DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEWs of Remember the Titans, Friday Night Lights, Radio, Rudy , Goal!, Invincible, Miracle, We Are Marshall, Jerry Maguire, The Long Gray Line, The Natural, Field of Dreams, The Pride of the Yankees, Roberto Clemente, Pride, Blades of Glory, For One More Day, Redline, Bigger Stronger Faster, The Wrestler, Jose Canseco: The Last Shot; She’s the Man; The Blind Side; Invictus

Title:  Remember the Titans

Release Date:  2000

Nationality and Language: USA, English

Running time: 100 min

MPAA Rating:  PG

Distributor and Production Company:   Buena Vista; Walt Disney;

Director; Writer: Boaz Yakim

Producer: Jerry Bruckheimer Films

Cast:    Denzel Washington, Nicole Ari Berken, Will Patton, Kip Purdue


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Movie Review of Remember the Titans (2000)

From Walt Disney Pictures/Buena Vista; a Jerry Bruckheimer film; directed by Boaz Yakim;; MPAA Rating “PG”   9.0/10

(How many people know that "The Titan" is the nickname of Mahler's First Symphony? "And He shall reign...")

First—why does this come from Walt Disney Pictures directly rather than Touchstone.  I thought that the Touchstone label was intended for “big” “issues” films.

And about issues this film is.  It packs a lot into that one fall of 1971 in northern Va.  I was living in Arlington, next to Alexandria then, evening working for the federal government (the Navy)  and I don’t know if it was this “bad” in terms of race relations, 17 years after Brown v. Board of Education. After all, these were the Washington, D.C. suburbs.  But I recall that the property manager of the garden apartment in south Arlington said to me about “blacks”: “Well, most of them just don’t qualify.”

So I guess I have to believe that it could have been that tense on a football team like the Titans.  The coach (Denzel Washington) at one point tells the players that they will be roommates at summer camp in Pennsylvania, part of the unit cohesion and bonding process.  This, of course reminds me of President Truman;s integration of the military in 1948 (so well portrayed in the HBO film Truman in 1996). 

Which, of course, leads to my pet issue, and Disney has seen fit to acknowledge and even develop it along my lines. Remember, Corey Johnson made national headlines this year about his coming out (as gay) to his high school football team, where he was a star quarterback.  So, in this film, a Marine colonel shows up with his all American teenage son in hippy long hair and demands that he be admitted to the football team—the blond Caucasian son (Kip Purdue) will play only on a team that is racially integrated. 

And this Ronnie Bass character, tremendously handsome and charismatic, looks off place for a football team, just too skinny.  But his athletic gifts are formidable: a combination of martial arts and ballet (and ballet, as we know from the movie Center Stage, is one of the most athletic of all possible activities)  and an inborn gift to pass a football southpaw-style with absolute accuracy.  (You have to be born with an accurate passing arm, for quarterback.)  So the teammates question him about his “difference.”  He never quite “tells” but he mock-kisses a black teammate.  I’m not sure that I believe that this really could have happened on a football team in 1971, but maybe I’m wrong.  We will remember the book, The Dave Kopay Story (1973), about a Washington Redskins player who later came out as gay.  This whole matter is handled most wholesomely, even within a PG film.  But obviously the Disney team wanted to send its political message (politically correct for some): that “different” (and possibly gay) men can bond in military-style units effectively, and that “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” is becoming almost a locker room joke.  

Many of the scenes early in the film represent the need for young men to belong to groups that engage in competitive, pseudo-violent, dangerous, hunter-gatherer-warrior activities, before they can develop adult identities at all (enough even to marry and father).  Authors as diverse as Sebastian Junger, George Gilder, Warren Farrell, and Paul Rosenfels have talked about this.

Friday Night Lights (2004, PG-13, Universal/Imagine, 117 min, dir. Peter Berg, Billy Bob Thornton as Coach Gary Gaines) is a docu-drama covering high school football—specifically the Odessa-Permian Panthers in the 1988 season. (Midland-Odessa is the West Texas “Petroplex” or little Metroplex—I had just come back from living in Dallas for nine years in the summer of 1988). People will compare it to “Remember the Titans” (my review) but this is a much more deliberate and studious film. The point, of course, is that for some of the kids, football is all they have. So is the military-like esprit de corps. There is a subplot about a football player and his alcoholic dad, and another about playing hurt. At one early point a player is challenged with “Are you gay?” because he doesn’t acknowledge having a girl friend. You have all those silly macho expectations that many kids and families live by. The shootout is in the Astrodome, and the fallout will follow some of the players, those without other skills, at least. There is a great on-location wide screen photography of the semi-desert like West Texas landscape, oil wells included. 

 Radio (2003, Columbia/Revolution, dir. Michael Tollin, wr. Mike Rich, 109 min, PG) is indeed a family film and poses moral questions about emotional focus. The film takes place in 1976 in Anderson, SC, while Jimmy Carter runs for president, and as the movie opens, Radio -- James Robert Kennedy -- played by a youthful Cuba Gooding, Jr. is playing on a branch line railroad track and almost gets hit by a switch engine. We quickly learn that he is developmentally disabled, and the football coach Jones (Ed Harris) will take him under his wing as a teacher. He will have things to do around the practices, but to get the team to behave properly is a challenge. At one point, the team tricks him into going into the girl's room. The film does not go into the special education issues ("no child left behind") as it is just before that time. But keeping him in high school turns out to be an emotional challenge for Jones, as most of the other grownups want to institutionalize him so that he will not make people uncomfortable with their own neglect.

Rudy (1993, Tri-Star, dir. David Anspaugh, 116 min, PG) presents Sean Astin who, at 22, is in his pre-Sam, pre-LOTR form as a likeable hero. In high school, his teachers chide him as a "dreamer" rather than a "doer," but he gets help and finds out he is dyslexic. He gets into Holy Cross prep and overcomes his dyslexia with tutoring and becomes a good enough student to go to Notre Dame. (He gets several rejection letters before he gets in.) His dream then is to suit up just once on the football team, even though he is physically too small for football. Will he actually get to play? If so, what will happen in the game with Georgia Tech? Will he get at least one tackle as a defensive end? The fans start chanting "Rudy" and he gets carried off the field by his teammates; that has not happened at Notre Dame since (1975). How's that for unit cohesion? His father, a short time after watching a catastrophic accident in the steel mill where a man burns, warns him that "chasing dreams causes heartache to all those around you." ("Having dreams is what makes life tolerable.") And early on there is talk about family, about how relatives watch out for each other. Rudy will rise above this. The Ring will be his. The Army is said to use this as a motivational film (along with Braveheart)

The real Rudy Ruettiger is interviewed on the DVD. He was one of fourteen children in a typical blue collar family centered around adapting to what society expects. In the film, Rudy, looking very juvenile most of the time, apparently matures physically, shown in a scene late in the movie as a college senior, icing a shoulder, with a hairy chest.

 Yet, one wonders, why was it some important to do such an explicitly manly thing like play football? And get in one game? As a screenwriting problem, it shows how you can whip up an emotional climax over anything. Jerry Goldsmith wrote the music, in a crunching oxymoronic 3/4 time Mahlerian "march" (Robert Schumann had created a similar effect in the last piece in his "Carnaval"), which reinforces the emotional high. He need to prove to his family that he could pay his dues, and become a warrior and protector when expected. Somehow his doing so is very reassuring to others in a similar situation in life, so his teammates and even all of the fans in the stadium are so supportive of what is eventually their own self-interest. Only by performing as a man at least once, even with a lot of help, would he earn the right to live his adult life in freedom. That sounds like the moral lesson. But there must have been other ways to make himself a success. For me, it should have been to stay with piano, despite the pressures of the Cold War. 

Goal! The Dream Begins (2005, Touchstone/Milkshake, dir. Danny Cannon, 118 min, PG-13, USA/UK) is a major sports film about soccer. An illegal immigrant Santiago Munez (Kuno Becker) must jump hoops around the law and from hiding his asthma, and later from careless exposure to the press at parties (he "gets it" when on the couch from the (female) party bunnies, limited by the PG-13 environment but with a rather bizarre visual suggestion), angering his bosses, to become a top UK (for Newcastle) soccer player, after discovery in the LA barrios by a British sports agent. He also has to fight his father's attitude, that "you know your place" in life and stay loyal to your family. There is a great song in the end credits, "Weight of the World on my Shoulders."

Invincible (2006, Walt Disney, dir. Ericson Cole, 105 min). Here is another story of an unlikely rookie making it. But now the hero is a South Philly bartender Vince Papale (Marky Mark Wahlberg) who, in 1976, became the oldest rookie (at 30) to make the NFL. Dick Vermiel (Greg Kinear) has just been hired to turn the Philadelphia Eagles around. He holds an open tryout for all comers. Now Vince has been laid off as an English teacher and the best the school district can offer him is two sub assignments a week. (It seems that the teacher shortage had not started yet in the 1976, at least not in older, budget-strapped inner cities who could not afford them.)  His wife leaves him and takes everything. (So much for, "till death do us part.") He survives numerous practices, as he overhears runners approach other players with "The Coach wants to see you. Bring your playbook."  Finally, he has a one-one meeting with Vermiel, before the regular season starts in Texas Stadium in Irving, Texas with Tom Landry's Dallas Cowboys. Vermiel tells him to keep the playbook a few months. Papale throws up before his first game (so does Vermiel), and Papale chokes on the first kickoff (he is on special teams). But he comes around and recovers a fumble on a punt and scores a touchdown to win the second game, at home in the Vet against the New York Giants, 13-7. 

The movie does show some of the intimate life in a pro sports team, the small rooms in camp. Following the "six degrees of separation" (or fewer) principle, I once had a coworker whose wife had been married before to a pro football player.

The lesson is, fame and success are not as improbable as the sound. If Papale could make a pro football team at 30, I can get my movie made.

(This film is unrelated to Werner Herzog's film by the same name from 2001, review link below.)

We Are Marshall (2006, Warner Bros./Legendary, dir. McG, 110 min, PG) About two weeks ago, Nerve, an online magazine with somewhat adult content and a COPA plaintiff, sent an email announcing the waxing of Michael McConaughey's chest. (Remember, People Mag. had crowned the Texan as the sexiest man alive.) I wonder if they were making fun of his prudish, over-acted and mannered performance in this sports movie, a feel good cliche with all the linearity of a shopping mall offering from a major studio. (The other big name now in actors from Texas is Jared Padalecki, who plays the role model Sam in Supernatural, although you needed a southern veteran for this particular role.) Even so, the film's story is pretty important, and as stirring a moral lesson as any others on this page. On Nov. 14, 1970, a chartered airplane carrying the college football team from Marshall University in Huntington, W. Va (on the Ohio river and border with Ohio and Kentucky) crashed, obliterating everyone on board. The college pondered whether to continue football, unable to find an alumnus to take the job, but then Jack Lengyel (McConaughey), a coach in Ohio, volunteered. There is an interesting scene where University President Dedmon (David Strathairn, from "Good Night, and Good Luck") asks why, and Lengyel gives a tricky answer based on his own four kids. (Of course!) He then manipulates the NCAA to be able to use freshmen, and he also recruits baseball, soccer and lacrosse players. (He finds that his team averages 18-1/2 years, whereas the typical college football team averages 20-1/2; at that age in young men, physiological development is still significant, as physical growth is in its last stage. It reminds me of a softball game in grade school when the 5th grade beat the 4th grade, 20-1.) This first game is on the road, a 23-6 loss, but he wins his first home game against Xavier, 15-13, with a touchdown pass on the last play. The team would go on to finish 2-12 that season, but would become a winner in the 80s. An early scene in the film, before the crash, has the former coach lecturing the team like Donald Trump in the idea that the only thing that matters is winning. Lengyel changes that moral idea to the most important thing is competing and trying. I can think of my own "career" in chess. I had my runs when I was a successful USCF tournament player, in the late 60s (in the Army), in the early 80s (in Dallas), and a little in the 90s. Since getting on with my book and website I just haven't been able to remain competitive. I visited Huntington myself in August 1999, staying overnight when visiting the stripmine country in southern W. Va.  But I come back to the title of the movie, which suggests a certain esprit de corps and group consciousness, a kind of unit cohesion and warrior loyalty that we expect in the military, from more conventional men who only become adult individuals when they get married.

I don't recall another instance where a major league or college sports team was wiped out in a transportation crash in modern times. Readers could correct me on that, but it would be incredibly traumatic if it happened today. (Remember, though, that almost an entire company, Cantor-Fitzgerald, was wiped out in the World Trade Center on 9/11.)  

Pride (2007, LionsGate/Fortress, dir. Sunu Gonera, wr Kevin Michael Smith, Michael Gozzard, 104 min, PG) takes place in Philadelphia and starts out in 1964 when African Americans still aren't welcome at a public swimming pool. In 1974, Jim Ellis (Terrence Howard, from Hustle & Flow) takes a job at a recreational center about to be closed down, and builds an ad hoc swimming team with neighborbood inner city teens. He overcomes all kinds of bureaucratic obstacles (the screenplay is a bit cliched in that aspect) but eventually gets a meet at a suburban swimming pool against a "white" team. The "home field" at the recreation center gets certified for meets, and the white team forfeits rather than play a black team on its turf. Finally the team is invited to the East Coast championship in Baltimore and beats the same team. In swimming, because the contestants "peak" by shaving, there really should be no difference, except that the white team didn't even do this.

LionsGate chose to open the film with the soundtrack rather than its own musical trademark, which is one of the most vigorous in the industry. Movie studios should always play their own musical trademarks first. One of the production companies, Fortress, was at the Sunset Scripts screenwriting conference in Washington last August and I think this film was mentioned in panel discussions.

Blades of Glory (2007, Dreamworks/MTV, dir. Josh Gordon / Will Speck, 93 min, PG-13). Well, ironically, this situation comedy, with plot trick from the 80s all the way back to the 50s, proves that skating is a real sport, and then some. Two opposite prima donnas, Chazz Michael Michaels (Will Ferrell) and James MacElroy (Jon Heder) have a fight while sharing a gold medal, and get banned from skating (in a scene where reals like Brian Boitano -- South Park -- appear on the board). Their only way back is a loophole, to skate together as a pair -- a male couple, of straight men. 

It's not hard to imagine that the comedy will come from their forced intimacy, and the male bonding that simulates the psychological setup of a gay relationship. The visual contrast between  Heder and Ferrell is played up for all its worth, as reincarnations of Jacob and Esau (forget Cain and Abel) . Ferrell looks out of shape, with a little pot belly and love handles, tattoos on his back, and unruly, curled but stubby chest hair. He looks unkempt. Heder is so perfect and smooth in his mysterious skin that it's hard to believe he is 29 -- remember that on the New Years Eve leading into 2006 on Saturday Night Live the threatened to relinquish his body hair. And the rest of the film rather turns into SNL as Amy Poehler joins as a villainness (with lover Will Arness). Real skater Scott Hamilton is a sports anchor. One of the funniest and most macabre "jokes" is a trick called the Iron Lotus, where one skater nearly decapitates the other with his "blade" (pun intended) -- starting with a supposed such decapitation from North Korea. 

Miracle (2004, Walt Disney Pictures, dir. Gavin O'Connor, 135 min, PG). Kurt Russel plays Coach Herb Brooks, who puts together the US olympic hockey team for the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. The team has the political task of beating the "CCCP" Soviet Union. The lose an exhibition game, 10-3 at Madison Square Garden, but win a thriller 4-3 in the Olympics and win a gold medal. Shortly after this events, Carter would take the US out of the summer Olympics in Moscow because of the invasion in Afghanistan. The movie opens with a recounting of the history of "the collectivist 70s". In the middle, there is a radio speech or fireside chat by Carter in the fall of 1979, where Americans are losing hope. Of course, Ronald Reagan would make the 1980s "morning in America." 

The film has a scene where Brooks releases a player (there is a similar scene in "Invincible"). Early, there is a curious scene where the players are taping themselves but the tape itself is not shown.

Redline (2007, Chicago Releasing and Pictures, dir. Andy Cheng, story by Daniel Sadek, wr. Robert Foreman, 95 min, PG-13) is the first movie from this new studio (the trademark has the Chicago skyline and reminds me of the movies "Chicago" and "Chicago Stories", unrelated but both discussed elsewhere on this site). The film has a layered story about movie-making and loan sharking in Las Vegas, but provides a vehicle for multiple sports car races and some crashes (as in the first "Crash" movie with James Spader). The cast is little known, outside of Angus Macfayden, Tim Matheson and Marc Crumpton, and the dialogue is a bit wooden. I have a more detailed discussion on blogger here.  

Oprah Winfrey Presents: Mitch Albom's For One More Day (2007, ABC / Touchstone / Harpo, dir. Lloyd Kramer, book and teleplay by Mitch Albom, 100 min, sug PG)  A former minor league baseball player Chick Benetto (Michael Imperioli), plagued by alcohol abuse and the breakup of his own family, crashes his car, perhaps deliberately. While the cops and rescue squad approach, he has a near-death experience where he spends one more day with his deceased mother and reviews his life. The climax of his career came when he got called up in 1973 by the New York Mets in September but never got to bat. He was injured in an grapefruit league exhibition game the following March and never got back to the Majors. He did play in an Old Timers game at Shea Stadium (shown, and rented for the movie, which was also done for the Major League movies, in which I got fed dinner as a Metrodome stadium extra in 1997) and popped up. 

His mother (Ellen Burstyn) helps him gain insight into what happened with his life. As a boy, the librarian wouldn't let him check out Jules Verne 's "20000 Leagues Under the Sea" (a Disney film in 1960) because she thought it was over his head. His father, however, tried to install self-confidence, teaching him not to be afraid of a baseball. Gradually he incorporated the values of our hyper-individualistic culture, "no sympathy for a loser." After his baseball career crashed, he became a salesman and an "ordinary person". Perhaps he resented a job where the point was to manipulate others to buy something that he didn't make. But he did have a wife and daughter, but that did not make him special enough.

Since this was shot for ABC network television on Sunday night (it ran against a Tom Brokaw History Channel documentary about 1968) it was kept to 1.33 to 1, which makes the film look like less than it should have been. The flashback style of screenwriting seems to work here, and I think this could have been more effective in theaters than network television. The DVD probably won't take long.

Jerry Maguire (1996, TriStar, dir. Cameron Crowe, 139 min, R) has Tom Cruise in his role as the individualist, this time as a sports agent fired for expressing his views too publicly (the Internet and Google were just getting started then). He starts his own business and banks on one football client Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) to save himself and his whole sense of epiphany. 

The Long Gray Line (1955, Columbia, dir. John Ford) is an early Cinemascope movie, telling the story of a football groundskeeper at the United States Military Academy at West Point. The high point in the film is the invention of the forward pass, when Army comes from behind a 13-point deficit to beat Notre Dame 35-13. The film looks forward to the football dramas of the 90s and later (Remember the Titans, Friday Night Lights) but also is a valuable precursor to modern films (like A Few Good Men) that would deal with personnel issues –including gay ones—in the modern military with more honesty.

The Natural (1984, TriStar, dir. Barry Levinson, novel by Bernard Malamud) has Robert Redford as Roy Hobbs as an aging 1930s baseball player, who brings a losing team back to life with a magic bat made from a tree struck by lightning,

Field of Dreams (1989, Universal, dir. Phil Alden Robinson, book by W.P. Kinsella, PG, 107 min). I remember that as kids and adolescents, we set up baseball "stadiums" in our backyward, in farm fields, or in urban playgrounds. Author John Grisham set up one in his home in Mississippi. Here, Kinsella (Kevin Costner) sets up a stadium in an Iowa corn field, and the spirits of the 1919 Chicago Black Sox (banned from the game) show up. 

 The Pride of the Yankees (1942, MGM / RKO Radio, dir. Sam Wood) Gary Cooper plays Lou Gehrig, in a biography of his career with the New York Yankees, until he fell ill with ALS in early 1939, with his performance on the field having started to deteriorate. Earlier, his mother wants him to go to Columbia and become an engineer, and he sees playing baseball as providing support for his mother when she becomes ill. There are real shots of games in Chicago (Comiskey), Detroit (Briggs), St. Louis (Sportsman's Park), which is as far west as major league baseball got in the days of train travel, and of course the glorious old Yankee Stadium, with its short foul lines and 461 foot center field. The Yankees get a new stadium in 2009.

American Experience: Roberto Clemente (2008, PBS) is a one hour biography of the Pittsburgh Pirates 's black Puerto Rican baseball star form the 50s to the 70s. He would die in a tragic plane crash in 1972 trying to go to the Nicaragua earthquake to help the victims. Blogger.

Jose Canseco: The Last Shot (2008, A&E) is a one hour documentary about the baseball slugger's use of steroids and difficulties since leaving baseball. Blogger.

Bigger, Stronger, Faster (2008, Magnolia, dir. Chris Bell, 105 min) is a documentary about the duplicity of our ban on anabolic steroids and other substances in professional sports and the Olympics. There is a bit of moonfaced vanity, and one scene where a body builder has his chest shaved on camera. Blogger.

The Wrestler (2008, Fox Searchlight / Protozoa, dir. Darren Aronofsky, 115 min, R) Mickey Rourke comes back as Randy "The Ram" Robinson, but not without joining the zipper club. Blogger

She’s the Man (2006, Dreamworks, dir. Andy Fickman, 105 min) is a high school adaptation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, with a climactic soccer scene where the female impersonator plays like a man. Blogger.

The Blind Side (2009, Warner Bros., dir. John Lee Hancock, 110 min, PG-13). Sandra Bullock plays a teacher who adopts a homeless teen who eventually makes it to the Baltimore Ravens.  Blogger.

Invictus (2009, Warner Bros./Spyglass, dir. Clint Eastwood, 123 min, PG-13) Morgan Freeman plays Nelson Mandela, freed from South African prison, and Matt Damon is the teen rugby player who helps Mandela use Rugby to bring the country together. Blogger.

"Rookie" -- see links below.


Related reviews:    Braveheart    The Rookie   "Rocky" movies   Cinderella Man   InVincible (Werner Herzog film)   Hustle & Flow   Resurrecting the Champ  The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg

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