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The Show: Chicago's Baseball Film Festival

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Presented by the Welles Park Parents Association, this two-day festival of baseball-themed features runs Friday and Saturday, April 13 and 14, at the Portage. Tickets for each double feature are $10; a festival pass, good for all screenings, is $25. For more information call 773-504-6363.

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Field of Dreams Well-made treacle (1989), adapted by writer-director Phil Alden Robinson from W.P. Kinsella's novel Shoeless Joe. A fledgling farmer (Kevin Costner) hears a voice in an Iowa cornfield and has a vision that convinces him that if he builds a baseball diamond in his field, Shoeless Joe Jackson, of the notorious 1919 White Sox, will turn up to play there. Other messages and signs follow, leading the hero to meet a former novelist in hiding (James Earl Jones) and a deceased ballplayer who ended his life as a doctor (Burt Lancaster). The strange mixture of nostalgia, poetry, pop mysticism, and innocence suggests both Ray Bradbury and Steven Spielberg, at their best as well as their worst; the conception is sentimental, but the storytelling remains assured and effective. With Amy Madigan as the hero's sympathetic wife, Gaby Hoffmann as their daughter, and Ray Liotta as Shoeless Joe. PG, 106 min. (JR) Screening in a double feature with Eight Men Out. a 8 PM.

Eight Men Out This 1988 feature recounts the 1919 "Black Sox" scandal, in which eight members of the Chicago White Sox were persuaded by gamblers to throw the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds. Baseball fans might find this marginally absorbing; for anyone else it's as conscientious and stylistically pedestrian as director John Sayles's other films, and a mite overlong to boot. Sayles seems more comfortable with the ballplayers than with the gangsters; his handling of the narrative is more dutiful than inspired. On the whole this is well intentioned--to the point of tedium. Sayles adapted Eliot Asinof's 1963 book of the same title; the competent cast includes John Cusack, Clifton James, Michael Lerner, Christopher Lloyd, John Mahoney, Charlie Sheen, David Strathairn, D.B. Sweeney, Richard Edson, Kevin Tighe, Barbara Garrick, Studs Terkel enjoying himself as journalist Hugh Fullerton, and Sayles himself playing Fullerton's pal Ring Lardner. PG, 119 min. (JR) Screening in a double feature with Field of Dreams. a 10 PM.

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Rookie of the Year After an accident, a Little Leaguer (Thomas Ian Nicholas) winds up with a magical pitching arm and joins the Chicago Cubs. Director Daniel Stern costars in this 1993 comedy, which also features Gary Busey, Dan Hedaya, Amy Morton, Christopher Howe, and Arnie Silberman. Sam Harper wrote the script. PG, 103 min. Screening in a double feature with The Sandlot. a 1 PM.

The Sandlot A comedy set in 1962, about a new boy in town (Tom Guiry) who joins a baseball team. The team's leader (Mike Vitar) becomes a legend after facing down a "beast" that lurks in a yard behind left field. The grown-ups in this picture include Karen Allen and James Earl Jones; David Mickey Evans directed this 1993 feature from a script he coauthored with Robert Gunter. PG, 101 min. Screening in a double feature with Rookie of the Year. a 3 PM.

The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings A slick and reasonably funny comedy (1976), with Billy Dee Williams leading a baseball team in the Negro League of the 1930s. Like most Universal product, it's so formulaic it's practically invisible, but it's a good time even if you won't remember it two days later. John Badham directed; with Richard Pryor and James Earl Jones. PG, 110 min. (DK) Screening in a double feature with The Natural. a 7 PM.

The Natural I've just about had it with directors who use the mythic mode as an alibi for unshaded characterizations, simpleminded plotting, and swells of artificial emotionality. Barry Levinson's 1984 film preserves the Arthurian imagery of Bernard Malamud's baseball novel while stripping away all its darkness and irony; what's left is a sappy tale of youthful purity (Robert Redford, way too old for this bushy-tail stuff) beset by evil, carnal women (Barbara Hershey, Kim Basinger) who make his bat droop. Salvation arrives in the figure of sexless (and pompous) Glenn Close. A moment or two between Richard Farnsworth and Wilford Brimley recall the verbal skills of Levinson's Diner; the rest of the film is bloatedly "visual": blinding backlighting, grandiose slow motion, overstudied montage. With Robert Duvall, Robert Prosky, and Darren McGavin. PG, 134 min. (DK) Screening in a double feature with The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings. a 9 PM.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Eight Men Out.

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