Jackie Robinson Story

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

For Black History Month, take a look at this neglected gem about the first black baseball player to play in the major leagues. The primary appeal of this movie is that Robinson plays himself (with Ruby Dee as his wife). It is forthright about the racial issues, but inevitably appears somewhat naive by today’s standards.

Connections: Dee appears as Robinson’s mother in a worthwhile made-for-television movie called “The Court-Martial of Jackie Robinson.” Older kids might enjoy the episode of the Ken Burns “Baseball” series that covers the integration of the major leagues. And mature teens should see “Bingo Long Travelling All-Stars and Motor Kings,” a lively (and sometimes raunchy and violent) story about the last days of baseball’s Negro League.

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Based on a true story Biography Sports

Mystery, Alaska

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

The coming attraction makes it clear that “Mystery, Alaska” is your basic “Rocky” movie about a grown-up version of the Mighty Ducks — a team from a small, hockey-worshipping Alaska town gets a chance to play the New York Rangers. So we expect your basic redemption through sports plot, including the death of a loveable character, the healing of old wounds, the learning of important lessons about teamwork and pride, endearingly quirky players, deeper understanding and acceptance between family members, a young player just beginning and an older one approaching time to hang up his skates, and at least one speech about how our guys don’t play for money, they play for the love of the game! And we settle back, waiting for our hearts to be warmed.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. The reason that formulas endure is that they usually work, as long as the details are all right and there is nothing too overtly manipulative, and nothing that interferes with our ability to suspend disbelief. And here the details are pretty good, especially the feel of the remote, snowy town, where kids skate the river and make out in snowplows and everyone turns out every week to watch the Saturday hockey game. And there are fine ensemble performances. The hockey game is pretty good, too. And there are a couple of very funny guest cameos to pick things up near the end.

Prodigal son Charles Danner (Hank Azaria), who left to be a big city writer, brings in the Rangers after his article about the weekly game in Mystery, Alaska. Despite the fact that the town judge (Burt Reynolds) cautions against it, urging the town to cling to their illusions and their dignity, the people cannot resist their chance at the big time. Local sheriff John Biebe (Russell Crowe), just dropped from the team to make room for a high school student who skates like a rocket, agrees to coach. Everyone has issues to resolve – the judge is harsh and rigid, the high school kid and his girlfriend are exploring sex, the sheriff’s difficulty in being cut from the team comes just as his wife’s former boyfriend shows up, the town lothario (Ron Eldard) has some unfinished business with a couple of different women and one angry husband, a huge chain store is thinking of coming to town to compete with the local businesses, and those Rangers look awfully big up close.

It is all very predictable, but also very watchable. I predict that they’ll get at least one “the feel-good movie of the year!” blurb for the newspaper ads. And they might even be right.

Parents should know that there is very strong and very vivid language, including locker-room style descriptions of sex, a child’s use of four- letter words played for humor, a wounded man’s use of very strong language played for humor, a character who has casual sex with almost every woman he meets (and who apologizes to the husband of one of them, with no suggestion that this might make the woman seem like property), explicit depictions of sexual encounters, including one between teenagers, and some violence (punched noses, semi-accidental shooting resulting in minor injury). The teen-age girl says that she wants to have sex because she is afraid of losing her boyfriend, which parents may want to discuss. The boy makes it clear that he is perfectly comfortable with waiting, and does not want to do it for that reason. They then go ahead, but are not able to complete the act, which causes great feelings of insecurity for both of them. Her mother, though clearly uncomfortable, responds with sympathy and support.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the original Rocky and Crowe’s performances in The Insider and A Beautiful Mind.

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Comedy Family Issues Sports

Price of Glory

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

In the 1940’s, this movie would have starred John Garfield and been on the lower half of a double feature. In 2000, it stars Jimmy Smits as the father who pushes his three boys to be championship boxers, because his own dreams of being a champion were dashed. Despite the attractive performances, the movie is k-o’d in the first round by a cliche-filled script with dialogue that has a higher specific gravity than a heavyweight contender.

Come on, recite along with me as papa Jimmy Smits argues with mama Maria del Mar: “Do colleges give scholarships for boxing?” “I’m just thinking about their future.” “So am I, damnit!” “I’m their manager!” “No, Arturo, you’re their father!” “It’s not about the money — it’s about being the best!”

Smits plays Arturo Ortega, scion of “The Fighting Ortegas,” each of whom faces his own challenges. Sonny, the oldest, wants to marry his girlfriend and make some of his own decisions. Jimmy struggles to gain his father’s approval, and, when he feels that is impossible, becomes involved with drugs. Johnny, the youngest and most talented, wants to be his father’s “avenging angel” and make up to him not only for the disappointment of his own career, but also for his disappointment in the older two boys.

Arturo lives in a border town. He tells a fight promoter, “Every day, I see people cross that line looking for something better.” Arturo has a clearly established line in his own mind that he wants to cross — his way, in a Cadillac, as the father of champions. And he wants to manage his sons all the way to the title.

But Arturo knows more about teaching boxing than he does about managing a boxing career. And he knows more about both than he does about being a father. Someone has to be killed before he can admit that though he tried to give his sons more, “maybe less would have been better, less of me.”

Parents should know that in addition to very rough boxing matches, there is some gun violence and drug use, and that the language is strong for a PG-13, really on the edge of R. Families who see this movie should talk about how parents find a way to balance their dreams for their kids with the kids dreams for themselves.

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Drama Family Issues Sports

The Waterboy

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

If you’ve seen the coming attraction and you still want to see this movie, then you are probably between the ages of 12 and 16 and will probably recognize all of the “played by themselves” sports stars who make cameos. Adam Sandler plays Bobby Boucher, a 31 year old man who lives with his mother and cares only about providing the freshest, most delicious water for the football team. Fired by the coach (Jerry Reed), he volunteers to be the unpaid waterboy for a team that hasn’t won a game in four years. Although his mother has raised him to avoid all relationships and he hates confrontation, it turns out that when he gets angry he can tackle a Mack truck. So, he becomes a football star, gets the girl (Fairuza Balk as a tatooed felon, but a loveable one), and teaches his mother and himself that he can be more independent. Sandler uses an especially annoying voice throughout and there isn’t much energy in the script or performances. I cannot recommend it, but recognize that many adolescents will enjoy it, if only to be able to trade the punchlines with their friends. Parents should know that the movie has locker-room style bad language and mild sexual references.

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Comedy Sports
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