Tag Archives: NFL

Butting Heads

Will Smith tackles the NFL 

1286100 - Concussion

Concussion

Starring Will Smith, Alec Baldwin & Albert Brooks

Directed by Peter Landesman

PG-13

Will Smith has fought zombies, space aliens and killer robots. Now he’s squaring off against an even bigger, completely human foe—and certainly a much more popular one.

In Concussion, he plays Dr. Bennett Omalu, who discovers the link between football and CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy—potentially fatal brain damage from repeated concussions.

The true story (originally told in a 2009 article in GQ magazine) begins as we meet Nigerian-born Omalu in 2002, while he’s working in Pittsburgh as the county coroner’s forensic pathologist. The untimely death, and bizarre final days, of a former Pittsburgh Steeler football Hall of Famer, Mike Webster (David Morse), troubles him: Webster’s autopsy reveals severe brain trauma that caused him to go crazy, freak out and eventually expire of a heart attack. When Omalu learns of other NFL players dying in similar fashion, he investigates further and comes to a conclusion that almost no one wants to hear—especially not the National Football League.

Playing football can kill you.

Unlike some other creatures, such as the woodpecker or the bighorn sheep, Omalu points out, humans have no natural shock absorber in our skulls to cushion the blow when one of our noggins impact with something hard—like another noggin. Nature, or providence, simply did not equip us that way. Therefore, Omalu reasons, “God did not intend for us to play football.”

Smith, a bona fide movie star, is outstanding in a non-flashy role that doesn’t involve car chases, spaceships, shootouts or CGI special effects—just straight-up, strong, dig-in acting and a very plausible, start-to-finish nail-down of Dr. O’s West African accent and mannerisms. He makes you feel Omalu’s passionate sense of commitment—and his dream to be accepted as “American”—as the NFL tries to quash his research and discredit him.

Albert Brooks is Cyril Wecht, the county coroner who helps Omalu while warning him of squaring off against with the NFL. “You’re going to war with a corporation that owns a day of the week,” he tells him. Alec Baldwin plays Dr. Julian Bailes, the former Steelers team doctor who assists Omalu in getting his message to football players, managers, agents and the commissioner. “You’ve turned on the lights and given their biggest boogeyman a name,” Bailes says.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Will Smith star in Columbia Pictures' "Concussion."

Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Will Smith

British actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays Prema, the Nigerian student who becomes Omalu’s wife, reminding him that his family name means “He who knows, speaks.”

But the movie belongs to Smith, who tackles what might be his one of his trickiest, juiciest roles—a crusading underdog with a potentially life-saving message that falls on mostly deaf ears. “Tell the truth—tell the truth!” a frustrated Omalu jabs at a NFL team neurosurgeon who refuses to admit there’s any connection between football and brain injury.

As millions of football fans tune into the big game this weekend, it’s a truth that will likely be drowned out by the symphony of cheers all across America.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Feel The Draft

Kevin Costner leads all-star cast in behind-the-scenes drama

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Draft Day

Blu-ray $39.99, DVD $29.95 (Lionsgate)

 

Kevin Costner leads an all-star cast (including Jennifer Garner, Denis Leary, Frank Langella, Sam Elliott, Sean Combs, Terry Crews, Tom Welling and Houston Texans running back Arian Foster, making his feature film acting debut) in this behind-the-scenes drama about a pro football team manager navigating and negotiating his way through the hurdles—unhappy fans, a contentious coach and a bottom-line manager—of the NFL’s high-stakes Draft Day. Bonus features include a 58-minute making-of documentary, commentary, and a behind-the-scenes look at the real NFL draft.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Of Pens & Pigskins

A roundup of great writing & great writers on football

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Football

Edited by John Schulian

Hardcover, 486 pages, $30 (The Library of America)

 

Half a century of legendary players, iconic moments and classic games come alive again in this collection of more than 40 magazine articles and book excerpts. Standouts include a selection from H.G. Bissinger’s Friday Night Lights; Frank Deford’s profile of Johnny Unitas; Michael Lewis on NFL kickers, the least respected players on the field; Bryan Curtis’ piece on Texas Youth Football; Roy Blount Jr. writing about his 40-year love affair with the Pittsburgh Steelers; George Plimpton’s first-person account of what it’s like to play as a Detroit Lion from his book Paper Tiger, plus many more insights, perspectives and observations sure to please any diehard pigskin fan.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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I Feel a Draft

Kevin Costner goes to the gridiron in fictional yarn based on annual NFL event

DRAFT DAY

Draft Day

Starring Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner and Dennis Leary

Directed by Ivan Reitman

PG-13, 109 min.

Somewhat as Moneyball looked at the inside business of baseball, director Ivan Reitman’s Draft Day pulls back the curtain on the high stakes, high pressures and high-wire hoopla of the annual process by which the National Football League selects its new recruits.

Unlike the better-crafted, based-on-a-true-story baseball movie, however, this formulaic, made-up tale is a pure Hollywood concoction. But it blurs its line between fact and fiction by the use of real NFL locations, cameos by real-life past and present NFL players and other real-life sports personalities, and scenes filmed for the movie at last May’s NFL draft at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

The movie is set in one 12-hour period, during which the main character, fictitious Cleveland Browns manager Sonny Weaver (Kevin Costner), has to set things up to get the best new players he can when the Browns’ “picks” come up in the draft. This involves some serious war-room wheeling and dealing.

DRAFT DAY

It’s getting hot in here: The head coach (Dennis Leary) and manager (Kevin Costner) take a meeting.

Should Sonny go for the hotshot quarterback (Josh Pence), the humble son of a retired Browns player (Arian Foster), or the passionate defensive tackle (Chadwick Boseman)?

To add Sonny’s stress, he’s got a team owner (Frank Langella) who wants to fire him, a head coach (Dennis Leary) who doesn’t like him, and a girlfriend/co-exec (Jennifer Garner) who’s not happy that he’s not happy that she’s just found out she’s pregnant with their child.

Even Sonny’s own mom (Ellen Burstyn) piles on him. “You sold a cow for magic beans!” she chides him after hearing of a deal he intends to make.

Reitman and veteran film editors Dana Glauberman and Sheldon Kahn do some innovative things with split-screen wipes, swipes and pans, as when two characters have a telephone conversation and “overlap” into each other’s spaces. It gives a sense of motion to scenes where the only thing going on otherwise is just two people yakking—and there is a good deal of that.

DRAFT DAY

Costner and co-star Jennifer Garner

Football fans may be a bit disappointed that there’s so much blab-age and so little yardage—excessive talking at the expense of actual gridiron action. But the movie does a good job of dramatizing an aspect of the sport that’s become an entertainment event itself; this year’s draft will be televised on ESPN May 8-10.

And most fans will likely enjoy the all-around air of authenticity, spotting the real-life sports personalities—and throwing penalty flags when it feels like Hollywood puts a bit too much melodramatic spin on the subject.

DRAFT DAYAnd through it all, Costner—trailing decades of weathered charisma from Field of Dreams, Bull Durham and Tin Cup—anchors the story with a screen persona that seems right at home in a sports-themed movie about a central character under pressure, making decisions at odds with those around him, but somehow rallying to show that maybe he knows what he’s doing, after all.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Pigskin Palaces

A photo-packed roundup of NFL & college football stadiums

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Football Stadiums

By Lew Freedman

Hardcover, 320 pages ($35, Firefly Books)

Hallowed ground to serious sports fans, stadiums are shrines of near-mythical proportion where legends and legacies are forged. Giving this handsome roundup of 130 major football coliseums—including all 32 current NFL stadiums, 77 college stadiums, and 35 other famous or now-demolished bowls or fields, all accompanied by photos, factoids and historical tidbits—to any pigskin buff is guaranteed to score you some serious extra points.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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