Draft Day (2014)

Draft DayReleased: April 11, 2014. Directed by: Ivan Reitman. Starring: Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner, Patrick St. Esprit. Runtime: 109 min.

Kevin Costner stars in Draft Day, the NFL’s answer to Moneyball. He portrays fictional General Manager of the Cleveland Browns, Sonny Weaver Jr., as he goes through the motions of a generic, off-the-field sports drama. The story follows him on a stressful day: draft day. On this day, many college hopefuls are drafted into the NFL. To express the anticipation of the day, there’s a countdown to the televised event on the screen. Those who don’t like this movie can also use it as a way to estimate how much longer they’ll be in the theatre.

What may give this film a bit more punch is if it were based on a true story. This just feels too much like a commercial flick for the NFL and ESPN. I have nothing against sports dramas that aren’t true, at least if the fiction on-screen is noteworthy. This film is not bad, it just might be better to watch something that will matter history-wise. Football fans might find a stronger merit in this film. During, the pessimist inside me wondered if Ivan Reitman could make the draft day exciting. He does, working suspense into the finale, which is the strongest stretch of the film. It gives the movie more life, and makes it something more than just lightly entertaining. Prior to it, humour and a charming cast make the light entertainment run at a brisk pace.

Director Ivan Reitman tells this drama with style. There’s a main editing style used when characters are on the phone. Sonny will be on one side of the screen, and the person he’s talking to on the other side. Sometimes their arms will go on the other person’s side of the screen. It’s cool because it looks like they’re in the room together, but this effect also shows how much people talk on the phone. It’s a funny contrast to teens who would just text each other if they want to make a trade for their NFL fantasy draft. I’ve literally seen my brother do this so maybe one of the reasons he enjoyed this film is that he can relate to the stresses of having to get a good team together. Some food for thought: are fantasy drafts and this movie NFL draft really that different in this case? This film has fictional football players who have decent backstories, but it doesn’t really mean anything in the longrun, as far as history goes. Same as fantasy drafts, or maybe Madden video games would work better for my argument; if you have one player on your roster for the Cleveland Browns – that doesn’t mean they’re really going to be playing for the Browns in real life.

Anyway, about the characters. Jennifer Garner portrays a pretty exec who manages the salary cap for the Browns. She’s also in a relationship with Costner’s Weaver. He plays the character with charm. Weaver’s ass is on the line because he’s been general manager of the Browns for two seasons, and he hasn’t been leading the team to many victories. If he doesn’t do a good job this year, the city will request his head, so to speak. Sonny is a character living under his father’s shadow. He is the loved, recently deceased coach of the Browns, Sonny Weaver Senior. Junior has people in his ear all day telling him who to pick for the team, so they can be victorious. The film has a message of following you heart and doing what you think is best. This seems like a realistic portrayal of the job of a general manager on draft day. The generic characters in this off-the-field underdog story are likable enough to make viewers root for them to pull out a win. In this, there’s a deeper exploration of trying to differentiate personal and professional life. There’s a sub-plot that’s irritating. Sonny’s mother wants to spread the ashes of her deceased husband today, of all days. She could simply wait one day, but it’s too urgent as it is. It feels too uninspired to contribute to the story very much.

Draft Day has some interesting aspects. The assistants of Sonny spend hours looking for weaknesses of players they want for their team. If you know that weakness and no one else does, that’s an advantage. It’s entertaining to see these managers play mind games with each other and have different strategies of how to get really good players. These strategies are also ways to show some football playing (through archive footage of old games) in a film that largely takes place off-the-field. Draft Day shows that these type-of sports dramas have an okay future. They’re all right for those who enjoy easy viewings, but not usually as good as on-the-field sports films. This is just a harmless film that has good intentions, but ends up being average. You might be better off watching the real 2014 draft.

Score58/100

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Box Office Predictions April 18-20: Transcendent Bears are in a Haunted House in Heaven… For Real

Are my titles stupid or clever? Maybe they’re funny because they’re stupid. Anyway, onto the brief article. I’ve found it hard to write these because sometimes I like to save discussions of the film (like what I thought it might be like) for my reviews. I find it’s easier to write introductions that way, when I keep the writing about the film brief in these articles. But I might skip two of these movies, anyway. Bears is a home video or online viewing for me (or altogether skip) while I’m not decided on A Haunted House 2. I might just skip that altogether or watch it at a cheap theatre. Oh yeah, the article. My train of thought goes all over the place…

Heaven is for RealBearsA Haunted House 2TranscendenceHeaven is For Real got an early start on the other three releases this Easter by being released on Wednesday. The film is about the true story of a boy who has a near-death experience, and claims to have seen Heaven. It looks like a film that I’ll enjoy because I think the idea of heaven is comforting. I have found myself mocking the title, however. Personally, I think “Heaven is Real” would work just fine and get the point across just as well. Heaven is for Real sounds a bit too “street-talky,” because of sayings like for real, man. Haha. Do you know what I mean? But perhaps Heaven is Real sounds too matter-of-factly for some people. Anyway, other films similar to this open at $11.88 million. I think this will do well over its five-day span, even if it might struggle to make Son of God‘s $25.6 million, a number it made in three days. I’m predicting $25 million for the five-day frame.

Bears is Disneynature’s latest documentary, after Oceans, African Cats and Chimpanzee. It’s getting released to 1720 locations this weekend, all other three of Disneynature’s films. Though, I don’t think it will make more than Chimp. It seems like this will land somewhere between $10.6 (Chimp‘s number) and $6 (Cat‘s number) million. My prediction is $7.8 million, because of a crowded market. It just seems to me that there are better family-friendly options.

A Haunted House 2 is coming out 15 months after the success of the first one (unseen by me) which made $60 million worldwide on a $2.5 million budget. The budget for this one is $3 million. The first film made $18.1 in its opening, going on to gross $40 million domestically. Maybe the film’s 5.0 IMDb score is an indication that this film will muster considerably lower numbers. Maybe it will go down to Scary Movie 5‘s $14.2 million. I can only dream. Films similar to this open at $21.6 million. Some people still like their spoof films, it seems – but the market for them is declining. The Starving Games only got released to 10 theatres (!) domestically, and made most of its money (about $3.7 million) in foreign markets. My prediction for this is $13.8 million.

Wally Pfister, cinematographer for many of Christopher Nolan’s films (only excluding 1997′s Following and the upcoming Interstellar), is in the director’s chair for this weekend’s Transcendence. I’ve been anticipating it, but I’ve brought my expectations down considerably after negative reviews. I saw it a few hours ago, I came away disappointed. I’ll tell you why in my review which I’ll be posting on the weekend. Anyway, similar films open at $32.7 million. I think this will have troubles cracking $30 million. I think this is going to numbers around After Earth  ($27.5M) and Elysium ($29.8M). I’m going to predict this at $28.5 million.

Thanks for reading!

Thanks for reading!

 

 

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Aftershock (2013)

AftershockReleased: May 10, 2013. Directed by: Nicolás López. Starring: Eli Roth, Ariel Levy, Nicolás Martínez. Runtime: 89 min.

Aftershock is a Spanish-American film directed and co-written by Nicolás López, written with Guillermo Amoedo and Eli Roth. I’m curious to know which writers handled which aspect of the film. The movie is a disaster flick, a commentary on the ugliness of human nature, and it feels like an exploitation film at times. I’d imagine Roth handled that last aspect. Roth, also a star of the movie, gets a few laughs. Also featured are stars mostly known for foreign films. One, Nicolás Martínez, strikes me as a Chilean version of Zach Galifianakis. At least his last name is easier to say. Selena Gomez makes a short cameo as a random party girl. All the actors portray their characters well, at least well enough for a horror film.

The screenplay runs into problems early on that will bother some viewers; the problem is establishing character’s names. The character banter is actually funny (Martínez gives us the most laugh-out-loud moments), but for whatever reason not knowing the character’s names is a distraction to me. It’s sort-of like if I were to meet someone and I forgot their name mid-conversation, I wouldn’t be able to focus because I’d be so sidetracked trying to think of their name. Next time, the screenwriters should make it a habit of letting us know the characters’ names by their first or second scene, third at the latest. For those curious, not until 36 minutes in are all of the primary characters’ names established. Too often was I referring to characters as That Short-Haired Girl, Spanish Fat Alan, and Eli Roth. It turns out Roth’s character’s name is extremely generic, Gringo, a term used for English-speaking foreigners (mainly Americans) in Spanish-speaking countries.

Gringo is visiting his buddy Ariel (Ariel Levy) in Chile, taking in the sights. The two, and Ariel’s friend Pollo (Nicolás Martínez) go on the town to parties, where they meet a few pretty girls who are vacationing in Chile. It seems to me they’re all from Budapest or Hungary. One is named Monica (Andrea Osvárt) who is a controlling older half-sister of Kylie (Lorenza Izzo). Travelling with them is another pretty woman named Irina (Natasha Yarovenko). The characters are pretty okay, I like their chemistry and banter. On their second night of partying together, they’re in an underground night club when an earthquake strikes. When they reach the surface, it seems that the earthquake was only the beginning of their troubles. While trying to survive, they learn the horrors of human nature.

I like the flow of the plot. Technically speaking, it’s good – the cinematography is chaotic at times, but I think it’s used to highlight the chaos of the situation. The visual effects are cool and the sound editing is great. I think the score is well done, too. The cinematography captures some really nice Chilean landscapes. What I think is impressive about this film, is that even though the film’s not great at establishing character’s names, you care about a few of them and audience members feel some of the character’s pain. I think some parts are actually pretty sad. Other character developments aren’t the strongest; notably Roth’s Gringo, who never downplays the fact that he’s a Jew. Some of the things he says are funny at first, but it then it just becomes an irritating character trait. Enough about the characters, because there’s not much more to discuss here.

A layer of intensity is added when a group of convicts are able to escape from the local prison because of the earthquake. This keeps the story going and adds antagonists other than mother nature. The ugliness of human nature is analyzed by some character’s decisions, for example – when a random character doesn’t help a person, even though that said person helped her. That’s just a simple way to show how people can be crappy. The ways it shows how humans are ugly is only rarely so tame in Aftershock.

It seems to me, the reason why people might dislike this film is that there’s just a lot that it’s trying to juggle. It’s partly a disaster film, while expressing the ugliness of humans, as well showing each character’s will to survive. All with lots of gore. There are a lot of simplistic themes throughout, but I think they’re handled well. However, juggling all of these approaches to this kind-of filmmaking doesn’t allow it to boast full control and focus. This also takes the traditional horror route a bit too often. It seems that the viewer will have to decide whether this is a profound analysis of the ugliness of human nature or just another exploitation flick from Eli Roth’s extensive cannon. It feels like both to me, and both approaches are good.

Score63/100

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Captain America - The Winter SoldierReleased: April 4, 2014. Directed by: Anthony and Joe Russo. Starring: Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson. Runtime: 136 min.

The superhero niche genre isn’t my favourite. My expectations for them aren’t usually major, unless they’re X-Men or Batman movies. Sometimes there is an exception, and that comes in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the third entry in Marvel’s Phase Two set of films. It’s a smart film that deals with threats to S.H.I.E.L.D. I like how the universe fits its films into the more epic narrative, and even though there are different stories to expand each character, they all make sense. In this film, Captain America (Chris Evans) struggles to find his place in the modern world, as he deals with a major threat from old history: a Soviet agent called the Winter Soldier.

It’s interesting that the film has its title named after the villain of the film, who is great, by the way. (I think it’s better if I keep the villain as a bit mysterious by not talking about him much.) It seems to me that it indicates things are going to be different. Indeed, the stakes in this film are higher and it feels like there’s a sense of urgency throughout. The themes of the film make this feel like a cool Special Ops movie, so it’s practically The Bourne Identity of the Marvel universe, just with less martial arts. But there is a brief scene with martial artist Georges St. Pierre, which is fun to watch. I love the action of the film, and the light humour throughout. It makes the film extremely entertaining. The score complements the great action scenes. My expectations were filled because this is a fun and entertaining popcorn picture, but also something I’d like to watch again.

This is engaging because of the great action,  as well as a story that flows well. The film’s surrounding story is strong, and much more memorable than the Cap’s first outing. Thank goodness that there’s less of that short version of Chris Evans… The CGI effects make his head look way too big for his body, and because of it he looks so disproportionate. It creeps me out. Chris Evans is charismatic as the Captain. I really like him as an actor. The character of Steve Rogers is great, I think, because he has to adjust to a vastly different time period, and he has some conflicting self battle layers which makes him more engaging. A heart-warming scene shared with him and Peggy Carter shows his kind side.

Evans has a great chemistry with all of his cast members, especially with Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow who share a lot of jokes together. This film makes me more interested to learn of Widow’s past. Johansson rocks the role because she’s mysterious, sexy and just overall awesome. The two characters work really well together, and they seem to be alike in a lot of ways. One way being that they’re both badasses. Samuel L. Jackson fills is great as usual as the kick-ass Nick Fury. Anthony Mackie has a charismatic turn as his character. Robert Redford fills a supporting role. He does a serviceable job, but he’s never great.

The film as a whole is a lot more memorable than Redford. What I think makes this more memorable than Marvel’s usual film is that the story is more attractive to a global audience, and not just fans of super hero films. It’s focused and tonally sync, and the character of Steve Rogers is relate-able enough to almost be average in some ways. It’s an attractive thing about the film.

Score85/100

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Noah (2014)

NoahReleased: March 28, 2014. Directed by: Darren Aronofsky. Starring: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Hopkins. Runtime: 138 min.

A film cloaked in controversy from the get go, Noah turns out to be a good, unique film. It’s controversial because it’s a largely different take on the biblical story of Noah’s Ark from the Book of Genesis. It keeps the theme of cleansing the earth of its wickedness, but visionary filmmaker Darren Aronofsky furthers the moral battle to the titular Noah, which keeps the film going well past the flood. As a faithful adaptation, it’s not great – but as Aronofsky’s unique vision, it is. It just depends on how the viewer looks at it.

I choose to focus on the more positive aspects, so I look as it more as a fascinating vision of a great director. Major innovations to the story include protectors that are practically stone giants, which might just be the strangest thing about this film. In this world, there are two vastly different communities: one large and one quite small. Noah (Russell Crowe) leads his family who are taking care of duties on the ark, since he is chosen by the world’s leader to build the ark so the world can be rebuilt to cleanse the earth of its wickedness. This group represents good. The other group is a representation of the wickedness of men, led by Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone). The story raises the idea that all persons have the will to sin and give over to temptation.

These ideas make most of the characters have inner conflicts. These can sometimes be frustrating to the viewer. It gets an emotional reaction from the viewer, hatred or not, it works to effect. Amongst the most conflicted is of course Noah. It’s a crazy amount of responsibility, the task he’s been given by the Creator. It seems that this a different world, as if it’s made that we’re to assume this is God they’re talking about – but He’s only referred to as the Creator. That might just add on to the controversy, whether or not the film’s ignoring Him, or if Aronofsky only wants to call him Creator. It never feels like the film-makers have an anti-Christianity mindset. Anyway, Noah’s inner battles with himself are fascinating; as are the contrasts made between him and Tubal-cain. Russell Crowe carries the film well, assisted by the rest of the talented cast. One can begin to understand the character, despite some crazy decisions. Ray Winstone is also good as his character. My only complaint about both of them is that they have a bad habit of whispering dialogue.

It’s cool to see the extreme lengths Aronofsky go to in order to portray the wickedness of man. There’s a repetition of imagery of a Serpent, the Adam and Eve story, and the story of Cain and Abel throughout. This is another symbol of the temptation and sin of man. I also like the way Aronofsky portrays Noah’s visions. Some of his visions make this feel like a big-budget Take Shelter at times. There’s a cool sequence where Noah’s underwater and animals swim to the surface with him two by two. The visuals are magnificent, as is the Iceland scenery. Due to the scenery and variations of animals, the time setting of the film – biblical times or a futuristic setting, in the vein of After Earth - remains open to interpretation. Some visual effects are dizzying when they aren’t dazzling. It’s mostly when the passage of time is shown. The style used is fast-forwarded imagery. The way the story transitions to where the Ark , where two birds fly over several landscapes to get to the Ark, is like a short film in itself.

The film might as well be divided into three chapters: before the flood, when it strikes and during, and after. Seeing how this world works in the first chapter is fascinating. When it strikes, the visuals are phenomenal, and things on the Ark get a bit strange, but sometimes there’s nothing wrong with that. It flows all pretty well. It’s a character and cast-driven film. Jennifer Connelly is very good as Naameh. She captures the anxiety of the situation well. Anthony Hopkins is great as Noah’s great grandfather Methuselah, who craves berries, and gives Noah guidance. Logan Lerman is good as Ham, who is one of the film’s most frustrating character. Douglas Booth as Shem does his job. The youngest child, Japheth, portrayed by newcomer Leo McHugh Carroll, is given nothing to do here. He might have five lines of dialogue. A real impressive star in this film is Emma Watson. She’s believable in almost every way, and the character’s insecurities makes her relateable to audiences. I really can’t wait to see more from her.

It will be interesting to see what Aronofsky tackles next. From what I’ve seen of his, he directs character-driven films, which is an aspect that works well for this. The dark tone and epic scale suit this, as well. Noah might not be what you expect going into the film. Expect a different sort-of cinematic experience. Since the film is so different from the original story that’s extremely tame in comparison; a fair deal of it is unpredictable. Unpredictable means surprises, and this has them in spades.

Score75/100

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Box Office Predictions: April 11-13

The three main releases of the weekend are Draft Day, Oculus, Rio 2.

For me, the horror film Oculus looks the most promising. It premiered back in September at the Toronto International Film Festival, in the Midnight Madness programme. The premise looks really cool, it’s about a young woman who tries to exonerate her brother, who was convicted of murder, by proving that it was committed by a supernatural phenomenon. It sounds really cool. The marketing campaign hasn’t been that aggressive, but the trailers that I have seen have been effectively creepy. I’m really excited to see this. Karen Gillan is starring in it, and the redheaded beauty will be seen as a bald-headed beauty in August’s Guardians of the Galaxy as Nebula. Films similar to this low-budget horror film open at an average $12.6 million. Since the marketing campaign hasn’t been that aggressive, but effective like I said, I think this will make $14.8 million this weekend.

Draft Day, starring Kevin Costner, is a sports drama that doesn’t primarily take place on the sports field. The movie follows General Manager Sonny Weaver on Draft Day, who has an opportunity to rebuild his team with the number one draft pick. The reason I’m looking forward to watching this film is because of the cast. I like Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner, and I like what I’ve seen from Chadwick Boseman (42) so far. Similar films to this open at $11.45 million. It seems to me the most comparable films for this, even though there are both baseball, are Trouble with the Curve ($12.16m) and Moneyball ($19.5m). Draft Day is anticipated by many, it seems, so I’m going to predict this at $16.7 million.

The new film that will gross the most this weekend, but probably have to settle for second place to Captain America: The Winter Soldier, is Rio 2. It’s the animated sequel to 2011′s hit. The sequel doesn’t even take place primarily in Rio de Janeiro; they go to the Amazon, where Blu meets his father-in-law. I think one of the taglines, Meet the Flockers, is a bit clever. I’m not extremely excited for this, but it looks pretty good! I thought the first film was just pretty good. Films similar to this open at $40.85 million. The first Rio had an opening weekend of $39.22 million. My prediction for the first sequel is $39.5 million.

 

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Rio (2011)

RioRelease Date: April 15, 2011. Director: Carlos Saldanha. Stars (voices): Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, Jamie Foxx. Runtime: 96 min.

Blue Sky Studios produces decent animated movies; from the Ice Age flicks to Horton Hears a Who! to Epic. The studio is just that, though, decent. Their movies aren’t anything extraordinary usually – and that’s just the case with Rio.

As feel-good and foot-tapping as the movie is, it’s quite generic and simply forgettable. It’s a good way to pass the time, and it offers a few laughs, but I don’t remember any of them. The voicework is also fine. It’s a story about believing to fly, because Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) was taken from his natural habitat before he learned to fly. I don’t remember hearing any R. Kelly song throughout this movie, so that seems like a missed opportunity. The supporting characters are mildly amusing.

The movie goes down like a bitter pill. The movie is solid entertainment, but it hurts to know that Pixar could have made a movie just like this. They had to cancel their project, called Newt, because theirs was a similar premise with geckos – and I just can’t help but think their finished project would have been superior to this only mediocre film.

Score63/100

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