Family Movies for the Homebound VI: Kids Playing Sports

Posted on April 13, 2020 at 12:34 pm

Copyright 20th Century Fox 2002

It’s tough for kids to be unable to play their favorite sports due to the restrictions from social distancing. It might help to watch some classic and beloved films about kids and teenagers playing sports.

Baseball

The Sandlot:  In the 1960s, a boy whose mother has just remarried moves to a new town and begins to make friends when he joins in a sandlot baseball game. The boy’s challenges include developing some baseball skills, trying to achieve a comfortable relationship with his new stepfather (Denis Leary), and finding a way to triumph over “The Beast ” (a junkyard dog) and the bigger, tougher kids who challenge his friends to a game. All are well handled in this exceptionally perceptive story of growing up.

Rookie of the Year: In this fantasy film Thomas Ian Nicholas plays a so-so Little League player until he breaks his arm and finds that his “tendons have healed too tight” making him, suddenly, a Major League-level pitcher.  As a hitter? Well, he benefits from a very small strike zone.

Basketball

Like Mike: The script is right out of the Hollywood formula box, with everything from two different “shoes not there at the crucial moment” scenes and important lessons about teamwork to the winning shot going into the basket just as the buzzer goes off., but it is sweet and fun.

The Mighty Macs: This uplifting film is based on the real-life story of Cathy Rush, a powerhouse basketball coach at a tiny Catholic women’s college who took her team all the way to the top.

Coach Carter:  We all love movies about underdog teams that come from behind because they (1) learn the importance of teamwork, (2) learn the importance of discipline and of respect for themselves and each other, (3) are galvanized by an inspiring leader, or, even better, (4) all of the above. This movie, based on a true story, takes it a step further, with an emphasis on schoolwork as well.

Swimming

Pride: Like all sports stories, this is about teamwork, but the team that matters here is Terrence Howard and Bernie Mac who bring such conviction and authenticity to this story of an inner-city Pennsylvania 70’s swim team that you can smell the chlorine and half expect Fat Albert to wander in with Mushmouth.

Touch the Wall: The documentary about champion swimmer Missy Franklin is a candid portrayal of the hard work — and the conflicts of loyalty and friendship — that are a part of competitive sports.

Surfing

Soul Surfer: AnnaSophia Robb stars as Bethany Hamilton, a competitive surfer who came back better than ever after a shark attack.

Soccer

Believe: Brian Cox plays real-life superstar soccer (football) manager Sir Matt Busby, who survived the tragic plane crash when eight of his players did not. When he encounters a gifted young player from an unruly kids’ team, both he and the team have something to learn.

Hockey

The Mighty Ducks: A slick lawyer is caught driving drunk and ordered by the court to coach a rag-tag kids’ hockey team in this beloved Disney film starring Emilio Estavez.

Martial Arts

Three Ninjas: Three sons of an FBI agent are kidnapped and use their martial arts skills to defeat the bad guys.

The Karate Kid: The classic original and the 2010 remake are both terrific stories about boys who use the discipline and training of martial arts to triumph over an arrogant bully. Fans can also enjoy the sequels and the current Cobra Kai series.

Figure Skating

Ice Princess: A straight-A student brings math to ice skating in this charming Disney film.

Gymnastics

An American Girl: McKenna Shoots for the Stars: Real-life Olympics star Cathy Rigby stars as the coach in this heartwarming story about friendship, family, and gymnastics.

Stick It: This film about a girl forced to return to gymnastics after she gets into trouble is pure delight — smart, funny, gorgeously cinematic, and all about real girl power.

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For Your Netflix Queue Movie Mom’s Top Picks for Families Not specified Sports Stories About Kids Stories about Teens

Trailer: The Phenom

Posted on May 14, 2016 at 8:00 am

In “The Phenom,” a major League rookie pitcher loses control over his pitching and is sent down to the minor leagues, where he begins sessions with an unorthodox sports psychologist. In the process, hidden conflicts with his overbearing father are brought to light.

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Trailers, Previews, and Clips

Interview: Mark Ciardi, Producer of “Million Dollar Arm”

Posted on May 16, 2014 at 8:33 pm

million dollar armMark Ciardi is an athlete turned producer who specializes in taking real-life sports stories that sound like Disney movies into actual Disney movies: “The Rookie” and “Miracle.”  His latest is the Cinderella story “Million Dollar Arm” about sports agent J.B. Bernstein’s “American Idol”-style competition to find athletes in India who could become major league baseball pitchers, despite the fact that no one in India plays baseball.

Ciardi spoke to me about why audiences connect to sports stories and how the real-life J.B. Bernstein changed as a result of the competition.

What is it that makes sports such a powerful metaphor for so many other things in life?

It’s a great backdrop for stories. Hopefully the really great sports stories are never about the sports, they are really about the people and how they change.  Usually it’s either a great underdog story or how you’re overcoming something or second changes. So I think the themes are really great in sports stories and when they’re done well they’re just very, very powerful.
I’ve never heard of the real life million dollar challenge before. How did that come to your attention and what made you think that would be a good movie?

I know the guy personally who started the contest, J.B. Bernstein. I knew him well before I got into the film business and in 2007 we actually ran into each other at a super Bowl party in Phoenix. And he was just about to go to India. And was telling me the story about wanting to find two kids to bring back, and I remember looking at him, and I looked across eyed and was like “…good luck. That sounds crazy.” And about a year and a half later he ended up in my office saying he got these two kids signed and I was stunned.  It was a quite, quite incredible story for him. It just became apparent to me that it would make a great film.

And what about the sort of personal aspect of that, did that play out the same way that it did in the movie in terms of his attachment to the two players and his romantic involvement?
Absolutely, that’s the great thing. Everything on the field really takes a backseat to the love he has for these boys and he’s was just together with them in Pittsburgh or at the premiere.  He definitely gives credit to the boys to meeting Brenda and obviously falling in love and now having a family of his own. It’s was a great thing for me to watch personally. All those relationships — I had a front seat to all of them.  I can attest that it is all true and he now has a family which is great.  At the end of the film you see all these images of the real J.B.  We’re really excited about that emotional transformation, spiritual transformation as well.

You kind of had the same challenge with the actors that Bernstein did with the athletes — you had to teach them how to play baseball at a very high level very quickly.  How did you do that? 

It was funny, it was like imitating art.  As difficult as JB had it, this was more because these kids aren’t actually athletes. We had to find doubles to actually double our actors but we had great students in Suraj and Madhur and even Suraj who plays Rinku, a leftie, and he is right-handed.  We had to flip the negatives.  So there was a lot that went into what you saw the screen, it’s years of work and we really feel like we pulled out the sports really well.

Which part of the production did you work on?

We’re involved in getting the rights to the story, finding the director, bringing it to Disney, hiring, casting, everything. I was the one over in India and when we came back and shot in the States.  I was there kind of every day on the set dealing with it and I guess I was the most involved.

Was this you first time ever in India?

It was, we actually scouted over there in March and we did a lot of the casting so when we went back to film for a month it was my second time. We were there at the very hottest time of the year, getting in before the monsoon started. So it was anywhere from 100 to 126 degrees.  All the sweat you saw on our actors and everyone was the real thing. There was no makeup artist going in and spraying anybody down. It was brutally hot but I think it added the feeling of what JB went through with the contest and frustrations. It’s an amazing country I think everyone came back better for being there.

And what do you want families to take away from this movie?

It will make you feel good, put a smile on your face.  It’s uplifting.  It’s just one of those movies that entertains you, and you walk away and it stays with you. I’ve seen this many, many times in front of many audiences and it’s incredible, like the response. We know it special.

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Behind the Scenes Interview

Million Dollar Arm

Posted on May 15, 2014 at 6:00 pm

milliondollararm

The folks behind feel-good, based-on-a-true-sports-Cinderella-story, Disney movies “The Rookie” and “Miracle” are back with another.  This time it is the story of a real life Jerry Maguire sports agent named J.B. Bernstein (a terrific Jon Hamm) who has fallen on hard times, despite the optimistic name of his firm: 7 Figures Management.  Think of it as Jerry if Cuba Gooding, Jr.’s character quit him, too.  He needs some athletes to sell to major league baseball and there isn’t anyone in the world who plays baseball who isn’t already represented.  He even has a line almost identical to Jerry’s famous “Help me help you.”

In one of those crazy ideas borne out of complete desperation (plus watching Susan Boyle wow the judges on “Britain’s Got Talent”), Bernstein figures that the only place left to look is India, which must be perfect because (1) no one there plays baseball, so no agents have signed anyone up, and (2) it is the second most populous country in the world, so the odds are that there must be someone there who can throw a fastball.  What do they play in India instead of baseball?  Among other sports, they play cricket, which J.B. describes, with all the cultural diplomacy we might expect from someone who has some important lessons to learn by the time we finish our popcorn, as looking like “the insane asylum opened up and all the inmates made up a game.”

He decides to go to India to look for what we like to call a long shot.  He will stage an “American Idol”-style competition with (per the title) a million dollar prize.  He gets the money for this from the wealthy Mr. Chang (Tzi Ma), who is not too worried about whether there really is a major league throwing arm in India because he figures that the competition will stir up interest in baseball for the first time in a brand new country with up to a billion new fans.  And that is money in the bank.

So J.B. goes off to India where, predictably, he runs into problems with exotic food and cultural and language barriers.  “Indians love honking and bypassing the system,” his affable new aide advises him.  Less predictably, he runs into not one but two young men who can throw fastballs hard, Rinku (Suraj Sharma, who had his own “Million Dollar Arm” moment in real life when he was selected from 3000 actors who auditioned to star in “The Life of Pi”) and Dinesh (Madhur Mittal of “Slumdog Millionaire”).  He finds them with the help of an adorably cranky old scout played by Alan Arkin, as always, the best part of any movie he’s in.  Of course he’s the old guy showing everyone how it’s done playing the old guy who shows everyone how it’s done, so he’s got that going.  “Don’t wake me up until someone’s throwing a baseball,” he says, explaining he does not have to look at the contestants because he can hear pitching speed.  And he can.

Slight problem: they not only have never played baseball before; they have never seen a baseball game and have no idea how to play or what the rules are.  And it is difficult for them to learn because (1) their knowledge of English is only slightly better than their completely nonexistent knowledge of baseball, and (2) playing any sport at the professional level is very, very, very, very hard for people who have been working on it for decades and has to be impossible for anyone who has never played before.

But then, if they couldn’t do it, we wouldn’t be here, now, would we?

J.B. brings two young men back home to California.  The only thing he has paid attention to is the number on that radar gun that clocks the speed of the throws, which is an impressive number.  And maybe the number in his bank account, which is not a good number.  He has not noticed that these are very fine young men or that they have never been away from home before.  He learns very quickly that he cannot leave them in a hotel.

They move into his bachelor pad, marveling over the room for just one man but confused that they don’t see anywhere to pray.  They are befriended by his tenant, a beautiful and kind-hearted doctor (Lake Bell).

JB turns the young men over to college coach Tom House (Bill Paxton), who explains why you can’t turn a non-baseball player into a major league pitcher in a matter of months, in time for the try-out Mr. Chang has put together.  “It’s completely different motions, biometrics.”  They do not know what a baseball glove is.  But J.B. is good at one thing, persuasion.  “You certainly don’t need any help with your pitching,” House tells J.B. He agrees to try to teach them that “it is not about throwing hard, but throwing right.”  And they study a copy of Baseball for Dummies.

Writer Tom McCarthy (“The Station Agent,” “Win Win”) keeps things from getting too twee.  The film clearly respects Rinku and Dinesh and their country, though it skirts very close to Magical Negro territory and the fish-out-of-water cultural clashes stay on the surface.  The young men are not allowed to be much more than amiable innocents whose job is to give the soulless white guy an important opportunity to reconnect with his humanity (and, as a consequence, with the beautiful doctor as well).  This is J.B’s story and Hamm is a pleasure to watch, with full-on, big-time movie star magnetism, and his scenes with the lovely Bell (“In a World”) have a real warmth that makes the happy ending feel earned.

Parents should know that this movie includes some mild language and sexual references.  Characters have casual sex (off-screen).

Family discussion:  What were the most important things JB learned in India?  When he got home?

If you like this, try: “The Rookie” and “Miracle” from the same producers and also “Bend it Like Beckham”

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Based on a true story Sports

The Real Story: Million Dollar Arm

Posted on April 29, 2014 at 8:00 am

It sounds like a movie.  No, it sounds like a fairy tale, but it really happened.  A sports agent named J.B. Bernstein found two cricket-playing Indian athletes named Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel by staging a reality television show and brought them to the US to play baseball. More than 30,000 men tried out on the show, which was Bernstein’s idea as a way to find a source for possible overlooked players with potential — and for possible new fans for baseball from the world’s second most populous country.

Even though they had never played baseball before, Bernstein found USC trainer Tom House (played by Bill Paxton in the film) to taught them to pitch so well that eight months after arriving in the US they were professional baseball players for the Pittsburgh Pirates. It was inevitable it would become not just a movie but a Disney movie, along the lines of “The Rookie” and “Miracle.”

The upcoming film starring “Mad Men’s” Jon Hamm as Bernstein and Suraj Sharma and Madhur Mittal as Singh and Patel has over the closing credits some photos and video clips of the real players.  Here’s a news story about their journey.

Singh finished 2012 with the Class A West Virginia Power of the South Atlantic League, and Patel was released in 2010.  He is back in India and still involved in athletics.  They met with the filmmakers and the actors who played them on screen and had a chance to relive some of the incredible events by watching the filming.

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