Hello everyone, and welcome to 111 Archer Avenue. What started as a film review blog has become my online judgment forum. I will review the occasional movie or DVD, post an interesting trailer, critique a newly-read book, talk about sports, and share my thoughts and opinions on random issues. You can also follow me on Twitter (@OlieCoen) or check out my work on DVDTalk.com. Thank you and enjoy!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

DVD Review - Geography Club

Director: Gary Entin
Starring: Cameron Deane Stewart, Ally Maki, Justin Deeley
Year: 2013

In the last couple years there have been few larger social issues than bullying and equal rights.  Campaigns have been waged in many schools across America to curb an epidemic of poor treatment towards students who just don't fit in, who stick out and are rewarded by being bullied.  The culture of high school, especially, is shifting toward one of acceptance and tolerance for a diverse population.  This includes homosexual teens, who are supported by a nationwide attempt to secure equal rights & opportunities for gay couples, especially as it pertains to marriage.  Geography Club is a film that takes these two hot button issues and crafts a story that exemplifies the difficulties facing gay youth in our country's schools, a story of growing up and accepting who you are, even when others won't do the same.

The Movie

Russell is your average teenager in every apparent way.  He's getting ready to finish high school, setting his sights on Yale per his father's wishes.  He's a good student, makes great grades, used to run track, and might even give football a chance.  He's good-looking but a little shy, unsure about relationships, not much different from any other young man in his class.  Oh, except for one little thing; he thinks he might be gay.  Having never talked to anyone about it, Russell isn't sure about what he's feeling, about what he thinks he might want to do about it.  But when he befriends Kevin, the stud quarterback of the football team, and finds out that he might be gay too, it seems as if love might blossom a lot more easily than he had ever imagined.

A bit too easy and too good to be true.  Kevin isn't on the same page as Russell, can't afford to admit to himself, let alone to anyone else, that he's homosexual, can't let it threaten his football career now because it could threaten his whole future later.  And so it's back to being alone & confused for Russell, until he stumbles upon the Geography Club.  Headed by a girl named Min, this group meets quietly and only consists of three members.  Who all, by the way, happen to be gay.  If Russell were to join the club it would mean announcing his sexuality to the school, something that he'll need help doing; from Kevin, from his new friends, from a supportive teacher, from someone.  His life is at a crossroads and he'll have to be strong in order to point it down the right path.

Let's touch on the social significance of the film first.  Working with these important issues, the story was bound to make an impression, whether you support the two movements mentioned or not.  And it's hard for me to imagine, at this point in time, that many people would have a tough time getting behind the equal treatment of all students, regardless of appearance, sexuality, intelligence, or status.  The anti-bullying and equal rights campaigns have already worked, to some degree, and continue to improve the quality of life for those who find themselves outside the realm of "normalcy".  This film took these themes, events that are happening right now, and transferred them to the screen.  The impact of the message is felt clearly, spoken loudly, and retains its relevance.

Now back to the movie.  It's hard to separate the two actually, the topic and the delivery, because the story depends so heavily on the emotion behind the real-life issue.  But that emotion is there in the film, it's well delivered, and only occasionally feels cheesy.  For the most part that delicate balance between realism and dramatics is kept fairly even, though at times it does feel a bit like a Glee episode.  But they don't sing, maybe that's the saving grace, and they never go over-the-top with the intensity of the moment, with the feeling that all high schoolers have at some point in their early lives; that this second is the most important in the history of the world.  There were times when the action became a little sappy or PSA, but there could have been many more, so I thank them for that.

As far as the acting goes, no one is winning an Oscar, but again it could have been much worse.  Stewart was solid as Russell, playing the tortured teen without coming off as whiny.  He was obviously invested in the film and was attempting to convey an important message, which he pulled off quite well.  His love interest, Deeley, was also strong, embodying the all-American kid who was typical in every fashion excepting his sexual preference.  The Geography Club crew themselves weren't anything to write home about.  Again, that part felt like Glee, an over-dramatic representation of what life could be I guess, but what it rarely is.  Overall, a relevant message delivered in a fashion that won't blow minds but will be heard.


Video - With an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, the video was nice.  Not amazing, but nice.  The picture quality was clear, crisp, and well balanced, with no excellent visuals but no glaring flaws.  The story didn't lend itself to stunning scenes, with the message the focal point.

Audio - The DVD was done in English and 5.1 Surround Sound.  It is available for closed captioning, but has no language or audio options on the menu.  The sound quality is fine, no problems, no frills, and no scenes where it's ever really called upon to be great.

Extras - There are a good many extras on the disc.  You can watch the film with director, writer, and producers commentary.  You can also watch the film with cast commentary.  There is a 35 minute long "making of" segment called Membership Has Its Privileges.  Also, a photo gallery, with a slideshow that lasts 4 minutes.  And there are four trailers: Geography Club, Antisocial, An American Ghost Story, 7 Boxes.

Final Thoughts

Rent ItGeography Club is a step above other low budget special interest films, but that's not to say that it's an amazing movie.  The subject matter is what's important to the filmmakers, the story of equality across the board, of honesty both to yourself and to each other.  The actual film takes a back seat, which is fine, but keeps it from becoming something bigger than just a message.  The video quality & audio quality are both just OK; the extras are plentiful.  Taken as a whole, a well-produced point that is acted out before our eyes.  Not necessarily a must-see, but it holds its own.

✰ ✰ ✰ - Content
✰ ✰ ✰ - Video
✰ ✰ - Audio
✰ ✰ ✰ - Extras
✰ ✰ - Replay

Friday, April 18, 2014

Movie Trailer - Chef

Director: Jon Favreau
Starring: Jon Favreau, Scarlett Johansson, John Leguizamo
Release: May 9th, 2014

I saw Jon Favreau on Top Chef marketing this movie.  I think he actually put a ton of heart into it, writing, directing, starring, and I think that will end up showing.  It looks honest and this story is as real as it gets.  I'm really looking forward to watching this & eating afterword.

Movie Review - Dom Hemingway

Director: Richard Shepard
Starring: Jude Law, Richard E. Grant, Emilia Clarke
Year: 2014

With the extremely wide variety of films that Jude Law has starred in, you might think you've seen it all.  After all, he was the biggest movie star on the planet for a time there in the early 2000s, crafting character after character, delivering unforgettable performances, and in his career has done just about every genre there is.  He was a spoiled playboy in The Talented Mr. Ripley, a Russian war hero in Enemy at the Gates, a gigolo robot in A.I., an ugly assassin in Road to Perdition, a Southern soldier in Cold Mountain, a futuristic pilot in Sky Captain, and that's just in a span of five years.  He's a very talented and attractive actor who is just now going through another surge in films, showing the world that his prime is nowhere near over.  And although we've all seen him before, watched him in so many differing roles, we've never seen one quite like Dom Hemingway.

Dom is a card-carrying member of the London underground.  He's a thief by trade, specializing in safes, known for his quick work & magic hands.  But as the story starts, Dom isn't practicing his profession, he's getting out of prison where he has spent the last twelve years.  He was caught, sure, but he never squealed on his employer, so a big pay off & an even bigger thank you are waiting for him in France.  Getting there is no problem, not with the help of his friend Dickie, but staying sober & coherent long enough to receive his reward might be.  And controlling his anger, his mouth, and his libido might be an even tougher challenge, as over a decade in jail puts a man in a rather unfriendly mood.  Dom's got to get his money, reconcile with his now-grown daughter, organize his life, and basically keep from being killed as he tries to navigate the streets that he used to know so well.

I've never seen Jude Law quite like this before, nor have I seen so much of his bum.  He takes the character of Dom Hemingway to a gritty place that most audiences won't recognize, not in the heartthrob that they might picture from ten years ago.  Law has aged and expanded apparently, but didn't lose his talent in the process.  He plays the boozing, vulgar, mixed-up Dom perfectly, a role that seemed hand-crafted just for him.  It's a dirty side that we've not seen before, a criminal side that reminds me of Jason Statham in Snatch but with a ton more acting prowess.  Dom is a cool cat, a hard-nosed thug who likes to dress up and bash a few noses.  It's a very interesting character and definitely well-played by Law, bringing something to the screen that surprises at first, hooking audiences for the rest of the film, forcing us to wonder what Dom will do next.

And the side characters were fairly strong as well.  Grant as Dom's best friend Dickey was a really amusing character, a straight man and comedic relief at various times.  Demian Bichir as Mr. Fontaine, Dom's employer, was solid, a classic villain in a villa.  No one else really stood out, but then again the movie is all about Dom and not much else is needed.  The film started well, really focusing on Dom's life, his anger, his loveability despite his brashness.  But somewhere in the middle it began to lose focus.  It stopped being entertaining, slowed down, introduced a horrible actor in the form of Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, and generally went downhill.  By the end I had enjoyed the formation of the main character, his insane view on life, and the dark comedy that followed him wherever he went.  But the film as a whole failed to keep me on board the whole way though, fading by the finale and ending without a bang.  Watch Dom Hemingway for Jude Law, appreciate the irreverence the film shows, but don't expect a perfect production.

My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰