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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: The Yankles

June 10th, 2012

The Yankles - Buy from Amazon: Video On Demand, DVD, or Blu-ray

The Yankles was filmed in 2008, but while it toured more than a few film festivals in the following few years, it never got a theatrical release. Last week it came out on DVD, Blu-ray, and Video on Demand. It's not a big name release, but is it worth checking out? Or is it like too many direct-to-DVD releases in terms of quality?

The Movie

We meet Charlie (Brian Wimmer) as he's in prison and we flash back and forth to how it all fell apart. He was a major league baseball player, whose career ended with a costly error in the playoffs. Since then, he's become addicted to alcohol, busted several times for DUIs, and was divorced by his wife, Deborah (Susanne Sutchy). His latest alcohol-fueled run-in with the law was the result of him nearly hitting a child and this results in a much stricter punishment and he's sentenced to two years in prison.

We then cut to a Rabbinical school and meet Elliot (Michael Buster); Elimelech (Tyler Johnson); and Shneiur Zalman (Mark Brocksmith). The Rebbe (Jesse Bennett) wants to meet with Elliot. The Rebbe wants the school to join the NISA, a small intercollegiate league, so they can play competitive baseball. Elliot was once a professional and they think he could help lead the team, both on the field as their star player, and off the field as their coach. It's clear from their first game, that they've overestimated their talent and underestimated their competition. They will need some outside help to win.

That's where Charlie comes in. Part of his early release from prison included nearly 200 hours of community service. And since Elliot is Charlie's ex-wife's brother, he thinks he could convince him to be the coach. Not really. However, since Charlie hasn't been able to find any work and his other option for community service is picking up trash, he decides to give it a try. Meanwhile, Elliot hopes that by embracing baseball, he might win over his father, Frankie (Don Most), who was also a former major league player who was heartbroken when Elliot gave up the game to study to be a rabbi.

That sets up all of the major plot threads in the film, most of which are very familiar. The fact that the players are all Orthodox Jewish does come into play a few times, and this is what makes it stand out the most. Obviously there's prohibitions against playing on the sabbath or religious holidays, but there are more obscure religious rules that might come into play. (And there are a few funny scenes regarding Kosher cusswords.) However, this aspect of the film doesn't present a really in-depth discussion of the religion or how the Orthodox world and the Secular world interact. And because of this, neither side learns a whole lot about the other side and aside from a few parts, any ethnic / religious group could have been used instead of Jews and nearly all of the same themes could have been addressed. Also, the film was shot on a really tight schedule with a group of actors that were not trained baseball players. There wasn't any time for a training camp, so for the most part, the baseball scenes are rather short. (They talk about that in the audio commentary track and how their actors weren't strong enough ballplayers to film them playing defense, for instance.) Even the training montages seems a little sparse and the film spent more time on Charlie and Deborah's relationship than on baseball. So you have a movie that is sold as baseball movie about Orthodox Jews that doesn't have a lot of base and isn't very insightful about the religion / culture. It is mostly just a movie about an underdog baseball team and a chance for redemption. In this regard, the film plays it rather safe, but it is still lighthearted fun. It's worth checking out, but it is not particularly memorable.

The Extras

Extras start with an audio commentary with David R. Brooks and Zev Brooks. The pair of brothers co-wrote the movie together, while the former directed and the latter produced. It's a good track with enough information to be worth listening to, while the energy is high enough that it isn't dull. There are 16 minutes of deleted scenes and 11 minutes of extended musical numbers. Up next is an 11-minute long behind-the-scene featurette. And finally, there are baseball cards for the players.

The film's audio and video presentation is solid, given its budget. The details are good, the colors are very strong, while there are no compression issues or signs of digital manipulation. The audio is clear, but uncomplicated. There is enough activity in the surround sound speakers to not feel empty, but it won't push your home theater system.

As for the price, the Blu-ray costs just $3 more than the DVD, which is an increase of less than 20%. That's worth it, even without exclusive extras.

The Verdict

The Yankles won't surprise a lot of people. It's an underdog / redemption sports movie with a bit of culture clash thrown in. Enough works that it is worth checking out if you are a fan of baseball movies or of Jewish cinema, but enough misses that it doesn't have a lot of replay value. If you are only interested in a rental, then Video On Demand is a good deal, but if you are interested in buying, then the Blu-ray is the better deal over the DVD.

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