ADDicted (2017)


The joys of home study can’t be understated.

(2017) Drama (Vision) Luke Guldan, Lauren Sweetser, Kathleen Quinlan, Gil Bellows, Thom Christopher, Ezra Knight, Taylor Gildersleeve, Tyrone Brown, Morgan Roberts Jarrett Worley, Aaron Bickes, J. Tucker Smith, Danielle Marcucci, Mark Tallman, Ben Kaplan, Sarah Kaplan, Sal Belfonte, Delia Cai, Joe Greene, Ryan J. Murray, Sue Ellersieck, Jon Drtina, Katherine Ashcraft. Directed by Dan Jenski

 

College is a pressure cooker, even more so now than it was in my day. Every professor seems to be of the mindset that theirs is the only class you’re taking. Most students have to take on a job in order to make ends meet while they’re in school in addition to their class loads and if they intend to go further in their education with an advanced degree, the pressure is really on to keep the grades high in order to be in the mix for those coveted grad school slots.

\Drew Dawson (Guldan) has more pressure on him than most. Although he comes from a background of wealth and privilege, he is a star football player who loves playing the game. His overbearing and demanding mother Kate (Quinlan) has his future all planned out for him; law school, a job at his grandfather’s prestigious St. Louis law firm and then maybe politics. She herself is running for a seat in the House of Representatives and needs Drew to be at his very best.

But all this is much more difficult because Drew has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder. He has a hard time focusing and keeping his grades up, so he has been taking Adderall for a decade, not long after his father passed away in a car accident. On top of that, Drew has broken up with Ashley Ross (Sweetser) after he caught her cheating with an ex. A sorority queen and journalism major, Ashley is a favorite of Kate’s who knows she will write complimentary material for the school paper and Kate needs all the good press she can get. For that reason, Drew hasn’t told his mother about the breakup.

Things being what they are, Drew is starting to crumble a little bit. A paper he has turned in to Professor Mueller (Bellows) has been flagged for plagiarism; actually, Drew didn’t mean to plagiarize the material he’d just failed to attribute the quotes he was using to the proper sources. If Drew gets turned in for plagiarism, he could lose his scholarship and certainly his place on the team. After some pleading, Drew is given a second chance.

Drew’s doctor (Smith) ups the dosage of the Adderall and at first that seems to settle Drew down but Drew is also providing pills to Ashley and his good friend “Radar” Robson (Brown) who uses the pills to help him focus on the field. But the straw tower is collapsing and Drew is floundering; his mother isn’t very sympathetic and soon an innocent study session leads to a decision that could have devastating consequences.

In all honesty I didn’t know Adderall addiction on campus was a thing but apparently it is. Set at the fictional Missouri A&M University, the movie does a pretty realistic job of capturing the pressures of college life although most college students don’t have the resources that Drew has; as I said earlier, most have to maintain some sort of job in order to pay for their living expenses while Drew doesn’t have that problem. Still, even he is under the gun of high expectations.

Guldan is a good looking young man but throughout the film his delivery is low-key; I’m not sure if this is to portray the effects of the drug on Drew or if it’s his natural delivery. It makes his performance a little bit stiff and wooden though. Quinlan is given a character who isn’t very realistic and who isn’t a very good mother and she does her best with it but at times I thought her character should have been twirling a metaphorical moustache a la Snidley Whiplash. Bellows, a solid character actor, fares best with the hip and cool professor who really Cares About His Kids. He comes off as very down to earth and the kind of professor who made learning fun when I was in school back in the stone age when we didn’t bring laptops to class. We – horrors – hand wrote our notes; oh, the humanity!

Some of the plot elements are a bit over the top in a soap opera sense and that doesn’t do the movie any favors. The whole subplot about Kate’s Congressional campaign could have been jettisoned without adversely affecting the movie; in fact, I would have loved to have seen more material on the effects of the drug on Drew and the people around him and gain a sense of how widespread the problem really is. While the movie has some missteps, the subject matter and main focus are to be congratulated and it is worth checking out for the scenes that do seem to be more on mission and less concerned with unrealistic plot twists.

REASONS TO GO: The issue of Adderall abuse on college campuses is brought into focus. Bellows gives a down to earth performance.
REASONS TO STAY: The movie would have been better without the soap opera elements.
FAMILY VALUES: There are depictions of drug abuse, adult themes, profanity, some sexual references and brief violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Much of the college campus scenes were filmed at the University of Missouri.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Vimeo, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/6/17: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Basketball Diaries
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Uncle Gloria: A Helluva Ride

A Dog’s Purpose


Dennis Quaid goes nose-to-nose with one of the canine stars in the film.

(2017) Family (Universal) Josh Gad (voice), Dennis Quaid, Peggy Lipton, KJ Apa, Bryce Ghelsar, Juliet Rylance, Luke Kirby, Gabrielle Rose, Michael Bofshever, Britt Robertson, Logan Miller, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Pooch Hall, John Ortiz, Nicole LaPlaca, Primo Allon, Peter Kelamis, Caroline Cave, Jane McGregor, Robert Mann, Ron Vewymeren, David J. Lyle, Kelly-Ruth Mercier. Directed by Lasse Hallström

 

Let’s get one thing straight; I am a dog person. Seriously, Da Queen often shakes her head at the extent of my love for the canine species. I have trouble watching cruelty perpetrated to dogs on film (even in animations) and quite frankly all it takes is my dogs whimpering just the right way and I’m putty in their paws. In other words, I’m pretty much the target audience for this film so keep that in mind when reading the review.

The essential concept is that we look at the lives of a variety of dogs, all voiced by Gad, who have been reincarnated one life from the other complete with the memories of previous lives. Bailey belongs to a young boy (Ghelsar) named Ethan. Ethan rescued Bailey from the inside of a hot car and with the support of his mother (Rylance) and over the grumbling of his salesman father (Kirby) he is allowed to keep him.

As Ethan grows into his teen years (Apa) it becomes clear that his father is a drunk and abusive as well, frustrated over his lack of success. Ethan has become a high school football star and through Bailey’s timely intervention, the boyfriend of beautiful Hannah (Robertson). He is well on his way to a college scholarship but a tragic accident changes Ethan’s life forever.

Ethan does go off to college but only after breaking up with Hannah. Bailey goes into a tailspin (no pun intended) without Ethan and not long afterwards, his health fails and Bailey passes on. However, to Bailey’s surprise he wakes up young…and female. Now he’s…I mean, she’s…Ellie, a police dog whose handler (Miller) is lonely and maybe content to be that way – or maybe not. Still, Ellie is brave as can be and a fine partner for Al until…

…she comes back, this time as Tino, a chubby corgi who becomes the object of affection for college student Maya (Howell-Baptiste). Their relationship continues on past graduation and after Maya gets married and starts a family. It continues until it’s Tino’s time to leave and he comes back as…

Buddy, a lovable St. Bernard who ends up chained in the front yard of a dilapidated shack, ignored and neglected and occasionally abused, wondering what it all means until at last he finds a way to someplace familiar…someone who he remembers (Quaid).

Hallström has never shied away from sentiment and this might be the most sentimental of all his films. It’s based on a book by W. Bruce Cameron and while there are some differences in plot line, it is essentially the same where it matters. The subject matter is essentially a dog wondering what the point of it all is; what is his/her purpose in life and what is it about buttholes that is so dang appealing?

Of course this is really about the place of all of us in the universe, not just dogs. Do we just live and then die? It’s heady stuff for a family film and why the Judeo-Christian tradition of heaven and hell is largely ignored here, the film does suggest that our place in the universe is largely determined by how much we love. Dogs are a metaphor in that regard because after all, who is more loving than man’s best friend?

Some might be aware of the video that went viral just before the film that was released that showed one of the dogs – the one who plays Ellie – apparently being forced into the water and being submerged. It should be said that while PETA and other animal rights groups made a big deal out of it, as it turns out the video was doctored and CGI was used of the dog in the water. There’s no doubt that the film crew did have a reluctant dog that should not have been forced into the water (it had more to do with the position of where they were filming the stunt rather than the stunt itself which the dog performed on other occasions without incident) but there was no abuse going on and Hercules, the stunt dog in question, is alive and well. It’s another case of people manipulating truth to suit their own agendas.

The performances here are adequate. You know the old showbiz adage of working with animals and children – it applies here. The best performances tend to come courtesy of those with four paws. That’s not in any way denigrating the two-legged actors here; Quaid is fine as always and Apa looks to be an Elar Coltrane in the making. The focus is on the dogs here and so the humans tend to be more background than anything.

Some movies are tailor-made for critics and others are not; this falls in the latter category. For the most part critics don’t like emotionally manipulative films and this one is certainly that. Yes, the movie is rife with clichés and that’s a problem but I don’t think that kids are all that picky about such things. There are at least two or three places where tears were flowing down my cheeks without shame. As catharsis goes you won’t get better than what I got here in most any film.

REASONS TO GO: Dog lovers will be absolutely charmed. The film examines some pretty deep questions in a non-lofty manner. There’s a Middle American sensibility here.
REASONS TO STAY: Those who don’t like having their emotions manipulated won’t like this at all.
FAMILY VALUES: Children and sensitive sorts (particularly about animals) may have a hard time with the peril several dogs (and the family) are put into and may be unable to handle the passing of various dogs in the film.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Bradley Cooper was originally slated to voice the various dogs in the movie but the scheduling couldn’t be worked out so Josh Gad was hired instead. Also, the bulk of the movie was filmed in Winnipeg.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/21/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 33% positive reviews. Metacritic: 43/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Old Yeller
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT: Death Race 2050

We Are Marshall


They are Marshall.

They are Marshall.

(2006) True Sports Drama (Warner Brothers) Matthew McConaughey, Matthew Fox, Anthony Mackie, David Strathairn, Ian McShane, Katie Mara, January Jones, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Arlen Escarpeta, Brian Geraghty, Tommy Cresswell, Christian Kanupke, Nina Jones, Kevin Atkins, Mark Patton, Robert Patrick, Katie Kneeland Directed by McG

The American Experience 2015

On November 14, 1970, a chartered plane carrying the football team of Marshall University, the Thundering Herd, back to Huntington WV where the University is following a loss to the East Carolina Pirates clipped some trees on the approach to the runway and crashed into a gully a mile from landing safely. Every one of the 75 souls on that plane died in the horrific, fiery crash.

It remains the worst loss of life regarding an American sports team in history but it was more than that. Along with almost the entire Marshall football team, the plane carried the athletic director for the university, four trainers, all but one of the coaches, a state legislator, a city councilman, four physicians and 25 boosters. Seventy children lost at least one parent in the crash and 18 were orphaned.

The effect on the community was devastating. Huntington was then (and is now) a small college town; much of the town’s life revolves around the university and their football team, though it had been mediocre in recent years, still was a source of pride to the town. With the town paralyzed by grief, Marshall’s acting president Donald Dedmon (Strathairn) was ready to discontinue the football program. However, Nate Ruffin (Mackie), a wide receiver who hadn’t gone on the trip to East Carolina due to an injury, convinced Dedmon (with the help of the student body) to keep the team.

The surviving coach, Red Dawson (Fox) was offered the head coach position but was too grief-stricken to accept. After a long, fruitless search, Jack Lengyel (McConaughey) from tiny Wooster College, was given the job. It wouldn’t be an easy one. Essentially, they’d be starting a team from scratch, utilizing athletes from other sports at the University and former members of the Junior Varsity. Dedmon, at Lengyel’s urging, petitioned the NCAA to allow freshmen to be eligible to play on the Varsity. At the time, Freshmen were forbidden to play for the Varsity, the line of thought being that they didn’t have the maturity to handle the pressures of big time college athletics and that a year adjusting to college life would be more beneficial; the NCAA has since changed their rules on that matter.

Still, it would be an uphill battle and everyone knew that the team would be just awful that year. Would a team woefully unqualified truly be able to honor the memory of those who had died, or would they tarnish it? Is just stepping on the field enough?

While We Are Marshall disappointed at the box office when it was released, it has since become something of an icon of the true sports drama genre. Certainly the story is compelling enough; watching an entire town and university grieve for an unimaginable tragedy is almost mind-boggling. Even now, almost a decade after the movie came out, I still mist up just thinking about it.

For the most part, McG handles the tragedy with sensitivity. For one thing, he doesn’t show the actual crash, just the aftermath. He doesn’t beat the audience over the head with grief, although certainly the grieving process is a part of the film’s story. Less is more in this case.

McConaughey at the time this was made was best known for romantic comedies in which he usually found an excuse to take his shirt off. In many ways, this was the movie that led us to reconsider our opinion about the actor and reveal that there was more to him than a laid-back romantic lead. The guy can act, as was revealed more recently with an Oscar win and an Emmy nomination.

There are some other performances here that are worth knowing. McShane plays a University trustee in favor of discontinuing football; his son – the starting quarterback – had died in the crash and in many ways his grief had overwhelmed him. Fox is outstanding as Dawson, a man with survivor’s guilt who slowly comes on board with the idea of resuming his life. Mackie’s Ruffin provides leadership for the team and University. Strathairn gives Dedmon gravitas and the reliable character actor is at the top of his game here.

One of the few things I can fault the film for is its dialogue. It doesn’t sound like human beings talking; it’s mostly a series of inspirational quotes. I would have preferred fewer platitudes and more realistic conversation. While it might have looked good in the script, it creates a gulf between audience and character that is unnecessary; we really want to relate to them and it’s harder to when they sound like Gary Cooper delivering Lou Gehrig’s final speech.

That said this is one of the most moving sports films ever made, right up there with Hoosiers and The Miracle. Some might find it to be manipulative – the subplot involving Katie Mara’s waitress character (she was the fiance of Ian McShane’s son) certainly is – but overall I thought the movie comes by its emotional impact honestly. It can take more courage to get up in the morning and move on with your life than it does to step onto a battlefield, and in the face of overwhelming grief, the courage and heart of an entire town and University is to be admired.

WHY RENT THIS: McConaughey breaks out as a dramatic actor. Deeply moving and effective subject matter. Handled with reverence and respect.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Subplots are occasionally manipulative and the characters tend to speak in platitudes.
FAMILY VALUES: The material can be very emotional and those who are sensitive about such things should probably steer clear. There’s also some mildly harsh language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: While much of the movie was filmed in Huntington, the stadium that the Thundering Herd played in back in 1971 – Fairfield Stadium – had been demolished in 2004. The filmmakers used Herndon Stadium in Atlanta for Marshall’s home games in the movie.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: The DVD and Blu-Ray both include an ad for West Virginia tourism, a featurette on legendary college coaches and what techniques they used to motivate their students and a brief look at Marshall University today.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $43.6M on a $65M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD Rental only), Amazon, Flixster, iTunes, Vudu
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Hoosiers
FINAL RATING: 9/10
NEXT: The American Experience continues!

The 5th Quarter


The 5th Quarter(2010) True Life Faith-Based Drama (Rocky Mountain) Andie MacDowell, Aidan Quinn, Ryan Merriman, Andrea Powell, Michael Harding, Stefan Guy, Anessa Ramsey, Jillian Batherson, Ted Johnson, Patrick Stogner, Bonnie Johnson, William Smith Yelton, Maureen Mountcastle. Directed by Rick Bieber

 

None of us get through life unscathed. Sooner or later we all lose someone close to us. One of the worst things we can experience, however is losing someone long before their time. However, when we are in the depths of that despair we can sometimes find inspiration.

The Abbate family is a close, tight-knit family that is strong in their faith. Their son Jon (Merriman) is attending Wake Forest on a football scholarship and his little brother Luke (Guy) looks to be going down the same road. Mom Maryanne (MacDowell) is proud of her boys as is Dad Steven (Quinn).

But then the unthinkable happens. Luke goes out with a group of his friends; behind the wheel is a boy who is reckless, driving way too fast and too inexperienced to handle it. The car crashes. Some of the boys in the car are killed instantly; Luke lingers on for several days before the decision is made to let him go. Luke had signed up as an organ donor and the members of the family have a difficult time respecting that decision but after much soul reflection and speaking with their pastors, they at last give in. Luke’s organs are harvested.

The grief hits the family hard. Maryanne sinks into a deep depression while Steven throws himself into work. Jon goes on a bit of a rollercoaster ride; sometimes he is the rock the family leans on, other times he is furious at the Lord for taking his brother and other times he seems to have given up, sinking into a beer-colored haze.

After an intervention by Jon’s girlfriend (Batherson), assorted pastors and his weight trainer, Jon gets his life back on track. When the football season begins, he tells his coach (Harding) that he wants to switch his number from 41 to 5 which was the number Luke wore. As the 2006 season begins, the Demon Deacons – predicted to finish dead last in the tough Atlantic Coast Conference – start the fourth quarter of each game with Jon holding his hand with five fingers outstretched in tribute to his brother – the fifth quarter. Soon, his teammates take it up as a show of solidarity, then the fans pick it up and by the end of the year, even opposing players do it as a sign of respect to Jon and his deceased brother.

While the Deacons have an unbelievable season which ends up with an ACC title, a BCC bowl game (the first in the university’s history) and an eventual rating in the top 20, Jon’s family is still having real issues dealing with their grief and holding onto their faith, once a cornerstone of the family. Can they find their way back to happiness, or at least acceptance?

I’m not really a big fan of faith-based movies. I personally don’t like being preached to about how I should accept God’s plan and that if I accept Jesus Christ as my personal savior I’ll find eternal life and so forth. That’s all fine for Church but watching a movie isn’t going to convert me and if you need to have a movie re-confirm your faith, you’ve got problems, son.

Still, this one is a little more subtle about it than most which is fine by me – there is nothing wrong to my mind with portraying that a character or their family has faith, nor is portraying a crisis of faith something that should be avoided and it’s quite true that Hollywood tends to avoid anything that smacks of religious faith, so much so that Evangelical Christians have taken to making their own movies.

That’s fine and dandy. Most of them have been quite frankly just plain awful, having no edge to them whatsoever but kind of an attitude that no matter what life throws at you, everything will be better so long as you believe. The Polar Express is a lot like that but at least the visuals are better.

This at least has a bit of an edge, and some of the acting performances are all right particularly from Quinn as the grieving dad. While there are plenty of amateurish performances on the acting side, and a whole lot of cornball in the script, I’ve seen worse from more seasoned professionals so you can’t really complain too much.

This isn’t really a football story and the success of the Wake Forest team is really not what the movie’s about either; it is about the healing of a family. Personally (and nothing against the Abbates) but would a movie have been made if Jon Abbate hadn’t been a star football player and his team performed well above expectations? In making this a non-football story about a football player and his family, it kind of cheapens the similar experiences other families who weren’t lucky enough to have a star football player in their DNA have been through, and that’s really my main problem with the movie; if you’re going to use a football player in the movie, it should be a football movie. If you’re going to make it about a family, any family should do.

Otherwise, those who are devout Christians (and I’m not sure how many of those read my reviews to be honest) will find it a refreshing change of pace from typical Hollywood films. Those who aren’t can rest assured that they won’t feel too preached to during the course of the film. However to both sides I can say that the movie is merely average and won’t really tell a story with characters you can get to know and relate to. Perhaps that would have been the miracle this film needed.

WHY RENT THIS: An inspiring story. Quinn does a nice job as does MacDowell.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Definitely a film meant for a Christian audience; can be preachy in places. Overdoes the sentimentality.

FAMILY VALUES: The themes might be a little bit rough on the young and impressionable. There are also some medical scenes that are a bit strong and a little bit of harsh language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Most of the pastors in the film are played by real-life pastors. The weight trainer in the film is played by Jon Abbate’s real-life trainer.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $408,159 on an unreported production budget; I think it’s likely the movie barely broke even or possibly even made a little bit of money.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Brian’s Song

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Cafe

The Express


The Express

Ernie Davis rumbles for the end zone in the 1960 Cotton Bowl.

(Universal) Dennis Quaid, Rob Brown, Charles Dutton, Omar Benson Miller, Clancy Brown, Darrin Dewitt Henson, Saul Rubinek, Nelsan Ellis, Nicole Beharie, Aunjanue Ellis. Directed by Gary Fleder

In this age where most of the great athletes in our country are of African-American descent, it seems almost incomprehensible that at one time they were not even allowed to play in the national spotlight. For those pioneers who led the way, the path was often painful.

Ernie Davis (Rob Brown) was a humble young man who had spent much of his childhood in western Pennsylvania with his grandfather, affectionately called Pops (Dutton) who had managed to rid Ernie of his stutter by getting him to read passages from the Bible. Ernie was blessed with natural athleticism, speed and strength, all good qualities to have if you want to be a football star and that’s just what he was on the verge of becoming in High School.

Syracuse University Head Football Coach Ben Schwartzwalder (Quaid) is about to lose the best player in college football, Jim Brown (Henson) to graduation and the Cleveland Browns. Replacing him will be a tall order. Brown, for his part, is not unhappy to see the University moving behind him into the rear-view mirror. He encountered a great deal of racism on campus and despite being the best running back in the game by far, he had been denied the Heisman Trophy because of the color of his skin. For a man with the kind of pride possessed by Brown that’s a difficult pill to swallow, so when Schwartzwalder, with whom he had an often contentious relationship, called upon him to recruit the young Ernie Davis, Brown was understandably reluctant.

Still, he accompanies Schwartzwalder on the recruiting visit and is pleased and a little taken aback that Davis can quote all his statistics off the top of his head and obviously has a case of hero-worship. Brown relents and quietly makes his sales pitch to Davis, asserting that Schwartzwalder can make him a better player. That’s all Ernie Davis needs to hear. 

On the campus of Syracuse, Ernie has to put up with a certain amount of disdain from the students as well as a hellacious workout regimen. Even though he’s a freshman and ineligible to play on the varsity, he practices with them and dresses for the games, which is painful because Syracuse definitely underachieved that season, falling to lowly Holy Cross in the season finale.

Still, with Davis eligible to play, the 1959 season is full of hope for the Orangemen and with Davis leading the way, the Orange are propelled to an undefeated season despite encountering racial hatred and all sorts of abuse. Still, things could be worse for Ernie; he’s got a great friend in Jack “JB” Buckley, a big lineman with an easygoing sense of humor and a heart of gold, and a beautiful girlfriend in Cornell coed Sarah Ward (Beharie). When the team is sent to the Cotton Bowl in Dallas on January 1, 1960 to play the second ranked Texas Longhorns for the national championship, one of the most memorable bowl games of all time would be the result, a game that would cement Davis’ reputation as one of the great college football players of all time and propel him to a destiny both glorious and tragic.

Director Gary Fleder pulls out all the emotional stops in this one, and given the facts of Davis’ life that’s not hard to do. What I don’t understand is why he and his writer Charles Leavitt felt constrained to exaggerate some of the facts of his story and flat out make up incidents that never happened, the most egregious example of which is a game at West Virginia in which, the filmmakers assert, bottles and other dangerous projectiles were thrown at the players (particularly the African-American ones) and set the scene for a dramatic confrontation between Davis and Schwartzwalder. Guys, I’m sure the same confrontation could have easily have been accomplished without maligning the good fans of West Virginia.

Rob Brown does a fine job at capturing the essence of Ernie Davis, who in life was most certainly a leader but led quietly. He was said to be unfailingly polite and kind with a gentle demeanor when he was off the football field. Brown captures that aspect of him, but gives him a core of steel that Davis undoubtedly had to possess in order to accomplish what he did, and showed the fierce competitive streak that players of that caliber must have in order to succeed.

Quaid does a solid job as Schwartzwalder, giving the crusty old ball coach a soft core but one ringed with steel. The unfortunate aspect is that while Schwartzwalder wasn’t a racist per se, he was a man of his times and it took some fortitude for him to unlearn behaviors that were ingrained into white America for decades.

I was a little concerned about the lighting which was sometimes a bit on the underlit side for my tastes, but that’s a minor quibble. While the era is captured with some success, I never really felt immersed in the era of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s when this took place.

Still, I’m really glad that a film is finally being made of Davis’ life. He was the first African-American athlete to win the Heisman and would have undoubtedly had a Hall of Fame-caliber career with the Cleveland Browns. Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with leukemia shortly after being drafted and died at age 23, having never played a down in the NFL. His legacy, however, is unquestioned and his story should be told, and despite the historical gaffes, it’s told pretty well here.

WHY RENT THIS: A fair depiction of a pioneering athlete who has gone largely forgotten by history.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Some of the historical inaccuracies are completely egregious and are just as completely unnecessary.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some depictions of racism with plenty of racial slurs (including the N-word) as well as other foul language. There’s also a bit of sensuality but overall, it is suitable for most teens.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In the film, the Penn State score is given as Syracuse 32, Penn State 6 but the actual score of the game was 20-18, one of the Orangemen’s toughest games in that undefeated season.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a wonderful retrospective on Davis that features interviews with Jim Brown and surviving members of his family and friends. On the Blu-Ray edition, there is a feature on the Syracuse championship season, with interviews with players and coaches both archival and contemporary and archival game footage from that season.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Ghosts of Girlfriends Past

The Blind Side


The Blind Side

Quinton Aaron and Sandra Bullock air out their dirty laundry.

(Warner Brothers) Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw, Quinton Aaron, Kathy Bates, Lily Collins, Jae Head, Kim Dickens, Adriane Lenox, Catherine Dyer, Andy Stahl, Tom Nowicki, Libby Whitmore, Brian Hollan, Ray McKinnon. Directed by John Lee Hancock

Accidents happen. There are no accidents. Accidentally on purpose. Is anything really random chance, or is there a destiny for all of us?

Michael Oher (Aaron) has very little going for him other than he’s big and athletic. He can barely read and write his own name, his mother is a crack addict and his father is God knows where. The father of a friend of his works as a janitor at an exclusive private school in Memphis and gets the idea to bring the two of them before the football coach to see if he can get them into Wingate one way or another. Salivating at the chance to get the raw talent onto his team, the coach (McKinnon), almost salivating, convinces the school’s trustees to admit the disadvantaged boy.

However his presence on his friend’s couch has put a strain on them, so Michael is left to his own devices. He moves from place to place, silent and sad, a big sorrowful man-child without any hope or any joy. He doesn’t fit in at his new school, and his old neighborhood is becoming increasingly dangerous.

One cold night he is walking on the side of the road, trying to get into the school gym before it is locked so that he can have a warm place to sit for awhile when by chance the Tuohy family drives by. Its matriarch, Leigh Anne (Bullock) orders her husband Sean (McGraw) to stop the car and in her typically abrupt and no-nonsense manner interrogates the boy. Do you have a place to go? Don’t you dare lie to me! Oher admits he has nowhere to sleep and on the spur of the moment, Leigh Anne decides to bring the boy home and put him up for the night.

Her children SJ (Head) and Collins (Collins) range from enthusiastic (SJ) to not so much (Collins) about the new houseguest as one night stretches into several and then into weeks and at last, months. Leigh Anne drives Michael to his old home to pick up some clothes but they find that his mother has been evicted and nobody knows where she is. Instead, Leigh Anne drives Michael to the nearest Big and Tall store where Michael shows signs of life when offered a rugby shirt in his size.

As the days go by, Oher begins to respond to his academic environment although he is unable to learn in the traditional way. Instead, he picks up on what is told to him verbally. Leigh Ann hires a tutor (Bates) to help him get his grades up and soon he gets his average to the point where he can try out for the football team. The coach’s joy turns to disappointment when Oher turns out to be far too soft and unskilled to be much of a force. It is only when Leigh Anne, to whom Michael has become very attatched to, gives him a pep talk that Michael begins to show what he’s capable of and that is becoming an All-American offensive tackle. However, when he makes a choice for his future, the motivations of his family are called into question and the relationship between Michael and his new family becomes imperiled.

Director Hancock is something of a true sports movie expert, with The Rookie to his credit and again he pulls out all the stops with this one. His best move was casting Bullock in the lead role and she nails the role of Leigh Anne who could intimidate Kimbo Slice if she had half a mind to. She’s tough as nails, suffers no fools but is fiercely loyal to her family with a soft spot for underdogs. There are a surprising number of women like her in the South and if the region has any greatness at all to it, it’s because of them.

McGraw, whose easygoing charm translates nicely to the screen, is solid as the dad, a role he has begun to be attractive to casting agents in. While Head is a bit over-the-top in places as SJ the spirited son, he at least has a great smile and a good sense of comic timing for an actor his age. In fact, all of the actors who play the Tuohy family do a good job of creating a believable onscreen family.

If there’s a problem with The Blind Side it has to do with the script. True sports stories have tended to follow a very similar format in recent movies; an underdog gets inspired in the pursuit of a goal and that inspiration leads to overachievement. When the goal is in reach, something happens to jeopardize the achievement of the goal but in the end the team/individual pulls it together at the last minute to triumph over adversity.

Some of the adversity that is shown here feels scripted and not terribly authentic. Just because a movie says it’s based on a true story does it mean that everything in it is true. Something tells me that some incidents were embellished to create dramatic tension and normally I don’t have a problem with that, but in this case it didn’t feel organic. I think it’s possible that we’ve overdosed on the genre since it felt like I’ve seen it all before and in fact I have.

And that’s not to denigrate Michael Oher or his story in any way. I think it could have been handled a bit differently and written better is all I’m saying. Still in all despite my quibbling this is still a solid movie that I can recommend without hesitation. It gets you in all the right places and makes for a fine cathartic afternoon. Still, the best reason to see this is to watch Bullock at her very best.

REASONS TO GO: Bullock does some of the best work of her career. The family dynamic is believable even if S.J. is too cute to be believed.

REASONS TO STAY: The plot is a bit formula and some of the elements feel scripted instead of true-to-life. Aaron as Oher gives us little insight into his character.

FAMILY VALUES: Some language and some minor violence but otherwise okay for families.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: There are cameos from several Southeastern college football colleges playing themselves, including Phil Fullmer, Nick Saban, Lou Holtz and Tommy Tuberville.

HOME OR THEATER: This can easily fit on the small screen.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Terminator Salvation