The Age of Adaline


Blake Lively is lovely.

Blake Lively is lovely.

(2015) Romantic Fantasy (Lionsgate) Blake Lively, Michiel Huisman, Harrison Ford, Ellen Burstyn, Kathy Baker, Amanda Crew, Lynda Boyd, Hugh Ross (voice), Richard Harmon, Fulvio Cecere, Anjali Jay, Hiro Kanagawa, Peter J. Gray, Izabel Peace, Cate Richardson, Jane Craven, Noel Johansen, Aaron Craven, Primo Allon, Darren Dolynski, Alison Wandzura. Directed by Lee Toland Krieger

Immortality isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. For one thing, you get to watch all your friends and family grow old and die as you remain young and vibrant. You also get to worry about secret government agents kidnapping you and turning you into a lab rat. After all, when you have eternal life everybody’s going to want what you’ve got. I would imagine that eternal life would be exceedingly lonely.

Adaline Bowman (Lively) doesn’t have to imagine; she knows. Born at the turn of the century in the San Francisco area. Widowed at 29 (in the early 1930s) with a daughter Flemming (Pearce – Age 5/Richardson – Age 20/Burstyn) to raise on her own, she is involved in a freak car accident during a freak snowfall in Northern California in which a freak lightning bolt hits her freakin’ car after she skids into a stream and dies of hypothermia or drowning, take your pick. All this freakishness serves to stop her from aging and she remains eternally 29.

At first this is just a cause of amusement; how is it possible that Adaline looks young enough to be her daughter’s sister? Then as her contemporaries grow into middle age and she doesn’t, the wrong word is whispered into the wrong ear. This being the McCarthy era, some firm men in dark suits come calling. Adaline manages to escape but realizes that she has to stay on the run for the rest of the life. Move constantly, then change identities once a decade or so.

Still, she can’t stay away from her beloved San Francisco, working as an archivist at the San Francisco Public Library at the tail end of her current incarnation as Jenny Larson. She has only one friend – a blind pianist (Boyd) who doesn’t realize the woman she believes to be middle aged is actually still in the full flower of her youth. Only her daughter Flemming, now in her 80s and considering a move to a retirement home, knows Adaline’s secret. Other than those two and a series of dogs, Adaline has formed no attachments to anyone; any attempt at love is eventually rebuffed although she came close during the 1960s.

However, on New Year’s Eve she meets Ellis (Huisman), a hunky dot com millionaire who loves books and is really, really into Adaline. At first she repulses all his attempts to flirt and to ask her out. When he plays a little dirty, threatening to revoke a donation to the library, she relents. Soon the two of them are sleeping together although she knows that in a short time she’ll be leaving but she is drawn to him like a moth to the flame. When he takes her up to Sonoma to meet his parents, he discovers that his dad (Ford) is 1960s jilted guy, who is now celebrating his 40th wedding anniversary to Ellis’ mom (Baker). Awk-ward.  Especially since he recognizes her.

So Adaline is ready to run again, but she is beginning to tire of the chase. All she wants to do is stay in one place, with one guy and Ellis looks to be that guy. But how can she stay with someone she is going to outlive…by a LOT? Is it truly better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all when you’re immortal?

The premise here is an interesting one but by and large it is wasted. Being an ageless immortal must have an upside as well as a downside but all we really see here is the down, and perhaps to appeal to a certain kind of audience, the movie centers on Adaline’s romantic history. We see none of what other things she does, what careers she undertakes, the things she witnesses. It is as if the filmmakers figure that the only thing that matters in a woman’s life is for her to fall in love. Kind of myopic and maybe borderline misogynistic when you think about it.

For that reason Adaline is written as a cold and distant woman, rarely speaking in a tone that isn’t devoid of warmth or possessed of any humanity whatsoever. Therefore the brunt of why this movie doesn’t work falls squarely on Blake Lively’s shoulders and the sad part is that it really isn’t her fault. She is given direction to be icy and unreachable – so she is that to the audience as well. Lively is one of the most beautiful actresses in Hollywood and she has shown that she is capable of being a charismatic onscreen presence in other roles but because of the coldness that she is made to possess here, rather than generating audience sympathy for her plight she actually repels it.

There are other problems besides Lively, most of which I’ve already mentioned. There are a couple of plot lapses; for example, Adaline theoretically changes her identity every ten years and yet Ellis’ dad recognizes her and calls her Adaline. So she used her own name one decade just for kicks? Doesn’t seem to be in her character.

Fortunately, Ford is here to give a sympathetic performance that will remind you why he has been for 35 years one of the most popular actors in Hollywood. Burstyn and Baker, both getting on in age, are both dependable actresses and they don’t disappoint here. Maybe the biggest star of the movie is San Francisco and Northern California. The beauty of the City and its environs takes center stage.

Still, this is merely marginally entertaining, a rote romantic fantasy that could have been so much better. We really don’t get any insight to who Adaline is and how her immortality affects her as a person, other than to put her on the perpetual lam. With longevity must come at least some sort of insight into the world but we get none here. There are a lot of reasons why immortality would suck, but hopefully one of them won’t be that we remain as shallow as a saucer. If I knew I was going to be eternally young but would neither grow nor learn well, I think I might turn down that particular gift. Yes, I think that I definitely would.

REASONS TO GO: Ford, Burstyn and Baker are solid. San Francisco utilized nicely.
REASONS TO STAY: Lively is beautiful but ultimately empty here. Wasted opportunity.
FAMILY VALUES: Some sexuality and a suggestive comment.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Burstyn also played a daughter older than her parent in last year’s Interstellar.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/11/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 54% positive reviews. Metacritic: 51/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT: Gemma Bovery

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New Releases for the Week of April 24, 2015


Ex-MachinaEX-MACHINA

(A24) Oscar Isaac, Domhnall Gleeson, Alice Vikander, Corey Johnson, Sonoya Mizuno, Claire Selby, Symara A. Templeman, Gana Bayarsaikhan, Tiffany Pisani. Directed by Alex Garland

A programmer at an internet search company wins a competition to spend a week with the reclusive CEO in his secluded mountain estate. Once there, he discovers that this isn’t a paid vacation; he’s been selected as the human component in a Turing test of a new artificial intelligence, testing the capabilities and essentially the self-awareness of Ava, who turns out to be much more than the sum of her parts and much more than either man could have predicted.

See the trailer, interviews, clips and featurettes here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for graphic nudity, language, sexual references and some violence)

The Age of Adaline

(Lionsgate) Blake Lively, Harrison Ford, Ellen Burstyn, Kathy Baker. A freak automobile accident in 1935 leaves young Adaline ageless and deathless. However, immortality proves to be more of a curse than a gift and she spends 80 years hiding her secret and running away from life until she finds the possibility of love. A weekend with his parents though threatens to expose her secret, leaving her to make a momentous decision.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and preview video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Fantasy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for a suggestive comment)

Brotherly Love

(Freestyle Releasing) Keke Palmer, Cory Hardict, Faizon Love, Macy Gray. Philadelphia’s Overbrook High has been one of the most prestigious basketball powerhouses in the country ever since Wilt Chamberlain played there. Now, a young student there has been named the number one prospect in the country. Dealing with high school alone is no easy task but to have that kind of pressure on top of it is nearly impossible.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Sports Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Downtown Disney, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal Waterford Lakes
Rating: R (for violence and language)

Desert Dancer

(Relativity) Nazanin Boniadi, Freida Pinto, Tom Cullen, Marama Corlett. Afshin Ghaffarian wanted nothing more than to express himself through dance. Unfortunately, he lived in Iran where the imams had forbidden dance and any attempt for him to learn how to was met with terrible punishments. After co-founding an underground dance group there, he runs afoul of Iranian authorities and is forced to flee his home, but he comes to Paris more determined than ever to achieve his dream.

See the trailer, interviews, clips and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama/Dance
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements, some drug material and violence)

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter

(Amplify) Rinko Kikuchi, Noboyuki Katsube, Shirley Venard, Nathan Zellner. A Japanese office drone discovers a VHS copy of the Coen Brothers classic film Fargo. Fed up with her mundane existence and possessed of an imagination that can’t be held in by the confines of her dreary job and her tiny apartment, she seizes on the idea that the buried treasure in the film is real and that the cash is waiting for her to find in the rugged prairies of North Dakota.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: NR

Little Boy

(Open Road) Kevin James, David Henrie, Michael Rappaport, Emily Watson. A 7-year-old boy is devastated when his father is called off to fight World War II. However, chats with the family pastor lead him to believe that his faith can move mountains. And it seems that it may be literally true. However, will it be enough to bring his dad home safely from war?

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard (opens Thursday)
Genre: Family Faith-Based Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material and violence)

The Salt of the Earth

(Sony Classics) Sebastiao Salgado, Wim Wenders, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, Lelia Warnick Salgado. The life and career of Brazilian photojournalist Sebastiao Salgado, whose pictures have shown stark beauty and the depths of human cruelty. His photographs have drawn attention to suffering and privation in the four corners of the earth. Noted German director Wim Wenders was so moved by Salgado’s work that he made a documentary about him, something Wenders isn’t particularly known for.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material involving disturbing images of violence and human suffering, and for nudity)

See You in Valhalla

(ARC Entertainment) Sarah Hyland, Steve Howey, Odeya Rush, Jake McDorman. A young woman returns home following the untimely death of her brother, finding her family as dysfunctional as ever. Old jealousies, feuds and disagreements resurface and the family seems to sink further into dysfunction until a brilliant idea to send off the brother in style is suggested.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: AMC Downtown Disney
Rating: R (for language, sexual references and drug use)

The Water Diviner

(Warner Brothers) Russell Crowe, Olga Kurylenko, Jai Courtney, Yilmaz Erdogan. An Australian farmer is devastated by the news that both of his sons were declared missing presumed dead in the epic battle of Gallipoli during the First World War. Four years after the battle, he journeys to Gallipoli to find out once and for all the fate of his sons and get some closure but with the help of a compassionate Turkish officer and the woman whose hotel he is staying in, he discovers hope amidst the carnage.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: AMC Downtown Disney, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for war violence including some disturbing images)

Saving Mr. Banks


The happiest place on Earth.

The happiest place on Earth.

(2013) True Life Drama (Disney) Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Colin Farrell, Paul Giamatti, Jason Schwartzman, Bradley Whitford, Kathy Baker, Annie Rose Buckley, Ruth Wilson, B.J. Novak, Lily Bigham, Melanie Paxson, Andy McPhee, Rachel Griffiths, Ronan Vibert, Jerry Hauck, Laura Waddell, Fuschia Sumner, David Ross Patterson, Michelle Arthur. Directed by John Lee Hancock

There are few adults or children who aren’t at least aware of the Disney classic Mary Poppins and most of those bear at least some sort of love for the film. In the review of the film, I mentioned that there are no others that take me back to my childhood like that one and I’m sure I’m not alone in that regard. It is therefore somewhat unsettling to note that the movie nearly didn’t get made – and if author P.L. Travers who created the character had her way, it would have been a very different movie indeed.

Walt Disney (Hanks) had always been enchanted by the tale of the flying nanny and made a promise to his daughters that he would make a movie of it someday. However, getting it done was a whole other matter entirely. P.L. Travers (Thompson), the prickly author of the Mary Poppins books, was unwilling to part with her creation to Hollywood which she considered a vulgar and schmaltzy place. Her prim and proper Poppins would doubtlessly be turned into a mindless dolt or worse still, a cartoon. Travers, you see, hated cartoons.

Finally nearly broke, she at last reluctantly consented to travel to Hollywood to sign away the rights to Poppins and the Banks family which she thought of as her own family. However, she insisted on script approval and Disney in a nearly-unheard of move for him granted it. He gave the chilly Brit over to writer Don DaGradi (Whitford) and composers Richard (Schwartzman) and Robert (Novak) Sherman.

Things go rapidly downhill from there. Travers is uneasy with the idea of making Poppins a musical – “Mary Poppins doesn’t sing” she sniffs – and absolutely hates the idea of casting Dick van Dyke as ert the Chimney Sweep. She’s very uncomfortable with the Americanization of her characters and the songs – well, she hates those too.

In fact there’s very little American that she doesn’t hate from the architecture to the smell of Los Angeles which she describes to her Disney-supplied driver Ralph (Giamatti) as “sweat and exhaust” but what he describes as jasmine which pretty much sums up the difference between the characters. She hates the pastries and treats that the long-suffering production assistant Biddy (Bigham) supplies and she barges in on Disney which drives his assistant Tommie (Baker) batty.

And nothing they do makes her happy, not even a trip to Disneyland with Walt himself. Walt is at wit’s end, particularly when she announces that the color red has been banned from the film. “You’re trying to test me, aren’t you,” he murmurs quite perceptively. “You’re trying to see how far I’m willing to go.” She holds the unsigned rights over his head like a Sword of Damocles. It isn’t until she retreats back to England, furious that Walt is planning on animating the chalk drawing sequence, that he figures out what is motivating her and why she is so reluctant for the movie to proceed.

There are clues throughout, almost all of them in flashback sequences in which an 8-year-old Travers, nicknamed Ginty (Buckley) adores her banker dad (Farrell) in rural Australia in the early 20th century but watches alcohol and disappointment slowly wear him away. It is there we see the genesis of Mary Poppins and the reason that P.L. Travers is a far different woman than Helen “Ginty” Goff was meant to be.

It’s something of a miracle that this movie got made at all. Although the script was independently commissioned, what other studio other than Disney would buy it? And Disney had a tight rope to walk on the film; if Walt comes off as a saint, it smacks of self-aggrandizement but if he comes off flawed they might see their brand eroded. I think that in the end that Walt comes off here as a genuinely good man but one who was a sharp businessman and who could be equally as cold and calculating as he was warm and compassionate. Near the end of the film, Tommie asks him why Mrs. Travers was left off the invitation list for the premier of Poppins and Walt says in a somewhat cold voice that there would be interviews and press to be done and he had to protect the film. Travers had to literally ask for permission to come and she never forgave him for that, among other things.

In fact the movie seems to imply that a certain understanding and mutual affection existed between Disney and Travers and that simply wasn’t the case. She found him overbearing and thought him deceitful and refused to work with him ever again. In fact when Broadway musical producer Cameron Mackintosh approached her to do a stage version of Poppins, she outright refused but later relented with the stipulation that nobody who worked on the film be connected in any way with the musical. After Travers’ death in 1996, Mackintosh later approached Disney and got input from them.

Thompson’s name has come up in Oscar discussions and for good reason; this is one of the finest performances of a stellar career on her part. Travers is a disagreeable, cantankerous sort who insists that every script meeting be audio taped and finds reason after reason why things can’t be done. However when she allows people in, the vulnerable child emerges and we see her regrets and her pain. I certainly wouldn’t object to her getting nominated for Oscar gold and I wouldn’t be surprised either.

I read that some retired Disney sorts who actually worked on the film who saw Saving Mr. Banks were brought to tears because the details were so on-target. Certainly this was a labor of love and like most labors was a difficult and often painful one. Hancock actually plays one of the actual audio tapes of one of the initial script sessions over the end credits so you get a real idea of how the real Mrs. Travers was (the same session is recreated in the film) and if anything, they softened her image from reality somewhat.

Disney, like most men who accomplish the sort of success that he did in life, is either sanctified or demonized depending on the nature of the person making the opinion. The real Walt Disney lay somewhere in between the two extremes. I think that this is as close a glimpse as we’re likely to get at the real Walt and while I tend to think that this is a fictionalized account of the real events surrounding the making of Mary Poppins, it is nonetheless entertaining and engrossing and one of the year’s best films.

REASONS TO GO: Terrific performances by nearly all of the cast. A lovely walk down Memory Lane.

REASONS TO STAY: Diverges from fact a few times.

FAMILY VALUES:  Some of the themes may be a bit too intense for children. There are also some unpleasant images.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Hanks, who plays Walt Disney, is in fact a distant cousin of the studio chief.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/28/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 81% positive reviews. Metacritic: 65/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Finding Neverland

FINAL RATING: 9/10

NEXT: Blood Creek

Take Shelter


Michael Shannon has a point.

Michael Shannon has a point.

(2011) Drama (Sony Classics) Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, Shea Whigham, Katy Mixon, Kathy Baker, Tova Stewart, Natasha Randall, Ron Kennard, Scott Knisley, Robert Longstreet, Heather Caldwell, Guy Van Swearingen, LisaGay Hamilton, Ray McKinnon, Stuart Greer, Bart Flynn, Sheila Hullihen, John Kloock, Marianna Alacchi. Directed by Jeff Nichols

One man’s prophecy is another man’s mental illness. We sometimes have dreams that are disturbingly real and sometimes we ascribe some sort of prophecy of the future to them. Sometimes the dreams are so vivid and repetitive we think that they MUST be trying to communicate something to us. Is it a kind of craziness – or something we ignore at our peril?

Curtis LaForche (Shannon) is a pretty ordinary guy living in a small town and working construction. His wife Samantha (Chastain) sells crafts to supplement their income which they sorely need; their daughter Hannah (Stewart) is deaf but a cochlear transplant might restore at least partial hearing. Curtis’ insurance would make that operation possible. With this hope looming ahead of them, life is pretty good all in all.

But all is not perfect. Curtis begins to have some disturbing dreams; the family dog inexplicably attacks him. And most importantly, a massive storm destroys his home. The dreams are so vivid that Curtis begins to act on them in waking life. He pens his dog – who has always been mellow and well-behaved – in the yard. And he begins to work on expanding his storm shelter.

His best friend Dewart (Whigham) is sanguine about all this, defending his friend as the towns people begin to whisper that Curtis may be losing it. Curtis isn’t so sure that they’re wrong – there’s a history of mental illness in his family, and he consults with his institutionalized mother (Baker) to see if she had dreams when her problems started.

But things are escalating out of control as Curtis’ dreams grow more and more disturbing. His behavior takes a turn for the worse and when he loses his job even his saintly wife must admit that something is terribly wrong. Is Curtis losing his mind? Or is he privy to a terrible tragedy that will destroy everything he has if he does nothing about it?

Nichols, who first directed Shannon in Shotgun Stories and met him as an actor on Tigerland does a fine job of blurring the line between dreams and reality. There are times when we realize that we are viewing a dream (as when the sky rains oil) but there are others where we aren’t entirely sure and neither is Curtis.

Speaking of Curtis, this is one of Shannon’s best roles to date. Most people to this point recognized him for his work on Boardwalk Empire although his turn as General Zod on Man of Steel may have netted him some mainstream notice. Shannon has always come off to my way of thinking and a tightly wound spring. There is always an undercurrent of darkness in his characters, even his comedic ones (although his comedic rules are few and far between). His size and his intensity make him intimidating and that shines right through in nearly every role he plays.

Chastain, who was in the midst of a pretty good run when this was made, also does some sterling work although she’s a bit overshadowed by Shannon. She has quickly become one of the most reliable actresses in Hollywood. While she has been less busy in 2013 (she appeared in no less than seven feature films that were released in 2012) she has built a great base to build a stellar career on. No doubt there are further accolades in her future.

The movie is a bit predictable in places, particularly towards the end but otherwise this is a really good movie. The viewer is left, along with the characters in the movie, to wonder if Curtis is really having visions or just going nuts. I wish the ending would have been a little more ambiguous but otherwise I really liked the way this movie developed and even more so Shannon’s performance which was Oscar-worthy although he wound up not being nominated. Something tells me you don’t have to be much of a prophet to predict that there will be Oscars in his trophy case at some point.

WHY RENT THIS: A bravura performance by Shannon. Blurs the line between reality and dreams nicely.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Predictable at times.

FAMILY VALUES: The language is a bit rough here.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Stewart, who plays Hannah, the deaf daughter of Curtis and Samantha, is deaf in real life.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There is a Q&A in which Shannon and Nichols discuss their long-time friendship and this film in particular.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $3.1M on a $5M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Field of Dreams

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Big Miracle


Big Miracle

Drew Barrymore is not so sure about her big kissing scene with her latest co-star.

(2012) Family (Universal) Drew Barrymore, John Krasinski, Kristen Bell, Dermot Mulroney, Tim Blake Nelson, Ted Danson, Stephen Root, John Pingayak, Ahmaogak Sweeney, Kathy Baker, Vinessa Shaw, Andrew Daly, John Michael Higgins, Gregory Jbara, James LeGros, Rob Riggle, Sarah Palin. Directed by Ken Kwapis

 

Americans sometimes overly admire self-reliance. There’s nothing we love more than a lone wolf taking care of business on his/her own. Situations arise in life however where help is needed. Generally we as a nation despise asking for assistance although there are instances where reaching out is the only way.

Adam Carlson (Krasinski) is a reporter for an Anchorage television station whose current assignment in the winter of 1988 is to go to small towns on the fringes of the 49th State and file reports about life on the last frontier. He has amassed quite a following in the small town of Port Barrow, Alaska where he is finishing up his most recent assignment, particularly from Nathan (Sweeney), a young Inuit lad who is a bit star-struck and looks to be fleeing tiny Barrow for bigger and better things.

Filing one last story, Adam notices something rather peculiar – water spouts coming from a small hole in the ice five miles from the nearest ocean. Upon further investigation, it is discovered that three California Gray Whales are trapped there, cut off from the ocean where their fellows have begun their Southerly migration. In a short time, the hole will freeze over and the whales will drown, having no means of getting air.

The filing of this story causes quite a ripple effect. Greenpeace activist (and Adam’s ex-girlfriend) Rachel Kramer (Barrymore) charges in, guns blazing, in an effort to rescue the whales and alienate the humans who might not necessarily agree with her points of view. One of those is oilman J.W. McGraw (Danson) who has a towable ice hover barge that is only a few miles away; it can break up the ice and carve a path to the ocean for the whales but Rachel and J.W. have had run-ins before over oil drilling rights in Wilderness Preserves.

The national guard has to be mobilized in order to get the helicopters to tow the barge to Barrow, which requires the co-operation of the Governor (Root) who isn’t giving it, until Kelly Meyers (Shaw), one of Reagan’s press coordinators in the White House recognizes an opportunity to improve her boss’s environmental record and give a boost to the Bush campaign (the first George, not the second) and puts pressure on the Governor to co-operate.

Colonel Scott Boyer (Mulroney) is assigned to lead the helicopter team to move the huge barges but it is a dicey proposition at best. Meanwhile, the media is descending on tiny little Barrow to cover what has become an international sensation, including L.A. reporter Jill Jerard (Bell) who like Adam yearns for the big time.

In the meantime, the situation for the whales – dubbed Fred, Wilma and Bam-Bam – is getting more desperate by the hour and it doesn’t appear as if help is going to arrive in time. There is something closer that may well be the only chance for the whales. The trouble is, that it’s a Soviet icebreaker and to allow them to save the day might not be possible in that political climate.

These are based on actual events (Kwapis skillfully intercuts actual footage from the incident) although the plot has been condensed and made Hollywood-friendly. On paper it seems like it could be one of those treacly family movies that just reeks of cliché – dumbed down to kid levels. There is a kid here but unlike most family movies he doesn’t save the day – instead Nathan is taught the beauty of his heritage and learns to value his ethnic background. Otherwise, this is a movie that the whole family can appreciate.

The cast is well-assembled. Krasinski in particular is one of the most likable leads working in Hollywood today and the more movie work he gets, the more likely it is that the small screen is not going to be able to afford him shortly. Personally I think he’s one or two roles from being a huge star.

Barrymore is likewise a reliable lead, albeit further up the wattage ladder than Krasinski. She usually plays ditzy – and there’s a hint of that in Rachel – but she takes the committed environmentalist with tunnel vision cliché (she won’t wear make-up because so much of it is animal tested for example) and rather than make the character a caricature gives her flesh and blood instead. It’s a nice portrayal and illustrates why she’s one of Hollywood’s finest.

Danson, Nelson (as a state wildlife expert) and Baker are all fine actors who never disappoint; Danson is as close to a villain as the movie gets but he’s just so dang likable you wind up kind of wanting him to do the right thing – and not to be much of a spoiler but he does.

In fact, nearly everybody does the right thing here. It’s one of those movies where there are no real villains other than the elements and the conviction and commitment of the people of Barrow and those whom the story touches becomes the real focal point. That’s where the warmth is in the story, despite the chilly setting (which was filmed in British Columbia rather than Alaska).

The whales are portrayed both animatronically (well done) and by CGI (not so well done) and remain more or less on the periphery. Yes, everyone loves them and wants to save them but the people are the focus of the story. It becomes a family film that actually doesn’t pander to the kids at the expense of the adults, but rather treats kids intelligently and expects them to understand what’s happening without drawing in crayon.

I found myself liking this more than I expected to. Originally sentenced to the doldrums of the first release week in January, Universal moved it up into February, perhaps because the movie turned out better than they expected it to. This is good solid family entertainment that doesn’t disappoint the kids or the adults and hopefully, not the studio accountants either. Movies like this are to be encouraged.

REASONS TO GO: An engaging story. Krasinski is rapidly becoming one of the most compelling leads in Hollywood. Doesn’t talk down to its family audience, at least not much.

REASONS TO STAY: CGI whales aren’t always authentic looking.

FAMILY VALUES: There are a few bad words here and there.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Stephen Root’s Governor Haskell is a fictional character; the governor of Alaska t the time this actually took place was Steve Cowper who was fairly supportive of the rescue efforts.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/19/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 73% positive reviews. Metacritic: 61/100. The reviews are solidly positive.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Dolphin Tale

INUIT LOVERS: Offers a rare and intimate look at Inuit culture in modern society, specifically in regard to their view about whales and how they use them for food and as a spiritual touchstone as well.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

TOMORROW: Journey 2: Mysterious Island

New Releases for the Week of November 4, 2011


November 4, 2011

TOWER HEIST

(Universal) Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Matthew Broderick, Tea Leoni, Gabourey Sidibe, Casey Affleck, Alan Alda, Judd Hirsch, Michael Pena. Directed by Brett Ratner

When the staff that work in an exclusive Manhattan apartment tower discover that their pensions have been stolen by a Wall Street billionaire who lives in the penthouse, they’re at first stunned. Some of them have nothing but their pensions to rely on and it appears that the old fraud is going to get away with it. However, the staff have a couple of aces in the hole; intricate knowledge of the tower and a school chum of the concierge who happens to be a professional thief. Even with a full house of FBI agents and security, these amateurs might have the best hand after all.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, promos and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for language and sexual content)

A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas

(New Line) John Cho, Kal Penn, Neil Patrick Harris, Tom Lennon. The two stoner buddies have been apart for six years following their last adventure and have moved off into other circles, other friends. However a mysterious package that arrives at Kumar’s house begins a series of misadventures including the search for the perfect Christmas tree, the return of Neil Patrick Harris from the dead and the shooting of Santa Claus.  It’s quite possible that this movie will be much funnier while on drugs. Then again, most movies are. Besides, any movie with NPH in it is all right by me.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Comedy

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

Take Shelter

(Sony Classics) Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain, Katy Mixon, Kathy Baker. A quiet family man in the Midwest begins to have terrifying dreams. Terrified of what the dreams may signify, he begins to work obsessively on a storm shelter in his backyard. His odd behavior begins to put a strain on his marriage and puzzles his friends and family who begin to question his sanity, but if he’s right the consequences may be far more dire than a trip to the mental institution.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: R (for some language)

Last Chance Harvey


Last Chance Harvey

Hoffman and Thompson bask in the admiration of the rest of the cast.

(Overture) Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, Kathy Baker, James Brolin, Richard Schiff, Eileen Atkins, Liane Balaban. Directed by Joel Hopkins

Happiness is a rare and precious commodity in this life, and we get so few opportunities to reach out and grab it. We have to treat each of these opportunities as if they are our last chance to be truly happy.

Harvey Shine (Hoffman) is a failed jazz pianist who has made a living – okay, quite a bit more than that – writing jingles for Madison Avenue. He has flown to London to attend the wedding of his daughter Susan (Balaban). While arriving at Heathrow, he has a brief encounter with Kate (Thompson), who works as one of those airport survey takers, the kind of job that one must have a very thick skin to perform. Harvey is somewhat rude to her, as many are.

Harvey has reason to be in a pissy mood. He is entering the lion’s den, as it were. He and his daughter have been drifting apart for many years, especially after Harvey’s marriage to Jean (Baker), Susan’s mother, collapsed. Jean is married to Brian (Brolin) now, and at the rehearsal dinner Harvey is informed by his daughter that she wants Brian to give her away at the ceremony the next day rather than Harvey.

For a father, that would constitute something akin to water boarding. It is the rejection of a man’s paternal abilities, a means of telling a dad that his services were never appreciated. Whether or not Harvey had earned that kind of rejection, it still hurts in ways that cannot truly be fathomed by someone who has never been father to a daughter.

To make matters worse, Harvey gets a phone call from his boss (Schiff) at the agency he works for to inform him that his services are no longer required there either. Drowning in a sea of emotional torment, Harvey decides to get out of London with what little pride he has remaining, stick his tail between his legs and head home to lick his wounds.

Unfortunately, he is denied even that and he winds up at an airport bar waiting for a flight to take him back to New York. There, he sees Kate reading while on a break from her thankless job. Remembering her from his arrival, feeling guilty at his rudeness (and perhaps feeling a need to improve his karma somewhat), he tried to strike up a conversation with her and apologize. She is distant and uninterested, but he gradually wears her down with his charm. As they get to talking, they begin to realize that they are more like than unalike, and that one of those opportunities we spoke about earlier is suddenly right there in front of them.

Writer/director Hopkins had the framework for what could have been one of the better romantic movies of recent years. Certainly he has a couple that an audience can get behind; there is definite chemistry between Hoffman and Thompson and the couple they portray have been wounded by life, people who have been abandoned by the angels of their better nature. Instead, they have suffered from wrong choice after wrong choice, leading them to an encounter in an airport bar that might well be their last chance at happiness.

Hopkins could have just easily sat his camera in a two-shot in front of these two magnificent actors and just let it film the two of them talking. Instead, he opts for romantic interludes of montages of the two of them walking on the banks of the Thames, chatting animatedly with a truly awful, treacly score drowning out what they’re actually saying. It’s frustrating as all get out because we would much rather hear what they have to say.

There’s also an unnecessary subplot involving Kate’s paranoid mom (Atkins) and a neighbor she suspects of being a serial killer. While Atkins is a charming enough actress, whenever her character calls Kate it blows the movie right off of the tracks. And, let’s not even talk about the movie’s third act in which all the charm of the first two is lost in a cliché and hoary finish that makes us wish this movie had been made by more capable filmmakers, which isn’t to say that Hopkins isn’t one – he just isn’t one here.

The saving grace of this movie, and the reason to seek it out, are those scenes in which Hopkins simply lets us watch Kate and Harvey interact. There is literal magic in those scenes, and those moments are worth cherishing. This is a case of the actors transcending the material they are given to work with and making a decent movie out of one that might easily have been just awful.

WHY RENT THIS: Hoffman and Thompson are two of the best actors of our generation; any opportunity to see them is worth taking.  They make a likable couple that you can’t help but root for; whenever they are onscreen together chatting, there’s plenty of magic.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: An unnecessary subplot involving Kate’s paranoid mother derails the movie at every turn. The movie falls apart in the third act, relying on cliché and happenstance to resolve the action.

FAMILY VALUES: A little bit of blue language but nothing more than that.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Hoffman and Thompson first performed together in Stranger than Fiction. While they only had a couple of scenes together, they both enjoyed the experience so much that they looked for a project that they could tackle together as leads.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Up in the Air