Monday, April 28, 2014

DRAFT DAY (2014)

Rated: PG-13

Stars: Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner,  Dennis Leary, Frank Langella,  Ellen Burstyn,  Chadwick Boseman

Director: Ivan Reitman

Genre: Drama

I generally don't watch sports movies--not because I'm not a fan, but because fake, recreated sports scenes don't cut it for me like the real live action does. In Draft Day, there aren't a lot of fake sports plays, but there are a lot of stock, cardboard cut-out characters.  

There's the intrepid general manager of the Cleveland Browns  (Kevin Costner) who is going to wheel and deal his way through the maze--flying by the seat of his pants and going against conventional wisdom to get the best draft picks, rescue his bottom-feeding team, and make him a hero on draft day.

The coach (Dennis Leary) who naturally doesn't agree with the GM's methods, cuz you gotta have conflict.

The team owner (Frank Langella), who may be one wrong move away from cleaning house, which makes the chances the GM is taking all the more precarious to his future.

And, of course, the love interest (Jennifer Garner), who works for the team and knows more about football than most of the guys. (Hollywood loves to patronize women in this manner.) She and the GM have a thing going, and now she's going to drop a little bundle of joy upon him. But all he wants to do is make it through draft day, dammit.  WILL EVERYBODY JUST QUIT DISTRACTING ME?.  

The most annoying thing about Draft Day is that it violates that old saw of good storytelling: show, don't tell. The characters are always explaining stuff to each other that they obviously should already know. It's a device to fill in background information for the audience, but it's just too obvious and awkwardly done here. 

Director Ivan Reitman does a good job of  ratcheting up the dramatic tension and building momentum toward the feel-good climax. That's the strong point of the film. Along with the pulsating score from John Debney.

Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi was obsessed. Winning isn't's the only thing. He set the tone for the modern day emphasis on winning at all costs. It's an unhealthy mindset.  Because giving it all you've got and falling short is nothing to be ashamed of. It builds character. But that's not what modern day sports is about, and Draft Day--if nothing else--drives that point home.

Grade:  C +


If Tim hadn't been sitting next to me, answering my questions about how players get drafted and team managers trade picks, I would've been totally lost. As it is, I was totally bored. To borrow one of my favorite quotes by Dorothy Parker (originally describing Katharine Hepburn's acting), Kevin Costner's acting "runs the gamut of emotions from A to B." Unlike the highly volatile Vince Lombardi, Costner plays it cool under pressure. A good foil for Dennis Leary's overdone pugnaciousness. But it's all so ho-hum. And the secondary plots, i.e. his secret girlfriend, his inability to commit, his bossy mom are...well....not exactly original.

Just for the hell of it, I typed in "Top Sports Movies." Opinions abound. According to an ESPN poll, #1 is BULL DURHAM. (Costner was much better in that one.) Another link breaks it down into individual sports. According to their pick (and mine, as well) is BRIAN'S SONG. And the New York Times poll gives ROCKY the number one slot. What these sports movies all have that DRAFT DAY doesn't is character development—and real characters to develop!

With these mini-reviews, I always try to point out something positive. This time—because I can't come up with one—I'll end with another favorite quote meant to leave you smiling: "The reason women don't play football is because eleven of them would never wear the same outfit in public." - Phyllis Diller

Grade: D –

Tuesday, April 15, 2014



Stars: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stacy Martin, Stellan Skarsgard, Shia LeBouf, Christian Slater, Uma Thurman

Director:  Lars von Trier

Genre: Art House

Lars von Trier's Nymphomaniac: Vol.1 isn't about magic (you wouldn't call it magical in any way) but there is lots of sleight-of-hand going on. What appears to be actual oral sex is accomplished with the use of a prosthesis. A brief shot involving penetration turns out not to be the "name" actors in the film, but rather some porn star body doubles. That said, there's still enough provocative stuff here to push the limits of anything you'll ever see at a "regular" theater. (That's one where you're not likely to be sitting next to Pee Wee Herman, who's signing an autograph for you with his free hand.)  

But Nymphomaniac: Vol.1 wants to take itself seriously, so we must decide whether to do the same. That's a bit difficult to do, though, because there's lots of dark humor here.

Charlotte Gainsbourg, who will do or say basically anything in front of the camera (catch her in von Trier's Antichrist for validation of this), takes on the more genteel role of story teller--recounting her sexual escapades to an older man (Stellan Skarsgard) who found her beaten and bloody in the gutter. The real action (should we call this an "action" film?) falls to young Stacy Martin 
playing "Joe," the younger version of Gainsbourg's character. Joe and an equally free-spirited friend have a contest to see how many men each of them can seduce on a train. 

There is one brilliant scene where Uma Thurman plays a woman scorned who shows up at Joe's apartment with her young sons in tow. Her husband has abandoned her for the nympho nymphet, thinking she's in love with him. Thurman spreads it on thick with the melodrama, laying a guilt trip on the guy that's one for the ages. When another suitor knocks on the door, the real fun begins.  

Don't know if I'd spend the money to see the conclusion of this two-parter, though the explanation for how Joe ended up in the battered condition we found her in at the beginning of the film is likely to be curiously kinky. May just wait for the DVD, as it's the kind of fare perhaps better enjoyed at home when you've slipped into something more comfortable and have all the shades drawn.

Grade: B


"Short and sweaty." That's how I'd describe this flick. Only it wasn't short by any means... Like NYMPHOMANIAC: VOL. 1, a film that's presented in five chapters, I will chop up this review accordingly.
  1. If you think penises are all pretty much the same, go see this movie.
  2. If you want to see Christian Slater's ass crack, go see this movie. (He plays the nympho's caring, tree-fixated dad; a man whose struggles with alcohol are never even hinted at before he winds up in a straight jacket shitting himself.)
  3. If you want to be the only female in the audience, go see this movie.
  4. If you want to see every nook and cranny of Stacy Martin's rail thin, prepubescent-looking body, go see this movie.
  5. .If you want to get turned on? Read Fifty Shades of Grey
Grade: C

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

NOAH (2014)

Rated:  PG-13

STARS:  Russell Crowe,  Jennifer Connelly,  Emma Watson,  Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins,  Logan Lerman
 DIRECTOR: Darren Aronofsky
GENRE: Drama

I was initially put off by the idea of seeing Noah, because Bible stories, to me, are in the same category as Greek Mythology--great stories from writers who had some wild imaginations, to be taken with a liberal sprinkling of salt.  And since Easter is right around the corner--and with it the annual return of Charlton Heston as Moses and the rest of those similarly campy films from the fifties the television stations drag out for God knows what reason this time of year--I was so hoping that Noah might be a breath of fresh air. 

My prayers were answered.

As a film, Noah is a remarkable achievement.  Noah (Russell Crowe) is a kind of obsessed environmentalist who sees the value in preserving the innocent creatures of the world, of which wicked Man is notwithstanding. The images of beast and fowl winging and plodding their way toward the ark are awe-inspiring. Scripture mentions giants inhabiting the earth in those days, but director Darren Aronofsky takes it a step further with some hulking CGI rock monsters who would look more at home in a film like Transformers. A little something for the kids, perhaps.

Jennifer Connelly, as Noah's wife,  gives us some soul-stirring moments when she stands up to the monomaniacal man as he is about to go off the deep end and do some really mean and nasty stuff.

 Noah is a film full of beauty, grandeur and intensity, and rife with irony when you consider the idea of the Creator sending a big flood to wipe the slate clean and start anew, hopeful that this time things will be different. Especially in light of the condition our planet is in today.

Grade:  A  


[Tim didn't bother telling you that I had to drag him to this movie, bitching and moaning all the way. So it gives me no small measure of satisfaction to read his glowing review!]

As for me? I kind of like those old cinemascopic epics. Especially the villains—Peter Ustinov as Nero, Richard Boone as Pontius Pilate, Laurence Olivier as Crassus. But the biggest villain in Noah is Noah himself. Torn between doing God's bidding or following his own humanness, he's a larger-than-life character with an abundance of problems to overcome. Portrayed with deep-voiced veracity by Russell Crowe, the film is billed as an "epic story of courage and sacrifice from the Old Testament." Now I could be picky about some of the incongruities in this cautionary tale. Did they have buzz cuts back then? How come Noah aged and his wife didn't? Can fish really survive without water? But logic and Bible stories are not necessarily synonymous. And after I saw Noah, I actually went home and read chapters 5 through 9 in Genesis. Holy cow! There were certainly a lot of literary liberties taken. But in my view, they improved the story considerably. (Creative blasphemy to some, good film-making to others.) If Tim hadn't already made a comparison to Transformers, I would have. Those rock monsters aka "Watchers" could have just as easily been rebuilding a razed New York City in 2020 as helping Noah build his ark.

And kudos to Anthony Hopkins as an impishly ancient Methuselah. In a final scene, when he's enjoying some freshly picked berries, I could almost hear him adding 'some fava beans and a nice Chianti.'