Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Other than the loss of close family members the saddest events of my life are:
Roy Campanella becoming paralyzed, his career tragically cut short due to an automobile accident -- 1958
The excruciatingly painful death of Fireball Roberts, my favorite NASCAR driver at the time -- 1964
The horrific crash of the chartered aircraft carrying the Marshall University football team, a loss so staggering that it defied comprehension -- 1970
And, in retrospect, the day I inexplicably purchased a Mercury Zephyr -- 1972
Three of these involve the world of sport and one of these has become the subject of a recent motion picture. I should mention that the dreadful circumstances surrounding the Zephyr is being considered by Troma Entertainment as the subject of a new film. The working title is THE TOXIC AVENGER PART IV: ED VERA'S REVENGE. If this story is brought to the screen I predict it will traumatize an entire generation of both cineasts and motorists. Having said this, the money received for the story rights would help soothe the emotional pain I have endured these past 35 years and so I really don't care.
But I digress...
You see, I always kinda rooted for Marshall and, since 1970, I have become a huge fan of the Thundering Herd. I like the team name despite my reservations that buffalo ever roamed the mountains and valleys of West Virginia. I also admire their inspiring return to gridiron glory -- SMU's "death penality" was nothing in comparison to the tragedy suffered by Marshall and the Ponies still find themselves mired in mediocrity. Imagine the horror, then, when I learned that Warner Brothers had selected Matthew McConaughey to play Coach Jack Lengyel, the key role in WE ARE MARSHALL. What could they possibly be thinking? Matthew McConaughey as a hard-nosed football coach?
My initial thoughts were that Brian Boitano must not have wanted to do the film or that Milton Delugg wanted too much money or that Jerry Espenson was simply unavailable. Heck, if Ed Vera wasn't in hiding they could have given him the part. It seemed that a decision this bad simply had to be made in concert with the Bush Administration as well as the 110th Congress.
I repeat, McConaughey as a hard-nosed football coach? Jeez-oh-flip, even the previews made it seem like Mr. McConaughey was going to come across as nothing more than a Thundering Nerd.
And I was wrong. Dead wrong...
McConaughey does far more than a creditable job as Coach Lengyel. To be honest, his quirky, off-kilter performance is one of the strengths of WE ARE MARSHALL. In fact, the entire cast is excellent, with Matthew Fox as Assistant Coach Red Dawson, the always-reliable David Strathairn as President Dedmon, Ian McShane as Paul Griffen and Kate Mara as Annie Cantrell deserving special mention.
The same holds true for my good friend Mike Pniewski who portrays Bobby Bowden, the coach of the rival West Virgina University Mountaineers. It is nothing short of remarkable that Coach Bowden actually gave the Marshall coaching staff full access to his playbook and game films so they could adopt the Veer Formation for their offense -- as a result I have admired Bowden ever since. Can you even imagine Jackie Sherrill or Barry Switzer doing something so unselfish? I didn't think so.
Southern Airways Flight 932 was a chartered DC-9 that crashed on a non-precision approach under stormy weather conditions on that fateful night in November, 1970. All 75 souls on board were killed -- thirty-seven players, eight members of the coaching staff, twenty-five boosters, four flight and crew members and one employee of the charter company. Among the boosters were four of Huntington, West Virginia's six physicians, a city councilman and a state legislator.
This devastating loss to both the university and the community provides a complex and challenging story to tell. Director Joseph McGinty Nichole seems an unlikely candidate for this type of film. His previous credits consist primarily of the two CHARLIE'S ANGELS features and while he fumbles the ball on several occasions, WE ARE MARSHALL remains a solid, emotionally-charged sports-themed weepie that succeeds despite the use of an overbearing, soaring musical score and a parade of lame K-Tel "Semi-Classic" rock songs which pop up on cue.
Yes, the filmmaking is as formulaic as it gets and the on-the-field football scenes often look like they were staged by Josh Blue. Despite these procedure penalties WE ARE MARSHALL scores just enough to be a winner; you best have a Kleenex or two standing by.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Jeepers peepers? Oh, there are "peepers" alright.
Shia LaBeouf plays Kale Brecht, a sullen teenage boy who punches Senor Gutierrez, his high school Spanish teacher, in the nose. Problema grande as Kale is placed under house arrest for this classroom indiscretion. With an electronic device chained to his ankle poor old Kale is unable to venture further than 100 feet outside his home before automatically summoning the police. What's a fellow to do?
Bushnell to the resuce. To pass the time away Kale spies on his neighbors, especially the new girl in town. Sarah Roemer is cast as Ashley Carlson and her drum-tight belly calls out for Ludwig to be stenciled on it. She's a fetching find, that's for sure, and no one can fault Kale for putting his trusty binoculars to use when slinky Ashley is swimming under the sunny suburban sky. On occasion Kale's best friend, Ronnie, comes over to take a longing peek as well. Going from window to window Kale declares their voyeurism as being "reality without the TV."
Kale slowly becomes convinced that another neighbor, Mr. Turner, is a well-publicized serial killer. As the tag line for DISTURBIA states, "Every killer lives next door to someone." Kale believes he is the "someone" in this case and he slowly convinces Ronnie and Sarah of his suspicions. A round-the-clock surveillance ensues and there are more peeps taking place than at a Tyson hatchery. But who is watching who?
David Morse plays Mr. Turner in a role that almost demands Anthony Hopkins -- especially when one considers the final act which becomes more than reminiscent of SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. At best, he's Hopkins Lite -- Morse's menace quotient being only slightly higher than that Dennis fellow. Director D. J. Caruso might just as well have cast Wally Cox, the original Mr. Peepers.
As for the "jeepers" -- lets just say they are few and far between. Accordingly, the target audience -- teenage boys and their dates -- have plenty of time to cop a feel (or more) without missing a thing. Watching DISTURBIA I found myself reminiscing about those hormone-driven days when this New Braunfels Unicorn descended upon the local bijou with date in hand.
Fond (and fondling) memories aside, DISTURBIA isn't the worst film released this year, but it sure doesn't hold a candle to the now-classic offerings by James H. Nicholson and Samuel Z. Arkoff -- THE HOUSE OF USHER, for instance.
As Senor Gutierrez might say, "Eso fue una pelicula espantosa!"
One final comment: Any comparisons between DISTURBIA and REAR WINDOW are unworthy and pointless. Don't even get me started...
Monday, October 22, 2007
A question: Could any two individuals look more perfect as New Millennium Televangelists? You gotta give it to Central Casting for doing a phenomenal job.
For Joel, the Casting Call Notice simply read: "White, somewhat smarmy male with Jerry Lee Lewis-styled hair. Unctuous persona personified. No formal religious training required. None. Nada. Zero. Zip."
For Victoria, the Casting Call Notice was just as specific: "Blond beauty. Needs to possess a love of money. No religious convictions necessary. Official Tammy Faye Make-up Case provided."
Apparently Queen Victoria can be ill-tempered on occasion, as the little incident aboard Continental Flight 1602 illustrates. A $3,000 fine by the FAA for "interferring with a flight attendant" over a small spill on her seat in the First Class section shows a lack of class, if nothing else. It also showed her and the rest of the Osteen family the door. Even Eve wasn't as bitchy...
As for Joel's new book, BECOME A BETTER YOU -- Seven Keys to Improving Your Life Every Day, it might as well have been titled BECOME A BETTER ME -- Seven Keys To Improving My Bank Account. Keep passing the plate...
I say the heck with the both of them -- give me an Osteen I can trust.