New Interviews Elsewhere

I’ll try to use this site in part to share some of my other projects.

First, I got the chance to interview the inestimable John Oates – otherwise known as one half of the best selling duo in the history of music – over at Jambase.

Second, I started contributing to one of my favorite off the beaten path blogs Post Trash run by Dan Goldin (founder/cult hero of Exploding in Sound records). My first feature was an interview with the powerful rising stars from Boston, Kal Marks. Huge thanks to Carl Shane who spent multiple hours chatting with me. I managed to lose the entire recording the first time we spoke, so he was kind enough to do the entire thing twice.

Hollywood’s Sordid Past in Casting Sports Movie Lead Roles

Did you ever notice that, in aggregate, sports movies cast some of the least believable stars possible in the lead roles? We all laugh at the thought of Keanu’s Shane Falco as a quarterback with NFL potential before his career got derailed by a houseboat fascination or Anthony Michael Hall as a star recruit star out of high school in Johnny Be Goode, but the list goes on ever longer with head-scratcher after head-scratcher.

Brendan Fraser as David Greene in “School Ties”

The old Jew at a prep school makes friends, stars on the football team, hides religion, gets caught, gets exiled, and overcomes adversity plot. It’s a formula as old as time itself. But you can only shake off so many Bedazzleds and George of the Jungles before a sports role is a bad idea. Plus, he he’s not even Jewish. He looks big enough and physical enough, but he’s done one too many “scared overachiever who lost his thesis paper” to believe in him as a gridiron hero.

Anthony Michael Hall as Johnny Walker in Johnny Be Good

Fresh off the role as neo-maxi-zoom-dweebie in The Breakfast Club, Anthony Michael Hall took a complete 180 degree reversal into the BMOC in Johnny Be Good. Anthony Michael Hall actually plays this role well and makes us all wish we were getting recruited to play college ball, but talk about not being typecast. He covered the polar opposite ends f the cool spectrum in the span of just two films. Plus, never before have movie audiences been awed by the hang time of punt. I always felt punt hang time was the real measure of a man.

Tom Cruise as Stefen Djordjevic in All the Right Moves

Tom Cruise in football pads? He looks like Harry the Hunter from Beetlejuice with that tiny head poking out of those things.  At 5’1” Cruise played a brash bad mofo, but we think he should probably stick to dancing to Seger in his undies?

On a side note, who named a football player Stefen Djordjevic? He must have come up through the NFL’s short-lived Nordic development league.

Robin Williams as Jack Dundee in Best of Times

We miss Robin Williams, so  like Michael Bolton, we celebrate his entire catalog.

Still, you’re telling me that thick-framed version of Robin was supposed to make the game winning play and become the local gridiron celebrity? You can’t even fit glasses like that under a football helmet.

It goes to show you though, take a couple of good actors and you can turn even the dumbest of plots into a pretty enjoyable movie? It’s the classic “underdog wins” plot with a twist. Dundee (Williams) lures his high school buddy and quarterback hero Reno Hightower (Kurt Russell) into playing a re-match of high school football game they lost 13 years ago. Dundee pulls out ever trick in the book to lure Reno into the concept. Finally they play, and Dundee, after getting banged around the entire game breaks free for a miracle bobble and catch 80 yard TD for the win. Good times.

James Van Der Beek as Mox in Varsity Blues

There is no way that during the Dawson years prime, we can suspend reality and envision Van Der Beek as a legitimate quarterback.

Mox gets the call to start for the varsity team, when the BMOC, goes down with an injury and he isn’t sure he can handle the pressure or all the Cool Whip that comes with it, but he pulled through for the team and this wound up becoming one of the better modern football movies. Amy Smart and Ali Larter? Hmmm.

Keanu Reeves as Shane Falco in the Replacements and/or Johnny Utah in Point Break

Hold still, you’ll just feel a little prick. This won’t hurt a bit. “Pain heals, Chicks dig scars. Glory… lasts forever.”

Somewhere a casting director loves the idea of Keanu Reeves as a washed up ex-college football star as it’s happened twice: in Point Break and the Replacements. Maybe it was that inspired role in Parenthood where he drives the funny-car into a wall. I can’t really say for sure, but somewhere somebody says to themself, “Keanu Reeves – burnt out quarterback extraordinaire. Yep. Solid.” Of this whole list, this is the one role that is actually entirely unbelievable.

Cuba Gooding Jr. as Rod Tidwell in Jerry McGuire

I suppose at the time, this was a decent choice, since we had no idea what Cuba had in store for us, but fast forward ten years and this is the guy who gave us Boat Trip and Snow Dogs.

Scott Bakula as Paul Blake in Necessary Roughness

I kinda hate to include Bakula, but he’s Bakula and Bakula is a one role man. This would be like Barry Sanders playing one final season with the Vikings. In all seriousness, he was great in this role and I was convinced lead a team of outcasts back to relevance at age 34. Necessary Roughness might be the funniest sports movie ever made, so while it would have been tempting to cast someone physically big and more well-known like a Bill Paxton, this turned out to be the perfect choice. Speaking of Paxton, bet you didn’t know he wore a size 14 shoe.

Craig Sheffer as Joe Kane in The Program

This dude kind of fell off the map after starring as the confused borderline alcoholic Joe Kane in The Program, and to be fair, he probably wasn’t the most awkward looking guy to don football pads and a helmet. Still , he’s irritating in that thinks he’s cool, but can’t remove that over-serious look off his face and most likely has a hot temper kind of way.

 

Honorable mentions: Omar Epps as Darnell Jefferson “The Program” and Corey Haim as Lucas in, well “Lucas”

Dunkirk and Darkest Hour: How a Happy Accident Became the Best Thing to Happen to Hollywood in 2017

Crippled by a perfect storm of new channels for film distribution, secular headwinds dissuading people away from the movie theater experience, a television renaissance, and conservative creative Hollywood decision-making where comic book movies and comic book movie sequels are about as exciting as it gets: it’s fair to generalize that Hollywood has been playing it overly safe as of late. Adventurous high-risk projects that employ unestablished plot formulas or untested screenwriters and/or directors are a rarity.

Yet a strange coincidence in 2017 may have offered up just the evidence we need to see that taking chances can pay off – even if it was a complete accident. Two movies about the exact same World War II battle told from completely different vantage points may have reinvigorated the stale as a crouton state of Hollywood film-making.

Earlier this year, Christopher Nolan released a time-skipping, all-too-real front-lines look at the Battle of Dunkirk, a critical early World War II battle, whereby the British forces backed themselves into a proverbial corner* whereby had the Germans proceeded as aggressors, the Axis forces could have won the war back in 1940. Nolan’s film, Dunkirk, focuses almost entirely on the action on the French beaches of Dunkirk via three vantage points: land, air, and sea with varying speeds and freneticism depending on the mode of transport.

The film grossed $545 million dollars, which in and of itself is a big win for movie fans desperately hoping for more risks or at the very least some headier thematic content – yes, a war movie is considered daring in today’s movie industry – but the real optimism is in the seemingly coincidental accident that later in the year, as the very same battle is told from the Halls of the British Parliament from the perspective of the British politicians making the decisions behind the scenes, via Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour.

Darkest Hour feels like a well-placed collaborative sister film that rolled out in theaters just as Dunkirk hit Cable On-Demand and Streaming sites. It’s almost like watching a different character’s interpretation of the very same events not unlike an episode of The Affair on Showtime. You’re watching the exact same time-period unfold with all the fear and intensity, but from entirely different character viewpoints.

While Dunkirk has the action of the war and Christopher Nolan’s trademark mind-bending of time and space which makes for a more accessible war film – in a brief exchange with the lead Film Editor for the San Francisco Chronicle, Mick LaSalle, he said he thought Dunkirk was the more likely of the two to take home the Oscar for Best Picture – yet Darkest Hour was his favorite. Darkest Hour is gripping in its own right despite nary a sign of a gunshot. It’s entirely focused on Winston Churchill’s blind-drunk big-hearted approach to navigating a seemingly lose-lose scenario, but by following his nationalistic gut instincts to fight for their country., the extraction of over 300,000 British soldiers from Dunkirk succeeds.

In researching the timing of the two films, there exists to my knowledge no evidence that suggests that the movies were rolled out as an intentional collaboration, but it’s this type of creative riffing that could bring a new level of excitement back to film. This was the first time I felt a complete surprise and instantly wanted more of the story upon leaving the the theater in longer than I can remember.

Mick LaSalle, the aforementioned Film Editor for the SF Chronicle offered this on the potential of an intentional collaboration, “I don’t think they were coordinated, though they may have been intentionally released in a way as to avoid each other.”

In other words, the two films were hardly an intentional cross-promotion, but rather they stayed out of each other’s way at best. Ironically, I view this as a potentially new mechanism for the safety-first Hollywood enterprise  – one that clutches on to its formulas like Shake Weights – to embark on more adventurous material in within a potentially lower risk financial framework. For instance, following the success of Dunkirk and Darkest Hour, we could theoretically now have the stage set for additional deep dives into why the US held out so long in entering the war; how did Britain rally back after Dunkirk; or dare I say, a do-over of a Pearl Harbor picture. The new formula becomes the all-in onslaught on a topic of deep cultural relevance or historic significance but told through the eye various auteurs and in a variety of styles – some accessible, some challenging – from year to year.

NPR wrote an article highlighting the strange coincidence of the two films, albeit in the context of the accident being potentially threatening to the two films. I don’t see it this way at all. They are both better because the other one exists. In fact, Dunkirk might win the Oscar for Best Picture while Gary Oldman’s Winston Churchill is a lock for best actor. This coincidence feels like a truly unique experience to be savored. Go see these movies back to back, or in consecutive days. You’ll have fun at the movie theater again.

Oldman’s Speech

Churchill’s Speech

*I figure if I’m going to lazily use the saying “backed into a proverbial corner,” I should at least pick a proverb to go with it. So, I picked two: “ Failing to plan is planning to fail” and “Eat breakfast as a king, lunch as a merchant and supper as a beggar.”