THE ROOKIE (A-1, PG) is a classy movie for the baseball crowd, combining several genres
in one delightful sweep of the training table. Prototypes include: bad team
underdogs become winners (Bad News Bears), older guy comes back to achieve
his dreams (The Natural), fathers and sons reconcile under somewhat
mystical conditions (Field of Dreams).
The Rookie is the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction story of
Jim Morris, a high school science teacher in the Texas boonies who at age 35
discovers he can pitch a baseball at 98 miles per hour. Jim’s dreams of making
the big leagues had always been derailed by injuries. But now he’s healthy,
and he never threw that fast before.
But Morris (Dennis Quaid) has a job and a family. “You can’t eat
dreams,” says his wife, Lorri (Rachel Griffiths). He’s also coach of a ragtag
school team that can’t seem to win.
Morris challenges his players not to quit and they challenge him
right back. Thus, at the movie’s climax, he’s walking in from the bullpen to
pitch for the American League Tampa Bay Devil Rays against the Rangers.
A story about nuns and St. Rita provides a bit of heavenly support.
This beautifully constructed Disney movie is shot and acted (especially by Quaid)
with carefully observed, convincing baseball action and detail. Director John
Lee Hancock has dodged most of the schmaltz traps from this uplifting true story.
Recommended for all but unreconstructed baseball skeptics.
CHANGING LANES (A-3, R): Two tense guys in suits (Ben Affleck, Samuel L. Jackson) rushing to
unrelated court dates bump cars. After a frantic dispute, hotshot Wall Street
lawyer Affleck runs off, dropping a file crucial to his case and stranding Jackson,
who will miss a vital custody hearing.
Writer Chap Taylor’s ingenious (if thoroughly incredible) plot ties
these men together in alternating panic and fury. Affleck needs the file to
get rich and stay out of jail. He tries to ruin Jackson’s reputation to get
Soon Affleck discovers his affluent firm and father-in-law boss (Sydney Pollack,
as evil as in Eyes Wide Shut) are as twisted as rotini
pasta. He begins to have conscience qualms. It’s all happening
on Good Friday, so he checks in at a nearby church to ask
a priest why “the world is a sewer” and to blame God for
Lanes earns credit for a constant moral focus, including
scenes when stressed-out Jackson resists alcohol and Affleck interviews idealistic
interns who hope to change the world. Directed by Brit Roger Michell, impressive
action and character complexity are jammed into 98 minutes, and the rainy Manhattan
locales are a felt presence. Some rough language, otherwise a thinking person’s
entertainment; satisfactory for adults.
IRIS (A-4, R) focuses on an elderly spouse nurturing his partner through a cruel
two-year decline and death from Alzheimer’s disease. It’s moving because of
his patience and their mutual devotion. Artful editing juxtaposes the passion
and confidence of their youthful past with the poignancy of the present. It’s
also sadly ironic because the victim is Iris Murdoch (1919-99), a major British
writer and philosopher, for whom language and words were the center of her life.
Iris has drawn attention, rightfully, for its acting. Judi Dench, who
suggests a rich inner life in the older Iris, was Oscar-nominated
as best actress, and Jim Broadbent, the versatile veteran
who plays her literary critic-husband John Bayley, won the
award for best supporting actor.
The movie, adapted from Bayley’s memoirs by top-rank stage
director Richard Eyre and playwright Charles Wood, doesn’t try to do more than
suggest the range of Murdoch’s accomplishments (26 novels, four plays, a decade
of teaching at Oxford) or her voracious zest for life (many lovers) or truth
(Communism, existentialism, Anglo-Catholicism, Buddhism).
Unfortunately, profound issues of faith and life’s meaning do not
arise, making them seem irrelevant as the disease progresses and death approaches.
Except for fragments of her lectures, the focus is on her up-and-down relationship
with shy, stammering John, who is devoted but also jealous and possessive. (Nominee
Kate Winslet and Hugh Bonneville are perfect as their youthful incarnations.)
One of Broadbent’s most human scenes is when he rages at her as
she snuggles close to him in her helplessness: “I’ve (finally) got you and I
don’t want you!” The heart-cracking moment for Dench is when, near the end,
Iris sits alone on a beach. She is flanked by blank pages from her notebook,
which she scatters in frustration to the wind. A film that remarkably captures
the sad mysteries of aging and decline, as well as the power of love; nudity,
adult situations; satisfactory for mature viewers.
SINGIN’ IN THE
SINGIN’ IN THE
RAIN celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Possibly the
most upbeat movie ever made, this musical spoofs the period when Hollywood movies
switched, painfully, from silence to sound. Suddenly, voices mattered, acting
styles changed, and careers soared or crashed.
The memorable cast (Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds,
Jean Hagen), directed by Kelly and Stanley Donen, all played characters caught
in the crunch. Writers Betty Comden and Adolph Green work endless gags over
the clumsy transition to mikes and synch sound as the studio decides to remake
a silent, costume melodrama as a musical. Hammy star Kelly makes the conversion,
but Jean Hagen (as the classic dumb blonde) can’t because of her tin voice and
Reynolds is the naïve young talent who comes to the
rescue unselfishly supplying her voice. As Kelly’s comedy
sidekick, O’Connor has a show-stopping number (“Make ’Em
Laugh”), but the signature moments belong to Kelly (in the
title routine) splashing his way to immortality.
An inventive, over-the-top dance musical, Rain
holds up: Deliberately corny, it’s as delightful today as
it was in those Korean War years. Oddly enough, only Hagen
got any Oscar attention. Quality films abounded in 1952,
including High Noon, Rashomon, The
Quiet Man, Viva Zapata and Come Back,
Little Sheba. But in the American Film Institute’s list
of the best 100 movies ever, only Rain made the Top
G-rated in all respects, this is a top-of-the-line VHS/DVD
buy or rental.
An article in Variety says that kids 12-l7 are watching less network
TV. All the nets (except NBC with Friends) had fewer teens watching in
2001, with the biggest drop-offs at Fox (down 15 percent) and ABC/Disney (down
29 percent). Fox still has the most teens in its audience: The most-to-least
rank order is Fox, WB and NBC, UPN, ABC, CBS.
Or maybe they just got some sense. Theories abound: The kids are
migrating to cable (MTV, among others); they’re spending more time on new tech
(games, the Internet); TV usage is dropping because in this economy more teens
are working to help out family income.
These data disturb the media, which are already engaged in a great
quest for Youth—for the advertising, of course. The trend is everywhere:
The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal
and National Public Radio have all recently moved toward softer news and more
pop-culture coverage. The recent changes in graphics and personalities on cable
news channels have the same intention.
(Great cartoon in recent New Yorker: two mature gentlemen
smiling with wings, halos and martinis in puffy-cloud cartoon heaven. The caption
reads: “At least there’s one place that’s not youth-oriented.”)
Network programmers will try to win teens back with a lot of 15-year-old
protagonists in new series. (A pilot for a new Fox series, Septuplets,
maxes out the trend: “Teenage septuplets live in a hotel owned by their
parents.”) Viewers over 30 will find a ton of channels with nothing on.
THE RECENT DEATHS
THE RECENT DEATHS
of two television giants merit attention. Milton Berle was not just a star,
he was a social phenomenon. His live variety show (Texaco Star Theater began
in 1948) was the reason people bought sets. Neighbors came over; in college
dorms, everyone came to the lobby to watch the only TV in the building.
The show was rowdy and corny, but by today’s standards, unbelievably
innocent. Maybe you can hear in memory all those classes and ages of people
laughing together. You won’t hear them together today, laughing like that, anywhere.
Sylvester (Pat) Weaver became NBC honcho in 1949, and his first act was to
rescind the cancellation of Meet the Press, now TV’s
longest-running program. For better or worse, he invented
the forms of the medium, extending it to daytime and late
night, originating the idea of “specials,” expanding election
coverage, introducing quality magazine-type shows. Weaver’s
vision was better than what others eventually did with it.
In later years he criticized the medium for its commercialism