Hoop Dreams – Review

HoopDreams_cap

 

3-5Star

 

by Ken B.

It’s funny how one thing leads to another. Hoop Dreams, one of the most fascinating and commendable movies I’ve seen this year was supposed to be a half-hour special on PBS about inner-city kids playing basketball on playground courts. The project kept building and building, and the final result was a 171 minute sprawling feature about the hopes of two of those kids in becoming professional players. This is far more entertaining than most fiction-based movies, and because it is about actual human life, far more rewarding.

The kids are William Gates and Arthur Agee. They live in Chicago. They love basketball. They watch it on TV, they play it with their friends, and the latter pastime helps them when they are spotted by a talent scout and enrolled into St. Joseph High School. Now, the kids who said themselves that they eat, sleep, and breathe basketball are exposed to a far more demanding part of the sport, which they must balance with their schoolwork. There are injuries, re-injuries, bad grades, domestic problems, and more (at one point, the electricity in the Agee household is cut). But there is always that first dream, now matter how elusive it may be.

This really is a great movie. Normally I’d ask why it wasn’t even nominated for Best Documentary at the 1995 Academy Awards, but the answer to that was revealed at the time in a very controversial and publicized incident (don’t have time to explain, you people have Wikipedia).

Shot on video with a 1.33 aspect ratio, the movie feels a little ragged at times on a purely visual basis, but this is to be expected. Over 250 hours of footage were shot over five years (the film is divided into sections over their years in high school), and it was a fair way to store and shoot off-the-cuff. Maybe this unprofessional factor was involved in the quick rejection from AMPAS (see Wikipedia article). It’s a shame such an impressive documentary had to look so unimpressive up front. The film does clock in at just under three hours, and there are some pacing-related problems cropping up here and there, but none so large that they are distracting to the flow of the film in general. It is still masterfully edited, so what must have been piles of mostly inconsequential footage can form a coherent and gripping story.

Hoop Dreams emphasizes the human experience – it’s an encapsulation of our equal struggle to achieve our hopes and dreams, sometimes with others, sometimes by ourselves. It is an encapsulation of balancing those dreams with the practical now. It is an encapsulation of determination. It is an encapsulation of realization. In the filmmaking process, Hoop Dreams is also an encapsulation of all of those things in the years that went by during its making, and the miracle of cinema that emerged.

Hoop_dreamsposter

Forrest Gump – Review

ForrestGumpScreen

3-5Star

by Ken B.

The more something enters the public lexicon, the harder it becomes to view it from an impartial standpoint. However, I feel that regardless of its stance, Forrest Gump is a poignant, if not sometimes occasionally overemotional piece of American cinematic fiction. This is the story of Forrest Gump (TOM HANKS), a plain spoken Southern man, who tells his life story on a bus stop bench to strangers that pass by. Despite the fact he tells it in an unremarkable tone, he has had a hand in some of the key events in mid 20th Century Americana. He was raised by his mother (SALLY FIELD), was in the Vietnam War, with a shrimping expert named Bubba (MYKELTI WILLIAMSON), and a lieutenant named Dan (GARY SINISE).  Back home, he proves himself an excellent ping-pong player, and gains considerable fame (for someone who’s a ping-pong player, that is). He embarks on a couple of business ventures with Lt. Dan, but his thoughts are never far from his childhood friend, Jenny (ROBIN WRIGHT).

Looking over at that last paragraph, I wonder if I even did this sweeping plot any justice. Covering time from the 1950s to the 1980s, footage of Hanks is digitally implanted in archival footage, involving notable historical figures and events. From beginning to end, this is a beautiful story, highlighted by incredible performances and a script to match. By the second half of the movie, we are reduced to three main performances. Hanks gives us a naturally likable man, who never becomes inflated over his achievements, possibly because he doesn’t realize them himself. Sinise, as a hardened veteran, is brilliant, clearly absorbed by the character he is working with, and Wright, given a character that must tumble through tumultuous periods of history, does so with a convincing polish.

There’s a term, “Hollywood magic”, which is typically used to denote the long-passed sensation that a truly good movie could bring to it’s viewers. Forrest Gump brings a bit of that feeling back, a euphoric, feel good experience that sticks with you as a slice of inspiration, lodged within your memory. I find it personally disheartening that so few movies can do that today that a movie like this seems like some sort of gold by comparison.

There’s music – oh! There’s music. Along with Alan Silvestri’s memorable, albeit overdone score, selections from arguably the best eras of American music are featured in this movie, while doing little to notably advance the film itself, are still a highly appreciated addition.

Forrest Gump has gone on to be imprinted in American culture, probably due to its own infatuation with this. This is an admirable movie, astonishing in the way that it can work on numerous levels. This is also an unapologetically emotional movie, maybe showing too much emotion at times, but these occasions are few and far apart. Regardless of any flaws, while watching Forrest Gump, you’ll be reminded of a kind of mystical feeling that cinema rarely gives.

Buy from Amazon: Book / DVD / Blu-ray

Forrest Gump

The Client – Review

 

220px-Clientfilmposter

3Star

by Bret W.

The much-anticipated follow up to John Grisham’s The Firm and The Pelican Brief was also a much-anticipated film on the heels of the two previous films.  Rumor has it that Grisham sold the rights to his next book before it was even finished.  The Client stands alone in its own right, being the rarest of all films: the film that follows the book almost to the letter.

The Client begins with the suicide of a prominent Mafia lawyer.  As he is trying to kill himself, a young boy is trying to save his life.  However, the lawyer grabs the boy and decides to take him down with him.  He confesses to the boy why he is trying to kill himself, that his employer had killed a Louisiana senator and that the lawyer knew where the body was.  Before he could kill the boy, however, the boy escapes.

Enter the US District Attorney with even higher political aspirations.  Convinced that the boy knows where the body is, he starts hounding the boy and trying to get the information out of him.  The boy recruits the help of a lawyer named Reggie Love who, while not a prominent lawyer, is willing to work very hard to make sure the boy’s rights are observed at all times.  Meanwhile, the Mafia send a warning to the boy that if he should tell what he knows, that his family and he would be killed.  To seal the deal, they burn down his trailer.  As with the previous two Grisham novels, the pace rises to a fever pitch until the end when it seems sure that there is no way out for the hero, who then slips the bonds and quickly makes his getaway.

The acting is fine throughout, with standout performances by Susan Sarandon and Tommy Lee Jones.  When she gets him on the ropes in their first meeting, it’s a pretty comical situation, and although it’s rare to see Jones squirm like that, he did it like the lowest of worms.  The supporting cast was also very good, but these two stars shone above the rest.

As a fan of Grisham’s first three books, I found the fourth book fairly rudimentary.   However, the movie was exciting and gripping from beginning to end, and as I said before followed the story almost word for word.  And even though I was disappointed in the book, the movie excited me.  Taken as an entity all to itself, it was an extremely riveting and suspenseful film, even though the ending was pure Hollywood.  It was almost as if Grisham knew that this book was going to be a film and wrote it that way.  Regardless, it’s a tremendous film, thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish.  I give it my full recommendation.