Wish I Was Here (Film Review)

Wish I Was Here (Film Review)

There are those who love the work of Zach Braff, and those who don’t. From his hilarious and often heartfelt turn as JD on Scrubs, to his generally acclaimed directorial debut in Garden State, he has surprisingly divided fans and critics. Some people believe that he is able to capture emotions incredibly well, and others feel that he is too weepy and introspective.

Wish I Was Here is his second turn behind the camera, in another film that he has written. And it is excellent. Especially those who are fans of Garden StateWish I Was Here is a must see. Sure, it does not veer off the path that was set up and established in his initial film, and much of the emotional baggage that his character carries along with him is similar. But it is an honest film, and it is emotionally great.

wish2The story revolves around Aidan, an out-of-work actor trying to get any job by going to auditions for terrible roles in terrible shows and films. He lives with his wife (played incredibly well by Kate Hudson, who is calm and cool, tinged with the right amount of cynicism and emotion, that she in a way, reminds us of what a grown up and bitten by the real world Penny Lane could be like), and two children, who need to be pulled out of their private school, since his ill father can no longer afford the bill. Aidan makes the decision to home school his children for the remainder of the semester, until they can figure out what to do with them. His fears of public school has scarred him enough that he doesn’t want his own children to go through the same pain that he experienced growing up.

With his father dying, played incredibly well by Mandy Patinkin (known best from his role on Homeland), it is up to Aidan to hold his family together, and try to bring back his estranged brother to his father on his deathbed.

wish5There are so many things going on for Aidan all at once, and he is weighed down by the responsibility of so many things at the same time. The pressure of his failed dream, the financial pressures he faces with no work, the burden put on his wife as the sole breadwinner, working in a job that she can’t stand, and where she is forced to deal with sexual advances from a co-worker, the difficulty in dealing with his quirky, shut-in brother, his ailing father, trying to teach his kids something about the world, and being the one relied upon to keep it all together makes for a traumatic period in his life. It is a lot for one man, let along Aidan.

The best part of Wish I Was Here is the acting performances. They come across honestly, and believably. The film is scattered with good actors, and they all do the emotional trauma justice, and Aidan is forced to come of age, and come up with one more act of bravery for the good of his family. Across the board, including the children, offer strong and emotional performances, which better than anything, are believable.

This image released by Focus Features shows Kate Hudson, left, and Zach Braff in "Wish I Was Here." (AP Photo/Focus Features, Merie Weismiller Wallace)

As with anything involving Zach Braff, there is a strong soundtrack that goes along with the film, filled with emotional indie music from bands on the cusp of being big. Consider how popular the soundtrack was to Garden State, and you have the right idea.

Not everything works perfectly in Wish I Was Here. There were some directorial choices that could be seen as questionable, and somewhat amateurish, but in all, Braff is a steady director, and he knows what he wants in order to bring his own words and performances to life. He directs with care, and is able to encompass the emotional instability of his characters through his style.

wish4There are many small parts to the larger story line in the film, but they all work together extremely well, and they never seem like they are set up and left behind. Braff does an excellent job in his script to provide all of his characters with problems that require a solution. This is not easy to do, especially in a film that is only two hours long. But he manages to do it seamlessly, and by the end, the audience is likely to care about the plight of all the characters.

wish6Wish I Was Here is a sad film, with droplets of humour and fun, and emotional saving. It was an excellent watch, and definitely recommended for those looking for something that is eventually uplifting after a lot of struggle.

The Battered Bastards of Baseball (Film Review)

The Battered Bastards of Baseball (Film Review)

This documentary had been sitting in my Netflix queue for quite some time, and I finally got around to watching the film made about a Class-A baseball team that started playing in Portland, Oregon, during the 1970’s.

And boy, was I glad I did finally watch it.

The Battered Bastards of Baseball is an exceptional documentary about baseball, about the minor leagues, about one man’s baseball dreams, a city embracing the ultimate underdogs, taking on the system, and having fun playing a game. It is definitely worth watching.

Bing Russell managing the Portland Mavericks in the Battered Bastards of Baseball documentaryWhen the Portland Beavers left for Spokane, the city had lost its AAA baseball team, and the sport was essentially dead in the Oregon town. But one man, actor Bing Russell (father of Kurt), decided that he wanted to bring baseball back to Oregon, in the form of an independent Single-A team, which he named the Portland Mavericks.

Russell was obsessed with baseball, and had spent his youth around the famous New York Yankee teams of Lefty Grove and Joe DiMaggio, and had spent some time playing in the minor leagues himself. He was a true student of the game, analyzing it to death, and going to far as to make baseball documentaries that would teach others how to play the game the right way. He wrote about how to play in every possible situation.

This was not some actor trying to recapture his youth, it was an actor with a baseball dream, and one that he understood incredibly well.

Buying an expansion franchise for a miniscule price, he held open tryouts for the Mavericks, which led to the team being stocked with a bunch of no-names and men whose dreams of baseball had seemingly died when they were never drafted or signed by a big-league club and allowed to play in their massive farm systems.

By being an independent team, meaning there was no affiliation with a major league club, meant that the Mavericks were going to be playing against developing major league players, and the bonus babies that the big teams had down in the minors, to learn the game. They would always play with a chip on their shoulder.

And the Mavericks made the big league teams look bad. Because they were good. Russell assembled a team that would win, playing their hearts out to prove that teams made mistakes in not drafting them at some point during their careers. They weren’t all pimply-faced college kids, as many A teams are, but a mixture of youth and veterans. But they all held one thing in common: they all loved baseball, and they just wanted to play.

Since there was no MLB affiliation, Russell had to foot the bill for everything himself. And it took some time to build up a fan base in Portland, but when they did, they set records. The city began to truly embrace their gang of miscreants, the team that would go out on the field, play the game the right way, and have a ton of fun doing it.

battered3The Mavericks didn’t play for long in Portland, because the Pacific Coast League, the largest AAA league in baseball, eventually decided that they wanted back into Portland after seeing the massive crowds that were attending the Mav games. Due to baseball legislation, they were allowed to do this, and they simply had to buy back the territory owned by the Mavericks. This lead to a court battle based on the price they needed to pay, and here we see Russell standing up to the PCL, because he had built up something incredible for the low minors, and they just wanted to take it away from him.

The return of the PCL signaled the end of the Mavericks, but their legend can now be seen by everyone. They set attendance records for A ball, the team had winning records that were unmatched, and some of the players from the team went on to do big things (including an Oscar-nominated bat boy, and of course actor Kurt Russell, who was a player on the team, the inventor of Big League Chew, and a pitcher who made it back to the majors). The Mavericks proved that even as the only non-affiliated minor league team in the country at the time, they could make it work, and they could play the game that they loved.

The story is told through interviews with some former players, the commissioner of the league, the bat boy, and others, and they all look back fondly at their time with the Mavericks. Their individual stories are great and compelling, as are the results of some of their lives.

This is an excellent documentary, and a definite must-see for any baseball fan. It shows the possibility of the love of the game, and has a great us-versus-everyone storyline that is undeniable. The Battered Bastards of Baseball is well worth the time to check out.