Syracuse hosts two Hollywood-style Hump Day movie screenings within a week’s time, and there isn’t even a palm tree around for miles. Syracuse New Times readers who picked up the April 25 Metrospective issue have already been clued in regarding writer-director Bobcat Goldthwait’s homecoming for his dark satire God Bless America, which screens Wednesday, May 2, 7 p.m., at Eastwood’s Palace Theatre, 2384 James St. (Tickets are $10; call 445-0692 for information.) The next big deal takes place on Wednesday, May 9, when the red carpet will be rolled out for the lacrosse movie Crooked Arrows at downtown’s Mulroy Civic Center, with various film stars (hello, Brandon Routh!) and personnel in attendance.
Crooked Arrows’ plot has that against-all-odds flavor that is a crucial component of sports-themed cinema. Routh, who wore the red, white and blue superhero costume for Superman Returns (2006), plays Joe Logan, a mixed-blood Native American who is more concerned about the opportunistic expansion of his reservation’s casino instead of adhering to the traditions of his Native heritage. So tribal leaders force Joe to coach the reservation’s high school lacrosse team in the hopes that he will reconnect with what is really important. But coaching these kids, a misfit bunch with glimmers of potential, won’t be easy, nor does it help that award-winning lacrosse teams from a prep school league provide formidable competition.
The differences with Crooked Arrows come from the behind-the-scenes and front-of-the-camera involvement with members of the Onondaga Nation. At two recent press conferences, an April 18 get-together at the Elders Conference Room of Nedrow’s Onondaga Nation Arena (Tsha`Hon`Nonyen Dakhwa’) followed by an April 30 chat at the Civic Center, the budding moviemakers revealed those pluses.
The most talkative representatives were Tadadaho Sid Hill, the spiritual leader of the Onondaga Nation Council of Chiefs, who affirmed that lacrosse was “a good character-building sport,” and Neal Powless, who certainly knows a thing or two about the game, having amassed several honors as an all-America lacrosse star in college that led to stints on teams for the National Lacrosse League. Powless now works for Syracuse University’s Office of Multicultural Affairs as an assistant director with the Native Student Program, and he also serves as a Crooked Arrows co-producer.
Powless wanted to keep things real, so the original script (by writer Todd Baird) required some tweaks, with the addition of traditional values to better reflect the Native American experience. After all, Powless wanted to ensure that the local Onondagas who worked on the project “could go home and hold their heads high.” Powless also emphasized that 95 percent of the Crooked Arrows cast was Native, something that never happens in mainstream multiplex cinema, and he stressed that this is basically a family film: “What’s important is that it’s about heart, soul, family and friendship.”
Primary rehearsals and shooting took place last June in Boston, and Powless wanted to make sure that the scenes of contemporary lacrosse life plus the action sequences remained authentic. “It’s a very tough sport to pick up,” he noted, but it helped that the young Onondagas that he recruited to flesh out the team were experienced in the game. Powless chose athletes who had some acting skills, and the action scenes were filmed first so the novice thespians could get accustomed to the “stop-go, stop-go, stop-go atmosphere” of filmmaking. “When the camera was turned on, they played themselves,” Powless recalled, “and when they started acting out scenes, they played themselves.”
Powless stated that the movie producers did talk to some studios about movie distribution but they decided to go the independent route because they didn’t want to change things to accommodate the tastes of studio suits. Yet Powless declared that Crooked Arrows does cater to the popcorn-and-soda demographic, with a limited-release pattern to take place on May 18 (Regal Cinemas’ Carousel Center 17 will have a booking), followed by a general release on June 1.
At both press conferences, the young athletes-turned-actors claimed to have good times during the filmmaking, and they’ve all been bitten by the acting bug, too. Tyler Hill, whose name is prominently featured in the movie poster’s credit block, said, “It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing for me. I hope I can continue this.” Fellow actor Oris Edwards commented that “we worked 12-hour days but it wasn’t really that much acting for us. We were playing ourselves,” while Shay Thomas labeled his performance as “a great experience, really challenging and hard.” Cree Cathers’ Chewy character, who provides comic relief such as crashing his body into a tree, admitted with a grin, “It’s pretty much the funny guy part. Hopefully, the movie will open doors for other things.”
And speaking of local connections: According to Syracuse New Times music editor Jessica “Scoop” Novak, when the Crooked Arrows producers were looking for native-sounding music, the local roots, rockabilly and blues band known as the Fabulous Ripcords thought they could be a good fit. They submitted several tracks for consideration and scored their way onto the soundtrack with “If You Love Me” off their newest album, VooDoo Girl (independent), due June 7 when the band hosts their CD release party at Upstairs at the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, 246 W. Willow St. “We’re so excited,” guitarist and vocalist Irv Lyons informed Novak. “It’s cool that local bands are getting picked to be on soundtracks.”
The director of Crooked Arrows is Steve Rash, who guided Gary Busey’s Oscar-nominated performance in The Buddy Holly Story (1978), as well as direct-to-video sequels in the Bring It On and American Pie franchises. Aside from Brandon Routh’s marquee value, also in the cast is Gil Birmingham who played Quileute chief Billy Black in several Twilight movies.
Routh will be attending the world premiere of Crooked Arrows
on Wednesday, May 9, 8 p.m., at the Mulroy Civic Center’s Crouse-Hinds
Concert Theater, 411 Montgomery St. Admission is $15, $35 for balcony
seats, $50 for the mezzanine and orchestra, and $150 for VIP orchestra
seats and the post-movie reception. A portion of the proceeds will go
toward SU’s Haudenosaunee Promise Scholarship Fund. And the evening is
emphatically not a black-tie affair, as claimed in earlier press releases. For details, call 435-2121.