Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Let's play a game of

Hardball
Director: Brian Robbins
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Diane Lane, John Hawkes, Michael B. Jordan
Released: September 14, 2001



This movie is interesting as it is probably the film most associated with 9/11 that doesn't have anything to do with 9/11 in its plot. As you can see from its release date, it came out three days after that day. I remember watching some documentary I found on YouTube about 9/11 and the aftermath and there was a segment about the pop culture angle. A commentator said this movie did fairly well for a movie of its size at the box office because most people wanted to escape what was going on in the real world and have a temporary distraction and this was a nice, uplifting movie, which it is, but it is also pretty depressing and I think it would just add to the extreme sadness I already was feeling during that time!

This movie is very similar to The Mighty Ducks, as both movies deal with a law-breaking citizen who is sentenced to coach a crappy sports team of ragtag kids. The only difference is that it's baseball, not hockey, and all the kids are black instead of an all white team with a couple black kids. One amusing similarity is that both movies feature an actor who would grow up to be on a TV show. The Mighty Ducks had Joshua Jackson who would go on to be in Dawson's Creek and Hardball had Michael B. Jordan who would go on to be in Friday Night Lights (I wonder if he and Todd were pals? Haha....I have never seen that show, but I know Todd from Breaking Bad was on it). I was curious to see if I would know any of the other kids in anything, but looking at their IMDb pages, it appears this was their only credit or they were in only a couple of other things. Jordan is the only one to have gone on to have a career of some sort. I thought all the kids did a good job in the movie, except for the youngest one who you could not understand at all when he talked.

Keanu Reeves plays the coach, Connor O'Neil, who is a gambling addict and he owes a bunch of people a lot of money. Obviously, he never saw that episode of Beverly Hills, 90210 where Brandon gets in deep with gambling and has to learn a hard lesson! But Connor doesn't have a Nat to bail him out of trouble! Instead, he keeps stupidly betting on more sports games in order to pay off his debts. He goes to a friend who helps him out by telling him he knows a kids' baseball team that is looking for a coach because the old one left and he will be paid $500 a week. Connor isn't thrilled, but needing the money, takes the job. He is the worst coach ever. These are all inner-city kids who live in a bad part of Chicago where gangs are running rampant and he lets practice go on longer than it should have because he's waiting for a ride and one kid, while walking home after dark, gets beaten up and robbed. After the kid's mother yells at Connor for being an idiot, he realizes he needs to be more careful and follow the rules.

Diane Lane plays the boys' sixth grade teacher, Miss Wilkes, and tells them they need to finish their book reports before they can play baseball. She's not so sure about Connor at first, but after all her students are giving him glowing reviews, she decides there must be something special about him and there's some cute flirting that goes on between them. They only have one little kiss at the end of the movie when the team wins the game. So lame! (The kiss, not the game). I would have liked to see more of their relationship and how it progressed. They get into this huge fight at one point (a scene in which Keanu is pretty laughably bad in, but hey, at least he is nice to look at!), but then quickly make up.

One of my biggest wtf? moments is what happens with Jordan's character, Jamal. The other coaches call to Connor's attention that Jamal was born two weeks before the age cutoff and is therefore too old to play for the team so he has to leave. It is really sad and you feel so bad for him. In another scene, when the little bad actor kid and his older brother, who is also on the team, are walking back home, they come across Jamal who has become a part of a gang and acts like he doesn't know who his ex-teammates are. A drive-by occurs and I thought for sure Jamal was the one who was going to get shot, but it was actually the young boy. Everyone comes together for the deceased boy and win their last game of the season as a dedication to him. The only thing is, where the hell is Jamal? He wasn't at the funeral! We never see him again after the little boy is shot. I thought we would see him leaving the gang since an innocent boy was, you know, murdered in front of him! I thought they would make an exception for him and let him come back to join the team so he wouldn't be cavorting around with gang members, but nope! Never hear from him again! So did he just stay in a bad situation while all his friends got to play baseball and have fun? Doesn't seem very fair to me!

I really loved the song of the same name that L'il Bow Wow, L'il Wayne, and friends sang for the soundtrack and am so disappointed I can't find it on Spotify!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Pretty Little Thieves

The Bling Ring
Director: Sofia Coppola
Cast: Katie Chang, Emma Watson, Tassia Farmiga, Israel Broussard, Leslie Mann
Released: June 21, 2013


This movie about teenagers stealing from celebrity homes is based on a true story that happened in 2008-09. Apparently I wasn't checking the TMZ sites (which I NEVER do so no wonder!) so I had no idea about this story until it was made into a movie.

I watched a little feature-ette on the DVD after I saw the movie about the real crime and teens and it looked like Coppola took some liberties with the movie. For instance, the real teens didn't come from much money (as it was reported), but in the movie, most of the teens seem to be pretty well off and live in nice houses. Since I'm not familiar with the actual true story, I'll just base my review strictly on the movie and not worry about technical little changes. Even the names of the characters are not the same as the real people they are based on.

The (bling) ringleader is Rebecca (Katie Chang), a girl who is a hard core kleptomaniac. After she meets Marc (Israel Broussard), the new kid at school who's a bit of an outcast, she takes him under her wing and they become fast friends. While at a party, they go outside and Rebecca starts checking car doors to see if they are unlocked. If they are, she looks inside to see what she can take and finds purses and iPods which she takes. It's amazing the valuable things people leave in an unlocked car! Marc is a little hesitant at first, but wanting to impress Rebecca and keep her friendship, he joins in with the car robbing. Continuing on with their heists, they raid the nice home of a kid Marc knows whose wealthy family is out of town. They find thousands of dollars under a bed and blow it all the next day on a little shopping spree. Rebecca even "borrows" their Porsche with intentions of bringing it back in time before they return because even she knows she can't get away with stealing a car and a nice one at that.

They go even bolder in their breaking and entering when they are reading a celebrity blog and come across an entry about Paris Hilton being in Las Vegas for an event. They look up her address (because on the Internet, you can find anything) and Google Earth her house to find the best entrance. These kids live in Calabasas, California, which is part of L.A. At Hilton's house, they FIND A KEY UNDER THE DOORMAT! OMG, Paris, are you kidding me? They enter and start "shopping" (or should I say "shop-lifting") in her closet. Paris let Sofia use her real home for the movie and, oh my God, it is everything you would expect Paris Hilton's home to look like. You will not be disappointed. She is ever the egotistical narcissist with throw pillows that have her face on them, there are photos of her from magazines blown up and plastered on the walls along the staircase, and she even has her own "club room" with a strip pole. (Of course she does). Her closet, which is bigger than my apartment (I'm guessing...looks that way!) is full of so many clothes that I doubt she would even notice if anything was taken! Same goes for her shoes and jewelry...she had so much crap that it would be impossible for her to know if anything was missing. But that wasn't the only time her home was burglarized as Rebecca and Marc go back several times. At one point, Rebecca even wants to steal Paris's rat-dog to sell, but Marc puts his foot down on that one, pointing out it would be too obvious that even Paris would notice her dog was missing!

Rebecca tells her friends, Nicki (Emma Watson), Sam (Tessa Farmiga), and Chloe and they're all impressed and want to go to Paris's as well to score some sweet stuff. This sets off their string of Hollywood burglaries and they realize with the Internet it's easy to find when a certain celebrity they want to target will be out of town and it's easy to find their address with Google Earth. Even with all that, you would still think it would be difficult to break into a high status person's home with security and camera, but nope, a lot of the celebrities' homes they broke into didn't have alarms that went off and more surprisingly, they could easily find an unlocked door!

Besides Leslie Mann, who plays Nicki's mom, Emma Watson is the only well-known name in the cast. She does a very good job at speaking in a spoiled teen valley girl accent (not sure if that is a compliment!), but it was kind of distracting seeing her in this movie that is about these girls (and one gay guy) who want to emulate their favorite Hollywood celebrity stars. I'm sure if Emma Watson lived in L.A. (I'm not really sure where she lives to be honest), she would have been one of the stars that would have been targeted as most of their victims were young Hollywood female stars known for their style. And girlfriend has some cute clothes! Emma Watson is as famous as many of the celebrities they robbed from, if not more. Uh, hi, Audrina Patridge. The only reason I even know who she is, is because my brother (who is heterosexual and in his 30s, mind you) is for some unknown reason I still can't comprehend, a fan of The Hills. For those who don't know, this was a reality show on MTV and it is probably the most stupid and pointless thing I have ever seen. (Now I have never watched Jersey Shore, so I'm sure it has competition!) All they did was follow around these sorta rich, semi-attractive people and all of their (boring and manufactured) drama. Audrina was one of the "characters" and she lives in a nice house so she's doing pretty well for herself even though I still don't know why she's "famous"! The point is, Emma Watson is a more well-known face and name than Audrina.

They also steal from Orlando Bloom and Miranda Kerr, Lindsay Lohan, Rachel Bilson, and Megan Fox and Brian Austin Green. They actually steal a gun from Megan Fox. (I don't know why she needs a gun when she has David Silver to protect her!)  When they steal stuff, they keep some of it for themselves, but they also sell some of it to make money of their own.

Even though these celebrities do seem to be careless with leaving their doors unlocked, they do have video cameras, though the teen robbers do their best to conceal their faces. They do get careless when they start bragging to other peers about their conquests and posting on Facebook how their stuff used to belong to certain famous people. When the celebs start going to the police to file complaints, the police start investigating and it isn't long before they are told by other kids what Rebecca, Marc, and the others told them about breaking into certain stars' homes. They also see Marc's face in one of the security videos when he gets too careless. The interesting thing about Marc was that he seemed to be very hesitant about what he was doing and you could tell he knew it was wrong because he was always rushing the girls when they wanted to stay and ooh and aww over all the swag. However, the real life guy he's based on seemed to be enjoying it as much as everyone else, if not more, as he was the one who bragged about it on Facebook!

They're all caught and sentenced to jail (up to a year for many of them) and even though what they did was stupid and wrong and they deserved what they got, I did feel a little bad for them because they were just stupid, young kids who probably thought what they did wasn't that bad because they were just taking stuff and celebrities have a lot of stuff and they have a lot of money to buy more stuff. I'm sure all the celebs weren't happy with their stuff being taken, because who likes having their stuff taken? Nobody! Burt most of all, I'm sure they mostly didn't like that these kids were going into their homes and going through their stuff and acting like they owned the place (like they did in the case of Hilton's) and use it as their hang out as well as their thrill for stealing stuff. That is a massive intrusion of privacy and nobody should have to worry about someone breaking into their home, even Paris Hilton, who I can't stand!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Inspiration from Rita Hayworth

The Shawshank Redemption
Director: Frank Darabont
Cast: Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, James Whitmore, Bob Gunton, William Sadler
Released: October 14, 1994

Oscar nominations:
Best Picture (lost to Forrest Gump)
Best Actor - Morgan Freeman (lost to Tom Hanks for Forrest Gump)
Best Original Score - Thomas Newman (lost to Hans Zimmer for The Lion King)
Best Adapted Screenplay - Frank Darabont (lost to Eric Roth for Forrest Gump)
Best Sound (lost to Speed)
Best Editing (lost to Forrest Gump)
Best Cinematography (lost to Legends of the Fall)




Warning: Spoilers for a 20 year old beloved movie that everyone and their grandmothers have seen! 

Perhaps it would be cliche to say that The Shawshank Redemption is one of my favorite movies, but The Shawshank Redemption is one of my favorite movies. Definitely in my top five. Even though some pretty horrible stuff happens in this film, there's something very comforting about watching it. I don't know how many times I've seen it (just saw it for the first time on my new Blu Ray!), but I do know that with each viewing, I still love it as much as the last time I saw it. 

Everyone knows this movie's "rags to riches" story: it was a bomb at the box office; nobody saw it. But after it was nominated for seven Oscars, people started to take notice and it became a huge video rental and I believe it was TBS (or TNT?) that aired it constantly and soon from word of mouth, became a very popular and beloved movie. It's always usually ranked #1 (as of this writing of this review, it is) on the IMDb Top 250. And this is out of all of the movies in the world that have ever existed, so being in the top ten, let alone in first (or sometimes second on a bad day - ha!) is pretty impressive. The IMDb Top 250 can be a bit of a head scratcher at times. It doesn't surprise me at all to see movies like The Godfather (and its sequel), Star Wars (and it's sequels - NOT prequels!), Lord of the Rings, (and it's sequels), Schindler's List, Pulp Fiction, and Forrest Gump (the last two are at #5 and #14, respectively and were also nominated for Oscars the same year as Shawshank...1994 should be proud of itself!) in the top 20. I may not be fans of all those movies (:::coughcoughStarWarscoughcough::::), but I can see why they're all ranked so high. Then you have a movie like Inception ranked at #13 which just boggles my mind because I hated that movie so much! There's no way that movie should be ranked so high when Back to the Future is ranked at #49! That is so messed up! Back to the Future is way better than Inception AND more of a classic (hell, Inception is no way near a classic...it is one of the most boring movies I have ever seen! Well, maybe that's not true....there are other movies that could compete for it in that category! But I just could not get invested or interested in it and kept looking at my phone to check the time...you know that's a sign when you're not into a movie!)  I know it's all subjective, but I just don't understand how Inception can be so high at #13! Do people really love it that much? Anyway, I'm getting off on a tangent so let's get back to the review.

 I don't think I was really aware of The Shawshank Redemption until a few years later when my mom was watching it on TV and I came into the living room for a few minutes and asked what she was watching and she told me, but since I don't like to start watching movies in the middle (especially ones I've never seen before), I just watched for a few minutes then left since I really had no idea what was going on. My first true introduction to the film was when I was a sophomore in college. My dorm would sometimes have movie night on the weekends and one night it was The Shawshank Redemption.  We would usually watch movies on the TV (10 Things I Hate About You and Music of the Heart are two I remember), but they had a screen and movie projector for Shawshank which was kinda cool.  The screen was nowhere near as big as what you would get in a theater (obviously!), but it was much bigger than the TV, so that was nice. That was the first time I watched the movie all the way through and just remember being enthralled the entire time. I've since seen it several times and like I mentioned above, own it on Blu-Ray. Before that, I would watch my parents' DVD of it (which I gave them for Christmas, of course!)

Interestingly enough, The Shawshank Redemption is a two-hour movie that's based on a short story by Stephen King called "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption" that's probably no more than 30 pages. It's a short story from a collection of stories called Different Seasons which also includes "The Body" (which was made into a movie better known as Stand By Me) and "Apt Pupil". I've read the short story, but it's been awhile. I would like to revisit it, but don't know if I still have the book. 

A lot of names were thrown around for who should play Andy Dufrense and Red, Tom Cruise and Harrison Ford being among them, but it's hard to imagine anybody other than Tim Robbins as the young banker who was wrongly accused of murdering his wife and her lover and sentenced to two life sentences at Shawshank or Morgan Freeman as the inmate who can get anybody whatever they need. And in the book, we learn Red gets his name because he is an Irish man with red hair! I love how they address it in the movie when Andy asks Red why he's called that and Red just says matter-of-factly, "Maybe because I'm Irish." And it works. 

Having seen this movie numerous times, it's easy to forget that there's a twist ending. I already know that the reason Andy asked Red for a poster of Rita Hayworth (which later becomes a poster of Marilyn Monroe, then Racquel Welch) and a rock hammer is because they are both instrumental for him to escape. But he never tells anyone about his plan (although he sort of does to Red, although he's very cryptic about it when he tells Red if he ever gets out, then he wants him to go to a specific place and find a box that he has yet to place there) and anyone watching the film for the first time finds out about Andy's escape at the same time as the warden (Bob Gunton), Red, and all the other inmates. The reveal of it is a great scene no matter if you're seeing it for the first time or not.  

Andy was in prison for 20 years before he escaped. That's a long time. It's gotta be bad enough to go to prison even if you are guilty, but being innocent and having to be in prison for 20 years, that's just unimaginable! 

The portion of the movie where Brooks (James Whitmore) is released from prison after having been there nearly all his life and has thus become institutionalized is so heartbreaking. I was listening to a podcast where they said that they didn't like the Brooks narration because it didn't make sense to have Red narrate the movie, then all of a sudden, Brooks is narrating the movie for a few minutes in the middle. This has never occurred to me and it doesn't bother me because we're hearing his voice reading a letter he wrote to his friends at Shawshank. Sure, you could have Red narrate the letter or show Andy reading the letter to the others, but I think it works fine with the voice over from Brooks and it's much more effective since we can see the effect the outside world has on him. One of my favorite lines in the movie is how it's been a long time since he's been in the "real" world and says, "The world went and got itself in one damn big hurry." The movie starts in 1947 and by the time Brooks is out, it's the late '50s, so you know he's been in Shawshank for the better half of the twentieth century. So you can only imagine how much has changed since he was last a civilian. I remember watching the Oscars where James Whitmore was in the In Memoriam montage and I hadn't realize he died. When they showed him, they showed a scene from Shawshank (I'm pretty sure it was the scene in the bus like the picture above) and I remember going, "Aww, Brooks died!" But then I wasn't really that surprised since the movie came out in' 94 and he was already pretty old then and this was 2009 or 2010. 

Just like the last movie I reviewed, The Man in the Iron Mask, this movie also has a connection to The Count of Monte Cristo, another movie I have recently reviewed. It's when Andy and others are in the library going though books that other libraries have donated to him and that's one they come across and Andy makes a comment that they would like it because it's about a prison escape. Since it had been seven years since I've seen Shawshank, (I know for sure because I am a cine-nerd who documents the month and year when I watch a movie), I had totally forgotten about this scene, so it was just a pure coincidence. I'm sure if I had watched this movie first, it would have inspired me to watch Monte Cristo, because, let's face it, unlike Shawshank, everyone kind of forgets about that movie! 

Why do people love this movie so much? It is that everyone loves a great prison escape story? Is it the friendship between Red and Andy? Is it the brilliance of Andy laundering money for the warden, but keeping it all for himself when he got out? (Saul Goodman may have taught me everything about money laundering, but this was probably my first introduction to it.)  Is it that one single scene where Andy defies the warden and prison guards when he sneaks into the office to play an opera song, "The Marriage of Figaro" for all the inmates to have this few minutes of something different in their lives? Is it because the quote, "Get busy living or get busy dying" inspires something in everyone, including Jack Shepard from Lost, who I am sure his own quote of "Live together, die alone" was inspired by that quote?  (Come on, I'm sure it was!) I'm guessing it's all of the above. 

The twentieth (!!!) anniversary will be arriving next fall and while I doubt a 3-D version of this movie will ever be released (but then again, you never know), I would love for it to be re-released in theaters as I would love to see this movie on the big screen (a REAL big screen!)