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Viewer Guide: “Hoosiers” and “Lapsis”

September 8, 2021 | Richard Peña


Hoosiers (1986)

This week’s classic is Hoosiers, the 1986 sports drama directed by David Anspaugh.

It’s September of 1951, and Norman Dale is rushing to start work as an emergency replacement teacher at Hickory High School in rural Indiana. Played by Gene Hackman, Norman has been hired by the school’s principal—an old friend—to teach history and civics, but his real purpose is to take over coaching the Hickory High basketball team, the Huskers, the aspect of his job that is of the most importance to the farm community’s “Hoosier” natives. However, Norman’s middle-age and his sketchy career history are met with skepticism by faculty and parents alike. Fellow teacher Myra Fleener, played by Barbara Hershey, questions Norman’s credentials, while a meddling klatch of basketball dads quickly object to his coaching techniques. Despite the school community’s lack of faith, they’re not entirely wrong—Norman’s job is a second chance following a long suspension from college coaching. But it’s an opportunity that Norman fully embraces, and is determined to share with the other damaged souls he encounters, including Dennis Hopper as Shooter Flatch, the alcoholic father of one of his star players. Although no one expects Norman to last very long, his integrity and determination gradually pay off, with a winning team spirit both on and off the court.

Director David Anspaugh and screenwriter Angelo Pizzo met at Indiana University, and as native “Hoosiers” themselves, both were well aware of the local legend of the Milan Indians, the real-life small town underdog team that won the statewide basketball championship in 1954. Convinced the Milan High story had all the makings of a great sports movie, Pizzo loosely based his script on actual events. Jack Nicholson originally expressed interest in playing Norman, but the role ultimately went to Gene Hackman, whose midwestern upbringing provided him with a personal familiarity of the region. After Harry Dean Stanton passed on the role of Shooter, Anspaugh fortuitously encountered Dennis Hopper at a restaurant. Hopper was reportedly initially reluctant, but as another native Midwesterner—and recovering from his own alcohol problem—Hopper’s understanding of the role ultimately paid off with an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.


Lapsis (2020)

This week’s indie is Lapsis, a 2020 science-fiction mystery satire marking the feature film debut of writer-director Noah Hutton.

Set in a dystopian world that weirdly looks simultaneously like both today and forty years ago, Lapsis stars Dean Imperial as Ray, an airline lost luggage delivery man struggling to care for his half-brother Jaime, who is suffering from a chronic fatigue syndrome variant called “Omnia.” Anxious to get Jaime admitted to an expensive clinic with exotic new treatments, Ray finds himself in need of some fast cash. With the help of a shady acquaintance, Ray gets a job with the ominous “Quantum” computer system. Taking over the work permit of a prior employee, Ray joins an army of freelance cablers dragging hand trolleys throughout the wilderness, with the final goal of plugging in at giant magnetic cubes. A strange yet simple enough job—although the out of shape Ray struggles to keep up—and he’s rattled to discover the human cablers are in competition with relentless caterpillar-like robots covering the same routes. Furthermore, Ray is taken aback by the hostile reaction that his work ID as “Lapsis Beeftech” seems to provoke in his fellow cablers. Despite the accumulation of unnerving incidents, Ray presses on, until a dawning realization forces him to confront the truth.

The son of Debra Winger and Timothy Hutton, Lapsis writer-director Noah Hutton strove to create a convincing “parallel present” for his satirical commentary on today’s gig economy, a world with an unsettling resonance with the current culture and practices of the Silicon Valley corporate giants now dominating American life. The film’s low budget only allowed for the construction of one giant Quantum cube, which was built on a wood frame with a metal covering on just two sides; it was then moved around from location to location to suggest multiple cubes. And the caterpillar robots were built by a robotics lab at the University of Pennsylvania, modeled on a doctoral student summer project. Dean Imperial, who plays Ray, is best known as a staff writer for the TV Series Imposters, but Hutton was convinced Imperial’s James Gandolfini-like “everyman” quality was perfect for the role. And for the part of Ray’s half-brother Jamie, Hutton cast his own half-brother, Babe Howard—the son Debra Winger and Arliss Howard.

Richard Peña is a Professor of Film Studies at Columbia University, where he specializes in film theory and international cinema.

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