Movie Review ~ Only Lovers Left Alive

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The Facts
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Synopsis: A depressed musician reunites with his lover, though their romance – which has already endured several centuries – is disrupted by the arrival of uncontrollable younger sister

Stars: Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska, John Hurt, Anton Yelchin, Jeffrey Wright

Director: Jim Jarmusch

Rated: R

Running Length: 123 minutes

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: I feel like at this point in my movie viewing (and reviewing) career I should be much more familiar than I am with writer/director Jim Jarmusch. Responsible for a respectable amount of moody movies in the 80’s and 90’s, looking over his roster of work I realize that Only Lovers Left Alive is the just the second Jarmusch film I’ve seen with 2005’s Broken Flowers being the other. I’m not sure if I’m going to run right out and snap up movies like Night on Earth, Stranger Than Paradise, or Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai but based on the somber vampire flick he’s delivered here, it’s clear I need to do my homework.

Though the romantic vampire genre may have (fingers crossed!) finally run its course, Jarmusch nicely sidesteps the baring of fangs and avoids awkward kink in favor of character driven work that produces a curiously entertaining, unconventional entry in the bloodsucking oeuvre. Instead of Twilight’s Edward and Bella pawing over each other in a hazy meadow, we have Adam (Tom Hiddleston, Thor, Thor 2: The Dark World) and Eve (Tilda Swinton, The Grand Budapest Hotel) spending the first part of the film continents apart until Eve travels from exotic Tangiers to dilapidated Detroit for a reunion with her eternal flame. Like the impressively designed but fairly dated The Hunger from 1983, Only Lovers Left Alive is less about finding love than it is about what happens to a couple that have lived through many lives together.

Of course, into every vampiric life a little rain must fall and before Adam and Eve can really get down to business another creature of the night appears: Eve’s troubled sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska, ). This family reunion doesn’t bring the kind of over-the-top fireworks seen in August: Osage County but the danger is very real as Ava’s free-wheeling lifestyle threatens to upend any brief bliss Adam and Eve are seeking.

It’s a very languid film and Jarmusch doesn’t make any apologies for letting his characters wax poetic about the state of art/music/literature in today’s modern society. He even introduces a true-blue historical figure, Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), still alive today thanks to a bite to the neck centuries earlier. Everyone in Jarmusch’s film seems too cool for school but not in the way that could have been aggravating or eye-roll inducing. My original feeling was that the film should have been called Hipster Vampire Namedroppers, a silly but pretty accurate way to succinctly describe the players.

Somber yet at times deeply funny, Only Lovers Left Alive is a nice antidote to several years of sappy films and television series that have made vampires more romantic leads than life draining villains. I’m not sure Jarmusch’s take will please everyone but there’s something interesting going on here seasoned moviegoers may want to investigate. Just make sure to bone up on your beatnik poets and existential artists so you can nod in agreement when Jarmusch makes an obscure reference.

The Silver Bullet ~ As Above, So Below

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Synopsis: A thriller centered on two archaeologists in search of a lost treasure in the catacombs below Paris.

Release Date: August 15, 2014

Thoughts: I know, I know – when watching the trailer for the late summer horror film As Above, So Below I’m sure you rolled your eyes just like I did in the first minute wondering why the heck we needed another shaky hand held film about people stuck in a place they shouldn’t have been in the first place. Then something kinda fun happens, the premise opens up a bit and seems to be a bit more interesting than it did at first glance. Yes, the trailer gives too much away and it reminds me of the excellent 2005 freak-out flick The Descent but coming from Universal Studios and Legendary Pictures, this might be one to keep your eye out for. After helming the not that bad one two punch of Quarantine and Devil, director John Erick Dowdle clearly likes small spaces and while this could be derivative garbage, those dang Paris catacombs sure are spooky!

The Silver Bullet ~ Paddington

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=olf4StiBnmY

Synopsis: PADDINGTON follows the comic misadventures of a young Peruvian bear with a passion for all things British, who travels to London in search of a home.

Release Date:  December 14, 2014

Thoughts: It seems a true miracle that it has taken so long for literature’s favorite bear to make his big screen debut. Arriving in 1958 and appearing in 20 books and several animated TV series, the bear from darkest Peru will be popping up for a Christmas-timed origin story. Voiced by Colin Firth (), I’m hoping that Paddington keeps its British sensibilities firmly in tact because that happens to be what has drawn me to the books over the years. I’d hate to see the polite bear of my youth be upended/updated to attract modern audiences. In addition to Firth, Nicole Kidman (Stoker), Hugh Bonneville (The Monuments Men), Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine), Julie Walters (Billy Elliot), and Jim Broadbent (Closed Circuit) will all be on hand to usher in Paddington’s first trip to the cinema.

Movie Review ~ The Other Woman

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The Facts:

Synopsis: After discovering her boyfriend is married, Carly soon meets the wife he’s been cheating on. And when yet another affair is discovered, all three women team up to plot mutual revenge on the three-timing SOB.

Stars: Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Kate Upton, Taylor Kinney, Nicki Minaj

Director: Nick Cassavetes

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 109 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: In my review of the trailer for The Other Woman, I remarked that I felt the movie looked “like a mash-up of Outrageous Fortune and The First Wives Club” and that wasn’t too far off the mark. Actually, I’d add a few other girl power movies to that stew as well…titles like 9 to 5 and The Witches of Eastwick popped into my mind occasionally as this pretty flimsy but modestly entertaining film breezed by.

Probably destined to be added to the selections to consider at a Friday night martini slumber party for best girlfriends, The Other Woman brings nothing new to the landscape of female driven comedies. This is thanks in no small part to a hackneyed script from first timer Melissa K. Stack and slack direction from Nick Cassavetes (The Notebook). Both screenwriter and director let the film get away from them, with jokes that go on to long and a bizarre final dénouement that feels too heavy to rest of the shoulders of what had up until that point been a feather light revenge comedy.

What keeps the film afloat is a performance from Cameron Diaz that finds the actress at her most fresh, focused, and funny. Diaz is an actress that I have a love-hate relationship with…her film roles have always frustratingly reflected an actress that doesn’t want to be pigeonholed (The Counselor, What to Expect When You’re Expecting), but her talent clearly lies in comedy and her new film reflects a return to form that I welcomed with open arms. Decked out in svelte clothes that show off her just-past 40 bod and residing in the kind of glam NYC apartment that seems appropriate for a high powered attorney, Diaz brings her A game to what is a B- picture.

Second billed Leslie Mann (Rio, Rio 2) had something to prove to me: could she thrive in a film not directed by her husband (Judd Apatow…responsible for directing Mann in the heinous This is 40) and for the most part Mann keeps things on the up and up. I was worried at first that her voice was going to grate my eardrums like a block of cheese (it’s actually the awful Nicki Minaj, barely in the movie as Diaz’s annoying assistant that will make your ears bleed) but thankfully a brief adjustment period brought forth a ribald side to Mann that shows she can be ballsy without being Apatow-like crude. Even so, every now and then when a comedic bit would go on too long I couldn’t help but wonder if Apatow was on set that day.

Mann and Diaz are the wife and mistress of a businessman (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Mama, Headhunters) that discover each other by accident. Unable to confront her husband or talk to any of their mutual friends about the infidelity, she turns to Diaz for a toned shoulder to cry on. Initially hesitant to buddy up with the wife of her flame, Diaz is soon won over by milquetoast Mann and in short order the ladies raid Diaz’s closet, braid each other’s hair, have at least two drunk scenes, and then find out hubby is cheating on both of them with a Hamptons beach bunny, played by the buxom swimsuit model Kate Upton that’s been blessed with a fine figure yet not one scintilla of acting promise. Somehow, the three jiltees team up to take down Mr. Cheater but by then the movie is half over and there’s barely time to throw in some last minute shenanigans about embezzlement, an afterthought of a romance for Diaz (the genial Taylor Kinney), and an extended trip to the Bahamas which seemed like an expensive excuse for Diaz, Mann, and Upton to work on their tans.

Then there’s that ending. Comeuppance is always the payoff in these films yet what Stack worked up and how Cassavetes filmed it makes it feel like it came from a different, darker film. It doesn’t help matters that Coster-Waldau plays these final moments like he’s auditioning for a Scorsese film and overall isn’t very good as the philandering husband, never finding the balance between charm and smarm.

With several continuity errors, equipment visible (I saw Diaz’s wireless mic pack twice), and messy overdubbing to remove swear words that would have brought the film to an R rating, the film feels a little choppy though it does manage to find some smooth waters for Diaz and Mann to sail in. There are certain movie theaters that let you bring drinks to your seat with you and The Other Woman is one where a daiquiri, martini, or Long Island ice tea would enhance the experience quite nicely. Not terrible, not great…it’s sophisticated and funny enough to get a slight recommendation from me.

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The Silver Bullet ~ Jersey Boys

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Synopsis: The story of four young men from the wrong side of the tracks in New Jersey who came together to form the iconic 1960s rock group The Four Seasons.

Release Date: June 20, 2014

Thoughts: Many a musical has made the jump from the Broadway stage to the silver screen over the years but few would be able to exist sans songs, which makes Clint Eastwood’s adaptation of Jersey Boys such an appealing project. Obviously, to tell the story of the Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons you need a soundtrack full of their hits but the history of the group would be just as interesting, I think, without being tagged as a musical. I’ve seen the stage show twice and was impressed with how cinematic it already seemed to be so it doesn’t seem like it’ll have any trouble making the transition to movie screens. I’m always impressed at Eastwood’s efficiency as a filmmaker and he’s gathered a strong group of actors (several that have been in the stage show at one time or another). Not sure if it’s wise to release it in the middle of the summer action extravaganzas, but it could be a nice bit of counter-programming for audiences weary of 3D effects-a-thons.

The Silver Bullet ~ Gone Girl

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Synopsis: A woman mysteriously disappears on the day of her wedding anniversary.

Release Date: October 3, 2014

Thoughts: I’ve yet to meet a David Fincher film or marketing campaign I haven’t liked and it appears as though Gone Girl will be no different. From the clever poster to this simple first trailer for the drama/thriller adapted by Gillian Flynn from her own novel, this looks like the dark material that Fincher thrives in. Another thing Fincher always seems to have going for him is surprising casting and while Ben Affleck (Argo) may not be the most out of the box choice for the role of the husband suspected of being involved with his wife’s disappearance, it would appear he fits the role quite well. Though multiple A-list actresses sought the titular role, Fincher opted to go with the lesser known Rosamund Pike (Jack Reacher, Die Another Day) and if early buzz is to be believed, she’s a revelation. I’m waiting until later in the summer to give the book a look-see but have every confidence Fincher and Flynn will deliver the goods.

Movie Review ~ Oculus

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A woman tries to exonerate her brother, who was convicted of murder, by proving that the crime was committed by a supernatural phenomenon.

Stars: Karen Gillan, Katee Sackhoff, Brenton Thwaites, James Lafferty, Rory Cochrane, Annalise Basso, Garrett Ryan, Kate Siegel, Katie Parker, Miguel Sandoval

Director: Mike Flanagan

Rated: R

Running Length: 105 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: You’d be forgiven if you were to dismiss Oculus as another haunted house horror flick made on the cheap and released in theaters right about the time that audiences are clamoring for some springtime terror. Further, the trailer for Oculus sells the film as a scream fest surrounding an old mirror that has dark secrets. What Oculus isn’t, however, is your run-of-the-mill fright flick that saves its best scares for the final moments. This mirror is polished.

I’ll take a good scare any way I can get it…be it slow burn (Sinister), all out gore-fest (Cabin in the Woods), or failed attempt to cash in on a better concept (Silent House, The Apparition, etc) so I went into Oculus willing to receive it however it chose to present itself. I’ll admit at first I didn’t quite know what to make of the film as it bounced back and forth between a brother and sister exorcising some old demons and a flashback to 11 years earlier when the siblings dealt with some deadly family issues.

At the center of it all is a majestic mirror, said to be responsible for the death of close to 50 people since the 18th century and highly valuable. How a software designer (Rory Cochrane) had the cashola to purchase such a coveted antique is a plot point best filed away under “Don’t Think Too Hard” but it isn’t long before the past and present collide with some seriously spooky sequences where the line between reality and imagination gets hazy.

With an adequate amount of gore that plays second fiddle to bump in the night style scares, the film has the feeling of a sequel to The Amityville Horror (actually, an Amityville TV movie did deal with a haunted mirror now that I think about it) mixed in with dashes of fractured reality of the bloody Mirrors from 2008. Director and co-writer Mike Flanagan has thought out his film well, introducing not merely themes of post traumatic healing but of mental illness brought on by a tragedy. The film isn’t quite sophisticated enough to tie everything together but the effort is clear and purposeful.

Dealing with a small cast, the film could have been a pain to sit through had Flanagan not assembled such a strong group of actors. Karen Gillan (Guardians of the Galaxy) and Brenton Thwaites (The Giver, Maleficent) ably handle the adult siblings while Annalise Basso and Garret Ryan (Insidious: Chapter 2) are impressive handling with their heavy lifting in flashbacks. The first shot of Gillan is her fire red ponytail swinging back and forth almost as if it’s possessed and both she and Thwaites work cohesively to build a believable bond. Cochrane and Katee Sackoff (Riddick) make good use of their slightly underwritten roles.

If there are cracks in Oculus, they are of the minor variety and truth being told I’m not sure if the film will hold up on future viewings. Though the ending rises to the occasion for making the goose bumps rise on your skin, a too short wrap-up left me feeling a little cold to the whole affair. Feeling just a tad long at 105 minutes, Flanagan working as his own edtior could have benefited from having someone else edit the film that was more objective to pacing.

More spooky than terrifying, Oculus earns points for restraint and solid performances. The scares are mostly satisfying and I appreciated that Flanagan developed material that felt fresh and not your average shriek-out.

Movie Review ~ The Raid 2

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Only a short time after the first raid, Rama goes undercover with the thugs of Jakarta and plans to bring down the syndicate and uncover the corruption within his police force.

Stars: Iko Uwais, Arifin Putra, Tio Pakusadewo, Oka Antara, Julie Estelle, Ryuhei Matsuda, Kenichi Endo, Kazuki Kitamura

Director: Gareth Evans

Rated: R

Running Length: 150 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: In my first year of reviewing movies for this blog, one of the standout films was most definitely The Raid: Redemption. Not only was it a rip-roaring muscle knuckle of an action film, it arrived in my field of vision without any previous warning. A thrilling ride following a good cop that finds himself trying to get to the top floor of a slum building to nab a bad guy and dealing with the violent residents on his way up, The Raid: Redemption was a take no prisoners kitchen sink sorta film that was deliriously violent and over-the-top but worked like a charm.

Normally, when a sequel is coming out I try to watch the films that preceded it but I didn’t quite have the time to do that before catching The Raid 2…and originally I thought I was in trouble. The first 10-15 minutes of the sequel had me grasping at characters to try and remember how they played into the first film and who was being newly introduced. I almost gave up and left (something I’ve never done) because I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it through the rest of the movie if I had no idea who was whom.

Thankfully, I stayed and the memories came back in the midst of some of the most jaw-dropping action sequences you’re likely to see and a plot so twisty that French braid aficionados and pretzel makers should take notes.

I’ve been referring to The Raid 2 at The Godfather Part II of Indonesian gangster films and the comparison isn’t that far off. Originally intended as the first film, director Gareth Evans had to make due with a smaller budget and found that his script that became The Raid: Redemption fit more into the budgetary constraints. When that film was a hit, it was no problem finding funding for this bigger, badder, meaner, bloodier, and overall totally different sequel which kicks its way to being awfully close to the top of my list for best films so far in 2014.

Picking up almost exactly where the first film left off but introducing new threads that happened concurrently, The Raid 2 as I mentioned before is counting on the audience being familiar with the original. Though it runs an incredible and not the least bit boring 150 minutes, Evans doesn’t have time to bring you up to speed because he’s got a ton of double crosses to make, throats to slit, and various bones/joints to break as he follows honest cop Rama (action star Iko Uwais making another strong impression) who infiltrates the same crime syndicate he went after in The Raid: Redemption.

It’s a bit of The Departed as Rama gets embroiled in the crime family from within, even as the family is fending off a rival syndicate that has its own set of spies working to obliterate their enemy. With various assassins employed to get the job done (with names like Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man), Rama has to keep his eyes open for backstabbers even though he’s operating on his own agenda.

Evans gives as much thought to the plot as he does to staging some grandly operatic fights. From a bone crunching prison fight in a muddy open air exercise area to the final showdown in a pristine white kitchen that soon is drenched in red I’m not sure if any of the punches, kicks, chops, and snaps are ever delivered the same way twice. It’s as if everything was filmed on fast forward with the camera swinging left-right-up-down to capture it all. Several times I was so stunned that I couldn’t help but let out a guffaw at the sheer boldness of it all.

As good an action flick as anything Hollywood has produced in the last decade, The Raid 2 becomes an instant classic in my book and a must see for fans of the genre and anyone that grew up watching Bruce Lee, Steven Seagal, and Jean-Claude Van Damme pics…it’s just a gloriously exciting film as rich in action as it is in crime drama.

 

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Movie Review ~ Under the Skin

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The Facts:

Synopsis: An alien seductress preys upon hitchhikers in Scotland.

Stars: Scarlett Johansson

Director: Jonathan Glazer

Rated: R

Running Length: 108 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: I’m glad I’ve had some time to digest the experience I had watching Under the Skin because it’s a film that doesn’t warrant a knee-jerk reaction. In fact, if you see Under the Skin (and you really should), resist the urge from asking/giving your opinion on it until you’ve had a chance to let it settle. You may still find you feel the same as you did weeks later as when you originally saw it, but the film provided me more than a little food for thought after the fact.

I get the impression that quite a lot of people will be turned off by the structure of the near wordless film that takes almost two hours to say what could have been conveyed in a 40 minute short. Offering little to no explanation/exposition, you’re left to fend for yourself to piece together what’s going on with a beautiful woman driving around the Scotland countryside picking up random men and bringing them back to a house of horror for…well…I’m still not quite sure.

Even if I did have a strong opinion as to what the shady lady is doing, I wouldn’t spill the beans here because as I thought more about the film it was that ambiguity and unknown motivation that began to gnaw at me. I’ve been weaned on movies and television shows that can’t help but explain everything so the audience can feel better about what they’re watching and that reluctance by director Jonathan Glazer to force-feed us an easy solution makes the film quite fascinating.

I’ve not always been the biggest fan of Scarlett Johansson (in a complete 180 from last week’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier), finding her to be a bit on the dull side and its precisely her vanilla style that makes her near perfect for the role. Clearly not of this earth, Johansson nails the “stranger in a strange land” arc, giving her all to the role which requires her to show full nudity portrayed quite tastefully in an art-house chic sort of way. With less than a page of dialogue in the entire film, it’s up to Johansson to play several different themes: the huntress and the innocent being the most predominant.

As Johansson captures these men (many of whom were non-actors picked up by the actress on the street who didn’t know they were being filmed) the film settles into a cyclic style that’s heavy on repetition…an important piece of structure because when she deviates from the plan we begin to see why things may be going awry. When she sets her sights on a disfigured man, a fracture occurs inside whatever her endgame is that sets into motion a riveting and tense third act.

If I’m being deliberately vague about the film, it’s partly because the film is hard to pin down and partly because I don’t want to give details away that will take away from what you may get out of the film. I found the film to be frustrating at times, brilliant at others. In fact, the final five minutes of the film were so haunting, I still have trouble shaking some of the images out of my brain.

Definitely not for everyone, Under the Skin is also not quite in the realm of being solely for art-house prigs that would sit for two hours in silence watching a bird build a nest. Though it seems a solemn nut to crack, it’s worth the effort.

Movie Review ~ Draft Day

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The Facts:

Synopsis: At the NFL Draft, general manager Sonny Weaver has the opportunity to rebuild his team when he trades for the number one pick. He must decide what he’s willing to sacrifice on a life-changing day for a few hundred young men with NFL dreams.

Stars: Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner, Ellen Burstyn, Denis Leary, Frank Langella, Chadwick Boseman, Sean Combs, Rosanna Arquette, Tom Welling, Sam Elliott

Director: Ivan Reitman

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 109 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review: About ten minutes into Draft Day, I leaned over to my friend and asked with the deepest sincerity “This movie is in English, right?” because I wasn’t totally sure that I hadn’t walked into Kevin Costner’s first foray into a foreign film.

Now I should admit that I’m not the target audience that Draft Day is banking on will buy a ticket as long as it doesn’t interfere with fantasy football. While not a huge sport nut, I know my way around a baseball diamond and basketball court…but football is one sport that I can’t get my noggin around. I’ve never even actually BEEN to a professional football game and my exposure is limited to high school games of my youth and waiting until the commercials come on during the Super Bowl.

What I am, however, is someone that’s seen a lot of sports related movies and even though baseball season has just started (check out my review of A League of Their Own for nostalgia sake) the 2014 football draft is coming up in early May. In that respect, one thing that Draft Day has going for it is good timing.

Another positive is Kevin Costner’s presence – though the actors has made his fair share of films surrounding sports, this is his first foray into football territory and he shows that he’s still in fine form after being mostly absent from high profile films in the last five years. After Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit and 3 Days to Kill, Costner’s third film of 2014 is probably his best because he’s working on familiar territory…but that’s not saying much since Jack Ryan was a bust and 3 Days to Kill barely made it three weeks in theaters.

Another element that should have been a positive is director Ivan Reitman but instead it appears that the only Reitman to take note of in the directing world is his son Jason (Labor Day) While the elder Reitman was responsible for some mega-successful films (Ghostbusters, Stripes, Kindergarten Cop), his output over the last decade haven’t been touchdowns.

The biggest roadblock Draft Day tries to overcome (and doesn’t) is its own plot which never rises to the occasion of creating tension or the kind of excitement it seems to want to shove down our throats. Though Reitman makes some interesting work with the kind of split screens and fancy edits that would make Brian De Palma consider calling up Nancy Allen for Blow Out 2, the film is phenomenally boring and makes you feel every second of the 24 hour period during which it takes place.

While Reitman’s casting of Costner (Man of Steel) is spot-on, the limited gifts of Jennifer Garner (Dallas Buyers Club) creates a problematic situation for the unnecessary romantic subplot. Never mind that Garner looks like she could be Costner’s daughter and is his coworker, she fails to create even friendly chemistry with her co-star and one wonders if she was a last minute replacement or the fifth or sixth choice for the role. I would have loved to see someone closer to Costner’s age in the role, a Catherine Zeta-Jones or a Julianne Moore would have made the character more interesting and on the same level. Garner is usually out of her league, and it’s never more evident than it is here.

I’m not sure if Ellen Burstyn (The Exorcist) is paying attention to the roles she’s being offered anymore. One of our greatest celebrated actresses, I find her choices concerning and well beneath the quality of the work she’s been involved with for the last four decades. As Costner’s widowed mother, her role was either cut significantly after the fact or there was nothing to do in the first place because she only pops up when it’s convenient.

I’d go into the various other recognizable character actors that fill out the cast as agents, players, disgruntled fans, and members of rival team management but I honestly can’t remember who did what so I’ll give them the same amount of attention the script and director did…none.

Now look, this film may be an absolute delight for those viewers that are devotees to the pigskin and will find tension in the down to the wire deal making that goes on in Draft Day. For this (re)viewer, though, I found the whole film too far out in left field, er, deep in the penalty box, um, over the foul line, ack, over the line of scrimmage to be entertaining or memorable.