CINDERELLA MAN (A-2, PG-13): The light heavyweight boxer Jimmy Braddock (Russell Crowe) in 1928 asks his wife, Mae (Renée Zellweger), to watch a fight. She says no because “Every time you get hit, I get hit.” He wins and supports his growing family in style.
But in time, the Great Depression and losses in the ring result in Braddock working on the docks to support his family. Then his manager, Joe Gould (Paul Giamatti), arranges a fight that Braddock wins. Against all odds, he fights Max Baer, the heavyweight champion of the world in 1935 who has already killed two men in the ring.
It becomes one of the most memorable fights in boxing history. Damon Runyon (1880-1946), an American journalist and writer, dubbed Braddock “Cinderella Man” for his fairy-tale comeback, and the moniker stuck.
My first reaction to Cinderella Man was that, if the Academy Awards were held tomorrow, this film would sweep most of the categories. We never doubt that Russell Crowe and Renée Zellweger are Jimmy and Mae. Paul Giamatti deserves every award he can garner as Joe Gould. Director Ron Howard and co-writer Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind) have waved their biographical wand once again to produce a stirring motion picture.
But I neither understand nor like the sport of boxing. Jim Wall, past editor and film critic for Christian Century, told me, “As a critic, I judge the boxing metaphor in terms of how it is used: to exploit the so-called sport (a sport which I also do not like) or to explore struggle and growth, and, in some cases, redemption and sacrifice.”
Filmmaker Charles Carner (Judas, Vanishing Point) said, “My brother was a boxer. Those who like it love it. Those who don’t, it can’t be explained to them. They call boxing ‘The Sweet Science’ because, at its best, it is not about who is physically stronger. It’s about who is smarter and has the greater heart.”
One of the film’s themes is the essential vocation of man, as defined by both nature and society. The Depression was a time when many men left their families, convinced they had failed as men. Jimmy Braddock gave them hope and dignity: He never gave up.
Cinderella Man is about the love of a man for his family. Some intensely human and moving parts, in addition to many brutal boxing sequences.
KICKING & SCREAMING
KICKING & SCREAMING (A-2, PG): Phil Weston (Will Ferrell) agrees to coach the soccer team on which his son, Sam (Dylan McLaughlin), plays. Regarding sports, Phil has always disappointed his father, Buck (Robert Duvall), the owner of some sporting goods stores.
When Phil is at his dad’s house for a cookout, he meets a neighbor his dad dislikes intensely: Mike Ditka, former coach of the Chicago Bears. Phil invites Ditka to coach the team with him.
Let the games begin. Having fun becomes a thing of the past: Phil projects his own dreams of winning on the team and drives his son to despair. Ditka helps get the kids in shape but, at a certain point, even he can’t bear Phil.
Kicking & Screaming is a perfect title for this mildly amusing film about sports dads from hell. Although it’s not a particularly good movie, obsessive sports parents can view it as a morality tale, while their kids enjoy the fancy foot- and head-work demonstrated by the kids on the team.
Sports parents who tend to get emotional, take note: It’s only a game. Through the sophomoric (and puerile) humor of the film, parents and caregivers may realize that extreme eagerness not only looks silly but also can put their relationships with their children at risk. Comic violence; crude language and humor.
CRASH (L, R): Graham (Don Cheadle), a detective in Los Angeles, is called to a scene where a body has been found. When he realizes he knows the victim, the film flashes back to the impact of many chance encounters that happened the day before.
At a mall in the San Fernando Valley, Anthony (Ludacris) and Peter (Larenz Tate) are two young black men who talk about racism and steal the SUV of a well-dressed white couple, Jean (Sandra Bullock) and Rick (Brendan Fraser). While driving the stolen car, Anthony and Peter hit an Asian man and disagree about what to do. Later, Jean complains to her husband that the man changing the locks on their home (Michael Pena) might be a gang member.
Meanwhile, an elderly Iranian immigrant (Shaun Toub) and his daughter shop for a gun to protect their small grocery store. The owner of the gun shop (Jack McGee) insults their ethnicity as well as the man’s inability to speak English well.
Two cops stop a couple in an SUV, even though they know it’s not the one that was stolen. The racist cop (Matt Dillon) molests the wife (Thandie Newton) as he frisks her while the other cop (Ryan Phillippe) and the husband (Terrence Dashon Howard) watch in disgust.
Crash is directed and co-written by Academy Award nominee Paul Haggis (Million Dollar Baby), who won Emmys and a Humanitas Award (thirtysomething). Haggis crashes people together in the anonymity of the big city guided only by chaos theory and the butterfly effect played out against the backdrop of Nativity scenes and the cross.
On the surface, Crash seems to be about race. But I think it is about the struggle for community over individualism, redemption over damnation, and conscience, choices and their consequences over randomness. Likely to be a contender for awards; some problem language, violence and sexual situations.
MEDICINE COMMERCIALS: In addition to the continual barrage of ads for over-the-counter medicines, we’ve all seen those annoying direct-to-consumer prescription-medicine commercials about such pills as Nexium, Zocor, Lipitor, Prilosec, Zoloft, Claritin, Levitra and Cialis. Recently, there are the stylistic film-noir ads about Flonase.
Have you ever gone to your doctor and asked for a medication you saw on television? I did once, only to be told that the side effects were very serious for someone like myself who has multiple sclerosis. Did you ever notice how healthy and well-off the people in prescription medicine ads look?
The message is, of course, if you take this medication, you will be well and comfortable, too. But the most important aspect of these commercials is the fast-talking narration at the end about all the harmful side effects, including death, that might occur, “So be sure to ask your doctor if ___ is right for you.”
Pharmaceutical companies spend millions of dollars lobbying Congress to influence health-care issues and receive FDA approval. (In 2000, it was reported to be $237 million.) Sometimes the very medications that were supposed to make us happy and pain-free have to be withdrawn. This happened in 2004 with the anti-inflammatory drug Vioxx, which we learned may double our risk for heart attacks.
In 2004, two Viagra commercials were ordered to be withdrawn as well because they did not mention the purpose of the drug (to treat erectile dysfunction) or its major side effects. Newer drug ads for this condition are very explicit, offering more information than many of us ever wanted to know or learn about in our living rooms.
When these commercials air on TV, some people change the channel, others knit. And some take a bathroom break or get a snack (because other commercials have made them hungry). But some hopeful people jot down the name of the medication, which is exactly what the drug companies want us to do.