Extraordinary Measures


Extraordinary Measures

Harrison Ford is getting tired of Brendan Fraser's claims that Rick O'Connell was a better archaeologist than Indiana Jones.

(CBS Films) Brendan Fraser, Harrison Ford, Keri Russell, Courtney B. Vance, Meredith Droeger, Diego Velazquez, Jared Harris, Alan Ruck, Patrick Bauchau, David Clennon, Dee Wallace, Ayanna Berkshire, P.J. Byrne. Directed by Tom Vaughan

There are no limits to what a parent will do for their children. Once in awhile, there are situations that call for parents to demonstrate that, to risk everything for the sake of their children – particularly when everything is precisely what’s at stake.

John Crowley (Fraser) is a successful marketing executive at a pharmaceutical firm. He has reason to be in that particular business; his daughter Megan (Droeger) and son Patrick (Velazquez) suffer from Pompe disease, a genetic disorder in which the muscles are unable to break down sugars due to the lack of a critical enzyme. The disease is incurable and fatal. Megan has just celebrated her eighth birthday and is showing signs of entering the disease’s final stage. A respiratory failure nearly finishes her off, but she shows surprising fight. Most of the doctors involved in Megan’s treatment are advising Crowley to enjoy what little time he has left with his two sick kids.

He and his wife Aileen (Russell) are on the edge of despair but Crowley has found a lone researcher at the University of Nebraska, Dr. Robert Stonehill (Ford) who has formulated some radical solutions for a possible treatment. It is the closest thing to hope that Crowley has found, but repeated calls to the good doctor have gone unanswered. Taking the bull by the horns, the desperate father goes to Lincoln to meet with Stonehill, only to be stonewalled. Crowley chases him out of the university parking lot and finally corners him in a bar. Stonehill is gruff, but sympathetic. He is nowhere near producing a working drug, and the money it would take just to set up testing for the drug – half a million dollars to start – is prohibitive. Without batting an eyelash, Crowley tells Stonehill that he has started up a foundation that is in the process of initial fundraising and that he could raise the necessary cash. Stonehill gives him a month to do it, but is skeptical that Crowley will raise anything at all.

Instead, Stonehill and his wife roll up their sleeves and get to work. They run fundraising events and call friends, colleagues and parents of children with Pompe like Markus (Vance). They don’t quite make the goal, but they raise $91,000, enough to at least keep Stonehill involved. Instead of doing research at the University, which Stonehill believes doesn’t value his work, he decides to start a new biotech company with Crowley as his business partner. This will mean that Crowley will have to quit his job, which his boss (Ruck) pleads with him not to do; Crowley is on track to get a promotion and a significant upgrade in salary. Crowley however is not swayed; if there is even a shot of saving his kids he has to take it.

The new startup needs to raise some venture capital in order to get off the ground. They approach the Renzler Group in Chicago, headed by Dr. Renzler (Clennon), an old friend of Stonehill’s. The meeting goes disastrously however when Dr. Stonehill has a meltdown when he is questioned about the new start-ups plans to get the drug to market. Stonehill, a career academic and scientist, has never done this before, and the group is understandably nervous about the prospects of investing money in a company whose principals are woefully inexperienced.

In order to get Renzler on board, which Crowley knows is critical for the start-up company’s very existence; he has to give Renzler far more concessions than Stonehill is willing to give. He manages to broker an agreement with Dr. Renzler, but Stonehill is furious at the terms and wants no part of the deal. Crowley responds that he can continue his career of curing diseases in theory but not helping a single patient in reality. Mollified somewhat, Stonehill signs the agreement.

They set up a lab in the middle of Nowheresville, Nebraska and things aren’t going well. They are running through their funds at an alarming rate and their investors are demanding that clinical trials begin on Stonehill’s enzymes or they will pull the plug. Crowley is aware that there is a large biotech firm that has been working on a Pompe treatment as well; better funded and better equipped, they might well reach the market before Stonehill’s group with some sort of treatment. Aware that Stonehill’s theories and scientific genius are salable assets, he convinces Stonehill that in order for their small company to survive they will have to sell themselves to the larger company. Stonehill blows yet another gasket but once again gets on board with the program.

Crowley and Stonehill don’t fit in well initially. Stonehill hates being bogged down with protocols and procedures, while Crowley is constantly butting heads with Dr. Webber (Harris), an executive who is more of a bureaucrat. Time is ticking down on Crowley’s children and he is becoming desperate. Can they come up with a treatment in time to save the Crowley children?

This is the first release by the new film arm of the CBS Network, and some have snickered that it has a bit of a TV movie-of-the-week smell to it, but that’s not completely true. I thought there were a lot of positives to be sure.

This movie is based on a true story, albeit very loosely. While John Crowley and his children are real, Dr. Stonehill is not. He is an amalgam of several scientists, in particular Dr. Yuan-Tsong Chen at Duke University. In reality, Pompe kills most children before their second birthday; Megan and Patrick are eight and six, respectively, in the film,. In perhaps forgivable license, Megan is aged so that she may display spunk and wisdom beyond her years to evoke more symathy from the audience and to be sure Droeger does a credible job in the role.

Ford is an actor who knows his own limitations, but he is also conversely well aware of his strengths and this role is right in his wheelhouse. Stonehill is grumpy, cranky, narcissistic and just plain ornery. Ford imbues him with all the gruffness that he can give him, which is considerable. Nobody does gruff quite as well as Harrison Ford. And while critics have been picking on Brendan Fraser, I think he did a credible job as the desperate father. Sure, there were some maudlin moments but I think that was a function of the script more than a reflection of Fraser’s abilities as an actor (check out Gods and Monsters if you want to see him at his best). What’s criminal here is that Keri Russell, an actress who is wonderful whenever she is given something to work with, is once again shuffled off into the background without much to work with. As anyone who saw her in Waitress will tell you, she is absolutely capable of carrying a movie, so it’s a shame she is reduced to mainly playing a doting/grieving mom. There is a scene in which she and her husband are interrupted in the course of having a rare intimate moment by a nurse coming to their home for her shift; it was one of the few moments when you got a sense of the relationship between John and Aileen Crowley.

Where the movie excels is in its portrayal of the pitfalls, obstacles and long odds that face the development of an orphan drug, and the road it must take to make it into the pharmacies. I found some of the boardroom scenes more provocative than the medical ones, which is fine by me.

It also has to be said that the movie is a little soft on the pharmaceutical industry in general. It should be noted that the drug that was actually developed for Pompe patients, Myozyme, costs about $300,000 a year and must be taken for the entirety of the patient’s life. There have been instances in which American insurance companies have refused to pay for the treatment, which is a death sentence for the patient and yet another talking point on why health care reform is so badly needed in this country (for the record, most other developed countries provide Myozyme for those who need it).

There are some very powerful moments, particularly when the Crowleys are in despair. Once in awhile there is a touch of the maudlin in the brush but the canvas isn’t affected by the unwelcome addition as much as you might think. Still, the film might have benefitted from less dramatic license and more of the struggle not only to find the cure but in getting it funded. Less would have definitely been more in this case.

FOR MORE ON THE CROWLEYS FOLLOW THIS LINK: The Crowley Family Website

REASONS TO GO: An intriguing glimpse at how orphan drugs are brought to the market. Very powerful in places from an emotional standpoint.

REASONS TO STAY: Occasionally veers from emotionally powerful to maudlin. Russell, a fine actress in her own right, is given very little to do. Many liberties are taken with the facts of both the disease and the Crowleys’ story.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a little bit of foul language, but some children may find the frank treatment of the Crowley children’s condition a bit disturbing.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: P.J. Byrne, the actor playing the Crowley children’s physician, has a cousin who is actually treating the real-life Crowley children.

HOME OR THEATER: Nothing here screams big screen.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Book of Eli

New Releases for the Week of January 22, 2010


January 22, 2010

Someone’s got to do something about that overbite.

LEGION

(Screen Gems) Paul Bettany, Dennis Quaid, Tyrese Gibson, Charles S. Dutton, Adrianne Palicki, Jon Tenney, Lucas Black, Kate Walsh. Directed by Scott Stewart

God has lost faith in mankind again and who can blame him? The last time he got annoyed at his kids, he sent a flood – the Biblical equivalent of a time-out. Now, he’s really pissed and he’s sending out his angels to kick booty and take names. Except these aren’t the slightly effeminate harp-playing pansies you’re thinking about, oh no. These angels are bad mother fu (shut your mouth!)…you get my drift. However, mankind has one last hope; in the unborn son of a waitress in a diner in the middle of nowhere. One angel who thinks God is full of it decides to take it upon himself to save mankind. And that’s when things get really weird…

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: R (for strong bloody violence, and language)

Extraordinary Measures

(CBS) Harrison Ford, Brendan Fraser, Keri Russell, Courtney B. Vance. The inspiring true story about John Crowley, a man who defied the odds and conventional medical wisdom to save his children who were suffering from a rare, fatal and incurable disease. He enlisted the aid of Robert Stonehill, a brilliant but underappreciated scientist whose unorthodox methods had brought him the scorn of his colleagues. Given a challenge by Crowley, he would race against time to find the cure. They would battle the pharmaceutical industry, the medical profession, time – and each other – to find a cure.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG (for thematic material, language and a mild suggestive moment)

Tooth Fairy

(20th Century Fox) Dwayne Johnson, Ashley Judd, Julie Andrews, Stephen Merchant. The dirtiest hockey player in the league has a penchant for causing an immediate and urgent need for dental work among opposing players, and he enjoys the work. However, he takes it a step too far when he dashes the hopes of a child – it’s apparently okay to cause pain and suffering in adults, but make a kid feel bad and it’s a BIG NO-NO!!!! He is sentenced to act as a tooth fairy, complete with tutu and fairy wings, until he sees the error of his ways. Me, I think The Rock’s agent should be sentenced to something nasty.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG (for mild language, some rude humor and sports action)

To Save a Life

(Goldwyn) Randy Wayne, Deja Kreutzberg, Joshua Weigel, Steven Crowder. Jake Taylor has it all from a high school perspective. A star basketball player, he’s been offered a scholarship to a prestigious school, he has the love and admiration of the students and all the cheerleaders fawning over him like he’s starring in the next installment of the Twilight series. Then, when his best friend from childhood commits an unspeakable act, he is forced to re-examine his values and his life choices.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic elements involving teen suicide, teen drinking, some drug content, disturbing images and sexuality)

Inkheart


Me...and my...shaaah...dow!!!

Me...and my...shaaah...dow!!!

(New Line) Brendan Fraser, Paul Bettany, Andy Serkis, Helen Mirren, Eliza Hope Bennett, Jim Broadbent, Sienna Guillory, Jennifer Connelly, Jamie Foreman, Rafi Gavron, Roger Allam (voice), John Thomson, Steve Speirs, Matt King, Stephen Graham. Directed by Iain Softley.

Few things in our experience are as powerful as the written word. With it, we can inform, entertain, transport, amaze, horrify, shock, save and titillate. Even in this electronic information age, most of us still get our information by reading something, whether on a printed page or on a computer screen. The most glorious thing is that the written word still has the power to fire up our imaginations to the point where the limitless is possible.

However, there is a far more dangerous magic in the written word. Certain people, called silvertongues, can literally bring the pages of a story to life when they read it aloud. The drawback is that when a character from a fictional universe is brought to the real world, a real person must be sent to the fictional universe to balance things out. As you might guess, people with this gift are few and far between, and those that do have it tend to keep it on the down-low if they use it at all.

Expert bookbinder Mo Folchart (Fraser) learned the hard way about the dangers of this gift. Reading aloud a fantasy story called Inkheart, he drew two characters from its pages; Dustfinger (Bettany), an itinerant fire juggler whose heart is in the right place, but whose courage and integrity are lacking, and Capricorn (Serkis), a genuinely menacing villain who cheerfully plans world domination with an urbane smoothness that wouldn’t be out of place in a Bond movie. While Dustfinger desperately wants to return home to his wife (Connelly in a very small role) and kids, Serkis prefers this world, where guns and Silvertongues make evil easier.

 What compels Folchart is that his wife Resa (Guillory) was sucked into the pages of Inkheart to replace Capricorn. Now he travels Europe with his precocious daughter Meggie (Bennett) in tow. Meggie is frustrated that she is aware something odd is going on, and is bothered by the nagging feeling that her father knows a lot more than he’s telling her, particularly about her mother’s disappearance. She gets the feeling somebody is chasing him, even as he is searching for something, a specific book.

When Dustfinger catches up with Folchart, the bookbinder is none too pleased to see him. In fact, Folchart runs away with Meggie, barely escaping the grasp of the juggler. Folchart and Meggie head to the home of Great-Aunt Elinor (Mirren). She is abrasive and unfriendly, but once you get past the outward unpleasantness she actually is loyal and loving. Still, she’s unprepared for her sanctuary to be invaded by men with evil intent, and her beloved antique book collection torched.

A desperate Dustfinger has led Capricorn’s men to Folchart, and the bookbinder, his daughter and Great-Aunt Elinor are taken to Capricorn’s castle, where he has a collection of creatures from the pages of fiction – the flying monkeys of “The Wizard of Oz,” the minotaur from Homer’s “The Odyssey,” the Tick-Tock crocodile from “Peter Pan” and the unicorn from the tales of King Arthur. The villain there reveals his plans – for Folchart to bring into this world a truly terrifying monster from the pages of Inkheart – the Shadow.

Director Softley has things like Hackers and K-PAX to his credit, which doesn’t really tell you how he did here. Filming in the beautiful Italian Riviera, as well as the Bourne Woods of Surrey, the cinematography has an otherworldliness that compliments the mood of the novel nicely. While it follows the plot of the Cornelia Funke novel it’s based on nicely, the movie is a bit less grim than its literary counterpart.

Fraser has been a capable action hero ever since his work in The Mummy and is proving to be quite a draw for family films as he showed in Journey to the Center of the Earth. He is less dashing and less heroic than other characters he’s played; his Mortimer Folchart is handicapped by his own guilt, and in trying to be protective of his daughter, causes her more pain than perhaps was necessary. I personally would have liked to see there be more of a rift between them – it’s hard to believe a 12-year-old girl would be too forgiving of a father who kept her in the dark most of her life about what really happened to her mother.

The central character in the book is Meggie, and while she technically is here as well, this isn’t her movie. Bennett is better than average in her performance, but when contending with actors the caliber of Mirren, Broadbent, Bettany, Fraser and Serkis, someone a little more memorable might have been better. She’s supposed to be the focus of the movie but she is clearly out of her depth here, so by default it become’s Mortimer’s story.

 My problem is that the writer gives these silvertongues immense power, but they rarely use it logically. Oh, when they’re forced to do it they can and will read things out of the classic stories, but for example when one silvertongue is imprisoned in a crypt with the Jim Broadbent character (who plays the author of Inkheart who is suffering from a massive case of writer’s block), while they are able to write all sorts of things for the silvertongue to read at the movie’s conclusion, they don’t think of writing something simple like “The locked door swung open of it’s own accord and the prisoners stepped out and escaped.” Of course, that would have made too much sense.

While the acting is top-notch, the special effects are nice and the scenery is beautiful, one of the problems I have is that this kind of movie needs a heart, something that will stay with the viewer long after they’ve gone home. Inkheart doesn’t have one. Bettany comes close, but his character is so weak-willed, and uses the excuse “I was written that way” to explain away his awful choices, so it becomes hard to root for him. Fraser is also curiously restrained; I think a little more Rick O’Connell might have served the movie better.

While this was ostensibly marketed for kids (and there were a bunch of them at the showing I attended), I wouldn’t characterize this strictly as a kid’s movie. Yes, the kids are going to enjoy this, but there is a great deal of violence and the Shadow is going to be far too scary for younger children. There is enough here, however, that make this a solid enough family movie that I can recommend without feeling guilty about it.

WHY RENT THIS: Gorgeous scenery. Nice performances from the supporting roles. Nice fantasy action and a truly frightening villain.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Lapses in logic. Some characters a bit too weak to really support. Lacks heart.

FAMILY VALUES: The Shadow is a bit much for younger children. There is also some violence, but all in all just fine for most kids.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Author Cornelia Funke wrote the part of Mo “Silvertongue” Folchert with Brendan Fraser in mind.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Actress Eliza Bennett reads a passage from the book that didn’t make it into the movie. Using “Reading Rainbow” style visuals as well as illustrations from the novel gives the sequence some visual kick.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen