Monday, December 12, 2011

Movie Reviewed - Any Given Sunday

Sometimes, you go into a movie expecting a lot, and you're left disappointed. Sometimes, you go into a movie not expecting much, and being pleasantly surprised. And sometimes, you go into a movie expecting mediocrity, and you get it. Such was the case with Any Given Sunday, rated a middling 50% on Rotten Tomatoes.

The movie is about a football team (obviously), struggling to make the playoffs as all teams do. They suffer an injury to their starting quarterback, and the film follows the rise and fall of the backup quarterback, played by Jamie Foxx. He starts out nervous and wild, but shows flashes of brilliance, and becomes one of the big stories of the season.

There are ups and downs, crises of character, and the whole gamut of experiences that we so often encounter in Oliver Stone's films. But the thing about trying to make a non-traditional football movie, a football movie about football players, rather than the team, is that most of the time, you get caught. You get caught between exploring the various characters and their trials, and trying to tell the story of a football team. You delve into the players because as a writer, that's where you wanted to go with this movie. But you follow the team because that's what a lot of movie-goers want to see, and, if we're being truthful, football sells.

Don't misunderstand me, though. There are definitely bright spots in the film. Lawrence Taylor actually does a damn good job portraying a half-crazy defensive star whose injuries put his life at risk. And as a Redskins fan, I can completely identify with an up-and-down season with an intrusive owner. Finally, Al Pacino's big speech (a mandatory in all sports movies) is quite good...and not just because it's used in a montage at Caps games.

But there are too many parts that feel like they're trying to say something that just don't go anywhere. There are so many concurrent storylines that it feels like none of them really get fleshed out appropriately. There's a doctor who over-medicates players (and his intern who disagrees with his actions), a linebacker who's trying to get to a performance incentive, the two quarterbacks each with their own set of circumstances, a legendary coach who's time may have passed, a severe owner who inherited the company from her father, assistant coaches, secondary players, and a whole slew of family and friends.

I'm reminded of a quote from a quirky Michael Douglas movie called Wonder Boys:
"...it sort of reads in places like you didn't make any choices. At all."
I think in all work, you have to make decisions to leave things out, to say that this is the story I want to tell, and the only stuff I'm going to include is the stuff that makes this story more complete. The storyline with the team doctor is interesting, but it's utterly useless to the main storyline of the coach, or the secondary storyline of the quarterbacks. I feel like, for as important as teamwork is to football, this movie needed to be a little less about the team.

The Last Word: Fine. It was fine. Worth seeing once, not worth seeing again.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Double Movie Reviewed - The Crazies (1973 & 2010)

How's this for reviewing efficiency? A double review of the original and the remake of The Crazies. Buckle up.

The plot of both movies focuses on a man and woman, a couple who find themselves in a town where people are beginning to act strangely, a result of a crashed plane carrying dangerous chemicals. The government steps in and attempts to first contain, then eliminate the infected people, with brutal results. The couple, along with a small party, move through the city and attempt to escape the madness.

(1973)

The original film, directed by horror legend George Romero, is a fairly typical horror story these days: infection, deaths, hysteria, many many more deaths, and a morbid ending. While predictable, though, the story and the acting are able to carry it enough that it's plenty entertaining.

One of the convenient things about this story concept is that it doesn't demand that the movie create fantastic special effects. In fact, part of what makes the story compelling is its utter realism. You don't have to believe in the living dead or alien invasions or ghosts to be able to buy into the concept of the story. It's simply a town where everyone is losing their minds. Additionally, this non-difference between infected people and regular people is a precipitating factor in one of the turning points late in the movie.

The Last Word: The original flick is definitely enjoyable. It obviously suffers from unexceptional special effects, but it survives that shortcoming to still be an entertaining movie.

(2010)

The remake of Romero's original can best be described as "modern." The basic story is consistent, but the execution is considerably darker, and things turn morbid quickly. It's a fairly predictable adjustment of the old story, incorporating a lot more panic, fear, and bloody, bloody murder. It's got my brother's favorite actor Timothy Olyphant, who I laugh at because his name is from Lord of the Rings.

But seriously, for a remake, this version has a pretty different tone. It's heavy-handed, violent, and gory. That's not to say that it's not enjoyable; it has its place. But in the modern translation, some of the finesse of the original is lost.

The Last Word: A tense, action-packed ride that follows two people through an increasingly unstable world. It's not going to blow your mind, but if you want to just curl up and be frightened, you're in business.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Movie Reviewed - Highlander

There can be only one.

For whatever else you might think of it, Highlander gave us one of the all time great lines in movie history. And there are plenty of reasons to either love or hate Highlander, depending on your ability and/or willingness to suspend reality, and put aside some completely over-the-top acting.

The story is interesting enough, as it attempts to incorporate a medieval fantasy story into modern times. It's clearly written by a young man, but as I've got the maturity level of a pimply 15-year-old, I can appreciate it. Connor McLeod (Christopher Lambert) is a Scottish highlander who discovers that he's one of a select few Immortals, destined to live forever until decapitated by another Immortal, culminating at an epic battle in New York City (I told you, it was clearly written by a young man).

The fight scenes are good. They're not the insane fight scenes that you get in a lot of new movies, but that almost makes them more believable. They're angry and loud, and while they don't give you the "oh shit!" moments that modern action scenes do, they seem to fit into the story perfectly.

The actual story progression is fairly slow, though, and outside of Sean Connery, the acting is gratuitous. While the concept of the story is interesting, the execution of it, particularly the modern portions in New York, are bland and uninspired. I think it'd be better served by spending more time following the many lifetimes of the various Immortals. It's possible that some of the sequels or the subsequent television show go into this, which is why I'll probably end up checking them out at some point.

There are a few well-placed Queen songs in the movie, and the villain is well-cast and, though he's a little much sometimes, well-acted. The love story is a little far-fetched, but in a world with people who live forever, some irrational acts by a woman don't seem so unreasonable. And in the end, you do find yourself rooting for the hero, which is kind of mandatory for any solid action flick. I think it's a film that gets over-appreciated sometimes, under-appreciated other times, and the reality is that it resides somewhere in the middle. Overall, I liked it as a time-killer, and am glad that I finally got around to watching it.

The Last Word: A neat concept along with plenty of Queen songs and some intense swordfights make for a decent enough movie, which is how I'd classify Highlander: decent enough.

Top 500 Songs - Dave Matthews Band

This was always going to be the hardest of my band lists, because I like so many of DMB's songs, and have liked them so differently over...