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Cinematic Advent Calendar #12 – A League of their Own

Last year I did a musical advent calendar that I posted to Google+ and a final summary on this blog. This year on a similar theme I will be posting a cinematic advent calendar of twenty four films. It is in no particular order and I make no apologies for the films that I am posting. These are films that I really like and have enjoyed at the cinema.

A League of their Own

A League of Their Own is one of those films that on the surface I really shouldn’t like, however it’s probably one of my favourite films of all time. I did write about this before on the blog, so apologies for a very similar post here.

It should be noted that I really don’t understand everything about baseball, but when this film came out in 1992 I was in a “baseball phase” I was watching baseball films and reading books about baseball. I went out and bought and read Shoeless Joe by W P Kinsella (it was made into the film Field of Dreams). In many ways baseball was the background to the stories, the stories themselves were not about baseball. You don’t need to understand baseball to understand the stories, there may be times when you need to understand the passion people have for sports such as baseball to grasp the motivation of certain characters in these stories.

The first time I watched it wasn’t at the cinema, I had rented it on VHS from my local corner shop where I use to rent films from, this was in the days before Blockbuster! When you think about that and how that market has shrunk or even disappeared. True there are places you can still rent DVDs from, but even that is a much smaller market thanks to services such as iPlayer, Sky+, Netflix and iTunes. I don’t actually like renting DVDs that much, mainly as I find too often they are badly scratched, as a result if I do want to rent, it’s usually iTunes or Google Play. Though at their prices I am more likely to buy.

I think another reason I picked and watched A League of their Own was that I had really enjoyed Tom Hanks in Big and he plays Jimmy Dugan in this film, an embittered coach who at first can’t believe he’s coaching a “girl” baseball team. Eventually he does come round to the fact that these women can play and can play well. What put me off slightly was that Madonna was in it, but in perspective this is one of her better performances.

Tom Hanks as Jimmy Dugan

There is no real plot to the film, there is no romantic core to the story. This is a story about a team of women coming together, working and playing together during a difficult time in history and making a difference.

There is humour and comedy, larger than life characters as well as some very emotional scenes. This is a moving story that is directed well. Historically there is a fair bit of poetic licence taken by the film with actual events and people. For example the film indicates that the games weren’t popular with the crowds until the teams introduced gimmicks (sliding splits). However in reality the games were popular from day one as people had been really missing live baseball games and as a result there were huge crowds at the games.

I like this film, it is a feel good movie and something that I would watch on a rainy sunday afternoon. There was something very clever about the story and the emotional journey that the women in the film were on. It reminds us that in the 1940s equality was a dirty word for many people and women at that time were nowhere in the same league as their male counterparts in both life, work and sport.

Download A League of their Own in iTunes.

Cinematic Advent Calendar #11 – Toy Story

When I heard about this film, I have to admit I didn’t think it would be my cup of tea. A computer generated cartoon, why would I go and see that?

Well how wrong I was, Pixar’s Toy Story was a wonderful creation, amusing, moving and a really great story. You know when it’s a good story when you forget it is a computer created film and focus on the characters and the plot. True in the first part of the film for the first time you look in awe at the work of those digital artists. Remember when this came out, there were very few computer animated films, it was incredible the amount of work that had gone into it. But in the end it was the story that made Toy Story a great film, not the animation. It’s a pity that not all film makers have realised that.

The characters of Woody and Buzz from Toy Story.

The characters of Woody and Buzz really made the film, but often it was the characterisation of “famous” toys such as Barbie and Etch-a-Sketch that made the film and provided many of the best moments. Despite the fact it was based in America, many of the toys were familiar to us in the UK, so not too alien for British audiences.

The story is quite simple, two toys who are initially rivals, but through adversity and adventures become friends. The story is dark in places, people often forget that though this is a film about toys, it was certificated PG and certainly some aspects are not suitable for very young children. However there is an appeal to children who may have always wondered if their toys came alive when they left the room or went to sleep, probably a similar appeal to adults who had similar wondering when they young. The film is also amusing on two levels, simple physical comedy, but also a layer of comic timing and jokes that will appeal to adults. it is a very clever film and I really enjoyed the story, the humour and I have to say the cleverness of the digital artists.

I also enjoyed the sequels and it’s not often that film makes can repeat the magic they created with their first films.

Download Toy Story from iTunes.

Get Toy Story at Amazon.

Cinematic Advent Calendar #09 – Saving Private Ryan

 Saving Private Ryan

The first twenty minutes or so of Saving Private Ryan
is a raw horrific introduction what “modern” warfare is all about. This is no glorified Hollywood war film, this is what, according to many veterans, war is really like.

That opening sequence was brutal and extremely shocking. it is shocking as the violence is sudden, brutal and non-discriminating. You get to see not just the immediate impact of war, but also the brutal impact it has on individuals.

 Saving Private Ryan

It has to be said that though the rest of the film is not as powerful, not that, that is a bad thing, two hours of intense warfare would not make a good film. As a result there was a fair bit of criticism of the pace of the rest of the film. I actually think that the change in pace adds to the story.

I was very impressed with the way in which Spielberg shot and processed the film, very evocative of the colour films of the era of the movie. The beach sequence is very powerful, but I also think that the final scenes in the French village are also well done. The ruined buildings, which were all purpose built for the film and then “destroyed” to represent bombing and artillery really do look the part. If you look at photographs of the Normandy campaign you will see buildings in a similar destroyed state.

Ruined village in  Saving Private Ryan

I remember first seeing Tom Hanks in Big and, apart from his more recent stuff have enjoyed his films. He certainly has played a diverse range of characters, think of Hanks, and you can think of Sleepless in Seattle, Toy Story, Apollo 13. I think he does a great job in Saving Private Ryan. He is well supported by an excellent cast.

Saving Private Ryan

As might be expected from a film that won five academy awards, what followed were many films in a similar vein, I did think that Clint Eastwood’s Flags of our Fathers & Letters from Iwo Jima were good films, not quite as good as Saving Private Ryan, but certainly well worth watching. Spielberg and Hanks of course went to TV with Band of Brothers (and more recently The Pacific). I didn’t get very far when I originally watched Band of Brothers on the TV, I think I saw two episodes. More recently I borrowed the DVD boxed set from a friend and watched the whole series. I did enjoy that though it was very similar in style to Ryan.

Many years ago I was tasked with testing some projectors for work, so I connected it to a VCR and played Saving Private Ryan against a blank wall. I was very impressed watching that opening sequence on my own big screen!

Download Saving Private Ryan from iTunes.

Get Saving Private Ryan at Amazon.

A League of their Own

A League of their Own

A League of Their Own is one of those films that on the surface I really shouldn’t like, however it’s probably one of my favourite films of all time.

It should be noted that I really don’t understand everything about baseball, but when this film came out in 1992 I was in a “baseball phase” I was watching baseball films and reading books about baseball. I went out and bought and read Shoeless Joe by W P Kinsella (it was made into the film Field of Dreams). In many ways baseball was the background to the stories, the stories themselves were not about baseball.

The first time I watched it, I had rented it on VHS from my local corner shop where I use to rent films from, this was in the days before Blockbuster! I think another reason I picked and watched the film was that I had really enjoyed Tom Hanks in Big and he plays Jimmy Dugan in this film, an embittered coach who at first can’t believe he’s coaching a “girl” baseball team. Eventually he does come round to the fact that these women can play and can play well.

Tom Hanks as Jimmy Dugan

There is no real plot to the film, there is no romantic core to the story. This is a story about a team of women coming together, working and playing together during a difficult time in history and making a difference.

There is humour and comedy, larger than life characters as well as some very emotional scenes.

Historically there is a fair bit of poetic licence taken by the film with actual events and people. For example the film indicates that the games weren’t popular with the crowds until the teams introduced gimmicks (sliding splits). However in reality the games were popular from day one as people had been really missing live baseball games and as a result there were huge crowds at the games.

I like this film, it is a feel good movie and something that I would watch on a rainy sunday afternoon.

There was something very clever about the story and the emotional journey that the women in the film were on. It reminds us that in the 1940s equality was a dirty word for many people and women at that time were nowhere in the same league as their male counterparts in both life, work and sport.