The Last Dance

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ESPN is showing The Last Dance, an amazing 10 part documentary focusing on the 1997-98 Season of the Chicago Bulls. Michael Jordan is certainly the star of the show. What would you expect? I enjoy watching interviews with his mother, his father and his high school and college coaches.

But there’s a lot of time devoted to other team members. Episode 2 had a lot about forward Scottie Pippen and much of the first two episodes featured General Manager Jerry Kraus and owner Jerry Reinsdorf. By including these important behind the scenes figures, the drama is heightened.

The documentary is thoroughly dramatic as it shows mainly key figures like Kraus, Reinsdorf, Michael’s mother, Pippen’s brothers, and describing the final season of the most famous Bull’s team play what coach Phil Jackson dubbed “The Last Dance,” when the team granted documentary makers unprecedented access to the famed team.

On Sunday nights I’m usually a Masterpiece viewer, but The Last Dance offers more grace in Michael and his team’s fantastic playing and drama in the conflict between the office and the players.

I found every interview, every game sequence compelling. The Last Dance is definitely “must-see” TV.

I Will Buy You

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Kishimoto and the player’s girlfriend

A social critique of post WWII Japan, I Will Buy You shows how baseball became corrupted and how athletes became commodities in the 1950s. Directed by Masaki Kobayashi, I Will Buy You shows the machinations surrounding a college baseball superstar’s entry to pro sports. The story focuses on Kishimoto, a driven scout who’s hellbent on signing Kurita, a hot college hitter. To do this he needs to woo Kurita’s greedy family, his girlfriend who’s leery of the materialism that’s taken over Japan and finally his deceptive, self-centered mentor.

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Kishimoto (right) with his boss

I Will Buy You is in the shomin-geki genre, which consists of dramas about the problems of ordinary society. Here Kobayashi takes on the world of Japan’s most cherished sport, baseball. (I had a student who insisted that the Japanese invented baseball.) Kobayashi brilliantly challenges viewers to see how calculating, conniving and avaricious it’s become.

People think the Japanese are oblique and indirect, but in I Will Buy You characters are explicit in what they want and how they feel about Kurita, who’s rarely on screen and he’s objectified like no other film character I can think of.

The film had a compelling story and covered sports in a way an American film wouldn’t. The end surprised me. With so many characters standing in the shadows, the masterful cinematography reminded me of film noir minus the murder or crime.

Creed

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The most recent and perhaps last in the Rocky film series, Creed travels a well worn path. I’d heard a slight buzz about it when it came out, so I expected a little more. It’s a story about Apollo Creed’s son. He’s illegitimate which caused some identity issues. On the one hand, he’s distanced himself from his father by using his mother’s surname. Yet he quits a steady corporate job and pulls up stakes in L.A. and moves to Philadelphia to convince Rocky Balboa to train him.

As you’d expect Rocky initially refuses. He’s out of that world now. Eventually, Rocky agrees. Then, of course, there’s a big match and Creed, the newcomer gets a match with the World Champion in his weight class.

I saw the first Rocky and thought it was good, as I recall. Creed did a good job for this sort of film, but it’s really not my genre or my sport.

Moneyball

Moneyball was a cool movie about statistics and sports of all things. Alan Sorkin won me over with his script and his ability to make a potentially dry subject, compelling. Brad Pitt’s performance of a one time golden boy of baseball, who never lived up to his promise worked as did Jonah Hill’s. Hill played Peter, an the overlooked statistician who discovered how to build a team with limited cash to maximize wins. Pitt’s Billy Bean, the general manager of the Oakland A’s has the vision to see that if he’s going to win, he’s got to be bold, to take a risk on a nerd.

I got sucked into the quest for this duo’s attempt to beat the house with naysayers all around them.