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!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Movie Trailer - Miss Meadows

Director: Karen Leigh Hopkins
Starring: Katie Holmes, James Badge Dale, Callan Mulvey
Release: November 14th, 2014

Nope.  No way.  I'm not watching Katie Holmes pretend she can act for 90 minutes.  Who in their right mind would view this expecting it to be good?  I know any movie has the power to surprise, but I would be shocked if this one was anywhere near watchable.

DVD Review - Game of Assassins

Director: Matt Eskandari
Starring: Warren Kole, Dustin Nguyen, Jaime Ray Newman
Year: 2013

What a terrible name for a movie.  And, just so you know, the plot has barely anything to do with games or with assassins.  If you want your movie to be taken seriously, you ought to think about audience reception.  You hear a title like this and you immediately start thinking b-movie.  Which hey, don't get me wrong, I love, but do they have to be so obvious?  It's not like this is a farce or a mockery of the genre, it's a legitimate action film with an interesting plot; someone dropped the ball.  And actually, the film has an alternate title, Gauntlet, which sounds cooler & makes a ton more sense.  But maybe it's just me, maybe everyone else is fine with the name.  Regardless, the show must go on, and on it bloodily did.

The Movie

David awakens on a heap of corpses.  He doesn't know where he is, how he got there, or who did this to him.  All he knows is that he's in some type of dungeon with weapons & dead bodies and he would like to get out as soon as possible.  But first he meets Jin, an Asian-American man from Jersey who is just as terrified & confused as David.  The pair soon agree to help one another, attempting to find a way out.  Soon they stumble across Emma and Tyler, another duo of horrified travelers who have no clue as to why they're here or where here is.  And so a foursome is formed, each with a weapon to protect themselves from whatever might pop up around the corner, each with a secret which may hint to why they've been imprisoned in the first place.

Their surroundings are like a satanic prison, with torture devices and evil paintings, clues perhaps to the answers they seek.  Although, answers can wait, what the group wants now is food, water, rest, and a way out of the dark abyss that they are trapped within.  To make it out they must solve gruesome puzzles, attaining keys to allow them out of each level, moving closer & closer (supposedly) to life & a way out.   But first they meet the last member of "game", Kim, a suspicious woman who is definitely not telling everything she knows.  Hers might be the most twisted back story, but through flashbacks we begin to understand that no one is innocent here, that everyone has something to hide, and perhaps they are all in this hell for a reason.

What a strange movie.  The title really did throw me off, partly because it just sounded crappy and partly because I was ready for a game or assassins or a combination thereof.  But that's not really what it's about.  The movie is more of a gauntlet for sure, a survival inside a test that will kill you if you fail.  It was a little like the Gauntlet video game of the 80s, if memory serves.  It's been a long time since I played, but I remember the characters, the levels, the keys to each new challenge.  I guess that describes a million games, but the alternate title of this film leads me to believe there might be some slight connection or at least a nod in that direction.  At times even the action was visually game-ish, with obviously fake blood and unrealistic weaponry talent.  The set too felt like a video game, like a Zelda dungeon level, like a board you had to figure out so you could get to the boss.  Except, in this film, there were no bosses, only the characters, who will need, use, and kill each other whenever it's beneficial.

So that aspect I liked, that it took me back to my childhood when dark fantasy video games were super cool.  But it's still a film, an action flick that needs to be judged as one, and that's where it came up short.  All the different characters were interesting, but it was unfortunate that every one was badly acted.  I guess I wasn't expecting much from a movie of this caliber, but a little more effort would have been nice, a little stronger attempt to build the depth of the roles and not just superficially let us know that everyone has demons.  And the ending, as much as I can say without being a spoiler, was bad.  I could see a hundred different paths that I would have enjoyed more, a hundred different story arcs that would have made me happier.  Instead, what we get is a bunch of strangers trapped somewhere creepy, some difficulties getting out, and an unsatisfying conclusion.  Yep, sounds like a video game, and not a great one.  At least it was kinda fun playing.


Video - With an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 (16x9 Widescreen) you'd expect better, but what you get is something far worse.  The video was very poor, with bad camera work, too-tight spaces, and bad color.  The picture quality in general was bad; grainy, uneven, and not at all visually appealing.  Fake blood, dirty dungeons, limp bodies; pretty amateur stuff.

Audio - As far as options go, the DVD allows the viewer to turn on English or Spanish subtitles; there are no more audio choices.  The sound quality was pretty awful too, with a muffled feel, an unbalanced mix, and unimpressive work in general.

Extras - There are a couple extras on the disc.  Three deletes scenes give a little more insight into the plot: What is a Gauntlet, Stay Away From Me, Not Once.  There are also four trailers: Game of Assassins, No Vacancy, Alpha Alert, Brawl.

Final Thoughts

Rent ItGame of Assassins is not at all what its title or DVD cover might suggest.  It's not fantasy exactly, it's more horror, and it's definitely not a b-movie spoof.  It's an action film that tries to tap into the human mind and make us feel trapped right alongside the characters.  Well, I liked it for its video game feel, but I can't say to much in defense of the rest.  It isn't a well-made movie, but it's also not crap.  There are cool aspects to latch onto if you're willing to forgive a lot of failings, making it a cheap rental and nothing more.

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

Monday, September 29, 2014

Movie Trailer - Outcast

Director: Nick Powell
Starring: Hayden Christensen, Nicolas Cage
Release: October 9th, 2014

God I hate Nicolas Cage.

Movie Review - True Grit (1969)

Director: Henry Hathaway
Starring: John Wayne, Kim Darby, Glen Campbell, Robert Duvall
Year: 1969

As a kid I was a fan of John Wayne; as an adult I'm a fan of the Coen Brothers.  When I was young I watched all the old Wayne Westerns, including True Grit.  His role as Rooster Cogburn is beyond iconic, marking not only a film but a time, an era of the elder Wayne only ten years before his death.  More recently I watched the remake, the Coen Brothers version of the classic.  It stayed very true to the original, marking up the humor a bit perhaps, something that was present in but didn't define the original.  So now I've rewatched the first, gone back in time as it were, and perhaps learned a valuable lesson in so doing; some movies are best left where there lay.

When her father is killed out of hand by the lowly Tom Chaney, a young girl named Mattie Ross sets out on an adventure to see justice done.  She's no ordinary girl; she's got grit & determination, qualities she seeks in a lawman who can help her see her father's killer hanged.  She finds the man she wants, though he may not want the job.  His name is Rooster Cogburn and he's a drinker, a brawler, and perhaps the best Ranger in the territory.  Teaming up with a Texan named La Boeuf, the trio travel to find Tom Chaney no matter where he might run.  But trouble is certain.  Chaney has powerful friends, including an outlaw named Ned Pepper who Rooster knows well, and won't come willingly.  So battle ensues and may the best man, or lady, win.

It's a comfortable plot, one that's been told in Westerns for years; man kills man, posse chases killer, gunfight climax.  There are a lot of dated names thrown around, cities & forts, Civil War references; all the standard stuff.  But what sets True Grit apart from the rest is Mattie, the girl who forces herself into a man's world through pure gumption.  She won't take no for an answer and somehow makes that believable, supporting the movie single-handedly.  There's a little bit of humor, a touch of sass, some cool shooting scenes, and a bunch of horse-riding.  Nothing too far away from the norm and nothing much surprising at all.  John Wayne is just OK as Rooster, sometimes coming off as a buffoon, sometimes as a hero.  Kim Darby is solid as Mattie, playing the part with guts.  And a couple future stars pop up; Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper.  All in all a strong western with a comedic side, but nothing that will blow you away.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Movie Trailer - Mortdecai

Director: David Koepp
Starring: Johnny Depp, Gwyneth Paltrow, Paul Bettany, Olivia Munn
Ewan McGregor, Aubrey Plaza, Jeff Goldblum, Oliver Platt
Release: January 23rd, 2015

I don't often laugh out loud at a trailer, so congrats to Mortdecai.  I'm not sure what else I could ask for from a comedy; Johnny Depp as a silly British rogue, art thievery, Paul Bettany as a bloody manservant, caper antics, the beautiful Olivia Munn.  I don't even mind that amateur director David Koepp might "borrow" a little bit from Wes Anderson here, in particular The Grand Budapest Hotel.  I would watch this movie right this minute if it were available to me.

Movie Review - The Maze Runner

Director: Wes Ball
Starring: Dylan O'Brien, Ki Hong Lee, Will Poulter
Year: 2014

It's safe to say that movie audiences are a little obsessed with dystopia right now.  The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Giver; young adult novels are more popular than ever, especially those that deal with a post-apocalyptic future in which teens struggle for their mental or physical survival.  And adults aren't immune to this movement.  I read The Hunger Games series, the City of Ember books, saw all the film versions; they sucked me in with the rest of the country.  And now we have The Maze Runner, another teen book trilogy set in the near, unhappy future.  Kids fight for their lives, battle incredible sci-fi monsters, attempt to figure out just what the hell is going on; pretty typical stuff these days.  But this film, unlike some of the others, did one thing terribly wrong and so failed to win me over; it forgot to let me in on the joke, to tell me the truth, to give me an outside overview.  I'm still trapped in the maze, and I'm not very happy about it.

Thomas doesn't know who he is.  He doesn't know why he's in a field surrounded by high walls, he doesn't know who all these other boys are, he doesn't know what happened before this current moment, and at first he doesn't even remember his own name.  He's been thrust into a completely foreign world; only the first of many terrible things that are about to befall him.  The others tell him that they were all delivered to this grassy plain the same way, through a Box in the ground.  They call their home the Glade, which is surrounded by the Maze, a labyrinth of ever-changing walls that they assume leads to the outside world.  Members of the tiny society called Runners have been tasked with mapping the Maze, leaving at dawn when the gates open and returning at sundown when they close.  For years the boys have been trying to solve the puzzle of their situation, but perhaps Thomas is the key.  He and a girl who follows him up the Box seem to be special, to be involved in some unique way, and to have the ability to finally defeat the Maze, its dangers, and its secrets.

Despite the unoriginality of the concept, I was actually hopeful that The Maze Runner would be a solid film in a popular genre.  Obviously it's awfully similar to The Hunger Games: Catching Fire; the arena, the death traps, the desire for freedom.  But actually James Dashner's book came out in 2007, two years before Suzanne Collins' second novel.  Not that it matters; all these teen dystopic stories feel pretty similar and often share the same ideas.  I just hoped that this particular one would come off more Stephen King than Veronica Roth.  Well, it did, but only kinda.  It left out the sappy love story, stayed dark, killed off characters, so for that I give it credit.  But it failed to escape the banality of the modern YA sci-fi genre that seems to be haunting both literature and film.  It wasn't fresh, wasn't a new take, wasn't surprising, didn't excite.  It brought us more of what we've already seen; cold-hearted controllers, angsty youth, a harsh society of drab lives, and very little faith that things can get better.  Something original would have been greatly appreciated; sadly there was nothing.

And don't forget the details; those were bad too.  The action was horribly filmed.  It was too messy, too close up, too dark; I could never see the movements of the characters clearly when they were fighting against the evil Grievers, mechanical bug-things that prowled the maze.  Just pan back, show a bit more detail, let us see how the boys could possibly fight off giant machines using their tiny sharpened sticks.  That was a problem throughout; the insistence from the film that audiences don't ask questions.  A character actually said at one point, "whatever you can think of to try to escape we've already done."  Oh really, like building a scaffold to reach the of the wall, a job that would take three days, not three years?  The film was littered with similar plot holes, and even failed to wrap up the over-arcing story.  I understand that there are two more books in the series and that I'll probably have to read those or wait for the other movies if I want to know all the answers.  But shouldn't I, an intelligent adult, be a little less confused after watching a film that was meant for tweens?  The end of the story only adds more questions, more non-specific references, more frustrating teases that didn't make me want more, but rather made me want to go back in time so I could watch less.  Figuring out this film was like being trapped in a maze myself; watching it was like revisiting every post-apocalyptic movie ever made.  Unless you're a 13-year-old, I'd recommend staying away from The Maze Runner; you won't miss anything but dissatisfaction.

My rating: ☆ ☆

Friday, September 26, 2014

Movie Trailer - Field of Lost Shoes

Director: Sean McNamara
Starring: Luke Benward, Jason Isaacs, Tom Skerrit
Release: September 26th, 2014

Click on the director's name above and take a look at all that he's at least partially responsible for.  Not good.  And not reassuring either, not when you start wondering whether this historical drama will be honest or cheesy.  I'm very interested in the Civil War, would watch most movies about the topic, but I'm a little nervous about this one.

Movie Review - A Walk Among the Tombstones

Director: Scott Frank
Starring: Liam Neeson, Astro, David Harbour
Year: 2014

Liam Neeson is always walking around very carefully with a concerned look and a gun.  I guess I would too if I was constantly hunting dangerous people around corners and in tight spaces.  This seems to be his role these days; the cop/ex-cop/special agent/ex-special agent who has some dirty work to do and doesn't mind shooting his way through it.  Taken, Taken 2, Non-Stop, A Walk Among the Tombstones; these are the movies that Liam is in these days, and it's up to us to understand what we're about to see when we step into the theatre.  This film isn't a shocker in any way, it's just another in a long line of good guy vs bad guy stories that entertain us even though we know they're actually not very good.

The plot begins eight years earlier than the bulk of the story, in New York City in 1991.  Matt Scudder is a cop who is also an alcoholic, a guy with a problem that's about to end his career.  After a shootout with some robbers in which Scudder kills many of them while drunk, he sobers up and becomes a private investigator.  Fast forward to 1999 and a murder that begs for revenge.  A local drug trafficker hires Scudder to find a pair of men who kidnapped his wife, took his money, led him on a wild goose chase, and then killed her anyway.  The search must be kept off the record for obvious reasons, and the ex-cop takes the job.  But it's not as simple as one kidnapping and one execution, there's a pattern in play and a duo of psychopaths that will make this a hard case to solve & survive.  With the help of a young boy from the streets, and using the instincts that have always served him well, Scudder will find the men responsible for the deaths of so many beautiful young women and bring them to justice.

There is no way this film should surprise or disappoint anyone.  It's exactly what it looks like; a crime/killer/suspense/mystery/shoot-em-up movie whose goal is to entertain, if darkly, nothing more.  Drug dealers, DEA agents, serial killers, hand guns, pay phones, graveyards, creepy vans; it's got it all, what more could you ask for?  I'm not saying that it's a brilliant piece of cinema, of course not, but it never tries to be anything but what you can see on the surface and never let's audiences down.  By now you should know what to expect when going to see a Liam Neeson action film and be prepared in advance for what you are about to witness.  Don't come hoping for stirring depth or emotion, don't look for a lot of laughs and karate moves.  Sit for one-hundred minutes of gritty, bloody suspense and enjoy yourself if that's your thing; stay home if not.

For me, it wasn't the genre that I came for, it was Liam Neeson.  I knew the movie wouldn't be to my exact taste, wouldn't blow me away with anything original.  I figured it would be dark, cool, action-packed, perhaps throw-away.  But I wanted to see Neeson; he's a great actor.  I know he doesn't always participate in the highest quality projects, I know he's getting a little long in the tooth, and I know some people find him a little bland.  But to me, the guy can almost do no wrong.  He always brings a certain swagger to a film, a special superior presence that can't be faked.  He's got "it", whatever "it" is, and he's got it to spare.  That's why audiences always eat up the movies that he stars in, because yeah sometimes they're not good, but he's always there.  He's always looking at you from those Liam eyes, talking to you with that Liam voice, and no one will ever do things the way he does 'em.  I for one will enjoy his semi-crappy films while I can because at least they entertain and he won't be around forever.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Movie Trailer - Serena

Director: Susanne Bier
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Toby Jones
Release: February 26th, 2015

Jennifer Lawrence can't possibly fit into every role.  You keep forcing her into characters that she's not suited for just because she's a star and eventually you're going to do her a disservice.  I think that role is Serena.  I know it's just a trailer, but I don't feel it, I don't think it works.  Sorry J-Law.

Sports - NFL Picks 2014, Week 4

Here are my NFL Week 4 Picks
(9-7 last week, 28-20 for the season)
Bye teams: Ari, Cin, Cle, Den, Sea, StL

NYG @ Was - A very important Thursday Night matchup.  These division opponents are both 1-2 and neither want to drop another game right now.  The Redskins, now under Kirk Cousins, score more than the G-men, allow less, and are at home; a recipe for a win.

Car @ Bal - I said last week that if the Ravens won in Cleveland I'd start giving them some respect.  Well they did, barely, and now they get to head home to face the Panthers.  I can't figure out Carolina, when they're gonna click or falter, so I'm staying away for the time being.

GB @ Chi - Another division matchup in which the home team scores more & allows less.  Cutler has been slinging the ball well, Rodgers has not, and this Packers defense isn't very good.  In such an old rivalry I doubt anyone gets blown out, so look for a close one.

Buf @ Hou - The Texans looked to be back in the saddle until the Giants beat 'em up last week.  I expect them to rebound after a return home.  I've been on the Bills' bandwagon since  before the preseason, but they had a tough game last week and this one isn't much easier.

Ten @ Ind - The Colts got their first win of the season last week, but actually lead the AFC in points scored.  They just had an unLUCKy draw (Den, Phi), but now get it a bit easier (Jax, Ten).  The Titans only score 14 points per game; not enough to keep up at all this week.

Det @ NYJ - Here's a stat for you; the Jets have scored more points this season than the Lions.  Say what?!  That's right, the mighty Stafford-led Detroiters have actually relied more on their defense this year to get wins.  But they don't play well on the road, and could lose in Jersey.

Mia @ Oak - Three of the four worst points-allowing defenses in the NFL play in Florida.  The Dolphins are not having the kind of season they were hoping for, obviously.  But the Raiders are winless, can't score points, and look pathetic.  So it's a toss up; maybe it'll be a tie?

TB @ Pit - Speaking of bad Florida teams, the Bucs are awful.  They're 0-3, can't score, can't stop anyone, and have very little hope of salvaging their season.  The Steelers aren't incredible, but they should be able to win at home vs a very inferior team.  Sorry, Lovie.

Jax @ SD - Yes trap games are real, yes any team can win "any given Sunday", but this week?  I don't think so.  This is, by far, the biggest mismatch, as the Jaguars are reeling and the Chargers are on fire.  Look for Rivers & Brown to score points in bunches without mercy.

Atl @ Min - My first road team pick of the week.  The Falcons are the best offense in football, thanks to Matty Ice.  They usually play very poorly on the road, but hey it's Minnesota.  The Vikings lost Adrian Peterson, now Matt Cassel, and should lose this game pretty pathetically.

Phi @ SF - Speaking of road teams that score points, say hello to the Eagles.  Their vaunted high-flying offense is working just as well as people expected, and so far they're undefeated.  The Niners aren't living up to expectations, but that can't go on forever.  I predict a change this week.

NO @ Dal - The Saints are just a whole other team on the road.  And you know, they're not scoring like they normally do.  Also surprising is the Dallas D, which isn't as bad as it was supposed to be.  I gotta go with the home Cowboys, especially with the way Murray is running.

NE @ KC - Color me not surprised that the Chiefs aren't that great.  They were exposed at the end of last year and apparently it carried over.  But Kansas City is a tough place to play, especially on the big stage of MNF, and I think the Patriots falter, losing a close one here.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Movie Trailer - The Homesman

Director: Tommy Lee Jones
Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Hilary Swank, John Lithgow
Release: November 14th, 2014

As long as this movie stays on the sane side of cheesy, I think it has a chance for Oscars.  Tommy Lee Jones was perfection in Lonesome Dove, not so much in The Missing.  Which performance will The Homesman mirror?  And Hilary Swank I think looks horrible in You're Not You but looks excellent here.  I guess the whole thing could turn out to be a crappy Western, but I have some hope.

Movie Review - L.A. Confidential

Director: Curtis Hanson
Starring: Russell Crowe, Kevin Spacey, Guy Pearce
Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito, James Cromwell, David Strathairn
Year: 1997

Sometimes a movie is exactly as good as people say.  On the flip side, every once in a while your personal taste will get in the way and those supposed sure things are perfect bombs (Avatar, Gravity), but if you hear enough rave reviews from enough sources there's a great chance the film will live up to the love.  L.A. Confidential is, fortunately, in the first group, a movie that I've always heard was excellent and hey it turns out it is.  On IMDB the film get's a 9/10 from critics, an 8.3 from users, and on RottenTomatoes it gets an 8.7 from critics, a 7.6 from users.  Pretty solid ratings for a movie from the late 90s that was nominated for nine Oscars.  I guess I should have watched it sooner & should have seen its superiority coming.

Los Angeles.  The 1950s.  The battle between organized crime & the city cops is the biggest storyline behind which celebrity will appear in which picture.  Actually, cops are celebrities themselves, hitting the headlines of the local newspapers for each big drug bust, careers living & dying based on how much the public loves them.  In this confusing & exciting era, three very different policeman are about to get involved in the case of the decade.  Bud White the muscle, Jack Vincennes the smoothie, and Ed Exley the do-gooder; they all have a personal stake in the latest murder case and they all want to be the one who breaks it.  But they'll have to work together to solve the puzzle, a mixed-up challenger if there ever was one, a crime that will rock the city to its foundation.

I don't even like mobster/police movies, especially not from this time period.  The dialect, the verbage, the culture; never really grabbed my interest.  And I can't help thinking about Gangster Squad when I think about this genre, or The Black Dahlia, two movies I definitely did not like.  So I was prejudiced coming it, but thankfully that was short lived.  L.A. Confidential did everything right when so many others of the same type do everything wrong.  The director stepped away, even the writer to some extent, and the film became about the actors.  They were all phenomenal, especially Crowe & Spacey, with Basinger even winning an Academy Award.  The characters were perfectly believable, and so their dialogue never felt stupid, their actions never corny.  Good acting will win me over every time, and it did here in a genre that will never be my favorite.  I easily became enmeshed in the story, started to care about the plot, and ending up enjoying myself way more than I thought I would.  Add me to the list of critics singing this film's praises and recommending that you watch it if you care for quality cinema.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Movie Trailer - You're Not You

Director: George C. Wolfe
Starring: Hilary Swank, Emmy Rossum, Josh Duhamel
Release: September 27th, 2014

Are you kidding me?  A movie about a paraplegic Hilary Swank?  I can't be expected to take this seriously, right?  I'm sure it's a very touching movie about a very important topic, but I don't think any 4th wall is thick enough for me to believe this film.

DVD Review - Whitewash

Director: Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais
Starring: Thomas Haden Church, Marc Labreche
Year: 2013

The summary for Whitewash on the back of its DVD case says that it's "a darkly comic noir in the vein of the Coen Brothers."  A pretty specific claim, and a ballsy one at that.  I guess it doesn't take much to be dark, just kill off a few characters and feature depressing aspects.  Darkly comic though, that's something else entirely.  It takes talent to create a balance between funny & horrible, to manufacture a situation that forces audiences to laugh or go crazy.  And lastly, to emulate the Coen Brothers?  That's something almost no one can do, a difficult task for even the most talented directors, let alone one who's attempting his first feature length.  So going in I had my doubts about a film that claimed so much.  Turns out, they had a right to.

The Movie

The story begins in the snow.  A plow operator named Bruce drives around in a blizzard, drinking & not really making an attempt to make a difference on the roads he's speeding on.  We don't know his story, don't know exactly what he's doing, and are not prepared when he suddenly runs into a man who is standing in the middle of the road.  Just like that the plot begins.  Bruce hides the body in the snow, drives off into the wilderness, crashes his plow, and wakes up the next morning almost as confused as we are.  At first he attempts to leave, but having no idea where he is and no supplies makes this a little tricky.  So he returns to the crash site, begins to forage for supplies, and creates a temporary home for himself in the woods.

And now, slowly, the story is revealed to us.  As Bruce focuses on survival, he also flashes back to the events that led him here, the catalysts that created this awful situation.  It's all tied to a man named Paul, a man who stayed a few nights at Bruce's house.  We begin to find out why, where he came from, how the two men became companions, and the problems both of them faced, problems that led them both to bad decisions and worse luck.  And meanwhile, Bruce is finding it harder & harder to leave his new living space.  Doing so would mean facing his issues, his crimes, the world; it would be much easier just to live in the woods with only his slowly deteriorating mind for company.  So the days march on, revealing more & more of the truth, driving Bruce further & further into his own head, a place that might be the most dangerous.

Surprisingly, Whitewash was everything it claimed to be.  It was very dark of course; after all, it was about killing someone with a snow plow.  And the darkness extended both ways, into the back story and forward into the woods.  It's a heavy plot, made more so by Bruce's constant introspection, his walking the edge between control and the life of an animal.  But the pleasantly surprising element here was the humor.  It's not easy to create a depressing plot and then to cleverly lighten the mood, but the director was able to pull it off.  The comedy never felt silly, it was always appropriate, always tongue-in-cheek, and always well balanced with the darker elements.  It was so often one of those situations of laugh because what else are you gonna do, the world's gone insane.  Credit to the entire crew for putting together complicated entertainment.

And maybe even more surprisingly, the film was a little Coen Brothers-esque.  You could say it mimicked Fargo just as tad, but is that such a bad thing?  As long as it doesn't rip the movie off completely I'm all for an amateur director using a proven film as a guideline for the feel of his new project.  It didn't copy it, didn't seem like a Coen Brothers wannabe film, but did exhibit a bit of the same dark humor, cold calculation, and callus decision-making.  Thomas Haden Church was key to making the film a quality homage and not a poor attempt.  He was invested in every scene, quietly captivating, and perhaps presented his strongest character since Sideways.  He held back in a lot of different ways when he could have taken the story over-the-top, something I always appreciate.  Let me enjoy the film through my own eyes, don't try to do too much, give us quality acting, and then let the story speak for itself.  Seems easy, but is anything but; Whitewash pulled it off.


Video - With an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, the video was very strong.  The scenes were all well-crafted, with a darkness that mirrored the plot and shooting that let the story tell itself.  The visuals were pretty cool; the snow, the woods, the plow.  And the picture quality held up throughout, with a nice balance of color and great clarity.

Audio - The DVD was done in Dolby Digital, with an option between Stereo and 5.1.  There is a choice of subtitles; English or English for the Hearing Impaired.  The audio was solid, with appropriately creepy music and good sound quality throughout.

Extras - The only extras on the disc are trailers: Whitewash, Wendy and Lucy, Terribly Happy, Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, We Need to Talk About Kevin.

Final Thoughts

RecommendedWhitewash isn't a must-see perhaps, but it's a film that pulls off an incredibly difficult challenge.  It's a cold, hard, funny, black comedy/drama with a touch of Coen feel that presents a story starkly and without embellishment.  It's entertaining while being heavy, solid & strong in ways that aren't easy, and shouldn't be under-appreciated.  The video quality is high, as is the audio, and there are a few extras on the DVD.  Overall, a good watch well made.

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

Monday, September 22, 2014

Movie Trailer - The Rewrite

Director: Marc Lawrence
Starring: Hugh Grant, Marisa Tomei, Allison Janney
Release: October 8th, 2014

This is pretty simple; did you like Music and Lyrics or not?  Do you melt every time Hugh Grant says something witty & British or not?  Me, I'm a sucker for the sap of these films.  And Marisa Tomei is still #1 on my List, even though she'll be 50 this winter.

Movie Review - Filth

Director: Jon S. Baird
Starring: James McAvoy, Jamie Bell, Eddie Marsan
Year: 2013

James McAvoy is having himself a nice couple of years.  After bursting on to the American movie scene with The Chronicles of Narnia (2005), The Last King of Scotland (2006), and Atonement (2007), he's been relatively quiet.  But recently this Scottish actor is back in business.  With roles in Trance, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, Filth, Days of Future Past, and Frankenstein, he's forcing himself back into the spotlight.  I've always considered McAvoy to be a good young actor, but not until Filth did he impress me as great.  It's a film that takes a special kind of character actor to pull off, a lead man who's both cool & detestable, and McAvoy delivers what might just be the best performance of his career.

There's only one thing on Bruce's mind and that's a promotion.  He might be a Scottish detective who loves drugs & sex, who rarely showers, and hates everyone he works with, but man is this up-for-grabs promotion important to him.  He's having some trouble at home and, in his mind, securing his police career will make everything right.  And so he goes on a mission, a terribly destructive mission to annihilate the chances of everyone else in the department in order to guarantee his own success.  It's relatively easy to ruin the life of a supposed friend; lie to them, blackmail them, sleep with their wife, convince them to photocopy a picture of their small penis.  Bruce will stop at nothing to get what he wants, even drugging himself into a stupor in an attempt to conceal the truths of his awful life and the horrors that he's run from for so long.

Never saw it coming, just had no idea.  The film started strong, I was interested, and then it never backed down.  It began with a very dark Snatch feel; some crime, think accents, clever direction, a cast of characters.  And then it turned into Trainspotting (same writer); drugs, hallucinations, a spiral downward that is hard to watch.  It was a shock of a film, a story that was both painful & hilarious, actors that gave every ounce of themselves despite a raw plot that didn't ask to be excused.  And through it all, James McAvoy was brilliant.  He delivered an amazing performance made all the more impressive for being set against a backdrop of insanity.  He was believable, pathetic, disgusting, funny; a hero and an anti-hero all rolled into one.  Filth will be a lot to handle for a lot of audiences based solely on the material.  But if you don't mind getting your hands dirty, you'll be treated to an excellent film that could possibly push your Top Twenty.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Movie Trailer - Automata

Director: Gabe Ibanez
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Dylan McDermott, Melanie Griffith
Release: October 10th, 2014

This may be the first time I've ever been excited about an Antonio Banderas movie.  Why is nobody talking about this?  It looks like a better version of I Robot, a Fifth Element/Blade Runner sci-fi epic that will blow our minds and leave us speechless.  I'm in.

Book Review - Number the Stars

Author: Lois Lowry
Year: 1989

Lois Lowry is also the author of the well-known novel The Giver.  The majority of American children read that at some point in school, and it's a book I've read half a dozen times, a story that changes with each year that you age.  Recently I reviewed the movie version of the novel; you can link to it above.  Ultimately, it was an OK version of a great plot, a vision I didn't share but one that didn't totally upset me.  But I digress.  Lowry's second most famous book is Number the Stars, another one directed at a younger audience.  It's historical fiction, not sci-fi, but it also takes a look at mankind and how we treat one another, how we live in an imperfect world, and how we can be brave in the face of injustice.

The year is 1943, the place is Denmark.  The Danish people, having very little in the way of military might, have surrendered to Nazi Germany.  Soldiers occupy every street corner in the capitol city of Copenhagen, and although there is no bloodshed there, the native people are suffering.  Rations are limited, curfews are enforced, and the pride of a nation has seemingly vanished overnight.  But there is a secret undercurrent of Resistance moving beneath the boot of the Nazis.  These brave young men & women fight to protect the Danish people, especially the Jewish families.  And so when the Germans move to round up the Jewish community of Copenhagen, they find them mostly gone.  People like Annemarie Johansen and her family have taken in their friends, hidden them, spirited them away, all under the watchful eye of occupation.  Though still young, Annemarie begins to understand the danger facing her best friend Ellen Rosen and to face the evil that terrifies her so much with a bravery that not even she knew she possessed.

I wish I had read this book when I was young.  I think it would have meant more to me then and I also think it deserves that respect.  It is written for a young audience, perhaps for those learning about the Holocaust for the first time.  Though sad, it's not gruesome, looking at the war through the eyes of a girl who saw hope & support, not death and terror.  It allows the reader to see the good that was done during this horrible time, the lives that were saved by the bravery of a few.  And so it comes off as a bit juvenile, but that's not a negative to be held against the author.  I still enjoyed The Giver more; the sci-fi element, the depth of meaning, the ending that adapts to the age of the reader.  But Number the Stars is a story that should be read & shared, an important time capsule that shouldn't be forgotten.  Although it is fiction & was written in the 80s, Lowry explains the true story behind her words at the end of the book.  I found this afterword to be the most moving part of the novel, so make sure to find a copy that includes this short description.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

Friday, September 19, 2014

Movie Trailer - Reclaim

Director: Alan White
Starring: John Cusack, Ryan Phillippe, Rachelle Lefevre
Release: September 19th, 2014

Has John Cusack ever met a script he didn't like?  He's a quality actor, a likeable guy, but I'm starting to think that he just got lucky stumbling across the great movies that have made his career.  Because, wow, has he been in his fair share of stinkers, this movie included.

Movie Review - Baby Take a Bow

Director: Harry Lachman
Starring: James Dunn, Shirley Temple, Claire Trevor
Year: 1934

I kinda watched this movie by mistake.  My wife wanted to revisit an old Shirley Temple film, a blast from her past, and I went along, vaguely remembering Heidi & Bright Eyes from my own youth, two of Temple's more famous films.  Well something went weird, a mix-up at the library or user error or something, but Baby Take a Bow was the movie we accidentally ended up with instead of something a bit more iconic.  Still, it's a Shirley Temple movie with a little bit of music and dancing, a melodrama from the 30s; how bad could it be?  And although that sounds like a set up for a let down, this isn't a negative review.  With such a dated film and with so many early day flaws to forgive, it's hard to pin down a rating.  But Baby Take a Bow is definitely not a classic that makes you forget the year it was made, nor is it a showcase for Temple's talent.

Eddie might be a convict, but he's not a bad guy.  He does his time, learns from his mistakes, and vows to become an honest man.  There beside him is the gal that never left, Kay, who believes her man really will go straight.  Eddie & Kay get married, have a little girl, and do stay out of trouble, even helping Eddie's buddy Larry, an ex-con on the same road to redemption.  But there's trouble brewing.  A detective name Welch has it out for the pair, won't be convinced that they're clean, and is ready to pounce at the first mistake.  And so when valuables go missing at Eddie's employer, he's the first suspect, a situation that's especially fishy when little Shirley starts playing hide-and-seek with the stolen treasure.  A caper of ridiculous proportions ensues, and who knows who will come out on top.

It's a silly plot, but one you gotta forgive a little, coming from 1934 when stories were a bit more simple.  There are villains, crooked cops, man servants; it's a melodrama just short of the train tracks.  It's entertaining at least, with some humor, some prat falls, a touch of song-and-dance.  But it's nothing like what I was hoping to see from a Shirley Temple movie.  She wasn't the star here, though she had a nice-sized part and shone in every scene.  There's no doubt about it, she was an amazing talent, even at six years old.  The movie as a whole was just OK, disappointing if you're looking for classic cinema, pleasant if you're looking for a relaxing 70 minutes.  Now I've got to find a better Temple film, something with the great old songs, something with the magic that made her famous.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Movie Trailer - The Remaining

Director: Casey La Scala
Starring: Johnny Pacar, Alexa PenaVega, Shaun Sipos
Release: September 2014

As silly as this looks, I think I want to see it.  I mean, end of the world, death angels, boulder-sized hail; what's not to like?  I like a good disaster movie, I like a bad horror movie, and this looks like a mix of both.

Sports - NFL Picks 2014, Week 3

Here are my NFL Week 3 Picks
(8-8 last week, 19-13 for the season)
Bye teams: none

TB @ Atl - The Falcons started the season off with a bang, beating NO in OT.  Then they got crushed by Cinci on the road.  They obviously prefer to play inside in Atlanta, and they'll be home in this one.  The Bucs lose no matter where they play, so I wouldn't pick them here.

SD @ Buf - With the Chargers beating the Seahawks last week, some people are ready to call them the best team in the league.  Have you not see Rivers play before?  He's up & down, and if I had to put money on it I'd say he'll be down this week vs a very hot Bills team.

Ten @ Cin - Speaking of hot teams, the Bengals are undefeated and looking undefeatable.  I don't think Dalton is a superstar, but who says you have to be when you're surrounded by talent?  I think Cinci will lose their fair share of games going forward, but not this week.

Bal @ Cle - If the Browns can beat the Saints at home can they do the same vs the Ravens?  Perhaps.  Baltimore surprised me last week, and if they cream the Brownies here I'll start believing in them.  But Cleveland is excited right now; don't tell the poor folks that it's fleeting.

GB @ Det - Aaron Rodgers just doesn't lose to the Lions.  I know GB has an awful defense and that Megatron will probably light 'em up.  But I wouldn't bet against Rodgers mounting a fourth quarter comeback in a very high-scoring game to win it all and crush Detroit's spirit.

Ind @ Jax - Don't give up on the Colts.  They opened their season vs the Broncos & the Eagles.  Not an easy schedule.  Yes they're 0-2, but that won't last long.  The Jaguars are 0-2 as well and can't score points.  That's not good, especially vs an angry Andre Luck & Co.

Oak @ NE - Charles Woodson said it himself about the Raiders; "We suck."  Yes, yes they do.  They have an old roster & a young QB; not the recipe for success.  The Pats have a few problems of their own, and picking against Oakland is always dangerous, but I have to go with NE.

Min @ NO - The Saints are another 0-2 team that shouldn't be losing hope.  They had two tough road games to open the season, made some mistakes, but should win this week.  The Vikings are minus Adrian Peterson, away from home, and have to face a determined Drew Brees.

Hou @ NYG - The Texans hard-hitting defense is back.  And, oh my, they get to go up against the G-men.  I think the over/under on how many times Eli will turn the ball over should be 7.  This could turn into a rout, and I don't think home field is much of an advantage right now.

Was @ Phi - Surprise surprise, RG3 is injured.  He'll be out for weeks; time to turn once again to Kirk Cousins.  Now, I like the guy and I think he's the better option.  But the stats show that he's a better replacement than he is a starter, and the Eagles are a team on a mission right now.

Dal @ STL - I actually feel bad for the Rams right now.  Jeff Fisher has an impossible job and St. Louis fans deserve a better team.  I think the Cowboys, as inconsistent as they are, come in and take care of business vs a team that can't score points or defend home turf.

SF @ Ari - The Niners are not coming to this game happy.  They got beat late by the Bears last week and should be looking for someone to take their anger out on.  The Cards might be winning this division, but it's early and they're not the best team; time will tell.

KC @ Mia - I said early that the Chiefs are an overrated team that won't make the playoffs.  So far that's proven to be true, as they are 0-2 and can't score.  Jamaal Charles is hurt, which doesn't help, though I might have picked them in a close one had this been a home game.

Den @ Sea - The four best offenses in the league: Broncos, Saints, Eagles, aaaaand the Seahawks.  That's a bit of a surprise; it's not just their defense that's great.  Yes they lost a tough game at San Diego, but they've proven they can beat Denver, will be playing mad, and should win.

Pit @ Car - I don't know what to do about the Panthers.  I don't like their team this year, they aren't playing particularly well, but they keep winning.  I guess I better start picking them.  At least this week anyway, vs a Steelers team that's nothing special and is playing on the road.

Chi @ NYJ - Cutler-to-Marshall anyone?  I lauded these guys in my fantasy post, drafted them for my team, and hope to keep enjoying their success.  As long as Cutler can stay upright, as long as Marshall can stay healthy, these guys are going to lead the Bears to wins.