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Basketball coach Cathy Rush (Carla Gugino) arrived at tiny Immaculata College in 1972, at just the right moment for her, for the team, and for the game. Restrictive rules that had “protected” female players from a full-court game had just been revised.  For the first time, there was going to be a national championship for the women’s teams.  And while people were still asking back then, “If she is married, why is she working?” that question would soon be considered inappropriate and ultimately almost unfathomable.

That context and an excellent cast gives this more heft than the typical based-on-a-true-story saga of the underdog team that became national champions. The always-excellent Gugino, in a series of wonderful 1970’s outfits, shows us Rush’s sense of purpose, even when she faces challenges like a Mother Superior (Ellen Burstyn) who is horrified to think that her girls might be “athletes” and a husband who cannot understand why she is there.  Her devotion to the girls as people as well as players is nicely shown.  And is is good to see the nuns treated respectfully, not made into caricatures or made to seem stuffy, quaint, or cute.  They are portrayed as people, too.  We are reminded of their sense of purpose when Rush asks the Mother Superior for equipment and uniforms.  The Mother Superior says she is welcome to anything she has and then shows the coach her small, spare, room with little more than a cot and a rosary.

Marley Shelton plays Sister Sunday, a young nun struggling with her calling who becomes the assistant coach.  Her sweetness and sincerity are a good complement to the coach’s flinty determination.  In a scene where they go to a bar in civilian clothes, Shelton shows us how the sister’s faith supports her strength and integrity.

Rush had no coaching experience.  The team had just one ball and the gym had burned down.  She was the only one who applied for the job and she was paid $450 for the entire season.  She might have thought of it at first as “something to keep me busy” while her husband was on the road as an NBA referee, or “a perfect place for someone who was not ready to assume her role in society,” but she learned that her role in society was exactly where she was. Her most important contribution is shown by the updates at the end.  She did not just coach a team of champions.  She created a new generation of coaches who took what she taught them to the first women athletes to have the opportunities created by Title IX.

 

The first Johnny English spy spoof came out in 2003.  The spy parts were not exciting enough and the comedy parts were not funny enough to make material that has been done by everyone from James Coburn and Dean Martin to Mike Meyers and Jackie Chan seem fresh.  And yet, he’s back — the movie no one much liked has a sequel no one asked for.  There’s just one reason: people who do not speak English loved it.  The original made a ton of money in countries where audiences could enjoy the pratfalls and ignore everything else.  And so, passing through quickly on its way to being dubbed for international release, we have “Johnny English Reborn.”

Rowan Atkinson is best in small doses.  Even at under two hours, this goes on much too long as it appears to go down a check-list of spy movie clichés, only to deploy jokes that are almost as well-worn.  There is one great Parkour chase scene and a couple of genuinely funny moments but it drags on with Atkinson doing the same shtick over and over — the disconnect between his assessment of his capability (high) and his actual capability (low).   And lots of crotch hits.

Someone has certainly watched a great many spy movies and so the settings replicate Bond staples like the snowy retreat, the men’s room, the secret headquarters, and the ashram.  But like the first one, most of the action isn’t exciting and most of the jokes are not funny.  Perhaps the dubbed version is better.

 

 

Café is about that place we all wish we could find, a coffee shop that makes its customers feel at home.  Jennifer Love Hewitt plays the girl behind the counter who provides advice and support for the regulars.  But then a customer gets a disturbing message on his laptop that causes everyone to question the nature of reality and free will.  This touching and thought-provoking film from Marc Erlbaum is worth a look.

 

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On “The Muppet Show,” Statler and Waldorf (named for stately old hotels) were the two cranky old guys in the balcony who comment sarcastically on the performance.  I’m glad to see that they are on top of internet culture!  Looking forward to seeing more of them in the upcoming Muppet movie.

 

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