Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Million Dollar Arm (PG/2 hours)

Disney hit one out of the park with the new movie Million Dollar Arm; the story of J. B. Bernstein, the sports marketing professional who went to India in search of cricket bowlers who could be trained to be baseball pitchers and signed with a Major League team. The winner in the India competition won $100,000 US and the runner-up won $10,000 US. They both then were flown to the US where one of them would eventually win $1Million US. At least that’s what we were led to believe. I don’t recall any mention of this after they left India.

If I could change one thing about this movie it would be how blatantly predictable it is. They made it very evident which two young men were going to America. We knew how things would end up for J.B. and who would direct him to make the changes he needed to make. Granted, this is somewhat based on a true story but I’d never heard of it so they really shouldn’t assume that we already know what’s going to happen. If you don’t know the story, try to ignore the fact that the ending is pretty much guessable and just let it all unfold.

Despite knowing who was going to win the competition in India, I was glad they showed a little of the personal background of both young men. One had a big family who lived in a teensy tinesy house. The other helped his dad after he was injured. The dad. Not the young man. And even though they were competing against each other and a very large sum of money was on the line they showed good sportsmanship. Their families’ response to their leaving was another testament to the character of these men. It was hard for me to see them leave and I was just watching the movie.

Then! They got to America! Talk about culture shock! I lived in England and then Belgium for a few years but I had a familiar-to-me community to fall back on. I can’t imagine how daunting it must have been to have never left home before and suddenly move to another country, leaving your family and basic support group behind. I get that a lot of people do this very thing but usually it’s planned on their part. Or maybe more time elapsed than the movie let on.

I’m reluctant to talk about the movie itself too much more since there’s a good chance I’ll give away more than I intended. I think the acting was well done. I was so caught up in the movie that I didn’t consider where I’d seen the two young men from India before. One was Pi in Life of Pi. Another was in Slumdog Millionaire. So, now you won’t have to wonder. You’re welcome.

Believe it or not, this movie is rated PG. Betcha didn’t think they made those any more. The breakdown is fairly simple. No sex or nudity. The language, though completely unnecessary, was limited to a couple of non-religious references to God (as in “Oh my God”) and one Hell. That’s it. Alcohol was consumed. I can’t remember if there was any smoking. Sorry. There was no violence and the only stomach-turning thing that happened was in direct correlation to alcohol consumption and overeating.

If you like baseball movies, I highly recommend Million Dollar Arm. If you like underdog-type movies, same goes. This is the second movie in a row that I called my mom afterwards and told her to go see. Once again, it’s sport related so that’ll make her want to see it but I know that she would enjoy everything else about it too. There were a lot of young kids at this showing and, except for the ones that sat next to us, they seemed to enjoy it. The ones next to us had ants in their pants so they weren’t still long enough to like or dislike it. Nothing happens after the credits but they do show pictures and video during all of it so you may want to stick around for that.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Draft Day (PG-13)

First things first, Kevin Costner was in a movie that lasted less than 2 hours!!! I didn’t believe it was possible. I mean, I know it’s been done before, but how long ago? Sorry about that. I feel better now. Last night I went to the pre-screening of Draft Day and really really liked it. Come to think of it, it’s been a while since I saw a movie I flat out didn’t like. Is Hollywood getting better or am I somehow avoiding those films? Hmmmmm.

Draft Day is about…Draft Day. Genius, right? It’s basically the 12 hours leading up to the NFL draft pick and a few hours shortly after. It’s about the freak-outs, the close calls and the last minute wheeling and dealing before the professional football team powers-that-be select their newest team members; with a little bit of personal life thrown in for good measure. Sonny Weaver, Jr. is the General Manager for the Cleveland Browns. He has the opportunity to choose a really good player for his franchise. At the same time he has to deal with the death of his father and the affect that had on his mother along with some overwhelming news in his relationship. He’s having kind of a rough day.

I have never really been that into pro football. No idea why. I just prefer college. In every other sport I like either/or. Having said that, I have never, in my life, intentionally watched a draft pick. It’s been on in the background when I’ve been at a party or two but, even then, I didn’t pay much attention. My goodness, though. The drama! I now want a job with a professional football team that would enable me to attend a Draft Day. How exciting would that be? And I would like to take a quick second to say that I did catch that Oklahoma was briefly mentioned at one point in the movie. Well, of course it was. Every team needs at least one Okie. Our boys are just that good.

I’m not going to ramble on like I usually do about the actors. There are really only three I want to mention. The rest are important but there were too many people in this to dissect them all. Kevin Costner is Sonny Weaver, Jr. He played him well but it was typical Kevin Costner. You pretty much know what you’re going to get no matter what the movie. Jennifer Garner is Ali, Cleveland Browns exec and Sonny’s girlfriend. I love her character in this movie. She has spunk! And don’t step on the underdog when she’s around. You’ll be missing parts. Finally, Griffin Newman is Rick, the brand spanking new intern in the GM’s office. He is a lesser character in Draft Day but he was fun to watch. He was the comic relief in several instances and, though being the low man on the totem pole, he knew when to stand up for himself. I silently cheered for him during one scene in particular. Whoops! I lied! There was a fourth person I wanted to talk about. Chadwick Boseman. I loved him in 42 and he’s back this time as a football player. In one of the scenes he almost made me cry. During a football draft movie! What on earth? He’s beginning to be one of those actors whose films I will see just because he’s in them.

On to bigger and better things. I love how this film was made. It almost felt like an exciting documentary. My favorite part about how the movie was put together was the split screen affect. So cool! Anytime two people were on the phone with each other, we got the split screen. But! This was better than normal split screens. In some cases, part of one person’s body would come to the foreground and overlap into the other person’s screen. Hard to explain but fun to watch. I know, it’s the little things.

Draft Day received its PG-13 rating for language alone. There was no sex or nudity. The closest it comes to it is Jennifer Garner’s naked back in a shower in the way background of a scene. No violence except tackles. A little drinking. No drugs. So, how bad could the language have been? This breakdown is for those parents who want the opportunity to decide just how much they want to allow their kids to hear. I may have missed a few but this is basically what we heard:

A$$ - 3 times
S#!+ - this one was the winner with at least 14 utterances
GD – came in second with at least 10
God, Jesus, Jesus Christ and Hell were mentioned a total of 11 times and not in a prayerful manner
The F-bomb was dropped twice
A few of the “minor” naughty words were spoken but not many

So, much tamer than, say, 21 Jump Street or August: Osage County.

I would recommend Draft Day to anyone who is a football fan, be it a college team or pro. It was nice to be able to call my mom afterwards and tell her that this is a movie she’d actually enjoy. She doesn’t care for blood and violence so she mainly sticks to RomComs. That woman does like a good sports movie though. And, sitting with her during a real sporting event? It’s definitely an experience. Draft Day does delve into Sonny’s personal life a bit but they don’t linger on it too much. Just a glimpse here and there. This was a fun movie that I will definitely own when it comes out on DVD/Blu-Ray. Enjoy!

P.S. Nothing after the credits for this one. The credits were fun to read though. It was almost a 50/50 split between actors playing someone and all the As Himself/As Herselfs.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Caught in the Middle

Okay, so I've decided to start writing book reviews. What? Are you wondering if I do nothing but sit around and watch movies and read books? Well, no. But I wish I could. I'm actually writing this review out of order. This one is about the third book in a trilogy by Regina Jennings. The first book was Sixty Acres and a Bride. It's the only other book I've reviewed thus far. Love in the Balance is the second book. I didn't write about it yet because I didn't know, until very recently, that I was going to decide to start actually reviewing books. I will get to that one but I want to move along to the final book in the trilogy, Caught in the Middle, since it has only just been released.

Let's talk about the author's style first. Regina writes with such an economy of words. I've read several authors who take a page-and-a-half to describe someone's demeanor or what a certain scene looks like. Regina sums it up in one sentence and you can still completely picture the person's countenance or the lay of the land. "The trees still held their summer hues, patches of green spotting the golden prairie." It's straight and to the point but still literarily pleasing. So, basically, her books are more story and less drawn-out commentary. Despite how this may seem, this choice of styles does not leave her books lacking. Just the opposite. It leaves room for so much more enveloping (I think that's the word I want to go with) story without ending up as a 2000 page book.

Now, let's see what's in store for us, shall we:

"She wants the freedom of the open plains
He wants the prestige of a successful business
And the baby just needs someone who can change a diaper.

The train to Garber, Texas, is supposed to bring life’s next victory for Nicholas Lovelace. Instead, it gets held up robbers who are thwarted by the last person Nick ever expected—Anne Tillerton from back home in Prairie Lea.

Anne’s been hiding away as a buffalo hunter. She’s only in town to find their runaway cook, but the woman flees—and leaves Anne with her infant son. With Nick the only person she knows in town, the two form an unlikely team as they try to figure out what to do with the child.

But being in town means Anne’s forced to act and dress for polite society—and it’s not going well. Meanwhile, Nick’s work is bringing new pressures, and being seen with Anne isn’t helping his reputation. Caught between their own dreams, a deepening relationship, and others’ expectations—can the pair find their way to love?"

If you read the first two books in the series, you'll already be cheering for Anne. She's led a rough life and deserves a little something or someone to call her own. I was quickly dragged in to this book and wanted to become one of her champions. It was so easy to feel her fear, her anger, her confusion, her despair and, finally, her joy and happiness. This was yet another book in which I dreaded getting to the end but I just couldn't wait to hear how things turned out for poor Anne.

In this, as in Sixty Acres, Regina brings all of the characters to life. I hurt for Anne, encouraged Nicholas, wanted to get down on the floor and play with Sammy, wanted to smack Ophelia, and would oh-so-gladly become the daughter-in-law of Mrs. Puckett's dreams. And I can't not mention Reverend and Mrs. Holland. I wanted to hate them the minute I heard of them. Wanted to, but couldn't. Every person was so vivid that I could almost swear that I know them personally. If I swore. Which I don't. I could also clearly picture each and every scene she described. I experienced a train robbery, a man's desperate rush to save his wife and baby, local politics, time spent having to live off the land and learning to live in polite society again. Each experience flowed in to the next with apparent ease. My eyes' inability to stay open was the only thing that kept me from finishing Caught in the Middle in one night.

My only problem with this book is that it struck a personal chord in me so my emotions were pretty raw at times. In one particular scene I had to put the book down because the tears just wouldn't stop. Is this something I would consider a negative about Caught in the Middle? Not by a long shot. If a book doesn't affect your emotions in one way or another, you're either reading a text book or an instruction manual or it just was not well-written. I will continue to read any book Regina writes because I know that, within minutes, I will be swept away to another place and time only to be dropped back to reality at the turn of the last page. And even then it takes a little while.

This book could probably stand on its own but I highly recommend reading the first two in the series before delving in to Caught in the Middle. Regina does explain, in this book, some little things that you would have learned from reading those but they do give you more background. And you should because they're both really good.

P.S. Following is a picture of Regina at her book signing. My apologies for the blurred picture. I was laughing at something she said or did. You might recognize the dress from the beginning of this post. It's the dress made for the book's cover art. I wonder how many authors can say they not only have the clothing made for the book's cover but can actually fit in to it. Not many, I'll wager.