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Working Mothers

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Karen Bespalov
Karen Bespalov

He Got Game

Jesus is tempted with offers of cash and women on recruiting visits to big-time basketball programs. He also considers entering the NBA draft in order to play professionally sooner and immediately lift himself and his sister out of poverty. Unable to get through to his son, Jake challenges Jesus to one last game of one-on-one basketball. If Jake wins, Jesus will sign a letter of intent to play for Big State and if Jesus wins, he can make his own decision. After a competitive start, Jake tires during the course of the game and Jesus wins. As Jake is collected for transportation back to Attica, he turns to Jesus and says, "Let me tell you something, son: You get that hatred out your heart, or you'll end up just another nigga ... like your father."

He Got Game

For the role of Jesus, Lee had drawn up a list of every NBA player who could pass for a high school senior. Kobe Bryant was the original choice to portray Jesus Shuttlesworth, but after shooting several air balls that resulted in a brutal playoff loss to the Utah Jazz in the 1997 NBA Playoffs, he planned an extensive workout plan that would help maintain his strength throughout the duration of the longer NBA seasons. Lee found Tracy McGrady too reserved and was not impressed by Allen Iverson's performance. Management for Kevin Garnett and Stephon Marbury wanted a guarantee that one or the other would be offered the part. Travis Best, Walter McCarty, and Rick Fox also auditioned, and Lee cast them in supporting roles. Lee approached Allen during halftime of a Bucks-Knicks game, ultimately offering him the role of Jesus. Allen had never acted before, and he trained with an acting coach for eight weeks prior to filming.[1]

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 81% based on 63 reviews, with an average rating of 6.87/10. The website's critics consensus reads: "Though not without its flaws, He Got Game finds Spike Lee near the top of his game, combining trenchant commentary with his signature visuals and a strong performance from Denzel Washington."[5] At Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 64 out of 100, based on 21 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[6] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.[7]

Lee uses visual imagination to lift his material into the realms of hopes and dreams. Consider his opening sequence, where he wants to establish the power of basketball as a sport and an obsession. He could have given us a montage of hot NBA action, but no: He uses the music of Aaron Copland to score a series of scenes in which American kids--boys, girls, rich, poor, black, white, in school and on playgrounds--play the game. All it needs is a ball and a hoop; compared to this simplicity, Jerry Seinfeld observes, when we attend other sports we're cheering laundry.

This is not so much a movie about sports as about capitalism. It doesn't end, as the formula requires, with a big game. In fact, it never creates artificial drama with game sequences, even though Ray Allen, who plays for the Milwaukee Bucks, is that rarity, an athlete who can act. It's about the real stakes, which involve money more than final scores, and showmanship as much as athletics.

For many years in America, sports and big business have shared the same rules and strategies. One reason so many powerful people are seen in the stands at NBA games is that the modern game objectifies the same kind of warfare that takes place in high finance; while "fans" think it's all about sportsmanship and winning, the insiders are thinking in corporate and marketing metaphors.

There's much to appreciate in this film, but it's not one of the great director Spike Lee's best by a long shot. Allen, in his first role, and Washington are both fine, but more important, Lee's love of basketball is unmistakable, as is his admiration for those who dedicate themselves to mastering the game. And Lee's eyes are open to the exploitation of talented players, especially those from lower-income backgrounds who look to sports as a way out of poverty. Many insights are true and powerful, but scenes go on far too long, with some subplots completely unnecessary, and characters make agonizingly bad choices in ways that don't advance the plot at all.

As for rooting He Got Game in realism, Jesus never spends a moment going over the pros and cons of any particular college even though he still hasn't decided just days before that decision is due. These missteps make the movie difficult and even cringe-inducing to watch at times, but the opening is flawless -- a sequence set to Aaron Copland's music shows an array of young players sweating on courts in good neighborhoods and bad, honing their skills, a tribute to the purity of the game. That creative, economic simplicity is missing from the rest of the film. A few judicious cuts could have made this far more moving and effective.

The warden of that prison allows the elder Shuttlesworth a temporary release so he can convince Jesus to commit to the fictional Big State -- a college program backed by the warden. One of the most pivotal scenes in the movie comes in the final act when Jesus and his father play a high-stakes game of 1-on-1 at the local playground. If Jesus loses, he has to commit to Big State, which would in turn grant his father an early release from prison.

Nominally a soundtrack to Spike Lee's basketball drama, but in reality more of an individual album, He Got Game appeared in 1998, just the second Public Enemy album since 1991's Apocalypse 91. Even though Chuck D was pushing 40, the late '90s were friendlier to PE's noisy, claustrophobic hip-hop than the mid-'90s, largely because hip-hop terrorists like the Wu-Tang Clan, Jeru the Damaja, and DJ Shadow were bringing the music back to its roots. PE followed in their path, stripping away the sonic blitzkrieg that was the Bomb Squad's trademark and leaving behind skeletal rhythm tracks, simple loops, and basslines. Taking on the Wu at their own game -- and, if you think about it, Puff Daddy as well, since the simple, repetitive loop of Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" on the title track was nothing more than a brazenly successful one-upmanship of Puff's shameless thievery -- didn't hurt the group's credibility, since they did it well. Listen to the circular, menacing synth lines of the opening "Resurrection" or the scratching strings on "Unstoppable" and it's clear that Public Enemy could compete with the most innovative artists in the younger generation, while "Is Your God a Dog" and "Politics of the Sneaker Pimps" proved that they could draw their own rules. That said, He Got Game simply lacked the excitement and thrill of prime period PE -- Chuck D, Terminator X, and the Bomb Squad were seasoned, experienced craftsmen, and it showed, for better and worse. They could craft a solid comeback like He Got Game, but no matter how enjoyable and even thought-provoking the album was, that doesn't mean it's where you'll turn when you want to hear Public Enemy.

Basketball is where it's at, the universality of the game brilliantly conveyed in the film's opening moments. Music-wise Spike pulls off his real coup - the score is a collection of American classicist Aaron Copland's compositions, the songs are by Public Enemy. It's a brilliant juxtaposition that informs every second of this, Lee's strongest movie in years.

Of course, it's the game that Lee loves and of course, he touches on the corruption that permeates it on every level, but what really concerns the filmmaker here is the relationships between fathers and sons, what divides them and what, ultimately unites them, and he's brought it all together with tremendous style.

Allen thinks that is one of his best off-the-floor ventures because it allowed him to work with other great personas on the same project while making an impactful movie about the game of basketball. It still, to this day, remains one of the best basketball movies ever made, and even Allen shared there are various concepts discussed already on how the sequel would look like in the future. Whether it will come to a realization or not remains to be seen, but hopefully, we'll have the opportunity to watch another great basketball movie.

And then there is basketball. Even whorish sports agents and title-crazed university alums can't corrupt the unalloyed love of the game that Jesus feels. The court is his canvas, and his game is a masterpiece he paints anew every night. The most poignant part of He Got Game may well be in its first few minutes, as Spike Lee and his editor, Barry Brown, offer a visual paean to the power and grace and discipline of basketball, as played by everyone who loves the game and lives the game. In among the uncredited heroes of the playground are none other than Arthur Agee and William Gates, the young protagonists of Hoop Dreams. Here, competition is honest, and its own reward. Minutes later, Lee and Brown return with another montage, this time of legendary coaches. Prosperous and smooth, theirs is nonetheless a cool, airless world as presented by Spike Lee, a world of gleaming, empty stadiums and impossibly well-manicured campus greens. But on the playgrounds of Coney Island, the game remains tough, pure, perfect.

The cultural influence of Spike Lee's film - capable of launching the Jordan 13 myth even on the big screen - was in some way indirectly proportional to the film's economic success. The box office proceeds reached $ 21,554,585 while the budget that was allocated for production was around $ 25 million. There has often been talk of a sequel and on more than one occasion Spike Lee, Ray Allen and Denzel Washington have met to chat on the sidelines, perhaps a game of the Knicks. The rumors turned into reality after the live Instagram on @jumpman23's profile that involved Spike Lee and Sage Steele.

In the film, sports commentators speak of Allen's high school basketball sensation, Jesus Shuttlesworth, in ecstatic terms, as if he were the Second Coming of Michael Jordan (who cameos at one point, just long enough to say the film's title to the camera). "Jesus is the best thing to happen to the game since the tennis shoe was invented," says Georgetown coach John Thompson. 041b061a72


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