Weekly Movie Reviews: Mar 19-25, 2017

Favorite Movie of the Week

Bull Durham (1988)

I like sports movies, but since I’m not a sports fan, I only like them so much. Bull Durham is exceptional, though, because it’s not just a good sports movie, it’s a terrific movie.

Veteran minor league baseball player Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) has been hired by the Durham Bulls to coach their young talented but erratic pitcher, Ebby “Nuke” LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) into the discipline needed to get into the big leagues. Thrown into the mix is Annie, a sought after baseball groupie who picks one player per season to attach herself to.

Writer and director Ron Shelton spent about five years playing minor league baseball, so I’m sure that contributed to the movie’s authenticity. Most of the movie just feels like slice of life – there are things that happen like Crash and Nuke not quite getting along, Annie being torn between being able to mentor Nuke and having a much more equal relationship with Crash, and so on, but none of that really is the point of it. At the end, you realize you’ve grown much more attached to the characters than you usually do after spending two hours on a movie, and the story that was told was actually pretty complete.

Other Movies Watched

Michael Clayton (2007)

After a high powered lawyer has a mental breakdown when defending a multibillion dollar chemical company, his firm brings in their “fixer”, Michael Clayton, to remedy the situation. Michael Clayton is the directorial debut of Bourne Identity writer Tony Gilroy, and it has the tense, tight pacing of a Bourne movie. In lesser hands, this would have been a run-of-the-mill thriller, but Gilroy turns into a great drama with has large supporting cast and multiple sub-plots which add to the atmosphere without detracting from the focus of the movie. Tilda Swinton won an Oscar for her performance as the general counsel of the chemical company, and the rest of the performances are pretty amazing too.

The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000)

Rannulph Junuh (Matt Damon) is a legendary golfer from Savannah, Georgia who stopped playing after returning from World War I. He reluctantly agrees to play in an exhibition match to help save his ex-fiancee’s golf course, but he has extremely low confidence. A mysterious stranger named Bagger Vance (Will Smith) shows up and offers to be Junuh’s caddy and has a profound effect on both his golf game and his life. The Legend of Bagger Vance is inspired by the Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu scripture in which the god Krishna (Bhagavan) persuades the hero Arjuna to fight in a war. You can see this in the character names (it took me almost until the end of the movie to realize this) – R. Junuh is the reluctant hero, and Bagger Vance sort of sounds like Bhagavan. Anyway, this is a great, heartwarming movie, as expected from director Robert Redford. Matt Damon does a stellar job, he’s so good in his younger roles like this one. Will Smith is fantastic as usual, too. And Charlize Theron tends to steal every scene she’s in as Junuh’s stubborn ex-fiancee.

We Bought A Zoo (2011)

We Bought A Zoo is based on the book of the same name by Benjamin Mee, who (as the name suggests) bought a functioning zoo. The movie is very liberal with the facts – the real zoo is in the U.K., but the movie is set in California, for example, but the protagonist’s name is still Benjamin Mee. The movie’s Benjamin is struggling to get over the death of his wife and connect with his angry teenage son. When looking for a new home, he finds the perfect one – except for that fact that it’s a zoo and needs to be run as such. He decides to take the plunge and discovers that it’s a much bigger project than he realized. This movie is directed by Cameron Crowe, and I really like his style (he did Almost Famous, for example) – his movies have heart, but the people also seem realistic and not saccharine like a lot of other feel-good movies. Plus it’s always great to see Matt Damon – I can’t think of a movie that I didn’t like him in.

What Women Want (2000)

I’m always skeptical of romantic comedies, but I actually liked What Women Want quite a bit, probably because it was mostly about a character growing into a better person. Nick Marshall is a self-centered chauvinist advertising executive who gets passed over for a promotion because his boss wanted to hire a woman, Darcy McGuire. He’s desperate to prove himself, but doesn’t quite know where to start with advertisements for the new feminine product clients that Darcy is bringing in. He gets lucky when an accident leaves him able to hear women’s internal thoughts, but this newfound knowledge also starts changing him in unforeseen ways. This movie is strictly fun, it’s not realistic in any way, but Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt are charming and you can’t help but like it.

The Contender (2000)

When the vice president dies, the president picks Ohio senator Laine Hanson to be the next vice president. She has to go through a grueling confirmation process and there are factions that will go to extreme lengths to bring her down. Political movies are one of my favorite genres, and I enjoyed most of this movie. However, it got increasingly worse as it progressed – it started off as a great story where you didn’t know what the truth was and all the characters were morally ambiguous, but then turned into a obvious good guys vs. bad guys story with cheesy inspirational music and so on. Joan Allen, Gary Oldman, and Jeff Bridges put in great performances, though.

Sing (2016)

Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) is struggling to save his theater and comes up with the idea of having a singing competition. A typo in a poster makes the competition much more popular than expected, and a comedy of errors ensues. I think I’m too used to Disney and Pixar movies, I thought this movie would be much better than it was. It really didn’t matter that the characters were humanoid animals (unlike the excellent Zootopia), and the plot was just a series of paint-by-number cliches that lacked any genuine heart. Also I don’t think the movie had a very good message – Moon’s character isn’t actually any good at what he does, he just really, really wants something, and he ends up getting it.

Assassin’s Creed (2016)

I love the Assassin’s Creed video game series, I think it has one of the coolest premises of all time, and the games do a pretty good job at getting you invested in the character arcs of their protagonists. I had high hopes for this movie, even after all the negative reviews – the game developers (Ubisoft) had a lot of creative control, and the cast had some great actors (Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons) – I thought maybe audiences just didn’t understand what made the story special. Unfortunately the negative reviews were right. Assassin’s Creed is technically well executed and the action scenes definitely pay homage to the gameplay aspects. But it has none of the warmth and humor of the games, and it takes itself way too seriously. The historical scenes should have been the meat and potatoes of the movie, but instead we get a modern, generic, sci-fi action movie that isn’t even very good.

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