Tag: articles & criticisms

Bull Durham is More than a Baseball Movie

or Why Kevin Costner Baseball Movies are about More than Baseball

The best baseball movies are seldom just about baseball. Baseball may serve as a setting or a plot device, but the story itself is about something more than baseball. Field of Dreams (which, by the title, is not what this article is about) isn’t about baseball as much as it is about fathers and sons. Everybody who has seen Field of Dreams remembers the game of catch at the end. A movie that isn’t such a clear example is Bull Durham from 1988. Bull Durham is more than a movie about minor league baseball and the desire to play in the show. It is a movie about having faith in yourself and the willingness to accept help from others.

The movie centers around three central characters. Ebby Calvin ‘Nuke’ LaLoosh, played by Tim Robbins, is a hot headed young phenomenon of a pitcher with the talent to play in the show. Unfortunately, ‘Nuke’ LaLoosh does not have the proper mental toughness required to play at the major league level. Enter Crash Davis, played by Kevin Costner (Costner does have a few exceptional baseball movies out there), a catcher with twelve years of minor league experience. Crash is called upon to teach ‘Nuke’ the ins and outs of the game of baseball, to get him ready to pitch in the show. This dynamic is best summed up when Crash says, “I got the brains, you got the talent,” when talking to ‘Nuke.’ The third character is Annie Savoy, played by Susan Sarandon, a woman who knows more about baseball than most coaches. Annie dedicates herself both sexually and emotionally to one player each season in order to help him develop as a ball player and as a person. Picture a sort of a muse for baseball players (there is a funny line about fucking and poetry in the movie). Each of these characters has faith in who they are as individuals but they need the help of the others to achieve their true potential. Throughout the course of the movie each learns to accept help from the others.

Most people who are not fans of baseball tend to cringe when they hear of a movie that centers on the game (Field of Dreams is probably the only exception to that rule). But most baseball movies are about so much more than baseball. Yes, Bull Durham is movie about a minor league baseball team, the Durham Bulls. It is also a movie about three people who realize that in order to achieve their goals they must not only have faith in themselves but must also accept help from others. Not bad for a movie that most people think is just about a game.

-K-

Bull Durham starring Kevin Costner, Tim Robbins, and Susan Sarandon. Directed by Ron Shelton.

Youth, Talent, Death, and Baseball

Death as Symbol in “Death of the Right Fielder”

One of the great things about baseball is that there was a time when I was good at it. Hell, there was a time when everybody was good at the game. Of course that was when we were all young, and maybe we weren’t so much good as there were just plenty of other kids who were just as bad. As we grow older some of us continue to think of baseball as a game and others, those with talent and skill, begin to view it as a sport. Stuart Dybek’s “Death of the Right Fielder” is symbolic for all of us in the former group who realized the big leagues weren’t in our future.

Dybek’s short story centers around a group of children playing a game of baseball when they realize that the right fielder has died. The children discuss some possible causes for the right fielder’s death, reflect on some philosophical issues regarding life and baseball, and then bury the right fielder in a shallow grave in the outfield. Dybek delivers the story in such a matter of fact manner that one can’t help but believe some magical realism is at play, but I don’t want to focus on that element of the story (which could be an article all by itself) as much as Dybek’s use of death as a symbol for a lack of talent and skill.

The young right fielder’s death is symbolic for that moment when a person realizes he or she doesn’t possess the talent or skill necessary to play baseball in the major leagues. After they discover his body the other teammates wonder how the right fielder may have met his end. One theory is that he may have died of natural causes, but this is quickly dismissed with the following, “Nor could it have been leukemia. He wasn’t a talented enough athlete to die of that.” This is one of our first clues that the right fielder wasn’t that talented of a ball player. There are a couple more points that show the right fielder did not have what it takes to play major league ball. One example, “He was just an ordinary guy, .250 at the plate…” shows that he was not a stand out among his peers. He did not possess the talent or skill necessary to rise above his teammates.  Another example regarding the right fielder’s lack of talent is shown in the final sentences of the story, “It’s sad to admit it ends to soon. Most guys are washed up by seventeen.” The right fielder’s career ends with his symbolic death which is viewed as too soon.

Many of us can remember playing baseball when we were children, and as children we had dreams of playing in the major leagues. Stuart Dybek’s “Death of the Right Fielder” is a symbol for that moment when we realized our dreams of playing in the majors die. Those final sentences really hit home (you know there had to be at least one in this article) for anybody who played the game of baseball but never got to play in the show. How many of us have buried our dreams in right field, second base, or some other position out there on the diamond?

-K-

“Death of the Right Fielder” The Coast of Chicago (1990) by Stuart Dybek

William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives and the Returning Veteran

An Obligation to Assist Veterans

One given with all wars is that soldiers, victorious or vanquished, come home from them. William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives tells the story of three World War II veterans and the difficulties they face after returning home. Seventy years later the adjustment back into civilian life has not changed much and is just as difficult. Wyler’s movie is required viewing for anybody who wants to develop a better understanding of the difficulties returning veterans face.

The veterans of The Best Years of Our Lives face a variety of difficulties such as physical disabilities, post-traumatic stress disorder, and feelings of isolation. Throughout the course of the movie these men struggle to readjust to civilian life often resorting to alcohol and distancing themselves from those who care. With the assistance of family, fellow veterans, and purposeful work these men are able to make successful transitions into civilian life.

Seventy years later returning veterans face same difficulties as the characters in Wyler’s movie. Seventy years later returning veterans struggle to readjust to civilian life in the same way as the characters of The Best Years of Their Lives. Seventy years later out returning veterans deserve more.

-K-

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) with Myrna Loy, Fredrich March, Dana Andrews, and Harold Russell. Directed by William Wyler.

Valor, Sacrifice, and the American Soldier

Clinton Romesha and the Battle of Command Outpost Keating

We can easily follow, friend, and like somebody we don’t even know these days with a swipe of a finger, yet many of us don’t know much about the individuals serving our country overseas.  Regardless of politics and personal beliefs about the government it is vital to take a moment now and again to think about these men and women who serve, and to try and understand what they experience.  Clinton Romesha’s Red Platoon: A True Story of American Valor is a remarkable book that provides a harrowing account of the courage and sacrifice of American soldiers in Afghanistan.

Red Platoon: A True Story of American Valor recounts the events of the fourteen hour battle between U.S. forces and Taliban insurgents at Command Outpost Keating in Afghanistan on October 3, 2009. Romesha was vital in the defense of Keating and would lead a counter attack to push back the Taliban.  Many books, essays, documentaries, and such usually approach combat with a reporter’s sense of detachment.  In a few unfortunate instances the topic is approached with sensationalistic melodrama.  Neither is the case with Romesha’s book.  The reader gets to know the soldiers of Red Platoon.  Romesha makes certain that we know these are men with families, friends, and plans for the future.  Knowing these men makes it, at times, difficult to turn the page because we are uncertain about the fates of these soldiers.  The reality of life and death in a combat zone is succinctly expressed by Romesha.  This is a difficult book to put down.  I felt compelled to read on and at times I was afraid to turn the page knowing that some of these brave men did not survive the battle of Keating.

It is important to try to develop an understanding of the experiences that the men and women of our armed forces must deal with.  Clinton Romesha’s Red Platoon: A True Story of American Valor provides us with an insight into some of the experiences and a better understanding of the valor and sacrifice of our American soldiers.

-K-

Red Platoon: A True Story of American Valor (2016) by Clinton Romesha

Two Wars, Same Story

What Patriotism Asks of a Person

What makes a person patriotic? The backgrounds and beliefs of those involved and the context of their actions should be taken into consideration. There are two songs from Old Crow Medicine Show that focus on patriotic individuals and provide context worth a closer look. “Carry Me Back” and “Levi” from the album Carry Me Back may be about the experiences of two patriots in different wars but they tell a similar story.

There is one constant that runs through most wars, the availability and readiness of young soldiers willing to fight for the idea of patriotism. The Civil War is the first to address the idea of patriotism on the album Carry Me Back. The song “Carry Me Back” begins with the clear patriotic motivation of the song’s persona. He is a Confederate soldier willing and happy to fight for the South and his home state of Virginia. In fact, his brother has already left home to fight and the persona is eager to join him. This eagerness and patriotism fades as the war drags on and the persona experiences the horrors of war. The song ends with a young man who left home with the patriotic intentions to fight for Virginia praying that he be buried there. His patriotism has result in the ultimate sacrifice.  This same story arch can be seen in “Levi.”

“Levi” is not as explicit in its presentation of patriotism, it is also one step removed in narration. “Levi” is told from a third person point of view, as opposed to the first person point of view of “Carry Me Back.” This third person point of view allows the listener to interject his/her own history and knowledge concerning the war in Iraq. Contemporary listeners know that there was a surge in feelings of patriotism after the events of 9-11. Although Levi’s motivation for enlisting isn’t clearly stated, feelings of patriotism and a desire to defend his country are likely reasons. The realities of war set in quickly for Levi, much like those for the persona of “Carry Me Back.” And like his counterpart (who is actually referenced in “Levi”) Levi dies in battle and will be buried in his home state.

“Carry Me Back” and “Levi” are about young men who decide to defend their country in a time of war. Their motivations for doing so are patriotic, but we should look at the songs in a larger context. The persona of “Carry Me Back” and Levi are patriots but were they fully aware of the horrors of war when they volunteered and what their patriotism may require? The evidence suggests they did not. A country needs its patriots, but a country should do all it can to educate its young soldiers on what sacrifices may be required of those patriots.

-K-

from Carry Me Back by Old Crow Medicine Show

I Disagree With Morgan Freeman

Or Why I Think You Should Watch Hard Rain

Have you ever watched a movie that played out exactly the way you thought it would? Have you ever watched a movie with a simple plot, no dramatic reveals, and characters with very little development? Hard Rain from 1998 fits the bill, and you need to get on the interwebs and stream it posthaste if you haven’t seen it. Why?  Because, sometimes it’s good to crack a beer, pour a bowl of flaming hots, and have some fun watching a predictable flick.

I’m not going to bother with any sort of critical analysis of Hard Rain. For those interested in a critical analysis I have two words for you, Morgan Freeman. Morgan Freeman has said in interviews that people shouldn’t bother watching this movie, but who wants to pass up a chance to see Morgan Freeman playing an outlaw (wearing a cowboy hat and sporting an earring)? But maybe you think, -I’m going to listen to Morgan Freeman and pass.-  I politely disagree with Mr. Freeman’s recommendation, and I have two words for those who agree with him, Christian Slater. Hard Rain has the lead actor from True Romance. Maybe you haven’t seen True Romance (or 3000 Miles to Graceland). If that’s the case I have two words for you, Randy Quaid. This movie has the alien ass kicker from Independence Day (maybe you know him better as Cousin Eddie). If you’re not a fan of Randy Quaid I have two words for you, Minnie Driver.  Hard Rain has Grosse Pointe Blank’s Minnie Driver and she’s British. Maybe you haven’t seen Grosse Pointe Blank or maybe you have something against the British. I have two last words for you, Betty White. ‘Nuff said.

Movies with complex plots and dramatic reveals can be wonderful viewing experiences. In depth character studies can add layers to already incredible films. But sometimes you may be in the mood for a movie that’s simple popcorn fun. If you are looking for a movie with lots of rain, a fair amount of gun play, and something that isn’t too cerebral then Hard Rain is worth a watch.

-K-

Hard Rain (1998) with Morgan Freeman, Christian Slater, Randy Quaid, Minnie Driver, and Betty White. Directed by Michael Salomon.

Rain, Passion, and Sex in Kate Chopin’s “The Storm”

Weather and Biology as Natural Phenomenon

Why does rain make an already romantic scene better (fanboys need only think about the kiss scene from the 2002 Spider-Man to know what I’m talking about)? Maybe that’s a bit too big of a topic for the space I have here, but rain and romantic moments do often go together in literature. One of the best examples of this combination can be found in Kate Chopin’s short story “The Storm.” Chopin doesn’t merely use a rain storm as setting or backdrop in her story. Chopin demonstrates how passion, sex, and rain storms can be viewed as natural phenomenon.

A rain storm is one of the central events of Chopin’s story. This storm comes on quick taking the principle characters by surprise. Alcee Laballiere barely escapes the storm by seeking shelter at Calixta’s house. Calixta is so engrossed with sewing she does not notice the approaching storm. Both characters decide to wait out the storm after they shutter the windows and doors. Alcee and Calixta are both married, he to Clarisse she to Bobinot, but they have a shared history from their younger days in Assumption Parrish (I could write a few paragraphs on the possible symbolism there). It is during this storm that their passions from those younger days lead to a sexual encounter. With the passing of the storm and their afternoon of passionate sex it appears as if all is right in the world. It is this natural equilibrium at the end of the story that establishes the connection between biology (sex) and weather (rain).

Chopin is subtle when connecting biology (sex) and weather (rain) as natural phenomenon, but there are a couple of examples to support this. The first is Chopin’s omission of moralizing. Chopin’s imagery of both storm and sexual moment are vivid but moral judgements concerning the events are missing. These events are neither good or bad in Chopin’s view. They are simply presented as natural phenomenon that occur. The second example can be found at the end of the story. Alcee leaves Calixta after the storm and writes a loving letter to his wife, Clarisse. Calixta, Bobinot, and their son Bibi spend the evening sharing a family dinner. After these events are established Chopin ends the story with the line, “So the storm passed and everyone was happy.” The storm has passed without causing any permanent damage. Likewise, Alcee and Calixta’s passionate encounter has also passed without apparently causing any permanent damage. Chopin is implying that human passion and sex (biology) and rain storms (weather) can be viewed in a similar way, as natural phenomenon.

Rain can dress up a romantic scene, but Kate Chopin demonstrates that rain can be used as much more than setting. If moralizing is removed from the ideas of passion and sex then they can be viewed as biological forces that drive humans in much the same way rain storms can be viewed as a natural phenomenon of weather.

-K-

“The Storm” by Kate Chopin