Title: Fintar o Destino Release Date: August 14, 1998 Director: Fernando Vendrell Production Company:David & Golias | I.C.Cinema- Cape Verde | ACT Summary/Review:
Mané (Carlos Germano) is a 50-year-old pub keeper in the port city of Mindelo in Cape Verde. His life revolves around football as he coaches a youth team and spends time obsessing about the fortunes of his favorite Portuguese club, Benfica. He frequently reminisces about his success as a goalkeeper when he was younger and turning down an opportunity to play for Benfica. His relationship with his wife Lucy (Betina Lopes) and hasn’t seen his son Alberto (Daniel Martinho). Mané is not a sympathetic character and over the course of the film it grows increasingly apparent that he’s detached from reality.
Mané decides to travel to Lisbon on his own, putatively to visit Alberto and to talk to contacts about a talented young player on his team. But he really wants to to attend the Benfica match in the championship game of the Taça de Portugal tournament. Nothing goes to plan and it really is clear that Mané just doesn’t think things through. There’s a lot of “could’ve been a contender” vibes from the sports movie tradition but with an African twist.
Title: Field of Dreams Release Date: May 5, 1989 Director: Phil Alden Robinson Production Company: Gordon Company Summary/Review:
One of my favorite authors when I was a teenager was W.P. Kinsella. I was excited when I learned that his novel Shoeless Joe was getting adapted into a movie. But when I finally saw the movie, I was disappointed. There were a lot of changes from the book to movie, and on screen the story just seemed to ooze with cheesiness. Over the years, Field of Dreams has become regarded as a classic baseball movie to the extent that Major League Baseball has started hosting an annual regular season baseball game in an Iowa corn field. I figured Father’s Day was a good opportunity to revisit Field of Dreams and watch it with my kids for the first time.
The basic story is that aging hippie and baseball fan Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) having married Iowa native Annie (Amy Madigan), has acquired a farm that they live on with their young daughter Karin (Gaby Hoffmann). Hearing voices in the corn field, Ray comes to a realization that he must build a baseball field on his farm. As a result, the deceased but not ghostly former baseball star Shoeless Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta) appears, and is soon followed by other former baseball stars. Other messages prompt Ray to go to Boston to take the reclusive counterculture author Terence Mann (James Earl Jones) to a Red Sox game, and then to a small town in Minnesota to find “Moonlight” Graham (Burt Lancaster), a baseball player who played only one half-inning in the 1920s. As all this happens, the Kinsella’s farm is failing and faces foreclosure at the hands of Annie’s brother Mark (Timothy Busfield).
The movie still oozes cheese. There are changes from the book (including removing two significant characters) that effectively change the story. There’s also a move away from the book’s magical realism to more of a Reagan-era nostalgia for baseball as something emblematic of America. My wife noted that James Earl Jones’ famous speech about baseball has elements that feel eerily close to MAGA ideology. While baseball is upheld as being something that was from a time when America was “good,” all of the former ballplayers who emerge from the corn come from a time when baseball was segregated. That being said there’s a scene in the movie I’d totally forgotten where Annie takes on a group of conservatives who are trying ban books at the public schools which felt unfortunately relevant to our times. Even then though, the feel of the movie is still steeped in a toothless nostalgia, this time for for 1960s.
With all that being said, the biggest change from the book to the movie is also the best, and I think improves upon the book. In Shoeless Joe, Ray takes the real life author J.D. Salinger to Fenway Park. The filmmakers knew that they couldn’t depict the notoriously reclusive Salinger on screen and instead created the fictional 60s icon Terrence Mann, who is more than just a substitute for Salinger but a character with a well-developed history of his own. It’s surprising that in 1989, Hollywood cast a Black actor in the role originally written as white character, doubly so since in 2022 there are people who still lose their minds when a Black actor is cast as a character originally written as white. Jones is great for the part and his performance brings a lot of energy and authority to the movie right at a time when it needs a jolt.
I probably sound like I’m hating on the movie, it is a thoroughly enjoyable movie, but I’m just a harsh judge since I love the book so much. It is a bit slow-going, but then again so is baseball. I love baseball, and I’m not immune to the magic of ballplayers emerging from a corn field or an impassioned speech about baseball’s role as America’s pastime. For all it’s flaws, Field of Dreams is one of the best baseball movies ever made.
It’s that time of year again – playoff baseball! Actually, the Wild Card games have already been played, but I consider those more of a play-in game than an actual playoff. The good news is that one of my two favorite teams, the Boston Red Sox, won one of those Wild Card games (my other favorite team, the New York Mets, failed to finish the season with even a winning record after being in first place for much of the first half of the season). The other good news is that two of the three teams I loathe the most – the Yankees and Cardinals – were eliminated in the Wild Card games. The other team I hate, the Los Angeles Dodgers, lives on to play another playoff series.
Here is my ranking of teams from the one I most want to win the World Series to the one I want to see make the earliest possible exit:
Boston Red Sox
Tampa Bay Rays
Chicago White Sox
San Francisco Giants
Los Angeles Dodgers
And here are my dispassionate predictions for how I think things will actually play out:
League Divisions Series:
Red Sox defeat Rays
White Sox defeat Astros
Dodgers defeat Giants
Brewers defeat Braves
League Champion Series:
White Sox defeat Red Sox
Brewers defeat Dodgers
White Sox defeat Brewers
We shall see in a few weeks if my predictions play out.
Back in March I posted my 2021 regular season predictions and only managed to correctly predict 6 of the 10 teams that would qualify for the postseason. I was way too high on the Mets and the Padres, but I think the Blue Jays (who I had predicted to win the AL East) were extremely unlucky to end up missing the postseason entirely based on their run differential. The Giants and the Astros were teams I didn’t being as good as they ended up being.
Previous MLB postseason preferences and predictions:
Title: Once Upon a Time In Queens Release Date: September 14, 2021 Director: Nick Davis Production Company: ESPN | ITV Studios America | Kimmelot | MLB Productions Summary/Review:
This ESPN 30 for 30 documentary about the 1986 New York Mets is one that I will have trouble reviewing objectively as it pushes all of my nostalgic buttons. I tend to be a nostalgic person to begin with but this film hit me more emotionally than I ever expected. It’s not just that it’s about my favorite baseball team’s best season ever but that it so richly captures the time and the place of New York City in the 1980s, which I experienced vicariously as a child of the suburbs. And it’s not even that it was the “good old days,” as this film demonstrates it was a time of unrepentant greed, unrestrained substance abuse, toxic masculinity, and racial tensions, all of which were exemplified by the Mets. And yet, there is something about the community that came together around these deeply flawed men who did amazing things on the ballfield. Living in the past quarter-century of a Yankees-worshiping society, it’s hard to believe how much the Mets were beloved and unifying.
The four-part documentary goes deep into the roots of the Mets, a team that was a replacement for New York and Brooklyn losing the Giants and Dodgers that somehow won a miraculous World Series in 1969, and then trading away their franchise pitcher Tom Seaver in 1977. The first part focuses on how the team gained a new owner in 1980 and with a new general manager put together the pieces of a winning team that would have very exciting second-place finishes in 1984 and 1985 before dominating baseball in 1986. The other three parts focus on the season itself with a good amount of film footage both on and off the field, some of it that I’d never seen before.
As you’d expect from a documentary, there are a lot of talking head interviews, and many but not all of the Mets’ players are represented. Some of the best observations come from Kevin Mitchell, who was a rookie in 1986 and played only one season with the Mets, and Bob Ojeda, who was in his first season with the team and thus has something of an outsider’s perspective on the team’s perspective. Manager Davy Johnson is also very insightful. The heart of the film, though, is dedicated to the stars of the team: Keith Hernandez, Darryl Strawberry, and Dwight Gooden. All of them came from troubled family backgrounds and all of them suffered from addictions. I was impressed by how candid and introspective each of these men are in their interviews. The other big star of the team, Gary Carter, died in 2012, otherwise he would’ve been a prominent subject as well. Instead archival footage and interviews with his wife have to suffice. At the other end of the spectrum, Lenny Dykstra appears to be inebriated and still full of himself. But he does provide some of the documentary’s best laugh lines.
As documentaries go, there’s nothing groundbreaking in its filmmaking, but it’s extremely well-edited. I also loved the soundtrack which ranges from Tom Waits to the Beasties Boys to the Mets’ own rally songs (yes, they recorded two that season). Writers like Greg Prince and Jeff Pearlman offer expert opinion and context while a wide variety of fans including Chuck D, Cyndi Lauper, George R.R. Martin, and various people who recorded “where was I” videos of their experiences during the legendary Game 6 of the World Series. I didn’t feel that it was necessary to keep cutting in scenes from the movie Fear Strikes Out for the Keith Hernandez story. I also think the epilogue overstates things about the Mets’ “collapse” after 1986. While they didn’t make it to another World Series, the Mets remained a very good team through the 1990 season. It was harder to start a dynasty in the 1980s, and had the three-division structure of MLB been adopted a decade earlier, the Mets would’ve finished in first place 7 years in a row. Despite it being a 4-hour movie, Once Upon a Time in Queens went by quickly and left me wanting more. If you like sports’ documentaries it is definitely worth your time.
April 1st is Holy Thursday, and if I can be a little bit sacrilege, I think it will be all the more holy by coinciding with Major League Baseball Opening Day. I think this will be an exciting season and I look forward to watching lots of games and maybe, just maybe, being able to attend a game before the season ends. Here are my predictions for how the season will shake out:
NL EAST The NL East will be one of the more competitive divisions. The Mets have had top-notch pitching for several seasons and new owner Steve Cohen has given them support with a beefed-up lineup and bullpen. They’ll face strong competition from Atlanta but both teams should easily sew up postseason spots. Washington and Philadelphia will be good but not good enough. Miami made a surprising playoff appearance in a COVID-shortened 2020 season but will revert to the mean this year.
New York Mets
Atlanta Braves (wild card)
The NL Central remains the most mediocre division. I have a good feeling about Milwaukee winning their first division title since 2018, but St. Louis is always competitive and can’t be counted out. The rest of the division have lots of deficiencies to work through and can shake out in any order.
St. Louis Cardinals
San Diego was already a contender and made themselves the favorite by having arguably the best offseason in MLB. The Dodgers will see a dropoff from their World Series championship season but should have no problem securing a postseason spot. The rest of the division will be competing to see who is the least mediocre.
San Diego Padres
Los Angeles Dodgers (wild card)
San Francisco Giants
Except for Baltimore, the AL East is always a strong division and this season will be no exception. Toronto is stacked after a productive offseason and should win their first division title since 2015, with strong competition from 2020 World Series runners up, Tampa Bay. The Yankees have relied on their one-dimensional approach of mashing homers in their tiny ballpark to secure postseason spots (only to suffer humiliating 16-1 losses and walkoffs off Aroldis Chapman) will find it harder to compete against strengthened opposition including a rebounding Red Sox.
Toronto Blue Jays
Tampa Bay Rays (wild card)
Boston Red Sox
New York Yankees
The White Sox appear poised to snag their first division title since 2008 after a strong offseason. They will have to fend off a highly-competitive Minnesota squad. The rest of the division will shake out on how well their young and up-and-coming players will perform.
Chicago White Sox
Minnesota Twins (wild card)
Kansas City Royals
I feel that this is the hardest division to predict but Oakland feels like a safe pick to win it. The Angels have the talent that just hasn’t clicked may find this to be their lucky year while Seattle has a chance to succeed with a young roster. Houston lost key players in the offseason and will see their postseason streak come to end.
Los Angeles Angels
Past Predictions for Previous Seasons (If You Want to Check My Work):
I enjoyed seeing George Plimpton’s tv appearances when I was a kid, and I read several of his books, and even saw him speak once when I was in college. So I was delighted that the Brattle Theatre hosted a virtual screening of a documentary about Plimpton’s life.
George Plimpton was a tall, patrician-looking man from Manhattan’s Upper East Side and descended from a prominent New England family. After World War II he founded and edited The Paris Review which became a leading literary journal publishing the top authors of the latter half of the 20th century.
And yet he is most famous for his experiments in participatory journalism, particularly in sports, where he pitched to Major League Baseball stars, played quarterback for the Detroit Lions, and served as goalkeeper for the Boston Bruins. Outside of sports, he played a small role in a John Wayne Western, participated in a trapeze act, and played the triangle for the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. His articles and books about these experiences provided an “everyman” perspective on the type of achievements that only a small number of people can do.
Plimpton’s charm and affable personality helped him find acceptance among the groups of professionals he covered as well as regular spots as a guest on talk and variety shows. Interviewees in the movie say that Plimpton was a hard to get to know beneath his persona. He had a love for celebrity that manifested itself in parties and literary salons, but he also hid considerable self-doubt about his own writing ability. Plimpton was friends with the Kennedy family and traveled with Robert Kennedy on his 1968 presidential campaign. Along with Rafer Johnson and Rosie O’Grier, he wrestled Kennedy’s assassin Sirhan Sirhan to the ground, and incident that Plimpton never wrote or spoke about publicly.
The movie shows the funny, charming side of Plimpton that made him the celebrity I remember from my childhood. But it also peels back the public persona of someone with severe impostor’s syndrome about being among the literary luminaries of his time. His family seem to be embarrassed that Plimpton became a pitchman for various products, but it also showed his dedication to getting money to keep the Paris Review alive.
Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself is a good documentary that looks into the life of an unlikely celebrity and his times.
Author: Tyler Kepner Title: K: A History of Baseball in Ten Pitches Publication Info: New York : Doubleday,  Summary/Review:
Tyler Kepner explores ten different pitches in baseball, describing how they’re thrown, how they move, and the history of how they originated and developed. The ten pitches include standard pitches like the fastball, curveball, and slider.
But Kepner also explores pitches that only an elite cadre of pitchers can master (the knuckleball) and a pitch that only one pitcher can really handle (Mariano Rivera and the cutter). He also explores pitches that had peaks of popularity in the past but are all but absent in the present-day game (the screwball and the splitter). Kepner even devotes a chapter to spitballs, scuffballs, and other modifications to the ball that affect pitches and the gamesmenship of pitchers known to use them.
The book is written in an oral history style, relying on Kepner’s interviews with current and retired pitchers and coaches as well as quotes from earlier works that covered now deceased pitchers. The book is a creative way to look at the history of baseball from the perspective of one of its most important facets.
Every pitch is a decision. That is the beauty and the burden of the pitcher. Think there’s downtime in baseball? Tell it to the man on the mound, all alone on that dirt bull’s-eye. The catcher thinks along with him, back behind the plate, but the pitcher rules the game. Nothing happens until he answers these questions: Which pitch should I throw, where should I throw it, and why? It is an awesome responsibility.
I’ve found that most people in baseball tend to be…pretty nice. And of all the subsets of folks in the game, knuckleball pitchers might be the nicest. They are also part of the smallest group, which helps explain it. Almost all knuckleballers were rejected by the game before they could last very long. They earned their living by grabbing the wing of a butterfly and then, somehow, steering it close enough to the strike zone, again and again, to baffle the best hitters in the world.
In the 1930s, the prime of the great Giant lefty Carl Hubbell, “screwball” came to describe a specific genre of Hollywood comedies: battle of the sexes, often with a woman’s madcap antics upending a stuffy man’s world. In his book about Depression-era films, Andrew Bergman wrote that “screwball comedy,” like Hubbell’s famous pitch, was “unconventional, went in different directions and behaved in unexpected ways.”
“Have I ever told you about my agreement with the ball?” Quisenberry asked Angell, who said no. “Well, our deal is that I’m not going to throw you very hard as long as you promise to move around when you get near the plate, because I want you back. So if you do your part, we’ll get to play some more.”
After two chaotic decades or so, the spitball was banned for 1920, the same year the country went dry under Prohibition. The rule simply turned the mound into a speakeasy, with many pitchers going undercover to get the same slippery edge as their predecessors.
I’m participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge by watching and reviewing some of my favorite movies of all time that I haven’t watched in a long time. This post contains SPOILERS!
Title: When We Were Kings Release Date: October 25, 1996 Director: Leon Gast Production Company: PolyGram Filmed Entertainment Synopsis:
On October 30, 1974, Muhammad Ali and George Foreman met in a heavyweight title bout in Kinshasa, Zaire, an event nicknamed “The Rumble in the Jungle.” Ali, an Olympic gold medalist and heavyweight champion in the 1960s, lost three prime years of his career after he refused to be conscripted to fight in the Vietnam War. Meanwhile, Foreman, also an Olympic gold medalist, was younger with a strong punch and a history of overpowering wins over the top boxers of the era.
Holding the fight in Zaire was a historic choice as the event became a coming-out party for post colonial Africa. In addition to the boxing match, which was viewed on tv by a record 1 billion people worldwide, there was a concert featuring top African musicians alongside African American stars like James Brown and B.B. King. The fight itself is delayed after Foreman injures his eye in training, allowing everyone to spend more time in Zaire.
The documentary captures a fascinating intersection of sport, culture, civil rights, and politics. There is a great amount of archival footage from the time, including Ali in awe of flying on an airplane with a an all-Black crew for the first time. In addition to the historic film and photographs, the film includes interviews with Norman Mailer, George Plimpton, Spike Lee, Malik Bowens and Thomas Hauser who also provide narration for important events.
When Did I First See This Movie?:
I was flying home from Great Britain in 1998 and watched this movie on the seatback television on Virgin Atlantic. I was so engrossed that the flight attendant chastised me to turn the screen off since the plane was approaching landing. I later rewatched it on video so I could find out what happened at the end.
What Did I Remember?:
I think I remembered it pretty well.
What Did I Forget?:
It was less about forgetting things and more that in the intervening years I’ve learned more about Ali, and some of the musical artists and interviewees in the movie so things seemed more significant.
What Makes This Movie Great?:
You don’t have to care about boxing to like this movie. This documentary captures the feel and excitement of a major event in the history of Africa and really the first big media event that focused on African people and African descendants as the key figures.
What Doesn’t Hold Up?:
The lack of interviews with Ali and Foreman at the time this movie was made is a big loss. Also, most of the people they did interview were old white men which is kind of jarring with the African diaspora theme. The movie leans in favor of Ali, which is a bit of a shame since Foreman is a very interesting figure, one who would reinvent his public persona by the time this movie was released in the 1990s. Throughout the movie, Ali leads Zaireans in the chant of “Ali Bomaye” which means “Ali, kill him.” One of my favorite parts of the movie is a clip where Foreman says he’d not want people to chant “Foreman Bomaye” but instead “Foreman loves Africa.”
Is It a Classic?:
Yes. This is an all-time great documentary and sports film.
Five more all-time favorite movies starting with W:
To complement my review of Rocky, I decided to watch and review the movie Creed for the first time. I’ve been meaning to watch Creed since it first came out and got good reviews, but somehow five years have passed by. So no time like the presence.
Title: Creed Release Date: November 25, 2015 Director: Ryan Coogler Production Company: New Line Cinema | Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer | Chartoff-Winkler Productions Summary/Review:
In the movie prologue, we meet Adonis “Donnie” Johnson (Alex Henderson), a preteen in juvenile detention who tends to get into fights. Mary Anne Creed (Phylicia Rashad), the widow of champion boxer Apollo Creed, visits Donnie, informing that Apollo fathered Donnie in an affair shortly before his death. Mary Anne adopts Donnie, and we flash forward to 2015 where we see Donnie (Michael B. Jordan) is racking up wins and pesos fighting in clubs in Tijuana. He quits his office job in Los Angeles and tries to get the trainers at Apollo’s old boxing company, but no one is willing to take him on (shades of Mickey in Rocky).
To Mary Anne’s disappointment, Donnie decides to pursue his professional boxing dreams by moving to Philadelphia. There he begins training at Mickey’s old gym and starts dating his downstairs neighbor, Bianca (Tessa Thompson), a musician with a progressive hearing disorder. He approaches Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), revealing that Apollo was his father, and asking that Rocky become his trainer . Rocky is reluctant to return to training, but Donnie is persistent and Rocky begins showing Donnie the ropes.
Another boxer at Mickey’s old gym,an undefeated light heavyweight fighter named Leo “The Lion” Sporino (Gabriel Rosado) agrees to a bout with Donnie. In a surprising upset (in-movie, not too surprising to movie viewers), Donnie knocks out Sporino. In revenge, Sporino’s team leaks to the news that Donnie is Apollo’s child.
The world light heavyweight champion, “Pretty” Ricky Conlan (Anthony Bellew) of Liverpool, is looking for one more bout before he begins a prison sentence on gun possession charges. His manager agrees to allow Donnie to challenge Conlan for the light heavyweight title if he is willing to change his name to Creed, knowing that the attention that would bring to the bout will make for a huge payday. At the same time, Rocky is diagnosed with cancer.
And so the stage is set, Donnie must prepare to fight for the title while Rocky fights for his life. Where will their journey lead them? The plot points in Creed are pretty similar to those of Rocky and it’s full of cliches and full-on corniness. Nevertheless it works because of Jordan and Stallone’s performances. Their relationship develops naturally and believably and there’s just an undeniable sweetness to it. The movie also feels more authentic in depicting African-American experience than any Rocky movie, no doubt due to the direction and writing of Ryan Coogler.
Title: Murderball Release Date: July 22, 2005 Director: Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro Production Company: MTV Films | Paramount Pictures | Participant Productions | A&E IndieFilms Summary/Review:
Murderball is the original name for a team sport played by athletes with quadrapalegia that is officially known as wheelchair rugby. Players used modified wheelchairs on a basketball court to attempt to carry or pass a ball across the goal line. Defenders try to stop them by smashing into the ball carrier with their wheelchairs. The documentary focuses on the period of 2002-2004 when the USA men’s national wheelchair rugby team, which had been undefeated in international competitions up to that point, and their rivalry with the upstart Canadian national team.
Three subjects get special focus. USA star Mark Zupan is a pure jock with an angry streak (there’s no shortage of testosterone in this movie) and one of the best players in the sport. His ongoing reconciliation with his high school friend who was the driver in the truck crash that caused Zupan’s injury is an ongoing story of the movie. Joe Soares was a key member of Team USA up through the 1996 Paralympics and then was cut from the team due to age. With a chip on his shoulder, Soares has become the coach of Team Canada with his mission to defeat the United States. The movie also focuses on his strained relationship with his preteen son and suffering a heart attack. Finally there is Keith Cavill who has recently suffered injury and learns about the sport while in rehabilitation.
The personal stories of the athletes, coaches, and their family members make up the better part of the movie, focusing on details of how they adapt to life without full use of their limbs (including a section on sexual activity). The movie is built around three tense games between the USA and Canada – one at the 2002 World Championship, a 2004 Paralympics qualifying game, and concluding with their matchup in the 2004 Paralympics in Athens. I won’t give away the results, but the games are fascinating to watch. I actually wish there was more footage of the sport and hope to have the opportunity to see it played in person one day.