Monthly Archives: July 2015

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Movie Trailer – 10,000 Saints

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: Shari Springer Berman, Robert Pulcini

Starring: Asa Butterfield, Hailee Steinfeld, Ethan Hawke

Release: August 14th, 2015

I guess it’s a little bit early, but I just don’t think that Asa Butterfield is a good actor.  Neither Hugo nor Ender’s Game were very good, and I just don’t see a lot of talent there apart from the impression he made as a kid.  Same thing goes for Hailee Steinfeld, who hasn’t done anything great sine True Grit.  The film as a whole looks heavy-handed and I don’t think I’ll be making it a priority.


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DVD Review – Big in Japan

Category : DVD Review

Director: John Jeffcoat

Starring: Phillip Peterson, Sean Lowry, David Drury

Year: 2014

John Jeffcoat’s first (and only) feature-length film was 2006’s Outsourced, a comedy about a manager who moves to India to supervise a call center.  The movie was a success, and apparently warranted a spinoff TV series by the same name, although it would only last one season.  Afterwards, Jeffcoat went to work for MTV, shooting behind-the-scenes footage of Seattle bands.  While there, he met the band Tennis Pro, a trio of musicians who wanted a documentary team to accompany them overseas where they hoped to gain an audience for their music.  Too bad there was no money for the trip, no script for the movie, and no idea how to get things rolling.  But after a successful Kickstarter campaign, the band & crew headed to Tokyo, created a semi-fictional docu-drama, and lived their dream of becoming big in Japan.

The Movie

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Phil is an unemployed family man who isn’t happy being a 9 to 5 guy.  David is a professional gambler who is down on his luck.  Sean is a hairstylist who is tired of his clients.  Together, they are Tennis Pro, a pop/rock band from Seattle that has been struggling to find an audience since its inception and that hasn’t created new music in years.  When they meet Alex, a crazy ex-rocker, he proposes a daring plan; take the act to Tokyo, play some shows, build a fan base, and come home to America as heroes.  Phil’s wife isn’t thrilled, David loses all the possible seed money, and Sean’s girlfriend threatens to cut off his buddies’ balls if he cheats on her with a Japanese girl.  But Tennis Pro, after many false starts, is finally on the road.

Or, more specifically, on the plane, and where they’re headed is a place they’ve never been, an experience they aren’t at all prepared for.  Alex, acting as their manager, doesn’t seem to know exactly what he’s doing, the venues that the band is playing in are tiny, the hotels that they’re staying in are even smaller, the food is weird, their luggage is lost, no one attends their shows, and this trip to Tokyo seems like a giant disaster.  But the guys believe in their music, and slowly the city begins to feel like a second home.  Phil makes friends with a free spirit named Mans, David begins what could be a promising relationship with a local girl, and Sean tries his best to curtail his despise for Alex.  The trio are so close to finding fans, and when an earthquake hits the city, they may be the only band who doesn’t cut & run, setting them up for the success they have always dreamed of.

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What an odd, odd story behind a movie, let alone the story of the movie, which is equally as strange.  I had to look all the information up after watching the film, because I wasn’t quite sure what I was seeing; actors or musicians, scenes or concerts, mockumentary or documentary, fiction or fact.  Turns out, it’s all a bit of both, and, honestly, the movie would have been excellent either way.  What we have here is a real band performing at real shows as they really try to get an audience to support their music.  These aren’t actors, and even the side-characters are played by the crew, so Big in Japan becomes a movie that’s half documentary.  But only half, because the story is fictionalized, the plot is crafted, and this isn’t real life.  Except, it kinda is.  Confused yet?  Well, thankfully, it doesn’t matter, because the film is great however you look at it, entertaining from every angle.

First, the music is incredible, a mix of rock & pop that Tennis Pro pounds out with equal parts true talent and pure charisma.  Their songs are imaginative, classic, funny, beat-driven, and always cool, creating a real-life soundtrack that those of us who don’t live on the west coast are lucky to have heard as live as we could get it.  Secondly, the film is filled with hilarious action and lovable characters, with a pace that keeps audiences interested.  It’s the antithesis in many ways of films like God Help the Girl, which is much more fanciful, romantic, studio, and ultimately unbelievable.  Big in Japan is a film that always feels real, adult, physical, and likeable, mirroring a band that exhibits those same characteristics.  It’s a quirky way to make a movie, but perfect for what the band was intending, and I hope they win more hearts than mine, becoming big not only in Tokyo, but everywhere.

The DVD

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Video – Presented in widescreen color format, and without any other details to share, the video quality of Big in Japan takes a backseat to, well, everything else.  It’s a very personal visual, following the characters closely and intimately, but without the high picture quality that we’ve come to feel entitled to.  The shot selection of the film is much stronger than the camera clarity, but that fact only adds to the documentary feel and the realism of what we are seeing.

Audio – The only audio option on the DVD is the ability to turn English SDH on or off, and no other audio details are available.  The sound quality of the film is the same as the video; poor, but understandably so, and even presented in a way that aids the goal of the movie, which is to give audiences an all-access pass to Tennis Pro and the tour that launched their career.

Extras – There are a large number of excellent extras on this disc.  The film can be viewed with commentary in two forms: either from the band (Phil Peterson, Sean Lowry, David Drury) or from the director/crew (John Jeffcoat, Ryan McMackin).  There is a behind-the scenes segment that runs for two minutes and features a song from the band laid under BTS footage.  A seven-minute interview section can be viewed, with discussion about the film from the director and cast.  There are five trailers available: Big in Japan, Wetlands, Cupcakes, Living is Easy, A Wolf at the Door.  And there are five music videos as well: Fishin’, Kimberly, Mix Tape, Rock Over Tokyo, Shopping Day.

Final Thoughts

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Highly RecommendedBig in Japan is more than a movie or even a true story.  It’s the documentation and entertaining presentation of a journey that changed the fate of a band, the humble concert tour that will seem so familiar to so many, and hopefully inspire a few.  It’s half-realism, half-fantasy, but all-encompassing in its honest portrayal of the American rock dream.  Tennis Pro is a talented, exciting band, but beyond that they’re also an example of the struggle to succeed and to be heard; something we can all understand, which makes them all the more lovable.  The video and audio qualities of the DVD won’t impress, but they’re adequate for the format, and the extras on the disc make up for a lot.  Indie, quirky, off-beat, musical, very very strange; these words might all describe parts of both Big in Japan and Tennis Pro, but you’ve got to watch them work to understand their work, and words will not suffice.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Content

☆ ☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Extras

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Replay

 

 


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Movie Trailer – I Am Chris Farley

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: Brent Hodge, Derik Murray

Starring: Chris Farley, David Spade, Adam Sandler

Release: July 2015

Quite sad, and quite a look back on the life of one of America’s greatest comedians.  Farley’s characters on SNL remain some of the funniest to ever air, and his movies were a ridiculously fun time.  This documentary must have been very painful to make for the interviewees, and I’m interested to see their take on Farley, his talent, and what he meant to each of them.


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Sports – 2015 NFL Predictions

Category : Sports

The 2015 NFL season is almost upon us, with Free Agency and the Draft complete, Training Camps beginning, and the Regular Season right around the corner.  It’s time for Olie’s Too Early To Tell Season Predictions!  Here’s to another great year!

AFC Division Winners

afcmiadolphins

afcpitsteelers

afcindcolts

afcdenbroncos

NFC Division Winners

nfcnygiants

nfcgbpackers

 nfcnosaints

nfcseaseahawks

AFC Wild Cards

nepatriotscinbengals

NFC Wild Cards

dalcowboysaricardinals

Super Bowl

indcoltsgbpackers

Champions

gbpackers


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Movie Trailer – Phoenix

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: Christian Petzold

Starring: Nina Hoss, Ronald Zehrfeld, Nina Kunzendorf

Release: July 2015

I saw and enjoyed Barbara, which was directed by Petzold and also starred Hoss & Zehrfeld as the two main characters.  That film was very subtle, very understated, and required great acting to create a very certain mood.  This time around, the action looks a little more thrilling, the plot a bit more soap opera, and the drama much more intense.  I’m willing to take a chance of a movie whose trailer didn’t blow me away, especially with a team like this and some good early buzz.


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DVD Review – The Luzhin Defence

Category : DVD Review

Director: Marleen Gorris

Starring: John Turturro, Emily Watson, Geraldine James

Year: 2000

In 1930, Vladimir Nabokov wrote the novel entitled The Luzhin Defense, a book that would be translated into English in 1964 under the title The Defense, and later would be adapted into a screenplay for this 2000 film.  Nabokov is best known for Lolita, written in English in 1955, and made into two films: one in 1962 and the other in 1997.  But while Lolita represents his middle period of work, The Luzhin Defence represents the beginning of his career, when this trilingual artist was still writing in Russian and perfecting his craft.  This film also represents Nabokov’s passion for chess.  He was the composer of many chess problems, or puzzles using chess pieces to obtain a set goal.  Nabokov saw chess as an art form, a challenging endeavor that forces both inventiveness and mental exercise.  The Luzhin Defence is a cinematic example of Nabokov’s dark dramatics combined with his love for the game of chess.

The Movie

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The troubled main character of this film is Aleksandr Ivanovich Luzhin, nicknamed Sascha.  As a boy, Luzhin was mistreated and mishandled by his parents; sent to a prestigious Russian school that typically did not take emigres and denied his desire to play chess after it was decided that his poor health was connected to his new-found obsession.  Eventually, and during the complete collapse of his parents’ marriage, Luzhin would be allowed to follow his passion, but specifically under the tutelage of his former teacher, Leo Valentinov.  The pair would begin a European tour, honing Luzhin’s chess skills, proving his ability, but separating him from the family he once knew.  Growing up with becoming a Grandmaster as his only goal, Luzhin would be denied the ability to become a balanced societal member, changing into an unstable competitor whose life revolves solely around a game.

Many years have passed, Luzhin is a grown man, and he travels the world from tournament to tournament, both feeding his obsession and chasing the dream of being the best chess player in the entire world.  At an Italian resort awaiting his next test, he meets the beautiful Natalia Katkov and his life changes forever.  He is smitten with the young aristocrat immediately, asking her to marry him mere hours after they meet.  She, along with her mother, is on holiday and perhaps on the lookout for a fine suitor.  But Luzhin is not what she had in mind, though she can’t help but be intrigued by his oddity and his genius.  As the tournament commences and Valentinov reenters the picture, Luzhin must begin the most difficult challenge of his life, not on the chess board, but within his own mind, with the loss of reality at stake and love the ultimate prize.

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This film feels 150 years old, not 15, but somehow a talented cast & crew turn that into a good thing.  The action is set in the 20s, with Luzhin’s boyhood scenes depicted many years before.  And so the period piece element is present, but that’s not what makes this film seem so old.  Had you come into it blindly, it would feel like the movie was shot decades ago, so excellently was the effect pulled off.  The dress, the sets, the mannerisms, the accents, the dialogue; it was a modern Casablanca placed years before, filmed years after, but succeeding in producing a classic cinema feel that only needed a signature song to complete the illusion.  But somehow the movie never seemed dated or forced, always felt very proud of its place in time, and gracefully slid across 1920s Italy while actually being filmed in Budapest as we all prepared for Y2K.

Give credit to the actors for pulling off the charade, but also to the author, screenwriter, and director for creating such excellent & timeless characters.  Luzhin was an insane protagonist who we quickly began to understand and empathize with, Turturro playing him perfectly and with finesse.  Emily Watson as Natalia, a part that never receives a name in the Nabokov novel, was both sturdy and realistic, allowing audiences to fall in love with her quirky partner just as she did.  But the character I loved/hated the most was that of Leo Valentinov, played by Stuart Wilson, the consummate villain, whether in The Mask of Zorro or No Escape.  He was brilliantly evil, a terrible human, an antagonist for the ages.  And combined, each actor brought a piece to the film that worked, crafting something smooth that felt classic but brought modern quality.  If perhaps the subject matter doesn’t arouse much excitement, and if the last 30 minutes bring down what was building up to be something grand, the film, taken as a whole, is still an impressive & surprising cinematic feat.

The DVD

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Video – With an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, the video is surprisingly lacking in texture & clarity.  The film feels decades older than it actually is, both in presentation and appearance, concerning itself less with visual perfection and more with a classic approach. The picture quality is fair, but unspectacular, much less crisp & beautiful than the year this film was made should dictate.

Audio – The DVD is presented in English 5.1 Dolby Digital, with no other language or subtitle options.  Actually, this DVD has no menu, and so no features can be changed in that way.  The sound quality of the film is as lackluster as the video, but, again, this only adds to the classic feel that the film attempts to convey, immersing us in the period completely.

Extras – There are no extras on the disc, as the disc has no menu.

Final Thoughts

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RecommendedThe Luzhin Defence is an oddity of a movie in many ways.  First, the story is about an extremely eccentric character created by a rarely talented man.  This combination of unique genius creates a very intricate dynamic that feels off-putting at first, at least until you begin to care for Luzhin and root for him to succeed.  Secondly, the film seems so old, so dated, and the entire team works hard to pull off a certain classic vibe.  They succeed, which is odd in itself, transporting audiences back in time to the life of an extremely unusual man.  This makes for a surprisingly entertaining experience, but one that is certainly atypical.  With good acting & a unique plot, the film works, but it always feels like an experiment that could go wrong.  The ending does feel a little out of place, but by then the hope is that audiences will be hooked, and I was, partially, enjoying the characters enough to want to know what happens to them.  The video and sound make the story seem so ancient, and the lack of a menu of any sort on the DVD creates a sense of time out of place.  This is a movie made for aficionados, not for the average audience member, but there are pieces here that deserve applause, even if the entire package isn’t perfect.

☆ ☆ ☆ – Content

☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ – Extras

☆ ☆ ☆ – Replay

 

 


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Movie Trailer – Sicario

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Starring: Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin

Release: September 18th, 2015

After Prisoners and Enemy, I can only imagine how excellent this film will be with Villeneuve at the helm.  And with this cast?  Fagettabowdid.  Emily Blunt is on fire, and if her role is more Edge of Tomorrow than Into the Woods, all the better.  Benicio Del Toro seems made for this role, and Josh Brolin knows exactly what to do in a movie like this.  I see a Best Actress nomination coming Blunt’s way.


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Book Review – The Little Prince

Category : Book Review

Author: Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Year: 1943

The Little Prince is the 3rd-most translated book in the world, having been written in more than 250 languages.  It was also voted the best book of the 20th century in France.  And it is 4th on the list of the best-selling books of all-time, right behind A Tale Of Two Cities, The Lord of the Rings, and The Hobbit.  Pretty impressive stuff, especially for what amounts to a children’s novella.  Of course, there is more behind the story than what meets the eye, as it is a metaphorical recounting of the author’s youthful observations combined with a desert plane crash he fell victim to in 1935.  Each character, each moment, each chapter, and every piece of the story is laden with meaning, both personal and universal, allowing readers to immerse themselves in a tale that has so much to say.

The narrator of the book begins by telling audiences about the inadequacies of adults, mainly their inability to use their imaginations, their insistence that the world be taken seriously, and their belief that responsible people should be occupied solely with matters of consequence.  In his adult years, the narrator would become a pilot, and eventually crash in the Sahara desert.  There he would meet a small boy, a prince from another planet, a child of questions who has left his home and is exploring the universe.  He has been to many planets, each more peculiar than the last, all inhabited by close-minded adults who don’t understand the true beauty of life.  The narrator and the little prince discuss Earth, it’s possibilities, and the young boy’s homeward journey.

While the book has a lot to say in a short amount of time, no central moral or theme appears.  The author is speaking on youth, on the loss of dreams, of love bolstering the purpose of our lives, and of so many other tiny concepts that each page could be said to be its own world.  And although I appreciated the ability to write such tiny messages, I grew very tired of hearing them.  There were too many points, too much background, and not enough coherence for me to fully jump on board.  A longer book would have needed to have many ideas, but such a short one has need of only a small amount.  The book became overwhelming, not magical, with so many metaphors that I never had time to think one through before the next was being presented.  In a poem, in a 30 page sketch book, I think I could have loved this very imaginative story.  But as a novella, I have no idea why it is so globally loved.

My rating: ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Trailer – Sleeping with Other People

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: Leslye Headland

Starring: Jason Sudeikis, Alison Brie, Amanda Peet

Release: September 11th, 2015

This is just a rom/com masquerading as something else.  It’s also one of those silly friends with benefits movies, but without the benefits.  It’ll still end the same, and although it might be raunchy along the way, it’ll deal more with sap then with actual feeling, leaving it fakely funny, dishonestly dramatic, and ultimately unwatchable.


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Movie Review – The Secret World of Arrietty

Category : Movie Review

Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi

Starring: Bridgit Mendler, David Henrie, Carol Burnett

Year: 2010

My first experience with Studio Ghibli was watching Princess Mononoke.  I had never seen Japanese animation before and was unprepared for the style, the action, and the dubbing.  It was an art form that I wouldn’t appreciate until years later, even though the studio was becoming famous worldwide.  Mononoke, Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, Ponyo, Arrietty, The Wind Rises, When Marnie Was There; these are some of the most widely-known and successful animated movies of all-time, though Americans continue to prefer Disney, Pixar, and other local animation studies.  But the power of Ghibli can’t be denied, as their films are an artistic medium all on their own and continue to amaze us with wonderful stories brought to life with dazzling talent.

Based on The Borrowers, a novel written in 1952 by Mary Norton, Arrietty concerns itself with a world beneath our notice.  Young Shawn, a boy with a weak heart, moves into the country to await an operation.  While there, he encounters a girl the size of his thumb whose name is Arrietty.  She lives with her mother & father under the floor of the human house, borrowing objects from the world above to furnish their house & survive.  They are a proud family, never intending the humans any harm and attempting never to be noticed.  But Shawn’s curiosity coupled with Arrietty’s adventurous streak creates a situation that is dangerous to both, forcing the tiny beings to move away and threatening a unique friendship that was just blossoming into something special.

I remember the book and love the way this film presented it.  It’s odd that the English novel was transformed into Japanese animation and then dubbed by American actors, but the story itself is simple enough that nothing is really lost in translation.  Studio Ghibli has perfected the visuals of their style, creating color & background that are unrivaled, with characters presenting the action across a stunning set.  And the music was tremendous, creating a mood that sweeps audiences away and allows them to enter Arrietty’s world without a moment’s hesitation.  The film does without the humor and roller-coaster of emotions that American animation use as staples, developing a more even feel with an intensity of detail in each scene that is more adult and less childish than perhaps we’re used to.  But given the chance, this genre will impress you with its professionalism, its dedication, and its beauty, aspects that are too easily & too often set aside when it comes to children’s movies.  Arrietty is art for everyone, and should be appreciated as such.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆