The 1970 plane crash that killed most of the Marshall University football team is a story many college football fans are familiar with. That story is tackled in the new film “We are Marshall” with mostly positive results.
“Marshall” is such an emotionally charged subject matter that the film works - even if it doesn't always click.
“Marshall” begins with the plane crash then shifts to the aftermath - with some doubting whether the program should continue, while other's fight to play to serve as a way to honor those who perished in the crash.
Eventually, the school's administration opted to continue the program. The reins are turned over to Jack Lengyel (Matthew McConaughey), who soon learns the task of rebuilding is even greater than he imagined.
The biggest problem is with director McG. I'm not sure who thought it was a good idea to have the man best known for two awful “Charlie's Angels” movies direct this project, but that is the case.
I will give McG credit, he does seem to be very respectful of the subject matter - even if he resorts to way too many sports clichés to move the plot along.
One of the examples is a subplot involving the father and fiancee of one of the players killed on the flight. That story is pretty inconsistent and doesn't work as well as the filmmaker probably hoped it would.
What helps lift “Marshall” is the raw emotion that even McG can't screw up. McConaughey is actually good as Lengyel - capturing the essence of an outsider who probably never understood how devastating this tragedy was to the town, but proved to be the right man at the right time for Marshall University.
The film also features several rousing moments - including the obvious big game finale that proved to be the high point of the 1971 Marshall football season.
There are better sports films out there (“Invincible” and “Glory Road” are recent releases that come to mind), but “Marshall” deserves praise simply for the fact that it is a story of tragedy that still resonates in the small West Virginia town - and every other small town that's ever experienced any sort of tragedy.
DVD dandies of the week
There are a couple of solid new releases this week (“Jet Li's Fearless” and “My Super Ex-Girlfriend), but in honor of the holiday season here are a few titles that might make great stocking stuffers for an avid movie fan in the family - with suggested retail price.
“Boogie Nights” ($20) Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson's tale of the rise and fall of a porn star is the film that cemented the filmmaker as one of this generation's best filmmakers.
The cast - which includes Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore and Burt Reynolds - is superb and the DVD features commentary from Anderson that is still the best I have ever heard on any film.
The Player ($10) The great Robert Altman died just last month, so here is another chance to appreciate his work with this brilliant satire of Hollywood.
Rocky Horror Picture Show ($25) This 3-disc set features an alternate track with actual audience participation plus the added bonus of the putrid sequel “Shock Treatment.” (OK, fans of “Rocky” will probably hate you for including that.)
One of the funniest films ever made. Enjoy the all-star cast - that includes Bill Murray, John Candy, and Harold Ramis - and then impress your friends by pointing out the scenes filmed in Fort Knox and Louisville.
Broadcast News ($10)
When people ask me what is my favorite movie from the 1980s, this is the film that immediately comes to mind. Writer/director James L. Brooks romantic comedy set inside the insane world of network news features a starmaking performance by Holly Hunter and a classic cameo by Jack Nicholson.
Y Tu Mama Tambien ($15)
Before he tackled “Harry Potter” and with his latest film “Children of Men” about to be released, here is the chance to see why director Alfonso Cuaron is one of the finest directors working today.
This tale of two young men who set out on a road trip with a recently jilted older woman is a masterpiece not afraid to tackle sexually explicit subject matter.
Hoop Dreams ($30)
This 1994 documentary about two basketball prodigies from Chicago is a fascinating study of shattered dreams.
It's worth noting that one of the subject's of the film - Arthur Agee - eventually played college ball at Arkansas State, a Sun Belt Conference member.