Favorite Baseball Films

October is upon us which means Autumn harvest and pumpkin patches and spooky Halloween feelings everywhere. But what October can also mean for the baseball fan is the thrill of playoff games. I grew up loving and learning from my father and brother and am now lifelong fan of the sport, and while I was not blessed with athletic ability, I did grow to love and appreciate the sport on multiple levels. In the spirit of that , of course what I think of is one of my other great loves: film. So when you combine the two, the possibility of knocking it out of the park is always there for me. No baseball film is created equally, nor are their objectives all the same. And, of course there are still some I have yet to see. Of those that I have, there are many that have become absolute favorites. And instead of simply ranking them, I thought I would showcase films that each capture some aspect of what the games means to the players and fans, the history of the game, and the intrinsic nature of what makes the sport ever timeless and beloved.

Youth & Baseball
The Sandlot (1993)

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As I said in my End of Summer Movie Night article,” No matter if you love or play baseball, this coming of age story of kids learning about this sport and themselves is a hilarious and often sweet look at childhood, its pangs and its simple joys, is one we can all can find something to relate to. Nostalgic, funny and rich with a small town American vibe, the summer spent with these young boys changes their lives forever, and the film has become part of our culture.” Forever we will quote it when we think of that summer classic treat s’mores with “You’re killing me Smalls!” The Sandlot so wonderfully captures what baseball can mean to young kids and emerging teenagers, as they form friendships and learn about discipline and self confidence as well as compassion- all things necessary to mentally prepare for the game- seen thorough a comedic and nostalgic lens.

The Bad News Bears (1976)

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Much like The Sandlot (which obviously drew upon some things from this film), The Bad News Bears captures what baseball can mean to children at a very trying and formative part of their lives as they learn and improve their skills, as well as their overall attitudes and belief in themselves. Some of these kids however are more, shall we say, “foul mouthed” or of the delinquent type, but at their heart they’re good kids who really are just misfits who have been pushed around and overlooked, overcoming the odds and actually becoming a contender in the Little League’s season and final game. Very much of its 1970’s era, funny and so re-watchable, The Bad News Bears wins for all these reasons as well as the best non-traditional use of Opera “Carmen’s” music ever.

History of the Game
The Pride of the Yankees (1942)

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This touching and thoughtful biographical classic stars Gary Cooper as the great Yankee first baseman Lou Gehrig, one of the greatest men to ever play the game, who tragically succumbed to the rare disease that is now named after him. It shows his early life, falling in love with his wife, and his life as player up until he game where he gave the now famous speech about considering himself the luckiest man on earth. Understanding and loving the game should in my opinion constitute an appreciation for the great history of the sport which includes the lives of some of its greatest players. Lou Gehrig’s life was short but his impression was indelible.

42 (2013)

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One of the most important times in the history of baseball was when African American players, finally and rightfully joined the MLB, the first being the great Jackie Robinson, who in this film is wonderfully portrayed by Chadwick Boseman of Black Panther fame. Of course today, players of every ethnicity and nationalities play in the Major Leagues, and they would not be here without Robinson who paved the way for them all. We see his struggles and triumphs and the adversity and prejudice his faced every day and how his courage and strength of character led him to become of the greatest players of all time. Many scenes that display the horrific racism he was subject to are quite difficult to watch, but it’s important to showcase and recognize that hatred will never win. 42 is captivating and beautifully done.

Spiritual and or/ Deep Personal Meaning

Field of Dreams (1989)

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“If you build it, they will come” is a line many people who have never even seen this beautiful, poignant film even know. The reverent, almost hushed omniscient voice is haunting and yet hopeful, and to those who do know this movie, know how much this simple line encompasses. Field of Dreams is about a man who builds a baseball field in his corn field in Iowa, after hearing this voice and a team of players magically appear. Are they ghosts? Are they angels? What does it all mean in the grand scheme of things and to this man and his family and friends? I won’t spoil it for those who have yet to watch. But I will say that Field of Dreams profoundly demonstrates the depth baseball can have on an individual in terms of their relationships with those they love, personal fulfillment and growth. Fathers and sons, and spiritual individuals will most definitely feel akin to it. It’s simultaneously melancholy and hopeful, and grand and simple, but all together wonderful.

Angels in the Outfield (1951) & (1994)

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Although there are differences between the two versions of these films, at their hearts the same feelings and overall meaning are evoked. In the classic film, there is less slapstick and a romance element in addition to a orphaned child in need of a home; in the remake there are instead two children in need of a loving family. In both however, these children pray for the Angels and their coach, and those prayers are miraculously answered. What’s lovely is that in both films it’s not about winning or losing, although that is a big part of it. Rather it’s about how the sport was metaphor for the struggles in these people’s lives. They were low, dejected, even hopeless, and a miracle happens. But the true miracle is the kindness and love that forms in all of their lives. Watch both as they both are a hit.

Adversity & Triumph

The Natural (1984)

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A beautiful and poignant film, The Natural tells the story of Roy Hobbs, a man whose one mistake led him down a path in which his dreams of becoming the best player there ever was, alas never truly happen, at least not in the way or time frame he expected. As a naive 20 years old ace pitcher, he never makes it to the big leagues until 16 years later, no longer pitching but a hitter of extraordinary abilities who inspires and helps his team regain their confidence and lead them to the playoffs. With allusions to The Odyssey, this story is one about overcoming the past and learning from it, showcasing that as strong as Hobbs is, his true strength is his strength of heart, character, integrity and determination. With stunning cinematography, this golden hued film shows baseball in its true glories, defeats, and moments that are both about what the sport and players can mean to us all, and what it represents to the players themselves. The ending will no doubt bring forth chills and tears from many a viewer. And what is so extraordinary about this film is how the drama of the story Hobbs mirrors that of how the game itself so often plays out. It so often is with one team feeling defeated and dejected, metaphorically knee deep in the mud, but in that final inning no matter how down you are there is always hope for that lightning to strike one more time, if you have courage, determination and belief. The Natural, which also is filled with wonderful performances, direction and captivating score, is not only a amazing baseball movie, but stunning film all together.

The Rookie (2002)

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Based on a true story, The Rookie tells the story of Jim Morris, a high school teacher and coach, who once had aspirations for the Major Leagues but an injury ended his career. Now 36 years old his teams makes him promise that he will try out again if they win their championship, and lo and behold not only do they beat the odds and win, but Morris somehow is able to pitch better than he ever could before. And so begins an touching look at a man who amazes everyone, including his family and himself with his rise though the minors to finally a chance to pitch for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The fact that it’s based on a real story makes this all the more wonderful as we see that like baseball itself there is always a chance to live out your dreams- your ninth inning may come when you least expect it!

Romantic/ and or Fan Perspective

Fever Pitch (2005)

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Is this a romantic comedy or a baseball film? The answer to this question is that Fever Pitch is truly a bit of both. Unlike most of the other films on this list, this film’s main characters do not play the sport. Instead this is about a man who falls in love with a woman who is completely unknowledgeable of the game, and he brings her into this world and this part of his life- one that is very much all consuming that he wants to share with her, while also learning to balance it with the other aspects of their relationship. The romance may be the main plot point, but Fever Pitch captures so wonderfully what baseball means to its fans, especially those whose love of the game is a generational familial one or one shared with friends. We get to see the collective joy and elation that baseball brings to so many, and how wonderful it can be to share that with someone you love. Set during the Boston Red Sox road to the World Series in 2004, fans of the teams will surely feel a connection to this film, but truly this could be about any team or fan as the shared feelings and love of the game is a universal thing.

Take Me Out to the Ballgame (1949)

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A charming and sweet musical set during the turn of the century and starring three incredible performers Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Esther Williams, this film may not be the most accurate depiction of the game of baseball, but it more than makes up for it in entertainment value and a unique look at the sport at a time period rarely depicted for the sport. Funny, romantic and rich with 1900’s Americana nostalgia, Take Me Out to the Ball Game follows two star players who moonlight as singers and the new female owner of the team who turns both their heads, and of course hilarity, and personal and romantic entanglements ensues, with songs and as well as a fun look at the team’s road to the World Series. Very much like many of the MGM musical of the time, you’re sure to have a grand time watching this one and delight in the full performance of the title song.

Everything

A League of Their Own (1992)

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This film is without a doubt not only my favorite baseball film, but one of my favorite films of all time. Some may disagree with that sentiment, which is fair, or believe that it is merely because of the strong female aspect of the story. And while that is a definite part of the film’s appeal and a strong characteristic, what makes A League of Their Own so special is that it encapsulates so much about so many aspects of life, touches on so many emotions and relatable things, and showcases everything about the game of baseball that makes it the great sport that it is. Following the short lived All American Girls Baseball League which was started the save the game while so many male players were fighting in World War 2, this story follows many stories most notably 2 sisters, the team they join The Rockford Peaches and their brash coach and former All Star. It’s story about sisterhood, the toils of those on the home front, the chauvinistic attitudes women faced, and determination and perseverance, filled with some these actors’ finest performances, stunning direction and masterful editing and musical score, all of which makes this one of those rare perfect films. But what makes A League of Their Own so wonderful in its depiction of the great game of baseball is that is shows the struggles that players go through on a daily basis emotionally and physically, and the toll it can take on the mind and the body. It showcases the drama of both each and every game and the ones that matter the most, where every out, every pitch, is such a tense moment in time. And above all it so wonderfully demonstrates what the sport means to players and fans alike in such a beautiful and poignant way in the elation and collective joy or absolute heartbreak, which can be found in one swing of the bat, or one play at the plate. The film’s most famous line is “There’s no crying in baseball” but certainly this film not only elicits just that,  but shows us something else: “Baseball is supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great!”

What I Need to Still See

No list of films is complete in my book unless it includes those of which you have yet to see but hope to someday. On that list for me are two starring Kevin Costner, the classic comedy Bull Durham as well as the drama For Love of the Game. Also on my list are the film about Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle attempting to break Babe Ruth’s home run record in a single season 61, the Jimmy Stewart classic The Stratton Story, and the recent biographical drama Million Dollar Arm.

 

What are some of you favorite films about Baseball? Did I mention yours? Let me know in the comments!!

 

Frozen 2 and Once Upon a Time Connections?

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If you are a fan of the first Frozen film and a Once Upon a Time fan, chances are you enjoyed seeing those characters pop up on the fairy tale series. Although, it wasn’t everyone’s favorite storyline, it was however overwhelmingly loved and almost every fan would agree that the characterizations were spot on and some of the best the show ever did. For me personally, the characters and storyline are definitely favorites, so much so that the story written almost became so embedded in my mind as what happened to the characters after the film concluded. So when I heard there was to be a Frozen sequel, I couldn’t help but have the Once Upon a Time story in my mind. Not that I actually thought that the film would do that as they are completely separate entities. Though Oncers, admit it- wouldn’t you love to see animated versions of Storybrooke, Emma, Hook, Snow and others. How fun would that be!

In all seriousness, now that we have seen three trailers for Frozen 2, I do delight in some similarities, visual and character wise, as well as other possible comparisons. Whether these are intentional or not and whether they drew inspiration and took cues from Once Upon a Time will probably be open for interpretation. But it wouldn’t be the first time a Disney film did so, which is funny given what the concept of the series is. But at the end of Season 1 of Once Upon a Time, which aired May 13, 2012, Emma awakens her son Henry from a sleeping curse with True Love’s Kiss, something that came as a surprise and proved the strength of True Love obviously exists between a child and parent. Two years later in 2014, Maleficent was released, and there was a similar moment where Maleficent, who had become a mother figure to Aurora, awakens the princess from her sleeping curse in the same way Emma had awoken Henry. Is this merely coincidence, or a case of drawing inspiration? Whatever the case may be, the similarities and possible similarities between Once Upon a Time and Frozen 2 are definitely present and are all positive, natural, and/or interesting ones.

Team Family

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From what we can tell from the two longer trailers for Frozen 2, it seems like Anna, Elsa, and Kristoff are a united family, venturing off on an adventure together, facing dangers of all sorts. It also seems as if Kristoff may be living in the palace, and possibly engaged to Anna by now. In Once Upon a Time that is very much also the case. Kristoff and Anna are engaged, and while Elsa and Anna are separated, Elsa and Kristoff grow closer as friends and future in laws. And when all three are together again, there is very much a sense of a united front- they are a family. Frozen 2 obviously also presents that. Now this similarity is most likely a case of both merely taking the story and characters in a natural direction from the first film. So these comparisons are not surprising at all.

Runes and Gravestones

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As we see in the above images, we see what Once Upon a Time would often do: gain inspiration from the source and create their own take on it. In this case, Once Upon a Time took an image we saw in the film of the Gravestones for Elsa and Anna’s parents, with what look like ancient Runes, and recreated them in a new scene where grown up sisters, now happily together lay flowers for their parents. What is interesting is something we see in Once Upon a Time’s sisters in this and other moments is then in turn seen in Frozen 2 creating some visual and character similarities.

Holding Hands

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Above we see in Once Upon a Time, Elsa and Anna hold hands as they approach their parents’ gravestones. In a moment in Frozen 2 we see something very similar as we see the sisters holding hands, standing before large stones that look very much that of the graves for their parents. Visually this is an obvious comparison to make. But what I love is that Frozen 2 seems to be taking that character beat of the affectionate gesture between sisters they really emphasized on Once Upon a Time, and continuing that in the second film. In the first film, Elsa became so petrified of hurting anyone with her powers and always kept her gloves on, so it is both a natural and lovely to see that after overcoming that, Elsa instead chooses to hold her sister’s hand as a sign of love and strength, no longer afraid but instead confident with her sister by her side.

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The Enchanted Forest

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This comparison is somewhat superficial but I still delight in it. In Once Upon a Time, Anna heads off in search of answers of what happened to their parents after discovering that they were seeking something that could rid Elsa of her magic (or so they thought). Anna boards a ship to a place known as Mist Haven, or more widely called by its inhabitants as the Enchanted Forest. In Frozen 2, Elsa and Anna’s father tells them a story about an Enchanted Forest, and years later, the sisters and Kristoff seem to venture off to this mystical place. That is where the similarity ends, but the same name thing is interesting.

Anna’s Sword Skills

 

In the trailer for Frozen 2 we see Anna wield a sword with a great deal of force and confidence, something previously unseen in the first film. Where we did see this before was in the version of Anna in Once Upon a Time. In the show, Anna comes upon a friend of Kristoff’s, David before he becomes the valiant Prince Charming. It’s here we see Anna, whom she says was taught to sword fight by palace guards, helps David and teaches him to wield a sword himself. That back-story was one beloved by fans, and the sequel’s Anna looks very much the same, remaining her brave and plucky self but with impressive sword skills.

Elsa’s Magic

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In the first Frozen film, Elsa’s magic is very powerful, but at times it seems she has trouble with control and has issues when her emotions get the best of her. In Frozen 2, it looks like that still may happen, but importantly it looks like there is also a sense of even more power and more control of that magic. That is something we definitely see on Once Upon a Time. In fact, her story involves Elsa realizing her sense of self and self love, one that doesn’t have to have Anna with her to calm her down. She helps Emma gain control of her powers and learn to accept herself exactly as she is, choosing to keep instead of rid herself of her magic. Might we see a similar story in Frozen 2? Given what we’ve seen in the trailers, I think the possibility is strong.

A Found Family?

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In Once Upon a Time, Elsa and Anna discover that not only do they have an aunt named Ingrid who like Elsa has ice magic, but also that their parents did not wish to get rid of Elsa’s magic as they had thought. Instead, in their final moments they left a message in a bottle where they confess about their past mistakes of not accepting Ingrid’s magic, and that it should have be nurtured and cherished. Their Aunt Ingrid, whose anger over her sister’s “betrayal” led her to become a villain, sees the error of her ways and sacrifices herself to reverse her deadly spell of shattered sight. Anna and Elsa’s found family may not be with them in the physical sense, after that, but their spirits and what they learned from them remained.

After watching both trailers for Frozen 2, the plot is still somewhat hard to distinguish but I think there is a strong chance that the voice Elsa hears calling to her, and the people they meet in the Enchanted Forest could very well be family they never knew existed, just like Once Upon a Time’s Ingrid, as we see what is most likely the King and Queen in the Enchanted Forest as children. The older leader might even be a villain in the same way Ingrid was. The plots will obviously not be identical and this is pure speculation, but I do think a great deal of Frozen 2 could deal with not only the origin of Elsa’s magic, but the discovery of what happened to their parents, and possibly even others who possess magical abilities.

A Redemption for Hans?

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Lastly, although the reappearance if Hans is not a guarantee, Santino Fontana who voiced him in the first film, is listed among the cast. What could he be doing in the film? Would he continue to be a villain, or will be do what so many Once Upon a Time villains did and find redemption? This was commonplace of the series, but it isn’t really something Disney Films have done much. Most villains either die or are no longer seen again, remaining their evil selves. I actually think it would a welcome change to see a villainous character change for the better.

The similarities between Frozen 2 and Once Upon a Time are most definitely there. Although some comparisons are simple and merely visual, others have a stronger connection. Whether even more plot connections exist remains to be seen. We shall find out this coming November. Whatever the case, Once Upon a Time’s Frozen interpretations will remain beloved, and any and all similarities that are present in Frozen 2 will be looked at with fondness and smiles in what is sure to be an exciting and beautiful film.

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End of Summer Movie Night

The end of summer may be drawing near, but for those us who want to hold onto that sweet summer fun just a bit longer, one of the best ways to do this is with a fun “Summer Movie Might.” Whether it be in the comfort of your own home, at a special screening in the park, on a television, or from a projector, these are some films that are perfect reflections and companions to the summer season, whether it be in the heart of it or in those sweet final days.

Classic

The Parent Trap (1961)

The original and superior film, this Disney classic starring Hayley Mills, Brian Keith and Maureen O’Hara is a funny, sweet and naturalistic classic look at two girls who meet at summer camp and realize they are sisters, separated and each going with a different parent when they were just babies. That realization is quite sad when you examine it, but when they devise a plan to switch places in hopes of getting their parents back together, in turn it becomes a heartwarming and often hilarious film. Taking place in the summertime, the scenes at Camp Inch and at the father’s home in Monterey, California are rich with warmth, sunshine and sweetness of a more carefree era.

Gidget (1959)

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A slice of Americana, 50’s and 60’s era summer nostalgia, Gidget starring Sandra Dee, James Darren and Cliff Robertson is both adorable, light-hearted fun about the surfing craze and beach lifestyle of the time period, as well as a surprisingly poignant look at the complexities, confusion and pangs of being a teenager on the cusp of adulthood when it comes to love, sex, and what you want out of life. It’s simply seen with a lens that is less explicit than modern cinema, but still relatable. Of course at its core, the adventures of Gidget, Moondoggie and the Big Kahuna  are sweet summer fun.

Summer Magic (1963)

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Another oh so sweet lesser known Disney family film, is for those with a love for old fashioned sensibilities and way of life. Following a family who have fallen on hard times after the death of their father, they find happiness again in the Yellow House in the provincial town of Beluah, Maine where life is slow, and the people are friendly and generous. This may not be for everyone, but it’s rich with nostalgia of a bygone era. Taking place from summer all the way to Halloween, Summer Magic is a sweet showcase of overcoming loss and finding beauty in the little things from serenades on the front porch, to games of croquet and carving pumpkins.

Romance/Drama

Letters to Juliet (2010)

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Lovely little tale for the hopeless romantics, this film is not only beautiful in the sun-kissed splendor of Italy, but in the story of Sophie and the “Juliet” she helps to find her long lost love, while also finding a little romance of her own. What makes this film so lovely is that it showcases a love story that is about those who have lived a long life and yet their hearts still beat for each other after many years apart. A fine cast including Amanda Seyfried and Vanessa Redgrave, this modern tale of love in Verona is the perfect romantic summer delight.

Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants Series (2005, 2008)

Touching, poignant, relatable interweaving stories of four best friends as they make the transition into young adulthood, going through the trails and tribulations of young love, the loss of loved ones, personal struggles, and insecurities, all while sharing a miraculous pair of jeans that somehow magically fits all of them. Over the course of two summers, these four young women discover so much about themselves and life and realize that their bond, their sisterhood is an unbreakable one, and that together, or apart, true friends will always be there to offer love, support and comfort as soft as a well worn pair of jeans.

Musical

La La Land (2016)

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City of Stars, are you shining just for me? A bittersweet love story, a nostalgic, colorful musical splendor, a love letter to the beauties of Los Angeles, La La Land is all that and more. If you are a lover of the old fashioned musical and a modern romantic story, then this is the perfect combination. It makes one want to head to LA and see all of its local treasures. It may be a bit of a fantasy, but it’s one wrapped in love, joy and the thrill of summer days and nights filled color and music. And who does not love the effervescent duo of Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling who shine as brightly as that city of stars.

Summer Stock (1950)

Gene Kelly and Judy Garland made three films together for MGM, and this one is by far the sweetest, funniest, and brightest of the bunch. A summer stock company led by Kelly descends on Garland’s farm, as her sister, often carefree and thoughtless, brings them to rehearse their upcoming production. Of course, mayhem ensues and well as the romantic entanglements that so often fill these type of musicals are presents, as well as lovely musical numbers, incredible dancing, the fantastic chemistry between Garland and Kelly, and just wondrous summertime fun for all.

Adventure

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

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The first (and still the best) in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is a perfect, swashbuckling adventure. Filled with humor, romance, a creative story, incredible cast, and characters that have become so a part of our culture, The Curse of the Black Pearl is not only a great “popcorn” flick for a summer night, but ones that never seems to grow old, no matter how many times we watch and are transported to the exotic and beautiful Caribbean, frightening battles of moonlight crews of skeletons, romantic tension of young Elizabeth and Will, and hilarious, captivating Captain Jack Sparrow, the clever rapscallion we all adore.

Swiss Family Robinson (1960)

The strength of the human spirit, the importance of love and family, and the admiration of ingenuity and bravery are what make this story of a family who are stranded on an island truly special. They must learn to adapt to this new world while encountering wild animals and fending off cutthroat pirates in this Disney classic based on the book of the same name. It’s a fun and touching family adventure film that remains a lovely, timeless classic.

Sports

The Sandlot (1993)

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No matter if you love or play baseball, this coming of age story of kids learning about this sport and themselves is a hilarious and often sweet look at childhood, its pangs and its simple joys, is one we can all can find something to relate to. Nostalgic, funny and rich with a small town American vibe, the summer spent with these young boys changes their lives forever, and the film has become part of or culture. Forever we will quote it when we think of that summer classic treat s’mores. If you don’t know the line, “You’re killing me Smalls,” do yourself a favor and check out this hoot of a summertime family film.

Bend it Like Beckham (2002)

Soccer, or as it is known in the UK where this film is set, Football, may not be a sport we all are familiar with. But the story of two young women who want so much to play while dealing with families who do not necessarily approve or understand is one that remains always relatable and poignant. Both dealing with cultural and gender issues, breaking free from the norms, and coming out triumphant and happy is a story that we should always delight in, celebrate and encourage to see more of. Bend it Like Beckham is a perfect film to end the summer with.

What are your favorite films to watch in the summer? Did I mention some of yours? Let me know in the comments!!

 

My First Trip to the D23 Expo

My first trip to the D23 expo which is held in at the Anaheim Convention center every two years was most definitely quite the learning experience. While I enjoyed myself, it was also a bit overwhelming and I now know what to expect, what to do and what not to do if I decide to attend the next one. Instead of taking the plunge and attending all three days, I went only one day (the last one). I actually almost missed attending all together because I grew ill a few days before, but luckily I started to feel better quickly enough and was able to power through and still go- albeit because of said illness I went about things at a slower pace and not at 100%, so there was definitely things I missed. But going in I had a few things I hoped to accomplish: see the show floor and attend at least one panel. And for the most part I did that.

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Without a doubt my favorite thing I saw from the expo was The Art of Disney Storytelling Panel, hosted by John Stamos and his wife Caitlin and featuring Disney Legends, animators, producers and imagineers Tony Baxter, Floyd Norman, Don Hahn and Paul Briggs. They each told stories and offered insights on their experiences and different approaches to storytelling in film and in the Parks and it was funny, informative and overall a delight. Some of my favorite things including stories about Walt Disney inventing the concept of storyboards (which I was unaware of), and Howard Ashman and Alan Menken being really involved in story meetings and Ashman explaining how foreshadowing exists in the song “Part of Your World,” which for as many times as I have heard that song and seen The Little Mermaid, is something I never thought of. I also loved Tony Baxter’s story of how he received a postcard from Ray Bradbury after he rode Peter Pan’s Flight with Charles Laughton of all people. He wrote to him that he had “boarded a pirate galleon, flew out of a child’s bedroom and over London! You can’t get much better than that!” And how true is that!

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The other favorite thing I saw was The ‘Heroes and Villains” Disney Archives costume exhibit. For just about anyone this display of a wide array of gorgeous and intricate costumes is amazing. But for someone like me who truly appreciates and loves what goes into filmmaking, including the aesthetics and true artistry of costumes, this exhibit was absolutely incredible. I truly lucked out with this year’s display as we got to see such a variety of yes, heroes and villains, and such a variety of films and television, from Once Upon a Time’s Cinderella and Captain Hook, to the live action remakes Cinderella, Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast, to the wonderful National Treasure and Prince of Persia, to EnchantedHocus Pocus, Alice in Wonderland and three different Mary Poppins costumes. It was a sumptuous feast for the eyes and I loved seeing each and every work of art.

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As far as everything else I saw, and the overall process I can say it was a combo of fun, overwhelming, and in my particular case a little lonely and confusing. The staff was overall friendly but would sometimes give me conflicting information and finding the line for my reservation panel was quite difficult. And lines are definitely everywhere. Consequently, I missed seeing some stuff because lines were quite long, or just long enough that I skipped them as I was tired. It is also very large and, at least for me, easy to get turned around and not be sure exactly where you were and if you missed walking by/through anything on the floor. After watching some videos from the expo I discovered, there was A LOT I missed. And being by myself, I didn’t have anyone for another set of eyes and help with confusion and bearings, take pictures, and overall share the con experience with. I have been to many cons alone before, but for some reason, perhaps because it was my first one, or simply the nature of it being a Disney con, I wish I had not been alone and with a friend or group. It was a little lonely. Still there were come really cool things to be seen and I was able to enjoy myself despite everything.

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Attending the D23 also gave me the opportunity for a few other things. I stayed at the Anaheim Hilton for the first time, and this is a beautiful hotel. My room offered an amazing view and Disneyland’s fireworks were visible at night. And On Monday I had the great pleasure of finally meeting Becka, aka DisneyKitee, in Disney California Adventure, along with her husband. I spoke about Becka in this article about Disney Tubers, and since have been getting to know her. Finally getting to meet was so wonderful as she is a sweet and lovely person. Disney friends really are the best!! Go watch her videos on YouTube if you don’t already!!

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So all in all, while I enjoyed walking through the show area and seeing the panel, I know that if I decide to attend in 2021, there are definitely things I would do differently. I would only go if I went all 3 or at least 2 days as there is just so much to see, panels to watch and stores to shop in, and there must be sufficient time to walk around and wait in lines. I also would only attend with another person or group as it would be an easier, more relaxed, and simply more fun con experience than attending alone. That might not be an issue for some, but for me it is. Disney is my favorite thing in the world, but sharing that love with others makes it even more magical. Fingers crossed for magical D23Expo experience in 2021!!

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Aladdin (2019) Film Review

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When it comes to the live action remakes of Disney’s animated classics, the results most definitely vary. For me, some are absolutely enchanting (Cinderella), while others are middling and underwhelming (Maleficent). When it comes to Aladdin, I will be honest and say I was extremely nervous to see this movie. Not only does the 1992 Aladdin rank at number 4 in my list of favorite animated films, but the trailers left a lot to be desired and felt somewhat off and disjointed. It’s puzzling how the trailers did not do the film justice, but it just goes to show you how significant context is. Those fears were not only put to rest, but absolutely vanished and replaced with sheer delight and overall love. Indeed, much like the classic song we are treated to a shining, shimmering, splendid film that is infused just the right amount of nostalgia and feel of the original, while also adding some wonderful and rich new story beats, character enhancements, and music. Aladdin is a visually sumptuous, funny, and heartfelt retelling of the classic story that soared right into my heart.

Casting/Performances & Story/Character Enhancements

When it comes to any film, but especially in these Disney remakes, casting, and in turn performances, plays a crucial role in the overall quality of the film. And one of Aladdin’s finest attributes is indeed its cast. Mena Massoud is a brilliant and perfect Aladdin. He’s charming, funny and earnest with a dynamic energy and dazzling smile to match. He was able to make Aladdin’s agility look natural and believable, and his journey of self discovery that his strength of character was always there really touching. Naomi Scott’s Jasmine is equally terrific, infusing the feisty princess with heart, compassion, strength and an intelligence that comes from inherent nobility and desire to truly help her people. Individually, they are fantastic. Together they are equally wonderful with significantly more screen time together which added some lovely depth to their relationship, and showcased a natural, sweet, romantic chemistry that helps makes Aladdin and Jasmine remain of Disney’s greatest couples.

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Of course, a great deal of the film’s success rests on Will Smith’s Genie’s shoulders, and is undoubtedly who audiences were anticipating the most. No one can ever replace or replicate Robin Williams. What he created was unique, brilliant and beloved. But Smith truly brought his own amazing spin to the character. He brought a great deal of charm, sweetness and humor, and with the music a hip hop flair that he is not only known for but does exceedingly well. He was charismatic, but also at times profound and importantly very human. And that may be one of the best things Smith brought to the role. Instead of trying to replicate the larger than life portrayal by Williams, this Genie is more grounded, which not only felt appropriate but was undeniably likable. And like the original, the friendship between Aladdin and Genie is poignant and the cornerstone to the film’s themes, and the chemistry between both actors is terrific. I’m going out on a limb here and saying that this may be my favorite role Will Smith has ever done.

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The more human and grounded qualities in the other cast members and characters, as well as the story additions and changes are also what made the film work so well. What works in an animated film may not always translate or work in a live action one. Moreover, it’s important to distinguish it from its predecessor and add the necessary story beats needed for a new and longer live action film. In Aladdin’s case, these changes felt necessary and were executed beautifully. Jafar for example is an amazing villain in the animated version, but mostly a mustache twirling, over the top kind of villain whose evilness is obvious. That is great and works perfectly in an animated film. But I loved what they did with this new version of Jafar, who is younger, handsome and much more subdued. Marwan Kenzari grounds the character and showcases that villainy not only can come from a place of hardship but also that evil may not always look as such. It can be simmering under a surface that can be very attractive and persuasive. Honestly, much like they did with Gaston’s character in Beauty and Beast it’s important to portray villains in this realistic way. The same can be said for the Sultan (Navid Negahban), who is more reverent and realistic rather than goofy, as well as the animal characters of Abu, Iago and Rajah. There is obviously still the fantastical element about them but they feel closer to reality and in turn perfectly blended into the story. I smiled whenever they were on screen. Moreover, some other character and story additions that I absolutely loved were Jasmine’s hand maiden Dalia (Nasim Pedrad) who was sweet, funny and gave Jasmine a true friend and another scene partner that added real humor and heart. Some other changes were made at the climax and conclusion to the story that I won’t spoil, but they were refreshing, added dynamic action, and meaningful messages that a modern audience will certainly appreciate.

Direction and Visuals

I am a fan of many of Guy Ritchie’s films and his signature style. Aladdin is a much brighter and happier story than his usual fare but he was still able to bring his moments of slowed down or sped up film that is his trademark in some of the dancing and action sequences that I comes to expect from his work. This may be off putting or odd to some, especially if unfamiliar that this is Ritchie’s trademark visual that he always employs. I personally find it fun, but it may not be for some viewers. In addition to the direction, indeed all of the visuals are sumptuous and wondrous, from the rich and colorful costumes and sets to the sweeping camera work. These truly are an artistic feast that are both similar to the original but something entirely different and often as magnificent as what we saw in Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast. And while the blue version of the Genie is still a bit jarring on first glance, you quickly get used to it and are simply looking at the character.

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Music and Songs

If I were to rank my favorite Disney soundtracks, 1992’s Aladdin is tied for the top spot with The Little Mermaid, so there was certainly a great deal to live up to with these new versions of the songs and score. All of the songs that we love are included and are brought to life with amazing and fresh takes and a different but wonderful energy. It’s difficult to actually choose a favorite, but “Friend Like Me,” which was already so fun and colorful in the original, has the same kind of fun flair and new hip hop vibe, also found in “Prince Ali,” which is slower, but drawn out in a way that almost felt necessary with the changes to Genie’s character. There is definitely a vibrant Bollywood influence to this number, while “One Jump Ahead” is just fun and gives added interaction between Aladdin and Jasmine. “A Whole New World,” which is my favorite Disney song, perhaps may not soar as high as the original, but at the same time, it’s almost impossible to do so. What is does do a give us a beautiful new version on this romantic scene. And I loved it vocally, orchestra wise, and visually with new locals the couple flies throughout and a lovely depiction of their inherent and natural chemistry. The new song “Speechless,” which is a anthem of strength given to Jasmine’s character, is a great song and moment for her arc. However, it’s inclusion, which is sung in a dream like sequence, and songwriters are La La Land and The Greatest Showman’s Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, instead of one of Menken’s other collaborators feels a bit disconnected and decidedly different from the rest of the songs. Is the song great? Yes, indeed it is. But its style does feel like a Paul and Pasek song as opposed to a Menken song.

Lastly, what is truly remarkable is that Menken composed new versions of his Aladdin themes and motifs as well as all new orchestrations for the entirely of the film, all of which are magnificent. They are deep, rich, and gorgeous and profoundly demonstrate what we already knew- that that Menken is not only a living legend for his body of work, but can still compose equally brilliant new musical scores. Menken should be revered in the same breath as such illustrious composers as John Williams and Hans Zimmer.

Final Thoughts

If you are debating whether to see this new version of Disney’s Aladdin, especially if you are a tremendous fan of the original or not always sure about live action remakes, I cannot recommend this film enough. Currently, for me this Aladdin ranks just below 2015’s Cinderella, but another viewing may move that to a tie for the top spot. Regardless, what I do know is that despite trepidation Aladdin proved to be a funny, effervescent, colorful and heartfelt diamond in the rough.

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