Hey, everybody. I have a few more SXSW reviews I wanted to get out there before all the details fade from memory (I am very old). One of the more pleasant surprises of the fest was a little indie called All Square.
I swear to God I couldn't remember that title for the life of me. People would ask me what I was looking forward to and I'd be like “All... In? All That? Fuck, what's that Michael Kelly movie called?” All Square might not be the most memorable title, but it's apt for a movie about a small town bookie who bonds with a little leaguer and then figures out he can make a fortune taking bets on his games.
What's great about this set up, beyond the obvious Bad News Bears comparisons, is that it gives a fantastic character actor the chance to lead a picture. This was a lot more common in the artistic studio system of the 1970s, but very rarely happens these days. For instance, how many movies does Steve Buscemi get to star in?
The great character actor here is a dude named Michael Kelly. You probably know him best as Kevin Spacey's righthand man, Doug Stamper, in House of Cards. His character here is a nice guy bookie in a tiny town who's barely able to scrape by, mostly because he refuses to strong arm the people who owe him money. He takes his sports betting seriously, but he's stuck. This isn't his passion, it's something he inherited from his cantankerous father (Harris Yulin, another great character actor who you might remember as the Judge in Ghostbusters II) and suddenly he turns around and he's deep in middle age.
After hooking up with an old high school girlfriend he finds himself in the company of her young son, Brian, played by Jesse Ray Sheps and is just as shocked as we are that he actually bonds with this kid. He's still a gruff asshole who is in no way a great role model, but there's a connection there.
Some of it has to do with his personal history with baseball. Before Kelly became a bookie his passion was baseball. He had a hell of an arm and now he sees this kid struggling in the local little league and can't help but want to give the kid a few pointers.
While doing this positive thing he notices that there's an untapped betting market at these little league games and figures, correctly, that parents will bet with their hearts, not their heads, laying money on their kids no matter how shitty they are at the game.
The movie works because of the relationship between Kelly and Sheps. I wish there was a little more of them together (it takes a little while to get them together), but that's a small complaint for a movie as charming and well-made as this one.
All Square is the kind of movie I go to film festivals to find. I doubt this one would have appeared on my radar if I wasn't combing through the festival schedule and bingo, it turns out to be right up my alley.
Interesting sidenote: This is produced by Lisa Simpson herself, Ms. Yeardley Smith, who also pops up in a cameo part. It's always a pleasure to see her face in a movie, but that could be my irrational love of Stephen King's bizarre '80s trash gem Maximum Overdrive showing.
I'm not sure if All Square has distribution yet, but I hope it finds a good home soon. It's a damn good movie.