Sunday, February 7, 2010

More Than a Game (2008) - Squeeze the Orange

On the Menu: MORE THAN A GAME (2008)

Ingredients: Coach Dru Joyce II, LeBron James, Sian Cotton, Willie McGee, Dru Joyce III and Romeo Travis. Directed by Kristopher Belman. Run time: 100 minutes. Rated: PG.

At First Bite: I had seen the trailer on a couple other DVDs, and knew I wanted to get it when it became available. I had watched part of the St. Vincent-St. Mary's game against Oak Hill Academy on ESPN2 back in 2002, but, at the time, I wasn't aware of the team's legacy. The hype over James is what had me watching (his jump shot was NOT that great). However, this time, it was the team that had me watching. Excluding Travis, they all played basketball together since they were 10-11 years old. The documentary tells each player's story and follows the team through its struggles and victories. It's like watching HOOP DREAMS, but you know, at least, one of the guys made it to the big time. The film is made up of interviews, home video footage, news footage and still photos that are brought to life by giving them three-dimensional depth or through creative montages. To me, despite the movie wanting to be about the friendships of the players (and not James specifically), it seems to be more about the growth of Joyce II as a coach and a father.

Tough to Swallow: I'm not sure if it was because the way it was shot, but the game scores and stats don't make the cut in the widescreen presentation. There are some parts of the story that could have been explored more, e.g., the criticism they faced going to the private Catholic school instead of the all-black public school, and the matchup with Carmelo Anthony. At no point does the film mention academics either (although I've read each player had at least a 3.4 GPA at STVM).

Also, we don't hear what the other players thought of James's early celebrity (or even what he thought of it himself really). What exactly was the impact of the media on the team? Speaking of other players, we never hear from anyone outside of the five star players.

And, the mess involving Gloria James and the Hummer H2 she bought her son for his 18th birthday seems to be glossed over. Belman also neglects to include the James's failed attempt to jump to the NBA after his junior year of high school ball. But, LeBron is credited as one of the movie's executive producers, so maybe that's why the tough questions don't get asked.

Something to Chew On: Belman was taking a documentary film course at Loyola Marymount University and decided to go back to his hometown of Akron to shoot his 10-minute project on the STVM basketball team. He saw promise for the project to evolve into much more, so he spoke to Coach Joyce and ended up going to practices and traveling with the team on game days. I imagine having a backstage pass to something like that was like winning the lottery. This documentary is Belman's only film credit to date.

Note: Tonight, LeBron scored 35 points, a franchise record, in the 1st half of a 113-106 win over the Knicks. He scored 24 consecutive points and finished with 47 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists and 5 steals.

The film currently has a 7.3 user rating on (376 votes).

Sides: The DVD contains three featurettes. "More Than a Film" chronicles the film from 10-minute project to completion. "Winning Ways: A Look Inside Sports Psychology" includes interviews with Belman, Coach Joyce and leading sports psychologists. "Behind the Music" lets composer/producer Harry Mason, Jr. take you through the making of the film's soundtrack.

Aftertaste: I love basketball, so it was cool to see all the old game footage. I mean, these guys were awesome at age 11. The movie itself is well-edited, and I liked the effects used to liven up the photographs.

Belman doesn't give you each player's story right up front; each bio is staggered throughout, which works very well. I'm glad it wasn't all about LeBron (maybe the final third of the film), but you still need to get in some tough questions and draw some emotion out of the guys. It's got style, but it lacks substance.

Coach Joyce had the most interesting story to me overall, but my favorite specific moment is the game when Little Dru lights it up.

Maybe I like HOOP DREAMS more because it doesn't feel like a fairy tale; it's reality for the vast majority of kids. It was more a story of the process and how young kids were using basketball as a way out of the projects. MORE THAN A GAME is more a story of the relationships and how the sport created a family.


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