The Story of Us


You mean...Bruce Willis once had hair?!?

You mean…Bruce Willis once had hair?!?

(1999) Romance (Universal) Bruce Willis, Michelle Pfeiffer, Tim Matheson, Rob Reiner, Julie Hagerty, Rita Wilson, Ken Lerner, Colleen Rennison, Jake Sandvig, Victor Raider-Wexler, Albert Hague, Jayne Meadows, Tom Poston, Betty White, Red Buttons, Alan Zweibel, Art Evans, Lucy Webb, Paul Reiser, Marci Rosenberg, Bill Kirchenbauer, Jessie Nelson. Directed by Rob Reiner

Hollywood is a town built on ego. The stars, the producers, the directors, the studio execs all have heads so swelled they won’t fit into ordinary cars – that’s why they take limos everywhere. Hell, even the bicycle couriers got ‘tude.

Isn’t it funny, then, that with all that excess of self-worth, nobody will break Hollywood’s critical commandment: Thou Shalt End Happily (unless Thou Art Remaking Shakespeare). Sometimes, that formula gets in the way of a good movie.

The Story of Us chronicles a marriage in its final stages of dissolution, as Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer play a once-happy couple who can hardly be civil to one another for more than a few moments at a time. As their marriage crumbles, they try to figure out how they’re going to break it to their kids, who are away at camp. At the same time, they’re wondering where things went wrong.

Like so many Rob Reiner films (When Harry Met Sally most notably), both characters are likable enough to keep us interested, but flawed enough to be just like the people who surround us in Real Life. Although the focus here is on Willis, Pfeiffer’s character seemed more sympathetic to me. Thrust into the role of disciplinarian, pragmatist and organizer, Pfeiffer hates what she’s become (i.e. her own mother), but feels powerless to escape her situation. She takes out her rage on her husband, whom she blames for not lifting her burdens, or at least sharing them.

For his part he is bewildered by her behavior and is unable to sympathize, yearning for the happy-go-lucky woman he married. Neither one is able to see the other’s viewpoint, and therein lies their problem.

Willis followed one of his all-time career performance in The Sixth Sense with an outstanding effort here, his best romantic comedy work since his Moonlighting days. While Academy members have never really had Willis on their dance card, one wonders if they tended to view him as little more than Mr. Demi Moore, a label which hounded him when he was unable to match the success of the Die Hard film series throughout the ’90s. Then again, he’s generally played pretty much the same character with astonishing regularity with occasional diversions like The Jackal.

Viewers are bound to notice Rita Wilson, however. As Pfeiffer’s best friend (and wife to Willis’ best friend) she positively dominates the screen every time she’s on it. She is, as Da Queen put it, just like every woman’s best friend in real life. That is to say, brassy, catty, vulgar and supportive. It is no accident that most women who view the film howl at Wilson’s jokes while the men tend to squirm and scratched their receding hairlines perplexedly.

That Pfeiffer and Willis were both dealing with the breakup of their real-life relationships while The Story Of Us was filming undoubtedly gave both actors an additional wellspring of emotion from which to draw. A profound scene near the end of the movie when Willis at last sees himself through his wife’s eyes couldn’t help but get one wondering if he was thinking of Demi at that moment.

My biggest gripe with this movie is the denouement, which is forced and happens in such an unbelievable and predictable manner that it leaves you spitting out “Hollywood!” in a scornful tone at your empty popcorn bowl as you turn off your screen. We spend two hours exploring why the marriage is breaking up, but we never really understand what puts it back together again.

Pfeiffer and Willis are appealing, but it’s the realism of their characters that make this movie satisfying, until it’s shattered in the final reel. I still recommend it strongly, based on the performances and the depiction of a relationship that is not unlike those of friends and family. Not a bad date movie for a couple going through a bad patch.

WHY RENT THIS: Good chemistry between Willis and Pfeiffer. Extraordinary performance by Wilson. Realistic characters and situation.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE. Oh that Hollywood ending! Gaah!

FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of bad language and some sexy stuff.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The last full-length feature film for Red Buttons and Albert Hague.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: A featurette on the locations the film was shot at.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $58.9M on a $50M production budget.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Jobs

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Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax


 

Dr. Seuss' The Lorax

Introducing the Lorax.

(2012) Animated Feature (Universal) Starring the voices of Zac Efron, Ed Helms, Danny DeVito, Taylor Swift, Rob Riggle, Betty White, Jenny Slate, Nasim Perdad, Stephen Tobolowsky, Elmarie Wendel, Danny Cooksey, Laraine Newman. Directed by Chris Renaud and Kyle Balda

 

The world we live in is the only one we have. It is beautiful and full of life, a virtual paradise without any help from us. However, that world is also terribly fragile and if we succumb to greed and short-sightedness, we run the risk of losing it.

Thneedville upon first glance seems to be a great place to live. Everything is plastic, there are no living things anywhere save the people. Air is bottled for the most part; the mayor O’Hare (Riggle) has the air concession.

Ted (Efron) lives in this town and he doesn’t much care one way or the other. His attention is on Audrey (Swift) who he very much would like to get to know better. He contrives ways to get her attention – like crashing a radio-controlled plane into her yard. Once there, he sees that she’s painted some odd-looking things on the back of her house. She calls them “trees” and tells him that they used to be plentiful around there but nobody has seen one in years. She sighs and tells her that her fondest wish is to see a real live one – and that she would just about marry the man on the spot who could show her one.

That’s all the information that Ted needs. But where does one find a living tree in a place where there aren’t any? Ted’s granny (White) fortunately has the answer, one hastily whispered – the Once-Ler (Helms), who lies outside of town. Outside of town? Gulp! Nobody ever goes outside of town. But Ted is determined and so he goes.

The trip is perilous but at last he finds the Once-Ler’s lonely home in the wilderness of tree stumps and sunless barren desolation. The Once-Ler isn’t particularly interested in helping Ted out – he really wants to be left alone but at last he gives in and agrees to give Ted a tree – but first he must hear the story of how the trees went away.

You see, the Once-Ler is the one who is responsible for the disappearance of the trees. He had arrived in the area as an ambitious young man, looking to make his mark on the world with his own invention – the Thneed. However he needs raw materials to make his Thneeds and this place is perfect. It is filled with woodland creatures (mostly little bears and the occasional Sneetch) and smiling, singing fish – but most importantly, thousands upon thousands of beautiful truffula trees whose tut-like branches are softer than summer rain.

After chopping down a truffula tree to make his first Thneed, the Once-Ler is visited by the Lorax (DeVito), a mystical and slightly annoying (as the Once-Ler describes him) creature who is the advocate of the forest. He speaks for the trees, presumably since the trees have no mouths. And the Lorax warns of dire consequences if the Once-Ler continues on his path of destruction.

At first, the Once-Ler is spectacularly unsuccessful at selling his Thneed but pure happenstance demonstrates how useful the item is and suddenly everyone wants one. The Once-Ler promises the Lorax that he will use sustainable means of harvesting the truffula trees and the Lorax seems satisfied with that. The Once-Ler brings his family into the peaceful valley to help him ramp up his manufacturing operation. Instead, they convince him to clear-cut the forest to harvest more efficiently which he finally gives in to. The results are that the Once-Ler completely depletes the forest, he runs out of materials to make his Thneeds and his family deserts him. The Lorax takes the animals and goes, leaving behind a rock with the word “Unless” carved into it.

Can Ted stand up to the powers-that-be of Thneedville and bring back the trees and animals? Or are the inhabitants of Thneedville doomed to their plastic existence?

The Lorax has come under a lot of fire on both sides of the political fence. Conservatives decry its message which has been described as anti-capitalist and the indoctrination of children into super-liberal causes. Liberals have pointed out the hypocrisy of a film with a green message and over 70 product placements in the movie. The former is a crock; the message here is of acting responsibly and thinking globally rather than of short-term profit. There is nothing anti-capitalist about promoting responsibility. Those who think so have guilty consciences in my book.

The latter however is definitely an issue. It sends conflicting messages, to support environmental causes on the one hand and to embrace consumerism on the other. Now, I understand the economic realities of film making – these product placement help pay the bills – but couldn’t there have been other ways to get the sponsorship money?

The movie is otherwise fun and adheres to the spirit of Dr. Seuss. There are a trio of singing fish who act much as a Greek chorus, even if they aren’t always singing lyrics. They are, as the minions are in Despicable Me (whose animation studio produced the movie but the actual animation was done by the French Mac Guff Studios which Illumination recently purchased). They are sure to be big hits with both kids and adults alike.

DeVito makes an awesome Lorax, a little bit befuddled but possessed of great wisdom and love for the trees. He stands out most among the other voice actors who do their jobs pretty well, but are fairly innocuous compared to DeVito whose voice stands out anyway. We get the sense of who the Lorax is and the great pain he feels when the Once-Ler makes his wrong turn.

The animation itself is superb, keeping the distinctive Seussian style throughout. There are few straight lines (if any) in the movie and the bright colors will keep the littlest tykes happy, not to mention the cute little bears and the Rube Goldberg-like contraptions in Thneedville.

There are those who complained about the message being preachy but given the state of our environment and climate, this is a message that needs to be preached because apparently the grown-ups haven’t gotten it yet. Perhaps our kids will – and perhaps it won’t be too late when they get a chance to do something about it.

REASONS TO GO: Clever and irreverent, holding close to the style of Dr. Seuss. Inspired vocal casting. A good message for kids.

REASONS TO STAY: Excessive product placement subverts admirable message. Lags a bit in the middle.

FAMILY VALUES: There are a couple of mildly bad words.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Ted and Audrey are named after Dr. Seuss (real name Theodore Geisel) and his wife Audrey. This is also the first movie to feature Universal’s spiffy new 100th Anniversary logo and was released on what would have been the 108th birthday of Dr. Seuss.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/17/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 58% positive reviews. Metacritic: 47/100. The reviews are mixed.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Flushed Away

THEME PARK LOVERS: There is a scene where the Once-Ler’s bed is put in a river and floats off and winds up running some rapids – looks like Universal’s got a new Seuss Landing attraction in mind for Islands of Adventure…

FINAL RATING: 8.5/10

NEXT:Turning Green

New Releases for the Week of March 2, 2012


March 2, 2012

DR. SEUSS’ THE LORAX

(Universal) Starring the voices of Danny De Vito, Zac Efron, Ed Helms, Taylor Swift, Betty White, Rob Riggle, Stephen Tobolowski, Laraine Newman. Directed by Heitor Dhalia

A boy seeking to impress a girl who wants nothing but to see a real, living tree learns the tale of a mystical creature who was unsuccessful in protecting the trees against rampant greed and exploitation. He will find himself in a battle between those who love the planet and those who wish to profit from its exploitation. Hey, Bill O’Reilly hates this movie so there is reason plenty to go see it right there.

See the trailer, clips, promos, interviews and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D and IMAX 3D

Genre: Animated Feature

Rating: PG (for brief mild language)

Pina 3D

(IFC) Pina Bausch, Ruth Amerante, Eddie Martinez, Julie Shanahan. The life of iconic modern dance choreography Pina Bausch is explored by legendary German film director Wim Wenders. Former dancers and peers wax poetic on what it was like to dance for her and her lasting contribution to the world of dance.

See the trailer, clips and an interview here.

For more on the movie this is the website

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: PG (for some sensuality/partial nudity and smoking)

Project X

(Warner Brothers) Kirby Bliss Blanton, Jonathan Daniel Brown, Oliver Cooper, Alexis Knapp. A pair of high school losers make one last ditch effort for immortality by throwing the party of the century while their parents are out of town. Wanting to be legends, they document every moment of it from the first invite to the last guest and the aftermath. Found footage Weird Science if you ask me.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Sex Comedy

Rating: R (for crude and sexual content throughout, nudity, drugs, drinking, pervasive language, reckless behavior and mayhem – all involving teens)

Rampart

(Millennium) Woody Harrelson, Ben Foster, Robin Wright, Sigourney Weaver.  A bigoted, brutal L.A. cop in the Rampart precinct is caught beating a suspect on tape and in the wake of a corruption scandal in the department refuses to change his ways and as a result faces bitter consequences. However, things begin to unravel further as a stream of women, investigators and an aging mentor are combining to send him to rock bottom. Is there redemption for a man like this?

See the trailer, clips, interviews and a promo or stream the full movie from Amazon here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Crime Drama

Rating: R (for pervasive language, sexual content and some violence)

Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie

(Magnet) Tim Heidecker, Eric Wareheim, Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis.  A couple of would-be Judd Apatows squander a billion dollar movie budget and the evil Schlaaang Corporation wants it back. This will take them to the seediest mall in America – and a chance to be gazilliionaires. From the whack jobs who perpetrated the “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job” on an indifferent cable landscape.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content, language, some violence and thematic material)

You Again


You Again

Jamie Lee Curtis keeps an eye out for Michael Meyers while Sigourney Weaver is just happy there are no aliens about.

(2010) Comedy (Touchstone) Kristen Bell, Jamie Lee Curtis, Sigourney Weaver, Odette Yustman, Victor Garber, Kristin Chenoweth, Betty White, Jimmy Wolk, Sean Wing, Kyle Bornheimer, Billy Unger, Christine Lakin, Meagan Holder, Patrick Duffy. Directed by Andy Fickman

We can’t escape our high school years. Try as we might, they follow us around like embarrassing photographs, our most ill-advised moments and heartbreaking renderings of teen angst caught in living color. Like it or not, we are shaped by those years. Surviving them just makes us stronger.

Marni Olsen (Bell) is living proof of that. She is a beautiful, confident marketing vice-president at a public relations firm whose career is on an upward spiral. She’s a far cry from the awkward teenager with the bad skin, braces, terrible fashion sense and unreliable social skills that she was. She was tormented by J.J. (Yustman), the head cheerleader with a vicious streak who refers to Marni as “Moo” (Marni’s middle name is Olivia which should be a lesson to expecting parents when coming up with names for their kid) and does everything humanly possible to make her high school experience comparable with a four year-long root canal. But Marni has moved past all that.

She’s come home for her brother Will’s (Wolk) impending nuptials to what sounds like a living saint named Joanna, who works with the underprivileged and so on. Of course this being a Hollywood film, we all know who Joanna used to be right? Right! From that moment, Marni makes it her mission to subvert the wedding because she knows that Joanna will make Will’s life miserable too.

Marni’s mom Gail (Curtis) tries to talk Marni down from her neurotic treehouse but Marni is having none of it. Of course, all that comes to a screeching halt when Gail meets Joanna’s Aunt Ramona (Weaver) who was Gail’s high school nemesis. Marni’s dad Mark (Garber) – on a strange diet where he is required to eat blindfolded (don’t ask) – is at first befuddled by all this but his bemusement evaporates as things get out of control.

Also along for the hilarity is Betty White as Grandma Bunny which is yet another Betty White shocking grandma role, Kristin Chenoweth as a Southern-fried wedding planner and Kyle Bornheimer as Joanna’s obsessive ex.

There are well-dressed people falling into swimming pools. There are inopportune ant bites. There is True Love that Triumphs Over All. Yeah, this is a Hollywood romantic comedy and we’ve seen it all before.

Still, I can’t quite bring myself not to like this movie.  For one thing, it’s got Weaver and Curtis, two of the strongest actresses of the past thirty years, and seeing them together is worth the price of rental right there (although I would have preferred to see them battling an alien with a butcher knife if I had my druthers) and Bell and Yustman are both wonderful eye candy.

There’s a warm center to the movie that overcomes many of its sins. I was charmed by Garber and Chenoweth as well as the four leads and even if I knew what was coming, it still entertained me when it finally arrived and left me with the warm fuzzies when the credits finished rolling. The movie got a critical savaging when it was released and I can kind of understand why – there isn’t a lot of inventiveness here. Still in all, there is enough charm and wit to keep its head above water; I was pleasantly surprised by this one.

WHY RENT THIS: It’s Jamie Lee Freaking Curtis and Sigourney Frickin’ Weaver. More charming and warm than it got credit for.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Yeah, we’ve seen it all before in dozens of other movies. Gags are a little rote and telegraphed big time.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s some mildly bad words but this is Disney so nothing too out-of-control.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Referencing a joke in the movie, Weaver and Curtis wore the same dress to the film’s premiere.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a three minute Funny or Die sketch of the four main actresses sniping at each other during an interview, a gag reel and an “ask the cast” segment in which they give their opinions on various romantic questions.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $32M on a $20M production budget; the movie was a financial disappointment.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Get Smart

Ponyo (Gake no ue no Ponyo)


Ponyo

Escaping a tsunami in a small car is never a good idea.

(2008) Animated Fantasy (Disney) Starring the voices of Cate Blanchett, Noah Cyrus, Matt Damon, Tina Fey, Liam Neeson, Frankie Jonas, Lily Tomlin, Betty White, Cloris Leachman. Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

Perhaps the most honored and beloved director of Japanese anime is Hayao Miyazaki. An Oscar winner for Spirited Away, he’s also directed some of the most enchanting and beloved anime films ever, including Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, My Neighbor Tortoro, Howl’s Moving Castle, Kiki’s Delivery Service and my personal favorite, Princess Mononoke among others. He remains one of the few feature animation directors working exclusively in the hand-drawn animated style that established Disney (who distributes the output of his Studio Ghibli here in the U.S.) and is as imaginative a director working anywhere in any medium today.

His latest may well be one of the most beautiful animated features in recent memory. It begins with a 5-year-old named Sosuke (Jonas) finding a goldfish trapped in a jar on the seashore which he names Ponyo (Cyrus) – the fish, not the seashore.

But Ponyo is no ordinary fish. She is the daughter of Fujimoto (Neeson), a sea wizard with incredible powers who has renounced his humanity to rule under the sea. When Sosuke takes her from her natural environment, it causes the balance between the sea and the land to be sundered and soon tsunamis are buffeting the small port town where Sosuke lives.

He brings the fish to his mother (Fey) who is having issues with her husband Koichi (Damon), a merchant sailor who is away more than he is at home. When he visits the retirement home his mom works at, a trio of the residents (Tomlin, White and Leachman) there realize immediately that Ponyo is no ordinary fish.

Sosuke has a paper cut and when Ponyo licks the cut and magically heals it, the taste of human blood allows Ponyo to take on the attributes of a human and she magically grows arms and legs. This causes further imbalance which even Fujimoto is powerless to prevent.

When Sosuke and her mom get separated by the tsunamis, Ponyo transforms a toy boat into a large sailing vessel to go searching for her in the now flooded town. However, the cost of all this magic is taking its toll on Ponyo and the continued imbalance between sea and land threatens to completely undo the world – unless Sosuke and Ponyo can intervene.

The tale told is a simple one, and it is meant to be appealing not just to the adults who make up the core of Miyazaki’s audience to date, but also to small children, a market he hasn’t really gone after up to now. Quite frankly, he’s successful at capturing both with this film which is destined to be considered among his very best.

Miyazaki’s imagination seems boundless, and his underwater scenes are filled with strange beauty, the kind heretofore found in nature films but given a touch of wonder that is entirely man-made. Miyazaki is telling on one hand a cautionary tale; the sea bottom is badly polluted with trash and sludge, while above the waves the adults are blissfully (and perhaps criminally) unaware of the damage their society is inflicting on the sea, which doesn’t endear them to the powerful creatures – including Ponyo’s mother, Gran Mamare (Blanchett) who is literally a goddess.

There are other lessons as well, with the familiar “we all must be who we are, not who others want us to be” which is a staple in children’s films, but certainly the ecological issue seems to be the one most pointedly presented.

Miyazaki isn’t all about the fantastic, however; the human characters have a great deal of depth to them. Sosuke’s parents aren’t the perfect couple; they squabble and bicker, and neither one is wrong and neither one is right. Lisa is frustrated with having to raise her child essentially alone, and Koichi certainly isn’t doing what he does by choice; the family needs the income he brings in to survive, and when additional work is available, he has no choice but to take it. It’s a problem that isn’t an unfamiliar one in tough economic times.

Even peripheral characters like the three elderly women from the retirement home have distinct personalities and play crucial roles in the story. The mark of a great storyteller is not that he creates characters that move the story along (how often do we see characters in movies both live action and animated that exist only to perform a singular function in the film) but that he utilizes the characters he has to make the story flow; in other words, the characters belong in the story and they drive what happens in it, rather than exist as a reaction or an action within that story. It’s all a bit complicated, I know, but trust me – I can recognize great writing when I see it.

Japanese culture has a thing about cute; you can see it in everything from Hello Kitty to Sailor Moon. At times, that cuteness goes over the top and makes you feel like you just drank a gallon of Kool-Aid with twice the sugar added; you just want to gag. Miyazaki is not known for embracing that cultural element, but it does appear from time to time in this movie, and while I can understand that it helps to make the movie relatable to small fries, I have to admit as a curmudgeonly middle aged man it was annoying to me.

Be that as it may (and it is an admittedly personal bias) I can still give this movie a very strong recommendation. For those who might be skeptical about Japanese anime, be assured that there are no subtitles here; the story is recorded completely in English with an all-star cast as you can see in the credit list at the top of the review. Disney has made a great effort to make this very special movie work in an American market, hiring Melissa Matheson, screenwriter of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial to pen the Japanese translation, and the opening and closing sequences were redone to be more appealing to American audiences (on the Blu-Ray if you choose the Japanese language version you will see the Japanese openings; if you choose the English language you’ll see the American version).

This is a marvelous movie whether an animated feature or not; you will probably not see a movie so beautifully drawn as this for a very long time. Those who are admirers of Miyazaki have probably already seen it, and will no doubt look to purchase the Blu-Ray version which is packed with features enough to keep you occupied for awhile. Those unfamiliar with his work can do worse than to start here. It’s well worth your effort to do so.

WHY RENT THIS: Miyazaki creates an imaginative world that you want to explore. This is one of the most beautiful animated films of the past decade. The characters are strongly written and are more than one-dimensional cardboard cutouts to advance the plot along.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The plot is a bit simplistic, aimed squarely for younger children. The Japanese penchant for the overly cute rears its head here.

FAMILY VALUES: Although there are some scenes of jeopardy for Sosuke and Ponyo, the movie is certainly meant for small children and can be recommended for all audiences on that basis.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The character of Sosuke is based on Miyazaki’s son Goro when he was five years old.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Not surprisingly, the Blu-Ray version of the movie is chock full of interesting features, including a visit to the Studio Ghibli compound, with one specific feature showing how the establishment of a day-care center led directly to the creation of Ponyo and very nearly became a setting for the movie. We also visit the village on the Seto Inland Sea that became a model for the one in the film, and examine the father-daughter relationship at the center of the film, and how it relates to Japanese culture. There is also a marvelous interactive guide to the World of Ghibli, which depicts the various films released by the studio as locations on an island, several of which you can visit (and is tied in to the video release of three other Ghibli films for the first time in the U.S.).

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $201.7M on an unreported production budget; the movie was a major hit.

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

TOMORROW: Montana Amazon

New Releases for the Week of September 24, 2010


Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole

You talkin' to me?

LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS: THE OWLS OF GA’HOOLE

(Warner Brothers) Starring the voices of Jim Sturgess, Geoffrey Rush, Helen Mirren, Hugo Weaving, David Wenham, Sam Neil, Emilie de Ravin. Directed by Zach Snyder

There is a legend of a group of warriors, those who protect the weak and defend the just. They are the Guardians of Ga’Hoole and for young Soren, there is no owl he wants to be like more than a Guardian. However, he has never seen one and they dwell far away from his people. His brother Kludd scoffs at their mere existence and his jealousy leads to terrible consequences, one in which only the Guardians themselves may save Owlkind.

See the trailer, featurettes and music videos here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D and 3D IMAX

Genre: Animated Family Feature

Rating: PG (for some sequences of scary action)

Bran Nu Dae

(Freestyle) Geoffrey Rush, Rocky McKenzie, Jessica Mauboy, Ernie Dingo. A young aboriginal couple navigates the obstacles of modern Australia – all set to a foot-stopping, uplifting soundtrack. This is loosely based on one of Australia’s most popular stage musicals; the film version won the audience award at the Melbourne Film Festival last year.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Musical

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content and drug use)

The Virginity Hit

 (Columbia) Matt Bennett, Zack Pearlman, Jacob Davich, Justin Kline. A group of young men decide to document their attempts to help one of them lose his virginity. From the same minds behind the popular website Funny or Die, namely Will Ferrell and Adam McKay.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Sex Comedy

Rating: R (for strong crude and sexual content, nudity, pervasive language, drug and alcohol use)

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

(20th Century Fox) Michael Douglas, Shia LaBeouf, Carey Mulligan, Josh Brolin. 80s icon Gordon Gekko gets out of prison only to find the world has caught up with his “greed is good” philosophy and surpassed it. He also finds his estranged daughter is engaged to marry a young ambitious trader who might be the next Gekko protégé.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for brief strong language and thematic elements)

You Again

(Touchstone) Kristen Bell, Sigourney Weaver, Jamie Lee Curtis, Betty White. A successful young woman discovers her brother is marrying her high school nemesis and sets out to stop him. Her mother is a bit perturbed at first, until she discovers the bride-to-be’s aunt is her own high school nemesis, and then the games really begin.

See the trailer, interviews, promos, featurettes and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG (for brief mild language and rude behavior)

The Proposal


Sandra Bullock begs Ryan Reynolds to let her take her pumps off but he is unmoved

Sandra Bullock begs Ryan Reynolds to let her take her pumps off but he is unmoved

(Touchstone) Sandra Bullock, Ryan Reynolds, Betty White, Craig T. Nelson, Mary Steenburgen, Malin Akerman, Denis O’Hare, Oscar Nunez, Aasif Mandvi, Michael Nouri, Michael Mosley, Dale Place, Alicia Hunt. Directed by Anne Fletcher.

Back in the day, marriages were arranged by the parents of the bride and groom. They were more or less business deals, meant to strengthen the position of each family in the community. Love didn’t enter the equation, as it rarely does in commerce.

Margaret Tate (Bullock), a.k.a. “The Devil’s Mistress” is a driven editor-in-chief at a major New York publisher. She is used to getting her way whether through pushing a reclusive author into appearing on Oprah to terrorizing her staff, particularly her put-upon, overworked assistant Andrew Paxton (Reynolds). Even those higher up the corporate ladder, like the Chairman of the Board (Nouri) are a little intimidated by her.

However, even Tate can’t intimidate the immigration bureaucracy. A native Canadian, her visa has expired and through her own inaction and her arrogance, the agency is threatening to deport her. Not only would she have to leave her comfortable West Central Park apartment, she’d have to resign her position at the firm as she couldn’t be employed at an American company.

However, Tate is nothing if not resourceful and comes up with a scheme; if her Alaska-born assistant marries her, she’ll be naturalized as a U.S. citizen. The trouble is, her assistant is not her biggest fan. However, threatened with the loss of his own position and the potential for getting the job he’s always wanted as an editor at the firm if he goes through with the scam finally elicits his reluctant agreement.

The fly in the ointment is a suspicious immigration officer named Gilbertson (O’Hare) who is quite certain the two of them are in cahoots to defraud the American government, the penalties for said crime being rather harsh. Now in up to his neck, Andrew brings his fiancée to his home in Sitka to meet the family, including his doting mother (Steenburgen) and the father (Nelson) who would have preferred that his son stay in Sitka to run the family businesses. There is a great deal of tension between father and son, which troubles free-spirited matriarch Grammy Ann (White). There is also the presence of ex-girlfriend Gertrude (Akerman) that certainly turns Andrew’s head.

The family is a bit surprised at the initial news of their prodigal son’s engagement but quickly embraces the standoffish Tate into their bosom, and then come up with a plan of their own – to see the happy couple wed on Grammy Ann’s birthday. However, the unconditional love of the Paxtons has begun to melt the polar icecap that is Margaret Tate’s heart as she realizes her scam would be far from victimless.

Director Fletcher, whose last effort was the solid 27 Dresses, is proving to have an adept hand at romantic comedies. While Pete Chiarelli’s script is formulaic and unremarkable, Fletcher did a good job at casting here. Each actor fills their role seamlessly. While the Alaska scenes were filmed in Massachusetts, she uses the setting effectively, creating the kind of small town feel that made the TV series “Northern Exposure” so charming.

Bullock has always excelled at the rom-com genre (see Practical Magic and The Lake House) and she is surprisingly good in the role of a heartless bitch, which she has rarely traversed in her career. Reynolds is slowly edging into the pantheon of actors whose presence in a film is enough incentive to get me to see it. After a winning role in Definitely, Maybe he is charismatic here, funny when he needs to be and charming throughout. Veterans Nelson, Steenburgen and White all do capable job with White doing her best work since Lake Placid. Quite frankly she about steals nearly every scene she’s in.

I’ll be the first to admit that no new ground is broken here, but quite frankly that’s okay. The question is whether the audience will be engaged enough by the couple to want them to end up together and both Bullock and Reynolds pull that off well. Their chemistry together isn’t necessarily the most scintillating but then again it shouldn’t be, given that they are supposed to be mismatched. These types of movies are older than Hollywood but there is a certain comfort in them. The Proposal is the kind of ideal date movie for warm summer nights that simply must be followed up with ice cream.

WSHY RENT THIS: Reynolds and Bullock are an attractive couple that you want to see ending up together. Supporting cast and location make the movie heartwarming. This is an ideal summer date movie, great for cuddling on the couch to watch with someone you love. Betty White is always entertaining.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The script is heavily clichéd and formulaic and really doesn’t break any new ground in the romantic comedy genre.

FAMILY VALUES: There are a couple of scenes of implied nudity and one in which a dog is threatened by a predator but otherwise suitable for all ages.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: In the movie, Bullock plays a Canadian threatened by deportation who escapes by marrying her American assistant. In reality, Bullock is an American and Reynolds is a Canadian.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Nothing listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Couples Retreat