Category Archives: Basketball Movies

Teen Wolf (1985)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Werewolves can be cool.

Scott (Michael J. Fox) is a frustrated teen who plays for a losing high school basketball team and longs for a hot girl (Lorie Griffin) that barely knows he even exists. He is tired of being ‘average’ and wishes he could somehow stand-out. Then one day he finds out that he can turn into werewolf, which was something that he inherited from his father (Paul Hampton). Now suddenly Scott finds himself standing out from the crowd and receiving lots of attention, but sometimes getting what you want isn’t always the answer.

Fox has noted in subsequent interviews that he thinks very little of this movie and seems embarrassed by it. He even refused to appear in its sequel, but the truth is he is the one reason that keeps it watchable and I consider it his most engaging performance and the make-up effects aren’t bad either.

The problems that I had are more with the character that he plays as he comes off at times as being quite selfish and shallow. He hangs out with an attractive girl named Boof (Susan Ursitti)(how a young lady could ever acquire such a strange and horrible name like that is a mystery and should’ve been elaborated on, but that’s a whole other issue.) Anyways she is clearly in to him and the two get along well, but instead he chases after Pamela who doesn’t like him. Having him talk about his longings for Pamela in front of Boof, which upsets her and Scott doesn’t notice this even though anyone else would, makes Scott seem aloof and self-centered let alone stupid for going after someone he has no chance of winning over. In films if the viewer doesn’t like the protagonist then it is hard to get into the rest of the movie and if it weren’t for Fox’s great performance this guy would be a real dud.

He also gets involved in a reckless activity of driving a van down a street while his friend (Jerry Levine) stands on top of it and pretends to be surfing, which is insane because all it would take is one sudden stop and that friend flies off the vehicle and gets a broken neck. Protagonists in films aimed at impressionable audiences like this should not be doing stunts that young viewers might go home and try to emulate. Fortunately as far as I know none of them did, but it’s still not a good precedent to set.

I was also confused about what the rules were in regards to the whole werewolf thing. I thought the folklore was that people could only turn into werewolves during a full moon and not just whenever they wanted to like here. Why does it take so long, like not until Scott turns 17, before he finds out that he has inherited this condition? Also, it seems hard to believe that his father would be able to hide his werewolf ability from his family for so long. You’d think that by living with his father all of his life that Scott might’ve had a hint of his Dad’s werewolf trait long before the old man finally decided to come out with it.

On top of all that, where exactly does all this hair go when Scott transforms back into a human. The film shows a strand here and there, but there would be more like mounds and mounds of it. How does Scott go back and forth from a human to a werewolf? Does he just say to himself ‘I want to be a werewolf’ and then he is and what does he say or do to turn back into a regular teen?

Besides those issues there is also the fact that Scott becomes very open to everyone about his werewolf side, so why do only people in his high school know about it? If somebody divulges such an amazing ability they would be on the cover of every magazine and newspaper. Scientists would want to examine him and talk shows would be clamoring for interviews, so why doesn’t that happen?

Despite all of this I was actually liking the movie most of the way as it has a nice engaging sense of humor. Unfortunately it doesn’t go far enough with the idea. Eventually it gets compressed into the formula of being just another feel-good, teen-life-lesson flick, which is a dispiriting sell-out that ruins its offbeat potential and tarnishes an otherwise interesting concept.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 23, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 31 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Rod Daniel

Studio: Atlantic Releasing Corporation

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

Halls of Anger (1970)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: High school student integration.

Quincy Davis (Calvin Lockhart) is a respected educator who’s asked to transfer to a predominantly black school where it will be his duty to welcome in white students into the mix. Things do not go smoothly and Davis finds himself at the center of many heated confrontations as the black students resent the new white kids and try to make life miserable for them hoping that they will eventually give up and leave.

The film starts out interestingly enough and I found myself caught up in the plight of these students, both black and white, and wondering how they were eventually going to learn to get along. So many films from that period dealt with the opposite angle by examining the difficulties of black kids integrating into a white school making this reverse perspective a refreshing change of pace by showing how racism and hate can come from both ends.

Unfortunately not a lot happens. The film’s poster conveys the idea of rioting in the halls and physical altercations, but those things prove to be quite mild. There is one brief segment where a group of black girls gang up on a white woman (Patricia Stich) inside a locker room and strip off her clothes in an effort to see if she is ‘blonde all over’, but that is about it.

In fact the only interesting aspect to the film was the behind-the-scenes discord and how the filmmakers didn’t really practice what they preached onscreen. According to an August 1970 Life magazine article the black extras where paid only $13.20 a day while the whites got $29.15. The dressing rooms were segregated and director Paul Bogart proved indifferent towards the black performer’s concerns by refusing to hear out any of their complaints with regards to the script.

The only point to watching the movie is to see young stars-to-be in some early roles. I especially got a kick out of Rob Reiner with a full head of hair and no mustache and seeing Ed Asner as a Phy Ed. teacher who tries very ineffectually to break up a fight. Jeff Bridges is also on tap as one of the white students and he should’ve been made the star as his performance is quite effective and it would’ve been a stronger film had he been given the most screen time.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: April 29, 1970

Runtime: 1Hour 36 Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Paul Bogart

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD-R (MGM Limited Edition Collection), Amazon Video

That Championship Season (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Their reunion turns sour.

On the 25th anniversary of when they won the state high school basketball championship four members of the team get together with their coach (Robert Mitchum) to celebrate. George (Bruce Dern) who made the winning shot is now the town’s mayor and up for reelection. James (Stacy Keach) is a high school principal while his younger brother Tom (Martin Sheen) has become a vagabond alcoholic. Phil (Paul Sorvino) is the most successful of the group even though his business methods aren’t always ethical. It’s his revelation that he has had an affair with George’s wife that sends the gathering into a freefall where long dormant secrets from all the members slowly come to the surface.

The film was written and directed by Jason Miller, best known for playing Father Karras in The Exorcist, and the play version, which he also wrote won him the Pulitzer Prize. Despite the rave reviews of the play I was genuinely shocked how lifeless and boring the film is. It takes 35 minutes before any real conflict is introduced and once it does it’s all very contrived. The opening half-hour is nice as it was filmed on-location in Scranton, Pennsylvania, which was Miller’s hometown, but the second half is done completely inside one home, which makes it very stagey. Flashback sequences were done to help make it more cinematic, but unwisely cut by the film’s producer.

The plot thread dealing with Sorvino’s character having an affair with Dern’s wife seemed so utterly contrived that I literally had to roll my eyes when it gets brought up. It’s almost like they had to throw in something to keep it interesting so why not just make it the oldest, most clichéd soap opera-like thing they could think of. What’s worse is we never see this woman in question despite her being the catalyst for all the drama nor any explanation of where she is or what she is doing.

The acting is good for the most part, which is the only reason I’m giving this thing even 2 points, but at times the performers have trouble rising above the melodramatic material including the scene where Keach tries to put on a cry while describing his mistreatment by his father, which sounds very fake and unintentionally laughable.

Sorvino walks around with jet black hair except for a big white patch on the back of his head, which is distracting and gets shown a lot, but never mentioned by any of the other characters. I’ve never seen anyone with that condition, except for someone who intentionally highlighted it like that and even so I don’t think that was the case here. The producers should’ve had that spot dyed black like the rest of his hair to avoid the distraction, or had one of the other characters joke about it in passing, so the viewer didn’t have to keep wondering why they are the only ones seeing it and nobody else was.

The final scene where the men listen to a tape of when their team scored the winning shot, which brings tears to their eyes, is the only segment that rings true and hits home how high school for some people can be the highlights of their whole lives and everything afterwards is all downhill. The rest of the movie though is an exercise in boredom and filled with sterile characters dealing with generic issues.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: December 9, 1982

Runtime: 1Hour 50 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Jason Miller

Studio: Cannon Film Distributors

Available: DVD

Drive, He Said (1971)

drive he said 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Player doesn’t like coach.

This is one of those movies that shows signs of being a really great movie trying to break out, but never does. It’s about Hector (William Tepper) a college basketball star who is being tugged at different directions by those around him and by society at-large. This creates inner turmoil that leads to outbursts, apathy, and even anti-social behavior.

Tepper as the star isn’t the best of actors. He has a constant blank look and way too much hair. The character he plays has potential. It is nice to see a portrait of an athlete that isn’t one-dimensional sports, but instead shows intelligent and sensitivity to things that go well beyond the court. Yet he is also too self- absorbed and displays a selfish behavior that in most cases would alienate him from his teammates. What is supposed to be betrayed as angst instead comes off as an obnoxious, spoiled college kid. His constant rebellion with his coach (Bruce Dern) doesn’t mesh.

The film makes some good observations and brings up great issues. Unfortunately it ends up becoming diluted. In some ways it should have just stuck with the basketball angle. The camera shots that glides with the action during the games is excellent. Some of the scenes during the practice and some of the locker room segments of Dern coaching the team gives the viewer a good taste of the college basketball experience and makes you want to see more of it. However, incorporating late sixties politics into it only makes it redundant and in this area the film offers no new insight.

The film does have its moments and some of them are even memorable. The best ones involve actor Michael Margotta’s character as a student radical wavering on insanity. His assault on the Karen Black character while inside a large, darkened house is striking both visually and emotionally. The scene where he, while naked, runs into a science lab and releases all sorts of rats, rodents, and reptiles is a sight in itself.

Dern with his glazed stare and intense acting style seems like a natural for the part of the hard-driven coach. It’s too bad the film doesn’t make the most of it, but Black is looking at her best.

Jack Nicholson as a director is not as good as Nicholson the actor although he does show potential, but it doesn’t come together as a whole. The film should best be viewed as a curio or artifact of its era. There is also a surprisingly high amount of male nudity as well as homo-erotic overtones.

drive he said 2

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: June 13, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated R

Director: Jack Nicholson

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD (Region 1 & 2)

Tall Story (1960)

tall story

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: The game is rigged.

June Ryder (Jane Fonda) is a boy-crazy college coed who has her sights set on Ray Blent (Anthony Perkins) the star of the school’s basketball team. Ray ends up being as infatuated with June as she is with him and the two decide to get married, but before they do they purchase a motor home from Ray’s friend Fred (Tom Laughlin). Unfortunately they don’t have enough of the required money until a mysterious stranger gives Ray $2,500 to blow the upcoming game his team has with the Russians, which puts Ray in a difficult quandary.

The film has a nice fluffy appeal and was based on the hit stage play, which in turn was based on the novel ‘The Homecoming Game’ by Howard Nemerov. The college campus atmosphere for its time period seems realistic. It is refreshing to have the adult faculty portrayed as normal human beings relating to the students on a relatively equal level and vice versa as opposed to the trend that started in the 70’s and went full-throttle in the 80’s where adults in these types of films were written as preachy, oppressive, out-of-touch, authoritative humorless pricks. In fact Marc Connelly as Professor Osman was my favorite character as he looked and spoke like a true professor and helped balance the silliness by being the most normal of the bunch. Anne Jackson as the wife of Professor Sullivan (Ray Walston) comes in a close second and has some amusing moments and a few good comeback lines particularly near the end.

Fonda is perfect as a character lost in her own little world and enthusiastically going by the beat of her own drummer while oblivious to the consternation she causes to those around her. Initially the character is written a little too aggressively making her too deluded and like a stalker, but fortunately that gets toned down and she becomes likable enough. Perkins is great as her boyish counterpart and the two even sing a duet together.

The pacing is a bit poor. Initially it is very zany and fast paced making the thing seem almost like a live action cartoon, which doesn’t work at all. The film then slows down and becomes a draggy only to rectify things with a funny conclusion. If you like things that are cute and undemanding then this should work although the sequence in which Ray comes into the game and singlehandedly wins the game after the team is far behind is just too contrived and over-blown for even Hollywood standards. The humor is light and comes in spurts with some of it managing to elicit a few chuckles. One of the few interchanges that I liked consisted of:

June: “Did you know that elephants only mate once every seven years?”

Ray: “There are some that do it every six years.”

June: “They’re nymphomaniacs”

Spoiler Alert!

One of the biggest problems with the film is the ending as Ray decides to play in the game and win it for his team despite keeping the money that he was paid in order to throw it. However, there is just no way a criminal organization would let anyone keep that money especially when the other party did not uphold their end of the bargain. Most likely they would track down Ray and June and exact a very unpleasant revenge. However, the film never even touches on this and instead shows Ray and June buying the motorhome and riding happily off into the sunset while leaving open a major loophole in the process.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 6, 1960

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Joshua Logan

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Instant Video

Mixed Company (1974)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Racist coach adopts kids.

Kathy Morrison (Barbra Harris) works at an adoption agency that specializes in placing minority children into stable homes. Although she already has three children of her own, she comes under pressure to ‘practice what she preaches’ and adopt one herself. Her husband Pete (Joseph Bologna) is the head coach of the Phoenix Suns basketball team who are in amidst of a very long losing streak. He is reticent to the idea as he feels he will soon be fired and also harbors certain latent racist feelings. However, when it is found that they can longer conceive a child of their own due to him suffering from the mumps, they decide to go ahead with the idea. At first they adopt a young African American boy and eventually add a Vietnamese girl and an Indian boy.

The film was written and directed by Melville Shavelson, who only six years earlier had done the successful Yours, Mine, and Ours about a widow woman with eight children marrying a widower with ten. Clearly he was trying to go back to the same well, but the concept is uninspired and forced. The plot is too simple and formulaic. I sat through the whole thing feeling like I had seen it all somewhere else before. There is some snappy dialogue at the beginning, but it quickly runs out of gas. The pacing is poor and it plods along with no real momentum or cohesion.  The lighting is flat and the action is captured like it was made for a TV sitcom instead of the big screen.

The children deliver their lines in a robotic fashion and the script gives them little that is clever, or interesting to say. I did like the six year old Indian boy named Joe (Stephan Honanie) who is cute and precocious, but he does have a propensity to pick his nose and there is one icky scene where he appears to eat what he has picked out of it. The film did generate some controversy at the time of its release for featuring the kids swearing, but this amounts to nothing more than a few ‘damns’ here and there. I kind of liked the fact that the kids weren’t portrayed as complete wide-eyed innocents and their salty behavior seemed realistic, but the problems and issues that they deal with are highly contrived.

Joseph Bologna is a standout. His brash, flippant, hard-edged persona is terrific and fun. It is the one thing that holds the movie together and keeps it from being a complete bore.

The basketball sequences are clearly staged. They do edit in some actual footage, but it’s done on a different film stock, which is distracting. I think the one thing that really bugged me in this area is that Pete eventually gets fired as the coach due to the team’s continual losing. Yet, only a few days later the owner of the team comes back and begs him to return. Besides being a movie fan I am also an avid sports follower and I can attest that this has never happened. Yes, sometimes a coach is fired and then many years later he can return to coaching the same team, but that is usually because it is under different management and it is rare. There was also New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner who hired and fired manager Billy Martin a total of five different times, but that was an extreme anomaly and he never rehired him after just a few games. I know movies and especially TV-shows never want to show our favorite characters getting fired and STAYING fired even though it happens to real people all the time and it only makes sense that film characters should deal with the same types of hardships.

It is difficult to tell what audience this movie was aimed for. There is not enough action or comedy to keep the kids entertained, but it also lacks the sophistication needed for adults. After a total of 105 minutes it becomes strained and tedious.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: October 18, 1974

Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Melville Shavelson

Studio: United Artists

Available: Netflix streaming