When the Game Stands Tall

game

When the Game Stands Tall

Starring: Jim Caviezel, Alexander Ludwig, and Michael Chiklis

Directed by: Thomas Carter

Rating: PG

Time: 115 minutes

The De La Salle varsity football streak of 151 straight victories is considered one of, if not the greatest win streak in sports history.  The streak started when I was a 5th grader and finally came to an end in 2003 when I was a Junior in college.  De La Salle was always the talk of Northern California when it came to high school football, and with their streak in the 100s during my high school career they were already legends.   I was really looking forward to seeing this movie, I had read the book and was intrigued by a high school football movie set in Northern California instead of Texas or Southern California. 

Director Thomas Carter had done a fairly decent job with Coach Carter which I enjoyed, it didn’t bring anything new to the table of high school sports movies but it was very watchable.  I was expecting the same with When the Game Stands Tall, I imagined it was going to be formulaic and pull at the heart strings just enough, but not too much.  Unfortunately my run of bad movies continues.

When the Game Stands Tall would be better served being shown on the Hallmark channel than on the big screen.  The director is so concerned with churning out heartwarming scenes that he forgets it takes drama and context in order to make them heartwarming.  The streak itself is glossed over in the beginning of the movie, so when it is broken you do not feel the emotional pain that should be felt with that dramatic of a loss.  The film goes from attempted heartwarming scene to football practice/game back to heartwarming scene without giving any chance for the school or the characters to have any depth.  Jim Caviezel’s portray of Bob Ladoucer is strained at best.  While coach Ladouceur is a very soft spoken and quiet person, Caviezel’s portrayal of him makes him appear as if he doesn’t have the ability to show any emotion.  It is draining and the viewer finds themselves struggling to discover why this man is able to bring such dedication out of his players.  The only coach whom actually seems like a coach is Michael Chiklis who is completely over the top and very reminiscent of many high school football coaches.  All in all the acting isn’t great, but even if it was it couldn’t make up for the script.  Sadly this film does not live up to the high school football greats that have come before it.  You are better served rewatching Friday Night Lights (movie or show)

Grade: C- (rental if there is nothing else)

Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qT0aE4iAnJo

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Boyhood

Boyhood

Boyhood (contains some spoilers that in no way will change the movie for you)

Starring: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, & Ethan Hawke

Directed by: Richard Linklater

Rating: R

Time: 2 hr 42 min

Boyhood is a movie I have wanted to see since the minute I heard about it.  It has been billed as one of the best films of the year, and director Richard Linklater’s only real shot at winning an Oscar for directing.  Linklater’s idea of filming this story over 11 years so he could actually use the same actors was inventive and incredibly brave.  It currently holds a 99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes which is usually only reserved for classics, and slate.com is already calling for it to be nominated by the Academy for Best Film.  Richard Roeper gave the film an A+ and called it one of the greatest films he has ever seen.  Everyone I know who has seen this film has called it superb.  There apparently was a woman who was crying in the back of the theater that I saw it in.  The Director has flown under the radar of most movie goers, even though he has directed such films as Dazed & Confused, Fast Food Nation, A Scanner Darkly, and the Before Sunrise trilogy. I have enjoyed many of his films and always look forward to seeing them when they come out.

With all that being said, I did not enjoy this film at all.  I can vaguely see why people like it, but I just don’t get it.  I am going to split my review into two parts, story and character.

The story is pretty good, it’s the basic story of a child growing up with parents who are far too young and mature to make good decisions and how it affects him in his life.  The boy grows up in Texas and becomes and artist in a culture that is not very open for the alternative types.  He has multiple step fathers whom he does not get along with, and an absentee father whom he adores.  His mother is a mess, jumping from one man to another, all the while dragging her kids through her chaotic life.  He has a barely there relationship with a sister who at best tolerates him.  None of this is groundbreaking story telling, but it does move the movie along.  The interesting part is that Linklater was able to use all the same actors by filming the movie over 11 years.  You get to see the actors mature along with their characters.  It is an interesting take on a story that has been told countless times. 

Now onto the characters.  This is where the film falls flat on its face.  The characters are awful, and some of the acting is downright painful.  The main character of Mason Jr., played by Ellar Coltrane is by far one of the least sympathetic protagonists I have seen in a long time.   While Mason Jr. did not have a perfect life his life wasn’t so hard that is should cause him to walk through every scene mumbling with his tail between his legs.  He reminded me of all that bad characteristics of Mitch Kramer from Dazed and Confused without any of the redeeming qualities.  His winy malcontent attitude made me root against him, so much so that when his girlfriend cheats on him with the lacrosse player I said “no shit”.  I couldn’t stand people like this growing up, can’t stand them now, and really don’t like watching movies about them. 

His sister was another character I had no patience for.  She didn’t do anything terrible throughout the film, she just really didn’t do anything.  Her apathy towards her brother was bothersome and as a character and an actress she didn’t add anything to the story line.  Her main function was to nag her mother and blame her brother for things.  Understanding that she was cast at 9 years old, it would be hard to tell if she could ever mature into a good actress, but since the director cast his own daughter in the role he does not get any leeway.  She came off as a constant eye roll and had no depth of character or story.

My least favorite character was Olivia the mother played by Patricia Arquette.  To be fair I have only enjoyed two films that Patricia Arquette has been in, Fast Food Nation and True Romance.  I generally dislike her as an actress, I tend to find her acting forced and her voice is like nails on a chalk board.  In this instance it wasn’t her acting that was the problem, (I think she did a good job), it was the character that was the problem.  Normally I would feel bad for a single mom who was struggling to raise two kids, but in this case I didn’t.  The majority of the problems the family faced were because of the mother’s horrible choices, again I could forgive that, but in so many scenes she took it out on the children as if they should feel sorry that she made these horrible decisions.  In one scene she yells at her daughter because her daughter is upset that she was uprooted overnight and had to wear dirty clothes to a new school.  All of this was because the mother fled an abusive relationship, but in turn attempted to make her daughter feel guilty for being upset.  She had no empathy as a character yet demanded sympathy and support from everyone.  Absolutely painful to watch.

The only character I did enjoy was Ethan Hawke, probably because of how superficial his character was.  It’s not hard to like an absentee father who shows up every 30 or so minutes and gets to be the fun character.  But even though he was fun I was never rooting for his character or hoping that everything worked out.

As I said previously I did not enjoy this film, it was a struggle for me to get through, and I found myself constantly checking my watch in the last hour.  I think if you have raised kids the film probably is more sentimental and means something to you, but since I haven’t none of those emotions came through.  I found the film poorly acted, with unsympathetic characters that I never became emotionally invested in.  I know it is supposed to be one of the best films out there, and some people say top 10 of all time, but I could not disagree more.  Comparing this film to films like The Godfather, Citizen Kane, and Casablanca is foolish.  There has been a slow growing backlash from some critics about the amount of praise that has been thrown at this movie, and I agree with them.  LA Times Critic Kenneth Turan wrote that the film’s “animating idea is more interesting than its actual satisfactions”, and I completely agree.  The story is good, and the way it was shot is very intriguing, but the film itself leaves much to be desired.  Throughout my life I have seen better films, and I have seen better films this year.

Grade: F (not even a rental)

Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y0oX0xiwOv8

The Giver

 Brenton-Thwaites-the-giver-lg

The Giver

Starring: Brenton Thwaites, Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep & Katie Holmes

Rating: PG-13

Time: 100 minutes

In 1993 Lois Lowry’s The Giver was released and became an incredibly popular and equally controversial children’s novel.  I read The Giver for the first time at Central Middle School and have read it every 5 or so years since.  I always wanted them to make a film version of the beloved story and after watching the movie Sunday night, I wish they hadn’t.

Making a film out of a beloved novel is an incredibly daunting task, it is rare that the film lives up to the novel, and even rarer that a film exceeds its literary roots.  Shawshank Redemption, The Godfather, Goodfellas, To Kill a Mocking Bird, and Schindler’s List are all movies that are better than the books they were based off of.  On the opposite side of the spectrum you have The Cat in the Hat, The Great Gatsby (both versions), and The Time Machine, all horrible films based off of great books.  The Giver falls into neither category, but it is definitely closer to the latter than the former.

The movie struggles for a variety of reasons, but three rise to the top as the film’s biggest faults.  First and foremost is the cast.  None of the well-known actors bring their A game, and the unknowns actors do not give a performance worth remembering.  Jeff Bridges who plays the giver tries very hard to portray a conflicted and depressed elder, but for some reason they give him an affected speech pattern which makes him sound like a stroke victim instead of a haunted all-knowing elder.  Meryl Streep seems to be channeling her character from the Devil Wears Prada, but I was more afraid of her Miranda Priestly character than this role as the Chief Elder.  The other characters are unknowns or have been in an HBO or Showtime series and don’t bring much to the table.  Worst of all is Taylor Swift’s cameo as the Giver’s dead daughter Rosemary.  She has very little screen time and serves as more of a distraction than anything else.

Second, the film does not give a proper backstory.  There is no real explanation as to why the society was created the way it was, and it only hints at the horrible times that caused this way of life.  With a run time of only 1 hour and 40 minutes they should have spent more time on setting the story up then showing off the cool CGI community.

Lastly, the film is far too short.  Much of the film is wasted on an overly long action scene and not enough is spent on emotional buildup and important plot details.  Most of what made the novel what it was, is quickly glossed over in this sped up film.  Understanding that brevity is a virtue, it is not so in this case.  The film feels like it is just trying to get to its dramatic ending, which due to the lack of buildup is not dramatic or fulfilling.

The Giver as a standalone movie might be bearable, but as an adaption of a literary masterpiece it is a disaster.  It is rushed  and crowded by bad acting, and useless CGI effects.  I don’t think I would even recommend it as a rental.

Grade: D (Skip It)

Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xvp6FnYWRZU