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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

Hoop Dreams (1994)


Could have been my story, had I been five-feet taller. Oh well. Dare to dream.

The film follows the story of two African-American high school students named William Gates and Arthur Agee, who both live in Chicago and dream of becoming professional basketball players. They go to the same school but as time goes on and more and more obstacles come down the road, their lives both change. Sometimes, for the better, and other times, for the worse.

As much as movie-geekery has taken over my latter years, back in the day, I was quite the sports fan and player. My main sport was always football, football, football and that’s what I focused on the most in high school, in terms of what extracurricular activities to perform in and whatnot, but it wasn’t the only sport I was fond of. Basketball was also another sport of mine that I loved to play and practice with not just because I was always the biggest white dude on the court and I got almost every rebound, but just the whole simplicity of it as well.

The times for me started to change and eventually, I just gave up on playing all sports but I never forgot the rush and feel of basketball and how easy it was to just simply pick up a ball, find a nice pair of shoes and walk on down to the courts and shoot. It’s a simple game that I don’t play as much as I ought to, but watching this flick reminded me what I loved about it so much after all.

However, as much as this documentary does concern the sport of basketball, it most certainly is not just limited to that. This flick talks about everything else that surrounds the sport of basketball such as work, money, schools, family, tests, cars, crime, making an honest-living, and most of all: Scholarships. The one movie that really shows you what it’s like to be an up-and-comer in the game of basketball and see the sport for all of it’s pros and cons is He Got Game. But to be honest, that’s a movie, made by Hollywood, and produced by Hollywood, and as gritty and dirty as it may be, it still is a movie none the less which means that it does fall a bit farther from the truth tree then you’d think. That’s where this documentary comes into handy and shows you that He Got Game, although a glamorized-version of what’s really going on in the world of basketball, is also very honest in what it shows. Yet, this review will not be a comparison between the two because they are both different in their own, near-perfect ways.

Whether or not you are a fan of sports, it doesn’t matter, because all you have to be is a fan of being human. Rarely ever do you get to see a documentary that shows the human-spirit for all that it is and all that it is ever going to be, because let’s face it, we all have dreams and we all want them to come true, but rarely do they ever. I don’t mean to sound like a total Debbie-downer but that’s the truth of the matter and it only shows in the adventures through the game of basketball and life that these two kids go through. Honestly, without these two kids, who knows what type of movie we would have had here and whether or not it would have been the thought-provoker it truly is.

Ahh, those were the days.

Ahh, those were the days.

I don’t think the creators, or director Steve James, could have picked any better subjects than these two kids because they are exactly what we expect from any type of human, especially young ones at that. They are young, brash, energetic, talented, but also hopeful and only wish to eventually be the ones making the change flow, the ladies coming in-and-out of the doorways, and the ones to hit the final buzzer-beater in the championship game. Their attitudes may not be the best because they are a bit too hot-headed, but they’re just like you or me in by the way that they all think that they got their lives covered, just because they can drain about ten three’s in-a-row. Little do these kids know, is that it’s not whether or not you can make a whole bunch of three’s and save the game at the final second, it’s more or less whether or not you can keep up with life itself and keep up with your grades.

In any sports movie you see, there’s always that typical cliche of how a kid who is really talented at a sport, cannot play the big game unless he gets his grades up and as much of obvious convention that may be to most people now, the fact of the matter still lies, it is true. You can go to any school you want if you’re amazing at sports, but once you do actually get there, it is your responsibility to keep yourself there and to keep alive and well, so you can get that diploma, get those scholarships, and get that life of big money, big women, big cars, and big b-ball games that you oh so truly desire. It’s the way of life, if you think about it; you have to work your ass-off to get where you want to in life and it only shines through even more once you see how painfully honest and realistic these kids are in their day-to-day troubles.

Both kids, Agee and Gates, are as lovable and likable as you can get with documentary subjects. They’re the type of kids that remind you of you when you were a youngling and you were a bit too big for your britches, but also remind you of when you got older, and more wiser and understood of the world around you. What this documentary does, and does very well, is that they show these two kids, who are from the same walks of life, live in just about the same neighborhoods, and have both of the same issues with balancing school and basketball, but yet, they are also very different. Agee is a wise-cracker of a kid that not only has a life at home that’s screwing him up big time, but also a mind that is more concerned with basketball, than it is with the books. Whereas with Gates, he is a lot more determined and smarter with his decisions and with what he wants to do, and has a pretty nice life at home, has a pretty nice mommy, and even has a girl-friend that he keeps happy from time-to-time. Both stories seem very cut-and-dry right from the start, but just like life, unpredictable situations get thrown into these kids’ ways and everything for the both of them changes.

You never quite know what’s going to happen next to these kids, to their love for basketball, or their actual families. It’s almost like every shot missed, every turnover made, every practice missed, every second late, and every pass stolen from them, means another step closer to ultimate failure in terms of their basketball scholarships, their dreams of being a basketball-star, and their hopes of saving their family from poverty. It’s actually very scary once you get thinking about it and watching these two kids as they struggle with all of the curve balls (that counts as a basketball term, right?) that get thrown their way, and how they actually make it better and work in their favor. All of this could happen and you could easily not give a single shit about these kids, or their families, but you do care for them and want them to succeed in all that they do. It’s almost as if I felt like I was their friend as well, because James gets so up-close-and-personal with these kids that we never lose sight of who they really are, despite them going through that many times throughout the whole three-hour flick.

"When I say, "academics, first, basketball, second", I really mean the other way around. You gonna edit that out though, right?"

“When I say, “academics, first, basketball, second”, I really mean the other way around. You gonna edit that out though, right?”

That’s right, this documentary is definitely one of the longer ones that isn’t just made strictly for TV, but it doesn’t matter because you are constantly on-the-edge-of-your-seat, always excited, always interested, and always wondering what’s going to happen next to these kids and the decisions they make. You rarely get that with any movie that features a script, actors, directors, writers, producers, and etc., but rarely do you ever get that with a documentary that’s as simple as this. Hey, there’s that word again, “simple”. The way I look at the sport of basketball is the same way I looked at this movie: It’s simple, but effective. If you have never played basketball or had any type of love for any sport at all, then you may remember all of the times you’ve felt deeply-passionate about something and furthermore, have done all that you could do to make that passion come true. See, it’s not just about basketball, no matter how much the title and synopsis may fool you, it’s more about the human-spirit and how it can make you do anything for the things you love in life, whether it’d be shooting the hoops or writing movie reviews.

Hey, had to insert myself in there somehow!

And as much as this flick may be more about the human-spirit, rather than the actual sport of basketball itself, the flick also likes to chalk-up some points about other issues in life like race, education, scholarships, families, crime, and the works, but yet, it just didn’t seem that fully fleshed-out. When I watch a documentary, I want to feel something, I want to learn something, and I want to have something that makes me think about the life around me and looking at it through the perspective of another human-being. Sometimes, I felt like those moments where here to hit and stay with you, but other times I just felt like James was happy with just touching the surface of the bigger picture, but yet, was too scared to go any further. That is always the worst-ingredient you can have as a documentary filmmaker and it’s what really carries this flick down.

For instance, one of the major issues in the sport of basketball that was growing around that time and is just about obvious nowadays, is the fact that there are more black basketball players than white. Without making this whole rant being about how black people are more psychically-skilled and inept than white people are, I just want to say that it’s obvious when you go to see basketball game, or any sport game for that matter. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that black people are better than white people are at sports. So, what I wanted to know was why there was such an increase in black basketball players, against white ones, and how that effects these kids when they’re in high school and trying to find the right scholarships for themselves, so they don’t go broke. It’s just one issue that I don’t think I really fleshed-out fully, but it’s one that I feel like could have really touched-upon when it comes to what James was trying to get across, because other than that, you just got a story about two kids, who are really good at playing basketball.

Consensus: Hoop Dreams definitely could have gone deeper, but that is all forgiven once you take into account how much it cares for its subjects, what they do, every decision they make, and whether or not they are ever going to be able to achieve their dreams of being a professional basketball player. And a great one, at that.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

I guess everybody except for the head coach to the right didn't get the memo. They're number one!

I guess everybody except for the head coach to the right didn’t get the memo.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

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10 responses to “Hoop Dreams (1994)

  1. Three Rows Back June 28, 2014 at 3:58 pm

    What a classic. Nice post Dan.

  2. Wendell June 28, 2014 at 5:17 pm

    Eexcellent review. Also glad to see the love for He Got Game. Both are among my favorite basketball movies of all time with Hoop Dreams my top sports movie, period. I hear where you’re coming from on the issue of white players, but don’t think it was necessary here. If this were a broader examination of the game then I’d be right with you. I see it as a chronicling of these two young men with race only mentioned because it is relevant to their specific stories. If you get in a b-ball mood again, I suggest The Heart of the Game or Soul in the Hole. Those are documentaries that I thoroughly enjoyed.

  3. ckckred June 28, 2014 at 5:24 pm

    Nice review. This is my favorite documentary and it’s one of the most fascinating films I’ve seen. I’m really looking forward to Steve James’ Life Itself.

  4. stephen1001 June 28, 2014 at 11:20 pm

    I haven’t seen this one but it’s the first movie I remember reading about that critics felt was ‘snubbed’ by the Oscars, I don’t think it was even nominated.

    • CMrok93 June 29, 2014 at 3:43 pm

      It was nominated for like “Best Film Editing”, which is cool for a documentary. But when your documentary, which some say is considered the best, doesn’t even get nominated for that in particular category, it’s a bit strange.

  5. Victor De Leon June 30, 2014 at 4:24 pm

    stunning work, Dan. haven’t seen this in a long time. going to re-visit it very soon. glad you rated this one with high marks. it deserves it.

  6. jeffro517 July 4, 2014 at 5:43 am

    I think this is one of the few documentaries I could give a perfect score to. The way that they captured the culture of the people involved was awesome. Great review!

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