Love and Basketball

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

About eighty percent love and twenty percent basketball, this is a romance about two basketball-loving kids who go one-on-one in both games for almost twenty years before they get it right.

The movie is divided into quarters, like a basketball game. Monica moves next door to Quincy when they are both 11. He is so affronted by her skill at making baskets that he knocks her to the ground — and so impressed that he asks her to be his girl. They kiss for an agreed-upon five seconds, and then break up when they argue over whether he gets to be the boss.

Seven years later, they are seniors in high school, and both star players. Monica (Sanaa Lathan) and Quincy (Omar Epps) are friends, very aware of each other, but awkward at expressing their feelings. He is heavily recruited, but opportunities for girl players are more limited. At the last minute, she gets recruited, too. On the night of the prom, they acknowledge how they feel about each other and become intimate.

At USC, they each face challenges. Quincy learns that the father he respects has not been honest. Monica must deal with a demanding coach and with competition from teammates. They part, and Quincy drops out of school to play professional basketball. In the last quarter, they meet again, for one last chance at love and basketball.

Writer/director Gina Prince-Blythewood has crafted a nice, old-fashioned story. There are a few modern touches, like Monica’s independence in addressing the conflicts between her love for Quincy and her love for basketball, but it is surprisingly traditional in structure and outcome. For example, Quincy is permitted to have had many romantic encounters, but Monica, our heroine, is as hopelessly devoted to her one love as Olivia Newton-John was in “Grease.” And when she sees Quincy again, years after their college break-up, she apologizes to him for leaving him when he was upset so that she could get back to the dorm before her curfew. She says, “I should have been there for you. But I didn’t know how to do that and be all about ball.” There is also a “Star is Born” element as Monica becomes successful as Quincy is having difficulty.

Monica and Quincy must also resolve standard-issue family conflicts. Monica feels unappreciated by her mother (a criminally underused Alfre Woodard), who is happy to be a very traditional housewife and subordinate her life to her family. It turns out that Monica’s mother feels unappreciated too. Quincy’s father, a professional basketball player, turns out to be less than the hero Quincy thought he was. Quincy says to him, “How come you couldn’t be the man you kept trying to make me?” Both must learn to forgive their parents for not being perfect before they can truly become adults.

It is especially nice to see a movie with a primarily black cast that has a genuine feel for the culture but avoids the usual clichés. Monica and Quincy live in an upper middle class neighborhood and each has two loving parents.

Parents should know that the movie has strong sexuality for a PG-13, including descriptions of some sexually aggressive women, a strip basketball game and a scene of Monica and Quincy having sex that has no nudity but is fairly explicit. (It also includes the use of a condom.) A character is accused of fathering a child out of wedlock. Quincy’s father admits that he married Quincy’s mother because she was pregnant. A character gets drunk when she finds out that her husband has been unfaithful. A mother slaps a grown child.

Families who see this movie should talk about how people reconcile the demands of love, family, and career, and why it is that Monica and Quincy had so much trouble telling each other how they felt. Teenagers may also want to talk about the different views Monica and Quincy had of their relationship at different ages, and how the key element linking them through all of them was not basketball but friendship.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy a very different basketball movie, “Hoosiers,” about a 1950’s championship high school team, and a very different romantic movie, “Claudine.”

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Romance Sports

Rocky

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

Plot: Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) is a sweet-natured but not very bright boxer and small-time enforcer for a loan-shark. He has a crush on Adrian (Talia Shire), the painfully shy sister of his friend, Pauly (Burt Young). Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) is the heavyweight champion, whose big upcoming fight is canceled when his opponent is injured. Creed and his promoters decide to give an unknown a shot at the title, and pick Rocky.

Rocky has never really committed to anything before, but this opportunity galvanizes him. He works with Mickey (Burgess Meredith) a demanding trainer. He takes Adrian on a date, and they fall in love. When her brother becomes furious over their relationship, she moves in with Rocky. Rocky knows he cannot beat Creed; his goal is to “go the distance,” to conduct himself with class and dignity in the ring and still be standing at the end of the fight. Apollo, sure of himself and busy marketing the fight, neglects his own training. Apollo wins, but it is a split decision. Rocky goes the distance. Surrounded by fans and the press, he bellows over and over “Adrian!”

Discussion: In Rocky’s first fight, we get a glimpse of his potential. But it is also clear he has failed to make a commitment to anything. Mickey wants to throw him out of the gym because he doesn’t take boxing seriously enough. It is less an insult to boxing than an insult to himself. He takes pride in small things, like his pet turtles, and the fact that his nose has never been broken. When he gets the call from Apollo, he assumes that he is going to be invited to be a sparring partner for the champion, the greatest honor he could imagine for himself.

But Apollo’s impetuous offer gives Rocky a chance to see himself differently. That offer does for him what Paul does for Billie in “Born Yesterday,” what Miss Moffat does for Morgan in “The Corn is Green,” or Obi-Wan does for Luke in “Star Wars.” Rocky has a chance to think of himself as someone who can hold his own with the world champion, and once he has that image of himself, it is just a matter of taking the steps to get there. That image also gives him the courage to risk getting close to Adrian. Rocky also gives Adrian a chance to see herself differently. He was told when he was young that he was not smart, so he should concentrate on his physical ability; she was told she was not pretty, and should concentrate on her mental ability. Each of them sees in the other what no one else did. He sees how pretty she is; she sees how bright he is; each sees the other as loveable, as no one has before. This, as much as anything, is what allows both of them to bloom.

Rocky is realistic about his goal. He does not need to win. He just needs to acquit himself with dignity, to show that he is in the same league as the champion. In order to achieve that goal, he will risk giving everything he has, risk even the small pride of an unbroken nose. He develops enough self-respect to risk public disgrace. This is a big issue for teenagers — adolescence has been characterized as the years in which everything centers around the prayer, “God, don’t let me be embarrassed today.” Rocky begins as someone afraid to give his best in case it is not good enough, and becomes someone who suspects that his best is enough to achieve his goals, and is willing to test himself to find out.

It is worth taking a look at Creed as well. Like the hare in the Aesop fable, he underestimates his opponent. He is so sure of himself, and so busy working on the business side of the fight that he comes to the fight unprepared.

It is especially meaningful that the action behind the scenes paralleled that in the movie. Stallone, a small-time actor, was offered a great deal of money for this script, which he wrote. But he insisted instead on selling it for a negligible sum, provided that he play the lead. The entire movie was made for less than $1 million. Stallone beat even longer odds than Rocky did when the movie went on to win the Oscar as Best Picture. Stallone also became only the third person in history (after Charles Chaplin and Orson Welles) to be nominated for both Best Actor and Best Screenplay.

Questions for Kids:

· Why did Mickey want to throw Rocky out of the gym?

· Why didn’t Rocky have higher aspirations, until after he got the offer from Apollo?

· How is Apollo like the hare in the fable about the tortoise and the hare? Why is it so hard for Rocky and Adrian to get to know one another?

Connections: There are four sequels, all increasingly garish and cartoonish. They are barely more than remakes, and are only for die-hard fans.

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Drama Series/Sequel 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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