As we sit here on the edge of one year, and on the cusp of another, it's come time to reflect on all that 2015 has brought us, and everything that 2016 may have in-store. Our social feeds are filled with tales of triumph and sorrow, as our friends and colleagues both celebrate their victories, and mourn their losses. It's always this time of year, among the melancholy post-Christmas days when the "holiday high" wears off, that everyone either can't turn the calendar quick enough, or they wish to bask in a year of successes that they hope will never end. For our family, this was a great year - and professionally, it was likely my best year, maybe not from a financial standpoint, but one of adventure and accomplishment in all of the areas in which I'm hoping to achieve. Time for a little horn-tooting, because it's all downhill from here...
Unless it's a comedy, I generally don't go seeking out "sports" movies these days. Thing is, over the past few decades, some of the best dramatic tales with a sports background have all starred one man - Kevin Costner - and his path largely started with the dramatic comedy, BULL DURHAM (though he did do a film about cycling back in '85). When I interviewed Costner back in February, just days prior to the theatrical debut of McFARLAND, USA, he pointed out something that rings true about the entire "sports movie" genre: "The best ones are about people, and there’s less sports in it than you would imagine." That rings exceptionally true with McFARLAND, USA, which I initially reviewed on the day of its theatrical debut, February 20, 2015.
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to visit Los Angeles to sit down for conversations with the folks behind The Walt Disney Studios' McFARLAND, USA. After seeing the film and then getting to know the real-life individuals that inspired the film and the creative team that brought it to life on-screen, I heartily recommended it here on THE ROCK FATHER. The film was a small one by Disney standards, and it not only outperformed expectations at the box office, but has won over a dedicated and diverse audience in just a few months since release. Now, on June 2, 2015, McFARLAND, USA will come home on Digital HD, Blu-ray and DVD.
This past weekend, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures released McFARLAND, USA - Niki Caro's latest film, inspired-by-the-true-story of Jim White and his 1987 McFarland Cougars Cross-Country Team. The film led the pack for new films in theaters this weekend, coming out ahead of THE DUFF and HOT TUB TIME MACHINE 2 to finish fourth at the box office overall - a successful debut that found McFARLAND, USA pulling in over $1.3M more than expectations led by positive reviews and great word-of-mouth. While I've covered the film extensively here on THE ROCK FATHER this month, there's one group we've yet to hear from, and one that appropriately closes out my reports from the #McFarlandUSAEvent - the seven young actors who play the runners on-screen - led by the coaching of Kevin Costner as Jim White. During the recent press days for McFARLAND, USA, I had a chance to join a group of fellow writers in meeting with actors Michael Aguero (Damacio Diaz), Sergio Avelar (Victor Puentes), Hector Duran (Johnny Sameniego), Rafael Martinez (David Diaz), Johnny Ortiz (Jose Cardenas), Carlos Pratts (Thomas Valles) and Ramiro Rodriguez (Danny Diaz).
"Real stories and real people. Go to the real community. Ask for their collaboration. Keep my eyes and my ears open and my mouth shut." That was filmmaker Niki Caro's statement as to how she works best as applied to her latest effort, McFARLAND, USA, which opens in theaters everywhere this weekend. After being in-development through several companies over the years, the WHALE RIDER director took the reigns after it had landed at Disney some years back, facing down the daunting task of bringing to life the true story of one of California's greatest sports dynasties - one layered with cultural and economic intricacies. After numerous writers tried their hand at reworking the script, McFARLAND, USA finally took shape from a screenplay by Christopher Cleveland, Bettina Gilois and Grant Thompson, with Kevin Costner (whom I interviewed here) returning to the sports film genre to inhabit the role of Jim White (interviewed here) - the coach that led a team of novice runners to a cross-country championship in 1987, laying the groundwork for more to come in the decades that have followed.
There have been plenty of "based on a true story" inspirational sports films over the years, but it's a rare feat to be truly inspired, and come face-to-face with the real-life subjects whose story has received the Hollywood treatment. For me, that's exactly what happened earlier this month after visiting the Disney lot to attend a screening of McFARLAND, USA, the new film from Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures (out this Friday). While the film itself is no doubt special, my connection to it was made stronger after meeting Coach Jim White (played by Kevin Costner, who I interviewed here) along with the Diaz brothers - David, Damacio and Danny, all of whom will see their lives hit theaters everywhere this weekend.