A Player To Be Named Later [2005]

A Player To Be Named Later [2005]

A Player To Be Named Later [2005]
Directors: Bart Stephens
Genre: Documentary/Sports
Language: English
Country: USA

Today is one of the best days of the year for sports fans: Opening Day of baseball. In light of the new season, I perused Netflix’s Instant Watch for some baseball movies and found this little known documentary: A Player To Be Named Later. This 2005 film chronicles the 2001 season of the Milwaukee Brewers’ Triple-A affiliate, the Indianapolis Indians. The movie revolves around five players:

Brad Tyler, a 32-year-old veteran who never got the call up to the majors. Near the end of his career he bounced around professional baseball, including a stint in Mexico.

Micah Franklin, another veteran hitter who played for a bunch of different teams over his career yet only had one brief stint in the big leagues (1997).

Kyle Peterson, a former first round draft pick who has struggled with serious injuries throughout his career.

Allen “Meat” Levrault, a pitcher who spent the majority of his 2001 season in Milwaukee with less than impressive results (6-10, 6.06 ERA). He played in 2003 for Florida, and then struggled in the minors for the rest of his career.

Marco Scutaro, a Venezuelan athlete who is the only one from this group still playing today. He is the current starting shortstop for the Boston Red Sox.

What makes this documentary so interesting is that it shows what life is like for these guys both on and off the field. None of them are guaranteed to make it to the big leagues; in fact, it is estimated that only 6% of minor leaguers actually get the callup at some point in their careers. Yet these guys still continue to pursue their dream against all odds.

Throughout the movie there are clips showing the players with their families, interviews with “super fans” of the team, and some interesting discussions with team personnel. All of these people share one common trait: the love of the game. Having said that, I’m not sure how much A Player To Be Named Later will appeal to non-baseball fans. For those who love the sport, however, this is a fascinating look into the lives of those who are so close, yet so far from the majors.

8/10

The Switch [2010]

The Switch [2010]

The Switch [2010]
Directors: Josh Gordon & Will Speck
Genre: Comedy/Drama/Romance
Language: English
Country: USA

A romantic comedy with a ‘spermy’ twist.

The Switch stars Jennifer Aniston, who is apparently on a mission to tackle every rom-com role made for 40-year-old single women. This time around her character, Kassie, has decided she wants a baby and is going to go the insemination route instead of opting for more conventional circumstances. Her best friend, Wally (Jason Bateman), is disappointed by this but attends her “insemination party” anyway. At the celebration, Wally proceeds to get shitfaced and accidentally dumps the donor’s (Patrick Wilson) sperm (conveniently left in a cup) down the bathroom sink. In a fit of boozy negligence, Wally decides to fill the cup back up with his own, ahem, specimens.

Flash forward seven years later. Kassie, now back in NYC after leaving for a job, meets up with Wally and introduces him to her child, Sebastian (Thomas Robinson). A series of uncanny resemblances leads Wally to remember that fateful night (he was near a “blackout” stage when it happened), and then hilarity is supposed to ensue.

As with so many other romantic comedies, The Switch has its shortcomings. There are some ridiculous plot developments (an insemination party, really?), occasional cookie-cutter dialogue and the usual issues with predictability, but this movie rises above most in its genre due to one person: Jason Bateman. Seriously, his performance as the lonely, subdued Wally is entirely what makes this film watchable. This is a man who has been in love with his best friend for so many years, yet has never been able to take those feelings to the next level. I usually could care less about these types of movies, but I couldn’t help but root for the guy to follow his dream, even considering the bizarre circumstances that got him into this situation. This is a testament to Bateman’s performance (certainly not the script).

Other than Bateman (and the kid, who is actually pretty funny), the general cast is mediocre at best. Aniston sleepwalks through her performance, not really adding anything new to her repertoire. Patrick Wilson is solid, albeit unspectacular, as Kassie’s other love interest. Jeff Goldblum and Juliette Lewis both have small roles, and neither one seemed thrilled to be doing their parts.

Without Jason Bateman, The Switch would have likely fallen into the same rut that so many other romantic comedies belong to. The movie has its funny moments and it isn’t boring — that’s about all you can ask for from something like this. If your girlfriend is begging to watch something in the genre, opt for The Switch instead of The Backup Plan. You will be glad you did.

6/10

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans [2009]

The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans [2009]
Director: Werner Herzog
Genre: Crime/Drama
Language: English
Country: USA

A common misconception is that Port of Call New Orleans is a remake of the Harvey Keitel-starring 1992 film, Bad Lieutenant. It is not; it just so happens that both movies revolve around a self-destructive police officer who exhibits truly appalling behavior. In fact, director Werner Herzog lobbied to have the movie’s name changed before its release, but was unsuccessful.

In Port of Call, Nicolas Cage stars as Det. Terence McDonagh, the degenerate cop in question. After suffering a severe back injury on duty, he becomes hooked on painkillers and pretty much any other drug he can find (heroin, crack, cocaine, etc.). McDonagh abuses his power to get what he wants by frequently bullying citizens and threatening them with jail time if they don’t help him feed his drug and/or gambling addictions. He is the essence of human scum, yet he is considered the best detective in New Orleans. It is this parable that makes it hard to feel attachment to this character, yet at the same time it is difficult to look away from his depravity.

This is Nic Cage at his finest. The man has been in a lot of crap movies these days, and his acting has been questionable to say the least. In Port of Call, he has free reign to go crazy and have this be acceptable. McDonagh is portrayed as a wild man, a reckless individual who Cage takes over the top throughout the entire movie. To say he is entertaining is an understatement; it’s just painfully difficult to like the guy.

Cage is aided by a solid supporting cast. Eva Mendes plays his prostitute girlfriend, Frankie, who shares a mutual love of drugs. Val Kilmer has a small (and subdued) role as his work partner. Xzibit plays a drug kingpin who is involved with some heinous crimes in the city. Tom Bower is McDonagh’s alcoholic father, and his background provides further insight as to how Terence became such a lowlife.

Port of Call New Orleans is a wild ride that knowingly indulges in excess, and thrives because of this. While I would hesitate to call this a *great* film due to occasional laughable dialogue, bizarre character behaviors and the difficulty to actually want to embrace any of these schmucks, I did enjoy the movie quite a bit. I would be remiss not to mention Peter Zeitlinger’s stunning cinematography; there are some truly gorgeous shots of New Orleans that really give the film a strong connection to the area. As an exercise in debauchery, Port of Call is certainly worth viewing. One question though: what the hell was up with Herzog’s reptile infatuations?

7/10

Get Low [2010]

Get Low [2010]

Get Low [2010]
Director: Aaron Schneider
Genre: Drama
Language: English
Country: USA

Don’t let the title fool you — this is not a film about Lil’ Jon & the East Side Boyz.

Get Low tells the tale of Felix Bush (Robert Duvall), a reclusive mountain man living in 1930’s Tennessee. One day he receives word that a past acquaintance died due to old age. This gets Felix to think about his own life and how he is near the end of the road himself. On a rare venture into town, he stops by the funeral home and makes an odd request: he wants to have a funeral for himself while he’s still alive. The funeral’s owner (Bill Murray) and his ever-ready understudy (Lucas Black) are dumbfounded by this question, but agree to throw him a “funeral party.” Bush’s goal for this party is for people to tell stories about him (since he has developed quite the reputation because of his living habits), and to finally tell the secret as to why he has been a recluse for the last 40 years.

I found this to be an interesting plot concept, and apparently it is based on a true story. However, I was initially intrigued by this movie largely due to its cast. Seriously, there are some masters at work here. Robert Duvall is excellent as an old hermit, effortlessly portraying a man who strikes terror to those who only know the urban legends, yet also showing a polite and witty man to those who get to know him. Bill Murray is also on the top of his game as the shady funeral director who will do anything for a quick buck (i.e. perform a funeral for a living man). Although there are questions about his character, the funeral director comes across as a likable guy, which is very much to Murray’s credit. I haven’t really seen much from Lucas Black before, but he holds his own against the legends, and I’m sure he had the time of his life on set with them. A couple other greats have small roles as well — Sissy Spacek plays an old flame who knew Felix way back in the day, and Bill Cobbs is a reverend who is perhaps the only person who actually knows Bush’s secret.

While the acting certainly shines, the movie itself is slow and takes its sweet time to really get anywhere. This isn’t a huge problem since it really is a delight to watch these actors on screen, but the script could have been livened up a bit. As one would expect, the party is hyped up throughout the movie. The funeral director spends significant time marketing the event and trying to get a large turnout, even getting Felix to appear on a radio show to help bring in people to tell stories about him. Unfortunately, by the time the party actually comes, it is a bit anticlimactic. The movie hypes up what will happen at the event, but doesn’t deliver on everything promised. I couldn’t help but feel a tad ripped off in the end.

Still, even with its shortcomings Get Low is a good first effort from director Aaron Schneider. A stronger script could have taken this movie to another level, but it does just enough to get by thanks to its fantastic cast.

7/10

127 Hours [2010]

127 Hours [2010]

127 Hours [2010]
Directors: Danny Boyle
Genre: Adventure/Drama/Thriller
Language: English
Country: USA

What would you do to survive? That is the $1,000,000 question in 127 Hours, Danny Boyle’s latest film. The movie is based on the real life story of Aron Ralston, a mountain climber and all-around adrenaline junkie who became trapped by a boulder in the massive Blue John Canyon in Utah in 2003. With his arm stuck between the boulder and a rock wall, Aron is forced to make a difficult decision: stay where he’s at and hope for some kind of miracle (that’s not going to happen), or cut off his arm and live the rest of his life as an amputee? Obviously, as this was a major news story when it happened, most people should be familiar with the end result. It’s one hell of a story, but I had to question how well it would translate to the big screen.

In the wrong hands, there’s no doubt that 127 Hours could have been a disaster. However, this is a Danny Boyle film. The man can do no wrong. His trademark visual styles are in tact, and his frenetic action shots are exactly what this kind of film needs. Still riding high from Slumdog Millionaire, Boyle teamed up with Indian composer extraordinaire A.R. Rahman once again, and the man put together one hell of a soundtrack. The music is diverse and accurately encapsulates the gamut of feelings that Ralston is experiencing on screen. I am ecstatic that these guys teamed up again, and I hope they do so again in the future.

127 Hours [starring James Franco]

Rest assured, this is also the James Franco Show. This is arguably his strongest performance yet, as he perfectly portrays the cockiness and eccentric behavior that is Aron Ralston. We learn more about Ralston’s back story and his thought processes via occasional flashbacks and hallucinations, but the majority of the movie is just Franco in a canyon with his arm smashed against a rock wall. Luckily Franco plays a very likable character, and he keeps things fresh by talking to his camcorder, hilariously interviewing himself and by trying anything he can think of to stay alive and escape.

When the movie finally gets to the breaking point of Ralston cutting off his arm (with a piss poor dull knife, mind you), it is some powerful, powerful stuff. It’s a gruesome scene, no doubt, but there is a huge sense of relief when it finally happens. 127 Hours is an adrenaline rush from beginning to end, and it should not be missed.

8/10

Cedar Rapids [2011]

Cedar Rapids [2011]

Cedar Rapids [2011]
Directors: Miguel Arteta
Genre: Comedy
Language: English
Country: USA

Oh, Ed Helms, you sly devil. When I saw you for the first time on The Office, I didn’t like your character. Andy Bernard was obnoxious and sometimes just plain annoying, and I didn’t want him on the show at all. Yet something happened. I started to laugh at some of his actions, and then he began an epic rivalry with Dwight Schrute. How could I not like the guy after that? Seeing Ed Helms in one of the best roles in The Hangover helped him earn even more respect from me, so much so that I eagerly anticipated Cedar Rapids, a recent comedy in which he obtained his first leading role.

In this movie, Helms stars as Tim Lippe, a small town insurance agent who is sent by his company to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for an annual industry convention. His goal is to win the coveted “Two Diamond” award for his company. Leaving his hometown is something new for Tim. He makes sure to carry a travel wallet underneath his shirt — he is in a big city after all — and he is impressed by his hotel and its pool: “There’s palm trees and the whole place smells like chlorine. It’s like I am in Barbados or somewhere.”

As a naive young man, Lippe is easily influenced by others at his convention, particularly the amusing trio of characters played by John C. Reilly, Isiah Whitlock, Jr. and Anne Heche. Reilly plays a party animal, par for the course for him, and dishes out some great lines (and lots of “muff diving” references). I was glad to see Whitlock have a good-sized role here, since I don’t recall seeing him in anything other than The Wire. He even makes a couple of hilarious references to the HBO show, which made me very, very happy. Heche fits right in with the guys as a sultry vixen who holds her own and keeps the men on their toes. All four of the main characters provide some very entertaining moments while maintaining a human aspect to them. They never devolve into caricatures of themselves, which is a huge plus.

The actors that fill out small roles are tremendous as well. Sigourney Weaver plays Lippe’s love interest and former grade-school teacher. Kurtwood Smith (aka “Red” from That 70’s Show) plays the leader of the convention, a man who is comfortable in his own skin, to say the least. Alia Shawkat (aka “Maeby” from Arrested Development) is entertaining as a prostitute who Lippe obtains a strange interest in. Rob Corddry, Mike O’Malley and Thomas Lennon all have brief cameos, too.

While Cedar Rapids doesn’t really break any new ground, it is a fun ride from beginning to end. The plot pretty much goes as you expect it to, but that’s not a bad thing at all when there is such a strong cast to support it. Big props are deserved for Ed Helms, who does a great job in his first leading role. I would like to see him branch out more next time and try a new type of character, but there’s no denying he is good at what he does. Cedar Rapids is one of the best comedies to come out in the last year or so, and it is well worth seeing.

8/10