-fashioned filmgoers complain they don’t make movies like they used to — what they likely miss are movies like The Natural.  This film is a throwback to a time when honesty, integrity, and a person’s character mattered most and baseball was looked to as the kettle of those noble virtues.  Watch the final dramatic home run smash HERE.

 

[5]  Ken Burns:  Baseball (1994)

Measured either by ambition or sheer volume, filmmaker Ken Burns’ nine-part film masterpiece on the history of baseball might convincingly be argued as the best movie of its kind ever made on the subject (I considered placing this artistic gem as my #1).  I wasn’t sure it was fair to compare documentaries alongside mostly fictionalized stories, which comprise most of this list.  But then I realized leaving them out would be a grave injustice.  Ken Burns:  Baseball originally aired on PBS back in 1994 over a two-week stretch.  It became one of the most watched public television programs ever.  Nearly 25 years later, it continues to stand the test of time.  Baseball was a daring follow-up to Burns’ epic breakthrough documentary series on the American Civil War which had been completed a few years earlier.  Taking on something so sacred as “the national pastime” seemed an impossible reach.  However, Burns stepped up to the plate and whacked our most lofty expectations out of the park.  This film isn’t just about baseball.  It’s really the story of American culture’s coming of age during the 20th century, manifested in its most popular sport — baseball.  Unapologetically patriotic, informative, riveting, inspirational, and downright poetic in parts, this is the quintessential duel-purpose documentary which somehow satisfies both general movie audiences and academic purists.  Burn’s storytelling techniques influenced a whole genre of documentaries for decades to follow, which remain with us to this day.  This opening monologue, running about three minutes long, is absolutely brilliant.  Watch HERE and see if you agree.

 

[4]  Pride of the Yankees (1942)

What’s not to love and admire about the heroic story of the great Lou Gehrig, played by movie legend Gary Cooper?  One year to the day before the film’s release, the ex-New York Yankee great died tragically from ALS, a dreaded and debilitating disease which not only took Lou Gehrig’s life but also his name.  Gehrig is aptly idolized in Pride of the Yankees, which became the first great sports movie.  It received ten Oscar nominations (more than any other film on my list).  His relationships with family, teammates, and fans are sentimentalized in a way that likely wouldn’t be believed today.  It might even seem a bit hokey.  But back then, Americans badly needed something to cheer for.  America desperately needed heroes in those dark months after the attack on Pearl Harbor when the outbreak of the war wasn’t going well for the U.S. and its allies and the future of the world seemed in peril.  Even in death, Gehrig was a lighthouse of life, exhibiting class and dignity until the very end.  With hundreds of thousands of servicemen about to be shipped off to battles in the Pacific, the Atlantic, Europe, and North Africa Pride of the Yankees was a reminder of just what exactly they all were fighting for.  I really liked this musical montage with clips from the movie — check it out HERE.

 

[3]  Moneyball (2011)

Moneyball has the added intrigue of being a true story.  Brad Pitt plays the role of Billy Beane, the former real-life general manager of the Oakland Athletics during a time when baseball’s playing field wasn’t level.  Teams with fewer resources and small payrolls simply couldn’t compete with the far-richer mammoth franchises.  Facing financial and competitive disadvantages, Beane (aided by a colleague perfectly portrayed by Jonah Hill) came up with an unorthodox idea that came to revolutionize baseball and later other sports too, focusing almost exclusively on the use of analytics.  The book of the same title effectively explains the technical minutiae.  But how does a movie intended to appeal to mass audiences make data-driven decisions in cramped offices seem interesting?  Answer:  Call in Aaron Sorkin to write the script.  As is typical with most of Sorkin’s work, Moneyball’s snappy dialogue becomes almost rhythmic.  Somehow, we begin to understand why spreadsheets create singles.  It’s not bats that put curveballs down the third-base line.  It’s calculations and percentages.  Still, the purists continued to have their doubts.  Even Beane begins to doubt himself and questions his own system.  Then during the middle of 2002 regular season — lacking anyone on the roster who even remotely might be considered a superstar — Oakland goes on a 19-game winning streak, tying the American League record for most consecutive victories.  Soon thereafter, every team in baseball wants to hire Beane.  Even clubs that don’t offer contracts adapt his brilliant use of sabermetrics.  Hence, baseball is a game changed forever.  Unlike most of the other films on this list, there’s little sentimentality to Moneyball.  It’s very likely the most accurate portrayal of what the game is today.  See the trailer HERE.

 

[2]  Field of Dreams (1989)

Field of Dreams has become so mythologized as a cinematic fairy tale that its most famous quote “If you build it, they will come” is now the motto of every believer carrying a dream.  The film has come to symbolize the virtues of sticking with one’s own faith even when there’s compelling evidence to the contrary.  Believe in yourself even with others may not.  Kevin Costner plays an Iowa corn farmer with a wife and daughter.  However, these are tough economic times in the American heartland.  Costner’s family appears to have run out of options.  Their crisis is worsened by a crazy idea inspired by a vision one evening, a voice from the sky which instructs Costner’s character to build a baseball field in the middle of a cornfield.  The film seems preposterously implausible on the surface but somehow convinces us all that our subconscious gut instincts are both real and should even be pursued.  Field of Dreams is made all the better by strong supporting roles played by Amy Madigan, James Earl Jones, Ray Liotta, and Burt Lancaster (in what most fittingly was his final film appearance).  It’s hard to convey the mesmerizing quality of this film without seeing it.  Many critics consider it the best baseball movie ever made.  Hard to disagree.  But I think there’s one film that’s even better.  Watch the official trailer HERE.

 

[1]  The Bad News Bears (1976)

If there’s one film which perfectly captures the times in which it was made, it’s the 1976 baseball classic, The Bad News Bears.  It’s cynical.  It’s profane.  It’s joyous.  It’s a double-barrelled middle finger to the establishment.  A scathing takedown of suburban American life in all its competitive-infested hypocrisies, the misfit Bears take a flamethrower and incinerate every common societal expectation.  Against all odds, each individual, by working together as a team, manages to create his and her own self-identity.  Incited by a heretical set of values preached but rarely followed, the film manages to incriminate what we normally define as success.

Walter Matthau plays an alcoholic loser and emotionally distant loner tasked with the undesirable role no one else wants — managing a last-place little league baseball team that’s terrible.  The Bad News Bears works completely because it treats the kids (all ballplayers) as real people worthy of respect, instead of cute muppet-like caricatures often portrayed in similar movies.  It’s hard to appreciate just how scandalous the anti-PC script and characters were 42 years ago when this movie was released.  Yet instead of a movie degraded by bratty kids cursing gratuitously and even being subject to several instances of emotional abuse, what we see instead is the very first movie which shows how most kids growing up in America really talk and behave.  Rolling Stone wrote in its review:  “These pre-teens are unwashed, obnoxious, cynical, fractious, gleefully profane, unrepentantly juvenile, and deeply untrusting of any sort of authority — in other words, just like the kids you probably played team sports with.”

There numerous metaphors throughout the film — some obvious, others more subtle — intended as a stinging social commentary.  Yet oddly enough, The Bad News Bears is still often classified as a kids’ movie, when it’s really a blistering revelation of misbehaving adults.  The movie also has an unusual and little-known connection to Field of Dreams — Burt Lancaster’s last movie.  His son, Bill Lancaster wrote the script for The Bad News Bears.  It’s often been said that baseball’s history is the story of America.  If so, then this the chapter where we’re all forced to gaze into the mirror and decide whether or not we like what we see.

By the way, Chico’s Bail Bonds (which really did sponsor the team and branded the Bears’ uniforms) is a real company based in the San Fernando Valley, where the movie was shot on location.

WATCH MORE HERE:  Here’s a one-minute clip which highlights the majesty of this movie.

SEE MORE HERE:  Watch this 3-minute clip of a film critic who explains more about the genius of The Bad News Bears.

Note:  Do not be confused by the horrid 2005 remake of this movie, starring Billy Bob  Thorton, which is unwatchable.  Also, skip the two sequels missing Walter Matthau and Tatum O’Neal.

_____

Finally, if you’d like to see what movies didn’t get on base, here’s a link to the IMDB WEBSITE PAGE with a nearly-complete list of all the films made about baseball.

Follow the discussion about this article on FACEBOOK HERE:

 

_____

Read More

Posted by on Jan 11, 2018 in Blog, Book Reviews, Essays, General Poker, Movie Reviews | 3 comments

Movie Review: Molly’s Game

 

 

After seeing Molly’s Game, which is writer-producer Aaron Sorkin’s much-anticipated directorial debut, I’m thoroughly convinced he could script his next film based on the Yellow Pages and somehow make it riveting.

A partially-true tale constructed on the weak foundation an almost painstakingly unreadable narrative published in 2015 of the same title, Sorkin manages to do what I’d have deemed next to impossible — making sweet lemonade out of sour lemons.  He transforms a brassy Heidi Fleiss-like protagonist into a highly-sophisticated and even sympathetic role model/movie hero.  She coaxes our minds and wins over our hearts.  Sorkin’s engaging screenplay, rapid-fire staccato dialogue, and convincing performances throughout ends up coercing us to cheer her rise and console her inevitable downfall.

Most unexpected, this is a stunning achievement.

Molly’s Game, the book written by so-called “Poker Princess” Molly Bloom really wasn’t much of a read.  It was a gossipy, TMZ-tinged blog littered with dirt and scandal plastered between two peak-a-boo covers hustled quickly to press in order to hemorrhage every last dollar out a clump of rumors with the shelf life of last week’s tabloid trash.  Sure, scandalous tell-all resuscitation has become popular fodder for every genre of American life — from the Mafia to the White House.  Dirty revelations of what happens at by-invitation only, high-stakes poker games frequented by popular entertainers and sports figures is entirely consistent with this lengthy confessional catalog of cattiness we’ve come to digest, and frankly — often enjoy.  I suppose there will always be an salacious audience anxious to peak through shuttered windows and cross rope lines, eager to read and learn what celebrities are really like behind the scenes in real life.  Hostess-banker-confidant Bloom’s narrative tell-all shattered the firewall protecting several celebs who participated in her weekly poker games — including Tobey Maguire, Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Affleck, Alex Rodriguez, and other luminaries who frequented the world’s most exclusive man-cave, first in Los Angeles and then later in New York.

Yet for all the lurid details, given the shallow subject matter seemingly better suited for the inside pages of the National Enquirer, Sorkin shocked just about everyone in Hollywood when he announced his intent to direct his first film based on such petty triviality.  Given Sorkin’s haughty pedigree, Bloom’s book made for a baffling starting point.  After all, he’s penned some of the most memorable monologues in recent memory, including television excerpts which have attracted millions of hits on YouTube.  Evidence: “America is not the Greatest” (from HBO’s The Newsroom) and “Based on the Bible” (from NBC’s The West Wing).  Sorkin has also authored a few movie gems you might have seen — including screenplays for A Few Good Men, The American PresidentCharlie Wilson’s WarMoneyball, and Steve Jobs.  He also won an Oscar for writing The Social Network.

With this expansive resume of ultra-seriousness, Sorkin, a champion of progressive causes and unapologetic proponent of overt liberal activism, could have picked any topic and likely transformed the subject matter into must-see social commentary.  Hence, Sorkin’s decision to turn a blabbering tattle-tale of rich and famous people acting like scumbags into a movie seemed like a misguided decision and squandered opportunity for something far greater given the times we live in.

Well — call me converted and label me now a believer after seeing a marvelously-crafted movie with a brilliant script bolstered by standout performances from Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba.  The two lead characters and steady elevation of intensity absorbs the audience and never lets us stray.  Consistent with the previous character-driven biographies within Sorkin’s creative wheelhouse, Molly’s Game employs no special effects nor cue music instructing us on how to feel.  The story and characters reveal themselves.  It’s up to us to draw our own conclusions as to how we react and what to believe.  Judgement becomes subjective.

With yet another convincing film role, Chastain once again elevates her well-deserved reputation as one of the most credible actors working in Hollywood today.  She’s “credible” in the sense that every film she appears in — is solid.  Chastain never disappoints.  There are no superhero sellouts, nor blockbuster bombs in exchange for a big, fat paycheck on her movie resume.  Credit Chastain for displaying personal and professional integrity that’s uncharacteristic for most movie stars.  Molly’s Game is a worthy addition to an already fruitful IMDB listing of impressive work from the ginger-haired actress, including Zero Dark Thirty, The Martian, and A Most Violent Year.

Matching Chastain in every single scene is British actor Idris Elba, who plays her attorney.  He’s initially reluctant to represent Bloom in the criminal lawsuit, especially since she can’t pay his hefty legal fees.  But Elba becomes increasingly sympathetic to her plight and ends up convinced Bloom is being railroaded by the Department of Justice with trumped-up charges intended to make her roll over on Russian mobsters who have infiltrated Bloom’s weekly poker games (whether she knew about their real backgrounds is fodder for speculation).  Elba is simply outstanding.  In any other year, he’s probably be a lock for a “Best Supporting Actor” Oscar, but will likely face stiff competition given some other excellent work in film this year — most notably by Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) and Christopher Plummer (All the Money in the World).  The back and forth scenes and battle of wits between Chastain and Elba steal this movie.

“Molly’s Game,” is supposedly a poker movie, but really it’s not.  Poker serves as the stage, but the surrounding arena could just as easily be any setting where an unsuspecting victim gets in way over his (make that her) head, an infectious trap from which there is no escape.  The “game” played here isn’t about cards, at all.  It’s about the people who play them and those who hold the power and always ending up raking in the most chips.  Money might be just a way of keeping score, but in Molly’s Game the ultimate victory comes in achieving unconditional surrender, and even humiliation.  

One segment of poker sequences is extraordinary, one of the best portrayals of what this game can do to normal people than anything I’ve previously seen in film.  It shows a wealthy businessman, a player typically adverse to taking large financial risks, a rock-solid poker player going on full-blown tilt after taking a brutal bad beat in a high-stakes game.  Films with poker scenes rarely capture the emotional intensity of the experience of losing.  When this man crumbles right before our eyes, we see a sight all poker players have witnessed countless times before.  The longer we play poker, the more meltdowns we’ve watched, and profited from.  And, if you’ve played poker for a really, really long time, you’ve probably been that decomposing player who emotionally disintegrates into a defeated soul.  Guilty.

Some poker notables have publicly criticized a few scenes (Mike Sexton foremost in the crowd — to his credit, Sexton actually participated in some of the Hollywood poker games portrayed in the film).  Indeed, certain scenes do grossly violate the standard rules of the game.  There’s even been some discussion on social media about why the detail-obsessed Sorkin would get so many things accurate about the real story, but then totally blow it on the poker scenes (mostly, the betting actions are incorrect).  The most convincing rebuttal to this legitimate criticism can be read in poker journalist-writer Robbie Strazynski’s recent article at the website Card Player Lifestyle.  Strazynski’s excellent one-on-one interview with Josh Leichner, who served as the poker consultant for Molly’s Game goes into considerable detail about how various scenes were filmed and why creative decisions were made.  Read the exclusive first-hand account here (“Interview with Molly’s Game Poker Consultant Josh Leichner“), complete with some on-the set photos.

To be clear, Molly’s Game doesn’t merit listing among the pantheon of revealing poker films, nor even great movies about gambling, although it will inevitably be compared to its iconic forebears.  While every bit of compelling as Rounders (1998), but not nearly as then-groundbreaking The Cincinnati Kid (1965), there simply isn’t enough poker shown in the movie to group amidst its cinematic brethren.  Rather, this is a story about our quirky legal system, about those who get caught up in the web of hypocrisies, and the unlikely paths we’re forced to take which ultimately shape our lives and determine at our inner core who we really are.

Two minor quibbles with the movie are worth mentioning.  First, Erba’s character wasn’t real.  Bloom was not represented by legal counsel like the attorney portrayed in the film.  Sorkin thought that adding this character was absolutely essential, and he was right to take artistic licence.  Without Erba in the room to ask the necessary questions and restore some balance as a moral guidepost, this movie wouldn’t have been nearly as watchable (perhaps one of many reasons the book isn’t nearly as good).

Second, the conflict between Bloom and her father as portrayed in the movie didn’t really happen.  A total fabrication gets added to the mix by Sorkin, presumably to enhance her psychological profile and illicit some sympathy.  Kevin Costner in the role of Mr. Bloom does spice up the drama playing a stern father pushing his daughter to the very limits.  Some critics have taken issue with this emotional padding since it adds perhaps another 30 minutes or so to a movie that clocks in at an unusually long 2 hours and 25 minutes.  However, I thought the fictionalized addition enhanced Bloom’s persona.  I chose to overlook the criticism and think it’s unfounded.

After loathing the book but loving the movie, I remain conflicted as to whether I like or respect Molly Bloom.  But this movie doesn’t concern itself with winning over my affection.  While told entirely from Bloom’s point of view, and therefore subject to obvious bias, I did gradually find myself rooting for this tough-minded female trying to scratch out a role for herself operating within a wicked world of chauvinism, determined to make it on her own terms and preserve who she is.

Poker can be a game that provides rich rewards far beyond just money when we least expect them, on junk hands that bloom into gold.  In real life, often what we reap is not necessarily what we sow.  Winning can come in different forms, in places where we never expect to taste victory, in the most unlikely settings.  Then and there, we do find ourselves in these crucibles of profound awareness and ultimately, self-discovery.  Just as with a good movie based on a bad book, there’s no such thing as a great poker hand, that is, until well after we’ve seen the flop.  With Molly’s Game, we initially get dealt two unplayable cards, which end up catching a favorable flop followed by a miracle catch on the turn and river, morphing into the unbeatable nuts.

“Molly’s Game” receives an 8 out of 10 score and is very likely to be included on my list of the year’s ten best films.

 

 

Read More
Page 1 of 201234...1020...Last »
css.php