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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on May 16, 2009
I saw this doc when it came out in the 90s and, while I thought it was good, I came away with what I now feel are two false impressions that some other reviewers have expressed. First, I thought of the film as a cautionary tale for young kids who have very little chance of realizing their dream to make it to the NBA. I remember the shots of the "basketball house" at Arther Agee's school and thinking how sad it was. I read the post-doc bios and thought, "They don't make it to the NBA, they failed to do this and that's what the film is about." This is wrong. If you thought this you must see the film again. It is not about two young inner-city kids who fail to make it as professional athletes, it is about two exceptional individuals who, in their own way, overcome the circumstances of their environment. I found Arthur Agee's story especially compelling. In the beginning, you see him as a skinny, care-free, trusting child. As the film progresses you watch him confront multiple realities through the years about his family and his position in the world. You see him come to understand his father abused his mother and was not always true to his word. You also see an unruly but talented street player come to respect his talent and learn to take it seriously in organized play. Aside from the one-on-one game with his father late in the film, which other critics have singled out and is probably the most powerful scene in the doc, there is the moment when the junior college recruiter visits him at his mother's, offering a full scholarship, and his father tells him if he wants to attend a different college he will help him financially. Arthur doesn't say anything, but gives his father a look that conveys he realizes his father is just trying to make himself look more important and that in reality he cannot rely on his father for financial help, and signs with the recruiter.

The other false impression: when I first saw the film I compared William Gates' experience at St. Joseph's and Marquette University to Agee's situation, and unconsciously concluded that he was the more succesful of the two, or the more important one. I think this is also wrong. I think Agee is the focus of the documentary and in many ways comes across as the stronger character. Having said that, I could write just as much about Gates and his journey, which I think is a little bit subtler, a little less clear, but I feel this review is already too long.

Conclusion: this is a monumental film. Even if you disagree with me you should see it again.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on February 19, 2000
"Hoop Dreams", one of the finest documentaries ever produced is a sometimes heartbreaking journey through four years of two boys high school lives. Arthur Agee and William Gates are two African American boys whose only dream is to play basketball in the NBA like Isiah Thomas or MJ. Through sorrow and joy we follow Arthur and William through there lives, and a wonderful story is told. You barely notice that the film runs three hours, and the basketball scenes are exciting as the real-life family troubles the boys face. See this film at any cost!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on June 8, 2002
3 hours is quite a while for a documentary, but the director needed that much time to take you through the lives of two young boys from the inner city with dreams of playing in the NBA. The single-mindedness of these boys to achieve their goals at any cost is compelling. The attitudes displayed by the people around them is just unbelievable. These boys are nothing more than race horses in this film.
It is a must see for anyone with ambitions to achieve the highest levels of a sport or almost any other thing.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on June 2, 2005
For every Allen Iverson or Shaquille O'Neal that makes it to fame and fortune in the NBA, there are hundreds who don't. Hoop Dreams is a documentary that follows two Chicago inner-city boys from their freshman year in high school to their freshman year in college as they try to make it into the NBA. The film not only focuses on the pursuit of their dreams but how it affects their families.

For a documentary that is almost three hours it doesn't take long to get sucked into the absorbing story of these two boys. We watch them grow up both physically and emotionally, struggling to realize their dreams and this makes for truly compelling drama. This is a fascinating look at two boys and their families: their triumphs and their failures with an unflinching eye. Hoop Dreams cuts through the gloss and sheen of the NBA propaganda to show the harsh realities of what it truly takes to make it and how easy it is to fall short.

There is an audio commentary by filmmakers Peter Gilbert, Frederick Mark and Steve James. This is a good, inside look on the filmmaking process, how it came together and the challenges they faced over the five years of filming.

There is also an audio commentary by Arthur Agee and William Gates. It is great to hear the two main subjects of this documentary talk about their impressions of the movie and their experiences after all these years. We get real insight into how they viewed the filmmakers intruding on their lives. They both speak very candidly and eloquently about their lives and the film.

"Siskel and Ebert." The famous film critics were very taken with this documentary and championed it on their show whenever they could.

Also included is a music video for the film's theme song, directed by Peter Gilbert and performed by Tony M. This was created to promote the soundtrack CD and rarely seen. It is pretty standard stuff with clips from the documentary mixed with Tony M. rapping.

Finally, there are two trailers.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on May 28, 2005
After each time Hoop Dreams has been shown to me, I have gotten a little closer to the story, as the story provided an opportunity to ponder the notion of dreams and hopes. The first time I saw this amazing film was in the winter of 1995 at the Gothenburg Film Festival in Sweden. At that time I learned more about the cultural differences between being a poor teen in Chicago compared to being a teen in Sweden. The second time I viewed the film was in 1997, as I attended a university here in the United States. This time the film had a more profound affect on me, as I could relate to the emotional journey that sports have on a person, as I also was heavily involved in college athletics. Now more than a decade later since the first viewing of Hoop Dreams I have moved to Chicago where I am also a part of the educational system in the city of Chicago. This time I can not only relate, but recognize the many obstacles that these two teens went through during the filming of this absolutely brilliant film.

The opening shot of the film shows the West Loop area and the downtown loop area of Chicago with the Sears Tower in the background, as the Blue Line L train moves toward the underground part of the L system and the Eisenhower Expressway. Today, the West Loop area is an up and coming area with newly built condos and ever increasing property tax, as is much of the area around the immediate downtown area. However, ten years ago much of this area had high poverty rates where many kids dreamed of playing themselves away from poverty through basketball. In Hoop Dreams the audience gets to follow two teens William Gates and Arthur Agee through five years of struggle where they try to achieve the dream of getting away from the poverty and violence in their neighborhood.

William and Arthur were scouted for private schools located in the suburban area of Chicago, a very different world compared to the Cabrini Green Housing Project where they grew up, as both of them were excepted to St. Joseph High School. Through the first year the audience learns that William starts on varsity team as a freshman and many compares his talent with former St. Joe's player and former NBA star Isiah Thomas. For Arthur things are not going so well, but he makes the freshman team where he has some success. When the freshman year comes to an end both William and Arthur face some financial difficulty. William gets help from some of St. Joe's booster club members while Arthur who does not have the same talent as William finds himself being forced to leave St. Joe's, as he cannot pay for the tuition increase.

Basketball is everything to William and Arthur, but the story also offers an intricate view of the socioeconomic environment and how this affects psychodynamics of their families and neighborhood. It offers several opportunities for the viewers to experience how Arthur's family is cooping with the difficulties of losing their jobs, separation between the parents, and Arthur beginning in a new school. It is a tough journey that Arthur must go through, but he has no choice as poverty keeps him from returning to St. Joe's. Besides Arthur's difficulties William faces other hurdles, such as an injured knee and having a child. This story goes into great lengths on illustrating how this injury affects his whole persona and how he is involved with his newborn baby.

Hoop Dreams brings a vision of what these two young men, Arthur and William, desire, but it also shows the struggle they had to encounter due to lack of opportunities as middle school and elementary school students. These missed opportunities originate in poverty, which consequently leads to a number of missed functions in life such as structure, parental guidance, and safety. This was not because the mother's in the film did not care, because they did. However, there was a consistently missing male role model for both teens. Thus, Arthur and William had to tread a much longer path in order to achieve the same goal, as they must quickly learn how to become young adults without proper guidance. It is a hard and long journey that they both had to venture, and as a viewer of Hoop Dreams I am ever so grateful for having the opportunity to watch both Arthur and William together with their families go through ups and downs in life, which offers a greater appreciation of life.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on August 2, 2004
This movie should be mandatory viewing for high school kids. As the title implies, most of the piece deals with the lives of two promising high school basketball players from the inner city. In reality, this documentary is a whole lot deeper. The audience follows around the two main protagonists through their daily routines. The fact that most of the talking is done by the two athletes and their parents is what makes this such a powerful piece. Life in the inner city has never seemed so closer as I found myself cheering for these kids to make it at the same time thinking I wish they would take their studies more seriously. The struggles their families had to go through, at times, made you think about what chance do people from the inner cities have. The importance of having an education is echoed stronly and while the title implies achieving athletic greatnes - the theme of knowledge lingers throughout. Many times I was disgusted with the recruiters and coaches seeking their next big meal ticket, but I guess it's not really their fault as that's how collegiate sports are now... I am positive that this DVD will make a lot of kids think about their life and really put everything into perspective. There are some things that shouldn't be learned through personal experience. Being young and uneducated is a pitfall we all should hope to avoid - especially if you are a minority.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on May 19, 2000
This movie was a masterpiece. Not only do you come to really care what happens to these two very special boys, but I was very depressed at the end. It doesn't seem like these boys, and countless others like them, get a fair shot in life. They are kind and sweet, but it's like they have strikes against them from the very start. I was saddened at the school system, which gets rid of Arthur because they basically have no use for him, and the living conditions-one of the boys, in his own neighborhood- was held up at gunpoint, and to see him there trying not to cry as he explained the incident, it made me feel like he deserved so much better than that. Both of them did. And you feel equally for their families, I cried when the mom got her nursing assistant license, she worked so hard. They were both good boys, Arthur does not get into drugs, he works at a Pizza Hut for 3 dollars an hour. They wanted so much to realize their dream of the NBA, and it made me so sad to wonder what happened to all those boys who didn't make it. Isn't there someone who can help these boys who aren't fortunate enough to get the chances that everyone deserves? And isn't there still a reward and a payoof if they don't make it? There should be.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
I thought that "Hoop Dreams" would be about a couple of inner city kids in Chicago dreaming about being the next Michael Jordan in the N.B.A. But actually the role model is Isaiah Thomas for the simple fact that he was a graduate of St. Joseph's High School, where William Gates and Arthur Agee are recruited to play basketball. Neither William or Arthur are going to be the next Air Jordan, but if they can measure up to what Isaiah did in high school that can translate into a college scholarship. If there is anything that dates this 1994 documentary it might be that the boys are not dreaming of jumping immediately to the N.B.A. after high school. Getting to college is still a necessary evil for getting to the pros, and there is the more immediate goal of "going downstate" to play in the Illinois High School State Basketball Tournament at Assembly Hall on the campus of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (or Champaign-Urbana if you live outside of Illinois).

When we first meet William and Arthur they are in the eighth grade, and come by different paths to make the 90-minute commute to St. Joseph's to play basketball. Gates lives in the Cabrini Green project while Agee's family lives on the South Side of Chicago, and the film is as much about what it is like for young Africa-Americans to grow up in those neighborhoods as it is about the dream of playing professional basketball. But the belief that playing hoops is a way out of the inner city is so carved in stone for these kids that it never seems to occur to them that their might be another way out. This is underscore by one of the best moments in the film where we suddenly learn that a family member of one of the boys has been going to school and is graduating at the top of their class. Then we get back to the boys playing basketball.

Steve James, Frederick Marx and Peter Gilbert shot 250 hours worth of film over six years to tell these two stories and they probably could not have scripted anything better than what Fate gave them. By the end of their freshman year at St. Joseph's one of the boys has to drop out because his parents cannot pay their part of the tuition and apparently he is not playing well enough for the school to come up with a sponsor. Before their junior year the other boy has a serious knee injury that threatens everything he and has family have dreamt about. Meanwhile at their homes the parents are becoming unemployed or suddenly leave while the children are already having children. Then there are the college recruiters and the qualifying tournaments for state.

At 165-minutes long "Hoop Dreams" is a lot closer to being too short than too long, although certainly it could benefit from some different editing choices in a few places. Maybe my perspective is skewed because I have become use to reality series on television that are obviously a whole lot longer (but usually not as engaging). The more you know about the place of basketball in the inner city and at perennial powerhouse programs like St. Joseph's the less you will find watching this documentary to be an eye-opening experience. Most of us know that most coaches care about winning more than they do about the players and that this is a system out to exploit kids who are begging to be exploited because there is a chance that one day they will strike it rich and buy their moms a house.

For the most part the drama is off the court, although towards the end of the documentary this changes because since we are watching real life we cannot take for granted such things as making critical free throws or winning the big game like we can in movies like "Hoosiers." The fact that we know that today neither William Gates nor Arthur Agee are N.B.A. superstars does not detract from this engrossing documentary, because the moral of the story is discovered by one of the boys who has finally come to realize the flip side of the dream. Pointing out that people are always telling him not to forget them when they get to the N.B.A., he wonders if they will not forget him if he does not make it to the pros. The final great irony is that because of "Hoop Dreams" he will not be forgotten but that there are not any million dollar salaries or shoe contracts with this particular brand of fame.

This Criterion Collection DVD offers two audio commentary tracks, the first with Arthur Agee and William Gates and the second with filmmakers Peter Gilbert, Steve James and Frederick Marx. There is also a series of segments from "Siskel and Ebert" in which the two Chicago film critics push "Hoop Dreams" as their choice for top film of the year and attack the Documentary division of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for ignoring the film, and a music video for the film. You will also find a booklet with essays by cultural historian John Edgar Wideman and "Sports Illustrated" senior writer Alexander Wolff, along with Michael Wise's "Looking Back at Broken Dreams" article that ran in the "Washington Post."
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 6, 2005
The producer/directors showed great skill and patience by following their two Chicago youth through their teenage basketball lives. Over several years the filmakers showed up at the right time and captured the right images to convey the complete story, both on and off the court.

This film is so well done that is voluminious length (it had an intermission when it played in the theater) seems to fly by and actually leave you wanting more at the end. I can only hope this long awaited DVD release will have the bonus features that will deliver that more that all who saw this movie wanted.

This is not just a great basketball film but a great all around movie that will suck you in and make you care.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on August 11, 2004
This is one documentary that I never tire of viewing. The filmakers actually follow the home lives and basketball careers of two up and coming urban basketball stars from junior high to their first year of college. It's so eye-opening. At such a young age, these young people must learn that before they make even a nickel from basketball, everyone wants a piece of them...coaches, neighbors and even parents. It is such an honor to watch their growth through really tough times. I recommend this documentary to everyone, but especially parents with children who have their eyes set on sports careers only. Why warn your children of the possibilities of not making it when you can just show them? The Academy Awards ignored this great piece of work claiming not to know what category to place it in (how about "Long form documentary???). That was not only a mistake, it was a tragedy. Watch this documentary with your pre-teen and teenaged kids and you'll find that you will all walk away with greater wisdom from it.
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