Archive for the ‘Sports Drama’ Category

I used to believe in this sport and Armstrong is killing it!

Year Released : 2015the_program
Director: Stephen Frears
Cast : Ben Foster, Chris O’Dowd, Denis Menochet, Jesse Plemons, Lee Pace and Guillaume Canet

Working at a cinema is a great way of seeing all of the posters of films that are coming out soon more often than others. Before I transferred away from the Lincoln Odeon, they had a poster for “The Program” and whilst the subject matter of Lance Armstrong has never really been something that interested me, the very fact that it had Ben Foster as the star was enough for me to get excited.

“The Program” wasn’t released at the majority of UK cinemas, but when shopping in my local Asda earlier for some waffles (I bet you never thought you’d read something like that on a film review site), I saw it on Blu Ray and with hesitation I picked it up and paid my £15.

Again, as above, I don’t know a lot about the Lance Armstrong scandal, other than his infamous interview on Oprah Winfrey, and I genuinely couldn’t give the slightest crap about the sport of cycling, but there is just something very intriguing about this film, especially as it looks very similar to another sports movie, “Rush”, which I rated as one of my top 20 films of all time a few months ago.

Plot

In the early 1990s, journalist David Walsh (O’Dowd) is playing a game of table football with rookie Tour-De-France entrant, Lance Armstrong (Foster). Armstrong states that he would be happy simply to win just one of the stages. Despite his humble ambition, Lance is quickly antagonised by the experienced Johan Bruyneei (Menochet) about his chances. This starts a fire in Armstrong to win at all costs.

Armstrong learns of a performance enhancing drugs program that is run by Michele Ferrari (Canet), but before Armstrong can properly join the program, he is diagnosed with testicular cancer and spends time in the hospital recovering. He eventually recovers and the chemotherapy means that his body has become more streamlined, and as well as the drugs from Ferrari’s program, Armstrong hires Bruyneei as his coach.

In 1999 Armstrong comes out of nowhere to destroy the field and win the Tour-De-France, but this arises the suspicion of Walsh, who states that Armstrong was having to brake in order to slow down whilst going up hill. Walsh spends several years trying to gather evidence to bring Armstrong down, all whilst Armstrong wins seven Tour-De-Frances in a row, but when former teammate Floyd Landis (Plemons) tests positive for drugs, it’s only a matter of time before Armstrong’s luck runs out.

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So, is it any good?

Whilst not as good as “Rush”, “The Program” is one of the best sports biopics I’ve seen in my life. For the first time since I started running this site, I didn’t once look to see how long was left in the run time whilst viewing a new film. Not once was I bored. Not once did I want to it be over. Not once did I think “The Program” was anything other than engaging and intelligent.

Even though you more than likely know the eventual outcome before you watch this film, you’re drawn in by the situation and even if you don’t know the history behind it. The scene in which Marsh is questioning how Armstrong can’t be on drugs when he is having to brake going uphill brings it all together, and that’s only about half way through the movie.

You begin to get engrossed in the situation as you just wait for that moment when you know the Armstrong is left with no choice to admit his cheating, but that’s the best part, you don’t once feel against him. You feel emotionally attached to the character because you know what he went through and he ultimately wants to win for not only the glory of winning, but also to help fight cancer. There is one scene in particular where Armstrong is visiting a group of kids with cancer and despite being pushed for time, he sits down with a bed-ridden teen for a chat, and even though the teen doesn’t say anything, Armstrong stays for support. At no point was I actually angry at Armstrong for what he was doing because despite cheating, he was generally a good guy.

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The development of the character is interesting throughout as you see Armstrong turn from someone with such humble ambitions, to someone who is just obsessed by winning, and anything less is a failure….not that you see him fail to win that much. This, combined with the aforementioned interactions with the cancer patients, helps you become attached to Armstrong as a character because he shows a level of depth,

This feeling of attachment to Armstrong is down in no small part to the excellent performance of Ben Foster. Foster nails it from start to finish and it’s yet another chameleonic performance from someone who I described as one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood. I keep running out of compliments for Foster because he is that good. He leaves and breathes his characters and Armstrong is no exception, and in the make-up he does have a very striking resemblance to Armstrong, it’s quite interesting.

However, he is not the only one who excels in “The Program” with Lee Pace being his ever reliable self, Jesse Plemons continuing to stake his claim as one of Hollywood’s most promising young actors, and Denis Menochet giving arguably his best performance since his minor role in “Inglorious Basterds”.

I can’t really think of any complaints at all about “The Program” other than the first few minutes feeling very disjointed in places, but other than that there isn’t anything about this story about ambition and the desire to win.

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Summary

One of the easiest approved stamps that I’ve had to give for some time, “The Program” is everything that a sports movie should be.approved

The acting is fantastic throughout from all concerned, especially the ever reliable Foster. Foster heads up a cast that superbly captures their characters, and yet there isn’t really a dislikeable one throughout, having said that, very few of the characters are actually typically protagonistic characters, which is very odd for a film.

The look of “The Program” is great, the soundtrack is fantastic and all around this is a very good, exceptionally made film.

I play hockey and I fornicate, ’cause those are the two most fun things to do in cold weather.

Year Released : 1999MysteryPoster
Director : Dru Brown
Cast : Russell Crowe, Burt Reynolds, Colm Meaney and Hank Azaria

After football (actual football, not America’s glorified version of rugby), my favourite sport is ice hockey and I had been a fan of the Calgary Flames since the mid 1990s, however, other than that I hadn’t really been that into the sport until I moved to the Lancashire town of Blackburn in 2013. Whilst there, I started following the ice hockey team and even started working for them. Ice hockey took over as my go to sport for a long time and over the space of 18 months, the Blackburn Hawks won the League and Playoffs, also finishing the runner up in the latter the year before winning it.

Despite that, I hadn’t seen many films based on the sport other than the Mighty Ducks franchise and The Goon. I hadn’t even heard of many others, but then WatchMojo posted a list of the best hockey films ever, and once I saw that this film wasn’t relatively well known, I decided to watch and subsequently review it.

My one hope after my recent spell of reviewing several sports films that it is not cliche filled.

Plot

Hockey has become an obsession in the Alaskan town of Mystery. Every Saturday the ten best players and/or skaters in the town face each other in a game of pond hockey and to play in what is referred to as “The Saturday Game” is considered the highest honour in the town. Included in that group is John Biebe (Crowe), the town’s sheriff, and following on from one match he is told that it’s time for a new, younger player to take his place and he is forced into retirement.

Biebe struggles to adapt to life off of the ice, but he is given hope of a return when the community is highlighted in an issue of Sports Illustrated by Mystery born journalist Charles Danner (Azaria). The article says that the players in Alaska are a match for any team in the NHL in terms of skating and shooting ability, and the New York Rangers respond to this by challenging Mystery to a match. Biebe is disappointed when he simply asked to be a coach.

With the game being set up, several incidents put it in doubt, including cases of adultery, assault and a court case following the New York Rangers’ players refusing to play. Despite all the obstacles faced to them, the game does eventually get approved, but the townsfolk become increasingly uncomfortable with the conditions of the match constantly changing to suit the Rangers, rather than the original agreement. The townsfolk even debate whether they still want to play the match as it becomes increasingly likely that the result will be an embarrassingly high score for the Rangers.

Can the men of Mystery pull of a shock…..would it even be a shock?

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So, was it cliched and was it any good?

I’ll start with the cliches and other than the odd thing here and there that happens during the near two hour run time (which I think is the longest film I’ve reviewed for this site so far), it is relatively cliche free. Yes, there are moments here and there, especially during the final game, where I successfully predicted what would happen, but I didn’t mind so much.

So let’s move onto the positive aspects of the film and I’ll start with that this really does feel like a community and that all of the actors are great friends with each other. Russell Crowe and Kevin Durand in particular seemed to have a great on-screen bond and that probably explains why this was the first of five films that the pair have worked on together to date (the others being Noah, Winter’s Tale, 3:10 to Yuma and Robin Hood).

Obviously Russell Crowe has gone on to far bigger and better things since this film, but he fits in perfectly in what is an impressively under-rated cast, also featuring Scott Grimes (who also starred in Winter’s Tale and Robin Hood with Crowe and Durand), arguably most famous for his role as the likable Dr Morris in ER.

Having seen several of the actors work together in major films since the release of “Mystery, Alaska” it was great to see that this was where the onscreen relationship between them all started and that familiarity helped with that feeling that they could genuinely be a team and a community. Normally in sports films, you get actors just randomly throw in together that have seemingly no connection of chemistry, but not in “Mystery, Alaska”.

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That sense that you’re watching people who are genuinely friends really helps you get behind the characters and makes you want the team to do well. For me that is what I want out of a sports movie. I want the team that the film is following to do well, but more often than not I couldn’t give a shit because I genuinely don’t think that the filmmakers have done enough to warrant me getting behind them. For example, in the Mighty Ducks franchise, I refuse to believe that the worst team in the league suddenly becomes the best team over-night simply because they get a new uniform and are taught the very basics.

Real life doesn’t work like that. What the Mighty Ducks franchise effectively tried to teach you was that even the biggest underdog can beat the most overwhelming of odds, regardless of key factors such as pure talent. For me that is the deadly sin of sports movies and I automatically become disengaged in films like that. That’s why “Mystery, Alaska” works. It’s not overly cliched and *SPOILER ALERT* the fact that the Mystery team loses in the end almost makes it perfect for me as realistically there would never be a chance of an amateur team beating one of the best sides in the world. In the majority of cases, the underdog doesn’t win in real life, and films should reflect that more often. *SPOILER ENDS*

Visually the film is fantastic and the acoustics are exceptionally well done. Even though you’re sat in the warm whilst watching this (presumably), because of the visuals and the subtle sound effects (such as chattering teeth, the skates on the ice, etc, you feel like you’re actually there and cold with the characters. It feels like your there in person and this, combined with the community feel, brings you right into the story and the film itself.

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I thoroughly enjoyed the film and it didn’t feel like it lasted two hours, but there were three major negatives that I had with it.

The first negative is a cameo from Mike Myers as a legendary hockey player, and the character is there purely for comic relief. Whilst that’s not necessarily a bad thing usually, it really doesn’t fit in with this film at all. This isn’t anything against Mike Myers at all and he does a decent enough job with the comic relief, but again there is precisely no need for the character in the film

And finally, one aspect of the film that confused me the most involved Kevin Durand. Now, I like Kevin Durand, as highlighted earlier in the review and much like I mentioned about Corey Stoll in my Glass Chin review, Durand is very under-rated in Hollywood and I loved him in roles such as Martin Keamy in Lost, Fred Dukes in Wolverine, Tucker in 3:10 to Yuma, but I can’t for the life of me figure out what accent he was trying to pull off. His accent changes several times in the film and it was kind of distracting to have a character that doesn’t say a lot, but when he does say something it is in a completely different accent to the last time he said something.

Speaking of accents, I’m curious how Colm Meaney’s character was born and raised in Alaska, to Alaskan parents, and yet had a Irish accent. Thinking of it, I’ve never heard Meaney with anything other than an Irish accent, regardless of the nationality of his character. Maybe in that sense he’s a younger version of Sean Connery, in other words someone who refuses to hide their accent for any role.

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Summary

A thoroughly enjoyable sports film that almost doesn’t feel like a sports film. For long sections of the film it feels just as though that you’re there with them and you get fully behind the team, something which I definitely can’t say for a lot of sports films. approved

The cast does an excellent job, especially considering most of them weren’t particularly well known at the time and this came out before Russell Crowe hit the peak of his popularity, so at the time is was made there were no preconceptions about any of the actors and that really helps with the production and quality.

If you can ignore the minor cliches that are in the film then I think you will enjoy this film. It’s got everything that you would want in a sports film and nothing feels forced. It’s not predictable (except for small sections during the match) and you feel that the team actually has a chance.

I’m about to donate some money to the remove my foot from your ass foundation!

Year Released : 1996235d17c8345ee439565b18e88a805ee3
Director : Reginald Hudlin
Cast : Samuel L Jackson, Damon Wayans, Jeff Goldblum, Peter Berg, Corbin Bernsen, Jon Lovitz, Cheech Marin, John Rhys-Davis, Jamie Foxx and Salli Richardson-Whitfield

With there being current investigations into alleged corruption in FIFA, it seems appropriate to write a review for a film about corruption in boxing. I’ve been debating for a while whether to review The Great White Hype as it did modestly well at the box office, taking just over £8 million worldwide, and it has a brilliant ensemble cast with some of the biggest name actors of the 1990s.

What swayed me however was seeing on IMDB that it had barely over 7,000 votes, a relatively low number, and the Facebook fan page didn’t seem to have a lot of likes either, so that’s what swayed me to talk about what is one of my favourite sports films. The Great White Hype, much like A Night at the Roxbury, might not be a film that I watch on a regular basis, but it is still one of my favourite films from the 1990s and although it doesn’t have a high score on IMDB, I think it is stylish and a well told story about how easily corruptible sport can be if you have the right contacts.

I’m going to also put this disclaimer before I start writing, I don’t like boxing and I’m not very keen on movies about the sport. I’ll grant you that there aren’t that many boxing movies, but other than this I can’t think of another boxing film that I actually like, and yes, I do include the Rocky franchise in that statement. Rocky, for me, is one of the most overrated franchises in movie history because you know that regardless of how difficult the opponent may seem after the first film, Rocky will always win somehow, and that’s why I don’t like them, they’re predictable.

I would say that most sports movies are predictable as it’s very rare that the person or the sports person that the film is following don’t win in the end. They usually find a way, regardless of how ridiculous that way is, and sports films are rarely executed in a believable way.

But anyway, I digress slightly….

Plot

Rev Sultan (Jackson) is a boxing promoter and his main fighter, James Roper (Wayans) is the undisputed champion. Roper has been on top for a while but is regularly refusing to fight the rightful number one contender. Roper wins fight after fight and it isn’t long before the money from each fight starts to go down at an alarming rate and in a meeting with his team, Rev comes to the realisation that people are tired of watching black guys fighting black guys and that the only way to get people’s attention is to have a match between two fighters of a different race, but with no non-black fighters in the Top 10, there aren’t many options available.

After some research, it is discovered that only one man has ever defeated Roper, a former amateur boxer that defeated him convincingly before quitting the sport. That man is Terry Conklin (Berg). Conklin now tours with his rock and roll band and is initially uninterested in fighting, that is until Rev tempts him with the money that the fight will generate and the promise that it can be donated to charity.

Meanwhile, Rev successfully converts a political activist named Mitchell Kane (Goldblum) into joining his team and together, along with the rest of the team, they successfully manage to get Conklin inserted into the Top 10, that despite the fact he has never competed in a professional match, thus granting him a title match. The team start hyping Conklin up to be more than he actually is, convincing everyone that he has a chance of winning, including Conklin himself. Roper refuses to take him seriously and puts on a lot of weight, but can Conklin pull off the biggest shock in boxing history?

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So where does the hype come from and does it work?

The hype comes from the fact that they manage to convince the nation that Conklin is on the same level in terms of ability as Roper, that despite the several years of being nowhere near competitive boxing. You as an audience member genuinely believe that Conklin can win and Roper’s weight gain aids in that. Even Rev himself starts believing the hype and that Conklin can overcome the odds and defeat Roper. *spoiler* The real genius of it is that when the fight does start and Roper realises that there is a chance that he will be embarrassed, he starts to take the fight seriously and  quickly dispatches Conklin, making you realise all along that Conklin’s hype was all style and no substance. *end spoiler*

Now, this film doesn’t have a high rating on IMDB and I must admit that I am struggling to figure out why. I think it might be because this is different to most sports films. Most sports films are built around an optimistic style and you ultimately know the team is going to win, and it’s very rare that the team doesn’t. In many ways I think that this film is very similar to another sports movie, the American football masterpiece that is “Any Given Sunday”, also featuring Jamie Foxx. They are presented in a similar style and I get the feeling that if you like that film then you’ll like this, because even most of the way through that you’re not sure if the team will end up winning as Foxx plays a character who severely disrupts the team.

I’ve rewatched this film twice over the last few days to try and catch what people don’t like and I can’t put my finger on it being anything other than the non-optimistic view of things. Don’t get me wrong, this film isn’t a negative film whatsoever, but it isn’t really an underdog story (the first Rocky film), it isn’t really about a team that was awful that is now unbeatable because of one or two training sessions with someone who hasn’t played that sport in more than twenty years (The Mighty Ducks) and isn’t about someone who is having to deal with the career coming to an end (The Wrestler). It’s just not a typical sports film and I think that people just don’t like that about it.

For me though it is that difference that makes it enjoyable. Although it’s similar to “Any Given Sunday” in many ways, in others it is one of the most unique films set in the sports world that I have seen in a long time.

Jeff Goldblum steals the show for me. I have previously wrote about how he is a brilliant actor, that despite being regularly type cast as the nerdy scientist, but in this film he gets to play someone who is exceptionally multi-dimensional and he seems to relish that. His character develops exceptionally well and Goldblum goes from a fighter for justice, to a puppet and then finally a man who tries to create his own empire, right under Rev’s nose. He plays a character that is, for lack of better words, as far from a nerd as you can get and it’s almost like it’s not a Jeff Goldblum style character.

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Infact, very few actors play a character that you would normally associate with them. Wayans plays an arrogant, I’m better than everyone type character, whereas he’s normally, or was at least at the time, known for comedic, socially awkward characters, such as in films such as “Major Payne” and “Blankman”. Samuel L Jackson has generally been known throughout his career as someone who takes care of business on his own, often with the use of swear words, and whilst the latter very much stays in this film, the character is actually quite cowardly, letting everyone do his fighting for him.

I won’t claim to have seen most actors in this film enough to make a fair comparison with their usual roles. Without looking at his filmography, the only films I’ve ever seen Corbin Bernsen in the Major League franchise, I’ve only ever seen two or three others with Jamie Foxx in and this could be applied for most actors. The only actor who fills like they are continuing their typecast nature is Jon Lovitz, who although in a more serious role than normal, seems to play a very familiar character to in most films.

Away from the acting, the film is presented in a very stylish way and opens with a scene that sets the tone quite well. The music is perfect for the type of film and is well used throughout. This starts right from the first scene as two scorpions fight, with one winning convincingly in the end, only to then be ran over by a passing car as a modern (well, 1990s modern) take on the song “Sweet Dreams” plays on the radio. In many ways this symbolises everything in this film as you can fight as much as you want, but ultimately you have no control over anything.

I do find it strange that a lot of sites describe this film as a comedy because it isn’t. It’s not intended to be a comedy and isn’t presented as one. There are one or two amusing moments, like there are in most films, but this is not a comedy. This, for me, is a well constructed drama, full of manipulation, backstabbing and how the media can be used to control the masses.

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Summary

One of the cleverest sports films I’ve seen in my 30 years and in many ways the actually match that eventually happens takes a backapproved seat. There are only two boxing matches in the entire film and *spoiler* neither lasts for more than two minutes of the film and the way that the fight between Conklin and Roper ends just shows that the fighting has taking a massive back seat to the money, with Conklin never, ever likely to post a realistic challenge to Roper. *spoiler ends*

The film isn’t even really a sports film, it’s more about how easily people can be corrupted and twisted into thinking whatever they’re told to believe. The way that the public gets behind Conklin without ever having seen him fight just shows how easily people will believe hype.

Watch this film, you will love it.

If I don’t wanna talk about things, and I don’t know what they wanna hear, and I just wanna play ball. Does that make me the bad guy?

Year Released : 200189J6qPZ6alGafob9ZqQNw6zeczx
Director : Billy Crystal
Cast : Thomas Jane, Barry Pepper, Jennifer Crystal Foley, Chris Bauer and Bruce McGill

Being English I don’t really have an affinity with a lot of American sports, infact the only one I have a true interest in is ice hockey, but there is always been a mild interest in baseball after watching films such as “A League of Their Own”, the “Major League” franchise and more recent “Moneyball”.

Following that I watched a film a few years ago called 61*, a baseball movie based on a professional rivalry between baseball legends Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris as both try break the record set by “Babe” Ruth for the most home runs in a season.

Whilst it might not have the big budgets that some of the aforementioned films had, and the fact it was a movie made for American television, it’s hardly surprising that it’s not that well known outside of America or outside of the sport of baseball, however, it is an interesting look at how two very different characters dealt with the increasing pressure as they neared the record.

Plot

The 1961 baseball season sees the New York Yankees making headlines as two of it’s high profile players both compete to break the record of the legendary “Babe” Ruth. Mickey Mantle (Jane) is the media darling, loved by everyone and is widely regarded as the best player for the Yankees, Roger Maris (Pepper) is the opposite, a family man who despite winning the MVP award for the previous season, isn’t in the spotlight and that suits him just fine.

Both hit early slumps in their season and Maris is even threatened with being traded, however, as the season goes on both hit form. As their friendship grows, one where who will break the record is joked about, both must deal with the pressure of approaching the record. It’s a pressure that keeps growing to the point where the administrator of the league becomes desperate to see that Ruth’s record remains intact due to their friendship, changing the way records are kept midway through a season.

Things continue as normal for Mantle as he loved by the public, but things are very different for Maris as he is often purposefully misquoted by the media and portrayed in a very negative light, leading to him being booed at his own stadium, receiving death threats through the mail and having someone threaten to kidnap his new born son.

As the stressful situation becomes more strained, especially when “fans” start trying to assault Maris on the field, can either of them actually hold up to the pressure and break the record?”

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Is it just like every other sports movie?

In many ways it is because like most sports movies, it has a happy ending. I’m not sure if it would technically count as a spoiler though as it is, for the most part, an historically accurate film for what happens on the pitch. Whilst “Moneyball” bent the truth somewhat (such as suggesting that some of the players were new to the club when they had actually been at the club the year before, such as Chad Radford), “61*” seems to remain truth to historical events on the field. Now, I would caveat that by saying I’m not a huge baseball fan and the stating that it seems to be historically accurate is based on the Wikipedia page.

What I found very interesting about the film was the media manipulation of Roger Maris. Whilst I’m sure it still happens today, because of the lack of major media coverage back then, it would be very easy to ruin Maris’ reputation in the media and that’s what happens when, because he gives only basic answers, the media puts his quotes into the wrong context and vilify him. The media treatment he receives causes severe stress, hair loss, death threats and other such things, and it reminded me a lot of when David Beckham was sent off in the World Cup in 1998 and how he was made out to be public enemy number one.

One other mis-representation by the media in the film is that despite forming a corporation together, Mantle and Maris couldn’t stand each other. This was far from the truth as they lived together and Mantle often acknowledges that Maris turned his life around by helping him stay off of alcohol and leading a more mature lifestyle.

Maris is excellent played by Barry Pepper. If Maris really was that serious in real life then Pepper is probably the best actor around to have played him. Pepper, in a carer spanning more than 20 years, has rarely had a lead role and has often been restricted to sub-roles, and is is interesting to see that some of the films that he has been in are some of the biggest in recent memory, such as “Saving Private Ryan” and “The Green Mile”…..the less said about “Battlefield Earth” the better. He has always been an actor that has on occasion been allowed to show emotion, but often ends in roles where his character is of a serious nature, and he does it excellent each time.

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Thomas Jane is also partly enjoyable as Mantle, I say partly because he is excellent at portraying the character when drunk, however, when the character starts renouncing alcohol you get the feeling that you could have really gotten any actor to play the role and it wouldn’t have made a different. That’s not anything against Jane, it’s just the character is not written very strongly after he gives up alcohol

Sub-plots are also important to the movie and the one where the league administrator doesn’t want Maris to break the record because he was friends with “Babe” Ruth. Ford Frick, played by Donald Moffat, is so against someone who isn’t “bigger than the game” breaking the record that he changes the rule midway through the season and openly hopes it doesn’t happen. Almost 20 years after the season, Maris said (not in the film) “They acted as though I was doing something wrong, poisoning the records books or something.”

I only have two concerns with regards to the film, the first of which is the music. It’s a very strange soundtrack accompanying the film, for example, when Roger is talking about the threats with Mickey, there is music in the background that wouldn’t seem out of place in a Disney film when they’re discovering something awesome for the first time. It just didn’t feel well used at all and ruined some scenes that were supposed to be very serious.

The second concern isn’t even really a concern and that is that there’s no character development at all, with the exception of Mickey giving up alcohol. The only reason I say it’s not a concern when it’s usually one of the things I look for is that it’s hard to really have character development in a film based on actual events.

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Summary

An enjoyable two hour movie that tells a good sporting story. Don’t expect anything that you haven’t seenapproved before, but if you enjoyed all of the aforementioned baseball films then I think you will enjoy this.

As it was a made-for-TV movie, it’s unlikely that if you live outside of the US that you will see this anywhere other than on the internet, but if you have a spare two hours then I would recommend it.