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Title: McFarland USA

Movie: :3.5stars:
Video: :4.5stars:
Audio: :4.5stars:
Extras: :2.5stars:

HTS Overall Score:82

Disney is back at it again with another underdog sports story. They’ve have a reign on these inspirational sports oriented family centric dramas, and really do well with them. It’s very understandable why they do so well, as mankind just LOVES competition, and sports is one of the way humans are able to compete without picking up spears, knives or guns and killing each other. Sports has both unified and divided our species for thousands of years, and it shows no signs of slowing down. This time around Disney has decided to forgo football, basketball, or baseball and instead focuses on the true life story of a cross country racing team out of McFarland, USA. It’s inspiring, it’s sweet, it’s a Disney family film, and the only downside to the film is that it’s completely predictable. We’ve seen it a million times. The underdog team is thought of as worthless, nothing good can come from there, and then they prove their heart and win in their division. That’s not a knock against the movie, but it is something that dampens the overall experience just a tad.

Coach Jim White (Kevin Costner) is shown dealing with a bunch of prima donnas on his football team and then blowing a gasket and getting let go. It seems that he’s had a problem with that over his teaching career and sooner or later he runs out of options. It just so happens that McFarland California is his last chance. No other school will hire him until McFarland High gives him a chance. It’s one of the poorest cities in all of southern California, filled with a large population of Hispanic immigrant pickers, who live their life in the fields making a living with their hands. Their children are relegated to working in the same life for years, and one of these days replacing their parents in those same fields. The place is rundown, and it’s a bit of a culture shock for the White family. Jim is soon let go from his assistant coaching position of the McFarland High football team after an altercation with their arrogant and dimwitted coach and is a bit like a ship without a rudder, that is until he watches a few of the kids in his PE class run.

Seeing the potential in the kids, Jim rounds together 7 of them and forms a cross country running team. The team dynamic is a bit rocky at first. Jim White is the white outsider who doesn’t understand the struggles of the kids, and the kids have their own set of problems. The Diaz brothers want to run and put their heart and soul into it, but their father wants them to continue to work in the fields and help the family actually survive. Jose Cardenas (Johnny Ortiz) is the “peacock”, too puffed up with his own ego to really make an effective team mate, and Thomas Valles, the fastest boy on the entire team, but living with a rough home life, one that threatens to destroy his running career before it’s over. Through trials and tribulations they all have to dig deep and find that winning spirit in each of their hearts. It’s tried, and definitely true storytelling at its core.

The story is rather basic, but it IS a true story. McFarland was a no name immigrant farming town in the fruit capital of the U.S.A., but when Jim White came in and put together his first cross country team, it changed the little community forever. 1987 was the first year they actually won, and since then they have one 9 championships in a 14 year period. Jim White coached every single one of them, and the boys lives that he touched have been altered permanently. They went to college (the first of their families) and are either working in McFarland as teachers, police officers, social workers and the like, coming out better than when they went in.

Kevin Costner does an admirable job with Jim White, putting his normal brusque nature into the character, and playing him in a way that makes you want to smack the coach at times, and other times he’s extremely likeable. Maria Bello doesn’t have a lot of screen time, but she’s a bright bit of sunshine as his support anchor when things are low. Diana Maria Riva is one of the best characters of the movie as the matriarch of the Diaz family, and adding a very authentic Hispanic flair to the mix. Living in the southwest as I have for most of my life, she’s the epitome of a “Mexican Mama”, ready to make an entire army’s worth of food for her boys with a smile, than yanking them up by their ears and yelling at them to get back in the car the next.

The main advantages and disadvantages to “McFarland USA” stems from the fact that it’s just so predictable. We know from the minute we go into the movie that these ragtag boys are going to band together and defeat the obstacles in their path. The outcome of the final race is never in question, as well as the lives of these racers. Disney enjoys taking inspiring true stories of heart and effort and putting them on screen, with admirable success. The good is that the movie still made me cry, it made me smile and cheer when those boys crossed the finish line, but it’s something that suffers from diminished tension due to foreknowledge of the outcome. On the other hand I respect them for keeping it that simple. Too many times sports movies aren’t actually sports movies anymore. They deal with sports stars, but the majority of the movie is some drama based off the court, with drug dealing superstars dealing with fame, someone getting killed over sleeping with someone they shouldn’t have, or a coach dealing with drug addiction. Here, it’s simple, it’s true to the spirit, and is shows how guts, and talent can be obtained in even the most unlikely places.


Rated PG for thematic material, some violence and language

Video :4.5stars:
“McFarland USA” is a wonderful looking 1080p image. Shot on 35 mm film (a rarity as time goes on), it sports a very filmic look with a tight, thin layer of grain and razor sharp clarity. The colors are vibrant and rich, showcasing the bright and sunny Southern California land, and the variety of colors that come from the Hispanic heritage in the town. The movie takes place in the daytime for the majority of the film, and the contrast levels and skin tones look excellent, along with some superb facial detail. The night time scenes show really well defined black levels that only show some washed out blacks a couple of times. The disc is free from digital abnormalities as I didn’t notice any instances of banding or compression artifacts at all. A pristine image that show just how beautiful natural 35 mm film can look.

Audio :4.5stars:
The 5.1 DTS-HD MA track is every bit as good as its video counterpart, with strong dialog and some great surround usage. The 5.1 experience is very pleasing, as the dialog is clean and clear, locked up front and well balanced with the score. The surrounds get a surprising amount of work to do, as the sounds of roaring low riders throb throughout with excellent LFE extension, and the sound of the runners feet crunching through their desert training ground adds to a very 3 dimensional experience. LFE for the majority of the film is rather restrained, but when those low riders come in, or when the swell of an emotional crescendo is at hand, the power rises back up and that thick, throaty low end shows its teeth. The front soundstage shows some excellent panning sequences, especially after the daughter’s quinceanera when they all take her on parade and that fleet of low riders rumble through the streets. A very strong track that does an exceptional job with the abnormally active track for the genre.

Extras :2.5stars:

• McFarland Reflections
• “Juntos” Music Video
• Inspiring McFarland
• Deleted/Extended Scenes
• Trailers

Overall: :4stars:

“McFarland USA” isn’t an innovative film in the sports lineup, but it’s still a sweet family oriented story that knows just how to tug on the heart strings and put a smile on a sports fans face at the right times. The video and the audio scores are excellent, proving that Disney puts a lot of effort into their day and date titles, and the extras are actually pretty interesting. Extras are a bit lean, but satisfactory and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this for families looking for a clean live action movies to watch with the whole family. Recommended for a watch.

Additional Information:

Starring: Kevin Costner, Maria Bello, Ramiro Rodriquez, Carlos Pratts
Directed by: Niki Caro
Written by: Christopher Cleveland
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1, English 2.0 DD Descriptive Services, Spanish DD 5.1
Studio: Disney
Rated: PG
Runtime: 128 minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: June 2nd 2015

Buy McFarland USA On Blu-ray at Amazon

Recommendation: Watch It

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