Runner Runner Review

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Gambling, exotic locations, extravagant parties, fast cars and more, the movie Runner Runner, starring Justin Timberlake and Ben Affleck showed so much promise and potential, however it didn’t live up to the hype and ultimately under-delivered and underwhelmed.

The movie revolves around a Princeton graduate student who gambles his tuition money on an online poker site.  Richie Furst (Timberlake) is a former Wall Street rising star and numbers guru, so when he loses his money he digs deeper, cracks a betting pattern code and uncovers a cheating scandal.  Rather that out the company on the internet, message boards, etc. Furst travels to Costa Rica to confront the man behind the site, Ivan Block (Affleck).

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Once there, Furst gets sucked into the promises of an eight figure salary when Block brings him into the inner circle.  What starts out as a fun lifestyle of cars, women and money soon turns dark when Furst finds himself in the middle of a cheating, extortion and racketeering FBI case and realizes that Block has brought him in to take the fall for the crimes.

What the film did right?

  • We found the casting decisions of Justin Timberlake and Ben Affleck great.  Both played their roles in impressive fashion.
  • The development of the Timberlake’s Richie Furst character.  The film follows Furst from NJ to Costa Rica.  It also gives us insight into this family history and past.

What the film did wrong?

  • Ivan Block is the most interesting character in this movie, and the one we know the least about.  We learn about the Richie Furst’s past and see his character being built throughout the film.  We wanted to see the same character development with Block.  How did his business get started?  What drives him?  What parts of his past led him to this point?  We simply are told he is the “guy” and are forced to accept he is the antagonist without any real setup.
  • The film attempts to keep up a fast pace and in the process moves to quickly.  Are we really supposed to believe Furst (a college student trying to pay his tuition) will just accept his new scandal driven extortion and bribery lifestyle.  Furst comes to Costa Rica to approach Block and let him know of a cheating scandal on his site, although once brought in his moral compass essentially evaporates.  There is a disconnect somewhere.
  • We learn that Block’s partner/assistant Rebecca Shafran (Gemma Arterton) is his former love interest.  She takes a new romantic interest in Furst.  At first it seems this will create an emotional and dramatic love triangle, however Block lets it go.  This would have been another opportunity to develop the characters – especially Arterton’s character.  We still aren’t crazy about the casting for this important role either.
  • Lastly, the lead up and previews really played up the “inspired by true events” angle.  The only thing apparently inspired was that online gambling companies are/were based in Costa Rica.  While we’re not naïve and assume there was plenty of bribery and extortion going on during the off shore gambling boom, the other events portrayed as true seem a little far fetched.  We would have rather seen a movie about real people.  We would group this movie in with films like Blow and 21; however those films tell the stories about real life people which creates a better product in the end.

 

We did have high hopes for this movie.  And we still enjoyed it.  However, once we assessed a little deeper we saw the cracks in the foundation.  We look at this movie as a beautiful home that is built to perfection on the outside, but once inside you see the builders were cheap with the finishes and cut corners which ultimately ruins an otherwise great foundation and structure.

~ES

 

Runner, Runner is a 2013 American crime drama thriller film directed by Brad Furman, and written by Brian Koppelman and David Levien. The film stars Justin Timberlake, Gemma Arterton and Ben Affleck, and was produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Davisson Killoran, Michael Shamberg, and Stacey Sher. It was released in Belgium, France and the Philippines on September 25, 2013, and in several other countries on the following days. It was released in the United States on October 4, 2013.

 

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Movies You May Have Missed: 21 and Over

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This 2013 comedy revolves around three friends and one crazy night.  Having been best friends in high school, Casey (Skyler Astin) and Miller (Miles Teller) (both age 21)  want to take their friend Jeff Chang (Justin Chon) out for his 21st birthday.  However, his birthday happens to fall on the night before the medical school interview his VERY STRICT father set up, so he declines (initially).  After Miller (the lovable loser friend) threatens to make a lot of noise the whole night if he persists in his refusal he accepts to come along for just “one” drink.  One leads to two, which leads to three… you get the drift.  Jeff Chang gets excited that he is allowed to enter bars now, drinks too much and ultimately blacks out and becomes unresponsive.  Casey and Miller want to take him home, but do not remember where he lives (the driving theme behind the plot).

The two friends begin their quest to find anyone on campus that can help direct them to their friend’s home (this task proves more difficult than you would expect).  This leads to a series of hilarious antics including breaking into a minority sorority house, attending crashing ruining a pep rally and possibly the coolest drinking game themed party I’ve ever seen.  I can only hope someone has attempted the drinking game party and it was inspired by true events.  (teaser – 8 story dorm + 8 drinking games (1 per level) = legendary party).

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The two dominating themes of the film are: 1. Staying close with your friends no matter your circumstances or the direction life takes you and 2. Always have fun.  Life is long so do not be in such a hurry to grow up.  In the film, we see the guys realize they have not remained the close friends they once were through a series of twists and story lines.  It serves as an important reminder to keep close to those important to you.  In the end, the three friends are there for each other, and although different in numerous ways and headed down their own individual paths they actually compliment and complete each other.

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We won’t spoil how everything plays out.  You will have to watch the film to find that out.  Does Jeff Chang make it to his medical school interview?  Do the friends survive the night?  The roller coaster story is definitely worth renting and enjoying over a couple of beers with your friends.  I can honestly say I was expecting very little out of this movie and was pleasantly surprised with the final product.  The characters are all relatable, mainly because we can all picture our friends filling in the roles.

Will this be a movie you hear talked about years from now – absolutely not.  But you will remember the night you got together with some buddies, had a few drinks and watched this movie (even if the movie part is later forgotten).  In the end, the memories you make with your friends are the most important thing.  21 & Over reminds us of the that.

~ES

21 & Over is a 2013 American comedy film. It was written by, and served as the directorial debut of, Jon Lucas and Scott Moore. The film stars Justin Chon and Miles Teller.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Premiere Review

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The much-anticipated series begins where the film Marvel’s The Avengers left off following the epic battle of New York. The scene is set and the world now knows there are both heroes and monsters living among them.

(To skip the recap and get straight to the ES Smack scroll down)

The opening sequence involves an unemployed father walking down the street with his son.  All of a sudden an explosion and fire ignites in the building behind them.  Michael Peterson (aka The Hooded Hero) climbs the back side of the building then jumps out of the window on the top floor rescuing a lady from the fire.  The whole thing is caught on video by a photographer blogger rebel hacker named Skye (Chloe Bennet) thus setting up the episode.

Next we find out Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) was NOT killed in Avengers’ movie.  Director Fury orchestrated a fake death to motivate the Avengers.  I guess that is one way to make sure you get a notable star and character attached to the show.  Coulson immediately starts putting together his new team recruiting Agent Ward (Brett Dalton) and Agent May (Ming-Na Wen).

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SHIELD‘s mission is to find the “Hooded Hero” in an effort to contain him in fear that potentially evil powers will track him down and exploit his powers.

However, we learn that Michael’s power is artificially induced by a doctor via a phone conversation and we get our first glimpse of the “centipede.”  Next, Michael returns back to the factory he was laid off after an injury and pleads for his job back.  When his former boss informs him there is nothing that can be done a dark rage overtakes (clearly as a result of the artificial power) and leads him to attack leaving his boss in critical condition.

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Moving along, we find out the women Michael rescued in the opening sequence was in fact the doctor that provided him with the centipede strength technology when he visits her in the hospital recovery area.  We find out he was not the first test subject and in fact the last subject snapped and blew up.  In fear of being exposed she urges him to disappear.  The main question we’re all asking at this point is who does the doctor work for?  This serves to be the antagonist for the SHIELD group all season.  The SHIELD scientist identifies that the centipede device attached to Michael is designed to explode and the first test subject didn’t snap.  This springs the team into action in an effort to capture him before he hurts himself or others.

I’ll let you watch and see how things play out.  Although, be warned it is pretty by the book.  The teaser preview (possibly the most interesting 2 minutes of the evening) for the rest of the season focuses on the 5 recruited team members coming together and places a specific emphasis on catching the end of each episode.  Is this simply a ploy to make us watch all the way to the end or will something from each episode tie together down the road?

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1.  I’m not sold on this show yet.  There was a lot of hype leading up to the premiere, especially among fan boys and I found the premiere underwhelming.  There was little excitement and the dialogue was a bit corny.  Perhaps things will sharpen up in the upcoming episodes now that all the characters have been introduced.

2.  If you tune expecting to see the Avengers you are in for a big disappointment.  The easiest way I can describe the show is Heroes + Undercovers + Smallville.

3.  I’m all for the secret agency with super weapons and technology, however the flying car was over the top.   Also, is Robin from How I Met Your Mother really the division director?  How they use her moving forward is something to keep an eye on.

4.  The opening episode focused mostly on introducing the team and characters.  We did not get to meet the true antagonist thus leaving the show’s direction up in the air.  I would have preferred at least a flash clip of the villain or opposing group.  Hopefully we get this early in episode two.

5.  I’m going to apply my rule of 3 to this series.  I’ll allow myself to watch the first three episodes good or bad.  However, if they can’t hook me and bring me in more than the premiere episode did then I’ll likely discontinue watching.

What did everyone else think?

~ES

Nashville Season 2 Premiere Review and Analysis

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The second season of Nashville came out of the gate strong and opened with a bang!
Almost 10 sub plots were laid out before the first commercial break with the headlining story being Rayna (Connie Britton) in a coma and Deacon (Charles Esten) in jail after the car wreck that ended season 1.
With the news of Rayna’s coma, Juliette (Hayden Panettiere) is in a panic over the release of her new album and worried her spot light will be diverted to the ailing star.  Although the always resourceful Juliette ultimately exploits the news of the injured legend by dedicating a segment of her album release concert at the Parthenon to Rayna and meeting fans outside the hospital for a candle light ceremony afterwards.  To me this was predictable and forced by the writers.  The back and forth between Panettiere and Britton’s characters (although the backbone of the show) is also the least interesting and beginning to be repetitive and boring.  Rayna gets a headline, Juliette reacts in big and dramatic fashion – drinks, tears, yelling, etc.  Luckily the teaser preview for the rest of the season showed the introduction of some new young talent to steal Juliette’s spot light and create a true rivalry.  I mean let’s be honest do we really think Taylor Swift would care if Reba was in the headlines.  Exactly!  No.
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In less dramatic news, Will (Chris Carmack) throws a party in an effort to help Gunnar (Sam Palladio) get over Scarlett (Clare Bowen).  The party includes drinking, hookups and an entertaining couch burning sequence (Scarlett’s couch).  After the fire settles and fire department leaves Gunnar accepts he can’t party his feelings away and heads to the Bluebird to see Scarlett.  Gunnar vs. Avery (Jonathon Jackson) round 2.  Will continues to struggle with his homosexual desires and we can only assume this will some how culminate and cost him in his attempt at stardom as his on stage persona is that of a ladies man.
The only two interesting story lines of the night received the least screen time with Teddy (Eric Close) and Peggy (Kimberly Williams-Paisley, wife of real life country star Brad Paisley) and the love child from their affair.  Teddy informs Peggy that he will only be involved from a financial stand point and wants no part of the child’s life.  Peggy learns during the episode she loses the baby, however leads Teddy to believe her pregnancy is going well.  This was very predictable the minute the doctor said there was no heart beat, however it is a story line that could be taken a number of directions and one worth keeping an eye on.  The other being a teaser that Lamar (Rayna’s father played by Powers Boothe) was responsible for the car wreck that resulted in his wife’s death.  Finally something worth watching the season for.  Lamar is a character that deserves far more screen time and script and it seems as so the show writers agree.
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Rayna awakes in the final minutes of the episode at Vanderbilt hospital and confirms she was driving resulting in Deacon being released from jail.  I personally hope the car wreck is the end of the Deacon and Rayna romance and more emphasis is placed on Deacon being the biological father of Rayna and Teddy’s oldest child.
Although the episode started off strong, the momentum was killed by the flash backs to Rayna and Deacon’s younger days and Juliette’s “look at me, I’m the star” antics.  There were potentially great story lines laid out during the episode and some boring repetitive ones.  Hopefully the writers do us all a favor and focus on the right ones during this second season.
~ES
Nashville is an American musical drama television series. It was created by Academy Award winner Callie Khouri and produced by R.J. Cutler, Khouri, Dee Johnson, Steve Buchanan and Connie Britton. The series stars Connie Britton as Rayna Jaymes, a legendary country music superstar, whose stardom begins fading, and Hayden Panettiere as rising teen star Juliette Barnes. The series premiered on ABC on October 10, 2012.

Movies You May Have Missed – Spring Breakers

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Spring Breakers is a 2012 American drama film written and directed by Harmony Korine starring James Franco, Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine.  The film follows four college girls on their college spring break and subsequent descent into use of drugs, crimes, and violence.

After watching the trailer for Spring Breakers I was completely shocked when I finally decided to take the time to watch this film.  I was expecting to see a group of attractive college girls drinking and partying too much and getting themselves into some negative situations.

Well they did that, only on steroids.   Fans of Selena Gomez should not expect to see the classy image she typically upholds in this movie.  Although her character is the strong Christian “good girl” of the group, her friends played by Hudgens, Benson and Korine lead her down a dark path and into some uncomfortable and negative situations.  The film overall has a very dark message.  I never expected to see the graphic sexual scenes (threesomes and more), especially in a movie that has Selena Gomez’s name attached.  I guess this is one way to shed the “young Disney” image.  I will say that her character does remove herself from the picture before things really spiral out of control (so there is that).

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Without going into the specifics, the film revolves around four college and lifelong friends that have the ultimate goal of attending spring break in Tampa/St Pete.  Having no money, the girls (minus Gomez) commit a crime to fund their spring break vacation.   Once there the partying ensues – drinks, sex, drugs, music and so on.

The girls ultimately get arrested then bailed out by a local crime boss named Alien (Franco).  Franco delivers an impressive performance walking the line between funny and fearful in his roll.  Wanting their vacation to continue the girls start working with Alien selling drugs and robbing fellow spring breakers.

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This ultimately spirals into darker circumstances of drugs, weapons, a rival gang (led by Big Arch played by Gucci Mane) and ultimately murder.  I’ll let you watch it to see how everything unfolds.

However, know this.   Do not expect to see your normal “hot girl” spring break party movie.  I cannot reiterate enough his film has a much darker tone.

The director’s approach throughout the film is to give you information and situations and never really go into the “why.”  That sentence may seem confusing but will make complete sense after watching the film.

In my opinion the ending is also a little far fetched and unbelievable.   I actually still shake my head thinking of it.  I cannot blame the director for ending the movie the way they did.  It had to end somehow and there was an attempt for a dramatic and suspenseful finale.  However, the ending was ultimately forced because there was no other way to close out the film (without dragging an already lengthy film out even further).

Overall the movie does have some entertaining moments, but for the most part drags on and has you asking yourself “when will this end?”

If this ultimately makes it to cable it may be the best thing for it.  There is a good and entertaining movie hidden in the lengthy production.  The right editor can cut this down (thus eliminating some of the graphic scenes) and in my opinion lose nothing in terms of story, all the while creating a better end product.  It would likely be the best thing to happen

~ES