WordPress tells me that today is my two-year anniversary as a member of the site.  For shame, I honestly wanted there to be a ton of content on this blog by now, but alas, I grew lazy and uninspired for a time.  Now I am forcing myself to get back in to it.  My posts may frequent the Screening Room more often than not, but at least it’s a starting point.  I spent my entire previous weekend binging out on Best Picture nominees.  So without further ado, I present my thoughts on the 2014 Academy Award Nominees for Best Picture:

I will simply go in the order in which I viewed them, so first up we have Nebraska.  Written by Bob Nelson and directed by Alexander Payne, this little film focuses on Woody Grant (Bruce Dern), an aging man with a mission.  When Woody receives a letter in the mail declaring that he is a lucky winner of one million dollars, he sets out on foot toward Lincoln, Nebraska to claim his prize.

The problem is, of course, that he is elderly and shouldn’t be making said trip on foot from Billings, Montana.  Nagging wife Kate (June Squibb) and youngest son David (Saturday Night Live’s Will Forte) make several attempts to dissuade Woody but are unsuccessful.  Finally David agrees to drive his father to Lincoln to find out what all the fuss is about.  Pulling away from the driveway from a screaming, selfish old woman, the two generations of Grants set out.

Now, it must be noted that the entire movie is filmed in black and white.  I will never mind a black and white film, as I believe that sometimes it can enhance the overall quality of the picture.  With black and white, you get two distinct colors, and you get vivid, sharp imagery and shadows.  This no doubt led to the Best Cinematography nomination this film also received.  Initially, during the Oscars, I had not seen any of these films yet, but I still like to participate and fill out a bracket to see if I can guess the winners just as well without even seeing them.  I fared a little less than half correct this year and one of my incorrect choices was Nebraska for Best Cinematography.  I think that this was the only saving grace of this film.

 

 

I do not believe that this movie deserved to get a Best Picture nomination, nor do I believe Bruce Dern put up an astounding enough performance to garner a Best Actor nod either.  Everyone’s performances were fine sure, but nothing out of the ordinary or over the top that caught my attention.  How hard can it be to play a delusional old man when you are in fact, a delusional old man?  Similarly, how difficult is it to play a bitter old woman, when you’re already an old woman?  I really don’t understand why the Academy chose to give this film so many nominations.  It most definitely did not deserve it for Best Original Screenplay.  I mean, we’ve seen this type of movie before.  Older person attempts to go on a pilgrimage and runs into unexpected delays or shenanigans.  It’s nothing new nor is it anything original that we’ve not seen before.  I am glad that this film did not take home any Oscars, because it didn’t deserve to be there.

[4/10]

When I had finally choked down the tiring and boring black and white flick, I promptly shoved Dallas Buyers Club into my computer hoping for a better outcome.  I was not disappointed.

Here we have a better quality film with better writing by Craig Borton and Melisa Wallack and direction by Jean-Marc Vallee.  Based on the story of electrician and rodeo gambler Ron Woodroof’s battle with AIDS, the American healthcare machine and the FDA, Dallas Buyers Club is full of light-hearted moments, throat-tightening moments, and two exceptional performances from Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto.

I have a running joke with a fellow film enthusiast and close friend of mine where we feel like we have unlocked the key to winning an Oscar as an actor.  If you portray someone who is mentally challenged, handicapped or underdeveloped, you might get an Oscar nomination.  Just ask Tom Hanks, Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe or Sean Penn.

If you portray someone who is dying of some disease, you may get an Oscar nomination.  Just ask Tom Hanks and Matthew McConaughey (I can’t think of any other examples now).

If you portray someone who is a homosexual or anyone who would fit in with the GLBT community, you may get an Oscar nomination.  Just ask Tom Hanks, Jared Leto, Heath Ledger (er, I guess you can’t ask Heath), Jake Gyllenhaal and Sean Penn.

If you portray someone who is a real historical figure or person, you might get an Oscar nomination.  Just ask Jamie Foxx, Daniel Day-Lewis, Joaquin Phoenix, (Reese Witherspoon too, but apparently I’ve only named male performers thus far), Will Smith and a slue of other great performances by actors portraying real people.

 

 

Anyway, McConaughey happens to nail two birds with one stone here and portrays a real person with a terminal disease, whilst Jared Leto hits one of the other categories.  Now, it maybe come as a surprise to some, but just because an actor fits into any one category or more does not mean that’s why they got nominated.  Most likely it is because they did so with a beautiful mind (see what I did there) in place regarding their portrayal of the character at hand.  Matthew and Jared downright nailed it in this film.  If anyone else had won Best Supporting actor I would have rioted. Leto is near unrecognizable as himself as he plays kind-hearted transgender Rayon who meets Ron while they’re both in the hospital due to their shared illness.  Upon their meeting, Ron is still the manly man cowboy who isn’t too keen on Rayon’s way of life, but that’s one of the wonderful things about this movie.  Throughout some uncomfortable scenes, some hilarious scenes and some change-of-heart type of scenes, we get to see Ron not only warm up to but befriend and defend Rayon near the end. 

There isn’t any spectacular score or cinematography that goes along with this film, but it is a well-written and well-acted piece of work.  We get to see Ron struggle through accepting his new condition, to accepting other human beings as being similar to himself, despite differences.  We also get to see a side of our wonderful healthcare industry here in the States that a lot of people seem to be nervous to discuss.  Ron doesn’t have time to wait around for FDA approval for drugs that will help keep him alive, so he starts up a club for people like himself to obtain proper treatment, and the shenanigans run off from there.

McConaughey doesn’t necessarily deviate from his normal performance style (his accent, his laid back view of the world) but he does use it in a manner that fits the character while at the same time transforming himself into nothing we’ve seen him portray before.  Dallas Buyers Club definitely earned its nominations and people should go check out why.

[8/10]

I waited until the next day to throw in Captain Phillips.  Oh, speaking of portraying someone who is an actual person, Tom Hanks plays shipping container captain, Richard Phillips.  Paul Greengrass’ directing style is known to just throw us into the action as quick as possible (United 93, The Bourne Identity) and he does no differently here.  In a story written by Captain Phillips himself and adapted to the screen by Billy Ray (not Cyrus, thank God), we find the captain driving himself and his wife (random Catherine Keener cameo) to the airport where she drops him off and we never see her again.  From there, we get the gist of the situation as he arrives in a foreign country and familiarizes himself with the ship and then we’re off to sea.

Instead of just having some random Somali pirates appear out of nowhere and get an early “bad guy” label, we are shown the small village where they reside and the dire situation they are experiencing in their poverty-stricken land.  With no time wasted, we are told that this village is under control of what could resemble organized crime as they are ordered off to sea to capture more boats.  They are literally employed (likely by force) by some Somalian mob faction for the purpose of piracy.

 

 

Here we get introduced to yet another Best Actor (supporting) nominee, Barkhad Abdi in his portrayal as the leader of the pirate gang that boards the ship.  I’m not so sure if he deserved his nomination or not, as I don’t think he’s really done any other acting work and who knows whether he had to act much to get said character drawn out of himself.  In either event, he did perform well and convincingly enough as did our beloved Mr. Hanks.

Surprisingly enough, most of the stuff in the trailers is over and done with quick, as this is called “Captain Phillips” and not “Hostages at Sea” or some such nonsense.  The story quickly, intensely and anxiously throws us right into the meat of the film, where we get to spend most of our time with four pirates and the captain himself aboard a lifeboat.  One would think that would make for a rather boring film with nothing going on, but Greengrass delivers.

On a side note, the first time I watched this trailer, I happened to have just purchased the video game Medal of Honor: Warfighter and there is a mission in the game that is this very scenario.  You get to be part of the SEAL team that goes in to extract Captain Phillips from the lifeboat.  I  was shocked because merely minutes before I picked up the controller, I had watched upcoming movie trailers and there it was.

Some would argue that Tom got snubbed in the Best Actor category this year, but I’m not so sure.  It was almost as if he was Jim Lovell aboard Apollo 13 again at some points and his acting reflected that, but I think his performance really kicked into high gear near the end of the film.  Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this film and thought it had the right dose of fast-paced action and another dose of intense drama mixed in with each other.

[7.5/10]

Once I was done with Captain Phillips I hopped in the car to return them to Redbox and drove straight to the local video store (I know, some of them still exist!) to pick up the remaining Best Picture nominees, or at least those out so far.  American Hustle comes out today I believe.  Regardless, the next movie I chose was Gravity. I popped this one into my Playstation 3 to utilize the Blu-Ray quality and cranked up my surround sound.  Completely worth it.

Performance and story-wise, this movie is simple.  We have two main characters and they happen to be pretty much the ONLY characters in the film as well.  One is retiring astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), and the other is medical engineer Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock).

Let me say right off the bat that this film far and away deserved the technical Oscars it won.  Best Cinematography, Visual Effects, Sound…all of it.  Right off the bat, we are treated with an enormous shot of Earth as she takes up more screen than there is room and some radio chatter filters in as we take in the view.  It takes a while for our eyes to focus on the little white spec moving closer to the screen and over the planet, and that is where we begin our journey.

 

 

In a mission that features the Space Shuttle Explorer, we find our crew’s primary objective is to update the Hubble Space Telescope with some prototype technology that Dr. Stone had developed on Earth that was supposed to help Hubble see more clearly and far deeper into space than ever before.  However, in what seems to be an ongoing relevance, Russia screws things up for our crew.  The result causes catastrophic events to occur and we are left alone in space with our two lovable crew members as they fight to survive with virtually no way to get home.

I had heard from people around me and online that there was a lot of disappointment surrounding Gravity, but I disagreed immediately after I was done.  One person had said that most of the film is dull and boring, but I felt differently.  Maybe it’s my love of space, but I felt like I was one step away from an anxiety attack throughout the film.  Sandra Bullock delivers a well deserved Oscar performance and so did the post production team.  The Sound and the visuals completely make this movie and to top off the ice cream cone of science fiction, Steven Price’s Oscar-winning Score completes the ensemble.

For a 90 minute jaunt, this movie is well worth it.

[8/10]

Now, I had to take a break after Gravity and let my senses recharge and let my hearing recharge from having my surround sound up so loud.  So it wasn’t until I was lone with my computer and the remains of a bottle of Prima Amore white wine that I got the chance to sit down and digest this year’s Best Picture winner itself, 12 Years A Slave.  Let me just say, “Wow…”

 

 

In another example of a performance based on a real person, Chiwetel Ejiofor delivers, and he delivers hard.  It didn’t take me long into this film to start questioning whether I still agreed that Matthew McConaughey deserved to win Best Actor.  Even further along, I started to even question whether Michael Fassbender deserved to win over Jared Leto.  This movie is ripe with astounding performances that don’t stop with Ejiofor, Fassbender or Nyong’o.  We get cameos by Paul Giamatti, Paul Dano, Brad Pitt and Benedict Cumberbatch, all of whom bring a weighted power to their limited screen time.

The story is based on the accounts of free man, Solomon Northup who was kidnapped and sold into slavery where he suffered for 12 years.  We get glimpses of the hell that he went through, and Fassbender’s performance is bone-chilling as the man who ultimately comes to “own” Solomon after Cumberbatch’s character sells  him away to save him from Paul Dano’s character.

Along the way we get an extremely uncomfortable performance by Lupita Nyong’o and the things her character has to put up with as a female slave.  Jennifer Lawrence, I’m sorry but you never had a chance.

I’m actually quite surprised that this film didn’t win Best Film Editing, or Sound Mixing because there were very precise close-up shots accompanied by very acute sounds that added so much substance and weight to the scenes they were included in.  One occasion is just the mere sound of strings against strained wood as Solomon tunes his violin.  Another, and my personal favorite shot in the entire film is a close up shot of the water wheel on the back of the river boat that carries Solomon into his despair.  Leading up to the shot we are treated with a barrage of intrusive drum beats that are quickly synced up with the churning of the river boat wheel.  Additionally the shot includes very sharp sunlight that brightens the red on the water wheel.  It was in that moment, that small, short scene that I knew I was in for one hell of a film and I was right.  Not even including the extremely touchy subject matter, 12 Years A Slave is a spectacular example of film making at its finest.

If you don’t see any other movie that was a part of the Academy Awards (I’m sure some of you checked out Bad Grandpa and Iron Man 3 though), you must make it a point to at least watch this  year’s Best Picture winner.

[9/10]

This is Part I of my Best Picture Nominee Binge reviews.  I have not yet seen American Hustle, The Wolf of Wallstreet, Philomena or Her as they are not out on DVD yet and I’m too lazy to go check them out in the theater.  When they are out, I will post Part II of this review series and may even add some of the films that were nominated in other categories but not Best Picture.  Please stay tuned.

[this is what happens when i go to the kitchen for 30 seconds for a slice of cheese and sing random lyrics to myself in the process.  this is still a work in progress...or it might not be]

This will be the hardest thing I will ever have to say to you

I cannot keep this charade strung along any longer

If I cannot have you any more than you are dead to me

I will mourn for you every day of my life

But I cannot take this pain much more

You were the real true love of my whole life

But now you have disappeared into this dark night

Like that mythical creature of old that cannot be contained

I saw just a glimpse or two through the thick forest branches

But I cannot keep this parade marching on forever

If you are done with me than you are dead to me

I will mourn for you until the last day of my life

I can take this pain until the day I die

You are the real true love I have been searching for without end

Until now but you disappeared in this fog through the meadows

Like that glorious creature from out of non-existence

I caught glimpses or more through the breaks in the mist lines

This will be the hardest thing I will ever have to say to you

For certain it is because I do not mean it

But I hate you more than I could ever have imagined

Which is the biggest lie I will ever have to tell myself

Because the truth of the matter here is this:

I believe with every fiber of the being inside of me

That you possess the other half of our torn apart soul

Until that day and long after we are reunited

I will love you until the Sun dies

And then I will love you through the darkness afterwards.

Crimson Victory

Posted: August 8, 2012 in Chapel

The poem below is a good example of why I like to write vaguely at times.  This was originally written after something had happened to a family in the neighborhood that I grew up in.  A family we were close to and so felt a special connection to.  I babysat their daughters and still use the putter their dad gave to me one time.  The situation involved their father and an unfortunate and not so good situation but I’ll leave it at that.  It seems like this poem is needed yet again so that perhaps someone else can gain strength out of it due to a situation they are in.  Perhaps if you are in some form of despair or depression or loneliness this poem will reach you too. 

(this is copied straight from that old social networking site that preceded the new one they made that movie about…)

Crimson Victory

bury your face

not of shame,

but in My shoulders,

wrapped in My embrace.

soak My robe,

hold on tight

to the comfort

will bring.

this is not of Me,

but My enemy.

will bring the good

from this.

hold on to Me,

feel My grace.

you are worth more

than the hearts that judge.

this is exactly why

My blood was shed.

so that stains like this

could be washed clean.

lift your eyes

take comfort in

the awesome power

of My loving strength.

feel every part

of My healing touch.

grip Me tight,

do not let go.

am the King

you are My heirs

with My victory

you have won.

kneel down low

not to hide,

but to gain the fuel

for Our fight.

stand up tall

receive your crown.

am your King

I will pull you through.

[8.5/10]

Normally when the History Channel isn’t busy setting cable television records for most watched mini-series in airing the wonderful Hatfields and McCoys, they are tirelessly shoving aliens down our throats almost relentlessly with that extremely comical Ancient Aliens show that features this crazy bastard.

I couldn’t stop thinking about that guy and that hilarious meme during Ridley Scott’s newest masterpiece, Prometheus.  Set in the same universe as Alien and its trilogy (we won’t count that godforsaken excuse that was Resurrection), Prometheus takes us to a little moon orbiting a gas giant not unlike Saturn in search for a race of beings known as Engineers.  Alien fans might know them better as the Space Jockeys, one of which Sigourney Weaver and her team discover dead in his pilot’s chair during their little outing many years later on a different planet.

 

We get our first taste of the Space Jockey in the beautifully inspiring opening scene that features stunning waterfalls, mist and fog that I found myself lost in before I noticed a giant spacecraft hovering over the waterfall.  I couldn’t decide what was more amazing, the waterfall landscape or the spectacle of this giant flying saucer going vertical before taking off into the clouds as our Jockey friend appears on the screen.  This sparks the rest of the opening title sequence that follows his body down into the water as it turns into particles and DNA strands that suggest he is the origin of humanity.

We then meet The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Noomi Rapace as she digs in the dirt in Scotland.  What she discovers there along with her boyfriend Charlie (Logan Marshall-Greenis a room full of hieroglyphs that depict an image they’ve seen before at some of their other dig sites.  This image is a series of dots that they determine to be a star system that Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Rapace) decides must be a map or as she later puts it, “an invitation…”

This sets up the journey we are taken on along with the crew of Prometheus, a ship owned by Weyland Corp. (the company for whom Weaver and her crew work in Alien).  We also meet what has become another of the Alien icons in David, an android that looks after the ship and her crew mostly during their state of cryo-sleep.  David (played by the brilliant Michael Fassbender) is an interesting character that audiences should pay close attention to throughout the film.

The remainder of the film–along with countless shots of brilliance by the director of photography Dariusz Wolski, who gave us some sweet visuals (which is about the only good to be said about them) in the Pirates of the Caribbean films as well as several Tim Burton features–follows the exploits of the crew as they explore an ancient temple akin to those of the Mayans and Egyptians.  The only part about this that bothered me was that they conveniently happened to enter the moon’s atmosphere and ended up in a location that just so happened to be a large open valley area with ancient buildings in it.  What are the odds of that I wonder?

Pietro Scalia also joins a great team of production crew and adds his incredible skill as film editor.  We shouldn’t expect anything less from the guy who edited  Gladiator.

I think for me personally, the visuals and the score were the greatest parts of this film.  I’m a sucker for stunning things to look at in movies.  That is about the only good thing to be said about James Cameron’s Avatar.  I bring him up for two reasons:  1.  Ten minutes into Prometheus I turned to my buddy and said:  “This movie is already a big giant ‘eff you’ to James Cameron…”  2. Cameron, as I’m sure everyone knows, directed the Alien sequel  Aliens.

I digress.  Probably a few of the film’s coolest features are the new creatures that we get introduced to.  Some not so pleasa–actually none of them were pleasant introductions.  Not to give too much away, but we basically get to see the predecessor to the famous Facehugger (two different versions) as well as the one creature that solidifies my theory that this movie was a true prequel all along.  We get to see the birth of an ancestor to the frightening Xenomorph.

Basically, if you are a fan of Ridley Scott like I am and a fan of the original Alien Trilogy than you probably have to see this.  Actually you MUST see  Prometheus in that case.  It will answer quite a few questions you may have but also raise several others and spark many conversations with your fellow sci-fi buddies.  I’ve seen a few comments on Twitter and reviews in general so far where people were not impressed or they thought that it was poorly executed as a film and that Hollywood can’t do a good sci-fi movie anymore but I think those four people need to check again.  I mean I’m not saying they are idiots…but they’re probably idiots.

I have four films for your consideration in today’s post.  I watched them about a week and a half ago and I know I promised the reviews would be up sometime toward the end of last week but quite frankly, I guess I didn’t really want to write about them up until now.

So here we go:

Immortals:  4/10

I will start with Immortals because it seems like the majority of folks that saw this film were extremely disappointed and were happy to offer their opinion on how horrible it was.

 

I read quite a few reviews from both the public and the “professional” beat writers for several publications compare this movie to 300 but after I watched it I failed to see where this conclusion was drawn from.  I suppose that since there was Greek Mythology in both you could somehow make that connection but they are completely different films.  Really the only similarity is that the look or style of film is similar in that there are a lot of sharp colors.  Color and lighting were a huge problem though because I found it difficult to see anything throughout the movie due to the darkness of the shots.  This may be due to watching it on my laptop, but in two other films that I will discuss below, I did not have the same issue.

This also offered me my first taste of what sort of actor is going to be portraying Superman in Warner Bros. upcoming reboot Man of Steel.  I often like to give the actors the benefit of the doubt as often as I can when they are not the only thing wrong with the film.  In this performance Henry Cavill works well with what he’s given by the writers and director.  The same can be said for the most notable name in the film, Mickey Rourke.  John Hurt also stars as an old man who mentors Cavill’s character.  It’s your classic tale of the hero, where he isn’t sure he wants to be one, but he has an older mentor that teaches him the necessary skills and then finally a life altering situation occurs where he is forced into the hero’s role.  It even featured a symbolic baptism by water for not only our main character but others as well. All of that is for a different discussion, but basically the writers didn’t deviate much from that type of story that we’ve seen told a thousand times over.  The only interesting aspect is the backdrop of the war between the Olympians and the Titans with man stuck in the middle as always.

If you want some mindless fun and don’t care too much about historical accuracy or the accuracy of the mythology, then Immortals might be okay by you.  It offers some interesting action but again, nothing we haven’t seen in better quality films.

Next up is:

J. Edgar:  5/10

Unfortunately I probably won’t have much to say about this film other than that I somewhat understand the Oscar snub that Eastwood and company received.  I’m not sure whether that was based on the unwillingness to accept that Hoover might have been a homosexual, or that there were heavy suggestions that Hoover tried to bury Martin Luther King, Jr. in a sex scandal, and a slightly less obvious suggestion that he may have been involved in his assassination.

 

The film also focuses on the Lindbergh Baby Kidnapping scandal and how Hoover attempted to use it to elevate the validity of the F.B.I.

Aside from Eastwood’s chosen direction of the film, the acting was exceptionable as always in most of his films.  I didn’t feel like the direction or writing was too terrible or forced either.  Leonardo DiCaprio gave yet another excellent performance as did Judi Dench, Naomi Watts and Josh Lucas in his small cameo as Charles Lindbergh.

This is also the other film I had lighting complaints about though.  It seemed extremely poorly lit throughout the majority of the movie and I’m not convinced Eastwood was trying to achieve this on purpose.

I won’t say much more about it other than that I’m not sure what was so horrible about this film either that had critics crying foul or unworthiness.

The last two were my favorite of the foursome.

Ides of March:  7/10

I really didn’t have any idea what this movie was about because I honestly hadn’t paid much attention to it.  I just knew that George Clooney and Ryan Gosling were in it and they are both excellent actors.  It wasn’t until I settled down and got into the movie that I remembered Philip Seymour Hoffman, Marisa Tomei and Paul Giamatti were in it.  The cast alone makes it worth watching in my mind.

 

We seem to get a political film or two or more with every term of the presidency and this is no different.  Gosling and Hoffman head up the campaign of Governor Mike Morris, who is running for president.  Giamatti is doing the same for the opponent and fills the same job title that Hoffman does in the film.

Throughout the movie Gosling spear-heads the campaign even though he is 2nd in command to Hoffman.  He seems to be the one that is helping the governor win primaries etc.  Tom Duffy (Giamatti) likes what he sees and offers Gosling a job, tempting him to switch sides.

The rest of the film is basically the avalanche of what occurs due to the phone call between Giamatti and Gosling, involving a persistent New York Times reporter (Tomei) and an intern in the governor’s campaign office who is played by an all grown up Evan Rachel Wood.  She ends up playing a vital role in what transpires throughout the film, as she befriends Gosling.

Even though the film was political in nature and didn’t offer much as far as plot depth goes, Ides of March works for a quick mystery thriller, if it can be classified as such.

If there is nothing else left in Red Box or you’ve watched everything else on Netflix and you’re in the mood for a light drama, this should hit the spot.

Now for my favorite of the four:

Moneyball:  9/10

 

I really can’t say I’m a fan of baseball at all.  I do claim to be a fan of the Seattle Mariners and I have been since I was little, but unless it’s football, it doesn’t tend to hold my interest.  Luckily for baseball, most of the films made that include baseball have little to nothing to do with it in the long run.  Some of the greatest “baseball” movies weren’t really about baseball, but then again, is any film with a sport as a backdrop?

Moneyball is based on the novel Moneyball: The Art of Winning An Unfair Game by Michael Lewis.  He also wrote the novel that The Blindside is based on.  It follows the story of Oakland Athletics general manager, Billy Bean‘s attempt to re-invent the game of baseball.  Perhaps not completely re-invent so much as modify the tactics of how to win games.  Bean is portrayed fantastically by Brad Pitt who earns his Oscar nod.  While I watched I also grew to understand why someone like Jonah Hill could pull off garnering a nod from the Academy as well.

I had discussed this with my buddy Greg Sisco right after the Oscars a couple of months ago.  We agreed that the basic formula for achieving a nomination is to basically break your typecast and put on a somewhat believable performance as someone who is serious more often than being a jackass.  Enter Jonah Hill.  He did exactly that but he managed to do it well enough to not hold any sort of snobby grudge on him.

There really isn’t much to the plot other than explaining how Bean and his assistant GM (Hill) were able to revolutionize the game of baseball by acquiring players that have the ability to get on base and score runs for little to no money.  When you’re a struggling ballclub financially like the Oakland A’s, it’s difficult to compete with the likes of the Yankees and Red Sox.  This was a common theme throughout the film.

I could probably go into further detail about the film but it’s one of those movies that you don’t need a big long explanation of how it’s the story of a young guy’s career and how he overcame the odds and struggles and so on and so forth (or maybe I’m just being lazy right now because i’m more excited to get out and get in line for The Avengers).

The easy way out of this would be to say that if you’re a somewhat fan of baseball (or a huge fan), you like Brad Pitt and even Jonah Hill than you’ll want to check out Moneyball.

[6/10]

Every year I tell myself I’m going to watch all the Oscar nominated films to see if they are worthy enough to be in the running for Best Picture.  Sometimes I see a few of them because plans were already in place to do so and others I make a point to view.  Mostly though, I end up not seeing all of them.  This will likely happen this year as well, but I can scratch another film off the distinguished list.

The Descendants was in the category of “already planning to see.”  George Clooney’s work has been quite enjoyable of late.  The American was spectacular in my mind even though a common theme among bad reviews was that it was extremely slow.  I have yet to see The Ides of March, but that is also on my list.

Clooney plays Matt King, a lawyer who is also the sole grantor of a trust of land that his father’s family has handed down from generation to generation all the way back to Hawaiian royalty.  The film mainly focuses on the upcoming decision he and several of his cousins are trying to make on who they want to sell the property to for a very large and generous sum of money that they are all going to split.

 

This focus often seemingly gets pushed into the background due to the real driving force of the film.  In the opening scenes King narrates, telling us that life on Hawaii is anything but paradise and that a main reason for this—at least for him—at the moment is thanks to his wife being in the hospital in critical condition due to a boating accident.  This forces King to juggle his younger daughter, his practice and the impending land-sell all while trying to be present for his wife and decide what to do about her.

King also decides to get his younger daughter off the island and go visit her older sister Alex on Kauai and bring her home to see her mother.  She is at a boarding school and our first encounter with her reveals a troubled teenager who has snuck out of her dorm with a friend and we find them drunk, messing around on a softball field.

She is played by Shailene Woodley, of whom I don’t know much about, but found her performance to be exceptional.  It is through Alex that we get a shocking piece of news that then becomes the new driving force of the film and sends King and his daughters on a wild goose chase over the islands of Hawaii.

As we tag along on the hunt, we are subjected to some stunning cinematography.  I wouldn’t say I was too impressed given the natural scenery they chose to film in, but it still aided in setting a juxtaposing tone.  Normally when you think about Hawaii, you think about everything King narrates about in the beginning.  Resorts, beaches, fancy hotels and surfing.  I don’t think people really realize that the citizens have pretty tough lives and we get a glimpse of this through King and his daughters’ life-altering journey.

The score compliments the cinematography well as most of it is islander music that you would expect to find at a nightly luau.  A very interesting phenomenon occurs with the normally upbeat style of music through the film as it seems to add to the desolation and depressing tone of the film.

Said tone was not entirely shocking to me however, as I’ve always fancied myself a pretty good judge of a film based on its trailer.  While it does suggest hints of comedy here and there, the trailer definitely doesn’t hide the fact that The Descendants is going to be a heavily weighted drama.

The story and writing were precise.  The writers reveal just enough information regarding background stories for a few of the characters without having to even really tell said stories.  Everyone, I felt, did a wonderful job with their performances.  Matthew Lillard even makes an appearance and for once I didn’t see him as “that guy from Scream” or any of those countless teen comedies he did early on.

Generally, The Descendants touches on the fact that no matter what is going on in our lives, everything else continues moving.  Our daily lives don’t just pause themselves because we have a loved one in the hospital.  Relatives and friends try to understand and be there for you but they don’t really get it.  In Matt King’s case, his cousins only care about how much money they will get from the land-sell, and his wife’s friends don’t know how to relate to his side of the situation at hand.

If you are going through a big life-event that is not a happy one, then I’d recommend waiting on The Descendants, but if you’re fine in that department, it might be worth a look for you if you like Clooney’s independent film work.

Last Friday the nation seemed captivated by greed (as though it has never been or normally isn’t) as the MegaMillions Lottery jackpot soared to a world record $656 million.  It had already set the record the previous week and from there the people of America flocked in droves to get their hands on the 1 in 176 million chance at winning.

It turns out three tickets were sold that had the winning numbers printed on them.  After taxes, if they choose to claim, the winners from Illinois, Kansas and Maryland will take home $105 million each (depending on how they choose to claim).

During the previous couple of weeks I overheard several co-workers, passers-by and even radio personalities discuss the situation at hand.  The majority of the conversations began of course, “If I won, I would____.”  Who can help but contemplate and fantasize about an amount so large?  I’m sure the likes of Donald Trump or Bill Gates do not spend time doing this, but as for the rest of us it can be easy to get caught up in.

What would I do with $105 million dollars (or any amount of extraordinary proportion)?  I just so happen to have a pretty good plan in place.  I have been thinking about these very things for a couple of years now because I decided, along with a buddy of mine, to start playing about a year ago.  Before that, we spent about a year in deep thought about what we would do if we won, planning and attempting to come up with a situation where we would feel confident that we would be prepared.

So, as we clearly did not win last Friday, we continue to play.  Sure, we’ve heard all the horror stories and we’ve heard all the talk about how it’s an “idiot tax” etc., but we’ve chosen to do our own thing.  Tonight we got three numbers right, effectively winning us $28 whole dollars.  A step in the right direction I’d say.

(if you’re wondering if this post has direction, do continue)

I have been spending the previous couple of hours watching videos of various famous personalities talk about their walks with Jesus Christ.  I am just now learning about this I Am Second movement.  Several of the videos have impacted me more than I imagined they would.  I have always been a fan of Michael W. Smith and only this evening learned that he battled drug addiction.  Similarly, a very powerful story from former Korn bassist Brian “Head” Welch caught my attention.  Several others were gripping as well, including Anne Rice, Stephen Baldwin, Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford’s stories.

The significance of this is that while I have been listening to these, I’ve been pondering and meditating on where my walk with Jesus is at this current moment.  Now, I’m in no way ready to go into as much open-faced detail as some of the celebrities have done–yet.  I would be willing to say that currently and during the previous five years or more have been dark and dreary and empty-laden for me and I have of late been attempting to claw my way out of this and re-attach and re-affirm my relationship with Jesus.  I would hope to be able to update everyone on how that goes sooner than later.

It is in the midst of these videos and contemplating lottery winnings that I have a very comforting reminder arrive in the form of a quote from my fellow lottery player.  He was texting me about how we could have won $600 tonight had we gotten the Mega Ball right.  He followed this line of thought with:  “It doesn’t matter, tomorrow we rich anyway,” to which I chuckled and agreed.

The staggering and overwhelmingly amazing realization here is simply this:  “You are already rich.”  As soon as I read my buddy’s message that phrase echoed through my mind.  I am already rich.  Not coincidentally, my little beautiful princess of a daughter turned five years old today on the 3rd (yes I realize it’s already the 4th as I write this).

I do not need a million dollars.  I do not need $500,000 or $105 million either.  Now, on a side note most of what I plan to do with it should God bless me with that gift, is to glorify Him alone in that.  But the wonderful thing here is that as an adopted child of Christ, I am already so stupendously rich no king or billionaire on Earth could comprehend the measurement.  Here in this world I have a very loving and forgiving and faithful wife that I do not deserve.  I have two beautiful children that God has seen fit to entrust in my care.  My little girl’s face today (from the little time I was able to spend with her before she rushed off to school) was worth more than $656 million dollars or a billion or the vaults of Fort Knox to me.

I hope she felt like a Princess today because as I always tell her, she literally is.  Because her Mommy and Daddy are children of Christ, we are heirs to the Throne of Heaven and as such we are royalty of the highest kind above and beyond the Earth and all of its material possessions.  Because we are this, so too are our children and I hope they never ever forget that.

At present, I have so much more ground to cover before I would comfortably say I am back to the kind of believer I was once upon a time, but I am confident that I will get there.  I may never ever win any sort of earthly lottery, but I will never have to rely on that sort of thing because I put my faith and hope and trust in Jesus.  I know this entire post has seemed rather terribly written and thought out, but for me that’s okay.

When all else fades away, Jesus Christ will still be standing in front of me, in front of us and we will be able to throw our arms around Him and He will always provide and give shelter to us in whatever state we find ourselves.

As I finish up my thoughts here, I am listening to a rendition of Nothing But The Blood by Andy Cherry who I discovered through a tweet from Brian Welch (and now realize I’ve heard on the radio).  It is crazy how intricately God works.  The message is loud and clear, that no matter where we are in life, or at least for me at this point, regardless of whether I spend $5 on lottery tickets each week, there is still one thing that will always remain the same and never change.  “…the blood of Jesus is enough for me….” and “this is all my hope and peace, nothing but the blood of Jesus.”  Because of this I may yet be able to begin that long road to becoming the husband my wife deserves to be married to and the father my two amazing children deserve to have.

Ultimately, all I have to do is be exactly what God made me to be and carry that out exactly the way He intended me to.  I must do this by continually asking Him to show me what that is and how to do so and everything else will fall in to place under His infallible direction and intricate planning.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.”  –Matthew 6:19-20

[6/10]

From time to time the topic of “celebrity crush” comes up in discussions among friends or message boards or small talk in the workplace.  Several people tend to change their selection multiple times over the years.  Not me.  Mine has remained constant since we were twelve years old.  Because of this I have fallen prey to a multitude of horrendous films that include Bring It OnDeeplyDickGet Over It and some movie called Levity.  For all of the campy, teeny movies Kirsten Dunst has appeared in over the years, she still manages to keep me interested with random films that truly showcase her talent.

Melancholia interested me for more reasons than just my celebrity crush this time.  The story revolves around Justine and her wedding banquet.  At least that is how it starts, but not before a strange and unique prologue where visually and musically we are thrown into an overture of the end of the world.  At an extremely slow and meticulous pace, we rest on a close up of Justine’s face where birds soon appear behind her, falling out of the sky slowly.  Another sequence is presented where a woman (we will learn later that she is Justine’s sister Claire) is carrying a child over a putting green–each step she takes plunging deep into the earth.  Several more shots are shown that seem to document the sisters’ final moments before the bright blue Melancholia collides with Earth.

The film is structured so that the audience tends to forget that there is a gas giant headed toward our planet.  Director Lars Von Trier opted to give us a documentary style of filming, which invites us right into the wedding banquet that follows the prologue.  As this progresses we are introduced to other characters that include Justine’s new groom (Alexander Skarsgard), Claire’s husband (Kiefer Sutherland), Justine’s boss (Stellan Skarsgard) and John Hurt who plays Justine’s father.

The film is also broken up into two parts, or acts as if it were more of a stage production.  Part I focuses on Justine of course, and we learn quickly that she probably has a lot of psychological issues or drama because she constantly disappears from her own wedding party to be by herself, wander the golf course or gaze at the mysterious star that has appeared in the sky.

Before Part I ends, her marriage has failed and she essentially quits her job by telling her boss off during her banquet and having sex with a random guest in a sand trap.  It is a quick study in how brief our lives can end up being and in light of their impending doom (which they are not aware of yet) Justine’s life seems to go from order to disarray and despair all in one evening.

Part II focuses on Claire, as she invites Justine to stay with them at the golf course, which they own.  She is apparently even more sick and deeper into depression which is hinted at during Part I but we never find out if she has an actual illness or not.  Claire has become increasingly alarmed by this planetary body racing toward her and her little family.

We also begin to learn more about John, her husband.  Kiefer Sutherland does a wonderful job as does everyone else.  This film was very well acted for the most part.  John is also entranced by the arrival of Melancholia, and his son shares the excitement.  They spend nights peering through the telescope and discussing about the day the planet will “fly by” the Earth.

If my review seems extremely random and off the wall than it fits wonderfully with the way this film was structured and played out.  Throughout the film we are drawn in deeper to Justine’s depression and Claire’s increasing alarm.

Unfortunately, though the plot seems heavy it ends up lacking a lot of detail and explanation.  We never find out what caused Justine depression or why the family is somewhat at odds with each other. We also learn very little about the film’s reason behind the title.

Melancholia is explained as a gas giant that has been hidden by the sun up until recently as it has begun moving closer to Earth.  The film never explains whether it was always a part of the Solar System, or a stray planet thrown from its own system.  It does explain a small amount about the path it will take around Earth as Claire becomes more and more obsessed with the “doomsday” scenarios she finds all over the Internet.

The visuals and the score are this films strengths outside of the actors’ performances.  It is quite visually wonderful and beautiful.  The colors are rich and stand out, as if you are watching a moving painting in realism.  Several shots look out over the terrace and out over the back lawn of the house.  Large bushes line either side of the lawn and creates a renaissance era portrait that also looks out over the coastline.  This image becomes a staple of the film and in some cases where our Moon and Melancholia loom in the sky, the shots become quite magnificent.

Throughout the film, I realized that as the tension in the film built, so too did my anxiety.  I think this is a superb phenomena.  There are very few times when we can become engaged in this way while watching a movie.  It began to feel like I was there with them, worrying about whether Melancholia would collide with Earth or not.  I shared the little boy’s whispered concern:  “I’m afraid that the planet is will hit us anyway”

At this point, a recurring discussion between the boy and Justine comes back into play in an important way that brings us closure.  Through the film the boy asks Justine over and over when they are going to build caves together and at this point she leads him on a mission to gather large branches to build their “magic cave” to protect them from the planet.  It ends up looking like a tepee, and the three of them gather inside and hold hands as Melancholia consumes our world.

We are left with a closing sequence that makes one think about how we could react to a situation like this, where there is no escape, nowhere to run, no cavern deep enough or mountain high enough to get away from the destruction.  The sky fills with the blue cloudy atmosphere of Melancholia as it burns our atmosphere off and the film fades to black.

If you are fine with independent film and content that you normally wouldn’t get to see from a big studio Hollywood film, then Melancholia might be worth checking out for you.  If you like any of the actors involved that helps too.  For me the biggest intrigue was the way Trier wove a story in which we can all likely relate to in with this plot of impending doom.  While the end of the world played like a backdrop or canvas, the melodic pace of the plot in the foreground gives the viewers the ability to put themselves in the same situation.

[7/10]

They brought us King Kong, Jurassic Park, Lord of the Rings and E.T.  However, last Christmas Stephen Spielberg and Peter Jackson teamed up to bring us yet another adventure–this time in the form of animation.

The Adventures of Tintin has been out for some time, releasing last December, but I have finally gotten around to seeing it.  This extremely bright and colorful film is adapted from the 1940′s comic book series that has, I would assume, become rather famous to most of us growing up.  We have probably all heard of “Rin Tintin” or “Adventures of Tintin” at some point or other in our youth.

 

The film follows the young journalist and his awesome little sidekick terrier Snowy.  As the film opens we find Tintin in the process of getting his caricature drawn by a street vending artist.  When the image is revealed we get a pleasantly surprising throwback to the original style of artwork used in the comics.

From there, we are introduced to Snowy, who wanders off in pursuit of a pesky pick-pocket.  He’ll play a bit of a role as the film progresses.  Shortly after Tintin receives his retro look, we see him strolling through the open market and stumbling across an old intricate model ship that he takes great interest in.  He quickly purchases the model in excitement and his adventures begin.  He is greeted by two mysterious men who offer to buy the ship from him and naturally he refuses.

As the story progresses, we follow Tintin and Snowy as they seek to uncover the mystery of the Unicorn (the name of the model ship).  He drags us along through the waters of the sea, the sands of the Sahara and various Middle Eastern destinations, including teaming up with Captain Haddock, the last descendant of  the captain of the Unicorn.

Overall the film was very well done and quite enjoyable.  This is a family type of movie and is appropriate for children but at the same time very engaging for adults as well.  As I’m writing this, I realize the film reminded me of a cross between Lawrence of Arabia and an installment of Indiana Jones.  This would make sense considering Spielberg and it’s funny I mention that because the main villain of the story resembled Steven Spielberg to me.  I found that humorous throughout the film.  I’m willing to bet that Andy Serkis was thrilled to not have to play an ape for once.  He lends his voice to the captain that Tintin stumbles upon and embarks with shortly after.

I felt like the voice acting was successful, and as much as you can direct and have a camera angle to shoot from, I thought Spielberg directed well and the animators did a fantastic job giving us a world full of wonderful scenery at times.

I took some time to review the Oscar nominations for Best Animated Feature and quite frankly, I would say that The Adventures of Tintin received a nice ripe snub from the Academy.  When we have a category that featured two films no one ever heard before, Puss in Boots and Rango (which took home the Oscar), you would think they would include the film that actually deserved the award for films released in 2011.  Quite frankly, Rango was garbage aside from the excellent animation.  Clearly that saved face.

In the end, as the credits roll and the closing shot fades to black, I found myself realizing I thoroughly enjoyed watching this adventure.  I think you will too.

Well, why shouldn’t this be the first post in the football area?

I won’t use this space to go into the history of whether I’m a hardcore Tebow fanatic or not, but I think you’ll realize where I stand at the end.  I’ve been glued to my Twitter feed for the past week and a half, as I’m sure almost every Denver Bronco fan has been (not to mention Cardinal, Titan, Dolphin, Redskin, Jet, 49er and Seahawk fans throughout the course of this).

At first, I really didn’t see the point in signing a broke-down quarterback that is likely on his way out of the business soon.  But then a few conversations took place and at this point I’ve jumped into the pool head first.  Throughout the several conversations and arguments I’ve had on Twitter and my longtime home, Broncomania, I have attempted to make my stance known.

So hopefully I’ll be able to explain this in a way that makes more sense than trying to shove my opinion into 140 characters.

I have been a fan and supporter of Tim Tebow since before he became a Denver Bronco.  I wasn’t sure I really wanted him on my team however.  He did some awesome things last year, but we cannot ignore the amazing feats of the defense, Willis McGahee and Matt Prater.  I would somewhat agree that perhaps it was Tebow’s tenacity and passion for the game that fired the rest of his teammates up, but we’re here for Peyton Manning.

I would love nothing else but for John Elway, John Fox and Brian Xanders to keep Tim Tebow in a Bronco uniform.  I will be extremely upset when he gets traded (I say “when” because I have a gut feeling it will happen).   Why be upset?  Because I’m in the camp that believes he can learn (who couldn’t?) tremendous lessons merely by being around Peyton Manning.  I understand Peyton doesn’t want to mentor anyone, which may be a small reason he’s no longer a Colt.  Tim can still stand by and observe and learn how to read defenses and how to make quicker decisions from Peyton.  He may even be able to learn how to throw a pretty ball.  I’m not holding my breath on that one though.

I’m 100% behind John Elway and his decisions, because I’m a Denver Bronco fan and it’s like worshiping the devil if you aren’t.  I think.  Something similar to that anyway.  Also, I’m clearly no expert on the wonderful game of football, so I must put my trust in those who are.  Regarding the quarterback position, who would know what makes a great quarterback and how to look for one better than John Elway?  I think there are a select few.  Certainly you and I couldn’t hold a candle.

So for now I’m all-in on obtaining Peyton Manning because I understand he won’t be here for that long.  I think Tim Tebow, if he really wants to prove he is serious about his beliefs and faith, will exercise discretion here and humble himself and sit for a few years.  It could be one season, but maybe five at most.  I’d be fine with Peyton lasting in Denver for five years because that would mean he will have lasted the longest out of Post-Elway signal callers in Denver.

Realistically, Peyton needs to choose San Francisco.  He has talked about wanting to win more championships and right now, SF is his best bet.  Selfishly I want him in Denver, and I believe that we will get him.  But what happens if he does choose one of the other two teams?  I don’t think we’ll be in the situation we were with Jay Cutler.  I would think Tim would be glad that he is still the starting quarterback, with a chance to improve over the summer and go at it all over again in the fall.  I don’t understand the notion that we would trade him even if we didn’t land Manning.  Hopefully this idea has been put to rest.

I’m sure that I have made it even more confusing about where I stand but at least this is more in-depth than the aforementioned 140 characters.  Quite simply:  I am a Tebow fan, but I’m a Denver Bronco fan first and always, and like Elway, I want more trophies in the trophy case and I think Manning gives us a legitimate shot at that right away. This does not mean I don’t believe Tebow can develop enough and we can’t build through the draft and free agency and be contenders in a couple of years.  If Elway keeps Tebow even with Manning aboard, then I think we’re looking at a situation where the Broncos can be a force to be feared once again and return to perennial post-season power.

I would just really like it if Manning decided already.