Archive for January, 2012
REVIEW: ‘Invinvible’ movie highlights pro football
The Film School blog began the football season with a classic film review of a college football-themed movie (“The Program”), so with the Super Bowl upon us, it’s only fitting that we close the season with a pro football-themed film. I chose a movie that embodies not only the sport, but also the impact the game has on everyday life. 2006’s “Invincible” is the story of Vince Papale, and if you’ve never heard of him, you are in for a treat.
It is 1976 and South Philadelphia has fallen on tough times. Economic instability has crippled the neighborhood and people are doing whatever they can to get by. When new Philadelphia Eagles coach Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear) holds an open tryout, 30-year old bartender and substitute teacher Vince Papale (Mark Wahlberg) receives a camp invite. In his unlikely bid to make the team, Papale captures the imagination of the city while trying to win over his coaches and fellow players. The closer he gets to realize his dream, however, the further he feels from his roots in the South Philadelphia neighborhood.
Director and veteran cinematographer Ericson Core faced a trifecta of filmmaking challenges with “Invincible.” The film was based on true events, meaning a little less freedom than usual with the script. Based in 1976, the film is a period piece of sorts, and failing to capture the essence of the 70’s would be a threat to the film’s verisimilitude. Lastly, it is a sports film which includes simulating big stadium settings and fast-paced action on the field. Core scores a touchdown in all three phases. The mise-en-scene of the film captures 1976 with both set design and a filter that gives the film a slightly worn yellowed look. The football scenes are very realistic and do a great job recreating Philadelphia’s now-demolished Veterans Stadium. The soundtrack captures the mid-70’s with music from artists that include Grand Funk Railroad, The James Gang and Ted Nugent.
Do not be fooled by the fact that the film was produced by Walt Disney Studios; the film is profound on many levels. The economic despair in the region hangs over the film like a heavy blanket, which is necessary for revealing the next layer – the importance that the game of football to fans of the sport, especially during hard times. It is a game that brings people together; a reason to celebrate and cheer when nothing but despair is waiting outside of the stadium. “Invincible” does a fantastic job of capturing this raw emotion from the major and minor characters that surround Papale. Though it is a football movie, the relationships in Papale’s life play a huge role in the film.
The closing credits include some real game footage of Vince Papale during his stint with the Eagles, including the play that serves as the film’s climax. I am always a fan of including actual footage in any film that claims it is “based on true events.” We know we’re getting the Hollywood feel-good version, but it’s nice to see some of those magical moments as they were captured in real life. “Invincible” is the story of Papale, but it also includes the beginning of legendary coach Dick Vermeil’s career and truly captures the essence of what the sport means to so many people – one that crosses gender, racial and economic lines while bringing fans together with a common bond. When you include an unlikely tale such as Papale and his Rust-Belt determination, you end up with a perfect combination for great cinema.
REVIEW: ‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’ moving, genuine and entertaining
Every once in a while a film comes out that is as moving and genuine as it is entertaining. New in theatres this week is “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” which chronicles a family — specifically a young boy — trying to cope with life and loss post-9/11. While films about the September tragedy are not neoteric (2006’s “United 93” and “World Trade Center” are two of the earliest), this one is the first to deeply explore the complicated family dramas that unfolded after the fateful attacks. The film also tries to answer the difficult question of whether the artifacts we leave behind can help unlock (figuratively and literally, in this case) some of the questions we leave behind.
Ten-year-old Oskar Schell’s (Thomas Horn) world is turned upside down when his father Thomas (Tom Hanks) in killed during the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. One year after the events, Oskar uncovers a lock box key among his father’s belongings. In an attempt to stay connected to his father, Oskar hatches a plan to find all of the people who may help him solve the mystery behind the key. What he ultimately discovers is a surprise to him and everyone involved with his search.
Director Stephen Daldry was the perfect choice for this cerebral drama. His prior films, such as “The Reader” and “The Hours,” involve deep human emotion told through complex tapestries. I expected a drama-filled narrative, but this was much heavier. From start to finish a steady stream of sniffles could be heard throughout the theatre (myself included, of course). It’s not so much that it is sad or depressing film (it is to a degree), but the stark reminder of what so many families went through beginning on Sept. 11 and no doubt continue to confront today. “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” is just one glimpse into a family and their desperate attempt to make sense of a senseless situation.
You may be shocked to discover that this is Thomas Horn’s acting debut. In what can be understated as a bold and risky move, producers cast Horn in the lead role after discovering him on an appearance on Jeopardy’s “Kid Week” in 2010. Horn not only holds his own with the great Tom Hanks, but to some degree overshadows him. The role itself is particularly demanding. Oskar suffers from an unidentified personality disorder that appears to be part Asperger’s and part savant, making the character very unique and difficult to bring to life, even for a veteran thespian. The rookie Horn appears to do it with ease.
“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” will no doubt evoke an assortment of emotions from its audience. It left me exhausted and wanting desperately to give my son a bear hug and never let go. The collective audience sat in silence for a few moments when the closing credits rolled — perhaps to briefly remember the events that affected so many Americans on 9/11. The thought-provoking film is guaranteed to take you on a roller coaster of emotions — some you may be prepared for and some that may be a bit unexpected.
This review of “Moneyball” is long overdue. The film is based on the Michael Lewis book of the same name which chronicles a year with Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane and has been on my to-read list for several years. After first seeing the trailer last year, “Moneyball” jumped to the top of my book queue. I hoped to finish it in time to see the film in the theatre, but it is a heavy read and took a bit longer than expected to finish. This month the “Moneyball” DVD hit the shelves, so I rounded third with my copy and headed home to see how the film stacked up to Lewis’ account of a season with the Oakland A’s.
In 2002 the general manager of the small market franchise Oakland A’s decided to eschew a system that has been in place for decades. In order to compete with the powerful New York Yankees, Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) decided to adopt an unorthodox method created by a baseball outsider rather than traditional scouting. With the help of Yale economics graduate Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), Beane challenges everyone around him, both in major league baseball and within his own franchise, while putting together a record-setting season that changes the game of baseball forever.
The book “Moneyball” is largely about the statistical method known as sabermetrics, interspersed with Billy Beane’s life story. Screenwriters Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian wisely focus more on Billy Beane and less on the details of baseball statistics. Director Bennett Miller – no stranger to biopics after 2005’s “Capote” – uses a variety of methods to tell Beane’s story while briefly explaining the history of sabermetrics. The baseball scenes are a mix of actual footage from the 2002 MLB season and footage filmed with the actors at the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum. It all comes together quite well – partly because the baseball action is sparse. This is not the traditional sports film, and the majority of the narrative focuses on the behind-the-scenes work done by Beane and his staff.
Much like Beane’s methods in baseball, the casting for “Moneyball” is a bit unorthodox yet still works to perfection. Pitt is a natural as the former star athlete-turned exec. The role of Peter Brand really gives Jonah Hill a chance to expand his range as an actor, and he takes advantage of the opportunity. The excellent Philip Seymour Hoffman seems out of place at first as veteran baseball manager Art Howe, but he settles into his antagonist role quite comfortably. Chris Pratt (TV’s “Parks and Recreation”) has an understated comedic role as catcher-turned-first baseman Scott Hatteberg. The film is steeped in verisimilitude, a product of great performances and a strong narrative.
Despite the shift in focus from statistics to Beane’s story, the film stays fairly true to the book. The biggest liberty taken by the screenwriters is creating a composite character in assistant GM Peter Brand largely based on Paul DePodesta, who currently serves as New York Mets VP of Player Development and Scouting. The movie walks a delicate tight rope of satisfying baseball devotees while remaining simple enough for the layperson to understand. If anything, baseball enthusiasts will be left wanting more — in which case I strongly recommend Lewis’ book.
With so much material to cover in a little more than two hours, “Moneyball” does its best to capture the essence Billy Beane’s story. Flashbacks briefly cover his failed baseball career and decision to give up his big league career to become a scout. Beane is a man on a mission not because he believes in the new sabermetric system, but because he wants to prove that the old system – the one that overvalued his worth as a player and pressured him into giving up a scholarship to Stanford – is flawed. Everything that happens along the way — Oakland’s roller coaster season that set an MLB record, rebuilt careers of several washed out players and baseball finally adopting his methods – is all a result of Beane’s drive to set things right in his own life. He is a complex character who embodies a wonderful combination of rebellion, determination, and a progressive spirit perhaps more than anyone in cinematic history.
REVIEW: More Care Could Have Gone into ‘Apollo 18′
The found-footage film style is relatively new and still very chic in Hollywood. While certainly not the first, 1999’s “The Blair Witch Project” should be credited with popularizing the sub-genre. More recently, “Paranormal Activity” became the most profitable film in history based on DreamWorks’ initial $350,000 investment. New to DVD this week is “Apollo 18” — the latest in a long run of recent found footage films. The fun thing about this sub-genre is it allows filmmakers to break the traditional rules of narrative films. What tools did “Apollo 18” utilize in an attempt at verisimilitude through NASA’s found-footage?
In 2011, footage is released exposing why the United States never returned to the moon. The footage reveals that in 1974, the NASA crew of the Apollo 18 moon mission was informed that the mission was changed to a top-secret venture by the Department of Defense to install motion sensors on the lunar surface. When astronauts Nathan Walker (British actor Lloyd Owen) and Ben Anderson (Warren Christie, TV’s “Alphas”) reach the moon they realize everything isn’t quite as it seems. The pair questions the D.O.D. after finding a dead cosmonaut and an empty Soviet landing craft, leading the government to abandon the mission and the astronauts on the moon. Walker and Anderson are faced with the options of finding a way off the moon surface or face the unknown horrors from the strange creatures they were unknowingly sent to discover.
Director Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego made two major mistakes with “Apollo 18.” While the film does a fantastic job mimicking legitimate “Super 8” and other archaic film styles, it ultimately proves to be a huge distraction. It is fun at first in a “look how authentic this footage is!” kind of way. But the film is 86 minutes of frenetic cuts, odd film angles, and damaged film from multiple cameras. The plot doesn’t really go anywhere for the first 50 minutes or so, and even then it moves kind of slow. It picks up the pace in the final 15 minutes, but a good film is the sum of its parts, not just the climactic finish.
I would argue that the foundation for a successful found-footage film starts long before it ever hits the big screen. A savvy marketing plan is needed to help create a film realm that audiences will buy into. Filmmakers are tabbed with the task of making the audience believe that the footage was recorded by an amateur and somehow, through the magic of cinema and capitalism, made its way to the big screen or DVD. A few popular viral videos combined with an obscure or cryptic trailer seems to be a successful formula. “Apollo 18” went the route of the traditional trailer, and it kind of killed the authentic feel to the supposed found footage.
I often talk to my film students about creating an entire world around a film — something that goes beyond the 90 to 120 minutes of screen time. To fully understand Richard Kelly’s “Donnie Darko” you need all of the ancillary material available, including director commentary and the film’s website, www.donniedarkofilm.com. It is difficult to navigate, but really helps you piece the complicated narrative together. Christopher Nolan uses materials provided in the special edition DVD of “Memento” to help viewers decipher the protagonist’s backstory. For some, this is all too much — they just want to view a film and be done with it. For others (including myself), this experience makes the cinematic experience all the more powerful.
More care could have gone into creating a more realistic film world for “Apollo 18.” The film references a website — lunatruth.com — at the beginning of the narrative, but I don’t ever remember seeing the site used in the marketing campaign. My question is why? What a great way to lend some credence to the found-footage by publicizing a website thrown together by some conspiracy theorist? Distracting (albeit realistic) footage, a slow plot, and hokey aliens that appear as rocks/spiders all contribute to “Apollo 18” missing its landing mark. It won’t be on my top 5 found-footage film list anytime soon.
For the record, that top 5 list looks something like this:
1. “Cloverfield” — New York destroyed, story told via government-recovered camcorder footage, from producer J.J. Abrams.
2. “The Fourth Kind” — Uber creepy film that incorporates “actual footage” into a documentary-style narrative.
3. “Quarantine” — American remake of the Spanish film “REC” — told through the eye of a TV camera embedded in the quarantined building.
4. “Paranormal Activity” — The little film that could — independent film they tried to remake, eventually released in 2009 and had quite a few people believing it was indeed actual footage.
5. “Blair Witch Project” — On my list because it could be considered the “Grandfather” of all found-footage films.
Happy New year everyone! 2011 was an interesting year in cinema. We saw a full blown return of 3D and several actors come into their own (Jason Sudeikis, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling among them). “The old adage “sex sells” is true, but in Hollywood there needs to be another phrase added – “nostalgia sells.” The trend of remaking classic films was on the rise in 2011 with two of the biggest being “Footloose” and “Arthur” – so what’s in store for 2012? It’s not all rehashed cinema, though there will be plenty of remakes, reboots, and television revivals on the big screen. Here’s a look at what’s coming up in the New Year.
January – “Haywire”
Kick off 2012 with a bang thanks to director Steven Soderbergh’s latest action flick. It looks like a girl-powered Bourne Identity-style story with Gina Carano (MMA fighter and star of “Ring Girls”) in the lead role and a tremendous supporting cast that includes Michael Douglas and Ewan McGregor. View the highly stylistic trailer here.
February – “Big Miracle”
The film is based on the book “Freeing the Whales” which chronicles the 1988 effort to rescue whales trapped in Alaskan ice. “Big Miracle” – which stars Drew Barrymore and John Krasinski (TV’s “The Office”) – looks like an early favorite for 2012’s feel good movie of the year. Burger King is expected to launch an advertising campaign accompanying the film’s release –which should equal strong box office numbers for the film. View the powerful trailer here.
March – “21 Jump Street” and “Mirror Mirror”
Fans of the “21 Jump Street” television series may be sorely disappointed as the serial crime drama has been transformed into a buddy-cop comedy starring Jonah Hill (Hill also receives writing credits). Jump original Johnny Depp does make a cameo appearance, but that looks like the only comparison between the original series and upcoming film. You can judge for yourself here.
The Snow White tale gets a unique twist this March, with Julia Roberts playing the role of the “insecure” Queen Clementianna in “Mirror Mirror.” Lily Collins (daughter of musician Phil Collins) will play Snow White, with Sean Bean (HBO’s “Game of Thrones”) and Nathan Lane rounding out what looks to be a fun cast. You can see the trailer here.
April – “American Reunion”
It’s hard to believe, but this is the eight film from the “American Pie” franchise and the fourth and presumable final featuring the original cast. The tagline for the film is “Save the best piece for last” – brilliant. The gang reunites for a class reunion, but it appears the more things change the more things stay the same. More fun and shenanigans will ensue, with appearances from Jim’s dad and Stifler’s mom, or course. Check out the preview here.
May – “The Avengers” and “Battleship”
Finally, May is the long awaited, much anticipated, years in the making debut of…“Battleship.” OK, I kid…it’s finally time for “The Avengers” movie after six setup films from Marvel Studios. Samuel L. Jackson stars as Nick Fury, the leader of S.H.I.E.L.D. – with Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, and Captain America along for the ride. While the trailer doesn’t reveal much of the plot, I’m guessing “The Avengers” will be one of the most anticipated films of the year, trailer or no trailer. Check out the good guys doing their fancy moves here.
After successful TV ventures, Hasbro Studios is dipping its feet in to the cinematic waters with the sci-fi action film “Battleship” – based on the game of the same name. The film itself seems hokey, but it does have an interesting cast that includes Liam Neeson and Alexander Skarsgard (HBO’s “True Blood”). Fans of big budget/little plot, science fiction, battle-for-Earth films (myself included) should enjoy this one – check out the destruction here.
June – “Rock of Ages”
Those who enjoy classic 1980’s rock & roll will dig “Rock of Ages” – an adaption of the 2006 Broadway musical. The cast is fantastic, with an ensemble that includes Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Paul Giamatti. Take a trip back to 1987 here.
July – “The Dark Knight Rises”
I fully expect “The Dark Knight” to be the highest grossing film of 2012 – and for good reason. It serves as the final chapter to director Christopher Nolan’s three-film Batman series. It should be a visual masterpiece, as Nolan shot much of the footage on IMAX cameras with shooting locations that span the globe. “The Dark Knight” picks up eight years after 2008 film “The Dark Knight.” You can watch the newly released trailer here.
August – “Total Recall” and “The Bourne Legacy”
Here’s a great cinematic combination of sex and nostalgia as Total Recall gets a remake, this time starring Colin Ferrell as Doug Quaid, with Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel as his love interests. While I typically follow the mantra of “If it aint broke, don’t fix it,” I do realize that these Hollywood remakes help introduce some classic stories to the younger generations. I couldn’t track down a trailer, but this is a short behind the scenes look shot during filming in Canada.
Here’s a new one — the “sidequel.” That’s what “The Bourne Legacy” is being called, as it is neither a remake nor a reboot. With no Jason Bourne, the film will star Jeremy Renner as a similar character dealing with the ramifications from the Treadstone project. Renner is a Hollywood riser after a tremendous performance in “The Hurt Locker” and should take the proverbial torch from Matt Damon and run with it.
September – “Resident Evil: Retribution”
Zombies must like cooler weather, because they return with a vengeance next fall. Filming just wrapped on the fifth Resident Evil film, with director Paul W.S. Anderson returning for his third of the franchise. Milla Jovovich also returns as Alice, continuing her fight against the Umbrella Corporation and the world of the undead.
October – “Paranormal Activity 4”
Or as I like to call it, the new “Saw” series. The first film was a novel concept – a Blair Witch-style project with a trailer that consisted of night vision shots of movie-goers scared out of their minds. This franchise is capitalizing on the popularity of the ghost hunting phenomena from shows like Syfy’s “Ghost Hunters” – and I don’t blame them. I even got into the action with a local ghost hunting documentary “One Night in Woodland” (The DVD is available online here!). But four? Perhaps we’ve reached the beating a dead horse stage with this ghost hunt, even if it is a paranormal horse. This release date is not set in stone, as Paramount hasn’t released much about the project.
November – “Red Dawn”
This remake was actually completed two years ago, but problems at MGM delayed the debut for more than two years. The premise is the same as the 1984 film – a small town is invaded by foreigners and a small group of young rebels fight back – but the enemy is new, as this time around it’s North Korea. The delay may have helped the film’s cause with star Chris Hemsworth more of an established star in 2012 after his roles in “Thor” and “Star Trek.”
December – “World War Z”
Brad Pitt stars in this zombie flick that looks very similar to its predecessors at first glance. What I expect will set this film apart is the human element as the government grapples with the ethical ramifications of how to control the epidemic. You can view the trailer here – but beware, it gives a lot of the film’s plot away.
Here’s to a great cinematic year in 2012!