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Category Archives: Comedies

On the Rocks

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Image credit: On the Rocks, 2020

2020 was indescribably hard for everyone, but for those of us who love movies, it was particularly bleak. Instead of frequent trips to the local cinema, we endured a string of forgettable indies on the couch while struggling to focus on literally anything. I know there were probably good films I just couldn’t give my full attention to (lookin’ at you Sylvie’s Love), but for the most part I sat through a lot of 2 ½ hr-long “edgy” movies that made me desperate for a recognizable star, a decent wardrobe/production design budget, and most of all a skilled editor. Eventually, I just gave up, got a Criterion subscription, and said to hell with modern films. It was during this frustrating time that I missed a rare gem in the 2020 wasteland, Sofia Coppola’s On the Rocks. I’m still annoyed it’s only available on Apple TV+, but I’m here to tell you it’s worth signing up for YET ANOTHER streaming platform to see this perfect marriage between Murray and martinis.

Truthfully, I will always give a lot of leeway to any movie that includes a swimming pool, cocktails, a cool classic car, and iconic hotel bars. The thin plot involving a woman trying to discover the truth about her husband’s affairs is almost irrelevant—I just want to watch rich people do their thing. It’s an escape for me; a glimpse into a world I can only visit for brief stretches of time. But oh, what a world. In this rarefied section of New York, Bill Murray plays Felix, a charming art dealer trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter Laura (played by Rashida Jones) through impromptu cocktail parties, drinks at the Carlyle, a late-night stakeout fueled by caviar and champagne, and a spur-of-the-moment trip to Mexico. Is he dad of the year? No. He’s a misogynistic asshole. But he is uniquely himself—unapologetic, wildly entertaining, caring in the only way he knows how.

I know this is not the first movie I’ve paired with a martini on Cinema Sips, but there really is no other option for this one.  You MUST watch it with a Sapphire Martini, and imagine it was brought to you in a chilled carafe on a little silver tray. Picture yourself back out in the world, sitting in an iconic Manhattan bar, where you’re paying more for the real estate and history than the gin. While watching On the Rocks, I recommend drinking a Sapphire Martini.

Sapphire Martini

2 oz Bombay Sapphire® Gin

½ oz Dry Vermouth

2 olives

Combine gin and vermouth in a mixing glass with ice, and stir to chill- about 45 seconds.  Strain into a chilled martini glass, and garnish with olives.

In a year when most new releases made me want to either curl into a ball and cry, or spend two hours restlessly browsing social media on my phone, On the Rocks felt like a fun breath of fresh air. There were no major problems, no big issues to overcome—these people would all be fine whether Laura’s husband is faithful or not. Felix tries to force his daughter to give herself permission to enjoy life again, and that’s what this movie feels like to me. Permission to make a cocktail, watch some pretty people, and have fun for a tight ninety-six minutes.  Cheers!

Bottle Rocket

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Image credit: Bottle Rocket, 1996

Longtime readers of Cinema Sips know I’m a sucker for any movie with a pool, and now that the weather’s warming up, I’m ready for an onscreen dip. Bottle Rocket (Disc/Download) manages to make a crappy motel pool look like Shangri-La, and although the comedic heist script is an absolute joy, let’s be clear—I’m mainly here for the swimming.

Despite the fact that Bottle Rocket was never a commercial success, critics nevertheless came away from initial screenings with the sense that this was the start of something major. The symmetry; the Mark Mothersbaugh soundtrack; the deadpan comedy style; the saturated colors—all hallmarks of Wes Anderson’s unique body of work. This film is the genesis, a place where we can come to view tiny glimpses of his brilliance, feeling like we just entered a world that’s somehow better than our own (even though it’s just a nondescript, forgettable Texas town). Small is the word I keep coming back to—small budget, small-time crooks, small in scope; however, the movie leaves me with BIG feelings. The romance between Luke Wilson’s character Anthony and the motel maid Inez is so beautiful, it’s enough to make even the worst skeptic believe in love at first sight. That pure, simple moment when you realize the person you love feels the same way in return—like a bottle rocket exploding in your heart.

Of course it wouldn’t be a Wes Anderson movie without a zany cast of secondary characters, one of which is simply called Applejack. It’s a tiny role, but pivotal to the final heist of the film. And lucky for me, cocktail-inspiring as well.  While watching Bottle Rocket, cool off with an Applejack Collins.

Applejack Collins

1 ½ oz Applejack Brandy

½ oz Orgeat

½ oz Lemon Juice

3 oz Club Soda

Combine Applejack, orgeat, and lemon juice in a shaker with ice.  Shake until chilled, then strain into a Collins glass over fresh ice.  Top with club soda and stir gently to combine.

I’ve talked a lot about how this was the start of Wes Anderson’s career, but let’s not forget brothers Owen and Luke Wilson, who also broke into Hollywood with Bottle Rocket. With their Texas drawls, dented noses, and good hair, the Wilsons were practically destined for stardom. Lucky for us, this weird little ‘90s indie film had enough fuel to propel them up there.  Cheers!

Avanti!

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Image credit: Avanti!, 1972

I’ve got a bad case of wanderlust, and it’s all Jack Lemmon’s fault. He makes the Italian island of Ischia look purely magical in this week’s film Avanti! (Disc/Download), an underrated Billy Wilder gem from the 1970s. Though Ischia and it’s highly Instagrammable Mezzatorre Hotel have long held a place on my travel bucket list, this film has moved it straight to the top. What I wouldn’t give to have a room with a view of the sea, thick coffee, an attentive concierge, and a waiter who will ply you with pasta until you forget all about your pesky diet back home. When swimming naked in the Mediterranean is an option, who cares how you look in a bathing suit?

Of course, it’s not all skinny dipping and afternoon prosecco. Jack Lemmon’s character Wendell Armbruster arrives on the island to claim the body of his father, who died in a car crash with his mistress in the passenger seat. The daughter of this mistress is played by Juliet Mills (sister of Hayley), and though Wendell and Ms. Piggott start the film as strangers, they eventually pick up where their parents left off. I watched this film at a weird time in my life, having just spent six weeks dealing with my father’s death and all the legal headaches accompanying it. To say that I identify with Wendell’s frustration about how long and complicated the processes of body transport, death certificates, and funeral arrangements are would be an understatement (and similar to Ischia, nobody works weekends in Florida either). But what I loved about this movie is that by the end, Wendell is able to move past the minutia of death to truly celebrate the life his father lived, in the place where he was happiest. That is how we honor the dead, by experiencing the joy they would have wanted for us.

My one quibble with this fabulous movie is the unfortunate body dysmorphia and fat shaming experienced by Ms. Piggott (even the name is like an underhanded dig at the character). I’m not sure why we’re supposed to believe that the gorgeous Juliet Mills is overweight, but let’s just say by 2021 standards she is not. Luckily, after a couple Bacardi cocktails al fresco, she’s able to loosen up and enjoy herself without counting every calorie. Let’s join in the fun with this rum-based cocktail. While watching Avanti!, I recommend drinking a Daffodil.

Daffodil

1 1/2 oz Bacardi White Rum

1 oz Cocchi Americano

1 1/4 oz Orgeat

1 oz Lime Juice

2 dashes Orange Bitters

Dried Orange slice for garnish

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice, and shake until chilled. Fill a tumbler with crushed ice, then strain cocktail into prepared glass. Garnish with a dried orange slice (or twist of orange).

There’s a moment in Avanti! where Juliet Mills says, “Italy is not a country- it’s an emotion.” What this film captures so well are the complex emotions of love, loss, humor, frustration, and longing. After living through a year where it seems everything came to a complete stop, what a relief it is to hear the word avanti. In English, it means move forward. Proceed with living. Cheers!

The Ref

Image credit: The Ref, 1994

Never has there been a more requested holiday film in the history of Cinema Sips than this week’s pick, The Ref (Disc/Download). After finally watching it, I understand why. In a year when we’ve all essentially been held hostage inside our homes, it makes sense that people would want to watch a Christmas film about a couple held hostage inside their home. This is exactly the type of dark yuletide comedy we need right now.

In a lot of ways, The Ref reminds me of a stage play. Most of the action takes place in one setting, the dialogue is quick and clever, and the choreography within the larger group scenes is perfectly executed. Denis Leary plays a cat burglar on the run after a botched jewelry heist (for those of you who’ve seen To Catch a Thief, picture the complete opposite of Cary Grant), but before he can set sail for the Caribbean, he’s got to hide out in the home of a bickering Connecticut couple on the brink of divorce. It was a little jarring to see Kevin Spacey in…well…anything, but as Lloyd, the eye-rolling, sarcastic husband of Judy Davis’s snobby, perpetually unhappy Caroline, he really pulls me into this scene of marital discord. There are a lot of side plots that seemingly go nowhere, but overall I appreciate the way this film uses Christmas to highlight the absurdity of wealthy suburban America. These people are heinous on a normal day, but throw Christmas into the mix and you’re one ugly pair of L.L. Bean slippers away from total meltdown.

Something I can personally relate to in The Ref is the bourgeois tendency to “try something new” for your holiday meal. I’m thinking in particular of the time I thought it would be fun to make Spanish Tapas for Easter. In The Ref, Caroline’s absurd theme is Scandinavian Christmas, resulting in a smorgasbord of unpronounceable dishes. Let’s celebrate her good intentions with this traditional Swedish Glögg. If you want to get very authentic, you can throw in some Aquavit. But if you’re like me and don’t want to be stuck with a bottle of Aquavit for the next twelve months, bourbon will do just fine.*

Swedish Glögg

1 bottle Red Wine

1 ½ cups Bourbon

½ cup brown sugar

Zest of 1 orange

2 tablespoons raisins

1 tablespoon cardamom pods

2 tablespoons fresh ginger, sliced

1 Cinnamon stock

8 Cloves

Garnish: Blanched, slivered almonds, raisins, or dried cranberries

Combine all ingredients except the garnish in a pot on the stove. Heat, and let simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, and let it steep for an hour. Finely strain to remove the spices, and reheat to warm. Put a few almonds and raisins in the bottom of each serving glass, and pour in glögg.*

This might seem like a lot of prep for a drink, but really, what else are you doing this year? And if you’re trapped at home with a spouse you’ve come to detest, maybe you need a whole pot of this stuff to get through the holiday. So Merry Christmas, and let’s hope that by next year we’ll all be on a boat to Jamaica. Cheers!

*Note: If you’re pressed for time, and/or incredibly lazy about making things on the stove, you can always warm up some Trader Joe’s Winter Wassail Punch and throw in some red wine and bourbon. Still festive, still delicious, and extremely easy.

Waitress

Image Credit: Waitress, 2007

Y’all didn’t think I’d let Pie Month go by without talking about the ultimate in cinematic pie experiences, did you? Frankly, I was shocked to see that I haven’t covered Waitress (Disc/Download) before now. It’s one of my favorite movies, and I watch it every year the night before Thanksgiving, on what we call “Pie Night”- a glorious evening when my husband and I eat all the pie we won’t have room for after the next day’s feast. Trust me when I say that Pie Night is the greatest holiday of the year.

Why is this the best movie to watch on our annual pastry binge? Because it features Keri Russell as sweet, strong heroine Jenna, a waitress who spends her days making gorgeous pies in a rural diner. Her combinations are inspired and often autobiographical, such as the “Pregnant Self Pitying Loser” Pie, and the “I Don’t Want Earl’s Baby” Pie. The pies are an outlet where she can vent frustrations about an abusive marriage, her elation over a secret affair with an OBGYN, and her fears about impending motherhood. Honestly, the movie itself feels like dessert. It’s got sweetness, a little bitterness, and just a touch of heat to make us feel all warm and cozy inside. Director Adrienne Shelley gave women a delicious gift in this movie, and I intend to eat every bite.

There are a lot of pies in this movie, but my favorite is probably the Chocolate Strawberry Oasis. I subbed white chocolate for dark, but the complexity of this drink makes it feel like one of Jenna’s lush desserts. While watching Waitress, I recommend drinking this Everybody Hates Earl Martini (because we DO all hate Earl).

Everybody Hates Earl Martini

2 oz Strawberry Vodka

1 oz White Creme de Cacao

1.5 oz White Chocolate Liqueur

1 oz Chambord Raspberry Liqueur

1 oz Unsweetened Vanilla Almond Milk

Strawberry for garnish

Combine all liquid ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a strawberry.

Although Jenna has some complicated romantic entanglements, the true heart of this movie lies with her friendships. The bond she forms with fellow waitresses and cantankerous diner owner (Andy Griffith) is such a joy to watch, and reminds me of what I’m most thankful for every year- good food, good drinks, and great friends. Cheers!

Blazing Saddles

Image credit: Blazing Saddles, 1974

Even though I’m not a big fan of westerns, I had to make an exception for this week’s pie pick Blazing Saddles (Disc/Download). It actually wasn’t that hard to do, since this is technically a western spoof, complete with Busby Berkeley dance number, Marlene Dietrich-inspired seductress named Lili von Shtüpp, and a whiskey-swilling Gene Wilder. Mel Brooks, you magnificent genius, you did it again. You made me spit my drink from laughing too hard.

Fair warning, the language used in this movie is sometimes difficult to hear, and in fact the film is often shown with a special introduction now. It’s actually a very progressive script for 1974 as well as today, but taken out of context, certain elements could be problematic. The thing to remember is, the ignorant racists are the ones who come off looking like fools, while the handsome black sheriff and his friends are the heroes. Like most Mel Brooks films, I don’t watch Blazing Saddles for the plot. I watch it for the one-liners, the funny character names, and the biting commentary on Hollywood and society-at-large.

The reason this movie made it into my month of pie flicks is due to the EPIC pie fight between villains, good guys, and assorted staff members of the Warner Bros. backlot. Normally I’d be sad about all these commissary pies being destroyed, but since it’s in the name of comedy, I suppose it’s okay. While watching Blazing Saddles, I recommend drinking this Pie Fight cocktail.

Pie Fight

1 oz Whiskey

1/2 oz Peach Schnapps

1 oz Bailey’s Irish Cream

2 oz Orange Juice

Whipped cream/pie crust for garnish

Combine whiskey, schnapps, Irish cream, and orange juice in a shaker with ice. Shake until chilled, then strain into a coupe glass. Top with whipped cream, and a piece of pie crust (I used store-bought refrigerated crust, cut out a shape, and placed in an air-fryer for 3-5 minutes to “bake”).

This cocktail is a great substitute for a cream pie, and if you’ve inexplicably found yourself with a racist sitting at your Thanksgiving table, feel free to toss it in their face. Far less clean-up than a whole dessert. Cheers!

The Addams Family

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Image credit: The Addams Family, 1991

They’re creepy and kooky, mysterious and spooky. No, not the First Family; I’m talking about… The Addams Family! (Disc/Download) Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, this 1991 adaptation of the comic strip and hit 1960s television show is exactly the level of scary I want in my Halloween movies. That is to say—none at all.

While this film lacks a delightful jingle, it hits a lot of high notes with clever one-liners and stellar acting. Angelica Huston is radiant as Morticia Addams, the glamorous goth mom who always finds her light, and Raul Julia, who brings such joy to the role of Gomez that I want him to be my permanent drinking buddy. These two characters are supposed to be obsessed with death and the occult, but their chemistry makes this one of the happiest, healthiest marriages in the history of popular culture. And then there’s precocious little Christina Ricci as their daughter Wednesday, who enjoys electrocuting her brother and poisoning the neighborhood Girl Scouts. I feel absolutely no shame in admitting that I wanted to be Wednesday as a little girl. Hell, I still want to be her. There’s a ludicrous plot involving amnesia and stolen treasure, but obviously we’re all just here for the deliciously macabre set, black roses, and a disembodied hand named Thing.

Rounding out the Addams Family is Uncle Fester, played by an almost unrecognizable Christopher Lloyd. We’re supposed to believe he’s been lost in the Bermuda Triangle for decades despite the fact that he’s practically transparent from lack of a tan. Let’s give a toast to Fester’s #islandlyfe with this Black Sand tiki cocktail!

Black Sand

¾ oz Lime Juice

¾ oz Coconut Cream

Pinch of activated charcoal powder

1 ½ oz Pineapple Juice

2 oz Dark Rum

In the bottom of a shaker, dissolve charcoal powder in the lime juice and coconut cream. After well combined, add ice, pineapple juice, and rum. Shake until chilled, then strain into a coupe glass.

“Fleshlette” hand sculpture by http://paynescultpures.com

I can’t end this post without mentioning Cousin It, who like many of us in quarantine, is in desperate need of a haircut. If you need a break from reality right now, treat yourself to a little absurdity. The Addams Family is ready to welcome you with a lethal drink and an antique torture device. Cheers!

It Happened One Night

Image Credit: It Happened One Night, 1934.

I don’t know what this says about me, but I have a thing for grumpy heroes in popular culture. I guess when I really stop to think about it, I’m the grumpy hero of my own life: I don’t have time for nonsense, my baseline descriptors are sarcastic and pessimistic, but deep down inside I’m a romantic puddle of mush. Maybe that’s why I adore Clark Gable so much in this week’s film It Happened One Night (Disc/Download)—we are two cynics who found love, despite our better instincts.

Hailed as one of the greatest romantic comedies of all time, It Happened One Night 100% lives up to the hype. It’s amazing to me how this 1930s screwball comedy about a scandalized socialite falling for a wisecracking journalist still manages to feel fresh and relevant nearly a century later. Featuring tropes as old as time (enemies-to-lovers + forced proximity), Frank Capra’s ode to romance on the road is smart, daring, and unbelievably funny. While the script is great, it’s the acting that really sells it for me. Claudette Colbert is both ballsy and vulnerable, so desperate to get to The Wrong Man that she jumps off a yacht, hops on a Greyhound, spends the night with a total stranger (The Right Man), and flashes her gams while hitchhiking. And yet, she still needs Clark Gable to tell her how bus schedules work, and the proper way to dunk a donut, and how to not stand out like a sore thumb among the plebeians. Meanwhile, he needs a woman who makes him laugh, calls him out on his oversized ego, and is ready and willing to take the leap into a life of adventure. These two may be on opposite sides of the curtain, but we know it’s only a matter of time before those walls of Jericho come tumbling down.

Claudette Colbert’s character Ellie Andrews is described as a spoiled brat, but I think she’s more of a pissed-off brat. She’s tired of other people calling the shots in her life, and she’s ready to take the reins. This cocktail I found a few months ago in the New York Times cooking section seems tailor-made for Ellie- The Bitter Heiress!

The Bitter Heiress

3 oz Lillet

1 oz Fresh-squeezed Orange Juice

½ oz Campari

Orange peel

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice, and add the first three ingredients. Stir until chilled, then strain into a chilled martini glass. Take the orange peel, hold it over the glass with the skin facing down, then strike a match and hold it between the peel and the drink. Squeeze peel toward match to spray citrus oil onto the surface of the drink, and discard. Garnish with a fresh slice of peel.

If you need a fun romp for an at-home date night, or just a solo screening that’ll make you feel a little less pessimistic about the world, quit bawlin’ and give It Happened One Night a chance. Here’s to the merry go round!

That Thing You Do!

Image Credit: That Thing You Do!, 1996

Anyone who knows me (or really anyone who’s ever read this blog) knows I have a thing for the 1960s. But where did this obsession come from? I blame the following: endless Nick at Night marathons in the ’90s, and this week’s movie, That Thing You Do! (Disc/Download).

Having been raised on the Pittsburgh oldies station in my dad’s car, I knew this era’s music inside and out. So when Tom Hanks “the director” burst onto the scene with his ode to ’60s pop, I was instantly hooked. Add to that Liv Tyler’s cigarette pants and high ponytails, Tom Everett Scott’s electronics shop wonderland (THOSE VINTAGE RADIOS!!!), and all those references to forgotten stars like Gina Lollobrigida and Suzanne Pleshette, and I was officially a goner. I’d found my pop culture home, and the mid-1960s was it. I wanted to live in this world where the One-ders could rise to superstardom on the strength of one hit song, and not flashy boy-band dance moves. This world where rock bands got to pretend-perform in movies as Capt. Geech and the Shrimp Shack Shooters. This world where jazz and rock & roll was still somewhat interconnected, and a talented musician like Guy Patterson could perform in front of screaming teenage girls one minute, and studio icons the next. Maybe, at the end of it all, I just wanted to imagine a world where I could leave Pennsylvania and follow my dreams—wearing those cigarette pants, of course.

It’s still incredibly odd to me that Tom Hanks hasn’t found more projects like this to direct, because clearly the guy’s got skills. He made a perfect gem of a movie that captures a specific moment in time, pulling together exceptionally talented people to realize his vision. Let’s celebrate this maestro of ’60s nostalgia with one of my favorite cocktails, the classic Tom Collins.

Tom Collins

2 oz Gin

1 oz lemon juice

½ oz simple syrup

Club Soda

Lemon garnish

Combine gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup in a shaker with ice.  Shake until chilled, then strain into a Collins glass with fresh ice. Top with Club Soda, and stir gently to combine. Garnish with lemon.

I did a thing I pretty much never do, which was to watch an unedited version of this movie one lazy Friday night. I know a lot of people enjoy Special Features and Extended Cuts, but to me, theatrical cuts exist for a reason. In most cases, it’s the best version everyone could agree on. But I got curious, wondering what was tossed from my perfect film, and WOW it was a lot. For example, poor Charlize took the biggest hit, and now that strange Spartacus line finally makes more sense. Sort of. Also- Tom Hanks’ manager character was actually gay?? That’s actually something I wish they’d left in. Aside for some great dresses that ended up on the cutting room floor, most of the edits were necessary. Would I watch the extended version again? Probably not—it was extremely long and slow-moving. But as a lesson in how all the parts have to come together in just the right way to tell the best story possible, it was invaluable. Like the difference between the Oneders vs. The Wonders, simple is usually better. Cheers!

The Bad News Bears

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Bad News Bears

Image credit: The Bad News Bears, 1976

I have absolutely no idea what’s happening in the world of professional sports right now, but I’m guessing things are not normal. If you’re missing your peanuts and CrackerJack, and starting to wonder if you’ll ever get back, then allow Cinema Sips to tide you over with a classic baseball flick, The Bad News Bears (Disc/Download). Featuring an alcoholic coach, a feminist pitcher, and a ton of salty language, this 1976 ode to Little League and Southern California will have you experiencing all the flavors of summer.

In this perfect time capsule of a movie, Walter Matthau plays Buttermaker, a retired Minor League pitcher and current pool cleaner of the San Fernando Valley. He accepts a gig coaching a team of all the kids who weren’t good enough to play on the existing Little League teams, thinking it’ll be an easy day in the dugout with a cooler full of beer. As the misfits and all their schoolyard problems start to get under his skin, he realizes he has an opportunity to give these kids a badly needed confidence boost. He recruits the talented Amanda (Tatum O’Neal) for her golden arm, motorcycle-riding delinquent Kelly Leak (Jackie Earle Haley) for his stellar batting average, and brainy Ogilvie (Alfred Lutter) to help him Moneyball the heck out of this league. Buttermaker’s strategy works, and eventually the Bears start winning games. The script is genius, but it’s the realistic performances that make me come back to this film year after year. I feel like I get to journey back to an era where people went inside a Pizza Hut to have dinner without irony, and a towheaded kid named Lupus could mix you the perfect martini.

Speaking of alcohol, it’s kind of amazing that Coach Buttermaker could hand out brewskies to a group of eleven-year-olds after the game and it wasn’t all over social media the next morning. I’m sure he still got to keep his job, and I bet those kids didn’t even care that they lost. While watching The Bad News Bears, join in the fun with this Honey-Bear Shandy.

Honey-Bear Shandy

1 oz Vodka

1 oz Orange Juice

½ oz Lemon Juice

½ oz Honey Syrup (2 parts Honey to 1 part Water, boiled and cooled)

5 oz Hefeweizen Beer

Orange Slice for garnish

Combine vodka, honey syrup, orange juice, and lemon juice in a shaker filled with ice. Shake well until chilled, then strain into a glass filled with crushed ice. Add beer, stirring to combine. Garnish with an orange slice.

Honeybear Shandy

If you’ve ever known what it is to get picked last in gym class, if you’ve ever been underestimated because you’re a girl, or if you’ve ever felt like you’ll never live up to the expectations someone has for you, then you’ll probably relate to this film. I always say, I love baseball movies not because of the sport, but because of the sportsmanship. This year may be full of bad news, but we’ll always have the Bears. Cheers!