A League of Their Own review by Mike Long

In the special features section of the A League of Their Own DVD, Garry Marshall asks the burning question, "Who wants to see a girl's baseball picture?" Normally, I would answer, "Not me!", and I can't remember why I saw this film in the first place, but despite its overwhelming chick-flick pedigree A League of Their Own turns out to be more than just a "girl's baseball picture" and it serves, yet again, to remind us how funny Tom Hanks used to be.

A League of Their Own is set in 1943, a time when the play of Major League Baseball was hampered by World War II. Candy-bar magnate Walter Harvey (Garry Marshall) and his right-hand man Ira Lowenstein (David Strathairn) concoct an idea to have women (or "girls" as they were called back then) play pro baseball. Sisters Dottie (Geena Davis) and Kit (Lori Petty) are recruited to play for the league, and join a team (The Rockford Peaches) populated by Doris (Rosie O'Donnell), Mae (Madonna), Marla (Megan Cavanagh) among many others. Former major league great turned alcoholic, Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks) is brought in to manage the team. At first, the team is unorganized, and Jimmy would rather sleep than watch the games, but the Peaches eventually gel and Jimmy begins to actually coach. However, baseball must take a back-seat to issues concerning the growing animosity between Dottie and Kit, and the realities of the war. As the playoffs approach, The Peaches strive to keep their focus on baseball.

This isn't going to sound very objective, but there are many reasons why I shouldn't like A League of Their Own. It's a chick-flick, a genre I typically don't like. It's about baseball, which isn't my favorite sport. And, it's a period-piece, which usually leave me cold. But, despite these circumstances, A League of Their Own works. The film does a great job of offering the audience information on an obscure moment from history. Veteran screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel have taken the historical facts and added a menagerie of interesting characters. The premise of the film is interesting, but the overall-plot falls prey to all of the classic sports-movie clichés (even down to the slow-motion shots). However, the characters and the actors truly carry this movie. Geena Davis is great as Dottie, the rational married woman who sees baseball as a hobby in which to indulge until her husband (a bit part for Bill Pullman) comes home from the war. Tom Hanks turns in another of his great comedic roles in this film as a drunk who loves baseball so much, he's even willing to work with a group of girls. When these two stars are on-screen, A League of Their Own really shines and the film puts some nice twist on the standard male-female relationship formula. The movie was made back before Rosie O'Donnell became whatever she is today, and she has some nice moments in the film as well.

A League of Their Own is one of those movies which succeeds by being a series of small gems rather than a complete whole. The overall storyline may not break any new ground, but Ganz and Mandell have infused the film with classic moments. While many consider the "There's no crying in baseball" scene to be the highlight of this movie, that's just the tip of the iceberg. From "Evelyn, I'm sorry. I'm going to have to kill your son." to Jimmy Dugan assuring children "That's good advice" when he tells them to avoid the clap, A League of Their Own is full of classic one-liners. Director Penny Marshall does very little to intrude on the storytelling (the movie has very few moving camera shots) and she wisely lets the actors and the dialogue move the film along. The women portrayed in A League of Their Own survived against the odds, and so does this movie. If you've always considered this a chick-flick, you may want to check it out, as it's surprisingly good and it may be the only watchable movie featuring Madonna.

A League of Their Own slides onto DVD courtesy of Columbia/Tri-Star Home Entertainment. This DVD contains both a widescreen and full-frame transfer of the film. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The transfer on this DVD appears to be very similar (if not the same as) the previous A League of Their Own DVD, which was released in 1997. The image is sharp, but shows a noticeable amount of grain, albeit a very fine grain. The colors are good, and the flesh-tones look realistic. Edge-enhancement is present and there are some obvious artifacting haloes present in many scenes. The picture is well-balanced and the wide shots of the baseball fields look good. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 4.0 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects, with no distortion. The stereo effects are noticeably good, but the surround effects only have an impact when the crowds cheer.

While the previous DVD release of A League of Their Own was bare-bones, the new special edition is packed with extras. We start with an audio commentary featuring director Penny Marshall, and stars Lori Petty, Tracy Reiner, and Megan Cavanagh. My first complaint about this commentary is that other than Marshall, the voices are interchangeable, and it’s difficult to tell who’s speaking. Secondly, while there is a lot of information given here, much of it is redundant with the featurette on the DVD. Still, Marshall and co. have a lot of good memories about the film and there are some interesting tidbits here. Now, about that featurette, “Nine Memorable Innings” (52 minutes) is one of the best “making of” featurettes that I’ve seen lately. The featurette is split into chapters, but there is a “Play All” option, which is what you’ll want as this segment is packed with good information. From the planning stages to baseball training to filming, this featurette covers it all, and features interviews with Marshall, Davis, Ganz, Mandell, and many of the cast members. Unfortunately, the comments from Tom Hanks are all archival footage from the film’s set. The most interesting aspects here concern the casting of the film and the rigorous training the actresses had to endure. The DVD also contains 15 deleted scenes, which ecompass 36-minutes. These can be viewed with or without introductions by Marshall. Her intros are brief and typically useless. However, the scenes (which have been culled from various sources) are very interesting, especially the ones which reveal some crazy subplots which were excised from the finished film. The music video for the Madonna song “This Used to Be Our Playground” is included here. The extras are rounded out by cast & crew filmographies and the trailer for A League of Their Own, which is letterboxed at 2.35:1 and is 16 x 9.

7 out of 10 Jackasses

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