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

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Movie Trailer - Cinderella

Director: Kenneth Branagh
Starring: Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter
Release: March 13th, 2015

This is just a teaser, so don't get excited.  But since the release of Maleficent, people have been renewing their love for the Disney classics.  So here's another live-action remake featuring another Disney princess.  Will it be as dark as Maleficent?  I doubt it.  But it does have a better cast, IMPO, so maybe it'll turn out to be the better movie.

Movie Review - Maleficent

Director: Robert Stromberg
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley
Year: 2014

By making the title of the film Maleficent, Disney let audiences know from the start that the movie would be about the villain, not the princess.  They were basically telling us that it would be a Wicked ripoff without the music, a "true story" version of a classic.  But what they should have called it was Jolie, as Angelina was the star, the vehicle, and probably the power behind the throne, so to speak.  So coming in, you had better solidify your opinion of this unique actress; you'll be seeing her face and her influence from start to finish.  Unfortunately, I can't stand her.  Her earlier roles were powerful because she has so much natural angst, and by angst I mean emotional problems.  But she's no longer that dark girl, she's a woman with serious issues that she can't keep out of her characters, showing too much uncomfortable reality for my taste.  Anyway, I don't like her, and so found myself challenged to enjoy the movie.  I did marginally, so credit to the project as a whole, but I'll never love Ms. Jolie and I'll never call this version wonderful.

Apparently, what we don't know about this well-known tale could fill volumes, but thankfully this story will fill us in on the sordid background of the infamous evil fairy.  Maleficent wasn't always bad.  She grew up a normal, winged, magic-wielding creature in a land filled with the beautiful & unbelievable.  The humans who lived in the kingdom next door never trusted the fairies, and when an old king decided to wage war events were set into motion that would change the world.  Maleficent became the queen of the magical creatures, defended them well, but was betrayed by a man she thought loved her.  In revenge, she cursed his family, bringing about the events we know so well; the burning of the spinning wheels, the hiding of Aurora, the three silly woodswomen.  But Maleficent's heart was never frozen, love for the beauty of the world always dwelt there beneath the anger, and she would live to regret the curse she so rashly cast.

You can throw Sleeping Beauty out the window; this is not your childhood fairy tale.  It has a lot of the same elements of course, and the characters are the same, but there are more differences than there are similarities.  For one, the point of view is always Maleficent's, she is the lead, playing both hero & villain at the same time.  It's her we're supposed to relate to I guess, supposed to cheer for in the end, something I was surprised by.  Not that the idea of a multifaceted character is unique, nor is the concept of evil having a heartbreaking back story, but I didn't expect Maleficent to be the entire film.  But like I said before, that was the title, I just didn't know it would be so literal.  And perhaps therein lies the problem; the film was literally about Maleficent, was obviously "poignant", was never touched lightly with meaning.  It was more of a bludgeoning than an awareness, when I could have used a little less.  We could blame Stromberg as the director for his heavy-handed storyline; he is an amateur after all, this being his debut.  But the movie seemed out of his control, not really his project, not fueled by his voice.  It was Angelina's movie.

Now, of course I don't know what went on behind the scenes, who had what control.  But Jolie was the face of the film, the only character who really mattered, and I doubt she sat meekly by as the director told her what to do.  After all, she's directed more movies than Stromberg has, and I felt her touch on this one.  And it wasn't all bad, don't get me wrong, I just don't like her or her vision.  As a whole the film was too obvious, hovering between juvenile & adult, never taking the time to create something incredible.  But some of the pieces were quite good.  The look of the film was pretty awesome, with a Pan's Labyrinth feel that I enjoyed.  I really liked Sam Riley in a small role, as well as Elle Fanning as the completely one note, overly happy, kinda stupid Aurora.  They did their jobs, as did the three silly fairies, and the story was quickly constructed and simply ended.  So, not to go back & forth, but there were positives & highly entertaining moments.  The trouble is they were overshadowed by things I inanely didn't like, namely Angelina Jolie.  I was never rooting for her to find happiness, never sympathizing with her character, and never enjoying the way her angular face looked out at me from across the theatre.  That might be a Me Issue, but the film became about her in a way that felt burdensome and forced, becoming something I didn't expect and wouldn't have chosen.  Some of the parts were solid, a few of the lines were funny, and I'll always love the story of Sleeping Beauty, however its produced.  But Maleficent isn't an amazing film.  That doesn't mean it can't be enjoyed, but you'd better not sit down expecting greatness.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

Friday, May 30, 2014

Movie Trailer - The Anomaly

Director: Noel Clarke
Starring: Ian Somerhalder, Noel Clarke, Alexis Knapp, Brian Cox
Release: July 4th, 2014

This is one of those that's hard to tell whether it's a bad trailer or just a bad movie.  Oh, who am I kidding, of course it's a bad movie.  I don't even know what's going on in the story and I'm sure I don't want to.   It's ironic that the main guy was also in Lost, another story that makes zero sense.

Movie Review - X-Men: Days of Future Past

Director: Bryan Singer
Starring: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Nicholas Hoult
Jennifer Lawrence, Peter Dinklage, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen
Year: 2014

We all bring bias into the theatre when we sit down to see a film, but personal perspective is never more important than when watching comic book movies.  The characters, the action, the emotion; every aspect relies on previous knowledge in some way.  Fortunately with the X-Men franchise, the plot is widely known, so most everyone comes in knowing something about the back story.  But still, watching a comic book movie is easier if you've read the comic book.  I'm not a huge fan, I don't "geek out" about superheroes, and I usually judge this genre of movie pretty harshly, so my bias was against this film from the beginning.  I do know a good bit about the characters; I grew up watching the X-Men TV show of the 90s.  But I wasn't coming in ready to forgive a lot because I love the comic, I was ready to rip it up if it failed to grab my respect.  Thankfully, I never had to put that to the test, because Days of Future Past was an excellent movie, regardless of its comic book origins.

After many films in the modern X-Men series, this newest release is a portrayal of one of the most classic & epic of the original story lines.  At the beginning of the film, we get a glimpse into the future.  A war has been raging between mutants and the governments that want to destroy them.  A group of advanced robots called Sentinels hunt mutants, destroy them, and are rapidly eliminating the population.  Professor X and his X-Men are almost all gone, barely escaping each attempted assassination.  There last chance at ending the war may be to go back in time and keep it from ever starting.  So Kitty Pride sends Wolverine back to the 70s where he must stop Mystique from killing Trask, inventor of the Sentinels, an event that sets the stage for the evolution of Sentinels and the ultimate annihilation of the mutants.  In order to stop her, Logan must enlist the help of two old friends: the young Professor and his arch enemy Magneto.  Unfortunately, neither of the men are in a position to help and will both need convincing in order to set aside their differences, band together, and change the future once and for all.

I was pleasantly surprised that this film was a step up from other throw away comic book movies.  Yes, it relied on the classic stories and I'm sure it would help your enjoyment if you knew a little bit about the X-Men, but it didn't take so many liberties that you had to love the comics in order to like the film.  The story was largely character driven; the relationship between X & Magneto, the past betrayal of Mystique, the inner struggle that every mutant feels at some point when they must accept who they are and what that means for their place in the world.  All this was told very well by a solid story that was easy to follow and action-packed.  And there was just enough homage thrown in to make me relive some parts of my childhood, but not so much that I began to feel like a nerd.  The film can be enjoyed by those who love the comic, those who know a little bit about it, and even those who don't know much about the X-Men at all.  It was strong enough on its own without having to become cheap to win us over.

Singer did a great job with this plot, taking an epic and paring it down so that it would translate to the big screen, allowing us to follow along and enjoy ourselves without getting overwhelmed by all the mutants and all their powers.  He directed both X-Men & X-Men 2, and will also direct X-Men: Apocalypse in 2016, which I'm looking forward to.  I loved watching both Professor X & Magneto as young men, played by James McAvoy & Michael Fassbender.  They both did a superb job of bringing the characters to life, showing us their demons, but stopping well short of cheesy.  Hugh Jackman was great as well, as Wolverine the toughest of them all.  He was always my favorite as a kid, and I'm glad he gets lead parts in all these movies.  The worst part about the film, and this really shocked me, was Jennifer Lawrence.  She was just awful as Mystique, delivering emotionless lines in a horribly stilted manner and generally lowering the believability of every scene she was in.  And I like her, don't get me wrong, I think she's great, but not in this movie.  Luckily, the rest of the cast was better, the special effects were really cool, and the story was good enough not to get blown away by the comic book element, to get lost behind a barrage of testosterone and super human strength.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Movie Trailer - They Came Together

Director: David Wain
Starring: Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler
Release: June 27th, 2014

That was not what I was expecting.  I'd say this movie was right up my alley due to my love of Paul Rudd and my hate of rom/coms.  But what I don't like is that it has a little Not Another Teen Movie feel.  Don't get me wrong, I laughed at that stupid movie as much as the next guy, but I'm not sure I want to see it again, without gross outs, and with Amy Poehler.

Movie Review - The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Director: Francis Lawrence
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson
Year: 2013

This is one of those movies you can't watch without having seen the first.  There are three books in the Suzanne Collins series, and there will be a total of four movies in the franchise.  Catching Fire is both Book #2 and Movie #2, following the 2012 original.  I won't go back and explain the back story of this plot; if you haven't read the books or seen the first movie you probably aren't in the market to watch this one.  But for a brief synopsis you can read my Hunger Games reviewAnyway, Katniss is back for a sequel, or a continuation, depending on how you look at it.  I liked the first movie enough, although it wasn't perfect.  It's a great concept more than it's great cinema, but it's entertaining at the very least.  I was surprised to find that I enjoyed this one more than the first, as they were able to put the set up behind them and move on with the characters, creating a deeper story and pulling me even further into a fascinating fictional world.

Spoiler alert if you haven't read or watched The Hunger Games; Katniss & Peeta survive.  Their act of "true love" has saved them from the fate of the other Tributes, and they are now Victors.  As they begin their victory tour, they realize that they won't be able to return to their families & their lives, that they will always be a part of the Capitol's schemes.  And Katniss has unwittingly become a symbol for the freedom of the people, a figure for the unhappy people of Panem to rally behind.  In an attempt to quell a future rebellion and to show the populace that even Victors are under Capitol control, the 75th Hunger Games will be made up of previous winners, including Katniss & Peeta.  So back in the arena they go, but this time it will be different.  This time the Tributes understand that the real enemy is the system, not each other, and that by working together they might just be able to win their freedom.

In a way, the second story is really just a copy of the first.  Another arena, another Games, another fight for survival.  But it does have a different feel, because of the alliances between Tributes, because of the building pressure between the Capitol and the people of the Districts.  The plot has a little more depth, a little more edge, and you can feel the story taking a turn for the violent.  Surprisingly, Jennifer Lawrence was weaker in this one than she was in the first.  I could feel her reaching and not just counting on her talent to pull her through.  But the side characters were much better: Peeta, Hamitch, Snow, Effie.  It was as if they had stepped up while Lawrence had stepped back.  Weird, but I guess it didn't matter, because the movie as a whole was an improvement over the original.  And I'm excited to see Mockingjay this November, even though it wasn't my favorite book.  If you haven't gotten on the Hunger Games train yet, jump on; it's not too late and you're missing out.  Not on the greatest books & movies of all time, but on a highly entertaining story line that has a quick hook and a solid pay out.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Movie Trailer - Mr. Turner

Director: Mike Leigh
Starring: Timothy Spall, Karl Johnson, Dorothy Atkinson
Release: October 31st, 2014

I've gotta be honest; I don't know who J.M.W. Turner is.  But judging by the quick glimpses of paintings we see in this trailer, I think I'm gonna like him.  I'm sure the film will be a little slow, a little period-piecey, but I also think it looks well-done.  I'm looking forward to seeing Timothy Spall in a major role like this; he's a great actor who gets little credit.

DVD Review - Flowers in the Attic

Director: Deborah Chow
Starring: Heather Graham, Ellen Burstyn, Kiernan Shipka, Mason Dye
Year: 2014

Somehow this is the third time I've voluntarily listened to this story.  The first time was when I read the V.C. Andrews novel.  It's a classic I guess, or at the very least it intrigues people, so I'm not sorry for reading it even though it wasn't wonderful.  The second time was when I watched the 1987 movie version.  It wasn't good, but what else can you expect from a PG-13 film starring Kristy Swanson?  And now, to complete the trifecta, I've watched the 2014 reboot.  It originally aired on Lifetime in January, and is as good as you would imagine a made-for-TV movie on Lifetime would be.  That is to say, it's no good at all, and I'm not sure what surprises me more; that the movie was made in the first place or that they've already made a sequel.

The Movie

Meet the Dollangangers, the idyllic American family.  Mother & Father are a perfect couple, rich & beautiful.  Their children are near dolls themselves, with blond hair & porcelain skin, the envy of all around them.  They want for nothing, love each other, and all seems well.  But when tragedy strikes, it leaves the family reeling and without a place to turn.  Father was the sole breadwinner, and without him the family has no money and no prospects.  Except, perhaps, for one.  Mother contacts her parents, extremely wealthy landowners living in Foxworth Hall who have never seen their grandchildren.  Years back there was a disagreement, but with a little work that rift can be patched and the Dollangangers can be right back on their feet.

But it won't be as easy as it sounds.  On the way to Foxworth hall, Mother tells the eldest children, Cathy & Christopher,  that her father hasn't accepted her back into his heart or his will just yet and that he has no knowledge of the children.  In order to win his favor, the children must all stay in a rarely-used bedroom connected to an attic, while Mother works her charms on the man who once doted on her.  She promises them that their secret isolation will only last for a few days, but as it slowly turns into a few weeks & their mother's visits become less & less frequent, the children begin to worry.  Add in an angry grandmother who may feed them but also keeps them locked in their tiny room and you've got a situation that is sure to go from bad to worse.

The base story here is actually pretty interesting.  I guess that's why the book is so well-known, even though it's not written extremely well and the rest of the novels that follow it never do great things.  There are a ton of themes introduced in a short amount of time that do elicit some thought.  The perfect family concept, the reliance on looks to get you though life, the idea of wealth & inheritance & prospects.  And then there's the attic.  It's terrifyingly simple; the kids think they can deal with this prison for a few days, and when it becomes longer they convince themselves that their mother knows best.  When she doesn't come back up they assume she's busy, and all the while they grow paler, sicker, and begin to yearn for contact with the outside world.  There's also a bit of a Blue Lagoon storyline; young bodies just coming into their own, two growing children completely alone with no one to turn to.  It's a novel that can lead to some great conversation, based on the well-formed plot, one that's obviously attractive for filmmakers.

Problem is, when you bring that story to life you've got to infuse it with some talent & some vision.  Otherwise is falls completely flat, which is exactly what happened here.  The fascinating plot can only do so much before it runs out of juice, needing actors & directors to step up and carry it the rest of the way.  Unfortunately, Heather Graham, who plays Mother, couldn't play herself in a movie she wrote about her own life.  She might be the worst actress in history, at least among known names, exhibiting zero talent and absolutely no believability.  Every scene she was in felt stupid & amateur, which is actually pretty unfortunate, because everyone else held their own fairly well.  Ellen Burstyn was nasty & evil, playing the grandmother well.  And both Shipka & Dye as Cathy & Chris were solid, nice up-and-coming actors who did a fine job.  But they weren't given much to work with, with a watered-down script and badly-directed scenes.  The original story is a little wicked, a little wrong, but that's what makes it cool.  In this made-for-TV version, everything was tamed, nothing was impressive, and the movie failed to grab me.


Video - With an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 (16:9 HD), the video was quite strong.  The film was shot using as Arri Alexa camera and the video quality is high.  The colors are well contrasted and the clarity is crisp.  The majority of the action takes place inside one room and an attic, so there aren't many opportunities to show off great camera work or perfect videography.

Audio - The DVD was done in Dolby Digital with your choice of English SDH subtitles.  There are no other audio options.  The sound quality is fine, with no noticeable flaws but no wow moments.  Again, a lack of action limits the number of times that the audio could possibly have been shown off.

Extras - There are only a couple extras on the disc.  A behind-the-scenes segment lasts twelve minutes and introduces us to the cast & crew with a variety of short interviews.  There are also five trailers: Cyberstalker, Night Train to Lisbon, Mad Men, Gimme Shelter, and In Secret.

Final Thoughts

Skip It Flowers in the Attic is a mediocre book.  The first attempt at a movie wasn't very good and the second attempt was a little bit worse.  The main problem is Heather Graham, a terrible actress, but the direction of the scenes surrounding her didn't help much.  The other actors in the film were solid, but they couldn't save a semi-boring depiction of a quasi-interesting plot.  The video quality was high, the audio quality fine, and there were a few extras on the disc.  All in all, a movie you don't need to see.  Read the book if you're interested; it's short and an easy read.  Feel free to skip the film version.

☆ ☆ - Content
☆ ☆ ☆ - Video
☆ ☆ ☆ - Audio
☆ ☆ - Extras
- Replay

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Movie Trailer - The Hundred-Foot Journey

Director: Lasse Hallstrom
Starring: Helen Mirren, Manish Dayal, Om Puri
Release: August 8th, 2014

Is it sacrilegious for Helen Mirren to play a French lady?  And is it cheesy to make a movie about an Indian family making their way in a strange world?  Yes & yes.  There are a few moments in the trailer where I think this film might work, but overall I think not.

Sports - Mark Cuban

If you follow the NBA, two headlines have been dominating, apart from the actual Playoffs.  One is the Donald Sterling case, which you can read about here, and the other is the recent interview Mark Cuban did with Inc.  Cuban is owner of the Dallas Mavericks & the co-host of Shark Tank, and he has some interesting thoughts on the topics of Sterling and racism.  You can check out the interview here, but let me sum up.  Basically, Cuban claims that we all have prejudices, that we all judge others by their appearance, and that our hidden fears often drive our visible actions.  He says he lives in a glass house and wouldn't be the first person to throw bricks at someone else who may have said the wrong thing.  He goes on to mention his fears of young black men in hoodies and young white men with tattooed faces, claiming that we all have similar prejudices, that we need to understand that fact instead of immediately hating others for their unpopular opinions.

First off, what he said isn't really that incredible.  That concept in being taught in sensitivity trainings all over the country, the idea that we all have certain stereotypes & judgements and that it's better to acknowledge those than it is to hide them.  I don't think many people would argue against the validity of what he said; we do all have prejudices, even if they are small or don't affect how we treat others.  Problems arise when individuals let these thoughts govern how they view others, how they interact with others, turning ingrained social concepts into hurtful & racist actions.  So really, you can read Cuban's opinion in text books in high schools and colleges everywhere; it's not that groundbreaking.

The trouble is, he used specific examples of the things that "scare" him, and one of them was too reminiscent of Trayvon Martin.  That's still a sensitive subject for a lot of people, and it's not great business to tell the world that you get nervous when you see people that resemble an innocent boy who got shot by a psychotic vigilante.  Add that to the recent Sterling case, and you're treading on dangerous ground.  It's hard to disagree with exactly what Cuban said, but it's easier when you understand that he's refusing to point a finger at Sterling because he doesn't want four pointing right back at him.  Sterling doesn't deserve sympathetic understanding, nor does he deserve a fellow owner coming into his corner and saying, "Hey, we're all racist in some way, give the guy a break!" We may all have minor prejudices, but only a few of us tell our girlfriends not to talk to black people, or shoot kids because we assume they're criminals, or cross the street when we come across a person who has a lot of tattoos.  There are unconscious stereotypes and then there are conscious choices; I guess only Mark Cuban knows which of the two his inner thoughts are.

Movie Trailer - The Love Punch

Director: Joel Hopkins
Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Emma Thompson, Timothy Spall
Release: May 23rd, 2014

I like these actors, and I like British actors in general.  But I don't go in for heist movies, especially comedic ones.  Too often they're neither exciting nor funny, the two aspects they advertise.  And not to be mean, but these guys are all getting quite old.

Monday, May 26, 2014

DVD Review - Making the Rules

Director: Jimbo Lee
Starring: Jaime Pressly, Robin Thicke, Tygh Runyan, Joey Lauren Adams
Year: 2014

These stills are literally the most exciting parts of this film.  I'm actually enjoying looking at them more than I enjoyed watching the actual movie.  But I don't think that's the way it's supposed to work.  After all, didn't they have audiences in mind when they went to make this?  Weren't they at all concerned with how we'd relate to this story?  Shouldn't someone have thought this through?  Making the Rules is a film that failed on every level and was a lost cause from the very first emotionless scene.  It can barely be called cinema, as it never resembles an artistic medium of any kind, floundering along for less than eighty minutes, though it felt like a lifetime.  As soon as the final credits rolled I began comparing it to the worst movies I'd ever seen to see where it would fit; a bad sign and assumedly not what the filmmakers were going for.

The Movie

In this "romantic drama", Jamie Pressly plays Abby, an up-and-coming chef on the brink of her dream job in a fancy L.A. restaurant.  She loves her career and has worked for years to advance herself, putting off other dreams in order to make work work.  Her husband Matt, played by Tygh Runyan, has been patient so far.  He's a soft-spoken carpenter who loves Abby with all his heart.  He wants her to slow down, get pregnant, and help start their family.  But her ambition drives her too hard to focus on more than her restaurant, leaving her & Matt's relationship in a state of mild dysfunction.  Something needs to change to jump start their lives, to keep their love fresh, and to drive them toward a happy future.

That something is not either of the events that occur at the beginning of one particularly hot summer.  First, Abby cuts herself badly at work one evening, leading to a trip to the hospital.  The diagnosis; a bandage for months, rest at home, and definitely no work.  Her position at the restaurant is lost, and with it goes all the hard work she's put in over the years.  Depressed and stir crazy, Abby is ripe to react to the second coincidental event of the season; a chance run-in with her ex-boyfriend Shaun, brought to you by Robin Thicke.  He was the love of her life, but a man who wasn't ready to commit to a marriage and family.  Abby's feelings her Shaun have never really gone away, and his appearance just confuses her, creating a difficult choice between her stable life and the adventure she could embark upon so easily.

Work on this film should have been halted at the first production meeting.  The concept alone should have been enough to force a cancellation.  Someone somewhere should have put a stop to this before it became a "film".  It's just the worst drama that has ever been played out before my eyes, a continuous barrage of god-awful scenes that seem to be battling each other for the title of King Crap.  Every scene at the restaurant comes off as amateur hour, every conversation between Abby & Matt holds the emotional believability of a middle-school love letter,  every tense moment only builds drama because I may or may not be able to keep myself from turning off the television.  I can't remember holding my head and moaning during a movie this much since Sharknado.  At least that sorry excuse for entertainment was meant to be stupid; this one was supposed to be good.

I guess the one good thing the director did with this film was to let the actors carry the film.  Well, in theory that's good, and in theory I respect that.  Too bad every actor was horrendous and couldn't carry a scene if it were handed to them on a platter.  Pressly was at her very worst as Abby, bringing zero honesty to a role that could have been at least moderately interesting.  She was always obviously acting, never invested, constantly annoying me rather than convincing me to care.  Runyan was slightly better; as least he came off as pathetic & sad, which his character kinda was.  I might have hated him, but at least I think he was able to act a little; something that can't be said about his counterpart.  But the icing on the cake was Robin Thicke.  You know him, he's that singer guy who's never been in a movie before.  And could you tell?  Yes you could.  He was exactly as good as you'd imagine, and by that I mean the worst you've ever seen.  At least he wasn't over the top like Joey Lauren Adams (sorry Amy, I'll always love you), but instead he was as flat as a sheet of paper.  He & Pressly had no chemistry, no one in the entire film was able to capture a convincing moment, and Making the Rules will forever be cemented in my brain as a complete waste of space.


Video - With an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, the video might be the strongest part of the film.  Every scene is crisp & well-colored, with a very strong summer feel, where you can almost touch the heat.  The picture quality is great and it really conveys California.

Audio - The DVD was done in Dolby Digital and carries as option for English or Spanish subtitles.  The sound quality is fine, a "sure, whatever" type of production, neither horrible or wonderful.  There are no balancing issues, but no opportunities to show off any good audio.

Extras - There are a few extras on the disc.  A minute-long deleted scene showcases more of Pressly & Thicke's uncomfortable love story.  A two-minute-long extended scene gives us even more.  There is an interview with writer/director Jimbo Lee; thirteen minute question & answer.  And there are five trailers: Making the Rules, American Idiots, House Arrest, Mobius, and Collision.

Final Thoughts

Skip It.  It's not just bad, it's awful.  It's a film in which every little detail went wrong and/or was never going to be right.  The story is awful, the pace is slow, and the acting is some of the worst you'll ever see.  Robin Thicke should stick to crappy music; at least some people appreciate that.  I don't know who could possibly appreciate or enjoy this film.  The video and audio are fine, there are a good many extras, but the movie itself is literally unbearably bad.  It's going into my Bottom Ten list with some pretty sordid company and I don't see it getting beaten out any time soon.

- Content
☆ ☆ ☆ - Video
☆ ☆ ☆ - Audio
☆ ☆ ☆ - Extras
- Replay

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Movie Trailer - Good People

Director: Henrik Ruben Genz
Starring: James Franco, Kate Hudson, Tom Wilkinson
Release: September 26th, 2014

I just can't believe James Franco as a lead actor in a thriller.  I keep expecting him to smoke some weed or something.  And let's not get started on Kate Hudson.  She's still cashing in one her performance in Almost Famous.  I'll think I'll pass on this one.

Thought - The Book of Mormon

This weekend I went to the Ohio Theatre in Columbus Ohio to see the hit play The Book of Mormon.  Here's a little summary of the play:  The story starts in Provo, Utah at the LDS Church Missionary Training Center.  The young men there are about to be sent on their two-year mission trip, including new companions Elder Price and Elder Cunningham, two very different personalities.  Price sees himself as a perfect Mormon and is hoping that Heavenly Father will send him to Orlando, Florida.  Cunningham is just excited to be going anywhere with someone who, by rule, can't unfriend him.  The boys are assigned to Uganda, specifically to a village where there have been zero baptisms, based partly on the tyrannical rule of General Butt-Fucking Naked.  Producing converts in Africa is not going to be easy, but Price and the other Mormons are up to the challenge, striving to secure their place in paradise by furthering the word and saving souls, by whatever means necessary.

First off, come prepared for some adult language and themes.  The word "fuck" will be your friend for the evening, as will the idea that people with AIDS think they can cure their illness by having sex with an infant.  It's a totally irreverent script, completely satirizing religion, Mormonism, Jesus, America, and even Africans.  It's a ridiculous story that has a lot to say about the way so many people blindly believe in such obviously false information.  So don't come to this play expecting adult conversation, witty dialogue, or deep meaning.  It was created by the writers of South Park, after all.  But come expecting to laugh in the face of all things serious, especially the church, and you'll leave having had a wonderful time.  The music is pretty great, with songs about Orlando, baptisms, giving the finger to God, shutting off your gay thoughts like a light switch.  I had a wonderful time at the show and as long as you're not easily offended, so will you.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Movie Trailer - The Discoverers

Director: Justin Schwartz
Starring: Griffin Dunne, Stuart Margolin, Madeleine Martin
Release: May 30th, 2014

It might be a long shot, but this movie might just turn out to be incredible.  It worries me that it's written and directed by an amateur, but it has a bit of a Garden State feel, with a little Nebraska thrown in, plus a few buckskins.

Movie Review - Neighbors

Director: Nicholas Stoller
Starring: Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne
Year: 2014

Zac Efron has come a long way from his High School Musical days.  Now he's running around shirtless, drinking beer, and hanging out with Seth Rogen, on screen anyway.  He's not that annoying teenager anymore, he's graduated and become an annoying frat boy.  Well OK, maybe he hasn't come incredibly far since becoming a star, but at least he's trying.  His roles have been increasingly adult, The Lucky One and That Awkward Moment.  I'm not saying his movie choices are the best or that he's about ready to win an Oscar, but he's got genuine talent and I have hope that he will become something solid within the next few years.  In Neighbors he joins with Seth Rogen, a bona fide funny man, and the result is pretty much exactly what you should expect; a movie that's horribly wrong but incredibly amusing, a comedy that's both juvenile and adult, a film that you laugh along with in spite of your better judgement.

Mac & Kelly are new parents.  They've traded in their old partying ways for a baby, a mortgage, and a life that's a little less exciting.  Having sex in a random room is about as crazy as they get these days, but they love their daughter and they love each other, so it's all good.  That is, until a fraternity moves in next door.  At first the young couple tries to be cool, wanting Teddy and the other boys to think they're hip.  But they soon realize that living next to a frat house isn't going to be much fun, not with an infant trying to sleep, and that they may have left their all-nighter days behind them.  After the cops are called to break up a wild party, a war starts between the neighbors, a game of chicken to see who will be forced to move out first.  The grown ups battle the college guys in a take-no-prisoner fight for the street, a competition that can't possibly end well.

I called this movie "wrong" and I think that's the correct word.  Think Animal House but with as many penis jokes as Superbad.  Think Old School but with lactating breasts.  Constant inappropriate comedy, crude physical humor, sex, boobs, dicks, pot, shots; it's all here.  You had better come prepared for frat boy antics, babies playing with condoms, and 160 curse words per minute.  Not scared?  Then you're in for a good time.  Neighbors is a hilarious & wild ride, a film designed to make you let loose and enjoy yourself for ninety minutes, even if you know you shouldn't.  It's wrong, crass, horrible, disgusting, but always for laughs and always with a "lighten up" air.  It does have a Judd Apatow feel, although maybe that's just Seth Rogen, so use that to gauge whether or not you should sit down to watch this one.  Do you enjoy dildo fights and 'shroom binges?  Then step right up, because this is the film for you.

Putting the ridiculous nature of the film aside, it was actually fairly well made.  Seth Rogen is funny, as always, naturally delivering lines that only he can pull off.  His wife, played by Rose Byrne, was also pretty solid, a Australian MILF who can dirty talk with the best of them.  And Zac Efron held his own too, sliding right into the big-man-on-campus role and filling those shoes well.  He and Rogen worked well opposite each other, bringing the funny but also a little deeper meaning to the story, a moral about growing up, making choices, and appreciating what you have.  I was surprised by the amount of parent-related jokes there were, from breastfeeding to packing the diaper bag, comedy that I doubt resonated well with the college crowd but I found very amusing.  Overall, Neighbors was a funny movie, nothing more & nothing less.  The worst part of it was Dave Franco, who literally CAN'T ACT, but the rest was entertaining and over-the-top in a good way.  You'd better enjoy this style of raunchy comedy and you should probably just give up on keeping any sort of decorum, but if that sounds alright then go ahead and enjoy;  I won't judge you.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Movie Trailer - And So It Goes

Director: Rob Reiner
Starring: Michael Douglas, Diane Keaton, Frances Sternhagen
Release: July 11th, 2014

Remember back in the 80s & 90s when Rob Reiner made good movies?  Now he makes things like Rumor Has It, The Bucket List, and this crap.  I know old people watch movies too and they doesn't take much to please them, but couldn't he even try to make a film worth my time?

Sports - Johnny Manziel

Everyone has an opinion of Johnny Manziel.  The Texas A&M quarterback is a polarizing figure, lighting up the scoreboard on Saturdays and getting on our nerves the rest of the week.  His cocky money gesture (pictured above), problems at camps, his partying ways.  Johnny Football has made waves with his play and with his attitude, and now he brings his game to the NFL.  After being selected by the Cleveland Browns, questions immediately begin to rise: is he tall enough to be a pro QB, can his off-the-field issues be put aside, will his style translate to Sundays, should he start Week 1, are the Brownies the right team for him.  The list goes on & on; it seems as if there are more concerns than certainties, leading some to believe that he's neither a 1st Round QB nor a future star.  Here are my thoughts on Johnny Manziel.

I tend to give winners the benefit of the doubt.  Tim Tebow, Kellen Moore; these guys were winners in college and were natural leaders.  They, like Manziel, had their doubters when it came to their NFL readiness.  Accuracy, height, pro competition; these things matter but sometimes winning impresses us enough to put these things aside.  So when I imagine what Johnny will accomplish in the NFL, I look back at other great athletes who shone in college but fizzled in the pros.  We all know what happened to Tim Tebow, who's now out of the league.  And Kellen Moore is a backup in Detroit, having never played a game and always barely escaping a roster cut.  Tebow & Moore were unquestionably excellent in college but raised a ton of doubts when entering the Draft.  How is Manziel any different?

I'm starting to think he's not.  I've grown tired of rooting for scrappy college guys and failing to see them for what they really are; great athletes that are simply not good enough to be great NFL QBs.  Not everyone is Andrew Luck, a perfect specimen physically, mentally, and schematically.  Some guys are Kellen Moore, a talented player whose game isn't going to be as successful in the big leagues.  So I guess I'll have to side with the doubters in saying that Johnny Manziel is not going to become an elite player, that his low height & weight, his sandlot style, his off-putting personality, these things are going to keep him from greatness.

The off-the-field stuff, the partying, the girls, the alcohol, the pressures of fame, that stuff doesn't bother me.  Manziel is just a kid, a cocky kid who got too big too fast and let it go to his head.  He's about to make a ton of money, so many people are constantly stroking his ego, and it'd be ridiculous to judge him too harshly on his immature actions.  He is often juvenile, he is sometimes unlikeable, but are your favorite players any different?  We can hope that his demeanor calms down a bit once he enters into the NFL workplace, but that's still to be seen.  Either way, nothing he has done away from the game is a big enough red flag to warrant not having him on your roster.  Will he have a strong presence on the field, that's the bigger question, will he be a respected leader who can rally a losing team and score the game-winning touchdown.

Ultimately, I think Manziel fails to be an elite QB.  I think Cleveland is a black hole, although I also think they're doing the right thing in not throwing him to the wolves right way.  He'll sit at the beginning of the year, he'll probably play at some point this season, and he'll probably do a mediocre job.  He's a winner after all, a competitor who can make something out of nothing.  But I think that has been proven to not be enough.  He needs more, like a shotgun arm, lighting speed, incredible height, or a genius brain.  Johnny doesn't have those things.  He's an exciting player, a lay-it-all-on-the-line kind of guy, but I'm tired of believing that that's enough.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Movie Trailer - Gabrielle

Director: Louise Archambault
Starring: Gabrielle Marion-Rivard, Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin
Release: May 21st, 2014

A French Canadian  film that looks a lot like The Other Sister, one can hope that this movie will be much better than that one.  Maybe it's wrong to compare the two because they're both based on young women with special needs, but they do have a similar feel.  I trust that Gabrielle will be heavy, emotional, and quite strong.

DVD Review - Gila!

Director: Jim Wynorski
Starring: Brian Gross, Terence Knox, Madeline Voges
Year: 2012

Do yourself a favor and look up director Jim Wynorski on IMDB.  His filmography is a laundry list of raunchy late night comedies, soft core adult movies, and ridiculous creature features.  I guess if you're going to do it you might as well go all the way.  He definitely hasn't held back or pretended to be anything other than a director of b-film.  And at least you know what to expect when sitting down to see one of his projects.  Gila! is just another made-for-TV-movie that you know will be bad.  The question is, just how bad.  There are horrible movies and then there are awesomely horrible movies, and it actually takes a good bit of talent to pull of the latter.  Well, if anyone can make a wonderfully terrible film about a gigantic lizard, it would be Wynorski; he's definitely had enough experience.

The Movie

Read the back of the DVD case if you want to know exactly what happens in this movie, down to the final scene.  Not sure why they did that, but maybe it was to save time in case someone actually thought this was a serious film.  But if you don't want the ending spoiled, here's a less detailed breakdown.  Chase is a young man with a lot going for him.  He's likeable, has a great girl, a loving family, he's respected around town, and his hot rod is the fastest in the whole county.  His arch nemesis Waco has just returned to the area and can't seem to let the past go, challenging him to races, fights, and even getting their respective gals in the mix.  Looks like trouble is brewing and a showdown will inevitably occur.  That is, until something happens that makes their feud seem a little small when compared to a new, huge problem.

That problem is a giant Gila monster.  That's right, a mutant lizard that's terrorizing the town.  How it got to be so big so fast, no one seems to know, but it's here and it's dangerous.  First a young couple in love are taken out by the creature.  Then an elderly farm couple.  Some workers, a train, a few cars; things are getting out of hand and someone's got to step up and make things right.  And that someone is Chase, with the help of the local Sheriff and a stash of old weapons set aside by a paranoid veteran.  But even bombs can't seem to stop this creature, and without help Chase & the Sheriff are bound to fail.  Can the town rally together in time, and will Waco help out his old enemy?  Can anything stop the Gila?!

At least you know what you're getting into when you sit down to watch this movie.  It really is hilarious to read through the titles of the director's other films: Body Chemistry 4, Crash Point Zero, Cheerleader Massacre, Busty Cops, The Witches of Breastwick, The Da Vinci Coed, Monster Cruise, Pleasure Spa.  Part of me wants to watch every single one, part of me wants to run away screaming.  But there's something to be said for owning your style, for accepting the fact that your films aren't going to win Oscars, that they're going to have blood, boobs, blobs, and bad acting.  Knowing what you're getting is a good feeling for an audience member too, it allows you to just have fun without having to invest too much of your energy.  Gila! is definitely a throw-away movie, but that doesn't mean that it's awful.  It's a good representation of a genre and a style that this director has perfected; a late-night creature feature that never tries to be anything more.

That said, I've seen better.  First off, it's set in the 50s and is a remake of the 1959 The Giant Gila Monster.  So that's cool, a throw-back to the old style, but they only got it half right.  Sometimes the extras are dressed in modern clothes and it always seems like a high school set that someone who didn't even live during the 50s designed.  It's part homage, part spoof, a mix of silly & serious that could have been much more solidified.  The characters are pretty strong; over-dramatic acting and farcical action.  But there wasn't enough gore or nudity or over-the-top elements to be an excellent b-movie.  Maybe they were trying to copy the original more than they were going for a late night romp, but the latter is what I would have enjoyed more.  I'd like to go back and watch the first film to see how this one compared, and I bet it did an OK job.  But it just wasn't the best bad movie I've seen.  Fans of the genre will enjoy it, as will fans of the original, but don't expect too much.  It's an alright attempt at horrible comedy, falling right in between funny & classic, ending up as a safe & forgettable horror flick that is only slightly fun to watch.


Video - With an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, the video is actually pretty poor.  Not only does the Gila monster look a little bit ridiculous, but the picture quality just isn't that great.  The effects are silly, the monster never looks like it's actually there, and the visuals aren't impressive.

Audio - The film was done is Dolby Digital.  There are no sound options or language options on the disc, and the audio quality is only OK.  They do try hard to add in 50s radio music, but it comes across as a little forced and out of place.

Extras - There are quite a few extras on the DVD.  There is a 6-minute-long slideshow with stills from the film.  There is a summary of the original film, The Giant Gila Monster.  It looks like the two movies follow the same plot almost exactly.  Cast And Crew is a listing of credits.  There is a trailer for the original film, and one for the remake.  There are also lyrics to a song that the characters sing at the end of the film called The Mushroom Song.  And lastly, a two-paragraph essay on the golden age of the drive-in.

Final Thoughts

Rent ItGila! is a ridiculous remake, a film that fails to be a wonderful b-movie but also can't be called serious.  It's a throwaway throwback, but that's not to say that it's all awful.  The love for old cinema is apparent, but unfortunately so is the lack of any budget or good acting.  You'd better love the genre, otherwise this will be 90 minutes of torture.  The video isn't great, the audio isn't either, but there are a good many extras on the disc.  Don't watch this film looking for a late-night comedy romp; it's more of a homage to the old style.  Too bad that style doesn't exactly translate to today, leaving Gila! as a mediocre attempt.

☆ ☆ ☆ - Content
☆ ☆ - Video
☆ ☆ - Audio
☆ ☆ ☆ - Extras
☆ ☆ - Replay

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Movie Trailer - Northmen: A Viking Saga

Director: Claudio Fah
Starring: Ryan Kwanten, Ed Skrein, Charlie Murphy
Release: October 9th, 2014

This looks like Lord of the Rings with Scandinavians instead of hobbits.  Not as blockbuster maybe, and of course not with Tolkien's writing. Ok, nothing like LOTR then, but it does have some visual similarities.  And oh yeah, it's directed by the guy who brought you Hollow Man II.

Movie Review - Alan Partridge

Director: Declan Lowney
Starring: Steve Coogan, Colm Meaney, Felicity Montagu
Year: 2013

I've seen Steve Coogan in a few movies but I guess I didn't realize what his claim to fame was.  I knew he was a British actor and that his American roles are only the most recent of his projects, but that's how I knew him, from his Hollywood characters.  What I didn't know was what he became famous for; his portrayal of Alan Partridge.  Coogan created the persona of Partridge in the early 90s, playing him on BBC radio and TV.  He would go on to act in several television series as Alan Partridge, the radio DJ with an extremely unique outlook on life.  Now Alan has been brought to life in a feature film and the results are hilarious.

Alan Partridge is a semi-celebrity, hosting Mid Morning Matters on a local British radio station.  His style & humor aren't the most PC, but he definitely has a lively personality.  When a new company takes over the station, Alan and the other DJs fear for their jobs, but only the very boring Pat is shown the door.  But not for long, because he soon returns with a gun and an axe to grind.  Pat takes the entire studio hostage, all except for Alan.  But Alan is about to make a reappearance too, this time as a hostage negotiator.  He's Pat's only "friend" and so volunteers to go in and be the go-between in the hostage release negotiations.  Alan sees this as a great chance to enhance his career, but first he'll have to survive Pat's anger, the paparazzi, and his own uncontrollable ego.

This was the funniest movie I've seen in a while.  From the very beginning each line was crafted to be side-splitting and it really never let up.  Coogan's character was excellent, and you could tell he'd been doing it for years.  It felt thought-through, not like he just came up with an idea he thought might be funny.  Partridge is a proven character, one that Coogan has perfected through the years.  You'd better love British humor though, because the jokes are 100% English; witty, crass, unrelenting, unapologetic.  The only trouble I had was the shear volume of humor and the speed with which the jokes were delivered.  Often I was laughing and couldn't hear what was just said, or I was still trying to decipher thick accents while giggling to myself.  I'd like to go back right away and watch it again; I have a feeling that this is one of those movies that gets better each time.  Alan Partridge is an awesome comedy, a parade of humorous characters spouting off hilariously irreverent lines.  A must-see for those who love British humor, Steve Coogan, or making fun of the Irish.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Monday, May 19, 2014

Movie Trailer - Interstellar #2

Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Michael Caine, Anne Hathaway
Release: November 7th, 2014

The way McConaughey has been producing excellent films lately, I'd go see this if he was the only reason.  Of course, he's not, there's also the fact that it's Nolan-directed sci-fi, it's got Michael Caine in it, and it generally looks awesome.

Movie Review - Gladiator

Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Russell Crowe, Joaquin Phoenix, Connie Nielsen
Year: 2000

Gladiator is one of those defining-moment movies.  It was the face of the new millennium, coming out in May of 2000 and taking box offices by storm.  It was an epic to end all epics, taking on ancient Rome with ease, sending audiences into the arenas and forcing us to smell the blood.  And it would sweep the Academy Awards, winning for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Sound, Best Effects, Best Costumes, Best Actor, and Best Supporting Actor.  It was a huge project, a massive hit, a take-no-prisoners film.  But that was 14 years ago.  We're not as enamored with Russell Crowe as we once were, we've seen a million period-piece epics, and it's not so easy to create one project that blows away all other films.  Would Gladiator stand up to a re-watch and some extra scrutiny?

The gladiator of the title is a man named Maximus, a warrior with only one thing on his mind; revenge.  In his past life, Maximus was a general in the great Roman army, conquering Rome's enemies in the north and helping to expand the empire.  He fought for his Caesar, the wise old Marcus Aurelius.  But when the emperor dies and his son Commodus takes over, Maximus is no longer in favor, all the more because he has been charged with giving power back to the Senate, a thing that Commodus can never allow.  Stripped of his titles and betrayed by his country, Maximus finds himself enslaved, forced to become a gladiator with no hope for survival.  But survive he does, flourishing in the arena and driven by his desire to face the man who took everything away from him.  His chance comes when he travels to Rome itself, fighting for the pleasures of the crowd, but always with vengeance on his mind.

Watching the film again after so many years is a mixed bag.  The action stands up perfectly well, the battles in the sand holding just as much energy and gore as one could hope for.  The sets are magnificent, as are the costumes, colors, landscapes, architecture.  All the visuals are there and nothing of that nature was lost in translation.  And the acting was still strong as well.  Crowe as Maximus was solid and that will always be his career-defining role.  It was cool to see Phoenix as Commodus, knowing how well he's done since then, and I think it's safe to say that he stole the show.  The weakest parts were the dialogues, those long dramatic conversations between main characters that dragged on a bit, getting in the way of the story as often as aiding it.  I had forgotten just how long the movie was and how sometimes it felt a bit boring.  I wished that the action told the story more often instead of being talk battle talk battle talk.  Ridley Scott is a great director, but I think he failed to meld together all the great pieces into one perfect unit.  That said, Gladiator is still an excellent film, one that defined a moment and still remains viable today.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Movie Trailer - Persecuted

Director: Daniel Lusko
Starring: James Remar, Bruce Davison, Dean Stockwell
Release: July 18th, 2014

I'd be interested to see from which angle this movie is produced.  Is it pro-religion and anti-censorship?  That seems to be the feel, but I'm curious; maybe there are more underlying points and/or morals.  Anyway, I'm intrigued but not really enough to make an effort to see it.

Movie Review - Million Dollar Arm

Director: Craig Gillespie
Starring: Jon Hamm, Aasif Mandvi, Lake Bell, Alan Arkin
Suraj Sharma, Madhur Mittal, Pitobash, Bill Paxton
Year: 2014

I've got to say, I was skeptical coming into this one.  And 'skeptical' might not even be a strong enough word;  I assumed it would be bad.  After all, it's a heartwarming Disney movie, the culture clash was bound to be stereotypical, and I already know how the true story ends.  But two things got me into the theatre to see Million Dollar Arm.  One is the fact that I'm a film critic and I wanted to join the conversation.  The other is that I love baseball.  Any movie about baseball stands a good chance of sucking me in, excellent or awful.  So in I went and out I came with a smile on my face.  Not only did the film delight and surprise me, but it's always nice to be reminded that a good director & a great actor can come together, take a story that others would have unceremoniously bludgeoned, and deliver a movie that combines heart & entertainment in a way that is rarely achieved.

This is the real-life story of Major League Baseball's first Indian athletes.  From a country that doesn't know the the game to a place obsessed with it, these two talented young men put a nation on their backs and traveled across the world to fulfill their dreams.  They did it with the help of their mentor JB, a sports agent who was on the verge of failure before he came up with one incredible idea.  He traveled to India to set up a talent competition, a contest that would find the best arms in the country, bringing two lucky winners to America to train for a shot in the big leagues.  But it wouldn't be easy, attempting Western organization in an Eastern culture or, afterward, exposing country boys to big city life.  Both JB and his protegees had a lot to learn; about each other, about America's game, and about working together to make the impossible a reality.

It really shouldn't have worked.  After all, it's a cheesy film about finding yourself, about never giving up, about realizing what the important pieces of your life are.  It's a typical India/America culture clash film, complete with stomach troubles, language barriers, and incense.  It really ought not to have been good.  But it was; the fun part is trying to figure out why.  A little honesty can go a long way, and I've always appreciated honest emotion in a film.  Give it to me straight and I'm with you all the way.  That's what Million Dollar Arm did to keep from becoming just another stupid and somewhat racist true story.  They delivered an emotionally realistic movie, a plot that may have been stereotypical at times but only when that was the reality of the situation.  Cows in the roads, tiny villages, trouble with the food.  And in America, fun with elevators, trouble with alcohol, learning English.  Those things aren't exactly new, but they were an honest part of the film, portrayed in a way that seemed accurate as parts of a true story, never cheesy afterthoughts or cheap ways to get a laugh.

The acting went a long way towards supporting what could have easily become a throwaway film but never did.  Jon Hamm was excellent as JB.  He was given time to develop his character, to show us the driving forces behind his actions, before he was thrown into the drama of the story.  The director also took time to show us JB in India, to build that base before adding in the more heart-warming parts of the film.  With a solid actor slowly developing a plot, I became totally invested and so was willing to forgive a little cheese later on when the story got gushy.  All the side characters were strong as well: Lake Bell as the love interest, Alan Arkin the grumpy old scout, Sharma & Mittal as the fish out of water.  Even Bill Paxton gave a good performance, which was strange.  Everyone contributed a controlled and level character, creating a film that never felt off balance or bumbly.  It could have easily gone the other way, it could have taken a crappy turn at any given moment and gone completely off the rails.  But it never did, the cast & crew were always professional, and you could feel that every step of the way.  Million Dollar Arm was a surprisingly good film, one that avoided the pitfalls of so many before it and instead told an honest story, letting the emotion speak for itself and allowing the actors to do their jobs.  Sounds simple really; take a cool plot and let good actors bring it too life.  Perhaps more directors should follow that recipe more often.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆