Are you ready for some football!? Well, hopefully not at the moment; there are still a few days before kickoff. Use this time to take a break from the non-stop, repetitive, and uninformative NFL coverage of Super Bowl LII. Watch a movie or two, it will be fun.
The Movie Watcher’s Club is back for it’s February edition of the series. In 2017, we may have been stereotypical and discussed horror films in October and Christmas movies in December. But 2018 is a new year, and the staff is bucking that trend. Instead of discussing love movies because of Valentine’s Day, we are celebrating America’s greatest unofficial holiday — Super Bowl Sunday. After all, Holyfield is a sports website at its core.
Discussing football films was a topic too on the nose, so we went with films that take place in cities for the respective Super Bowl Teams, Boston and Philadelphia. “Taking place” means the film’s story either took place there or an important aspect of the story happened there. Essentially, some ties to Philadelphia and Boston. I know there are some of you reading on with disgust after that sentence because the Patriots represent “all of New England.” While true, we wanted to make things simpler with a specific city. Besides, the Patriots are lumped into Boston sports. It’s not like anyone associates them with Portland, Providence, or Concord. The Patriots play in Massachusetts outside of Boston; they are a Boston team.
Alright, enough on locations. We have movies to talk about. Without further ado, let’s get into our choices!
Director: Seth MacFarlane
Writers: Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, Wellesley Wild
Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Seth MacFarlane
Ted is a film about a childhood friendship turned middle-aged bromance between a man and his talking, stuffed bear. It’s just as goofy in practice as it is on paper, but there’s something overtly loveable about the characters that sucked me in almost immediately upon viewing.
It certainly isn’t a film fit for movie night, as the script is littered with director Seth McFarlane’s (Family Guy) trademark, vulgar wit. Crudeness aside, lead Mark Wahlberg does a tremendous job as Boston born and raised John Bennett, and Mila Kunis shines as per usual in a support role.
To nobody’s surprise, Ted was absent from awards shows in 2012, and it hardly made a mark on end-of-year lists. Cold shoulders asides, the film’s legality is cemented in its ability to be replayed six years later and still draw a few laughs, and you’d be hard-pressed to convince me McFarlane’s aspirations were ever any higher than that.
Eagles 24, Patriots 27.
Director: Tom McCarthy
Writers: Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer
Stars: Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton, Liev Schreiber
Tom McCarthy’s 2016 Best Picture Academy Award-winning film, Spotlight tells the true story of the Boston Globe team of journalists who uncovered proof of the Roman-Catholic church covering up sexual abuse.
The name of the film comes as a reference to the name of the investigative, heavy — in impact and length — team of journalists at the Boston Globe. The team is highlighted by Walter “Robby” Robinson, Michael Rezendes, and Sacha Pfeiffer, who Keaton, Ruffalo, and McAdams play, respectively. They, along with managing deputy director, Ben Bradlee Jr. (John Slattery) are native to the area and like the majority of Boston, have a connection to the shocking news they broke. The characters’ reference to simply “The Church” exemplifies the magnitude of this story’s importance and its all-encompassing nature. It’s far-reaching impact and personal nature is exemplified by the team’s initial hesitation to pursue the story.
It takes an outsider, in the form of a new editor, Marty Baron (Schreiber) to get the story on the right scope. “This strikes me as an essential story for a local paper.” The Spotlight team initially narrowed its focus toward one former priest who allegedly molested many children, John J. Geoghan. However, Baron, from a meeting in which Cardinal Law had the audacity to assume the newspaper would work with them, senses, and then urges the team to think, bigger, and systemic.
The film portrays a classic New England feel. The streets, the weather, the monuments, all scream Boston. Spotlight highlights investigative journalism, a rare sight now, just two decades later. However, its true power comes in the truth it depicts in its victims. It does not shy away from showing the damage done to the abused, especially psychologically. It also delves into the inner conflict the story brought onto those men and women of faith. The true nature of inner turmoil that Catholics faced with scandal in religion versus being religious is almost a character of its own in Spotlight. The movie is a true triumph in acting, we feel like we know these workaholic journalists, but most of all for the true story it portrayed. You witness why it was a big deal, you feel how profoundness it was even more.
Eagles 20, Patriots 27.
Good Will Hunting (1997)
Director: Gus Van Sant
Writers: Matt Damon, Ben Affleck
Stars: Robin Williams, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck
If this subject was on music, I could on for days about the massively talented Philadelphia scene. However, there isn’t a singular theme in film that works for me with Philly. Boston, on the other hand, is known for their films depicting working-class underdogs. There is something inherently “Boston” about films like The Departed, The Town, and, my choice this month, Good Will Hunting. And no, it isn’t just “pahk da cah” and obscene banter.
“Boston films” usually check off a few things. The protagonist, usually a charming but emotionally troubled man (see: Catholic) that must face his demons. These are usually some combination of personal doubt and a peer group hindering the protagonist’s growth. There’s always a smart love interest who does not understand our hero’s ruggedness. And yes, we can’t forget about wise-cracking. At its core, Good Will Hunting, and films about Boston, are about living up to an unseen measure of potential. They’re about fighting off your demons and the outside factors largely play out in spite of this overarching goal.
This film launched Matt Damon and Ben Affleck to super-stardom. They took home the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and gave Robin Williams an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. In the end, it’s his performance that really sticks with me. It’s not about Boston or football or anything like that; it’s just damn good acting. His entire performance is honest and intimate, topped off by a devastating monologue in the park. It’s deeply moving and still one of my favorite monologues. It’s a perfect example of the themes of the film and city. You take the bad, no matter how much there is, and hold onto a glimmer of hope, no matter how small it is.
Eagles 20, Patriots 31.
The Departed (2006)
Director: Martin Scorsese
Writers: William Monahan, Alan Mak, Felix Chong
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson
Scorsese. DiCaprio. Damon. Nicholson. Do I even have to say anything else?
Martin Scorsese’ 2007 Oscar winner for best picture is gritty, dirty, entertaining, unrelenting and above all, a masterpiece. The Departed is a cat and mouse game between an Irish gang in South Boston run by Frank Costello, played by a humorously maniacal Jack Nicholson, and the Boston police; most specifically, undercover cop Billy Costigan (Dicaprio).
Scene-stealing — Jack doing Jack things, including a most memorable scene in a bar with Leo —double-crossing, moles (not of the animal variety), and plans going awry with a supporting cast including Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg (who received a best supporting actor nomination), Martin Sheen, and Alec Baldwin is just the tip of the iceberg in this “wicked sick” (say that with me in a Bahston accent) film.
Oh, and if you’re a fan of the only Dropkick Murphys’ song “I’m shipping up to Boston,” it’s played a plenty and glorious in every way.
The Departed is Boston. This film is Scorsese. This film is one of the best.
Eagles 24, Patriots 35.
The Master (2012)
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Writer: Paul Thomas Anderson
Stars: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams
In the pantheon of Paul Thomas Anderson films, The Master is his litmus test, his Rorschach blot. What you take away from the story of Lancaster Dodd and Freddie Quell, and whether or not you like the movie at all, is revealing, I think, of your interests and of your appreciation of PTA, because parsing what The Master “means” is like battling a hydra.
Sure, we can take Lancaster Dodd to be L. Ron Hubbard and The Cause to be Scientology, considering the significant parallels. But it’s not like we really learn anything about Hubbard or the early days of Scientology. Besides, Quell’s story is the film’s focus, not Dodd’s. Okay, what if the two men are Freudian allegories, with Quell playing the drunken, impulsive, horny id to Dodd’s pretentious, narcissistic, repressive ego? That would explain the film’s preoccupation with sexuality — but psychoanalyzing seems more facile than calling The Master a movie about Scientology.
Are the leads two versions of America, prewar and postwar? Is Philip Seymour Hoffman the Orson Welles stand-in, opposite Joaquin Phoenix’s Marlon Brando? It could just be a love story, albeit a strange, homoerotic, antagonistic one. A decent portion of the film takes place in Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, after all. Or maybe you think it’s an impenetrable miasma of bullshit, a particularly maddening example of ostentatious male filmmaking. I don’t think that, but I see how someone could.
It may not be as kaleidoscopic as Magnolia or Inherent Vice; it may not have the sweeping grandeur of There Will Be Blood; it may not be as immediately enjoyable as Boogie Nights. But The Master is certainly Anderson’s most beguiling film, and, I’d argue, his tightest and most accomplished.
Eagles 420, Patriots 666.
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Writer: M. Night Shyamalan
Stars: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson
M. Night Shyamalan’s latest kind-of-horror-mostly-thriller is among his best. Following on the heels of an insanely well crafted The Visit comes the tale of a man with 24 personalities. Twenty of these personalities are mostly harmless, well-meaning characters, while three are not so well-meaning and try to summon the mysterious 24th personality known only as “The Beast.”
Since the film is still fairly recent, I won’t go into the massive spoilers of the film, but I will note that Split is one of the better Shyamalan films because it brings the filmmaker back to what made him so good in the first place: great characters. The film doesn’t rely on an insane twist a la “I see dead people” or “It was the modern day all along” but rather focuses on sheer psychology and an increased effort to tie our main character and antagonist together through the shared feeling of trauma.
A lot of the film focuses on trauma. Our villain, Kevin, develops each new personality via a traumatic experience whereas our main character spends the entire movie using her history of trauma to rebel against her captor and ultimately try to survive. It’s not perfect psychology. The therapist character practices some very big no-nos, but the underlying message that our traumas are what makes us strong pierces through the terror, helping the movie shine with a solid and layered moral told through gripping characters.
And quite frankly, becoming stronger through trauma is the most Philly sports thing I can think of.
Eagles 16, Patriots 31.
Law Abiding Citizen (2009)
Director: F. Gary Gray
Writer: Kurt Wimmer
Stars: Gerard Butler, Jamie Foxx, Leslie Bibb
A movie not for the faint of heart, Law Abiding Citizen is a tense, action-packed movie that centers around the visceral human emotion of vengeance. The film is successful in playing to its niche as a violent thriller that does not require too much thinking. I’ve heard Law Abiding Citizen referred to as a more brutal, less intelligent Silence of the Lambs, and I think the comparison holds true. When looking for a movie that you can just pop on to react and enjoy without feeling like you’re not understanding anything, this is a great pick.
The film stars Gerard Butler as Clyde Shelton, a loving family man who goes on a carefully planned spree of revenge murders against the men who raped and murdered Clyde’s wife and daughter as well as anyone associated with the justice system that allowed one of the two men to get a plea deal and be released after a short period of time. Convinced that the criminal justice system provides no meaning of the word, Clyde goes on to exact his own vision of justice while staying one step ahead of the system he looks down on. One person seemingly safe from Clyde’s crosshairs is Jamie Foxx’s Assistant District Attorney Nick Rice. Rice, the prosecutor who cut the plea deal with one of the murderers of Clyde’s family, spends the movie trying to figure out what is happening and how Clyde can kill everyone from inside of a prison cell.
Plenty of critics consider this movie below them, as evidenced by its substandard 26% on Rotten Tomatoes. Their comments call it “unnecessarily violent” as well as “a story that defies reason.” Sure, but how many movies have there been that people have enjoyed with a story that utterly defied reason? Law Abiding Citizen is much better than that rating and those numbers, as the audience has the movie rated as a much more respectable 76%. While it’s upfront about its brutality, sporting an NC-17 rating for violence, there is a message, however perverse and mutilated it may be, to be found in what Clyde is trying to do, quoting the Bible when he says he wants to bring the “whole diseased Temple down.” At a time when society seems to have lost faith in the criminal justice system, Law Abiding Citizen is a movie that many people can relate to. As far as action movies go, this is a bloody good one.
Eagles 27, Patriots 24.
Director: John G. Avildsen
Writer: Sylvester Stallone
Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young
When we came up with the theme of this month, there wasn’t a more obvious Philadelphia-themed movie than Rocky. It was just a no-brainer to me.
Rocky takes place in various locations around Philadelphia from the Lauren Hill Cemetery to Rittenhouse Square. It highlights some of the city’s famous sights, all culminating in perhaps the most iconic scene in the Rocky franchise history: the training montage. The final scene of the montage shows Balboa running up the steps in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art as the camera pans around him, showing the Philadelphia skyline in the distance. The scene has become so famous in Philadelphia culture that those steps are now often referred to as “the Rocky steps.”
Not only does Rocky physically depict Philadelphia, it engulfs the spirit of the city as well. A city that was once the epitome of a blue-collar city, Balboa encompasses the same attitude as a small-time boxer working hard to gain national fame. His perseverance and grit to raise his game to achieve his goal.
Even as just a cultural icon, a statue was erected honoring the Balboa character, which now stands near the bottom of “the Rocky steps.” It’s now become a famous tourist activity to mimic running up the stairs as Rocky Balboa did in the movie, capped off with celebrating once reaching the pinnacle.
Rocky encompasses the city of Philadelphia in both setting and in its spiritual relationship, and the city has embraced the character in return.
Eagles 20, Patriots 24.
National Treasure (2004)
Director: Jon Turteltaub
Writers: Jim Kouf, Cormac Wibberley, Marianne Wibberley, Oren Aviv, Charles Segars
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Diane Kruger, Justin Bartha
Did I pick this theme just to write about this movie? The Holyfield staff will say yes, but I’m pleading the fifth. Does this movie represent the identity of either Philadelphia or Boston like a number of these films listed? Not in the slightest, but critical scenes take place in both cities. And quite frankly, that’s enough more me.
National Treasure is a national treasure! This movie is one of Nic Cage’s finest. Critics hated this movie, and so many others do because it’s absolutely bat-shit crazy. But that level of insanity is what makes National Treasure so much fun to watch. IMDB lists the film in the action, adventure, and family genres. Those may be the technical classifications, but this movie is nothing short of an absurdist comedy. Cage whispers in a serious tone, “I’m gonna steal the Declaration of Independence,” and then goes and steals the Declaration of Independence! This is comedic gold. The entire dialogue, for that matter, is comedic gold.
Was this intentional? Probably not, but it honestly doesn’t matter. And not only is the dialogue hilariously absurd, so are all the action sequences. They aren’t driving cars through buildings in the air a la Fast and Furious. What they are doing is having Nic Cage and Sean Bean climbing and illegally, yet freely, wandering around national monuments like Independence Hall in a post 9–11 America. You can’t even bring shampoo onto an airplane, yet Nic Cage is finding special glasses Benjamin Franklin invented in a brick on the roof on Independence Hall that allows him to see a secret message on the back of the Declaration after squirting lemon juice on it.
National Treasure isn’t supposed to be taken seriously. It’s a pseudo-historical scavenger hunt with an insane plot. That’s what makes this film so damn fun to watch over and over again. Pop some popcorn and embrace the absurdity.
Eagles 41, Patriots 14.
There you have it, folks. Another Movie Watcher’s Club in the books. You’re obviously not gonna be able to get to all of these films before Super Bowl LII, but make sure you get to one or two. You have all of February to watch them. And if you have seen these movies a number of times like I have National Treasure, just watch it again. Embrace the cultures of Philadelphia and Boston via these films — well, some of these films. Don’t forget to check us out on Letterboxd where we keep all our lists in an easy-to-find fashion, and stay tuned for March’s list.
Enjoy the Super Bowl, and enjoy these movies!