Tag Archives: Laurence Fishburne

Faith. Family. Football.

Under the Stadium Lights

by George Wolf

Which is more likely to embrace the cliches inherent in sports: interviews or movies?

The sheer number of daily opportunities pushes the scale toward the Q&A, but while we’re waiting on the next superstar baller to “take it one game at a time,” Under the Stadium Lights scores one for the big screen.

Based on the book “Brother’s Keeper” (also the movie’s original title) by Al Pickett and Chad Mitchel, the film takes us inside the 2009 high school football season with the Abilene Eagles. The bitter taste of their playoff defeat the year before fueled the players and coaches as they made another run for the Texas state playoffs.

Mitchel (played by Milo Gibson, 6th son of Mel) was not only an Abilene police officer that year, he was also the Eagles team Chaplin. Through his “safe space” program, the players were encouraged to share the tough times they were going through off the field, and to lean on their football brothers for the strength to persevere.

That’s a commendable story. But director Todd Randall and screenwriters John Collins and Hamid Torabpour tell it with no regard for human shades of grey, which is a problem.

No doubt these mostly black and brown players did have troubling patches in their young lives, but the film paints the young men as one dimensional vessels strengthened by the good word of this white man. These are high school seniors, and there’s nary a word or thought about girls, sex or anything other than remaining vigilant in their virtue.

Don’t expect even a whisper about any systemic causes for the problems at home, either. While no one would argue the value in making good life choices, this is a bootstrap fantasy, where what isn’t talked about amounts to tacit approval of blaming the needy for just not working hard enough.

Often hamstrung by preachy and obvious dialog, the the cast does very little to elevate it. Save for the welcome presence of veterans Laurence Fishburne, Noel Gugliemi and Glen Morshower in small roles, performances alternate between hyperbolic over-emoting and emotionless cardboard.

Early on, though, the football scenes are a surprise bright spot. It’s actually charming that Randall forgoes cheesy reenactments for the real game films, but when he reverses that decision in the third act, the resulting clash gives the new footage an even more sterile and pretend quality.

A big congrats to the 2009 Abilene Eagles on what must have been a great season. But with Texas high school football on its mind, “lights” in its new title and no roster spot for nuance, the movie version will have you longing for Friday Night.

Rules & Consequences

John Wick: Chapter 3—Parabellum

by Hope Madden

John F. Wick.

You have to tip your hat to a filmmaker who understands his strengths and plays to them. For Chad Stahelski, I think you just have to take the hat off entirely.

Kickboxer turned stunt man turned stunt coordinator turned helmsman of a phenomenon, Stahelski returns for his third tour with Keanu Reeves as dog-loving assassin widower John Wick for Chapter 3—Parabellum.

The great thing about chapters is that no one expects them to tell a whole story, and since storytelling and acting are not the strongest suits in this franchise, Stahelski wisely sharpens his focus on what is: action.

A breathless Act 1 (with a truly inspired use of the New York Public Library) picks up the moment John Wick 2 ends, mercifully dispensing with the need for exposition. In its stead, balletic mayhem.

The plot of sorts: Wick is in trouble with the guardians of the world’s assassin guild, approximately every third human in NYC is a hired killer, and there is a $14 million bounty on his head. Where can he go? What can he do?

These are questions Stahelski and his army of writers have fun answering with ludicrous, violent, exhausting, carnage-strewn glee.

Inside of 10 minutes it was clear that this is the best film of the trilogy.

Welcome new faces Anjelica Huston and Asia Kate Dillon cut impressive figures, though Halle Berry feels out of her depth and a clear sound stage representation of Morocco is the only clunky set piece in the movie.

Ian McShane, Lance Reddick and Laurence Fishburne return. Wisely, Stahelski lets these guys mete out most of the dialog. I’d wager Reeves utters fewer than 30 lines total.

Again, play to your strengths.

Dan Lausten’s camera ensures that you know when Reeves does his own action, most of which is choreographed and captured in long, fluid, serpentine shots with a lot of broken glass. Man, their easy-shatter glass budget must have been through the roof!

The Fast and Furious franchise didn’t become tolerable until it embraced the fact that it was a superhero series, abandoning all reason and logic and just jumping cars from the 100th floor of one building to the 100th floor of another. Luckily, it didn’t take John Wick six films to take flight.

Bond of Brothers

Last Flag Flying

by George Wolf

“Men make the wars, and wars make the men.”

Last Flag Flying is a loving salute to the enduring nature of honor. Thoughtful and sometimes genuinely moving, it’s also not above getting laughs from three aging veterans trying to buy their very first mobile phones or arguing about the ethnicity of Eminem.

It is 2003, and Larry, aka “Doc,” (Steve Carell) is looking up two old Marine buddies for a very specific purpose. Doc, Sal (Bryan Cranston) and Richard (Laurence Fishburne) all served in Vietnam together, and now Doc needs his friends to help bury his son, who has just been killed in the Iraq War.

Once the men learn that the official story of the boy’s death isn’t exactly the real story, Doc declines a burial at Arlington, deciding to transport the body for a hometown funeral in New Hampshire.

Older gentlemen out for a wacky road trip? Is that what’s going on here?

Those fears are understandable but unwarranted, as director Richard Linklater confidently guides the film with gentle restraint and his usual solid instincts for organic storytelling. Some good-natured humor is framed from the three outstanding main performances, but it never derails the resonance of these characters grappling with the cyclical nature of sacrifice.

Linklater adapts the script with source novelist Darryl Ponicsan, who also wrote the 1970s servicemen-centered flicks Cinderella Liberty and The Last Detail. Last Flag Flying draws many parallels with the latter film, as it is not a stretch to see these characters as the Detail men taking stock of what the years have changed – and what they haven’t.

Though the perfectly-drawn contrasts of the three personalities seem manufactured at times, it matters less thanks to Carell, Cranston and Fishburne, who are never less than a joy to watch. You’ll need tissues handy for the touching final moments, but Last Flag Flying makes the tears, and the trip, worthwhile.