When the Game Stands Tall — The Real Story

Posted on August 23, 2014 at 3:47 pm

“When the Game Stands Tall” is based on the real-life story of the De La Salle High School Spartans football team, which had the longest winning streak of any team in any sport at any level 151 games in a row over twelve years. The movie is based on what happened at the end of the streak, when one of their star players was killed and their coach, Bob Ladouceur (played by Jim Caviezel in the film) has to bring them back together. Ladouceur said that their first bus ride of the season was to their teammate’s funeral. They lost the next game.

The film is based on the book by Neil Hayes, with a foreword by John Madden about Coach Ladouceur and his team.  When people asked the coach how he was able to produce these results, game after game, year after year, he would say, “Spend a year with us.”  Hayes took him up on it, and that is what produced the book and then the film. Another book, One Great Game: Two Teams, Two Dreams, in the First Ever National Championship High School Football Game, by Don Wallace, tells the story of the championship game between the Catholic private school De La Salle and public school Long Beach Poly, .

Here is the real Bob Ladouceur.

And here are the Spartans.

Spartans who later became professional athletes:

T.J. Ward, safety for the Denver Broncos
Maurice Jones-Drew, halfback for Oakland Raiders.
Amani Toomer, wide receiver for New York Giants
Kevin Simon, linebacker for Washington D.C. football team
Matt Gutierrez, former quarterback in the National Football League
D. J. Williams, outside linebacker for the Chicago Bears
Doug Brien, kicker with San Francisco 49ers
David Loverne, guard with New York Jets
Derek Landri, defensive tackle with Philadelphia Eagles
Stephen Wondolowski, pro soccer player
Chris Wondolowski, pro soccer player
Stefan Frei, pro soccer player
John David Baker, pro baseball player
Chris Carter, pro baseball player
Jon Barry, pro basketball player
Brent Barry, pro basketball player
Kristian Ipsen, Olympic diver, bronze medalist
Aaron Taylor, former offensive lineman for Green Bay Packers

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High School Sports Stories about Teens The Real Story

If I Stay

Posted on August 21, 2014 at 6:00 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and some sexual material
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, including teen drinking
Violence/ Scariness: The film's themes include a tragic accident, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: August 22, 2014
Date Released to DVD: November 17, 2014
Amazon.com ASIN: B00NT964VS
Copyright 2014 Warner Brothers Studio
Copyright 2014 Warner Brothers Studio

Hamlet asked it best. “To be, or not to be: That is the question.” We struggle through, worrying about whether someone likes us or whether we will be accepted at the school of our choice. Those seem like serious problems. And then something really huge shows us how small those problems are, and forces us to confront the only question that matters: will we continue to “suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” or will we obliterate ourselves, and everything we can perceive?

That is the question faced by a young cellist named Mia (Chloë Grace Moretz, in one of her first roles as a normal girl).  She has a wonderful family, loving, supportive, understanding and remarkably hip and gorgeous parents (Mireille Enos as Kat and Joshua Leonard as Denny) and a not-too-pesky kid brother named Teddy (Jakob Davies).  She has the kind of kindred spirit best friend who is always vitally interested in every detail and always on her side (“Trust’s” terrific Liana Liberato). And they are a part of a warm, loving community in Portland, Oregon that seems like an endless pot luck dinner party, seamlessly blending from one time and place to another, always filled with laughter and music.

And there is Adam (Jamie Blackley).  He is the perfect combination of untamed/angsty and utterly devoted swain. He is supposedly a punk musician, though his performances are disconcertingly pop-ish with even a bit of emo. And he says swoon-worthy things like, “You can’t hide in that rehearsal room forever. It’s too late. I see you.” Mia feels like an outsider as a classical cellist in a family of rock musicians. And, of course, she attends high school with teenagers who have no interest in orchestral music. “Right on, I love classic rock,” one of them responds when Mia tries to explain the kind of music she plays.

Adam watches Mia rehearse and instantly sees that in the most important way she is just like him. She is someone who is not just moved by music, but saved by it. She says, “I loved the order, the structure, that feeling in my chest. Like my heart is beating with the cello.” The “whole messy live for the moment punk rocker thing” does not feel right to her.

Soon Adam and Mia are a couple. But then his group becomes successful and he starts to tour. And she may have a chance to go to Juilliard, on the other side of the country.

And then there is the accident. Mia’s family takes advantage of a snow day to go off on an excursion together, but a car slips on the ice and there is a very bad crash.  The entire story is told as Mia’s spirit, alone in the limbo between life and death, able to see and hear everyone around her but not able to be seen or heard, is remembering her life, beginning to understand what has happened, and recognizing that it is up to her to decide whether to re-enter her body and fight to stay alive.

Gayle Forman‘s book is thoughtfully adapted by Shauna Cross (“Whip It”), who has a good sense of the inner lives of teenage girls. While Adam and Mia have their struggles, they are thankfully a step above the typical teenage drama (on and off-screen), and almost always respectfully handled and based in character and context and not the usual sitcom-ish miscommunication.  Moritz takes on a tough challenge in playing a character who has to express so much anxiety with so little interaction with other actors, except in flashbacks.  She does well, as does director R.J. Cutler in keeping an internal story visually engaging.  If it doesn’t have the emotional impact of recent YA weepies like “The Spectacular Now” and “The Fault in Our Stars,” it is a touching story about an appealing young couple.

Parents should know that this film has literal life-and-death situations, with a serious accident, and characters injured and killed. It also includes strong language, teen drinking, and non-explicit sexual references and situations.

Family discussion: How did their families influence the different ways Adam and Mia saw their options? Why did Mia’s grandfather tell her she could go? What would you decide and why?

If you like this, try: “The Spectacular Now,” “Save the Last Dance,” and “Bandslam” as well as the book by Gayle Forman and its sequel, told from Adam’s perspective, Where She Went

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Based on a book Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week High School Romance Stories about Teens Teenagers

When the Game Stands Tall

Posted on August 21, 2014 at 5:59 pm

C
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for thematic material, a scene of violence, and brief smoking
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Shooting, very sad death, serious illness, parental abuse, tense confrontations
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: August 22, 2014


Copyright 2014 Sony Pictures
This dreary assemblage of every possible sports cliché has one thing in common with the game it portrays. Every time it seems to be going somewhere, it stops.

More frustratingly, it wastes the opportunity to tell a good story by trying to squeeze in too many great ones. There are too many crises, too many story arcs, too few resolutions, too few reasons for us to invest in the outcome. When a movie is based on (or even “inspired by”) something that really happened, the first step has to be deciding what the theme is and streamlining all of the real-life details that are not central to that theme. Or, as a coach might say, “Don’t lose focus.”

The real-life high school football team that inspired this story is Concord, California’s De La Salle Spartans, from a small, all-boys Catholic school. They hold the all-time winning streak record for any sport in any category and at any level. We meet the team just as the streak is about to end. The last game of the season is the 151st win in a row. But then Coach Bob Ladouceur (Jim Caviezel) has a heart attack.  A player is killed in a drive-by shooting.  Another one becomes an orphan, responsible for his younger brother.  The other teams do not want to play the Spartans anymore, so they take on the number one team in the state (in a game that is the subject of a book. The winning streak that went from 1992-2004 came to an end.

That’s an interesting place for a sports movie to begin, a refreshing change from the over-familiar sports movie storyline of a scrappy group of underdogs who have to learn to work together.  And the film is sincere and good-hearted, though not much we haven’t learned from reading Kipling’s If, especially the part about understanding that winning and losing are both imposters.  But the dramatic force of the narrative keeps being mowed down by so many over-familiar sports movie lines that the film’s greatest appeal may be as a drinking game.  How many times do we have to hear about how the teammates are family, especially when we hear it more than we see it?  (Though I did enjoy seeing the team come on the field holding hands like a kindergarten field trip.)

There is a lot to explore here about what we learn from winning and how much more we learn from losing.  Ladouceur’s techniques include “commitment cards” with training goals, practice goals, and game goals, each one written by a player and shared with a teammate to help them understand they are responsible for each other’s performance as well as their own.  It is good to hear a coach say that end zone antics are inappropriate and that the purpose of the training is not to produce great high school football players but responsible men.

A number of issues are set up or glancingly referred to without any real connection or follow-through, including some of the coach’s lessons about what matters more than winning.  The coach’s son says that when he needed a dad he got a coach and when he needed a coach all he got was a “lame dad.”  The coach’s wife (a criminally under-used Laura Dern) says he does not share himself with her or their children.  Ladouceur acknowledges that he has been “a bad husband and a worse dad.”  But all we see as a response is Ladouceur burning some burgers when he tries to grill.

We do not get enough of the history between the two players who struggle over whether they will stay together through college for it to be meaningful.  A brutish father (Clancy Brown) pushes his quarterback son to break the state record in scoring, but the resolution is not set up in a way that makes it a triumph for anyone.  Intrusive product placement from a sporting goods store is a distraction as well.  As though to keep us on track, equally intrusive sports announcers keep reminding us what the stakes are.  Even more intrusive is a musical score that is ploddingly obvious, with hip-hop in a black player’s home and syrupy pop over the white characters. Meanwhile, over on the sidelines (literally), Michael Chiklis as the assistant coach turns in the film’s most intriguing performance.

“It’s no longer about who the bigger, stronger, faster players are,”  the coach who has the bigger, stronger, faster players says about playing against the Spartans.  (You can tell what’s coming next, right?) “It’s about who plays with more heart.”   The heart in this film is mostly over the end credits, where we see the truly inspirational Ladouceur and wish we had just seen a documentary about him instead.

Parents should know that this film includes the tragic murder of a teenager, serious illness of a parent, death of a parent, parental abuse of a teenager, scenes of wounded warriors in rehab, smoking, and brief crude sexual references

Family discussion: What goals will you put on your commitment card? Why didn’t the coach want his players to pay attention to the streak? What was his most important lesson?

If you like this, try: “Friday Night Lights” (the movie and the television series) and “Remember the Titans,” as well as the books about the Spartans: When the Game Stands Tall: The Story of the De La Salle Spartans and Football’s Longest Winning Streak and One Great Game: Two Teams, Two Dreams, in the First Ever National Championship High School Football Game

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Based on a book Based on a true story Drama High School Movies Sports

A Birder’s Guide to Everything

Posted on March 20, 2014 at 5:55 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 on appeal for language, sex and drug references, and brief partial nudity
Profanity: Strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drug references
Violence/ Scariness: Sad death (offscreen)
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: March 21, 2014
Poster courtesy of Dreamfly Productions, Lavender Pictures, and There We Go Films
Poster courtesy of Dreamfly Productions, Lavender Pictures, and There We Go Films

First rule: do NOT call them bird watchers. These are seriously ornithophilic teenagers and the correct term is “birder.”

Maybe one reason they like birds so much is that the three members of the high school birder society — all male — are odd birds themselves. When one of them catches a glimpse of what just might be a duck previously thought to be extinct, that is exactly the adventure they had been hoping for, something big and meaningful and important, something to prove to everyone around them and maybe to themselves, too, that what they care about really matters. And an adventure would also be a good excuse to get away from some uncomfortable situations at home and school and be in a place that feels like a truer home.

David (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is more than uncomfortable. His mother has died. She had been a birder, and being passionate about birds makes him feel close to her. Now his father (James LeGros), who “literally kills birds for a living” (he owns chicken restaurants) is about to marry the nurse who took care of his mother.  She is a warm-hearted and sympathetic person, but to David she is an intruder, especially when she accidentally lets her robe slip and he gets a look at her breasts.  He is the one who gets a quick, blurry picture of the possibly-rare duck and he takes it to an expert (Ben Kingsley), who confirms that it could be a Labrador duck, and who shares some memories of David’s mother.

If it can be confirmed that the Labrador duck is not extinct, this would be very big news.

The other two members of the Young Birders Society (high-spirited and highly hormonal Alex Wolff and nerdy control freak Michael Chen) “borrow” a relative’s car and go off in search of the possible Labrador duck.  They try to “borrow” camera equipment, too, but are discovered by a girl from the photography club, (Katie Chang) who insists on going along so she can be the one to take the pictures.

It’s an often-told coming-of-age journey tale, but nicely understated and there are some unexpected twists and sensitive performances.  The people who made this film brought the same loving attention to the characters that the characters do to the small feathered creatures they care for so deeply.

Parents should know that there is some teenage strong and crude language, brief nudity and sexual references.

Family discussion: Why was the duck so important to David?  To the others?

If you like this, try: “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and watch some birds

 

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Coming of age High School Movies

G.B.F.

Posted on January 14, 2014 at 1:50 pm

Writer George Northy and director Darren Stein manage to subvert and salute the traditions of the high school comedy in this smart, fresh, and funny story that shakes up the classic elements of teen movies but recognizes their eternal verities.  It is fitting that a story about undermining stereotypes slyly undermines expectations of high schoolers and high school movies.  Everything from “Mean Girls” to “Clueless” to “Pretty in Pink” gets shaken and stirred.

High school makes a great setting because it is a universal experience of heightened emotions that lend themselves well to comedy, drama, and identity.  It is the last place where everyone is pretty much stuck together.  The core elements of high school movies usually feature an outcast and often end up at prom.  “G.B.F.,” which stands for “gay best friend” follows that formula.  It is the story of two closeted gay seniors in a school that (improbably) does not have a single out gay student.  While a few years ago, this might have been a touching story about the courage to come out and confront homophobia, and a few years before that a comedy about a student pretending to be gay but really being straight, this film is set in a school with straight students who are desperately hoping for openly gay classmates to come out so that they can befriend them.   It’s hard to have a gay-straight alliance without any gay members.  And not one, not two, but three high school divas are desperately seeking a GBF as an accessory, to tell them how fierce they are.

The three divas are drama queen (really, she rules the theater clique) Caprice (Xosha Roquemore), Mormon goodie girl ‘Shley (Andrea Bowen) and capo de tutti capi Fawcett (Sasha Pieterse).  When Tanner (Michael J. Willett) is accidentally outed via an app on his phone, he all goes from zero to hero as the three girls compete with each other for his attention and favor.  The girls have a few surprises in store as well, as does Shley’s boyfriend.

The tone falters in spots and the acting falters frequently.  The appearance of Natasha Lyonne as a teacher just reminds us of how much better she was as a teen actress (especially in another gay-themed film, “But I’m a Cheerleader”) than many of the cast here.  But the quick, witty dialogue and the good heart of the film make it fun to watch and the heartening message helps smooth over the rough spots.

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Comedy High School Satire Stories about Teens
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