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Posts Tagged ‘sports

Batter up — just don’t batter the kid

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DVD review: “A Mile in His Shoes.” Nasser Group North. 89 minutes. Rated PG. My grade: B.

For five years, filmmakers have been trying to copy the surprise success of Facing the Giants, a football film produced by a church in Georgia. And often with the same hook: sports.

Just in the last year we’ve seen “inspirational” films about golf ( Seven Days in Utopia ), basketball ( Breaking the Press ), mixed martial arts ( Warrior ) and yes, football ( The Fifth Quarter ). What’s missing? Right: baseball, the national pastime.

TomTheHand via Wikimedia

Touching that base is A Mile in His Shoes, based on the book The Legend of Mickey Tussler by Frank Nappi. It’s about minor-league baseball. And faith. And team spirit. And the “differently abled.” And country. Lots of country. If you don’t like tractors, country music and miles of farmland, zip past the first several minutes.

Finally we get to the River Rats in rural Ohio, a stereotyped team of losers with no way to go but up. Coach Arthur “Murph” Murphy’s manager tells him to recruit a good pitcher, or else.

In Indiana, Murph finds Mickey, a simple-minded farmboy with a golden arm: To feed his pigs, he busts up apples by throwing them into a hanging bushel basket — in the same spot every time. Murph begs Mickey’s domineering, overprotective dad to let him try out for the Rats.

The father at first says no: Mickey has Asperger’s syndrome, an autism-like condition that hampers social skills. Finally Dad relents on the urging of his wife and son.

The naïve Mickey progresses slowly, with the help of Murph and a team buddy. And once he gets on the pitcher’s mound, he starts throwing strikes with machinelike precision. The Rats climb out of the cellar toward a league championship.

So who wouldn’t like the new pitcher? The one he bumped, of course. “Lefty” first sneers and plays tricks on Mickey. Then he has his girlfriend get Mickey alone so a couple of masked thugs can beat him up. Mickey is so traumatized, he sits out a few games.

Murph lets him stay at his house for awhile, and it becomes clear why he’s taken so much to him: His own dead son was a baseball player. He even lets Mickey stay in the boy’s bedroom.

Several things happen quickly. Police sniff around Lefty as the main suspect. His girlfriend confesses guilty feelings to her pastor, who urges her to do the right thing. And Mickey decides to face his fears and return to the pitcher’s mound.

And that’s pretty much where this film peaks. From then on, you pretty much know what’ll happen. Unless you guessed it when Murph first met Mickey.

Not that A Mile in His Shoes lacks redeeming values. References to God and the Bible are slipped gently into the plot, not forcibly as in many gospel films. And the girl’s pastor is portrayed as a supportive person, rather than a hypocrite or out-of-touch clod.

Director-writer William Dear is on sure footing with a baseball film, having done 1994’s Angels in the Outfield and 2007’s The Sandlot: Heading Home.

Toronto-born Dear even manages to make us think we’re in rural America when the farm scenes were shot in rural British Columbia. Much of the cast is Canadian as well: Even the theme song came from Nova Scotia-born George Canyon, who also plays Mickey’s father.

Canadian-American actor Luke Schroder, son of veteran Rick Schroder, refreshingly portrays the shyness, literal mind and obsession with detail of Asperger’s patients, without lapsing into caricature.

The main American in this movie is Dean Cain, best as Superman in the early ’90s series Lois & Clark. Cain does a decent turn as the good-hearted coach who is trying to shield his team, and especially Mickey, from his all-business manager.

So there’s a lot of good in A Mile in His Shoes. I just wish “inspirational” filmmakers would try some other genre than sports. Imitation may be the sincerest form of television, as Fred Allen said decades ago. But it doesn’t make the most creative movies.

Oh, yeah: The film’s publicist says FTC guidelines require me to add this . . .

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

. . . which strikes me as kind of lame. Who would recommend something he didn’t think was good?

James D. Davis

Written by Jim Davis

January 29, 2012 at 2:24 am

‘Holy war’ via mixed martial arts

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DVD review: “Warrior.” Lionsgate Films. 139 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Using physical conflict as a symbol of inner battles is as old as the Bible, which says the patriarch Jacob wrestled an angel. But in Warrior the conflict is so brutal and in-your-face — as you’d expect in a film dealing with mixed martial arts — that its themes of redemption and forgiveness are in danger of being overwhelmed.

The story revolves around two brothers and their father: why they hate him and each other, and how they resolve their anger.

Brendan's wife tries to convince him to stay out of mixed martial arts fighting in 'The Warrior.' (Courtesy Bender/Helper Impact)

The fight scenes are ferociously realistic, benefiting from UFC champions Nate “The Great” Marquardt and Anthony “Rumble” Johnson in the cage, plus Rashad Evans as a sports commentator. Fighters punch, body-slam and throw Muy Thai kicks. More than one actor came away with bruises and worse during the filming.

But for a martial-arts movie, Warrior starts out really, really slow. Brendan gets a visit from father Paddy (Nick Nolte), a recovering alcoholic. Paddy asks forgiveness for deserting his family for the bottle, but Brendan tells him to stay away from himself, his wife and his children.

Brendan also has more pressing matters: His teaching job isn’t paying the bills, and the bank is weeks from foreclosing. He decides to return to his MMA career and grudgingly asks his dad to train him. Then he then gets mad all over again when he learns Paddy is already training his ex-Marine younger brother, Tommy.

Brendan gets another trainer and surprises everyone: He has a knack for getting beat up, then winning suddenly with a well-timed arm bar or leg lock. But his wife begs him to stop before he gets hurt or killed. Brendan waves her off, saying that it’s down to fighting or losing the house.

Meanwhile, brother Tommy is tearing through opponents, typically knocking them cold with a single blow. Fellow Marines show up at his matches and cheer him on.

What drives his fury are three things. He resents Brendan for choosing family life instead of following him into the military. Tommy also shares Brendan’s contempt for their father. And, as it develops, he’s hiding some shame of his own.

There’s a subplot about a big, scary Russian fighter (think Drago from Rocky IV), but by then the climax is clearly looming: a faceoff between the brothers. That makes for an interesting question. Both are the good guys. Who will win the match? Who should?

The story has obvious echoes of Raging Bull and Cinderella Man as well as Rocky. The main difference, besides the MMA angle, is how the cage fights and family fights affect each other — and what it means to win the latter. Warrior deserved more attention at the boxoffice; it was probably overshadowed by The Fighter, which came out nine months earlier.

For some reason, most of the main actors in Warrior are sci-fi and fantasy veterans. Joel Edgerton (Brendan) is fresh from the remake of The Thing; Tom Hardy (Tommy), from 2010’s Inception. Playing Brendan’s wife is Jennifer Morrison, late of Star Trek and currently in TV’s Once Upon a Time. She does a surprisingly good job in a minor role: smooth, natural, underplayed.

For his part, Nolte is a longtime respected actor, but it’s no stretch for him to play a jowly, blubbering former drunk.

Spiritual issues? Well, Brendan speaks bitterly about how Paddy deserted him and Tommy and their mother. He also has to find a way to reconcile with his brother and calm Tommy’s rage.

But it’s a thin premise for a “spiritual” film where no one prays, meditates, attends church, reads any holy book, consults a guru or clergyman, or mentions Jesus except in contempt. That’s the unspoken conflict in Warrior: between spirit and flesh.

James D. Davis

Written by Jim Davis

January 5, 2012 at 3:37 am

Posted in faith, film, films, Uncategorized

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Cowboys and caddies

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Luke lines up a shot as a tournament crowd watches. (Courtesy Lovell/Fairchild Communications)

DVD review: Seven Days in Utopia. 100 minutes. Rated G.

For 2011, we saw a rash of religious-spiritual sports films: basketball in Breaking the Press, football in The Fifth Quarter and Everything in Between. We now pick up a golf club with Seven Days in Utopia, somehow combining the sport with country, cowboys and cute girls. OK, just one cute girl.

Still, the the film is well done for its type. It has some decent acting, fair to very good production qualities, and a realistic lesson about making life more than the living you make.

The opening scene sets the mood: a man silhouetted in the sun, taking swing after swing. The mood is intent, focused, to the point of obsession.

Luke is a promising young golfer who hones his whole life toward winning on the green. But under pressure to perform — plus the strained relationship with his overbearing caddie father — he cracks at the worst time: during an important tournament. He snaps his club, throws it into a water hazard and drives off.

Out in the country, he crashes and has to stay in Utopia, a rundown but friendly little Texas town, while the car is repaired. He’s befriended by elderly Johnny, played by Robert Duvall with the same folksy grace he lent to 1983’s Tender Mercies.

Turns out Johnny is an old pro himself, with his own golf course, though no one else seems to play there. He mentors Luke with some unorthodox golfing lessons, like painting and fly fishing. He also shares his troubled past, for which he’s still paying.

Luke and Sarah watch fireworks, but don’t make any, in this G-rated movie. (Courtesy Lovell/Fairchild Communications)

Luke’s other lessons come off the golf course, as he finds his place among the other Utopians. One of them is Sarah, a pretty redhead played by Deborah Ann Woll, previously a guest actor on The Mentalist and My Name is Earl. Sarah chats with Luke as they sit on bales of hay, though they don’t take a roll in it; this movie well earns its G rating. But their relationship helps convince him that there’s more to life than putting.

But there’s business to finish. Luke has to reconcile with his father somehow. He has to get into another tournament, while preventing his fears and the game itself from consuming him. And he must face down a champion golfer and sink a crucial putt.

Visually, Seven Days in Utopia is often beautiful. Director Mathew Dean Russell, a veteran of films like 2006’s Night at the Museum, captures the faded but engaging charm of the real-life town of Utopia, Texas. And he occasionally shines: In one shot, the camera follows the arc of a golf ball — not merely tracking it, but appearing to fly behind it.

The film is also an honest-to-God look at golf, not just a gospel tract with a thin sports overlay. Luke is played by Lucas Black, not only an actor but a scratch golfer. The champ and Luke’s nemesis is played by K.J. Choi, a Korean-born PGA pro. Director Russell even recruited some Golf Channel reporters for cameos.

Spoiler alert: We never do find out if Luke makes the putt, which is kind of a cheat. The film ends with an invitation to visit a website, didhemaketheputt.com. The answer is unexpectedly obvious, yet matters less than the spiritual issues raised in the film.

If you like Seven Days in Utopia, you can actually buy some Utopia merchandise. The Links of Utopia golf course has its own website, which hawks a lot of film memorabilia — especially caps, towels and ball markers with the film’s slogan, “See, Feel, Trust.”

Here’s the film’s website.

Written by Jim Davis

December 26, 2011 at 8:39 pm

Posted in dvds, faith, film, movies, Uncategorized

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Tebow documentary: Long on sports and business, short on Tebow

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DVD review: “Tim Tebow — Everything in Between.” Summit Entertainment. 58 minutes.

Everything in Between, which premiered Nov. 11 on ESPN2, is like a big donut: lots of material with a hole in the middle. It has a lot on the process of getting into the NFL. It has much on training, management, politics, business, even broadcasting. But surprisingly little on the young man in the middle of it all.

Tebow, of course, is the star player from the University of Florida who won an armload of awards before even leaving college, like the Heisman Trophy, NCAA Quarterback of the Year, and the Associated Press Player of the Year.

He’s also known for kneeling and praying even during a game, a practice that’s become known as Tebowing. And he’s the guy who paints “John 3:16” on his eyeblack. The documentary has him talking about Jesus to assemblies, but doesn’t major on it.

What it does show is how someone can be a hero in college, but get knocked down a few pegs when he tries to crack pro football. He goes out for Senior Bowl but doesn’t impress sports scouts. He gets criticism from sports commentators on his low, looping pass, a drawback he tries mightly to make up for.

It’s amazing to see how many decisions are thrust onto this young man. First he and his family negotiate for an agent. Then he and the agent scout several training facilities around the country. Then Tebow undergoes a grueling regimen — running, passing, hot baths, ice baths and more — for more than 10 hours a day. And he has to wade through oceans of adoring fans, like young girls who squeal just to touch him. And all he wants to do is play football.

Director Chase Heavener keeps the production lean and businesslike, seldom even adding music. His choice of camera is light yet steady, seldom jerky. He gets onto the field, follows Tebow around reception halls, sits in on decision making with his agent and family. He goes to the Tebow ranch near Jacksonville, Fla., where the young quarterback chats with his parents and tosses the ball with his brother.

What don’t we get? Much about Tim Tebow. And that’s a sizable hole in this film. After all, the end isn’t terribly suspenseful for anyone who follows Tebow or the NFL: He gets picked for the Denver Broncos. How did he get through all this? Pretty smoothly, if we’re to believe this film.

He does say it’s an honor and a responsibility for so many fans to be rooting for him. And he voices a little frustration for winning so many college trophies, yet getting dissed on sports shows. But does he have any doubts? Any nerves whether he’ll be chosen for a team? He shows none.

When did Tebow show a skill for football? How did he know he wanted to make it his life’s work? Did he ever consider any other career? What good does it do to put a Bible verse on his eyeblack? These are all standard questions for a sports profile. Their lack leaves a hole.

Everything in Between may well find buyers among sports fans who want to know the guts of the training and selection process for new players. Perhaps even for Christians who are proud of a sports champ who hasn’t left his spiritual roots. For the rest of us, the film lacks something: a real understanding of its main character.

For those who want to buy it, here’s the website for the film company.

James D. Davis

Written by Jim Davis

November 13, 2011 at 3:01 am

Posted in christianity, documentary, faith, film, video

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