Review: ‘Bros’ (2022), starring Billy Eichner and Luke Macfarlane

September 30, 2022

by Carla Hay

Billy Eichner and Luke Macfarlane in “Bros” (Photo by Nicole Rivelli/Universal Pictures)

“Bros” (2022)

Directed by Nicholas Stoller

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York and briefly in Provincetown, Massachusetts, the comedy film “Bros” features a cast of predominantly white characters (with some African Americans, Asians and Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: An openly gay podcaster/writer, who is very cynical about finding love, begins a new job as executive director of a museum for LGBTQ+ history and culture, around the same time that he finds himself falling in love with a man whom he thinks isn’t his “type.” 

Culture Audience: “Bros” will appeal primarily to people interested in well-written, adult-oriented romantic comedies from a gay, cisgender male perspective.

Pictured clockwise, from left: Ts Madison, Billy Eichner, Miss Lawrence, Eve Lindley, Jim Rash and Dot-Marie Jones in “Bros” (Photo by Nicole Rivelli/Universal Pictures)

Blending real talk about relationships, some hilarious sex scenes, and a sweet-natured romance at the heart of the story, “Bros” is a romantic comedy that has Billy Eichner’s boldly sarcastic style written all over it. It’s made for open-minded adults. It also helps if people know a lot of about pop culture and LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) history to understand many of the jokes in the movie. “Bros” had its world premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.

Directed by Nicholas Stoller (who co-wrote the “Bros” screenplay with Eichner), “Bros” is a history-making film because it’s the first major studio movie in wide release with a majority LGBTQ+ cast and co-written by an openly gay man. Considering that it took this long for this cinematic milestone to happen, “Bros” is a triumph and an instant classic LGBTQ movie. Just because the movie centers on a gay man and his love life, that doesn’t mean this movie is only for LGBTQ people. However, “Bros” definitely earns its Motion Pictures of America Association rating recommendation for people ages 17 and up, because of the movie’s sexual content, adult language and drug use. As the saying goes, “Viewer discretion is advised.”

In “Bros,” Eichner portrays 40-year-old Bobby Leiber, an openly gay podcaster/writer who is famous enough to be on the cover of The Advocate magazine. Bobby has an unapologetically activist attitude when it comes to advocating for LGBTQ rights and speaking out against homophobia. Eichner has said in interviews that some of Bobby’s personality and life are inspired by Eichner’s own real-life experiences, but “Bros” is not an autobiographical film.

Bobby is also very aware that as a cisgender white man, he gets more privileges than LGBTQ people who aren’t cisgender white men. The movie opens with Bobby making an episode of his podcast “The 11th Brick at Stonewall.” It’s in reference to the 1969 Stonewall uprising in New York City that is considered a turning point in the LGBTQ civil rights movement. The uprising happened as a way for LGBTQ people to show that they were fed up with homophobic arrests and harassment from police, and they fought back in groups against the police. Throwing bricks was part of this Stonewall uprising.

It’s an example of why “Bros” viewers need to know about this brick throwing and Stonewall to understand why Bobby makes this comment about why he named his podcast “The 11th Brick at Stonewall,” and why Bobby knows how LGBTQ history, just like heterosexual-oriented history, tends to erase the contributions of people who aren’t white men: “Because we all know a butch lesbian or a trans woman of color probably threw the first brick at Stonewall, but it was a cis white gay man who threw the 11th brick,” Bobby says. Later in the movie, Bobby points out how transgender female activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera were the real heroes of the Stonewall uprising but often don’t get the credit for it because Johnson and Rivera were transgender women of color.

Bobby is a bachelor who says he’s never been in love and has never dated anyone for more than three months. He’s very cynical about the possibility of ending up with a soul mate, and he doesn’t really believe that monogamy works for him. Other than feeling unlucky when it comes to romantic love, Bobby is happy with his life because he’s healthy, and his friends and his work keep him fulfilled.

Bobby, who has no siblings, was born and raised in New York City. He was raised Jewish, but he is not particularly religious or spiritual. His mother died when Bobby was in college, and his father died when Bobby was 10 years old. In “Bros,” no other biological family members of Bobby are shown. Like many gay people, Bobby has a “chosen family” that is a tight-knit circle of friends, most of whom are also LGBTQ.

The first 15 minutes of “Bros” show that Bobby has been trying to branch out in his career besides doing his podcast. During his podcast, when a caller asks Bobby, if he’s going to write any more books, Bobby talks about his failed career as a children’s book author. His children’s book “Are You There, God? It’s Martina Navratilova” was a flop. Bobby sarcastically says, “Hey, parents, thanks for teaching kids about Santa Claus—a straight man who doesn’t exist—and not about Martina Navratilova, a lesbian who does.”

Bobby also tells his audience that on his social media, he uploaded an outtake from his failed “Queer Eye” audition, where he was trying out to be one of the co-hosts of this Emmy-winning Netflix series about gay men who give life makeovers to people whose lives are stuck in a rut. “Bros” shows this “outtake” clip of Bobby looking unimpressed, while the “Queer Eye” hosts (actors portraying the real hosts) are nearby crying over the makeover they’ve just completed for a man with a sob story. Bobby deadpans, “I’m sorry, this isn’t sad. You gave him a haircut and a pair of pants.”

Bobby has also tried to become a movie screenwriter, with mixed results. “Bros” shows a brief flashback of Bobby in a meeting with an unnamed Hollywood executive (played by Doug Trapp), who wants Bobby to write a gay romantic comedy movie. The executive says, “We just want to make a movie that shows the world that gay relationships are the same [as straight relationships]. Love is love is love.”

An offended Bobby then goes on a rant and says that “Love is love is love” was a “lie” invented by LGBTQ people just to get more acceptance from heterosexual people. Bobby then lectures the executive by saying that dating for LGBTQ people is very different from dating for heterosexual people. And before Bobby ends the meeting by storming out, Bobby says that not all gay people are smart or nice.

To his podcast audience, Bobby opens up about how lonely his love life can be and how he usually has meaningless sexual encounters with men he meets on dating apps such as Grindr. Although Bobby says it doesn’t really bother him that he’s perpetually single and often alone, you can tell it really does bother him. He sighs with an air of resignation, “I’m not the right person to write a rom-com anyway.”

Things are looking up for Bobby in his career though. At the LGBTQ+ Pride Awards (where Bobby is a presenter, and which features actress/LGBTQ ally Kristin Chenoweth as herself in a cameo), Bobby announces that he’s been named executive director of the National Museum of LGBTQ+ History and Culture. Bobby will be the first executive director of this non-profit museum, which will open in New York City sometime in less than a year, after the museum’s grand opening was postponed multiple times already. His job includes fundraising and making decisions about the museum’s exhibits. Bobby will continue to be a podcaster, but the museum is now his main job.

Not long after sharing this big news, Bobby attends a launch party for a gay dating app called Zellweger, which is for men who want to sexually hook up with each other and talk about famous actresses. Bobby’s friend Henry (played by Guy Branum) works for Zellweger and has invited Bobby to this party, which is at a nightclub filled with shirtless and good-looking men dancing with each other. It’s at this party that Bobby meets Aaron Shepard (played by Luke Macfarlane), who is one of the shirtless, good-looking men.

Bobby and Aaron (who is in his early 40s) strike up a casual and mildly flirtatious conversation. Within the first few minutes, it’s obvious that Aaron is not the type of guy whom Bobby is usually attracted to on an intellectual or emotional level. For starters, Bobby is disappointed that Aaron doesn’t recognize a Mariah Carey remix song that’s playing at the party. Aaron says he prefers country music, and his favorite artist is Garth Brooks. Bobby is not a fan of country music.

Aaron also works in probate law as an estate planner. In other words, he helps people write their wills. Bobby thinks it’s a stuffy and boring corporate job. Bobby prefers to date men whom he thinks has more exciting lives than the type of life that Aaron seems to have. Bobby is a motormouth, while Aaron is a lot less talkative. Still, Bobby and Aaron seem to share the same sarcastic sense of humor, and they make each other laugh.

Bobby also finds out that Aaron isn’t quite as dull and uptight as Bobby thought he was on first impression. Aaron points out two shirtless men (played by Keith Milkie and Alex Ringler) on the dance floor. Aaron tells Bobby that the two men are a couple, and Aaron has a date to have sex with both of them after the party.

In “Bros,” hookup culture (which includes a lot of group sex) is explicitly depicted as a fact of life for many single (and sometimes married) gay/queer men. It’s the type of reality that Bobby says should be discussed more openly and honestly when people talk about the LGBTQ community to heterosexual people. “Bros” also has a scene of poppers (a drug that’s inhaled) being used during sexual activity. If you don’t know how common it is for gay men to use poppers, then “Bros” aims to enlighten viewers.

As much as Bobby doesn’t think he’s attracted to Aaron, Bobby gets annoyed when Aaron seems to give him the brushoff at the party. Bobby and Aaron tell each other that they’re not looking for a serious relationship, but Bobby is less willing than Aaron to play it cool. Bobby also sends mixed messages to Aaron. During their first meeting, Bobby insults Aaron by telling him that he heard that Aaron is “boring,” but Bobby still expects Aaron to be charmed enough by Bobby to pursue a romantic relationship with Bobby.

Of course, Bobby and Aaron end up dating each other, but they both struggle with trying to define their relationship and how “committed” they should be to each other. Describing each other as a “boyfriend” would be a big step for them. Throughout their relationship, Bobby is insecure that Aaron won’t find Bobby physically attractive enough, while Aaron is insecure that Bobby won’t find Aaron exciting enough.

“Bros” hits a lot of familiar beats that are often in heterosexual romantic comedies, where two single people start dating each other and try to figure out if the relationship is meant to last. There are jealousy issues, commitment issues and family acceptance issues. And there’s at least one big argument that leads to a turning point where the couple has to decide to break up or stay together. Thankfully, “Bros” does not have the treacly and over-used cliché of someone racing to an airport to confess true feelings, in order for the couple to be together.

“Bros” has a snappy and often-breezy tone that points out the nuances and diversity in the LGBTQ community. Bobby oversees a staff that exemplifies this diversity and how different agendas in the LGBTQ community often compete for priorities and have other conflicts. Staff meetings often turn into arguments where the staffers fight for museum exhibits that represent their particular sexual or gender identity.

The museum staffers include gender-fluid/gender-nonconforming Tamara (played by Miss Lawrence), butch lesbian Cherry (played by Dot-Marie Jones), bisexual man Robert (played by Jim Rash) and trangsender women Angela (played by Ts Madison) and Tamara (played by Eve Lindley). One of the staff arguments is about how to present a museum exhibit of 16th U.S. president Abraham Lincoln and his close companion Captain David Derickson, who wrote love letters to each other and slept in the same bed when first lady Mary Lincoln was away. Bobby feels strongly that the museum should describe Abraham Lincoln as a closeted gay man, while Robert insists that Abraham Lincoln was bisexual.

In addition to the drama about the museum exhibits, Bobby also has to contend with raising enough money to open the museum, which needs about $5 million in order to launch. These fundraising efforts lead to laugh-out-loud scenes with actress Debra Messing (playing a version of herself) and Bowen Yang (playing a gay and wealthy TV producer named Lawrence “Larry” Grape) as potentially major donors to the museum. Messing has a cameo in “Bros,” but it’s a truth-telling appearance where she lashes out about gay men thinking she’s the same as the Grace Adler character (a straight woman with a gay male best friend) that she portrayed in the sitcom “Will & Grace.”

Somehow, all of the scenes of Bobby and his job challenges aren’t a distraction from the main plot about Bobby and Aaron’s relationship. The movie is written in a way to show that what Bobby learns from his mistakes on the job and in his love life are intertwined and affect each other. Bobby is far from perfect: He can be stubborn, selfish and mean-spirited. But he’s also kind, generous and open to improving himself.

Aaron learns from Bobby about what it’s like to take bold risks in life, since Aaron tends to make decisions where he doesn’t have to go outside of his comfort zone. Aaron confides in Bobby that Aaron hates his job and has had a secret childhood dream to have another job, which is detailed in the movie. It’s at this point in the movie where you know what’s going to happen to Aaron’s childhood dream. Bobby also has a childhood dream that “Bros” handles in a heartwarming and sentimental way.

Aaron comes from a completely different world and upbringing than what Bobby has experienced. Aaron grew up in upstate New York with his married parents, including his schoolteacher mother Anne (played by Amanda Bearse), and older brother Jason (played by Jai Rodriguez), who know he is gay but don’t really like to discuss it openly. Bobby has been openly gay since he was an underage kid. Aaron came out as gay later in life, when Aaron was an adult. Aaron also grew up in a suburban area that is a lot more politically conservative than New York City.

But wait, there’s more: “Bros” has a love triangle subplot that doesn’t get too messy, even though this subplot wasn’t that necessary to put in the movie. The love triangle happens when Bobby and Aaron are on a date at a movie theater, and they happen to have a conversation with a former high school classmate of Aaron’s named Josh Evans (played by Ryan Faucett), who was on the school’s hockey team with Aaron. When they were students, Aaron was still in the closet about his sexuality, and he used to have a secret crush on Josh.

As the movie’s central couple, Eichner and Macfarlane have believable chemistry as two people in an “opposites attract” romance. Eichner gives a better and more natural-looking performance, in large part because he created the role for himself. Macfarlane has a few moments where his acting is stilted and seems forced, but overall his performance has a lot of affable charm. Macfarlane has previously starred in Hallmark Channel romantic movies. “Bros” pokes fun at a TV network called Hallheart (which is an obvious spoof of the real-life Hallmark Channel), which is depicted as being culturally late in having movies centered on LGBTQ people and trying to make up for it by having more LGBTQ-themed movies than ever before.

“Bros” has numerous supporting characters without overstuffing the movie and confusing viewers. Many of these supporting characters are in Bobby’s circle of friends, such as elderly Louis (played by Harvey Fierstein), who lives in Provincetown, Massachusetts (a popular vacation city for gay men). Louis lets Bobby and Aaron stay at his place when Bobby and Aaron are in Provincetown for Pride festivities. Bobby is also close with a gay couple named Peter (played by Peter Kim) and Paul (played by Justin Covington), who are dating a man named Marty (played by Symone), in a “throuple” relationship.

Other friends of Bobby’s are straight married couple Tina (played by Monica Raymund) and Edgar (played by Guillermo Diaz), who are progressive liberals. Tina and Edgar have two children named Hannah (played by Dahlia Rodriguez), who’s about 5 years old, and Brian (played by Derrick Delgado), who’s abut 8 years old. Tina and Edgar think that Brian might be gay, and they have no problem with it, but Tina and Edgar occasionally ask Bobby for thoughts on what he thinks a gay child needs from supportive parents. Bobby often confides in Tina about his love life.

With all of these characters and subplots, “Bros” has a total running time (115 minutes) that’s longer than a typical romantic comedy. The movie isn’t perfect, because it tends to ramble and get a little repetitive about how commitment-phobic Bobby and Aaron are. Still, the nearly two-hour runtime of “Bros” is worth it if people want to see a highly entertaining and witty romantic comedy, where the adult relationships aren’t toned down to present an unrealistic and sappy story.

Universal Pictures released “Bros” in U.S. cinemas on September 30, 2022.

Review: ‘National Champions,’ starring Stephan James, J.K. Simmons, Alexander Ludwig, Uzo Aduba, David Koechner, Jeffrey Donovan, Kristin Chenoweth and Timothy Olyphant

December 9, 2021

by Carla Hay

Stephan James, J.K. Simmons and David Koechner in “National Champions” (Photo by Scott Garfield/STX)

“National Champions”

Directed by Ric Roman Waugh

Culture Representation: Taking place during three days in New Orleans, the dramatic film “National Champions” features a cast of African American and white characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Two football players for the fictional Missouri Wolves college team launch a boycott, right before a national championship game, in protest of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) policy that NCAA student athletes are not entitled to salaries, disability pensions and health insurance for playing in NCAA games. 

Culture Audience: “National Champions” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching well-acted movies about civil rights in athletics and in the workforce.

Uzo Aduba and David Koechner in “National Champions” (Photo by Scott Garfield/STX)

“National Champions” is a memorable sports movie where all the action and battles take place outside of the game. This tension-filled drama about a college student-athlete boycott features standout performances and a diverse look at various sides of the debate. How you feel about this movie will probably come down to how you answer these questions: Should student athletes of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) get salaries, disability pensions and health insurance? And should NCAA student athletes form their own union?

Those questions are at the heart of the issues that are contentiously argued about in “National Champions,” directed by Ric Roman Waugh and written by Adam Mervis. Although the story is fictional, it takes a realistic-looking “what if” approach in depicting what would happen if NCAA football players decided to boycott playing in games, in order to get the NCAA to change its longstanding policies over these issues. And what if that boycott was staged just three days before a national championship game?

Those are the high-pressure circumstances under which the movie opens. “National Champions” does not let audiences go from its tightly wound grip during this entire movie, which is a suspense-filled ride from beginning to end. Even though this is a fictional story where the outcome can easily be predicted, the movie’s intention is to draw attention to the issues that are intensely debated in the movie. People who are not aware of these issues before seeing “National Champions” probably won’t look at NCAA sports in the same way again after seeing this movie.

At the beginning of “National Champions,” which takes place entirely in New Orleans, NCAA football player LeMarcus James (played by Stephan James) is seen at 6:10 a.m. on the balcony of his hotel room, as he gears up for the biggest fight of his life. He’s about to hold a press conference announcing the boycott and the list of demands that he and his fellow boycotters want to be fulfilled by the NCAA, in order to end the boycott. The national championship game is being held in New Orleans, and LeMarcus is expected to be a star of the game.

LeMarcus, who is 21, is the current quarterback for the fictional Missouri Wolves. He recently won the Heisman Trophy. And he is widely predicted to be the first overall pick of the next National Football League (NFL) draft. LeMarcus is well-aware that by launching ths boycott, it will likely ruin his chances to play in the NFL, since he will be branded as a “troublemaker.” However, he is determined to fight for what he strongly believes in, no matter that the consequences.

LeMarcus knows he’s facing an uphill battle in this boycott. At this point in time, LeMarcus and his best friend Emmett Sunday (played by Alexander Ludwig), who is also a Missouri Wolves teammate, are the only two athletes who are solidly committed to this boycott. They both come from working-class backgrounds and have gotten full athletic scholarships to attend their university because of football.

While in New Orleans for the natonial championship game, LeMarcus and Emmett have planned to “go missing” from practice. They move around from hotel to hotel, so that they can’t easily be found. During the course of the movie, they only allow a select number of trusted people into their hotel room. LeMarcus is also battling a nasty cold, but it doesn’t deter his inner strength to fight for his cause. LeMarcus and Emmett are starting this boycott without any help from attorneys.

Emmett, who is the more laid-back of the two friends, doesn’t seem to like public speaking because he’s not seen in the movie making speeches or doing press conferences. Emmett is happy to let LeMarcus take the lead as the spokesperson for the boycott and as the one who articulates the demands that they want the NCAA to follow. Throughout the movie, Stephan James gives an effective performance that shows how LeMarcus has a powerful talent of persuasion and a steely determination to not give up in the face of several obstacles. LeMarcus’ stubbornness and refusal to compromise make him a formidable but very underdog opponent.

LeMarcus has his share of skeptics and naysayers. Before the press conference, a teammate named Orlando Bishop (played by Julian Horton) tries to discourage LeMarcus from going through with the boycott. Orlando tells LeMarcus that the NCAA system won’t change just because LeMarcus doesn’t play in the national championships. “Aint nobody marching in the streets for the number-one anchor. You’re going to embarrass yourself, bro,” Orlando comments. When the boycott is underway, someone else warns LeMarcus that LeMarcus is going to be blacklisted from professional football, just like former NFL star Colin Kaepernick, who is outspoken in his support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

During the brief televised press conference, LeMarcus gives the list of demands that the boycotters want from the NCAA:

  • (1) NCAA will create of a non-revokable trust fund for every Division 1 varsity athlete.
  • (2) NCAA will contribute to a disability penision for Division 1 athletes who are injured in college athletics
  • (3) NCAA will recognize and collectively bargain with the proposed NCAA players’ union, submitting to all federally mandated guidelines of a unionized workforce.

LeMarcus doesn’t sugarcoat what he thinks is going on with the NCAA having a policy forbidding NCAA athletes from being paid athletes: He calls it “slave labor,” where the athletes work for free and other people get rich off of them. “Slave labor” is a hot-button phrase, because it can’t be ignored that most of the NCAA football players are African American, while most of the NCAA officials who are millionaires because of their NCAA salaries are white.

The NCAA doesn’t pay NCAA athletes because of a policy that refuses to classify NCAA athletes as NCAA employees. The NCAA makes a bulk of its profits from licensing its games to television, as well as from collecting money from sponsors that pay the NCAA and individual teams for NCAA athletes to wear sponsor items or use sponsor equipment for free advertising. People who don’t want the NCAA to pay its athletes say it’s because NCAA athletes are college students, not working professionals, and if these athletes got paid, they’d be more likely to be corrupted and drop out of college to spend the money.

During the press conference, LeMarcus gives a damning example of the disparity between how the athletes are not compensated for their work and how the NCAA officials are being highly compensated. He mentions how the unpaid NCAA athletes have to pay for their own medical bills if they are injured during games, while high-ranking NCAA officials each get millions of dollars in salaries and employee perks, such as health insurance benefits, life insurance benefits and lucrative pensions. The billions of dollars that flow through the NCAA, after expenses are paid, end up mostly with an elite group at the top.

To make his point, LeMarcus names the multimillion-dollar annual salaries of some high-ranking NCAA officials, including the salary of Missouri Wolves head coach James Lazor, who is not happy about having his salary being revealed for the whole world to know. By contrast, many NCAA athletes spend so much required time on their sport (which is usually more than a regular 40-hour work week) in additon to their academic requirements, they don’t have time to get salaried jobs, and many of them are financially struggling. NCAA athletes are not allowed to accept high-priced gifts and donations. However, in July 2021 (after “National Champions” was filmed), the U.S. Supreme Court lifted a monetary limit that the NCAA wanted to keep on student-athletes getting education-related gifts and benefits.

The fact that many NCAA athletes get their college tuition and living expenses paid for through scholarships (which usually comes from the athlete student’s college/university, not the NCAA) is of little comfort if it comes at a price of being injured from NCAA games or NCAA training, and the NCAA won’t help with health insurance or medical bills for the injuries. And if athletes in the NCAA have career-ending injuries, or if the athletes don’t make it to the professional leagues, then they are often stuck with paying for medical bills for injuries that they got while playing for the NCAA.

By the time athletes make it into the NCAA, they’re already at least 18 years old, in most cases. And because almost all NCAA athletes are legal adults and working full-time hours for the NCAA, many people believe that NCAA should be compensated like full-time employees. However, too many people are invested in keeping the status quo because they don’t want to share the NCAA’s wealth with the athletes.

These are harsh realities that many people don’t want to think about when they root for their favorite American college teams and athletes. However, as depicted in “National Champions,” people who believe in a boycott of the NCAA until things change in favor of athletes’ civil rights think that the only ways that these changes happen are if the public puts pressure on the NCAA and if activists play hardball with the NCAA. LeMarcus knows that he will probably ruin his promising football career with this boycott, and changes might not come in his lifetime, but he wants to get the ball rolling.

At first glance, it might seem that the plan to launch this boycott is poorly conceived, since only LeMarcus and Emmett seem to the only athletes who are part of the boycott. But the plan, although very risky, is actually a bold strategic move. And that’s because LeMarcus and Emmett plan to use the media to get the word out quickly to a massive audience and gain as much public support as possible.

If LeMarcus and Emmett had secretly tried to recruit other athletes for weeks behind the scenes, the word would’ve gotten out to the people who would want to stop the boycott. By staging the boycott right before the national championship game (the most lucrative football game for the NCAA), it would catch the NCAA off guard and force them to make a decision, or else possibly have the game cancelled. And because of the media attention, the NCAA has to make its decision publicly. LeMarcus and Emmett are fully prepared not to play in the game, but what other NCAA football players will join them?

The media blitz part of the plan works, because the boycott becomes big news. And there are some star NFL athletes who voice their support of the boycott, including Russell Wilson and Malcolm Jenkins, who portray themselves in cameos in the movie. These celebrity endorsements convince some other NCAA national championship football players to join the boycott too. The movie has a scene where LeMarcus gives a passionate speech in a hotel room that further convinces some of his fellow NCAA football players to join the boycott.

It isn’t long before so many Wolves team members are boycotting the game, the team is in danger of having mostly inexperienced freshman left as available team members. An emergency meeting takes place with the key players who will put up the fight in trying to squash the boycott. The people in this meeting are:

  • Coach James Lazor (played by J.K. Simmons), the hard-driving leader of the Missouri Wolves, who sees his athletes as his surrogate sons.
  • Richard Everly (played by David Koechner), the arrogant, sexist and crude leader of the powerful Southeastern Conference (SEC).
  • Wes Martin (played by Tony Winters), a Big 12 Conference executive who has some sympathy for the boycotting athletes.
  • Kevin McDonald (played by David Maldonado), director of communications for College Football Playoff (CFP), who is loyal to his employer and has to run interference with the media.
  • Mike Titus (played by Jeffrey Donovan), senior vice-president of championships for Division 1 NCAA Football, who is calm and level-headed.
  • Katherine Poe (played by Uzo Aduba), who describes herself as “outside counsel,” and seems to have a specialty in crisis management.

In this initial meeting, the men do almost all of the talking, while Katherine mostly sits quietly and listens in the background. But as time goes on, Katherine proves to be a fierce competitor in this boycott war. And she’s willing to do what it takes to win, including digging up some of LeMarcus’ secrets that could hurt his credibility. Coach Lazor wants the boycott to end, but he’s reluctant to play dirty in ways that could ruin LeMarcus’ life and reputation.

In a cast of very talented actors, Aduba and Simmons give outstanding performances not only because their characters are so strong-willed and outspoken but also because Coach Lazor and Katherine have their own unique charisma and flaws. Aduba and Simmons give two of the best monologues in the movie. The screenwriting for “National Champions” is mostly solid, and these cast members definitely elevate the material.

Coach Lazor’s big moment comes when he assembles the remaining Wolves team members in a hotel conference room and gives a rousing and emotional speech about how money doesn’t make someone happy and that he’s not a coach for the NCAA because of the money. He shares a story about his personal background and how his dreams to become professional football player were dashed, but he found a way to channel his passion for football by coaching. Coach Lazor says that money shouldn’t be these athletes’ motivation, but glory should be the main motivation.

Katherine’s impactful monlogue comes in a scene when Emmett accuses her of being heartless. It’s in this scene where Katherine, who comes across as obsessed with her job and somewhat mysterious up until this point, unleashes a tirade to show her human vulnerabilities and emotional pain. She also reveals that she’s not siding with the NCAA because it’s her job, but also because she truly believes that the boycott will hurt NCAA funding for lower-profile sports that don’t get as much attention as football and men’s basketball.

Katherine is probably the most interesting and complex character in this movie. There are many sports movies that show clashes between athletes and authority figures. However, almost all of these movies are about ego conflicts between men. Katherine embodies every woman who’s in a male-dominated job who is constantly underestimated because of her gender. She also happens to be African American, which is adds another layer of discrimination that she no doubt has experienced for her entire life.

It’s this type of life experience that makes her more clear-eyed and prepared for the times when people’s worst natures come out, compared to people who are unprepared and gullible because they go through life never having to experience real discrimination or hatred. Katherine’s way of dealing with opposition can be too extreme, by a lot of standards. She wants to win at all costs, even if she gives up a lot of compassion or empathy that she might have.

“National Champions” is at its best when it focuses on the characters of LeMarcus, Coach Lazor and Katherine. The movie tends to falter when it goes off on other tangents. There’s a soap opera-like subplot about Coach Lazor’s philandering wife Bailey Lazor (played by Kristin Chenoweth) and her lover Elliott Schmidt (played by Timothy Olyphant), a college professor who decides that he’s going to take a job in Italy. The movie shows if Bailey decides to run off with Elliott or not, in the midst of this boycott crisis.

Meanwhile, some supporting characters are introduced in the movie, but their character development is non-existent. Lil Rel Howery portrays Ronnie Dunn, the Wolves’ defensive coordinator coach, who might have to step in for Coach Lazor during the championship game when Coach Lazor seems to be on the verge of having a personal meltdown. Tim Blake Nelson is Rodger Cummings, the head of the Missouri Wolves boosters club, who is not about to let all the booster donations that were poured into the team possibly go down the drain with a boycott that could cost the Wolves the championship game. Andrew Bachelor portrays Taylor Jackson, another wealthy booster of the Wolves.

All the other football players depicted in the movie aren’t given enough screen time for viewers to see if they have distinctive personalities. Cecil Burgess (played by Therry Edouard), who has the nickname the Haitian Hammer, is another star athlete for the Missouri Wolves. However, Cecil only has a few brief scenes, mainly to show that he’s staying loyal to the NCAA, and he thinks the boycott is a mistake. Emmett is portrayed as a nice guy, but his personality is fairly bland.

Despite some of the flaws in the “National Champions” screenplay, the movie is directed, filmed and edited in a way that makes this an engaging thriller for people who want to watch movies about the business side of sports. “National Champions” might disappoint people who think they’re going to see a lot of football playing in the movie. But for other people who appreciate what the film is actually about, they’ll understand that it’s about real-life stakes that are much higher than a championship game.

STX will release “National Champions” in U.S. cinemas on December 10, 2021. The movie is set for release on digital and VOD on December 28, 2021.

Food Network announces details of ‘Candy Land,’ hosted by Kristin Chenoweth

October 13, 2020

Kristin Chenoweth (Photo courtesy of Food Network)

The following is a press release from Food Network:

Food Network brings out the childhood imagination of five teams made up of professionacake and sugar artists on the new primetime competition series Candy Land, inspired by the classic Hasbro children’s game. Through six episodes, Emmy and Tony Award-winning actress and singer Kristin Chenoweth hosts and guides the teams through the fantastical world of Candy Land, challenging them to create heavenly confectionary showpieces, all the while being thrown curveballs every step of the way by Lord Licorice that puts the teams’ skills to the ultimate test. Premiering Sunday, November 15 at 9pm ET/PT, each episode features the teams stepping into one of the eye-popping lands come to life, including giant candy canes in the Peppermint Forest, life-size gumdrops at the Gumdrop Mountains, a real life gingerbread house at Chocolate Mountain, enormous and luscious lollipops in the Lollipop Woods, and lemons growing right off the vines in the Lemon Lime Springs. The players must forage for flavors and unique ingredients within each land to use for their sugar masterpieces before presenting to judges Nacho Aguirre and Aarti Sequeira, who determine which teams advance down the board game path based on creativity, technical execution, and how well the candies of the land were incorporated. The first team to make it to King Kandy’s Castle wins the game and earns the grand prize of $25,000. 

“For almost three-quarters of a century and with over 50 million games sold, Candy Land is one of the most beloved childhood memories for generations of families everywhere, and we are thrilled to be able to collaborate with Hasbro to bring viewers on this immersive journey with such an iconic property,” said Courtney White, President, Food Network. “And with Kristin Chenoweth’s charismatic presence, she is the perfect guide in capturing the imagination of audiences, making the world of Candy Land truly come alive.”

“Candy Land is what the world needs right now – oh, and also sugar,” said Chenoweth. 

Host Kristin Chenoweth welcomes the players to Candy Land before presenting the teams with their first challenge to create mystical and magical creatures the likes of which have never been seen before. Each team must present their work of art to judges Nacho Aguirre and Aarti Sequeira to see which team’s time in Candy Land has come to an end. Other episodes feature the teams designing inventive and edible means of transportation for the citizens of Candy Land, creating beautiful upgrades for the town squares within each land, and a final challenge with the last teams standing thinking outside the box to deliver a one-of-a-kind gift that will need to impress King Kandy.

Whether it is over a 100 pounds of chocolate used for Chocolate Mountain or 1,000 lollipops needed to create the Lollipop Woods, go behind the scenes to see how the breathtaking set of Candy Land comes to life in the special premiering Sunday, November 15 at 10:30pm ET/PT. Host David Bromstad (HGTV’s My Lottery Dream Home) treats viewers to an exclusive peek into the making of each land and the creative process of the minds that are undertaking this monumental challenge, along with learning the history of the iconic Hasbro game that continues to be a childhood favorite.

For more confectionary magic, don’t miss expert baker Dan Langan in the exclusive web series Inspired by Candy Land where Dan creates sensational sweets and cakes that draw inspiration from the classic children’s game. The companion series available on FoodNetwork.com premieres the week of November 9 with new episodes rolling out weekly.

For more information on Candy Land, viewers can go to FoodNetwork.com/CandyLand to access insider videos with Kristin and the judges, as well as exclusive behind-the-scenes photos from the set. Plus, join in on the conversation throughout the season using #CandyLand.

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FOOD NETWORK (www.foodnetwork.com) is a unique lifestyle network, website and magazine that connects viewers to the power and joy of food. The network strives to be viewers’ best friend in food and is committed to leading by teaching, inspiring, empowering and entertaining through its talent and expertise. Food Network is distributed to nearly 100 million U.S. households and draws over 46 million unique web users monthly. Since launching in 2009, Food Network Magazine’s rate base has grown 13 times and is the No. 2 best-selling monthly magazine on the newsstand, with 13.5 million readers. Food Network is owned by Discovery, Inc., a global leader in real life entertainment spanning 220 countries and territories; the portfolio also includes Discovery Channel, HGTV, TLC, Investigation Discovery, and OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network.

2019 Tony Awards: performers and presenters announced

June 3, 2019

The following is a press release from the Tony Awards:

Some of the world’s biggest stars from stage and screen will appear at the 73rd Annual Tony Awards. The list of names announced includes Darren Criss, Tina Fey, Sutton Foster, Samuel L. Jackson, Regina King, Laura Linney, Audra McDonald, Ben Platt, Billy Porter, Andrew Rannells, LaTanya Richardson Jackson and Michael Shannon. More presenters will be announced soon.

The Tony Awards telecast will feature an incredible line up of celebrity presenters and musical performances for Broadway’s biggest night.
James Corden will return to host the American Theatre Wing’s 2019 Tony Awards, which will be broadcast live from Radio City Music Hall in New York City on CBS. The three-hour program will air on Sunday, June 9th 8:00 – 11:00 p.m. (ET/PT time delay). The Tony Awards are presented by The Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing.

You can also watch the Tony Awards online with CBS All Access. More info at cbs.com/all-access.

June 5, 2019 UPDATE: A second round of artists has been added to appear at THE 73rd ANNUAL TONY AWARDS(R), live from the historic Radio City Music Hall in New York City, Sunday, June 9 (8:00-11:00 PM, live ET/delayed PT) on the CBS Television Network. The star-studded lineup includes Sara Bareilles, Laura Benanti, Abigail Breslin, Danny Burstein, Kristin Chenoweth, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Josh Groban, Danai Gurira, Jake Gyllenhaal, Chris Jackson, Shirley Jones, Jane Krakowski, Judith Light, Lucy Liu, Aasif Mandvi, Sienna Miller, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Catherine O’Hara, Kelli O’Hara, Karen Olivo, Anthony Ramos, Marisa Tomei, Aaron Tveit, Samira Wiley and BeBe Winans.

Emmy and Tony Award winner James Corden will host the 2019 Tony Awards for the second time. As previously announced, Darren Criss, Tina Fey, Sutton Foster, Samuel L. Jackson, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Regina King, Laura Linney, Audra McDonald, Ben Platt, Billy Porter, Andrew Rannells and Michael Shannon will also take part in Broadway’s biggest night.

The TONY Awards, which honors theater professionals for distinguished achievement on Broadway, has been broadcast on CBS since 1978. This year marks the 73rd anniversary of the TONY Awards, which were first held on April 6, 1947 at the Waldorf Astoria’s Grand Ballroom. The ceremony is presented by Tony Award Productions, which is a joint venture of the Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing, which founded the Tonys.

Ricky Kirshner and Glenn Weiss of White Cherry Entertainment will return as executive producers. Weiss will also serve as director for the 20th consecutive year. Ben Winston is a producer.

June 6, 2019 UPDATE:

Cynthia Erivo (Photo by Barry Brecheisen)

The Tony Awards telecast will feature performances by the casts of “Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of the Temptations”; “Beetlejuice”; “The Cher Show”; “Choir Boy”; “Hadestown”; “Kiss Me, Kate”; “Oklahoma!”; “The Prom” and “Tootsie.” The evening will also feature a special performance by Tony Award winning-actress Cynthia Erivo.

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