Skip to main content

You sold a cow for magic beans.

Draft Day
(2014)

Sports movies have been good to Kevin Costner. American Flyers not so much, perhaps. And For the Love of the Game not so much either (but didn’t Raimi get behind that baseball?) But Bull Durham, through Field of Dreams and onto Tin Cup, they’ve proved more consistent than his attempts at costly star vehicles, which often floundered almost as soon as he had the idea he set sail in them. On that level, it may be surprising that it’s taken him so long to come back around to them, although a good chunk of that will be down to his resurgent cachet. This year he’s a coach in McFarland USA, last year he was an NFL manager in Draft Day. And you know what? It’s a pretty good movie, and Costner’s pretty good in it.


It’s also the best thing Ivan Reitman’s done in more than a decade, although he’s done very little in more than a decade (that may sound like faint praise, but he provides a sure hand, and makes fine and complementary use of split screen throughout). I know diddly about American Football, but knowing nothing about baseball, other than that it’s a glorified version of rounders, did nothing to dent my enjoyment of Moneyball (in another of Costner’s 2014 pictures, 3 Days to Kill, he makes a point of telling a Frenchie that he comes from Pittsburg, where “We play real football”. I don’t know if there’s a reference in Black or White). This isn’t quite up there with the Brad Pitt movie, and it’s much more classically oiled fare, but Draft Day shares something of that picture’s design, in as much as the focus is not on the field, or the players, but on the behind the scenes mechanics that puts a team together and makes a side tick.


Costner is Sonny Weaver Jr, general manager of the Cleveland Browns, faced with an escalating series of difficult choices on the titular day, that of the NFL draft, in which newly eligible players are selected to the league. He finds himself embroiled in a series of battles, bluffs and seat-of-the-pants deals. Much of what ensues (trading first picks for future years’ picks with rival teams) is initially confusing, but its one of those movies with such surefooted momentum that, if one goes with the flow, one ought to get the gist of it in due course.


Weaver is initially under pressure from boss Frank Langella. As a result, he makes a decision regarding his potential first pick player that leads him to spend most of the rest of the running time looking for ways out of (scrutinising the history of this potential star for signs of weakness). If he isn’t incurring the wrath of his boss, he’s pissing of his head coach (Dennis Leary), players he might pass over for the pot of gold (Chadwick Boseman in a surprisingly minor role, but exuding charisma, which may be why he took the part), having spats with his mum and sister (Ellen Burstyn and Rosanna Arquette), or heavy conversations with his pregnant girlfriend (Jennifer Garner, a mere 18 years Kev’s junior).


The business with an intrusive mother may seem a bit artificial, but at least it’s germane to the trial by fire in which Weaver finds himself; he fired his father, the former coach, a year previously, and père died a week before the day’s events. What dad would have wanted runs throughout the picture, but this isn’t all about a Field of Dreams; the forces competing for his attention compel Weaver to be his own man.


The real weak spot here is the girlfriend character, shoehorned in to provide an extra bit of drama but having the opposite effect, making what could have been lean and to the point a little more bloated and much more process-driven.


Draft Day reminded me a little of Ron Howard’s The Paper in its faux-adrenalised, against-the-clock construction, but it’s more focused than that feature even if its less broadly accessible. Apparently the likelihood of Sonny’s decisions actually occurring is extremely remote, but plausibility doesn’t necessarily make a good movie. The build up to his make or break moment is Costner at his best, a reminder of why he became a leading man in the first place, that air of effortless earnestness, with a hint of exasperation.


If this is Kev’s show, his support is universally strong. Langella is always a treat and gets some of the best lines (“No, I’m going to see Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. Of course I’m going to the draft”), and Reitman has populated the cast with a great eye for who will spark off Costner in whatever the next scene is. Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph’s script has a satisfying construction, such that Weaver’s wrong footed start to the day comes full circle, but with the shoe on the other foot (“You pancake eating motherfucker”, indeed). So much so that Weaver doesn’t need to go overboard and tell us he loves his job. Such moments of overstatement can’t spoil Draft Day, though. I didn’t think I’d have cause to say this again (and rarely have previously), but well done, Ivan.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Well, we took a vote. Predator’s cooler, right?

The Predator (2018)
(SPOILERS) Is The Predator everything you’d want from a Shane Black movie featuring a Predator (or Yautja, or Hish-Qu-Ten, apparently)? Emphatically not. We've already had a Shane Black movie featuring a Predator – or the other way around, at least – and that was on another level. The problem – aside from the enforced reshoots, and the not-altogether-there casting, and the possibility that full-on action extravaganzas, while delivered competently, may not be his best foot forward – is that I don't think Black's really a science-fiction guy, game as he clearly was to take on the permanently beleaguered franchise. He makes The Predator very funny, quite goofy, very gory, often entertaining, but ultimately lacking a coherent sense of what it is, something you couldn't say of his three prior directorial efforts.

Right! Let’s restore some bloody logic!

It Couldn't Happen Here (1987)
(SPOILERS) "I think our film is arguably better than Spiceworld" said Neil Tennant of his and Chris Lowe's much-maligned It Couldn't Happen Here, a quasi-musical, quasi-surrealist journey through the English landscape via the Pet shop Boys' "own" history as envisaged by co-writer-director Jack Bond. Of course, Spiceworld could boast the presence of the illustrious Richard E Grant, while It Couldn't Happen Here had to settle for Gareth Hunt. Is its reputation deserved? It's arguably not very successful at being a coherent film (even thematically), but I have to admit that I rather like it, ramshackle and studiously aloof though it is.

I can't explain now, but I've just been murdered.

The Avengers
5.21: You Have Just Been Murdered
Slender in concept – if you're holding out for a second act twist, you'll be sorely disappointed – You Have Just Been Murdered nevertheless sustains itself far past the point one might expect thanks to shock value that doesn't wear out through repetition, a suitably sinister performance from Simon Oates (Steed in the 1971 stage adaptation of the show) and a cartoonish one from George Murcell (1.3: Square Root of Evil) as Needle, of the sort you might expect Matt Berry to spoof.

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …

Anything can happen in Little Storping. Anything at all.

The Avengers 2.22: Murdersville
Brian Clemens' witty take on village life gone bad is one of the highlights of the fifth season. Inspired by Bad Day at Black Rock, one wonders how much Murdersville's premise of unsettling impulses lurking beneath an idyllic surface were set to influence both Straw Dogs and The Wicker Mana few years later (one could also suggest it premeditates the brand of backwoods horrors soon to be found in American cinema from the likes of Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper).

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

Dude, you're embarrassing me in front of the wizards.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
(SPOILERS) The cliffhanger sequel, as a phenomenon, is a relatively recent thing. Sure, we kind of saw it with The Empire Strikes Back – one of those "old" movies Peter Parker is so fond of – a consequence of George Lucas deliberately borrowing from the Republic serials of old, but he had no guarantee of being able to complete his trilogy; it was really Back to the Future that began the trend, and promptly drew a line under it for another decade. In more recent years, really starting with The MatrixThe Lord of the Rings stands apart as, post-Weinstein's involvement, fashioned that way from the ground up – shooting the second and third instalments back-to-back has become a thing, both more cost effective and ensuring audiences don’t have to endure an interminable wait for their anticipation to be sated. The flipside of not taking this path is an Allegiant, where greed gets the better of a studio (split a novel into two movie parts assuming a…

Bring home the mother lode, Barry.

Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010)

If Panos Cosmatos’ debut had continued with the slow-paced, tripped-out psychedelia of the first hour or so I would probably have been fully on board with it, but the decision to devolve into an ‘80s slasher flick in the final act lost me.

The director is the son of George Pan Cosmatos (he of The Cassandra Crossing and Cobra, and in name alone of Tombstone, apparently) and it appears that his inspiration was what happened to the baby boomers in the ‘80s, his parents’ generation. That element translates effectively, expressed through the extreme of having a science institute engaging in Crowley/Jack Parsons/Leary occult quests for enlightenment in the ‘60s and the survivors having become burnt out refugees or psychotics by the ‘80s. Depending upon your sensibilities, the torturously slow pace and the synth soundtrack are positives, while the cinematography managed to evoke both lurid early ‘80s cinema and ‘60s experimental fare. 

Ultimately the film takes a …

I think World War II was my favourite war.

Small Soldiers (1998)
An off-peak Joe Dante movie is still one chock-a-block full of satirical nuggets and comic inspiration, far beyond the facility of most filmmakers. Small Soldiers finds him back after a six-year big screen absence, taking delirious swipes at the veneration of the military, war movies, the toy industry, conglomerates and privatised defence forces. Dante’s take is so gleefully skewed, he even has big business win! The only problem with the picture (aside from an indistinct lead, surprising from a director with a strong track record for casting juveniles) is that this is all very familiar.

Dante acknowledged Small Soldiers was basically a riff on Gremlins, and it is. Something innocuous and playful turns mad, bad and dangerous. On one level it has something in common with Gremlins 2: The New Batch, in that the asides carry the picture. But Gremlins 2 was all about the asides, happy to wander off in any direction that suited it oblivious to whether the audience was on …