Volume 74, Number 25 | Octuber 20 - 26 , 2004

koch on film

By Ed Koch

“Friday Night Lights” (+)
Not close to a really good flick; nevertheless, it is interesting and entertaining.

Based on a true story and book by H.G. Bissinger, the film is about the Permian High School football team in Odessa, Texas. This little town had little going for it, and for many of its residents, seeing the Panthers win the state championship was an obsession.

Coach Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton) brought the team, made up of whites, blacks and Hispanics, a long way in its 1988 season. The book, said to be much tougher, mentions racial disputes that occurred among team members, but the film does not.

The star of the team, Boobie Miles (Derek Luke), is ultimately forced off the team as a result of a ligament injury. His uncle (Grover Coulson) and Boobie attempt to conceal his injury so that he can continue to play. Those scenes are sensitively performed. The town folk expect Coach Gaines to win even without his best player, and subtle Southern and not so subtle threats are made to him regarding the team’s success.

Two players create the greatest interest in the film. One is Don Billingsley (Garrett Hedlund) whose abusive father (Tim McGraw, yes, the son of Tug McGraw) was once a star player on the same school team. Don is depicted as a very sensitive guy who, although abused by his father as a weakling, seeks his love and admiration. The other major figure is Mike Winchell (Lucas Black) son of a single mother who is totally caught up in his life.

The acting on the part of all is excellent, although the dialogue is occasionally unintelligible. I identified with the hard-pressed team players, and the film held my interest until the end. The scenes are often physically jarring, and it was painful to learn that this high school experience is the defining moment in the lives of many players, their families, and the coach.

HS liked it as a slice of middle America, and saw the coach as a positive influence on the team, which is an unusual role for Billy Bob Thorton.

We saw the film on opening night at the 34th Street Theater located at 8th Avenue in Manhattan, whose patrons are probably the most varied in demographics, yet it wasn’t well attended. I believe it is the type of film that will be enjoyed by varied audiences and, therefore, recommend it to you.

Hero (-)
This is an exquisite picture. Probably no other film that I have seen rivals its use of color. The sets are of the Forbidden City, which I have walked through, bordered by Tiananmen Square. The story is a myth going back to the time when China was divided into seven kingdoms, one of which was the kingdom of Qin. The Qin king (Chen Dao Ming) sought to unite the warring states into one mighty land. As a result, he was the constant target of efforts to assassinate him.

A nameless warrior (Jet Li) is asked to take on the duty of protecting the king. During his audience with the king, he is told never to approach him closer than a certain number of paces, otherwise he will be put to death. Of course, he violates the sanction and the myth plays out. There are two other central figures. Broken Sword (Tony Leung Chiu-wai) and his companion, Snow (Maggie Cheung Man-yuk).

I know something about the king of Qin who became China’s first emperor. He was cruel as they all were. However, instead of having thousands of his people and warriors killed to be buried with him when he died, he had more than 25,000 pottery warrior figures interred with him. When I was mayor, I visited his gravesite which is now a gigantic museum, and I have six replicas of the warriors as souvenirs. Every day, they remind me of the myth.

I have rarely seen love mingled with death and great swordplay performed in such a beautiful setting of desert sands. The film contains lots of plots and subplots that are the subject of discussion. The emoting, similar to an old silent film in the use of facial expressions, is awesome. So what went wrong and why the minus rating? It is boring and I had to pinch myself to stay awake. If you want to see a movie with an interesting plot that you can appreciate and identify with, look elsewhere.

—Ed Koch

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