Coach of the Year (1980, directed by Don Medford)


Jim Brandon (Robert Conrad) used to be a member of the Chicago Bears, until he was drafted and sent to Vietnam.  While Jim was serving his country, he was wounded in battle and when he returns to the United States, he’s now in a wheelchair.  With his playing days over, Jim still wants to put his athletic abilities to good use.  When the Bears front office tells him that they want to place him in the PR department as a glorified mascot, Jim tells them to forget about it and then starts to search for any opportunity to work as a coach.  Unfortunately, no one is willing to take a chance on a coach who can’t walk across the field.

While he looks for a job, Jim is living with his sister (Erin Gray) and her son, Andy (Ricky Paull Goldin).  When Andy gets caught (not for the first time) breaking the law, he is sent to the local reform school.  It’s while Jim is visiting his nephew that he notices that the students at the Illinois State Training School for Boys like to play football.  Jim suggests that the school needs an official team and that he would be the perfect person to coach them.

At first, the boys are rebellious and refuse to show Jim any respect but Jim slowly wins them over.  When a prep school’s football team visits the reform school and makes some snide remarks, Jim challenges them to a game.  If Jim’s team wins, it will not only prove that Jim can coach but it will also give the members of the team a needed boost of self-respect.  If Jim loses, he’ll get fired and his team will probably try to escape before boarding the bus back to reform school.

Coach of the Year was a TV movie and there’s nothing surprising about it.  It’s a typical example of an “inspiring” sports film, where an underdog team is led to victory by an underdog coach.  The two teams play each other twice in the movie and, just as surely as you’ll be able to guess who wins the first game, you’ll also be able to guess who manages to beat the odds and win the second game.  The film’s main selling point is that Robert Conrad gives a good performance as Jim Brandon.  Conrad is believable as both a coach, a former star athlete, and a man who is not yet prepared to surrender his pride.  Though Jim’s clearly the hero, the movie doesn’t idealize him.  Sometimes, Jim can be too stubborn for his own good.  Supposedly, in real life, Conrad was always the celebrity who ended up taking his appearances on Battle Of The Network Stars too seriously and that’s the way that Conrad plays Jim.  It doesn’t matter if his team is made up of a bunch of juvenile delinquents or that their games are just for exhibition.  Jim’s determined to win.

Coach of the Year is on Amazon Prime.  Unfortunately, Battle Of The Network Stars is not.

 

Lisa Marie’s Possibly Pointless Oscar Predictions For March


I’ve been going back and forth on whether or not I should even bother to continue my monthly Oscar predictions.  With the current Coronavirus pandemic, it’s not unreasonable to wonder if there will even be an Oscar ceremony next year.  Many completed films have been taken off the schedule so that they can be released at a time when people aren’t scared to leave their house.  Meanwhile, production on several other films — some of them expected to be Oscar contenders — has been suspended.  New films are continuing to premiere on the streaming services but the Academy has always insisted that films also play in a theater if they want to contend for an Oscar.  That’s going to be difficult with the majority of the country’s theaters currently being closed.

Unlike a lot of people, I’m not necessarily apocalyptic or even that pessimistic in my outlook.  I think that, one way or another, we will eventually be able to leave our homes again and that at least some of the movie theaters will reopen.  So, I think that we will be able to have some sort of Oscar ceremony.  For that reason, I’m going to make my predictions for March but, needless to say, take all of these with an even bigger grain of salt than usual.

If you’re curious to see what my Oscar thinking was in the months before the world went crazy, check out my predictions for January and February!

(I’ve tried to take the fact that the Coronavirus led to the suspension of many ongoing productions while making out my list below.  As far as I know, filming wrapped on all of the films listed below before the outbreak.)

Best Picture

Ammonite

Annette

Hillbilly Elegy

The Father

Minari

News of the World

Nomadland

On the Rocks

Tenet

West Side Story

Best Director

Isaac Lee Chung for Minari

Paul Greengrass for News of the World

Christopher Nolan for Tenet

Steven Spielberg for West Side Story

Florian Zeller for The Father

Best Actor

Tom Hanks in News of the World

Anthony Hopkins in The Father

Bill Murray in On the Rocks

Gary Oldman in Mank

Will Smith in King Richard

Best Actress

Amy Adams in Hillbilly Elegy

Clare Dunne in Herself

Jennifer Hudson in Respect

Frances McDormand in Nomadland

Kate Winslet in Ammonite

Best Supporting Actor

Tom Burke in Mank

Richard E. Grant in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

Mark Rylance in The Trial of the Chicago 7

Forest Whitaker in Respect

Steve Yeun in Minari

Best Supporting Actress

Abigail Breslin in Stillwater

Glenn Close in Hillybilly Elegy

Vera Farmiga in The Many Saints of Newark

Saoirse Ronan in Ammonite

Helena Zengel in News of the World

 

18 Days of Paranoia #18: Nineteen Eighty-Four (dir by Rudolph Cartier)


Well, here we are at the end of both March and the 18 days of paranoia.  We started things off with a review of The Flight That Disappeared and now, we end things with a look at the 1954 BBC production of Nineteen Eighty-Four.

“Orewllian” is a term that gets tossed around a lot nowadays, largely by people who the real George Orwell probably would have viewed rather dismissively.  Ever since the election of Donald Trump, for instance, it’s become rather common for certain people of twitter to say that “Orwell was right” or that we’re living in an “Orwellian nightmare.”  I remember after Trump’s press secretary blatantly lied about the size of the crowd at the inauguration, there was even a commercial that featured Zachary Quinto giving a hilariously overwrought reading of the final passage of George Orwell’s 1984.  “He …. LOVED …. BIG …. BROTHER!” Quinto declared while staring grimly at the camera.

Interestingly enough, many of the same people who complain about Trump’s lies being Orwellian never used the term during the previous 8 years, when we were being constantly told that a permanent recession was actually a sign of a strong economy and that if people liked their doctor, they could keep them.  The fact of the matter is that, for a lot of people, “Orwellian” is just a term that they use whenever a politician from the other side does something that they dislike.  It makes you wonder how many of them have actually read 1984 because, if they had, they would surely know that — if we truly were living in the world depicted in Orwell’s novel — no one would be allowed to acknowledge it and, in fact, Orwell and his books would have vanished down the memory hole.  Just the act of saying that we’re living in 1984 without getting sent to a reeducation camp is proof that we’re not (or, at least, we’re not just yet).

That’s not to say that 1984 isn’t an important work of literature.  In fact, it’s probably one of the most important books ever written, which is why it does it such a disservice to glibly toss around the term Orwellian.  Even if we aren’t living in Orwell’s world right now, it’s probably easier than ever to imagine a scenario where we eventually could.  The Coronavirus pandemic, for example, is just the sort of thing that could lead to the people accepting the idea that the government is meant to be a Big Brother and that those who disagree deserve to be reported for the good of the people.  It’s easy to imagine a future where people believe that history started with the Coranavirus and that everything that happened before the pandemic was just a hazy rumor, like Europe before the Renaissance.  As such, even if the term Orwellian is overused, 1984 is still a book that needs to be read and understood.

There have been several film adaptations of 1984, some of which are better than others.  My personal favorite is the 1985 film, which was directed by Michael Radford and which starred John Hurt and Richard Burton.  Running a close second, however, would be the version that was made for the BBC in 1954.

This version sticks closely to Orwell’s novel, though it downplays the book’s sexual themes.  (This is not surprising considering that this version was made for 1950s television.)  Though it condensed Orwell’s story, it hits all of the important points.  Winston Smith (Peter Cushing) is a member of the Outer Party who works at the Ministry of Truth and who lives a rather drab existence in London, “the chief city of Airstrip One.”  He is a citizen of Oceania, which has always been at war with Eurasia.  Winston lives under a system of government called Ingsoc and every day, he spends two minutes hating a mysterious figure named Goldstein.  All around him are posters of Big Brother, watching him and judging.

On the outside, Winston is a loyal party man but on the inside, he has questions and doubts.  How can he not when he works for the Ministry of Truth?  His job is to change history to reflect whatever the current version of it may be.  Some of his co-workers, like Symes (Donald Pleaseance), are openly cynical about what they do.  Others, like O’Brien (an imposing Andre Morell), seem as if they might be sympathetic to Winston’s doubts but Winston cannot be sure.  Meanwhile, Winston has found himself obsessed with Julia (Yvonne Mitchell), who is a member of the Anti-Sex League but who might have doubts of her own.  (Then again, she could also be a member of the Thought Police.)

When Winston is finally arrested for being a thoughtcriminal, it leads to a harrowing interrogation where he learns that truth doesn’t matter, the numbers add up to whatever the party says that they add up to, and that no one is strong enough to survive the ordeal of Room 101.

The BBC adaptation of Nineteen Eighty-Four was, for the most part, a live performance with a few filmed scenes inserted into the action.  Still, the fact that the majority of the actors were delivering their lines lives brings a certain immediacy to the film.  Everyone seem nervous and edgy.  In real life, that could have been due to the fear that they would miss a line but it also feels appropriate for people who spend every day of their life being watched and judged by Big Brother.  The entire production does an excellent job of creating a world where every minute is suffused in an atmosphere of dread and fear.  From the minute we first see him, Winston seems to know that he’s doomed.  The fact that Big Brother would rather torture and brainwash him rather than just make him disappear just makes things worse.

The production is full of actors — like Cushing, Morrell, and Pleasence — who would go on to become leading figures in the British horror industry and all of them do an excellent job bringing Orwell’s horror to life.  Peter Cushing, with his mix of intelligent features and neurotic screen presence, makes for the perfect Winston Smith and Andre Morrell is just as perfectly cast as the fearsome O’Brien.  The scene in which Winston is forced to confront Room 101 is still a harrowing one and this film perfectly nails the novel’s famous ending, doing so in a low-key manner that’s far more effective than the overwrought approach that other adaptations have brought to the final scene.

Nineteen Eighty-Four can currently be viewed on Prime.  The print is a bit grainy but that only adds to the film’s power.  It comes to us like a hazy vision of the future.

Other Entries In The 18 Days Of Paranoia:

  1. The Flight That Disappeared
  2. The Humanity Bureau
  3. The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover
  4. The Falcon and the Snowman
  5. New World Order
  6. Scandal Sheet
  7. Cuban Rebel Girls
  8. The French Connection II
  9. Blunt: The Fourth Man 
  10. The Quiller Memorandum
  11. Betrayed
  12. Best Seller
  13. They Call Me Mister Tibbs
  14. The Organization
  15. Marie: A True Story
  16. Lost Girls
  17. Walk East On Beacon!

4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Ewan McGregor Edition


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

Today is not just Christoper Walken’s birthday!  It’s also the birthday of another one of my favorite actors, the only and only Ewan McGregor!  And you know what that means.  It’s time for….

4 Shots From 4 Ewan McGregor Films

Trainspotting (1996, dir by Danny Boyle)

Moulin Rouge! (2001, dir by Baz Luhrmann)

T2: Trainspotting (2017, dir by Danny Boyle)

Doctor Sleep (2019, dir by Mike Flanagan)

Scenes That I Love: Christopher Walken in Pulp Fiction


Today is Christopher Walken’s 77th birthday so it seems appropriate to share a Walken scene that I love.  Without further ado, here is the classic gold watch speech from the 1994 film, Pulp Fiction: