Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Big League Blogathon - LITTLE BIG LEAGUE and LONG GONE ""

Friday, April 4, 2014

Big League Blogathon - LITTLE BIG LEAGUE and LONG GONE

In all honesty, I'm not much of a baseball fan. Never have been. My family used to go to the occasional Milwaukee Brewers game when I was a kid and those were fun and all, but as far as a sport I'd ever watch, baseball has always been tied with golf. Both are a dull watch for me. All that being said, baseball can be a pretty cinematic sport when handled properly. I mean, the end of THE NATURAL will always be pretty iconic and FIELD OF DREAMS gave us the equally iconic "If you build it, he will come". So when my friend Todd over at Forgotten Films asked if I'd participate in this Big League Blogathon, I saw it as an opportunity to possibly dig up a few more baseball movie gems that I'd not seen already. I found myself a couple:

LITTLE BIG LEAGUE (1994; Andrew Scheinman)
LITTLE BIG LEAGUE establishes itself early as something interesting when Jason Robards utters the line, "I piss on Jed Clampett". Having Robards in the movie certainly gives it a bump. He's one of my favorites from more than a couple movies I love (two of which are A THOUSAND CLOWNS and THE BALLAD OF CABLE HOGUE). This movie also has the little kid from THE WIZARD too so that's kinda cool. The backup cast here ain't too bad either: Timothy Busfield, Dennis Farina, Jonathan Silverman, John Ashton, & Kevin Dunn.
So in this flick, an 11-year-old, baseball-obsessed kid (the aformentioned Luke Edwards from THE WIZARD) inherits the Minnesota Twins. Sound kinda dopey? Well it isn't. This movie has way more heart to it than I expected. It exists in a place somewhere between MAJOR LEAGUE, BIG and MONEYBALL. It's fun, yet dramatic in a lot of ways. Luke Edwards really makes for a likeable, unpretentious character who is really just living out his dream of being in charge of a baseball team. What he finds of course is that it's not all he fantasized it would to be. He has to make some tough decisions and come the realization that some of his heroes are just guys. And he himself is still a kid who isn't equipped to handle the spotlight or the pressure of managing a major league baseball team. Overall, the film reminded me in some odd way of the Choose Your Own Adventure books I used to read as a kid. I guess it'd be called You Own a Baseball Team or something if it had been one of them. It just had this great sense of a kid's point of view on the whole scenario and the decisions involved in it. I also loved the extraneous conversations in this flick from wether or not Batman ever eats at McDonalds to what weight a pig becomes a sow. Silly stuff, but lots of funny little asides that make the characters and the movie feel grounded and more engaging. I even liked the soundtrack quite a bit as well. The highest compliment I could play the film is that it almost made me want to start watching baseball.
I noticed that director Andrew Scheinman only directed this one film, but was a producer on many or Rob Reiner's best stuff (STAND BY ME, THE PRINCESS BRIDE, THE SURE THING) as well as one of Albert Brooks' best (MODERN ROMANCE). All these films have character as the driving force in them and this movie takes the same approach to putting character before plot. I really wish he'd directed another film as I'd be curious to see another character driven narrative from him. 

LONG GONE (1987; Martin Davidson)To this movie I say, "You had me at William Petersen". Not that the man himself is infallible, but between MANHUNTER and TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A., he's earned some love from myself. And having Virgina Madsen as the lady lead in this movie isn't a problem for me either.
Set in 1957 this is the story of another down and out ball club in the lowest level of the professional baseball that exists - class D. This team - the Tampico Stogies - are a disorganized mess and coming in last in the Gulf Coast League in which they play (they are a Florida based team). They have nowhere to go but up from the bottom where they've been for some time. The Stogies are owned and run by a cheapskate father/son duo played by Henry Gibson and Teller (of Penn & Teller). Enter a young ballplayer named Jamie Weeks (Dermot Mulroney) and a black home run hitter named Joe Louis Brown (Larry Riley). William Petersen is in full Sam Fuller mode here, with a cigar firmly planted in his maw for a good portion of the film. He plays the team's star player and manger and goes by the nickname "Stud". The addition of Weeks and Brown seems to help reinvigorate Studs and the team does their best to turns things around.
Director Martin Davidson is known for his films THE LORDS OF FLATBUSH and most notably EDDIE AND THE CRUISERS (he also did HERO AT LARGE and ALMOST SUMMER, both of which I enjoy). Director of Photography Robert Elswit is another story. He had been a hard working DP all throughout the 1980s making films like TRICK OR TREAT, MOVING VIOLATIONS, AMAZING GRACE AND CHUCK and RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD PART II. It wasn't until 1996 when he collaborated with a certain filmmaker named Paul Thomas Anderson on a little film called HARD EIGHT (aka SYDNEY) that he really hit an amazing creative groove. They would continue to work together on BOOGIE NIGHTS, MAGNOLIA, PUNCH DRUNK LOVE, and THERE WILL BE BLOOD. He is currently working on the new MISSION IMPOSSIBLE film.
This film was a little tougher to track down than LITTLE BIG LEAGUE. It was only ever issued on VHS (and laserdisc) unfortunately. It appears to have been a movie made for HBO back in 1987. I noticed this was a Lorimar release (at least on VHS) though and I know that Warner Archive has been reputed to hold the rights to some of the Lorimar titles, so perhaps this could see a DVD release from them at some point. There seem to be some "grey market" copies floating around at the moment.


Silver Screenings said...

Before this Baseball Blogathon, I thought I had seen a lot of baseball movies. Not so! And here are two more to prove it.

These two that you've reviewed sound interesting – especially "Little Big League" if it almost made you start watching baseball!

Thanks for giving me two more films to add to my list. :)

Rupert Pupkin said...

Thank you! Yeah LBL really snuck up on me. Hope you enjoy!