42 (Film Review)

42 (Film Review)

For any fan of baseball history, there are few moments more important to the game, and to the changing views of American society, than the introduction of Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to even suit up and play Major League Baseball.

To this day, the MLB still celebrates Jackie Robinson day, a day in which every single player in the league wears number 42 on their backs to celebrate the trailblazer who changed the game forever when he played for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

It is completely unsurprising that there is a Robinson biopic, titled 42; it is more surprising that it took this long for there to be one.

42 is an all-around solid sports movie. It gives us our central characters, Jackie and Branch Rickey, the owner of the Dodgers who was so focused on winning and making money, that he decided to be the first professional baseball owner to break the colour barrier.

424What 42 doesn’t do, however, is provide us with much of a supporting cast of characters. There are brief glimpses into the lives of the men who managed Robinson, in both Montreal (the Dodgers AAA affiliate), and Brooklyn, and there are glimpses of some of the Dodgers players. But that’s about it. We don’t get to know anything about them at all, and the moments of them finally realizing that Robinson is on their team, and that they need to stand up for him no matter what come across as fairly run-of-the-mill. There is the vitriol of some players, and coaches, and managers, and fans that exist, and Robinson needs to overcome these things.

But it all seems a little bit too Disney. I feel that the real story is much darker, much harsher, and much more impressive an accomplishment than 42 portrays. We still get it that he overcome the longest of odds to become a legend, but the whole story seems pretty cleaned up, when it could have been absolutely brutal. At times, it seems like the writers and director of the film were wanting to make something more, that transcended more than just the game of baseball, but were wrangled into making a feel-good sports movie that would appeal to the largest possible audience.

422And there is the fault of 42. There are a thousand stories to tell about the arrival of Jackie Robinson, including what could have been much more focus on his teammates, and the rise of the Dodgers as a powerhouse team after his arrival. We are given the broad strokes of an incredible feat, and an incredible career. His time in Montreal is given a quick flyby, even though it historically was extremely important. His interactions and friendship with Hall of Fame shortstop Pee Wee Reese is glossed over to a few brief moments in the final film.

But those are superficial beefs, I suppose. Starting to watch 42, I knew that the film was not going to produce a gritty retelling of the legendary ascent of one of the game’s best players, and the revolution of the sport that happened after his arrival. I knew that it would be rife with cliches, and not offer the depth, or breadth, of the story that I would be hoping for.

Regardless, this is a strong film. It tells the story, which is the most important thing. For those who are younger, and don’t know his story, or the lasting impact that it has had, 42 is a good place to start. The film has good performances throughout, and allows us to get the general idea of what was happening in that time, and why this feat is so impressive.

423There are some really great moments in the film, those moments when you know that things are going to change, whether it is the attitude of the fans, or the owners, or the players themselves. The moment when Reese slings his arm over Robinson’s shoulders in front of a hostile crowd is one of those moments. And these moments are what make 42 so good: despite the desire to know more, and see more, we are given parts that really do justice to the story of Jackie Robinson.

At the end of the day, I liked 42 quite a bit. I don’t think it will soar to the heights of the greatest baseball movies of all-time, simply because I wanted more of the story. But it will stand as a good film about an important moment in the history of the game, and generally, it does a pretty good job of doing it.

Chasing Mavericks (Film Review)

Chasing Mavericks (Film Review)

As I continue on with my summer of watching things about surfing (see my review of Storm Surfers if you want another review), I was pulled in to watching Chasing Mavericks on Netflix the other day.

The film is a biopic, about the life of surfer Jay Moriarity, and his journey to learn to surf, and his training to surf Mavericks, massive swells that only break off the coast at certain times. He trained with Frosty (played by Gerard Butler), a grizzled old surfer who knows the ropes, and knows how to surf and survive the Mavericks.

I’m going to go ahead and say that this film is not good. There are some cool surfing scenes throughout the movie, and those are always fun to watch. The training stuff itself is okay, but there are a ton of flaws in this film, and some cool shots of waves is not enough to make up for it. chasingFirst off, the acting here is incredibly poor. Butler plays his role as though he barely cares, the kid playing Jay (Jonny Weston) is quite terrible, and struggles to deliver his lines with any kind of believable emotion, and the supporting case is little more than a bunch of shallow characters that we really learn nothing about as the film progresses. The actors may be handcuffed a little by a poor, cheesy, often over-the-top script, that tries to squeeze drama and deep life understandings from every single line. It doesn’t work, and the actors are not able to do anything with it. A cheesy line will sound cheesy, regardless of who is saying it.

Jay Moriarity wants to learn to surf, and he does, very easily. He wants to be the best surfer in his area, which he does. Very easily. He wants to learn to ride Mavericks, and wants to train with Frosty. Of course, that works out pretty well too. Sure, they have set it up so it seems like there are a ton of issues in his life, but these just come across as hollow, and really aren’t probed with any depth. His father is gone. His mother is a drunk, and always late for work. Until she isn’t, and is promoted. All is well. Frosty avoids home at the start of the film, and his infant daughter. Okay, there is some good depth here, we will get to know a little bit about this man…no. It is generally ignored, and we move on to other things. Jay likes to time waves when he is a little kid. Okay, that could be important…nope, it is just something that is started up, and dropped. Jay’s friend seems to start dealing drugs (I don’t know for sure, I wasn’t paying that much attention at this point), and that makes Jay upset. But he doesn’t stop smiling, never confronts his friend, they never discuss what could be going wrong with this situation, until the end of the film where they decide that they are all good with one another. Jay has issues with a bully. Well, that shows up now and then when it is convenient, and then they seem to have respect for one another at the end.

There is no depth to any of the conflicts. And that is the major issue with Chasing Mavericks. There are lots of issues here, a lot of conflicts that could be really well developed. But they simply aren’t. They are skimmed over, and miraculously resolved by the end of the film. It makes for a poor viewing experience, because we don’t get to know anything about the characters we are watching on the screen. I get it that since this is based on a true story, there is only so much that can be done, so much that actually happened. But these are real people, and they could have been developed as though they were real. Let us know what makes them tick a little bit. We know that Jay wants to be good at everything, but we don’t even get to know why. Why is this kid so driven to ride these waves? I feel like more justice could have been done to the life of Jay, make us feel what he feels, and let us in a little bit more, so that we are able to truly understand him. Chasing Mavericks comes across as a very glossed-over look at the life of someone who deserves more.

As an audience, we crave a little bit more than the absolute superficiality that we are offered in this movie. The film is, of course, predictable, but that is expected in this type of sports film genre. We know that he will somehow struggle along the way, but manage to overcome his obstacles to ride the wave.

SPOILER ALERTS TO FOLLOW

The most shocking thing about this movie was after we see Jay successfully ride the Maverick, and gain the respect of everybody who was out there that day, was to see that he died seven years later from drowning while diving. This just sort of unravels the entire story. He tried so hard to ride these waves, and does, but then ends up drowning? It is an unfortunate death, as one could imagine that he could have developed into a very high-end professional surfer, but it kind of ruins the message of the movie. We are taken to his water funeral, only minutes after seeing his greatest success. People in the area loved him, because he was such a positive force, even when things didn’t always look so good to him (again, this is something that could have been developed more- was he loved in his hometown, and why? We don’t really see this in the film). It seemed like a very strange ending to me. That you can overcome your obstacles, but you will die anyway. But again, that is the true story of Jay Moriarity, so that is the story that they need to tell.

I feel that there are better surf movies out there. Ones that are more inspiring, like Soul Surfer, or ones that are more pure, silly entertainment, like Blue CrushChasing Mavericks is a decent idea, but it is far too bogged down by too many negative things to make it a good film, in my opinion. Bad writing, bad acting, and a general lack of depth of both conflict and character really brought it down for me. I was surprised it had so many stars on Netflix, to be honest. It got a 2/5 from me.

RIP: Hurricane Carter

RIP: Hurricane Carter

Today, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter died at 76 years old.

He will be remembered as a fierce middleweight boxer, a man wrongly convicted of murder, for which he served 20 years in prison, and a man who continued to fight the battle of his life from behind bars, in order to gain the freedom that he so rightly deserved.

hurricaneThe Hurricane has been memorialized in a number of ways, including the famous Bob Dylan song, the film The Hurricane, starring Denzel Washington, and his auto-biography, The Sixteenth Round.

By his own accounts, Carter lived a life of anger, and took up boxing as a means to control this, and to get over the fact that he was constantly made fun of for having a speech impediment as a younger man. He rose to the top of the boxing world, known for his speed, flurries of jabs (hence the nickname), and raw aggression. His life changed forever when he was arrested and convicted of murder in 1966. He spent 20 years in prison as an innocent man, wrestling with his rage, and with his demons, before deciding to fight for his freedom. Eventually, Carter was released. Reading accounts of the trial depicts racism and a broken legal system, something that Carter continued to fight against for the rest of his life as an activist.

While impossible to imagine losing 20 years of your life for something you didn’t do, Carter was inspirational in his overcoming his anger, and putting together the fight of his life, to clear his name, and to walk the streets again. It is said that every year, on the anniversary of his release, he would telephone the judge who let him go, to thank him for doing the right thing.

Hurricane Carter had one of the most interesting life stories, a sports battle unlike any other.

As for learning more about his life, reading The Sixteenth Round is well worth it, as he tells his entire tale, from his troubled youth, to his time on top of the world in the ring, to his wrongful imprisonment, and eventual release. Reading it in his words is something special, knowing what he was going through, and how he overcame it. We cannot blame him for some of the rage he felt…who wouldn’t? Also, the film adaptation of his life is a worthwhile biographical film. Denzel Washington is at his best in his portrayal of Carter.

A strong man who never broke, Carter should be an inspiration to many.