Friday, October 10, 2008

A belated look at a football hero


I attended graduate school at Syracuse University, which is why I was interested in "The Express," the story of Ernie Davis, the first black football player to win the Heisman Trophy. With Rob Brown as Davis and Dennis Quaid as coach Ben Schwartzwalder, the movie serves as a kind of primer about racial attitudes in the late '50s and early '60s, as well as a look at Syracuse's football culture. Director Gary Fleder draws in bold, sports-film strokes, but he gets the job done, alerting young audiences to the problems Davis faced when he arrived at Syracuse. Although I hate to climb on a high horse and say that a movie might do some good, maybe this one will. It could help educate younger viewers unfamiliar with racial attitudes in the world in which Davis grew up. Reasonably entertaining and put together with sufficient displays of craft, "The Express" crosses the goal line as a winner.


"City of Ember", a big-screen adaptation of a 2003 novel by Jeanne Duprau, is a mishmash of a movie that seems aimed at younger audiences. After an apocalypse (what else?), Earth's human population moves into an underground city. People have been living underground for more than 200 years when the film opens. Despite the presence of Bill Murray (mostly negligible) and Tim Robbins (seemingly uninvolved), the movie feels as if it's aimed at the most gullible of younger audiences. The sets are elaborate, but depressing. An uninspired plot follows two teen-agers (Saoirse Ronan and Harry Treadaway) as they search for a way out of their failing underground city. After about 10 minutes, I wanted out, too.

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