- RUSSELL: Ability and temper.
Things start out simply enough in the documentary “The Heart of the Game,” with a coach shooting around a bit on an outside basketball court with one of his players.
“At least 10 times I’ve told her, ‘Darnellia Russell is my only chance of being famous,’ ” says Bill Resler, basketball coach at Seattle’s Roosevelt High School.
The documentary’s arrival is proof of the truth of Resler’s prediction. Both he and Darnellia Russell are two of the most unforgettable individuals you will encounter in a theater this summer and the best part is they’re both real.
The film opens with Resler, a University of Washington tax professor with practically no coaching experience, taking over as the coach of Roosevelt High School’s girls basketball team. The team wins its first game of the season by 68 points and keeps on winning.
Resler is equal parts military leader and mentor, his brutal drills pushing the girls harder than they’ve ever been pushed. He compares them to a pack of wolves, leads them in pre-game chants based around the word “kill,” and encourages them to “draw blood.”
On the other hand, after games in which the girls play hard and lose, the general disappears and the proud, fatherly mentor takes its place. Not all the mentoring is warm, though, as can be seen in footage after a game in which the girls played badly and lost. Many of the girls are crying or visibly upset and Resler bluntly tells them that he hopes they hurt and that there will be many other hurts awaiting them in their lives.
Enter the film’s other pillar: Russell, a beautiful young black woman with natural basketball ability and a temper difficult to keep in check. Although she’s from a mostly black neighborhood, she attends predominantly white Roosevelt High School. The change is hard for her and at first she has no plans of playing basketball. After much struggle, Resler persuades her to play and a high school basketball star is born, though her temper remains intact.
All of this sounds like the set-up for a slightly more colorful but still typical Hollywood sports flick, but the film’s real focus is revealed in its second half, and I dare not ruin it here.
It’s a highly entertaining and inspiring story that outshines most of this summer’s blockbusters. And, while nowhere near as epic in scope as “Hoop Dreams,” the movie should definitely interest fans of that film.
“The Heart of the Game” opens Friday at Market Street Cinema.
— Stewart Deere
‘Lady’ is a soggy mess
This writer has thought for a while now that the wheels might be coming off the Hollywood express named M. Night Shyamalan. “The Sixth Sense” was great, sure. “Signs” was OK, as was “Unbreakable.” It was somewhere around “The Village,” however, that doubts crept in. While Shyamalan is a true auteur in a town that doesn’t believe in the auteur anymore (fun fact: he added “Night” to his name because he thought it sounded cool), his films since “The Sixth Sense” have been increasingly moral-heavy, a little too willing to preach — not to mention about as subtle as a Molotov cocktail.
Shyamalan may have finally lobbed a bomb into his own lap with his new film, “Lady in the Water.” Utterly self-indulgent, pointlessly convoluted and featuring one of the most megalomaniacal casting choices in recent memory (Shyamalan himself, as a writer who must be martyred before his book of deep thoughts can save mankind), “Lady” is pretty much destined to be for Shyamalan what “1941” was for Steven Spielberg — if Shyamalan can overcome his ego to make sure it’s an isolated blip, that is.
Here, Paul Giamatti plays Cleveland Heep, the hermitlike manager of an apartment complex called the Cove. Spending his days tending to the problems of the Cove’s contingent of rejects, Heep spends his nights peering out at the pool in the center of the complex, where he has seen someone swimming at night. That someone turns out to be Story (Bryce Dallas Howard), a fairylike “narf” who has come from the Blue World under the ocean to give mankind a message. Hot on her trail is a “scrunt,” a wolf-like creature that will stop at nothing to keep her from completing her mission. It’s up to Heep to protect her until she can do her job and make it safely back to the Blue World.
While that in-a-nutshell description makes “Lady in the Water” sound like a watchable, even magical film, Shyamalan mucks it up by dumping several bushels of cooked-up mythology and unnecessary stage business into the already-convoluted mix. By the mid-point of the film, you need a flow chart to keep everything straight, and you just wish they’d toss Story’s soggy, no-contraction-using ass back into the pool.
Before long, Heep is running around the complex looking for a whole cast of mysterious and fantastic characters hidden amongst the tenants: a Guild, a Healer, a Protector, and several others I can’t remember. Soon, there’s a giant eagle on the way, and a magic rock, and a trio of evil monkeys made of sticks, and a kid reading the future off the back of a cereal box, and — well, you get the picture.
While this is fantasy — the root of “Lady” came from a story Shyamalan made up for his young daughters — “Lady” turns out to be a bit too large of a horse apple for even the most childlike among us to swallow.
— David Koon
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