All's fair in love and basketball
Love and Basketball is a great chick flick that doubles as a sports movie that most guys can get into as well. Topping that off is New Line's usual high quality transfer and a disc that is loaded with extra features. All this makes for a DVD worth picking up.
Facts of the Case
Love and Basketball is deceptively simple in its construction. The movie is divided into the quarters of a basketball game and tells the story of a boy and a girl. Meeting at or about age 11, the film traces their lives as they run parallel and run apart—from childhood, to high school and then to college. The film finishes up with the characters, Quincy and Monica as adults. Each has their hopes and their dreams with both wanting to fulfill their need to play basketball on a professional level. For Quincy, it is easier and expected since he is the son of a professional ballplayer. Monica has it harder both being a woman when there was really no professional leagues here in the states, and as a daughter whose mother cannot understand why she does not want to grow up to be safe and pretty. Through the whole film the constant between the two is their love for each other and their inability to truly express it.
The movie is full of honest moments, laughs, tears and some awesome basketball scenes.
One of the greatest things about movies made available in the home video format is the joy of discovering something you missed the first time around while the film was playing in the theater's. Writer/Director Gina Prince-Bythewood's Love and Basketball is just such a jewel. As a writer, Prince-Bythewood has a great ear for the way her characters sound and react. Utilizing her sports background she carries on a tradition long carried on by writer/director Ron Shelton (Bull Durham, White Men Can't Jump). Logically dividing her film into the quarters of the of a basketball game Prince-Bythewood gives her story time to develop and grow. From childhood to adulthood, Love and Basketball features people we come to care about as they grow together and apart.
For a modestly budgeted Hollywood film, Love and Basketball looks good as well. Prince-Bythewood, along with Producer Spike Lee assembled a great team that features outstanding work from Cinematographer Reynaldo Villalobos (A Bronx Tale, Major League), Film Editor Terilyn A. Shropshire (Eve's Bayou, Mean Streak) and Composer Terence Blanchard (Summer of Same, Clockers). Together they give Love and Basketball a great feeling of place, a true sense of style and a tangible current of electricity that runs all through the game sequences.
For all of the high-quality work behind the camera, Love and Basketball would not work were it not for the lead performances of Omar Epps (In Too Deep, The Wood), as basketball prodigy Quincy McCall and Sanaa Lathan (The Best Man, Life), as his next door neighbor and life long love, Monica Wright. While it is slightly difficult to accept both as high school students, their performances are on the money. Both show the changes of growing up yet remaining the same. Lathan in particular gives a career making performance. She is a very physical actress who handles the demands of the sport sequences with ease yet manages to also convey great sensuality and that delicate sense of confusion that comes with first love. Epps has the simpler of the two roles but he also offers great balance with his work. Epps is every inch the jock but underlines his portrayal with that feeling of being a child who never had to grow up because he never really had to. Epps also does a great job of showing how when faced with a major decision and great pain we push away the ones we love and care about. It is mature work from an actor who gathers strength from each new role.
Parental support and strong acting is turned in by Dennis Haysbert (Random Hearts, The Minus Man), as Epps father the former pro-ball player Zeke McCall, with his mother played by the wonderful Debbi Morgan (The Hurricane, Eve's Bayou). On Lathan's side her parents are Harry J. Lennix (Titus, Get On The Bus), as her supportive father Nathan Wright and Alfre Woodward (Mumford, Star Trek: First Contact), provides many of the movie's most personal fireworks as Lathan's mother. Prince-Bythewood gives Woodward the most fully realized role in the movie as the woman whose daughter looks down upon her because of her choice to stay home, leaving behind her dream of being a professional chef behind. The movie is at its most poignant in their scenes together as we are shown the choices we make are rarely easy and always have consequences.
This is a New Line disc so it almost goes without saying that it is going to be of the highest quality. True to their regular form, New Line does indeed deliver another winner. Given an anamorphic transfer that maintains the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, Love and Basketball looks great. Colors are warm with a beautiful sheen to them while flesh tones appear both natural and life like. Blacks are rock solid, with great detail and there is nothing to be found in the image that shows any degree of edge enhancement or shimmer. As is to be expected, the source of this transfer was in pristine condition and there are no blemishes visible. Once from New Line, reference level picture.
The sound comes in two flavors, Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround or the preferred Dolby Digital 5.1. Not to sound like a broken record but once more New Line delivers the goods. While this is hardly a mix that ranks in the showoff to your friends variety, the sound that is heard envelopes the space, with everything being well mixed and clear. Dialogue is easy to understand and Terence Blanchard's effective score come singing through the speakers. Surround usage is limited but effective and there are no background distortions to disrupt the listening experience.
This is a Platinum Series release, so a rich bounty of extras is to be expected. Stop me if this sounds familiar, but New Line does it again and with style. The disc has two running commentary tracks, the first with Writer/Director Gina Prince-Bythewood and Star Sanaa Lathan with the second acting as both an isolated film score (in 5.1 no less) and when music is not playing featuring the thoughts of Composer Terence Blanchard, Editor Terilyn Shropshire and Prince-Bythewood. Of the two I found the latter preferable as a source of information while the former was more akin to two friends sitting down and just talking about life. In the first track the movie is discussed but it does not seem to be the focus. It is enjoyable and it is certainly warm but as a fan of film, of film music to be more specific, the second track had a lot more of what I wanted to listen to.
As a side note, anyone who loves film music could do much worse then to track down and spend time with Terence Blanchard's excellent recording "Jazz in Film." It is a wonderful disc with many great tracks and well worth hunting down.
The release also features several deleted scenes available with or without audio commentary. The source material is fairly solid for the scenes but in each case it's pretty evident why they were removed from the final cut. The disc has a blooper reel that is pretty amusing as well as audition tapes of Omar Epps and Sanaa Lathan, which is a nice feature. Also included are animated storyboards of the basketball sequences, which are very interesting and informative. Lucy Pearl's music video for "Dance Tonight " is included as is the movie's theatrical trailer. The supplements are rounded out by the original documentary entitled, "Breaking the Glass Ceiling-The Rise and Acceptance of Women Competitors." It is here that New Line continues to pioneer the material that finds its place on special editions. While the piece has little to do directly with the film Love and Basketball, it certainly serves as spiritual companion piece to the main feature of the disc. It is a highly enjoyable feature that gives this release an added sense of weight.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
If Love and Basketball has any fault it is with the movie's ending. For a film that has such an earnest sense of storytelling and is so truthful with both its situations and their execution, the ending feels somewhat forced, almost tacked on. It is not a horrible ending or one that cheapens the film as a whole; it is simply one that does not feel natural. Love and Basketball spends so much of its running time dealing with people who make hard choices, choices that have consequences that in the end I was left wishing for so much more. Chalk it up to Prince-Bythewood doing her job almost too well—I believed in these people and I wanted to see how these characters came to the point with which the film ends. This is hardly a complaint that should deter anyone from taking a chance with Love and Basketball, rather it is simply the one problem that I had with the movie as a whole.
As a DVD release, it's New Line and at this point, that speaks for itself.
Love and Basketball is a really good movie. It has the distinction of operating as a great date movie, if not all-out chick flick yet still manages to be one of the better sports movies to come down the pike in some time. Not at all an easy combination but one that Writer/Director Prince-Bythewood and her cast have put together with seeming ease and grace. As written and acted the characters have great honesty and a truthful integrity that is refreshing in movies made today.
On the actual disc side, the level of quality and the sense of value that comes with New Line release continually amaze me. Their work should serve as a model for all the other major studios. If Disney and MGM really wanted to change their ways, they would go to some local retail outlet and buy a stack of New Line discs. Then they should look at what they have spent and see what they are getting for their cash. What they will find is a great wealth of material for a fraction of what they charge on their own releases.
Love and Basketball deserves to be seen. It is a wonder of a little film. It may not change anybody's life but it is a sweet, honest and heartfelt movie that easily will renew the spirit of anyone who is burnt-out on the usual Hollywood product.
At the very least give it a rental. If you liked it as much as I did it will only run you about 20 bucks at your local Best Buy or Circuit City.
Love and Basketball is acquitted of all charges. Both Gina Prince-Bythewood and New Line are thanked for a wonderful and surprising two hours of entertainment. This court looks forward to their future projects.
I have nothing else and if there are no objections or new business I call this courtroom to recess.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
• Feature Length Commentary by Writer/Director Gina Prince-Bythewood and Actor Sanaa Lathan
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