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Friday, April 25, 2014

The Other Woman 2014 * * 1/2 Stars

The Other WomanDirector: Nick Cassavetes
Year: 2014
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Leslie Mann, Cameron Diaz, Kate Upton, Taylor Kinney

Towards the end of the 2014 release The Other Woman, the antagonist (translation: Mark the infidelity king played by Danish actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) runs into 2 glass walls (in a fit of rage) and gets punched by Don Johnson. His nose is supposed to be all bloodied up but it looks a lot like chocolate sauce (huh?). Now did the filmmakers run over budget and were unable to get red dye no. whatever corn syrup or am I just color blind? Anyway, if you like the sight of brown fluid running down a person's face and the image of a huge dog taking a poop on a plastered living room floor, well this is the movie for you.

Written by newcomer Melissa Stack, containing the tired old adage of toilet humor (can't we just give this gag a rest), and featuring a creepy dad cameo by Don "Sonny Crockett" Johnson, The Other Woman represents a classic example of a mixed review for me. The film opens with Manhattan power lawyer and independent, dating machine Carly Whitten (Cameron Diaz). Right from the get go, she starts a relationship with a rich businessman named Mark King (Coster-Waldau). Little does she know that King has a wife back in Connecticut. And along with dating Whitten on the side, King has another mistress in a young model type named Amber (played by Kate "I think it's just sweat" Upton). When these three women find out that they are being duped by the same guy (who also maybe stealing from them), they devise a plan to make him feel pain and remorse for what he's been doing. As expected, I checked the amount of length for "Other" and it came out to be about an hour and 50 minutes. Sadly though, this thing became one long running joke that seemed to feel more like three arduous hours.

Now in order for The Other Woman to function as a movie, it has to allow Diaz, Upton, and Mann's characters to be friends. Otherwise, the film would not have a plot device to hang its hat on. You could just let things pan out with Mann getting revenge herself. But there would be no female camaraderie, and hence, no real movie. Here's the thing though: in real life I can't say that these women would ever actually become bosom buddies. I mean, would Mann's Kate King really try to track down and befriend the woman who wrecked her marriage? Seriously? And what's up with the Cameron Diaz character being mean and closed off when initially meeting Kate. Honestly, what the heck did Kate ever do tick Carly (Diaz) off? Oh and I almost forgot, the Diaz character is a successful attorney but you never see her do a lick of work, or actually say something complex about the law, or even talk like a lawyer. Diaz is pulling in about $18 million per movie these days. I hope she talks with her agent next time about fleshing out her character a little more. Just a thought.

Anyway, there is a man behind the camera and it's Nick Cassavetes directing in the classic Nick Cassavetes style. I've seen his work in Alpha Dog and John Q and I happen to like both of them. He films scenes with never ending, improvisational, fleeting, and grating dialogue. Some of it works, some of it doesn't. He always has a big name cast and rarely uses his stars for more than one flick (with the exception of strong character actor David Thornton). I think he hits hard with drama (in a good way) but does he have the chops to succeed with physical PG-13 comedy (as with the film I'm reviewing)? That remains to be seen. Most of the material in The Other Woman is supposed to be rip-roaring and funny. However, it comes off more as strained than anything else.

In terms of the acting, I'd have to say that it wasn't spectacular. But if you look really closely, everyone involved is almost perfect for their roles. A lot of it had to do with looks I think. Kate Upton is not much of an actress (yet) but seems like a perfect fit for the younger object of affection for Mark's midlife crisis ordeal. Leslie Mann is ideal playing the suffering housewife but there is only so much of her that I can take. She improvises to the point where it becomes almost trivial. Her acting style worked in Knocked Up and This Is 40. Here it doesn't even feel like she even read the script, and basically she let's it rip to the point where it's just too much to handle. Then there is Taylor Kinney playing Mann's character's sister. He doesn't do much with an underdeveloped role. But here's the thing: I think he's gonna be a huge movie star one day, just a hunch. Finally as mentioned earlier, we have Coster-Waldau playing the slimy, cheating husband and it's a brilliant piece of casting. Again, it's not Oscar caliber stuff but it's totally head shot mastery as far as I'm concerned.

All in all, I'd say that The Other Woman kinda ends in two parts. The first part involves the wrapping up of a revenge tale brought on by three completely different, yet formed by sisterhood, ladies. The second part during the closing credits, shows a cliched device in which we see a subtitled foretelling of what these ladies went on to do in their lives I guess maybe 2-3 years later (this whole labored bit started with 1973's American Graffiti, I'm serious). Their outcomes and futures seem pat and not realistic. But again, I'll leave you with another cliched device in Hollywood, the saying "it's only a movie".

To conclude, as a force of habit I looked at a review in which a critic said that women will enjoy this film and get the humor. I kinda agree with that. Men on the other hand, be forewarned. This is not completely a so-called "chick flick" but there were a couple of moments when I thought I was entering "chick flick" purgatory (that's not good). Bottom line: whether you're a man or a woman, see The Other Woman at your own risk. If you realized you've made a mistake, well there's always something playing in the "other" theater next door.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Transcendence 2014 * * 1/2 Stars

TranscendenceDirector: Wally Pfister
Year: 2014
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Johnny Depp, Morgan Freeman, Rebecca Hall

As a wildly condensed version of The Lawnmower Man coupled with a subtle nod to Invasion of the Body SnatchersTranscendence stood out in my mind for one true reason: Johnny Depp's latest release is one in which he plays a character that is a completely normal person. He doesn't have a weird accent, doesn't wear an outrageous costume, and for the most part, looks about as recognizable as if he was signing autographs on the street (except for a couple of scenes in which he sports some foul pigmentation in his skin and a bad, computerized perm). I mean, as a scientist who looks into changing artificial intelligence for the better, he channels about as normal a dude as when he played a mild mannered banker in 1995's Nick of Time.

Having a premise that has straight-to-DVD written all over it and penned by a first time screenwriter (Jack Paglen), Transcendence begins with a confusing aftermath scene showing what looks like San Francisco, California in a sort of tragic desolation. The film then backtracks five years earlier where we have doctors Will and Evelyn Caster (played by Johnny Depp and Rebecca Hall) speaking at a convention to potential sponsors concerning a concept called technological singularity (the point where artificial intelligence will surpass human intelligence). After the lecture ends, we have Caster (Depp) signing a book he wrote when he's shot by a bullet that eventually gives him radiation poisoning (thereby leading to his death). Here's where things get interesting: when Depp's character dies, his brainwaves stay afloat and embed themselves in a computer. Whether what image on said computer is Caster or not (we know that it at least looks like Depp), we find out that this presence can read thoughts, calculate vital signs without touch, and heal people only to turn them into zombies. As the movie causes the audience to partake in a moral tug of war concerning the sanctity of human life, two FBI agents (Christopher Nolan alum Cillian Murphy and you guessed it, Morgan Freeman) are on the case trying to destroy Caster's catatonic empire.

Wally Pfister is in charge of this sometimes, sci-fi snoozer. He films with a paint-by-numbers method in terms of the visual palate and Transcendence is his directorial debut. He's a gifted cinematographer who has shot a lot of Christopher Nolan's work (Inception, The Dark Knight, The Prestige). I expected his first foray into film making to resemble Nolan. However, he directs Transcendence as if Ridley Scott were at the wheel. What's on screen feels like a mash up of The Counselor (if The Counselor were science fiction) and Scott's silvery 2012 release, Prometheus. And although the sun is shining for pretty much the bulk of its 2 hour running time, Pfister seems to have an obsession with filming the slow motion apparatus of rain drops (it's a metaphor for Transcendence's moral reasoning and it seems overused).

Then there is the acting which is for lack of a better word, disappointing. I mean, this is a strong cast and most of them seem lost within the material. They do what they can based on the requirements of the plot. And the silly, sci-fi mumbo jumbo in the script certainly doesn't help them get ahead. Rebecca Hall as Depp's character's wife, overacts at every turn and has poor, unclear character motivation. Morgan Freeman who appears in everything these days, gets another nothing role playing an FBI agent (at least he gets to speak and Freeman's voice in any film is a sure mainstay). Paul Bettany (Max Waters) probably gives the best performance as Caster's best friend, confidant, and mentor. But just like everybody else, he goes through the motions just trying to get through the film without really knowing what the heck is going on. Finally there's Depp. I mean, I have always thought of Johnny Depp as a superior actor but this role is way too easy for him (he pretty much sleepwalks through it). I saw an interview where he says that he doesn't like to watch his own movies. That's a good thing because if he actually saw Transcendence, he'd say to himself, "oh well, at least I got paid handsomely".

In the end, Transcendence has some genuine moments but it just doesn't feel that compelling. It doesn't "transcend" into anything awful but it comes off like more of the same when placed into today's modern era of sci-fi film making. Sadly, it's a product that is polished up and completely shipped out. In essence, Hollywood just keeps trying to reinvent the wheel when it comes science fiction. Transcendence just becomes another spoke in that tattered wheel.

Written by Jesse Burleson

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

My 50 Favorite Movie Quotes of all Time

On a whim and just for fun, I decided to share with you my favorite lines from some of my favorite films. I welcome your feedback if there are any you want to add. A top 100 in the future perhaps? Anyway, here's the list from 1 to 50:

1. "I will not die sober, get the llluuuddeeesss!", The Wolf of Wall Street 2013
2. "Do you mind if we dance wif yo dates", Animal House 1978
3. "Utah, gimme two!", Point Break 1991
4. "How 'bout a nice greasy pork sandwich served in a dirty ashtray", Weird Science 1985
5. "It's Cosmo.... he's Chinese", Boogie Nights 1997
6. "Get busy living or get busy dying", The Shawshank Redemption 1994
7. "You talkin' to me!", Taxi Driver 1976
8. "I love the smell of Napalm in the morning, smells like victory!", Apocalypse Now 1979
9. "Heeerrree'sss Johnny!", The Shining 1980
10. "E.T. phone home", E.T. The Extra Terrestrial 1982
11. "Yeah 220, 221 whatever it takes", Mr. Mom 1983
12. "I didn't kill my wife", The Fugitive 1993
13. "Told you I'm never going back", Heat 1995
14. "It's too bad she won't live, but then again who does", Blade Runner 1982
15. "This is this, this ain't something else, this is this. From now on, you're on your own", The Deer Hunter 1978
16. "They mostly come out at night, mostly", Aliens 1986
17. "Pick up that blood", Caddyshack 1980
18. "Snakes, why did it have to be snakes", Raiders of the Lost Ark 1981
19. "A kid who tells on another kid, is a dead kid", Over the Edge 1979
20. "I guess she didn't like the cornbread either", Aliens 1986
21. "The way of the future", The Aviator 2004
22. "Looks like those ludes are working their magic on Donnie right now", The Wolf of Wall Street 2013
23. "Call me snnnaakkkeee!", Escape from New York 1981
24. "Let's go get sushi and not pay", Repo Man 1984
25. "I see dead people", The Sixth Sense 1999
26. "We're gonna need a bigger boat", Jaws 1975
27. "We're going in there just like everybody else, nine guys, no weapons", The Warriors 1979
28. "I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse", The Godfather 1972
29. "Are you not entertained," Gladiator 2000
30. "Baby you are so money and you don't even know it", Swingers 1996
31. "Big Mac's a Big Mac but they call it Le Big Mac", Pulp Fiction 1994
32. "It's out of control and it's coming your way", The Towering Inferno 1974
33. "Grab a brew, don't cost nothin'", Animal House 1978
34. "You're out of order, you're out of order. This whole trial is out of order they're out of order", And Justice for All 1979
35. "Stupid is as stupid does", Forrest Gump 1994
36. "Houston, we have a problem", Apollo 13 1995
37. "The force will be with you, always", Star Wars 1977
38. "I'm mad as hell and I'm not gonna take this anymore", Network 1976
39. "Luke, I am your father", The Empire Strikes Back 1980
40. "I drink your milkshake, I drink it all up!", There Will be Blood 2007
41. "Does Barry Manilow know that you raid his wardrobe?", The Breakfast Club 1985
42. "The life of a repo man is always intense", Repo Man 1984
43. "You're no messiah, you're a movie of the week, a t-shirt at best", Seven 1995
44. "Prison life consists of routine and more routine", The Shawshank Redemption 1994
45. "Our turf, our little piece of turf", The Warriors 1979
46. "I don't believe in hell. I believe in unemployment, but not hell", Tootsie 1982
47. "Come out to the coast we'll get together, have a few laughs," Die Hard 1988
48. "Don't disturb my friend, he's dead tired", Commando 1985
49. "Stop your grinnin' and drop your linen", Aliens 1986
50. "Quite an experience to live in fear isn't it. That's what it is to be a slave", Blade Runner 1982

Reader Submissions:

"Fasten your seat belts, it's gonna be a bumpy ride", All About Eve 1950
"Winter must be cold for those with no warm memories", An Affair to Remember 1957

List compiled by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Draft Day 2014 * * * Stars

Draft DayDirector: Ivan Reitman
Year: 2014
Rated PG-13
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Kevin Costner, Denis Leary, Jennifer Garner, Frank Langella

As the undisputed king of two word titled movies (The Untouchables, Wyatt Earp, Open Range, Mr. Brooks, Swing Vote, The Bodyguard, The Postman, Night ShiftAmerican Flyers, etc...), Kevin Costner ventures back into sports territory with the NFL endorsed football drama, Draft Day. He's had some success in this genre before with Field of DreamsBull Durham and Tin Cup. He's also had a mishap with the disastrous For Love of the Game. This movie safely, falls into the first category. The National Football League for some odd reason (they usually don't lend a hand to gridiron movie fare), seems highly involved with the making of this breezy April release. And it shows when they have their own people (commissioner Roger Goodell and media members of the NFL network) appear in it to make things as authentic as possible.

Depicting the Cleveland Browns as the NFL team influx, showcasing almost no footage of actual football, and spanning the length of a hectic one day period, Draft Day chronicles Mr. Sonny Weaver, Jr. (the perfect name for an NFL GM). Played by Kevin Costner, Sonny has a lot to think about and he's got a lot on his plate. As the film opens, we find out that his girlfriend (Ali Parker played by Jennifer Garner) and co-worker is pregnant with his child and we know that his dad whom he fired as Browns coach, died a week ago. We also know that the clock is ticking for Sonny because it's the day of the NFL draft (held at New York City's Radio City Music Hall). He's gotta quote unquote "make a splash" by picking the right prospect in quarterback phenom Bo Callahan. Only on the job for roughly two years, Sonny has to make decisions to better the team or he'll be fired by slick owner Harvey Molina (played by Frank Langella). Here's the thing: Sonny would rather choose a defensive player to build his team around. And it doesn't help when he's pulled in a different direction by a fiery coach (Denis Leary as Vince Penn) who seems bent on drafting a tank of a running back. That's the blueprint for Draft Day's relentless pace. Costner's character goes through some serious trials and tribulations before things culminate in a first round announcement for the top pick. My favorite part of the film's two hour running time: the last 15 minutes which are exhilarating and goose bump inducing. Costner confidently shows why he still has the chops to carry a sports flick after all these years.

Now as entertaining as this colorful project is, it's far from perfect. For instance, I didn't buy the relationship between Costner and Garner's characters as romantically inclined. I couldn't get over the fact that they looked like father and daughter (even though they're only about 18 years apart in age). Added to that, they don't have a whole lot of chemistry anyway. And I know it's a PG-13 film, but they only kiss once at the end and don't even hug throughout the entire running time (kinda weird if you ask me). Then there is an additional character in the form of a Browns organizational intern named Rick (played by Griffin Newman). His presence is totally unnecessary and has nothing to do with the film's plot workings. The actor playing him did okay. However, the whole bit came off as a huge distraction. Finally, there was the notion of the camera panning over a football stadium with title cards showing the name of the city and the name of the talked about NFL team belonging to that city. I mean do the filmmakers really think that their audience is that inept when it comes to knowing something about the most popular sport in America? I would hope not.

As far as the cast goes, Jennifer Garner does what she can with an out of place part. She gives it the old college try turning in a typical performance as a character who is always in the habit of giving sage advice. Then there's Denis Leary who surprised me as the cocky Browns head football coach. I didn't think he could pull the role off (based on the trailer), but he's smarmy good and the right actor (in this case) to get all up in Costner's face and clash with him. As for Frank Langella playing the owner of the Cleveland Browns, what can I say, he does an okay job. He's not exactly miscast but any old, seasoned pro with sunglasses could probably pull off his minimal role.

Even with a couple of hiccups along the way, I thought what Draft Day's casting director (John Papsidera) did in general, was pretty impressive. He lobbied for a lot of big names to be included in this vehicle. We get a lot of cameos from athletes/sportscasters (the legendary Jim Brown, the just retired Ray Lewis, and ESPN juggernaut Chris Berman to name a few), a bunch of cameos from well known actors (look for Rosanna Arquette, Sam Elliott, Sean Combs, and Ellen Burstyn), and staunch, real life NFL star Arian Foster taking on a pivotal role as running back Ray Jennings (just think real life NBA basketball player Ray Allen acting in 1998's He Got Game). The huge, notable cast is a pleasant addition serving as the surrounding chaos created for Costner's Weaver, Jr. After seeing the mediocre trailer, I thought none of this would work. But as I always remember, bad trailer: good movie; good trailer: bad movie (all the best parts are in the good trailer you know).

Safe to say that based on what I've just written, it's obvious that Draft Day gets a sure-fire recommendation from me. It is directed by an out-of-the box choice in Ivan Reitman. He's never really shot a sports movie before and it shows. Thankfully, he's got a solid duo of screenwriters (Rajiv Joseph and Scott Rothman) that sort of bail him out. His films have a vastly entertaining, swiftness to them (just like with this one). Basically a Reitman film goes down smooth like a tall glass of cold iced tea. I am however, a little adhere to him adding in an overload of dialogue scenes divulged from a split-screen technique (that's Brian De Palma's department so Ivan should probably leave that one alone). For the most part though, he makes this ill-timed Spring release all his own (I hope Draft Day does okay at the box office because the NFL draft is not till May). He gives the audience (especially NFL fans like myself) a realistic insight into the GM business via behind the scenes. He also sprinkles a little comic fairy dust making Draft Day a sort of goofy, less tense version of 2011's Moneyball. In fact, he even structures the film similar to his directorial turn three years ago with No Strings Attached. So just think of "Draft" as a little bit Moneyball combined with a PG-13 sports version of the comedic sex romp just mentioned.

Overall, I inferred earlier that there are a few things wrong with Draft Day. They become minimal however when you factor in Kevin Costner's redeeming performance. After a couple of forgettable stints in two 2014 releases (the bland Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit and the silly, jumbled 3 Days to Kill), he bounces back here with an assured, relaxed, and effortless turn. It's classic Costner complete all the right Costner mannerisms. He's perfect for this role and the movie almost succeeds entirely because of him. His screen time toward the film's climax is the rocketing highlight and it might cause you to stand up and applaud. Ultimately, if you're a football fan and you want to plan your movie going experience in the form of a draft board, here's an idea: take Draft Day as your no.1 pick this weekend. It's a sure lock!

Written by Jesse Burleson

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The 6th Annual River Bend Film Festival- April 3rd, 4th, and 5th, 2014

River Bend Film FestivalGreetings once again from South Bend, Indiana. Here are five featured films and their ratings. All of them were shown at the Century Center's Recital Hall. There were two animated shorts, one kids drama, one regular drama, and a fiercely long documentary. All five mini films combined to run just under two hours. The list is as follows:

A Purrfect Pair * * Stars
Director: Gwyneth Christoffel

Kickstand * * * Stars
Director: Thomas Schultz
-Filmed in Oak Park, Illinois and based on a true story according to its director, this is a short dealing with bullies and the act of revenge brought on by a stolen bike. Being fairly well acted by a young cast, Kickstand also does some neat editing tricks with quick flashback cuts. And it nods slightly to Braveheart (as also voiced by the film's director).

Slowly But Surely * * * 1/2 Stars
Director: Eli Balser
-With narration that is not overdone and comes in at just the right points, Slowly But Surely has fantastic animation that while it looks a bit dated (kinda echos a cartoon feel from the 1970's or 1980's), still seems to make things work and add to the mystique. The story involves a friendship between a dragonfly and a snail who try to help each other out while bearing a rough rain storm.

Letter for Hope * * * Stars
Director: Raquel Roderick
-As a dramatic turn involving the aspects of death and dying, Letter for Hope intertwines two stories in the same hospital: A woman who has to give birth to a dead baby and a husband who is grieving for his about-to-pass wife. The film has some heartfelt moments and the acting by the entire cast is decent and professional (the lead looks a bit like Jim Broadbent). There are scenes however, when the storytelling drags a bit and wanders off. At the same time, the other plot point involving the grieving husband and his health stricken wife doesn't seem to be examined enough. Overall though, it's still a solid entry that might make you tear up. It was filmed in New Zealand which to me initially looked like Southern California (mountains and palm trees). And everyone trading dialogue had British accents so I knew something was up. Safe to say that after I read the festival program, I was less confused.

Out of the Fire * * * 1/2 Stars
Director: Courtenay Singer
-Despite being overly long (it was 3-4 times more in length than the other entries) and taking itself a bit too seriously, Out of the Fire is still the best film out of the five that I saw. It's a documentary and I've always been a fan of documentaries. My ratings are for the most part favorable and "Fire" was no exception. It chronicles one Kevin Crowe. He lives a primitive lifestyle making pottery in the mountains of Virginia. He's a philosophizer, a deep thinker, and is extremely dedicated to his work. The beginning of the proceedings give you a background story about his past (he got into pottery after being in a car accident, his wife died of cancer and he remarried, etc, etc..) and how he hired an apprentice (Krista Loomans) to help him with his work. Then Out of the Fire dives strictly into the art of making things with clay. Let me just say this: If you've never taken a pottery class or never knew anything about the craft, this 40 minute plus (estimated) flick will be your chief education. As for the collaborator behind this exhausting shoot spanning four days, L.A. based Courtenay Singer directs in the classic documentary style.

Written by Jesse Burleson