Saturday, August 20, 2016


Normally when I go to a movie and folks near me are talking - something that has been happening with annoying frequency of late - I want to yell "nobody came to see and hear you" but just grit my teeth. I suppose that's technically true when seated next to a very animated Bill Lee for Spaceman, but he'd at least have an argument.

I didn't know that Lee and filmmaker Brett Rapkin would be on hand for the opening night, although it would have been a pretty decent guess; the Somerville Theatre has it in the Micro for most of the week but this screening was bumping Star Trek Beyond from screen #3, so Ian probably knew something was going to bring in a crowd, even if it did mean screening off a Blu-ray in one of the larger rooms.

BTW, when I said I was sitting next to Bill Lee, I mean it, though there was a courtesy single seat between us, meaning my Q&A photos were crappier than normal:

Bill Lee and Brett Rapkin at the Somerville Theatre for Spaceman

Decent shot of Rapkin on the right, though.

I kind of got a running commentary on which details were correct. It worth noting that the bars Lee went to in both Montreal and Boston are apparently still standing, because he approved when they showed up on screen. He had a brown VW camper rather than a "puke green bus", though. A few things got a loud f-you; for instance, though not named in the film, I'm guessing his wife's first name was Mary Lou. Apparently, these were better seats than he got at Montreal's showing - which I was tempted to go to, as it was part of the Montreal Baseball Weekend when the Red Sox played the Blue Jays at Stade Olympique. I think it was kind of a pricey charity screening, though.

He did seem kind of amused that Orion was releasing the movie, though, and I like that. I have the same reaction whenever I see the Orion Pictures logo on a new movie. He was quick to mention that he was blackballed more for being a successful union rep than his bad behavior, and while it's clear his favorite subject is Bill Lee, he was also very keen to note that he is not close to unique in his love of the game, talking up a lot of people he had met in his post-MLB barnstorming career.

It's an enjoyable enough movie, I think, and will probably make for a fun-enough outing for Red Sox (and Expos) fans this week, even if they will be seeing it in the Micro in Boston. Doesn't seem to be playing Montreal yet, although maybe it just doesn't have Canadian distribution.


* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 19 August 2016 in Somerville Theatre #3 (first-run, Blu-ray)

Say this for writer/director Brett Rapkin - not a lot of folks have made a documentary feature and then been able to return to the subject for a narrative one. Of the top of my head, that puts him on a short list with Werner Herzog and a few others. Not at the top of the list or anywhere near it, since this year's Spaceman, at least, is just an average sports bio, but there's a little something to be said for both practice and for doing movies about things that hold one's attention over a long period.

By the time the film picks up in early 1982, William Francis "Spaceman" Lee (Josh Duhamel) had already had quite the checkered career, picking fights with the front office in Boston until they traded him to the Montreal Expos and now proving himself too colorful for even that city, and when he walks out to protest the release of teammate and friend Rodney Scott (Sterling K. Brown), the team cuts ties with him. Fellow barfly Dick Dennis (W. Earl Brown) offers to be his agent, but no team wants the headaches that come with him, and he starts playing with a local senior-league team even as the rest of his life spirals out of control.

Ask Bill Lee (or just find yourself in the same general area as Bill Lee) and he'll tell you that he wasn't blacklisted from Major League Baseball as for his bad behavior so much as for being one of the players' union representatives who worked with Marvin Miller to gain arbitration and free-agency rights, but that's a very different story about a very different thing. Rapkin wants to tell the story of how a passionate, talented man handles a fall, but what make's Lee's story tricky is that the fall comes primarily as a result of his own arrogance, and Rapkin likes Lee too much to really maintain that as an issue throughout the movie. His initial flameout is compelling in large part because the audience can see him bringing it upon himself, but once that happens, it seldom seems to be something inside Lee that either digs him in deeper or pulls him out - for much of the second half of the movie, stuff just happens off-screen. Narration tells us that Lee rents his basement to a drug dealer, for instance, but because we don't see it (and the film initially makes a joke of it), this doesn't seem like something Lee does or which reflects on his state of mind; it's background that he's somewhat disconnected from. There's a cut between the next to last scene and the last that feels good, but which also skips over Lee doing what needs to be done to bridge what had been set up as a large gap, and then the film jumps to his later life as a baseball vagabond without the audience really seeing him attack his issues. It's missing a lot of what would make the story feel complete, rather than a sketch with just one part filled out.

Full review on EFC.

No comments: