based on true story, classic, film, must see

TV Movie Review: Brian’s Song

If you were to ask any critic what is the greatest television movie of all time is, there is a good chance they will say Brian’s Song. Premiering on ABC in their Movie of the Week specials in 1971, this true story film received widespread acclaim by critics and viewers alike, calling it not only a fantastic TV film, but one of the best sports movies of all time. I finally watched it about a year ago, and despite knowing what was going to happen I still shed tears. Spoilers ahead as always (and only because it is unavoidable.) I DO NOT OWN THE PICTURE.

The new Chicago Bears running back Gale Sayers (Billy Dee Williams) arrives to team practice and quickly gets into a friendly rivalry with a fellow player and running back Brian Piccolo (James Caan). The two become roommates, which back then was unheard of, and eventually become friends. Sayers helps Piccolo with his game when he struggles and when Sayers goes down with an injury Piccolo helps him out with a weight machine. The two soon become more like brothers than friends as they play football and have families. However when Piccolo becomes a fullback and his performance on the field begins to falter, it is obvious that something is wrong. It is soon revealed by Coach George Halas (Jack Warden) that Brian has terminal cancer, specifically embryonal cell carcinoma. Sayers does what he can to make Brian feel better, but sadly Brian passes away at the age of 26. Sayers encourages their teammates and families to remember Brian not for how he died, but for how he lived.

Ok I know I gave away the ending, but don’t say I did not warn you in the beginning. Watching the friendship between Gale and Brian is still beautiful to watch. The two started off as rivals, it wasn’t forced that the two would become brothers by outside parties and even in the end Gale kept Brian alive in his heart. Billy Dee Williams and James Caan were perfect together, as was the rest of the cast, writing, cinematography and direction of the film. I can honestly say watching the scene were Gale first hears about Brian’s diagnosis as well as the speech is absolutely heartbreaking, I had seen that scene before I watched the movie and the look on Gale’s face gets me every time. The final moments of the film where we watch what may have been Gale’s final moments with Brian, as well as the narrator telling the audience what happened after Brian’s death, are some of the finest moments in an already amazing film. Brian’s Song won four out of the eight Emmys it was nominated for, including best supporting actor for Warden, single program, cinematography and the writing while Caan and Williams were nominated for their parts, as well as a nomination for best miniseries or television film at the Golden Globes. It was remade in 2001 with Sean Maher and Mekhi Phiffer as Brian and Sayers, but that is for another day (a very long wait on Netflix DVD so I’m hoping I can catch this stream wise soon). If you can find the original Brian;s song, whether it is DVD, streaming or on TV, I HIGHLY recommend watching it. Be prepared to have your heart broken, tears flowing and a ox or two of tissues gone by the end of the film.

film, musical

Movie Review: A Cinderella Story: Once Upon a Song

The third installment of the Cinderella story franchise may not be as well known (or as good) as the previous two, but it is still a decent watch. Released on DVD in 2011 this one is more musical than the other two and took the story in a different direction, which actually made it all the more interesting. Spoilers ahead as always. I DO NOT OWN THE PICTURE.

Katie Gibbs (Lucy Hale) is a student at the Wellesley Academy of Arts aspiring to be a singer, but has many obstacles in her way. For starters she lives with her horrible stepmother (and headmistress of the school) Gail Van Ravensway (Missi Pyle) who has never had success as an artist, her mean and tone-deaf step sister Bev (Megan Park), her trouble making (but actually cares about her) step brother Victor (Matthew Lintz) and Gail’s guru Tony (Manu Narayan), and cannot escape Gail or Bev in school with only her friend Angela (Jessalyn Williams) for company. Gail gets excited when Guy Morgan (Dikran Tulaine), the president of Massive Records Inc. comes to enroll his son, and gorgeous pop star, Luke (Freddie Stroma) in the school. Katie manages to slip in a demo into Guy’s briefcase, and capture the attention of Luke, but Gail claims it is Bev’s. On the night of a big Bollywood ball at the school Gail orders Katie to babysit Victor, but she convinces Tony (who is not actually a guru but an actor needing the work) to do the job. Katie, wearing a disguise, impresses Luke with her voice but quickly leaves when Gail arrives. However Gail beats Katie home and threatens Angela’s education if Katie doesn’t help Bev get with Luke. Katie agrees, even though it is killing her seeing Luke with Bev. About as far as I should go, but given the material it is probably not hard to figure out.

While I did not like this film as much as the previous Cinderella stories, I did like the twist that the stepmother actually beats Cinderella home and force her to help the stepsister; for the record I don;t support it but is definitely a good twist. I was a little familiar with Lucy Hale from some works, but I had no idea how great of a singer she was; it was a very pleasant surprise. Freddie Stroma I remembered from Harry Potter and I was glad to see him as a good guy, and a pretty good singer. Missi Pyle is hilarious as Gail, I almost sympathized with Megan Park and enjoyed the performances of Lintz, Narayan and Williams. The writing and filming could have been better, but I liked the soundtrack. Lucy Hale sang really well with songs such as “Make You Believe”, “Bless Myself” and “Run This Town” while Stroma did pretty good on “Knockin”. While this is probably not must see, if you liked the previous Cinderella stories, then A Cinderella Story: Once Upon a Song is great for you.


Movie Review: Beyond The Lights

A not very well known film, which I find sad because it has some pretty good performances. Released in 2014, Beyond the Lights shows that even when it feels like the weight of the world is on your shoulder, a little bit of love can go a very long way. Spoilers ahead as always.

Noni Jean (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is the newest and hottest pop star in the music business, having been pushed into super-stardom by her ambitious mother Macy (Minnie Driver). Despite her success before she has even dropped an album, Noni is feeling the pressure to succeed and it is consuming her. One night she heads to a balcony ready to end her life, until she is saved by police officer, who has his own ambitions, Kaz Nicoli (Nate Parker). The two are immediately drawn to each other and begin a relationship. However the two young lovers may be torn apart because of their families (specifically her mother and his father and police captain David Nocli (Danny Glover)), ambitions and the public. About as far as I should go without giving away the rest of the movie, but keep an eye out for Machine Gun Kelly as well.

Now this is not the best romantic drama movie I’ve seen, but it is an interesting story. Imagine having everything in the world like Noni has, but it is too much for her, and then her guardian angel in Kaz arrives (and looking very fine in uniform if I may say so.) Gugu Mbatha-Raw is a true shining star and I have loved her in every movie I’ve seen her in; she has something in her performance that I just enjoy. Nate Parker is amazing as Kaz; he and Raw have such great chemistry together. Driver and Glover are great as the overprotective parents as are the rest of the characters in the movie. The songs are pretty good, writing is decent (the performances make up for it) and the movie itself while not must see is a good watch. I think this was on Netflix streaming a while ago, not as of this date I think but that might just be in my area, but I know this airs on TV every now and then. I would definitely DVR it it is on, but in my opinion, there are a few other romantic drama films worth watching more than this.

classic, film, must see

Movie Review: Casablanca

You ask any film critic what is the greatest film of all time and I guarantee most if not all of them will say this 1942 film. From its wonderful script, once in a lifetime performances, beautiful cinematography to its beautiful story Casablanca is everything the critics say and more. As always spoilers will be ahead. I DO NOT OWN THE PICTURE.

During World War 2 many traveled to Casablanca in order to find transportation to the then neutral United States, however those who did not have papers saying so could be arrested or worse. A petty crook brags about killing two German officers in order to get letters of transport but gets it to bitter nightclub owner Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) before he is arrested and dies in protective custody under the command of Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains). Rick attempts to remain neutral despite his past in previous wars, but becomes involved after the reason for his bitterness is revealed. Years ago Rick fell in love with a woman believed to be a widow named Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Berman) and the two have a passionate relationship. However she left without explanation one day and he’s been a bitter person since. Until now that Ilsa has returned along with her not so dead husband Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) trying to escape to America from German Major Heinrich Strasser (Conrad Veidt). Despite being extremely bitter Rick agrees to help as he still loves Ilsa, and she still loves him. About as far as I should go without spoiling the rest of the film, but the ending is very famous.

What can I say about Casablanca that has not already been said by basically everyone that has watched the movie? It is one of the best movies of all time (if not the absolute best), Bogart and Berman are amazing as the leads. Rains and Henreid are fantastic supporting actors along with the rest of the cast. The writing, cinematography, location; all the little tiny details are spot on perfect, which should not surprise you when I say this won the Oscar for Best Picture, Director and Screenplay while nominated for Actor, Supporting Actor, Cinematography, Film Editing and Music. In fact the film is listed on multiple American Film Institute top 100 lists: 100 movies at #2 and in the 10th Anniversary at #3, Thrills at #37, Passions at #1, Cheers at #32, Heroes for Rick at #4, Songs for “As Time Goes By” at #2 and finally SIX quotes more than any other film on the lists in Best Movie Quotes: #67 “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine”, #43 We’ll always have Paris”, #32 “Round up the usual suspects”, #28 “Play it Sam, Play “As Time Goes By””, #20 “Louie I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship” and #5 “Here’s looking at you kid” (which Bogart improvised a lot). What are you still reading this for? Go watch Casablanca now!

Disney, film

Movie Review: National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets

The follow up to the hit Disney film may not have been originally planned, but was nonetheless enjoyable. Released in 2007 National Treasure 2 focuses on another war with secrets, legends and once again an impossible crime has to be pulled off. Spoilers ahead as usual. I DO NOT OWN THE PICTURE.

A couple of years after the first film Ben Gates (Nicholas Cage) is living with his dad Patrick (Jon Voight) after he and Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger) broke up while Riley Poole (Justin Bartha) is a not exactly successful author. Ben and Patrick are at a Civilian Heroes conference accepting for Ben’s great great grandfather Thomas Gates who died the same day as President Lincoln destroying parts of John Wilkes Booth’s diary and perhaps preventing Booth and his conspirators from the Knights of the Golden Circle from decoding a message hidden within the pages. However Mitch Wilkinson (Ed Harris), a black market antiquities dealer, provides what seems to be one of the missing pages from Booth’s diary with Thomas’s name on it claiming Thomas was not only one of the conspirators but was the mastermind behind Lincoln’s assassination. Ben, along with Patrick, Abigail, Riley, FBI agent Sadusky (Harvey Keitel) and Ben’s mother, Patrick’s ex wife Emily (Helen Mirren) set out to prove this is not true. Traveling all over the world and discovering clues Ben and the team discover that the message hidden in Booth’s diary may be leading to Cibola, the legendary city of gold, and the key to finding it may be hidden in another legend: the President’s Secret Book which supposedly also contains many other conspiracies that may or may not be true. Ben decides in order to get to the treasure and to prove his ancestors’ innocence before Mitch can further drag his family’s name down he has to do another impossible task: kidnap the President (Bruce Greenwood). About as far as I should go without giving away the rest of the movie.

Now what I said a while back about sequels still stands (nine out of ten are not great), and this sort of proves it. National Treasure 2 for me was not as good as the first one for a majority of the film (Cage in particular if I have to be picky), but I still enjoyed the movie. With so many legends out there it probably wasn’t easy to come up with the right one, but I think the President’s Secret Book is one that may not be as well known so whether or not it was the right call is debatable. The writing and acting could have been better in a few places, I think they were taking a more comedic routine in this one so that is a fault, but I do like how international the movie went. My last nit pick is the conclusion. Obviously they were leaning towards making a third film, but it has been so long I somewhat doubt it will happen. I read somewhere that a script was finished, but Disney did not like it. I think if they were to do a sequel it is too little too late, unless it is a REALLY good script. Otherwise do not bother. As for this film if you liked the first National Treasure than by all means watch it, otherwise this probably should not be on your radar.

based on a book, film, Nicholas Sparks

Movie Review: The Choice

When it comes to Nicholas Sparks films I put them into three categories: great/good, decent enough to watch and one and done. While most of the ones I’ve watch fall into the first two categories (mostly two) this 2016 romantic drama, and so far the last Sparks book to be adapted to film, most definitely falls into the one and done section in my book. Spoilers ahead as usual. I DO NOT OWN THE PICTURE.

Veterinarian Travis Shaw (Benjamin Walker) is “bothered” by his new neighbor, medical student Gabby Holland (Teresa Palmer) when she accuses him, or rather his dog, of getting her dog pregnant (not the case). The two constantly get into little arguments whenever they meet; which Travis’s friends and sister Stephanie (Maggie Grace) telling him that he is in trouble. Despite Travis sort of being in an on/off relationship with his high school sweetheart Maggie (Alexandra Daddario) and Gabby is seeing a fellow doctor Ryan McCarthy (Tom Welling) the two spend a lot of time together. When Ryan goes away Travis and Gabby can no longer hide their feelings from each other and they have an affair, falling more in love. When Ryan comes back both have to make some serious choices. About as far as I can go without giving away the rest of the movie, but this is so predictable I’m sure it is not hard to figure out.

When I say I was smacking my hand against my head the entire time I watched this movie I actually mean it. While Benjamin Walker and Teresa Palmer are very attractive people and with the right script are decent enough to watch it does not make up the lack of chemistry between them nor in my opinion their performance; they were easily the better characters and parts of the movie but not by much. The writing as well as the story itself is not great, when I can actually predict what the next line is without reading the book that takes away the experience. Now I never want to discourage anyone from watching a movie, no matter how bad I think it is because my taste may be different from yours, so if ridiculously sappy Sparks movies are what you are into then by all means watch The Choice; if not then I would stay far away from this movie as you possibly can be.

film, must see

Movie Review: Shrek 2

I’m sure we can all agree that nine time out of 10 sequels to popular and great movies are not usually great. Sometimes the original writers don’t come back, actors leave or something happens to make it bad. In the case of the 2004 sequel to the DreamWorks franchise that takes fairy-tales and changes it this was the exact opposite. I think those who watched the Shrek movies can all agree that this is the better sequel. Spoilers ahead as usual. I DO NOT OWN THE PICTURE.

After coming back from their honeymoon Shrek (Mike Myers) and Fiona (Cameron Diaz) get an invitation by Fiona’s parents to come and meet them at the kingdom of Far Far Away (designed to look like Hollywood) to celebrate their marriage; Donkey (Eddie Murphy) joins them on their journey. However Fiona’s parents, King Harold (John Cleese) and Queen Lillian (Julie Andrews) were not aware that Fiona and Shrek are ogres and do not take it well; Harold in particular is angry and he and Shrek get into a huge fight at dinner leaving Fiona in tears and Shrek believing his marriage is in trouble. There are two people who is angrier than Harold and they are The Fairy Godmother (Jennifer Saunders) and her son Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) as they made a deal with Harold for Charming to marry Fiona in exchange for his own happy ending. Harold sends Shrek and Donkey on a hunting trip where they come across the assassin he hired, the legendary Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas). Puss cannot kill Shrek and Shrek, believing a potion in Fairy Godmother’s workshop can help him regain Fiona’s love and the king’s blessing, lets Puss tag along with him and Donkey on his quest (much to Donkey’s dismay). However it may do more harm than good when the Fairy Godmother catches on to their plan. Other characters that return are Gingy, Pinocchio, the Big Bad Wolf, the pigs and mice, as well as the debut of characters viewers have come to love including Captain Hook and the ugly stepsister Doris (Larry King).

I believe that this is not only the best of the Shrek sequels, but in my opinion this is one of the best animated sequels of all time. from the writing to the animation to the voice casting; it was spot on amazing. All the characters we loved from the first film came back better than ever. Those who made their debut in this film quickly fit in with the quirky crew, perhaps none more so than Puss in Boots. Antonio Banderas was absolutely perfect as the lovable feline; I do not even want to think about who could have been Puss. John Cleese and Julie Andrews were fabulous as Harold and Lillian with Harold redeeming himself in the end in my eyes. While I firmly believe Lord Farquaad is the best villain in the Shrek franchise the Fairy Godmother came very close to topping him; Jennifer Saunders is fantastic as well. Charming really plays off the spoiled mama’s boy well (hats off to Rupert Everett), but as far as being a villain goes he is not exactly top notch but that is for the next film. Sadly the Shrek films kinda went down after this one, with the departure of Andrew Adamson as the director, but those are for another day. In the meantime if you liked Shrek and haven’t seen Shrek 2 then I would highly recommend it.