“Long Shot” (2017), a “long short” (39 min) by Jacob LaMendola, tells the story about how a wrongful conviction was prevented, using baseball and reality television, in 2003.
In August, 2003, Juan Catalan was suddenly arrested by LAPD for the drive-by shooting of a 16 year old girl not too far from Dodger Stadium. A witness identified him from a police sketch but could only have seen him in dim light. Yet witness ID-ing often creates probable cause and can sometimes support convictions.
But Juan maintained he was at a baseball game in Dodger Stadium, where the Atlanta Braves scored seven runs in the top of the ninth to win 11-4. Because the visiting team was mounting the long tie-breaking rally, no walk-off win ending the game suddenly could occur. Some of the telecast is shown in the film. The length of the rally may have helped Juan, as it prolonged the footage of an HBO reality show “Curb Your Enthusiasm” gave defense attorneys a change to find him in the stands very shortly before the shooting.
The HBo episode involved a hooker’s stopping somone in the carpool lane of an LA Freeway when the ordinary lanes were blocked.
Prosecutors try hard to cling to their eyewitness theory until the end.
I was an extra in a filming of a scene for WB’s “Major League 3” in November 1997, held at the Minneapolis Metrodome, now torn down and replaced by Target Field. I got to hold up my “Do Ask Do Tell” book cover and a shot of it lasting ¼ second or so may have gotten into the film. They fed us hotdog dinners.
The picture above is mine from a 2012 trip, actually in San Diego.
Lara Stolman’s documentary “Swim Team” aired on PBS POV Monday night, October 2, 2017.
The documentary traces three autistic young men in high school who find themselves in competitive swimming, for a Perth Amboy, NJ team called the “Hammerheads”. The young men are Michael McQuay, Jr., Robert Justino, and Kelvin Truong.
Along the way, the film explains the rules for how they can graduate from high school. The state has the responsibility to educate them until age 21. But Michael gets to graduate at 18.
There is a scene where a female counselor explains to Justino that he is competing in a special Olympics style event because he is a person with a disability. Justino does not seem to fully comprehend, on his own, that his capability to function as an adult may not be what others would expect.
The film does not particularly stress athleticism; the kids don’t “peak” and there are no scenes involving shaving. I can recall going to a swim meet at SMU in Dallas in 1982, at the “natatorium”, and the competitive NCAA college students definitely peaked for the event The crowd was as loud as at a football game.
I never learned to swim very well, although I stumbled through mandatory swimming as an undergraduate in college. I was physically behind other boys and some people say I have Asperger’s, but then some people say that about Mark Zuckerberg or Alan Turing. I tended to catch up somewhat in Army Basic at age 24 in 1968 (after graduate school) although I spent three weeks in “special training company”.
High schools did not have swimming pools when I was growing up, but the wealthier ones do now. Swimming is often now required PE for graduation. (It wasn’t required in Army Basic in 1968 but I presume it is in Navy and Marines.) There are many reportsthat African-American students often do not learn to swim. After the film (abridged slightly from its announced 90-minute length) the director did a brief QA.
I’ll note “The Good Doctor” about an autistic (and quite likeable) surgical resident on ABC. The series was not aired in DC last night because of pre-emption by a Washington Redskins football game.
A documentary purporting to expose cheating in sports turns out to be an international thriller. So it is with “Icarus” (2017), the film named after a Greek mythological character who failed because of his own virtues (the Icarus Paradox).
Bryan Fogel, who wrote and directed the film, is an energetic amateur cyclist looking in his early 40s perhaps. Most of the time, his bod is shaved, and he lives in a world where masculinity is more a matter of performance than trappings (I’ll get ahead of myself and add that the Russian sports circle insists its athletes be married).
He decides to do a citizen investigation of doping as he plans to ride the Haute Route in France and Switzerland. The film introduces the topic with a couple clips of Lance Armstrong, before getting to Fogel’s own story. First Fogel contacts Don Catlin about his experiment, who backs out due to the obvious risks. Fogel then makes the fateful turn to the Russians, contacting the doping doctor Grigory Rodchenkov.
The result is a huge expose of the entire Russian staging of the Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014. I’ll add that the politics of the 2013 anti-gay propaganda law fed into this (not mentioned in the film), as did Putin’s aggression in Ukraine and Crimea (covered). Putin starts appearing more often in the film, which turns into a stinging indictment of Russian kleptocracy, obviously politically important now given all the investigations of Putin’s alleged collusion with Donald Trump. We get to see a lot of Moscow in some episodes. This turns out to be compelling “conservative film” that the mainstream GOP would like but that The Donald would not.
As Grigory gets in trouble, he calls Fogel back home in Utah. Fogel arranges Grigory’s trip to the United States, apparently for the sake of Grigory’s security from the Russians, a kind of unofficial asylum seeking. But then the FBI and US attorney in New York City get involved. Grigory winds up living incognito in a secret location (which the film implies is on the California coast in the last scene). The film manages to show in detail how the Russians covered up their falsification of urine tests. It’s pretty elaborate but all real-world spy stuff.
What seems intriguing is that a filmmaker and “amateur” sports enthusiast (reminding me of Minnesota filmmaker Shane Nelson and his “A Film in Three Parts” (2002) about amateur extreme sports) puts his own skin in the game of international political activism. He could have filmed a similar native about Central American or perhaps LGBT asylum seekers if he wanted to.
The film ends as Grigory admits “Slavery was my freedom”. We do get a glimpse of Rio in 2016, as a kind of redemption. The film’s tagline is “Truth is a banned substance”.
The music score contains excerpts from Alexandrov’s Russian National Anthem, as well as from Shostakovich Symphony #8.
The film was revised (from Sundance) somewhat when Netlfix acquired it, but the online version looks like a full director’s cut at 121 minutes.
“Forever Pure”, directed by Maya Zinshtein, is a docudrama about religious identity politics in professional sports.
Specifically, the somewhat right wing and nationalist Beitar Jerusalem football club recruits two young adult Muslim football players from Chechnya. The players were recruited by a billionaire Russian oligarch. Disruption and riots follow.
The film shows some familial intimacy for the two players, who “look” white. They do observe their prayer rituals.
The film also looks into the competitive nature of Israeli football, which is really what we call soccer. It seems to be more popular with working class people.
The film aired on PBS Independent Lens on May 15, 2017. It attracted my attention incidentally because Chechnya has become the focus of a local anti-gay Holocaust recently, with the Russian government looking the other way and pretending gays don’t exist. Provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos wrote about this in an aggressive piece on his own site. The Tsarnaev brothers also came from Chechnya (Vanity Fair story).
The last scene of “Handsome Devil” (John Butler’s film set in Ireland) shows one of the hero teen athletes Conor (Nicholas Galitzine) kicks a field goal to win a rugby game. I thought, it would be nice so show the scoreboard one more time, so American audiences know how many points it scores (three, as in US football).
I thought about Mark Bingham, the gay rugby player who was one of the heroes on Flight 93 during the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001.
The film, however, set in a boarding school, sets up the roommate problem that schools have gradually learned to deal with.
When Ned (Fionn O’Shea) arrives with his guitar and loner personality, brought by his wealthy parents who want to hurry back to Dubai, the school assigns him a room with Conor. To protect Conor’s sense of modesty, they build a “Berlin Wall” in the middle of the room.
The kids have to deal with a challenging English teacher Dan Sherry (Andrew Scott), himself closeted, who gives Ned the final inevitable epigram, “Never speak in a borrowed voice.” That all starts with the first theme, which Ned has to read in class despite some plagiarism.
But as the film progresses and the roomies build a rocky friendship, we learn that Conor has his own past that he is trying to hide by “going straight”.
Off course, those familiar with my own narrative (in my 1997 “Do Ask Do Tell I” book“) know that my 1961 William and Mary expulsion started with a roommate issue. Charles Moskos, the Northwestern University sociology professor who more or less invented the phrase “don’t ask don’t tell” for gays in the military (US) in 1993, later wrote about the issue of matching gay roommates in colleges. The concerns over privacy in the military and other environments (like firehouses) has dwindled greatly with the generations born in the 1980s and later. Of course, big league sports in the US are adapting to expectations of non-discrimination, including MLB and the NFL.
But the film presents another irony in sports: when does the team come first, and when does the individual? I remember how Troy McClain “took one for the team” in an early episode in 2004 of Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice”.
2016; DVD on 2017/6/2
When and how viewed:
Vimeo private screener from distributor, 2017/5/11
“Race” is a pun, when used as the title of this period history film directed by Stephen Hopkins, about the African-American Olympic track and field star Jesse Owens (Stephan James) in the 1936 games in Berlin.
The film is somewhat workmanlike, with the necessary scenes in German, that don’t overplay the Nazi statist aim to send a message to the world about supposed “Aryan” superiority (as if there was really nothing behind it). The intervention of Avery Brundage (Jeremy Irons) to shame the planned boycott by America is included.
The early scenes of the film show Jesse’s challenges. The coach tells Jesse to look him in the eye (as a way of showing respect), and badgers him about work habits. But Owens has worked as a sharecropper and sends money home to support a daughter.
There’s some attention to German construction of the stadium, and the point is made that it couldn’t have been built in Washington DC because of the height limit by “zoning”.
The film points out that Owens still faced segregation when he returned to the U.S.
The Universal DVD has a “Making of” featurette, as well as supporting shorts, “Becoming Jesse Owens” and “The Owens Sisters” (the latter about the support from the estate). As with many period films, meticulous attention to detail was necessary for the sets.
For me, the film did not pull as much interest as the baseball film “42” about Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers. But the film gets mentioned in the script of “Get Out” (Feb. 25).
I can relate my own personal experience with track: in 10th grade, I remember how winded I was after running the 440 in PE class the first time. But in the Army I ran the mile in about seven minutes in combat boots.
I had a good friend (chess player) of contemporary age whose last name was “Race” (Hungarian ancestry, anglicized) when living in northern New Jersey in 1973.
“Fences”, directed by Denzel Washington, is a major African-American morality play, actually based on the Broadway play by August Wilson, and translated rather directly to a 139 minute film that looks rather like a stage play, set mostly in a rowhouse and small backyard in working class Pittsburgh in 1957 (with a final act in 1962). The film has three visual interludes that seem like act markers.
Denzel plays the “imperfect” family “patriarch” Troy Maxson, now 53, who has a particularly authoritarian relationship with his 17-year old son Cory (Jovan Adepo), who fears Cory’s ambitions to play football (in college and maybe pros) are unrealistic given racial discrimination, and that Cory needs to learn his place making a proletarian living. It’s noteworthy that he is illiterate (can’t read).
In fact, Troy had been a baseball star in the Negro leagues, and had come along “too early” for baseball, before Jackie Robinson changed things (the film “46”). But by 1957 baseball already had many black stars, including Minnie Minoso, Luke Easter and Larry Doby (the last two from the powerhouse 199954 Cleveland Indians). Pro football as also changing quickly, so Troy wasn’t with it. Cory thinks his dad is afraid of his son’s being “better” than he is, but isn’t that a point of having a traditional family?
Viola Davis plays his loyal wife Rose, but she engages in the fast talk of many scenes. Troy has an older son Lyons (Russell Hornsby), who struggles as a musician, borrowing money and getting in trouble with the law. In fact, we learn that Troy had done hard time himself for manslaughter after a fight in Alabama, where he had grown up. There is also a disabled brother (Mykelti Williamson) and the sidekick foil friend Bono (Stephen Henderson).
As the play progresses, Troy will continue his transgressions and test the loyalty of those around him, until he dies, as there is another “illegitimate” child Raynell (Saniyya Sydney).
I’ve encountered, in the workplace, African American men who believe they have to raise their kids to expect discrimination but still not expect any handouts in a capitalist society. One of them thought that, as an unmarried man, I must be living with my mother. But a decade later, I had to.
The film has some interesting scenes of improvised street baseball, like the backyard baseball (or softball or whiffleball)) we used to play in the 1950s.
Denzel Washington, August Wilson
When and how viewed:
2016/12/26, daytime show, nearly sold out, at Angelica Mosaic in Fairfax (mixed audience)
“Fastball” is a documentary, directed by Jonathan Hock and narrated by Kevin Costner, about the science of Major League Baseball pitching, with emphasis on flamethrowers.
The film traces the history of the fastballer from Walter Johnson of the Washington Senators, through Bob Feller and Nolan Ryan (who didn’t have to retire until an injury in Seattle at age 46), as well as others like Sandy Koufax. The old selves of the pitchers and batters (and they do age in appearance normally with time) often speak.
The film also presents the experiments which measure ball speed. Physics says that a pitch speed decreases with air resistance as it approaches the plate. The standard today for a radar gun is to measure speed 50 feet in front of home plate. By that standard, Bob Feller and Nolan Ryan had the fastest pitches, at over 108 mph. Aroldis Chapman, from Cuba, who pitched for the Chicago Cubs in the World Series with the Cleveland Indians, tops out at 105. The film explains how the fast ball “hop” is an illusion.
The film also relives some great moments in baseball, such as Koufax’s first perfect game.
Bryce Harper talks about Craig Kimbrell, and Goose Gossage talks about the 1978 playoff game in Boston which the Yankees won 5-4 on Bucky Dent’s home run. Gossage got Yastremski to pop up on a fast ball. I remember listening to that game at work at Bradford National Corporation in midtown Manhattan. The game occurred at an eventful time in my own life.
Particularly disappointing is he history of Oriole pitcher Steve Dalkowski, who had control problems and then had a career-ending elbow injury on a routine infield play in his first start with the Orioles in 1963. The DVD includes a longer segment on Dalkowski, as well as 30-minute Extended Interviews with other pitchers.
The film did not cover Herb Score, the Cleveland Indians’ pitcher injured by a line drive in 1954. It also didn’t mention Clayton Kershaw, who got the last two outs for the LA Dodgers against the Nationals this year. (He got Daniel Murphy to pop up on an inside fastball, not willing to risk Murphy’s poking an outside pitch to the opposite field).
Another controversial pitcher is Stephen Strasburg, who had Tommy John surgery in 2010, and had a season-ending flexor strain in 2016 after a fantastic season. I believe I saw him jogging in Arlington.
The film does not cover the physics of curveballs or sliders (it mentions sinkers), or the knuckleball (Hoyt Wilhelm, Charlie Hough and Wilbur Wood). It does mention that pitchers used to throw complete games more often than now, when everyone is so concerned about pitch count, even in the American League, with the designate hitter rule since 1973.
“Manchester by the Sea”, is the name of a town along the north coast of Massachusetts, and it’s the setting for the newest family drama film from Kenneth Lonergan. The film is billed as a tear-jerker and as an essay on involuntary family responsibility.
The protagonist is a 40-year-old apartment handyman from Quincy, MA, Lee Chandler, played by Casey Affleck (and the obvious comparison is his role in the 2005 film “Lonesome Jim” (2005), also “Gerry” (2002)). He does good work but his interpersonal skills are mixed, as there is a slight degree of Asperger in his personality. (Oddly, the has personality behavioral quirks like sensitivity to being looked at in bars, and starts a fight over it.) One day he gets a call from relatives in Manchester that his slightly older brother has had another heart attack. When he arrives, his brother has passed away. And soon, the family lawyer is challenging him to become legal guardian of the brother’s (Kyle Chandler) erratic son Patrick (Lucas Hedges – the last name is tricky, not the more common “Hodges”). He will become trustee, and the will provides him some income for doing so. So this sounds like another “Raising Helen” scenario.
But Lee has actually contributed some of his own karma. An early scene on a boat in the bay shows him bonding with the little boy (Ben O’Brien) Patrick, out of character for his otherwise sometimes introverted personality. Later (by the time the moviegoer has gotten used to the flashbacks) we learn of a late night party where some inattention to home safety by Lee led to a house fire that destroyed his wife’s life. We already know of the divorce, and ex-about wife Randi’s (Michelle Williams) problem with alcohol. By present day, she has an older man dating her and having given her another child. The older man is quite possessive.
So, partly because of Lee’s actions, mom would not be a suitable parent. It seems that Lee is the best possible father figure for Patrick.
Patrick is emotionally disturbed but also probably profoundly gifted. He plays hockey and basketball, and leads a rock band, all in high school. He has the athletic talent to become a hockey pro, and probably the musical talent to become a rock star. It’s as if someone like Bryce Harper also able to become a concert musician existed (Bryce has already made a short film for ESPN). Patrick does a good job of handling interpersonal conflicts among others in his band, so that bodes well for a future music career from a business aspect (even if that’s Trump-like). He doesn’t want to go to college, but Peter Thiel would be fine with that (Thiel funds his own entrepeneurs like Taylor Wilson to skip college and start innovative businesses while teens, and Thiel regards college, with its student debt fiasco, a scam and ponzi scheme). Patrick is also very interested in keeping dad’s boat, which is breaking down and will cost $$$ to fix. He has already learned to run it, but can do so legally until 18 or 21. Most of all Patrick doesn’t want to move back Quincy because he has his life (including two girl friends he wants to “score” with) in Manchester. (Patrick also reminds me of the piano prodigy “Ephram” from the WB show “Everwood”, played by Gregory Smith.)
Patrick is also very verbal and snarky at times. He is prone to sudden emotional breakdowns, especially over the idea of his dad’s corpse staying in a freezer before the burial and funeral, which seem to take a long time to happen. But otherwise, it’s apparent that Patrick is rapidly becoming the parent and Lee the child. It’s Patrick who has the talents to make a lot of money on his own, without college or much financial support. It’s Patrick whose gifts could provide a living for everybody else. So playing his dad seems like a good deal.
The film doesn’t make much of the brother’s congenital or maybe genetic heart disease that causes his early death, but it’s fair to wonder if it could run in the family. One could another movie plot where heart transplant is considered (as with Dick Cheney).
The film is long (137 minutes) and filmed in regular aspect, which tends to emphasize close-ups and de-emphasize the gorgeous coastal scenery, even in winter.
Lucas Hedges, apparently 19, seems like a very charismatic teen actor, whose personality tends to dominate the films he is in (much as is the case with Richard Harmon, 25, for example). Patrick here resembles “Bob” in Terry Gilliam’s “The Zero Theorem“, when Bob says “I’m nobody’s tool” and when Bob essentially parents Christopher Waltz’s Qohen Leth. Lucas would have been 15 when acting the part, and he completely dominates the second half of the film.
Some other films for comparison on filial piety include “Saving Sarah Cain” (a mainstream columnist becomes involuntary guardian of Amish sister’s kids) and “Gracie’s Choice“.
It does indeed happen, that childless career people are suddenly expected to raise nieces and nephews. Much of the generosity of inheritance law (from a left-wing perspective, at least) expects “you take care of your own first.”
“Queen of Katwe”, by Mira Nair, tries to be a kids’ underdog human interest story typical of Disney, with a slightly independent look. The basic storyline is that Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga) is found to be a chess prodigy, even though her family in Uganda doesn’t have enough money she can go to school. With coaching, she enters tournaments, eventually plays in Russia and finally plays well enough at the FIDE level to earn a living (by her late teen years) and buy her family a nice house in better sections of Kampala. She also founds a Chess Academy and Mentoring Center in a poor section of Kampala.
The film makes many points about living conditions over there. Kids have to support their siblings. Families get tossed out in the street by brutal landlords. Storms and floods wash away whole neighborhoods. The IMDB credits list South Africa as a filming location, but the film credits say that some of the filming actually in in Uganda, in the shacks around Kampala.
Uganda is notorious for its bad record on human rights, especially for LGBTQ, and society is not pleased to see women beating men.
The chess coaching scenes are a bit corny. In one early tournament, a little girl announced mate, and sees her male opponent take off her Queen and bursts into tears. The coaching (David Oyelowo) is too generic to be interesting (it’s harder to make chess interesting in the movies than baseball, football, basketball, hockey, or especially soccer). In a final championship game, Phiona plays the White side of a Queens Gambit Declined (not the Exchange Variation but the usual 4 Bg5). Later she has a Queen side attack and advanced c-pawn that, by advancing, either wins a minor piece or forces mate after a sham sacrifice. The combination on the board actually made sense. Larry Kramer (a great proponent of 1 d4) would approve. But Peter Thiel is a bigger proponent of 1 e4 than even Bobby Fischer (“Pawn Sacrifice” or “Searching for Bobby Fischer”).
The film opened in widespread release today after a limited release in less convenient locations one week ago.