Monthly Archives: September 2013

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Movie Trailer – Frozen

Category : Movie Trailer

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

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


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Movie Review – Anna Karenina

Category : Movie Review

Director: Joe Wright

Starring: Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Aaron Taylor-Johnson

Year: 2012

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

The story is a classic one, well known and well read.  Set in Russia in the late 1800s, the plot revolves around the beautiful aristocrat Anna and her family; husband Karenin, son Seryozha, brother Stiva.  While traveling to Moscow to convince her brother’s wife not to leave him for infidelity, Anna happens to meet Count Alexei Vronsky.  The two instantly feel an attraction, a connection that will eventually rock the Imperial social world.  Back in St. Petersburg, Anna and Alexei carry out their affair, under the watchful eyes on Karenin.  When the truth comes out, Anna is threatened with divorce and banishment from her son.  But her child is her world and she is torn between the love she has for Vronsky and the duty she has to her family.  The plot spirals downward toward a climax that is both beautiful and harsh, an end that epitomizes the tragic love story.
I don’t see how Anna Karenina can get a middle-of-the-road rating.  It’s one of those movies that you’ll either love or hate, so perhaps it’s always rated a 9 or a 4 and averages out somewhere in the middle.  So if I have to pick an extreme, I’ll go with the higher one.  It was an incredible film.  From the very beginning the style of the sets and the action was completely original, having a little bit of a Moulin Rouge feel but not so over-the-top or modern.  It was as if I was watching a play, a movie, and real life all at once.  It was visually stunning, with beautiful costumes, backdrops, scene changes, everything.  I didn’t want to look away or take a breath, I was completely immersed.  I can see how the style of the film wouldn’t sit well with everyone.  It was a little artistic and you had to use your imagination, especially at the beginning.  But for me the style brought the film up from what could have been a dull Russian melodrama and turned out to be anything but.
The story itself was good, but was definitely helped but the cool way in which it was shown to us.  I have never read the book, I know it’s long and arduous, but the movie never felt that way.  They did a great job keeping the speed high, the music going, and the characters interesting.  The side characters especially were very strong, well acted and a nice background for the main love story.  Because the story was so heavy we needed a few chuckles, or a few moments away, or something to give us a break, which was done very well.  And the acting matched the intensity of the story nicely.  Knightley was very strong as Anna.  She’s not my favorite actress, but she’s excellent in period pieces, and flourished under the same director that she worked with in Atonement.  Jude Law was superb as Karenin; stoic, regal, but not above emotion.  Everything fit together nicely, with no glaring holes, problems, or weaknesses.  The worst that can be said about it is that it was dramatic and artistic.  But since I don’t see those as negatives I found myself liking it very, very much.

My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰

 


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Movie Trailer – One Chance

Category : Movie Trailer

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

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


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DVD Review – Seattle Superstorm

Category : DVD Review

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

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

The Movie

The movie began somewhat believably.  As a modern day family, the main characters were easy to relate to.  Tom, a single dad, is engaged to Emma, a single mother.  Their families are coming together in Seattle to start their new life.  The problem is that their children, Wyatt & Chloe, don’t get along.  She’s a hippie conservationist while he’s a fuel-burning gear head.  They fight, they argue, and they’re driving a wedge between their parents.  It looks like the engagement might be off, when a horrific event brings them together.  While at the local market, an object falls from the sky and crashes through the roof, terrifying the family and bringing up fears of terrorist attacks.  Emma, a senior member of the armed forces, must rush off to gather intelligence, and Tom, a biologist, attempts to figure out what exactly happened.  Wyatt & Chloe are on their own and must work together to get home safe.
But nowhere in Seattle is exactly safe right now.  The object that crashed through the roof of the market was half of an unidentified projectile hurtling through the air near the city.  The government, seeing it as a threat, shot it down with a missile, splitting it into two parts: one hit the market and the other landed in the bay.  The piece in the water is now expelling a strange smoke, one that might have lethal properties and also seems to be affecting the weather over Seattle.  A giant storm begins to brew with no sign of calming down before it destroys the city, or perhaps the world.  Emma attempts to gather data and save the lives the people.  Tom tries to figure out the biological origin of the object and stop the deadly storm.  And Wyatt & Chloe battle for survival out in the elements.  When they all team up, with a little help from a retired Russian scientist, they begin to understand the catastrophic capabilities of the storm and what they must do to stop it.

It might not make sense, but Seattle Superstorm really is better and worse than Sharknado.  It wasn’t as goofy or unbelievable.  They seemed to really be trying to infuse some science into the plot, make it somewhat realistic or at least acceptable.  There were some wild conspiracy theories thrown out there in the film, but ultimately it became man vs wild, a battle between nature and man’s excellent brain.  So they at least tried.  But without the insanity & blood & Tara Reid, it just became another boring sci-fi movie, not an event of any kind, let alone something you’ll remember five minutes after you watch it.  That was the best thing that could be said about Sharknado; it might be the worse thing ever, but there’s no forgetting it and there’s no outdoing it.  So while this movie was much less ridiculous, it was also much less entertaining and memorable.
If the plot rose slightly above the standard drivel, the acting sure didn’t.  I’ve seen and enjoyed Esai Morales in a couple projects (NYPD Blue, Gun Hill Road), but wow was he bad in this one.  It was as if he wasn’t even trying.  I’m not sure exactly how much time he spent preparing for this role, but it couldn’t have been much more than fifteen minutes.  Ona Grauer was equally bad as his fiancee.  First, there was exactly zero chemistry between the two.  And second, she was as believable as a tree stump.  I assume she was cast because she is pretty, but she didn’t do anything for me.  And if the parents were bad, the kids were terrible.  MacKenzie Porter & Jared Abrahamson were like children in a beginners acting class; over-the-top, loud, and comically untalented.  None of the side characters brought anything, so they’re not even worth mentioning, and the whole film suffered from a general lack of talent.
I’m trying to think of a few good things to say and it’s difficult.  Even the storm itself wasn’t cool.  It seems like the worse thing the characters had to deal with was a windy day.  That and the eminent demise of the Space Needle.  I honestly didn’t want it to fall.  It was as if the movie didn’t deserve something as spectacular as a monument crashing down; it wasn’t earned.  So the storm wasn’t fun, the plot was odd, the acting was horrid.  The best that can be said for the movie was that it was quick.  It delivered a slightly acceptable story, gave it to us fast, steered clear of ridiculous twists, and ended with a whimper.  I wasn’t angry after having watched it, but I wasn’t satisfied either.  I wanted it to go to one extreme or the other, to be something worth mentioning, good or bad.  But it ended up as just another throw-away TV movie, nothing more nothing less.

The DVD

Video – The picture quality of the film was fine.  There were no glaring problems or editing flaws.  The storm actually looked cool, with a ton of lighting and dark clouds.  Not anything to get excited about, but with little else to point to the visual of the storm might have been the highlight of the movie.
Audio – The film was done in Dolby Digital.  You have an option for listening to the movie in either English 5.1 or English 2.0.  There are no options for the hearing impaired, nor are there any subtitle options for viewing the film in other languages.
Extras – The only extra on the DVD is a trailer for the film.

Final Thoughts

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

– Content
✰ ✰ ✰ – Video
✰ ✰ ✰ – Audio
– Extras
– Replay


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Movie Trailer – Mr. Nobody

Category : Movie Trailer

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

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


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DVD Review – Scenic Route

Category : DVD Review

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

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

The Movie

Mitchell and Carter used to be best friends.  Mitchell played guitar, Carter wrote novels, and life was good.  The pals were young & carefree, living their dreams and not conforming to what society wanted them to be.  That is, until Mitchell got his heart broken, losing the girl who he was crazy about.  Since then he has gone down a different path; marrying the first girl he dated after the breakup, having a kid, giving up on his music, buying a house, getting a job, and becoming the person that he never thought he would be.  He and Carter gradually drifted apart, as the two friends started living separate lives and Carter’s style no longer meshed with Mitchell’s new-found normalcy.
Well, Carter isn’t going to abandon his old friend without a fight.  He plans a road trip with Mitchell, driving him in his old Ford truck that’s also his home, crossing the desert in search of the bond that they used to have.  Things seem hopeless and nothing is getting resolved or even discussed, until suddenly the truck breaks down.  Literally in the middle of nowhere, the friends begin to talk.  They open up, share their feelings, and there’s a glimmer of hope that their old happiness can be renewed.  That is, until they start to panic.  No one is coming, the nights are freezing, hunger & thirst set in, and the pair begin to wonder how they will ever get out of this wasteland alive.  When secrets are revealed and the laws of society begin to crumple true natures emerge, and the desire to live might outweigh all bonds of friendship.

It really could have been much worse.  Neither of these actors had anything close to an Oscar-winning performance, but they both held their own in what must have been difficult roles to pull off.  I tried to keep that in mind while I was watching the film; this isn’t easy, they’ve got nothing but their own acting talent to lean on, and they’re baking in some remote California desert.  Josh Duhamel did a good job as Mitchell, the sell out who needs a disaster in order to remember what life really means.  Kinda cheesy, and that’s pretty much how it was played, but not awful.  Dan Fogler was actually slightly more believable as Carter, the bum who is at least trying to live the dream.  He pulled off being the funny asshole friend with a sensitive side who makes bad choices but who ultimately has good intentions.  Again, maybe not the most original characters, but both actors did a fine job with the roles that they were given.
The message of the movie may have been the best part.  I’m not gonna say that it was the most groundbreaking film or that after I watched it I began beating my brow and screaming, “Now I see!  Now I know!”  But the simple things it was trying to say came through pretty clearly: life is fleeting, dreams are important, friendships should be cherished, you’ve got to make yourself happy before your life can be a happy one.  Things like that; not amazing but genuine.  And that was what impressed be about the plot; for an unlikely scenario the story was pretty genuine.  The film had some really honest things to say about marriage, having children, being responsible, being a man.  None of those things is easy and the filmmakers & the actors succeeded in being realistic with how tough it is to “do the right thing”.  The characters were great representations of different paths that we all might take, depending on the choices we make early on in our lives.
Now, not everything was warm, fuzzy, and introspective.  The film had a very hard edge, a lot of violent discussions and violent outbursts as this miniature society began to crumble.  A few of the conversations between the friends became the high points of the film, while conversely some of the tiffs between them became the low.  Although both of these guys did a fine job, neither of them was strong enough to switch back & forth between drama, comedy, aggression, compassion.  Those heavy moments were when things got a little weak.  Again, I tried to remember what a hard job these roles and conditions must be, but it’s their job to make me forget that, not my job to give them a break.  And that pretty much sums it up; it was a good movie, not a great one, and I’d have to give it a lot of slack if I were to recommend it.  So I guess it’s up to how forgiving you’re feeling; if you are willing to give it the benefit of the doubt then you’ll probably enjoy it.  If you’re planning on being tough, than this isn’t a film that will stand up to a ton of scrutiny.

The DVD

Video – With an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, the video was a good quality.  The desert set lent itself to some pretty nice shots, and the picture was crisp & clear.  The film was shot using an Arri Alexa and a Red Epic camera, with Zeiss Super Speed and Angenieux Optimo Lenses.
Audio – The film was done in Dolby Digital, with your choice of either English 5.1 or English 2.0.  There were no major glitches or unbalanced mixing; the sound quality was fine.
Extras – There are not many extras to choose from.  You can turn on audio commentary with the Goetz Brothers and Josh Duhamel, and there is a trailer for the film.

Final Thoughts

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

✰ ✰ ✰ – Content
✰ ✰ ✰ – Video
✰ ✰ ✰ – Audio
✰ ✰ – Extras
✰ ✰ – Replay


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Movie Trailer – Big Sur

Category : Movie Trailer

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

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


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Sports – 2013 NFL Picks, Week 4

Category : Sports

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

SF @ STLThere has got to come a week in which the Niners get back on track, and that time could be now.  Neither of these teams are scoring or stopping other teams from scoring, but San Fran has much higher potential and could turn in on this week vs a mediocre Rams team.
Bal @ Buf – I hesitate in picking too many away teams to win ballgames, but here’s one I think will go that way.  The Ravens played bad vs Den, OK vs Cle, and good vs Hou.  So perhaps they’re in for a great week at Buffalo, facing a team that is fun to watch but not special.
Cin @ Cle – It would be very much like the Bengals to beat the Packers and then lose to the Browns.  Andy Dalton and the offense need to step up their level of play to match their defense, as Cleveland’s D is no joke.  This could be a messy game that ends in a last minute FG.
Chi @ Det – The Lions have been putting up points this year, but surprisingly not as many as the Bears.  Cutler has been doing his gunslinger thing, while the defense has been scoring too.  I’d pick the home team here, but I think Chicago has what it takes to win this game.
Sea @ Hou – The Seahawks have the best defense in football, allowing less than 10 points per game.  The Texans aren’t pushovers, but they’re not playing to their potential yet.  Look for a brutal game, close until the very end, with the Hawks winning it at the buzzer.
Ind @ Jax – It’s hard to judge the Colts, they seem to be a bit up & down.  But it’s easy to judge the Jaguars; they’re awful.  They score less than 10 points per game and allow triple that.  Not good, and not the way to win even one game.  1st overall pick, here we come.
NYG @ KC – No other team is even close to allowing the points per game that the G-men do at 40, as they’re clearly a team that can do no right.  The Chiefs on the other hand are 3-0 and tied for the division lead with Denver.  This ought to be a very lopsided victory.
Pit @ Min – Throw home field out the window; this game is being played in London.  So with no advantage, which team is better?  The Vikings score double the points the Steelers score, and Adrian Peterson might have a nice game against a D that is no longer scary.
Ari @ TB – There’s a new QB in Tampa.  Josh Freeman is benched and Mike Glennon is the starter.  I think the team immediately responds to this fresh start.  Couple that with the Cardinals being winless on the road and I think the Bucs get their first win of the season.
NYJ @ Ten – These teams are almost identical.  Both 2-1, both have allowed and scored between 50 & 60 points, both have young athletic QBs.  But the key difference is that Jake Locker has a little experience and is playing at home.  That should be enough for a Titans win.
Phi @ Den – Again I’ll knock on wood just in case, but this should be a no brainer.  The Broncos are undefeated, playing at home, and have score a ridiculous 127 so far this year.  The Eagles can score too, but they’re not consistent, they’re on the road, and they turn the ball over.
Was @ Oak – I guess I was a year too soon in being down on RG3.  He looks awful and his defense looks even worse.  The Raiders aren’t great either, but they showed potential against the Broncos.  Will Terrell Pryor end up having a better year than Robert Griffin?
Dal @ SD – If you asked who was the better team right now I think a lot of people would say the Chargers.  But the Cowboys have a better record, score more, and allow less points.  The only problem is they’re on the road.  Lets see if the Boys can win a tough game when it matters.
NE @ Atl – This just in; the Patriots defense doesn’t let people score.  They only allow 11 points per game.  Now, Brady & Co. aren’t scoring as much as they used to, but with Gronk returning and the young WRs finally stepping up, they’re gonna start putting up some points.
Mia @ NO – Battle of the undefeateds.  The Dolphins are getting the job done in whatever manner they can and will be a tough matchup from here on out.  But the Saints finally have a good defense.  Pair that with their stellar offense and you have a team that goes deep into the playoffs.

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Movie Trailer – Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

Category : Movie Trailer

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

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


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Movie Review – Prisoners

Category : Movie Review

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

In June, when I put the trailer for this film up on my blog, my first reaction was “whoa”.  It looked heavy, intense, and perhaps too realistic.  I was reluctant to see it because I wasn’t sure how I could keep from putting myself into the story and becoming too involved.  I have kids, and I didn’t know if I could enjoy a movie about this topic, even if it was well done.  But I figured I should give it a shot.  After all, Jackman and Gyllenhaal are both good actors, and their co-stars (Paul Dano, Viola Davis, Terrance Howard, Melissa Leo, Maria Bello) are all solid as well.  I had never seen a movie by director Denis Villeneuve, but even the trailer showed a simple style and a film that was going to be highly reliant on emotion & acting, not amazing cinematography and artistic directing.  Anyway, I gave it a shot, despite my reservations, and I’m very glad I did.
The story follows the Dover and Birch families of Pennsylvania; your average middle-class families, each with an older child and a younger girl.  On Thanksgiving the two daughters, Anna and Joy, go missing while walking from one house to the other.  The only clue to their disappearance is an old RV that had been parked nearby and that is now gone.  And when Detective Loki finds the RV and arrests the man inside it, the families are sure that the police have got their man and that they will get their children back.  But when no evidence is found and the suspect Alex Jones turns out to be a simple young man, Loki has no choice but to release him and start the search again.  But Anna’s father has no intention of letting Alex escape, as he is convinced that this man knows where his daughter is.  As Loki continues to investigate, Dover takes matters into his own hands, setting off a string of events that will ultimately lead to an unexpected climax.

The content of the film was as hard to take as I imagined it would be.  It was difficult not to set my own family in a similar situation; how would I feel, what would I do.  And the raw realism of all involved was brutal; the loss of their children, the hopelessness of being so helpless, the intensity of the anger Dover feels toward Jones, the man he is certain holds the key to his daughter’s life.  I was emotionally invested and at the film’s mercy from the very beginning.  Now, I can see how if you don’t have a family, if you can keep at a distance from the story, how those strong dramatic pulls wouldn’t have as much effect on you.  And lacking that, perhaps the plot seems recycled, a kidnapping or serial killer film you’ve seen before.  Even I can admit that I’ve seen this done similarly (Zodiac) and done better (Se7en).  But for me the hook was there and therefor I let myself get swept away, possibly forgiving some minor flaws.
As far as the acting goes, there were some highs and there were some lows.  Hugh Jackman was quite good as the father who will do anything but doesn’t quite know what to do.  He was believable, controlled at times, and explosive when it was called for.  Jake Gyllenhaal was also pretty solid as the young cop who perhaps has demons and is perhaps too invested in the fate of these girls.  There was a chance there for the movie to go full Hollywood, to give us more of Detective Loki’s back story, but they avoided that pitfall and left most of his character up to our imagination.  And for the most part, that was done very well, letting the audience figure things out without having it spelled out for us.  That is, until the end, when unfortunately the “bad guy” has a badly acted monologue telling us why they do what they do.  That quickly brought the movie down a notch and hurt the realism that was working so well up until that point.  But even with a mediocre ending, I found the film to be heart-pounding, believable, upsetting, well-acted, and an overall success.

My rating: ✰ ✰ ✰ ✰