Draft Day – A Review

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The NFL draft is really boring.

I say this as someone who has sat through this event on more than one occasion. As it was pitched to me, it sounded like it might be somewhat interesting – the NFL teams strategically pick new players for their team, trying to get the best players before they get scooped up by other teams, but not overpaying for players that they don’t need or that they could get in later rounds. As someone who enjoys football, I imagined that this would be exciting, but in practice it was just a lot of sitting around waiting for teams to make their selection of people that I didn’t really know much about since I’m not a huge college football fan. Even when I had done some background research, it’s still a pretty anticlimactic process since you have to wait several months to see if these picks pan out. I’m sure hardcore fans find this riveting, but for me it was like watching paint dry. So I did what every self-respecting person does when they are doing something that they find excruciatingly boring to make someone else happy – I drank and made ridiculous wagers to liven up to proceedings. After a few adult beverages, I didn’t find Mel Kiper or the draft any more exciting that I had previously, but I also didn’t really care that I was bored out of my mind. Occasionally something exciting happens – Brady Quinn took so long to be drafted that I had to be woken up to see it happen – but mostly it’s just a lot of taking heads and watching clocks tick down.

In that sense, the new Kevin Costner movie Draft Day captured the experience of the NFL draft pretty well – nothing much really happens and not much transpired that I couldn’t have predicted within the first ten minutes of the film. Draft Day is just a lot of waiting around for something interesting to be presented, though they do their best to distract you from the nothingness with some inane relationship and family stuff. Draft Day is a football movie for people that don’t really care that much about football; it’s a fine sports film, but doesn’t have much of anything original to say.

Draft Day focuses on the events of the day of the NFL draft; Costner stars as Sonny Weaver Jr., the General Manager of the Cleveland Brown – a team that hasn’t been successful in a long time. Facing pressure from the fan base and the Browns owner (Frank Langella) to “make a splash” this year, Sonny must decide what he is willing to sacrifice when presented with the opportunity to get the Browns the #1 draft pick. The situation is further complicated by his romance with a team executive (Jennifer Garner) and combative relationship with the team coach (Denis Leary), as well as the recent passing of his father who also happened to be the former coach of the Browns. That’s a whole lot of outside drama that has been pulled into the picture, perhaps to widen the appeal of the film. The proceedings at the actual draft don’t occur until the last 15 minutes of the film, so these other story lines help keep things moving until the titular event occurs.

Kevin Costner is perfectly charming in Draft Day; the man seems to be most at home in sports movies nowadays. I’ve never been a huge Costner fan, but he does fine work as Sonny and struggling with what he thinks is best for the team while also protecting his legacy and job. I like Jennifer Garner as a person – she appears to be good people – but I can’t say that I’ve ever been all that impressed with her as an actress. Draft Day does nothing to change my opinion – she’s not bad, but she’s not great either. To be fair, she isn’t giving a heck of a lot to work with, but she fails to elevate the material much beyond the blandness on the page. I’m not sure that I buy her as a potential love interest for Costner, but at least that means that there is a woman depicted in the executive staff of an NFL team (though, for an executive she sure seems to be getting a lot of people coffee). Denis Leary seems to be having fun being a jerk and he’s just the right amount of annoying in the film. I hope that’s what they were going for. None of these characters have a ton of depth – we know the most about Sonny out of necessity, but the rest of the cast are just broad archetypes without much definition.

The film does its best to ramp up the tension, but unfortunately  is a fairly predictable film. I was pretty sure that I knew the ultimate outcome well before it was revealed – the only question was the details of how we were going to get there. It’s all very vanilla and while that isn’t necessarily a terrible thing, it doesn’t make for a very exciting movie. Sports movies tend to follow the same basic script and the fact that the NFL collaborated with this film is clearly evident. You can see the fingerprints of the league all over this overly sanitized look at the NFL. The film definitely tries to make it look like character is a huge factor in deciding who to put on your team and while I’m sure that it is a contributing component, reality implies that your skill on the football field is a much bigger deal than if you are a nice guy or not. When you have current players who have felonies or who have been accused of sexual assault or other deplorable behavior, it’s kind of a hard to sell that a guy who may have fibbed a few times is a cancer to a team. It’s nice in theory, but in practice if you can throw a ball down the field for a touchdown, it doesn’t really matter if you are a jerk.

Some other thoughts:

  • This movie was originally supposed to be about the Buffalo Bills, not the Cleveland Browns. As I was watching the film, I kept mentally substituting “Bills” for “Browns” in the script. I don’t think they had to do a lot of rewrites. Both franchises are kind of pathetic.
  • I cheered when they showed Ralph Wilson Stadium in the film – I don’t know if that’s frowned upon, but I did so quietly.
  • I’m not sure that the Jacskonville Jaguars are going to be particularly psyched with how they are depicted in the film.
  • He doesn’t have a ton to do in the film, but that is indeed Chadwick Boseman (42) as Vontae Mack. He is the Bo Jackson of sports movie athletes.
  • Sean Combs (aka Puff Daddy, aka P Diddy) also appears in the film as an agent.
  • I was particularly excited to see Timothy Simons (Jonah, Veep) as part of the Browns team.
  • The assistant to the owner of the Browns is named Heather. Not really relevant, but that made me happy.
  • I have obviously never been through an actual draft experience, but I have been through a lot of fantasy drafts and always found them stressful. That being said, I never panicked as much as some of the people in this film.
  • Of course they managed to work in the obligatory reference to Tom Brady being drafted in the sixth round.

Draft Day is a perfectly OK movie – not really a ringing endorsement, but that’s ultimately the most accurate description of my feelings about it. In an attempt to appeal to a lot of people – including the NFL so that they would give them access – the result is a pretty bland movie that felt very generic. If you are a big Costner fan you may be more enthusiastic about the film, but I wouldn’t waste your money to see it in the theater. It’s a movie that would be good to watch on a Sunday afternoon while folding laundry – it doesn’t require a lot of attention and it is a pleasant enough experience without being memorable or compelling. Like the real NFL draft, there aren’t a ton of surprises in this film; if you are well versed in sports movie clichés, there isn’t much new to see here. When it comes to selecting your next movie to view, Draft Day is a third round pick at best.

 

Man of Steel – A Review

With the exception of my fascination with Batman, I am more of a Marvel girl rather than a DC girl when it comes to comics. Even being called a Marvel girl is a bit of a stretch, as I don’t read any of the comics or have any huge investment in the world of superheroes; I enjoy the Marvel movies a lot, but my knowledge of the Marvel universe is primarily limited to what they put on the big screen and the anecdotal information that I’ll pick up from conversations with real fans or from what I read online. But even within my limited working knowledge of superheroes, I have characters and franchises that I am drawn to far more than others. I’m far more interested in the X-Men, Thor and Batman, for example, than I am with what Hulk, Iron Man or Captain America are up to. I prefer the Avengers as a collective to any of their individual story lines. And this may make me a communist, but I really have never had an iota of interest in what Superman is doing. As far as I’m concerned, he’s just kind of around.

My totally disinterest in the man of steel is somewhat ironic, as it was on Christopher Reeve’s Superman that I first cut my teeth in the realm of superheroes. The Superman franchise was my first foray into caped crusaders and while I remember liking the movie – and perhaps having a girlhood crush on Reeve – I don’t think my Superman interest lasted much beyond that first movie. I may or may not have watched Reeve don the blue tights in subsequent installments, but if I did they made no real lasting impression. I never watched the TV shows Lois and Clark or Smallville and I just kind of shrugged at the recent attempt to reboot the franchise with Superman Returns (with Brandon Routh in the titular role). Faster than a speeding bullet, my fascination with Superman disappeared.

So I went into Man of Steel with a pretty apathetic view of Superman; on the one hand, that played to the movie’s advantage as I had no preconceived notions or fangirl anticipation. In fact, as the movie started I realized that I really didn’t know much about Superman and his back story beyond the basics – and admittedly most of that knowledge I picked up from Seinfeld episodes. On the other hand, my general lack of interest in this character meant that I was pre-programmed to engage with the movie; I was going to see it because it was a big summer movie and I typically see all the big summer movies, but beyond that the film was going to have to win me over to the superhero that I generally consider the most boring of the bunch.

Overall, I wasn’t all that impressed with the latest incarnation of Superman; the film was far too impressed with long fight sequences with dazzling special effects at the expense of a clear and understandable story or any semblance of character development. You root for Superman in this movie because you have been conditioned by society to do so, but while Henry Cavill cuts a dashing figure and seems like an amiable fellow, there just isn’t a lot going on with Superman as a character. The imprint of director Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen) is evident with the prolonged focus on scenes of destruction; I like a good fight scene as much as the next person, but these lasted too long and were too frequent. Man of Steel is a joyless affair; there is no laughter or comedic release in this film and it is all very dark and depressing. While the dark and broody vibe fits Batman just fine, it feels like an odd choice for the man who fights for truth, justice and the American way. Watching the Man of Steel was vaguely entertaining (though a bit confusing), but it just wasn’t a lot of fun.

There were parts of Man of Steel that I did really enjoy; I thought the best and most interesting scenes in the film dealt with Clark Kent’s childhood in Kansas with his adoptive parents (played by Kevin Costner and Diane Lane). These scenes provided the film its few moments of heart and character study and Costner and Lane did a fantastic job, as did the various actors that played Clark through different stages of his childhood. I was far more interested in these moments, interspersed throughout the film, than I was in anything else that was going on. To me, seeing Clark deal with being different and forging his identity was a more interesting story than watching the destruction of Metropolis (yet another stand in for my beloved New York City). Dare I say it, these glimpses at Clark’s growth into adulthood make the character actually interesting.

Snyder and company, however, are not particularly interested in these quieter moments that provide some actual insight and depth to the characters; they just want to make a mess and blow things up. Fight scenes are an essential part of any superhero movie, of course; there is always some epic showdown of good vs. evil with something as trifling as the fate of humanity on the line. But what the people behind this film don’t seem to realize is that carnage for the sake of carnage loses its luster after a while. After you have watched villains and heroes thrown through buildings and skidding to a halt after leaving a wide cavern in the ground in their wake, you start to get desensitized to the whole thing. The fight scenes all lasted at least 10 minutes too long and ultimately you didn’t feel like much was accomplished except billions of dollars in property damage. The final resolution of these battles is so anticlimactic that it just feels like a lot of time was wasted; at two hours and 20 minutes, Man of Steel felt long and somewhat bloated. A few editing choices would have made a huge difference.

Man of Steel boasts a talented cast, but the story ultimately fails them. I adore Amy Adams, but I didn’t buy her as Lois Lane for one second. Her supposed chemistry with Superman felt unearned and forced. Russell Crowe is giving more to do as Superman’s birth father Jor-El, but is saddled with a lot of exposition that never really made a lot of sense to me. I never really got what exactly was going on with Krypton and therefore was not very invested in the planet’s fate. Christopher Meloni, Richard Schiff and Laurence Fishburne all show up at various points but are given criminally little to do. None of them disappear into their character and while I am always glad to see Meloni pop up, every time he appeared I immediately thought “hey everybody – it’s Detective Stabler!” Henry Cavill was far too dreamy for me to give you a fair critique of his performance; he didn’t seem to be much more than an empty vessel, but I was far too interested in just drinking him in to say that I was fully paying attention to determine whether the shortcomings came from his performance or from how the story was written (I’m guessing it was a mixture of the two). The only real emotion the film conjured up for me was extreme disappointment when Cavill opted for the more clean cut look befitting the Man of Steel; I definitely dug him more with the facial hair. *sighs dreamily* Wait….what were we just talking about?

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The one particular bright spot in Man of Steel was Michael Shannon, who I really like as an actor and I thought made the villain General Zod intense and believable. Shannon is cursed (or blessed, depending on how you look at it) with an inherent creepiness factor; I’m sure he is a very nice man, but his appearance brings a bit of a sinister vibe to his performances. It works in this case – General Zod could have become very campy in the hands of another actor with all the yelling and speechifying, but Shannon grounds the performance and makes for a very satisfying bad guy.

Some other thoughts:

  • I like to consider myself a pretty smart person, but I found a lot of the plot of Man of Steel confusing. I never quite understood the whole business with the codex; this film really doubles down on the more intergalactic elements of the Superman story, which has never been one of my strong suits.
  • This movie is not at all subtle about their product placement and sponsorship deals – funny how an entire section of town can be destroyed, yet the signs for 7-11 and Sears not only remain completely intact, but in the background of just about every shot. As I became bored with the too long fighting sequences, I couldn’t stop noticing this in the background.
  • This isn’t a movie for small kids – a fact that many of the people at our screening apparently didn’t know or didn’t care about. One poor little guy started crying almost immediately when the movie started because he was scared. The previews sent mixed messages as to the target audience – we went from clips for Despicable Me 2 right into a trailer for the new 300 movie, which was absolutely not kid friendly. Parents beware.
  • When we left the theater, we witnessed an adorable sight: a father and little daughter walking around the mall in matching Superman/girl costumes. It was really cute, though I hoped that he wasn’t taking her to see the film for the reason above. She couldn’t have been more than 4.
  • During the last fight scene, there are references to another Superman character sprinkled in the background. I assume that character will come into play in the sequels.
  • We didn’t opt of the 3-D or IMAX experience; I think some of those action scenes would have given me a headache in 3-D.
  • If this film makes it cool to wear Kansas City Royals t-shirts, it will have really accomplished something.
  • Possible spoiler – I don’t understand why Earth had to become the new Krypton – if they were going to have to change Earth’s atmosphere anyway to make it hospitable to their life form, why couldn’t they just pick any old planet – preferably one that didn’t already have inhabitants? I know – there would be no movie then – but that just seemed like poor storytelling.
  • They couldn’t have sprung for some diapers when they shipped little Kal-El off to Earth? That poor little baby actor was on full display.
  • No need to stay after the credits – there are no bonus scenes (and if you don’t believe your favorite pop culture blogger, you can ask the kids that clean up the theater for their confirmation)

Man of Steel isn’t a bad movie, but it just isn’t all that enjoyable either. Not all superhero movies have to be as fun as The Avengers, but if you are going to make a serious movie you need to improve upon the character development and plot. The Batman movies had little humor in them, but they took the time to create interesting people and stories to watch. Man of Steel has doubled down on the special effects, but didn’t take the time to build a solid foundation for the movie before they decided to destroy it. Man of Steel feels like more work than it should be and we ultimately left the theater underwhelmed.