Just last week, 30-year-old Alyssa Nakken became the first woman to coach on the field during a Major League Baseball game. It’s a noteworthy milestone for its empowering inclusivity, and Nakken acknowledged that her role forever means that “girls can see there is a job on the field in baseball.” It’s also noteworthy, of course, that things like this shouldn’t have taken the better part of a century to come about in America, though that unfortunate reality shouldn’t overshadow the positive progress inherent in Nakken’s achievement. The glass ceiling is still intact, perhaps, but there’s a meaningful new chip in it.
When — not if — that ceiling is finally good and shattered, we might also look back on Penny Marshall’s A League of Their Own, which brought to light the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League of the ’40s and ’50s. Now recognized as the forerunner of women’s professional sports leagues in the U.S., the AAGPBL was conceived as a societal distraction, more or less, while a sizable number of male American ballplayers were off at war. Four teams were formed, which eventually expanded to ten teams, and what might have been a single-season distraction grew and grew to a legitimate sport.
Continue reading A League of Their Own (1992)
If you want to make an omelette, the saying goes, first you have to make a remarkably unexceptional non-starter featuring Whoopi Goldberg as a tech whiz embroiled in an espionage scandal. Apparently people actually like Jumpin’ Jack Flash, judging by the surprising number of nostalgia-fueled pieces about Whoopi’s young comedy days, but apart from an amusement with her indomitable ‘tude I can’t imagine why. You can just watch The View if you’re into Whoopi’s ‘tude, right? Unless you prefer a different kind of supporting cast, essentially one made up not of has-beens but of not-yets.
One such not-yet was behind the camera in the form of Penny Marshall, one day destined to direct the likes of Big, Awakenings, A League of Their Own and more alongside her numerous TV credits. Jack Flash is the transition piece from the Laverne & Shirley days (she was Laverne) and also serves as her first real foray into feature filmmaking. As is the case with many such transitions, Jack Flash is really only noteworthy in a retrospective review of a one-day-great director. Another Happy Days-related alum leaps to mind in the form of Ron Howard, who would find great success behind the camera but not before making his first movie Grand Theft Auto.
Continue reading Jumpin’ Jack Flash (1986)
This article first appeared as a part of the Brattle Theatre Film Notes commentary series, presented by the Brattle Theatre in Boston, MA, for a double feature of Dead Poets Society and Good Will Hunting. Slight edits have been made from the original posting.
Robin Williams was an actor who selected his film roles very carefully. Despite his ironclad station as the greatest American comedian of his time, Williams acted in drama nearly as much as he did in comedy. One need only look to the shy Dr. Sayer of Awakenings or to the chilling villains of One Hour Photo or Insomnia to see the acting mastery Williams commanded.
On the surface, John Keating of Dead Poets Society and Sean McGuire of Good Will Hunting are two more of these “serious” roles that broke the mold for Williams the comic. There is no doubt that both helped to establish him as a master thespian regardless of genre. He was nominated for Academy Awards for both roles and won Best Supporting Actor for the latter, beating out the likes of Anthony Hopkins and Robert Forster.
Continue reading Dead Poets Society (1989)
Penny Marshall’s Awakenings is most superficially compared to Barry Levinson’s Rain Man for a few understandable reasons, not least of which being the two films feature a famous lead actor playing a character with a severe medical affliction. The two films also came out within two years of each other, and some may suspect Rain Man‘s success to have influenced Awakenings.
Starring Robin Williams as Dr. Malcolm Sayer (an analogue for real-life Dr. Oliver Sacks, whose memoir provided the basis for Awakenings) and Robert De Niro as mostly-catatonic patient Leonard, the film follows both men as they experience a breakthrough with regards to Leonard’s condition. Sayer’s intuition leads to the application of a new drug which brings Leonard and other patients of the ward out of catatonia and into a clearer existence, “awakened” to the world. The continued treatment of Leonard proves a heartbreaking experience for Dr. Sayer.
Continue reading Awakenings (1990)
The eyes of Sy Parrish deserve a spot alongside the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg in the hallowed Eye Symbolism Hall of Fame. Over the course of One Hour Photo we become increasingly aware of the fact that Sy, lonely photo tech at the local SavMart, is always peering into other lives, always consuming with his gaze, always watching. His eyes are obviously as much a part of his “hunting” arsenal as his camera – but they also provide a look back the other way into Sy’s dark and tortured soul.
Robin Williams is brilliant with dramatic material (see Awakenings, Dead Poets Society, Good Will Hunting, etc.), but the actor on display in One Hour Photo is a being unlike anything else in the extensive Robin Williams filmography. Sy the Photo Guy is a creep sure enough, a stalker of the first degree, and with a guy as manic and riffy and fantastically off-the-wall as Williams in the role you’d think Sy would be likewise larger-than-life. Not so. The opposite is in fact true – Sy is impossibly withdrawn, deadly quiet, suspiciously reserved as he observes and interacts with a couple and their son whenever they get their photos developed. The fact that we know Williams as a massive screen presence only makes the silences of this turn more unsettling.
And director Mark Romanek deserves as much credit for that as Williams, because the entirety of One Hour Photo is a spare but deceptively rich character study. Romanek has stuck mainly to music videos (and made the greatest music video of all time, Johnny Cash’s “Hurt”) but will hopefully create a film as quality as this in the near future. It’s Romanek’s direction and framing that calls attention to the deeper aspects of Sy’s psyche, in particular through a few key shots and sequences concerning the watchful eyes of Sy Parrish.
Continue reading One Hour Photo (2002)