Monthly Archives: May 2016

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Movie Trailer – Indignation

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: James Schamus

Starring: Logan Lerman, Sarah Gadon, Tracy Letts

Release: July 29th, 2016

I think I was lucky enough to miss Logan Lerman’s early work and only catch him in Noah & Fury, both solid.  This really does look like a career-making performance, like he could springboard from here into superstardom.  I don’t know what it is about this film, and I haven’t read the book it’s based on, but I’m captivated all the same.  I want to know, I want to see, and I want to be blown away.  I just hope it actually happens.


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Book Review – From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

Category : Book Review

Author: E.L. Konigsburg

Year: 1967

I remember reading this book, or having it read to me, when I was young, most likely in gifted class around 5th or 6th grade.  I also remember liking it, which is saying something for how many years have passed between then & now.  Actually, I remember many classics I was exposed to during those years, and I silently thank my teachers for understanding that literature means something, even to children.  The Giver, The White Mountains, The Westing Game; novels for young minds that require some input from the reader, or at least some critical thinking.  Basil E. Frankweiler is less a mystery or an adventure and more a character book, combining suspense & excitement, but making the children the main focus.  Now, having read the book again, this time to my own children, I found it a pleasant & enjoyable experience, a wonderfully written story that all should read at least once.

Claudia Kincaid is running away.  She’s tired of her mundane Greenwich, Connecticut life, tired of being an ignored member of her family, and tired of never feeling or doing anything important.  So she’s decided to run away and she’s taking her younger brother Jamie with her, partly because he has a transistor radio and partly because he saves all his money.  Claudia & Jamie, after careful planning, hide themselves away in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, not an easy feat, given the tourists, the guards, and the lack of showers.  But they squirrel themselves away, beginning an adventure that will change their lives.  But it’s not the leaving home that does it, it’s an accidental discover concerning a questionable piece of art that sets them down to path toward doing something special, something they will remember for the rest of their days.

The first thing that’s so great about this book is the amount of preparation & thought that went into keeping the children hidden from all eyes during their stay at the museum.  Their schedule is very thorough, and you can almost imagine yourself secreted away behind a sarcophagus while the guards prowl around with their flashlights in the dark of night.  Secondly, the mystery the children find themselves amateur detectives on is pretty fun to follow along, even if there’s no great twist or revelation in the end.  But the greatest part of Basil E. Frankweiler is the children themselves, excellent characters who you fall in love with, despite their faults & their arguments.  It so happens, looking at the book from a film perspective, that my favorite director, Wes Anderson, used this book as inspiration for my favorite movie, The Royal Tenenbaums.  Just a cool bonus fact, though the novel hardly needs it, standing up all on its own as a young adult classic that we all should experience.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Trailer – The American Side

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: Jenna Ricker

Starring: Greg Stuhr, Camilla Belle, Matthew Broderick

Release: 2016

I feel like I get the over-the-top noir vibe this film is going for, but I still think it looks like the worst movie I’d ever see.  The acting looks so pathetically awful that it goes beyond melodrama into a place no one has ever been brave enough to peek into before.  Matthew Broderick, really?  Planes shooting detectives, really?  I just watched The Nice Guys and really enjoyed; that’s as comedy-noir as I’m likely to go.


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DVD Review – Bad Influence

Category : DVD Review

Director: Curtis Hanson

Starring: James Spader, Rob Lowe, Lisa Zane

Year: 1990

Curtis Hanson did some pretty impressive work in the 90s, directing The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, The River Wild, and L.A. Confidential.  Later, he’d do Wonder Boys, 8 Mile, and In Her Shoes; not quite as impressive, but at least the guy has range.  No, his moment was the 90s, and it all started with a little-seen film called Bad Influence.  This movie channels the modern/noir vibe of the era, a time when so many films decorated apartments in stark black & white, cast their characters as stock brokers, inserted a femme fatale, played some light jazz, and watched as it all went to hell.  Bad Influence does the genre credit, launched Hanson’s career, features many name actors, and succeeds in entertaining, even while is settles in as much more of a time capsule piece than something independently great.

The Movie

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Michael is a mild-mannered California analyst whose life seems already set on a course for unhappiness.  He enjoys his job, but will probably be beaten out for a promotion by the conniving Patterson.  He loves his girlfriend, but doesn’t want to become the typical married man.  He has a nice apartment, new gadgets, lovely decor, but is beginning to feel stifled by the mundane aspects of his day to day existence.  One night, at a bar, he plays with standing up for himself, making up for the fact that he earlier backed down when faced with a confrontation at work.  Well, jealous boyfriends aren’t the guys you mess with while testing out your wings, and Michael prepares himself to learn a very valuable lesson in physical pain.

But at the last second a stranger steps in and saves the day, protecting Michael from a beating, and then disappearing into the night.  When Michael sees this man later and thanks him, he learns that Alex has an extra helping of bravery, charisma, personality, adventure; all the things Michael has been lacking his entire life.  The two quickly become friends, as close as brothers, painting the town red together like they were young, uninhibited studs.  But what is Alex’s motive for befriending Michael, what does he get out of it, and is he pushing this normal, conservative guy too far?  As Michael gets in way over his head, he begins to suspect that Alex may not be the greatest influence, though that knowledge may have come dangerously late.

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You know what to expect from this film five minutes in, which isn’t necessarily a terrible thing, the plot sliding right into the genre with glove-fit accuracy.  Basic Instinct, The Hot Spot, Malice, Cape Fear; movies with murder, dames, saxophones, and twists, ready on VHS to pop into your VCR whenever you’re in the mood.  There’s a place for these films, and a following as well I imagine, though not all of us would call ourselves 90s thriller junkies, some of us not having yet reached teenage years when these movies were released.  I did sneak a few episodes of Silk Stockings when I was young though, and Bad Influence has a touch of that USA original series, minus the bright cops & the bright colors.  No, this film is more character driven then those aforementioned noir films perhaps, relying on fear more than mystery, channeling Poison Ivy or The Babysitter, without the white-hot murderess.

This film is a great chance to see two young actors finding there styles, and in a way playing roles that would become the opposites of their type casts.  James Spader is the pushover here, not the deep-voiced powerhouse we see in recent TV shows, and not the scientist that we saw in Stargate, a movie I’ll always picture when hearing Spader’s name.  This role is more his 80s persona: Less Than Zero, Sex Lies & Videotape.  And for Rob Lowe, this villain character is something we don’t often see from him, playing the evil, twisted, madman fairly well.  A couple other minor stars pop their heads in too: Lisa Zane & Kathleen Wilhoite from ER, Marcia Cross from Desperate Housewives.  There’s a lot of TV crossover here, which makes sense after watching the movie, since it definitely has 90s television quality, and barely stands up over all these years.  Still, it is what it is, never claiming to be Oscar-caliber, and can still entertaining.

The Blu-ray

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Video – With an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 (1080p HD Widescreen), the video quality of Bad Influence is what you’d expect from an 80s or 90s film transferred to a Blu-ray disc.  The picture quality is passable given the time period, but a VHS could have conveyed the story just as easily.

Audio – The Blu-ray disc was done in DTS-HD Master Audio Stereo, with an option of English subtitles.  The sound quality is fine, again matching the era, and the music is that sleazy, jazzy, droning tune you’ve heard from this genre time & time again.

Extras – There are two special features on the Blu-ray disc: Under The Influence Of David Koepp, a half-hour interview with the writer, and a theatrical trailer for the film.

Final Thoughts

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Recommended.  This film is at least partly entertaining and at least gives us a glimpse of young talent.  There’s not too much else in its favor, other than a cool time capsule vibe and a chance to see two actors playing challenging roles in the early parts of their careers.  Other than that, Bad Influence is a typical 90s thriller, complete with short-haired hotties and cold-blooded murders.  The video is fine given the context, the audio the same, though neither will knock you out, and there are two extras available for those looking for a bit more.  More a rental on a rainy night or a throw back if you remember this movie from days gone by, the film itself doesn’t stand alone without the support of its period and its players, but can still give some enjoyment to a select few.

☆ ☆ ☆ – Content

☆ ☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ ☆ – Extras

☆ ☆ – Replay

 

 


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Movie Trailer – Puerto Ricans in Paris

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: Ian Edelman

Starring: Luis Guzman, Edgar Garcia, Rosie Perez

Release: June 10th, 2016

I can’t even pinpoint why, but I think this is hilarious.  I’m sure there will be a lot of stereotypical humor, either pointed at Puerto Ricans or the French or whoever.  I’m sure there’s buddy-cop heart thrown in.  I’m sure the good guys win and everyone goes home happy with a wife who’s hotter than they are.  So I shouldn’t be excited to see this movie, but I really am; I just think it will be illogically funny.


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Movie Review – The Nice Guys

Category : Movie Review

Director: Shane Black

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Russell Crowe, Angourie Rice

Year: 2016

Director Shane Black resurrected a formula that died 30 years ago to make The Nice Guys work, a recipe that has been tried many times in the intervening years but hasn’t been able to produce the same result.  George Miller brought us Fury Road, a throwback to a style he perfected, a slap in the face to an action genre that has been cheating us out of awesome movies for decades.  And Black does the same with the buddy cop plot line, harking this film back to the glory days of Lethal Weapon, a film he wrote before he became a director.  The Nice Guys is what we’ve been missing from this genre all this time, as we watched goofy comedy after goofy comedy try to pair two actors together, try to get them out of sticky situations, and try to convince us that what we were seeing was entertainment.  This film doesn’t have to try hard to remind us that two imperfect heroes can make an enjoyable action/comedy together, it does it with ease, and we can only hope that other filmmakers were paying attention.

Los Angeles, the 70s, the budding porn industry, private investigators, swanky parties, and the smog-filled air that wraps everything in its gloomy embrace.  Meet Holland March, a successful P.I. who takes the money first and finds out if there’s actually a chance the case can be solved later.  Meet Jackson Healy, muscle for hire, a New York thug who will beat anyone up for a price, but dreams of taking a legitimate shot at investigating some day.  And see the dead body of Misty Mountains, a porn star, killed in a suspicious car accident.  March & Healy will team up to uncover the truth behind her death, though their search leads them down a path they never saw in the underbrush.  Hippies, porn kings, the Detroit automakers, the Department of Justice, and a whole gaggle of shmucks; life ain’t easy for two guys trying to solve the case of the century over the course of a few warm California nights.

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The Nice Guys is everything I wanted Inherent Vice to be.  The latter was a film I had very high hopes for, Paul Thomas Anderson being one of my Top 5 favorite directors.  He was just coming off The Master, also starring Joaquin Phoenix, and was almost certain to produce perfection out of a 70s, L.A., drug-fueled crime caper.  But while some critics did think he succeeded, I wasn’t one of them.  I thought it was far too messy, lost PTA’s patented touch, and forgot that audiences need some form of enjoyment out of the movie they watch, be it light or dark.  The Nice Guys got right what Inherent Vice got wrong, remembering to captivate & entertain while staying true to the chosen style.  The buddy cop movie hasn’t been produced this well in years, and I can only hope that if they decide to make a sequel, it comes off as jarringly funny & smoothly acted as this one.

It was the pair of leads that made the film, Gosling & Crowe playing off each other to perfection, exhibiting an instant chemistry that I could see lasting through several films, much like Lethal Weapon did in the 80 & 90s.  Gosling was hilarious as the weak-willed March, riding his character through the ups & downs of his job and of his life.  Crowe was great as the tough, even-keeled Healey, providing laughs & stability at the same time.  And Angourie Rice, who played March’s daughter and does an excellent job in These Final Hours, was a cool kid, a nice sidekick, and I believe is Australian, which makes her role here & at a young age all the more impressive.  The film carries a bit of a L.A. Confidential vibe, complete with an appearance by Kim Basinger, but modernizes it & adds much more humor.  The Nice Guys is fun, clever, refrains from being goofy, breathes life into a dead genre, and is right now one of the best films of 2016, right up there with 10 Cloverfield Lane and Civil War, an enjoyable experience from start to finish.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 

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Movie Trailer – The Woods

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: Adam Wingard

Starring: Callie Hernandez, Valorie Curry, Brandon Scott

Release: September 16th, 2016

This movie wants so badly to be something special, something no one has ever seen.  And it is a creepy premise; kids in the woods, night falls, something’s out there.  But then it hits you; that’s the plot of a thousand movies, each dumber than the last.  What’s new about this one that will set it apart from the masses?  Better technology?  I’ll pass.


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Sports – Deflategate Continued

Category : Sports

On May 12th, 2015, I wrote a sports post with my opinions on the Deflategate scandal.  Assuming you know about Tom Brady and his underinflated balls, let’s just highlight a piece of the timeline; the Deflategate Game was played in January of 2015.  It’s approaching a year & a half since a couple game balls lost some air, intentionally or otherwise, and the Patriots trounced the Colts in an NFL playoff game.  Since then, New England was fined and lost Draft picks, Tom Brady was suspended, and we all prepared to move on from a relatively minor issue.

But damned if we aren’t still talking about it to this very day.  It’s been about 500 days since the original incident, Tom Brady has yet to serve his 4-game suspension, and the whole situation is still in the appeals process.  Mike & Mike still talk to lawyers and ESPN still covers any new information like this is a breaking & ultrainteresting story, as the legal process drags on & on without any end in sight.  I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way, but the whle thing has gone beyond ridiculous, becoming an enormous embarrassment.

If Tom Brady was angry at the league for punishing him for something so small, if he was hurt by a possible crack in his reputation, if his goal was to stick it to the NFL like they stuck it to him, well then it’s working.  Every day that this goes on, every sports news program that covers this, every appeals court that hears both sides, every reference to flat balls, is an insanely embarrassing jab at a league that many have begun to see as a complete failure.  Not financially, of course not, and not in scope of power; the NFL & its Commissioner are basically all-powerful.  And we still watch every game, the league continuing its dominance no matter the distraction/scandal/crime.

But the glory of professional football is dwindling very slowly, this being just one more splatter of mud on what was once a clean shirt.  Deflategate, concussion concerns, patriotism for profit, domestic violence, collective bargaining standoffs, unbalanced punishments; if Roger Goodell lasts five more years I’ll eat my hat.  There are some that say the NFL itself has only a finite amount of time left, that its problems will eventually outweigh its popularity.  As a fan of both one team and the sport in general, I hope that’s not true, but I’m beginning to see the corruption that’s either inherent or blossoming, and it ain’t pretty.

Tom Brady’s court case keeps dragging on, the Commissioner keeps getting booed every time he steps up to a podium at which the public is present, mom’s keep steering their sons toward soccer & baseball instead of football, and the writing may very well be on the wall for a sport that, as they say, owns a day of the week.  Sure, as long as we remain entertained we’ll continue to watch, but with what level of cynicism?  If even the most diehard fans are now starting to feel that sick, jaded nausea that comes like a wave after Goodell hands down a ruling or gives a speech, how much longer can the magic last.  Nothing gold can stay, right?


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Movie Trailer – Into the Forest

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: Patricia Rozema

Starring: Evan Rachel Wood, Ellen Page

Release: July 22nd, 2016

I was intrigued by this movie at first, but I’m quite sure that I don’t want to watch two sisters hug & cry for two hours.  There’s a bit of Z for Zachariah here, which I really enjoyed, but not quite enough, with more Keeping Room than I would like.  Also, when you yell “Eva” the only thing I can think about is WALL-E, and I’m sure that movie will blow this one out of the water.


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DVD Review – Race

Category : DVD Review

Director: Stephen Hopkins

Starring: Stephan James, Jason Sudeikis, Jeremy Irons

Year: 2016

Living in Columbus, Ohio, I know the importance of Jesse Owens to The Ohio State University and the pride they take in his accomplishments.  I also know, as progressive as this city likes to imagine itself to be, it wasn’t always that way, and it is still far from perfect.  This story, an emotional biopic of Owens and his attempt at Olympic gold, brings to the forefront many important issues and concerns, the most basic being how we view race and how our differences have always been barriers.  The film tackles tough subjects and successfully weaves together a biography with history, that concept readily apparent in its weighted title.  But as a movie, Race falls just short of the classic sports films we earnestly love, relying perhaps too heavily on the gravity of the time period and forgetting that we also need to be entertained by both the actors & the characters, something that was sorely missed here.

The Movie

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During a time of great poverty and prejudice, Jesse Owens runs toward an almost unattainable goal; college, marriage, a good life for his daughter, a brighter future than has ever been reached by a member of his family.  In Cleveland, Ohio, Jesse is poor, an unmarried father, a kid with a dream and worn out running shoes.  But his big chance comes after impressive showings at track competitions across the country, landing him an opportunity to attend OSU in Columbus, a big step in the right direction toward success.  Jesse joins the track team in their bid to become relevant in the Big 10, giving coach Larry Snyder hope that his squad will rise from the ashes of the program, that they fly fast once again.

Combining Snyder’s experience with Owen’s natural talent, OSU becomes a track & field force once more, with Jesse dominating sprints & jumps.  Though constantly battling racism, segregation, poverty, and family commitments, Owens quickly improves as a runner, even training toward a spot on the American Olympic team.  But this year’s games are to be held in Germany, the recent breeding ground of the Nazi party, headed by Chancellor Adolf Hitler.  The ill-treatment there of gypsies, Jews, and anyone of color has some demanding that the US boycott the Olympics as a whole, sending a message to socialist Germany that human rights violations will not be tolerated, putting Owen’s gold medal dreams in serious jeopardy.

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The true story aspect of the film speaks for itself.  What a fascinating moment in history, with the Nazis gaining power, a war in Europe brewing, America attempting to decide how it will stand, and sports playing a large part in the propaganda of all sides.  We are already fairly obsessed with WWII as it is, battle scenes or no, so to see its genesis through the eyes of athletes is a very captivating thing.  This really happened, Owens really had to decide whether or not to attend the games, his races really were slaps in the face of Nazi Germany, and to see such key events depicted on screen is a real treat.  That he represented my city is cool as well, as are his records, awards, accomplishments, and the realization that he faced it all during a trying time that we can only imagine.

But that doesn’t mean the movie succeeded as well as its premise, or that it was as compelling as its true story aspect.  Putting aside that I enjoyed seeing impactful history played out before my eyes, the film wasn’t a very strong representation of the talent involved or of the emotional sports genre in general.  I understand that it must be terribly difficult to balance cheesy moments, believable heart, and solid acting, but Race missed the bullseye by just a hair.  Both Stephan James and Jason Sudeikis were pretty bad, playing their characters much too one-note, giving in to the stereotypes of the moment & the genre instead of infusing them with original depth.  The side characters were also more melodramatic than realistic, giving the entire film a fake quality that wasn’t helped by bad CGI and unbelievable backgrounds.  A film like Rudy works because it’s simple; Race failed to reach that benchmark because it quickly became overly complicated, visually overstimulating, and a bit of an emotional mess.

The Blu-ray

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Video – With an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 (1080p HD Widescreen), the video of the Blu-ray disc is top of the class.  The film was shot using an Arri Alexa XT Plus camera with Hawk V-Lite, V-Plus and V-Series lenses.  Its picture quality is very high, with a bright use of color and crisp images throughout.  The CGI of the film is too obvious, giving many scenes a unfortunate green-screen look, the cinematography as a whole failing to impress.  But the movie’s clarity & crispness is off the charts.

Audio – The Blu-ray audio was done in English DTS HD Master Audio, with subtitle options of English SDH, Español, or Français.  Menu button & ticker sounds can be turned off in this section as well.  The sound quality of the film was quite nice, with a good balance between dialogue & music that is often missing from more action-packed Blu-ray discs.

Extras – There are a variety of special features available on the Blu-ray.  The Making of Race is a 4-minute behind-the-scenes segment.  Becoming Jess Owens is a 4-minute character study with insight into the casting of the character.  The Owens Sisters is a 3-minute interview featurette with Owens’ daughters.  And lastly, there are six previews with an option to play all: Hyde Park on Hudson, Kill the Messenger, Moonrise Kingdom, Dallas Buyers Club, Promised Land, Closed Circuit.

Final Thoughts

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Recommended Race is good but not great, an underwhelming attempt to tell a wonderful story that fell just short of reaching the feel-good/look-good status of our sports genre favorites.  So many have tried & failed to pull off what is becoming increasingly more improbable, and with much less solid back stories than this one.  The pieces just never came together; acting that was a little too weak, visuals that were a little too fake, moments that came off as a little too dramatic, and a general feeling that the film was playing up certain aspects of Owens’ persona while downplaying others.  The authenticity of the movie just wasn’t there, and so it never lived up to the potential of its compelling true story.  The video was great other than the CGI, the audio was strong, and there are extras available for anyone thirsty for more.  But the film as whole left me feeling lukewarm, earning it a grudging recommendation.

☆ ☆ ☆ – Content

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ ☆ ☆ – Extras

☆ ☆ – Replay