VIEWS ON FILM BY CEJ -
The GRINDHOUSE: Reviews
Includes almost 2 hours of additional AUDIO & VIDEO bonus material:
* Film Clips
* Theatrical Trailer
* Excerpt from composer Mark Isham's score
* SKYPE Review of "42" featuring ESPN's Jayson Stark, Jerry Crasnik, and Jim Caple
* The complete 1950 feature film THE JACKIE ROBINSON STORY - starring Jackie Robinson as Himself
* Jackie Robinson's 1963 appearance on THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW
* Branch Rickey's 1959 appearance on WHAT'S MY LINE
No Spoilers Review:
BUILT TO LAST
BRIAN HELGELAND’S “42” BYPASSES FLASH FOR SOLID STORYTELLING; GRINDING OUT A TRIPLE, THEN SCORING AS ONE OF EARLY 2013’s MOST ENJOYABLE FILMS
(Warner Bros. / Legendary)
GullCottage rating (**** on a scale of 1 - 5)
Written & Dir. by - Brian Helgeland
Prod. by - Thomas Tull
Dir. Of Photography - Don Burgess
Edited by - Kevin Stitt, Peter McNulty
Production Design by - Richard Hoover
Costume Design by - Caroline Harris
Music - Mark Isham
Running Time: 128 mins.
Chadwick Boseman (Jackie Robinson), Harrison Ford (Branch Rickey), Nicole Beharie (Rachel Robinson),
Christopher Meloni (Leo Durocher), Andre Holland (Wendell Smith), Ryan Merriman (Dixie Walker), Lucas Black (Pee Wee Reese), Alan Tudyk (Ben Chapman), Hamish Linklater (Ralph Branca), T.R. Knight (Harold Parrott), John C. McGinley (Red Barber), Max Gail (Burt Shotton), Brett Cullen (Clay Hopper)
More than once during the course of “42”, the new biopic chronicling baseball great Jackie Robinson’s shattering of the color barrier to become the first African-American Major Leaguer, questions arise as to whether or not he has the internal grit to endure the gauntlet of trauma and abuse (external and internal) he’ll face during his first two years in “the bigs”. His reply, “God built me to last!”. The same can be said of the film bearing his legendary number.
Partly the blame of audiences and partly studios, films aren’t allowed anymore to be … films. They must be “events”. To re-use an analogy we’ve returned to more than once (more appropriate than ever this time around), every film nowadays must be, hell, … not only a homerun, but a damned bases loaded GRAND SLAM! With ticket and concession prices, almost feloniously aided and abetted by those “fine print” 3D and other “surcharges”, the price of a babysitter and maybe parking too, once your average film goer plops butt down into theater seat (and it had better be one of those high-backed reclining ones too … hey, at these prices!!!) more often than not, if the film experienced isn’t the newest record breaking IMAX successor to TITANIC or AVATAR, … then it really wasn’t a success at all, now was it?
But there was an earlier time - some called it the “Second Cinema Golden Age” of the 1970s, where, after a decade of extravagantly expensive box office flops (CLEOPATRA, STAR! HELLO DOLLY and more), studios on the brink of receivership took a “nothing to lose” / “Hail Mary” flyer on a series of smaller films by a new generation of movie makers the likes of Martin Scorcese, Robert Towne, Peter Yates, Robert Altman, Hal Ashby, Roman Polanski, Mark Rydell and others. The bulk of films by this generation of “Young Turks” were solid, well written, character driven, finely structured and honed pieces of cinema (MEAN STREETS, TAXI DRIVER, CHINATOWN, BULLIT, McCABE & MRS. MILLER, SHAMPOO, CINDERELLA LIBERTY, et al) which eschewed the flash of the previous decade in favor of good old fashioned storytelling which engaged and enraptured audiences in the midst of a then changing social (and socio-political) climate. Audiences were won over (and at times even moved) by stories which, below the surface of a conventional genre (western, detective noir, crime thriller, love story) mirrored and provided cathartic release from the complex - often unspoken - traumatic pressures of said changing contemporary world in the midst of Vietnam, an evolving Civil and Gender Rights movement, and Watergate era political cynicism and cultural malaise.
One of the greatest students of that era of film making was Brian Helgeland. Beginning his screenwriting career with genre faves such as A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET IV: THE DREAM MASTER and 976 - EVIL, he’d evolve into slyly blending his pulp genre sensibilities with later day contemporary concerns in much lauded scripts such as his Oscar winning L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, MYSTIC RIVER, the remakes of MAN ON FIRE and THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1,2,3, GREEN ZONE, uncredited work on THE BOURNE SUPREMACY and others. Having also toyed with the conventions of genre as writer / director on the experimental PAYBACK (a remake of John Boorman’s existential 1967 thriller POINT BLANK), A KNIGHT’S TALE and THE ORDER, his mastery of the idiom serves him well with “42”. And make no mistake, “42” is (perhaps above all else) a classic genre film done to a "T". And this "genre" thing is no slight.
In fact quite the contrary. The well wrought sports drama (THE CHAMP, CHARIOTS OF FIRE, RAGING BULL, ROCKY) is classic genre every bit as much as horror, sci fi or the prison escape epic. All evidence to the contrary, it's not easy to execute well (and intelligently); and as with other cinematic pulp categories the best sports films aren’t about sports at all, but rather use the safe and familiar conventions of it’s milieu as springboard into the examination and (on a good day) discussion of a subject wholly other. As the prison dramas PAPILLON, ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ and THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION are less about incarceration and more about escape from the prison of one’s own past and one's own self destructive psychology, so are FIELD OF DREAMS, THE NATURAL, MONEYBALL, … and hell, even THE BAD NEWS BEARS and MAJOR LEAGUE, not at all about “America’s favorite pastime”, but rather about listening to the inner voice, striving for what one knows over what one physically sees, and the ascendancy of the individual over the socio-corporate mind set. See ..., and you thought they were just about whuppin' up on the other guy. Uh uh! There's a lot more going on.
With it’s classic bronze burnished cinematography, retro-heroic (at times jazz influenced) score, and larger than life Harrison Ford supporting performance as Brooklyn Dodgers President Branch Rickey (a'chomping - Sgt. Fury-like - on stale cigars, while spouting humorously deep, gravel voiced, socio-spiritual haikus), “42” is a curled edged, lovingly preserved, vintage Topps baseball card come to surprisingly charming life . At every plot turn and scene transition it threatens to fall into maudlin cliché and the syrupy recognizable conventions of a moral peppered ABC Afterschool Special (remember those?). But just at the moment it teases and taunts and hints it may do so, Helgeland’s smart, stylish, wittily energetic and genuinely touching Jackie Robinson bio-pic makes another clever narrative course shift; the audience eventually waking up to the fact that this really isn’t just another in a long line of inspirational “kumbaya” / “can’t we just all get along” sports inspirationals which, within a year, will end up as comedy fodder for Bill Burr’s newest HBO stand up special.
No, with “42” we’re in the hands of a storytelling craftsman well versed in how to play the expected conventions of genre, then when and how to shift them about on the table (but not too much) for the purpose of attaining something more. In spite of it's theatrical trailer (and what was the Warner Bros. promotional department thinking? - that rap song is NOT in the movie by the way!) “42” as a film isn’t built to swipe the weekend box office with sexy "all up in 'yo face" short term cinematic "style du jour" bravado; then by the Fall months tumble into the forgotten Rite Aid cheapie bin of $3.00 DVDs. “42”, like it's 70s era predecessors, is built to last. It wants people enjoying it, talking about it, and loaning copies out to friends ten and twenty years from now. Only elegant craftsmanship can can do this; and Helgeland's film (one of the most enjoyable of 2013 thus far) has it, and has it in that subtle low key manner to which few films today aspire.
"42" Theatrical Trailer #2