Monthly Archives: February 2018

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Movie Review – The Godfather: Part II

Category : Movie Review

Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Starring: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Robert Duvall

Year: 1974

Two and a half years after The Godfather made history, after it was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, Part II was released, and brought home 11 nominations itself to match.  This second installment was broken into two parts, the past and the present, weaved together to make one spectacular film.  For my money, Part II is slightly better than Part I, but only slightly, as both are excellent and both are regarded as perhaps the best movies ever made.  IMDb ranks them as #2 and #3 all time, behind only The Shawshank Redemption and with The Dark Knight tapping on the shoulder; hard to argue against that, personal preferences aside.  Coppola returned with a bang to give us more from this world, more blood, more money, more betrayals, and more Corleone magic.

The Godfather has died, as has his eldest son, leaving Michael in charge of the family.  Operations have moved to Nevada, as power switches from the streets into the aisles of the casinos, where money can be made hand over fist.  But an attempt on Michael’s life, in his very home, with his wife and kids present, sends the delicate balance of the underworld into an incredible uproar.  The Corleones are attempting a massive deal with Jewish investor Hyman Roth and the Cuban government, a relationship that will develop a lawful criminality that will deliver pure freedom to the any mobster who gets in on the ground floor.  But this assassination attempt may foul the works, as Michael keeps the deal alive while searching for the rat in his own walls at the same time.

If this movie is an improvement over the the first, which many would argue against, it’s because of a couple things, which I’m happy to point out.  One is the backstory of Vito Corleone, played by Robert De Niro, a role that didn’t require his to speak much but for which he still won an Oscar.  It’s awesome to see old Sicily, Vito’s criminal beginnings in NYC, the family he supports by way of the gun, and also how this plot is pieced together throughout the modern one.  The second incredible aspect to this film is the way it ends, with a finality that simply feels amazing.  Lastly, the music; my god.  It’s a phenomenal score, it won the Oscar, it can’t be overstated, and it literally makes the movie.  Pacino is great as maturing Michael, Duvall is a spectacular straight man once again, and I’ll still always love Fredo; what a tricky character.  I could do without Diane Keaton and Talia Shire, but that’s what it is and doesn’t detract too much.  Coming in at 200 minutes, watching is an investment, but it’s one worth making.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – The Godfather

Category : Movie Review

Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Starring: Al Pacino, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall

Year: 1972

Almost no film in cinematic history is bigger than The Godfather, in either pure success or in scope of story.  Almost 36 years old, it’s a movie that still ranks at the top of most lists, with every other feature scurrying at its feet trying to reach the level it skyrocketed to with such ease.  It’s almost like the Beatles; they may not be your favorite band, but you know a ton of their songs, and you respect them for what they did, knowing that they’ll always be the pinnacle we look up to.  That’s the way it is with The Godfather, there will never be another quite like it, no matter how harm filmmakers try.  It may not be perfect, but it is the definition of ‘iconic’, and it will last for as long as we remember movies.

The Corleone mafia runs New York the way the old regimes used to run Sicily; with a firm grip on its family and a choke hold on the rest of the world.  Don Vito Corleone, the Godfather, is a man you do not cross, or you invariably wind up dead.  You can ask him for favors, he will grant them, nothing is beyond his reach, but he will call upon you one day to return the kindness, and you had better not say no.  Vito’s three sons and one daughter are the apples of his eye, and he will do anything to protect them; Sonny, Fredo, Michael, Connie.  But when a hit is put out on the Godfather himself, when the pieces rise up to defeat the chess master, his children will be the ones to protect him, with Michael, the youngest son, rising to the occasion to take over the family business.

I assume most people have seen The Godfather, but I think the number of people who have caught parts on TV and have never sat down to experience the entire thing might be larger than we think.  Asked to give it a shot now, to really focus for 170 minutes on a movie from the 70s about gangsters, I wonder how many would decline, how many would assume that the story would be too boring; well-made, but boring.  I just have a feeling that this contingent exists, but they have very little to worry about; this film absolutely does not disappoint, it’s #1 for a reason, and on the off chance that you have been skeptical before, I nudge you to give it a shot.  Classic scene after classic scene, too many excellent, Italian characters to count, murder plots, revenge killings, risings to power; I have never read the Mario Puzo book, but I assume this movie does it total justice.  A young Al Pacino is a rising star, Robert Duvall plays Tom Hagen to perfection, and I’ll always love Fredo, he’s a fascinating character, especially as the saga continues.  Don’t shy away from Coppola’s masterwork; its vision will knock your socks off and the bandwagon always has room for one more.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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DVD Review – The Square

Category : DVD Review

Director: Ruben Ostlund

Starring: Claes Bang

Year: 2017

I have never seen a film quite like The Square, and perhaps that feeling is bolstered by how little I was prepared for it.  I knew it was a talked-about foreign film, I heard Elizabeth Moss’s name, and I saw that it was 140 minutes long, and so I guess I made a bunch of assumptions that held me back from making it a priority on my list.  But what I didn’t know turned out to be so much more important.  I didn’t know that this was Ostlund’s next feature after the excellent Force Majeure, I didn’t know that Moss and every other actor were merely supporting, and I didn’t know that the story would be the exact level of bonkers that I’ve been enjoying all year, from Mother! to Sacred Deer, another in a delightful trend of wacky movies that make remarkable points through their pure, enriched intensity.

The Movie

Christian, the curator of a Swedish contemporary art museum, is coming face to face with decisions of character and of direction that will completely alter his personality and his path. A controversial new exhibit is coming to the museum, the Square, a place of empathy and helpfulness by advertisement, but also a stunning juxtaposition to the world outside its small borders. This exhibit acts as a catalyst, but the events in Christian’s personal life reflect the battle going on within each of us. His wallet is stolen; how will he react. He sleeps with a journalist; how will he treat her. He gives to a beggar; how far will he go. The bizarre events of the film are as unpredictable as they are hilarious, but they have a darker side as well, one that we typically don’t choose to see.

Set against a backdrop of the kind of art that is often seen but rarely appreciated, the plot takes on a similar quality; every day conversation and awkward moments that are part of our typical lives but that aren’t often shown on screen.  These more mundane pieces of reality are mixed in with the more insane experiences in a person’s life, creating a timeline for Christian that is a mix between boring and completely unexpected.  Thrown in, seemingly at random, is one of the most captivating movie moments of the year, the Monkey Man, and what he signifies might be the strongest message the film has to offer.  Prepare yourself for something strange, but also something strangely important.

This is one of those movies that the more I think about the more I like, that I want to revisit again to enjoy, but that I also want others to see so I can tell if I’ve gone insane or if it actually is that good.  I’m relieved that it was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar; maybe I’m not that original after all, maybe everyone recognizes that The Square may be tremendously weird but that it is also simply tremendous.  Partly in Swedish, partly in English, it’s a roller coaster ride of physical sensations and existential musings, an uncomfortable plot that’s funny because it’s true.  Bang plays Christian to perfection, other characters swirling around him as he sinks deeper into the whirlpool of his conscience, and in the end you completely understand what he just went through because you went through it right alongside him.

It’s a film that needs to be labelled as “not for everyone” if ever a film did, not because of content exactly, perhaps because of its lack of content instead.  There is a story, there are reasons to view from point A to point B, but mixed in are some of the most radical scenes you’ll see this season, unpredictable happenings that take the movie to another, existential level.  The plot slides along, but the people Christian meets become as important as his actions, and it’s the way they weave into his narrative that gives the movie its mood and its humor.  Because The Square is a funny film, it’s hilarious at times, but often uncomfortably so.  The entire experience is uncanny and unconventional, but that’s exactly what makes it great.

The DVD

Video – With an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 (Widescreen) and shot using an Arri Alexa XT camera with Zeiss Master Prime lenses, the video quality of the DVD is quite nice, without being so impressive that you’ll want to buy simply for the visual excellence.  The cinematography is stunning, based heavily on art and architecture, instead of the conventional landscapes and sunsets.

Audio – The disc was done in English 5.1 Dolby Digital, with subtitle choices in English, English SDH, or Spanish.  The film is Swedish and so that language is spoken throughout, with subtitles for American audiences, but it also switches to English quite often.  The duel languages work well, the sound quality holds its own, and so the audio won’t disappoint.

Extras – There are a few special features on the DVD, if you’re looking for a bit more from this story.  Behind the Monkey Man Scene is a 12-minute look at the iconic moment.  Casting Tapes are available to view from many of the cast members.  A Behind-the-scenes Photo Gallery can be accessed here.  And there are many previews as a bonus, including a theatrical trailer for the film and a look at other Magnolia features.

Final Thoughts

Highly Recommended.  This recommendation comes with some hesitance, not because I am unsure of my own opinion of the film, but because it’s extremely hard to guess how other audiences might react.  As I said before, there isn’t a ton of mature content, the story is not so out there that I need to warn people away, it’s not five hours of paint splatters and sad faces.  It’s simply a higher level of expression circling around a plot that’s wacky at its core, without too many standard American elements, which always make us feel a little better.  The video is very nice, the audio holds its own, there are some extras on the disc; you won’t be let down hard by the technical aspects.  But if you are to be sucked in, it will be by the absurdity and the audacity on display, not by any one feature that you can point to.  So come for a unique viewing; stay because it’s a success.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Content

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ ☆ ☆ – Extras

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Replay

 

 


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Movie Review – There Will Be Blood

Category : Movie Review

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Ciaran Hinds

Year: 2007

In the last fifteen years, I have rated only four films as 10/10: Love Actually, WALL-E, Black Swan, and There Will Be Blood.  I don’t think I’m stingy with my praise or my ratings, I’ve rated many films as 9/10, which means I absolutely loved them, but I am reluctant to go all the way.  Out of every movie I have ever seen, which is about 2500 at this moment, I’ve only rated sixteen total as 10/10, and I think I know why.  In order to get my perfect score, a film must be nearly perfect in execution, but it also has to touch me in the exact right way, has to make me feel something I have never felt before.  Maybe that basically only happens when you’re 16-20 and you’re building your tastes alongside your friends with some of the best cinema the world has ever seen, maybe that’s the rare era that you open up your heart and let art affect you in a way it never will again.  Regardless, I don’t give top rankings lightly, but There Will Be Blood is in a league completely its own, with no other word to describe it other than ‘masterpiece’.

Meet Daniel Plainview, and if he tells you he’s an oil man, you will agree, as his numerous successful wells across this great country of ours prove that he speaks correctly.  He travels with his partner and son, H.W. Plainview, and the pair get the job done wherever they go.  Daniel knows oil, where to find it and how to get it up, and he’s willing to cut a deal on a moment’s notice to secure himself the most money and power possible, to create an empire for his family that will shock every man who ever wanted to make a dime.  That’s just the way he operates, and it has proven to work, until he runs up against a young man named Eli Sunday whose family owns a tract of land that Plainview desperately wants.  Eli is the head of a local religious group, the Church of the Third Revelation, and what he says goes around town.  Daniel will be forced to set aside his ego and his control in order to make a once-in-a-lifetime deal, but he is a busy man, and revenge can wait.

Paul Thomas Anderson is the goddam man, with Daniel Day-Lewis not far behind him.  PTA directed Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood, The Master, Inherent Vice, and Phantom Thread; let that sink in for a second.  He’s an artist beyond compare, a visionary (if that’s not too insane and grandiose a word) that we’re lucky to have making movies in our lifetime.  I may claim that his prowess is dropping off slightly, that the meat of his work in the middle of his career is by far his best, but that time includes this film, so I’ll try to stay focused and not wander off into critiquing his entire filmography.  So, with that in mind, There Will Be Blood is one of the handful of features that I would call perfect, or at least as close as possible, and that’s not something I state lightly.

The story is based on the book Oil! by Upton Sinclair, which is among the best you could ever hope to read.  But it’s completely different from the movie; PTA only used some of the material for his film, going on in a unique direction once a few similarities were established.  The rest he seemingly left up to Daniel Day-Lewis, who carried the action on his back, while the book focuses on the sons of the story, both the oil magnate’s and the farmer’s.  DDL has never been better, and while he has been nominated for a Best Actor Oscar six times, with three wins, I think this one was his most deserved (although I’ll always be personally partial to his performance as Hawkeye in The Last of Mohicans).  But it wasn’t just he who soared in this picture; Paul Dano is awesome, the score is incredible, the period is perfectly captured, the patience the plot exhibits is amazing, and the cinematography (which won an Oscar) is mind-blowing, with so many still shots to choose from that I could hardly set up this review.  I hadn’t revisited There Will Be Blood in a few years; I’m not sure I appreciated it enough the first times around, which I feel like I need to make up for now.  It is magnificent beyond the recycled words I can think of to describe it, so excellent that I don’t think I’ll ever get enough.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Suburbicon

Category : Movie Review

Director: George Clooney

Starring: Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Noah Jupe

Year: 2017

Suburbicon is a combination of Fargo and Pleasantville, two of the best films ever created, so I’m not sure what else fans & critics want from a film that’s both bizarrely violent and vehemently representational of a time period that was far from perfect.  I understand that copying two fine films doesn’t guarantee that your movie will be a hit as well, and beyond that, any artist who borrows too heavily from his contemporaries doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt.  But Suburbicon is a clever melding of two genres into something sinister and original, never apologizing for stealing more than a few elements from those who have had success before, but also not failing to be a fascinating story all its own, one whose lack of praise I simply don’t understand.

The Lodge family, from the beautiful city of Suburbicon, is about as neat & tidy as their hometown, but with a few shadows looming over their shoulders.  Suburbicon has its own darkness, which comes on display as a black family moves into the neighborhood and residents come out in numbers to display their racism, isolationism, and general, stupid fear.  But the Lodges are too busy for all that, even though the new Mayers family lives right across the fence, because they have a few problems of their own to deal with.  Mrs. Lodge was involved in a car accident, is now in a wheelchair, and had just died as the result of a home invasion where the entire clan was tied up and knocked out, but where she was the only one to perish.  Mr. Lodge doesn’t seem too broken up about it, and it’s up to young Nicky to unravel the mystery, while the entire town has focused its attention elsewhere and while no one else can be trusted.

I don’t think combining two movies was the problem here, I think that throwing in a bit of High Rise might have been what turned audiences off the most.  That film is wacky in a definite Terry Gilliam way, but without the precision to pull it off, so it ends up missing the mark by a fair margin.  Clooney wrote this script with the Coen Brothers, hence the obvious style, but they decided to add some dystopia to the mix, some bizarre, animalistic, poignant unreality, and I wonder if that’s when audiences checked out.  I understand why, but I didn’t react the same way, and the rest of the movie was good enough to make up for those specific oddities.  Damon was great as the villain, Moore was solid twice over, the kid was much better than kids usually are, and I’m biased because I absolutely adore the guy, but Oscar Isaac stole the show.  The plot is bonkers, there’s plenty of violence, some cutting comedy; I guess I can understand why Suburbicon flopped with audiences, but count me as a critic who was riding just the right wavelength to pick up what this team was throwing down.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Trailer – I Feel Pretty

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein

Starring: Amy Schumer, Emily Ratajkowski, Busy Phillips

Release: June 29th, 2018

These directors do bad movies, Amy Schumer isn’t really funny anymore, and this weird, backwards, all-female take on Shallow Hal just looks plain weird.


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Movie Trailer – Incredibles 2

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: Brad Bird

Starring: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackcon

Release: June 15th, 2018

I like The Incredibles enough, it’s fun, but it’s not my favorite.  I think this one looks a little silly, the whole parenting thing, and I’m not sure I’ll really enjoy it.  Let’s hope it’s just a short look, that the rest of the movie will be much more exciting.


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Movie Review – Fifty Shades Freed

Category : Movie Review

Director: James Foley

Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan

Year: 2018

This might surprise you, as I’m a 30-something man with a taste for sci-fi and Oscars dramas, but I kinda like the Fifty Shades franchise.  And no, it isn’t just because of Dakota Johnson, although she is very sexy and I won’t deny that her body is a bit of factor.  But it goes beyond that; I actually enjoy the smutty abandon of this series, how they are, especially with the first film, shouting a big “screw you!” in the face of the industry, completely giving in to the money and the sex.  Fifty Shades of Grey was pretty hot, it didn’t shy away from controversy, and I was shocked when I rather liked it.  Fifty Shades Darker wasn’t actually much darker, became a silly soap opera, left most of the bondage behind, and focused on the romance element, all of which was a bit of a let down, but I think we all expected a descent.  I predicted a leap off a cliff face with the last installment, and in that way Fifty Shades Freed did not disappoint; it’s one of the worst films you will ever see.

Ana and Christian are married, and they’ll just have to deal with the fact that he sometimes still wants to control her, while she often wants to flaunt the fact that she won’t be controlled.  They vow to make it work, even though he gets jealous and she gets rebellious; that’s what every married couple deals with, right?  Sure, every newlywed is wading through the world of BDSM, jet-setting to Paris, and running multiple successful companies, all while secret crazy people are trying to destroy their lives.  Wait, what?  That’s just the Grey way, and it’s no outdoor picnic.  Someone is trying to sabotage Ana and Christian’s relationship, they are doing a pretty good job of that themselves at the same time, and there may be a little bundle of joy on the way as well.  But love conquers all, especially love in handcuffs.

I said it about the last installment and I’ll say it again; if what you came to see are Dakota Johnson’s nipples, then you’re in for a treat.  They are basically the stars of the film, and I don’t really understand why, since the majority of audience members are women who came because they read the books, think Christian is hot, and want to see their own secret fantasies portrayed on camera.  At least that’s what I assume, maybe I’m wrong, because the studio seems to think that what we want are shots of Ana in various states of undress, which I’m all for, but I also don’t think that’s a great base for a film.  Other than the fact that she looks great, and that the movie has an ending that I actually thought was smart, with a good wrapped-up feeling that will satisfy those who were invested in the series, there is absolutely nothing positive to say about this final chapter.

Fifty Freed is less actual cinema and more a USA Network original, like an episode of Silk Stockings but with a backstory, Thomas Crown Affair wealth, and a Red Room filled with butt plugs.  It loses the intrigue of the first, the romance of the second, and instead focuses on two really boring things: manufactured couples fights that end with make-up sex and a generic villain story line hovering in the periphery like a cracked shell.  All we get is bickering, mixed with conversations about how marriage is hard, and the stupidest thriller outline you have ever seen, laden with cliches that are hard to imagine that actual brains thought would work.  The acting goes from bad to worse, the side characters are ridiculous/pointless beyond compare, and if you were to write this entire plot down and read it to yourself aloud, you might actually fall over dead from sheer embarrassment.  Although I didn’t hate it originally, I’m so glad this franchise is over.  Not only did the last part destroy any fragile credibility that it might have earned, but it’s also something none of us need in our lives: fantasy, real, sex, or otherwise.

My rating: ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Black Panther

Category : Movie Review

Director: Ryan Coogler

Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong’o, Michael B. Jordan

Year: 2018

Black Panther was cinematically introduced in Captain America: Civil War, and he was definitely one of its strongest parts.  That character is completely and roundly awesome, with a few superpowers, a ton of natural skill, and a backstory to give him depth.  We’ve seen him out of his element, kicking ass, seeking revenge, now we get a look at his homeland, Wakanda, a place of secrecy and beauty more like Krypton than NYC, the hidden gem that houses the precious vibranium.  If you’re into comics and MU movies, you’ve been looking forward to this one, a longer look at one of the cooler cats that fight with the mighty Avengers.  And I’ve got good news for you; it doesn’t disappoint.  Black Panther is part origin story, part new adventure, a fresh take on the genre, with a cast that will knock your socks off and an underlying message that doesn’t let you leave without riding the wave.

The king is dead; long live the king.  A new Black Panther has come to the throne after the death of the great Wakandan ruler, his son claiming the title and defeating the challengers to earn the right to rule his people.  He is already housing Captain America’s friend Bucky Barnes, but his nation is also hiding vibranium-laced supertechnology that they keep solely to themselves, both to keep dangerous weapons out of evil hands and to protect their beautiful land.  Black Panther wants only to keep his people safe, while others close to him want to help the outside world, a prospect that comes with its own problems.  But the outside world is coming in, whether they want it to or not, in the form of Erik Killmonger, a trained murderer with a secret past.  His appearance will rock the Wankandan way of life, and will also change the fate of the entire world.

Chadwick Boseman is becoming the biopic king, which isn’t my favorite genre, but there’s no denying his ability to assume a real life role.  What makes him great is his ability to also weave yards of his natural talent into the true character, to show us that he has skills beyond simple copy work.  42, Get on Up, Marshall; these films by themselves aren’t phenomenal, but you can see a rising star working his way up through every one.  Boseman was also Floyd Little in The Express, a role that’s close to my heart, being a Broncos fan, and he was also an athlete in Draft Day, another football flick, this time fictional.  The guy can do it all, and is only now blossoming into a major film actor at the age of 40; he looks and seems half that age.  He is a perfect choice for T’Challa, delivers another excellent performance in the Universe, and should be a staple to the Marvel diet going forward.

And then there are the dozen co-stars around him, a few more than needed perhaps, because the plot does get a little cloudy at times, but solid nonetheless.  Nyong’o, Jordan, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Sterling K. Brown, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis; again, perhaps a little overkill.  I thought Michael B. Jordan stole the show, while Martin Freeman was completely pointless and Angela Bassett was cringe-worthy.  With all these side actors, you need side stories, and that’s where Black Panther was at its worst.  When we should have been focusing on the epic battle between Panther and Killmonger, we were watching Kaluuya on a rhino instead, which was both odd and completely unnecessary.  The film could have been slightly more focused and tightly-woven, but that’s probably my only major critique.  The cinematography was breathtaking, the African cultural elements felt real when they could so easily have felt forced, and the messages behind the story (isolationism, xenophobia, compounding wrongs) were too bright to miss.  Watch this latest addition to a franchise that is quickly turning into a legacy with confidence, pride, and an eye toward the horizon.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Sports – 2018 NFL Free Agency

Category : Sports

With the 2017 season behind us, the Super Bowl over, and the reality of zero football settling in, it’s never too early to look ahead to next year. The 2018 season kicks off with the HOF game in Canton in August and the Opener in Philadelphia in September, but before that there are two major events that will change your team’s future. One is the Draft in April, and the other is Free Agency in March. There are veteran players out there for the taking, and they could help your team right away with their talent and experience. Here is a look at some of the top NFL Free Agents of 2018:

 

Kirk Cousins – QB – Washington Redskins

Drew Brees – QB – New Orleans Saints

Le’Veon Bell – RB – Pittsburgh Steelers

Trai Turner – OG – Carolina Panthers

Jimmy Graham – TE – Seattle Seahawks

Jarvis Landry – WR – Miami Dolphins

Sheldon Richardson – DT – Seattle Seahawks

Tyler Eifert – TE – Cincinnati Bengals

Case Keenum – QB – Minnesota Vikings

Sammy Watkins – WR – Los Angeles Rams

Malcolm Butler – CB – New England Patriots

Ezekiel Ansah – DT – Detroit Lions

Trumaine Johnson – CB – Los Angeles Rams

Larry Fitzgerald – WR – Arizona Cardinals

Sam Bradford – QB – Minnsota Vikings

DeMarcus Lawrence – DE – Dallas Cowboys

Antonio Gates – TE – Los Angeles Chargers

Terrelle Pryor – WR – Washington Redskins

A.J. McCarron – QB – Cincinnati Bengals

Nate Solder – OT – New England Patriots