Review: ‘The Long Game’ (2024), starring Jay Hernandez, Julian Works, Jaina Lee Ortiz, Oscar Nuñez, Paulina Chávez, Cheech Marin and Dennis Quaid

May 20, 2024

by Carla Hay

José Julián (seated, second from left), Jay Hernandez (standing, at left) and Dennis Quaid (standing, at right) in “The Long Game” (Photo courtesy of Mucho Mas Media)

“The Long Game” (2024)

Directed by Julio Quintana

Culture Representation: Taking place mostly in Texas, in 1956, the dramatic film “The Long Game” (based on true events) features a Latin and white cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A former military man, who works as a high school superintendent, takes a group of five teens from the high school and helps transform them into the first all-Hispanic golfing team to compete in a U.S. national golf tournament for high schoolers. 

Culture Audience: “The Long Game” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners, sports underdog stories, and historical drama about race relations in America.

Miguel Angel Garcia, Christian Gallegos, Gregory Diaz IV, Julian Works and José Julián in “The Long Game” (Photo by Anita Gallón/Mucho Mas Media)

“The Long Game” follows a familiar formula of sports underdog movies based on true stories, but the cast’s admirable performances make this inspirational drama worth watching. Many viewers will learn something about the Mustangs golf team that broke racial barriers.

Directed by Julio Quintana, “The Long Game” was written by Quintana, Jennifer C. Stetson and Paco Farias. The movie’s adapted screenplay is based on Humberto G. Garcia’s 2010 non-fiction book “Mustang Miracle.” “The Long Game” had its world premuere at the 2023 SXSW Film and TV Festival, where it won the Narrative Spotlight Audience Award.

“The Long Game” begins by showing the mentor who’s the story’s main protagonist. It’s 1956, and upstanding JB Peña (played by Jay Hernandez), a former infantry soldier in the U.S. Marines, has moved with his loving and supportive wife Lucy Peña (played by Jaina Lee Ortiz) to the small city of Del Rio, Texas. Like many residents of Texas, JB is of Mexican American heritage. He was born in the United States. JB has taken a job as a superintendent at San Felipe High School.

But the real reason why JB (who is an avid golfer) wants to live in Del Rio is so he can join the prestigious Del Rio Golf Club, which is considered one of the best private golf clubs in Texas. The problem for JB is that this is a country club that has white members only, and they don’t want to let anyone who isn’t white join the club. Like many places that have racist policies, no one who’s responsible for those policies comes right and out and admits that they’re racist.

When JB inquires with club leader Don Glenn (played by Richard Robichaux) about joining the club, Don tells JB what JB’s chances are of being accepted into the club: “I have to consider other members, and they’re just not used to seeing a Mexican on the golf course.” The only people who aren’t white who are allowed on the golf course for this racist club are those who are in subservient roles doing low-paying menial jobs, such as caddies, food servers and sanitation workers.

One of these caddies is a teenager named Joe Treviño (played by Julian Works), the rebellious and unpredictable leader of a tight-knit group of five friends who are all Hispanic. An early scene in the movie shows Joe in a street alley, chasing off three white teenage boys and throwing a fence picket at them because the white teenagers were harassing him.

Joe’s friends see the commotion when they arrive at the scene. Joe tells his pals about the fleeing teenage bullies: “They didn’t call me a wetback. They didn’t call me anything, but I bet they were thinking it.”

The other four teens in Joe’s circle of friends are dependable Lupe Felan (played by José Julián); obedient Gene Vasquez (played by Gregory Diaz IV); friendly Mario Lomas (played by Christian Gallegos); and easygoing Felipe Romero (played by Miguel Angel Garcia). Gene is the one in the group who is the most likely to follow rules and is the most nervous about getting into trouble.

Later, while Joe is working at the club’s golf course, Joe notices that a young white man, whose father is a club member, has kept the cash that was meant to be a tip for one of the Hispanic caddies. As revenge, Joe urinates on the privileged family’s car when the father and son aren’t looking.

JB first sees Joe and his pals under less-than-ideal circumstances on the day that Joe is driving to meet with Don Glenn for the first time at the Del Rio Golf Club. Joe and his friends are practicing golf on a field when Joe hits a golf ball that accidentally smashes JB’s car window and causes a minor cut on JB’s face. The teens run away when they see the damage that was caused. JB decides to keep his appointment with Don Glenn anyway, despite JB’s noticeable bleeding injury. This is the meeting where JB gets rejected to join the Del Rio Golf Club.

JB has an ally in the meeting: Frank Mitchell (played by Dennis Quaid), who served in the same U.S. Marines infantry as JB. Frank is a member of the Del Rio Golf Club and is the one who set up the meeting with JB and Don. Frank’s girlfriend Gayle Baker (played by Gillian Vigman) works as a secretary at this country club. Frank is disappointed that JB won’t be accepted into the country club. However, there’s nothing Frank can do about it except voice his disapproval about this racism, in an era when the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not exist yet, and it was legal for businesses to discriminate based on race.

After the window-breaking incident, JB sees the Joe and his friends again at a school assembly, where JB is introduced as the new superintendent. That’s how JB finds out these these teens are students at the same school where he works. JB confronts the five teens, who don’t deny that they were involved in this accidental vandalism.

JB is impressed enough with Joe’s powerful golf swing to ask Joe and his friends to let JB watch them play golf. Joe is the best golfer in the group. When JB sees that the five pals have raw, untapped talent as golfers, JB comes up with an idea to make up for the teens being involved in breaking his car window: The teens can either mow his lawn on Saturdays, or they can become the first members of the San Felipe High School golf team, which will be called the Mustangs.

At first, all of the pals except for Joe choose the golf option. That’s because Joe’s father Adelio Treviño (played by Jimmy Gonzales) thinks golf is a game for pampered wimps. Adelio expects Joe to follow in his footsteps and skip college to have a working-class job. Later, Adelio does something extreme to show Joe how much Adelio disapproves of Joe wanting to play golf.

Joe changes his mind about joining the golf team after JB has a heart-to-heart talk with Joe and asks Joe what Joe really wants to do with his life. Joe joins the team, but he keeps it a secret from hs father Adelio. Joe later starts dating a classmate named Daniela (played by Paulina Chávez), who wants to become a writer and join a university writing program in Austin, Texas. Daniela thinks that Joe should get a college education in Austin too.

San Felipe High School doesn’t have the money to fund the new golf team; any coach of the team will have to be an unpaid volunteer. JB can’t quit his full-time superintendent job because he needs the money, and he doesn’t have time to be the golf team’s coach. And so, JB asks retired Frank to be the team’s coach. Frank agrees. JB is the school’s team sponsor and essentially has the role of assistant coach. Joe has a volatile temper, so Lupe is made the team’s captain.

The Mustangs play against all-white teams. JB and the Mustangs experience the expected racism, including racist comments and blatant exclusion or unfair treatment based on race. At one of the Mustangs’ first golf games, a white official reacts with surprise when he sees JB in person and says JB looks different than the official expected because JB sounded “American” on the phone. JB politely tells this racist that JB is American because he was born in the United States. Other racist reactions to JB and the team are much more hostile.

JB is fully aware that the Mustangs will be treated as outsiders by racists, so he advises the team members to assimilate when they’re in places where they will encounter racism: “I don’t want to hear Spanish on the [golf] course,” JB says. “We’ve got to look and act like we belong here.”

Frank is a white ally who sticks up for the team as much as possible. Later in the story, a law official named Judge Milton Cox (played by Brett Cullen) makes a huge decision that affects the Mustangs. JB also has to make some important decisions that will decide the fate of the team.

San Felipe High School’s Principal Guerra (played by Oscar Nuñez) is supportive and mostly stays out of the team’s way. Principal Guerra likes to appear tougher than he really is to the students. In an amusing scene, he tells JB that he doesn’t want the students to see him smile because the students are less likely to take the principal seriously if he’s seen smiling or laughing.

JB is also friendly with a Del Rio Golf Club groundskeeper named Pollo (played by Cheech Marin), who secretly lets the Mustangs practice on the property during off-hours when no one will catch them. Most of the movie’s comic relief come from Pollo and his wisecracks. JB and Pollo (and Frank, to a certain extent) treat the Mustangs as their surrogate sons. Because of the racism issues, JB and Pollo are able to speak to the team with more knowledge and experience about being Hispanic in places dominated by white people who are often racist.

“The Long Game” has some very good scenes that show an appreciation for the sport of golf. However, viewers shouldn’t expect absolute accuracy in all of the golf scenes, since the movie’s actors aren’t professional golfers, and the Mustangs are still supposed to be learning how to play golf. It’s a sports movie that’s not just about learning the game but also about learning life lessons.

The movie’s performances (with Hernandez and Works as the standouts) give “The Long Game” an emotional credibility and that makes it a solid movie, even if viewers know exactly how the story is going to end. (There are very few surprises along the way.) It’s not a groundbreaking movie, but “The Long Game” is a worthy tribute to the real-life golfers who overcame big obstacles. These are stories that need to be told and stand as examples of what perseverance and courage can be accomplish.

Mucho Mas Media released “The Long Game” in U.S. cinemas on April 12, 2024.

Review: ‘The Hill’ (2023), starring Dennis Quaid, Colin Ford, Joelle Carter, Randy Houser, Jesse Berry, Bonnie Bedelia and Scott Glenn

August 25, 2023

by Carla Hay

Colin Ford and Dennis Quaid in “The Hill” (Photo courtesy of Briarcliff Entertainment)

“The Hill” (2023)

Directed by Jeff Celentano

Culture Representation: Taking place in Texas in 1965 and 1974, the dramatic film “The Hill” (based on the true events) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Rickey Hill faces major difficulties in his goal to play for a Major League Baseball (MLB) team, including a degenerative spine disease, leg disabilities and a conservative pastor father who does everything he can to prevent him from playing baseball. 

Culture Audience: “The Hill” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching a very unique baseball story turned into formulaic mush.

Pictured clockwise from upper left: Joelle Carter, Bonnie Bedelia, Hailey Bithell, Dennis Quaid, Mason Gillett and Jesse Berry in “The Hill” (Photo courtesy of Briarcliff Entertainment)

“The Hill” is a poorly constructed faith-based biopic about disabled baseball player Rickey Hill. This long-winded and preachy drama leaves big questions unanswered about his life. The movie is also plagued with hokey dialogue and corny acting performances. Even though “The Hill” is based on real people and true events, much of this movie looks too much like a fairy tale.

Directed by Jeff Celentano, “The Hill” was written by Angelo Pizzo and Scott Marshall Smith. The movie’s total running time is 126 minutes, but the movie spends the first half spinning its wheels in boring repetition, while leaving out large chunks of Hill’s life, only to fast-forward to another part of his life in the second half and get stuck in more boring repetition. Anyone who knows what happens to Hill in real life before seeing this movie might be disappointed to find out that the most exciting highlights of his career are reduced to being an epilogue in the movie.

Hill was born in Fort Worth, Texas, on August 15, 1956. “The Hill” movie takes place in Texas, in 1965 and 1974. The first half of the movie is about his life when he was 9 years old, while the second half of the movie is about his life when he was 18. The years in between are erased and unexplained in this very flawed and tedious movie.

The movie begins in the small town of Bowie, Texas, where the Hill family is tight-knit but living in near-poverty. (“The Hill” was actually filled in Georgia.) The family patriarch is James Hill (played by Dennis Quaid), a strict and pious Baptist pastor who has a dwindling congregation of working-class people. James can be a loving husband and father, but he’s also very rigid and stubborn in wanting people to do what he thinks is best.

The other members of the family living in the same household are James’ loyal wife Helen Hill (played by Joelle Carter); 9-year-old Rickey (played by Jesse Berry); Rickey’s even-tempered older brother Robert (played by Mason Gillett), who’s about 11 or 12 years old; Rickey’s outspoken younger sister Connie (played by Hailey Bithell), who’s about 7 or 8 years old; and Helen’s pessimistic mother Lillian (played by Bonnie Bedelia, wearing a very bad wig), who is nicknamed Gram.

The movie opens with Rickey, who wears leg braces, practicing playing baseball and perfecting his body swivel so that he can throw the ball without having to strain his legs too much. Viewers later find out that Rickey also has a degenerative spine disease. A neighbor girl named Gracie Shanz (played by Mila Harris) watches Rickey, who tells her, “Girls don’t know spit about baseball.” Gracie, who’s about the same age as Rickey, responds by saying that Rickey won’t play in the major leagues. Gracie also calls Rickey her “boyfriend.”

Gracie’s got her own personal problems. Her father Earl Shanz (played by James Devoti) is an abusive alcoholic. Gracie’s mother/Earl’s wife Carol Shanz (played by Monica Louwerens Kenyon) is passive and is too scared to do anything about Earl’s abuse. The Shanz family members are among the small congregation (less than 50 people) attending the church led by James, who is quite pompous at work and at home.

During a church service, while James is delivering a sermon, he notices that a middle-aged, tobacco-chewing woman named Mrs. Babbitt (played by Taylor St. Clair) is spitting her tobacco juice into a small bowl on the church floor but her spit frequently misses the bowl and is leaving brown tobacco puddles on the floor. Meanwhile, during the same service, Earl is smoking a cigarette. James thinks these actions are very disrespectful in a place of worship.

James stops the sermon to politely ask Mrs. Babbitt and Earl to stop spitting and smoking in the church. Mrs. Babbitt seems annoyed by this request but stops. However, Earl is defiant and keeps smoking. James gets irritated and scolds Earl, by saying: “I am not going to let the Lord’s house by soiled by Satan!” Earl gets up and begins to argue with James in a bullying way. Earl eventually storms out of the church.

Earl isn’t the only congregant who wants to smoke in church, so James knows he could be alienating other members of his congregation with his rule of “no smoking and no spitting in church.” Lillian is quick to warn James that he can’t afford to lose congregants whose donations they need to keep the church running and to provide the Hill family with a steady income. James says he’s willing to take that risk if it means keeping this place of worship as sacred as possible.

At home, around the dinner table, Lillian expresses her disgust that James’ low income can barely feed the family. Rickey also needs an operation that the family can’t afford. Lillian berates James for not having a job that pays more money, while James gets defensive and lectures Lillian by telling her she doesn’t have enough faith in God. Helen tries to keep the peace and doesn’t like to see her mother and husband arguing, but Helen usually sides with James.

James knows that Rickey loves baseball, but James discourages Rickey’s dream to one day play for a Major League Baseball team. In fact, James thinks Rickey shouldn’t be playing baseball at all, because James thinks it will lead to getting Rickey getting seriously injured. Instead, James tries to instill into Rickey that Rickey’s calling in life is to become a pastor, just like James.

One day, Rickey and Robert are playing baseball in open field. Instead of a baseball bat and a ball, Rickey is using a stick and a rock. He hits the rock so hard and far, it breaks a side rear view mirror of an empty car parked dozens of feet away. The car belongs to Ray Clemmons (played by Randy Houser), the owner of a local scrapyard.

Rickey is a very honest boy who believes in confessing to causing this damage and making amends. When Rickey and Robert go over to Ray’s place to tell him what happened and offer to pay for the repairs, Ray is isn’t angry but is impressed with Rickey’s baseball skills. Ray asks Rickey to use the stick to hit the rock again from the same distance. Rickey does it again, this time causing the car’s front window to crack. Because he owns a scrapyard, Ray tells Rickey and Robert that he already has many other car parts that can replace the parts that are damaged.

James has become an unpopular leader in his own church, so the Hill family moves away before James can be officially fired. It’s also implied that they relocated to avoid paying a lot of James’ unpaid bills in the area. With no new home or new job prospects lined up, the Hill family packs up and goes on a road trip to an uncertain future. Rickey and Gracie say goodbye to each other, but you just know from the way this movie is made, Rickey and Gracie will see each other again.

“The Hill” is the type of movie that piles on cornball situation after cornball situation. While driving on a deserted road, the car runs out of gas. And then, the car immediately gets a flat tire. Just as James says out loud that things couldn’t get worse, it starts to rain heavily. The family has a laugh over it, in the way that people laugh when they have nothing left to lose.

An elderly couple named Linda Meyers (played by Judy Leavell) and Josh Meyers (played by Wilbur Fitzgerald) happen to be driving by, and they come to rescue of this unlucky family. Linda and Josh are generous to let the Hill family stay in their home temporarily. James tells Linda and Josh that he’s a pastor. And it just so happens that Linda knows about a church that’s looking for a pastor. Whoever gets the job will also get to live with any family members in a house that’s owned by the church.

James immediately accepts the position before seeing the church and the living quarters. As soon as Linda says that the job has been vacant for a year, you just know that this job is too good to be true. And sure enough, the church and accompanying house are run-down dumps. With no other place to go and no other job offers, James decides he can rebuild the church and the house.

Unfortunately, most of Rickey’s childhood depicted in “The Hill” is a back-and-forth slog of him practicing baseball with Robert in nearby play areas, and Rickey being scolded by James for playing baseball. Rickey is desperate to play on his school’s baseball team, but he needs a signed permission slip from his father. James also gets upset when he sees Rickey has been collecting baseball cards, which James thinks are sinful because they represent “worshipping false idols.”

A teacher at Rickey’s school named Coach Don (as David Marshall Silverman) notices Rickey’s special talent and personally goes over to the Hill household to try to convince James to let Rickey play baseball for the school’s team. However, James stubbornly refuses to change his mind about not giving permission for Rickey to play any baseball. Coach Don, who says he used to be a preacher too, berates James for “crushing” Rickey’s soul and squandering the blessing of Rickey’s athletic talent. There’s more than one scene where James physically punishes Rickey for playing baseball.

“The Hill” also has the expected scenes of Rickey being bullied by other boys, who think he’s delusional for wanting to play baseball. A mean-spirited brat named Quinn (played by Tyler Johnson) is the chief bully. However, several other local boys admire Rickey and are rooting for him to succeed. Robert is also a very loyal brother who protects Rickey from the bullies as much as he can.

James is overly strict but he isn’t a complete tyrant. He is genuinely concerned about Rickey’s health. James clearly has unspoken guilt that he’s powerless to prevent Rickey’s health issues and can’t afford to pay for Rickey’s medical treatment, so James overcompensates by using religion as a way to wield power over his family. After the Hill family finds out that Rickey needs an operation that the family can’t afford, the movie shows the efforts made by the family’s church and other people in the community to raise money for the operation.

The Hill family household is oppressive in many ways, but there’s also a lot of love in the family. A tender scene happens early in the movie when Rickey and Robert go to a local diner to buy one of James’ favorite meals as a surprise gift: a hamburger and a soda, using money that the boys saved up. James is genuinely touched by this loving gesture and shows appreciation for his sons’ thoughtfulness.

For all the time and repetitive effort that “The Hill” puts into showing how much James blocks and discourages Rickey from playing baseball, the movie then does an awkwardly abrupt fast-forward to Rickey (played by Colin Ford) in his last year of high school in 1974. He’s 18 years old and a star player on his school’s baseball team.

What happened during all those years between Rickey being a dejected kid who wasn’t allowed to play baseball to being a star baseball player for his high school? Who coached him during this crucial development period? Rickey being 18 presumably means he no longer needed a parent’s permission to be on a baseball team. But how did he get medical clearance from a doctor to play for his school’s team? Don’t expect “The Hill” to answer any of those questions.

Instead, the last half of the movie drags out with MLB hopeful Rickey wanting to be discovered and chosen for a team during MLB tryouts. And what do you know: Gracie (played by Siena Bjornerud) just happens to have moved to the same area, so now she and Rickey can reunite and fall in love. During this time when Rickey hopes to be recruited to the major leagues, James has refused to watch Rickey play any baseball games. However, Rickey’s mother Helen and siblings Robert (played by Ryan Dinning) and Connie (played by Carina Worm) are supportive spectators at Rickey’s games.

During the MLB tryouts, Rickey catches the eye of MLB scout Red Murff (played by Scott Glenn), who gives very stereotypical tough-but-tender pep talks. And there’s plenty of preaching and praying in “The Hill” too. A lot of this sanctimonious talk ranges from generic to extremely sappy. The baseball game scenes aren’t very interesting, and neither are the acting performances in this bloated biography.

“The Hill” treats Rickey’s medical issues as pesky annoyances. Any excruciating pain he experiences are depicted with some superficial grimaces and groans, some limps and some clutching of his back. There’s a scene in his childhood where Rickey breaks off his leg braces himself and then claims he feels no pain in his legs.

Everything in “The Hills” looks fake, which is a disservice to the real-life physical agony that this talented baseball player experienced. Because the movie ends when Rickey is 18, it cuts off right before the most fascinating part of his baseball journey. Although “The Hill” certainly has an inspirational story, the way that this dreadful dud tells this story is by hollowing it out and replacing a lot of meaningful parts with surface-level preaching and cringeworthy dialogue.

Briarcliff Entertainment released “The Hill” in U.S. cinemas on August 25, 2023.

Review: ‘Strays’ (2023), starring the voices of Will Ferrell, Jamie Foxx, Isla Fisher and Randall Park

August 17, 2023

by Carla Hay

Reggie (voiced by Will Ferrell), Maggie (voiced by Isla Fisher), Hunter (voiced by Randall Park) and Bug (voiced by Jamie Foxx) in “Strays” (Photo by Chuck Zlotnick/Universal Pictures)

“Strays” (2023)

Directed by Josh Greenbaum

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the comedy film “Strays” features a cast of dogs and a predominantly white group of people (with some African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Four stray dogs band together to get revenge on the sleazy and abusive man who abandoned one of the stray dogs.

Culture Audience: “Strays” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and anyone who doesn’t mind watching intentionally vulgar comedies about adorable animals that have some sweetness with the raunchiness.

Reggie (voiced by Will Ferrell) and Will Forte in “Strays” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

The purpose of “Strays” is to disrupt the image that people have of movies where cute animals talk. It’s the “Jackass” of talking animal movies: crude, comedic camaraderie. If you can’t tolerate a lot of jokes about bodily functions, then avoid this film.

Directed by Josh Greenbaum and written by Dan Perrault, “Strays” has been very clear in its marketing that this movie is not a “family-friendly film” that’s appropriate for people of all ages. This is most definitely a very adult-oriented film for adults who aren’t easily offended when watching movies filled with cursing, gross-out scenes involving body waste, and explicit talk about sex. The fact that domesticated dogs who talk like humans are supposed to be the source of all this raunch is the whole point of the movie.

In “Strays” (which takes place in an unnamed U.S. city but was filmed in and around Stone Mountain, Georgia), viewers are first introduced to the movie’s narrator. He’s an optimistic and eager-to-please Border Terrier (voiced by Will Ferrell), who has lived his entire life with a loser named Doug (played by Will Forte), who never gave this dog an official name. Instead, Doug calls the dog horrible names that usually have the word “shit” in the name. (In real life, this Border Terrier is a female named Sophie.)

In the beginning of the movie, bachelor Doug is unemployed and living in a messy house. Doug spends his days and nights getting stoned and masturbating. A phone conversation between Doug and his mother reveals that Doug can’t live near a school that has children, which is the movie’s way of saying that Doug is a registered sex offender. Because the Border Terrier doesn’t know any better, he thinks Doug is a great person.

Doug likes to do something that the Border Terrier thinks is a game called “Fetch and Fuck.” Doug throws a tennis ball far away, so the Border Terrier can run off and fetch the ball. Doug only does this because he hopes the dog will get lost and never find his way back home. When the dog inevitably does find his way back home, Doug says out loud in anger: “Fuck!”

One day, Doug drives the Border Terrier several miles away, into the inner part of a big city where the dog has never been to before. Doug throws the tennis ball, knowing that this dog will be too far away to walk back to the house. Doug then drives away. Doug’s heinous plan works, and the Border Terrier gets lost.

While out on the street at night, the Border Terrier meets a rebellious and tough-talking Boston Terrier named Bug (voiced by Jamie Foxx), who sees how naïve this Border Terrier is and offers to teach him how to survive on the streets as a stray dog. (This Boston Terrier’s name is real life is Benny.) Bug calls this Border Terrier the name Reggie, since that’s the name that one of Doug’s girlfriends used to call this Border Terrier.

Bug tells Reggie that humans can’t be trusted and a dog’s life is better without having an owner because the dog has the freedom to do whatever the dog wants. Bug believes that humans “brainwash” dogs into thinking that dogs need humans. Bug also tells Reggie that stray dogs shouldn’t get too close to other dogs either, because all stray dogs should eventually learn to fend for themselves. Bug’s past is eventually revealed to explain why he detests humans. One of Bug’s quirks is that he is fixated on humping inanimate objects, including furniture (Sofia Vergara voices a character called Dolores the Coach) and lawn decorations.

Soon, Reggie is introduced to two of Bug’s closest dog acquaintances: Maggie (voiced by Isla Fisher) is an Australian Shepherd who is intelligent and has a super-keen sense of smell. She is a stray because her previous owners preferred to have a puppy. (In real life, this Australian Shepherd’s name is Elsa.) Hunter (voiced by Randall Park) is a Great Dane who is insecure and often fearful. Hunter trained to be a police dog, but instead he was placed in a retirement home to be a therapy dog for the elderly residents, and he ran away. (In real life, this Great Dane’s name is Dalin.)

This motley canine quartet then goes on a series of misadventures. All other animals in the movie do not talk. The only living beings that talk in the movie are dogs and humans. An English bulldog named Chester (voiced by Jamie Demetriou) makes a brief but memorable appearance as a neurotic dog who imagines that there is an invisible, electrical fence surrounding his front yard. The four strays also encounter a German Shepherd named Rolf (voiced by Rob Riggle), a K-9 police dog who trained with Hunter at the same K-9 academy.

Two other noteworthy dog characters in the movie are a philosophical Labrador Retriever named Gus (voiced by Josh Gad) and a feisty Chihuahua named Shitstain (voiced by Harvey Guillén), who is almost as combative as Bug. And when there’s a movie about stray dogs roaming around a city, there are inevitable scenes of the dogs trying to evade capture from the animal control officers. “Strays” also has some scenes that take place in an animal shelter, where an animal control officer named Willy (played by Brett Gelman) has a job that’s similar to a jail guard/janitor.

Dennis Quaid makes a cameo portraying himself as a bird watcher. Why is Quaid in this movie? Quaid is the star of 2017’s “A Dog’s Purpose” and 2019’s “A Dog’s Journey,” two sentimental dramas about a “talking” dog (voiced by Gad) who gets reincarnated and whose thoughts are heard in voiceover narration. Quaid and Gad being cast in “Strays” is obviously the “Strays” filmmakers’ way of poking fun at family-oriented talking dog movies.

For a great deal of the story, Reggie is denial that Doug abandoned him and that Doug is not a good person. When the truth finally sinks in with Reggie, he decides that he’s going to get revenge on Doug, with the help of his new stray dog friends. If anyone watching “Strays” complains about how unrealistic this movie is, the question must be asked: “What part of ‘talking dog movie’ do you not understand?”

The comedy in “Strays” is far from award-worthy, but it does bring some laughs, and it doesn’t try to pretend to be lofty art. The biggest flaw in “Strays” is an over-reliance on jokes and gags about defecation. However, the best parts of the movie have to do with the friendship that develops between these four dogs. Hunter has a crush on Maggie, so there’s potential for more than a friendship between them.

The expressions on these dogs’ faces are enough to charm viewers who like dogs, although obviously much of what is in the movie involves visual effects using computer-generated imagery. The voice actors also play their roles capably, with Foxx and Ferrell being the obvious standouts. As long as viewers don’t have skewed or misunderstood expectations for “Strays,” it can be amusing entertainment with some genuine, laugh-out-loud moments. It’s not the type of comedy for everyone, but neither is “Jackass.”

Universal Pictures will release “Strays” in U.S. cinemas on August 18, 2023.

Review: ‘Strange World’ (2022), starring the voices of Jake Gyllenhaal, Dennis Quaid, Gabrielle Union, Lucy Liu and Jaboukie Young-White

November 23, 2022

by Carla Hay

Callisto Mal (voiced by Lucy Liu), Jaeger Clade (voiced by Dennis Quaid), Searcher Clade (voiced by Jake Gyllenhaal), Ethan Clade (voiced by Jaboukie Young-White), Meridian Clade (voiced by Gabrielle Union) and Legend in “Strange World” (Image courtesy of Disney)

“Strange World” (2022)

Directed by Don Hall; co-directed by Qui Nguyen 

Culture Representation: Taking place on and below Earth, the animated film “Strange World” features a cast of racially diverse cast of characters (white, African American, Asian) portraying the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A farmer, his wife, his 16-year-old son and their dog go with a friend on an underground mission to find out why a powerful plant that is an energy source for Earth has been infected, and the farmer’s long-lost estranged father, who lives in this unusual underworld, joins them on this mission.

Culture Audience: “Strange World” will appeal primarily to people interested in formulaic but enjoyable animated films about family, self-identity and Earth’s ecosystem.

Pictured in front row, from left to right: Ethan Clade (voiced by Jaboukie Young-White), Meridian Clade (voiced by Gabrielle Union) and Legend. Pictured in back row, from left to right: Callisto Mal (voiced by Lucy Liu), Searcher Clade (voiced by Jake Gyllenhaal) and Jaeger Clade (voiced by Dennis Quaid). (Image courtesy of Disney)

Pleasant and mostly predictable, “Strange World” is a solid option for people who want to watch an animated film with dazzling visuals and a good story about family unity and environmental protection. Disney’s “Strange World” is saved from complete mediocrity by a surprise reveal in the last third of the movie, as well as a talented voice cast that brings charisma to what otherwise would be a cookie-cutter group of characters. It’s the type of movie that people of many different generations can enjoy, but “Strange World” might bore some viewers who are looking for a more sophisticated or more complex Disney animated film.

Directed by Don Hall and co-directed by Qui Nguyen, “Strange World” (which was written by Nguyen) thankfully does not fall into the trap of overtsuffing the movie with too many characters or too many subplots. “Strange World” is a very straightfoward story that’s easy to follow. The movie is formulaic for being yet another animated film where the main character has “daddy issues.” Disney’s animated films are notorious for taking the angle of protoganists’ emotional baggage being traced back to problems with a father, whether it’s an absentee father or a father who causes conflicts.

In “Strange World,” the central character is 40-year-old farmer Searcher Clade (voiced by Jake Gyllenhaal), who lives with his family in the fictional U.S. city of Avalonia, which is described in the movie as “a modest civilization surrounded by mountains.” Searcher owns and operates a small farming operation called Clade Farms, where he lives with his smart and loving wife Meridian Clade (voiced by Gabrielle Union) and their 16-year-old son Ethan Clade (voiced by Jaboukie Young-White), who is curious, friendly and adventurous. The family also has a three-legged dog named Legend.

Searcher is a kind and emotionally supportive husband and father, but Searcher’s biggest insecurity has to do with feeling abandoned by his own father. A flashback in the beginning of “Strange World” shows a glimpse of what life was like when 15-year-old Searcher knew his father Jaeger Clade (voiced by Dennis Quaid), a macho adventurer who is obsessed with exploring Earth, especially the world’s mountains. Searcher is not as inclined to enjoy these adventures, but Jaeger makes Searcher tag along on these missions anyway. Jaeger’s wife/Searcher’s mother Penelope is briefly in the movie and doesn’t have anything significant to say.

One day, when Searcher and Jaeger are on an adventure mission together, Jaeger saves Searcher’s life from deadly stalacites that almost fell on Seacher. It’s a moment when their father-son bond seems to be strong, because Searcher is grateful that Jaeger saved his life. But the ongoing tensions between Searcher and Jaeger flare up again when Jaeger discovers a mysterious, glowing green plant, which is later called pano. Jaeger and Searcher argue about if and how this plant should be researched.

Flashing forward to the present day, viewers find out that pano has been deemed a “wonder plant” that is the source of energy throughout Avalonia. Pano has essentially eliminated the need for energy from gas or other fossil fuel. Jaeger has become a heroic legend for discovering pano. There’s one big problem though: Not long after discovering pano, Jaeger disappeared while on one of his adventure trips, and he hasn’t had any contact with anyone during those 25 years.

Many people, including Jaeger’s wife Penelope, assume that Jaeger is dead. However, Searcher believes that Jaeger is still alive and made a deliberate choice to abandon his family so that Jaeger could go on his adventure trips without the responsibility of being at home with his family. This feeling of abandonment has haunted Searcher and made him emotionally damaged. Searcher made a vow to himself to never be like his father.

Jaeger is such a sore subject with Searcher, he doesn’t even want to talk about Jaeger. Searcher’s son Ethan sees a photo of Jaeger and asks Searcher why he seems to be ashamed of Jaeger, even though Jaeger has the image of being a legendary adventure hero. Searcher replies bitterly, “Everyone thinks he was an amazing hero. To me, he was a really bad dad. He only cared about conquering those mountains.” Searcher tells Ethan, as if to make a statement about how Searcher wants to be different from Jaeger: “I only care about you.”

Searcher is such a caring father, he wants to give fatherly advice to Ethan about dating, but Ethan has typical teenage embarrassment whenever Searcher wants to talk about Ethan’s love life. Ethan, who is openly gay or queer, has a not-so-secret crush on a fellow classmate named Diazo (played by Jonathan Melo), who seems to be attracted to Ethan too, because he openly flirts with Ethan. Ethan is at the stage of his crush where he’s afraid to reveal his feelings to Diazo. Ethan is normally talkative and extroverted, but Ethan tends to get shy when he’s with Diazo.

The Clade family’s routine life will be interrupted when they get a surprise visit from Callisto Mal (voiced by Lucy Liu), the leader of Avalonia. Callisto, who used to be on Jaeger’s adventure team, has arrived by spaceship to ask Searcher to help her on an expedition to find out why a massive crop of pano has been infected. The infection is spreading rapidly and could wipe out pano as the energy source for Avalonia and beyond.

Callisto says that scientific research has revealed that pano is a singular organism growing on Earth and originating from the same root underneath the Earth’s surface. “Pano is dying,” Callisto tells Searcher. “We have to save it.” At first, Searcher immediately declines Callisto’s request to join her on this mission. However, he eventually changes his mind because he knows that people, including his family, will suffer if pano dies off and becomes extinct.

It just so happens that Meridian has skills to pilot the spaceship that will be used for this underground expedition. And, of course, Ethan wants to go along for the ride. (Ethan’s passion for adventure ends up becoming a problem for Searcher later in the movie.) And so, off the Clade family members (including Legend the dog) go on the expedition, which includes Callisto and her crew of five other people. The only crew member who has a distinctive personality is over-eager Caspian (played by Karan Soni), who is mild comic relief in the movie.

Not long after the expedition goes underneath Earth’s surface, the explorers find an underground world that’s never been discovered before. Without question, one of the best aspects of “Strange World” is that it’s a sumptuous feast for the eyes. The underground “strange world” has vibrant hues and some fascinating creatures, some of which are based on real-life creatures. There’s also a walking land mass with legs, as well as cliffs that seem to be alive.

According to the “Strange World” production notes, the filmmakers purposely made the creatures in this underworld look very different from most creatures in animated films. Nguyen says in the production notes: “We decided that these characters would have no eyeballs, no noses, no mouths—no Disney eyes or Disney smiles—all that goes away.” The production notes has this description of some of the creatures: “The lineup includes reapers, which are aggressive, translucent and tentacled; goblinswills, abstract flocks that are reminiscent of dolphins but without structure; transportasaurses, giant ropes designed to collect and throw things; and the cloud o’war, a lizard-shaped cloud with an inflatable top.”

Imagine if a psychedelic candy shop exploded, and you have some idea of what many of the landscape visuals in “Strange World” looks like. It’s not a cutesy and safe world, however. There’s a large body of water that is acidic, as well as hostile creatures that attack. It’s because one of these attacks that the spaceship crashes. The front window shield gets broken during the attack. And as a result of the crash, Ethan and Legend get separated from the rest of the group. Searcher is also separated from the expedition team.

While Ethan and Legend try to find their way back to the spaceship and the other expedition members, they meet (cliché alert) a cute being that becomes their sidekick. It’s a blue-shaped blob that Ethan has named Splat, which does not speak but makes adorable noises. Splat has a personality that is both goofy and helpful.

Meanwhile, (another cliché alert) Searcher ends up finding his long-lost father Jaeger, when Jaeger saves Searcher’s life (again), this time from a creature attack. Jaeger has a flamethrower shotgun, and he’s very trigger-happy with it. It’s not spoiler information that Searcher and Jaeger have reunited, because the trailers and other marketing materials for “Strange World” clearly show that Jaeger is part of the expedition team. In the movie, Jaeger explains to Searcher that he’s been “stuck” in this underworld (in more ways than one), and he needs a way to get back above ground.

It’s also not spoiler information to say that the entire Clade family and Callista end up gong through this adventure together, under circumstances revealed in the movie. The obstacles they face are what you might expect from a movie of this type. It isn’t until the surprise reveal that viewers will find out that “Strange World” has a lot more to the story than just finding and destroying a plant virus.

“Strange World” aims to be a socially conscious movie and does better in some areas than in others. Ethan’s sexuality is treated matter-of-factly by the characters and with total acceptance and no homophobia. When Ethan’s grandfather Jaeger finds out that Ethan has a crush on someone and gets Ethan to tell him who it is, Jaeger has no hesitation or surprise when he finds out that Ethan’s crush is a guy.

Even with its open-minded attitude about LGTBQ people, “Strange World” still falls into old patterns/stereotypes of animated films giving much more importance to male characters than female characters. (Disney princess movies are an exception.) In “Strange World,” Meredian and Callista are strong female characters, but they are very underdeveloped and underused. Viewers of “Strange World” will find out almost nothing about Meredian and Callista, whereas a lot of screen time in “Strange World” is devoted to the personalities and interpersonal relationships between the male characters.

That does not mean a movie like “Strange World” needed to have “forced diversity.” However, it’s very noticeable that the female characters are somewhat used as tokens, with the filmmakers giving less consideration and lower priorities in showing audiences more of who Meredian and Callista really are. As far as the movie’s message about strengthening family bonds, it’s all about the male characters in “Strange World.”

This gender-bias flaw doesn’t ruin the movie, but it’s an example of how filmmakers need to do better in representing the female gender, which is 51% of the human population. “Strange World” is very imaginative in its world building of objects and creatures, but it could have had many improvements when it comes to originality in telling the human aspects of the story. Even with its flaws, “Strange World” is entertaining enough, as long as people don’t expect it to be a Disney classic.

Walt Disney Pictures released “Strange World” in U.S. cinemas on November 23, 2022. Disney+ will premiere the movie on December 23, 2022.

Review: ‘American Underdog,’ starring Zachary Levi, Anna Paquin and Dennis Quaid

December 17, 2021

by Carla Hay

Anna Paquin and Zachary Levi in “American Underdog” (Photo by Michael Kubeisy/Lionsgate)

“American Underdog”

Directed by Andrew Erwin and Jon Erwin

Culture Representation: Taking place from 1990 to 2000 in Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Arkansas, and some other U.S. states, the dramatic biopic “American Underdog” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: After several years of trying to break into the National Football League (NFL) as a football player, Kurt Warner joins the St. Louis Rams, but he faces opposition and skepticism from people who think he’s too old and not good enough to play in the NFL. 

Culture Audience: “American Underdog” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in American football movies and inspirational “against all odds” true stories.

Zachary Levi and Dennis Quaid in “American Underdog” (Photo by Michael Kubeisy/Lionsgate)

Even though retired NFL player Kurt Warner’s life story is already known by many NFL fans, “American Underdog” is an entertaining version of his life on and off of the football field. The movie is entirely predictable but not too mawkish, thanks to grounded performances from Zachary Levi and Anna Paquin. With “American Underdog,” directors Andrew Erwin and Jon Erwin (the filmmaking brothers whose specialty is making faith-based Christian movies) tone down a lot of the religious preachiness that can be found in many of their other films. In fact, it’s pretty obvious in the movie that the biggest thing that Warner really worships is American football.

“American Underdog” (which was written by Jon Erwin, David Aaron Cohen and Jon Gunn) is not a completely comprehensive biopic, because it covers Warner’s life only from 1990 to 2000. He was with the St. Louis Rams from 1998 to 2003. Warner would later go on to play for the New York Giants (in 2004) and the St. Louis Cardinals, from 2005 to 2009.

“American Underdog” chronicles Warner’s life journey from his days on the football team at the University of Northern Iowa to his wannabe NFL player struggles to the first few years of his stint with the Rams. The movie accelerates and compresses Warner’s first three years with the Rams to make it look like he was on the team for a very short time before he played a life-changing game in 1999. (Most NFL fans already know what that game is.)

Up until that game-changing moment, the movie focuses on how Kurt Warner (played by Zachary Levi) was underestimated or dismissed for most of his football career. A great deal of the movie also shows the ups and downs in his personal life, including an on-again/off-again romance with Brenda Meoni (played by Anna Paquin), who was a divorced mother of two underage children when they first met while he was a student and a star football quarterback at the University of Northern Iowa. This romance, even when it was at its most painful and distant, would turn out to be the one constant in the couple’s lives when experiencing life lessons about love, loyalty and not giving up on dreams.

“American Underdog” has a straightforward narrative told in chronological order. (There are few brief flashback scenes showing Kurt as a child, played by Beau Hart.) The first third of the movie depicts Kurt’s life when he was a college student and his first few years out of college. Therefore, it’s a bit of stretch to see Levi and Paquin (who were in their late 30s/early 40s when they filmed this movie) portraying people who were supposed to be in their early-to-mid-20s. (The real-life Kurt and Brenda had consulting roles for “American Underdog” and visited the film set.)

One of the better aspects of “American Underdog” is how it doesn’t portray Kurt and Brenda’s romance in a fairytale way. Brenda (who’s four years older than Kurt) played very hard-to-get in the beginning—not in a coy way, but in a way that was a reflection of who she was at the time: a financially struggling divorcée with trust issues because her ex-husband cheated on her. In the beginning of their relationship, Brenda was emotionally aloof and outright insistent to Kurt that they wouldn’t make a good couple because she said she didn’t like sports. (Obviously, she changed her mind later.)

Kurt, as portrayed in this movie, wasn’t exactly a dashing and suave Romeo. In many ways, his courtship of Brenda could be considered aggressive and even stalkerish. When they first meet at a bar playing country music, Kurt can’t take his eyes off of Brenda. He’s instantly smitten, and she’s not. Brenda loves line dancing to country music. Kurt not only dislikes country music, but he also doesn’t know how to line dance.

However, that doesn’t stop Kurt from making his first move on Brenda. Kurt literally muscles his way in on her dance partner, by nudging the other man and telling him (in a polite manner) to get out of the way. During this first dance together, Kurt introduces himself, but Brenda is so wary that she won’t even tell Kurt what her name is. It becomes an awkward joke for the rest of the evening when she still won’t tell Kurt her name.

Their first conversation also reveals how different their lives are. Kurt came from a family where his parents split up when his father abandoned the family. Kurt’s mother Sue Warner raised Kurt and his brother as a financially struggling divorced parent. Kurt tells Brenda, “Football was the most important thing my pops taught me before he left.” Kurt adds that he has reconciled with his father, “who’s back in my life now,” but there are still some emotional difficulties in this father/son relationship.

Brenda tells Kurt, “I hate sports, so it’ll never work between us.” She tells him up front that she’s divorced with two kids. And she’s certain that this information will scare off this young bachelor college student. “If I never see you again, I’ll totally understand,” Brenda says when she tells him that she’s a single mother. Brenda’s messy personal life is in contrast to that of her parents, who are still happily married after decades together.

What Brenda doesn’t tell Kurt during their first meeting is that she and her two children are currently living with her parents because Brenda is unemployed and can’t afford to have her own place. Kurt finds out when he shows up unannounced and uninvited at the house to see Brenda and meet her children. Brenda is naturally shocked to see him. Kurt tells Brenda that he found out where she lived by asking the bartender at the bar where Kurt and Brenda met.

It’s a stalker move, but it’s supposed to show that Kurt was willing to go to certain lengths to court Brenda. Not only that, but Kurt also walked the three or four miles to get to the house because he didn’t have a car at the time. Brenda doesn’t want invite him into the house, but her son Zack (played by Hayden Zaller), who’s about 7 or 8 years old, lets Kurt into the house.

Kurt and Zack have an almost immediate bond. Zack tells him that his transistor radio in the bathroom doesn’t work, and Kurt sees that all the radio needs is a second battery. Kurt and Zack then lie down on the bathroom floor to listen to the radio. Zack happens to be legally blind, but Kurt treats him like would treat any other kid. Brenda’s other child is a daughter named Jessie, who’s about 2 or 3 years old.

Brenda starts to warm up a little to Kurt when she sees how kind he is to Zack. Eventually, Brenda opens up to Kurt when she tells him a little more about her background: She used to be in the U.S. Marines and thought that she would have a perfect Marine life, including the Marine man she married named Brad, who is not seen in the movie. But Brad cheated on her when she was pregnant with Jessie.

Brad also caused Zack’s blindness: When Zack was four months old, Brad accidentally dropped Zack on the head when Brad was alone taking care of the Zack. However, when Zack was taken to the hospital with a swollen head, Brad didn’t immediately tell anyone that the reason for the swollen head was because her dropped Zack.

Brad didn’t disclose this crucial information until more than a day after Zack was taken to the hospital. But by then, it was too late, and Zack lost most of his eyesight because of the brain damage. Doctors had predicted that Zack would never be able to sit up or walk on his own. Zack defied those predictions and had the ability to do those things as a child.

At the time Kurt and Brenda met, she had left the Marines and was studying to be a nurse. Because she has to take care of two young kids, Brenda warns Kurt that she won’t be able to spontaneously go out on dates because her kids will be her top priority. It doesn’t deter Kurt. Although some people might think that Kurt and Brenda’s “meet cute” was fabricated for a movie, how they met and how Kurt followed up really did happen this way, according to interviews that Kurt and Brenda have given.

When she finally agrees to go on a date with him, he’s gotten a truck, and the kids go with them. It’s a simple date—Kurt and Brenda just hang out at a lake and talk while the kids sleep in the back of the truck—but it’s enough to spark a romance. When Kurt takes them back to the house, and he and Brenda spend some time alone, she again tells him that their relationship won’t work. But then she practically jumps on him to kiss him, and Kurt enthusiastically kisses her too.

Over time, Brenda’s parents Jenny Jo (played by Morgana Shaw) and Larry (played by Danny Vinson) are more accepting of Kurt than Kurt’s mother Sue (played by Cindy Hogan) is accepting of Brenda. Sue is afraid that Brenda being an unemployed single mother will be too much of a burden for Kurt, because Sue went through similar struggles. Brenda tells Kurt that most mothers of men she’s dated have had similar reactions to Brenda. As the movie goes on, it shows how much Kurt and Brenda are each other’s biggest support during the lowest points in their lives.

Kurt’s NFL dreams seemed to be on track when he was recruited by the Green Bay Packers not long after graduating from college. However, those dreams got a serious setback when he was cut from the Packers after less than two days. The reason? The team’s quarterback coach Steve “Mooch” Mariucci (played by Brett Varvel) didn’t think Kurt was prepared to play in the NFL.

The turnoff for Mooch was that when Mooch asked Kurt to go on the field during practice, Kurt didn’t want to go on the field because Kurt said he didn’t know the playbook yet. As far as Mooch was concerned, Kurt should’ve been eager and ready to know the playbook on the first day of practice. Kurt’s hesitancy cost him a place on the team.

It was a painful rejection that led to years of struggle for Kurt, who never gave up on his dream to play professional football. During those lean years, he experienced unemployment and a lot of financial problems, including being temporarily homeless. At one point, the only job he could find was being a shelf stocker at a Hy-Vee grocery store in Cedar Falls, Iowa, where he had to face people who knew him as a once-promising college football star. Eventually, Brenda invited Kurt to live with her and her parents because Kurt had nowhere else to live.

“American Underdog” has moments where these struggles are depicted in very dramatic and very “in your face” ways—literally. There’s a scene where Kurt is stocking shelves at the grocery store, and he sees a Wheaties box with Miami Dolphins star Dan Marino on the cover. Kurt looks at the box with a sad expression on his face that says, “That could’ve been me. I should have the life that Dan Marino is having.”

In another scene, Kurt and Brenda are so financially broke, they can barely afford gas for their car. And sure enough, they run out of gas, with the kids in the back of the car, on a deserted road. And wouldn’t you know: It’s during a blizzard. And so, Kurt has to walk to the nearest gas station, which is about four or five miles away, all the while hoping that Brenda and the kids won’t freeze to death or get frostbite in the car.

After this “stranded during a blizzard” incident, Kurt realizes that he can’t continue to be financially unstable, and he has to be a better provider for Brenda and the kids. And so, Kurt does something that he vowed that he would never do: Say yes to an offer from Iowa Barnstormers chief Jim Foster (played by Bruce McGill) to play for the Barnstormers in the Arena Football League, which Kurt says is “for guys who are circling the drain.”

Kurt signs on to play for the Iowa Barnstormers, which he gripes is “all the way in Des Moines, and it’s not even real football.” However, bills must be paid, and Brenda is supportive because she knows playing professional football is what Kurt really wants to do with his life, even if it’s for a team that Kurt thinks is a pathetic joke. Luckily for Kurt, his college best friend Mike Hudnutt (played by Ser’Darius Blain) is also on the Barnstormers team.

Just like during his college football days, Kurt also becomes a star quarterback for the Barnstormers. What Kurt and Brenda don’t anticipate in advance his how much Kurt ends up enjoying the partying that comes with being a football star. His constant traveling also takes a toll on their relationship. Brenda then goes through a tragedy that also tests the love that she and Kurt have for each other.

Brenda is a religious Christian, while Kurt was not particularly religious when he first met Brenda. Over time, Kurt became a more devout Christian. And although “American Underdog” could be considered a faith-based movie, this is not a typical Christian faith-based movie where God or Jesus is mentioned every 10 minutes. There are scenes of people praying, but there aren’t scenes of people going to church on a regular basis. There’s one big church scene, and it’s exactly what you think it is, considering that it’s easy to predict or know what happened to Kurt and Brenda’s courtship.

As Kurt, Levi has somewhat of a passing physical resemblance to the real Warner, and he capably handles all the football scenes, which include several real-life current and former pro football players. Levi is known to appear in mostly comedic projects or in dramas where he’s a wisecracking comedic character, so “American Underdog” is a real departure for him as an actor. He’s an easy protagonist to root for, but the movie also shows how a single-minded persistence to follow a career dream always comes at some price to someone’s personal life.

Paquin also makes her character command the screen with a believability. Brenda is both strong and vulnerable as someone who knows what it’s like to have broken dreams but has enough love in her heart to encourage Kurt to follow his football dreams, even if it means Kurt has to sacrifice time that he could be spending with her and the children. Yes, there are thrilling football scenes, but the movie’s heart is really in the relationship between Kurt and Brenda. It’s a reminder that anyone who achieves fame and fortune through a career always had supportive people along the way who helped with those achievements.

As for the supporting cast members, Dennis Quaid shows up in the last third of the movie as Rams head coach Dick Vermeil, the person on the team who believed in Kurt the most, even when numerous people—including Rams offensive coordinator Mike Martz (played by Chance Kelly)—told this coach that he was making a mistake in supporting Kurt. Mike was one of the naysayers until Kurt proved him wrong. Quaid plays the role in a standard way that still manages to convey some individual personality. Zaller (who is legally blind in real life) is a scene stealer as Zack. He’s not an extremely polished actor, but child actors don’t get much more adorable than Zaller in this movie.

“American Underdog” mostly succeeds in its obvious aim to be a heartwarming and inspirational movie. It’s not pretending to be artsy or subtle. And the movie isn’t going to be winning any prestigious awards. But for audiences who want to see a drama about “ordinary” people who can do “extraordinary” things with persistence and the right support system, then “American Underdog” delivers on those expectations. The movie does a good job in conveying the message that people’s true characters are made during their most difficult times.

Lionsgate will release “American Underdog” in U.S. cinemas on December 25, 2021. The movie is set for release on digital on February 4, 2022, and on Blu-ray, DVD, 4K Ultra HD and VOD on February 22, 2022.

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Dennis Quaid returns for ‘A Dog’s Journey,’ the sequel to ‘A Dog’s Purpose’

May 17, 2019

Dennis Quaid in “A Dog’s Journey” directed by Gail Mancuso. (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment)

The following is a description from Universal Pictures:

Some friendships transcend lifetimes. In “A Dog’s Journey,” the sequel to the heartwarming global hit “A Dog’s Purpose,” beloved dog Bailey finds his new destiny and forms an unbreakable bond that will lead him, and the people he loves, to places they never imagined.

Bailey (voiced again by Josh Gad) is living the good life on the Michigan farm of his “boy,” Ethan (Dennis Quaid) and Ethan’s wife Hannah (Marg Helgenberger). He even has a new playmate: Ethan and Hannah’s baby granddaughter, CJ. The problem is that CJ’s mom, Gloria (Betty Gilpin), decides to take CJ away. As Bailey’s soul prepares to leave this life for a new one, he makes a promise to Ethan to find CJ and protect her at any cost.

Thus begins Bailey’s adventure through multiple lives filled with love, friendship and devotion as he, CJ (Kathryn Prescott), and CJ’s best friend Trent (Henry Lau) experience joy and heartbreak, music and laughter, and few really good belly rubs.

Directed by Emmy winner Gail Mancuso (TV’s “Modern Family”), “A Dog’s Journey” is produced by Gavin Polone (“A Dog’s Purpose”), and written by W. Bruce Cameron & Cathryn Michon, and Maya Forbes & Wally Wolodarsky, based on the best-selling novel by Cameron. The film, from Amblin Entertainment and Reliance Entertainment, in association with Walden Media and Alibaba Pictures, will be distributed by Universal Pictures domestically, and by Universal Pictures and Amblin Partners internationally.

Cast: Marg Helgenberger, Betty Gilpin, Henry Lau, Kathryn Prescott, with Dennis Quaid and Josh Gad

Director: Gail Mancuso

Screenplay By: W. Bruce Cameron & Cathryn Michon and Maya Forbes & Wally Wolodarsky

Based on the novel by: W. Bruce Cameron

Producer: Gavin Polone

Executive Producers: Seth William Meier, Lasse Hallström, Luyuan Fan, Wei Zhang

2019 ACM Awards: Luke Bryan, Old Dominion, Blake Shelton, Keith Urban added to performer lineup; presenters announced

April 2, 2019

ACM Awards

The following is a press release from the Academy of Country Music:

The Academy of Country Music has announced that Luke Bryan, Old Dominion, Blake Shelton and Keith Urban have been added to the exciting lineup of live performances for the 54th Academy of Country Music Awards and will be joined by a star-studded list of presenters including Lauren Alaina, Beth Behrs, Clint Black, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Jessie James Decker, Hunter Hayes, Jay Hernandez, Lady Antebellum, Midland, Nancy O’Dell, Danica Patrick, Carly Pearce, Dennis Quaid, Michael Ray, Cole Swindell, and Wilmer Valderrama. The awards telecast, hosted by Reba McEntire, will air LIVE from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on Sunday, April 7, 2019 at 8:00 PM ET / delayed PT on the CBS Television Network.

As previously announced, Country Music’s Party of the Year® will also feature performances by Jason Aldean (ACM Dick Clark Artist of the Decade Award honoree), Dierks Bentley, Brooks & Dunn, Brothers Osborne, Kane Brown, Brandi Carlile, Eric Church, Kelly Clarkson, Luke Combs (ACM New Male Artist of the Year), Dan + Shay, Florida Georgia Line, Khalid, Miranda Lambert, LANCO (ACM New Group of the Year), Little Big Town, Ashley McBryde (ACM New Female Artist of the Year), Reba McEntire, Maren Morris, Thomas Rhett, Chris Stapleton, George Strait and Carrie Underwood.

Tickets for the ceremony are available for purchase now at www.axs.com. For more information on the ACM Awards and all ACM events including ACM Party for a Cause®, visit ACMcountry.com. You can also like Academy of Country Music on Facebook or follow on Twitter and Instagram for more immediate updates.

2018 CMA Awards: presenters announced

November 12, 2018

The following is a press release from the Country Music Association and ABC:

Country artist Jimmie Allen, nationally syndicated personality Bobby Bones, country artist Kane Brown, ABC’s “Dancing With The Stars’” Sharna Burgess, model and actress Olivia Culpo, Disney’s “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms’” Mackenzie Foy, country artists Lady Antebellum, Little Big Town, Dustin Lynch, Martina McBride and Carly Pearce, singer/actor Dennis Quaid, ABC’s “American Idol” judge Lionel Richie, actor Noah Schnapp, singer/songwriter, actress and producer Rita Wilson and country artist Trisha Yearwood are set to present at “The 52nd Annual CMA Awards.” Country Music’s Biggest Night, hosted for the 11th consecutive year by Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood, airs live from Bridgestone Arena in Nashville Wednesday, Nov. 14 (8:00 – 11:00 p.m. EST), on the ABC Television Network.
CMA Awards Vocal Group of the Year nominee LANCO will also host the pre-telecast portion of the night. They will be introduced to the stage by CMA’s inaugural KixStart Artist Scholarship recipients Kassi Ashton, Travis Denning and Jameson Rodgers. During the pre-telecast, the winner for Musician of the Year will be awarded, as well as the winners of the previously announced broadcast awards categories.

In addition to Dan + Shay’s live performance on the CMA Awards, the duo will also deliver an encore performance of “Speechless” for Comcast’s Xfinity TV customers exclusively on Xfinity On Demand. Immediately following the telecast, customers can access the encore performance simply by saying “Show me Dan + Shay” into their X1 Voice Remote. For more information on Xfinity X1, visit Xfinity.com/x1.

Don’t miss Facebook Live interviews with your favorite Country artists on CMA’s Facebook page Monday, Nov. 12, and Tuesday, Nov. 13, from 10:00 AM – 4:00 p.m. EST as artists stop by the CMA Awards Radio Remote in Nashville.
Previously announced performers for the CMA Awards include Lauren Alaina, Jason Aldean with Miranda Lambert, Kelsea Ballerini, Dierks Bentley with Brothers Osborne, Garth Brooks, Luke Bryan, Kenny Chesney, Luke Combs, Dan + Shay, Florida Georgia Line with Bebe Rexha, Midland, Kacey Musgraves, Old Dominion, Paisley, Pistol Annies, Thomas Rhett, Ricky Skaggs, Chris Stapleton with Maren Morris and Mavis Staples, Underwood, Keith Urban and Brett Young, as well as special appearances by Lindsay Ell, Vince Gill, Sierra Hull, Chris Janson, Ashley McBryde, David Lee Murphy, Jon Pardi, Carson Peters, Marty Stuart, and Cole Swindell.

CMA sat down with the five New Artist of the Year nominees and the people closest to them to learn more about them and their journey to the CMA Awards. To view all five full episodes featuring Alaina, Combs, Janson, Midland and Young, please visit CMAawards.com/new-artist-nominees.

“The 52nd Annual CMA Awards” is a production of the Country Music Association. Robert Deaton is the executive producer, Gary Halvorson is the director and David Wild is the head writer.

For more information on “The 52nd Annual CMA Awards,” please visit CMAawards.com and follow CMA on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Fans can listen to playlists featuring CMA Awards nominees and performers, on Amazon Music, Apple Music, Pandora, Spotify, and Vevo. To celebrate “The 52nd Annual CMA Awards,” the official merchandise line, featuring tees, sweatshirts and other gifts, is now available online.

About CMA Awards

The first “CMA Awards Banquet and Show” was held in 1967. The following year, the CMA Awards was broadcast for the first time – making it the longest running, annual music awards program on network television. The CMA Awards have aired on ABC since 2006. ABC is the network home of the CMA Awards and CMA’s other two television properties, “CMA Fest” and “CMA Country Christmas.”

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Facebook: @cma
Twitter: @CountryMusic
Instagram: @cma
Hashtag: #CMAawards

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