Connect with us

Film

‘The Rookie’ Perfectly Encapsulates the Dream of Baseball

Published

on

If sports are a metaphor for life, then baseball must depict the moments where we dream. No other contest between opposing athletic squads has ever been romanticized quite as much as America’s game, with its naturally built-in opportunities for both team and individual glory, including the duel between pitcher and batter, the support and coordination of fielders working together, and the walk-off no-doubt home run victory. It’s no wonder that for well over a century, kids have been imagining themselves up to bat in the bottom of the ninth with a chance to single-handedly win the game, or on the mound facing the most fearless hitter in the league, with the fate of the World Series on the line. It’s also no wonder that filmmakers have capitalized on such fond notions to create genuinely moving movies, classics that cover a wide breadth of topics relating to both the sport, and life itself. Still, no matter the story, be it seedy or nostalgic, within each is always a sense of the dream, the love of the game, and no baseball movie warmly embraces that idea more than Disney’s The Rookie.

While it may sound like a kiddy vehicle starring an obnoxious tween or maybe a fun-loving chimp, and despite its G rating, The Rookie is actually the very adult-relatable story of growing older and believing your youthful aspiration lost to responsibility. Dennis Quaid plays real-life former minor-leaguer Jim Morris, now a high school science teacher and local baseball coach in the Texas town of Big Lake (evidently ironically named, as nary a drop of water is to be seen in the dusty desert surrounding them). There is little life to be had in this arid wasteland – nothing exciting, at least – and it’s not exactly a place where hopes are expected to come true, something reflected in the student players’ attitude on the field. Once you’re in Big Lake, you’re stuck there; so why bother trying? All you’re bound to get is hurt, the results of your hard work possibly being several surgeries to a dead pitching shoulder while you’re slowly forced out of a game you love without ever having had the chance to really prove yourself worthy of The Show. However, in an effort to spark some verve into his team, Morris makes a pact: if the Big Lake Owls can make the state playoffs, then despite being too old to be seriously considered, as well as ten years from facing any sort of competition, he will attend open tryouts nearby for a major league team, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

There wouldn’t be much of a story to these true events if the Owls didn’t uphold their end of the deal, so Jim is forced to swallow his pride and risk embarrassment in front of a host of strapping young professional ballplayers, ones whose aspirations and seemingly limitless futures he envies and admires. What he doesn’t realize, however, is that in the ten years since his last injury, his shoulder has not only completely healed, but actually has grown stronger, and now in his mid-30s Morris is capable of throwing a fastball the likes of which neither he nor the professional scouts could have possibly imagined. This revelation sets Jim down a path toward something everyone thinks about from time to time but few rarely do anything about: living out a childhood dream.

Director John Lee Hancock understands perfectly the mythology he is working with, both with baseball and Texas, and he populates The Rookie with the kind of imagery that strikes the right romantic chords. The sun glistens around the silhouette of a ball cradled like an egg, like the light of a middle-aged man’s ambition not quite ready to set; a lone star on a flag flaps over the field of an important game the same way it does at the Alamo, a last stand for honor; little leaguers in oversized uniforms awkwardly field grounders, gangly arms somehow hitting their targets, the smiles on their faces projecting everything wholesome and ageless about this sport; a door emerges into a massive professional stadium, with a capacity crowd towering over a pitcher running out to the mound for the first time, a near-religious rite of passage taking place in one of the largest “cathedrals” in the world. These are archetypal moments recognizable by any fan, as well as familiar to those who may have just absorbed a bit of baseball culture through osmosis, and they go a long way toward promoting the fairy tale aspects of the story.

Still, a good fairy tale has to contain enough believability to inspire, and Hancock also gets the realism right, from unfashionable small-town teens, to swirls of dust kicking up around home plate, to filming footage with actual major leaguers taken at a real-life Rangers/Rays game to simulate the story’s climax (which works infinitely better than a group of uncoordinated actors clumsily faking their way through a double play), ensuring that enthusiasts won’t be taken out of the experience by obvious falsified ridiculousness, and other viewers are treated to the poetic athleticism of the sport at its finest. The world is also populated with believable blue-collar types that for once don’t feel like caricatures, but people born out of a mind that has experience with – and affection for – these out-of-the-way places and folks, including ones whose fates are sealed, and others expecting to leave the boondocks in their dust. There are some whose confidence is justified, and others who mask a deep-down lack of belief in themselves. Throughout The Rookie there are reminders of the different things people expect from life, the variety of situations they can be happy with. Not everyone’s hopes come to fruition, but there are worse things; one could lose them altogether.

The crack of the bat, the thump of the catch, the whizzing pop of the pitch; these all contribute to an authenticity that evokes nostalgia, making me want to lace up my cleats and dig into the batter’s box again. The gritty sweat under the hot Texas sun, the worry over bills, and the changing of diapers off the bed of a pickup truck may remind me that there is more to a full existence than being a hero in the bottom of the ninth, but baseball is still pure, still fun. What makes The Rookie work so well is how it perfectly captures the balance between the growing weight of the burdens and obligations that comes along with maturation into adulthood, and the emotional pull to the simple pleasures of playing this game.

With spouses and jobs and mortgages and kids, it can seem like we just don’t have the time or disposition to partake in innocent fun anymore; adults must step aside, lest they be pushed, to make way for the next generation of idealists. But when you feel the stitches of the baseball along your fingers, inhale the leather of a well-worn glove, or wrap your hands around the grip of a wooden bat, everyone is the same age, everyone is a kid again – even if your knees can’t quite steal a base like they used to. You can remember what it was like to imagine, to dream. By embodying this, The Rookie not only loves baseball, but does a heartwarming job of expressing why so many others do too.

Patrick Murphy grew up in the hearty Midwest, where he spent many winter hours watching movies and playing video games while waiting for baseball season to start again. When not thinking of his next Nintendo post or writing screenplays to satisfy his film school training, he’s getting his cinema fix as the Editor of Sordid Cinema, Goomba Stomp's Film and TV section.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

TIFF

‘Uncut Gems’ Sends Adam Sandler Through the Ringer

The Safdie Brothers have crafted a hectic, abrasive crime thriller that revels in its misery.

Published

on

Uncut Gems

The Safdie Brothers have followed up their grimy, abrasive Good Time with a film that never quite reaches those levels of tension, but is nevertheless cut from the same cloth. With Uncut Gems, the directing duo has crafted something so loud and chaotic — led by a perfectly-cast Adam Sandler — that there is no denying it’s a fun ride, even when it is not so fun to watch. Digging through the grit of loan sharks and a dog-eat-dog world, Uncut Gems is another bonafide hit by the Safdie brothers, but one that works when it piles on the misery — which it often does, rather than find a shred of happiness.

Evading debt collectors throughout New York City, Howard (Sandler) runs a jewelry shop in the Diamond District where he sells to many high-profile celebrities. When a new opal arrives at his shop from Ethiopia, he can’t help but show it off to Boston Celtics player Kevin Garnett (who stars as himself in a fun role that never feels out-of-place), who becomes obsessed with the rock and borrows it with the hope of eventually convincing Howard to let him buy it. Of course, Howard has other plans, as the rock is allegedly worth a million dollars if sold at an auction in which he has already purchased a spot. When Garnett doesn’t return the stone, everything starts going horribly awry in Howard’s life as he juggles a failing marriage, his Jewish family ties, and keeping the loan sharks at bay.

Right out of the gate, Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix Point Never) hits the ground hard with a score that carries the cosmic and reverberating effects of the titular uncut gems. When Garnett stares into the opal, he sees exactly what Howard tells him he’s supposed to see: the universe. In that, Lopatin provides a sonic scape so expansive and yet violently singular in its aesthetic that it provides much of Uncut Gems with a mystical aura. Drenched in gritty camerawork that gets up close to show the blemishes of everyone, there’s no denying the film’s mean and potent intensity.

Where Uncut Gems often stumbles is in its narrative threads. While the Garnett storyline weaves in and out, providing a lot of fun as well as hectic tension, it’s a piece of stunt casting that works, while also highlighting one that very clearly doesn’t involve R&B singer The Weekend. Why he is in the movie is baffling, other than perhaps because he evokes a further sense that Howard is in a very upscale world — something we already know by his clientele, multiple properties, and the wealth he actually wears. The Weekend ends up as a weird diversion that can take viewers out of the experience, even if his presence does lead to a further escalation in problems for Howard.

That all being said, Uncut Gems also brings Adam Sandler back into the fold as an actor who can do more than the drivel he has churned out over the decades. More evocative of his performance in Punch-Drunk Love than The Meyerowitz Stories, Sandler gives a comedic and sympathetic performance to a character for whom everything suddenly goes wrong. Living a manic, fast-paced lifestyle, Howard is impatient, aggressive, and greedy, but Sandler makes it possible to get on board with his plight at least partially (there is no way to be on his side completely). His vices are many, but the performance keeps him down to Earth even when it feels like everything is flying off the hinges.

There will likely be many that can’t get past how dirty this movie feels, as it treats many criminal activities as both simply the way things are and the way they always will be. Beyond that, however, the Safdie Brothers provide a nuanced look at Jewish culture, utilizing one of Hollywood’s most prolific Jewish actors, and treat it is as matter-of-fact. Uncut Gems is a frenetic crime film from a Jewish perspective and delivers on its promise of being a wild ride with a phenomenal Sandler performance. Just don’t expect there to be much hope present, as the Safdies revel in the misery as much as humanly possible, only using hope as a torture device to make the anguish all the more painful.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on September 14, 2019, as part of our coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival.

Continue Reading

Film

The Best Movie Trailers of 2019

Published

on

Best Movie Trailers 2019

They exist to sell a product, but there’s also something about movie trailers that inspires certain ticket buyers to get to the theater early: the promise of movie magic. Before we have a chance to be disappointed by their final products, the best trailers are constructed to show off endless potential — the suggestion that audiences are in for an amazing cinematic treat. Of course, it doesn’t always work out that way, but there’s nothing better than being seduced — and for a few moments, that’s exactly what the best movie trailers of 2019 do. Below are some of my favorites from the past year.

Smarmy Murder

Knives Out

Rian Johnson’s followup to The Last Jedi seems to have found a safer home for the director’s irreverence (I’m not aware of any diehard murder-mystery fans, at least), and it’s trailers have been free to lean heavily into that twisted playfulness. If you’ve gone to a theater in the last three months, it’s been hard to avoid seeing this one a million times (including at times as an ad before the previews), but the relentlessly snappy pacing, ironic edits, and pervasive shots of actors hamming it up really drive home that Knives Out is looking to be a wickedly fun romp. Whether it succeeds or not, there’s no question that the trailer makes me want it to. 

Ready or Not

This one hits more traditional beats when it comes to unspooling its gleefully barbarous premise, and knows just how to mix the tension with the violence with the cheeky one-liners. But it’s the use of The Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody” that really pushes this trailer over the top, as the song works brilliantly for both magnifying the drama during the screaming moments, and providing an excellent contrast between its blatant romantic sincerity and the sarcastic amorality of this bizarre predicament. Also, Henry Czerny.

The Hunt

This one’s a bit more subtle about its dark comedy, but there’s no question that there are plenty of smirks lurking just below the surface of this premise. A cabal of elitists hunting a bunch of backwoods yokels for sport is the kind of satiric setup that has potential for real bite (enough to get the film’s release indefinitely delayed, apparently), and this trailer does a great job of playing that element up, suggesting a more brutal and sardonic version of The Hunger Games. The tired look on Betty Gilpin’s face as she moseys down train tracks or calmly drives over someone’s head showcases a low-key humor that hopefully is reflected in the final product. Fingers crossed that The Hunt eventually sees the dark of theaters.

Moody, Mysterious Spooks

Midsommar

There’s always something refreshing about a horror story that takes place in the daylight, and the trailer for Midsommar appeals perfectly to this sentiment. Plucky strings, tribal drum beats, and plenty of off-kilter camera angles help set the creepy stage for a relationship problem that is about to manifest itself in a physical problem, but one that is smartly only hinted at. The bright, lush environment and comforting tradition initially draws you in (like any good cult would hope), but exactly what’s in store for this young woman and her companions? Flashes of gore and deformity near the end are what linger, even after a sunny visual finale. Very enticing.

The Lighthouse

It’s possible that this trailer could have just consisted of nothing but the weather-worn faces of Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe staring back at the audience, punctuated by the droning bellow of the fog horn, and that might have been enough to sell people on this thing. Of course, what follows is a stark, visual feast that also does a masterful job at dropping clues as to the possible supernatural mystery, but layering them in the potential madness. Dark, ominous trappings are slathered on as thick as the sea-faring accents, giving off an old-fashioned horror vibe. Despite a deep dislike for the actual film, I could watch this trailer forever, and dream of what else could have lurked out on that lonely island.

If Only They Lost the Song

1917

Bolstered by gorgeous images courtesy of the great Roger Deakins (whose sumptuous cinematography can only help no matter what it’s in), this trailer does a masterful job at communicating to audiences just what a nail-biter this WWI story promises to be. Starting out with an innocuous shot of two soldiers lazing beneath a tree, and ending with one of them dodging explosions, the tension is meticulously built step by step, gunshot by gunshot…until a sappy, tone-deaf song called “Wayfaring Stranger” cuts in halfway through and tries to ruin everything with hammy emotional telegraphing. It’s a curious choice, as the textured, frank visuals and dialogue don’t otherwise give off a manipulative vibe. Still, there is stirring power in that imagery, enough to make me want to see more. Just…save the song for the end credits, please.

What. The. Hell.

Bird Talk

It’s generally not desirable to feel even slightly repulsed after viewing a movie trailer, but I have to confess that the bizarre images here are cut together in a way that doesn’t quite agree with me. So why is it good? Because that seems to be exactly the sort of note Xawery Zulawski’s film is trying to hit, with its disorienting fish-eye lenswork and indecipherable depictions of what seems like general depravity, even if I can’t point to exactly why. Even the special effect for that weird flaming car looks wonky and nightmarish. Not every film has to be pleasant to work, and neither does a trailer; Bird Talk looks intense and intriguing and indecipherable, and that’s good enough for me.

Pleading For Attention (and Actually Getting It)

Joker

Every year there are trailers for movies that desperately want to be taken seriously as films, and I’m not sure there was a better example of that in 2019 than Joker. With its gritty, scum-on-the-lens look, an early burst of cruelty, and use of Jimmy Durante’s “Smile” to lay the irony on thick, there’s no question of this promo distancing the final product from traditional ‘comic book’ movies. There’s also no question that the trailer does a magnificent job at showcasing the film’s best element: a writhing, tortured, smirking, dancing, on-the-edge Joaqin Phoenix. While it’s debatable whether Joker itself ultimately deserved all the attention, putting Phoenix’s performance front and center in the trailer was the best way to get it.

The Cream of the Trailer Crop

Richard Jewell

This is a fantastic example of how to communicate an overall old-fashioned approach to sharp storytelling, yet break up the standard formula with well-timed asides. The premise and protagonist are firmly established through standard trailer character development, but it’s the interspersing of those chilling interrogation scenes that really drive the point home and solidify the character as supremely sympathetic. The soft piano notes are joined by a growing orchestra, the frequency of these inserts picks up as the blatant railroading intensifies, and by the time the crescendo hits, the trailer has told a story that we want to see a resolution to — and that subtle nod suggests it’s going to be a very, very satisfying one.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Almost a mini-movie in itself, the trailer for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood spans the range of emotional beats found in the film it’s cut from, roughly (and impressively) in the same order, all while cementing the unmistakable tone of the film’s creator. What’s being sold here is exactly what audiences are going to get, and that’s a sprawling Hollywood epic filled with sharp dialogue, offbeat B-movie/TV show asides, and a undercurrent of a looming, horrific incident that will come to a head in the last reel. An aging cowboy, a loyal sidekick, a radiant princess, and a creepily smiling ogre are set in a neon fantasy land full of make believe, where dreams (and sometimes nightmares) come true. It’s a primer for a magical fairy tale, and also the most complete, all-encompassing, masterful trailer of the year.

***

Of course, these are just my picks for the best trailers of 2019 — what are yours?

Continue Reading

Film

70 Best Movie Posters of 2019

Published

on

Best Movie Posters of 2019

Deciding the best movie posters is no easy task…

I remember when I was younger, I used to head to the video store and rent movies I’d never heard of based solely on the movie poster art. This was, of course, a different time— sure, the internet was a thing, but we didn’t have countless websites, not to mention social media platforms, promoting new movies online with news stories, movie stills, featurettes, teasers, trailers and so on. Not to say that sort of marketing didn’t exist in the past, because it did, but it wasn’t always in your face. For better or for worse, the internet changed the way studios market movies, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the use of a poster to help build excitement and anticipation for an upcoming film. Most posters continue to be an important marketing tool for filmmakers worldwide and so once again, we’ve decided to collect images of our favourite movie posters revealed over the past twelve months. If you checked out our list of the best movie posters of 2018, you’ll remember it included posters for indie gems, thrillers, horror movies, foreign language films, Hollywood blockbusters and everything in between. This year is no different, although it should be said that some marketing campaigns were so good, we’ve decided to include more than one poster for a few select films. Also worth noting, we didn’t include any fan-made poster art below. That out of the way, here are the best movie posters of 2019.

Click on any one of the images to enlarge the posters.

The Best Movie Posters of 2019

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Trending