In honor of the final week of March Madness I decided the perfect choice for this week would be some basketball films I’d been curious about for who knows how long. I figured this was as good an excuse to finally force myself to watch them.
The first film on my list, Hoosiers, was a film that was completely different than what I thought it was about. Based on the name I just assumed it was a film about college basketball… presumably the University of Indiana… it was not.
Gene Hackman plays Norman Dale a former basketball coach who has been hired to be the basketball coach for a tiny high school in small farming community in rural Indiana.
It’s a challenging hob. Not only does he initially have only five player to work with but he also has most of the town playing backseat driver to his coaching technique.
This was a good solid film even if it was pretty much by the numbers as inspirational stories about underdogs persevering go. It even had the final big game in slow motion.
My next film, Love and Basketball tells the story of Quincy(Omar Epps) and Monica (Sanaa Lathan), two kids who fist meet when Monica moves into the neighborhood when they are 11. They form a fast friendship that gradually becomes more than that with their shared love of basketball. Throughout the movie we watch them progress from high school, college and professional careers all the while showing the constant balancing act between their passion for the game and each other.
This is a sweet film. probably a little sappy for my tastes, (but then I’m an annoying cynic) Epps and Lethan have fantastic chemistry together and watching them grow from best friends to lovers is a pleasure. I also liked the feeling of dedications where in the process of showing of the love of the sport, Basketball becomes far more than a sport. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tKXP-KrY2UYhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tKXP-KrY2UY
This week I decided to touch on films about Ballet. My feeling about ballet is mixed. Half the time I regard it almost more of a sport than an art form and judging a lot of the incredible things the dancers are doing up on the stage on points.
Though one thing I’ve found to be consistent in a lot of films is that most of them focus on the the obsessive dedication and scrifice it takes for the art to work.
The first film on my list, The Black Swan (not to be mistaken for the pirate film I watched a couple of months ago.) by Darren Aronofsky, tells the story of Nina ( Natalie Portman) an aspiring, but very sheltered, ballerina, living with her domineering mother, who after years as a background dancer finally gets the chance to be the lead in Swan Lake
The problem is that she is expected to perform the duel roles of the White swan and the black swan and while she is perfect for the role of the demure white swan she has trouble giving herself to her inner urges that the role of the black swan requires. To make matters worse when a new outgoing dancer, Lilly (Mila Kunis) arrives who dances the role of the black swan perfectly. Now it has turned into a competition and the pressure is getting to Nina.
This was an interesting and challenging film that I frequently found difficult to watch. The thing I found interesting were the deliberate parallels to this film and Swan lake. Along with the obvious, Nina as the White Swan, Lily as the black, we also have the director, (played with wonderful smarminess by Vincent Cassel) who fills the role of the Magician Rothbart trying to transform Nina into his newest “Little Princess”
And behind all of this we are shown the underside of the ballet world with ballerinas clawing there way to the top in a feild that chews them up and spits them out and (in this case) dying for your art is quite literal.
The next film on my list was The Red Shoes by Michael Powell. It’s about a dancer, Vicky Page played by Moira Shearer), who has just joined the prestigious Ballet Lermontov run by Boris Lermontov (played by Anton Walbrook) a driven perfectionist who is driven by the desire to create the perfect performance. She quickly grows to become the company’ lead dancer for their brand new ballet, based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, The Red Shoes. But when she falls in love with the ballet’s composer Julian Craster (played by Marius Goring ) she is forced to choose between her artistic career and true love.
This movie deserves all of the acclaim it has been getting for years the dance and the performances. The best bit about it though is the Red Shoes Ballet itself standing out in the center of the film as a wonderful fifteen minutes of pure fantasy. In the process it nails down Anderson’s metaphor of the red shoes as something personally destructive that you can’t give up
I confess this week I was kind of scraping the barrel for ideas this week (that and one of the films for my plan A list was out) But I still thought that my idea for films about boxing scams had possibilities. Besides since the whole point of this exercise is to force me out of my film viewing comfort zone, the phrase “they can’t all be winners is a feature not a bug. Though considering the “tradition” of boxing being crooked, I’m surprised I couldn’t find more of these. (Though in hindsight I suppose Pulp Fiction counts, even though Bruce Willis’s scam is a subplot that occurs offscreen.)
Despite never hearing anything good about it I’d been curious about the sequel to the Sting for some time, because Jackie Gleason was in it. So I decided to chance it.
It’s seven years after the last film and the mark from the last film, Doyle Lonnegan (played by Oliver Reed), is out for revenge huning down the grifters who scammed him before. While trying to avoid this grifter Jake Hooker (Mac Davis) is summoned by King of the Conmen Fargo Gondorff (Gleason) to get back at Lonnegan as well asother financier using a crooked boxing match based on pretending that Hooker is going to take a dive in the ring.
This film was pretty much a mess. I went in expecting Gleason to be playing a variation of his Minnesota Fats character from The Hustler instead he was mostly flat and whatever classiness he might have had was spoiled by bursts of broad slapstick. The rest of the film, regrettably wasn’t much better. In the original film half the fun is the anatomy of the Sting itself which challenges us to notice everything that they’re not telling you with the final reveal still coming as an amazing surprise. In the sequel the reveal comes off something they just pulled out of their ass.
I’d been aware of our second film, Diggstown when it first came out mainly because I’d been a fan of Louis Gossett, Jr. at the time and while I certainly made a note of it’s existence the description didn’t pique my interest enough to actually watch it.
James Wood stars as Gabriel Caine a con man who’s just getting out of prison with a plan to travel to the town of Diggstown and bet the man who owns and controls most of the town, John Gillion (Bruce Dern) that his guy can beat ten boxers in twenty four hours. To do this he first has to get his guy, Honey Roy Palmer (Gosset) to agree to come along. He does and then the action ensues with each side doing everything they can to rig the proceedings (and even then this is the ultimate endurance test for Palmer)
While this was no great masterpiece, this was an enjoyable film with good performances from Wood and Gossett with Dern turning smarminess into an art form. If anything my biggest problem with it was there were just a few too many variables in Caine’s plan to make this feel like a true sting.
When I first started this week’s theme I thought I’d go with films based on Joseph Conrad stories, but when the first film I came across on my list (after Apocalypse Now) was The Duelists, I decided that doing duelists would make for an even better theme.
The Duelists tells the story of two calvary officers Gabrial Faraud (Harvey Keitel) a hot headed serial duelist and the more levil headed Armand d’Hubert (Keith Carradine). When d’Hubert is sent to arrest Faroud after Faroud beat the son of the mayor of the town they are stationed in Faroud challenges d’Hubert to a duel and after they both survive he challenges him to another one… and another for years afterwards. It is a tail of obsession and self destructive honor.
This was Scott at his best. The fight choreography is great… Not spectacular just brutally realistic… the best one being the third duel where the two have been fighting so long that they are so exhausted they loose all skill and are swinging their swords desperately as if they are (very sharp) clubs. But the best thing about this is the lighting. Scott takes full advantage of natural light and candle light for the interiors giving the whole film a wonderful etherial beauty.
John Wayne’s last film, The Shootist, was another film that I first heard about in a collection of Mort Drucker movie parodies I owned growing up. After that I mostly knew about it from other creators referring to it. Despite of this it is yet another well known film I’d never gotten around to seeing.
Wayne plays J.B. Books an aging gunman (the shootist of the title) diagnosed with terminal cancer. He arrives in Carson City Nevada and takes up lodging to settle his affairs and await his death. But news gets out and his past is comes a calling as old enemies come to finally get there revenge.
This was a wonderful mostly quiet swan song for Wayne as well as the traditional Western. The film goes out of it’s way to show that times are changing, starting from a newspaper article announcing the death of Queen Victoria to one of Books’ enemies driving a car.
Wayne himself is more restrained than normal, deliberately being a shadow of his former self. The arrogance and bravado is still there but he’s not fooling himself and he knows his story is nearly over.
This week I decided to return to one of my favorite genres of film noir. Only this time I decided to touch on the lighter side of it with Film Noir comedy and parody. In hind sight this may not be one of my better ideas but here we go.
It didn’t disappoint. Bogart plays Billy Dannreuther, a impoverished business man who is helping fur a group of shady individuals, (consisting of Robert Morley, Peter Lorre, Ivor Barnard and Marco Tulli)) in buying land in East Africa with uranium deposits. While he and his wife lovely wife Maria ( played by the lovely Gina Lollobrigida) wait for the boat to africa to be ready they run into a Brattish couple, Harry & Gwendolyn (played by Edward Underdown and Jennifer Jones),who will be on the same boat. They quickly hit it off with Gwendoly falling in love with Billy and Maria falling in love with Harry. On top of this the crooks overhear many of the things that Gwendolyn, a compulsive lier, tells about Harry’s background and what he is planning to do… and from there hilarity ensues.
While I won’t consider this one of John Huston’s best film this was a fun ensemble piece with most of the humor based on character interactions as well as the way. It’s also great to see how great character actors true star power every time as Lorre and his three companions steals the show in every shot they’re in.
Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid was one of those films that I first became are of when my family got our first video players and I became aware of the joys of browsing a video rental collection. (As well as learning that Steve Martin did films as well as standup)
So when I doing this weeks selection this was one that I had on my list before I even started researching my research.
We open with hardboiled detective Rigby Reardon (Martin) in his office when mysterious woman, Juliet (Rachel Ward) walks in and faints… She wants to hire him to find her missing father a famous cheesemaker) and so on.
Seriously, if you’re remotely familiar with the film noir genre you’ve seen this movie. The whole film is a mosaic of film clips from old classics. Martin goes to talk to James Cagney in prison from White Heat, shares a train seat with Cary Grant, from Suspicion, answers phone calls from “Marlowe” Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep (except when he’s from Dark Passage and Rigby tells “Marlowe” not to stop messing with him when Bogart identifies himself with a different name) and he visits old flames Ava Gardner and Barbara Stanwyck. Pretty much any of the original material is a way to sew all of the clips together, and while the editing and some effects to merge Martin and Warden into the scenes make this work quite well, it gets old fast.