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Before watching 1992's A League of Their Own, I had no idea there was such thing as the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Am I some sort of sexist pig that refuses to acknowledge important moments in women's history, or our history overall for that matter? No, fact of the matter is, that information was simply never presented to me. Sure, I heard all about Rosie the Riveter and the other vital roles that women provided during World War II -such as producing munitions and war supplies - but my history books completely failed to mention how women filled other areas of American culture at the time. Hell, take a quick look at Wikipedia's 'Women's Roles in the World Wars' page, and you'll only find mention of factory work and the like. So, why is the AAGPBL seemingly considered trivial information? Is it because our country really does still consider women's rights to be 'less than' in the grand scheme of things, or is it because such wartime efforts are ignored because, "Hey, it's only baseball?" Regardless of the answer, it's not going to sit very well with me. I'm unwilling to accept that women were only able to work as riveters because the job so closely resembled sewing, and as far as downplaying the importance of baseball, it is considered to be one of America's favorite pastimes, right? Right. So, when the boys were shoved off to war, leaving plenty of gaps in every form of work and entertainment, women really stepped up to the plate, and quite literally at that.
A League of Their Own begins in 1943, when Major League Baseball is on the verge of being shut down by the war. America's favorite sport made too much money to be ignored, so instead of settling for a loss of revenue, Chicago Cubs owner Walter Harvey (Garry Marshall) decided to keep the sport alive in very much the same way our government kept its factories running - By asking women for a helping hand. Ira Lowenstein (David Strathairn) is put in charge to ensure the women's league is profitable, and begins his task by hiring a recruiter, Ernie Capadino (Jon Lovitz), to find talent that's, of course, also easy on the eyes. Ernie very much treats this task like it's a waste of time, and is more concerned about getting leggy girls in short skirts than anything else. This much becomes clear the moment we see his willingness to let go of real talent if the 'package' doesn't match the performance. Ernie actually feels as if he's found something special in Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis) however, as she's everything he's been looking for - She was attractive, knew how to both play and strategize baseball, and she had an appealing blend of spunk and sincerity. For all intents and purposes, Dottie was the All-American girl they hoped would help draw both male and female audiences alike. The only problem was that Dottie wasn't willing to go play ball without her sister, Kit (Lori Petty), who happened to be one hell of a pitcher. Desperate to acquire Dottie for the league, Ernie allows Kit to come to tryouts and show off her stuff. While there, they make friends with the shy power slugger Marla Hooch (Megan Cavanagh), rough and tough New York gals Doris Murphy (Rosie O'Donnell) and "All the Way" Mae Mordabito (Madonna), former Miss Georgia Ellen Sue Gotlander (Freddie Simpson) , and a host of other characters and personalities that make up the 'Rockford Peaches'.
They soon discover the going won't be easy, as they've been paired with a doozy of a manager - Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks), a former star of the Cubs who threw his career away on alcohol. Since the women's league was treated more like a product than a sport, Dugan's role as manager was merely ceremonial, as the big wigs figured baseball fans would get a thrill out of seeing him hop out of the bullpen at the beginning of each game. So, Jimmy, insulted but very much in need of the money, carries out this instruction quite literally, and allows Dottie to take on all actual managerial duties. Over time however, Jimmy realizes the potential of his team and begins to find his love for the game emerging once again. So, he shapes up and takes control, acting as both a leader and emotional mentor for the girls, and sets them on a course that gives them as good a chance as any to make it to the World Series. Although Jimmy does everything he can to put them on the path to success, a personal problem between Kit and Dottie arises and puts everything in jeopardy - Kit, tired of living in Dottie's shadow, throws a bit of a tantrum and causes Dottie to question whether or not she should quit the league. As far as the league is concerned, this spat couldn't have come at a worse time, as Mr. Harvey isn't impressed enough to keep the women's game around after their first season comes to a close. The fate of everyone involved rests on the shoulders of the struggling sisters, and the only thing anyone can do is allow them to work things out for themselves.
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Sport films have a tendency to miss more than they hit, so I was already concerned that A League of Their Own wasn't going to be my cup of tea. I mean, the trailers showed all the cute and funny stuff, like Tom Hanks delivering his infamous 'no crying in baseball' line, Geena Davis spitting in the dugout, Rosie O'Donnell catching a hot dog in her mouth while going for a foul ball, and the list goes on. So... the trailer basically tells us that this film is about Tom Hanks managing an 'impossible' team of girls who have no place playing a game like baseball... wow. Let's just take a moment to let that sink in, shall we? The film's marketing strategy was to stunningly perpetuate the kind of message that this film was actually trying to rally against. Here's hoping that in hindsight, someone at the studio feels embarrassed over that one. Of course, I know films can never be judged by their trailers, but I still had reason for concern - I thought A League of Their Own was destined to be another clichéd genre effort. In this respect, I was partially right. The film does depict a team of misfits who dig themselves into what's supposed to be an inescapable ditch, only to pull themselves out just in time to achieve victory. This film also features a large number of character stereotypes, which in and of itself is just another shameless Hollywood tool that's supposed to make all character interaction as entertaining as possible.
I know it sounds like I'm setting you up for a horrible review here, but rest assured that's not the case. These are minor complaints that are worth noting, yes, but I actually love A League of Their Own. Yes, there are plenty of personality stereotypes on display which could have been a detriment to the film as a whole, but the casting in this film is solid all around, so believe it or not, this actually adds to the overall experience. This is a rare treat in cinema, especially modern cinema, so that's saying something.
I've never been one to appreciate much of Madonna's work in film, but her combination of sass and grace is spot on the money. Speaking of actresses I don't really care for, I absolutely loathe Rosie O'Donnell. Yes, loathe. That being said, her portrayal of Doris was highly enjoyable - She was obviously able to nail the rough and tough exterior that was required of her, but she was also able to convey a sense of heart and warmth when appropriate. I'm sure I don't have to spend a lot of time convincing people that Tom Hanks was probably the best reason to watch the film, but I'll say it anyway. His character demanded a lot - At first he had to be an unlovable slob, and he then had to open up little by little throughout the rest of the film until he was a semi-charming mentor that was stern, yet comical and even endearing at times. Honestly, I'm not sure there was anyone else at the time who could have fit the bill better than Hanks.
Geena Davis was also exceptional in her portrayal of Dottie, a woman who had strength, heart and passion. Sure, Hanks steals the show to a certain extent, but Davis had the most complicated role in the entirety of the film. Dottie lit up like a Christmas tree each and every time she stepped onto a baseball diamond, but she had to be reserved and play it cool for the sake of her sister, who was struggling to step out of Dottie's shadow and make something of herself. As a result, Dottie sucked up her pride because she was afraid to enjoy anything she excelled at, especially in this case since baseball was so important to Kit. To make things even more complicated, Dottie was struggling because it had been a while since she heard from her husband overseas. Dottie had pride, passion, strength and heart, and Davis was able to convey this in a way that seemed legitimate, and it makes me wish that she had starred in films on a more consistent basis than she has. Of course, her success in this role probably would have been muted to some extent if not for the perfect 'Kit' to bounce back and forth with, and Lori Petty was perfect for the job. Some consider Kit to be a bit of a whiny brat, but I don't see it that way at all - Kit was a vulnerable spitfire that was pained and conflicted, but above all else, had a joyous determination that was unlike anything I've ever seen.
Of course, the acting wouldn't have amounted to much if the film was poorly scripted or executed, but I'm sure I wouldn't surprise anyone by saying the film excels at everything it sets out to do. Although the trailer pegs A League of Their Own as a comedic look at women in baseball, the story is so, so much more than that. There's a lot of depth to many of the characters and the story that drives them. The dialogue is smart and witty, the director was able to get the most out of her very talented cast, and the range of emotions the film put me through was a welcome surprise. Most important of all, this film stands as a testament to women, who truly are the heart and soul of this country. My history books failed to mention the numerous ways they've kept our country strong in times of hardship, but a film like this should remind us all that their strength isn't just the product of a moment in time. On the contrary, it's always been there. Taking everything into consideration, A League of Their Own is fun and funny, dramatic and joyous, heartwarming and ultimately inspirational. This isn't just a fine sports film, it's also one of the better and more important films of our time. There's a little something for everyone, and there probably isn't much that anyone can say they dislike about it, myself included. If you have yet to see A League of Their Own, what are you waiting for? Play ball!
My wife and I have been watching the original DVD release for quite some time, so this 1080p, AVC encoded transfer (2.40:1) was somewhat of a revelation. Not just in terms of how nice it looks compared to the DVD, but because it's just a nice looking catalog title all around. Colors pop with a natural vibrancy that simply don't exist on previous home video releases, and solid contrast helps to ensure those colors never look faded. Black levels are deep and inky but never 'crush' any details into the darkness. Skin tones are warm and lifelike, detail and grain are present through and through (no digital noise reduction), and the compression is solid. The only complaint I have is that the film has some shots that look softer than others, but these minor trouble spots are inherent to the film's original photography and shouldn't be perceived as an issue with the encode. This is the best A League of Their Own has ever looked, and I can say that this is easily the best it ever can look. Fans of this film are in for a treat!
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is also a major upgrade over the DVD. A League of Their Own is a film that's mainly driven by dialogue, and there's absolutely no problems with how it's been reproduced here. It doesn't sound empty or hollow, tinny or edgy, but that's pretty much par for the course nowadays, right? This film does have its share of music though, and it's replicated brilliantly across the entire surround stage. It's the sound effects that probably could have used a little more attention, but again, I'm talking about the way the mix was handled for the film initially, not a fault in the lossless encode itself. A fair number of effects produce themselves across the front soundstage, although some of the most memorable scenes really go to town with the sounds of a live baseball game. There's some ambient effects that creep around the rear channels throughout the film, but it's nothing I would say is even close to being immersive. When appropriate, there's also a pleasing amount of bass, but don't expect to hear anything that's going to 'knock you out of the park'. In short, the lossless audio track pretty much sounds exactly the way this film should sound, and any and all flaws are inherent to the original mix.
-Director and Cast Commentary - Director Penny Marshall, Lori Petty, Megan Cavanagh and Tracy Reiner - This is a pretty decent commentary track, as it gives a lot of information on the film's production without going into a bunch of the dry, technical stuff. Everyone has their own memories to share and they do so with vivid detail that could only be shared because of how fondly they look back with their time on the set of this film. Definitely check this one out.
Deleted Scenes - These deleted scenes can be watched without or without introductions by Penny Marshall. Overall, they're interesting but it's clear they only would have helped to slow the film down. A League of Their Own is, in my mind, a masterfully crafted piece of cinema so I didn't find myself wishing any of these scenes were included in the final product.
-"This Used to be My Playground" Music Video - Madonna
-Nine Memorable Innings - The title of this series of mini-featurettes is a little misleading, as there's actually 11 total (taking into account 'pre-game' and 'post-game'). It's a series of interviews and behind-the-scenes stills, and clips from the film that flesh out the film's production, and pretty much everyone involved makes an appearance on screen. The only problem is that these featurettes act as 11 separate pieces to a whole, as opposed to a whole that's broken up into 11 chapters. Still, although this isn't exactly a hardcore behind-the-scenes style bunch of clips, they're still fun and charming clips at that.
That's pretty much it. It's disappointing to see this film didn't get any additional supplements, but it's worth noting that there's a slip included inside the case that details Geena Davis' effort to draw awareness to the seriously lopsided ratio of men vs. women in the entertainment biz.
A League of Their Own is a perfect of example of why I love cinema - There are so many important stories with historical significance that have slipped through the cracks, yet film has proven to be a great tool for educating people about the stories their country never told them about. In this case, A League of Their Own pays tribute to those who encouraged women around the globe to compete in a variety of sports, especially if their social climate said they probably shouldn't. Penny Marshall has done justice to this important piece of history, and her film will unquestionably live on to remind people, not just women, that they should always fight for whatever they're passionate about. The biggest success of this film isn't only its message, but the fact that it's wrapped up in a story that can literally appeal to everyone - There's comedy, drama, suspense, and the film as a whole is heartwarming and inspirational. This is all enhanced further by a stellar cast, which really amongst the most memorable in modern cinema. Sony has done this film justice as well, as this 20th Anniversary release sports an A/V presentation that's been knocked out of the park. It would have been nice to see some additional supplements, but this release easily comes highly recommended regardless.