One day, while working in the newsroom of a small local paper, the editor called out, “Who wants to review a movie?”
Despite the fact that I was primarily a sports reporter, I leaped from my seat, arm waving like a sugared-up third grader. “I’ll do it!” I cried, hoping he’d pick me. Then, I noticed no one else in the newsroom had responded. My fellow reporters remained hunched over their keyboards, solemn determination creased on their faces.
The editor stared at me, looking rather weary in retrospect, and held out a thick white packet. Inside, I discovered glossy actor headshots, bios, a synopsis of the film, information on the director, and previously published quotes made by those involved in the making of the film. The movie was called Love & Basketball which I thought fortuitous since it was sports-themed. Despite the cheesy title, it turned out to be a pretty good flick. While there was the obvious romance angle, the story was also about gender inequality in sports, the idea that women can be judged as being too athletic, and the choices we must make when deciding where we want to go in life.
I arrived at the cavernous cinema where only a few other reporters were seated with their writing pads and tiny pen lights. Then the music started. I picked a chair, settled in, and marveled at the idea that I was getting paid to go to the movies.
I mention this because I came across a film recently while stuffed into a Delta seat. I was returning from a vacation and faced hours shoe-horned in with nothing to do. I passed one movie numerous times as I scrolled through the offerings, believing I would be bored by the premise. It was a sports film, which, considering that most of my life has been devoted to the sports world as both a reporter and an amateur sports official, would certainly seem to be in my bailiwick. And yet, I didn’t want to watch it. Now, don’t get me wrong, sports themes have given us some of the greatest movies ever made: Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, Raging Bull, Rocky, Rudy, A League of Their Own, and Hoosiers, to name a few.
And yet, it took me a while to decide to watch American Underdog. I already knew the story of NFL quarterback Kurt Warner, a stand-up guy who was stocking grocery shelves after not a single pro team drafted him out of college. Despite his inauspicious start, he would go on to play 12 years in the league, leading the St. Louis Rams to a Super Bowl victory and claiming MVP honors. He would also take the lowly Arizona Cardinals—my long-time team of choice— to the Super Bowl where they fell to the Pittsburg Steelers in a 27-23 thriller. Warner was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2017. Add to this Warner’s wife: a former active-duty Marine, divorced with two kids—one with disabilities—and their improbable love story. Clearly the plot was a good one. But I figured it would be the usual saccharine take on a humble man making good.
But I was wrong.
Here’s my mini review.
The Kurt Warner Story
American Underdog tells story of Kurt Warner’s improbable rise to stardom, a journey with an ending only he could see. His dogged determination is beautifully portrayed by actor Zachary Levi, who is so strikingly similar to Warner that by the end of the film he has become the NFL Super Bowl MVP. At 6’4″ Levi carries himself like an athlete and he mastered Warner’s understated, humble demeanor.
Academy Award-winner Anna Paquin plays Warner’s love interest Brenda, a commitment-shy, former active-duty Marine and single mom. Paquin captures Brenda’s reticence as she tries to discourage Warner’s affections and her strength as she deals with personal tragedy.
As a former sports reporter, I found the technical skills involved in editing the film’s on-field scenes exceptional, especially the parts where shots were expertly intermixed with actual footage of the real Warner on the field. The seamless highlights were a joy to watch.
I have only one small gripe: Levi was clearly a bit old to be playing a college football player in the beginning of the film, but I can’t see a way around that, because it was his performance that made the movie great.
American Underdog is an wonderful film, even for those who are not sports fans. I highly recommend it!
The past and present collide when a tenacious reporter seeks information on an eleventh century magician…and uncovers more than she bargained for.
February 2, 2022
In 1939, archeologists uncovered a tomb at the Northern Arizona site called Ridge Ruin. The man, bedecked in fine turquoise jewelry and intricate bead work, was surrounded by wooden swords with handles carved into animal hooves and human hands. The Hopi workers stepped back from the grave, knowing what the Moochiwimi sticks meant. This man, buried nine hundred years earlier, was a magician.
Former television journalist Kate Butler hangs on to her investigative reporting career by writing freelance magazine articles. Her research on The Magician shows he bore some European facial characteristics and physical qualities that made him different from the people who buried him. Her quest to discover The Magician’s origin carries her back to a time when the high desert world was shattered by the birth of a volcano and into the present-day dangers of archeological looting where black market sales of antiquities can lead to murder.
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