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"People always ask me what it's like to never lose. Today I am lost."
A 151 game winning streak is not something you see everyday, so when they decided to make a film about the De La Salle High School football team who managed to remain undefeated for 12 years I was sold. A lot of credit has to be given to Coach Bob Ladouceur for his accomplishments because he didn't stay undefeated with the same group of players. The streak went on for over a decade so he had to continue winning with different players and that goes on to prove what a talented guy he is. This is a fantastic story for every sport fan out there, but unfortunately the movie is full of cliches and doesn't offer anything new to the sports genre. It tries too hard to be inspirational and it includes several fictional characters that were completely unnecessary. This is such an inspiring tale in real life, that there was actually no need to make it more inspirational than what it already was. The relationship between one of the running backs and his father (Alexander Ludwig and Clancy Brown) was placed here exclusively to give it a more melodramatic arch, but it is laughable. Brown plays the over demanding father who wants his kid to break the national record for most touchdowns. The scenes are placed here exclusively in contrast to the coach's philosophy which has to do more with being a team of brothers who are there for each other. There is no I in team. We've seen these clichés in sport films many times in the past, but here the dialogue is even more cheesy and forced. I did find some of the melodramatic moments quite touching, like an eulogy the coach gives midway through the film, but most of the sports scenes felt disconnected with the dramatic ones. The film left me with a sense of wanting to learn more about this real life story, but When the Game Stands Tall doesn't do a good job of telling it. There are some great sport scenes that kept me engaged for a while, but the film fails in the dramatic department forcing inspirational moments and feeling too preachy. It is a manipulative and by the books uplifting feel good tale.
The film at times felt disconnected. You are introduced to this fabulous coach (Jim Caviezel) who is always inspiring his players, but at the same time his situation at home doesn't seem to be going too well. His wife is played by Laura Dern and I felt like these family moments didn't work at all in this film because they only touched the surface of their problems. The relationship with his son (Matthew Daddario) wasn't explored either and everything was sort of left in the limbo when the second half of the film focuses exclusively on the football games and practices. The actors are fine, but the script is weak and ultimately their characters suffer from not having any depth. There is also a subplot involving some of the seniors who are heading to college that's also kind of ignored after the passing of one of the players. It is a key moment in the film, but it simply felt disconnected with everything else.
"Let's keep this going. What do you want me to do next?"
As the title suggests, director E.L. Katz delivers some cheap thrills in this extremely dark comedy which begins as a standard down on his luck tale of a family man trying to survive through the recession after losing his job and receiving an eviction notice. The first half of the film (my favorite part) slowly builds up the tension while gradually getting darker as we approach the final act. There is a saying in my country which translated goes something like this: "For money, the monkey dances," and that is what first time screen writer David Chirchirillo is exploring in this black comedy: to what extremes is someone willing to go for monetary gain. Are our values worth negotiating with in exchange for money? This theme is richly explored in Cheap Thrills through two characters (played by Pat Healy and Ethan Embry) who meet a rich married couple (Sara Paxton and David Koechner) in a bar and begin playing an innocent dare game. The couple offer them money in exchange for them doing a series of dares involving drinking a shot of tequila, punching the security guard in the face, and so on. Of course we all know that this is going to escalate quickly into something much darker as they begin paying the consequences for their action, and it does. Cheap Thrills has all the right ingredients to become a cult favorite for some audiences, but it just didn't work that well for me as things began to get darker.
What I appreciated the most about this film is that it plays out perfectly as sort of an allegory of our society's obsession over reality TV shows in which we are offered an opportunity to get rich by simply competing against each other in a series of dares. It actually is spelled out during one scene where Fear Factor is mentioned and this is exactly what the film is trying to get at. As we are judging these characters for how inhumane the series of dares are turing into, it all of a sudden puts a mirror into our society's obsession over reality TV shows similar to Fear Factor. I think that if the film would've come out some 7 years earlier it would've been more effective because those shows have become a bit outdated. It also shows how we are always competing with our friends to become more successful than the other, and the way we justify our actions even though we know our behavior was dubious. The film reminded me a lot of Saw where the rich couple take on the role of Jigsaw as they get a kick out of watching their victims compete for money (instead of their lives). The clever difference is that this time their victims voluntarily place themselves in this situation as victims of their circumstance and so the game begins. But then during the second act it slowly identifies more with darker and gory horror films such as Hostel which was where I began losing interest.
The performances in this film are solid. At first I found David Koechner to be over the top, but everything begins to make sense as you stick with the premise. His wife, played by Sara Paxton makes for an interesting character despite not doing much. Just the way she is gazing at everyone with her beautiful eyes, it becomes obvious that she isn't someone you can fully trust. Ethan Embry and Pat Healy are convincing as the out of luck old school buddies who bump into each other at a bar. The film focuses on establishing their relationship first and then it slowly progresses into portraying each other's flaws. There aren't any likable characters in this film, but they all deliver strong and engaging performances nonetheless. If you like you films dark and nasty then Cheap Thrills might just be your thing, but it just wasn't for me despite appreciating some of the things it was saying about our society.
"I never agreed to follow your rules. If I follow your rules it means that I'm agreeing that you have the rights to give me rules, but you don't."
Peter Sattler has just made a name for himself after this pretty impressive debut as a writer-director. His screenplay never feels manipulative and he simply tells a minimalist story without being political about it. The film hit home for me because there has been a lot of political discussion in Uruguay as to wether or not the President should've accepted the transfer of six Guantanamo Bay prisoners to our country. These prisoners had been discharged in 2010, but no country was willing to receive them. After watching this film, I think we made the right humanitarian decision. Sattler never intends to portray these detainees as either guilty or innocent. We aren't informed about the detainees' past, but it rather focuses on a unique relationship between one of the prisoners and a guard. It would have been easier to turn this into a political film, but not everything is black and white and Sattler intelligently turns this into a humanitarian story about two people with different backgrounds who find a connection while at the prison camp. There are several parallel scenes where we see the detainee locked in his cell and the guard in her small room kind of like reflecting the fact that they are both prisoners and victims of their circumstance. This isn't a political film nor a military bashing one as some people claim; it is an authentic character driven drama that will make you question certain issues.
In order for a film like this to succeed you need to have engaging performances from your cast, and this was the case for Camp X-Ray. I've never doubted Kristen Stewart's ability as an actress. She's given solid performances throughout her career, but unfortunately when given a poor script there is nothing she can do to improve it. She proved she has more than one facial expression in this year's Still Alice, and here she gets more screen time to prove her talent. She is convincing as the guard, and her chemistry with the prisoner is the most engaging element of this film. The film also has a subplot revolving on how she is abused by some of the men in power, but the documentary The Invisible War handles this issue in a much better way. Having seen the documentary, I identified with how poorly she was treated, but for audiences who haven't been exposed to the documentary they may not make much sense out of this subplot. But it is clearly an important issue with women in the military and how many times their complaints are met with hatred and often ignored. Kristen Stewart's performance was solid, but the film entirely belongs to Peyman Moaadi who delivers a great performance as the detainee Ali. I knew his face was familiar, but only when I looked him up in the IMDB did I realize he was the actor from A Separation. He is outstanding in this film and his character is the most engaging of the film. It works thanks to the fantastic chemistry the two have together because the rest of the characters are completely ignored. We don't get much depth from the rest of detainees nor the other military officials, with the exception of Lane Garrison who is solid as one of the officials who often abuses his position of power. Overall, this is a solid film that centers on a unique relationship between two people who aren't as different as one would expect.
"Why don't you take a picture, it'll last longer!"
Nine years after Shawn Levy first directed Night at the Museum, he brings us the third and final installment of the franchise. Who would've thought that the film would be so successful at the box office to invest in two more sequels? Critics certainly didn't because the film was never warmly received. It was an interesting premise and had a charming cast, but you'd think that the magic had run off by now. I wasn't a fan of the franchise, but I still was entertained by some of the performances and the same can be said about this third film. It has its charming moments, but there are more misses than hits here with the gags. The formula is repeated once again, but one of the positive elements in Night at the Museum is the introduction of Dan Stevens (from The Guest) as Lancelot. He is the funniest character in the film, although he plays sort of the same character as Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story. He thinks he is real and the gags center on that. It is recycled material, but Stevens is funny and makes it work. The other new addition is Rebel Wilson who plays a guard at a British museum, but her character doesn't work. She plays her usual self and the jokes fall flat here. Apart from the lead performance from Ben Stiller and the addition of Lancelot, other positive things about this sequel are the returning characters: Jedediah (Owen Wilson) and Octavius (Steve Coogan) who are perhaps my favorite of the franchise, and the cameos from Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, and Bill Cobbs who return from the first film. Of course the most emotional and engaging scenes are the ones that feature Teddy Roosevelt. It's the opportunity to see Robin Williams in his final feature film. Roosevelt isn't among his best characters, but it was still emotional to see him one last time and get a chance to say good-bye to one of my favorite comedians of all time.
The Night of the Museum franchise is family friendly and probably one of the films most families will get together to watch during the Holidays. It is entertaining and kids will enjoy it. There is nothing fresh about this sequel, but I don't think parents will mind. Shawn Levy has made a career of directing these light comedies and his films are mostly average (my favorite of his is Real Steel and that is probably how they got Hugh Jackman to do a cameo for this sequel). There are funny moments, but this isn't one of those comedies that is worth rewatching because the material is recycled. It is fun for a one time watch because of the cast involved, but I don't think audiences will find it funny on a second viewing. There is not much more to add about this film, if you were a fan of the previous two films you will probably end up loving this, but if not it really is more of the same.
Not only is Thorin asking his dwarves to follow him one last time into battle, but Peter Jackson is also asking us to join him one last time in experiencing his vision of Middle Earth. We all know The Hobbit was one short book (about 300 pages), but Jackson decided to adapt it into three full length movies so there is going to be a lot of characters and elements included that aren't in the book. J.R.R Tolkien fans might be upset and most audiences agree that Jackson made a mistake in stretching the material because this trilogy hasn't had the same emotional impact as the Lord of the Rings trilogy had. However, Jackson is still asking us to accompany him one last time into Middle Earth in order to tie everything together. He and the producers may have experienced their share of dragon fever by getting greedy and wanting to bank on the success of their first trilogy (it is kind of ironic when you take into account that the underlying message of the novels is that greed destroys the soul), but they are asking us to join them for one last time, and they deserve it. If you are a fan of the franchise this will be an emotional moment for you, but if you don't care much for this world then you will find the film annoying. It does tie in the first two films of The Hobbit trilogy very well with The Lord of the Rings so it serves as a sort of closure for these epic films. At 144 minutes, this is the shortest film of the franchise and you sort of get the feeling that Jackson doesn't know how to sum things up in less than 3 hours because this film feels rushed and overstuffed with characters and subplots. It also happens to be action packed with a battle scene lasting for almost an hour. It may be a bit too much, but there is no denying that Peter Jackson cares deeply for the material here and is devoted to it. Despite not being nearly as engaging as The Lord of the Ring trilogy, The Hobbit has its emotional moments with strong action sequences and some solid performances. Jackson is asking us to follow him for the last time, but it is up to us to decide if his passion and dedication is worth the journey. I joined him and was mildly entertained although I found several flaws. Despite not being as entertaining as The Desolation of Smaug, this is still an improvement over The Unexpected Journey.
The Battle of the Five Armies picks up right where The Desolation of Smaug left us, giving me the feeling that I had paused the film and waited a whole year before hitting the play button once again. It took me a while to recall everything that had been going on, but with the opening action sequence I had to rush those memories in order to understand everything that was going on. The Hobbit is actually one film divided into three parts which makes it difficult to analyze apart from each other. There is a sense of cohesion among these films and we finally get the concluding chapter after an agonizing and extended fist part which felt completely stretched out and an entertaining second chapter where we were introduced to new and familiar characters and an impressive dragon voiced by the great Benedict Cumberbatch. This third chapter picks up with that very dragon destroying the nearby village where Bard (Luke Evans) and his children are. The film begins with an impressive action sequence and then the next hour is dedicated to build up what will be the ultimate battle scene with five different armies preparing for battle. This is where the movie begins to feel convoluted and overstuffed with subplots that feel too rushed. But at times the film does succeed when it centers on the relationship between Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and Thorin (Richard Armitage). We know that Jackson knows how to deliver spectacular visuals and action sequences, but what was missing from The Lord of the Rings trilogy was that character development we finally got to see here with these two characters. Unfortunately there are other elements included that don't work too well (like the love triangle between Kili, Legolas, and Tauriel that feels misplaced). The build up and the action scenes might be a bit too much for audiences, and ultimately the film fails to stand out from other epics. It is an average film that has its ups and downs, but still manages to bring closure. Unfortunately this trilogy never lives up to the grandeur of The Lord of the Rings.