5 items from 2015
There was a time no too long away that the Disney company was only known for animation. But after enormous success in that arena, Uncle Walt decided he needed to branch out into live action. After dipping his toe in the water with “true-life” nature shorts, he jumped all in with several features produced and filmed in Europe. Then he went all out with 1954’s smash 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. Now, as with his animated features, these films usually played to family audiences. Walt had something of a studio staple of stars with the likes of Fred MacMurray, Hayley Mills, and Kurt Russell , He even had the top grossing film of 1968, The Love Bug. Really. After Walt passed on, the new studio heads in the 1980’s decided to branch out into more adult subject matter for new features. But these would not go out under the Disney name and so »
- Jim Batts
Personal Best: Caro Returns to Studio Filmmaking with Feel-Good Adaptation
It’s been a while since we’ve heard anything from New Zealand director Niki Caro, who made headlines with her 2002 sophomore film, Whale Rider, before making her Hollywood debut with 2005’s North Country. After the dismal reception of her 2009 effort, A Heavenly Vintage (aka The Vinter’s Luck), she’s helmed, of all things, a Disney film, McFarland, USA. Kevin Costner, once the penultimate star of mainstream, sports themed cinema, finds himself as the figure responsible for fostering athletic careers, moving from Ivan Reitman’s Draft Day to late 1980’s cross-country coach here. Caro’s film is the second ‘based on a true story’ minority flavored studio flick this year, following Sean McNamara’s Spare Parts, which also relates the travails of a group of Hispanic students overcoming odds to succeed in an organized school events. Beat by methodical beat, »
- Nicholas Bell
There is a recognizable template to inspirational sports dramas developed by Disney. You have a beleaguered coach figure trying to reclaim his former glory. You have a rowdy, unmotivated group of ragtag players that just need to add discipline to their raw talent to attain success. You have an antagonist buoyed by prestige or power that the underdog protagonists have to face. You have montages set to swelling music, and of course, the inevitable down-to-the-wire speech, of which any dedicated fan of the genre could recite a variation. Oh, and most of the time, they are based on a true story.
The sport is different but the song remains the same for McFarland, USA. Kevin Costner continues his dismal streak of performances after Three Days to Kill and Draft Day, as high-school football coach Jim White. After roughing up a student, White loses his job at an elite secondary school »
- Jordan Adler
The stirring true story of how a scrappy Latino high-school running team beat the odds is treated as a Kevin Costner vehicle first and foremost in “McFarland, USA,” a cross-cultural cross-country drama that feels descended from a long line of minority-underdog movies like “The Blind Side,” “Stand and Deliver,” “Pride” and the Oscar-winning documentary “Undefeated.” Predictable and predictably rousing, this inspirational sports pic earns points for its big-hearted portrait of life in an impoverished California farming town, the likes of which we too rarely see on American screens. But with its overriding emphasis on how Coach Costner fits into that world, this fifth feature from director Niki Caro (“Whale Rider,” “North Country”) never sheds its outsider perspective, ultimately emerging a well-intentioned mix of compassion and condescension. Even if the family-friendly Disney release commands a more diverse audience than most, it remains to be seen how much long-term box-office endurance it can muster. »
- Justin Chang
Following the second trailer that debuted last month, Disney has released an extended TV spot for McFarland USA, starring Kevin Costner. Inspired by the 1987 true story, McFarland USA follows novice runners from McFarland, an economically challenged town in California's farm-rich Central Valley, as they give their all to build a cross-country team under the direction of Coach Jim White (Kevin Costner), a newcomer to their predominantly Latino high school. Coach White and the McFarland students have a lot to learn about each other but when White starts to realize the boys' exceptional running ability, things begin to change.
Soon something beyond their physical gifts becomes apparent-the power of family relationships, their unwavering commitment to one another and their incredible work ethic. With grit and determination, the unlikely band of runners eventually overcomes the odds to forge not only a championship cross-country team but an enduring legacy as well. Along the way, »
5 items from 2015
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