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Who ever said that white men can’t jump obviously didn’t see the TV series The White Shadow (1979-1981). A show way ahead of its time breaking the “Welcome Back Kotter” and its idiotic “Sweat-Hogs” mold.

The White Shadow had the potential for really cliched premise for a show: a former NBA player forced to retire because of a knee injury returns to his old high school which is not the place it used to be. The school’s principal just happens to be his former roommate from Boston College and talks him into taking the job of basketball coach at their high school alma mater.  But there is a catch, these kids are tough and the times (and the kids) have changed and not for the better.

It’s tired story that has been overdone, like the White Shadow’s very popular contemporary “Welcome Back Kotter” for example, but “The White Shadow” was so much more than a Kotter redux. Produced by Bruce Paltrow (Gwyneth’s Paltrow’s father) and MTM productions (the same folks who brought you “Mary Tyler Moore” and “Rhoda”), this wasn’t simply a basketball version of the insanely popular WBK.  The White Shadow was serious.  For the first time a prime time network show was centered around teenagers (black and Hispanic teens to me more precise) that didn’t reduce the characters into caricatures.  Everyone had their own complicated personality which saw the world as shades of grey rather than the often over simplified black-white or good vs evil typical of then network TV like WBK.  If you think about it, for all of the Sweat-hogs’ tough talk, the audience never saw those chumps get into a fight.  There have been a lot of stupid things forced down the throat of the America public, but “Welcome Back Kotter” is one of the dumbest.

Instead the “White Shadow” brought a real gritty reality to prime time television and showing the audience that modern teenagers didn’t live the life of Reilly and that the kids living in the ghetto are constantly bombarded with outright dangerous influences. From gangs to point shavings to drugs to high school prostitutes and even a member of the team getting gunned down in a liquor store before the city championship, if you were a Carver High graduate, you’ve pretty much seen the entire gambit of human misery. And it would’ve been easy for the writers to go the complete opposite way of like Kotter kids and make each episode a weekly “After School Special” about the danger du jour. They didn’t do that.

Unfortunately, The White Shadow didn’t garner the high ratings it deserved but the show received marked critical acclaim and paved the way for later more realistic dramas such as Hill Street Blues, St. Elsewhere and My So-Called Life.

Fun fact: The show originated from (coach) Ken Howard’s own experiences as a high school basketball star at Manhasset High School on Long Island.  Howard was one of the few white basketball players at the school and the only white player in the starting lineup and had been nicknamed “The White Shadow.”

When the JPFmovies staff acquired the DVD’s they were not easy to find, but given today’s availability of virtually any show ever made if you want to see something groundbreaking which themes and gritty techniques are still used today give The White Shadow a look, chances are you won’t regret it.

 
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Posted by on May 17, 2019 in Movie Reviews

 

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700 days of Battle us vs. the Police–Probably the Funniest Non-English Film I’ve Ever Seen.

This movie for all of its great lines and comical scenes is a movie Hollywood simply would never make.  Why?  because it is too simple.  There are no action scenes, unnecessary subplots or super-graphics, merely a bunch of teenagers having fun with an uptight policeman.  As I’ve said in the past, Hollywood films nowadays are nothing more than a bunch of special effects and action scenes strung together with a “plot” to fill in the space.  This movie is different, 700 Days is an episodic look at the escalation of the war between a group of mischievous high school students and a strict, uptight new cop in town.  Nothing more, nothing less.

The showdown begins when one of the team is caught speeding on his bike past a hidden radar gun and is given a ticket.  Not to take this lying down, his fellow group of prankster-teens decides to retaliate by taking revenge on the new sheriff in town.  It starts with simple speeding through the radar trap on bicycles to annoy the waiting policemen but gradually moves to more elaborate and bizarre tomfooleries.  Like running past the speed camera with a brass band trying to disrupt the radar gun, planting pornographic manga around the police station and stealing fireworks.  Though the actions and results of these pranks may, in the grand scheme of things, seem to be of little significance, the officer eventually finds himself brought down to their level and retaliating with similar means, hence starting a small-town war with no end in sight.

On the surface there may not seem to be any real plot progression, however, the irreverent and outrageous humor makes the film increasingly engaging as each side tries to one up and out-fox the other in order to claim king of the mountain status.  Director Tsukamoto even does it with style, making moments of the film literally look like frames of a Japanese comics—apparently this film is based on a very popular manga (a Japanese comic that people of all ages read covering a vast array of topics) and Fukada keep the laughs coming almost constantly, making for a pleasurable comedy.

Often there is not too much one can say in a review of a film like this without giving away the store except that the right chemistry is evident between the cast of characters making their performances lively, funny and convincing.

 

Typically foreign comedies don’t translate well into other languages—not this one.  Hollywood should take some pretty damn good notes on this movie’s methods and writing if they ever want to produce something original besides the usual dreck they force on an innocent public.  Not everything has to be a $50 million special effects season bonanza or some idiotic Martin Lawrence and whoever he currently teamed up with in some cliché bad cop movie to get some laughs.  The fact of the matter is, is that at every high school in this country you will find some unsung heroes like the gang headed by Granny bike leading the charge against unjust, unjustified and absolutely unnecessary oppression by narrow-minded fanatics who have nothing more in life other than their petty rules and torments.  The sooner Granny Bike & Co. push them over the edge so they get over themselves the better off we all are since little healthy rebellion never hurt anything; in fact it makes our kids stronger giving them the backbone to stand up to a system which may not have their best interest at heart.  Again, this simple premise is lost on today’s motion picture studio decision makers in their concern with some nonsensical sappy requirement to have every base covered in the last scene so that all loose ends are tied up letting everyone go home feeling nice, neat and complete.  They are nothing more than a bunch of chicken shits in my mind.  This film has more humor in the first 20 minutes than all the comedies produced in 2012 combined.  I dare you to remember back to your youth and not admire or reminisce about some of the pranks these guys pulled in a couple hundred days.  And if you can’t, you sure missed out on a great portion of life that you will never get back.

Too simple for Hollywood, no question about it.  Too bad of course.  Based on the clips I have included you are really getting a taste of what this movie is about.  You’d be a fool not to watch this film and urge our formulaic unoriginal and clichéd film industry to produce at least something like this just once in a while.

I hope you enjoyed it and please watch when you get a chance.

 

JPFMovies

 
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Posted by on December 16, 2012 in Movie Reviews

 

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