USC Continues to Roll!

Nothing is slowing down USC – not NCAA sanctions, not Oregon winning the Pac-10 and playing for the national championship, nothing. The Trojans continue picking up big-time commitments, picking off top-notch recruits from other schools and doing what USC always does as National Signing Day approaches.

Four-star offensive guard Cyrus Hobbi out of Scottsdale (Ariz.) Saguaro picked the Trojans over Arizona State and UCLA on Friday, coming on the heels of USC flipping four-star running back Amir Carlisle and four-star linebacker Anthony Sarao from Stanford.The Trojans might not be done loading up in this class. Four-star linemen Aundrey Walker and Troy Niklas, four-star receiver Junior Pomee, four-star defensive lineman Christian Heyward, three-star cornerback Ryan Henderson and perhaps other big-name prospects are still being pursued.

Movie Review: The A-Team

Let me start by saying I had no expectations going into The A-Team.  I heard it was fun, but terrible at the same time.  And what I got was a pleasant surprise.  Not because the film was good, it was pretty bad.  But it was so well cast that I enjoyed this thing from start to finish.

The good news is that Joe Carnahan doesn’t stop.  Not once.  Once this thing starts, it goes and goes… and doesn’t let you up for air.  Which is a good thing, because it is so full of holes it would sink.  It’s painful afterward because I was wishing they had a good script and a director that wasn’t so over-the-top because this thing could have been a lot of fun.  Everyone on the team is great.  How they got Liam Neesan I will never figure out.  But he’s great as Hannibal.  Sharlto Copley is spot on as the lunatic Murdock.  And Rampage Jackson is more than serviceable as B.A.  The one that really shines is Bradley Cooper as Faceman.  He dives into the role and is just having fun with it – but not too much.  Patrick Wilson is good as ‘Lynch’ – the sort of unnamed CIA agent, Jon Hamm has a pretty poor cameo at the end (were they thinking this would generate a sequel?)… and Jessica Biel is so absurd as an Army Captain – but also so ridiculously hot.  So it’s easy to forgive them for casting her.

I’m trying not to think too hard about it, because the plot was nonsense – how the team comes together is nonsense, the jumps in time throughout the movie are inconsistent and the direction was so over-the-top…. it’s best to have fond memories of characters I grew up loving.

Movie Review: Animal Kingdom

I have been hearing rave reviews for the Australian film Animal Kingdom since it came out and was finally able to catch up with it this week.  The one thing I was most excited for was the performance of Jackie Weaver, who plays the matriarch in a family full of criminals.

I was sort of underwhelmed by the whole thing.  From the story to her performance.  In fact, I don’t even think she was the best one in the movie.  What I really dig about the current crop of Australian films is the acting – and that was definitely the strongest aspect of this film.  Everything felt real.  Authentic.  That is probably the best word to describe it.  And what I’m saying is that I enjoyed the movie, but after being so hyped on it – I was expecting more I guess.  That isn’t a knock on the film, by any means.  They do a great job, and it is a glimpse into a world I’m sure most of us know nothing about – sort of a suburban Australia, and the criminal element there.

We see this all unfold through the eyes of sullen, distant… completely vacant teen James Frecheville (sorry about that and thanks for the note Man from Oz). The grandson of Jackie Weaver, whose mother died of a heroin overdose and forces him to move into the home shared by his nefarious uncles and grandmother.  But he is the least interesting character in the entire piece, so the whole thing sort of feels vacant.  He’s a hollow shell of a human, drifting from one day to the next.  He’s got about 30 lines of dialogue in the whole thing – and I’m not sure if that’s exact, but it’s not an exaggeration.

It was better than The Square (just more interesting overall)… but I can’t wait for Red Hill.

Movie Review: Nice Guy Johnny

There are two films that I can specifically point to (and the entire ouevre of Alfred Hitchcock) that caused me to drop out of Villanova and pursue a film career (which led me to Hofstra University and then USC’s Peter Stark Producing Program).  The first is Darren Aronofsky’s Pi.  The second is Edward Burns’ The Brothers McMullen.  It may have been the second that sealed the deal.  Mostly because this was a film about a life I knew so intimately.  Irish Catholics on Long Island (although the film is set in Queens, Burns’ himself is from Valley Stream).  It hit home and sent me a message, you can do this too.

He followed it up with an excellent sophomore effort, She’s the One.  Then had a great turn in Saving Private Ryan.  His studio acting roles after that were in pretty sub-par movies, but he did choose a film starring opposite DeNiro.  How can you fault him for this?  I can’t.  Everyone growing up in NY that is into film even a little has Robert DeNiro as a hero.

Then he made Ash Wednesday and completely miscast his brother role with Elijah Wood.  It wasn’t a bad movie, but he ruined it.  He was just miscast.  And his writing/directing efforts since then have continued to stray from what made Ed Burns Ed Burns… until Nice Guy Johnny.

This film is not only a return to Burns’ Long Island roots, but a resurgence in his filmmaking.  He went back to the drawing board for this one and even shot it for the same budget he made Brothers McMullen for – $26,000.  It is here, making due with less – that Burns shines.  It is his characters and writing that are the stars, not the actors themselves.  Or the camerawork.  Although the camerawork and lighting are much better than I expected for such a budget.  In fact, it was one of the better digital films I’ve seen.  He doesn’t lose you in his camera movements and places the camera where it doesn’t distract.

Burns himself is great as Uncle Terry, a kind of swarmy uncle to Johnny Rizzo, a would-be sports talkshow host.  Matt Bush is okay as Johnny, and you can actually see him getting stronger as an actor as the movie progresses.  There are times when you want to smack him, but I think this is intentional.  Johnny joins his Uncle Terry for a day/night in the Hamptons before a big interview in NYC that Monday.  He is facing a large life dilemma, keep a promise to his fiance to get a ‘real’ job when he turns 25 or continue following his dream.  It is reminiscent in some ways of Finn’s character (although he was older) in Brothers McMullen.  I guess the reason I liked the movie so much is because I could relate directly to this.  I have faced this situation a few times in my life.  Dropping out of school to pursue film. Moving to California to go to grad school.  Focusing a year or so of my life on lacrosse rather than film to pursue that dream.  And continuing to be a mind divided (fighting, film, lacrosse – all vs. money).  It was well-crafted, didn’t spoon feed us and was played out rather naturally.

Something that was definitely odd was the height difference between Rizzo and Kerry Bishe’s Brooke.  She towers over him, and this makes it all somewhat hard to believe.  But if that is my chief complaint, then I guess it really isn’t that bad.

I enjoyed how he didn’t have Johnny wind up with the girl right away.  He let the situation play out, rather than giving us a Hollywood twist or plot point – something Burns’ is really good at.  Because lets face it – you don’t leave your fiance for some hot chick you just met the day before.  But his fiance from the jump is a real bitch.  I wanted to mush her in the face immediately… she could have been toned down just a bit.

All-in-all, this film is definitely worth checking out.  It’s faster than a ride out to the Hamptons and a lot more enjoyable.

2011, just like 2010

We’re only 2 weeks into 2011 and my right ear has blown up and gotten cauliflowered. I had to have it drained today.  I will not miss much time for this ear, I hope.  But it is still bothersome.

To top that off, I finally got to the root of my left arm problems.  I’ve had bad tendonitis for a year now – but have just found out I have a small tear in my left tricep.  Pretty crazy it took a year to figure this out, but I was happy that at least I now know the root of my problem and can hopefully take care of it.

Movie Review: The Disappearance of Alice Creed

Had heard good things about The Disappearance of Alice Creed, and I’m on a Gemma Arterton movie spree… I knew nothing about it besides what I just mentioned.  In fact, I thought it was going to be a horror film.  What I got was a very contained, English thriller about a kidnapping.  The first 20 minutes or so has almost no dialogue – with a very methodical preparation and then execution of the kidnapping.  The actor that plays Vickers (Eddie Marsan) is pretty creepy, which was the intention.  And Gemma gets naked (against her will).  As I’m writing this, I just realized that there are only three actors in the entire film.  The other is played by Martin Compston.  They are all good… and once the film kind of kicks into gear it doesn’t really surprise.  It goes down some roads that you would expect for this type of story… There was something that came out of left field (that was in the same vein of odd as Mysteries of Pittsburgh).  Definitely not among the year’s best, but a good, small film if you’re looking for something a bit darker.

Movie Review: Mysteries of Pittsburgh

Based on a novel by Michael Chabon, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh is the sophomore effort of Rawson Marshall Thurber, coming off the hugely successful Dodgeball (which he got off the Terry Tate Office Linebacker shorts).  Of particular interest because Thurber graduated USC’s Peter Stark Producing Program a few years before me, and even came to speak during one of our classes.  He’s a talented, well-spoken guy and I’m ashamed to admit it took me until this was on HBO to catch up with it.

When this was announced it has a lot of people scratching their heads, because Thurber could have had his choice of big budget studio comedies – taking a layup that would have further cemented his status as a go-to studio comedy guy (I say all that not knowing the exact circumstances of his situation).  But if you’re going to take a risk, I guess Chabon is an interesting choice.

And Thurber puts forth a really well-directed film here. Nick Nolte hasn’t been this good in a while, and Mena Suvari was never good – so casting her as the girl we grow to hate is perfect.  And Sienna Miller holds her own, something I did not expect.  For me, she is overexposed with too little to show for it. Everytime I see her photo (usually pale and pasty and naked) see looks like she just woke up – and somehow whenever I see her onscreen she pulls it together and looks incredible.

Playing Art Bechstein, our hero so to speak, is Jon Foster (who also happened to star in my friend’s film Stay Alive). I almost didn’t recognize him here, as he seems to have lost a lot of weight.  He’s the straight man in this film, but even still you can exude some charisma. And I guess this was my problem with the movie – he has none. I’m bored by him, which maybe was the point. He’s a decent actor, but the weight of this film is too much to carry on his shoulders. Interestingly, he, nor his character, are credited on IMDB. Seems particularly odd because he’s the lead.

The first half of the story got me really engaged, a post-collegiate coming-of-age story – which could have been like every other ‘I’m too smart for this shitty existence’ film, but just wasn’t. About halfway through it takes some odd turns.  I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but what seems like inconsistencies in Art’s choices will really baffle you. And possibly creep you out.

Looking forward to Thurber’s next film, which I will see well before it hits HBO…

Movie Review: The Fighter

It is 2011, but The Fighter is currently duking it out with The Social Network for my favorite film of 2010.  That may give you a clue into how I felt about this movie as a whole.  See a previous post as to why I was slacking on going to the theatre.  I also have to see True Grit (and hopefully 127 Hours).

I’m not even sure where to begin – the acting, the authenticity, the direction, the cinematography, the musical choices (and cues) and the majority of the fight scenes.

The acting.  Christian Bale steals the show as crack-addicted, former pride of Lowell, MA Dicky Eklund.  I’m sure you’ve heard the praise being heaped upon him, and it is all deserved. He may have even been on crack for the part. If you have been to after hours, you can spot a crackhead. Just as good is Mark Wahlberg, who seems custom made to play Micky Ward; the quiet, in-the-shadow younger half-brother of Dicky. Amy Adams felt like she just came off a street in Lowell… and the cast all-around was pretty spot-on. Melissa Leo was good, although a bit over-the-top as the boy’s overprotective manager/mother.

If I had one complaint it’s that they constantly hit us over the head with the ‘I knocked down Sugar Ray’ lines about Dicky… or the fact that Alice (the mother) loved Dicky more. We got it.

The movie was more about this fighter’s struggle with wanting to continue fighting, and the forces in his life that were pulling him apart – and less about the man himself. Which was fine by me, I’m a huge fight fan. By the end of the film, during his fight with Neery for the championship I was so invested in the characters and story I wanted to jump out of my seat cheering a few times.

The fight scenes themselves were pretty great. David O. Russell decided to shoot them as they were shot in the 80’s for ESPN and HBO – and to great effect. It added to the authenticity.  There were some punch close-ups that were lame, but that is a small, nitpicking complaint.

Overall, this movie rocked and I still can’t decide if this was my favorite film of 2010 – or The Social Network.

Movie Review: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

I wanted to hate this movie.  I really did. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World signifies everything ‘hipster’ that I despise. I don’t like manga or that art style either.

But I couldn’t. And I didn’t. I actually really liked it.

I think all the credit goes to Edgar Wright.  I am not a huge fan of any of his other films, but he makes this thing not only pop off the screen, but zip along at an incredible pace.  Truly creating a comic book on the screen.

Michael Cera, although he plays the same role in very film, fits Scott Pilgrim perfectly.  In fact, the movie was really well cast.

I’m not going to delve too deep into this one, because you can find a ton of reviews out there raving about this movie.  And I’m sure a ton hating it.  It’s definitely worth catching this little gem.

I do want to point out that I think it could have been about 15 minutes shorter.  I’ve heard this elsewhere, and a few of those people all said – I get it, there were 7 evil ex’s in the book – but it’s not serving the plot.  And I’d agree.  I think you can actually knock one of them away – and the one I’d do without is Chris Evans – evil ex #2.  He’s the only one that doesn’t advance the story – and gives exposition we can get anywhere else.

Movie Review: The Kids Are All Right

The Kids are All Right is exactly what you would expect from Lisa Cholodenko (I was a fan of Laurel Canyon).  A slice of life film with excellent acting, tight directing and a sharp script. There’s nothing at all wrong with that. There are people out there who may call it a pointless film, as I’ve heard with Laurel Canyon. But it is enjoyable and well worth two hours of your life. But don’t expect to be challenged in any way or to be surprised with anything that happens.

The real prize here is Mark Ruffalo.  He shows a care-free dude-like attitude, but where most actors could have played this without a soul – Ruffalo gives him many layers (credit to the script and direction as well).  Coming from a female writer/director, you might expect this character to be a one-note flake from start to finish, but he is complex and you find yourself rooting for him (at least I did).
Annette Bening and Julianne Moore are exceptional as a lesbian couple with the same problems any married couple would face. I don’t know how you could pick one over the other for any award consideration… it’s sort of a toss-up with who’s better.  I liked Moore’s character more, but I could see how Bening would be embraced by critics more. She’s got a real sharp edge.
The one actor who seemed out of his league here is Josh Hutcherson, who plays the son Laser. He may be a capable actor, but surrounded by so much talent he stood out.
A special mention to Yaya DaCosta, who started her career off as a model, but played a hostess and lover of Ruffalo’s Paul in the film. Most of the time the ability doesn’t match looks, but she’s pretty good.  And she’s got a unique look too.