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Tag Archive: baseball movies


Actor and Kansas City Royals baseball fan Paul Rudd stars in a new World War II movie premiering next month.  He plays real-life professional baseball Morris “Moe” Berg in this espionage thriller from director Ben Lewin (Please Stand By).  The movie adapts the true story of the catcher who became a World War II spy.  The Boston Red Sox player was a private figure when, in 1944, the U.S. government’s wartime intelligence agency enlisted his services.  His mission:  To go behind enemy lines in Europe to assassinate the Nazi’s chief nuclear scientist before the Germans develop an atomic bomb.  IFC Films is marketing the film as a high-stakes game of cat and mouse.

The film stars Rudd along with Paul Giamatti (Cinderella Man, The Illusionist, The Amazing Spider-man 2), Mark Strong (The Imitation Game, Kingsman, Shazam!), Jeff Daniels (Good Night, Good Luck, Radio Days), Sienna Miller (G.I. Joe: The Rise of COBRA, Layer Cake), Tom Wilkinson (Valkyrie), Guy Pearce (Alien: Covenant, Iron Man 3), and Wonder Woman’s Queen Hippolyta, Connie Nielsen.  Adapted from a book The Catcher Was a Spy: The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg, by Nicholas Dawidoff, with a script by Robert Rodat (Saving Private Ryan, Thor: The Dark World), the film has a similar look and feel to other recent World War II espionage thrillers, like Tom Cruise’s Valkyrie and Benedict Cumberbatch’s The Imitation Game. 

 

Production design is by Academy Award-winning designer Luciana Arrighi (Howard’s End, Remains of the Day).  Costumes were designed by Joan Bergin (The Prestige, In the Name of the Father, My Left Foot, Vikings).  Three-time Oscar winning composer Howard Shore (The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit) created the musical score.

Here’s Paul Rudd starring in the trailer for The Catcher Was a Spy:

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Sadly racism has not gone away in America since the days of the legendary baseball player Jackie Robinson, but the progress that has been made can be felt from the biopic 42: The Jackie Robinson Story, now streaming on Amazon Prime.  Starring a perfectly cast Chadwick Boseman (Captain America: Civil War’s Black Panther) as Robinson and Harrison Ford as craggy Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey, file this baseball entry as a straightforward, historical, earnest film, but probably one falling short of your baseball best-of list.  Where so many films of sports heroes put the hero in the driver seat, the oddity here is Robinson seems to be shown as merely a pawn in the 1940s segregated business of baseball.  A film centered around Robinson instead of Rickey with less slow motion shots of kids in the crowd and more Robinson as inspirational figure may have fared better.  To their credit, director Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential, A Knight’s Tale, The Postman, Mystic River) and the film’s writers do make efforts to portray Robinson as the almost “superhuman” athlete history reflects him to be.

You’ll likely get the feeling that at times the difficulty of being the first black man in baseball is glossed over, and at other times the director seems to plunge the viewer in too much and too bluntly, as when Firefly star Alan Tudyk as Pittsburg Phillies manager Ben Chapman goes on a painful, unending, cringeworthy, racist rant in front of a full stadium with no one standing up to him.  Another scene hints that a lynch mob almost finds him in a residence he is staying at during training in Florida.  The true story can probably be found in a combination of the best of the scenes that are recreated here.  Certainly the spirit of this legendary figure is portrayed with reverence.  Robinson is the only baseball player ever to have his number–the movie title’s 42–retired by every baseball team in the major league in honor of his achievements.  42 is a bit old-fashioned, but thankfully Boseman anchors the film with leading man acting prowess to lift the film beyond being merely sentimental.

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The story covers Robinson’s rookie year only via Rickey’s selection of Robinson from a file of African-American candidates, through Robinson’s move to the farm team the Montreal Royals, and then to his promotion to the Brooklyn Dodgers, and finally winning the league championship in 1947–stopping short before the Dodgers lost to the Yankees in the World Series that year.  The lack of nuance, an often dragging recitation of events, and lack of visionary artistry in the editing and cinematography prevent the film from being as inspiring as baseball fans may hope for.  Quality acting makes up for some of this from Boseman and Ford and an interesting supporting cast including Sleepy Hollow’s Nicole Beharie as Robinson’s wife, Law and Order: SVU’s Christopher Meloni as Dodgers manager Leo Durocher, and a surprise appearance by Barney Miller’s Max Gail as kindly replacement manager Burt Shotton.

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chris-pratt-moneyball

It’s that time of year again.  The 2016 World Series is now in full swing with the first game a sweep by the Cleveland Indians.  How will the Chicago Cubs fare in Game 2 tonight?  If you’re not in the baseball frame of mind yet, we have five of the all-time best baseball movies you can stream right now for free or for less than four dollars on Amazon Prime’s streaming service.  Most of these can also be rented on Netflix.  And let’s face it–everyone should own our fifth movie on the list.

Have you seen them already?  Then you know these great films can be watched over and over again.

Let’s start with a classic:  Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig in Pride of the Yankees from 1942.  The movie recounts the then-recent personal triumph and tragedy of what baseball as an American pastime has created over and over for more than a century: baseball players as American icons.  Pride of the Yankees shows the personal side of being a famous baseball player, and features real-life legends Babe Ruth, Bob Meusel, Mark Koenig, and Bill Dickey, all playing themselves on-screen.  Academy Award winners Teresa Wright and Walter Brennan co-star.  If you want to see classic baseball from a contemporary view, this is your movie.  Although the story is certainly bittersweet and a tear-jerker, it reflects baseball as more than just a game.

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The most recent movie on our list is Moneyball, from 2011, a modern classic we’ve already watched over and over.  Moneyball reveals the game as a modern business.  The conflict between playing the game as classically envisioned and the game as seen from an analytical angle is wrestled with from the real life mostly true story of the Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane as he turned the team around in its 2002 season.
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The creators that made Ray, the biopic of musician Ray Charles, a critical and financial success are back with another biopic, starring a relative newcomer, TV actor Chadwick Boseman as baseball legend Jackie Robinson, who (as everyone knows or should know) was the first black player in Major League Baseball, and became one of the best players of all time.  The film is titled simply 42, representing the number worn by Robinson throughout his career, the number retired by the league back in 1997 in honor of Robinson.

Baseball movies have become their own genre, although they dip in and out of other genres more commonly featured here at borg.com from time to time, like the spectacular Kevin Costner fantasy movie Field of Dreams and the magical Robert Redford film The Natural.  There is a whole slew of baseball comedies, too many to list, but they include Bull Durham, Major League, The Sandlot, and The Bad News Bears.   Most movies we think of as true baseball movies are firmly entrenched as the classic American apple pie movie–these include great biopic films about triumph in the face of adversity and include Eight Men Out with John Cusack, The Pride of the Yankees with Gary Cooper, and last year’s Moneyball with Brad Pitt.  42 looks to be set to fit into this last category.

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A bit of a theme this past week here at borg.com was big-time action hero mega-stars and their choice of roles in their later years.  We first discussed Arnold Schwarzenegger and compared him to John Wayne and Clint Eastwood in light if his new film The Last StandThen we compared Arnold with Sylvester Stallone in light of his new film Bullet to the Head.  Unless you’re a believer in the future of film with old movie stars as in Connie Willis’s award-winning novel Remake, we won’t be seeing any “new” John Wayne movies anytime soon.  So now we return to Clint Eastwood, in light of his September 2012 release, Trouble with the Curve.

Although the fictional Trouble with the Curve is about a famous baseball scout at the end of his career, it’s hard to say whether this will be anything like the ultimate baseball scouting movie, last year’s Moneyball.  The inclusion of Amy Adams character as Eastwood’s character’s daughter, and an apparent possible relationship between her and the baseball target played by Justin Timberlake, makes this a look a lot more romance in a baseball setting than a typical baseball flick.  That said, with baseball movies there is no typical baseball flick.

And this one seems pretty sappy, unless the trailer is totally mischaracterizing this “dad dumps daughter/daughter tries to get daddy back” plotline.  And heaping on the sap is the Phillip Phillips song “Home.”  This is bad timing for that song if you’re this writer.  I had to sit through watched the song performed live at this year’s All Star baseball game, and then we were inundated with it as one of the U.S. Olympic team’s theme songs during NBC’s coverage, over and over and over.  Now it’s that drippy song permeating through this trailer.  It’s a nice song.  But enough already.

The interesting tidbit about this movie is that Clint Eastwood retired from acting after his successful film Gran Torino.  Yet something about this one caused him to return to starring roles.  Maybe because he had never been in a baseball movie?  Hopefully we’ll be surprised and this one will compare to past baseball movies that gave a little tug to the emotions, like Field of Dreams and The Natural, and even Moneyball. 

Here is the trailer for the film:

Trouble with the Curve hits theaters September 21, 2012.

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg.com

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