Monthly Archives: January 2015

Super Bowl XLIX Preview

Super-BowlNOTE (Added Jan. 18/2016): Thank you to all the visitors to this post. I didn’t know I’d get so many all of a sudden. To thank you all for hitting this blog, I published my preview of Super Bowl 50 sooner than planned and it’s ready for you here.

Yes, Sunday February 1st will be Super Bowl Sunday. The game that’s both a major event for football fans and a media hype will feature the Seattle Seahawks against the New England Patriots at the University of Phoenix Stadium. Here’s what’s expected:

IT’S SHOWTIME

The XLIX Super Bowl was originally planned to be held in Arrowhead Stadium, home of the Kansas City Chiefs. However this was reliant on the installation of a retractable roof dependent on two sales taxes up for vote. That became something the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce and several civic and business groups voted against. It took until 2011 to decide the host site of the University of Phoenix Stadium with an expandable capacity of 72,000. Idina Menzel, or ‘Adela Nazim’ as John Travolta pronounced it, will sing the national anthem.

The halftime show was a bit of a struggle to assemble performers together. Their original choices for the show sponsored by Pepsi Cola were Coldplay, Katy Perry and Rihanna. However difficulties arose when league representatives asked their agent if they would provide financial compensation in the form of an up-front fee or a cut from their post-Super Bowl concert revenue. At least that’s what the wall Street Journal tells us, as was the ‘chilly’ response from those involved. And NFL spokeswoman denied this but Katy Perry was the only one of the three who has agreed to perform at the halftime show. She will be headlining the show along with special guests Lenny Kravitz and Missy Elliot.

AND NOW A WORD…

With the Super Bowl comes the tradition of their one-of-a-kind commercialfest. It’s been a buzz for three decades possibly starting with Apple’s 1984 ad. Airing a 30-second commercial will cost $4.5 million: $500,000 more than last year and the year before. Although it’s to be expected for auto advertisers to have much of the air time, there will be a lot more first-time Super Bowl advertisers like Skittles, Carnival Cruise Lines, Loctite, Morphie and Wix.com amongst the ten newbies. Movie previews will be another major advertising commodity as Paramount, Universal, Walt Disney, 20th Century Fox and Lionsgate will be showcasing trailers for movies like Terminator Genesys, Jurassic World, Minions, The Fantastic Four and Tomorrowland.

Super Bowl Fi

THE LOW-DOWN

One team is the last to win back-to-back championships back in 2005. One appears poised to become the first team since. Here’s how they fared this season:

New England Patriots

The Patriots began their regular season with a loss and ended with a loss. In between was an excellent season consisting of a total of twelve wins and four losses. That put them on par with the Denver Broncos on game stats but came out on top of the AFC because of point differentials. However they didn’t have as many decisive wins as the Seahawks did. Their playoffs started with a close 35-31 win over the Baltimore Ravens but their AFC Championship was a very decisive 45-7: their most decisive victory all year. That was enough to send a message to the Seahawks that they could just block their path to being repeat Super Bowl champions.

Seattle Seahawks

The Hawks were last year’s winners with the most decisive win since 1993. As for 2014, like the Patriots, the Seahawks had twelve wins and four losses. So did two other teams in the NFC but the Hawks came out on top because of point differentials, just like the Patriots. Their wins in the regular season have had wider margins than that of the Patriots. However things were different for the Hawks during playoff games. They had a 31-17 win over the Carolina Panthers for the Divisional championships and a 28-22 win in overtime over the Packers for the NFC Championships. That could put the Seahawks consistency in question and have people wondering if their luck.

MY PREDICTION FOR THE WIN

I’ll admit this is hard. It’s not like the CFL where all the teams play each other at least twice during the regular season. This is the NFL that’s loaded with more teams and is most often the case that the two Super Bowl contenders never met during the season, just like this year.

This is often the case where I would have to do a lot of reading up to decide. One thing to take note of is that both teams have had some key losses of players. Seahawks have lost Percy Harvin to trades and both Brandon Mebane and Jordan Hill to injury. Their replacement players don’t have the same defensive tackle and that could hurt if the Patriots are strong in the offense. The Patriots lost Jerod Mayo and Stevan Ridley to injury but have backup players can fill their shoes. On top of it, LeGarrette Blount has returned to the Patriots, giving the team a much-needed boost. I will have to give the win to the New England Patriots but I believe it will be a tight game that could result in low scoring. I predict the score to be 15-12.

So there you have it. My thoughts on tomorrow’s Super Bowl. The champion will be decided tomorrow night. Stay toond.

Movie Review: Whiplash

J.K. Simmons plays a jazz instructor inflicting tyrannical teaching methods on Miles Teller in Whiplash.

J.K. Simmons plays a jazz instructor inflicting tyrannical teaching methods on a drumming student played by Miles Teller in Whiplash.

There are no two words in the English language more harmful that good job.

One of the year’s biggest surprises has to be Whiplash. You think a movie about a jazz drumming student and his teacher wouldn’t be one to win people over but you’ll have to see it for yourself.

Andrew Neiman is a 19 year-old jazz drummer who has been accepted into the Shaffer Conservatory to pursue his dream of being one of the greats like Buddy Rich.  Despite practicing long hours, he does take time to take things easy watching movies with his father and even dating the girl working at concessions.

That all changes one day when during class, instructor Terence Fletcher who already has an infamous reputation among students substitutes for one instructor. It’s more than instruction as Fletcher is looking for a new drum alternate for the school band he conducts. Sure enough, Andrew catches his eye. Actually Andrew caught his eye days before while practicing alone.

On the first session, Neiman learns that part of Fletcher’s rehearsal methods is manipulating emotions out of his students. It is while rehearsing the Hank Levy song ‘Whiplash’ that Fletcher makes Andrew his target of attacks including berating him verbally especially when Andrew is brought to tears, throwing a chair at him and even slapping him for going off tempo. The rehearsal ends with Andrew being the alternate drummer and relegated to page turner for the lead drummer.

Instead of quitting, Andrew is determined to win over Fletcher and master ‘Whiplash.’ He listens intensely to its drumline and studies videoclips of the drummers. He even cuts his movie time with his father and breaks up with Nicole to intensely pursue his ambition. Then bad luck happens during a competition when Andrew misplaces the drummer’s sheet music. However Andrew is determined to perform ‘Whiplash’ without the notes. To the astonishment of all including Fletcher, he does it perfectly and becomes Fletcher’s new lead drummer.

However it’s short-lived as Ryan a drummer from Fletcher’s former class, is promoted to lead drummer. Andrew is frustrated to the point he confronts Fletcher only to learn Fletcher decides who has earned the part. That only drives Andrew to practice intensely to the point his hands bleed. Just before Fletcher starts rehearsal one day in tears, he reveals to all that one of his former students from six years ago Sean Casey, whom he describes as a ‘marvelous musician,’ died in a car accident. He starts rehearsal on ‘Caravan’, the next competition piece, but has a hard time picking out the right drummer for the song. Fletcher gets all three drummers including Andrew continually trying out the piece for several brutal hours until he makes his final decision at 2:30 am. He decides it to be Andrew.

Andrew buses to the competition but the bus suffers a flat tire. Andrew’s determined to be there on time to the point he rents a car but forgets his drumsticks at the rental office. Andrew only finds that out once he arrives and Fletcher dismisses him for not having his drumsticks. Determined to play, Andrew rushed back to the agency to get the sticks. Speeding to the concert hall and talking to Fletcher on his phone, Andrew is hit by a car. Despite the car flipping over and Andrew bloody and injured, Andrew rushes to the hall to play. A stunned Fletcher lets him play but it’s obvious Andrew is off as his injuries cause him to drop his drumsticks continuously. Fletcher gives him the words onstage: “You’re finished.” That causes Andrew to attack Fletcher onstage in front of the audience.

The attack caused Andrew to get expelled form the school. Soon Andrew learns from the lawyer of Sean Casey’s parents that Casey actually committed suicide and believes it was because of the personal torment endured by Fletcher’s teaching methods right from when he first started. Andrew agrees to testify, leading Fletcher to be dismissed from the school. Just when it seemed to be all over for Andrew, he learns months later Fletcher is performing in a club. Andrew and Fletcher meet up again and it’s during a drink together that Andrew learns why Fletcher teaches the way he does. Because he drives his students to be the next jazz great. And he saw it in Andrew more than the other two. Fletcher agrees to have Andrew as part of the band he’s conducting for the upcoming JVC festival where they will be playing the same songs. Andrew agrees. However things do not go as planned as Fletcher tells Andrew he knew he got him out. On top of it, the band opens with a piece Andrew never rehearsed. This leads to an ending that’s unpredictable and entertaining.

One can simply say it’s a story about a student with the drive and the teacher determined to make him succeed no matter how soul-crushing his teaching methods. I myself saw a lot more to it. I see it as about music and arts in general. We see and hear a lot of great pieces of music, great acting performances and great pieces of art. One thing we don’t often see is that it takes everything out of a person, especially their heart and soul. We also see that here in teaching as Fletcher verbally beats his students into the ground to bring out the best in them. He feels he’s doing the right thing even as he was blamed for Sean Casey’s suicide. He even brings up the example of Charlie Parker who was a substandard saxophone player until his bandleader threw a cymbal at his head. That was the turning point. I myself have taken acting courses and there have been times in which I was encouraged to dig deep into my soul even to the point of remembering some of the more upsetting moments of my life. It’s not uncommon for teacher sin the art to be that tyrannical to their students to bring out the best in them.

It’s not just about a teacher putting his students through such agonizing torturous methods to better his students and bring the best out of them. It’s also about the drive of a student. Andrew is determined to be the best drummer ever. In his mind, he thinks it’s better to be a success even if it means dying in his 30’s and having no friends than it is to be not so successful but live a long life and be beloved. Andrew is willing to practice drumming until his hands bleed, willing to give up his girlfriend and even determined to make a competition even if he’s in a car accident and the car flips over. The crazy thing is that there are a lot of people in the arts that feel that same way. That success in their art is better than being loved and even worth dying for. We see that in Andrew.

Even there, it’s not just about the teacher and about the student, it’s the relationship between the two. Fletcher can be brutal and abusive both verbally and physically but he pushes Andrew because he sees a quality in him he has not seen in a student before. Andrew is driven to succeed but he sees something in Fletcher’s tutelage that he feels he can’t get anywhere else. He senses Fletcher and only Fletcher can help him to be the best jazz drummer ever. And he’s willing to take it on even with the physical, verbal and emotional abuse. Even after both Andrew and Fletcher are both dismissed from Shaffer, Andrew still relies on Fletcher’s judgment on his abilities. Often Fletcher’s teaching and pushing Andrew can remind a lot of people of sports coaches who are that tough on their athletes but are determined to bring out the best in them. Andrew willing to endure it all to be the great he wants to be will remind you of athletes who wholeheartedly trust their coach to the point that they’ll willing to do illegal things like steroids upon their urging.

Without a doubt, J.K. Simmons owned the movie. His portrayal of Fletcher determined to bring out the best in his students even if it requires him to deliver physical or verbal abuse stole the movie. His focus on perfectionism, his love for jazz music and the greats, his portrayal of that kind of teacher will keep you glued to your seat. Even though Simmons owned the film, credit should be given to Miles Teller. He as well delivered an excellent performance of a student with a dream and determined to succeed even if it means taking physical abuse from a teacher. He also did an excellent job of showing how Andrew’s determination to succeed almost destroys him at times. Miles himself also drummed as a kid so it’s kind of natural he was chosen. Plus if director Damien Chazelle was interested in making his film bankable, he could have chosen Nick Jonas as Andrew. Miles was one who could both drum and act.

The film is actually the brainchild of director/writer Damien Chazelle. Chazelle wanted to become a successful jazz drummer in high school. He was in a very competitive jazz band in high school and had an intense music teacher who would become the inspiration of Terence Fletcher. However unlike Andrew, Chazelle knew he wasn’t good enough to excel in jazz drumming and turned to film making instead. You could rightfully call this film his baby. This film has won the Sundance Audience and Jury Award for Best Drama and the reception has been excellent.

 Whiplash is as much about the punishing training and studying music students go through to pursue their dreams as it is about the determined teacher, the driven student and the turbulent but solid chemistry between the two. It will also remind all you young ones with musical dreams that if you think chasing your musical dreams is a cakewalk, you couldn’t be wronger.

LATE Movie Review: The LEGO Movie

Emmet Brickowski (centre) becomes the unlikely hero in The LEGO movie.

Emmet Brickowski (centre) becomes the unlikely hero of the Lego world in The LEGO Movie.

You will all be pissed off with me. I actually saw The LEGO Movie when it was first out around the first weekend in March. The reason why I never wrote a review about it is because I was so tired out from doing a multitude of Academy Award articles. You can understand that I felt enough was enough back then and I lacked the ambition. Well ambition to write a review on it sparked in me already, especially with the Oscar season coming up and the multitude of accolades it’s received. Now I can say my thoughts.

This is another review where I won’t be giving a synopsis of the plot. I don’t feel it’s necessary since most people have already seen it by now. Nevertheless I’ll focus on how the movie worked.

This is a film that needed to have a winning script in order to make it work. It starts simple about a guy who does what he can to be liked only to learn he’s not well-liked. He’s the ‘chosen one’ despite the surprise of everyone but ends up victorious in the end. Sounds like a formulaic story that been done endlessly before, right?

In order to make a story like this fly, it has to add its own quirks and elements to make it fly. This movie succeeds in creating a Lego world beyond a toy lover’s imagination. On top of it, it had to make the Lego toys very animate and full of character. Remember the Legos are the focus of the movie. The film also did a smart job in adding in characters that are exclusive to the Lego toys and in including the Lego characters based of off movie characters. It does seem like the writers did a lot of research about the characters to have in the movie.

The film adds in a lot of humor. Firstly it creates a humorous world with the wizard Vitruvius, a villain in the Lord Business and a superweapon called Kragle which is actually Krazy Glue. However its other great asset is including the human world in the story with ‘the Man Upstairs’ and his son. It’s that twist at the end where we are all shown that this Lego world is all part of a giant Lego diorama created by the Man Upstairs. Whatever the situation, it had to make the two worlds mix in the end in order to make the story work and it did. Not to mention give a surprise humorous ending.

Now it’s not just the story that had to work. Not to mention having ‘Everything Is Awesome’ the movie’s theme song. The film had to make the animation believable. They had to make the Lego characters fluid in movement rather than wooden and choppy. They also had to be given the perfect animation in their faces while remaining Lego characters. Finally the Lego world had to be animate and 100% Lego from the building world Emmet works in to the sea the Lego galleon sails on. When you have a Lego movie, the world and the characters have to be 100% Lego-like from start to finish. One glitch in the animation and that would have blown it.

Kudos to Phil Lord and Christopher Miller for writing and directing an excellent entertaining film for all ages. In addition, great job on the vocal talents of Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Neeson and Morgan Freeman. Also great job of Will Ferrel for delivering a live-action character that’s a refreshing alternate from his more idiotic characters.

It’s no wonder The LEGO Movie has been so loved since it opened back in February last year. It’s also no wonder it’s still beloved by people of all ages even now. It’s only those under a rock that haven’t seen it that don’t know why.

 

Movie Review: Gone Girl

Gone Girl is a movie of a woman that appears to be a victim in a fading marriage but is actually the one in control.

Gone Girl is a movie of a woman who’s a children’s book author but her biggest masterpiece of storytelling isn’t written on pen and paper.

I’ll admit that I’m one of those people that went out to see Gone Girl later than the huge crowds. I will admit I was lax at it because of the tight times I was experiencing. I finally did see it just a while ago and I was impressed.

I usually do a run though the plot in my reviews. I have decided to skip it since most of you have already seen it. Instead I will focus on some of the unique elements and why this movie stands out.

One noticeable thing of the movie is that there is a big focus on the media, especially as it surrounds a murder story. There’s no doubt the message is about how the media takes on crime stories by being its own judge and jury, typing people and packaging them as good people and bad people. This was especially seen on how Nick is typed not only as the bad guy but as the murderer even though no body was found. This was also seen on the police as they eventually felt the pressure to make a move and arrest Nick for the murder. There was also the focus of the egos in the media behind it all and epitomized best by Ellen Abbott who mercilessly defames and slanders Nick as the murderer. Even before the interview of Nick and Amy after Amy’s arrival, you can tell Ellen shows no regrets about it all. Even as Nick confronts Ellen about how she dismissed him as a murderer, she simply says “I go where the story goes” without any noticeable remorse or apology. I guess it shows what it takes to be a talking head in the news.

Despite the exploitative judgmental ego-driven media being a major theme, it’s not the main focus of the film. The main focus is on Amy. Amy first comes across as a warm charismatic person with a lack of confidence but lives her confidence out through the character of Amazing Amy in her Amazing Amy books. As the story goes through the search for Amy day by day, the story flashes back to the first signs of their marriage falling apart. The marital troubles appear so much like millions of marriages before that hit rocky moments during hard times and even face ugly moments like infidelity and even physical abuse. That’s what the first half is all about.

It’s the second half that we see the twist in the story that Amy is not the sweet thing we think she is. She’s conniving, very clever and smart enough to make things work for her revenge plan to have Ben framed for her murder that never happened. Even faking things like her pregnancy, Ben’s alleged credit card debt and agreement to a huge life insurance payout was as clever as it was shallow. Her cleverness especially intriguing that she’s even able to make a calculating change of plans even after some neighbors of her getaway place rob her. She’s able to get Desi back into her life and appear to rekindle the romance only to have another thing up her sleeve after seeing Nick’s interview on the television. Her tricks are even crafty enough to get Nick trapped into the relationship without him being able to escape thanks to a pregnancy. Her tricks are even clever enough that there’s nothing Nick, Margo, Tanner Bolt or even Detective Boney can do to bring out the truth, even though they know it.

The funny thing is I’ve been watching a lot of crime shows like Forensic Files where they show of people committing murders and attempting to cover it up only to have advancing technology over time uncover the truth slowly but surely. They not only tell of people committing the crimes but what they do to get away from it all and even cop a new identity. Seeing Amy go about her charade not only reminds you of those diabolical minds but gets you intrigued in Amy’s own diabolical ways. Throughout the movie I was waiting for the moment for truths to be unraveled and Amy to get caught. Funny thing is that over time, it appears her new actions and tricks appear better executed than the ones Amy had planned on Nick from the start. It appeared Amy’s new plan to have Nick in a loveless marriage raising their child was a better form of torture on Nick than her original plan of having him convicted and executed for her fake murder. It’s like she told him after he hit her: “I’m the c*** you always wanted.”

I think that’s what makes this movie so winsome. Amy is a diabolical mind who’s not only that good but appears to get better and craftier over time. Funny thing is it’s one of those movies that had me leaving the theatre wondering how Amy gets away with it all? How Amy’s able to keep it all covered up even with all this modern technology and in control of everybody else involved including the law? That’s like the same wonder I had at the end of 1999’s Arlington Road of how a couple could pull off a terrorist explosion framing their neighbor and being a step ahead of everybody in every which way to get it done. That’s also like the same wonder I had in 1992’s Basic Instinct when Beth kills Gus with an ice pick and minutes later confronts a gun-wielding Nick with a normal pulse rate and no stress level at all. Then I remind myself it’s the movies where they can make anything happen and make us believe it at that moment.

Top kudos to Rosamund Pike. She delivered a character that made the movie. She gave a feel for the character right from the start and kept us intrigued right until the end. She had to be the top factor on why this movie is so winsome. Ben Affleck did well but he didn’t own the show the way Rosamund did. Carrie Coon was very good in the supporting role of the sister who knows the truth but is helpless to do anything. Tyler Perry was good as the lawyer. Missi Pyle came across as cartoonish as the Ellen Abbott but it fit well with the movie as I will reflect on later.

It seemed like the right thing for Gillian Flynn, the writer of the novel, to also write the screenplay too. It makes sense since she’s the one who knows Amy inside out. It’s also great to see her deliver an ending possibly unlike anyone would anticipate. David Fincher does an excellent job of directing the story. I know there were many times that the people in the murder scenario came off as cartoonish in the film but it seems fitting because all too often, people in the middle of a trial that involved heavy media attention often come off as cartoonish or like drama queens. Even as we read murder stories or murder dramas about real-life murders, it’s as much about personalities as it is about the people. David did a good job of making it the focus in the movie. You could say David delivers another winner. In addition kudos to the music of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross that added to the feel of the film.

Gone Girl is a story that keeps you interested from start to finish. You think it will go one way but it goes the other way. Even after you leave the theatre, you’re left wondering how she was able to make it work. I guess that was the secret of the movie.

2014 Box Office In Review: A Down Year But Not Out

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It’s fair to say that 2014 was not an exciting year for movies. It’s fair to make that judgment especially after the year-end box office result in terms of both total gross and ticket numbers. It’s also fair to say that 2014 did not show as huge of a loss as expected and this became the sixth straight year of raking in more than $10 billion.

Some may wonder why I would be so optimistic. Actually around the time I wrote my Bumpy Summer blog, it was quite questionable about how well the 2014 box office would fare. The first quarter from January to March looked on par with 2013 but the second quarter from April to June looked doubtful. Further doubt continued with the lackluster summer. However the last four months of the year were consistent enough for 2014 to end on a more optimistic note.

September saw the continuation of Guardians Of The Galaxy on top at the beginning. However the month progressed with strong openings for No Good Deed and Dolphin Tale 2. The Maze Runner also opened strong with The Equalizer. However it was not enough as this September totaled $449.2 million: $21 million less than last September.

October was a real picker-upper for the month as Gone Girl debut on top at the beginning and surprised just about everybody with its longevity.Its second weekend even outdid openings from Dracula Untold and the Alexander movie. It took Fury to dethrone it from the top in its third week. Even with Ouija and John Wick having the highest debuts the final weekend, the month belonged to Gone Girl. At the end of the month, this year gave us the highest-grossing October ever with $848.4 million.

November was expected to be a big month with the opening of Mockingjay in the fourth weekend and a lot of huge buzz expected for it. The three weekends before its opening yo-yoed with Ouija staying on top but with a measly $10.7 million. The second weekend saw big openings with Big Hero 6 and Interstellar. Dumb and Dumber Too opened well but not as well as expected. Then came the opening for Mockingjay and as expected, it was a biggie with $121.9 million: the biggest opening weekend of 2014. However it was not good news as it was the lowest opening weekend for any Hunger Games movie: $30.5 million less than the first movie’s opening weekend and $36.5 million less than Catching Fire’s opener exactly a year ago. Mockingjay remained on top for the last weekend in November. This November’s total gross of $1.03 billion missed last November’s total by $458 million: almost half a billion.

The first weekend continued with the reign of Mockingjay on top and the biggest opener The Pyramid only coming in 9th on the chart. Things looked more promising as Exodus: Gods And Kings opened strongly. December was expected to end strongly with the last Hobbit movie opening in the third weekend. The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies did open strongly with $54.7 million and the following weekend continued with strong attendance for a total of over $200 million that weekend.

There were a lot of ups and downs this year. The downs made more news than the ups. In the end, the box office of 2014 totaled $10.355 billion: down 5.2% from the record-setting $10.923 billion of 2013. The numbers were not too impressive as far total grosses go either. The highest-grossing movie of this year, Guardians Of The Galaxy, totaled $333 million: the lowest-grossing #1 movie of the year since 2001. Even Mockingjay’s opening weekend was very lacklustre.

Despite it all, I do give it credit. For the sixth straight year, the box office has grossed over $10 billion. There’s always the concerns of new technologies like Netflix and watching movies on your smartphone that always cause concern for how the box office will fare but it’s still consistent despite the drop. It will take Hollywood a big effort to continue getting people to the theatres to enjoy movies. It will be continuously faced with challenges a new technologies will keep on coming our way. However I am confident people will want to go to the theatres for the movies. People enjoy it. However it will take Hollywood and the other studios to deliver them the stuff worth enjoying. I am however optimistic for 2015 . We’ll have to see.

WORKS CITED:

“Yearly Box Office Chart” BoxOfficeMojo.com. 2014. Box Office Mojo. Owned by IMDB.com.http://www.boxofficemojo.com/yearly/

“Monthly Box Office Chart” BoxOfficeMojo.com. 2014. Box Office Mojo. Owned by IMDB.com.http://www.boxofficemojo.com/monthly/

“Weekend Box Office Chart” BoxOfficeMojo.com. 2014. Box Office Mojo. Owned by IMDB.com.http://www.boxofficemojo.com/weekend/