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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin Williams and a baseball film he never made

Williams’ best baseball line:

 

   Sgt. Major Dickerson: [Pointing to his rank insignia] What does three up and three down mean to you, airman?

   Adrian Cronauer: End of an inning?

I fervently wanted Robin Williams to play Casey Stengel.

A long time ago, I wrote a book about the Hall of Fame manager based upon what I believed to be the central conflict of his life: That he was a very funny man who also wanted to be taken seriously. I don’t mean that Stengel liked to take off his comedic mask the way Charlie Chaplin or Jerry Lewis did, walking into walls when in character and costume and then discoursing about the high seriousness of their art when off camera and in mufti. There was no mask. Stengel loved making people laugh too much to stop and yet was too smart not to need to be respected for his intelligence. Those instincts did not coexist well in the public perception of him, could not be rationalized by sportswriters and baseball executives of the time who were brought up to think that managers should be like John McGraw or Joe McCarthy—drunk and disorderly much of the time, sure, but also imperious Leaders of Men and publicly humorless.

As I wrote the book, I fantasized, as many authors do, about the film adaptation that might follow. From the very beginning, I imagined Williams playing Casey. He could inhabit that man as well as he inhabited Popeye (in a bizarre misfire of a Robert Altman film at once more true to Elzie Segar’s original strip than any cartoon adaptation, a live-action cartoon itself, and a runaway train of drug-addled writing, direction and performance—but Williams is very good in it), Parry the traumatized homeless savant in The Fisher King, the psychologist in Good Will Hunting, or even the villains in One Hour Photo and Insomnia. A large part of Williams’ public persona, particularly as a stand-up comic, was antic, and as brilliant as his stand-up material could be, some of his worst performances in films came when directors indulged his stage/talk show persona.

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: August 12, 2014 at 03:11 PM | 91 comment(s)
  Beats: baseball in film, casey stengel, robin williams, yankees

Saturday, July 12, 2014

‘Battered Bastards of Baseball’ review: Portland Mavericks’ story is true to the team’s name

I give it 4.5 Rob Neyer flannel shirts out of a possible 5.

First-time directors Chapman and Maclain Way are the grandsons of Bing Russell, the cowboy actor who founded the independent, minor-league Portland Mavericks in 1973, so “Battered Bastards” is an affectionate family valentine rather than a hard-hitting exposé.  But the Ways’ family connections probably helped convince a number of erstwhile Mavs to sit for interviews, not least of them Bing’s movie-star son Kurt, who rhapsodizes about his dad’s love for the game. The only person more passionate about the team today, it seems, is onetime bat boy (and current Hollywood director) Todd Field, whose profanity-laced nostalgic rants are a highlight….

Reality provided the story of the Mavericks with a somewhat anticlimactic finale, so the documentary runs out of steam a bit towards the end. And some of the recollections are selective. For instance, Kurt Russell tells a story about the Mavericks’ first game being a no-hitter, but he’s probably talking about their sixth game. The Mavericks’ first manager, longtime minor-leaguer Hank Robinson, is given short shrift compared with his successor, Frank Peters, but Peters’ darker, turbulent post-Mavs life isn’t highlighted.

Then again, it probably would have been impossible to shoehorn every memorable Mavericks moment and strange-but-probably-true anecdote into one film. That’s how chock full of stories the team’s brief life was. It might not be true that the Mavericks could only have happened in Portland, but it’s certainly fun to think so.


Saturday, April 05, 2014

Fighting Over the Field of Dreams

Its this heaven? No, its a zoning board hearing.

Filming ended in early August. Renamed Field of Dreams, the movie opened 25 years ago this month, in just 22 theaters nationwide. Mary Ungs-Sogaard, the publisher and general manager of the Dyersville Commercial, attended the premiere in Dubuque, as did others from the area. “Oh gosh, no, we didn’t think it would become big,” she says now, sheepishly. The “love letter to Iowa,” as Jarvis describes it, quickly reached the box-office top 10 and stayed there almost until the Fourth of July, ultimately earning more than $64 million domestically, along with nominations for three Academy Awards, including Best Picture. To the shock of locals, it was a runaway hit.

For Hollywood, that was the end of the story. For the citizens of Dyersville, the opening credits were just starting to roll….

Denise Stillman had ambitious plans. In the land to the north and west of the movie site (which she promised would remain cost-free and undefiled), she proposed building what she called All-Star Ballpark Heaven: a giant, 24-field baseball-and-softball complex, loosely modeled after Cooperstown Dreams Park, a tournament camp near the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, in New York. When fully operational, she claimed, the facility—a kind of Cooperstown West—would be able to host 152 teams for 13 consecutive summer weeks….

What the supporters of All-Star Ballpark Heaven thought would be a natural sell has, to their confusion and frustration, turned out to be anything but. In early community meetings, a contingent of local landowners raised loud concerns. They worried that the development would dramatically increase traffic on area roads, making it dangerous for children to play outside; that the light generated at the two dozen fields would be a nuisance for nearby homeowners; that runoff from the site would cause Hewitt Creek to overflow, flooding neighbors’ land. They had aesthetic worries, too. “If you change the site physically,” says Matt Mescher, the neighbor who once watered the outfield to keep the sod alive, “without that blue sky and cornfield backdrop, you’re going to be cutting your foot off.” At a lengthy and clamorous February 2012 city-council meeting, Rita and Al Ameskamp’s son Wayne made an impassioned plea for the town to halt the project. “Don’t let them build these baseball diamonds out in the country and take our farm ground out of production and ruin our piece of heaven,” he said. Lawsuits and social-media campaigns ensued. Without irony, a columnist for The Des Moines Register expressed concern that the development would facilitate the area’s “Disneyfication.”

 

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: April 05, 2014 at 10:32 PM | 0 comment(s)
  Beats: baseball in film, field of dreams, iowa

 

 

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