Thursday, April 26, 2007
A cheesy sports movie (with Shakespearean touches)

If you can follow the action in a basketball game, you might enjoy the movie "Glory Road", a movie based on the true story of a college basketball team from El Paso.

It’s a Disney movie, so many of the gritty details are glossed over and treated humorously. It was produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, who knows how to make a blockbuster spectacle, and his touch in crafting the story comes through in the look and mood and setting and pace (slow at first, but steadily picking up steam).

One famous Hollywood actor shows up in a minor role late in the movie. His quirky, choppy speech and facial expressions playing an opposing coach during the inevitable (yet actual) championship game are some of the best, most powerful, yet understated acting I can recall seeing.

The popular music of the 60's is nicely showcased, including one of my favorite songs from those years, "People Get Ready". Unlike many songs of that era, it was produced with minimal accompaniment (note, higher note … (the vocal continues) … note, lower note). Many songs of that era had a driving beat to be heard on AM radios over the hum of a car engine.

I mentioned Shakespeare in the blog title because one of the things that makes his works endure is that he based his plays on well-known stories like Romeo and Juliet (the opening lines say that the main characters are going to die in the end), Hamlet (which had been done in a laughably bad now lost version a few years earlier), and reenactments of the rise and fall of famous well-known English kings and royal families.

By dramatizing well-known stories, Shakespeare could have a character say in advance of some event the audience knows is coming "I get a bad feeling about this" [not an exact quote] and the audience knows it's not going to turn out well for the character who ignores the warning. We get to feel kinda God-like when we know what's coming next when a character dismisses any cautions, like our smugness when we watch a passenger on the Titanic boasting that the ship is unsinkable.

Because the scriptwriter knew what was going to happen, the movie has a few ironic touches and casual phrases that have a payoff later in the picture. The best thing is, you don't see most of them coming; these ironies and foreshadowing are not telegraphed.

Shakespeare also put a little "comic relief" in every tragedy and some ominous threatening circumstances to heighten the tension in every comedy. It's a simple device but when done well, can add depth to any story. Likewise, this movie mixes the humor of young rebellious students coping with a disciplinarian coach with the serious tension of close games and life's unexpected problems.

In the movie, it's interesting to watch as the black and white players on the team gradually get to know each other. I'm not sure all these scenes are literally as they happened (some might have been added for dramatic or comedic effect), but the movie is based on a book that tells the story, so much of the humor and drama is probably a reenactment of actual events.

I generally steer away from movies based on a true story, especially some inspirational true story where someone overcomes some obstacles, but for its realistic reenactment of the fundamentals of basketball offense and defense, its believable characters we get to know and like -- and find out in the closing credits what they did later in life -- and for the deft acting by the cast (even the famous Hollywood star who shows up late is not easily recognized), I recommend this movie for anyone, especially for those who can follow the nuances in a game of basketball.

You can watch the trailer at apple.com (click Quicktime), but that doesn’t really capture the characters’ development coming together as a team where everyone’s unique contribution is shown and needed on the slow but inexorable path the movie takes leading up to the improbable yet actual final game.

Take a look at Amazon for people's comments on the movie. You’ll see that lots of people loved it.

It’s a Disney movie, so it’s also available at the iTunes store.
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