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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

 

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Posted by on Mar 4, 2018 in Blog, Essays | 0 comments

Is It Time to Bury Oscar?

 

 

Rambling and Ranting about the 90th Annual Academy Awards

 

This has been a terrible year for movies and the people who love them.

Foreshadowing the mass mayhem to come, last year’s Academy Award ceremony concluded with the travesty of Moonlight winning the Best Motion Picture Oscar over the far superior La La Land.  If that wasn’t an abomination enough, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, two Hollywood legends delegated to announce the winner, were mistakenly handed the wrong envelope and declared the erroneous victor.

Talk about “fake news.”

Beatty should have announced, “and the winner is — Bonnie and Clyde.”  That’s because Moonlight winning was a robbery.

Last year’s onstage clusterfuck in front of 150 million baffled viewers typifies how badly the Oscar is tarnished.  It’s a prize coveted far more for its marketing boost than any certification of artistic merit.  Sure, winning an Oscar can still make someone’s career.  It can add an extra zero to the next movie deal.  It also means the chance to recycle a forgotten film that departed the theaters months ago.  That’s why movie studios covet nominations like squirrels gathering acorns for the wintertime.  Oscars mean money.

But the talent pool of some categories has become downright pedestrian in recent years.  Put another way — when Casey Affleck bags a Best Actor Oscar statue….while Robert Downey, Jr., Harrison Ford, Liam Neeson, Samuel L. Jackson, Jude Law, Bill Murray, John Malkovich, Ralph Fiennes, Joaquin Phoenix, Donald Sutherland, Don Cheadle, Martin Sheen, Paul Giamatti, James Caan, and Ed Harris don’t own a single Oscar, something’s amiss.  The award has pretty much been reduced to a bowling trophy given for rolling a 250 game.  Affleck, possessing all the acting skills of the dropout working at the AutoZone counter, won a Best Actor Oscar for the dreadful film Manchester by the Sea.  Affleck, at age 42, already owns more Academy Awards during his career than Cary Grant, Charlie Chaplin, Kirk Douglas, Montgomery Clift, Peter O’Toole, Richard Harris, Richard Burton, and Peter Sellers — combined.  Casey Affleck couldn’t pass an acting class if Peter Sellers was the instructor.  He’d flunk out.

Of course, the huge story in Hollywood this past year wasn’t Affleck winning because you wouldn’t recognize him on the street, or Moonlight’s inexplicable Oscar, which is an annoying film almost no one saw.  The biggest news was the tidal flood of sexual harassment scandals and the dragnet of whales and sharks hoisted out of the hidden sea into the exposure of sunlight.  Careers have been destroyed, and in most cases — good riddance.  Harvey Weinstein got what was coming to him.  Too bad it took 30 fucking years for someone to bait the hook.

One can’t help but sneer watching the same Hollywood elite who fawned over Weinstein for decades now flipflopping against him like the once beloved family pet turned rabid and foaming at the mouth.  Tonight, so many of those who gloriously bombasted his praises in their acceptance speeches, will laugh and clap enthusiastically when host Jimmy Kimmel rips into Weinstein and others.  You tell ’em, Jimmy.  We got your back.

Indeed, there’s a sickening hypocrisy to all of it.  The #OscarsSoWhite and #MeToo movements have clearly won the day.  Their objectives of inclusion and justice have been noble pursuits from the beginning and those who were on the front lines early deserve praise.  Not so much the latecomers, which is mostly what we’ll see tonight.  It’s easy to march in the back of a parade.

I like political movies.  I like movies with messages.  I also like actors who promote social awareness.  That said, the overt politicization of acceptance speeches has probably gone too far, and the movements de jour are unlikely to exhibit any real courage outside of what’s popular within the entertainment industry bubble.  Based on television ratings, many viewers are put off by the spectacle.  They’re tuning out.  There’s no doubt Hollywood’s liberal slant has alienated millions of people who once loved going to the movies.  Such redneck sensitivities don’t concern me, but given Hollywood is a bottom-line business, mass consumer rejection of this year’s nominees (none of the films nominated in the major award categories were in the top five of box office profits) is problematic.

So, how did we get to now?

Many people mistakenly credit (or blame) Marlon Brando as the first actor to politicize the Oscars when he protested winning the Best Actor statuette for The Godfather because of the insensitive portrayal of Native-Americans on film.  One has to admire Brando for walking the walk and taking some career risks.

However, Brando wasn’t the first to use the mighty Oscar podium to make a bold political statement.  Actually, the first actor to politicize the Oscars was Rod Steiger, who four years earlier won for In the Heat of the Night.  Steiger thanked his co-star Sidney Portier who taught him things about race and prejudice which enhanced his performance.  Steiger invoked some famous words that night, “we shall overcome,” in his closing remarks.  The 1968 Oscars were held just days after the assassination of Martin Luther King.

[Watch the short clip of Steiger’s speech here]

By the way, check out the five Best Actor nominees that year in this clip, and then get back to me about which modern performances compare.  

A decade later, British actress Vanessa Redgrave injected politics into her acceptance speech with disastrous results.  She won 1978’s Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Julia, and then shocked the audience when she referenced “Zionist hoodlums.”  Whatever one’s politics about the Middle East conflict, the remark did seem terribly inappropriate and out of place.

Hence, as the Steiger-Brando-Redgrave examples demonstrate, there’s a fine line between pushing the edges of public consciousness for a political cause versus falling off a cliff into the abyss.

Tonight, I expect we will see many winners falling into the abyss.

Persuasion is an art form that often works best when it’s subtle.  To Kill a Mockingbird and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? opened far more White American eyes on race relations than either 12 Years a Slave or Selma.  There’s some talk the recently-released Black Panther, which is breaking all sorts of box office records could finally shatter the old-guard corporate entertainment mindset that “Black movies” don’t do well financially.  That still remains to be seen.

The bottom line is, we remain tribal — not just politically, but culturally.  This is reflected in the movies we go to see and enjoy.  We tend to flock to movies about people like us.  After World War II, over the 25 years which followed, several dozen war movies were churned out which appealed to the millions of proud veterans and their families.  Kids like seeing movies about other kids.  New York Jews have always constituted a disproportionate percentage of Woody Allen’s movie audiences (at least until his recent scandals).  Blacks gravitated to Spike Lee.  Italian-Americans continue to worship everything put out by Martin Scorcese.  However, it’s the directors, writers, and actors who have either broken down or ignored barriers of race, gender, and sexual orientation who usually make our most memorable films.  That’s worth remembering.

Meanwhile, the masses willingly ignore most of the films nominated for Oscars, choosing instead to engulf themselves in a constant deluge of mindless action movies, shitty shlock with limited dialogue and little character development.  This mediocrity problem is worsened by Hollywood’s fixation on international receipts, which have become the standard benchmark of success or failure.

Yes, I will watch the Oscars because no one knows what will happen or what surprises are in store.  Besides, I haven’t missed a presentation since Brando’s win in 1973, which was my first.  It’s been downhill ever since.

My picks for the 2018 Academy Awards major categories:

 

BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE:

Sam Rockwell will win.  But I thought Christopher Plummer, Willem Dafoe, and Richard Jenkins were at least as compelling to watch onscreen.  Rockwell will win because his unexpected character transformation is absolutely vital to the story and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has garnered such rave reviews.

 

BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE:

I wasn’t overly impressed with any of these performances.  Sure, they were all fine.  But nothing stood out for me.  I didn’t like Lady Bird, but also thought the two lead performances were very good.  Hence, I’d give the Oscar to Laurie Metcalf, who plays a mother struggling to raise a rebellious teen.

 

BEST ACTOR:

Gary Oldman.  The only award that’s certain.  Oldman’s body of work is astounding.  I’m glad he’ll finally get his due tonight.

 

BEST ACTRESS:

Sally Hawkins deserves this Oscar for playing a complex role which required far more skill than Frances McDormand, who always seems to play herself in every movie.  Of course, McDormand will likely win.

 

BEST DIRECTOR:

Guillermo del Toro should be a lock for The Shape of Water.  I’ll be shocked if he doesn’t win.

 

BEST PICTURE: 

I’ll be pleased if either The Post, Get Out, or The Shape of Water win.  However, Three Billboards Outside Ebbling, Missouri appears to be a solid favorite.

 

Finally, one thing is certain.  Composer John Williams is nominated for another Oscar.  This marks his 51st nomination, more than anyone else.  The music of John Willilams in a treasure.  He deserves mention among the greatest composers in history.

 

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