Julia Roberts with her new leading man.

(2017) Dramedy (Lionsgate) Jacob Tremblay, Owen Wilson, Julia Roberts, Izabela Vidovic, Mandy Patinkin, Noah Jupe, Bryce Gheisar, Elle McKinnon, Daveed Diggs, Ty Consiglio, Kyle Breitkopf, James Hughes, J. Douglas Stewart, Millie Davis, Ali Liebert, Joseph Gordon, Cameron Roberts, Nadji Jeter, Danielle Rose Russell, Erika McKitrick, Sonia Braga, Nicole Oliver. Directed by Stephen Chbosky


Going to a new school can be traumatic even in the best of circumstances. Throw in that you know – without any doubt whatsoever – that you are for certain going to be bullied. How much more traumatic does that make things?

Auggie (Tremblay) is in that exact situation. He’s not being bullied because of sexual preference, religion or race; Auggie has a disfiguring disease known as Treacher Collins syndrome. The effects of 27 surgeries besides making it necessary for Auggie to be homeschooled have allowed him to breathe and essentially survive but nothing really can change the deformities of his face. They are so pronounced that he’d rather wear an astronaut’s helmet to school which would merely mark him as weird than go barefaced which marks him as a freak.

His loving parents – Nate (Wilson), the cool dad we all wanted and Isabel (Roberts), the über-protective Mama Bear – are worried for him. His big sister, teenaged Via (Vidovic) is protective of him but has troubles of her own; her best friend Miranda (Russell) has suddenly shut her out and is off with a much different clique of friends. Forlorn, she signs up for drama class and meets a cute guy Justin (Jeter) who she crushes on and eventually the two begin dating.

Auggie, with his upbeat attitude and intelligence begins to make friends despite the hardships. Jack Will (Jupe) becomes his best friend although Julian (Gheisar) continues to torment him. Still all the people in Auggie’s orbit are trying to make it the best they can but it isn’t easy.

This is based on a bestselling children’s book by RJ Palacio who was inspired to write it when her son whom she had taken out for ice cream was brought to tears by the sight of a kid with Treacher Collins syndrome. The book is very heartwarming and teaches the value of accepting people as they are and the movie follows it pretty closely from a stylistic perspective.

The acting is solid – one might say wonderful – with Tremblay getting particular kudos. Child actors tend to be stiff and hammy but Tremblay plays it with a degree of naturalism that is refreshing. Yeah from time to time he says and does thing that come from the perfect kid school of filmmaking but that’s not on Tremblay, the actor. Considering he has to emote under layers of make-up, something some adults have trouble with, one has to really give the kid kudos. Most of the other performances are strong as well, although I would have wished for more Roberts. It seems a shame to hire her on for a role like this one and not have her in the picture more.

My issue is that a lot of the book – and the movie – is a bit too nice, suffering from too-good-to-be-truism. They all have their weak moments but it’s like the entire movie is populated from characters in a children’s show and it doesn’t feel real or authentic. I needed a little more of both to make this work for me.

Movies that are this emotionally manipulative tend to irritate critics but for some reason critics embraced this one. It got strong scores on Rotten Tomatoes (see below) and while it’s pretty much out of the awards consideration picture, it nonetheless got favorable reviews from both critics and consumers alike. I wish I could join them but this felt a little bit too bland and predictable for me to do so.

REASONS TO GO: Tremblay gives a nice, nuanced performance.
REASONS TO STAY: This is a bit too vanilla and predictable for my tastes.
FAMILY VALUES: There are scenes of bullying and some mild profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The medical name for Auggie’s affliction is mandibulofacial dystosis.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/22/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 85% positive reviews. Metacritic: 66/100.
Strawberry Flavored Plastic


Darling Companion

Woman's best friend isn't necessarily a diamond.

Woman’s best friend isn’t necessarily a diamond.

(2012) Dramedy (Sony Classics) Diane Keaton, Kevin Kline, Dianne Wiest, Richard Jenkins, Elizabeth Moss, Mark Duplass, Ayelet Zurer, Sam Shepard, Lindsay Sloane, Jay Ali, Robert Bear, Casey, Paul Kiernan, Jericho Watson, Yolanda Wood, D.L. Walker, Dina Goldman, Ruben Barboza, Mark Robinette, Craig Miner, Anne Cullimore Decker, Aline Andrade. Directed by Lawrence Kasdan

Dog lovers are, if you’ll forgive me, a unique breed. Being one myself, I know whereof I speak. Da Queen will tell you that I’m borderline obsessive and if you pressed, she’d probably even admit that I left the rational border behind years ago. That’s okay. Guilty as charged. From time to time in movies I have to witness bad things happening to dogs. Da Queen will also tell you that there’s no surer way to turn this rational, logical critic into a slobbering mess than seeing harm come to a dog. It’s not just my dogs I love but all dogs.

I tell you this because I was a bit concerned when I heard what the premise for this movie was. When Beth (Keaton) and her daughter Grace (Moss) find an abandoned dog at the side of a Colorado highway, Beth immediately takes to her four-legged friend. Naming the dog Freeway, she adopts the critter when nobody steps in to claim it.

Her husband Joseph (Kline), a back surgeon who invests much more into his career than he does into his marriage although he is to his own mind completely devoted to his family, is a bit annoyed by the presence of the dog but when his wife insists, he capitulates grudgingly. What he doesn’t get is that he spends a lot of time away from the home while she raised her daughters. With Grace getting married at their Rocky Mountain vacation home in the fall, her nest will be officially empty. She needs something to fill it and a dog is an excellent choice.

Beth grows very fond of Freeway and the two are virtually inseparable but things get kind of crazy as the wedding approaches and of course Joseph is of little help. As Beth is helping Grace with the final details at the vacation house, Joseph – about as useful as a cell phone on top of Mt. Everest – is given the task of walking the dog. He does so, forgetting to put Freeway on a leash and so busy talking into his cell phone he barely notices when Freeway runs off after a deer.

When Joseph returns home sans dog, Beth is understandably distraught and unleashes her wrath on Joseph who doesn’t understand what the fuss is all about. “It’s not like it’s a person,” he complains, “it’s just a dog” to which Beth retorts “Love is love. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a person or a dog.” She has a point but then again I am somewhat unreliable  when it comes to objectivity in this regard.

Of course, Joseph is in the literal dog house but he searches for the dog without success. Beth, frantic, enlists Joseph’s sister Penny (Wiest) and her new boyfriend Russell (Jenkins) as well as Penny’s son Bryan (Duplass). Neither Joseph nor Bryan trust Russell whom they think has ulterior motives when it comes to Penny but Penny appears happy enough.

For Bryan’s part, he takes a shine to Carmen (Zurer), the housemaid who claims to have psychic powers who is certain that Freeway is still alive. This only furthers Beth’s determination and as the adults travel the beautiful countryside of the Rockies in the fall, they are forced to deal with each other one on one – for the first time in a very long time in some cases.

Some may recall Kasdan as the director of Silverado and The Big Chill as well as the writer of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. He co-wrote this with his wife Meg so we do get both sides of the equation in most of the relationships without being overly committed to one point of view or the other. Kasdan has the wisdom to know that there are always more than one in any relationship and the case is generally that no one person is always right or always wrong.

However, you can never be wrong when you cast Kevin Kline and nobody knows that better than Kasdan who gave the actor his big break in The Big Chill. Kline is an everyman who can play just about any role and make it believable. He’s also so damn likable that even when he’s playing a character who is a bit of a dick we still end up relating to him which is quite the gift. I think that likability is why we so rarely see Kline in a villain’s role, although he can play those with aplomb as well (see A Fish Called Wanda).

His chemistry with Keaton is genuine and unforced. Keaton who sometimes can overdo the neurotic thing at least doesn’t make her character a complete ditz. She does have some legitimate grievances and while the way things work out is a bit contrived (but what Hollywood film is not?) the character itself isn’t. The acting in fact is terrific all around – the movie in fact suffers from an embarrassment of riches with so many great actors in the movie that you wish some of them got a little more screen time and you tend to leave that kind of film feeling a little cheated – and yet if they’d made the film longer it would have been too long. Catch-22 lives.

While the movie ends up using the dog as a uniting force and the search for him/her as a metaphor as our own search for love and acceptance, it gets to its destination after a few too many convenient coincidences. Other than that though this is a beautifully shot movie – you also can’t go wrong setting a movie in the Rockies in the autumn, although it is Utah subbing for Colorado here. It leaves one with the warm fuzzies which isn’t a bad thing and although a lot of critics grouse about it, this isn’t a dog movie in the same sense as Marley and Me nor is it a dog of a movie in the sense of a whole lot of forgettable exercises in cinema but it is a movie that might just stick with you like a loyal, loving dog and who doesn’t love that?

WHY RENT THIS: Because, you know, dogs. I’ll see Kline in anything, even when he plays a bit of a jerk.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A few too many contrivances. Too many great actors, not enough time.
FAMILY VALUES: Some sexual content as well as a bit of foul language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was Kasdan’s first time in the director chair since 2003’s Dreamcatcher.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: Along with footage of the New York premiere there’s also a featurette on the casting of the dog Freeway.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $793,815 on a $12M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD/Blu-Ray rental only), Amazon (rent/buy), Vudu (rent/buy),  iTunes (rent/buy), Flixster (rent/buy), Target Ticket (purchase only)
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Father of the Bride (1991)
NEXT: The Red Baron

Phantom (2013)

Heads that talk.

Heads that talk.

(2013) Drama (Ganko) Yuki Fujita, Masato Tsujioka. Directed by Jonathan Soler

We are used to movies being a certain way, telling a story with a beginning, a middle and an end. However, there are no laws when it comes to making a movie. A filmmaker of sufficient imagination and courage can choose to make a movie in any state they want. While we generally call these Art Films and they appeal to a very limited audience here in the United States, some of the world’s most beloved and acclaimed movies fall under this characterization.

Phantom is a movie shot by a French filmmaker in Tokyo over a six month period. The dialogue consists of a man and a woman talking. Both of them are young people, recently out of college. They are boyfriend and girlfriend and are very worried about their immediate future – the woman is essentially unemployed, picking up menial one day jobs (such as holding up a cardboard sign inviting patrons to come into a restaurant or arcade) and her rent is coming do. She has no idea how she’s going to pay it.

The man is comforting and has a job of his own but there isn’t much left over to help her pay her rent. They spend an evening talking about things that concern young people – what does the future hold? Who am I? What is my place in the world? Do I even have one?

And that’s essentially it. Oh, one more thing – rather than just filming the two people talking, Soler superimposes images of the couple doing things around Tokyo as well as images he captured randomly while walking around the Japanese capital. Some of the images are beautiful, others less so but there is often an oblique connection with what is being said in the dialogue.

This is a movie that isn’t going to appeal to audiences that think that the Twilight series is the height of filmmaking, or any movie that doesn’t have a superhero in it is not worth their time. It takes some work and patience. It requires some listening skills. While having a bit of focus and concentration is useful, one can also choose to watch it with their minds wide open and let the images take their imagination wherever it takes them.

In other words, there isn’t just one way to watch this film. There also isn’t just one way to take this film. For my own part, I found it a useful way to get at least a modicum of understanding of the mindset of young people; as a middle aged film critic that can be very useful indeed, reminding me that the things that face the generation currently making their way into adulthood are far more challenging than what faced my generation, or at least challenging in a different way.

The movie is in Japanese with English subtitles. One of the things that I really like about the movie is the way its set up; we see the woman come home to her shabby apartment after her day’s work. She makes herself a package of instant ramen noodles, has a shower and goes to sleep. Then the conversation with the boyfriend begins. The way the dialogue works, we aren’t 100% certain whether the boyfriend came to her apartment late and the conversation is taking place after his arrival or whether she is dreaming the conversation. Maybe her whole life is a dream. That’s really up to your own interpretation.

It should be noted that the movie hasn’t received a North American release as of yet. The filmmakers are reportedly hoping to secure a North American DVD release but at this time the film has only seen release in France and on French home video. Go to their website by clicking on the photo above if you would like more information about the movie and any news about future availability in North America – my understanding is that the current DVD release is in Japanese with English subtitles and can be purchased from Amazon’s French website so it may be a pricey proposition to get it sent to an American address. Perhaps as an alternative it may be available for online streaming at some point.

This is very much a movie in which what you get out of it depends on what you’re willing to put into it. Again, not everyone is going to appreciate that. However, if you are willing to put in some time, some thought and some imagination, you may well find this to be a rewarding experience. Even if you don’t like the movie, I suspect you may well respect what Soler is trying to accomplish. While I can’t recommend it to my general readership, more adventurous film buffs may want to give this one a whirl.

REASONS TO GO: Dream-like atmosphere. Some really nifty cinematography. Thought-provoking.

REASONS TO STAY: You’re essentially listening in on an hour and 20 minute conversation. Requires a certain amount of patience and z

FAMILY VALUES:  There is some sensuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Much of the movie was shot in the streets of Tokyo with a hand-held DSLR Canon EOS SD Mark II.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/2/14: The movie hasn’t received an American release as of yet and as such has not yet been reviewed on either Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic.



NEXT: Pompeii



Eloise Laurence won't let go of Tim Roth until he tells her what it's like to work with Quentin Tarantino.

Eloise Laurence won’t let go of Tim Roth until he tells her what it’s like to work with Quentin Tarantino.

(2012) Drama (Film Movement) Tim Roth, Cillian Murphy, Lino Facioli, Eloise Laurence, Rory Kinnear, Denis Lawson, Bill Milner, Robert Emms, Zana Marjanovic, Seeta Indrani, Nell Tiger Free, Rory Girvan, Clare Burt, Nicola Sloan, Martha Bryant, George Sargeant, Rosalie Kosky-Hensman, Faye Daveney. Directed by Rufus Norris  

 Florida Film Festival 2013

The things that go on in a quiet residential neighborhood. One cul-de-sac may look completely ordinary, the last place you would expect dark goings on taking place, but you never know what’s seething just below the surface of a normal street.

Skunk (Laurence) – that’s what everybody calls her but really nobody remembers what her real name is – lives on just such a quiet cul-de-sac. Her father Archie (Roth) is a barrister although not an especially important one. He’s just trying to make it through after his wife and her mother abandoned them. Skunk has Type 1 diabetes and requires constant monitoring. Archie has enlisted a nanny, Polish Kasia (Marjanovic) to keep an eye on her and her older brother Jed (Milner).

Kasia has a boyfriend, Mike (Murphy) who also happens to teach at Skunk’s school – and who also happens to be the object of Skunk’s crush. It’s all rather sweet and melancholy at the same time. Skunk also has a boyfriend of sorts; Dillon (Sargeant) who at first treats her like crap but gradually they become real affectionate-like.

One day out of the blue, one of her neighbors, Mr. Oswald (Kinnear) seemingly without provocation attacks Rick (Emms), an emotionally and mentally challenged boy who lives across the street from Skunk. As it turns out, one of his two daughters – Sunshine (Bryant) and Susan (Kosky-Hensman) had a condom discovered in her room by dear old dad and to cover herself she accused Rick of raping her. The case was eventually dropped for lack of evidence but not until Rick began to break down emotionally and had to be committed, much to the dismay of his Dad (Lawson) and Mum (Burt) who seemingly has problems of her own coping.

Things begin to spiral into further troubles. Kasia breaks up with Mike who utilize Skunk as a kind of go-between in an effort to get Kasia back. Sunshine and Susan turn out to be nothing short of psychotic, bullying kids around school (and beating up Skunk), continuing to level false rape charges against others and in Susan’s case, getting pregnant by sleeping with Jed. But as Rick finally comes home, his fragile mental state is far more explosive than anyone could have predicted and the neighborhood will never be the same.

This is Norris’ first feature film. He’s been a successful stage director, so I was curious to see if the movie would look static and stage-y and it did in a couple of places, but not as much as you’d expect from someone with such a theatrical background. It helps a lot that he has a compelling story, some fine actors.

I’ve come to expect fine performances every time out from Roth and Murphy and they don’t disappoint here. Murphy’s Mike is far from perfect although he’s trying his darndest to be. He constantly tries to do the right thing, often with catastrophic consequences. In other words, just like thee and me.

Roth rarely gets the good guy roles; he’s usually a villain or a bulldog-like cop. Here he plays a loving father who is distracted by all the drama around him which nearly ends up in tragedy. He is trying to create a normal life for himself and his children in an environment that’s anything but. Roth gives Archie a kind and gentle manner, very loving and very protective although he can show some iron when he has to.

The real surprise here is Laurence. This is her first production, and she performs with the self-assurance of a grizzled veteran. She has an engaging presence that stands out onscreen, enabling her to hold her own with some pretty accomplished actors. I don’t know if Miss Laurence has any ambitions regarding a film career but she’s got a bright future if she chooses that path.

The denouement of the film was a little on the melodramatic side, and there are some scenes during the movie that don’t have the same intensity as other similar scenes in the movie. That however doesn’t diminish the overall impact of the film which is considerable.

This has been playing the festival circuit, although that aspect of it’s journey seems to be coming to an end. Film Movement, a tiny indie distributor, has the distribution rights to the film although as of yet any sort of theatrical run hasn’t been announced. Hopefully it will make a few big screens here and there before heading to home video. If not, be sure and catch it anyway – it’s a terrific film.

REASONS TO GO: Very taut, edge of your seat stuff. Fine performances from Roth, Laurence and Murphy.

REASONS TO STAY: Occasionally loses its focus.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s some sexuality (quite a bit actually), a fair amount of bad language, some teenage drinking and drug use and some violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The 2008 novel of the same name on which the movie was based was heavily influenced .by To Kill a Mockingbird according to author Daniel Clay.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/13/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 56% positive reviews. Metacritic: no score listed; while it appears the reaction is mixed, it’s still too early to tell for certain.



NEXT: Cockneys vs. Zombies


The Roommate


The Roommate

The backwards on the floor no-look door opening technique rarely works.

(2011) Thriller (Screen Gems) Leighton Meester, Minka Kelly, Cam Gigandet, Aly Michalka, Danneel Harris, Frances Fisher, Billy Zane, Tomas Arana, Chris Bylsma, Nina Dobrev, Matt Lanter, Katerina Graham, Ryan Doom, Carrie Finklea. Directed by Christian E. Christiansen


Ah, sweet college days. The parties, the friendships, the dorms. Who can forget that sort of half-baked roommate, the one who drove you crazy? Of course, there are always the crazy roommates who were really crazy…

Sara (Kelly) is a fresh-faced young fashion student mending from a broken heart and attending a school in sunny Southern California which must look pretty cosmopolitan to a girl off the farm in Iowa. She winds up with Rebecca (Meester) as a roommate. Rebecca comes from good money but she has a lot of problems. She’s an art student with a taste for let’s just say the darker side of art. She also is a bit obsessive when it comes to Sara. She wants Sara to like her. Her and nobody else, to be exact.

This becomes somewhat inconvenient for the other people in Sara’s life, such as the hunky frat boy Stephen (Gigandet) that she’s dating, or the ditzy party girl Tracy (Michalka) she’s friends with. Rebecca goes further and further off the deep end and we know what murky waters that can lead to.

Christiansen has an Oscar nomination to his credit (for a live action short) so we know he has at least some talent and imagination. At times he sets up some fairly innovative camera shots but that really doesn’t help this mess out much. The problems here are myriad and mostly have to do with the writing and the acting.

While not credited anywhere, this seems disturbingly similar to the Jennifer Jason Leigh/Bridget Fonda film Single White Female which is a far better movie than this one. It contains a lot of similar elements to The Roommate but is executed much better. Single White Female at least has the courage of its convictions whereas The Roommate is something of a tease, wanting to titillate with the promise of homoerotic encounters as well as straight-out gore and really, delivering neither.

The cast is attractive enough, although they tend to lean heavily towards CW alumni. Unfortunately, most of the characters they play lean towards the single dimension and other than Rebecca we really don’t get much background whatsoever. In short, we aren’t given a reason to care about any of them. That’s not always a problem with the script; some of the acting seems to be a bit forced while in other cases the performances seem obligatory, as if the actor just wanted to collect the paycheck and move on.

For me there is a point where reboot ends and rip-off begins and that’s pretty much the way the filmmakers went at it here. There’s little or no originality and some of the creepier elements that made Single White Female work so well are absent here. The filmmakers, rather than going for suspense and tension go instead for cheap thrills. Unfortunately, there are far too many movies out there where you can get those. I think the film would have been better served to go for an R rating instead of a PG-13; more gore, more sex might have given the film an edge it doesn’t possess.

WHY RENT THIS: Some very good-looking actors and actresses at work here.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A poorly executed rip-off of Single White Female. Could have used some more edge.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s a lot of violence and menace, some sexuality, teen partying and a few choice bad words.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was filmed at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. However, the poster depicts the Christy Administration building from Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas. While the photo of the building was legally leased from a stock photo service, the school was concerned that their image might be tarnished by the depiction of their school in the poster of the film.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The Blu-Ray edition contains a nice feature on the wardrobe department for the film, something that doesn’t get coverage often on home video.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $40.5M on a $16M production budget; the film made back its production costs and a bit more than that during its theatrical run.






Who knew the dead could be so hot?

(2009) Horror (Anchor Bay) Christina Ricci, Liam Neeson, Justin Long, Josh Charles, Chandler Canterbury, Celia Watson, Luz Ramos, Rosemary Murphy, Malachy McCourt, Shuler Hensley, Alice Drummond, Sam Kressner, Erin Ward. Directed by Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo

Dead is dead, or so conventional wisdom would have it. Once we’ve shuffled off this mortal coil, the party’s over. What happens then is highly up to speculation.

Anna Taylor (Ricci) is a beautiful young teacher who has the world opening up to her on the horizon. Her boyfriend Paul (Long) is about to propose when they go out to dinner but they get into an argument. Anna storms out of the restaurant and drives off, angry and emotional, the rain falling in sheets. Inevitably, she gets into a nasty accident.

When she wakes up, she’s in the morgue, attended to by Deacon (Neeson) who informs her that she’s dead. Deacon has the special gift of being able to communicate with the dead under his care, able to help transition them from this life to the afterlife. Anna finds this difficult to accept. Deacon counters that most of the newly dead find their new situation hard to accept. They always whine that they have so much left to do, so much unfinished business.

Anna feels alive though and nothing Deacon can say or do will dissuade her. She wants to call her  boyfriend to rescue her from this maniac keeping her against her will in this terrible place; but from his point of view he’s trying to help her accept her fate and move on to her final rest. But is she alive as she asserts that she is, or dead as Deacon maintains that she is?

This is an intriguing concept that has a “Twilight Zone”-esque quality to it. First-time director Wojtowicz-Vosloo doesn’t always know what to do with it. Her job, as I see it, is to keep audiences off-balance without giving away the answer to the question “is she or isn’t she” and for the most part, she succeeds. Occasionally though she stumbles, sometimes failing to maintain the inner logic of the situation. Of course, that’s more the fault of the script than the direction but as she also co-wrote the script, she doesn’t really have that out.

Ricci is lustrous here, spending a good chunk of the movie nude (and also a bluish shade which kind of increases the allure) and her trademark gothic waif look is perfect for the role. Her physical charms notwithstanding, she also gives the part a certain amount of emotional wallop, going through stages of grief (denial, anger, fear) while never becoming shrill.

She has some great chemistry with Neeson, who is such a great actor that even a role like this which doesn’t really push him all that much he still manages to imbue with his charisma and invite the audience to get invested. The movie’s main selling point is to make it ambiguous as to whether Deacon is a kindly guide or an evil monster. Neeson pulls it off so that either option is possible.

I’ve mentioned “The Twilight Zone” and that’s not necessarily a bad thing – but the movie here, rather than paying homage to the show tries to emulate it a bit too much. There is not so much a Rod Serling influence rather than an attempt to bring him back from the dead and the corpse doesn’t smell too good to be honest.

That aside, the concept is good and the acting solid enough so that it gets a pass for all its flaws. Sometimes critics such as myself just have to get past what a movie could have been and accept it for  what it is. No doubt this could have been a whole lot better – but it is as is good enough for me.

WHY RENT THIS: Spooky and atmospheric. Ricci and Neeson have some great exchanges.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The script should be more ambiguous and let the audience figure out whether or not Anna is dead. Too much Rod Serling here.

FAMILY VALUES: The whole theme is pretty disturbing; there’s also some nudity and sexuality as well as a buttload of bad words.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The prop knife used by Ricci during the film is the same one Glenn Close used in Fatal Attraction.


BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $2M on an unreported production budget; in all likelihood this lost money or broke even at best.


TOMORROW: The Ides of March


The Back-Up Plan

The Back-Up Plan

Jennifer Lopez shows how many times Alex O'Loughlin takes off his shirt in the movie.

(2010) Romantic Comedy (CBS) Jennifer Lopez, Alex O’Loughlin, Eric Christian Olsen, Melissa McCarthy, Michaela Watkins, Danneel Harris, Noureen DeWulf, Anthony Anderson, Tom Bosley, Maribeth Monroe, Robert Klein, Linda Lavin, Cesar Millan. Directed by Alan Poul

Life doesn’t always go the way we want it to. We make plans, have an idea in mind as to what we want out of life. When things don’t go as expected, it’s good to have a back-up plan.

Zoe (Lopez) thought she had it all figured out; great job, get married, have a few rug rats, presto blammo life is sweet. The problem is that none of her boyfriends were working out (men being what they are) and the old biological clock is beginning to tick just a hair louder. Therefore, Zoe makes the decision to go the man-less route in having kids.

Yup, we’re talking artificial insemination. Zoe goes to a fertility clinic where a kindly old doctor (Klein) does the procedure and she gets all knocked up. Giddy from the news, Zoe leaves the clinic on a stormy afternoon and gets into a cab. Trouble is, Stan (O’Loughlin who filmed this just before finding stardom in the TV reboot of “Hawaii Five-O”) spotted the cab at exactly the same time. The two argue and Zoe eventually gives up the cab because she doesn’t want to spoil her great mood.

Of course, now the two of them see each other everywhere. This is the Hollywood God Mechanism, cinematic deities sending none-too-subtle messages that the two were meant to be together. And of course, they are. This is a romantic comedy, after all. The two fall in love but Stan isn’t aware that Zoe has a bun in the oven and Zoe isn’t about to tell him because he might bolt. Boyfriends are a lot like deer that way, skittish.

Eventually she breaks down and tells him and Stan being a Great Guy (you can tell right away he’s a great guy because he’s an organic farmer selling his organic goat cheese at a Tribeca farmers market) doesn’t bat an eyelash but takes on the responsibility of being not only a boyfriend but a father to be – without any genetic connection or legal requirement. I can picture half the single moms in the audience sighing “Why can’t I meet a guy like that?” particularly when Stan shows up shirtless on a tractor, a kind of Chippendale’s farmer get-up.

Of course this is a Hollywood rom-com so there are going to be issues. The couple is going to break up. Are they going to get back together again? Are you kidding? C’mon, you know what the answer to that is.

Lopez is one of those actresses that has a great deal of talent is sadly aware that she has a great deal of talent. One gets the impression that she has a person in her entourage whose sole purpose is to tell her what a great deal of talent that she has. I’m not saying that she’s egotistical, but she seemed to be a much better performer before she became a Big Star. Even in Anaconda, as ludicrous a horror movie as has ever hit the big screen, she was more natural an actress.

I have to admit though, that she is really charming here. It’s as if that entourage flunky has been given the new responsibility to remind her that she doesn’t have to be Jenny from the block 24-7. She can be Zoe instead, a kind of meek and sweet girl. This is the kind of performance that made her a star in the first place.

O’Loughlin turns out to be an appealing romantic lead; together with his cop action persona in Five-O could well parlay that into stardom of his own. The supporting players are for the most part forgettable, although Klein has a few good moments and Anthony Anderson gets a really great scene as a playground dad telling Stan about the joys and pitfalls of being a dad.

Like most Hollywood romantic comedies, this is as wispy and sugary as cotton candy and just as forgettable. It is a pleasant diversion for as long as it’s there, but not long after it’s gone you might feel hungry for something more substantial. It does at least give me hope that Lopez is capable of better than we’ve been seeing from her lately, and that in itself is worthwhile.

WHY RENT THIS: Lopez is as engaging and charming as she’s ever been. O’Loughlin is an appealing leading man.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: As with most Hollywood rom-coms, very formulaic.

FAMILY VALUES: Being as the movie is about being pregnant, there are a lot of pregnancy and sexual jokes herein; there’s a tiny bit of bad language and some mature themes.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was the late Tom Bosley’s final film.


BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $77.5M on a $35M production budget; the movie broke even and even made a little bit of money.


TOMORROW: Dream House