#285- The Natural

Quick recap: Roy Hobbs appears seemingly out of nowhere to join a baseball league and in the span of one season becomes a legend.

look at him go!

look at him go!

Fun (?) fact: ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson was one of the inspirations for the character of Roy Hobbs. I’m sure there are more interesting facts out there about this movie, but my knowledge of baseball is very tiny and this was the only name I recognized.


My thoughts: Being left-handed, my dad used to joke with me that I would make an excellent baseball player. I loved the idea, but the truth was that the sport terrified me growing up. I played softball for a few seasons and I remember my mother bribing me with money if I would at least swing the bat and not cower in fear. No dice, mother. I still love the concept of the game, but I’ll leave it up to the professionals and tiny children who are braver than me to play.

So, Robert Redford, who played Roy Hobbs, was basically made for this role. His character is almost sickingly sweet with his high morals, but it works in this context of an old fashioned baseball legend. Any other person playing the role and I would’ve scoffed my way through the film, but with Robert Redford as the lead, I’ll let it slide. I have no idea if he plays baseball in real life, but he seems like the sort of person that would join a game for the fun of it.

The plot didn’t do much for me, but I can’t really remember why. My thoughts kind of glazed over at some point into a patriotic babble of apple pie, cookouts and playing catch with the Old Man. The Natural is one of those movies that gets passed down between father and son to strengthen an already intimate bond. It doesn’t really matter what happens because in the end, everyone is happy and America continues marching forward and bald eagles soar and……you get the picture.

Final review: 4/5. I thought about something lower but I feel any less would be unpatriotic.

Up next: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?


#207- Hoop Dreams

Quick recap: This documentary follows two inner city kids from Chicago as they chase their dream of playing professional basketball.

Meanwhile, my basketball skills.

Meanwhile, my basketball skills.

Fun (?) fact: When Hoop Dreams failed to get a nomination for Best Documentary, it pissed Roger Ebert off. He researched the process and found that when voters viewed a movie, they would turn on a flashlight if they didn’t feel the movie had a chance. When enough flashlights were turned on, the movie was stopped. Hoop Dreams lasted only 15 minutes before it was turned off. Because of this, rules were changed and now no one will EVER have an issue with Academy voting again. EVER.

My thoughts: Oh, boy. This movie got to me, you guys. I started Hoop Dreams thinking it would be about playing basketball and maybe the dream of playing basketball- a ‘hoop dream’, if you will. And it was, of course, but it was also so much more. There are so many topics to choose from when talking about this film: poverty, race, crime, drugs, gangs  and so on, and it’s easy to get lost in the message at times. What it comes down to, though, are two boys who just want to be someone. It’s as simple as you can get, and so, so powerful.

Before I go any further, I want to confess that the first thought running through my mind as the credits rolled was, ‘Please let them still be alive and happy,’ and it seems like they are. William Gates’ brother Curtis, who was featured in the film, was murdered in 2001 and Arthur Agee’s father, also featured in the film was gunned down in 2004, but the boys themselves seem successful and happy.

It amazes me the amount of dedication that went in to telling the story of William Gates and Arthur Agee. When filming started, both boys had just finished middle school, and although both of them had amazing talent, no one knew what the ending would be. In many ways, there is nothing remarkable about either story. William is scouted and ends up at St. Joseph’s High School, an expensive private school. He comes in with very low grades ( a persistent issue in the film), but has the drive to continue. His mom is a single parent and does her best, but it’s difficult. At one point in the film, William and his girlfriend have a baby, which adds another layer of complexity to an already complex situation. Add to the fact that William playing for St. Joseph was both an amazing opportunity and also a horrible decision. Being one of only a few black students, some of the games felt like more of a spectacle than just a high school kid doing what he loved. I didn’t really like the coach because it just felt like William was being used to win games for the school. On the other hand, putting him in a prestigious school opened up many doors that wouldn’t otherwise be available.

As much as I enjoyed William, it was Arthur Agee who got to me most. As a public school teacher in a low income area, I see so many kids just like Arthur: kids who have heavy stuff going on at home and try hard to not let it get to them. Kids who are so far behind and are embarrassed about it, so they hide behind their friends and try to show that they don’t care. I was especially interested in Arthur’s friendship with Shannon, the boy with a similar  background who later moved in with the Agees. Both boys were low academically and goofed off a lot in class, yet it was Arthur who ultimately succeeded because of his love for basketball. I don’t want to spoil the outcomes of either boy, but I think it’s safe to say that their passion for the game took them much further than other kids in the same situation would have. We talk a lot about ‘realistic’ goals in school because we want them to choose something they can work for and see progress in. But there is something to having a crazy dream, also, and for these boys, at least, it is what kept them going.

Final review: 5/5 A must see for anyone who loves documentaries.

Up next: Paths of Glory

#175- Raging Bull

Quick recap: Jake LaMotta was a talented boxer in the 1940s and also a huge jerk.

aww true love <3 (This was wife #2 of 7, btw)

aww true love ❤
(This was wife #2 of 7, btw)

Fun (?) fact: To make the sound effect for punching, sound technician Frank Warner squashed melons and tomatoes


My thoughts: Is it wrong to like a movie simply because it is the ‘anti-movie’ of something else? I didn’t love Rocky because it felt too inspirational and didn’t match up with my belief that boxing is a very violent sport. Raging Bull definitely shows the opposite and cutting all the inspirational crap endeared it to me a bit. I’ve never been a fan of sports movies precisely because they are too sweet and rely heavily on the flawed character to save the day. Jake LaMotta is ALL flawed character (and still alive at 98!) and no real redemption, which made it the perfect ‘anti-Rocky’.

Without a doubt, Raging Bull should be seen for the acting alone. Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro were phenomenal as brothers Joey and Jake LaMotta. I have no idea how accurate the film is, but De Niro’s performance especially made me believe that I was watching the real thing. Most people are impressed by the boxing scenes and how realistic they were (and many did involve real punching), but I was more impressed by how well De Niro was able to show his character’s downfall. The final scene where LaMotta is practicing the monologue from On the Waterfront, many years after giving up boxing was the perfect ending to such a sad movie.

Final review: 5/5. Not my favorite movie, but a masterpiece nonetheless.

Up next: the Umbrellas of Cherbourg


Quick recap: Rocky Balboa is a boxer who has essentially wasted his life fighting the wrong people. But then the champion of the boxing world, Apollo Creed, challenges him to a match for the title. So Rocky eats raw eggs, runs up stairs and punches meat to train. He also manages to fall in love with a shy pet shop employee to prove that at heart, he’s a lover not a fighter. Or something like that.

I doubt PETA very much liked this scene. Do they care about carcases though?

I doubt PETA very much liked this scene. Do they care about carcases though?

Fun (?) Fact: The poster of Rocky displayed at the boxing ring with the wrong color shorts was an actual mistake. Not having time or money to fix the mistake, Sylvester Stallone added dialogue where he points out the inaccuracy.

My thoughts: After watching this movie and trying to decide how to review it, I came to the conclusion that I’m in a sort of pop culture dilemma. Although this was my first time seeing the movie, I already knew many of the scenes and even the outcome. I basically sat through the whole thing just so I could cross it off of my list and say that I did it. That’s not to say it wasn’t an enjoyable film but it left me a bit underwhelmed overall. I almost feel a sense of guilt for not getting into the spirit of the movie and rooting for Rocky. And to top it off, in doing this project, I know that I’m going to run into more iconic movies that I mostly know the story but have never seen in their entirety.

The most fair thing I can do is try to see Rocky as a moviegoer would in 1976. It was a time before anyone really knew Stallone so his acting ability seemed impressive. And just like nowadays, people back then ate up those feel good sports stories.

at least I wasn't subjected to this.

at least I wasn’t subjected to this.

Rocky’s story, if you look past the cheesiness, is endearing. Stallone lays it on a little thick as to how sweet Rocky is underneath all that violence, but the point is made nonetheless. I was most surprised by Adrian’s character because I always pictured her as some italian bombshell, not this shy girl in glasses. I really enjoyed her transformation and how loyal she stayed throughout everything. I did not, however, enjoy the billion times Rocky said, ‘Yo,Adrian!’. It felt a too heavy on the Italian stereotype. Then again, James Gandolfini just passed away and I could watch Tony Soprano for hours without getting bored or annoyed.

Final Review: 2/5. I can see why it is an iconic movie, but it’s just not for me.

Up Next: I’ll be watching a movie about a sweet transvestite from Transylvania