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, August 31, 2013

Movie Trailer - Dallas Buyers Club

Director: Jean-Marc Vallee
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, Jared Leto
Release: November 1st, 2013

I wish they had cast about any other human on the planet as the female lead in this movie.  Jennifer Garner is horrible; is that even up for debate?  What's she doing in a film that looks really edgy, interesting, and well done?  She doesn't belong here.  That might sound mean but I don't care.  Maybe this movie doesn't end up being amazing, who knows, but regardless she shouldn't be in it.

DVD Review - I Killed My Mother

Director: Xavier Dolan
Starring: Xavier Dolan, Anne Dorval, Francois Arnaud
Year: 2009

I don't see a lot of films coming out of Canada.  Or maybe I just don't know that I do.  The few that I'm sure I've seen have either been very American or very French, seeming more a part of those countries then having their own national feel.  The Lesser Blessed was decidedly American, a story about high school angst that could have been set in any northern town.  I'm sure it didn't help that the film was in English and that my own ethnocentric tendencies made it all about me.  On the flip side, I Killed My Mother was decidedly French, having almost an Amelie undertone.  It is set in Montreal, Quebec where the director Xavier Dolan is from, and I'm sure there are subtle differences between that region's films and those from France, but to me they seemed very similar.  Anyway, the story isn't about the area, it's about the boy, as Dolan wrote, directed, and starred in this semi-autobiographical film set in his home town and giving audiences an uncomfortably candid look into his past.

The Movie

In the film, Dolan basically plays a version of himself, a 16-year-old named Hubert.  Talented in painting, writing, film-making, Hubert is an artistic bohemian trapped in the suburbs of Montreal.  His grades are not the best, though his intelligence is unquestioned, and he wants desperately to move into an apartment of his own.  The reason behind this is his strained relationship with him mother.  They used to be close, could talk about anything, but recently they have become constantly at odds, screaming at each other, always criticizing, enemies who deep down love one another.  Hubert feels like his mother doesn't understand him, and he's right.  She doesn't because he hasn't been honest with her, hasn't revealed to her that he is gay and in a relationship.

When she finds out about his secret life, Hubert's mother attempts to understand her son and accept the fact that he has changed beyond her understanding.  But old habits and old hatreds don't just disappear after a revelation, no matter how important.  Arguments erupt, Hubert runs away, and his mother feels compelled to place him in a boarding school; not only to fix his grades but to give him what she feels is much needed direction.  This is the final straw for Hubert, and he believes that he will never love his mother again. The pair must try to understand each other if they are to have any hope of mending their relationship; a difficult task given Hubert's distance, his new lifestyle, his experimentation with drugs, and his deep seeded resentment.

The summary of the film doesn't do it justice.  It all sounds a little trite; a young man's struggle to overcome his mommy issues and grow up to become who he wants to be, a mother trying to love her son despite his resistance and her own shortcomings.  It sounds silly, but it isn't.  The film does enough right to overcome the trappings of what could have been a very dumb plot.  But it wasn't.  Instead it came off as honest and relatable, a story that we all can connect to on some level.  Hubert's being gay didn't really matter, nor did the fact that it was his mother who he was fighting with, nor was his age important.  There was something in the story that we have all felt; anger, resentment, boredom, the feeling of being trapped.  And it was those emotions that became the focal point of the film, not the details of the plot.

The film needed very strong actors in order to pull off such a complex drama, and fortunately they delivered.  Anne Dorval was excellent as Chantale, Hubert's mother.  Not only was she a very deep character, but she was funny as well.  The sort of funny that hurts a little, but funny nonetheless.  She was able to be extremely believable while still being very dramatic, which a ton of Hollywood actors can't pull off.  And Dolan himself was very strong as well.  I guess it's not surprising that he played himself well; who better to show how he felt at this time in his life?  But it couldn't have been easy, to write the script that bares your emotions to the world, act it out on camera, and direct the film that puts it all together.  That aspect alone is pretty impressive.  It doesn't make the movie a success that he worked so hard, but the effort is obvious and helps to make the film feel that much more realistic.

It wasn't all perfect though.  The film was a little slow at times and perhaps too reliant on dramatic screaming matches.  Raising your voice can hide some imperfections in your acting and can heighten the intensity of a scene.  But I don't think they were yelling just for the sake of it.  The arguments were necessary to the story, but they did get a little too numerous.  Also, the hand-held camera scenes were a little forced, and the dream sequences were a little silly.  I didn't feel like they were needed; the "real life" mood of the film was good enough and didn't need gimmicks to help it.  That said, I guess 16-year-olds are dramatic, so perhaps the over-the-top moments can be forgiven because that's how the director saw the world at that time in his life.  Regardless, the imperfections were minimal and didn't hurt the quality of the film.


Video - With an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, the video was just fine.  The film was shot using a Red One camera, and the picture quality was nice but not amazing.  There were some very beautiful shots though; Dolan has a good eye for a dramatic visual.

Audio - The sound was done in Dolby Digital, with your choice between Dolby Digital 5.1 or Dolby Digital 2.0.  The sound quality of the film was fine, with nice background music.  There were a couple spots where the the voices were soft and the music was overpowering, but some of that could have been done for effect.

Extras - There are a couple extras on the disc.  About Kino Lorber tells a little about the distributor.  There is also a theatrical trailer and a stills gallery.

Final Thoughts

RecommendedI Killed My Mother is a strong film, especially for a first time director who also wrote the script and starred in the movie.  He was twenty at the time and made a great debut.  The film was well acted and well made, with a simple story that was easy to relate to.  The video, audio, and extras were just fine, but not very exciting.  All in all, a very nice movie that was easy to appreciate.

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

Friday, August 30, 2013

Movie Trailer - The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete

Director: George Tillman Jr.
Starring: Skylan Brooks, Ethan Dizon, Jennifer Hudson, Jordin Sparks
Release: October 11th, 2013

I may be an American Idol fan, but they didn't need to trick me into seeing this movie by adding some alum into it.  The story itself got me, and the hope of seeing two child actors that can carry a heavy piece like this.  I bet they pull it off.

DVD Review - Rushlights

Director: Antoni Stutz
Starring: Josh Henderson, Haley Webb, Aidan Quinn, Beau Bridges
Year: 2013

Some movies you can tell just aren't going to be any good.  They may end up with some redeeming qualities, but there are certain signs that point towards crap.  Two young, attractive, unknown lead actors?  Yes.  Two mediocre veterans meant to lend some credit to the film?  Yes.  A story set in a small town in Texas where everyone knows everyone?  Yes.  These all seemed like red flags to me, and when I watched the trailer I was even more confident that this movie wouldn't be anything wonderful.  But I also thought that it ought to be entertaining, fast-paced, sexy; a fun way to spend an hour and a half.  Well, I was wrong on one of my assumptions.  Guess which.

The Movie

It's young love at its finest when the handsome Billy falls for the beautiful Sarah.  She's a waitress, he's a who-knows-what, but a passionate night brings them together and they seem to have fallen hard for each other.  But their idyllic situation is rocked when Sarah's friend ODs, dies, and leaves her in a tight spot.  Call the police?  Run?  Or maybe open her mail, find a letter of inheritance, and hatch a deceitful plan that could make the young couple very rich.  You see, Sarah looks remarkably like her friend and could pose for her easily.  So Sarah & Billy head to Texas to claim the inheritance as their own.  Sounds too good to be true, and of course it is.

Things are not so cut-and-dry in Tremo, where this long-lost relative has died.  He left behind a lot of money, but also many secrets and a lot of people who want a piece of the pie.  Sarah & Billy soon meet the brothers who run the town: Cameron Brogden the lawyer and Robert Brogden the sheriff.  While friendly at first, it soon becomes apparent that they have agendas of their own and that the young lovers will not be getting their hands on the cash as quickly as they had imagined.  Lies abound and cover stories unravel, as everyone's true motives are slowly revealed and the twisted plot races toward a resolution that will definitely not be amicable.

Where to start, where to start.  The production of the film, I guess, since that was as bad as everything else.  First off, director Antoni Stutz has only directed one other film, 2001's You're Killing Me... starring former porn star Traci Lords.  You gotta start some time I guess, but the film made it obvious that he was an amateur.  It was more like a copy of a movie than an actual movie.  I take that back; more like a copy of a made-for-TV movie than an actual movie.  It felt stolen instead of created, with no hint of originality.  The whole small-Texas-town thing is so cliche, it's got to be impossible to do it well.  And adding a yellow filter over your camera lens didn't make the boring, typical scenes that you're shooting seem any cooler.  From start to finish the film was a rip-off of so many that have come before; just one more "thriller" with no substance and no saving grace.

I guess I'd have to blame the acting for taking the movie from bad to awful.  I mean, it obviously wasn't going to be great, but it could have helped itself out a little by having actors who were the least bit likeable, believable, or talented.  Josh Henderson was especially poor as the seemingly simple-minded Billy.  It was like he was reading lines in acting class, not performing in an actual movie.  His counterpart, Haley Webb, was actually OK.  She was pretty at least, and not horrible anyway, but the two of them had such bad chemistry that it felt a little weird every time they touched each other.  Quinn & Bridges, the veterans, were exactly what you'd expect; about as exciting as mannequins taught to speak.  Neither one of them brought anything to the film except a recognizable name.

It all culminated in a badly acted, messy muddle.  The story was hard to follow, the characters weren't fun to watch, and the movie fell very flat.  And there's where I was wrong in my assumptions.  I thought that the film looked throw-away, but that it would have some fireworks.  Some cool violence, a sex scene, tense or scary moments.  But no, I was wrong about that.  Instead it was overly serious, strange, and at times pretty boring.  I was left not really caring whether or not any of the principles got any money, got away with murder, died, left, disappeared.  I guess I just gave up at some point.  And judging by how well the film turned out, maybe they all did too.


Video - With an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, the video was quite nice.  The film was shot on an Arriflex 35 BL4 using Cooke and Angenieux lenses, and also a Clairmont camera using a Clairmont lens.  The quality of the picture was top notch; crisp visuals, nice clarity.  The movie was a bit too yellow for my taste, but then maybe that was an artistic decision.

Audio - The film was done in Dolby Digital, with an option to choose English 5.1 or English 2.0.  There are no subtitles choices or any other audio options on the disc.  The sound quality of the film is fine, nothing to report and no problems.

Extras - There is only one extra on the disc; Behind the Scenes: "The Making of Rushlights".  It's only four minutes long and doesn't really add anything to the movie.  There are no other extras.

Final Thoughts

Skip It.  There's really no reason to watch this movie.  It looks bad from the beginning, only to get worse when you realize that there aren't any cheap redeeming qualities.  The video is nice, the audio fine, and the extras limited.  Don't rent Rushlights with the hope of having an entertaining evening.  They say it's based on actual events, but that's a pretty loose phrase, and it doesn't effect the outcome.  It's not awful enough to be funny, it doesn't deliver enough to be good, and it's not provocative enough to warrant your time.

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

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Movie Trailer - Pompeii

Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Starring: Kit Harington, Emily Browning, Carrie-Anne Moss
Release: February 21st, 2014

There isn't much detail in this trailer, but what there is doesn't look that good.  Why do directors think that every man in ancient times had a six-pack and went around shirtless?  Or maybe it's the authors of the graphic novels that some of these movies are based on that are making all this shit up.  I'm fine with fantasy, but I'd like to watch a movie about a historic event that seems halfway believable.

Movie Review - Gangster Squad

Director: Ruben Fleischer
Starring: Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Emma Stone
Year: 2013

I try to steer clear of shoot-em-up movies, because they're normally terrible.  I don't mean Quentin Tarantino films, I meet throw-away action films, stupid Jason Statham movies, and gangster flicks.  The last gangster story I watched was Public Enemies.  Read my review of that one to see how it went.  There's just something fleeting about that era that is hard to capture on film, especially without making it seem cheesy & stupid.  I liked the look of Gangster Squad because it almost had a graphic novel feel to it.  Not that I'm a fan of comic books, but I thought it might be an interesting take on the genre, one that would actually give me what I want; a good movie that happens to take place in a cool time period.  Well, that didn't happen.

So here's the story.  The year is 1949, the city is Los Angeles.  Organized crime has taken over the town under the leadership of East Coast crook Mickey Cohen.  He's a Jew, he's a bad ass, and he's taking the city by force.  The police can't stop him because he's bought all the politicians.  No one will testify against him because that's the same as suicide.  So desperate measures have to be taken.  A secret police squadron is formed, led by the honorable Sergeant O'Mara.  He forms a squad made up of clean cops; a wise acre, a sharp shooter, a street smart, an intelligence expert.  Their mission is to take down Cohen's operation, destroy everything, kill anyone, while leaving their badges at home.  But will they succeed, or will the gangsters win the war?

So it didn't end up having a graphic novel feel.  It didn't end up being cool, having substance, nor was it any good.  It was just another crappy tommy gun movie, in which a million bullets are fired and nothing really happens.  There was a plot; take down Mickey Cohen.  But there wasn't really much of a story, it was more like action happening along the way.  I never cared whether or not they succeeded, and I never saw much that set it apart from The Untouchables, a far superior movie.  And the acting, oh man.  Emma Stone was worthless and horrible.  Josh Brolin was leaden and dull.  Sean Penn was OK, but it was more weird than good.  Ryan Gosling was the only stand out, and he was the only one who wasn't phoning it in.  I just don't like this type of movie, and it's because they're usually so bad.  Someone make a good one, please, it can't be that hard.

My rating: ✰ ✰

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Movie Trailer - The Book Thief

Director: Brian Percival
Starring: Sophie Nelisse, Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson
Release: November 15th, 2013

Any movie about Nazis, Jews, and WWII automatically peaks our interest, because that was such a fascinating time in history.  Making a heartbreaking film about that period is pretty easy; it's making a great one that's hard.  This doesn't look like it's going to be amazing, but it looks well done.

Book Review - Peter Pan

Author: J. M. Barrie
Year: 1911

We've all heard the story of Peter Pan, the boy who won't grow up.  There are so many different versions, just among movies.  And then there are books, plays, TV shows, spin-offs.  My daughter is really into Pixie Hollow, a complete world of characters and adventures (and products) that all came from the original story.  I was even in the play in high school, long long ago.  I played Captain Hook, quite well I might add.  But even though I knew the plot very well, I had never read the book.  It was a play first, of course, turned into a book, and then spawning innumerable adaptations.  But the book remains as the pinnacle of Barrie's wonderful story.

Peter Pan is youth personified.  He is the boy who will remain young forever, but only if he stays in the Neverland, a world that exists through the imaginations of children.  Three such young believers are Wendy, John, and Michael, well-to-do British children who truly think that Peter is a real boy.  And when he visits them one night this is proven to them, and they immediately embark on a journey to the Neverland, leaving their old lives behind.  They will from now on live underground, fighting pirates, competing with Indians, hiding from the wild beasts.  One adventure after another assail the children and their hero Peter Pan, eventually culminating in a final battle with the dreaded James Hook, and forcing them to choose between a live of dreams and one of responsibilities.

It's hard to recommend a book to someone who already knows the story by heart, but I hope I can make it clear that this was one of the best books I have ever read, and that you should read it too.  I almost cried at the end, and let me say that that does not normally happen.  Not only was it very well written, especially for it to slide so easily across one hundred years.  But it was also deeply stirring.  It got inside somehow and made me contemplate every chapter as if it were a hidden message meant just for me.  Every character was a metaphor, every event an example, of youth, time, selfishness, growing up, giving up.  It's not surprising that this simple story has created so many copies, because each individual must see something unique to them inside the text and inside one of the characters.  The book was almost prose at times, beautiful to read, with great descriptions and quick wit.  But the excellence of the story was in its depth, bluntly telling the truth about life using a crocodile, a pirate, a child.  Everyone should read Peter Pan, as it has something to tell us all.

My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Movie Trailer - Fading Gigolo

Director: John Turturro
Starring: John Turturro, Woody Allen, Sharon Stone, Sofia Vergara
Release: September 2013

For a movie about a male prostitute, this movie looks kinda boring.  It has a Woody Allen feel, but with lesbians and flowers.  I don't know, I like John Turturro, but I have strong doubts about this one.  I can't see myself giving it a chance unless I hear some surprisingly good things.

DVD Review - Dragon Knight

Director: Helene Angel
Year: 2003

This is a movie of many titles.  The DVD has it entitled Dragon Knight.  The original French title is Recontre avec le dragon.  And IMDB has it labeled as The Red Knight.  Whatever you choose to call it, the multiple names are a sign of the confusion to come.  There is not a single dragon in the movie, nor can we ever be sure that a dragon played any part in the story.  That's fine, there doesn't have to be an actual dragon; you could argue that the legend of the dragon is what's important to the plot.  But then there's the French vs. the English title.  Sure, it's a foreign film, why not.  But again, it's a clue as to what's to come.  And what came was some of the worst dubbing I have ever sat through.  So take the uncertainty of the title as a sign and be prepared for what turned out to be a very odd film.

The Movie

Legend has it that a man baptised by fire has become one of the greatest knights in history.  His name is Guillaume, and in his youth he saved his friend Raoul from the dragon's breath.  In the process, he was horribly burned, surviving but paying a horrible price.  The scars he will carry for a lifetime, but legend also claims that this brave warrior can never die, can never be defeated, that he is blessed by the fire.  Years after the event his exploits have not been forgotten.  Books have been written about him, and he has become a famous knight, idolized by many.  One such believer is Felix, a young boy who carries an ancient book with him as if it were the Bible, hoping to one day meet & squire for his beloved hero.

When Felix finally meets Guillaume, all is not as he imagined it would be.  The Red Dragon is no more than a bounty hunter, attempting to find the renegade Hugues, return him to the Pope, and collect a handsome reward.  Also on the trail of the runaway is Mespoulede, Guillaume's rival.  The two fight for the right to the prize, with Felix a near helpless tag-a-long.  But there is even more to the story that will make it even harder for Guillaume to complete his mission.  He is being followed by his now mad friend Raoul, who is cursed and damned and totally insane.  Something happened years ago between the two near brothers that has driven a wedge between them, something that haunts them still and will ultimately help to decide the fate of all involved.

First, the dubbing.  I'm not sure who did it, but it sounds like it was perhaps a high school class.  I've heard some bad voice-overs in some bad b-movies, but this has to be right up there with the worst ever.  Not only was it horrible acting, but the voices themselves didn't seem to fit the characters at all.  Guillaume sounded like he was seventeen.  I could have done a better job, and I really hate when that happens.  Me and my friends shouldn't be able to go in the basement, watch the movie, find a script, read along, and do ten times better than the actual dubbers.  I mean, come on, put some effort into it at least.  Try to emote a little and inflect your voice.  I don't want to sound like my old choir teacher, but a little enunciation wouldn't hurt.

The only thing the dubbing allowed for were some cool sound effects that seem to have been added in to the movie.  Background sounds were louder than usual, but not in a bad way.  It was almost like an old radio show where someone is producing sound effects to go along with the dialogue.  Who knows, that may have been exactly what they were doing, snapping twigs whenever a character went traipsing through the woods.  But it worked, and created a extra sense of reality, of being involved in the story.  And the story itself wasn't bad.  I was interested in the Dragon Knight legend, I was curious to see how it would all play out, and I liked Felix as the boy who is witnessing the crazy world that these messed up adults have constructed for themselves.

Putting aside the dubbing, the film was alright.  Not great, but alright.  It was very imaginative, with strange locations that the characters were always coming across, original costumes, and some nice ideas put into motion.  There was obviously a lot of time & effort put into the world in which the action was taking place.  The events of the plot were unpredictable, even a little wild at times.  But at least they kept you on your toes.  The level of violence and stark action was nice; there was a very raw sense to the film, a semi-realistic take on medieval warfare, politics, and brutality.  I guess if I had just turned the volume off it would have made for a better movie.  But then I wouldn't have known what the hell was going on, so never mind.


Video - With an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, the picture quality is nice.  Maybe not quite as perfect as you'd hope for, but nice.  The scenery was what impressed me.  The filmmakers had a good eye for the set, and gave us some really great shots.

Audio - You have two sound options here: 2.0 Dolby Stereo or 5.1 Surround Sound.  The film is in French with English dubbing.  There are no subtitles options, but if you had subtitles you'd miss some of the worse voice-overs you're ever likely to hear.

Extras - There are zero extras on this disc.

Final Thoughts

Skip It.  I wish I had watched this film in its original language.  I don't think it would have made it amazing, but it definitely would have helped.  The visuals of the movie were nice, the story was cool, but the dubbing was just so bad it made it almost unwatchable.  The video was good, the audio was fine, and there were no extras at all.  Find a French version; otherwise don't bother.

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

Monday, August 26, 2013

Movie Trailer - Divergent

Director: Neil Burger
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Kate Winslet, Miles Teller
Release: March 21st, 2014

I get that making movies based on bestselling tween books is a guaranteed way to make money.  But do you have to pick a book that is almost a complete ripoff of Hunger Games?  Aren't there any other mediocre novels to choose from, ones that don't feature a heroine in a dystopian United States?

Movie Review - Burn After Reading

Director: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen
Starring: Frances McDormund, John Malkovich, George Clooney, Brad Pitt
Year: 2008

I'll watch most anything as long as the Coen Brothers are involved, and most likely I'll love it.  Fargo, The Big Lebowski, O Brother; some great films.  Others were just alright: Raising Arizona, Barton Fink, True Grit.  But regardless, this duo makes very interesting and very original films, and Burn After Reading is no exception.  At first it seems like a crime/CIA/covert ops drama, and then the more you watch it the more it feels like a comedy.  By the end you realize that they're mocking a pretty ridiculous genre, using humor to point out what we ought to have been laughing at all these years, yet took so seriously. 

The plot is a mess of who's sleeping with who, who's blackmailing who, and what the hell is going on.  Ex-government employee Osbourne Cox recently quit his job and is on the verge of a divorce.  His wife is sleeping with Harry, another DC insider.  Harry is sleeping with anyone he can find, including the very simple-minded Linda Litzke.  She and her equally dimwitted pal Chad happen upon some "serious secret shit", and decide to blackmail Ozzy Cox or sell the information to the Russians.  They, of course, are in way over there heads.  People are followed, blood is spilled, secrets are revealed, and nothing is easy as the situation spins out of control.

Burn After Reading is one of the best spoofs you'll find.  It pokes perfect fun at the classic FBI intel storyline and the nonsensical plots that always emerge in them.  If you didn't have a sense of humor you might actually believe that this was a serious film, because it sticks to the genre so closely.  But, of course, it's actually a comedy and everything the characters do is designed to mock and amuse.  It's a hilarious movie; Brad Pitt & Frances McDormund are great as the bumbling blockheads who think they can outwit the professionals.  John Malkovich & George Clooney are equally excellent as the paranoid G-men who really have no idea what's going on.  Sometimes the humor goes a little over the top, but it's all meant to show us how utterly insane we must be to believe any story like this for more than a second. 

My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Movie Trailer - A.C.O.D.

Director: Stu Zicherman
Starring: Adam Scott, Amy Poehler, Catherine O'Hara
Jessica Alba, Jane Lynch, Richard Jenkins
Release: October 4th, 2013

I think you can tell by the cast list that this movie is going to be bad.  Not that all these people are bad actors, it just looks like a poor combination.  Adam Scott is strong, Poehler, O'Hara, and Lynch are funny, but I just don't see this movie working.

Sports - Fantasy Football Part 2

With a lot of Fantasy Football Drafts taking place this weekend, people are truly ready for some football.  This weekend's games will tell us a lot about each team and about each player's fantasy outlook, as they are basically dress rehearsals for the upcoming season.  So get your cheat sheets ready, rank your players, and prepare to draft!  Here are Olie's Fantasy Predictions, based on my top secret and highly coveted Super Spreadsheets.  Let the games begin!

  • Jimmy Graham is all alone - With Rob Gronkowski perhaps missing the first couple weeks of the season, Graham becomes the only TE worth an early pick.  He might be the only one who goes over 1,000 yards and/or two digit TDs.  If you get Drew Brees, make sure to also grab Jimmy Graham.
  • Witten woes - Don't draft Jason Witten hoping for a lot of scores.  He's no longer a huge redzone target, and he no longer gets many TDs.  He'll deliver more yards than most TEs, so draft him if your league gives a lot of points for yardage.  But otherwise, let him fall.
  • Hidden gems - As you make your way down the list of fantasy relevant TEs, there's not too much to get excited about.  After the first few superstars you have a bunch of mediocrity.  But there are a couple buy low options; Jared Cook, Brandon Myers, and Martellus Bennett.  Those guys won't blow your mind, but they will provide you with cheap TDs.
  • HEATH! - He's pretty seriously injured, but assuming Heath Miller returns healthy at some point this season he could actually be a sleeper pick.  There's no way to tell when he'll return, but it could be around week 6, 7, or 8.  If you can stash him late in the draft, or even get him on the Free Agent list, he could give you a quick boost.
  • Avoid the Eagles - Don't plan on taking a Philadelphia TE as your starer.  Neither Celek nor Ertz will get a lot of action in Chip Kelly's system.  Expect Vick, McCoy, and Jackson as usual, but don't expect a ton of redzone scores from either Eagle end.
  • Young Blood - The kids are scoring the points and are here to stay.  Walsh of the Vikings and Tucker of the Ravens are both the real deal, especially if your league gives extra points for 50+ yard field goals.  Neither kicker will get as many point-afters as Prater or Gostkowski, but points are in the field goals and these guys will deliver.
  • Escape from Cleveland - For years Phil Dawson was the best player on the whole Browns team, and now he's finally free.  His leg is still solid and the Niners will give him the opportunity to score and score often.  Super Bowl bound?  It's possible.
  • Akers - He might be old, but David Akers is alive and kicking.  Literally.  Now with the Lions, he has the chance to put up some points.  Not a ton, but a solid amount.  If the Lions rebound and have a great season, they'll take Akers right along with them.
  • Sea Bass - He's had a great career, but Sebastian Janokowski's day in the sun might be over.  The Raiders are just a bad team, and they don't get near the endzone often enough to draft their kicker.  He'll still get a few FGs, but he might have the least extra points of any kicker this year.
  • Don't overpay - There are no kickers that blow everyone else away.  There are also none that will sink you.  I'm not saying draft Caleb Sturgis as your starting kicker, but don't overpay for one of the top guys either.  Kickers can wait; some free agent might end up leading the league.
  • Da Bears - Chicago scored a ridiculous 10 defensive touchdowns last season.  And they only allowed 16 points per game.  A defense that can do that will get you a bunch of fantasy points.  Only problem is, that's hard to repeat.  Don't expect the exact same stat line, but draft them high.
  • Sleeper hold - If you're looking for a sleeper defense, look no further than St. Louis.  They might not be the first group that comes to mind when you think about smash-mouth football, but this defense will score you some points.  If you miss out on the big boys (San Fran, Seattle, Baltimore) you could do much worse than the Rams.
  • The Pack - Green Bay used to be a high scoring defense, literally.  They might allow a lot of points but they'd get defensive touchdowns to make up for it.  Last season they only scored 3 TDs, and this season shouldn't be much better.  They're not dynamic enough to get early.
  • The Bottom - Some defenses shouldn't even be drafted as backups: Tennessee, Oakland, Jacksonville.  Don't draft these teams; there are a ton of better options.  Namely, every other team in the league.
  • Draft early - Unlike kickers, there is a big difference between the top defenses and the bottom ones.  Don't be hesitant to take the team you want earlier than others do, or to jump on the bandwagon when defenses start to be selected.  Get one of the big dogs early and you won't be disappointed.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Movie Trailer - The Turning

Director: 18 different directors
Starring: Rose Byrne, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving
Release: September 26th, 2013

I guess you'd have to be a fan of Tim Winton's work to really appreciate this movie.  I've never read his stuff, so I don't think I'd get it.  And maybe if it weren't for Cate Balanchett I wouldn't even have watched the trailer, which I'm sure was the point of casting her.

Sports - Fantasy Football Part 1

With a lot of Fantasy Football Drafts taking place this weekend, people are truly ready for some football.  This weekend's games will tell us a lot about each team and about each player's fantasy outlook, as they are basically dress rehearsals for the upcoming season.  So get your cheat sheets ready, rank your players, and prepare to draft!  Here are Olie's Fantasy Predictions, based on my top secret and highly coveted Super Spreadsheets.  Let the games begin!

  • Drew Brees #1 - Your league might not draft quarterbacks early, but Brees ought to be the first one taken, whatever round you choose to pull the trigger in.  With HC Sean Payton back, the Saints will be a high flying, quick scoring offense that puts up a ton of points.  Brees benefits the most from that, and so will your team if you draft him as the first QB overall.
  • Peyton & Tom - Last year Manning had the question marks and Brady was the solid pick.  Brady ended up with better overall stats, but not this year.  Peyton has Wes Welker, a better understanding of the offense, and a year of rehab on his neck.  Tom lost all his toys.  He'll still produce, but Peyton will have the better fantasy season.
  • Kaepernicking - Colin Kaepernick was a postseason sensation and will be drafted too highly.  I think he'll struggle a little bit this year, now that he's not taking everyone by surprise.  Don't overpay for his late season numbers; you'll regret it when he isn't a fantasy stud.
  • Lost their magic - Quarterbacks like Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Phillip Rivers, Matt Schaub, Jay Cutler, and Michael Vick can't be counted on to be your #1 QB this season.  They've all had big years, but don't seem likely to repeat them any time soon.
  • QB by committee - That being said, a pair of those guys together on your fantasy team might just win you some games.  If you're willing to gamble, this could be the year that having two mediocre quarterbacks could be your ticket to the postseason.  You'd have to play the matchups and then get very lucky, but it worked last year for some people and it could work again.
  • AP All Day - Adrian Peterson will be the #1 overall pick in a lot of drafts this weekend, but don't get too excited.  No RB that rushed for 2,000 yards has ever rushed for more then 1,500 the next season.  Now, he still scores a bunch of TDs and will still rack up yardage, but don't believe him when he says he's gonna break the all-time record this season.
  • Stephen Jackson in Hotlanta - The Falcons have a new RB and there's reason to be excited if you're a fantasy owner.  Michael Turner has been consistently putting up points in Atlanta for years, often quietly and under the radar.  Stephen Jackson will do the exact same.  He'll score TDs, get yards, and give you a very solid source of points each week.
  • Run DMC - Every year the buzz is that Darren McFadden is about to break records.  He has the talent to do it easily.  But injury problems and a bad team always hold him down.  With a return to the man-blocking scheme that he prefers, there's a chance this year that he puts up huge numbers.  But don't pay for a chance; take him late and be pleasantly surprised.
  • The Law Firm - Stay clear of BenJarvis Green-Ellis.  Not only did he have a disappointing season last year, but rookie RB Giovani Bernard is poised to take away a lot of his fantasy points.  Green-Ellis is still #1 in Cinci, but that could change at any point this season.
  • Pittsburgh Problems - And stay clear of any Steelers running back.  Le'Veon Bell seemed poised to be fantasy relevant, but with his injury the staring spot is wide open.  Pittsburgh has a ton of adequate backs to take his place, but that's not a good thing in the fantasy world.  They could play the hot hand or do a backfield by committee, the black hole of fantasy points.
  • Megatron - Don't be nervous about picking Calvin Johnson.  His TD numbers were bad last year and his yardage was other-wordly.  This year order will be restored; less yards, more touchdowns, a ton of fantasy points.  Last season he was tackled on the 1-yard-line four times.  Talk about bad luck, for the Lions and for you.  But this year normalcy returns.
  • The Lambeau Leap - There are some new star WRs in Green Bay, and you can feel free to draft any of them.  They might all score 8 TDs and be similar in yardage.  Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, James Jones; any of the three will be a solid #2 WR for your fantasy team.
  • Mile High Salute - The same can be said for Peyton Manning's weapons in Denver, with only slightly more disparity.  Demaryius Thomas will be the stud, Wes Welker will be the yards guy, and Eric Decker will be somewhere in between.  Draft any of the three with confidence.
  • Former Superstars - A few guys who've put up some great numbers before won't repeat them this year.  Miles Austin, DeSean Jackson, Greg Jennings, Mike Wallace, Stevie Johnson; don't expect big things from them, and don't draft them as more than your #3 receiver.
  • Undraftables - There are some teams with some hype, but don't overspend to get their players.  WRs from Tennessee, St. Louis, Jacksonville, Cleveland, and even Seattle won't be worth much this season, even if their teams seem to be trending up.  Stick with proven talent unless you find yourself able to take a gamble in a late round with a receiver who has upside.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Movie Trailer - C.O.G.

Director: Kyle Patrick Alverez
Starring: Jonathan Groff, Denis O'Hare, CaseyWilson
Release: September 20th, 2013

I don't know.  I read the book recently (Naked by David Sedaris) and I just didn't like it.  You can check out my review if you like, but I wouldn't recommend the novel.  I'm not sure the movie looks any better, and I think I'll just steer clear.

Movie Review - Forbidden World

Director: Allan Holzman
Starring: Jesse Vint, June Chadwick, Dawn Dunlap
Year: 1982

On my tour of 80s fantasy movies, I made a stop over at 80s sci-fi.  It's a pretty good genre, but the only problem is that every film resembles Alien in some way.  It's amazing when you think about it, how important & influential Alien was to every space/alien movie that came after it.  For a minute while watching Forbidden World I thought, "Wow, this was made in the early 80s, Alien must have taken a lot of its ideas from this movie!".  But I guess I forget that Alien was made in 1979.  I'm sure there are other movies that inspired it, but that film remains a highly copied & coveted piece of sci-fi cinema.  So while Forbidden World was a pretty good flick, it owes a lot to those that came before.

The story takes place in the far future on a distant planet.  In a government research facility, very important scientific work is being carried out.  The team there is attempting to create a genetically altered super food to combat the galactic food shortage.  They have succeeded in developing a highly productive mutant gene, but there's just one problem; they can't control it.  As the "thing" changes from one form to the next, no can predict what it will do or how it will try to survive.  When a government agent is called in for support, he finds himself in a confusing fight for survival, as the scientists want to save their long years of work, while he just wants to kill it before it kills all of them.

This film was also called Mutant, which makes much more sense.  There's no forbidden world, but there is an ugly killer mutant who eats everything in its path.  I actually liked this movie, despite its Alien plagiarism.  It was funny, slightly clever, and not horribly acted.  It had a few awesomely bad classic scenes that I'll remember for a while, and I'm a sucker for space plots in small spaces; again, very similar to Alien.  Incidentally, the very first scene of the film reminded me a lot of Prometheus, the Alien prequel that came out in 2012.  But taken on its own, Forbidden World was a fun early sci-fi film that started well, got a little too bloody & screamy by the end, but was entertaining throughout.

My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Movie Trailer - How I Live Now

Director: Kevin Macdonald
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, George MacKay, Tom Holland
Release: October 4th, 2013

Saoirse Ronan has grown up a little bit since her Atonement days.  She's not a bad actress, and I'm a sucker for post-apocalyptic movies, but this one feels less like The Road and more like The Road meets Twilight.  I don't know, it might be too tweeny.

Movie Review - The Sessions

Director: Ben Lewin
Starring: John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, William H. Macy
Year: 2012

For a movie that got a lot of Oscar buzz last year, it sure didn't get a lot of Oscar credit.  Helen Hunt was nominated for Best Supporting Actress, and that's about it.  No Best Picture, Best Director, or Best Actor for John Hawkes.  Everything seemed to be there for this movie to be a big award winner; true story, very difficult lead role, an actress outside her comfort zone.  But neither audiences nor critics really got on board.  It seemed like this racy movie really didn't do much more than simply entertain, and after watching it I can say that that is pretty much exactly right.

The story of the film is based on an actual article by Mark O'Brien about his experience with a sex surrogate.  Mark had polio when he was young and is confined to a gurney and an iron lung.  He is a journalist and a poet, and when he begins to write a story about sex in the handicapped world, it opens his eyes to his own lack of sexual experience.  He decides to have sex at least once before his imminent death, and he hires a surrogate to make it happen.  Cheryl isn't a prostitute, she is a therapist, attempting to open up Mark's sexual being within six intense sessions.  As he battles with his Catholic guilt over sexuality, he must also fight his uncontrollable body, trying his best to find love and pleasure in a very unlikely place.

As you can probably gleam from the summary, the central theme to this movie is sex.  Helen Hunt is naked throughout, there are some very explicit discussions, and the characters discuss sexuality alongside morality, religion, and nature.  That said, the film is also about love and attempting to feel normal when your life is anything but.  As far as that goes, the actors do a great job telling this true story.  It's very interesting and engaging, having a fast pace and good detail.  But, and here's the catch, it's nothing special.  I was expecting a little more, something deeper, less Hollywood.  But it turned out to be a regular movie about a sexual topic.  William H. Macy was a little cheesy, Helen Hunt did a weird Boston accent, and John Hawkes spouted too much poetry.  Everything was just OK and not as ground-breaking as I had hoped it would be.  I can see why it got more buzz than awards, as it just didn't go that extra mile to become atypical.  The Sessions was good, but sadly not great.

My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Movie Trailer - Philomena

Director: Stephen Frears
Starring: Steve Coogan, Judi Dench, Charlie Murphy
Release: November 1st, 2013

This movie looks decidedly British.  But hey, I love the British, so I'm in.  Judy Dench and Steve Coogan are both solid actors.  And then Stephen Frears was the director of both High Fidelity and The Queen.  Very different movies, but combine those two and you might have this one.  Minus Jack Black of course, more's the pity.

Movie Review - The Master

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams
Year: 2012

Paul Thomas Anderson is probably my favorite director other than Wes Anderson, their last names being just a coincidence.  The Coen Brothers, Christopher Guest, Woody Allen, those guys are right up there, but PTA just makes near perfect movies that are unlike anything you've ever seen before.  His first film was Hard Eight, which is the only one I've not seen.  His others, in order, are Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood, and The Master.  Those are some of the best movies ever made, in my humble opinion, and I had high hopes for his latest project.  Especially since Philip Seymour Hoffman is also one of my favorite actors, with Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams high on my respected actors list.  I must have a thing for non-assassins with three names.  Anyway, I was primed to love The Master.

The main character isn't the master, but the student, a young man named Freddie.  He is an ex-sailor, a vagrant, a law-breaker, a drunk, a murderer, someone who has no direction and no reason to dream.  But his future begins to take shape when he meets Lancaster Dodd, the man everyone calls Master.  He is the teacher of a new outlook on life, a new philosophy that teaches his followers how to revisit their past lives and experiences, and to use them to make themselves happier people.  Many call this unique group a cult, but for Freddie it fills a hole inside him that he's had for his entire life.  Freddie gives himself to the cause, to bettering himself, and to a special relationship that begins to form between himself and the Master.  But his old life and his old wandering ways have never quite disappeared, leaving him torn between self improvement and self destruction.

At first I was a little concerned.  It was beautiful and dramatic from the very beginning, but it actually felt more like a Terrence Malick film (The Thin Red Line, The New World, The Tree of Life) than a PTA film, and that's not good.  I hate the way the Malick's movies are so self indulgent, so purposelessly pretty.  And that's the way The Master felt at first, but luckily that didn't last long.  When Freddie (Phoenix) met Master (Hoffman) everything changed.  The fast-paced, music-driven dialogue started humming, the scenes became crisp and unsettling, and the movie started to feel the way I imagined it would.  The acting in this movie is some of the best you are ever going to see.  Not for one second did I think of them as actors.  Well, maybe Amy Adams, but that's not really her fault.  She was strong too, just not as perfect as the two main characters.  And the film itself wasn't exactly perfect either.  It lacked the strange humor of Boogie Nights, Punch-Drunk Love, and even There Will Be Blood that relieved some of the pressure off of the intensity of the story.  Magnolia was like that, excellent but maybe a little too heavy.  The Master was the same; a great movie with amazing acting that could have used something to take the edge off of what became a very deep and dark story.  This film isn't for everyone, but it's one that I'm still going over in my head and would watch again.

My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰

Monday, August 19, 2013

Movie Trailer - Her

Director: Spike Jonze
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johansson
Release: January 10th, 2014

As I write this I'm in the middle of watching The Master.  Same production company, a couple of the same actors, but the films look quite different.  I'm intrigued by this one; Spike Jonze directing (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Where the Wild Things Are), and I'm also very glad that Scarlett Johansson is just doing a voice-over.

Movie Review - Zack and Miri Make a Porno

Director: Kevin Smith
Starring: Seth Rogen, Elizabeth Banks, Craig Robinson
Year: 2008

I was fourteen when Chasing Amy came out, and at the time that was about as adult a movie as I had ever seen.  It was about sex, relationships, friendships, they swore continually, and I felt grown up when I watched it.  It was perfection then and it's still a great movie, but I'm wondering if I actually grew up too much to enjoy Kevin Smith's style and humor.  Clerks, Mallrats, Dogma, Jay and Silent Bob; those used to be some of my favorite movies, but I wouldn't say that any longer.  Maybe I matured past those movies, and maybe Kevin Smith needs to as well.  He did with Red State, a psychotic and original film that I really enjoyed.  But I can't say the same about Zack and Miri, a movie that's funny, vulgar, and juvenile but one that I might have only enjoyed when I was a teenager.

Zack is basically a loser.  He doesn't have a girlfriend, he works at a coffee shop, he lives in a dump with his best friend Miri, can't pay any of his bills, and is one step away from living on the street.  He's about to give up hope, when he stumbles upon what he thinks is a fantastic idea; making a porno!  Zack and Miri team up to create a horribly low-budget porn filled with bizarre people and strange fetishes.  The climax of the movie is supposed to be the two best friends' first time together, but as the moment approaches feelings start to get in the way.  Can the fake film survive what might turn out to be real emotion?

I'm torn, because I respect Kevin Smith and used to find this stuff really funny, but I guess I just don't as much anymore.  It was silly, gross, raunchy, offensive, but not always in bad ways.  It was often amusing, quite surprising, so I can't say I didn't like it.  And I still enjoy crass humor in movies, like This Is the End, but for some reason this certain style has just lost its attraction to me.  I'm sure the acting in the movie didn't help.  Seth Rogen was funny, but wow was Elizabeth Banks horrible.  And so was Craig Robinson, just awful.  There were some nice cameos: Jason Mewes (minus Silent Bob), Jeff Anderson (from Clerks).  But the film as a whole just didn't work.  I was confused more that amused, and at the end my friend said it best when he said, "Well that was special."  I can't say I hated it, but I definitely wouldn't watch it ever again. 

My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Movie Trailer - The Dirties

Director: Matthew Johnson
Starring: Matthew Johnson, Owen Williams
Release: October 4th, 2013

This almost looks too real to be funny.  Not that it's supposed to be funny necessarily.  So maybe I should say it almost looks too real to be comfortable.  And again, maybe that's the point.  It's like if someone had made a home movie of the Columbine shooting, would it have looked like this?

Movie Review - Flight

Director: Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Denzel Washington, Kelly Reilly, Don Cheadle
Year: 2012

Denzel Washington is one of the best actors of our time.  I know this isn't breaking news, but it doesn't hurt to say it again.  He has the ability to enter into any role, develop a deeper character than you ever saw coming, and then turn around to do it three times every year.  But therein also lies the problem; he does so many movies that some are bound to be awful.  John Q, Unstoppable, Deja Vu; he might not be bad in them but they had almost no chance of being good movies.  And of course on the flip side you have some of the best films ever made: Training Day, Crimson Tide, Glory.  My point is that you might watch a movie because Denzel is in it, he has that star power, but you never know exactly what you're going to get.  With Flight I was pretty sure I knew greatness was coming.

In this film, Denzel plays Whip Whitaker, an excellent pilot, but also a colossal drunk.  He drinks, he smokes, he gets high, he gets low, whatever.  And the night before, the morning of, and during his most recent flight he is pretty wasted.  He's been living with it long enough to not let his drugs affect his flying, but when disaster strikes his airplane and it crashes, his lifestyle comes under scrutiny.  He may have been the only pilot who could have performed the miraculous maneuver that saved the lives of most of the souls on board that day, but being intoxicated is against the law, and when his toxicology report shows the chemicals in his system he faces life in prison.  And while Whip might be able to beat the rap, he can't seem to beat his addiction to alcohol, hero or not.

It seems like a trend of the movies I've been watching, but once again a movie starts out amazing and finishes so so.  With Washington and Zemeckis on board for Flight, I knew it would be high quality, and it was.  The beginning was great, the music was awesome throughout, and Whip was an extremely interesting and deep character.  The problem came when the movie became about addiction.  I've just seen too many.  I wasn't looking for another AA session, another sob story, another "religion fills the hole in your life" film.  And while at first I thought the film was poking some fun at these things, it ended up being about these things, and that's not what I wanted.  I wanted Denzel to be amazing, which he was.  I wanted the side characters to be strong, which they were.  But I wanted the end to be original, and it just wasn't.  I was left feeling a little disappointed, since it all started so well and finished a little limply.  Flight turned out to be a good movie, but not as perfect as I had imagined it would be.

My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰

Friday, August 16, 2013

Movie Trailer - Diana

Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel
Starring: Naomi Watts, Naveen Andrews, Cas Anvar
Release: September 20th, 2013

The trailer really doesn't give much away, but I guess the story speaks for itself.  We all know how this ends, and we pretty much know it all went down.  I guess the question is, did you care about Diana when she was alive and when she died?  That will probably decide whether or not you see this movie.

Movie Review - Looper

Director: Rian Johnson
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt
Year: 2012

This was one of those movies that I knew I had to see as soon as I watched the trailer.  Not only am I a sucker for dystopian futures, but I also love time travel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.  And what he was attempting to do in this movie was pretty ambitious.  JGL would become Bruce Willis, as they played the same character from different times.  He would morph into this other man, and that was something I wanted to see.  And Looper also seemed to have an Inception vibe to it, which I loved, and I was looking forward to seeing another twisted take on a cool sci-fi premise.  So here I am just shy of a year after the movie came out, finally seeing it.  The first half of the movie delivered everything I was hoping for; a great story, good action, it forced me to think.  But then the second half started, and I wasn't as pleased.

The year is 2044, and crime has become law.  Mob bosses rule the cities and their employees hand out the justice.  One career of the future is that of Looper, a very strange occupation.  Apparently in the 2070s time travel will be invented.  It will be immediately outlawed, but the crime organizations will use it at will.  What they do with it is pretty ingenious; anyone they want dead they send back in time, back to 2044, where a Looper is being paid to kill the mark, dispose of the body, and wake up to do it all again the next day.  At some point every Looper will be sent his own self to kill, which is called 'closing the loop'.  You close your loop, get a huge pay day, go have fun for thirty years, and prepare for your imminent death.  All this is fine with Joe, until the day his own loop is sent to him, escapes, and turns his whole world upside down.  Now he must find himself, kill himself, and figure out what the hell is going on.

What an awesome story.  The whole idea of Loopers is just so cool, and the way they are portrayed in the movie really makes you want to be one, despite the guarantee of death at an early age.  JGL was the perfect Looper; young, cocky, handsome, but insecure.  And the way they made him look like Bruce Willis was phenomenal.  The makeup was good, but what's impressive is how much he must have studied Willis, because he talked and acted just like him.  So when his future self came back, the scenes between the two of them were eerily awesome.  However, that's kind of when the problems started.  The beginning of the film was so excellent I didn't want it to change.  But when Bruce Willis came the story started getting muddled and the acting talent was definitely lowered.  Not that Willis is terrible, but he wasn't good in this one.  And the plot quickly lost its originality, adding in a love interest, a kid, cheesy heroism, extra sci-fi elements.  They just weren't needed, the base story was strong enough on its own without forcing in some Hollywood.  The first half was great, the second half was just OK, so I'm left a little torn.  At the very least, Looper is a movie worth watching if you like sci-fi/action/time travel movies.  It's just not as wonderful as I had hoped.

My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Movie Trailer - Devil's Pass

Director: Renny Harlin
Starring: Gemma Atkinson, Richard Reid, Matt Stokoe
Release: August 23rd, 2013

Seriously?  When I first heard of this movie I thought it was a documentary.  Not so much.  Now, I like horror movies as much as the next guy, but a bunch of skinny dead Russian zombie things?  This better be a tongue-in-cheek b-movie because if it's at all serious it might be the worst movie ever.

Movie Review - Barbarian Queen

Director: Hector Olivera
Starring: Lana Clarkson, Armando Capo, Dawn Dunlap
Year: 1985

I might have a new favorite genre.  These 80s fantasy movies are just so awesome.  So bad, but so awesome.  They are extremely short, the stories are simple, the action is funny, the actors are eye candy, and it takes zero effort on the part of the viewer.  I'm not usually one for watching movies or TV shows in order to "veg out", I like to be challenged in some way.  But with this genre I can see the benefit of just watching them to waste an hour in a semi-enjoyable way.  Now, that's not to say that every single one of these action-adventure flicks are the same quality; some are an entertaining romp and some are big dull duds.  But regardless, I never really feel cheated, tricked, or annoyed when I watch one of these movies, good or bad.  I always have a fun time, get to laugh at some extremely silly scenes, and turn it off happy.

Barbarian Queen is yet another 80s fantasy epic based around the idea that everyone in ancient times fought with very little clothing on.  In a tiny village in the countryside of a mighty Empire, a prince and princess are about to be married;  Amethea, the beautiful maiden, and Argan, the heroic warrior.  But their nuptials are cut short when their village is attacked, their people slaughtered, and many dragged away to become slaves.  Amethea survives, and along with a small party of women warriors tracks the killers with the goal of freeing her people.  When she meets up with the Rebels, she realizes that her's is not the only tragic story, and that the people of the realm are ready to rise up and defeat the evil Empire.

This movie was almost an exact copy of Deathstalker, with a little less magic and a few more Amazonian heroines.  It was really just a girl version of the earlier film, complete with harems, drunken revelries, evil overlords, castle courtyards, and freedom fighters.  The only problem was it wasn't as funny.  It was a bit more realistic maybe, though I use that word lightly, and it didn't have enough creatures or fantasy.  It needed that fantastic element in order to make it a little lighter and easier to laugh at, since it obviously wasn't made to be an Oscar winner.  But I had a good time watching it, even though I knew it was bad.  It wasn't quite the stellar b-movie I had hoped for, so I can't recommend it over others of its genre, but it was a pretty good example of 80s fantasy fluff.

My rating: ✰ ✰

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Movie Trailer - Romeo and Juliet

Director: Carlo Carlei
Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, Douglas Booth, Pail Giamatti
Release: September 6th, 2013

I was almost ready to cast this one aside as over-dramatic teen rubbish.  But then I thought, isn't that what the story of Romeo and Juliet is really?  It might have a dark end, but it's basically an angst tale about kids who want to have sex with each other.  So who knows, maybe this is actually how it was meant to be seen.

Movie Review - Elysium

Director: Neill Blomkamp
Starring: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley
Year: 2013

You can't talk about Elysium without first talking about District 9.  Done four years ago, it was Neill Blomkamp's first feature film, and it was an amazing success.  It got great reviews from both critics & audiences, and I really liked it.  It was such an original way to make a point, using aliens to represent apartheid in South Africa, forcing the main character to physically transform, making audiences watch some horrible reality.  Sound familiar?  If you've heard much about Elysium you'll recognize a very similar plot and message; class warfare, metamorphosis, sci-fi action.  The two movies have a ton in common, which is fine.  Write what you know, right?  But Blonkamp's first attempt at this idea was gritty, surprising, bare-bones.  His second turned out to be a Hollywood rip-off of his own great film; a cliche-driven mess of explosions and forced dialogue that totally corrupted the simple point he has been trying so hard to make us see.

The story is complicated, but the set-up is quite simple.  Earth has lost its beauty & its health, and it is no longer a nice place to live.  Overcrowding, disease, and pollution have made the planet a harsh environment, and so those who can afford to move have left town.  The wealthy have created their own world, Elysium, a space station that is a veritable heaven.  There is no want, no disease, no shortage of any kind, and all the rest of humanity badly want to live there.  Max, an ex-con and blue-collar worker, finds himself in a situation where he must get to Elysium in order to live.  His underground friend Spider is willing to help him, but at a price.  Meanwhile, power on Elysium is up for grabs, and a computer program might be the key to the kingdom.  When Max accidentally downloads the program into his own brain, he becomes the deciding factor in the future of Earth.

When you compare Elysium to District 9, the former lacks everything that made the latter so great.  The story was strong; the idea of a literally separate class living among the stars was really interesting, and the desire of the rest of Earth's people to get to that level had some very honest things to say about immigration, Third World Countries, class warfare, the works.  So the idea behind the film wasn't the problem, it was the execution.  While D9 was clean, brutal, and simple Elysium was messy, cliche, and over-worked.  It was a summer blockbuster, I guess, when what I wanted was a great film with a good point.  And it could have been that if it had just been stripped down.  The core was strong, but why add a love story, a typical villain, a cute kid, that stupid chanting music that seems to be in every slow scene of every action movie?  None of that stuff was necessary.  The plot was good, the action was cool, but the movie was overloaded with crap that didn't add anything but dead weight.

And the first part that should have been eliminated was Jodie Foster.  I have seen her in some great roles; this was probably her worst.  She was awful as a power-hungry aristocrat who was willing to do the dirty work that the President of Elysium was not.  And she did it all with a horrible accent that I can only imagine was supposed to be French.  Her entire character was unnecessary and just muddled up what quickly became an overcomplicated plot.  Matt Damon was fine, but he didn't need to fall in love.  We didn't need to see him as a kid in an orphanage, we didn't need to get inside his head.  And we didn't need the characters around him: Spider the hacker, Kruger the sleeper agent, Julio the BFF, Carlyle the suit, Frey the pretty girl.  What made D9 so good was that it was simple.  It was bloody, insightful, raw, and used sci-fi to entertain us while making a great point about humanity.  Elysium tried to do these same things but couldn't stop itself from being a Hollywood version of a great film, not a great film itself.

My rating: ✰ ✰