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

Advertisements

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

Lone Survivor

Lone_Survivor_poster

 

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, and Emile Hirsch

Rating: R

Time: 121 Minutes

Lone Survivor, based off the book by the same name,  tells the story of the failed Operation Red Wings, in which four Navy Seals are ambushed by Taliban forces in the mountains of Afghanistan.  This movie is not for the faint of heart, so be  prepared to see one of the most realistic portrayals of combat that I have ever seen.  Lone Survivor is intense and graphic, but a must see for anyone who wants to see what really is going on in the Near East.

I went into this movie a little skeptical, based on the fact that the last time Peter Berg (director) and Taylor Kitsch teamed up it resulted in Battleship.  Berg has been the force behind the Friday Night Lights television series and also directed the movie, but he has just as many flops as successes.  I was worried that he would over sensationalize such an important story, and thereby lose sight of what the story is actually trying to say.  Berg rose to the challenge of this film and delivered arguably one of the best movies about the United States’ War on Terror”.

Lone Survivor is a story more about the brotherhood that exists between the men who serve in our armed forces, than about the actual battle itself  Four Navy Seals are ambushed by a large Taliban force and are pursued mercilessly through the mountains of Afghanistan.  The films focuses on their struggle to survive and their willingness to fight and die for each other.  As the title states, most of the Seals in the movie end up dying at the hands of the Taliban but all die heroically trying to save on another.  The level of realism that is brought to this film is truly thought provoking and cringe inducing at the same time.  I have not scene battle films this realistic since Saving Private Ryan.

Another challenge in a film like this is portraying non-Americans as actual human beings as opposed to faceless enemies.  This of course is the one part that the film lacks, there is no humanism given to the opposing forces, they are only shown in scenes of battle and are portrayed as brutal fighters.  The Navy Seals are assisted by non-Taliban forces so at least not all foreigners are portrayed as the enemy.  I understand this is incredibly difficult in war films, but some of the greatest ones are able to humanize the enemy.

The acting in this films is superb, the four marines are played by Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, and Ben Foster.  All four actors give the characters there all and are able to show the range of emotions they go through facing certain death.  The film is also assisted by Eric Bana who plays the commander in charge of the Seals.  Bana who is no stranger to war films (Black Hawk Down) brings a more mature voice to the movie as the commander who is stuck at base while his troops are under attack.

I would highly recommend seeing Lone Survivor, it is a fantastic film about four amazing men.  The only things that keeps me from giving it an A is the incredibly graphic war scenes.  This movie is really hard to watch at times, the amount of pain these men went through is chilling.  If you cringe at blood and broken limbs this movie is not for you.  They did not pull any punches making this film, all the pain and carnage is shown and it will make anyone who watches it realize the sacrifice that our soldiers go through overseas.

Grade: B+ (Definitely Go)

Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yoLFk4JK_RM

The Spectacular Now

The_Spectacular_Now_5

 

Starring: Miles Teller & Shailene Woodley

Rating: R

Time: 95 Minutes

I am starting a new feature for my blog, Redbox Mondays.  These reviews will feature movies that are newly available to rent on Redbox.  I understand not everyone can get to the movies, so here is a review for those of you who like to watch at home.  I am going to start with my favorite movie of 2013: The Spectacular Now.

I have a soft spot for any movie that deals with high school or college.  From American Pie to Animal House, I truly love coming of age movies (and party movies).  The Spectacular Now is one of the most honest films about High School that I have ever seen, and is not a comedy.  It stars two of my favorite young actors, Miles Teller (Rabbit Hole, Project X) and Shailene Woodley (The Secret Life of the American Teenager, The Descendants).  This film shows the incredible range these two young actors already have and makes me eager to watch their careers develop.

The Spectacular Now tells the story of Sutter Keely (Teller) the party kid, who has all the potential in the world but seems determined to piss it away and go nowhere.  Sutter is beloved because of his natural charisma and his ability to make any situation fun.  Beneath this demeanor is a troubled young man haunted with abandonment issues and struggling through the beginnings of alcoholism.  Every high school had these guys; the ones you knew could be great but for one reason or another couldn’t keep it together.  They always seemed to be their own worst enemy, and could never get out of their own way.  Teller portrays this role honestly and with a sense of true understanding of the character.

After a wild night of partying Sutter is discovered passed out on a random lawn by classmate Aimee Finecky (Woodley).  Finecky an oddball and outcast at school is working her paper route to help pay the bills for her deadbeat mom.  Finecky and Sutter develop an unlikely friendship that develops into a true relationship.  Finecky attempts to make Sutter a better person, while Sutter’s destructive habits begin to rub off on Finecky.

This isn’t your average popular guy dates nerdy girl high school film, like She’s All That.  This film deals with the issues of becoming an adult and being in a real relationship.  Teller truly shines in this film; his character is at times incredibly witty and at other times sadly self-destructive.  The Spectacular Now is also helped out by small roles played by Jennifer Jason Leigh (Fast Times at Ridgemont High) and my favorite TV actor Coach Taylor aka Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights).  Chandler plays a very different role than we are used to seeing him, it is a pleasure to see him step out of the coach/authority role and play a washed up loser.

I cannot recommend this film enough, while it did not do terribly well at the box office I believe that is because it was not properly marketed and not a reflection on the film or the actors.  Sometimes good films don’t catch on, but with dvds we always get a second chance to see one we missed.  The Spectacular Now isn’t for everyone, it deals with some very heavy issues and is not the comedy we are used to seeing out of High School movies (plus no one sings), but I think this film stands a head above the ones that have come before it.   The beauty of movies is that certain films speak to certain people, sometimes you can’t really put your finger on it but you can relate to or truly understand a character.  The Spectacular Now is one of those for me.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Grade: A+

Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XDTBLSkUmYk

The Wolf of Wall Street

The Wolf of Wall Street

Starring: Leonard DiCaprio & Jonah Hill

Rating: R

Time: 179 Minutes

I have been looking forward to this movie since reading the book.  I absolutely loved the book; it was such a page turner that I left a dinner party early in order to finish it.  When the trailers for the film starting coming out at the beginning of 2013 I could not have been more excited.

That excitement lasted until stories of editing issues came out, and the release date was pushed back over a month.  This is never a good sign for a movie, especially a movie directed by Martin Scorcese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio.  They could film paint drying and I am sure they would get nominated for something.

I saw the movie the day before with my buddy Ben and we both came away with the same reaction.  In order to be fair to the film I am going to review it in two parts, since with a run time of 3 hours it did feel like two ninety minute movies put together.

The first ninety minutes is everything anyone who read the book expected it to be; hookers, blow, and stock fraud.  This part of the story is so fast paced it feels like it goes by in the blink of the eye, it tells the story of how Jordan Belfort went from a failed stock broker to the “Wolf of Wall Street”.  The fact that he is essentially defrauding his clients to make his millions is easily neglected by the incredibly crazy and depraved hijinks Belfort and his cohorts partake in.  Midget tossing, prostitutes in the office, cocaine and Quaalude binges, and the list goes on.   With everything going on it would be easy for the actors to be overshadowed by all the craziness but DiCaprio and Jonah Hill definitely shined.  DiCaprio as always was incredibly convincing in his role as Belfort, but it was Jonah Hill playing side-kick Donnie who really stood out.  Wearing fake teeth and sporting a ridiculous Waspy accent, Jonah Hill disappeared into the role of an appliance salesman turned stock broker.  Roberth Reiner, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler and Margot Robbie also turned in fantastic performances.  If I had to grade the first ninety minutes I would give it an A-.  But since this is a Scorcese film there was a lot more to come.

The second part of the film shows what happens when you binge on drugs, cheat on your wife, and defraud people of their money.  Eventually the law and your addiction comes calling and it is not pretty.  While not being over the top in consequences, the last part of the film was definitely a downer and the pace of the film drastically slowed down.  I felt like Scorcese could have cut some parts of this part down and should have elaborated more on others.  While still good, it did not keep up with the first part and definitely left me feeling a little let down.  I would give this section of the film a C.

All in all The Wolf of Wall Street is a good film, not great but good.  Many critics complained that it was too depraved and vulgar; I did not find that to be an issue.  I actually enjoyed that the script used the F word over 500 times and showed how wild and crazy these people were.  I did feel that the second half was too slow and did not focus on the right part of the stories.  I also felt that never showing the victims of Belfort’s crimes is a missed opportunity.  It is hard to view Belfort as a real criminal when his crimes are never shown.  I understood why Belfort never focused on this in his book, but I think Scorcese missed an opportunity by not humanizing the victims.  The movie was good, but in the end I feel like it missed its mark.

Grade: B-

Trailer:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iszwuX1AK6A

Dallas Buyers Club – McConaughey is 2-0 for 2013

Dallas Buyers Club

Dallas Buyers Club

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto & Jennifer Garner

Rating: R

Time: 116 Minutes

Matthew McConaughey puts together an Oscar worthy performance in his second major release of 2013.  Matthew McConaughey has seemed to struggle with split personalities throughout his career.  Sometimes he is the goofy laid back actor who seems to be playing a caricature of himself (Dazed and Confused, EdTV, The Wedding Planner, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, and Magic Mike) and then there are times when he truly embodies the role he is playing and shows how amazingly talented of an actor he really is (A Time to Kill and The Lincoln Lawyer).  2013 saw two McConaughey performances that can be added to the latter of his personalities.  The first one was Mud, which I will include in my best of 2013, the second is Dallas Buyers Club.  The movie rests completely on the shoulders of McConaughey and he turns in the greatest performance of his career to date.

Dallas Buyers Club tells the story of Ron Woodruff (Matthew McConaughey) an alcoholic, drug addicted, rodeo cowboy/electrician in Dallas, Texas during the 80s.  After getting hurt on the job Woodruff wakes up in the hospital to learn that he has been diagnosed with HIV and that he has about 30 days left to live.  Unable to get the drugs he needs to survive Woodruff begins illegally importing drugs from out of the US and sets up a buyers club so other patients can get the medication they need as well.  Along the way Woodruff is helped by two unlikely friends, a doctor played by Jennifer Garner, and a transsexual AIDS patient played by Jared Leto.

While Leto does an amazing job playing Rayon the transsexual-AIDS patient whom Woodruff befriends, it is McConaughey’s performance as the aggressively homophobic Woodruff that steals every scene.  McConaughey lost 40 pounds for the role, but it is his emotional transformation that is awe inspiring.  McConaughey usually plays the laid back, charming, nice to look at roles, but in Dallas Buyers Club he is anything but.  Playing an all-around asshole who more physically resembles a skeleton than People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive (2005), McConaughey is able to play the role of a man fighting for his life without any sentimentality that we would normally see in this type of film.  McConaughey never betrays the rough and tumble personality of Ron Woodruff, with his “y’all go fuck yourself” attitude you never really root for Woodruff until the end.

Dallas Buyers Club is a struggle to get through at times.  It deals very honestly with the onset of the AIDS crisis and accurately shows how awful the disease is and its horrible effects on the people who were/are inflicted with it.  While no film about AIDS ends on a happy note, the courage and fight of the characters in Dallas Buyers Club is inspiring and thought-provoking.  Not all films are supposed to make you feel good at the end, some deal with important issues and tell important stories.  This is one of those films.

Grade: A- (Must See)

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fvMPU0WaPcc