12 Mighty Orphans

Posted on June 15, 2021 at 8:13 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some suggestive references, brief teen drinking, smoking, language, and violence
Profanity: Some strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Reference to alcoholic parent, alcoholic character, teen drinking
Violence/ Scariness: WWI battle flashbacks and reference to sad deaths, brutal corporal punishment, beatings, injuries, some graphic images
Diversity Issues: Class issues
Date Released to Theaters: June 18, 2021

Copyright 2021 Sony Pictures Classics
In the Texas dust bowl of the Depression era, the most under- of underdog football teams captured the hearts of people across the state, across the country, and even one fan in the White House. For them, the team of teenagers from a Fort Worth orphanage was a symbol of hope and courage. Oh, and along the way, they came up with an innovation that transformed the game of football.

Director/co-screenwriter Ty Roberts follows his previous two Texas-based films, “This Side of the Dirt” and “The Iron Orchard” with “12 Mighty Orphans,” based on a fact-based novel by Jim Dent.

Teachers Rusty Russell (a subdued but solid Luke Wilson) and his wife Juanita (Vinessa Shaw) arrive at the Masonic Home and School for orphans. They are committed and admittedly optimistic about giving the residents hope, opportunity, and a sense of belonging. That includes setting up a football team, even though the boys are smaller than the other players in the league, have no practice field or equipment, and literally have never held a football before. As we learn in brief flashbacks over the course of the film, Rusty is suffering from PTSD due to his experiences in WWI, including the death of the brother he promised to protect.

At he Masonic Home, there is a kind-hearted doctor with an alcohol dependency (Martin Sheen) and a brutal, angry man named Frank (Wayne Knight), who sees the boys only as free labor for his print shop. Frank beats the boys for the slightest infraction and considers every moment away from the shop for school or football, as stealing from him. He, by the way, is stealing from them, skimming money from the shop.

Rusty and Doc start working with the boys. And the boys start winning games. When the other teams find they cannot beat them on the field, some of them start trying to beat them in other ways. Rusty has to make up for the smaller size of his players with a new strategy called the spread defense that would change the game of football at the most fundamental level.

Cinematographer David McFarland uses muted tones to evoke the era, a nod to the sepia images we associate with the era but also providing a context of dust, depression, and deprivation. Even though there are moments of intense emotion and struggle, Roberts maintains a quiet, deliberate tone that adds dignity to the storytelling, though it slows sections of the film, particularly when characters and incidents and issues start to pile up in a distracting manner. Sheen gives some wry sweetness to a thinly conceived role that balances Wilson’s subtle decency. The real triumph of the story is not in the goals scored but in the way that dedication, attention, and a good example can transform not just those who are inspired directly, but those who see in them possibilities not previously imagined.

Parents should know that this film includes some strong language, crude sexual references, alcohol abuse, scenes of combat, and injuries with some graphic images.

Family discussion: Why did Rusty think football was so important for the boys? How do we treat parentless children differently now?

If you like this, try: “Remember the Titans” and the book that inspired this film.

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List: Texas Movies

Posted on November 7, 2013 at 8:00 am

This week’s release of the fact-based “Dallas Buyer’s Club” inspired me to recommend some of my favorites of the dozens of other movies set in the Lone Star State.

1. Giant This massive epic, based on the novel by Edna Ferber, stars Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and an electrifying James Dean in his last role — poignantly at the end playing the old man he never got to be in real life. It has cattle, it has oil, it has class and race and gender issues, and the unforgettable sight of the Riatta mansion surrounded by a flat, barren landscape.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=efNVpovcZv0

2. Dazed & Confused Richard Linklater’s films set in his home state include “Slacker” and “Bernie.” The most beloved of his Texas films is this story of one wild day and night when school lets out for the summer that featured a killer soundtrack of 70’s classics and early screen appearances from future stars including Parker Posey, Ben Affleck, Milla Jovovich and fellow Texan Matthew McConaughey.

3. Red River This classic stars John Wayne as Texas rancher Tom Dunson, who adopts a young boy orphaned in an Indian massacre. That boy grows up to be Montgomery Clift in his first film role, already more than able to stand up to a superstar who appeared to be twice his size. Howard Hawks directs this toughest of westerns, with Joanne Dru as a woman who can take an arrow in the shoulder and keep on fighting.

4. The Alamo Courage and honor triumph even when the battle is lost in this story of the legendary defense of a crumbling adobe mission by 185 exceptional men against an army of 7,000. Richard Widmark and John Wayne star as Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett.

5. The Sugarland Express Before “E.T.” and “Schindler’s List” and Indiana Jones and “Jaws,” Steven Spielberg’s feature film debut was this fact-based drama. Goldie Hawn and William Atherton star as a young couple who get in trouble with the law when they try to get their son back from foster care.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DRsMXxfw0SI
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For Your Netflix Queue Lists

Smile of the Week: Go El Paso Thunderbirds!

Posted on February 26, 2013 at 12:16 pm

This is a coach — and a team — who understand the score.  Many thanks to my friend Ann Horak for sharing this touching story.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TuFWTw3NJA4
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Smile of the Week Sports Stories About Kids
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Mao’s Last Dancer

Posted on May 7, 2011 at 5:45 pm

Director Bruce Beresford, best known for “Driving Miss Daisy,” returns to the themes of cross-cultural connections in this film based on the memoir of Chinese ballet star Li Cunxin.

Li (Chinese surnames appear first) was taken from his poor, rural family at age 11 to study ballet. Madame Mao had declared the arts to be a priority and officials were sent to the furthest reaches of the country to find children who could be trained. Li succeeds more through determination than passion or natural ability, and despite Madame Mao’s insistence on ballet performances based more on political messages than on art. His family (with the radiant Joan Chen as his mother) is very proud of his contribution to China.In 1979, in the early, fragile days of US-China diplomatic relations, Li is sent to spend some time as a guest trainee with the Houston ballet, led by Ben Stevenson (the always-superb Bruce Greenwood).

His English is poor. His understanding of anything other than what he has been told by the Chinese authorities is non-existent. The Americans’ ability to understand him is not much better. But there is the common language of dance. And there Li is so dazzling he is quickly given an opportunity to perform in a key role on stage. The audience loves him.Li does not want to go home. He becomes romantically involved with a tender-hearted young dancer. He appreciates the opportunity to perform without regard to the political content of the ballet. He consults a lawyer (a crafty Kyle MacLachlan). He takes a very big risk for himself and also for those who have befriended him.The film feels episodic and oddly understated and remote. That may be in part because the key role of Li is divided between three actors, Wen Bin Huang as a child, Chengwu Guo as a teenager, and Chi Cao as an adult. Or, it may be because Li the character is reserved by nature and training and something of a cipher. But like its title character, the movie comes alive in the ballet performances, which are well-staged and convey not only the creative energy of their own story-telling but the ultimate expression of the performers’ passion for their art.
(more…)

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