A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 400 – Field of Dreams

Field of Dreams – April 4th, 2011

A few things before I really get to the movie: One, we are now on movie 400. That’s pretty amazing to me. 400 movies in 400 days. We’ve watched through conventions, holidays and hospital visits. We’ve seen new movies, old movies, movies we liked, movies we hated. And we have a little under 200 more to go. I look at our list now and what’s left feels so small in comparison with when we started. Two, I had no idea this movie was based on a book. I often read through the IMDB trivia while we watch, because I like having a head full of pointless facts, and quite a lot of it had to do with the adaptation. Tomorrow I think I’m going to track down a copy of the book and check it out, because while I enjoy the movie, tidbits about the book intrigue me.

Now, on to the movie itself. This is one of those movies that everyone’s seen. It’s become a bit of a cultural icon, with the “If you build it…” line being quoted and spoofed all over the place. As is common with such things, it’s sort of reached the point where it’s inevitable that for every person who loves it and maintains that it’s a well made and meaningful movie, there’s someone else who thinks it’s overrated and maudlin. I fall somewhere in between. Because while I can see some of the criticism, I can’t deny that the movie makes me tear up every time I watch it. It has an emotional impact I appreciate.

The thing is, baseball is a vehicle here. Much as it is in The Natural. There’s a story to be told and baseball is used to carry it. I guess I just find this particular story more interesting. It’s a story about redemption and choices and family and growing up and growing old. We meet our main character, Ray Kinsella, and get a quick review of his life. He grew up in New York, rooted for the team opposing his father’s favorite. Resented his father’s push towards baseball. Headed to California for college and immersed himself in the 60s counter culture. He ended up marrying and starting a family, buying a corn farm in Iowa. His father died before they could make amends. They argued about baseball and “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and the Black Sox scandal and that sets the stage for the movie.

Ray hears a voice out in the corn one day. It tells him to build something and later he sees a baseball diamond out in his field. So he builds it. He sinks his family’s entire savings into it. And his wife is skeptical, but she helps him because he is utterly passionate about it. He has to build it. And after he does, “Shoeless” Joe shows up in the diamond. Young and in the prime of his career. Other players soon join him but he’s not done. Soon he’s tracking down an author named Terrence Mann, who heavily influenced his young adulthood. Then they go to find a man who played only a single game in the majors before retiring. Yes, it’s about baseball, but it’s a quest too. Complete with a road trip.

What I love about the movie is that it isn’t just about baseball. Yes, the sport is a keystone in the plot, but there’s a lot more to it. There’s a whole literary theme going on, with Mann and his works being a major point in Ray’s character. And there’s a strong theme of family, with Ray and his wife working as a team, with Ray and his daughter talking baseball and watching the ghosts of old greats play on their field. Ray’s wife Annie’s brother Mark shows up to threaten the farm, which is going bankrupt thanks to the space the baseball field takes up. And the spectre of Ray’s father, John, hovers through the entire story. And my favorite character (aside from Mann, who is played wonderfully by the fantastic James Earl Jones) is one who barely plays at all.

My absolute favorite character arc in this movie is Archie “Moonlight” Graham, or Doc Graham. He played a single game and retired, going back to school to become a doctor. Ray and Terrence learn that he took care of the whole town he lived in, devoting his life to making sure kids had the care they needed and the town held together. In a bit of time travel, Ray meets the late doctor, who corrects him when Ray says it was a tragedy that he only played for five minutes. Graham tells him no, if he’d only been a doctor for five minutes, that would be the tragedy. Graham doesn’t go with Ray, but then his younger self shows up, plays, and makes the same exact choice. To give it up and be a doctor. And there is something there that touches me. If I was going to get truly sentimental, I would say that it not only makes this movie for me, but it informed me as a person. That sometimes, some people just have to go down the path of service, not the path of glory. That those decisions will always be impossible to make any other way when we’re faced with them. I love Graham’s character. I love Burt Lancaster as his older self and Frank Whaley as his younger self. It sets this movie aside for me.

There are plenty of good performances in this movie, notably Ray Liotta as Jackson and Kevin Costner as Ray. I really like Amy Madigan as Annie and I always enjoyed her funky attitude towards the whole situation, questioning and accepting at the same time. Because it’s all fantastic. They build this field and then a dead ball player shows up in the middle of it before walking off into their cornfield. They have the same dream featuring Fenway Park and an author they hadn’t talked about before a PTA meeting discussing banning his books (and I love this movie for being so vehemently anti-censorship, by the way). And that’s ridiculous! But she stands firm because she knows it’s important and she’s a strong woman in the face of pressure. I love that.

So it’s heavy-handed. It’s heavy-handed in interesting ways for a movie that’s ostensibly about sports. It’s got a lot of thought in it, and a lot of care. And it’s got an Action Research! scene. It’s a movie that takes the time to make you want to care about the main character as well as the people around him. You care about Terrence Mann through him before you meet him. You care about the ball players and Doc Graham and you care about Ray’s father. It’s a fantasy movie. It’s got ghosts and magical voices and time travel, so there’s all of that going for it for me too. And it comes together. It all plays out in a well-paced movie that never feels uneven to me. It feels balanced and really, it feels literary. Which I know now is likely because it’s based on a book and I think that speaks well to it as an adaptation. We’ll see how I feel after I actually read the book itself.

April 4, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Field of Dreams

April 4, 2011

Field of Dreams

Our third baseball movie is not really a baseball movie. Oh, sure it involves baseball and it has a couple baseball games in it, but it’s not really about baseball. It’s a supernatural drama about missed opportunities and reconciliation. It’s about impossible magic and dreams. It’s gorgeous and mythical and special.

Part of what makes this movie so magical is how aware the characters in it are of how impossible the events in their lives are. When Ray Kinsella starts to hear a voice in his corn field he doesn’t immediately go out and do everything it says. He spends some time agonising about the idea that he’s going insane. He knows that his actions appear crazy to the people around him. Luckily for him his wife is completely understanding of his new found quest and his daughter, with her childlike nature, is almost as much a part of what’s going on as her father is.

So Ray plows under his corn field and puts up a baseball diamond because he thinks it’s something he’s meant to do. And ghosts of baseball players past start coming to his magical diamond to play again. First there’s “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, and soon he is joined by his team mates, all of whom were banned from baseball for throwing a world series game. It’s an opportunity for them to enjoy the game they used to love so much once more. Baseball here is every lost dream, every missed chance, every youthful decision that could have gone another way, and Ray is able to give these poor lost souls something they didn’t have in life: redemption.

Then Ray feels compelled to go to Boston to seek out a reclusive author named Terence Mann who has isolated himself and given up on the ideals of his youth. At first Terence will have none of it, but soon he finds himself also caught up in Ray’s madness and the two of them head out to Minnesota in search of a mysterious ball player who had a major league career that lasted all of one game. As they take this journey together things get progressively more strange and confusing. They arrive in Minnesota to find that “Moonlight” Graham has been dead for more than a decade and that he was better known as a philanthropist and doctor. Meanwhile the forces of pragmatism and level-headedness are closing in on Ray’s wife and threaten to take the baseball field away from him.

The writing in this movie is absolutely spellbinding. From Joe’s speech about losing baseball being like losing a limb – feeling it still there but knowing that it’s gone – to every fantastic flowery phrase uttered by Terence Mann this movie is packed with fantastic dialog. From the touching, funny and stirring voice over that introduces the film to its magical conclusion when the true purpose of the field of dreams is revealed this movie IS a dream. A delirious and beautiful dream.

The star caliber involved is almost blinding. Terence Mann is the role that James Earl Jones was born to play. The arc he portrays – from isolated and miserable to alive with delight at the implausibility of his own fate – is the stuff from which acting legends are born, and Jones delivers such power to the role that he almost manages to make the movie about him instead of Ray. Kevin Costner, meanwhile, does his usual trapped every-man character, and does it well. He manages to perfectly capture the buried hurt of Ray and his pain over the death of his estranged father so many years ago. Then there’s the immortal Burt Lancaster as the kindly doctor Archibald Graham. He gets one of those fantastic speeches this movie is full of when he describes his dream of batting, just once, in a major league game – something he never got to do in his life and has had to reconcile himself to never having.

Amanda is going to use her library powers to get a copy of the novel this movie was based on, and I’m dying to read it now myself. I want to know how much of the credit for the magic of this movie goes to novelist W. P. Kinsella and how much is the work of screenwriter Phil Alden Robinson. Either way this movie is a treasure and something to be watched over and over again for anybody who loves the ideas of dreams coming true. I just have to be sure I have enough tissues handy when I do.

April 4, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment