Tag Archives: Laura Dern

Incomplete Pass

True-story faith-based football drama falls short of goal line

Alexander Ludwig;Jim Caviezel;Matthew Daddario;Jessie T Usher

When The Game Stands Tall

Starring Jim Caviezel, Laura Dern and Michael Chiklis

Directed by Thomas Carter


When the Game Stands Tall revolves around the record-setting 12-year, 151-game winning streak of the Concord, Calif., De La Salle High School football team, whose feat remains unrivaled in American sports.

As such, it’s not exactly an underdog tale: De La Salle’s Spartans were champions, kings, on top of the world in 2003. Instead, we see how they rebounded from a couple of major setbacks, including a tragedy involving one of their teammates, and what happened when they eventually encountered a team they couldn’t beat.

Alexander Ludwig;Jessie T UsherBut still, it’s a bit hard to feel too sorry for a bunch of California teens at a well-off, suburban school that won every game they played for more than a decade.

So director Thomas Carter, in his adaptation of Neil Hayes’ 2004 book, focuses his attention on the team’s soft-spoken coach, Bob Ladouceur (Jim Caviezel) and his message to his players: Football isn’t just about football—it’s about unity, family and teamwork.

Coach Lad is also the school’s religion teacher, and he likes to toss Bible verses in with his tractor-tire workouts, blocking drills and tackle plays. The movie’s numerous other faith references and subtle sermonizing—most of it synched to sweeping, syrupy music to underscore the moment—will no doubt appease churchgoers.

Caviezel will be familiar to many viewers from his current starring role on TV’s Person of Interest, and many will also remember that he played Jesus in Mel Gibson’s bloody Passion of the Christ (2004). As Ladouceur, he’s also somewhat Christ-like, a pious figure who encourages his players to not “exalt” themselves.

Jim CaviezelJudging from the end-credit video clips, Caviezel plays his role very close to the low-key temperament of the real-life coach. But his performance is so pious and so low-key, it almost feels like he’s standing on the sidelines of the movie in which he’s supposed to be starring. Caviezel makes the coach seem he’s carved out of a big block of grim, sacred wood.

Laura Dern plays his wife, and Michael Chiklis is his assistant coach. Thank goodness both are around to bring some zing to the party. Clancy Brown plays an overbearing father of a star player, but the script almost pushes him into clichéd-villain territory.

The actual football scenes have the crunch and wallop of realism, thanks to veteran Hollywood sports stunt coordinator Allan Graf, cinematographer Michael Lohmann and a squad of college-player stand-ins.

But the movie struggles to find its dramatic center, or even a real message. It puts several ideas in play—the coach’s regrets, his newer players’ hubris, what it means to be “men”—without ever really following through on any of them. And what does the phrase “When the Game Stands Tall” mean, anyway? Instead, the film settles for a soft, mushy kind of feel-good uplift that moviegoers have seen many times before, more powerfully and more potently.

And in a movie about a game being about something supposedly more than football, it comes down to a yet another big finish in yet another a big game that lets you know that, hey, at least in Hollywood, it’s mostly still about football, after all.

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We Are Stardust

The sweet teenage suffering of 11 million fans hits the big screen

Poster Image

The Fault in Our Stars

Starring Shailene Woodley & Ansel Elgort

Directed by Josh Boone

PG-13, 125 min.


“What’s your story?” Augustus “Gus” Waters asks 16-year-old Hazel Grace Lancaster early in this highly anticipated movie adaptation of the wildly popular novel by author John Green that’s sold almost 11 million copies and been on the New York Times bestseller list for almost three years.

In answering the question about “her” story, then dissecting it, Hazel (Shailene Woodley), who’s fought cancer nearly her entire life, and Gus (Ansel Elgort), the 18-year-old fellow cancer survivor who becomes her soul mate, set the stage for a much bigger story—about two young people determined to make their story more than just a “cancer” story, refusing to let their disease rule their lives or their future.

A Fault In Our StarsGreen’s romantic, heart-aching, heartbreaking, poignant melodrama of two kids on a “star-crossed” course with fate has teen-DNA strands stretching all the way back to antiquity, running from Romeo and Juliet through the classic 1970s tear-jerker Love Story. The title, a twist on a quote from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, refers to the world as a “profoundly unjust place where suffering is unfairly distributed,” according to Green.

As Hazel, Woodley is sensational, especially given that she’s got a breathing tube in her nostrils constantly and she lugs around a canister of oxygen the entire movie, physical limitations that focus us even more on the breadth of emotions she can coax out of even the smallest of facial expressions.

There’s a marvelous scene when Gus tells her that he loves her, and we watch her eyes well with emotion in the soft glow of a restaurant’s hundreds of twinkling (star-like) lights. It’s a moment that taps into all that the movie has been about up until that point, much more complex and nuanced that it might sound, and the camera lingers on Woodley’s radiant face, empowering it to carry the entire weight of everything that goes unsaid.

Her handsome, hunkish co-star, Elgort, who also appeared with her earlier this year in Divergent, is a bit hammy by comparison. But the book’s legions of (mostly) female fans likely won’t be grading his acting chops between sighs and swoons.

A Fault In Our Stars

Gus (Ansel Elgort), Issac (Nat Wolff) and Hazel Grace (Shailene Woodley) engage in an egg-throwing prank.

Laura Dern and Sam Trammell play Hazel’s loving, protective parents, and Willem Dafoe is the scotch-swilling author of that book Hazel adores. Nat Wolff portrays Gus’ friend Issac, who’s losing his eyesight, but not his droll wit, to cancer.

Smarter, sharper and deeper than most movies aimed at teens, The Fault in Our Stars doesn’t dumb down its story, its dialogue, or its realities for its target audience, and it blends in some heady existential nuggets—and metaphors—on death, dying, living, suffering, religion, theology, ethics, miracles, time, space, infinity, eternity and oblivion.

For everyone who’s already fallen under the spell of Green’s book, this movie will complete a magnificent arc that began with words on a page, bringing beloved characters, places and conversations vividly, emotionally to life, larger than life, on a giant screen. For everyone else, well, climb on board, better late than never, and get ready to find out what all the fuss has been about—and why, for millions, Hazel’s tale has become so much more than just a cancer story.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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