‘McFarland, USA’ is movie comfort food

After watching the film’s trailer, I thought I was going to hate “McFarland, USA.” I really did.

I already knew that the underdog group of minority kids would overcome some sort of adversity to succeed in dramatic fashion with their white savior coach leading the way. Sure enough, the film followed that paint by numbers formula to a tee and there wasn’t a single plot point that I couldn’t see coming a mile away. Oh, and haven’t we seen enough of these white man saving the ethnic kids films by now? Disney just did one last year with “Million Dollar Arm.” Ugh.

mcfarland1But despite the film being as generic and formulaic as it can get, I have to say I left the theater with a smile on my face.

Based on a true story, “McFarland, USA” is the name of a small town in California with a large Mexican population. Kevin Costner plays Jim White, a coach with a mean temper who is forced to relocate there after losing his previous job. Of course there is some culture shock at first with his wife and two daughters having to learn about enchiladas and lowriders but once he discovers a group of kids who can run like the wind, he forms a cross country team that will compete in the first ever state finals.

Costner is always comfortable playing a sports figure and he does a great job with his character but it’s the boys who comprise of the cross-country team who really stand out. Each has their individual personalities and play off them wonderfully, making it so easy to root for them. The standouts are Carlos Pratts as Thomas, the fastest of the group but with the most to prove, and Ramiro Rodriguez as Danny Diaz, the boy who doesn’t know how to quit. Underdog films don’t work if you don’t believe in the heroes and this cast certainly shines with their enthusiasm and passion for life and running.

mcfarland2I was also very happy to see the major inclusion of Mexican culture in the film. This was not about Mexicans learning the white man’s world, but the other way around. With the majority of the film taking place in McFarland, many opportunities are taken to show true Mexican culture such as the strong influence of family, work ethic, religion, and even a celebration called a “quinceanera” which takes place when a young girl turns 15.

Think of “McFarland, USA” as movie comfort food. You know what you’re going to get but will enjoy the hell out of it anyway.

Oscar categories we really want

The Oscars still represent the finest achievement in annual cinema. But with a months-long awards season leading up to it, including the Golden Globes and SAG awards, they have become predictable — almost a formality. Rarely have Academy voters surprised film fans with their picks.

Even rarer is for the Oscars to come up with a broadcast that’s actually entertaining: Ratings show that fewer people watch it each year. Instead of the usual stuffy show with men in penguin suits and women in garish gowns listening to agonizingly boring speeches filled with names of people we don’t know, what if Oscar rewarded films and categories that the actual movie-going public cared about?

You want to increase ratings and get people interested again? How about introducing the following categories:

Most Likely to Make You Sleep with the Lights On: “The Babadook”

The horror genre is like me talking to pretty girls — always ignored. But there was a little film out of Australia called “The Babadook” that not only scared the you-know-what out of me, but also surprised me with its deep layers and on-point performances.

Most Likely to Make You Pee Your Pants: “22 Jump Street”

2014 wasn’t a strong year for comedy. In fact, I can more quickly name the comedies that failed than the ones that actually made me laugh. But of the few that genuinely got a few chuckles out of me, “22 Jump Street” was the by far the most entertaining. And who can forget those awesome end credits?

Best Best Friend Character: Baymax from “Big Hero 6”

There’s always a best friend character. Whether it’s the sassy, tell-it-like-it-is girl in romantic comedies or the loyal buddy who’d literally take a bullet for you, the best friend character is someone who helps define the lead character. This year, I wanted my best friend to be Baymax. I want to hang out with him all day until I am satisfied with my care.

Most Overrated Movie: “Boyhood”

Can we please get over this film already? Yeah, it was filmed over 12 years. Big deal. Take out that concept and there’s not much of a film left. Not an entertaining one, anyway. This Honest Trailer nails it.

Most Underrated Movie: “Nightcrawler”

I love my movies dark. “Nightcrawler” definitely succeeds in showing us not only the dark side of Los Angeles, but the dark side of human nature as well. It’s a shame that this film didn’t get the attention it deserved. Which leads us to …

Biggest Oscar Snub: Jake Gyllenhaal in “Nightcrawler”

How meta would it be for Oscar to recognize its nomination errors on its own show? I think it’d be genius. Jake Gyllenhaal transformed like no other actor this year with his performance in “Nightcrawler” and it’s absolutely criminal that he was ignored by Oscar. We should be talking about his chances of winning the Best Actor award, not about why he wasn’t even nominated.

The John Woo Award for Action Excellence: “John Wick”

John Woo is the action god. No, not an action god. THE action god. The man behind Hong Kong classics “Hard Boiled” and “The Killer” had a huge influence on action films in the ‘90s and beyond, and his clean, operatic bullet ballets have been copied many times but never matched. But man, does “John Wick” come close. Keanu Reeves delivers in spades as an assassin in “John Wick” with the help of some beautifully choreographed action pieces unlike any we’ve seen in recent years. Here’s just a little taste.

Most WTF Moment: “Gone Girl”

I’d say spoiler alert but the film’s already been out for over four months so if you haven’t seen it by now, you probably won’t see it anytime soon. Rosamund Pike gives an incredible performance as Amy, a woman who appears to be a victim, but the film slowly reveals that she’s actually the crazy one. But you never really get how batcrap crazy she is until she slits Doogie Howser’s neck while having sex with him. We all knew at that point that she was a little off but had no idea how psychopathic she really is. Bravo.

Why Spidey shouldn’t be white

Comic book geeks were in nerdvana the other day with the news that Spider-Man will be joining the Marvel Comics Universe (MCU) films. That means the popular web slinger will now be both butting heads and joining forces with the likes of Iron Man, Captain America and Thor. Oh — you thought “The Avengers” was a comic fan boy’s dream come true? Wait until Spidey joins the party, starting with “Captain America: Civil War” coming out in 2016.

It’s already been announced that Andrew Garfield, the most recent actor to play Spider-Man, is out. I never really cared for him in the role anyway. So who will win this new casting opportunity? Well, it all depends on what direction Marvel and Sony decide to take the character. If they decide to stay with the Peter Parker character, Dylan O’Brien and Logan Lerman are two of the initial favorites.

Dylan O' Brien

Dylan O’ Brien

I’ve only seen O’Brien in “The Maze Runner” and thought he was serviceable in that film, but he doesn’t really scream charisma to me. Lerman, on the other hand, is a fantastic actor who’s displayed his chops in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and most recently in “Fury.” I can really see this guy embracing the role of Peter Parker and making his mark in the MCU.

Logan Lerman

Logan Lerman

But we’ve already seen two versions of Peter Parker in the last seven years. We know all about his back story, his relationship with Aunt May and Uncle Ben, and that with great power comes great responsibility. Do we really need to rehash all this? I’m really hoping that Marvel and Sony take a risk and go with the Miles Morales version of Spider-Man. For those who aren’t familiar with him, Miles Morales is the half-black, half-Latino character who took over as Spider-Man after the death of Peter Parker in the comic books. How fresh would it be to see an ethnic Spider-Man on the big screen?

After a down year for major minority film roles in 2014, the film industry needs to be more diverse. Casting an African-American or a Latino actor as Spider-Man in a comic book franchise would be HUGE. Not only would it introduce a minority actor as one of the most popular characters in film, it would also open the doors for more future casting diversity in these cash cow franchises. Especially since worldwide box office has become more significant in measuring a film’s success, it only makes sense to create characters that people around the world can relate to. Besides, the Avengers already have white, green and red (Russian) characters. Add in a black/brown character and you’ll just be one Asian short of a Benetton ad.

Donald Glover

Donald Glover

So who would be a great choice for Miles Morales? Popular internet opinion points to Donald Glover, the star of the TV comedy “Community.” After all, he was part of the inspiration for creating the character. Having seen a few episodes of the show, I’d be interested to see him take on the role. He at least seems to have the required comic talents to pull it off.

Marvel has been known to take some gambles with their choices so far. Creating the MCU, for example, was a huge risk that paid off big time for them. I’m sincerely hoping that kind of maverick thinking leads to a fresh new take on their most iconic character.

Best moments: Super Bowl commercials

Man, what a bummer of a Super Bowl.

Oh, I don’t mean the game. The game itself was amazing and as entertaining as one could ask for.

I’m talking about the commercials. What happened this year? The Super Bowl is supposed to be a time when friends and families watch the big game, gorge on food and get entertained by the fun TV ads. Instead, we got dying children (apparently killed when a flat-screen TV fell on them), an annoyingly manipulative Microsoft ad about a physically disabled kid and a cruise line pitch that sounded like a college lecture.

You bringing me down, man! Where were the wacky celebrity cameos? Where was the geek making out with the hot model? Where were the laughs? I guess when you pay $4.5 million for 30 seconds of commercial time, there’s no money left for creativity.

Despite the extremely slim pickings this year, I still managed to come up with a short list of my favorite Super Bowl commercials. A very short list. And I had to cheat a little and include a movie trailer. Like I said, slim pickings.

Doritos

We’ve all been there. Sitting in our assigned seat on the plane, praying no one annoying will sit next to us, praying even harder that whoever does end up there is hot. Some of the best commercials are the ones you can totally relate to.

“Furious 7″ Super Bowl TV Spot

A car jumps between two highrise buildings. How did the car get into that building in the first place? Who cares? A CAR JUMPS BETWEEN TWO HIGHRISE BUILDINGS!

Snickers

I’m normally not a fan of the Snickers “You’re not yourself” ads. But put Machete and Mr. Pink together with America’s wholesomest family? Brilliant.

Budweiser

This was easily my favorite of the day. It’s become tradition for Budweiser to feature their Clydesdales, but this year’s edition was the best. Loved seeing the horses save the little dog, all to the tune of “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” by The Proclaimers.

 So what was your favorite Super Bowl commercial this year?

‘The Loft’ will keep you guessing

Sometimes you’re just in the mood for a cheesy, sleazy, vapid movie. Especially after the winter season was filled with highbrow artsy films desperate for Oscar recognition, it can feel really gratifying to turn your brain off and indulge in a guilty pleasure. If films like “The Theory of Everything” and “The Imitation Game” are like ginger crusted onaga from Alan Wong’s, then “The Loft” is like an order of two deep fried tacos from Jack in the Box. You know it’s bad for you, but man, does it satisfy that craving.

loft1The premise of “The Loft” is very simple. Five married men share a loft to give them a secret location where they can cheat on their wives. But then they find a dead woman handcuffed to the bed and from there they need to figure out which of the five is responsible for her murder.

I wasn’t expecting much going into “The Loft” but it actually turned out to be a pretty fun film. I enjoy whodunit movies in general as I like to try to figure out who the bad guy is before the film reveals it, and because I have a pretty good track record of filtering through all the misleading information and correctly guessing the killer due to the sheer number of films I’ve seen in my lifetime. But “The Loft” kept me guessing and there was a point in the film where I literally said out loud, “I didn’t see that coming.”

loft2The direction by Erik Van Looy is very slick and after looking him up on IMDB, I learned that “The Loft” is actually a remake of the Belgian film “Loft,” also directed by Van Looy. He does a great job in slowly revealing the facts of the woman’s death and the perspectives of all five of the men leading up to it and I actually felt that there were moments in the film that were very Brian De Palma-esque. And if your film reminds me of the work of the director of “Scarface” and “The Untouchables,” then that’s definitely a good thing.

There are some pacing issues in the film and the conclusion is a little overdone, but overall “The Loft” is an effective thriller that can fulfill your need for some mindless junk.