12 MIGHTY ORPHANS (2021)

June 10, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. Ty Roberts is a native Texan and Austin-based director committed to bringing Texas tales to the big screen. His previous film was THE IRON ORCHARD (2018) on wildcatting, and this time he tackles the 2007 Jim Dent novel, “Twelve Mighty Orphans: The Inspiring True Story of the Mighty Mites who Ruled Texas Football”. The film is inspired by the true events of a legendary Texas coach and his development of a football program at an orphanage, the Masonic Home and School in Fort Worth. Set in 1938 as the nation is still rebounding from the Great Depression and the area has earned the label, “the Dust Bowl”, the film opens at halftime of the state championship game, as the Mighty Mites limp into the locker room, battered from the first half.

The film immediately flashes back to 6 months earlier as Rusty Russell (Luke Wilson) and his wife Juanita (Vinessa Shaw) arrive at the orphanage. Both are teachers and Rusty is also tasked with starting a football program from scratch. “Scratch” may be too nice of description, as the home has no field and none of the boys have ever played the sport. If that’s not enough challenge, there is also Frank Wynn (Wayne Knight), the abusive director of the orphanage who undermines Rusty at every turn and uses his wooden paddle as a demented form of discipline. This was a different era, and it’s heartbreaking to see how orphans were treated not just as castaways from society, but also as free labor so Wynn could personally profit.

Rusty Russell’s commitment is a key to the story, and although he suffers from post-war PTSD (with flashbacks), he brings structure and humanity and teamwork to a group of boys who had none. We learn that Rusty was also an orphan, and this helps us understand why this mission was so important to him and Juanita. Martin Sheen appears to be having fun co-starring as Doc Hall, an alcoholic who not only serves as Rusty’s assistant, but who also served the home for 30 years without ever taking a paycheck. It’s Doc Hall who was responsible for luring Rusty to the home, and he’s very supportive of building the program for the boys.

The sports movie clichés are numerous, but this is the kind of story and movie that we desperately want to like – an inspirational story with clearly defined good people and villains. Boys stigmatized by society goes beyond the underdogs against-all-odds. Although they had some success on the field, the real message here is self-respect and education for those who felt superior. Co-writer Lane Garrison plays the arrogant coach of the powerhouse Polytechnic, and though the performance is a bit of a caricature, his attitude speaks volumes about the mentality of the times. Oscar winner Robert Duvall (now 90 years old) makes a brief appearance as a Freemason, who was also an orphan.

Historical significance resonates here as “Fort Worth Star-Telegram” publisher (and early Fort Worth mover and shaker) Amon Carter (played here by Treat Williams) was so enamored with the “Mighty Mites” that he got President Franklin Roosevelt to intercede on behalf of the boys when controversy struck. The Masonic home closed in 2005, but its impact remains today. One of the featured players on the team was Hardy Brown (Jake Austin Walker) who went on to serve in the Marines, and later play professional football. Rusty Russell went on to coach at SMU, and became a legend thanks to his creation of the “spread offense”.

The film was co-written by director Ty Roberts, Lane Garrison, and Kevin Meyer, and the script takes some liberties with history and the source material from author Jim Dent. Mr. Dent also wrote the 1999 book “The Junction Boys”, and spent many years as a sportswriter covering the Dallas Cowboys. On a personal level, he faced serious consequences from his run-in with the law over his many DWI convictions, and remains incarcerated today. The post-credit sequence features actual photographs and a real life update of each of the players and the key people involved. Sure, some of the acting is a bit stilted, the dialogue often unnatural, and the football sequence heavily edited, but we do find the story uplifting at a time when such stories are quite welcome.

The film opens in Texas on June 11, 2021 and then on June 18 nationwide.

***NOTE: Former Texas Longhorns defensive standout Breckyn Hager appears in the film, and thanks to one of my favorite Austinites for the heads-up

WATCH THE TRAILER


JURASSIC PARK 3D (1993, 2013)

April 8, 2013

JP There are a few truly awe-inspiring moments in movie history. One of the most memorable occurs when Dorothy steps out of her Black & White farm house and into the full color wonderland of Oz (the original Wizard of Oz). Not far behind is our first glimpse of the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. Director Steven Spielberg brilliantly focused on the stunned reactions of Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Dr. Ellie Attler (Laura Dern). We smiled because we knew their reactions mirrored ours! Now, twenty years later, the film has been re-released with a very effective 3D re-mastering.

The movie has its place in Hollywood history for its revolutionary use of George Lucas’ ILM CGI and the animatronics and visual effects under the supervision of Ray Winston. This was no ordinary science fiction special-effects movie. It was a very interesting, entertaining, thrilling story that brought to life the plastic dinosaur toys of kids and dinosaur dreams of JP4curious adults. This was light years from the Ray Harryhausen stop-action dinosaurs we had seen before. The dinosaurs in Jurassic Park had back-stories, childhoods, ferocious roars and a realistic look that tied right into our childhood fantasies.

Never-before-seen special effects would be enough to set this one apart, but it’s the story and characters that draw us in and elevate the movie to classic status. John Hammond is a very likable, little old rich man played by Sir Richard Attenborough. In fact, Attenborough is genuinely such a nice guy, he was cast as Kris Kringle in the 1994 re-make of Miracle on 34th Street. He is also an Oscar winning director for Gandhi (1982) and ironically beat out Spielberg (E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial) that year. Attenborough also directed A Bridge Too Far (1973), A Chorus Line (1985) and Chaplin (1992); plus, one of my favorite hidden gems: Magic (1978). Unfortunately, Attenborough, now almost 90 years old, has recently been moved into hospice for health reasons.

JP2 John Hammond and his team of scientists have taken “dino DNA” and brought life to dinosaurs, previously 65 million years extinct. Hammonds’ instincts as a showman lead him to develop a kind of amusement park where people can come and see his dinosaur creations in a natural habitat. Facing a lawsuit … what could go wrong?? … his investors bring in a team of specialists to inspect the park. Dr. Grant, Dr. Attler and Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) take the tour with Hammond’s grandchildren (Joseph Mazzello and Ariana Richards) and a bean counter played by Martin Ferrero. Of course, things go terribly wrong thanks to a sub-plot involving the park’s computer guru played by Wayne Knight (Newman from “Seinfeld”). Don’t miss the photo of J Robert Oppenheimer (the atomic bomb creator) on Nedry’s computer monitor. Samuel L Jackson has a classic line of dialogue, but also seems to be prepping for his role in Deep Blue Sea (1999). The other key player is the park’s game warden played terrifically by the late Bob Peck … he mutters the “clever girl” line.

JP3 Real life Paleontoligist Jack Horner worked as an adviser on the film and was the inspiration for the Dr. Grant character. It’s also interesting to note that there was quite a bidding war for the rights …even before writer Michael Crichton had finished the manuscript. When Spielberg won the rights, he hired Crichton to write the screenplay, and David Koepp was brought in for the final version. Crichton is also known for Westworld (1973), Twister (1996) and The Andromeda Strain (1971). Mr. Koepp is known for his screenplays that include Mission Impossible (1996), Panic Room (2002) and Spider-Man (2002). And of course, the majestic score was composed by the great John Williams, a frequent Spielberg collaborator.

JP5 Jurassic Park was nominated for and won three Oscars: Best Sound Effects Editing, Best Visual Effects and Best Sound. Many believe Jurassic Park should have nominated for the Best Picture, but I doubt Mr. Spielberg much cares. See, he released another movie that same year… Schindler’s List … which did win the Best Picture Oscar. Many ask about the child actors from Jurassic Park. Tim was played by Joseph Mazzello, who was most recently seen in TV’s “Justified”, as the snake-charming traveling preacher. Mr. Mazzello has also appeared in The Social Network, and the mini-series “The Pacific”. Lex was played by Ariana Richards and she won the role based on her amazing ability to show and express fear … and her believability as a teenage hacker. Ms. Richards has focused more on her work as an artist, but does act periodically.

Jurassic Park is definitely one to experience on the biggest screen possible with the clearest sound possible. This 3D re-mastering is worth the price of admission and I enjoyed seeing the look of awe in the eyes of a few youngsters in the theatre. No need to wait for Jurassic Park 4, which is scheduled for release in 2014 … go experience the original in its full big screen glory!

**NOTE: It’s always fun to see kids experience the Jurassic Park dinosaurs for the first time, but I like to warn parents that there are two very intense, terrifying sequences: the first T-Rex attack in the rain, and the kitchen scene with the Raptors chasing the kids. Young kids need to be pretty tough to make it through those scenes.

Below is the newly issued trailer for the 3D version.  I would not recommend watching it if you have not seen the movie:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hke5SxKzkbc