For young boys in the Dominican Republic, baseball may be their only chance to raise their family and themselves out of poverty. There are lots of reasons to dislike Major League Baseball, and chief among them, for me at least, is the way in which the organization and its agents take advantage of these future star players. Narrated by John Leguizamo, “Pelotero” follows two talented 16-year-olds through their training to that all-important day—July 2—when these star recruits become eligible to sign contracts to play ball for the Majors. If these young players are not signed on that day, their value plummets, much like the way a car depreciates as soon as it’s driven off the car lot. The movie is beautifully filmed; the tension, anxiety, and frustration are palpable as July 2 approaches. Kudos for this one and a solid A.
I had high hopes for “Up Heartbreak Hill,” and the film is good (B), but I wanted it to be better. On the reservation, in Navajo, NM, three students struggle to balance their dreams of success with ties to their families and their heritage. Thomas, a handsome high school senior with a bright pink mohawk, is a state champion runner who wants to run in college, but is reluctant to leave his father. Tamara, the class salutatorian, wants to room with her best friend, who’s already in college but who becomes pregnant and drops out. Gabby hopes to become a photographer, but wonders about whether college is really that important. Underlying their conflict seems to be a fear of leaving the reservation.
My friend Jacquie seeks out all the Eastern European films because, as she says, “They’re very dark, but you never forget them.” With this in mind, I went to see “Amnesty” and “Tilt” with her. Yep, dark describes them. Set in Albania, “Amnesty” is about Elsa, a single mother of two, who lives with her unpleasant father-in-law while her husband serves a prison term. While waiting at the prison for the monthly conjugal visit with her husband, she meets Spetim, whose wife is incarcerated. The two form a close bond, which ends tragically—though not in the way you might expect—when the state declares a general amnesty. A- for its grim realism and sensitive portrayal of difficult situations.
In “Tilt,” young and forbidden love struggles to survive in 1990s Bulgaria amid mayhem, murder, and the Russian mafia. And would you believe a happy ending? Well, sort of . . . if Stash makes it through a ten-year prison sentence. B+ for a compelling story about a young man who won’t give up the woman he loves.
I can’t think of a better way to follow two Eastern European dramas than with a Dutch comedy. This one also has murder and mayhem, but it also provides lots of merriment. A lowly, but handsome, Moroccan goatherd (Joes) and his uncle (Hamid) lose the herd—the villagers’ only source of income. In order to repay the debt, Hamid and Joes travel to Holland, but soon find themselves in the spotlight when Joes rescues the woman of his dreams (Mila) and a policeman from a burning building. His sudden popularity, during a political campaign focusing on the issue of illegal immigration, propels him into the presidency of the country. Though utterly preposterous, “The President” is laugh-out-loud hilarious—give this one a B.
I saw only one film on Thursday, but what a film. “Cape Spin: An American Power Struggle” is about the approved (after a decade) plan to install 130 wind turbines in Nantucket Sound. The film examines the battle waged among environmental groups advocating renewable energy development, environmental groups concerned with the impact of the wind turbines on the fish and wildlife in the region, residents protesting the ruination of their million-dollar views, Native Americans protesting on religious grounds, and others. To quote T.W., who wrote in the film guide “’Cape Spin’” provides further proof that in the fight or a greener planet, there’s nothing greener than cash.” The filmmakers produced such a balanced film that at the end I wasn’t at all sure who, if anyone, was right. And the soundtrack was perfect! My first A+ goes to this one.