Documenting Greenberg's athletic, spiritual sides

Movie reviews

March 17, 2000|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

He was "Hammerin' Hank," a 6-foot, 4-inch New Yorker who ran with all the grace of a train wreck and, on a swinging strike, looked about as bad as a ballplayer could look. But when he connected -- which was often -- the ball jumped off his bat with the force of a howitzer, often not stopping until it had cleared the outfield fence.

Hank Greenberg was one heckuva ballplayer, a two-time American League MVP who led the Detroit Tigers to two World Series titles in the 1930s and 1940s. For several years, he and the Yankees' Lou Gehrig were the game's dominant first basemen -- and not everyone agreed who was better.

Greenberg was also Jewish, a birthright that is at the center of writer-director Aviva Kempner's engaging documentary, "The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg." Mixing interview footage of Greenberg (who died in 1986) and his former teammates with comments from fans who looked up to the man sometimes called "Baseball's Moses," Kempner chronicles a man who took his responsibilities seriously, both as a ballplayer and as a Jewish ballplayer.

Greenberg endured the taunts of the anti-Semites who made him a favorite target and enjoyed the adulation of the young boys and girls who made him a hero. Both, he came to believe, were essential to becoming a complete ballplayer, which was always his goal.

Kempner's documentary is filled with delightful sequences, including reminiscences from Walter Matthau and Alan Dershowitz, as well as from two men who recall playing pretend baseball games during synagogue by using the numbers of the margin of the Torah. There's also a moving segment that details Greenberg's support for Jackie Robinson, who broke into the big leagues the same year Hammerin' Hank left them (after being traded to Pittsburgh).

Like Robinson, who once said "Mr. Greenberg is class," Greenberg led by quiet example -- and left an indelible mark on thousands of young lives, not to mention a plaque in baseball's Hall of Fame. ***1/2

`Final Destination'

"Final Destination" is a fitfully thrilling supernatural chiller from writer-director James Wong (sharing script credit with producer Glen Morgan and Jeffrey Reddick) that ultimately becomes too self-conscious and too over-the-top.

It opens as high-school student Alex Browning (Devon Sawa, in the same frantic mode of last year's "Idle Hands") is about to join his classmates on a plane trip to Paris. But Alex has a vision, and he and five classmates and a teacher disembark (not all willingly) and watch in horror -- there's a lot of watching in horror in this film -- as the plane blows up shortly after take-off.

Seems that Alex and the others have cheated Death, and Death doesn't take to losing well. It embarks on a campaign to finish what it started. Using primarily wind and water, Death sets up all manner of lethal traps for Alex and his friends.

"Destination" is one of those horror films that depend on two things: characters rarely paying attention to what's going on around them (like looking before they cross the street), and one character inexplicably figuring it all out.

The young, mostly unknown cast tries to look properly solemn or horrified, and every once in a while the film does something that jolts the audience to attention. But halfway through the film, you'll find yourself wishing Death would simply hurry up and do its job. **

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