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!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Movie Trailer - Obvious Child

Director: Gillian Robespierre
Starring: Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffman
Release: June 6th, 2014

It's like a much more Jewish Frances Ha.  I like that it calles itself a subversive rom-com, that both amuses and intrigues me.  I don't like that this is Robespierre's first film; that worries me.  And it's one of Jenny Slate's only movies too.  Not a good sign, but it could work anyway.

Movie Review - Oblivion

Director: Joseph Kosinski
Starring: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Andrea Riseborough
Year: 2013

I probably hate Tom Cruise less than you do.  I don't know what it is about the guy, but he's one of those polarizing actors that you either love or despise.  Maybe it's his religious oddities, or his marriages, or the fact that he's small & cocky.  But something about him rubs a lot of people the wrong way, but doesn't seem to bother me.  I might be forgiving a lot because Top Gun is one of my favorite movies; Maverick can be my wing man any day.  Now, I'm not trying to defend all of Cruise's movies, because some have been plain awful, but I do tend to give him the benefit of the doubt.  Throw him into a sci-fi movie, which happens to be my favorite genre, and I'm pretty much guaranteed to be on board.  So when Oblivion almost lost even me, it was a pretty sure sign that this film wasn't much of a winner.  I hung in there though, and was rewarded by a fairly cool post-apocalyptic action movie, one that won't get much love and probably doesn't deserve it.

Set a few decades into the future, Oblivion tells the story of a post-war Earth.  Years ago the Moon was attacked and destroyed by a group of aliens called Scavengers, going from planet to planet to gain valuable resources.  Great battles were fought, nuclear weapons were used, and humanity won the war against the Scav.  But the planet was destroyed, left inhospitable to mankind, and so they left in a mass-migration.  Only a few stay behind to monitor and repair a small robot army that protect the  giant power generators necessary to sustain life in space.  Jack & Victoria are a team of workers, living & functioning as a unit to complete their job and join the others humans in space.  But when Jack begins to have strange memories of life on Earth, and when a woman from these memories suddenly arrives in a crashed spacecraft, he begins to question just what his true occupation is and just what exactly happened to a planet that was once a home.

This film is a weird mesh of many others.  Top Gun, After Earth, The Matrix, Moon; borrowing themes, shots, and plot lines from so many movies that there is no way to think of it as an original story.  It was heavily laced with WTF moments, glaring goofs, silly twists, and bad dialogue; two hours of plot held together by a thread.  Tom Cruise held his own, only asked to be an ignorant participant, not a knowledgeable figure, so that worked.  But Olga Kurylenko in a smaller role was so tremendously bad that I had to look away from the screen a few times.  It was on track to be a horrible, horrible movie by the middle of the story, but it was saved by the action at both ends, if just barely.  The beginning was really cool, a nice setup with interesting technology.  And the end was intense, with a lot of loose ends coming together.  But taken as a whole, I think you'd better be a sci-fi buff and/or a Tom Cruise fanatic to enjoy this movie, because there are many more negatives to point to than positives.  I was entertained despite a lot, and the end made up for a good bit of the muddle in the middle, but Oblivion remains a film that is very far away from great.

My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Movie Trailer - Whitewash

Director: Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais
Starring: Thomas Haden Church, Marc Labreche, Anie Pascale
Release: May 2nd, 2014

Looks thrilling and dark, I can dig it.  And I actually like THC; ever since Sideways he's been doing some good stuff.  But will it end up being too much like Fargo, just without the quirky humor?  I guess we'll see, but I can picture this turning out well.

Movie Review - The Pirate Fairy

Director: Peggy Holmes
Starring: Mae Whitman, Christina Hendricks, Tom Hiddleston
Year: 2014

Who knew the Disney Fairies would be such a hit?  Of course, Peter Pan has always been popular; as a play, a book, a musical, many movies, and ultimately a franchise.  Disney alone has done a ton with this classic story, from TV shows to movie spinoffs.  But none of their projects have succeeded quite as well as the Pixie Hollow Fairies.  It's not just Tinker Bell that captures audiences, it's the entire world that Disney has created.  Regions, climates, talents, jobs, leaders; Pixie Hollow is a self-contained fantasy world where anything can happen.  So it's not hard to understand why one movie was a success; what surprises me is just how big the idea became, just how many movies they were able to make out of one character.  Tinker Bell (2008), The Lost Treasure (2009), The Great Fairy Rescue (2010), Secret of the Wings (2012), and now The Pirate Fairy (2014).  A lot of movies for a short period of time.  And as a father of a 4-year-old girl, I've seen them all.

This is the first Fairy movie that isn't centered completely on Tinker Bell.  It introduces us to a brand new fairy with a little-discussed talent.  Zarina is a dust-talent fairy, working at the fairy-dust mill.  The magical dust is essential to fairy flight & daily life, so it's an important job.  But Zarina is not your most responsible worker.  She dreams of new ways that fairy-dust could be used, enhanced, improved.  But when her experiments go a bit too far, she's banished from her occupation.  Fast forward in time to when Zarina returns to Pixie Hollow, steals the powerful blue fairy-dust, and leaves the island of Neverland.  Her former friends, including Tinker Bell,  chase after her, attempting to learn the truth, rescue Zarina, and return the dust to where it belongs.  But all is not as it seems and Zarina might not want to be rescued.  She has plans of her own, plans that include a group of devious humans who await her in a ship just off the coast, a pirate crew who will follow her to the ends of the earth and beyond.

I've enjoyed every Pixie Hollow Fairy movie I've seen so far, with The Great Fairy Rescue being my favorite.  It also features humans, with their frailties and shortcomings, which makes it a bit more than just a fantasy story.  The Pirate Fairy did the same, incorporating our world in some way to make their world seem that much more real.  And it did more than just that, it also tied itself into the original Peter Pan book, gave us hints of the story that we all love.  Pretty ingenious actually, linking this children's movie series to that classic tale.  Well, it was always linked I guess, Tinker Bell is in the original text after all, but this is the first Fairy movie to join the tales so openly.  And the movie was mostly about Zarina, her quest, her fears, and the men she chose to deal with.  The other fairies were in the background, with Tink stepping up from time to time of course, but I liked that they moved away from the recipe of the other films just a bit.  My whole family and our friends all enjoyed the movie very much; it's an easy one to get into, to follow, and to be entertained by.  I still love The Great Fairy Rescue, but this one might have just put itself right up there.

My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰

Monday, April 28, 2014

Movie Trailer - Pioneer

Director: Erik Skjoldbjaerg
Starring: Aksel Hennie, Wes Bentley, Stephen Lang
Release: May 1st, 2014

I think the director's name will probably be the coolest thing about this film by the end.  It just doesn't look that thrilling or that real or that fun to watch, and it's supposed to be this exciting true life story.  I don't know, I just didn't get it and I have my doubts that there's much to get.

Movie Review - Tombstone

Director: George P. Cosmatos
Starring: Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer, Sam Elliott, Bill Paxton
Powers Boothe, Michael Biehn, Dana Delany, Jason Priestley
Year: 1993

What I've always said about Kevin Costner is that he's less of an actor and more of a guy who sometimes pops up in movies.  He'll usually give you the worst performance you'll see all year, because he doesn't actually have any viable talent.  But sometimes he'll stumble into a role, be himself, and it works for some unimaginable reason.  That's why Field of Dreams is so good.  Not because Costner is good, of course not, but because he's just a normal guy who likes baseball, just like Ray Kinsella.  And don't forget the key ingredient that makes the movie more than just a sports film; Ray Liotta.  He brings the magic, Costner brings the steady hand, and the movie works.  The same goes for Kurt Russell in Tombstone.  He's only a passable actor, but the role of Wyatt Earp seems tailor-made for his skill set, or lack thereof, with Val Kilmer providing the performance that takes the film from simple to stellar.

The famous days of the Wild West are slowly coming to an end, as fashion and order progress steadily across the vast plains and deserts of the great American continent.  Lawmen like Wyatt Earp have cleaned up many a small town, leaving peace behind them, if not in their own lives.  But Wyatt has decided that the time has come to give up his service and take some time for himself.  So he, his two brothers, and all their wives move out to Tombstone, Arizona, where silver has made life easy and money is rolling in.  The great Doc Holliday is also presiding in Tombstone, and the old Earp team gather again not to fight crime, but to get rich and live lavishly.  But their idyllic new life is quickly challenged by a gang of local outlaws, the Cowboys, a mob of men who take & do what they want.  Wyatt doesn't want to get involved, but he and his brothers can't resist the call of humanity, leading to the epic battle at the O.K. Corral and the cementing of an American legend.

The story of Tombstone is partially true, based on the rivalry between the Earps and the Clantons, culminating in a series of personal skirmishes and assassinations.  Wyatt Earp may not have been quite the Western hero that stories make him out to be, but that doesn't stop us from viewing him as one of the most famous gunslinging lawmen of that time.  Russell plays Earp well enough, falling into a character that suits him more than expelling much acting energy.  He, like Costner, is usually just himself, relying on scripts and his costars to carry him through.  And do they ever.  The story is pure cowboy, perfectly action-packed, with the classic lines & mustaches that we've all come to love.  The good guys are great, the bad guys are evil; it's an excellently simple plot that is pure entertainment.  But it's Val Kilmer who takes this movie to the next level.  His portrayal of Holliday is the best of his career, crafting something beautiful out of a fairly sinister man, forcing us to love this heartless gambler.  It's a once-in-a-lifetime role, one that defines the movie and holds everything together despite the film's imperfections.  With a partially true story, a time period that American's can't help but love, Russell's solid base, and Kilmer's spectacular acting, Tombstone finds itself in unexpected company among the best movies of the 90s.

My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Movie Trailer - Jersey Boys

Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: John Lloyd Young, Vincent Piazza, Christopher Walken
Release: June 20th, 2014

First, let me say that I love Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.  I grew up listening to the group, was raised on them and the Beach Boys decades after they were popular.  And I love Broadway, I'm a former thespian, I know theatre.  But I also know movies and this won't be a good one.  The main guy's voice in annoying, which Frankie's never was somehow.  The little asides are a dumb trick, not needed when you come down from the stage.  And Clint Eastwood directing?  This is not his thing and he's gonna mess it up.  I'm predicting a crash & burn, despite my love for the subject matter.

DVD Review - Twogether

Director: Andrew Chiaramonte
Starring: Nick Cassavetes, Brenda Bakke, Jeremy Piven
Year: 1994

Nick Cassavetes is better known as a director of crappy movies.  He's appeared in his fair share of films and television shows: Mask, Face/Off, The Astronaut's Wife, Matlock, L.A. Law, Quantum Leap.  And I guess you could call him a 90s guy; that's when he did his best work and he really hasn't done much since.  But it's in the 2000s that he made his mark, albeit in a negative way.  Some of the movies in his directorial repertoire are as follows: John Q, The Notebook, Alpha Dog, and My Sister's Keeper.  At least three of the four are horrible, and his newest project (The Other Woman) shouldn't be much better.  So anyway, what we have in Twogether is a future bad director starring in a film alongside an actress who can be found in such movies as Hardbodies 2, Death Spa, and Solar Crisis, and directed by a man in Chiaramonte who would make this his first & only film.  Add in a cheesy title and it sounds like a recipe for disaster.  Except it isn't, not quite, avoiding catastrophe through some magical, artsy, 90s, nonsensical way that I'm going to find very difficult to explain.

The Movie

The title tells us what we need to know about the plot of the film.  It's a snapshot of the love between two people and a time in their lives that they will never forget.  John is a struggling artist, a man who believes in freedom of artistic expression.  He lives on the beach in Venice, California, squatting in a tiny house that he can't usually pay for.  Allison is a rich girl from Bel Air who has as much baggage as one woman can handle, looking for an escape from her family, a mother & father who demean her for being a woman and have never let her be herself.  When the two meet at an art exhibit it's lust at first sight, and nothing will keep them from running off together; not John's commitments or Allison's responsibilities.  They are in for one wild night in Vegas, giving into their bodies and their passions, letting all fear go, feeling free together in a way they haven't experienced in years.

But reality is about to give the couple a slap in the face.  Apparently they got married while in Vegas, and what happens there actually does matter outside the city limits.  Divorce is easy, but expensive, and John can't pay his part, despite his incredible talent as a painter.  With the "marriage" behind them, Allison announces that they have another problem; she's pregnant.  Now they must decide what to do with the baby, if the world is a safe enough place to raise a child in, if they can be parents without being husband and wife.  And their relationship complicates matters even more.  Has their lust turned into love, can they live with each other, can they live without each other?  It's not easy to be a progressive pair in the 90s, raising a child, changing the world, trying to survive.

First we'd better touch on a point I haven't mentioned yet.  This film, which came out in 1994, is rated NC-17.  That, of course, means that it's not suitable for children and will be fairly sexually explicit.  Things have changed in twenty years though.  Take Blue Is the Warmest Color for instance.  It came out in 2013, is rated NC-17 as well, and contains many scenes of full nudity with long sex scenes that leave nothing to the imagination.  Twogether isn't quite that over-the-top.  Yes, there are a couple of sex scenes, and yes you will see your fair share of breasts, but most of it is done quickly and/or artistically; Titanic has a longer nude scene.  There is some explicit language too, frank talk about orgasms and arousal, so the story is definitely adult in many ways.  But it's not an erotic movie exactly, it's not soft-core porn, it's not a late-night thrill.  It's just a very expressive film, artistically and sexually, so be prepared to have your boundaries pushed.

Putting that aside, the film as a whole was surprising good.  I didn't expect much out of what I thought would be a throw-away movie, a cheap use of art for art's sake, a collection of untalented filmmakers creating a relatively meaningless finale product.  But that's not how it ended up.  Yes, it was a little over-the-top at times, a little how-can-art-change-the-world, but at its core it was just a love story.  A unique setup perhaps, but just a love story, just an example of how two people can fall for one another even when they shouldn't, can make it work even when it's almost not worth it.  It definitely wasn't a feel-good movie; there were some incredible highs and lows, some moments when you almost wished they would break up just so you could avoid watching the pain.  But that's to the film's credit; they created a feeling that had an effect on me, something that I couldn't avoid even when it was sad and uncomfortable.

And I guess I should thank the lead actors for that, for forcing me to be invested in a story that I never imagined I would like.  The chemistry between John & Allison was real, I felt it, and they convinced me that their passion for each other was something I ought to root for.  Cassavetes was excellent as John, the starving artist.  At first I had my doubts about this tree of a man who only enjoys sex, sleeping, and painting.  But he quickly won be over and got me to understand the depths of his character.  Bakke was slightly less convincing as Allison, the troubled woman who wants everything that has always been denied her.  She was OK, but her emotional scenes were always a little over-dramatic, a bit acting class; she was at her best playing opposite Cassavetes, where their connection could shine.  Somehow they were able to take a film that shouldn't have worked and hold it together long enough to get me on board, even if I didn't walk away wowed.


Video - With an aspect ratio of 16:9, the video is fine but not great.  It was shot in the 90s, after all, and looks more like a made-for-TV movie than anything else.  The picture quality is nothing to write home about, but there is never a time that it looks amateur.  You just have to be aware of the time period, accept a little imperfection, because it's really not that bad.

Audio - The DVD was done in Ultra Stereo.  You have your choice between English Stereo, English 5.1, French Mono, and French 5.1.  There are no options for the hearing impaired.  The sound quality was also fine, not amazing, with a bit of good 90s music thrown in for fun.

Extras - There are a couple options on the disc.  There is an introduction to the film from director Andrew Chiaramonte.  You can choose to watch the film with director's commentary.  And there are two trailers, both for the film, one in English and one in French.

Final Thoughts

Rent It.  It's not much of a compliment to say that a film could have been worse, but I really thought it would be, so I was pleasantly surprised.  It's still a 90s love story set in a world of expressive art & sex, so you're getting something that isn't quite the norm, but that's not always a horrible thing.  The film delivers some messages, sometimes cheesily, but at least it tries, and at least the actors were invested enough in the project to really sell their story, to hook me into believing that their love was both real and powerful.  Twogether is not the best movie you'll watch, but it makes an impact, and sadly that is not something every film can say.  The video and audio were just OK and there were a few extras on the DVD.  This is a rental, something to watch if you're intrigued or if you remember it vaguely from twenty years ago.  It's not great, but its redeeming qualities were just enough to pique my interest and get my partial approval.

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

Friday, April 25, 2014

Movie Trailer - Third Person

Director: Paul Haggis
Starring: Liam Neeson, Olivia Wilde, Kim Basinger
Mila Kunis, James Franco, Maria Bello, Adrien Brody
Release: April 24th, 2014

Paul Haggis wrote both Million Dollar Baby and Crash, which both won Best Picture.  Clint Eastwood directed the former, which I really liked, while Haggis directed the latter, which I thought was just OK.  You can see some of Crash here, the interlocking story lines, all the name actors.  But I feel like this one will be better, less message and more drama.  And I love Liam Neeson.  And Wilde & Kunis are hot.  So hey, I'm in.

Movie Review - Transcendence

Director: Wally Pfister
Starring: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Morgan Freeman
Year: 2014

The first time I saw the trailer I was iffy about Transcendence.  The second time I saw the trailer I was pretty sure it would be bad.  It's not that the parts that make up the film are awful.  I love sci-fi, and the A.I. storyline is very interesting.  Johnny Depp is an amazing actor, as is Morgan Freeman.  Paul Bettany is always strong, and I was curious to watch Rebecca Hall.  No, the problem wasn't the actors or the plot or even the director, who would be making his debut.  The thing that concerned me was the flow of the film.  I know it's just a trailer, but I could already see signs of a disjointed story, of an overworked idea, of great actors left unchallenged and therefor unmotivated.  Johnny Depp has fallen victim to that before, hired for his name alone and not asked to flex his acting muscles.  When that happens to good actors they phone in their performances, which is exactly what happened here.  There's nothing wrong with the pieces of the puzzle, but the finished project wasn't put together correctly, creating a film that I'd love to love but can't even begin to like.

The future of human existence is in the capable hands of three well-known scientists in this dramatic sci-fi thriller.  Will Caster is the leader of his field, creating a super-computer that can almost think for itself.  His wife, Evelyn, is a genius in her own right, focusing on how artificial intelligence could save Earth.  And lastly, their friend Max Waters, a scientist and philosopher who understands the dangers that a self-aware non-human could pose to humanity.  The three are on the verge of a technological breakthrough when Will is shot by a member of a radical terrorist organization bend on destroying his work.  With only weeks to live, he and his team race to upload his thoughts, memories, and brain waves into the super-computer, essentially keeping him alive though his body has died.  But when he begins to ask for more power, for more connections, for total autonomy, Max begins to question just what they have done.  Evelyn is just happy that Will is "alive" and will fight to keep him that way, leading to a struggle that will decide the fate of the planet.

Transcendence was really a movie in three parts.  The first third of the film was everything you've already seen in the trailer: the idea of artificial intelligence, Johnny Depp getting shot, his wife unable to let him go, his "spirit" uploaded into a computer.  That part was pretty cool, but we knew it was coming.  The second third of the movie was about the development of Will Caster's self-aware second self.  This was by far the best forty minutes of the film.  It was really fascinating, the scope of what a computer that powerful could do if we could just produce it, the imagination that went into creating these ideas and possibilities.  But then the last third came and that was all left behind.  There were over-dramatic scenes, nonsensical battles, people chasing each other through the desert, and the story disintegrated into a silly muddle.  Anything that was built earlier was abandoned and the only thing that seemed to matter was CGI, which actually wasn't even that impressive.

The movie had great actors who were more than capable of saving a dying plot line, they just didn't do it.  They were only half present, only kind of trying to convince us that they cared.  Johnny Depp was horrible as Will Caster.  I never believed him for a moment and he literally could have played most of his part via webcam.  Morgan Freeman was just there because he draws an audience; he probably drove by the set and filled in just for fun.  Rebecca Hall wasn't much better, but at least she seemed like she was trying.  And last but definitely best, Paul Bettany was the highlight of the film as the conscientious scientist.  Had he not been in it to at least salvage a couple scenes I'm not sure what would have happened.  As it was, Transcendence was a throw-away film.  It had a neat base and some great actors, but failed to use any of that to its advantage.  Maybe some of the blame goes to Pfister as an amateur, but it's hard to pin it all on the director when the cast was obviously not giving their all.  A disappointing way to spend two hours and not something I'd recommend.

My rating: ✰ ✰

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Movie Trailer - A Most Wanted Man

Director: Anton Corbijn
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright
Willem Dafoe, Daniel Bruhl, Nina Hoss
Release: July 25th, 2014

Another one of PSH's last films.  For that, I'd see it, but I have to be honest, I don't really like espionage films.  They're always overly-complex, dripping with false patriotism, and usually not very well acted.  Now, apart from Rachel McAdams, this is a good cast, so maybe they pull it off.  But this isn't really my genre; maybe it's yours.  And on a side note, does anyone else immediately think of BNL's Snacktime when they hear the name 'Anton Corbijn'?

Sports - 2014 NFL Schedule

The NFL schedule was released for the 2014 season, and there are so many marquee matchups that I might not be able to stand it.  The Broncos, who are of course my team, have a very entertaining schedule, as does seemingly every club in the league.  With the Draft coming up in two weeks and preseason just around the corner, I'm starting to get excited for what should be another excellent NFL season.  Check out NFL.com/schedules for a complete run-down, but here are a few of the meetings that I am most anticipating:
Week 1 - Green Bay @ Seattle - Opening game of the NFL season and a re-match of the Fail Mary game.  Will the Champs have another great season?  And will Aaron Rodgers be back 100% from last season's injurt?
Week 2 - Pittsburgh @ Baltimore - A great AFC North rivalry, though sometimes a low-scoring game.  If you like hard-hitting defense and some scrappy football this one's for you.
Week 3 - Washington @ Philadelphia - DeSean Jackson returns to Philly as a member of the Redskins to face his old team.  He's definitely a chip-on-the-shoulder type of player, so look for him to have a nice day.
Week 4 - Green Bay @ Chicago - This is always a great matchup, two hard-nosed teams that have their sights set on the division title.  It could turn into a shoot out, with Rodgers & Cutler slinging TDs right & left.
Week 5 - Cincinnati @ New England - Other than Denver, these are probably the best teams in the AFC, facing off early in the season.  But you never know, this game could go a long way to deciding playoff position.
Week 6 - Carolin @ Cincinnati -The Bengals have some great games lined up this year, including what should be an entertaining matchup with the Panthers, a team they don't see very often.  Should be a close finish.
Week 7 - San Francisco @ Denver - These teams could be meeting again in this year's Super Bowl; they have the talent to do it.  The Broncos are hungry to get back to the big game.
Week 8 - Green Bay @ New Orleans - Sunday Night Football featuring two of the best teams in the NFC.  This could be a Championship preview, as long as Rodgers in healthy and Brees continues being himself.
Week 9 - Denver @ New Englad - Peyton got one monkey off his back last year by beating the Pats in the playoffs, but this time the game will be played away from Mile High.  This is always a terrific matchup.
Week 10 - Carolina @ Philadelphia - Chip Kelly's offense is fun to watch, as is Cam Newton.  The Panthers can play some defense though, and they'll try to contain the Iggles.  Should be an entertaining game.
Week 11 - Cincinnati @ New Orleans - What a season to be a Bengals fan, with a ton of excellent matchups.  Might not be great for their record by the end of the year, but hey, it makes for some excellent televison.
Week 12 - Dallas @ New York - Let's hope that Eli's horrible season last year was a fluke, because when the Giants are contenders the NFL is better.  And the NFC East needs to regain their respect.
Week 13 - Seattle @ San Francisco - What a great Thanksgiving night matchup.  Should be fairly even, smash-mouth, and down to the wire; what else could you want?  A great way to end a football filled day.
Week 14 - Pittsburgh @ Cincinnati - These teams match up well, and it should be a very even contest.  It's not a night game or anything, but should be fun to watch.  The Ohio/Penn rivalry is strong this year already.
Week 15 - Denver @ San Diego - This game could decide the division, depending on how these teams have played up to this point.  Regardless, I always enjoy rooting for Phillip Rivers to get sacked.
Week 16 - New England @ New York - Assuming that the Jets are in the playoff hunt, they may have more to play for this week than the Pats do.  And you Rex Ryan wants to beat Bill Belichick, who wouldn't.
Week 17 - San Diego @ Kansas City - In the last week of the season you're just looking for who has something to play for, and this game could have two teams fighting for survival.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Movie Trailer - God's Pocket

Director: John Slattery
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Richard Jenkins 
John Turturro, Christina Hendricks
Release: May 9th, 2014

This is John Slattery's directorial debut, which may be the only thing that concerns me about this film.  The actors are all excellent, especially, of course, PSH in one of his last movies.  I think this trailer makes the movie look funny, quick, entertaining, and well acted.  We'll see I guess, but I have high hopes.

Movie Review - Terminator Salvation

Director: McG
Starring: Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Anton Yelchin
Year: 2009

Before this film, there had been three movies in the franchise, a nice trilogy leading up to the war between humans and the machine.  In The Terminator (1984) an assassin was sent back in time to kill Sarah Connor, future mother of John Connor, the leader of humanity.  In Terminator 2 (1991) an advanced cyborg went back to kill John himself, but a classic Terminator was also sent back in time to protect him.  And in Terminator 3 (2003) John & his girlfriend Kate race to stop the global nuclear war before it can happen, attempting to prevent Judgement Day.  This isn't really a spoiler, because of course it does, but the war happens anyway, leading to all the events of the first three movies; the going back in time, the robot killers, Kyle Reese meeting Sarah Connor, John Connor growing up & becoming a military leader.  All this leads us to where we are now, in the "present day", during the battle between mankind and the computers that took over the world.

As with all time travel movies, the more story you try to weave the more confusing it's going to get.  John Connor is a grown man now, leading men against the machine.  He's not the leader, he's more a standard bearer, rousing the troops with his uplifting radio messages.  John knows, from tapes his mother Sarah left him, that he will someday meet a young man named Kyle Reese, send him back in time, and begin the series the events that lead to his own birth and the survival of the human species.  But finding Reese isn't going to be easy.  Pockets of resistance are scattered throughout the countryside, and the machines seem to always be one step ahead.  When a secret code is discovered, it seems as if humans are finally within reach of their goal; shutting down Skynet and their robotic army.  But a mysterious man named Marcus appears on the scene, with uncanny abilities and no knowledge of the global catastrophe that wiped out the planet.  As he searches for answers, John searched for Reese, both heading toward the same climax; a showdown with the machine that will alter the history of the world.

Terminator Salvation gives in and completely succumbs to the sci-fi/action intensity that has always been present in the Terminator story.  It goes all out; exploding everything in sight, introducing a thousand kinds of robot, showing us the wasteland that is America, introducing us to various packs of freedom fighters, decking everyone out in guns & bombs.  It's a ridiculously overblown action film with no room for continuation of the original story.  But that doesn't stop them from trying.  Plot lines intersect, twist, and scatter as new ideas are created, old lines are recycled, and everything becomes generally FUBAR.  There is no sense of the first film, or the second for that matter, keeping only the franchise name and leaving everything else behind.  Yeah the characters are the same and they refer to the other films, but it's basically a totally separate movie.  I wish the acting had been better, that might have helped some, but they weren't given much of a chance.  Bale, Worthington, Bryce Dallas Howard, Common, Moon Bloodgood, even Helena Bonham Carter; all very, very bad, like they were never supposed to be here, like they didn't fit.  Anton Yelchin was the only bright spot; I think he's an incredible actor.  But he couldn't save the film, it was too far gone.  Silly action, stupid lines, unbelievable sequences; I was left feeling very disappointed in a movie that used the well-known story instead of expanded it, chopped up a plot that I find very entertaining and turned it into just another crappy Hollywood sci-fi shoot-em-up. 

My rating: ✰ ✰

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Movie Trailer - Gone Girl

Director: David Fincher
Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Missi Pyle
Release: October 3rd, 2014

For all the flack that Affleck gets, some of it deserved, we forget that he is an incredible actor.  Some of his movie choices might not be stellar, but he is at his core an engaging & invested talent.  Pair him up with David Fincher and you've got a movie that I expect to be excellent.

Movie Review - Terminator 2: Judgement Day

Director: James Cameron
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong
Year: 1991

Seven years after the original Terminator was released, it was time for a sequel.  Audiences wanted more of the apocalyptic story, more of the drama, and definitely more of the machine.  Arnold was a big hit by 1991, a household name, having starred in Red Sonja, Commando, Predator, The Running Man, Red Heat, Twins, Total Recall, Kindergarten Cop.  He was the face of 90s action, throwing in some comedy here & there, making a name for himself.  I can remember being seven years old, playing Terminator and Predator video games on the NES; pretty tame stuff compared to today's standards.  But I loved Arnold, as did a ton of kids my age; we were all ready to see more of his famous role and more of the fictional future of our planet.

Once again a Terminator has been sent back in time to change history, to defeat humanity before the war against machines has even started.  But this time the target in John Conner himself, now a feisty kid living in LA in the 90s.  He's in foster care, his mother Sarah having been committed for violent acts and insane nuclear war predictions.  So she's not there to protect him from the advanced model of cyborg that has been sent to murder him.  But luckily, someone else is.  Future humans sent back an old version Terminator to work for John, to keep him alive, to make sure he fulfills his destiny as leader of the future resistance against the machine.  John and his robot pal will have to avoid the assassin, rescue his mother, and fly under police radar if they are to have any chance of staying alive and saving the world.

The original movie cost about 6 million to make and made about 40 million at the box office.  The second cost about 102 million and made about 204.  That's a pretty big difference in numbers.  While the first had some action, the second was nothing but.  Explosions, gunfights, sieges, helicopters, CG; no expense was spared and everything was blown up.  So the film cost a lot more, but of course people were already willing to come see the sequel and didn't leave disappointed.  For my money, the first is better.  It's got more heart and leaves a lot of questions that are fun to try to answer.  The second tries to be dramatic, gives us more details on the future war, but really relies too heavily on two robots throwing each other through walls.  I like Edward Furlong in this movie, Linda Hamilton is fine, but Arnold talks a little too much, attempting to build a sensitive character out of an unfeeling machine.  As long as you like the original, you'll probably be invested enough in the story to enjoy the sequel, but standing alone it's a bit more action than I like and has a bit less depth.  Still, it's an entertaining two hours and a classic film.

My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰

Monday, April 21, 2014

Movie Trailer - I Origins

Director: Mike Cahill
Starring: Michael Pitt, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Brit Marling
Release: July 18th, 2014

This movie looks like a bad combination of Her and The Great Gatsby, what with the pair of billboard eyes.  I don't understand what's supposed to be going on, a search for the meaning of life?  I can't watch third-rate actors attempting to be deep for two hours.

Movie Review - The Terminator

Director: James Cameron
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Michael Biehn
Year: 1984

The Terminator is one of those movies I've see a hundred times on TV but never watched in its unedited entirety.  It seems like it was always on FX or USA, on Friday nights when I was young and bored.  And so I saw every scene multiple times, but never in perfect order or all at once.  It's about as classic as an American film can be, launching toys, sequels, TV shows, Arnold's gubernatorial aspirations, you name it.  James Cameron got his start with this movie too, writing & directing what would become his first hit.  And the quotes, my god.  Everyone has said "I'll be back" a couple times, attempting their best Austrian accent and failing miserably.  I always liked quoting Kindergarten Cop more; "It's not a tumor!"  But The Terminator will do, a fun film packed with action, explosions, sci-fi, 80s glam, and of course Aaaaanold.

The year is 1984, where a woman named Sarah Connor is leading her normal, young adult life; crappy job, little apartment, roommate, dating.  But her path is about to take a strange turn.  Two men turn up out of nowhere, hunting women named Sarah Connor.  The first few in the phone book are brutally murdered, leaving the third, our Sarah, a frightened mess.  And when the two men find her, a gunfight ensues, but it seems that one is after her while the other is here to protect her.  Reese claims that he's been sent from the future to save Sarah's life, to keep her from being executed by a machine called a Terminator, a robot that looks human but is basically a walking computer.  It seems that Sarah will someday play an important role, one that will lead to human survival in the future, when man fights machine for control of the planet.  Reese & Sarah are on the run from the Terminator, a cyborg that will never stop hunting them, never grow tired, and never give up.

For 80s sci-fi, The Terminator is pretty bad ass.  Biehn & Schwarzenegger literally fall naked from the sky, procure weapons, and proceed to shoot at one another with sawed off shotguns while driving speeding cars.  There are bombs, laser sights, glimpses into the dark future of Earth.  But there's also a humanity to the film, and that's what makes it good.  Sarah is confused, scared, alone, Reese is trying to protect her, they have a connection.  There's a bit of depth there that takes it beyond just a shoot-em-up movie.  And it's cool to see some known actors in early roles here.  Bill Paxton as the leader of a punk gang, Lance Henriksen as a dumb cop, Rick Rossovich right before he was Slider in Top Gun.  I could watch The Terminator a hundred more times and enjoy it over & over.  It's just that type of movie; a standard, a cinematic gem, an 80s time capsule, strong early sci-fi, the beginning of a franchise.  Assuming you've seen it, give it a shot on DVD straight through; you won't be disappointed.

My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Movie Trailer - Wish I Was Here

Director: Zach Braff
Starring: Zach Braff, Joey King, Kate Hudson, Mandy Patinkin
Release: July 25th, 2014

Zach Braff's only other directorial feature was Garden State, which by itself is enough to get me to watch this film.  I didn't even need the trailer to be good, which it was, I would have seen it anyway.  And I really like this kid Joey King, she has serious talent and will be a name to watch as she grows up.

DVD Review - Geography Club

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

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

The Movie

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

Friday, April 18, 2014

Movie Trailer - Chef

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

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

Movie Review - Dom Hemingway

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

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

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

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

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

My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Movie Trailer - The Angriest Man in Brooklyn

Director: Phil Alden Robinson
Starring: Robin Williams, Mila Kunis, Peter Dinklage
Release: May 23rd, 2014

I love Robin Williams, and Mila Kunis is on my List, but I'm going to have to pass on this movie.  The premise is kinda dumb and I'm afraid the tone of the entire film will be the same.  Too much forced humor, not enough real talent, I just have very strong doubts.

Movie Review - The Last Days on Mars

Director: Ruairi Robinson
Starring: Liev Schreiber, Olivia Williams, Romola Garai
Year: 2013

Why is Mars such an interesting background for a story?  Perhaps because it resembles Earth a bit, becoming a believable planet for action to take place on.  Perhaps because humans are close to actually going there, making it an accessible location in our minds.  And perhaps because ever since War of the Worlds we've been a little unsure about Martians, the idea that life could exist there & that it mightn't be friendly.  Whatever the reason, a ton of sci-fi movies have taken place on Mars or on a fictional planet that is based on it.  The Last Days on Mars uses our interest & fear to its advantage, creating a plot and a mood centered on the the idea that mankind can go to Mars now if we choose, but should we?

After months of spaceflight and months on the surface, the Aurora team is about to leave Mars within the next few hours.  Stress and hard work have taken their toll on the whole crew and they're anxious to get home to blue skies and green grass.  But a last minute discovery is about to delay their departure, perhaps forever.  One of the scientists may have found what they've been looking for all this time; proof of life in microscopic form.  When he goes back one last time to confirm the data, an accident occurs and everything changes.  What was just a completed mission has now become a dangerous situation, with alien life affecting the team in a form none of them understand and in a way perhaps none of them will survive.

I don't understand the poor rating for this film.  On IMDB it gets a 5.5/10 from users and a 4.6/10 from critics.  What's not to like?  It's a sci-fi movie that takes an old concept and adds a horror twist.  It's the best of both worlds for me, being a fan of both space movies and creature features.  The twist did throw me off for a minute, but after I recovered I appreciated that they could blend two styles together to make one seamless story.  I won't give away the secret, but this isn't your typical alien movie.  And speaking of Alien, this film is a bit like Prometheus, but without the support story or the Hollywood budget.  I liked Prometheus though, and a lot of people didn't, so maybe I'm just a sucker for sci-fi/horror.  You definitely have to be a fan of the genre in order to enjoy this movie, so I guess it's a bit closed off in that way.  But I really had a good time watching it; the story was short, quick, well-acted, classic, simple, and fun.  What more could you ask for?

My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰