New films: Draft Day and Oculus

Draft Day Directed by Ivan Reitman OK, I’ll admit it again – I have a soft spot for Kevin Costner. Despite one or two stinkers on his resume (don’t we all?), he’s been delivering solid performances for decades and on the one occasion I interviewed him, he couldn’t have been nicer. I’m predisposed, not to like his films, but to want to like them. So it was with some trepidation that I attended “Draft Day” because Costner’s been making a bit of a comeback of late, but his last film “3 Days to Kill” was pretty awful (albeit not because of him). “Draft Day” starts a little slowly and I wasn’t quite feeling it at first, as Costner’s Sonny Weaver Jr. has an awkward morning encounter with his girlfriend Ali (Jennifer Garner), as they walk outside into what felt like a low budget General Motors commercial. But the movie picks up pretty nicely after that and kept me both entertained and absorbed throughout. It’s fair to say this is probably the movie that has left me with the biggest positive buzz of the year so far – which surprised me given its subject matter and style. Sonny is the General Manager of the Cleveland Browns and he’s trying to secure the team’s future on the National Football League’s draft day – the day that teams […]

Continue reading

New Film: Noah

Noah Directed by Darren Aronofsky “Noah” is a difficult film to review, for assorted reasons. It’s a story that is integral to many religious groups and their collective teachings, although the story varies across those groups. Meanwhile, for those who aren’t religiously inclined, or who are religious but don’t read scriptures in a literal sense, it’s still a very familiar story but not an especially complex one. Taken in its basic form, as represented in the Book of Genesis, it wouldn’t make for much of a movie, at least not one that would appeal to vast numbers of modern movie-goers – there’s no villain and no dramatic love story, for example, and the entire plot is well known. [Oddly, this is true of that other great boat story, “Titanic” – which also needed to have a villain and a love story added in order to garner mass appeal. And if your only goal is to watch a story about people fearing death by drowning who end up on a vast, allegedly unsinkable ship, you could always watch “Titanic” backwards. But let’s not go there.] Consider the source material, the basis for this adaptation. The Noah story is most closely associated, typically, with the Book of Genesis. But Genesis itself has multiple sources and those who don’t read it as the exclusive writing of Moses, generally […]

Continue reading

New films: Divergent and three very funny comedies

Divergent Directed by Neil Burger “Divergent” is the latest adaptation of a novel (of the same name) about a teenaged girl coping with life in a futuristic, dystopian society. And that’s also its biggest hurdle, that it’s one of several and bound to be both compared with the others and second-guessed as to whether or not the timing is ideal. In that sense, one has to wonder how this film would be received if it had come before “The Hunger Games,” “The Host,” the similarly targeted “Twilight” franchise, and even the more boy-oriented “Harry Potter” and “Percy Jackson” series. Comparing and contrasting is fair game, but the film itself isn’t at fault merely because other similarly themed or targeted films have come before it unless it is nothing but derivative of those earlier projects. The closest themed and targeted of all are “The Hunger Games” books and films, with both looking into ways in which societies have developed in order to control the general population in a futuristic America, approximately a century ahead. In this context alone, I think “Divergent” is the better story and far more logical and credible. “The Hunger Games” asks readers or viewers to believe that a successful approach to controlling the masses, for at least seven decades, has been to rip children away from families on an annual basis and […]

Continue reading

Passing the Bottle on Exceptions to ‘Single Sales’ Ban

Reading a recent article in the February 27th edition of the Sacramento News and Review (“Singles barred: How Sacramento banned craft beer”) raised some questions which weren’t addressed by the writer. My curiosity again got the better of me, and so I embarked on a quest to get my questions answered. I started my quest to get my questions answered by going directly to the source of the quotes and information for the article used by the SN&R writer, Sacramento Police Department Public Information Officer (PIO) Doug Morse. I started off my interview with a simple question (or so I thought): Since current city code doesn’t allow for the sale of less than six packs of beer by stores, on what basis has the SPD allowed certain stores to sell craft beers in two packs or “doubles”? Officer Morse’s response, after looking at a copy of the original SN&R story, was, “These quotes are taken out of context. The Police Department does not have final say in the issuing of these permits or the so-called waivers. We only make recommendations to ABC who has the final say.” The PIO then walked me through a hypothetical alcohol licensing scenario for a new licensee. It was all very straight forward and ended with the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) making the final decision on the […]

continue reading

New film: Need for Speed

Need for Speed Directed by Scott Waugh This film might as well have been called “Need for Morality,” Need for Compassion,” or “Need for Something Other than Callous Disregard.” It’s a loud, fast film with some great car related action, but it’s also logically flawed in the manner in which the character development and the plot are almost hypocritically opposed. We’re given a couple of keys characters: Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul) is the hero – a good guy who tries to right wrongs; and Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper) – the villain with no conscience. The inherent problem is that our hero acts in way that flies in the face of this basic dramatic conflict. He’s loyal to his friends and inclined to prove Dino’s bad actions, and yet he’s also a guy who loves to street race under conditions that show a callous disregard for other road users. Tobey is the solid hometown guy who stayed and helped his father in the family auto shop. Dino is the kid who made it in the big leagues of racing, despite everybody thinking Tobey is the better driver. Everything about the film is geared towards us rooting for Tobey and yet the writers have him behaving reprehensively in terms of the chaos he leaves in his wake. We’re supposed to be OK with him leaving countless other […]

continue reading

New Films and Revised Histories

History (or lack thereof) at the movies. Two movies with historical themes opened this week, aimed at very different audiences. But neither are likely to thrill history teachers. Mr. Peabody and Sherman Directed by Rob Minkoff The latest animated movie aimed at kids is a retread of the adventures of two television characters from c. 55 years ago. That’s an odd marketing move as the original segments are probably too old even for most young kids’ parents and so it’s a property that has to create its own new appeal. It might well do that as it’s light and cute and, more importantly, doesn’t have a lot of kid competition at the box office. Mr. Peabody is a dog – but not just the smartest dog in the world, he’s the smartest anything in the world. With one of the outcomes being that he has been allowed to adopt a human boy, Sherman. (Somewhere, a gay marriage opponent is screaming “Slippery slope!”). In order to help educate Sherman, he has invented a time machine that allows them to travel back and experience moments and people from history. Despite the normal time machine concerns about changing events and therefore the future, Mr. Peabody and Sherman don’t just observe the past, they interact with it – taking part in, and even shaping, such events as the French […]

continue reading

New films: Stalingrad and Non-stop

Stalingrad Directed by Fedor Bondarchuk “Stalingrad” is an interesting film and subject matter, on multiple levels, although much like the recent “The Monuments Men” it may actually be more interesting to read about and discuss than to watch. But it’s also likely to attract some film fans who find some of the unique aspects of the production appealing. For example, it’s the first non-American film shot in IMAX format, the first Russian film shot entirely in 3D, and it has broken box office records in Russia. The plot centers around the Battle of Stalingrad and the Russian military’s attempt to recapture the city from the Germans. But rather than take a macro look at that entire battle or campaign, the film centers at a micro level on the struggle to control a single strategically important building near the shore of the Volga, which separated the bulk of the Russian forces from the occupied city. This is an interesting choice to make as it makes the film more about personal struggles in this microcosm of the war in general rather than conveying the larger struggle. This probably works better for Russian audiences than for many others as this was a critical moment in WWII and is well understood and celebrated at the national level. Put simply, the Battle of Stalingrad and the campaign it was a […]

continue reading

Crest Theatre Hosts a Pair of Music Legends

The Crest Theatre hosted a pair of music legends over the weekend: Kris Kristofferson on Saturday and Don McLean on Sunday. Both performances were sold out and the audiences were loud and appreciative throughout each evening. Mr. Kristofferson often appeared bashful and almost overwhelmed by the cheers and good wishes and Mr. McLean led a standing ovation, extended singalong version of his famous “American Pie.” Early in Sunday’s lineup, Mr. McLean said the following about the venue (to the best of my recollection – and I wrote it down just moments after he said it): “We have great acoustics in this theater. Lots of interesting things about this theater including great sound. You’re very lucky to have it – a lot of these old theaters have been buried under parking lots. Some forward thinking politicians think a parking lot is more important than a place where people can come and experience music and poetry.” At the end of the evening, he had been so impressed with the Crest’s equipment and sound engineering that he actually bought four microphones from the management. Last year there were concerns expressed by some longtime fans of the venue when the Crest reduced the amount of first-run movies it schedules (primarily due to the changing nature of the film industry and film distribution) but it’s doing a fantastic job, as […]

continue reading

New film: 3 Days to Kill

3 Days to Kill Directed by McG Buried deep inside “3 Days to Kill” is a good film, or at least the potential for a good film, desperately trying to escape the awful mess. It’s a complicated film, not in the sense that it’s hard to understand but in the sense that it’s cluttered to the point that it’s hard to determine which of the various films that seem to be vying for screen time was the original goal of the project. It’s narratively cluttered at the same level that kitchens on “Hoarders” are cluttered. The story is so buried, it’s like ordering a simple meal and having so much garnish that you can’t find the food, or the table, or the restaurant. Kevin Costner plays Liam Neeson Ethan Renner, a career operative for the CIA. We first meet him casually killing several people while battling a nagging cough – he’s the crusty old dude who racks up bodies like these screenwriters rack up sub-plots. In the midst of the action are two villains – the “albino” who doesn’t appear to have any of the physical characteristics of actual albinos, and the “wolf” who is either completely non-threatening and named ironically or is simply wearing his sheep’s clothing for most of the film. All of this ends badly when Renner collapses and wakes to find […]

continue reading

Public Discussion of Personal Matters on the RT — Is it Too Much?

One of the most fascinating things about traveling on Sac RT buses and light rail on a regular basis is watching the development of relationships between operators and passengers who share the same trips on a daily basis. The topics of conversation range from the mundane to the very personal. Recently, I was witness to a conversation between a female driver and a female passenger which moved from a general discussion of boyfriends/significant others to a very detailed comparison of their respective ‘baby daddys’ and also graphic discussion of the ins/outs of their respective pregnancies. It was strange…and awkward, at times…to be an “ear witness” to such normally personal and private matters being discussed on a public transport at a volume where other individuals present cannot help but overhear what is being said. While you would think that such intimate discussions would be the exception rather than the rule, the reality is that people will talk either among themselves or, thanks to modern technology, on their cell phones, about the most personal matters without a second thought even on public transportation and not give it a second thought. So, the questions I have for you, gentle readers, are these: what is the most personal matter you have heard discussed on either a Sac RT bus or light rail route? Have you ever thought to yourself […]

continue reading