The Finest Hours

January 29, 2016 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Holliday Grainger
Directed by: Craig Gillespie (“Million Dollar Arm”)
Written by: Scott Silver (“The Fighter”), Paul Tamasy (“The Fighter”), Eric Johnson (“The Fighter”)

Recounting the true story of a coast guard rescue in 1952, “The Finest Hours” tells the story of how Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) led a team off the coast of Cape Cod to save a wrecked ship. It’s a story that, on paper, sounds like a daring, enthralling rescue mission. Unfortunately, in the hands of director Craig Gillespie (“Million Dollar Arm,” “Fright Night”), it doesn’t translate to very inspiring cinema.

Throughout “The Finest Hours,” characters are routinely flat and uninteresting. Speaking in bad Boston accents, the usually solid Chris Pine and Casey Affleck are blank slates who despite being in leadership roles, never truly show qualities that make them endearing. Even one of the more underrated character actors in Ben Foster feels like he’s just reading lines rather than developing a nuanced character. It’s certainly a bad sign when the boat is the most interesting character in the film.

The biggest reason that “The Finest Hours” fails to connect is that there is no way to hook into the narrative. The film opens with a clunky attempt to establish a romantic story, complete with a poorly written script with terrible jokes. From there, anything romantic is a major whiff, with not only a complete lack of emotional connection, but no reason for the central couple to even be together. In an attempt to make Bernie’s fiancée seem like a strong, independent woman, Gillespie and company instead make her shrill and commanding. In that sense, “The Finest Hours,” attempts to show a unique relationship in the context of the 1950’s and instead gives audiences a relationship that has a precarious foundation.

As a tale of rescue, “The Finest Hours” is an interesting enough story of bravery and impressive feats. As a dramatization, the film version lacks any sort of pull – emotional, visual or otherwise. It feels excruciatingly long and each scene is more tedious than the last. Other than a few special effects, “The Finest Hours” lacks in just about everything else it brings to the screen.

Million Dollar Arm

May 16, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Jon Hamm, Aasif Mandvi, Bill Paxton
Directed by: Craig Gillespie (“Lars and the Real Girl”)
Written by: Tom McCarthy (“Win Win”)

More than any other major North American sports league, Major League Baseball has truly gone international.  Last season, more than a quarter of the league’s players on opening day rosters were born outside of the United States, representing 15 countries.  As the game continues to expand, areas of the world once considered a new baseball frontier like the Dominican Republic are a fixture of any scout’s itinerary.  Just as “Moneyball” showed the competitive edge that can be gained from tapping into a market inefficiency, “Million Dollar Arm” shows how creative strategies and unconventional thinking can continue to mine talent from unexpected places.

As a last ditch effort to save his sports agency, agent J.B. Bernstein (Jon Hamm) comes up with a reality TV show idea with the intent of converting cricket players to major league pitchers. When the two players from India are selected (Madhur Mittal and Suraj Sharma) they embark on an unlikely journey to earn a professional contract.

From early on in the film, it is clear the cast is one of the strong points of the film. Despite playing the lead on a massively popular TV show (“Mad Men”), this is one of the first leading film roles for Hamm. It’s a good performance, albeit one that doesn’t require much other than occupying a lot of screen time, which he does quite capably. Nonetheless, he is charismatic enough to make his role worthwhile. As actors with little recognition to American audiences, Mittal and Sharma, are able to capture elements of culture shock without overdoing it.

With such a brilliant past output, it makes sense that Disney would hire such a talented screenwriter in Thomas McCarthy. Unfortunately, McCarthy’s writing is stifled and slightly generic. That isn’t to say it is bad, but it does go through the motions and hits every expected narrative and emotional arc you’d expect from a Disney movie, which makes it more of a by-the-numbers sports film than something truly special.

Though there isn’t a terrible amount of it, director Craig Gillespie does a good job of building a convincing world of baseball and constructing the pitching montages and an even better job of photographing the streets of India. By the sometimes desolate and cramped living spaces, Gillespie does a great job of showing the cultural differences that go both ways.

At its core, “Million Dollar Arm,” like many other underdog sports films, is about pursuing a dream against all odds. As a film, it doesn’t do any one thing particularly well, but rather a decent job at several things. While many of the notes are certainly familiar, none of them are false and the film does a solid job of developing emotional investment. It’s far too long and there is nothing particularly unique or imaginative about it, but for a family sports movie, you could do a lot worse.