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The Mighty Macs DVD Review

The Mighty Macs (2011) movie poster The Mighty Macs

Theatrical Release: October 21, 2011 / Running Time: 99 Minutes / Rating: G / Songs List

Director: Tim Chambers / Writers: Tim Chambers (story & screenplay), Anthony L. Gargano (story)

Cast: Carla Gugino (Cathy Rush), Marley Shelton (Sister Sunday), Ellen Burstyn (Mother St. John), David Boreanaz (Ed Rush), Katie Hayek (Trish Sharkey), Kim Blair (Lizanne Caufield), Meghan Sabia (Jen Galentino), Margaret Anne Florence (Rosemary Keenan), Kate Nowlin (Colleen McCann), Taylor Steel (Mimi Malone), Blanka Brunson (Gayle Moore), Malachy McCourt (Monsignor), Phyllis Somerville (Sister Sister)

Buy The Mighty Macs on DVD from Amazon.com

The Mighty Macs belongs to a dying breed: the new theatrical movie issued on DVD, but not Blu-ray. That approach makes some sense. This first feature film produced and distributed by Quaker Media took two years from its Heartland Film Festival debut to receive general release.
When it did, it played in under 1,000 theaters and grossed a modest $1.9 million, less than a third of its reported $7 M production budget. It also happens to be an inspirational, faintly religious, G-rated drama and, as such, was certain to do the vast majority of its business in standard definition.

The Mighty Macs tells the true story of the Immaculata College basketball team. In the 1971-72 school year, the all-girls Catholic institution, run by nuns just outside of Philadelphia, has some financial concerns. The basketball team hardly figures among them. Newlywed former athlete Cathy Rush (a blonde Carla Gugino) arrives to interview for the team's vacant coaching position. It isn't much of an interview, as the cold Mother Superior (Ellen Burstyn) hires her only applicant, agrees to a salary of $450, and hands her a dusty old ball, the school's only one. Immaculata doesn't even have a gym, for it recently burned down in a fire. Nativity figures and other church icons have to be moved to clear space for practice.

Immaculata College's new head coach Cathy Rush (Carla Gugino) awaits her players with the school's one basketball at her side. The basketball team is not a top priority for humorless head nun, Mother St. John (Ellen Burstyn).

A handful of girls show up and, of course, Rush will mold them into champions. That's how sports movies work. Rush's methods are slightly outside the box, as the girls go chasing after loose balls on the floor and practice their defensive slides in a wet, narrow tunnel after dark. The coach gets a little heat, but nothing that she and her volunteer assistant Sister Sunday (Tarantino vet Marley Shelton), a young nun struggling with her calling, can't handle. Playing games in modest venues wearing their old-fashioned short, pleated powder blue dresses with the fashionable ponytails and knee socks of the time, the Macs start the season on shaky ground, but gradually turn things around.

Just when it looks like all is lost, after a division championship defeat, the team is given one of four at-large bids and the 15th seed in the national tournament. This stroke of good fortune causes the college to do an about face. Suddenly, Mother St. John, her fellow nuns, and their students are rallying behind their mighty Macs. Also lending his support is Cathy's husband Ed (David Boreanaz, "Bones"), an NBA ref whose initial crabbiness soon fades.

The Immaculata Mighty Macs look more than a little ridiculous in their pleated dress uniforms. Though initially less than supportive, Cathy's husband, NBA ref Ed Rush (David Boreanaz), comes around.

The very nature of inspirational true sports dramas robs the film of many surprises. It is obvious from the start exactly how this will unfold and there isn't enough personality to make you forget that. The Mighty Macs is certainly a bit on the generic side, but it's not bad. If nothing else, it reveals that though rarely attempted these days, you can make a live-action G-rated movie that is interesting to adults and not bland.
Entirely void of objectionable content, this is one of the extremely rare new movies that would earn a green light from the absurdly condemnatory CAP Alert site (though I can think of one gag that would probably appear in their "Offense to God" section, had they reviewed it). As you might fear, that does add up to a mild experience, one that is light on conflict and charm.

Still, this is a surprisingly polished and confident production for a theatrical debut by writer/producer/director Tim Chambers, someone barely on the fringes of the industry, formerly as the director of the Pennsylvania Film Office. Chambers draws nice work from the name cast, though none of it as distinctive as it could be, and is comfortable composing for the 2.35:1 aspect ratio. He also made the wise decision to cast real basketball players for the team, lending unmistakable authenticity to the game scenes, the latter of which questionably and prominently place the play-by-play commentary of a quirky Midwestern type over them.

Inevitably, The Mighty Macs is a little corny and predictable (for instance, it can't resist a brief but obligatory use of Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky"), but less so than you might expect from its "An Inspiring True Story" tag line and cover blurb from "Rudy Ruettiger (the real-life Rudy)."

Watch a clip from The Mighty Macs: "We Can't Give Up"

The Mighty Macs DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, French
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled in English
Release Date: February 21, 2012
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $26.99
Black Keepcase

VIDEO and AUDIO

The Mighty Macs' 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen DVD presentation is adequate, but far from spectacular. The picture is occasionally grainy and often soft. Long shots are especially lacking, but all could use the greater sharpness and detail Blu-ray delivers. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is a bit low-key, rarely springing to life with rowdy crowd scenes or music.

This singing, dancing nun halftime spectacle is one of three deleted scenes. The real Cathy Rush, a 2008 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, recalls her Immaculata coaching experiences and discusses their dramatization. Footage from the 1972 Immaculata College team's improbable run appears in the included ESPN Mighty Macs segment.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, and PACKAGING

Extras begin with three deleted scenes (4:42), which appear windowboxed with faded colors and a reduced frame rate. They show us: the Rushes attending a dinner party, where their progressive two-occupation lifestyle is out of place; an Immaculata student committee's idea of progress (slow dancing with boys!), and an all-nun halftime show.
They're all on the nose or cartoony, and unneeded in a movie that already gives us an adequate touch of levity.

Next comes "The Mighty Macs: The 40th Anniversary of Basketball's First Cinderella Team" (23:47), a substantive making-of featurette that doubles as a team retrospective. Interviews with the director, cast, crew, the real Cathy Rush, her championship players, and an Immaculata nun complement film clips, game footage, and a bit of behind-the-scenes. Topics covered include casting, the "sports choreography", filming in Philadelphia, scoring the picture, and the team members' cameo.

Last but not least is an ESPN segment on The Mighty Macs (6:22), the real Immaculata team, not the movie. This well-produced segment gathers a few sound bites from the same interviews with '70s team members, while also making use of game footage, photos, and a fitting Doobie Brothers song ("Jesus Is Just Alright"). All of this not only nicely complements the film, it also testifies to its authenticity.

The menu's "Previews" listing repeats the same five items the disc automatically plays at insertion: trailers for Sherwood Pictures' Courageous, Soul Surfer, Beverly Lewis' The Shunning, and To Save a Life, followed by a general Affirm Films promo. The Mighty Macs' own trailer is sadly absent.

The menus are static, silent screens, while the plain black keepcase goes without slipcover and insert. Sorry, no UltraViolet digital copy here.

Coach Cathy Rush (Carla Gugino), assistant Sister Sunday (Marley Shelton), and the championship-winning Immaculata College Mighty Macs take a team photo for the newspaper.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The Mighty Macs doesn't overhaul the inspirational true underdog sports drama, but it makes for a quality addition to the genre and exceeds expectations for such a low-budget film from an inexperienced writer/director. Though the movie doesn't excel in any one facet, it also doesn't fail, making for an enjoyable viewing, especially for those who haven't seen all the recent Disney films in the same mold. Sony's DVD presentation is just fine, while its extras add quite a bit of value and perspective to the disc.

Buy The Mighty Macs on DVD from Amazon.com

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