Enemy (2014)

EnemyReleased: March 14, 2014. Directed by: Denis Villeneuve. Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Sarah Gadon, Mélanie Laurent. Runtime: 90 min.

You should really see Enemy with a friend. At least do yourself a favour and have a designated discussion partner to talk about the film. If you think too hard and try to figure out this puzzle of a film by yourself, you might find it to be a bigger challenge. The film follows Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal), a bored and highly disinterested history professor at a university in Toronto. He can’t even get himself intensely interested in his beautiful girlfriend Mary (Laurent). One day he rents a film based on the recommendation of a colleague. In the background of one scene, he spots a person that looks exactly like him; an actor named Anthony Clair, also portrayed by Gyllenhaal. Bell decides to seek out his “double,” which put of their lives on a collision course. 

In some of Bell’s lectures, he talks of dictatorships and how some use a lack of education to limit individuality – and, to a further extent, power over our actions. He also speaks of repetition. The first time something happens, it’s a tragedy; the second time it happens, it’s a farce. It’s a thought-provoking idea to ponder. It’s one of the many ideas the film proposes. The thematic duality is also enjoyable. I think the idea of a doppelganger is a fascinating one. It’s a concept delved into by many cultures. Spanish writer Javier Gullón adapts José Saramago’s 2002 novel called “The Double.” I’m not sure how faithful this film is to the novel, but Denis Villeneuve (director of the phenomenal Prisoners) tells the story with surrealist imagery, which he utilizes to great effect. This film is a dream come true for any fan of surrealism. 

Not one image of Villeneuve’s style is not arbitrary, even though it might seem it at the time. It contributes to the story in some way, even if you forget the image by the end of it all – and have to watch this again. Granted, at the time, some images might strike viewers as empty and meaningless. Villeneuve realistically captures the urges and tendencies of men, as well. Some paths he takes are dark and ominous, which sets the tone and atmosphere for the film. It’s a movie that proves the unexpected is so damn satisfying. If I were the filmmaker here, I’d probably just take the route of finding my doppelganger so I could play jokes on my friends. That would be a much shorter film than the engaging, intricately written 90 minutes at hand, that actually goes by fairly quickly. At times the film is sexy, unsettling, violating, haunting and all too memorable. 

Denis Villeneuve truly knows how to absorb his audience’s attention. With blending imagery of something like a Darren Aronofsky film (at times I was reminded of Black Swan), and a scope and atmospheres that remind me of some of David Fincher’s films, he is able to create a unique visual style and an enthralling mystery. His fascination with creepy crawlies makes an appearance in symbolism. The film all-around fascinates. Sometimes viewers may not be able to make heads or tails of things that occur on-screen – at least in first viewing – but I willingly went along for the ride. Even if surrealism isn’t your favourite thing in the world, you’ll probably be able to appreciate what Villeneuve sets out achieve. Some symbolism could have a stronger focus, granted, but ambiguity is intentional at times. The intention is to provoke thoughts and discussion – and it’s done so in spades. 

I cannot end this review without mentioning the phenomenal work from the cast. At times the women take a back seat to the Toronto landscapes and imagery. That is mostly Laurent as Mary, who is largely unbeknownst to Adam’s mission to find his double. She does great for what she is asked to do. Sarah Gadon’s character of Helen is in the thick of the plot and I think she has an interesting role. Jake Gyllenhaal delivers a tour de force performance. He is up to the challenge of portraying these two very different characters. One is a timid, often distant character; the other a confident, intense and tempted character trying to figure out this whole mindf!#k of a situation. Join the club, Gyllenhaal number two. The character is driven by these two, and the one strong actor, who play with individuality and duality.

Warning: Try not to focus on just one, sole concept. Viewers with an attention to detail will benefit from that greatly. Villeneuve creates an intelligent and spellbinding experience with Enemy. He compels viewers from the beginning, to the final, absolutely haunting image. Good luck trying to forget that image. It’s what helps this become so memorable – and what is helping Villeneuve become one of Canada’s most exciting filmmakers. 

Score: 88/100

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Brick Mansions (2014)

Brick MansionsReleased: April 25, 2014. Directed by: Camille Delamarre. Starring: Paul Walker, David Belle, RZA. Runtime: 90 min.

If you see Brick Mansions, remove logic from your list of expectations. You might be giving this film a chance for its action. Hopefully the poster doesn’t convince you to see this, because it’s kind-of awful. Instead of putting the poster on a side of a building, the poster is literally a picture of the three actors on a side of a f!#king building! That’s insanity!

You might also be giving this a chance to watch Paul Walker in his final, fully completed film. He’s adequate in his role – silly at times, particularly when he’s warring with co-star David Belle over who gets to take a stolen van; or when he’s unconvincingly saying “Back off. Back off.” The writing is partly to blame, too. He’s getting stronger as an actor, being tolerable and convincing as his character – and only poor once or twice in a film. It’s a shame that we won’t ever be able to see him be truly and consistently great. He does take to the stunt-work of parkour like a champ and his training shines through, in what is easily his most physically demanding role to date. This film surely does not do for parkour what The Raid: Redemption did for the Indonesian martial arts style of pencak silat. That’s a blurb that would probably suit the original District B13, upon which this, an American remake, is based. Now that the Raid is being mentioned, this is sort-of like a dumb version of it, just with a lot less blood because its PG-13 rating holds it back.

Anyway, David Belle’s involvement helps the action film, because he’s considered the founding father of parkour, an instinctive acrobatic style where you can jump off of any surface or object. It’s also really helpful for being untouchable and kicking someone’s ass in a fight. It’s awesome to watch these guys jump around like grasshoppers over people, from building to building and wall to wall. The action is just great, if repetitive – but this is where this film succeeds the most. The first scene where David Belle is prominently featured is a phenomenal action sequence. First-time director Camille Delamarre directs the action well, but he uses slow motion to a fault. The over-utilization of it somehow gives the film a sort-of visual flair in the likes of Gareth Evans’ style, director of The Raid and The Raid 2. Delamarre isn’t nearly as successful directing the dialogue exchanges, because it’s all a bit silly – but that is screenwriter Luc Besson’s fault.

The silliness is found in lack of logic and in the dialogue of the villainous Tremaine (RZA). He says things like “Tremaine ain’t anxious, he causes anxious,” and “C’est la vie!” which shows us that this connoisseur knows French. (It means “That’s life” in French, by the way.) His motivations don’t seem clear, and he’s generic – but he explains at one point that he’s a “politician,” but it must be assumed that he’s speaking of being a politics of all things drugs. He takes a nuclear bomb that can blow up a whole town, if it’s 5 miles in diameter. RZA seems to be a good artist and great composer (most notably for Kill Bill Volume 1), but based on his work in this film, his acting ability is lacking; but he can’t be the greatest actor in a role like this.

He’s usally silly, never intimidating and over-the-top with his violence; like shooting someone because they don’t have any good ideas, or shooting a television when his henchmen are playing a video game, because why the hell not, right? It seems to me that the writers try to write him mildly intelligent dialogue, but it’s so damn stupid. The attempt to make him seem like a smart, complex mastermind fails miserably. They make the guy all fancy; he’s always cooking, and the set design for his office gives him a nice red table and expensive chairs under a red light. He looks like criminal royalty. It’s a character who wouldn’t work for anyone, let alone RZA, who’s never quite believable. Remember him trying to convincingly portray a blind kung fu master in G.I. Joe: Retaliation? Oh dear, I won’t even go started on that. 

Paul Walker’s character of Damien, an undercover cop, has a bone to pick with him because his father was killed in a drug raid. That’s his motivation to take the baddie down when the Mayor asks him to go in to the rundown Brick Mansions to disarm the nuclear weapon. Brick Mansions is a walled-off section of 2018 Detroit (a fictional present day Detroit would work to the same effect because four years is not a jarring difference in time) that was designed to keep the rampant crime of Detroit in one small area. Hospitals, police stations and schools are shut down in this sector of Detroit. Damien teams up with Lino, the same character (named Leito) David Belle portrayed in the original French film called District B13 upon which this is based. He’s okay, and it’s a fine role for him to be introduced to the North American public. He does give off an impression that he’s trying hard to hide his accent – which is distracting. He does a better American accent than Gerard Butler, but I’m curious as to why everyone knows the character is French. He sounds pretty American to me. It’s just a little funny.

Lino and Damien are the only characters you’ll care about because they have clear motivations that, while generic, are mildly well-written. One character you won’t care about is one called Rayzah (awful f@!king name) who is largely the sex appeal of the film. Her distinct, over-the-top attraction to Lino’s ex-girlfriend Lola (Catalina Denis) makes the film have an out-of-place perversion about it. The poor writing of the film is its biggest flaw; it’s usually unintentionally hilarious. At least, most of it until a very bothersome finale. 

The logic is just not sound, maybe because of seriously stupid henchmen. Even though one henchman says that Damien and Lino’s life is worth more than any of theirs, all of the henchmen do not shy away from aiming to kill them anyway! How does that make sense? There’s another occasion which I won’t spoil, but this scene, like the other mentioned one, all happens for the sake of guns being shot. 

It might sound like I’m giving this film a hard time. This is not something I hate, because it’s not well-written by Luc Besson; but damn, it’s entertaining. Even when the action isn’t happening, you might be laughing your ass off because the dialogue is so dang silly. If you can get past the silliness of it all, this is a fun time at the movies – and it’ll make a great rental for a dumb movie that you just want to pop in the Blu-Ray player and sit back and have a drink and a lot of laughs with your buddies. (If you can’t get past silliness in a film, just avoid this like the plague.) This is hilarious in the most unintentional ways, and will make a great dumb-movie double feature with 3 Days to Kill. I’m not sure if Dumb Easy Watching was Luc Besson’s intention but eh, “C’est la vie!” 

Score58/100

Heaven is for Real (2014)

Heaven is for RealReleased: April 16, 2014. Directed by: Randall Wallace. Starring: Greg Kinnear, Kelly Reilly, Thomas Haden Church. Runtime: 99 min.

Each year in cinema, trends pop up. May they be post-apocalyptic films, last year’s McConaissance, and Young Adult adaptations that just aren’t going away – sometimes these trends are here to stay. One trend of 2014 is religious and faith-based films. This year has seen the release of Son of God and the controversial Noah. The latest faith-based film is called Heaven is for Real

It’s a film set in the town of Imperial, Nebraska; based on an event that occurred back in 2004. A four-year-old boy (Connor Corum) has a near-death experience and claims to have seen Heaven. His parents Todd (Greg Kinnear) and Sonja (Kelly Reilly, Flight) don’t know how to interpret it. They don’t want their kid to become a laughing stock or just a piece of controversy. He soon does find the courage to share his son’s life-changing experience with his parish and then the world six years later, when he wrote a novel about it.

This does seem like a life-changing experience; seeing Heaven could give someone a whole new perspective on life. The concept of Heaven being a concrete fact could frighten some people. I find that hard to understand because it’s an idea that gives me great comfort. They could be afraid to know if their loved ones are or are not in Heaven. Some people believe they see Heaven in the little things on Earth. Some of these ideas are portrayed through Margo Martindale’s character. One aspect of the film isn’t handled with the most realism. I could understand why non-religious people might be maddened by the controversy, but why do the religious folks of this town seem to be so disturbed by it? It’s not like he had a near-death experience and visited Hell instead, and spoke of Hitler being flogged.

I understand where Colton’s parents are coming from, because no one wants to see their kid be ridiculed or seen as vastly different. Colton goes from being an ordinary kid to a sorta ordinary kid with an incredible story. Conveniently, Colton isn’t in pre-school yet, so it’s his parents and older sister who receive the tame backlash of the people who bother to say something. Kinnear’s good in a few scenes and just adequate in others. He’s believable as a father figure and a pastor. I think Reilly is particularly great in two scenes and good the rest of the time. I felt their pain when they thought their son was going to die – it seems like a horrifying experience. Parents will really feel their pain.

Connor CorumConnor Corum is convincing in the way that we could believe he sees Heaven. Another notable aspect is his facial expressions during a rendition of “We Will Rock You,” which border on funny and downright creepy. Otherwise, his performance as Colton is quite distracting. After he halfheartedly delivers his line, he just vacantly looks at his scene partner. When he’s watching his father on stage at Church, he’s vacant with a “I want to be somewhere else” look on his face – the way I looked when I was a kid going to Church. He’s realistic in the way that he’s a kid and he just wants to play– but it’s going to take people out of the movie. Can’t Pierce Gagnon (Looper) portray every kid under the age of 10? Corum is surely cast for his cuteness and resemblance to the real-life Colton Burpo. By the way, you can tell Burpo isn’t a fictional last name because no one can make that shit up. No one’s that cruel! If that was a fictional last name, that would be more humour to accompany the flairs of lite comedy found throughout.

Your enjoyment of the film might depend on your personal faith and tolerance for films with no antagonists. The conflicts are largely man vs. self; people wrestling with their beliefs of this situation. There’s not one antagonist. The sometimes slack narrative could have benefited from one or two. I’m surprised this film is able to milk 99 minutes out of this material. The first twenty minutes is practically all filler. The father is a pastor who works a lot of jobs to make a living and improve his small church in any way he can. The film actually gets into the plot when Colton is rushed to the emergency room after a ruptured appendix that started on the way home from a trip in Denver. 

Without this filler the film would be quite short. Even at its length now, it feels slow, with only self-conflicts to keep the film going. Two sub-plots arise that don’t get consistent focus or a conclusion. They might have helped advance the story a bit. You cannot fault the film for staying focused on the story at-hand. One of the sub-plots is money troubles, where solutions are offered but then the sub-plot is dropped completely. 

Heaven is for Real does prove that films can still be mildly successful with no major antagonists. If screenwriters Randall Wallace and Chris Parker offered an adaptation with a few fictional antagonists, perhaps the narrative would be more compelling. We see so many films that take minor detours from true stories, so what would have been the harm in one more? God forbid the Burpo vision becomes tainted! 

All in all, this is a lovely little drama with a lot of meaning. It could have a more engaging story with some more substance, other than strictly thematic substance. Hey, at least the Nebraska settings make the film look nice. Granted, some people still are not going to believe the story at hand. Since so many sub-plots go unsolved, this still might have the same effect if some opinionated person just stood up and said before the end credits, “I still call bullshit on all of this.” Now, putting that in a Hollywood film would be brave and courageous.

Score65/100

 

Oculus (2014)

OculusReleased: April 11, 2014. Directed by: Mike Flanagan. Starring: Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Katee Sackoff. Runtime: 105 min.

Oculus is a film directed by Mike Flanagan, partly based on his own 2006 short movie called Oculus: Chapter 3 – The Man with the Plan, an idea that sprouted into something more complex seven years later. Just plain Oculus seems to be the better choice for a title. It’s an impressively original horror film dealing with a young woman, Kaylie Russell (Karen Gillan), who tries to exonerate her brother, Tim Russell (Brenton Thwaites) who was convicted of murder ten years ago. She plans to do so by proving the crime was committed by a supernatural phenomenon responsible for the death of 45 persons over the span of four centuries. The phenomenon harbours inside an antique mirror.

The premise is what’s largely intriguing about the film. It’s one of the aspects that lends to its originality. What is also original of the film is that mirroring embodies another meaning in this film, which is engaging to me. I won’t get into it, but it’s something that contributes to some food for thought discussion of the film. The narrative is original, because what happened in Kaylie and Tim’s childhood is told basically at the same time as when they are trying to catch the mirror’s crazy activity on camera in the present day. It might sound a bit haphazard – but I assure you, writer/director Mike Flanagan (co-writing with Jeff Howard) maintain control and focus throughout. The intelligent narrative is quite a success.

The narrative is even cooler because actors of the young versions of Tim and Kaylie (Garrett Ryan and Annalise Basso, respectively) get a significant amount of screen time, because it goes back and forth between old actors and the young actors. Karen Gillan is good as the controlling and motivated Kaylie. Basso acts with the same maturity as Gillan. Thwaites is good, as far as horror films go. Katee Sackoff is effective and creepy as the maternal Marie Russell, and Rory Cochrane is compelling as the paternal Alan Russell. 

It’s great when a horror film actually has a good, engaging story to tell. The characters in the film are good. Kaylie’s motivation to prove his brother’s innocence is because she is tired of being ridiculed, and people calling her brother a murderer and her father crazy. The brother did his time in a mental asylum, so this film isn’t like that movie Conviction where Hilary Swank’s character tries to prove his innocence while he’s doing his time. 

Kaylie needed her brother’s help, because this evil mirror is very testy, and going against the mirror alone would be an impossible battle to win. This makes the film a psychological horror film that is left open to interpretation, as well as a supernatural horror flick. Stupid decisions by characters should be excused because the mirror makes them think they’ve stuck together, but they really aren’t. It’s a tricky villain in this way. The meaning of the word oculus intrigues me further into the mythology of the film. The mirror screws up the character’s perception, and they see what the mirror wants them to see. Perception is a big thing in this mildly scary and very creepy feature.

These aspects make this an effective mystery. It taps into fears first explored in The Shining, and haunted artifacts. It’s atmospheric and cool, and makes viewers question throughout what is reality and what is a conjuring of the mirror’s tricky mind games. It’s a creepy film that sticks with you, especially some bloody imagery, and a good, if repetitive, score. It’s an entertaining horror film that is scary enough to give me another excuse not to eat apples and to not let an antique mirror in my house for a little while. 

Score80/100

Box Office Predictions April 25-27: Brick Mansions, The Quiet Ones and The Other Woman

Quirky title that was too long for a headline: The wife didn’t find out about The Other Woman until he took her to one of their many Brick Mansions. It took the wife awhile to find out because he only screws The Quiet Ones.

Brick MansionsThe Other WomanThe Quiet Ones

Brick Mansions comes to theatres this weekend, an action thriller that is one of Paul Walker’s final film roles. It looks pretty awesome and explosive, and it’s another film from popular French filmmaker Luc Besson, the man behind Taken and Taken 2Leon: The Professional and this year’s 3 Days to Kill. I think Paul Walker’s involvement will give this a bigger push than if he were not in it. This is a remake of a French film called District B13, which stars David Belle in the same role. Anyway, films similar to this open at $18 million. I think this will be a bit lower so I’m going to predict $14 million.

The Other Woman strikes me as a MILF version (plus Kate Upton) of John Tucker Must Die. Maybe it’ll be a bit more mature?  This is director Nick Cassavetes’ first attempt at comedy, and sometimes that’s harder to do than drama. I really have loved a good amount of his work; he’s directed The Notebook, My Sister’s KeeperJohn Q., and one of my personal favourites, Alpha Dog. Those are all dramatically strong films, so I’m interested to see how Cassavetes does with this film. Films similar to this open at $20.23 million. I think this is going to hit right at $20 million.

The other big release of the weekend is The Quiet Ones. I like the look of this film, Jared Harris is an appealing factor for me and I like Olivia Cooke on TV’s Bates Motel. I hope the college psychology experiment doesn’t make this look too similar to the god-awful horror film The Apparition which was released in August of 2012. That one opened to $2.8 million. Films similar to this open at $19.3 million. I don’t think this would reach that number, because this doesn’t look like the film that will bring horror out of its brief drought – but it looks pretty cool. I’m going to go around the number Oculus did two weekends ago, which was $12 million. I haven’t felt any big marketing push or anticipation for this, but I think it’ll draw a decent-sized crowd. My prediction is $11 million.

As for the holdovers, Captain America 2 could four-peat if The Other Woman doesn’t hit $20 million (I think it will, though). I’m thinking a weekend of $19 million looks likely for Cap in his fourth weekend. Heaven is for Real won second place last weekend, beating Rio 2 by a margin of $0.4 million. I’m curious to see who will win this weekend. I’m going in favour of Heaven, which grossed $22.522 million, for those who want to know the number. It seems that it Heaven was met with mediocrity from trolls on IMDb, with a rating of 5.6. It did receive an ‘A’ Cinemascore, however — so it was a hit with Christian audiences. They’re who it’s for, mostly. I think Rio 2 will gross $14.5 million, and Heaven to gross $15 million. 

As for the status on reviews for the weekend, I’m going to post Heaven is for Real (which I enjoyed) and Oculus (which I loved). At least I’ll try to post Oculus. You see, my computer stopped charging so I’m getting a new one and they’re transferring the files over to my new one, and I’m picking it up tomorrow. That’s why I haven’t posted very much this week. I’m writing this article on my mom’s laptop. Anyway, thanks for reading!

1. The Other Woman – $20 million

2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier – $19 million

3. Heaven is for Real – $15 million

4. Rio 2 – $14.5 million

5. Brick Mansions – $14 million

6. The Quiet Ones – $11 million

 

 

Transcendence (2014)

TranscendenceReleased: April 18, 2014. Directed by: Wally Pfister. Starring: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany. Runtime: 119 min.

Wally Pfister’s directorial debut, Transcendence, uses the character of Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) to introduce an interesting concept. Transcendence is the idea of an artificial intelligence that would be smarter than any person to ever live, transcending the ability of the human mind. It starts out with an artificial intelligence called PINN, and eventually leads to Caster’s consciousness being uploaded to the motherboard after an attempted assassination by a radical luddite. He doesn’t die at the scene, but the bullet, laced with a poison that causes radiation in the bloodstream, slowly kills him. When A.I. Will wants to expand his network and gain more power, it becomes threatening to humanity.

I think artificial intelligence is a fascinating subject in the realm of cinema. Of course, I wouldn’t want it to happen in real-life – at least something to this extent, that could turn into a real-life, high-tech horror story. Artificial intelligence does seem like a distinct possibility. The film proposes an idea that technology should assist us, not control us. It’s a true fact that we knew prior to this film. Everyone’s seen enough technology-is-evil movies to know that this should never happen, or probably ever will. The film’s idea of transcendence is a cool way to live past your physical body. Of course, in order for you not to gain too much power – you should be limited to one or two computers, certainly not entire networks. Otherwise, you’re just being selfish. If computers do rise up I hope those power-hungry f!#ks make sure Paglen doesn’t write another movie because he is way too vague with his ideas; more on that later. (Or at least his next screenplay gets analyzed for logic.)

In this film, the created A.I. can advance medical technology, and make any water safe to drink. I’d personally drink from a pond first before something like the Ganges River before taking the computer’s word for it. The A.I. can make the other world a better place in other ways, too. Ways it explains this and how it might happen is highly illogical and doesn’t make much sense – that’s mostly for how it makes water safer to drink. Some ways it advances medical technology goes against God’s will, which is thought-provoking. Other things that Caster proceeds to do once he’s getting power is something that I won’t spoil – but I’ll say that it borders on silly.

Jack Paglen’s writing ability is lacking. He decides to merely lay a bunch of ideas up so viewers can personally decide where they stand on it all. The themes of the film are largely at their most basic stages of development, where Paglen offers ideas that he doesn’t flesh out. This is what prevents the film from being engaging or compelling. Instead, it’s a true bore that will make you have heavy eyelids early on. The only excitement that comes in this so-called sci-fi thriller come in the last twenty-five minutes, but by that time you simply won’t give a shit.

The characters and performances are forgettable, and they each feel like villains at some point. Depp portrays his anti-hero/villain with subtlety. It’s a good thing he looks like his normal self as the computer, and not the bald and sunken version. Hall’s Evelyn Caster is caught between her love and faith for her husband, and the human side. The film does have a cool premise where the human mind mashes with technology and turns out to be a story where they’re both monsters. It seems like it could be a different technology-is-evil film, but soon goes back into a humans vs. technology comfort zone. Paul Bettany portrays friend of the Casters, who sports the idea that the artificial intelligence really isn’t Will. Bettany on the human side is a funny contrast to him playing an actual technological invention, Jarvis in the Iron Man films.

Morgan Freeman and Cillian Murphy’s roles aren’t compelling. Murphy’s character is too generic to even pass the name test. He’s known as Agent Buchanan. There’s a creative choice with Freeman that’s strange. Freeman is in voice-over mode randomly because his character is reading a letter that he read to Evelyn, but not to Evelyn, to the audience. Even though he’s actually with Evelyn during the short scene. It saves time… I guess? But both Murphy and Freeman, who are usually phenomenal presences, are just kinda there – popping up for short periods throughout.

Against Caster’s wishes is a neo-Luddite terrorist group called RIFT, led by bleach-blonde Bree (Kate Mara). She’s not very intimidating as the antagonist to Will’s wishes, but she’s never really called to be. Mara’s pretty okay as the character. I think the hypocrisy of luddites (those against the advancement of technology) in this film is absolutely hilarious. When some are getting busted, one of them is using a laptop. They also set a bomb at one point — that requires all sorts of technology, especially the timer and the detonator. These guys really make don’t make much sense.

Transcendence feels too much like a love story at times, as it explores a woman’s need to have her husband around in computer form. Hall is convincing as Evelyn. The love story aspect might not be that appealing to those simply expecting a good, high-concept suspense drama. There’s little suspense in this however; perhaps because we’ve seen this sort-of film too many times, and Paglen’s story doesn’t allow Pfister to be good at tension building. Due to the film’s familiarity, this film is void of worthwhile surprises. The film’s stunning, at least. It has the scope and usual cast members of Christopher Nolan’s films, as Pfister is his usual cinematographer. Pfister’s film just lacks all the greatness of a Nolan film, mostly because of the story that packs no energetic punch. More of the blame for this disappointing film should be on the writer, in this situation. 

Score: 50/100

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