Race (2016)

Released: February 19, 2016. Directed by Stephen Hopkins. Starring Stephan James, Jason Sudeikis, Eli Goree. Runtime: 2 hr 14 min.

Taking on a dual meaning title, Race follows the awe-inspiring story of Jesse Owens gearing up towards his stint at the 1936 Olympics in a Germany under the start of the Hitler regime.

Stephan James (Selma) stars as the pride and joy of Ohio State, Jesse Owens, bringing charm to a legendary figure who wasn’t given enough credit for his achievements at the Olympics because of the time it happened.

Heck, it took him long enough to get the first theatrical film about Owens – about 80 years. Owens did have his own film back in 1984, however, in the form of a made-for-television production called The Jesse Owens Story. But are TV productions real movies? That’s debatable.

Anyway, James captures emotion of the time for a person of colour not having the rights of any white people. He’s great depicting the athleticism and astounding agility of the character. I enjoyed seeing the chemistry between him and Shanice Banton’s Ruth Solomon, as well.

He can take a stand by going to the Olympics in Germany and making a stand for the African American folks, as well as the severely repressed Jewish people, during a time that was just the start of Hitler’s regime.

Race1

Stephan James as Jesse Owens doing the long jump. (Source

With all of its other focuses, this is still very much a sports film, as we’re brought through Owens’ training by star Larry Snyder, portrayed with utmost kindness by Jason Sudeikis.

The feature is also at its best when we go with Owens to the Olympics. This isn’t a spoiler if you know of Owens’ prestige. It’s rousing and inspiring cheering him on.

But the line between sport and politics blur so much that it takes away from Owens’ story at times. It’s like Owens’ story is just used as a frame for a story that is largely about the United States Olympic Committee and how they were able to convince the Germans to allow African Americans and Jews to compete.

Jeremy Irons’ Avery Brundage represents the interest to have Americans compete at the Olympic Games. William Hurt’s Jeremiah Mahoney represented the opposing opinion of boycotting the Olympics for the year – because of the intense segregation.

Joseph Goebbels is portrayed by Barnaby Metschurat. The character is just rather mean, but that’s expected for Goebbels. He’s the political heart on the side of the Germans, as the Minister of Propaganda at the time.

While promoting the Aryan race, he also suppresses documentary filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl (portrayed by Carice van Houten). He wishes her to make a film which reflects the views of the German government – while she has to stick it to the man and wants to focus on the success of Owens.

It’s frustrating, but that’s what the filmmakers go for – to frustrate the audience. And later in the film show that, even through so much glory, there will always be discrimination.

The story is almost drowned completely by the politics, and is often in danger of being a political drama.

But the scenes at the Olympics and the inspiring road there make up for it and while the film isn’t as great as Owens’ achievements, it would still deserve a bronze medal. That’s still a winner, right?

Stephen Hopkins (Lost in Space, A Nightmare on Elm Street: Dream Warrior) directs the races with precision and it makes the film entertaining in that respect. The cinematography is stellar in these scenes, the director of photography is Peter Levy who often works with Hopkins, and is still interesting during the more chatty sequences.

The best part of the film is especially James’ performance. He’s inspiring how he captures optimism through a dark time. Hopefully this kick-starts James’ career the same way 42, a sports biography about fellow race pioneer Jackie Robinson, did for Chadwick Boseman.

James depicts the athlete’s dedication to his coach realistically. The chemistry there really works – and captures how lovely the relationship between a coach and a mentor can be.

Score: 65/100

 

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Get on Up (2014)

Get on UpReleased: August 1, 2014. Directed by: Tate Taylor. Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis, Dan Aykroyd. Runtime: 139 min.

Timelines in biography films can be difficult to depict, especially when dealing with a 54-year timeline that the ambitious Tate Taylor tackles while depicting the life story of James Brown, the Godfather of soul.

Wow, though, Taylor and writers Jez and John-Henry Butterworth make this unnecessarily difficult to follow. A big problem with the timeline here is that it sporadically offers one event, goes to other events, and revisits the first event in 30 minutes’ time. That’s just one frustrating and bizarre way that the film displays its narrative. There’s also very little indication of the actual point in time between 1939 and 1993, other than cues for music buffs, like when Brown’s song he’s performing was released; or important events in time, most notably the Vietnam War or when Brown performs at The Garden in the wake of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. The meandering order of events finds no groove and it just feels lazily formed. Within the 149-minute run-time, it feels like it jumps around in time more than Doctor Who and Mr. Peabody combined.

This year’s Jersey Boys, Clint Eastwood’s music biopic depicting the story of the Four Seasons, also suffers from awful timeline issues – as the make-up department did not do a good job of successfully aging the actors – which is a problem Get on Up doesn’t possess. The film is, of course, about James Brown. It depicts his rise to fame from extreme poverty, and his road to be among music’s most influential artists.

Themes of extreme prejudice in 1950s Georgia are displayed by James getting five to 13 years in prison simply for stealing a man’s suit. This does put him on a course where he meets future band-mate Bobby Byrd (a grounded and memorable Nelsan Ellis). Byrd is a reasonable man, which seems to be a reason bandmates can tolerate Brown for so long, because even though he has a vibrant energy on-stage, his personality is quite arrogant. He could be soured by fame, which seems to be the case with a lot of big stars. Brown shows a preference to his black audience, and I think that’s well-highlighted by how well James seems to react to a “Let’s not make music for the white devil” spiel by a young singer named Little Richard (Brandon Smith). One jarring scene depicts his preference to black people, where he performs in front of a white crowd, and then breaks the fourth wall and is then performing in front of a black crowd. The imagined sequence just doesn’t have a strong transition.

There are scenes that do conduct their job marvelously. A scene in James’s childhood depicts him finding a hanged black man in the woods. James steals the dead man’s shoes. This told me his poverty is so extreme, in order to get a new pair of shoes he had to steal them from a dead man. This was the film’s most powerful scene.

The acting is fine all around. Octavia Spencer performs well in her brief screen time, and Viola Davis is great as James’ mother, Susie Brown. Up-and-coming star Chadwick Boseman gives it his all as the iconic James Brown with an energetic performance. He embodies Brown perfectly, down to the persona and vocal patterns. At least we can all take pleasure that both Tate Taylor and Boseman capture the essence of Brown in their film. However, Boseman gets so involved in the role that he might not realize he mumbles constantly. It’s difficult to hear him clearly and often enough, only every few words per sentence are caught. That’s the way Brown talks, but it makes for a truly frustrating experience if what is being said will make ask “What did he say?” every so often. Due to that irritating aspect, wait for the DVD and just watch this with subtitles.

Score: 55/100

 

Top 20 Films of 2013

This list is a lot late, but I still wanted to see a few more films before making my list. I still have a lot to go, but I’m pleased with the current Top 20 I have at the moment. I might do an article later in the year with an unofficial updated list, just to show how what films might have made the cut if I’d seen them before making the list. Without further ado, here’s my Top 20… I was going to have the whole list displayed in pictures, but the formatting was off for the first half so only the Top 10 are displayed with pictures.

20. Pain & Gain
19. The Kings of Summer
18. Spring Breakers
17. Dallas Buyers Club
16. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
15. The Place Beyond the Pines
14. Captain Phillips
13. Evil Dead
12. The Conjuring
11. The World’s End

7. Mud

7. Mud

4. Her

4. Her

 

Honourable mentions: Monsters University, Fast & Furious 6, 42, Saving Mr. Banks and The Great Gatsby


 

Now this is my bottom 5 of 2013…

The Lords of Salem

The fifth worst film of 2013: The Lords of Salem

The fourth worst film: The Hangover Part III

The fourth worst film: The Hangover Part III

Third worst: Movie 43

Third worst: Movie 43

Second worst: Grown Ups 2

Second worst: Grown Ups 2

The worst film of 2013 is... Scary Movie 5

The worst film of 2013 is… Scary Movie 5


 

Any thoughts on my thoughts? Sound off in the comments if you still want to do a bit of reminiscing of what 2013 had to offer! 🙂

 

Brief-ish Recap of 2013’s Movies So Far

2013 has been a decent year for movies, and it’s improving in both quality, and in regards of box office earnings. And I think it can only get better from here, at least in terms of quality. So far, I’ve seen 36 movies that have been released in 2013, and I’ve missed quite a few as well. Here is my post for the best and worst of 2013 so far. There is a top 10 list, and a bottom five list, and I will post my “Most anticipated movies of Second Half of the Year List” sooner than later. Here’s what I thought of what 2013 has had to offer so far…

The Best of the Year So Far

This is the End“, 2013’s Best Movie So Far & 2013’s Best Surprise

First, the top 10. I have listed the title and the original score in brackets. I’ve decided not to include little blurbs from each review, because that just might become tedious to read with so many titles. If you want to read my thoughts, click on the link to my review. (Note: You might notice that some scores are lower than others, but higher on the list – but that’s because they’ve grown on me since I’ve seen them, and are better than other movies in terms of quality.)

1. This is the End (91), 2. Monsters University (90), 3. 42 (90), 4. The Place Beyond the Pines (88), 5. Fast & Furious 6 (90), 6. Mud (86), 7. Evil Dead (88), 8. Pain & Gain (83), 9. Spring Breakers (75), 10. The Croods (83).

Here’s 11-15: 11. Star Trek Into Darkness (83), 12. The Great Gatsby (82), 13. Warm Bodies (80), 14. Now You See Me (80), 15. Iron Man 3 (80).

Here’s the rest of the movies I’ve seen, ranked from best to worst (in blocks of five, so it’s easier on the eyes): The Last Stand (80); World War Z (75)The Heat (75) Mama (78)20. Oz the Great and Powerful (75).

Epic (74)The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (73); Identity Thief (72); Olympus Has Fallen (70); 25. Snitch (71).

Oblivion (67); Gangster Squad (63)The Purge (57); Man of Steel (50)30. Admission (56), Safe Haven (54).

2013's Worst Movie So Far

Scary Movie 5“, 2013’s Worst Movie So Far (But I don’t think there will be a bigger shitfest this year). 

Here’s the List of Shame, the Bottom Five of the year: After Earth (40)Peeples (38); The Hangover Part III (25)Movie 43 (30); 36. Scary Movie 5 (0).

Here was my Top 12 Most Anticipated Movies of the First Half of the Year: 1. Monsters University; 2. The Place Beyond the Pines; 3. Identity Thief 4. Oz the Great and Powerful; 5. Gangster Squad; 6. 42; 7. Now You See Me; 8. Fast & Furious 6; 9. Man of Steel; 10. Oblivion11. The Purge: 12. Mud.

5 of my 12 most anticipated movies made the Top 10, and 6 made my top 15. “Oz the Great and Powerful” was only slightly satisfying. “Identity Thief”, and “Oblivion” were mildly disappointing. “Gangster Squad” was quite disappointing because it could have potentially been an Oscar contender, but it ended up not knowing if it wanted to be serious or just silly. It was a lightly entertaining gangster movie, apparently much like “The Untouchables”. I’d put “The Hangover Part III” in my Top 15 Anticipated of the First Half, so that is the biggest disappointment of the year because it just wasn’t funny. The third biggest disappointment would be “The Purge”, and the second would be “Man of Steel”.

"The Hangover Part III", 2013's Biggest Disappointment So Far

The Hangover Part III“, 2013’s Biggest Disappointment So Far

The best surprise of the year definitely has to be “This is the End”, even if I was quite excited for it. I knew it was going to be good, but not that good, and especially not movie of the year worthy. Out of the films I wasn’t anticipating at all, “World War Z” was probably the nicest surprise.

These are the movies I missed, but will be checking out. I’ve only included the ones I could envision myself either popping into the DVD player, watching online, or going out to the theater and watching: A Good Day to Die Hard, Aftershock, Antiviral, Before Midnight, Berberian Sound Studio, The Bling Ring, Byzantium, The Call, Dark Skies, Dead Man Down, The East, Frances Ha, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Ginger & Rosa, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, The Host, The Iceman, The Internship, The Kings of Summer, The Lords of Salem, Maniac, Much Ado About Nothing, Quartet, Room 237, The Sapphires, Side Effects, Song for Marion, Stand Up Guys, Stoker, To the Wonder, Trance, Upside Down, Upstream Color, Violet & Daisy, Welcome to the Punch, White House Down.

And finally, here are some statistics: 

Rotten Tomatoes Audience Average Score: 72.55

My Average Score: 69.22

IMDb Average Score: 66.05

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Average Score: 56.55

So there you have it… What’s your favourite movie of the year so far, and your least favourite? I won’t put a poll because there are just too many titles, so let me know in the comments!

May 29 – June 2 Box Office Predictions: ‘After Earth’, ‘Now You See Me’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After Earth might do pretty well this weekend, but it also might suffer under the shadows of summer blockbusters. Those who see it will be seeing it for Will Smith, I’d think. No one’s going to say “I’m seeing this for M. Night Shymalan because he’s been on a real hot streak.” The story isn’t intriguing, but the creatures are pretty cool-looking. Oblivion opened to $37.04 million, so I’ll be going with a prediction around that number. Will Smith isn’t quite a big of a star as Cruise right now, mostly because Smith only made his way back to the acting game last year with MIB3 after a four-year hiatus, which he took after 2008’s Seven Pounds. Smith has an average opening of $37.7 million, and this will gross right around there, I’d think. Shyamalan’s average opening gross is $36.68 million. Movies similar to After Earth open at an average $46.97 million, but I think this will earn right around Super 8‘s $35.45 million or Oblivion‘s $37.04 million. My prediction for this is $34.3 million.

Now You See Me looks really, really intriguing, and I’m excited for it. I hope it doesn’t disappoint. (I might have to lower my expectations a little.) The cast is great; it includes Jesse Eisenberg, Morgan Freeman, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco, Michael Caine, and Mark Ruffalo. I think this won’t gross as much as I’d want it to, but I think it can manage at least $20 million. It might have a hard time battling off with the big titans of the summer, though. It looks like it’ll amaze with its cool showmanship. Jesse Eisenberg’s average opening is at $21.21 million, and I think this will open right around that or a little above it. Morgan Freeman’s average opening gross is $27.25 million, and Woody Harrelson’s is $20.33 million. This makes me think of The Prestige (which grossed $14.8 million in its opening). My prediction is $24.7 million. I think this will stand out as one of summer’s most original features, and, to quote Morgan Freeman from the trailer, I really think this is “going to amaze.”

1. Fast & Furious 6: $39, 169, 000
2. After Earth: $34, 300, 000
3. Now You See Me: $24, 700, 000
4. The Hangover Part III: $23, 920, 000
5. Star Trek Into Darkness: $21, 250, 000
6. Epic: $20, 800, 000
7. Iron Man 3: $11, 350, 000
8. The Great Gatsby: $7, 525, 000
9. Mud: $1, 640, 000
10. 42: $775, 000

May 16-18 Box Office Predictions: ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’

J.J. Abrams returns to the directing chair for the hotly anticipated sequel to 2009’s Star Trek. Star Trek stands at an excellent 8.0 rating on IMDb, and has a seat in the IMDb Top 250 at #224. The movie has  a solid fan base and since four years is more than enough time to generate a lot of anticipation, I predict this will earn $108, 330, 000 for the four-day haul (Thursday through Sunday).

1. Star Trek Into Darkness: $108, 330, 000
2. Iron Man 3: $33, 870, 000
3. The Great Gatsby: $23, 200, 000
4. Pain and Gain: $3, 160, 000
5. 42: $3, 135, 000
6. The Croods: $2, 900, 000
7. Oblivion: $2, 850, 000
8. Peeples: $2, 210, 000
9. Mud: $2, 098, 000
10. The Big Wedding: $1, 500, 000

May 10-12 Box Office Predictions: ‘The Great Gatsby’ and ‘Peeples’

History isn’t on The Great Gatsby‘s side. For whatever reason, Warner Bros. shows the preference to release summer movies on the second weekend, where they can either flop or prosper, based on the reception of the movie that starts the summer. They can either do decent business (Dark Shadows opened to $29.68 million against The Avengers; and Robin Hood opened to $36.06 million against Iron Man 2), or they could really prosper (Star Trek opened to $75.2 million against X-Men Origins: Wolverine). I think Gatsby will perform well, even if history isn’t on its side. This gives movie-goers a unique choice other than super-hero movies and movies with lots of explosions. I’m not sure if a lot of the younger demographic will come and see this, because many may have read it in high school and hated it, but they also could have loved it. The main appeal for the young’ns, I think, is Leo DiCaprio.  DiCaprio’s movies have an average opening of $22.28M, and the rest of the cast includes Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Isla Fisher and Joel Edgerton; and it is directed by a man of style, Baz Luhrmann. The 3D might also help the movie make a little extra money. Similar movies open to an average $23.14 million. This hardly stands a chance at beating Iron Man 3 this weekend, but I expect a healthy opening between Robin Hood‘s $36.06M opening and Shutter Island’s $41.06M, so I’ll go with $39, 198, 750.

The other movie coming out this weekend is Tyler Perry Presents Peeples, a movie starring Craig Robinson and Kerry Washington. It had an extremely light advertising campaign. It looks like it could turn out to be a decent film, that makes me think of Meet the Parents and every black comedy that’s set at a family reunion. It’s up against Gatsby and that Iron Man 3 holdover, but I think this could comfortably take third place for the weekend. There’s always a decent market for this types of movies, so I think it really has the ability to score in the low teen millions. Movies similar to this open to $19.02 million, but this really won’t go that high. Temptation opened well to $21.6 million, but a similar low-grossing comedy that opened the other week, The Big Wedding, only managed a bad $7.59 million opening. I won’t underestimate the power of the Perry this time around, but since the last two wedding/marriage themed movies haven’t performed well (The Five-Year Engagement opened to $10.61 million), I’ll only predict it at $13, 835, 000 million.

Here’s how I see the top 10:
1. Iron Man 3: $73, 840, 000
2. The Great Gatsby: $39, 198, 750
3. Peeples: $13, 835, 000
4. Pain and Gain: $3, 825, 000
5. 42: $3, 294, 000
6. The Croods: $3, 202, 000
7. Oblivion: $2, 650, 000
8. Mud: $2, 185, 000
9. The Big Wedding: $2, 000, 000
10. Oz The Great and Powerful: $1, 885, 000