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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3 Days to Kill (2014)

3 days to killReleased: February 21, 2014. Directed by: McG. Starring: Kevin Costner, Hailee Steinfeld, Amber Heard. Runtime: 113 min.

French writer and producer (sometimes director) Luc Besson is back at it again writing the story and co-writing the screenplay (with Adi Hasak) for “3 Days to Kill.” Music video director turned filmmaker McG takes over directing duties; tackling a bunch of genres in once that sometimes works, and sometimes doesn’t. It’s part-actioner, part-drama, and part-comedy – and wow, that’s just too many genres at once for some directors. McG produces some great TV shows (“Supernatural,” “Nikita”) but the films he’s directed are usually only okay for me (I’ve only seen three of his – the two “Charlie’s Angels” flicks and “This Means War”); and his newest movie is fun and good for what it is: a generic actioner.

Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner) is a dying Secret Service agent who’s given three to six months to live because of a disease that starts out with a bad cough. When he learns of his fate, he decides to reconnect his estranged wife Christine (Connie Nielsen) daughter Zoey (Hailee Steinfeld). When he goes to Paris to visit them, he has to promise his wife that he’s done working for the Secret Service. He promises, but just his luck – a CIA operative named Vivi (Amber Heard) tasks him with taking down a notorious criminal called the Wolf (sadly, not the Wolf of Wall Street). He’s only given three days to take down the criminal for some reason that doesn’t get explained that well. My suspicion is that they just needed a title. If you blink at the beginning when they explain the criminal’s crimes, you’ll forget why he’s being hunted. If Ethan is able to kill Wolf within three days, he’s given the chance to receive an experimental drug that could save his life. On top of that, he’s trying to reconnect with his daughter. Since he didn’t call before going to visit them, the wife is going away for business. He has to act as a babysitter for the time being.

Film Review 3 Days To KillAs you can tell, it’s a lot for McG to juggle. With this film, I think he expresses that he is perfectly competent to direct actioners, some big laughs and even some decent drama – but put it all in a blender and shove it into one film, it ends up being a decently fun, but tonally uneven actioner. There’s enough action to entertain fans of Besson’s work, and it’s at least better than “Taken 2.” It’s going to entertain action fans outside of his fanbase, too; and we should all just be thankful that he resists the urge to put Zoey into mortal danger and get kidnapped. The action is a bit generic, but I’ll admit, I say that about a lot of action movies! It’s just difficult for an action film to be not generic these days, because components of this plot feels like it’s been done in “Crank.” The editing is dizzying and too quick during some of the action scenes, but otherwise decent in the dramatic sequences. When Ethan is dizzy because of his disease, the cinematography is shaky and has that drug-induced haze about it (if you know what I mean) – so that’s fine because that’s the point. These temporary dazes happen at climactic times all too convenient for the villains.

The reason why this is tonally uneven is because it goes from one scene where he is in his bathroom using the PG-13 version of torture (ripping tape from a man’s armpit, ouch!) on a suspect that could lead him to the Wolf, and he’s called to visit his daughter’s school because she got in a fight.There are a lot of scenes like that, where you can tell an action scene is on the way by the score; but it gets interrupted by a call from the daughter. Is the film trying to express that children are annoying little shits, and that parenting is difficult? It seems like it. Regardless of the tonal shifts, I think this is a fun movie with some good laughs. Costner and Steinfeld share a few good scenes that show the struggles of reconnecting, and when there’s sweetness – it’s much more pleasant than the daughter being sour towards her father. The two stars share a great chemistry, and they elevate their respective characters to a finer level. Costner’s chemistry with Connie Nielson is just fine; there’s a much bigger focus on the father-daughter relationship. The film expresses how much of an impact being in the Secret Service can have on one’s relationships; because one has to put their needs in front of their own by keeping them out of danger. More on Costner: It’s nice that he’s staying busy in action movies, already being in two in 2014 thus far. This one as the secret agent doing the killings; the first one, “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” as the recruiter/mentor – giving people the intelligence to do their jobs well.

3 DaysAmber Heard takes on that role here, always sporting a different hairstyle in each scene. Either she was going through from serious identity issues herself while filming, or she’s just trying to stay way undercover. She gives off a dark and mysterious vibe, where many won’t be able to tell if she’s a protagonist or an antagonist throughout. She’s decent, but she’s probably present for the sex appeal. She gives Ethan his orders, but the fact why he must kill this guy within three days is so bloody forgettable, that it just squanders some have high-stakes intensity it might have had.

Heard’s character shows up at random times to check in, but there’s a lot of other random crap going on in this flick. Ethan has an obsession with this purple bike he intended to give to Zoey as a present, where McG feels the need to present a montage of Ethan riding it home. One other main, and random sub-plot concerns a family of squatters in Ethan’s apartment. They’ve made themselves comfortable, and it seems that they’ve been occupying his apartment for a few months, probably more. Ethan’s relationship with the squatters might be to portray his humanity – but his love for his wife and daughter does that enough; so it’s rather redundant. I learn that squatting is an issue in Paris, so it is an accurate portrayal – but with the already crowded plot, Luc Besson’s socio-economical comment (making more people aware of it) in the film is another thing that feels out of place.

Score58/100

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)

jack ryanReleased: January 17, 2014. Directed by: Kenneth Branagh. Starring: Chris Pine, Keira Knightley, Kevin Costner. Runtime: 105 min.

“Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” is one of those films that is simply a decent time at the movies; take it or leave it. It has similar action to a lot of other CIA actioners, with an A-list star playing a big name character. Granted, the name Jack Ryan isn’t as big as James Bond or Jason Bourne – but it’s recognizable, nonetheless. This is the fifth film with the Jack Ryan character created by Tom Clancy. I didn’t realize there were so many Jack Ryan movies, but this is a prequel to them all. This is when he is recruited by the CIA. He spends quite a few years as a simple covert CIA analyst, but he becomes an operational agent when he stumbles upon a Russian terrorist plot to destroy the American economy.

Before becoming a CIA analyst, Ryan was an active duty officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, where he suffered an injury to his leg after his helicopter was shot down. I thought this might add an interesting layer to the character, because he might feel the need to push himself extra hard to prove himself because he had to overcome the injury; no such luck. It’s used as a tool to provide a bit more background information of the character, and so he can meet his love interest Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley). She becomes entangled in the danger of the situation when she surprises Jack in Moscow, Russia – where he’s stationed, to audit the main villain of the film, Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh) because of mysterious stocks that the CIA cannot access.

It’s fairly easy to follow, especially when Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner) tells Jack to explain it like he does not have his high education; basically saying, keep it simple. It’s amusing when films use that sort-of dialogue, because it helps the audience understand it better, too – and it seems to me that’s exactly why the dialogue is structured that way. The plot’s the basic ‘stop the terrorists’ approach with some sub-plots that make sense by the end of it all.

It’s a decent amount of fun because of Branagh’s direction of a few great action sequences (most notably the finale) and a suspenseful recon mission. He makes an interesting choice where his character is walking away from a building and he puts on his sunglasses. In action movies, you might as well expect someone to walk away all cool from an exploding building while putting sunglasses on. He put his sunglasses on, but the explosion never came; brilliant! Branagh’s direction is better than his performance because his character is generally lackluster. The film’s not the fastest getting into it but when Jack kills someone in self-defense and then explains what the villains might be up to, it speeds up quite a lot.

Jack Ryan sfhsigs

Apparently, this is also a mystery as well as an actioner, as far as the people at IMDb are concerned; but it’s not much of a mystery at all. It’s pretty straight-forward. Anyway, at least the main character keeps the film interesting when the action isn’t going on. The relationship shared between Jack and Cathy is one of those where everything is complicated because he can’t tell her that he is working in the CIA. He can only tell her if they wed, but she doesn’t want to marry him just yet for whatever reason – even though she loves him. Since it’s never really clear why she’s so stubborn about the whole marriage thing, it makes their chemistry a bit harder to grasp onto, and it’s more difficult for them to have great chemistry when he has to be so secretive. It’s funny that these heroes always have a love interest; they must enjoy making it easier for the villain to have a Plan B to use the loved one against the hero or however they go about it.

Keira Knightley is good in her role, because she isn’t sure whether to expect Jack of cheating or not. Chris Pine is decent as Jack Ryan, the hero of our film. Pine is charming, but he has not been particularly noteworthy outside of the “Star Trek” films, at least what I have seen of him. Since I have not seen the other four Jack Ryan films, I am not sure if he’s better than Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford or Ben Affleck. As a reboot film, and a fun actioner – it’s a decent watch.

Score70/100

Man of Steel (2013)

Man of SteelRelease Date: June 14, 2013

Director: Zack Snyder

Stars: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon

Runtime: 143 min

Man of Steel is my first film experience with the Clark Kent/Superman character. So, I cannot compare this to earlier Superman films. As an origins story, it does introduce this character in a unique way, but not a way that is particularly good.

A young itinerant worker is forced to confront his secret extraterrestrial heritage when Earth is invaded by members of his race.

As a highly anticipated film, this leaves a lot to be desired. I’m not saying it’s a bad movie, just not a great or even a good one.

The narrative is fairly unique, I’ll give it that. It just feels random and disorganized. At one minute, the movie is in the present – and the next, Clark is remembering something from his past. I do like flashbacks every now and then to fill in a puzzle of a movie, but this one just hops around like an Energizer bunny. The main story follows General Zod (Michael Shannon) who invades earth with some seriously sinister plans. Initially, this story is intriguing – but it takes long to get into, and the action sequences are big and stupid. This time around, I don’t know if I’d call the destruction of New York City particularly fun – or even entertaining, for that matter. I don’t think David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan write the most impressive tale of hope and superhuman abilities.

When Clark looks back on his past, it is mostly his father (Kevin Costner) repeatedly telling him that the world is not ready for Clark’s powers just yet. They might never be ready. Clark is struggling with his superhuman abilities. This coming-of-age aspect is something that could hit close to home, in the way that people have to adjust to their surroundings and find a place for them, not in the way that everyone has to learn to deal with their superpowers. This part of the story is powerful, poignant and thought out, and I appreciate it. I just do not appreciate the constant, and sudden changes in tone throughout the feature. It goes from big, stupid action to character-driven drama that feels real. It becomes bothersome quickly, and it does not make for effective storytelling.

Since Superman’s worried about what the world would think of him… Spider-Man and Batman are fairly well-received; it might change the world, but if he just wears a mask, he, Clark Kent, wouldn’t face any backlash or criticism. Masks are good for disguising. Putting glasses on as Clark Kent, and taking them off when the guy feels like putting on his cape and saving the world, is not much of a foolproof disguise. He should also lose the cape, because villains could grab it and throw him around easier. Edna E. Mode of The Incredibles would be sorely disappointed. (“No capes!”)

“NO CAPES!”

Visually speaking, this movie is a marvel. The imagined world of Krypton, and the shots of Krypton exploding, are magnificent, and have gone unmatched so far this year. The cinematography is also impressive, it looks very pure and I love the look of the movie. It’s unfortunate that nothing is really going on under the surface, story-wise. These big-budget blockbusters should really focus more on story, and less on visuals. Of course, that’s wishing for something that won’t happen. I don’t like the story at play here, and the film has an exhausting runtime. Only great movies should be allowed to be this long. There’s just very little here that is impressive. Most of it is underwhelming.

I like the cast. I love Amy Adams as an actress, and she’s great as Lois Lane, a character that doesn’t do a lot here. When she isn’t on-screen, I’m okay with it; because I mostly forget about Lane, not because Amy Adams is not a good screen presence. She is a great one. The chemistry shared between she and Henry Cavill is only okay. Henry Cavill is great as The ‘S’ Man, even if he isn’t funny; he’s stone-cold serious. But he isn’t asked to be funny, and he does bring some power to the role. This is a superhero movie that doesn’t have much humour. It has a few jokes near the end, but they feel out of place, and you’ll only catch them if you’re still awake. I’m not saying that the movie is particularly boring, but it’s very long for such an average movie… Diane Lane is sincere as Clark’s mother, and Kevin Costner is a great, scene-stealing movie Dad. His heartfelt performance will speak to you. Some of the best scenes include him.

I have noticed that DC Comics adaptations are much less funny than Marvel Comics adaptations; so maybe Goyer (and Nolan) need to learn how to write a bit more fun into their screenplay. I like a little joking around in my superhero movies; and if the story were more enjoyable and entertaining, the dark tone would be easier to swallow. I do love Nolan’s Batman trilogy, but those are brilliant and aren’t stupid. This one is big and dumb. Don’t misunderstand me, the story isn’t stupid, the action is. There’s punching and heat rays and more punching. It does not feel like a lot of thought has gone into it. This action also feels incredibly repetitive. And the storytelling is ineffective. I know that Nolan and Goyer are capable of so much more. It shows that it can be smart with its aspect of Clark learning to deal with his powers. So its change in narrative makes it go from stupid to smart, and back to stupid.

I enjoy most villains, as long as they are interesting, either menacing if they are meant to be, or funny if they are meant to be. And they have to be memorable. I love this villain. Michael Shannon is my favourite part of the movie. He is a true actor. His portrayal of General Zod is menacing, chilling, and compelling. Not to mention crazy, because he’s either yelling or flaring his nostrils, but I don’t really mind. I think it’s effective and menacing. Zod thinks his actions are noble, because he’d do anything to preserve the future of Krypton. He does not have morals. I do appreciate the writers’ decision to use Zod as the villain for this origins story, rather than Superman’s best known foe, Lex Luthor. The Mandarin of Iron Man 3 and John Harrison of Star Trek Into Darkness would bow down to GZod. I am ecstatic that Michael Shannon will now be a certified household name. However, in the movie, I do not appreciate the fact Superman’s duels with GZod’s henchmen feel longer than his duel with the actual, primary villain!

I anticipated this not as a fan of Superman, not as a die-hard fan of the superhero sub-genre, but as a die-hard fan of Christopher Nolan. Anything with his name on it, I get excited for – mostly because I trust his judgement. If he wants to spend a lot of money producing a movie, and co-writing one, I’ll pay to see it. I don’t love this. And after thinking about it a lot, I don’t like it much, either. The few worthwhile aspects to this movie is the cinematography, the stunning visuals and Michael Shannon. Overall, it’s an incredibly underwhelming and dis-a-pointing endeavour.

50/100