Monthly Archives: September 2015

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Movie Trailer – The Revenant #2

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson

Release: January 2016

If this isn’t one of the 10 best movies of the last 10 years I’ll eat my hat, or whatever gross hat someone in this movie wore during filming, whichever I can find first.  To say that this film is an Oscar Alert is an understatement; it has just become the Best Picture frontrunner.  With a director like Inarritu (21 Grams, Babel, Birdman) and a cast like this (DiCaprio, Hardy, Gleeson) there is nothing this film can’t be, including amazing beyond belief.  I’m sure I’m setting my expectations too high, but by the time I see it in December or January I’ll have calmed down enough to appreciate it for whatever is happens to be.


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DVD Review – Where Hope Grows

Category : DVD Review

Director: Chris Dowling

Starring: Kristoffer Polaha, David DeSanctis, McKaley Miller

Year: 2014

There’s a fine line between ‘Hallmark’ and ‘Lifetime’ when it comes to calling a movie cheesy.  Hallmark Channel originals are sappy beyond belief, full of heartwarming melodrama, focused on the family and its coming together to solve life’s problems.  So calling a film ‘Hallmark’ doesn’t necessarily mean it’s terrible, it’s just a warning that you should probably watch it with your mom and be prepared for her to cry.  Banner 4th of July was both a Hallmark original and a complete Hallmark-ian cheese ball; watch it if you believe that country music can save the soul.  Now, Lifetime movies have a little more of an edge, deal with grittier issues, still focus on love conquering all, but are willing to get a little darker before light is shed on whatever the issue happens to be.  The Song is a Lifetime-esque film, with a troubling premise, a religious backdrop, and family rising up when its support is needed most.  Where Hope Grows is a bit more Lifetime than it is Hallmark, delivering a cheesy message but in a way that can be uncomfortably realistic at times, ultimately becoming a film that you can’t help but like.

The Movie

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Calvin Campbell is a washed up baseball player who can’t seem to move past his unrealized dreams.  He was the pride of his Kentucky town, an All-American in high school, set records, hit home runs, and seemed poised for a great professional career.  But his time in the big leagues didn’t go as planned, he couldn’t perform under pressure, and his brief utopia disappeared.  Now, Calvin might be a local celebrity, but he’s also a bit of a joke, the guy who gets free drinks but really isn’t much of anything to aspire to.  And speaking of drinks, Calvin too often finds himself guzzling his problems away, driving home drunk, and missing planned events with his teenage daughter Katie.  She’s becoming a woman, dating the wrong guys, staying away from home more often, and giving up on a father who just isn’t happy enough to be the kind of role model she needs.

And then a hero comes along, or so the song says, and this hero’s name is Produce.  Well, that’s actually his job title, as this young man who works at the local grocery store is an expert when it comes to fruits & vegetables.  He has Down Syndrome, knows his customers by heart, gives out hugs to any who walk by, and aspires to someday be the Employee of the Month.  Calvin befriends Produce at exactly the right time, a time when his life is going off the rails.  Produce becomes a representation of all that is good, all that is kind, and a person who knows that love is the most important gift you can give.  So as Calvin spirals downward, losing touch with Katie, drinking far too often, losing job opportunities, and holding too tightly to those lost dreams of years ago, Produce finds a place as his best friend, his conscience, and the person who loves him no matter what.

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Of course it’s a little sappy; a man meets a kid with DS, they become unlikely friends, help each other through tough times, grow emotionally, learn to take life as it comes.  It’s a cheesy premise, and worthy of the ‘Lifetime’ label, but that doesn’t make it bad.  In fact, Where Hope Grows is a film that you’d have to be heartless to hate.  The emotions are heavy, real, and honest, if a little bit piled on, making this film heartbreaking & heartwarming in a way that can’t be denied.  There are lessons to learn, feels to feel, moments to cherish; cheap tricks that you fall for regardless.  I’d challenge anyone to watch this without rooting for Produce, without hoping that it would all come out right in the end, without wishing that everyone could seen the world through the eyes of this special young man.  Am I getting sappy in my old age?  Perhaps.  But I would bet that this imperfect film will affect many others the exact same way.

That said, you won’t be seeing this movie come Oscar time, and perhaps you wouldn’t even remember it a year after watching it.  There’s not a wow factor here, just solid emotional pulls that work on a surface level.  There’s a Christian element that’s subtly thrown in; not surprising since the director wrote The Remaining and Alan Powell from The Song makes an appearance.  So does Winnie from The Wonder Years, oddly enough, delivering perhaps the weakest performance of the film, though thankfully it’s small.  The rest of the cast pull of what is asked of them, no one member producing something remarkable, but all coming together to create strong-enough characters.  The villains were perhaps the most impressive, extremely hateable men that you love to root against.  Taken as a whole, Where Hope Grows is a feel-good film, not one that will amaze, but something that surprises with its ability to reach that empathetic side you perhaps didn’t know you had.

The DVD

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Video – With an aspect ratio of 2.40:1 (16×9 Widescreen), the video quality is good enough to be slightly better than made-for-TV films, without reaching the precision of your standard Hollywood hit.  There’s a nice use of color here, without a phenomenal clarity, making a movie that is much more about watching the characters interact than it is watching the scenes shot.  The picture quality is fine, unimpressive, and takes a backseat to the dialogue, but is also clear & balanced enough not to be a distraction.

Audio – The DVD was done in English 5.1 Dolby Digital, with an option for English or Spanish subtitles.  There are no other language or audio choices.  The sound quality of the film was acceptably unimportant, and honestly I can’t remember a single song or background piece, exemplifying the relative lack of focus on the music of the film.  The dialogue was important, and that came across clearly , with conversations taking up a large bulk of the film.

Extras – There are many extras on the disc, including Audio Commentary with Write/Director Chris Dowling and David DeSanctis “Produce”.  Casting David DeSanctis is a two-minute segment about choosing David for the role and the energy he brought to the character.  Stop the R-Word is a one-minute long awareness-raising piece highlighting the need to eliminate the word “retard” from out collective vocabularies.  Deleted Scenes, eight choices: Calvin’s Interview, Calvin and Produce’s Day at the Park, Katie Finds Calvin, Daddy-Daughter Day, Milton and Susan’s Confrontation, Baseball Toss, Calvin and Amy, Milton Confronts Frank, or play all.  And lastly, Also from Lionsgate, five trailers: Love & Mercy, Words and Pictures, Draft Day, Grace Unplugged, Mr. Holmes.

Final Thoughts

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RecommendedWhere Hope Grows was originally titled Produce, which is a much less cheesy choice, and perhaps highlights the main character in a way that’s profoundly important.  This film is about Calvin and his struggles, but it’s also about seeing a young man with intellectual disabilities as someone who has emotional abilities far outreaching those of the people around him.  There are morals here, point to be made, facts to accept, tears to be shed perhaps, but all in the name of growth, something that not every film can offer.  As a side note, this movie received five out of five doves from the Dove Foundation, which is a non-profit organization promoting family-friendly films.  Had I known that, I would have been even more skeptical coming in than I already was.  But perhaps the result would have been the same; a surprisingly touching film that gets you down deep even while not blowing you away with its quality.  The video & audio were fine for the format, and there were some cool extras on the DVD, but the technical aspects of the movie won’t be what catches your attention.  Watch with the genre in mind, otherwise you’ll most likely judge it too harshly and miss out on what this film has to offer.

☆ ☆ ☆ – Content

☆ ☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Extras

☆ ☆ ☆ – Replay

 

 


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Movie Trailer – Meadowland

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: Reed Morano

Starring: Olivia Wilde, Luke Wilson, Giovanni Ribisi

Release: October 16th, 2015

I don’t know, is this Olivia Wilde’s take on 21 Grams?  I don’t really want to watch a group of characters be clinically depressed for two hours, constantly wondering if they’re going to kill themselves.  If there’s more, we don’t see it here, as this trailer seems designed to show off the cinematography more than the film itself.  I’d have to hear some great buzz in order to get on board for this one, because I’m very wary.


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Movie Review – Sleeping with Other People

Category : Movie Review

Director: Leslye Headland

Starring: Jason Sudeikis, Alison Brie, Adam Scott

Year: 2015

Let’s take a second to “get real” on the subject of rom-coms.  As bad as they are, we like them.  There, I said it, and I added you into this collective group, so feel free to admit it to yourself.  We like romantic comedies despite all their flaws, and it’s time we own that.  Why?  Probably because they’re romantic & comedic, which are two of our favorite things to see/read/watch/hear/absorb.  We like love and we like to laugh, so any genre that combines those elements is sure to win us over.  Now, we also can’t ignore that 90% of rom-coms are awful.  They are written with almost no realism, pander to our emotional insecurities, and blind us with pretty people talking about sex.  But we eat ’em up anyway because we’re forever searching for that one gem that will actually make us feel something, while not insulting our cinematic intelligence.  Well, look no further, that film is here, and it’s one of the best romantic comedies you will ever experience.

Jake & Lainey met in college and lost their virginity to each other.  A dozen years later, and having not seen one another since, they’ve both become serial cheaters, sex addicts, noncommittal partners, and generally bad people.  Jake can’t stay faithful to his girlfriends and would rather sleep with their sisters than go through the discomfort of breaking up with them.  Lainey can get any guy she wants, but can’t stop thinking about Matthew, the obsession of her life, the addiction of her desire, the last man she should be with, and the only man she wants.  When Jake & Lainey run into each other at group therapy, sparks fly and they make an effort to rekindle that fleeting night they once had.  But their respective issues will keep them from becoming lovers, and a friendship will grow out of a tangled mess of emotions that neither can unscramble alone.

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Sound familiar?  It’s basically the plot of When Harry Met Sally modernized to include masturbation, popping Ecstasy, and trying on lingerie.  Sleeping with Other People is a present day, adult, revamped take on that same old premise, that rom-com recipe that we’ve seen a thousand times before.  But the reason it works is the same reason its predecessors do, both the terrible moneymakers and the high-quality icons; it gives us what we want.  Like the genre duds, it’s about love conquering all odds, humor in the face of instability, friends becoming something more, New York City pumping life into every moment; all that cheesy garbage that we love but hate to admit.  But like the best of the best, it also delivers those extra pieces that are so often missing; heart, chemistry, brutal honesty, believability, and, above all, acting.

Sudeikis has literally never been better.  We saw a hint of it in We’re the Millers, that likeability that’s inherent to his talent, that natural humor that can’t be denied.  But he hones that here, creating a character that is uncomfortably honest, someone who’s funny off-the-cuff, throwing in pop references and subtle jabs like it’s nothing.  He needed a co-star though, someone to hit it off with, a compatible partner to keep the funny going, and Alison Brie stepped up.  She wasn’t perfect perhaps, but she was both idyllic & attainable, hot & sweet, the right choice for the role, and someone who played off of Sudeikis strongly.  And we can’t forget about Adam Scott, who played a sort of villain that you just don’t see in rom-coms, an evil darkness that  made you want to vomit.  And Lainey did at one point, after an encounter with Matthew, in a scene that exemplified the bitterness of this film, its deeper aspects that go to a place that we probably don’t want to visit.  Romantic?  Yes.  Comedic?  Hell yes.  But this film is also realistic in a way that the genre doesn’t usually represent, going down to rock bottom when others would simply have had Justin Timberlake look sad.  Drugs, sex, addictions, withdraws, tears, laughs, Weezer; this movie has it all.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 

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Movie Trailer – Manson Family Vacation

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: J. Davis

Starring: Jay Duplass, Linas Phillips, Leonora Pitts

Release: October 6th, 2015

Jay Duplass is not the actor in his family, that’d be his brother.  Jay is the director/writer who stays behind the camera, Mark is the one who likes to jump in front.  So this feels a little odd.  Oh yeah, and then there’s the whole story about this one character loving Charles Manson.  I’m not sure where this film is going, and there isn’t enough in a trailer to make me that curious.


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Movie Review – Mississippi Grind

Category : Movie Review

Director: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck

Starring: Ben Mendelsohn, Ryan Reynolds

Year: 2015

Sometimes it’s just obvious that a movie has “it”.  Watching the trailer for Mississippi Grind I knew (or thought or hoped or something) that it would be a smash success.  Ben Mendelsohn has been on some kind of roll, playing villains to perfection, bringing a depth of character to the screen that we haven’t seen it years.  And Ryan Reynolds, though he seems to always choose the wrong part, is at his core a phenomenal natural actor.  I’m serious, and I swear I knew it all the way back in the days of Two Guys; Reynolds is a special talent.  He just needed someone brilliant to be his costar, a script that worked with him, a film that set him up to win big.  This movie is exactly what he needed as an actor and exactly what I wanted as an audience member.

Talk about bad luck, Gerry is the epitome of loss.  His wife & daughter are gone, he hates his day job, he’s addicted to gambling, owes big all over town, and is about to have his body pay the bill he habitually can’t cover.  But things are about to take a turn for the lucky, and it’s all thanks to Curtis.  This free-spirited high-roller doesn’t seem to care whether he wins or loses, plays for fun, buys strangers drinks, and befriends a lonely Gerry just when her needed it most.  And since Curtis seems to be such a good luck charm, Gerry decides that it’s high time to hit the Mississippi gambling trail, make all the money he ever dreamed of, pay off all his debts, and finally be happy.  This, of course, isn’t exactly how the story plays out, and this duo will discover that darkness is a companion you don’t ditch easily.

Ben Mendelsohn first, and my take on his performance will be short & sweet; perfection.  He played Gerry to perfection, layered his character like an onion, gave us vulnerability like we’ve never seen before, and completely blew me away.  Next up, Reynolds, in what will probably go down as the best performance of his career.  Curtis was a liar through & through, both to himself and to his friends, but never once was unlikeable.  How do you do that?  I don’t know, but Ryan Reynolds figured it out, and put Green Lantern a hundred miles behind him in the process.  The film was a whole had a great gambling vibe, touched on many American cities along the road trip, presented a cool feel, and yet developed a base of extreme sadness to help audiences understand these two desperate men.  They weren’t heroes in any way, but were relatable in a familiar fashion, depressingly possible, and as real as it gets.  Mississippi Grind is just what its name suggests; a torturous trek down the river, searching for hope where none exists, trying to stay above water for one more day.  But this dark story is presented so well that the film becomes almost necessary, like we needed to see this happen, and like we won’t soon forget what we learned.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Trailer – Heist

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: Scott Mann

Starring: Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Robert De Niro, Morris Chestnut

Release: November 13th, 2015

Casino meets Speed, and that’s not good.


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Movie Review – Everest

Category : Movie Review

Director: Baltasar Kormakur

Starring: Jason Clarke, Jake Gyllenhaal, Emily Watson

Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Keira Knightley, Michael Kelly

Year: 2015

I recently watched Black Mass, and a negative that stood out to me were the summarized futures at the end of the film.  That’s a standard ploy, whether used in a biography to tell audiences how the story ends or in a comedy to further the humor.  But it bothered me in that film because the movie itself was a summary, not a look at one certain aspect, but a general account of Whitey Bulger.  So running a few words across the screen at the end seems a little pointless; couldn’t your entire movie be summed up that way, in text rather than on screen?  Why did I watch a dramatized representation of true events that I could have read an article about?  Basically, the film didn’t impress me enough with acting/depth/entertainment to become a great film with a summary at the end, coming across instead as an essay on Bulger with good actors hired for the occasion.  I bring this up because Everest does the exact same thing.  It focuses too much on fact & detail, constantly reminding us that this is an account of a true story.  So when the blurbs begin popping up at the end of the film, I didn’t feel like my time spent was warranted, that perhaps I could have watched the entire story in 20 minutes with only still photos and paragraphs, saving myself the effort.

The great Mount Everest Disaster of 1996 claimed the lives of eight people, and raised many questions as to the safety & intelligence of taking non-professional climbers up the world’s tallest mountain.  Commercial organizations began competing for the fees of would-be mountaineers, taking their money in exchange for taking them up Everest.  Rob Hall owned such a company, organizing & leading a group of men & women into a Nepal mountain range, acclimatizing their bodies, and ultimately walking with them to the peak.  But as he put it himself, man isn’t meant to live at the cruising altitude of a 747 jet, and their bodies would begin to die on the journey.  Hall’s job was to get them down before death came from a lack of oxygen to the brain, but the blizzard that struck the team during their descent was something that he was not prepared for.  With an overcrowding of the passes, with costly delays, lack of communication, and bad weather, disaster would strike the mountainside, and some weekend warriors who came to add their names to the list never made it back home.

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I could have done with a bit more drama.  As it was, the story felt very sterile, very cold, very factual, like it was trying to make heads & tails of a confusing & dangerous time.  True accounts of the actual events are varied, actually, with many stories not coinciding, proving each other false with each telling.  John Krakauer, the author of Into the Wild, was among the party, wrote a book about the event, but there are a great number of accounts, none of which match up perfectly.  So I can see how the film was attempting to organize events, tell how it likely happened, explain the chaos in a way that made sense.  But in so doing, in trying to recapture the images of the real photographs of that day, something dramatic was lost.  There were no heroes, no amazing survival stories, no hope, nothing that lent itself to a film version of the action.  There was just the truth, or the truth as was imagined by the filmmakers, and this was related in a fashion that was a bit boring, a bit too realistic, and without the qualities that capture audiences.  And so when the summaries arrived at the end, I once again felt cheated out of entertainment, wishing I had either seen a better dramatization of the event or a clean documentary, not something in between.

It was this lack of clarity that bothered me, this position somewhere between fiction & reality that kept me from loving this film.  The visuals were beautiful, and perhaps I could have enjoyed the film more with the sound turned off.  The mountains, the storm, the crevices; it was all stunning, and probably the highlight of the film.  Set against such a backdrop, the dialogue constantly felt unnecessary & recycled, as if the actual participants recounted what they had said and the actors spit it out, whether or not it sounded good on screen.  The actors themselves were fine; Clarke & Gyllenhaal representing the best, Brolin & Hawkes the worst.  But they were given only so much to work with, held to the true detail of the event too strictly, and never allowed to shine.  Perhaps that sounds bad, and it’s not that I want a completely Hollywood-butchered version of the truth, but there needs to be more depth to draw me in, more crisis of character to help me care.  Everest was a beautiful visual, make-you-feel-cold cinema, and something that I liked watching.  But it fell very short of being impressive & compelling, failing to become much more than a documentary, hovering too close to a recounting, when what I wanted was much more.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 

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Movie Trailer – Truth

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: James Vanderbilt

Starring: Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, Topher Grace

Release: October 16th, 2015

I’m torn between loving Cate Blanchett and hating Topher Grace.  And really, that’s a good analogy for my mixed feelings towards this film.  Blanchett represents that parts I like: realism, raw emotion, depth beneath the surface.  And Grace becomes the epitome of what I don’t want: Hollywood, cheap ploys, standard lines.  Ultimately, does this film become a great character portrayal or a throwaway thriller?


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Movie Review – Lawrence of Arabia

Category : Movie Review

Director: David Lean

Starring: Peter O’Toole, Omar Sharif, Alec Guinness

Year: 1962

I surely believe in freedom of expression, but when it comes to Lawrence of Arabia, your individual opinion doesn’t matter.  That might sound inherently wrong, but let me try to explain.  This is a movie that is on IMDb’s Top 100 list of all-time greats.  It was nominated for ten Academy Awards in 1963, winning for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Sound, Best Editing, and Best Music, the remaining nominations being Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Screenplay.  It’s a nearly four-hour-long epic shot on the grandest of scales, with armies of camels galloping toward crystal cities with Lawrence in the lead.  Captured on camera.  In the 60s.  With no computers.  Telling a true story with the whole world watching when movies were something completely different from what they are today.  So, no, I can’t judge this film totally independent of its fame, and neither should you.

Based on actual events, and following the brilliant military career of T.E. Lawrence, Lawrence of Arabia is a story like none other.  We begin during WWI, at a time when British interests necessitate the removal of the Turkish Empire from the Arab world.  Stationed in Cairo, England’s armies would like to drive Turkey east out of the Middle East, taking control of the canals there, and securing their foothold for the remainder of the war.  But without the help of the native Bedouin peoples, there’s no hope.  And so Lawrence is sent into the desert to meet with Prince Feisal, to discover what can be done.  He soon realizes that the clans must be brought together to form one Arab Army, that peace must be forced in the region between feuding tribes, and that as a foreigner to this land he has no idea how this can be accomplished.  But Lawrence is an extraordinary man, a leader by example, and a fearless warrior, able to win a following by daring what no man dares.

It’s incredible to think about how war movies are made today, with thousands of tiny computer people marching across the land, duplicated to appear more than they are.  In this film, what you see is what is.  Camels & horses & guns & fortresses & men; these were staged, set into motion, and filmed, without any pretext and without complication.  These are some of the grandest scenes you will ever see, an unfathomably large execution that I doubt today’s directors have the capacity to pull off.  But it isn’t really the visuals that make the movie, though they are both impression & beautiful.  It’s Lawrence himself, played by Peter O’Toole, a character that deepens with each scene, becomes darker with each death, and by the end can hardly be recognized as the jolly English soldier who set out for the desert so long ago.  The film grows in scale with time, making each new chapter larger & more involved, forcing Lawrence to become something more than just a rallying cry, a governor of men and a chooser of fates.  It’s an excellent character study set against a phenomenal backdrop, a film that takes effort to watch but rewards us in the end.  Did I love it endlessly?  No, and I actually like The Bridge on the River Kwai better, another Lean-directed, Guinness-starring film done five years earlier.  But the claim to fame that Lawrence of Arabia stakes is unquestionable, as is its legacy, becoming something large than any one opinion.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆