The Titans - United they stood

by Robert J. Hawkins | Mar 26, 2001
The Titans - United they stood "Before we reach for hate - always, always - we remember the Titans."

A common purpose will always win over prejudice, fear and hatred. In Alexandria, Va., in 1971 - in the face of forced school integration and the powerful emotions that it unleashed - a fully integrated high school football team led the way.

The T.C. Williams High Titans had to first vanquish the prejudices and fears residing in their own hearts. Once that was done, they showed an entire city how to conquer the world. It is a true story. One, this writer can attest to, having been a Yellow Cab driver in Alexandria during that amazing season. This is the story told in "Remember the Titans" (Disney, PG, VHS/DVD).

In 1971, Bill Yoast (Will Patton) was the winning head coach of the Titans, a popular man facing the prospect of another winning season and election to the high school hall of fame. Integration saw the merger of the all-white student body of T.C. Williams with the all-black student body from another high school. Integration also brought a new head coach, Herman Boone (Denzel Washington).

Boone and Yoast did not hit it off much better than the racially divided football team. But it didn`t take long for coaches and players, black and white to realize that if they didn`t find a way to get along, they would meet humiliation on the football field.

"I don`t care if you like each other or not," Boone told his players at summer camp. "You will respect each other."

The players did better than that. Through a brutal summer camp and a winning season, they found a common purpose. Once united, their bond could not be broken.

"Remember the Titans" rivals "Pay It Forward" as the most uplifting movie of 2000. I`d have to give it the edge, if only because the story is true. As the movie shows, not every player was able to bridge the racial divide, but many of those that did became friends for life.

Gregory Allen Howard`s script artfully carries the team`s story through the entire season, being careful not to dilute it with the bigger story going on in the world around Alexandria.

Washington and Patton embody their characters with great power and dignity. Neither Yoast nor Boone asked for this situation. They were just football coaches. As such, they came to respect each other. (Long after the time portrayed in the movie, which ends with the state championship, the two men remained close friends.)

Yoast`s daughter, Sheryl (Hayden Panettiere), a precocious 11-year-old who knows as much about football as any high school coach, is a bright relief valve in the story. (The real Sheryl died at age 34 of heart failure.) The actors cast as football players are an ensemble worthy of a championship. They conveyed powerfully the effects of the forces pushing them to rise above the prejudices of their parents and many peers and the forces trying to pull them apart. This and playing football like champions.

No easy trick.

Director Boaz Yakin never lets the movie founder. I suspect that producer Jerry Bruckheimer, better known for, shall we say, more explosive movies, probably had a lot to do with the powerful action shots of the football games. Another key ingredient in setting the story is the music. The use of popular tunes from the era not only help set the time, they also illustrate how music was once a powerful, unifying force. Watching white and black players singing - and singing badly, albeit joyfully - a Temptations or Supremes song is absolutely a thrilling cinematic moment.

Needless to say, as the Titans begin to rack up victories the entire city begins to rally behind them. The embattled residents all put aside their anger, their fears. They smell a championship. You don`t even have to like football to appreciate the power in this movie. It is a joyful celebration of a very true life story that once took place in a time when adults needed to be shown the way by their children - and a couple of coaches who knew how to win, on and off the field.

Sit down with your kids and watch this one together.

ALSO THIS WEEK

"The Crow: Salvation" (Dimension, R, DVD/VHS) - The saga continues. Kirsten Dunst, Eric Mabius and Fred Ward star in the third chapter of the supernatural thriller series, based on a cult comic book in the 1980s.

Mabius plays Alex Corvis, a young man wrongly accused of the death of his girlfriend and executed, only to be brought back by the mysterious crow to seek vengeance and unleash the truth.

"Crow" fans: All three movies are available as a special DVD box set, loaded with extra features, priced under $90.

"Turn It Up" (New Line, R, VHS/DVD) - A couple of young street-smart musicians try to rise up in the hip-hop music business. Prakazrel Michel (Pras from the band Fugee) is Diamond, the musician with a dream. Rapper Ja Rule plays his friend Gage, a street gangster, who will do anything in his power to help Diamond make it to the top.

"Lucky Numbers" (Paramount, R, VHS/DVD) - This lightweight comedy inspired by a real lottery scam in Pennsylvania has John Travolta as Russ Richards, a local TV weatherman, and Lisa Kudrow as Crystal Latroy, the TV station`s perky lottery girl.

Russ and Crystal hatch a plan to rig the lottery balls so their numbers come up. Others in on the scheme include Gig (Tim Roth), a strip club owner and pal of Russ; the station manager (Ed O`Neill); Crystal`s cousin (Michael Moore); as well as Michael Rapaport and Bill Pullman.

"The Specials" (Pioneer, unrated, VHS/DVD) - As crime-fighters go, The Specials are the sixth- or seventh-rated band of superheroes in the universe. Beset by petty in-fighting and squabbles, The Specials must pull themselves together when opportunity and its call to greatness arrive.

Thomas Haden Church, Rob Lowe and Jamie Kennedy lead the band of superheroes with the poor self-image.

"The Tao of Steve" (Columbia TriStar, R,VHS/ DVD) - Those ultra-cool Steves of yesteryear - Steve McQueen, Steve McGarrett and Steve Austin - could get the babes effortlessly. Overweight kindergarten teacher Dex (Donal Logue) is a student of Steve-ism. He gets the babes. Until he encounters Syd (Greer Goodman), an old college flame, who is immune to the Steve techniques.

"Dancer in the Dark" (New Line, R, VHS/DVD) - Quirky Icelandic singer Bjork makes her theatrical debut in this musical drama about a young woman who is slowly losing her eyesight. Beset by tragedy, she begins to lose her grip on reality and believes that her life has become a Hollywood musical.

Also starring Catherine Deneuve, David Morse and Joel Gray. Director Lars von Trier is best known previously for his "Breaking the Waves." Bjork, while irritating some critics, has made quite a sensational movie debut. She was named Best Actress at the Canes Film Festival and was nominated for a Golden Globe.

DVD UPDATE:

"The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash" (Rhino, DVD, $20) - Six years before there was "This is Spinal Tap," there was Eric Idle and his fab mockumentary on four young mop-topped lads from Liverpool, who became a global sensation in the 1960s. Of course, I mean the Rutles. Who else? Dirk, Stig, Barry and Nasty skyrocketed on the power of that special something (tight pants, according to some in the documentary). "The Rutles" almost too closely mimics the Beatles and might be considered a cheap rip-off were it not for the utter lack of charisma in the Rutles.

Monty Python alum Idle got Paul Simon, Mick Jagger and other luminaries, to talk candidly about the Rutles. "Saturday Night Live" gods - Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi and Gilda Radner - do bits. No surprise: SNL creator Lorne Michaels was executive producer. (The Rutles actually got their start as a short piece on SNL.)

The DVD contains a commentary track by Idle, extended segments of the original interviews with Jagger and Simon, a photo gallery and lots of previously unseen footage. Also, Idle adds a new introduction to the mockumentary.

"John Cleese on How to Irritate People" (White Star, DVD, $20) - Talk about irritating: The press release for this video says it will be available in March and a few lines later, it says Feb. 2.

Cleese recruits fellow Pythons Michael Palin and Graham Chapman for this instructive video. In a few short minutes, you`ll be learning how to subtly drive nasty bureaucrats bonkers and drive unwanted relatives crazy. DVD bonus: A previously unseen Python bit, "Airline Pilots" with Chapman, Cleese and Palin.

"A Passage to India" (Columbia Tri-Star, PG, DVD) - Sir David Lean directed this 1985 epic, based on the E.M. Forester novel of the same name. It was nominated for nine Academy Awards. The movie deals with racial tensions in colonial India and stars Judy Davis and Victor Banerjee, as well as Alec Guinness and Peggy Ashcroft (who won a supporting actress Oscar). The film won for Best Score (Maurice Jarre), too.

COMING ATTRACTIONS:

April 24: "The Substitute: Failure is Not an Option" Treat Williams and Angie Everheart in the sequel about a combat-hardened sub-teacher, who isn`t afraid to kick a little school-boy butt.

May 15: New release date for "Antitrust."

May 22: Ray Liotta, Joseph Fiennes and Gretchen Mol in the thriller "Forever Mine" (from the writer of "Taxi Driver" and "Raging Bull").

May 29: Benjamin Bratt, Armand Asante and Mili Avital in "After the Storm."

(c) Copley News Service

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Author: Robert J. Hawkins

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