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Undefeated DVD Review

Undefeated (2011) movie poster Undefeated

Theatrical Release: February 17, 2012 / Running Time: 113 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Directors: Dan Lindsay, T.J. Martin / Tagline: Character Will Be Revealed

Subjects: Coach Bill Courtney, Montrail "Money" Brown, O.C. Brown, Chavis Daniels, Jim Tipton, Jason Smith, Dr. Gloria Williams, Aaron Hayden, Ruth Burke, Lisa Courtney, Barton Simmons, Lavondasha Cobb, Officer Rudolph Swansey, Billie Ray, Ethel Hayes, Rachel Hayes, Justyna Kirby, Dr. Greg Wolf, Amy Sumner, Tommy Warren, Barney Farrar

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Best Documentary Feature appears to be one of the numerous Academy Award categories that the general public just doesn't care about. At the same time,
most of the few documentaries that have caught the public's attention on a grand scale have either won or at least been nominated for the Oscar. March of the Penguins won it. An Inconvenient Truth won it. Super Size Me was nominated. Fahrenheit 9/11 was ineligible. The notion of a hit documentary is a relatively new one, though, and beyond these well-known films, you'll find many nominees and winners you recognize by neither title nor subject matter.

Last year's winner, Undefeated, will fit that definition for many. Scarcely decorated, the film was playing in just five theaters when it surprised the pundits who predicted Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, the third in a series of films about the West Memphis Three, to take home that honor. The win boosted Undefeated's profile, but The Weinstein Company only expanded it to twenty-one theaters, in which it grossed a not so remarkable $562 thousand.

Coach Bill Courtney is never short on motivational speeches.

Undefeated documents the 2009-10 football season at Manassas High School in North Memphis, Tennessee. The all-black school resides in an area where poverty and crime run high. Football is not only an outlet for the youths, but one of the best opportunities for them to get a college education. The team is coached by Bill Courtney, a devoted volunteer for six years who dreams of giving Manassas its first playoff game victory in the school's 110-year history. Courtney is a tough but loving leader, a father figure to these kids, most of whom come from broken homes. His interest in their lives extends beyond the football field, as he aims to cultivate positive attitudes and lawful living, while not mincing words or shying from profanity.

After going more than a decade without a win, the underfunded Manassas football program is starting to come around under Courtney, whose devotion requires some neglect of his own kids and wife. The Tigers undermine the film's title in their opening game, but that loss stands as the school's only one for several weeks. Though the film details some of these games, like the second one, in which the team rallies from a 20-0 deficit to deliver a decisive win. Undefeated isn't so interested in strategy or specific plays as much as the sport as a way of life that encourages students to keep their grades up and their behavioral problems to a minimum.

Specific attention is paid to three team members. The fast, over 300-pound lineman O.C. Brown is attracting attention from seemingly every competitive NCAA Division I football program, but struggles to get a good score on his college entrance exam. After serving a sentence in a youth penitentiary, Chavis Daniels returns to the team with his temper still prone to flares. Then, there's Montrail "Money" Brown, an undersized tackle whose senior year is disturbed by a partial ACL tear causing more mental than physical anguish.

Manassas High School football team coach Bill Courtney looks over the report card of star lineman O.C. Brown. The senior year of undersized tackle Montrail "Money" Brown is jeopardized by an ACL injury.

Undefeated is easy to watch and invest in, even as you question whether the time and enthusiasm on display wouldn't be better spent on education and reversing the trends that see almost every player indicate having a relative in jail and almost none of them identifying themselves as the product of two college graduates.

As presented, the film inspires, a real life rags-to-riches team sports drama with an admirable and charismatic (if not conventionally photogenic) coach who motivates his players, keeps them on point, supplies colorful sideline reactions,
and delivers the kind of big, meaningful speeches that every sports film screenwriter toils on. Is it great cinema that moves you profoundly and sparks lengthy discussions? No. But it is a good, compelling film you can appreciate and recommend, particularly to those with ties to high school athletics.

Weinstein's timing and distribution can again be questioned, as Undefeated finally hits DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday, a full year (plus two days) after beginning its limited theatrical run and a week after the studio's 2012 documentary contender Bully (which failed to nab an Oscar nomination) hit stores. Commercial success can't rank very highly on documentaries' priority lists, but Undefeated's Oscar triumph is already a distant memory even if it won't be succeeded for another eleven days.

Undefeated DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Video Extras Subtitled in English
Release Date: February 19, 2013 (Walmart exclusive: January 15, 2013)
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.98
Blue Keepcase
Also available on Blu-ray ($24.99 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

DVD presents Undefeated in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen (the film occasionally switches to the wider 2.40:1 for press clippings and archival material) and Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. Typical for a documentary consisting of more than talking heads and old photos, the visuals aren't carefully framed or well-lit. The DVD's digital video is also grainy at times and, of course, only as sharp as standard definition allows it. The soundtrack is fine, with burned-in subtitles helping you to understand the few moments of inarticulate dialogue. The soundtrack springs to life with some music accompanying the obligatory montage and end credits.

Cut from the film, oft-moved foster child Joaquin has his story told in the deleted scenes. This trailer previews "Undefeated" in artistic black and white.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The DVD's extras begin with a feature audio commentary by directors Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin. They are inexperienced and passionate enough to fill the air in lively fashion. They discuss gaining filming access, getting natural reactions at the school, their gentleman's agreement to show Coach Bill the film before releasing it, the journey of shooting 500 hours of footage over the course of nine months in Tennessee,
and their reluctance to make the film a "white knight" story. When you consider the limited audience for documentaries and then divide that into the limited audience for audio commentaries, you fear this track won't be heard by more than a few hundred people (some of whom are probably featured in the film). Still, those people shouldn't be bored by what Lindsay and Martin have to say.

Next up come six deleted scenes (14:05). First and most notable of these is a profile on an additional player who is taken in by a volunteer coach's family after years of bouncing around foster homes. Others show us more of Coach and the boys, while one gives us a head security guard's perspective of Manassas High.

A black and white teaser trailer (1:42) offers an unconventional preview of the film for an unspecified audience.

Coach Bill Courtney listens, while executive producer Sean "P. Diddy" Combs explains his foray into documentaries in "The Making of 'Undefeated.'". A newspaper headline conveys the season's hopes on the DVD's main menu.

The disc comes to a close with "The Making of Undefeated" (8:31), a featurette that collects remarks from the directors, coach Bill Courtney, and executive producer Sean Combs on how the film took shape and won the support of P. Diddy. More interesting is the directors sharing their memories of their Oscar Night experience.

Suggesting that it has sat for a while (longer than the five weeks it's spending as Walmart-exclusive), the disc opens with trailers for Bully, The Artist, and The Iron Lady. None of these are accessible by menu.

The main menu puts listings over screen-filling clips. Secondary screens are silent and static.

The uncut Eco-Box keepcase is topped by a glossy slipcover, but joined by no inserts.

The players of Manassas High School's football team hold their helmets high for the homecoming game, an image that has become the cover art for the Oscar-winning documentary "Undefeated."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Undefeated holds your attention, gets you to care about a poor high school's football team trying to overcome a legacy of losing,
and leaves you satisfied with the slice of life it has served. Having seen few Oscar-winning documentaries, I can only speculate that this one is a tad slight for that honor, not having quite the power to make it a real word-of-mouth hit. But it's a fine way to spend two hours, much preferable to The Blind Side, and may very well stick with you for a while (revisiting it almost a year and several hundred movies since my Oscar Sunday 2011 viewing, it was just as I remembered it). With an adequate feature presentation, a good handful of substantial bonus features, and a low list price, Weinstein/Anchor Bay's DVD is easy to recommend to anyone with interest in or an appreciation for the film. (It's also on Blu-ray for a few dollars more.)

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Related Reviews:
New: Bully Searching for Sugar Man The Other Dream Team The Imposter Here Comes the Boom
Documentaries: Through the Fire Waiting for "Superman" The Greatest Movie Ever Sold Conan O'Brien Can't Stop
2011 Oscar Winners: Hugo The Help The Descendants Midnight in Paris The Iron Lady Rango The Muppets
Football: Remember the Titans All Things Fall Apart Invincible Varsity Blues Angels in the Endzone Air Bud: Golden Receiver
Miracle Glory Road The Mighty Macs Secretariat The Game Plan Thunderstruck The Mighty Ducks

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Reviewed February 13, 2013.



Text copyright 2013 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2011 The Weinstein Company, Exclusive Media Group, Zipper Bros. Films, Spitfire Pictures, Level 22, Five Smooth Stones Productions,
2013 The Weinstein Company Home Entertainment and Anchor Bay Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.