Tuesday, April 29, 2008


It had been a long while since I had seen a movie just for the fun of it. I watch 9 to 10 movies a month, but solely in a professional capacity--a notepad in my hand and my mind in movie nerd mode. Plus, movies are so friggin' expensive--even hoofing to screeners in NYC--that it's costly to see anything outside of what I need to.

God bless friends with sweet cable packages, which allowed me to sit back and watch Billy Crystal's *61.

Last week, I housesat for some friends, which can be somewhat awkward. They told me that the house was at my disposal, that the fridge was mine, etc. But I'm a worrier, so I'm always afraid that there's some imaginary line I'm going to cross, which is why I treat the house like a crime scene. I watch the TV, of course, but it's always with a sense of needless worry. There are like five remotes for the thing, and I'm always concerned that the inadvertant push of a button or two will cause their gorgeous 65-inch TV to catch on fire or for it to go permanently Helen Keller.
I digress...

But I was exhausted one night and just wanted to watch some TV to unwind. Swallowing my fear, I plunged into my friends' expansive cable system and found *61. I'm a huge baseball fan, yet I had never seen the HBO biopic on Roger Maris' and Mickey Mantle's chase to beat Babe Ruth's home run record. 10 minutes became 20 minutes, which turned into an hour.

My biggest fear was that Crystal, a longtime Yankees fan, was going to romanticize Mantle (his hero) and play up the Yankees' mystique, but he offers a restrained, poignant look at two men struggling in the limelight. Maris (Barry Pepper), shy and reserved, gets consumed by the NYC press and its hunger for more. Mantle (Thomas Jane) struggles to cope with his craving for the nightlife and his penchant for injuries, one of which feeds the other.

What's so neat about the movie is how Crystal shows the human side of both baseball legends, and Jane and Pepper are perfect in the roles, alternately likeable and flawed. Also, the baseball action is authentic, which is a hit or miss proposition in most sports movies. Remember Tom Berenger's awful bunting in Major League or Tim Robbins moving like an epileptic while throwing 99 mph heaters in Bull Durham?

There's a parade of awesome character actors who contribute great stuff in supporting roles--Richard Masur, Bob Gunton, Christopher McDonald, Seymour Cassel, Bruce McGill, etc. They hold the movie together when Jane and Pepper aren't around.

So, I enjoyed a movie and the TV didn't explode. Pretty good night all around, I'd say.

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