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Saturday, August 4, 2012

Field of Dreams

I’M BACK!  After a month off, I finally got a chance to relax my brain a little, and got my movie groove back.  So, here goes!

#328: Field of Dreams (1989).  Back in the late 1990s/early 2000s, I worked at a “music, movies and more” store called Coconuts.  One day, I was talking about this movie with a co-worker, and he commented that Kevin Costner should only make baseball-themed movies, because they truly are his best.  Tin Cup was ok, too, which was about golf.  So, Kevin Costner should only make leisure-sports movies.  It is a fact. 

Field of Dreams is probably the best thing he’s done, in my opinion.  I do believe that Costner is an actor of somewhat limited range, and in this movie he’s mostly just along for the crazy cosmic ride that the baseball gods are taking him on.  And what a ride.  Being a casual baseball fan, I like this movie.  Being a fan of fantastical, supernatural-themed stories with a little schmaltz and a lot of heart, I love this movie.  Also, the book, “Shoeless” Joe, by W.P. Kinsella is wonderful.  Read it.  Go.  Now.  Buy it or download it or something, I can wait…

Back?  OK.  Here goes.

The Players:

Ray Kinsella: Played by Kevin Costner.  Ray is a guy who has lived a little, but never done anything crazy in his whole life.  Like I said, he’s just along for the ride, and finds a little of himself, and what he’s been looking for, along the way.  He loves his wife, daughter, and baseball.

Annie Kinsella: Played by Amy Madigan.  Loyal readers may remember her from Streets of Fire.  She is much, much better here.  She knows that what Ray is doing is absolutely nuts, and is from time to time the voice of financial reason, but she is completely supportive of Ray.

Karen Kinsella: Played by a little Gaby Hoffman.  One of the few times I didn’t find her annoying as a kid.  Karen is, for the most part, “there”, but is important at the end of the movie.

“Shoeless” Joe Jackson: Played by Ray Liotta.  The baseball field that Ray builds is, he thinks, for “Shoeless” Joe.  “Shoeless” Joe was a real baseball player who was a member of the Chicago “Black Sox”, a group of White Sox players who took money to throw the 1919 World Series.  Whether or not “Shoeless” Joe was really in on the deal, or just signed because everyone else did is still up for debate, but he was permanently suspended from playing professional baseball. 

Mark: Played by Timothy Busfield.  Mark is Annie’s brother, and is pushing Ray to sell his farm, especially after he plows up half of it and builds his baseball field.  He can’t see the magical baseball players on the field.

Terence Mann: Played by James Earl Jones.  In the book, this character is J.D. Sallinger, but was changed for the film.  Still a recluse writer, he was also an activist in the 1960s.  He gets sort of hijacked into Ray’s journey, but enjoys the ride.

Dr. Archibald “Moonlight” Graham: Played by the great Burt Lancaster.  He is a straight-up ghost that Ray encounters in Minnesota.  A former baseball player who only got to play one game, and never got to bat.  He went to school and became a small-town Doctor. 

Archie Graham: Played by Frank Whaley.  He is the younger self of Doc. Graham, who finally gets to live out his dream of going up against a major league pitcher.

So, if you are not a big baseball fan, it doesn’t matter.  Watch this movie.  Seriously.  This is not a movie about baseball, but rather about dreams, the father/son relationship, second chances, all played out in front of the backdrop of baseball.  You don’t have to know who the players are (but you might recognize some of the names if you are a baseball fan, or a history buff, or both), all you have to know is they have found a haven for baseball.  OK, I’m getting a little ahead of myself…

Ray is a farmer in Iowa, albeit a slightly reluctant one.  He’s never really done anything out of the realm of normalcy, until one day when he’s in his corn field.  He hears the words “If you build it, he will come” whispered on the wind.  An image flashes before him of a baseball field where is corn currently resides.  He sees “Shoeless” Joe Jackson.  Not entirely sure what this means, he talks about it with his wife.  Afraid he’s going to turn into his father, who never did anything of interest, and died kind of pitiful (in Ray’s eyes), Ray decides to build the baseball field.  After it’s built, it just sort of sits there.  While discussing their dwindling finances, Karen calls to her dad – there’s a man in their baseball field.

Why, it’s “Shoeless” Joe Jackson!  They talk baseball, the field, and whatnot.  Suddenly, a group of players (the Chicago “Black Sox”) are playing on his field.  There’s trouble with the bank, but otherwise, things are good.  Until he hears the words “ease his pain” whispered.  Ease whose pain?

Thanks to a censorship meeting in which a book by author Terence Mann is being discussed, Ray gets the crazy idea that he is supposed to ease Terence Mann’s pain.  Oooookaaaay… after a little research, he finds a story in which Mann used Ray’s father’s name in a story, and he once gave an interview about baseball.  Annie and Ray had the same dream about Ray and Terence at a baseball game at Fenway Park.  So, money be damned, it’s off to Boston!

Enter the awesomeness that is James Earl Jones.  There is a lot of humor in the following scene where Ray convinces Terence to go to the baseball game with him.  While there, Ray hears “go the distance”, and sees some stats about a rookie named Archie “Moonlight” Graham.  He has to go to Minnesota.  Terence hears the same thing, and decides to go along for the ride. 

They get to Minnesota and discover that Archie Graham became a Doctor, and died a while ago.  He was a beloved figure in his community, making sure that children got the milk and care they needed, giving them tickets to baseball games, etc.  Not sure what to do with this information, Terence and Ray head back to the hotel.

Terence has to call his father, because his father thinks he’s been kidnapped or is dead or something.  Ray leaves him for privacy, and he winds up on Main Street.  It is the early 1970s.  An old man walks by, and Ray knows exactly who he is.  He takes a walk at night with “Moonlight” Graham, and hears about his short-lived baseball career.  They wind up at his office, and Ray offers to take Doc. Graham with him to Iowa.  He declines, saying it’s past his time; his life is in Chisholm, Minnesota.  Ray pleads with him, telling him that most men would consider getting so close to their dream for only five minutes would be a tragedy.  Doc. Graham? “Son, if I'd only gotten to be a doctor for five minutes... now that would have been a tragedy.” 

So, it’s back to Iowa Ray goes, with Terence in tow.  On the way, they come across a young man looking for a ride.  Ah, the days when it was safe to pick up hitch-hikers.  He says he’s a baseball player, and is looking for a team to play with.  Upon entering the van, he introduces himself.  It’s a young Archie Graham. 

They get to the farm, and Archie gets invited to play.  At this point, there are baseball players everywhere, playing real games.  Archie goes up against the pitcher, gets two strikes, and then nails it.  What’s that?  Am I tearing up?  Must be allergies…

The next day, the family is chillin’ out, watching the game.  Mark (Annie’s brother) shows up, telling Ray he needs to sell the farm.  They are completely broke.  Karen tells them they don’t have to sell the farm, because people will come and pay to hang out at the field.  Grabbing onto this idea, Terence delivers an incredible speech about baseball:

Damn allergies, acting up again…

So, Mark still thinks everyone is crazy, and he knocks Karen off the bleachers.  Her lips are blue, and she’s unconscious.  Seeing this, Archie makes his way through the players on the field, and crosses the baseline, transforming into his older self.  He sees that Karen is choking on the hot dog she was eating, dislodges it, and saves her.  But he can’t go back!  He thanks Ray for the opportunity, makes his way back through the players, and heads back to the corn field.  “Shoeless” Joe stops him, and tells him he was good.  A little smile plays on Doc. Graham’s face, he nods and fades into the corn.  Fuck you, allergies, I’m getting some Benadryl…

At this point, Mark can see the players, and the dollar signs.  He goes into the house, visions of tourists dancing in his head.  Joe invites Terence to go into the corn, and Ray’s a little peeved.  “That’s my corn!  You are guests in my corn!”  I am so gonna use that next time I have people over and they are being assholes.

But, see, Terence had given up on writing.  This is his chance to start writing again, because he has to write about this whole experience, and about what lies beyond the corn.  So, he goes.  Joe just stands there, staring at Ray as he heads to the house with his family.  Finally, he tells him that “If you build it, he will come” had little to do with “Shoeless” Joe, but rather was about reuniting Ray with his father John, who has been playing catcher all this time.  That Benadryl is doing nothing for me…

So, Ray introduces his wife and daughter to a young version of his father, who slowly realizes that Ray is his son.  As Annie and Karen head into the house, and Joe heads into the corn, Ray and his father are left on the field.  As John packs up his gear, Ray calls to him, “Dad? Wanna have a catch?”  Oh, fuck it, I’m crying.

Annie turns on the lights, and as father and son are reunited by tossing the baseball around, cards from nowhere are suddenly lining the roads, headed to the field of dreams. 

This movie is not about baseball.  It is about dreams.  And family.  And second chances.  There is a reason why it resonates so strongly with so many people.  And not only men, or baseball fans.  I am a female who casually likes baseball.  And this is one of my all-time favourite movies.  I strongly recommend that you not only check out this movie, but read the book it is based on, Shoeless Joe.  Also, check out the movie Eight Men Out, starring John Cusak.  It’s about the “Black Sox” Scandal.  It’s fun to compare the interpretations of “Shoeless” Joe – D.B. Sweeney in Eight Men Out plays him pretty stupid, Ray Liotta plays him pretty intelligent, my guess is he’s somewhere in between.

Also, did you know you can visit the Field of Dreams?  Yup.  It’s in Iowa, and still in existence.  There is no entry fee, but bring money to spend on souvenirs!  Someday, I will make a pilgrimage out there and sit in the bleachers, and maybe bring someone I can toss the ball with.  Check it out here!

And that’s a wrap!  Tomorrow (I promise!) a little taste of Canada, eh?

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