Friday, April 11, 2014

And It Didn't Suck...

I don't like Kevin Costner.  I don't hate him or anything like that.  He just doesn't impress me.  He seems to be a completely vanilla, completely regular guy.  I dunno.  Maybe that's part of his charm.  But it doesn't do much for me.

I also don't care for sports movies.  In particular, I dislike the movies where sports is a metaphor for life, or a vital part of bringing a community together or crap like that.  It may very well be true, but after being picked on by jocks as a kid, I find it very difficult to pull for the type of guys who would've beat me up for not doing their homework back in the day.  So, yeah.  I ain't big on sports movies, either.

Right off the bat, Draft Day has two big strikes against it, being a Kevin Costner sport movie.  But it has one big thing going for it: It's about the NFL, the only sports organization in the world that I care about.

Draft Day follows Cleveland Browns G.M. Sonny Weaver, Jr. (Costner) as he wheels and deals his way through the hectic 12+ hour period leading up to the NFL Draft.  Cleveland is in sad shape, coming off a 6-10 season and the team's owner, Anthony Molina (Frank Langella) wants to make a splash.  More specifically, Molina wants to land stud QB prospect Bo Callahan (Josh Pence).  Sonny's under pressure to pacify his owner and Browns fans or risk losing his job.  At the same time, Sonny is trying to navigate a relationship with Ali (the always-lovely Jennifer Garner), the team's salary cap expert.  Then there's the matter of dealing with Penn (Denis Leary), the coach Sonny's stuck working with.

Some critics have lauded this flick for it's realism.  I've never been the general manager of a pro sports franchise, but I imagine this movie hits pretty close to the spot.  Sonny gets to listen to sport-yakkers rip him a new one in time to have Penn try to do his job for him.  He has to placate uppity players and schmooze with agents.  I found the analysis of the players very interesting, as even small, seemingly mundane details about a player's behavior and character end up figuring big in the outcome of the movie.  The calls between the different teams' personnel guys, the way those guys try to rip each other off... It all seemed very plausible to me.

Costner's performance isn't to flashy, but that's okay.  He's credible as a guy whose livelihood depends on making decisions and hoping they pan out.  Garner is a luminous presence.  I loved watching her, but I'm biased.  I'd watch her read a phone book.  Griffin Newman stole the show as Rick the Intern.  He got a laugh in every scene he was in.  The movie also has some fun surprises folded into the cast, like the appearances of Chi "Pushing Daisies" McBride and Sam Elliot.  Tom Welling even turns up, although I didn't recognize him at all.

Conducting this orchestra of movie-making is Ivan Reitman.  He keeps the pace brisk and the story moving from location to location.  There's not a ton of fancy camera work, although I found the insistence on playing scenes out in split frames, like comic book panels, a bit distracting.  It reminded me of the Ang Lee Hulk movie, and that's not a complement.

Overall though, Draft Day was an enjoyable time.  I dug Garner and tolerated Costner better than I thought I would.  It's window into an interesting situation, one that football fans don't often get to see the inside of very often.  If I had it to do over again, I'd probably wait until Draft Day hits the cheap theaters.  But it's worth taking the time to watch.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Marvelous, Captain!

Most super heroes follow a fairly well-worn character arc.  The hero is a normal person who gains some sort of powers, then has to learn how to use his/her power responsibly and be a hero.  Captain America is a bit different.  Steve Rogers (he who would be Cap) is already a hero, a genuinely decent person with a heart of gold and a desire to do good.  He doesn't need to learn how to be a hero, he just needs the power.  So when he receives super-human strength and athleticism, he finally has the ability to be the hero he always has been inside.  The hero inside Cap, the thing that makes him special (you can eat your test tube comment, Tony Stark) is tested to the utmost in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

The Winter Soldier finds Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) getting more used to changing times.  He's embracing new technology and catching up on the  pop culture stuff he's missed.  He's also still working for S.H.I.E.L.D., and he's getting a little tired of the way Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is using him to clean up S.H.I.E.L.D.'s messes.  On top of that, there's Project Insight, an opportunity for Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. to get ahead of the baddies before they can strike.  That doesn't sit well with Cap, and disillusionment begins to mess with his head.

Things get worse after Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) tries to recruit Cap to work for him.  That's a cakewalk compared to when a shadowy bad ass called The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) shows up, shooting people and blowing things up.  Cap is caught in the middle, and has to use his sense of right and wrong, along with an assist from Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson.  YUM.) and Sam "Falcon" Wilson (Anthony Mackie) to win the day.  Together, our heroes endeavor to get to the bottom of things, bad guys and plot twists be damned.

One of the great things the Marvel has figured out (and that seems to have eluded DC and Warner Bros.) is how to craft stories with grit and serous stakes while never losing that sense of humor and fun.  There is a lot at stake in Winter Soldier, but there are still plenty of laughs to be had.  In fact, the very first scene is pretty funny.  But when the action heats up and things get serious, the movie is all business and asses get kicked.  The action scenes are exciting, fast-paced, and just about make your eyeballs dance.  I loved the movie's logic that Cap, as an enhanced super soldier, hits harder than normal thugs.  That's a small thing that I really enjoyed.

The acting is pretty great.  Evans projects dignity and all-American strength as Cap.  And this from a guy who used to be pretty much cast as the wise-cracking funny guy.  Johansson and Jackson hold down their roles well.  Redford is perfect for the role he plays, but I don't wanna give too much away so I won't say any more than that.  I was truly impressed with how awesome Mackie was as Falcon.  The dude kicks ass, whether he's throwing punches or flying around artillery bursts.  Most impressive was the way Stan pulls of the Winter Soldier character.  He does the majority his acting with only his eyes, conveying confusion, sadness, anger, and vulnerability and creating a whole, three-dimensional character.  I was awed by Stan's performance, especially considering this was a "big action flick".

The directors, Anthony and Joe Russo, have never done a big movie like this before, but they've knocked it out of the park.  They keep the pace brisk, the camera fluid, and the feel of things epic.  They get the best out of the cast, and pull off the big set pieces with aplomb.  If I have any complaints, it's that we don't spend enough time with The Winter Soldier to really get what his story is.  But that's what sequels and spin-offs are for, right?  This movie has the absolute perfect blend of action, drama, fun, great acting, solid writing, and eye-popping spectacle.  I need to see how it holds up to repeat viewings, but this movie may be my favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe film thus far.  Some folks may be tempted to compare to compare The Winter Soldier to that most sacred of comic book movie sacred cows, The Dark Knight, but that's foolish cuz there's no comparison.  The Winter Soldier is way better.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

When a Change of Scenery Ain't a Change of Life

Have you ever felt like your having the same conversation over and over and over, only with different people?  Is that some sort of cosmic thing people can tune into?  What do you do when you get sick of it?

For the past several months, it seems like I keep having the same conversation again and again.  It involves my current location and my level of happiness.  More specifically, it's about how much better I'll feel if I just move away.  I keep having this conversation with friends, family, and even people I don't even really know all that well.  The jidst of this repeating dialogue is this: that I'll be much happier somewhere else and I should just pick up and move without delay.

I cannot deny there is a certain truth there.  Being older (not "old" but definitely older) and single is a hard thing to deal with in my current home.  It's hard to find friends.  It's much harder to find a woman to connect with.  I've been told I'm like a big fat-ass guppy swimming in a little teeny tiny pond.  Sometimes it definitely feels that way.

I also cannot deny that I probably would be better off somewhere else.  Somewhere bigger, with a less homogeneous population.  Someplace where people don't consider you a second-class citizen if you're different.  It would be nice to be somewhere where I could actually find a good job that fits my skill set.  Don't get me wrong.  I love my job right now, for the first time since I worked in the Forest Service back in high school.  But, I'm not making much money, and I'm not super sanguine about my prospects here.

It all sounds so appealing and, once in a while, I find myself digging out my luggage and packing up.  But here's the thing: what's making me so damn miserable is coming from inside my own head.  I have more issues than the entire 52 year run of The Amazing Spider-Man.  If not for those, I may have already found my place and bloomed where I've been planted.  If not for those, I might have already found the love of my life, I might be successful, and I might not feel like such a complete failure.

But, the brutal truth is that I have those problems.  They are embedded in my brain.  They go with me everywhere I go.  They're there regardless of who I'm with or what I'm doing.  They're with me even when I'm happy and things are going well.  If I were to move right now, they'd go with me.  And being out there all alone, with my issues and no support system (I make freinds VEEEEEEEEERRRRRRRYYYY slowly) doesn't sound like a good idea.  It sounds like a recipe for disaster.  I can see it now: I freak out with no one to lean on and I end up coming right back home.  And that would depress me so much, I'd probably end up dead.

That doesn't mean I intend to stay in Podunkville permanently.  As soon as I've slayed some of my demons, I'm outta here like Barry Allen in the 100-meter dash.  But those demons MUST be slayed first, or else I risk a personal catastrophe I won't be able to bounce back from.  You scripture-loving folks know that all things must be done in wisdom and in order.  It is unwise and out of order for me to leave first and figure my sh*t out later.

So, please, for the love of Ben Grimm's Aunt Petunia, stop telling me moving will solve all my problems.  Please stop trying to sell me on a plan that's completely nonsensical to me.  Contrary to popular belief, I'm not an idiot, and I'm even becoming more self-aware everyday.  I'll figure it out.  If I need help from you, I'll ask you for it.  If not, please don't exacerbate my frustration.  I don't need your help to feel like I'm an idiot.  I do that to myself just fine.