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!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Movie Trailer - Frozen

Director: Chris Buck
Starring: Kristen Bell, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad
Release: November 27th, 2013

Visually, it loos like Tangled in the snow.  But it sounds like Bolt, feels like Ice Age, and seems like it's not going to be any good.  I love Disney movies probably more than the next person, but I think I'll pass on this one unless my 4-year-old wants to watch it someday.

Movie Review - Anna Karenina

Director: Joe Wright
Starring: Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnson
Year: 2012

In the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) each movie gets two different ratings: a Userscore and a Metascore.  The Userscore is a number from 1-10 showing the average rating the movie gets from all users.  The Metascore is the same, but averaged from critics' ratings.  Some movies get high scores in both areas; Pulp Fiction gets a 9.0 on average from 800,000 users and a 9.4 on average from 24 critics.  Other films only score high with the users; entertaining movies like The Mummy (6.9, 4.8) that might not be great but are hits with audiences.  Some are only loved by critics: cerebral or artistic movies like Frantic (6.8, 9.3) that come off as strange but impress aficionados.  And others fail or simply pass in both areas, movies like Anna Karenina (6.6, 6.3) that seem to be stuck somewhere in the middle, unloved by anyone.  So when I sat down to watch it, I assumed it would underwhelm me as both a viewer and a critic, as it had most others.  But that's why we watch; because any film can surprise us and in the end we can really only trust our own taste.

The story is a classic one, well known and well read.  Set in Russia in the late 1800s, the plot revolves around the beautiful aristocrat Anna and her family; husband Karenin, son Seryozha, brother Stiva.  While traveling to Moscow to convince her brother's wife not to leave him for infidelity, Anna happens to meet Count Alexei Vronsky.  The two instantly feel an attraction, a connection that will eventually rock the Imperial social world.  Back in St. Petersburg, Anna and Alexei carry out their affair, under the watchful eyes on Karenin.  When the truth comes out, Anna is threatened with divorce and banishment from her son.  But her child is her world and she is torn between the love she has for Vronsky and the duty she has to her family.  The plot spirals downward toward a climax that is both beautiful and harsh, an end that epitomizes the tragic love story.

I don't see how Anna Karenina can get a middle-of-the-road rating.  It's one of those movies that you'll either love or hate, so perhaps it's always rated a 9 or a 4 and averages out somewhere in the middle.  So if I have to pick an extreme, I'll go with the higher one.  It was an incredible film.  From the very beginning the style of the sets and the action was completely original, having a little bit of a Moulin Rouge feel but not so over-the-top or modern.  It was as if I was watching a play, a movie, and real life all at once.  It was visually stunning, with beautiful costumes, backdrops, scene changes, everything.  I didn't want to look away or take a breath, I was completely immersed.  I can see how the style of the film wouldn't sit well with everyone.  It was a little artistic and you had to use your imagination, especially at the beginning.  But for me the style brought the film up from what could have been a dull Russian melodrama and turned out to be anything but.

The story itself was good, but was definitely helped but the cool way in which it was shown to us.  I have never read the book, I know it's long and arduous, but the movie never felt that way.  They did a great job keeping the speed high, the music going, and the characters interesting.  The side characters especially were very strong, well acted and a nice background for the main love story.  Because the story was so heavy we needed a few chuckles, or a few moments away, or something to give us a break, which was done very well.  And the acting matched the intensity of the story nicely.  Knightley was very strong as Anna.  She's not my favorite actress, but she's excellent in period pieces, and flourished under the same director that she worked with in Atonement.  Jude Law was superb as Karenin; stoic, regal, but not above emotion.  Everything fit together nicely, with no glaring holes, problems, or weaknesses.  The worst that can be said about it is that it was dramatic and artistic.  But since I don't see those as negatives I found myself liking it very, very much.

My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Movie Trailer - One Chance

Director: David Frankel
Starring: James Corden, Mackenzie Crook, Alexandra Roach
Release: November 13th, 2013

This guy is the brilliant director behind such films as The Devil Wears Prada, Marley & Me, and Hope Springs.  I doubt I need to say more but I will; this is going to be awful, don't watch it.

DVD Review - Seattle Superstorm

Director: Jason Bourque
Starring: Esai Morales, Ona Grauer, MacKenzie Porter
Year: 2012

If you're a fan of crappy made-for-TV horror/thriller movies than you probably saw Sharknado.  It was an event like no other and even warranted an encore presentation, and not just to fill a time slot but because people actually wanted to see it.  I missed it the first time, saw it the second, and was torn between being glad I did and being very, very sad I did.  It was literally the worst movie I've ever seen, while somehow being incredibly captivating.  It was like a horrible parade of images that you can't turn away from, even though you know you should.  Now, Seattle Superstorm is somewhere on the same level as Sharknado, but it both rose above it and sank below it at the same time.  Hard to explain and hard to categorize, but true; this was a much better film but had absolutely nothing in its favor.

The Movie

The movie began somewhat believably.  As a modern day family, the main characters were easy to relate to.  Tom, a single dad, is engaged to Emma, a single mother.  Their families are coming together in Seattle to start their new life.  The problem is that their children, Wyatt & Chloe, don't get along.  She's a hippie conservationist while he's a fuel-burning gear head.  They fight, they argue, and they're driving a wedge between their parents.  It looks like the engagement might be off, when a horrific event brings them together.  While at the local market, an object falls from the sky and crashes through the roof, terrifying the family and bringing up fears of terrorist attacks.  Emma, a senior member of the armed forces, must rush off to gather intelligence, and Tom, a biologist, attempts to figure out what exactly happened.  Wyatt & Chloe are on their own and must work together to get home safe.

But nowhere in Seattle is exactly safe right now.  The object that crashed through the roof of the market was half of an unidentified projectile hurtling through the air near the city.  The government, seeing it as a threat, shot it down with a missile, splitting it into two parts: one hit the market and the other landed in the bay.  The piece in the water is now expelling a strange smoke, one that might have lethal properties and also seems to be affecting the weather over Seattle.  A giant storm begins to brew with no sign of calming down before it destroys the city, or perhaps the world.  Emma attempts to gather data and save the lives the people.  Tom tries to figure out the biological origin of the object and stop the deadly storm.  And Wyatt & Chloe battle for survival out in the elements.  When they all team up, with a little help from a retired Russian scientist, they begin to understand the catastrophic capabilities of the storm and what they must do to stop it.

It might not make sense, but Seattle Superstorm really is better and worse than Sharknado.  It wasn't as goofy or unbelievable.  They seemed to really be trying to infuse some science into the plot, make it somewhat realistic or at least acceptable.  There were some wild conspiracy theories thrown out there in the film, but ultimately it became man vs wild, a battle between nature and man's excellent brain.  So they at least tried.  But without the insanity & blood & Tara Reid, it just became another boring sci-fi movie, not an event of any kind, let alone something you'll remember five minutes after you watch it.  That was the best thing that could be said about Sharknado; it might be the worse thing ever, but there's no forgetting it and there's no outdoing it.  So while this movie was much less ridiculous, it was also much less entertaining and memorable.

If the plot rose slightly above the standard drivel, the acting sure didn't.  I've seen and enjoyed Esai Morales in a couple projects (NYPD Blue, Gun Hill Road), but wow was he bad in this one.  It was as if he wasn't even trying.  I'm not sure exactly how much time he spent preparing for this role, but it couldn't have been much more than fifteen minutes.  Ona Grauer was equally bad as his fiancee.  First, there was exactly zero chemistry between the two.  And second, she was as believable as a tree stump.  I assume she was cast because she is pretty, but she didn't do anything for me.  And if the parents were bad, the kids were terrible.  MacKenzie Porter & Jared Abrahamson were like children in a beginners acting class; over-the-top, loud, and comically untalented.  None of the side characters brought anything, so they're not even worth mentioning, and the whole film suffered from a general lack of talent.

I'm trying to think of a few good things to say and it's difficult.  Even the storm itself wasn't cool.  It seems like the worse thing the characters had to deal with was a windy day.  That and the eminent demise of the Space Needle.  I honestly didn't want it to fall.  It was as if the movie didn't deserve something as spectacular as a monument crashing down; it wasn't earned.  So the storm wasn't fun, the plot was odd, the acting was horrid.  The best that can be said for the movie was that it was quick.  It delivered a slightly acceptable story, gave it to us fast, steered clear of ridiculous twists, and ended with a whimper.  I wasn't angry after having watched it, but I wasn't satisfied either.  I wanted it to go to one extreme or the other, to be something worth mentioning, good or bad.  But it ended up as just another throw-away TV movie, nothing more nothing less.


Video - The picture quality of the film was fine.  There were no glaring problems or editing flaws.  The storm actually looked cool, with a ton of lighting and dark clouds.  Not anything to get excited about, but with little else to point to the visual of the storm might have been the highlight of the movie.

Audio - The film was done in Dolby Digital.  You have an option for listening to the movie in either English 5.1 or English 2.0.  There are no options for the hearing impaired, nor are there any subtitle options for viewing the film in other languages.

Extras - The only extra on the DVD is a trailer for the film.

Final Thoughts

Skip It.  Just a bad idea all around.  It was a crappy movie without redeeming qualities that would have at least made it fun to watch.  I can't say it was worse than others of its kind because at least they tried to make a legitimate film, but they failed to make it the least bit interesting to entertaining.  The video was fine, the audio was fine, and the extras were almost nonexistent.  You could do much worse than Seattle Superstorm, but you probably should.

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

Friday, September 27, 2013

Movie Trailer - Mr. Nobody

Director: Jaco Van Dormael
Starring: Jared Leto, Sarah Polley, Diane Kruger
Release: November 1st, 2013

This one looks weird.  It's like a mix of Cloud Atlas, Ender's Game, and Finding Nemo.  Jared Leto is a weird guy, so maybe he fits in well & makes it work.  I've not seen anything by Van Dormael so I can't use his other films to help get a gauge on this one.   It's a toss up.

DVD Review - Scenic Route

Director: The Goetz Brothers
Starring: Josh Duhamel, Dan Fogler
Year: 2013

It's always dangerous to put the weight of a movie's success squarely on the shoulders of two actors.  Now, you could argue that in most films the pressure is on someone to make it or break it.  Look at any big name actor project; the movie relies on them and if they're off than the movie could fail.  But they usually have a supporting cast, theme music, an old veteran like Alan Arkin or someone to give them a boost.  Conversely, in a film like Gravity, which comes out soon, the only actors are Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.  No John Goodman popping up to make us laugh, no catchy Aerosmith song.  And Scenic Route is the same way, with a much more dangerous duo to entrust with the success of your film.  Josh Duhamel is at least a known heartthrob (Transformers, Safe Haven), but Dan Fogler isn't all that famous (Good Luck Chuck, Take Me Home Tonight).  It was risky to hand these two the entire film, set them in a desert, give them nothing but each other to work with, and hope for the best.  Well, it could have been worse, but don't expect Cast Away.

The Movie

Mitchell and Carter used to be best friends.  Mitchell played guitar, Carter wrote novels, and life was good.  The pals were young & carefree, living their dreams and not conforming to what society wanted them to be.  That is, until Mitchell got his heart broken, losing the girl who he was crazy about.  Since then he has gone down a different path; marrying the first girl he dated after the breakup, having a kid, giving up on his music, buying a house, getting a job, and becoming the person that he never thought he would be.  He and Carter gradually drifted apart, as the two friends started living separate lives and Carter's style no longer meshed with Mitchell's new-found normalcy.

Well, Carter isn't going to abandon his old friend without a fight.  He plans a road trip with Mitchell, driving him in his old Ford truck that's also his home, crossing the desert in search of the bond that they used to have.  Things seem hopeless and nothing is getting resolved or even discussed, until suddenly the truck breaks down.  Literally in the middle of nowhere, the friends begin to talk.  They open up, share their feelings, and there's a glimmer of hope that their old happiness can be renewed.  That is, until they start to panic.  No one is coming, the nights are freezing, hunger & thirst set in, and the pair begin to wonder how they will ever get out of this wasteland alive.  When secrets are revealed and the laws of society begin to crumple true natures emerge, and the desire to live might outweigh all bonds of friendship.

It really could have been much worse.  Neither of these actors had anything close to an Oscar-winning performance, but they both held their own in what must have been difficult roles to pull off.  I tried to keep that in mind while I was watching the film; this isn't easy, they've got nothing but their own acting talent to lean on, and they're baking in some remote California desert.  Josh Duhamel did a good job as Mitchell, the sell out who needs a disaster in order to remember what life really means.  Kinda cheesy, and that's pretty much how it was played, but not awful.  Dan Fogler was actually slightly more believable as Carter, the bum who is at least trying to live the dream.  He pulled off being the funny asshole friend with a sensitive side who makes bad choices but who ultimately has good intentions.  Again, maybe not the most original characters, but both actors did a fine job with the roles that they were given.

The message of the movie may have been the best part.  I'm not gonna say that it was the most groundbreaking film or that after I watched it I began beating my brow and screaming, "Now I see!  Now I know!"  But the simple things it was trying to say came through pretty clearly: life is fleeting, dreams are important, friendships should be cherished, you've got to make yourself happy before your life can be a happy one.  Things like that; not amazing but genuine.  And that was what impressed be about the plot; for an unlikely scenario the story was pretty genuine.  The film had some really honest things to say about marriage, having children, being responsible, being a man.  None of those things is easy and the filmmakers & the actors succeeded in being realistic with how tough it is to "do the right thing".  The characters were great representations of different paths that we all might take, depending on the choices we make early on in our lives.

Now, not everything was warm, fuzzy, and introspective.  The film had a very hard edge, a lot of violent discussions and violent outbursts as this miniature society began to crumble.  A few of the conversations between the friends became the high points of the film, while conversely some of the tiffs between them became the low.  Although both of these guys did a fine job, neither of them was strong enough to switch back & forth between drama, comedy, aggression, compassion.  Those heavy moments were when things got a little weak.  Again, I tried to remember what a hard job these roles and conditions must be, but it's their job to make me forget that, not my job to give them a break.  And that pretty much sums it up; it was a good movie, not a great one, and I'd have to give it a lot of slack if I were to recommend it.  So I guess it's up to how forgiving you're feeling; if you are willing to give it the benefit of the doubt then you'll probably enjoy it.  If you're planning on being tough, than this isn't a film that will stand up to a ton of scrutiny.


Video - With an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, the video was a good quality.  The desert set lent itself to some pretty nice shots, and the picture was crisp & clear.  The film was shot using an Arri Alexa and a Red Epic camera, with Zeiss Super Speed and Angenieux Optimo Lenses.

Audio - The film was done in Dolby Digital, with your choice of either English 5.1 or English 2.0.  There were no major glitches or unbalanced mixing; the sound quality was fine.

Extras - There are not many extras to choose from.  You can turn on audio commentary with the Goetz Brothers and Josh Duhamel, and there is a trailer for the film.

Final Thoughts

Rent It.  It's not an amazing film by a long shot, but there are a few parts that make it a worthwhile watch.  There is an honest message and some pretty good acting, as long as you're prepared to forgive a few flaws.  If not, better steer clear.  The video quality was good, audio was fine, and extras were minimal.  You can easily see better, but you can also get much worse, so stick this one somewhere in the middle and move on.

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

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Movie Trailer - Big Sur

Director: Michael Polish
Starring: Jean-Marc Barr, Kate Bosworth, Josh Lucas
Release: November 1st, 2013

I just can't get excited about Jack Kerouac.  I've read On the Road and I'd like to see the movie, but honestly the story is just OK.  It gets boring fast, and I think this film will too.  Can Kate Bosworth & Josh Lucas save it?  I doubt it.

Sports - 2013 NFL Picks, Week 4

Here are my NFL Week 4 Picks
(9-7 last week, 34-14 for the season)
Bye teams: Car, GB

SF @ STL - There has got to come a week in which the Niners get back on track, and that time could be now.  Neither of these teams are scoring or stopping other teams from scoring, but San Fran has much higher potential and could turn in on this week vs a mediocre Rams team.

Bal @ Buf - I hesitate in picking too many away teams to win ballgames, but here's one I think will go that way.  The Ravens played bad vs Den, OK vs Cle, and good vs Hou.  So perhaps they're in for a great week at Buffalo, facing a team that is fun to watch but not special.

Cin @ Cle - It would be very much like the Bengals to beat the Packers and then lose to the Browns.  Andy Dalton and the offense need to step up their level of play to match their defense, as Cleveland's D is no joke.  This could be a messy game that ends in a last minute FG.

Chi @ Det - The Lions have been putting up points this year, but surprisingly not as many as the Bears.  Cutler has been doing his gunslinger thing, while the defense has been scoring too.  I'd pick the home team here, but I think Chicago has what it takes to win this game.

Sea @ Hou - The Seahawks have the best defense in football, allowing less than 10 points per game.  The Texans aren't pushovers, but they're not playing to their potential yet.  Look for a brutal game, close until the very end, with the Hawks winning it at the buzzer.

Ind @ Jax - It's hard to judge the Colts, they seem to be a bit up & down.  But it's easy to judge the Jaguars; they're awful.  They score less than 10 points per game and allow triple that.  Not good, and not the way to win even one game.  1st overall pick, here we come.

NYG @ KC - No other team is even close to allowing the points per game that the G-men do at 40, as they're clearly a team that can do no right.  The Chiefs on the other hand are 3-0 and tied for the division lead with Denver.  This ought to be a very lopsided victory.

Pit @ Min - Throw home field out the window; this game is being played in London.  So with no advantage, which team is better?  The Vikings score double the points the Steelers score, and Adrian Peterson might have a nice game against a D that is no longer scary.

Ari @ TB - There's a new QB in Tampa.  Josh Freeman is benched and Mike Glennon is the starter.  I think the team immediately responds to this fresh start.  Couple that with the Cardinals being winless on the road and I think the Bucs get their first win of the season.

NYJ @ Ten - These teams are almost identical.  Both 2-1, both have allowed and scored between 50 & 60 points, both have young athletic QBs.  But the key difference is that Jake Locker has a little experience and is playing at home.  That should be enough for a Titans win.

Phi @ Den - Again I'll knock on wood just in case, but this should be a no brainer.  The Broncos are undefeated, playing at home, and have score a ridiculous 127 so far this year.  The Eagles can score too, but they're not consistent, they're on the road, and they turn the ball over.

Was @ Oak - I guess I was a year too soon in being down on RG3.  He looks awful and his defense looks even worse.  The Raiders aren't great either, but they showed potential against the Broncos.  Will Terrell Pryor end up having a better year than Robert Griffin?

Dal @ SD - If you asked who was the better team right now I think a lot of people would say the Chargers.  But the Cowboys have a better record, score more, and allow less points.  The only problem is they're on the road.  Lets see if the Boys can win a tough game when it matters.

NE @ Atl - This just in; the Patriots defense doesn't let people score.  They only allow 11 points per game.  Now, Brady & Co. aren't scoring as much as they used to, but with Gronk returning and the young WRs finally stepping up, they're gonna start putting up some points.

Mia @ NO - Battle of the undefeateds.  The Dolphins are getting the job done in whatever manner they can and will be a tough matchup from here on out.  But the Saints finally have a good defense.  Pair that with their stellar offense and you have a team that goes deep into the playoffs.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Movie Trailer - Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Director: Justin Chadwick
Starring: Idris Elba, Naomie Harris, Tony Kgoroge
Release: November 29th, 2013

I'm not really into biopics; they're usually just so sappy, heavy-handed, and one-sided.  Whoever is making the film idolizes the hero of the story, making the biography come across as worship.  But I guess if I want facts I could just watch a documentary on Mandela, but that would be really boring.  So I don't know, maybe an over-dramatic take is better than an ultra-realistic take.

Movie Review - Prisoners

Director: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano
Year: 2013

In June, when I put the trailer for this film up on my blog, my first reaction was "whoa".  It looked heavy, intense, and perhaps too realistic.  I was reluctant to see it because I wasn't sure how I could keep from putting myself into the story and becoming too involved.  I have kids, and I didn't know if I could enjoy a movie about this topic, even if it was well done.  But I figured I should give it a shot.  After all, Jackman and Gyllenhaal are both good actors, and their co-stars (Paul Dano, Viola Davis, Terrance Howard, Melissa Leo, Maria Bello) are all solid as well.  I had never seen a movie by director Denis Villeneuve, but even the trailer showed a simple style and a film that was going to be highly reliant on emotion & acting, not amazing cinematography and artistic directing.  Anyway, I gave it a shot, despite my reservations, and I'm very glad I did.

The story follows the Dover and Birch families of Pennsylvania; your average middle-class families, each with an older child and a younger girl.  On Thanksgiving the two daughters, Anna and Joy, go missing while walking from one house to the other.  The only clue to their disappearance is an old RV that had been parked nearby and that is now gone.  And when Detective Loki finds the RV and arrests the man inside it, the families are sure that the police have got their man and that they will get their children back.  But when no evidence is found and the suspect Alex Jones turns out to be a simple young man, Loki has no choice but to release him and start the search again.  But Anna's father has no intention of letting Alex escape, as he is convinced that this man knows where his daughter is.  As Loki continues to investigate, Dover takes matters into his own hands, setting off a string of events that will ultimately lead to an unexpected climax.

The content of the film was as hard to take as I imagined it would be.  It was difficult not to set my own family in a similar situation; how would I feel, what would I do.  And the raw realism of all involved was brutal; the loss of their children, the hopelessness of being so helpless, the intensity of the anger Dover feels toward Jones, the man he is certain holds the key to his daughter's life.  I was emotionally invested and at the film's mercy from the very beginning.  Now, I can see how if you don't have a family, if you can keep at a distance from the story, how those strong dramatic pulls wouldn't have as much effect on you.  And lacking that, perhaps the plot seems recycled, a kidnapping or serial killer film you've seen before.  Even I can admit that I've seen this done similarly (Zodiac) and done better (Se7en).  But for me the hook was there and therefor I let myself get swept away, possibly forgiving some minor flaws.

As far as the acting goes, there were some highs and there were some lows.  Hugh Jackman was quite good as the father who will do anything but doesn't quite know what to do.  He was believable, controlled at times, and explosive when it was called for.  Jake Gyllenhaal was also pretty solid as the young cop who perhaps has demons and is perhaps too invested in the fate of these girls.  There was a chance there for the movie to go full Hollywood, to give us more of Detective Loki's back story, but they avoided that pitfall and left most of his character up to our imagination.  And for the most part, that was done very well, letting the audience figure things out without having it spelled out for us.  That is, until the end, when unfortunately the "bad guy" has a badly acted monologue telling us why they do what they do.  That quickly brought the movie down a notch and hurt the realism that was working so well up until that point.  But even with a mediocre ending, I found the film to be heart-pounding, believable, upsetting, well-acted, and an overall success.

My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Movie Trailer - The Last Days on Mars

Director: Ruairi Robinson
Starring: Liev Schreiber, Elias Koteas, Olivia Williams
Release: December 6th, 2013

I don't care that there have been some very bad Mars movies made in the past.  And I don't care if this looks a little bit too like Prometheus.  I love sci-fi, I love space movies, and this one looks like a homage to all the old classics that I so enjoy.  I hope it's good, but I almost don't care.

Movie Review - Dark Shadows

Director: Tim Burton
Year: 2012

I like Tim Burton as much as the next guy.  He's done some great movies: Edward Scissorhands, Big Fish, Sweeney Todd.  He obviously has a talent for the dark and the disturbing, even showcasing a feel for the dramatic & sensitive at times.  But I'm getting a little tired of he and Johnny Depp getting together and making spooky movies.  Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Sleepy Hollow, Alice in Wonderland, and now Dark Shadows; it's just getting to be a bit much.  Audiences are getting bored of the same pairing, the same morbid comedy, the same dark style.  And I think with this film they finally hit a wall, one that might make them realize that their relationship needs a break.

Dark Shadows was originally a Gothic soap opera that ran in the late 60s.  It has since become a cult classic and a favorite of many Hollywood filmmakers, including Burton and Depp.  In this remake, the story revolves around Barnabas Collins, a once-wealthy Englishman raised in America where his family set up a prosperous business in New England in the 1700s.  Spurning the advances of a witch, both he and his lover are cursed; she to her death and he to immortality as a vampire.  Fast forward to the 1970s, where the Collins family is about to go broke and the evil witch is still alive in Collinsport.  Barnabas must help his family regain their prestige, all while adjusting to the culture shock and battling the evil woman who still claims him as her own.

The movie version is labeled as a comedy/horror.  Well, there's plenty of soft core horror; neck biting, werewolf fights, ghosts floating about.  But there is almost no humor whatsoever.  The beginning of the movie is funny for about one minute, as Barnabas tries to figure out television and McDonalds.  But that only gets a quick chuckle, followed by over an hour of dumb jokes and odd comedy.  It just wasn't very funny.  And it wasn't very gruesome either, so what you're left with is a movie that fails to do anything well.  It wasn't awful; Depp was typically good, Green was sexy & evil.  But the movie wasn't funny enough, it wasn't dark enough, it wasn't special enough.  It was more throw-away than Tim Burton's films usually are, and I think he and Johnny Depp need to go their separate ways; try news ideas, come up with something original, and generally start making good movies again.

My rating: ✰ ✰

Monday, September 23, 2013

Movie Trailer - The Railway Man

Director: Jonathan Teplitzky
Starring: Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Stellan Skarsgard
Release: December 26th, 2013

I'm not sure why I think this one is going to be amazing.  I don't always like Nicole Kidman, or even Colin Firth to a lesser degree.  But this movie looks like a modern version of The Bridge on the River Kwai with a revenge twist and I'm excited to see it.  It's been out on the indie level and hasn't gotten rave reviews, so maybe I'm wrong, but I'll be making time to see The Railway Man.

Movie Review - Les Miserables

Director: Tom Hooper
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway
Year: 2012

Can I assume everyone knows a little bit about the show?  I did, even before I saw it, and I assume the same is true about you.  I had heard a few of the songs, knew about the Victor Hugo novel, was aware of the Broadway hit.  But I had never read the book, listened to the soundtrack, or seen the play until a few months ago.  My wife & I saw the show and it was incredible.  The music, the story, the characters; one of the the best musicals you will ever see, assuming it's done with any amount of talent.  Well, I'm a movie guy first & foremost, so I was looking forward to seeing the film version that was so popular and comparing it to the play.  I'm glad I saw it on stage first, because without that knowledge I might have thought the movie was amazing.

The plot of the movie follows the plot of the play almost exactly, while the play follows the book very well minus a bit of philosophy and history.  The story follows Jean Valjean, a thief who has been in chains for 19 years for stealing a piece of bread.  When he is finally released, his past follows him wherever her goes, keeping him from honest work and in hunger.  He stumbles upon an opportunity to start over, a chance to rid himself of his old name and begin a new life, although one that must be kept secret forever.  Fast forward through the years to Valjean the rich man, free of his past, but constantly hunted by Inspector Javert, a man who cannot forget the criminal who escaped him.  When Valjean saves a man from being crushed and befriends a prostitute named Fantine, the game is up and Javert is ready to capture his enemy.  But Valjean has more he must do, as he has promised to take care of Fantine's daughter Cosette, raising her as his own child through the years and through the ever-changing political tide of France, taking the story to its epic climax.

It's hard to summarize the plot, as it introduces countless characters and historical undertones.  It ranges through a great number of years & covers a lot of ground, but always stays with Jean Valjean and his quest to be a righteous man despite a difficult past.  So the story might be a bit confusing at times, but in the end the details really don't matter.  It's a tale of young love, of promises, of heroism, and it is told very well in this film version.  It's the music that tells the story more than the actors, since almost no words are spoken, only sung.  So everything hinges on the vocal prowess of the singers, and thankfully everyone held their own.  Jackman was a great tortured Valjean, Hathaway had a very strong song, and even Crowe wasn't awful as Javert.  The young actors Seyfried, Redmayne, and Barks were all good as well as Cosette, Marius, and Eponine.  So the movie was very well done, well sung, and enjoyable.

However, having seen the play recently, I can say with confidence that the movie is nowhere near as good as the stage version.  There's nothing glaringly bad about the film; the production is good, the sets are cool, the pace is nice.  But it's basically like watching the show from the front row.  Nothing is new or original or different, it's almost exactly like the play.  The only difference is that the actors can't sing as well as the Broadway stars.  So you're basically just watching the play on your TV and hearing second-rate singers.  I'm not saying I didn't like the movie; I liked it a lot.  But there wasn't anything special about it, there wasn't anything that made me glad that I saw it as opposed to the play.  I like that they didn't go all Hollywood and that they kept it simple.  It was refreshing to just follow the characters closely and hear them sing.  It's just that they're not amazing singers; I guess that's why they're in movies.  So, if you've never seen the show or heard much of the music I can understand how the movie might seem spectacular.  But it's not; the music is spectacular, the story is amazing, the characters are excellent.  The credit can't go to the film for something they're copying almost detail by detail.  Watch it and enjoy it because it's very good, but understand that Anne Hathaway is just singing a perfect song that's been sung a thousand times and most often better.

My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Movie Trailer - Blue Is the Warmest Color

Director: Abdellatif Kechiche
Starring: Lea Seydoux, Adele Exarchopoulos
Release: October 25th, 2013

This movie is supposedly very sexually explicit; there is a twelve minute long sex scene between two young girls.  Now, a lot of people are saying that this is an amazing movie, a great love story, it's winning indie awards.  But the content is going to be a lot to take, so be fore-warned.  The trailer doesn't give much away, so it's hard to tell if it's going to be a great movie or if it's just getting over-hyped.  When it comes out in theatres perhaps we'll get a better idea.

Movie Review - Deep Impact

Director: Mimi Leder
Starring: Tea Leoni, Morgan Freeman, Elijah Wood
Leelee Sobieski, Robert Duvall, Jon Favreau
Year: 1998

I can remember very clearly when this movie and Armageddon both came out in 1998.  The latter was the blockbuster, having the hit song to back it up, the big actors of the day to pull in audiences, the summer opening.  The former had Tea Leoni.  You can see why Deep Impact might not have been as big a success.  It actually opened a few months before its competition and ended up making a pretty nice chunk of change, but when you think about the disaster movie of 1998 you think about Ben and Liv and Bruce and Aerosmith, the whole spectacle.  But for my money, Deep Impact is the better movie, if only by a small margin.

The story follows a plucky American reporter named Jenny Lerner who stumbles upon a government cover up that she plans to reveal.  Problem is, she's gotten in way over her head, accidentally discovering the biggest news in history.  Apparently the world is about to end.  There is a giant meteor falling through space and headed straight toward the Earth.  The world governments have a couple of plans in place to deflect the cataclysmic comet, but they've also developed a back-up plan; caves in Missouri and around the world have been constructed to house millions of people, to ensure the survival of the species if the Earth's surface should be annihilated.  Humans frantically try to change their fate, all the while preparing to become nearly extinct.

I think what raises Deep Impact above Armageddon is its pace.  It's not over-dramatic, slow, character driven, and emotional until the end of the film.  Most of the movie is details; how would we stop an event like this, what would we do to survive, how would people react.  And Armageddon was the opposite; a love story, tears, bravery.  Now, this movie had those, but a lot of it came toward the climax when I'd already become invested in the plot and wanted to see how it would all shake out.  Sure I'd seen the movie before, but honestly I didn't remember much.  So I was into it and enjoyed myself throughout.  I'm not trying to say that this is a phenomenal film, no way.  Elijah Wood & Leelee Sobieski as young lovers?  Pass.  Tea Leoni as the lead actress?  Pass, pass, pass.  Morgan Freeman was good as the President, but the movie as a whole was driven by the story, not the actors.  It ended up being an entertaining two hours, ones that I don't regret spending.

My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰

Friday, September 20, 2013

Movie Trailer - Homefront

Director: Gary Fleder
Starring: Jason Statham, James Franco, Winona Ryder, Kate Bosworth
Release: November 27th, 2013

I've always wanted to like Jason Statham movies, because he's such a likeable guy.  But they're just so horrid that there's no chance in the world I can get behind one.  This movie looks like it's about a half-step up from his normal garbage, which just might be enough to get me to watch it.  I just wish the cast list wasn't a who's who of bad actors.

Movie Review - Lee Daniels' The Butler

Director: Lee Daniels
Starring: Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, David Oyelowo
Year: 2013

I have a problem with directors putting their names before a movie's title.  Right or wrong, I immediately think I have an idea what that director might be like, and it's not positive.  It shows a certain arrogance and conceit to claim a movie as your own in such blatant ways, even if you were the primary mind behind the film.  Now, Lee Daniels himself supposedly didn't like the idea, but had to do it because the original title was already taken.  So maybe he was "forced" into doing it, coerced into giving himself more credit than usual.  But regardless, to me the harm was already done.  That famed fourth wall was already damaged by pushing the director's name at me, by reminding me that this isn't reality, that it's a film made by people to try to make me feel a certain way.  Well, if that's the direction you're going you had better go all the way, and surprisingly that's exactly what they did.

The title character of the film is, yes, a butler; an African-American man originally from the deep South named Cecil Gaines.  As a child in the 1920s living on a cotton plantation, Cecil would get an early & first hand account of the brutal treatment of the black workers by their white bosses.  His father dead and his mother driven to madness, Cecil slowly moved north in search of food, work, and freedom from hostility.  He would eventually find work as a butler, even landing the coveted job as a member of the White House staff in Washington D.C.  There, Cecil and his family lived in peace while the years, and the Presidents, rolled on by.  But although the North was a relatively progressive place to live, the South was still mired in racism, violence, and oppression.  And when Louis Gaines, Cecil's son, sets out to make a difference, to change the world, the peace of the family is shattered and the vigilant butler must watch the country around him change; leader by leader, law by law, and death by death.

When I say they went all the way & just destroyed the fourth wall, I mean exactly that.  There was no pretense about it; every chance the film had we were reminded that these were actors, not real people in real events.  That might sound a little silly, because of course they're actors, but most movies go to great lengths to hide that fact from us.  But not this one.  At every turn there was another semi-ridiculous cameo: Mariah Carey as Cecil's mom, Lenny Kravitz as his co-worker, Robin Williams as Eisenhower, John Cusack as Nixon.  The list goes on and on and there was absolutely no shame in the amount of famous faces paraded across the screen.  But the thing is, it worked.  Not once did anyone in the movie fake a performance or try to "become" the character.  These were storytellers in an epic tale of American life.  Actors, yes, but re-enactors more than anything else.  History was related to us in fine detail through the eyes of a real life butler played on screen by another man, in a movie created by a director on manufactured sets, in a time that is starting to forget that the privileges we have today didn't always exist.

I bought in to the story, which happens to be true, because I didn't feel mislead in any way.  I liked the style the movie was done in, much better than other historical dramas; like Lincoln, which I liked just fine but found to be so over-dramatic that it became oppressive and dull.  This one was more like Forrest Gump, with its simple narration, quick timeline, and occasional humor.  It wasn't as good as that film, but it was still an interesting look at a fascinating time.  Now unlike Forrest Gump, the acting in The Butler didn't elevate it beyond what the story had to offer.  Forest Whitaker was fine as Cecil Gaines, a great vehicle for the movie.  Oprah as his wife Gloria was a little over-the-top and often forced.  The various actors who played the revolving Presidents were all fine, if a little forgettable.  And that could be said about the movie itself; the way the film was delivered was refreshingly clean, the acting was good all around, but by the end I was left feeling underwhelmed.  I liked the story, I liked the characters, but about half way through I got the point and the rest of the movie felt a little like history class.  For a film that is getting Oscar buzz, there's not too much that's going to make you jump out of your seat.  It was good, not great, not extremely memorable, but it is definitely worth your time and worth watching.

My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰ 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Movie Trailer - Grudge Match

Director: Peter Segal
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Robert De Niro, Alan Arkin
Release: December 25th, 2013

I am ashamed to say it, but I really want to see this movie.  It doesn't look quite as stupid as I had imagined it would; it's more like a farewell to two extremely influential actors as they grow old and die.  Maybe a little depressing, but I want to be a part of it.  Now, I am worried about the director, the guy who brought us Nutty Professor II, Anger Management, 50 First Dates, and Get Smart.  Oh well, this has Alan Arkin in it and he can do no wrong.  I'm in!

Sports - 2013 NFL Picks, Week 3

Here are my NFL Week 3 Picks
(14-2 last week, 25-7 for the season)
Bye teams: none

KC @ Phi - First game of the week and it might be the toughest to pick.  The Chiefs are off to a terrific start, as most people predicted they would be.  Their defense is strong, but their offense is just OK.  I think the Eagles can put up enough points in spurts to take the game.

Hou @ Bal - I take that back; this one is a toss up too.  The Ravens have looked bad so far, with a blowout loss in Denver and a messy win vs Cleveland.  I think they'll improve as the season rolls along, but the Texans are no pushovers.  They are undefeated and coming to town.

NYG @ Car - Both of these teams are 0-2, playing sloppy, and looking like the playoffs are a million miles away.  But at least the Panthers have been playing good defense, if only their offense would step it up.  Well Merry Christmas, here come the Giants, most points allowed in the league.

GB @ Cin - I watched the Bengals on MNF and I saw a good team.  They play strong D, they can run the ball, and they're athletic.  Sounds like a lot of playoff teams over the years.  Problem is, their QB is just OK and their coach stinks.  Fix one of those and they could be SB bound.

STL @ Dal - Somehow the Cowboys are winning their division.  They don't seem like an elite team, but no one ever said to have to be to win games.  They win when they play at home and the Rams lose when they play on the road.  Sounds like a recipe for a Big D victory.

Cle @ Min - Someone's about to get their first win, and it probably won't be the Browns.  They have scored 16 points this season.  Total.  To put that in perspective the Broncos have scored 90.  And now their starting QB is out, so look for them to play even worse than usual.

TB @ NE - The Patriots have only scored 3 TDs total in two weeks.  The Bucs have scored 4.  Both teams have scored & allowed similarly small numbers, but somehow the Pats are 2-0 and the Bucs are 0-2.  Bad luck I guess, or maybe having Tom Brady on your team is enough.

Ari @ NO - A similar story here, as the Saints are not putting up the numbers that we are all accustomed to.  It's early & I'm sure they'll figure things out, but right now they're just a mediocre team.  However, they win at home and you know someday Brees will get hot.  Why not now?

SD @ Ten - The Chargers are putting up the points right now.  Eddie Royal looks like the best thing since french toast & Phillip Rivers is cooking.  But that won't last, they'll falter, and they'll lose to some bad teams.  This week?  I say no.  I think they still hot a little while longer.

Det @ Was - Things are not going very well for RG3.  There has even been some speculation that he could be benched.  I don't see that happening.  He'll warm up & the offense will be OK.  It's the defense that's the problem, and the Lions are about to light them up.

Atl @ Mia - I picked the Dolphins to win last week in an upset, which they did, and I think this week it's less and upset & more a sure bet.  They're playing good D, putting up enough points, and fans are excited for the home opener.  I love Matty Ice & the Falcons, but this is a tough draw.

Buf @ NYJ - The Jets are actually ahead of the Bills in the standings, with both teams at 1-1.  But anyone who's been watching knows that Buffalo is a team on the rise and they are the better ball club.  E.J. Manuel vs Geno Smith; should be a fun game to watch.

Jax @ Sea - I can't remember the last time I saw a matchup as lopsided as this one.  The Seahawks should utterly destroy the Jaguars, with a possible final score of 41-3.  Now, sometimes good teams fall into trap games, but I don't see that happening, not this time.

Ind @ SF - The Colts score more and allow less points than the Niners.  So normally I'd be going with Indy.  But San Fran was embarrassed last week in Seattle, and I look for them to play angry and physical.  The Colts will win games this year, but bad timing loses them this one.

Chi @ Pit - The Bears aren't as good as their 2-0 record might lead us to believe.  They barely won home games vs the Bengals and the Vikings, two teams that aren't great.  If the Steelers were playing anything near good football I'd pick them here, but unfortunately for them they are not.

Oak @ Den - I don't want to jinx it & say that this game should be as uneven as the Jax vs Sea game, but it really ought to.  The Broncos are in a whole other level when compared to the Raiders, and even an old rivalry shouldn't be enough to make this a close contest.