Fastball


Fastball right down the middle.

Fastball right down the middle.

(2016) Sports Documentary (Gravitas Ventures) Kevin Costner (narration), Joe Morgan, Nolan Ryan, Derek Jeter, Denard Spain, Mike Schmidt, Justin Verlander, Rich Gossage, Eddie Murray, George Brett, Bryan Price, Aroldis Chapman, Bob Gibson, Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, Steve Dalkowsky, Joe Posnansky, David Price, Craig Kimbrel, Johnny Bench. Directed by Jonathan Hock

The game of baseball speaks to the American soul in ways that football and basketball can’t. It is a means of reaching back to our past, to simpler times and embracing who we once were as a people. While some of those things are ugly – the racism and segregation of the early era, the influence of gamblers and performance enhancing drugs and the erosion of the game as football became America’s Sport – the game endures in the hearts of many Americans as the symbol of all that is good about this country.

One of the enduring arguments in baseball concerns the most common and lethal pitch – the fastball. To wit, who throws the fastest? It’s a little easier these days with modern technology to answer that question, but where does that put the iconic power pitchers of earlier days? Guys like Sandy Koufax, Walter Johnson and Bob Feller? Attempts were made to measure the latter two, most notably in Feller’s case when his fastball was measured against a motorcycle going full speed.

This documentary, made under the auspices of Major League Baseball and narrated by Costner, whose association with the sport is as close as any actor’s in history, looks at the fastball, including its impact on the sport, its place in our imagination and the cultural significance of the act of throwing one.

There is a talking head factor here, but most of them are former major leaguers, talking about the nastiest fastball they faced or about their own experiences throwing it. There are segments on Johnson, Feller and Koufax along with Nolan Ryan, Goose Gossage and Steve Dalkowsky, the minor league player whom the character “Nuke” LaLoosh from Bull Durham was based on. He had a major league fastball, but his control was terrifying. He might have made the major leagues though one season but for a heartbreaking injury.

The stories are the major thing here, and nobody is as entertaining a storyteller as a ballplayer. One of the things that gets this movie over is the combination of the technical aspect of baseball, showing how the speed of the fastball is measured (which I was surprised to discover isn’t the speed when it’s hitting the plate but about ten feet from the pitcher’s mound) as well as what appeals more to the emotional side of the sports fan as well as to the tech geek.

There is plenty of archival footage and a great sense of the mythic quality of baseball and I think that’s what mainly captivated me about the documentary. Nothing taps into the American soul better than baseball and if you are not from this country, if you’re going to understand Americans you first need to understand the game of baseball. Watching this masterpiece of Americana will almost certainly give you an insight into the American psyche, although non-fans of the game might not get some of the reference points. However, you don’t have to be a fan of the game to admire the sight of a thrown baseball exploding past a policeman going nearly 100 MPH on a motorcycle.

REASONS TO GO: Effectively combines technology and mythology. Captures the mythic quality of the game. Some very entertaining stories.
REASONS TO STAY: May not appeal to non-fans.
FAMILY VALUES: A little bit of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Chapman currently holds the record for the fastest pitch thrown in a Major League Baseball regular season game; 105.1 MPH on September 25, 2010 in San Diego when he was a member of the Cincinnati Reds.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: VOD, iTunes, Amazon
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/5/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 88% positive reviews. Metacritic: 74/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Knuckleball
FINAL RATING: 9/10
NEXT: Embrace of the Serpent

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The Other Guys


The Other Guys

Ferrell, Coogan and Wahlberg finally figure out they should have read the script before signing to do the movie.

(Columbia) Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Steve Coogan, Michael Keaton, Eva Mendes, Dwayne Johnson, Samuel L. Jackson, Derek Jeter, Rob Riggle, Damon Wayans Jr., Ray Stevenson, Bobby Cannavale, Natalie Zea, Brett Gelman, Anne Heche, Ice-T (voice). Directed by Adam McKay

There are heroes, men who put themselves on the line for justice and to protect those that they serve. Then again there are the other guys.

Christopher Danson (Johnson) and P.K. Highsmith (Jackson) are the former; Allen Gamble (Ferrell) and Terry Hoitz (Wahlberg) are the latter. Danson and Highsmith chase through the city after bad guys, taking them down in a blaze of glory; Gamble and Hoitz do the paperwork.

For Gamble, that’s perfectly acceptable. He lives to do paperwork and began his career in Forensic Accounting, the guys who chase the paper trail. Hoitz is a different matter. He was exiled to this team after accidentally shooting Derek Jeter during the 2003 World Series, leading to a Yankee loss. New Yorkers still hate him for that.

When Danson and Highsmith are taken out of the equation, some other team has to step in to fill the void. The initial favorites are Martin (Riggle) and Fosse (Wayans), a pair of less-than-sweet-natured rivals who delight in putting down Gamble and Hoitz. Hoitz sees this as their chance to escape the doldrums of the station – Gamble refuses to leave the station to do field work until Hoitz puts a gun to his head, quite literally.

Gamble thinks he’s found the case to break the team out; a series of building permit violations linked to a smarmy Wall Street financier named Ershon (Coogan). However, their attempted arrest of the financier brings out an Australian special forces turned Security detail chief (Stevenson) who sets off Hoitz’ cop spider sense.

The two become embroiled in a financial scheme that threatens to bring down New York City; the trouble is, nobody believes these perpetual screw-ups. So it is up to them to prove their case and save the day.

Adam McKay and Will Ferrell have combined on two of Ferrell’s best movies – Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. Perhaps this one needed a subtitle like The Other Guys: The Station Pop of Allen Gamble and Terry Hoitz or some such. That might have brought needed luck to this movie.

Quite frankly, this is one of those movies that set my teeth on edge. It’s the type of humor that thinks it’s funny to re-do the same non-sequitir over and over again; the more you repeat it, the funnier it is. In point of fact, the more you repeat it, the more obnoxious it is. For example, Michael Keaton’s long-suffering Captain Mauch has a tendency to recite lines from TLC songs and then deny that he’s doing it. It wasn’t funny the first time guys…by the fifth or sixth time they do it, I’m ready to take a chainsaw to the midsection of the writers.

There are some funny moments to be sure – Ferrell and Wahlberg are far too talented to make this irredeemable. I do like the bits where Ferrell keeps on referring to his wife Sheila (Mendes) as “plain.” Everyone who’s ever seen the woman knows she’s anything but, so that’s a non-sequitir that actually works. There’s also a scene involving Highsmith and Danson – you’ll know which one it is because it takes place at the conclusion of a jewelry robbery – that comes out of left field and actually had me roaring with laughter (ghoulish as it may have been). More stuff like this and I’d have this movie up there with The Hangover.

Unfortunately, most of the best moments are in the trailer. For reasons I cannot fathom, critics really like this movie, comparing it favorably to Kevin Smith’s similarly-themed Cop Out from earlier this year. I haven’t seen that one yet so I can’t comment on the validity of the comparisons, but I think it’s just that there has been such a dearth of genuinely good comedies this summer that critics are seizing on what is patently a mediocre movie at best and latching onto it like a life preserver during the Perfect Storm.

In a weird twist, the end credits run over a series of graphics illustrating economic facts about CEOs, ponzi schemes, Bernie Madoff and 401Ks, which looks like a very different movie – and one I probably would have liked better. It leads into an extra scene at the film’s conclusion, which shows a valiant attempt by Wahlberg to tell a joke. Outtakes can be fun after all.

I suppose it’s possible that I’m a mutant that just doesn’t get this movie, but it left me completely flat and that wasn’t the case in the movies I mentioned earlier, which I thought were some of the funniest movies of the past ten years. Surrealism isn’t necessarily comedy, a truism that even Salvador Dali understood. Apparently, McKay, Ferrell and Wahlberg don’t.

REASONS TO GO: There are some funny moments.

REASONS TO STAY: Most of the funny moments are in the trailer. The movie tends to ram its jokes down your throat over and over again.  

FAMILY VALUES: Lots of action movie violence, sexual situations and salty language so younger kids are out.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Michael Keaton character Gene Mauch was named for the manager of the California Angels back in the 1980s; Ferrell is apparently a huge Angels fan.

HOME OR THEATER: If you must see it, see it at home.

FINAL RATING: 3/10

TOMORROW: The Oh in Ohio