It’s a pretty momentous day for new releases on DVD. Not only does Videoport Jones get to talk movies, but he also gets to talk about his other love – not Mrs. Videoport Jones, the other one – baseball. The results? A little heartbreaking. But don’t worry, with a new quirky indie comedy on the shelves, there’s still room for plenty of snark!
Videoport Jones: “I’ve been pretty hard on David Ortiz. I admit my fault in succumbing to the urge to idolize a man I’ve never met who plays a boy’s game, but, well, idolize I have, and his recent, shall we say, ‘unpleasantness’ hit me particularly hard. I was reminded of Big Papi as I watched Sugar, the independent film about a young baseball prospect who, like Ortiz, hails from the baseball-rich (and everything else-poor) Dominican Republic. As a white, male, American baseball fan, I am prone to romanticize baseball; I get reliably weepy at James Earl Jones’ speech at the end of ‘Field of Dreams,’ excited as I walk out of the tunnel and see the green grass of Fenway, and don’t even get me started on ‘Eight Men Out’…and that’s fine. I have my experiences and I bring them to my love of the game for my own reasons, but for the thousands of young men like Miguel ‘Sugar’ Santos (played, with enormously charismatic restraint, by actual baseballer-
turned-actor Algenis Perez Soto), baseball means something very different. One of the armies of young Dominican men working out in the plantation-like Dominican training camps owned by major league ball clubs, Sugar is striving to succeed in the only way open to him, and his dreams, and those of his family, rest on his good, right pitching arm. As he ascends each rung of the baseball ladder, we worry, along with him, about something going wrong, about all the hopes of those who depend on his fragile talent crashing down with each bad pitch, each risky play, each awkward confrontation (compounded when he gets sent, barely speaking English, to a single-A team in the middle of Iowa farm country). As we come to know Sugar, and respond to his quiet pride, his constant anxiety, and his genuine likability and essential goodness, the tension becomes almost unbearable, and the small moments of kindness he receives (a gentle lesson from a helpful waitress, a parting gift from a teammate moving up) are all the more moving. Soto’s performance (his only, to date) is pitch-perfect, capturing all of Sugar’s conflicting emotions and sometimes all-too-human weaknesses with admirable subtlety. Sure, it’s a baseball movie, providing uniquely-authentic insight into that world, but it’s also an eloquent immigrant story, and a profoundly human one. (I challenge one jackass baseball ‘fan’ to boo a player after seeing this movie…unless, of course, the Yankees are in town). This is a remarkable movie, and my pick for the best of 2009 so far. And, as for my relationship with Big Papi – I’m still heartbroken, but I feel like we’ll work things out some day.”
Justin: “It’s OK, Jonesy, we all have these heartbreaking moments in the sports world. Between Kirby Puckett going half-blind, being outed as shady character, and the threat of contraction that chased the Twins, I have felt disillusion at the hands of the game as well. Still, nothing like the taint of ‘roids. But it’s only a matter of time. Then again, Papi is a former Twin…moving ON. You even made a point of mentioning how much you liked ‘Sugar’ when you sent over this week’s releases. I take that as a very, very good sign. My first instinct is to say that is sounds like a fictional ‘Hoop Dreams’ for baseball, but that wouldn’t be entirely fair, not just because one is fictional, but because conditions in The Dominican make shady AAU basketball look like the land of Oz. I feel like this will be a movie that a lot of baseball fans will pass over because it has that ‘sausage-making’ quality about it. In other words, to paraphrase something we’ve talked about, ‘people don’t want to know how the things they like are made.’ And that’s a shame. In some ways I wish these socio-economic issues (not to mention the murky influence of scouts and the MLB) didn’t make for great drama, but if they didn’t, who knows if people would learn about it. Like you said this is a fictional account, but I’d challenge any baseball fan to do a little research on some of their favorite Dominican players. This might as well be a biography. I’ll be renting this.”
VPJ: “First thing – let’s get those giggles out of the way. There…you guys are such children. Anyway, I this movie. ‘The Onion’ ran a typically-hilarious fake news story entitled ‘Romantic-Comedy Behavior Gets Real-Life Man Arrested.’ As I struggled through this ‘QUIRKY INDIE,’ that story kept coming to mind, and I kept wishing I were reading ‘The Onion’ instead of watching this ‘QUIRKY INDIE.’ God. John Ritter’s kid plays a ‘troubled young man’ (read: preciously-overwritten creep) who works in a video store and decides to befriend (read: creepily stalk) the ‘troubled young woman’ (read: predictably overwritten creep) who rents a lot of . They each have their own problems, which the movie ladles out with predictable screenplay-class slowness, all the while parading their QUIRKS, which are supposed to be sort of Harold and Maude endearing, but are, instead, as grating and infuriating as, well, this movie, or ‘Flakes,’ or ‘The Go-Getter,’ or
more than half of the ‘mumblecore’ movies. Or, well, this thing. Grrr. I wanted to punch this movie in the face. The reliably scene-stealing Martin Starr steals his few scenes as a funny video store guy. Oh, and we at Videoport would never engage in such behavior. We just lay it on cool, recommend a movie or two, and wait for the pretty customers to come to us. Then we marry ‘em real quick-like.”
JE: “It doesn’t qualify as true mumblecore unless Zooey Deschanel shows up, right? I don’t know what to say about this. Romantic comedies for the most part offend my sensibilities (‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall’ being among the few exceptions.), typically because they’re silly, but not ‘fun silly.’ The worst part is that when these things don’t work, especially particularly weak indie flicks, is that the combination of bad characters and eating up your time they make you violently angry. Also, sometimes they forget the ‘comedy’ part. Here’s the problem with, ahem, ‘Good Dick,’ is that it’s taking the idea of the ‘mousy, quirky 20-something’ and forgetting to put some plot around it. If all you’ve got is 90 minutes of two people alternating their acting between ‘intense’ and ‘affected,’ then you don’t have a film. Also, maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think the title helps. Instead of winking at the audience, it’s like trying to slyly hit someone with a baseball bat.”
VPJ: “Now this is American indie filmmaking. The third film from budding indie auteur Rahmin Bahrani, ‘Goodbye Solo’
is another of his intelligent, insightful, heartfelt tales of American outsiders, like his ‘Man Push Cart’ (2005) and ‘Chop Shop’ (2007). Videoport has them both, of course, and his three films make up a body of work as moving, real, and truly American as any filmmaker of recent memory. This one follows an odd couple (a grumpy, perhaps suicidal old white man [played by former founder of Elvis’ Memphis Mafia Red West] and hustling, touchingly-friendly African immigrant cabdriver Souleymane Sy Savane) as they embark on a long, unpredictable journey in Savane’s cab. It’s a resonant, meaningful, unique character-driven film offering the opportunity for two great characters to reveal themselves. Message to ‘indie’ filmmakers: take some lessons from this man’s movies.”
JE: “I’m already envisioning a zany scheme: The Videoport Jones Film School! All we’ll need is an abandoned store in a strip mall, a few cameras running VHS tape, directors chairs, cigarette holders, scarves and berets. To quote Max Bialystock, ‘OOH, I want that MONEY!’ Ahem. As for ‘Goodbye Solo,’ I’d be lying if I didn’t say it had the smell of a ‘Hallmark Movie of the Week.’ It’s got all the indicators of a ‘classic feel-good’ screenplay, that can be summed up through this Mad Lib: (noun) discovers (noun) though (noun). But that’s too cynical. The film hints at a an emerging conundrum in film (and arguably real life): the immigrant grateful for the smallest of favors and the ungrateful American. What makes or breaks a movie like this are the performances, and from what I’ve seen West and Savane seem to capture that odd-yet-curious vibe necessary to keep you watching. I’ll give it a shot.”
State of Play
VPJ: “An American film remake of the acclaimed British miniseries (available at Videoport o’course), this star-packed thriller follows a group of intrepid reporters and investigators as they, well, investigate the of a congressman’s . Did I say ‘star-packed?’ Let’s run it down, shall we: Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Helen Mirren, Jason Bateman, Jeff Daniels, and I’ll throw in the excellent-but-unknown-in-America Harry Lennix (from ‘Dollhouse’). Dang. Sure, I’m stalling because I haven’t seen it yet, but sure looks good, huh? Over to you J-Man — you’re a reporter!”
JE: “Well, Jonesy, speaking as a reporter, I can tell you this film is a rock-solid portrayal of the modern American journalism apparatus, right down to the glamorous-yet-grizzled newsroom personalities. It’s shocking, really. OK, while it may not be ‘All the Presidents Men’ or ‘Newsies,’ ‘State of Play’ tries hard to get the look, feel and tone of a newspaper down. Obviously trying to mirror a Washington Post, Crowe is the veteran reporter of the ‘Washington Globe’ who ends up being a little too close to a story involving Affleck’s embattled congressman.
At the heart is one of those ‘too slimy to be true’ practices of journalism, the sometimes too close relationship between a reporter and their source. But one of the interesting twists comes in the form of McAdams, who plays an upstart and eager blogger. I smell some old media/new media tension! Throw in a little , and political intrigue and you got yourself a film.”
Rudo y Cursi
VPJ: “Those Latin hotties from ‘Y Tu Mama Tambien,’ Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna do not, alas, take part in an artsy three-way in this ramshackle soccer comedy, but they’re still as cute as swarthy little bugs, and this film is the first collaboration by the three young giants of contemporary Mexican cinema Guillermo del Toro (‘Pan’s Labyrinth’), Alejandro Inarritu (‘Amores Perros’), and Alfonso Cuaron (‘Y Tu Mama Tambien’). Aiming to maintain the momentum of the resurgent Mexican film industry, these three cool dudes financed this one (written and directed by Cuaron’s brother Carlos), and it’s an oddball hoot. Yeah, I said oddball hoot.”
JE: “No ual hijincks? Count me out. From what I can gather about ‘Rudo y Cursi,’ it’s got shades of ‘A League of Their Own.’ How so? Two brothers who love soccer play in their hometown, but given the chance to go to the big leagues, only one makes the leap. The other brother finally succeeds in breaking through and plays for a rival team. And yes, (subtitled) hilarity ensues and Tom Hanks is revealed as a drunk. OK, not that last part. But if you like Bernal and Luna – and really, what’s not to like – this is a delightful romp. See that, Jonesy? I used ‘delightful romp.’ Checkmate.”
Also out this week, TV shows on DVD! “Desperate Housewives” – Season 5, “Heroes” – Season 3, “Supernatural” – Season 4, “Brothers and Sisters” – Season 3, “CSI” – Season 9, and “Rescue Me” – Season 5.
– Do American baseball fans want to watch movies like “Sugar” and know about life in before the majors?
– What makes for a “good” romantic comedy?
– What was the last journalism movie you watched?