Cool Runnings Says, “Finish!”

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Cool Runnings is the true rags to sports riches story about the humble hubris of the human spirit.  When a Jamaican sprinter is disqualified from the Olympic Games, he enlists the help of a dishonored coach to start the first Jamaican Bobsled Team.  And the irony is that they finished, but not first or even in the middle of the pack. The team’s borrowed bobsled broke going down the track and they had to carry it on their shoulders across the finish line. But they finished nonetheless. 

According to Roger Ebert, “it’s not a bad movie. In fact, it’s surprisingly entertaining, with a nice sweetness in place of the manic determination of the average sports picture. The actors playing the bobsledders have a nice comic charm, especially Doug E. Doug as a high-energy guy named Sanka Coffie. And John Candy has a couple of stirring speeches that he somehow delivers as if every word were not recycled from other films. If you like underdog movies, you might like this one.”

And here’s some more inspiration from some sports and entertainment greats:

Sports do not build character. They reveal it.
John Wooden

The mark of great sportsmen is not how good they are at their best, but how good they are their worst.
Martina Navratilova

Sports is the toy department of human life.
Howard Cosell

Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.
Michael Jordan

Without self-discipline, success is impossible, period.
Lou Holtz

Most football teams are temperamental. That’s 90% temper and 10% mental.
Doug Plank

A winner never whines.
Paul Brown

I wouldn’t ever set out to hurt anyone deliberately unless it was, you know, important -like a league game or something.
Dick Butkus

The reason women don’t play football is because eleven of them would never wear the same outfit in public.
Phyllis Diller

My All American

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Freddie Steinmark, an underdog on the gridiron, faces the toughest challenge of his life after leading his team to a championship season.

What Freddie Steinmark (Finn Wittrock) wants most in the world is to play football. Although he is deemed too small by the usual athletic standards, his father trains him hard. Freddie brings a fight to the game that ultimately gets him noticed–by none other than legendary University of Texas coach Darrell Royal (Aaron Eckhart).

My All American (2015) is the true story of Freddie Steinmark, a “Rudy” type character who was only 5’9″ and 155 pounds, making him physically smaller than most of his teammates. Coach Royal admired Steinmark’s unwavering grit and determination, and decided to give him a shot.

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Freddie was awarded a scholarship and a chance to play for the Longhorns. Freddie sets off to Austin with his loving high school sweetheart, Linda (Sarah Bolger), determined to make the team. Alongside his old teammate Bobby Mitchell (Rett Terrell) and new pal James Street (Juston Street), Freddie is put through the paces of a grueling practice schedule. The boys’ camaraderie off the field translates into solid playing on it, and they rise up the depth charts, giving the Longhorns a real chance to improve upon their mediocre record.

But just when they’re reveling in the success of the season, Freddie suffers an injury that leads to a shocking diagnosis and the biggest challenge he will ever face. From the writer of Hoosiers (1986) and Rudy (1993), MY ALL AMERICAN tells the true story of a boy who became a hero and what it truly means to have the heart of a champion.

One interesting fact about Freddie’s story that is captured in the film was that both President Richard Nixon and Texas Congressman George Herbert Walker Bush were on hand at Razorback Stadium for the celebrated December 6, 1969 showdown between the University of Texas Longhorns and the University of Arkansas Razorbacks. Freddie Steinmark, who would have his leg amputated six days later, played through the pain and helped his team come back from a 14-0 deficit after three quarters to win 15-14. The much talked about game was dubbed the “Game of the Century.” -DenverPost.com

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So, if you need a dose of inspiration on the eve of this football season, turn no further that My All American.

It’s worth the watch.

Win Win

 

Win Win

I love sports movies. We all do, right? I mean, in a sports film, you have gripping drama, lighthearted humor, and sometimes there’s a love interest to boot. Sports and film go hand in hand because in most, redemption rings and rolls and rises throughout and the hero or heroine almost always comes out a winner, or is a winner of sorts, in the end. And so I’m proud to be an amateur sports film critic. I’ll let you know when I go pro. 

I’ve seen lots of sports films, but not all of them. There’s a boatload of sports movies out there, and I try to stick to the good ones and stay away from the bad ones. Well, I’m happy to report that I just stumbled across another little gem of a sports flic called “Win Win,” starring Paul Giamatti.

In “Win Win,” on the verge of bankruptcy, a struggling lawyer who volunteers as a high school wrestling coach skims money from the estate of an elderly client, but when the client’s teenage grandson, a gifted wrestler, comes to town, his chicanery comes back to haunt him as the teen comes into his life.

“Win Win” is solidly redemptive. It’s a film that purports this proverb: “Life is full of rules, now meet the exceptions.” It’s a story of redemption and reconciliation and restoration all rolled up into one funny, fanciful, feature that is all at once crass and complex, cute and caring and convicting and convincing. Yes it has language, but it also gives you a lift, and who doesn’t need a lift every now and again!

In sports films, you not only get a stellar story, but you sometimes stumble across actors that put in prize performances as well. Take Paul Giamatti. In “Win Win,” Giamatti  gives us a steady, footstompin, feel good finish which was surprisingly unworthy of note by other critics. In another role, he was the boxing manager for James Braddock, played by Russell Crowe, in the 2005 film “Cinderella Man.” His portrayal of a slick, sly deal maker was outstanding. Giamatti was rewarded for his solid performance with a nomination for Best Supporting Actor (an Oscar he should have won).

Not only is Giamatti an actor, but his dad, A. Bartlett Giamatti, was a college president. Of Yale. YALE! And if that wasn’t enough, Dad Giamatti was the Commissioner of Major League Baseball. The Commissioner of MLB! If that’s not sports pedigree, I don’t know what is. And to top it all off, I just learned that Paul and I share a birthday – June 6. He’s surprisingly younger than me, but I’m proud to share my birthday with this sports and acting icon.

http://www.fandango.com/movie-trailer/winwin-trailer/140586

So if you have nothing else to do, or you’re snowbound somewhere along the East Coast the weekend of January 22nd during this the blizzard of 2016, check out Win Win. You’ll be glad you did.

Concussions: Football’s Faux Pas

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San Francisco 49’ers quarterback Steve Young lies motionless on field after suffering a concussion against the Arizona Cardinals in 1999. He never played again. (AP/Scott Troyanos)

Concussions are the faux pas of football. Injuries are bad enough, but concussions are even worse. Brain damage from repeated poundings on the football field leave retired players to deal with depression, dementia and even the dirge of death. Big men are reduced to helplessness because of concussions and what we now call CTE: Chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

CTE was discovered by neuropathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu and is the subject of the film “Concussion” starring Will Smith.  It’s a must see.  

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Speaking of concussions, one coach said that “having watched football for a very long time I have to agree that the helmet is designed more like a weapon and less like a protective device.”  Another coach said this: “the hit didn’t look that bad.” He had seen his star defensive player withstand far worse. But still, there Chris Beranger was, laying on the turf after colliding with a teammate near the goal line.

“Discombobulated,” is the description that Sean McDonnell, coach of the University of New Hampshire’s football team, uses when describing players in these moments. “He wanted to play still, and we said, ‘No, you can’t.” That was the last down Beranger, who had suffered a concussion, would play. “The effects kept lingering and linger and lingering,” said. McDonnell.

Helmets are necessary but some say they also provide a myth of protection. The idea has roots in years of scientific research, even in the mythology of football itself. Called risk compensation or risk homeostasis, it’s a theory that holds that protections can actually increase reckless behavior.

In 2009, Pope Bennedict XVI traveled into the heart of Cameroon — and the African AIDs epidemic — and proclaimed condoms “increases the problem” of HIV transmission. The backlash was immediate and absolute. The Washington Post even reprinted a cartoon that depicted the Pope lauding Africans dying of disease: “Blessed are the sick, for they have not used condoms.”

But some social scientists — who disagreed with his politics — said the pontiff may have been referring to risk compensation. “When people think they’re made safe by using condoms at least some of the time, they actually engage in riskier sex,” Harvard researcher Edward C. Green wrote in an editorial in the Post. The same, some research has shown, goes for skiing with a helmet. One study, which analyzed more than 700 skiers and was published in Wilderness & Environmental Medicine, said “helmet use is one of the factors influencing risk-taking on the slopes” for men younger than 35.

Erik Swartz, a University of New Hampshire professor of kinesiology, spent years on the sidelines of football games as an athletic trainer. He understood the sport inside and out. Swartz said “it was the thing that scared me the most,” he said. “The implications if you messed it up and didn’t do [the treatment] right. It could mean they’re a quadriplegic. It could mean death. Everything is on the line.”

Every football season, he said, there came a moment when he had to rush onto the field in fear a player had sustained a catastrophic injury. The helmet, Swartz realized, had convinced players they were safer than they were.

So Swartz started looking into the football helmet, analyzing its trajectory from novelty to cultural behemoth. By the 1950s, the helmet morphed from padded leather to polymer equipped with a mask. Around that time, convinced this new technology had ameliorated the risk of head injury, coaches started counseling a new technique: lead with the head. Another tackling style, called “spearing” — a lunging tackle that leads with the helmet’s crown — soon rose in prominence. These evolutions precipitated a surge in catastrophic injuries. In the late 1960s, more than 20 players died every year of brain injuries, before league rules prohibited that style.

According to Professor Swartz, the fundamental cause of concussions is behavior. And so Swartz is advocating the simple act of removing the helmet during training drills in order to train players to tackle with greater caution. The idea is to heighten their instinct to protect their heads, then hope that caution would carry over into real games when they wore their helmets, thereby diminishing the chance of a concussion.

Sounds like a great idea.

Sometimes, Nothing is Black And White

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Sometimes, Nothing is Black and White

Kevin Costner fans unite. My man has turned in yet another A+ performance, and it doesn’t hurt that he’s surrounded by an appropriate cast of Hollywood all-stars. Costner and Octavia Spencer combat and combine in this gut wrenching drama between a traditional, white male from the suburbs and a dominant, black female from the hood with their doting, darling, angelic granddaughter caught in between. In the middle of this dynamic, dysfunctional and sometimes distasteful family mess is the darling child actress Jillian Estell who wins you over from the gun.

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BLACK OR WHITE is the story of a grandfather who is suddenly left to care for his beloved granddaughter. When her paternal grandmother seeks custody with the help of her brother (Anthony Mackie), the little girl is torn between two families who love her deeply and will fight for her desperately. With the best intentions at heart, both families fight for what they feel is right and are soon forced to confront their true feelings about race, forgiveness, and understanding. Anchored by an all-star cast and based on real events, the movie is a look at two seemingly different worlds, in which nothing is as simple as black or white.

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So watch this film, which is based on a true story, because sometimes things don’t turn out the way we think they will. And sometimes (or most times)  we need to step back and let the truth speak for itself. And sometimes, in some things, you may think you’re right, but you could be wrong, because sometimes, nothing is black and white.

There’s No Doubting Mrs. Doubtfire

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Remember the movie “Mrs. Doubtfire?” I just began to see the end again for the first time. It was Robin Williams at his finest; it was vintage stuff in his prime. Of course we are still disturbed by his death, and we all still lament his loss, but his work lives on. And there is no doubting the message and the moral behind this moving movie and funny film.  Sally Field is the co-star and she also turns in one of her best performances.

Robin Williams’s character, Daniel Hillard, is an eccentric, eclectic actor who specializes in dubbing voices for cartoon characters. Daniel is a kind man and a loving father to his three kids Lydia, Chris, and Natalie, but Daniel’s wife Miranda sees him as a poor disciplinarian, and a bad role model. After Daniel throws an elaborate and disastrous birthday party for Chris, Miranda reaches the end of her limited patience, and files for a divorce. Daniel is heartbroken when Miranda is given custody of the kids and he’s only allowed to visit them once a week.

Determined to stay in contact with his kids, Daniel discovers that Miranda is looking for a housekeeper, and with help from his brother Frank, a makeup artist, Daniel gets the job, disguised as Mrs. Iphegenia Doubtfire, a Scottish nanny. Daniel pulls off the ruse so well that neither Miranda nor his children recognize him, and in the process, he learns some parenting tips. Daniel also has to deal with Miranda’s new boyfriend, a jerk named Stu Dunmeyer.

Mrs. Doubtfire gives us a dose of doubt in order to inoculate us from the disease that would deter us from our destiny. Mrs. Doubtfire is determined to see his (or her?) children, no matter what the cost. He does what and whatever it takes for him (or her?) to spend time with and care for his darling dears, even at the expense of destroying his reputation.

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The charm and the appeal of this oddity, this oddball and this quirk of a quack and quagmire of a guy caught in a quandary is this: who would dress in drag just to fool his wife and drool over his kids? This desire and drive and determination is the movie’s enduring quality. Not many, and maybe not any of us would go to the same lengths for anything, or anyone, we love — and maybe that’s the problem. We don’t go, and we won’t go far enough for those we love. And it’s the faith of the character and the faith behind the character of Mrs. Doubtfire that is the key to Daniel Hillard’s redemption.

So don’t doubt the Mrs. Doubtfire’s that are lurking in your character. They just might save you.