Dolphin Tale 2


Life is a splash!

Life is a splash!

(2014) Family (Warner Brothers) Harry Connick Jr., Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd, Kris Kristofferson, Nathan Gamble, Cozi Zuehlsdorff, Bethany Hamilton, Charles Martin Smith, Julia Winter, Austin Stowell, Austin Highsmith, Juliana Harkavy, Betty Landin, Denisea Wilson, Carlos Gomez, Julia Jordan, Tom Nowicki, Taylor Blackwell. Directed by Charles Martin Smith

The inspirational story of Dolphin Tale introduced us to Winter, a dolphin rescued by the Clearwater Marine Aquarium whose tail had to be amputated after being caught in the wire from a crab trap. After being fitted with a prosthetic tail, she became an inspiration to disabled persons everywhere – and to a lot of non-disabled people as well.

Now Winter is in a different kind of trouble. Her long-time companion at the Aquarium has passed away and she has fallen into a deep depression, even lashing out and injuring her friend Sawyer (Gamble) who has been with her from the beginning. Sawyer is now a handsome high school teen whose relationship with Winter has not gone unnoticed by the marine biology community – he’s been invited on a semester at sea program normally limited to college students. It’s quite a big deal and everyone expects him to go but Sawyer is conflicted; he doesn’t want to leave with Winter in serious difficulties.

Winter has become a big attraction for the CMA which has embarked on an ambitious expansion program led by their new board head Philip Hordern (Nowicki)  who is concerned that the star attraction might be taken away. In fact, USDA inspector (Smith) has given the aquarium 30 days to pair Winter with another female dolphin or the government will force them to move her into an environment where she can be properly socialized.

It so happens that the CMA has a female dolphin that they’re taking care of, but Dr. Clay Haskett (Connick) seems reluctant to pair the two. His reasons for it are correct though – the dolphin they have rescued is making a full recovery and there is no reason to keep the perfectly healthy dolphin at the aquarium whose mission has always been Rescue, Rehab, Release. Clay’s hot-headed daughter Hazel (Zuehlsdorff) is furious at her father whom she sees as abandoning Winter, but also disrespecting her for not soliciting her input. Because she has a PhD and everything, right?

So the dolphin will be released and Winter will be moved. Sawyer mopes around and despite the advice of his mom (Judd) and curmudgeonly Dr. McCarthy (Freeman) who designed Winter’s appendage still doesn’t know if he wants to seize the day. But the thing is, where there’s life, there’s Hope.

This isn’t quite as good as the first Tale. It’s a bit more convoluted and a bit more cliche, with the kids more or less running the show and the adults generally treating them as equals. In that sense, the movie doesn’t talk down to its audience although there’s not a lot of reality here – teens and tweens aren’t generally handed the reins of an operation the size of a CMA, particularly when the welfare of animals are concerned.

Gamble has matured into a handsome young man which is sure to set a lot of hormonal tween girl hearts a-flutter. Zuehlsdorff is a bit shrill in places but manages to capture the child-parent conflict pretty solidly and allows herself to come off as illogical and overly emotional in a situation when her father is thinking of the welfare of the animal above his own personal needs. It’s a good life lesson.

In fact, the movie is filled with them. There’s a whole lot of information on the various marine animals depicted here which in addition to the dolphins includes sea turtles and Roofus, the zany pelican from the first movie who is even more present here. In fact, Roofus gets more screen time than Judd or Freeman. Take from that what you will.

The adult cast is solid and the look of the film sparkles. Yes, there are some CGI dolphin moments and occasionally those moments are obvious but for the most part this is a good looking movie giving a very alluring quality to Florida in general. Being familiar with the Clearwater area, I can tell you that it captures the area nicely.

The movie can be a little bland in places. The filmmakers wanted the movie to be wholesome and for the most part it is to the point where it’s so inoffensive that there’s nothing to really hold onto. There are no antagonists to speak of; it’s just a bad situation which is the way life generally is. There are appearances by surfer Bethany Hamilton as herself – you might know her from Soul Surfer, an inspirational movie made on her own life – and whose presence on the current season of The Amazing Race is likely to boost up the box office here a little bit.

I honestly can’t fault the movie much. It doesn’t do anything truly wrong, it just doesn’t really excel either. For the most part, I can give it a mild thumbs up for family audiences. Those without kids may find it mildly diverting particularly if they love dolphins but adults may find the movie tedious. Watching the dolphins do their thing is definitely the best part of the movie. The humans around them – not so much.

REASONS TO GO: Some moments of grace, particularly when the actual dolphins are involved. Wholesome.
REASONS TO STAY: Ham-handed kids movie cliches. Lacks realism. Bland.
FAMILY VALUES:  There is some mild dolphin peril but otherwise suitable for all family audiences.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the fifth movie in which Judd and Freeman have appeared together in.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/3/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 69% positive reviews. Metacritic: 58/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Hoot
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Dead Silence

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New Releases for the Week of September 12, 2014


Dolphin Tale 2DOLPHIN TALE 2

(Warner Brothers) Harry Connick Jr., Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd, Kris Kristofferson, Charles Martin Smith, Nathan Gamble, Cozi Zuehlsdorff, Bethany Hamilton. Directed by Charles Martin Smith

Winter the dolphin returns in this story about those wacky folks at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (who aren’t all that wacky in real life) who discover that Winter is in need of a companion, preferably a female or she’ll be taken away from Clearwater for the good of the animal. Into the lives of the Floridian folks comes a new dolphin, Hope but will she be enough to save Winter – and herself?

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a featurette and B-roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Family

Rating: PG (for some mild thematic elements)

Atlas Shrugged III: Who is John Galt?

(Atlas) Kristoffer Polaha, Rob Morrow, Stephen Tobolowsky, Joaquim de Almeida. With the nation’s economy in shambles, a government seemingly hell-bent on ensuring that the economy is utterly destroyed and the most productive industrialists in the nation mysteriously disappearing, there seems to be no way out for the beleaguered citizens of the United States. Only one man can seemingly reverse the tide and save America but there is a woman equally determined to stop him. The conclusion of the trilogy based on Ayn Rand’s seminal novel.

 

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for some violence and a scene of sexuality)

The Drop

(Fox Searchlight) Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, James Gandolfini, Matthias Schoenaerts. A Brooklyn bartender works at a watering hole that also acts as a cash drop for the Brooklyn underworld. The bartender takes the cash, hides it in plain sight and then gives it to the mobsters when the time is right. However, a robbery gone sour turns everything upside down as the bartender fights to stay out of the violence that begins to gather in the neighborhood and threatens to turn a rough neighborhood into a war zone.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Crime Drama

Rating: R (for some strong violence and pervasive language)

Finding Fanny

(Fox Star) Deepika Padukone, Arjun Kapoor, Naseeruddin Shah, Dimple Kapadia. A motley group of friends and family take a road trip to find the long lost love of an old postman. Nobody knows if she’s dead or alive or if she’s even real or just the figment of an old man’s lonely imagination. A mission that was supposed to take only 90 minutes is extended out over a matter of days as those involved in the search seek something sublime – and find it, although not what they expected.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: NR

Love is Strange

(Sony Classics) John Lithgow, Alfred Molina, Marisa Tomei, Charlie Tahan. Two elderly gay lovers finally have it all. Once New York City makes gay marriages legal, they can finally be wed. However, their marriage gets noticed and one of them loses his job, meaning they can no longer afford to live in their tastefully decorated lower Manhattan apartment. Facing reality, they must live apart – temporarily, they say – until they can find a way to afford a place to live together but that’s easier said than done, particularly when one has moved in with his nephew, the other with a couple of NYPD cops. Not only are they missing each other, they find themselves being the glue holding all these disparate relationships together.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: R (for language)

Mood Indigo

(Drafthouse) Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou, Gad Elmaleh, Omar Sy. A wealthy Parisian inventor is lonely and longs for love. At last he finds it but his hopes may be bitterly dashed – the beautiful young object of his affections has a flower growing in her lungs. The only way to keep her alive is to keep a neverending supply of fresh flowers around her. This surreal and sweet film is the latest from inventive director Michel Gondry.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Fantasy

Rating: NR

No Good Deed

(Screen Gems) Idris Elba, Taraji P. Henson, Leslie Bibb, Kate del Castillo. On a stormy night with her husband away, a stranger turns up at her door needing to use her phone because he’s had car trouble. She takes pity on the charming man and allows him in, not realizing that the stranger is an escaped convict with an enormous sadistic streak and that he means to pick up where he left off before he went to prison.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, featurettes and B-roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Thriller

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of violence, menace, terror, and for language)

Dolphin Tale


Dolphin Tale

"Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up"

(2011) Family (Warner Brothers) Harry Connick Jr., Ashley Judd, Morgan Freeman, Kris Kristofferson, Nathan Gamble, Cozi Zuehlsdorff, Austin Stowell, Frances Sternhagen, Austin Highsmith, Michael Roark, Richard Libertini, Tom Nowicki. Directed by Charles Martin Smith

“Just because you’re hurt doesn’t mean you’re broken” says one wise character in this movie and that has a real ring of truth to it. There was a time when having a disability meant you were limited, but in this day and age of technological marvels that’s no longer the case. As a disabled person myself, I can tell you first hand that you’re only as broken as you allow yourself to be.

Sawyer (Gamble) is a kid from a broken home; his dad left ages ago and has disappeared off the face of the Earth as far as Sawyer and his plucky single mom (Judd) is concerned. Sawyer is socially awkward and a bit of a loner and things are going from bad to worse; his cousin Kyle (Stowell), a swimming champion at Clearwater High, is joining the Army and going off to the Middle East. Sawyer is bummed; he idolized his cousin and had expected he would try out for the Olympic Team but Kyle knows he needs money to train for that and a stint in the Army would give him that.

On his way to summer school (Sawyer, in addition to not fitting in with his peers is failing at school) Sawyer is flagged down by a surf fisherman (Libertini)  who has found a dolphin washed to shore. The dolphin is tangled up in the lines of a crab trap. Sawyer calls 911 on his cell phone and races down to the surf to cut the animal free from its bonds.

Concerned vets from the local Clearwater Marine Hospital led by dashing Dr. Clay Haskett (Connick) and his plucky daughter Hazel (Zuehlsdorff – there is no shortage of plucky in family films) come and rescue the dolphin. Sawyer becomes intrigued by the dolphin and goes to the Marine Hospital where he meets Hazel again and the plucky pelican Roofus (because he lives on the roof). Dr. Haskett is about to shoo Sawyer away but he notices that the gravely injured Winter responds to the boy’s presence and allows him to stay as kind of a junior volunteer.

This serves to energize Sawyer and give him a purpose he’s never had before. However, Winter’s injuries are too severe and her tail has to be amputated. Winter learns how to swim using an entirely different tail motion but this is creating extreme stress on her spinal column that might just kill her if something isn’t done.

On top of that cousin Kyle has returned from war badly injured and unable to walk properly, his dream of Olympic gold silenced forever. He has entered a deep depression and is staying at the local VA Hospital where a concerned prosthetist named Dr. Cameron McCarthy (Freeman) is fitting Kyle for a new leg. Sawyer realizes that a prosthesis might be the key to Winter’s survival and despite feeling sad at Kyle’s despondency  has the presence of mind to seek out Dr. McCarthy to help with his friend.

The initial attempts to get Winter to accept her new prosthetic tail are a disaster as Winter rejects each one. To top it all off, the Marine Hospital is in severe financial difficulties and a real estate mogul (Nowicki) has put in an offer the board (led by the redoubtable Sternhagen) of the Hospital can’t refuse, one which would involve tearing down the facility, moving the animals elsewhere and putting up a new hotel. Things are looking as ominous as the sky before a hurricane – which is about to strike.

Smith, best known as an actor in such classics as American Graffiti and Starman has directed such family fare as the forgettable Air Bud, hits a home run here. A lot of family films are a bit too sweet, like lemonade with too much sugar in it. You feel like gagging when you’re leaving the theater.

Not so here. Yes, there’s charm in a Free Willy kind of way but there are also some underlying messages about not giving up whatever the obstacle, and looking at those with disabilities in a different light.

This is based on a true story and it’s true in that there is a dolphin named Winter that was fitted for a prosthetic tail and acts as inspiration to the disabled everywhere. However, most of what you see here is fiction and Hollywoodized for family viewing. There are no kids in the real Winter’s story and teams of doctors instead of one prosthetist.

Gamble does a pretty good job as Sawyer but I’m still wrestling with whether his character was needed in the movie at all. From a marketing standpoint, very much so – the kids need someone to identify with if you’re going to get them to see the movie. However, from a story standpoint no. There is no way on Earth any sort of reputable marine vet would let a kid anywhere near a dolphin this badly injured.

Be that as it may, the movie is satisfying on several levels. The acting is pretty solid throughout, with Freeman as the idiosyncratic curmudgeon prosthetist and Kristofferson as Dr. Haskett’s salty dad. Judd is the lone exception; she seems a bit uncomfortable in her very brief role. Best of all is Winter, who plays herself. Watching her in action is astonishing, and the CGI versions of her are seamless.

The town of Clearwater is presented as an idyllic, all-American community (which is pretty much true) although it is in reality a little larger than it seems to be here. Having been to Clearwater and the Marine Aquarium (although this was pre-Winter), I can tell you that the filmmakers got that part of it right.

Good family movies have to appeal to the entire family, not just the ones who are wearing shoes that light up every time they step, or have little wheels so they can roller about. It’s helpful when they have some valuable life lessons for the kids and are at least reasonably palatable for their moms and dads (or grandmas and granddads) who are paying for their tickets. This one fits the bill. Yes, I find it disturbing that the story of Winter – which is truly amazing even without the enhancements – was fictionalized to the extent that it was but it still remains an inspiring and affecting family film that I think any parent should feel good about taking their kids to.

REASONS TO GO: Feel-good movie that is inspiring for the entire family. Some insightful subtexts as well as solid acting performances and of course Winter herself.

REASONS TO STAY: Was the inclusion of the kid as a lead character really necessary? There are a lot of family film clichés here.

FAMILY VALUES: Some kids will find the clinical treatment of Winter’s injuries a little rough.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Some of the movie was filmed at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, Winter’s real home. Producers built a new 80,000 gallon pool for filming.

HOME OR THEATER: There is nothing wrong with keeping the kids at home and seeing this on your own television.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Stone

New Releases for the Week of September 23, 2011


Dolphin Tale

DOLPHIN TALE

(Warner Brothers) Harry Connick Jr., Ashley Judd, Kris Kristofferson, Nathan Gamble, Morgan Freeman, Austin Stowell, Cozi Zuehlsdoff. Directed by Charles Martin Smith

The incredible true story of Winter, a dolphin who as a juvenile had her tail caught in a crab trap, forcing it to be amputated. Brought to a Florida aquarium, things looked bleak for the young cetacean until a brilliant orthopedist came up with an idea for a prosthetic tail. While the story here is highly fictionalized, it still stars the real Winter as herself.

See the trailer and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: True Life Drama Family

Rating: PG (for some mild thematic elements)

Abduction

(Lionsgate) Taylor Lautner, Sigourney Weaver, Alfred Molina, Jason Isaacs. A young man discovers that his parents aren’t really his parents and that government agencies are after him. He will have to discover who he is and why the government wants him before they catch up to him. To do so he will have to decide who he can trust – and who he can’t.

See the trailer, clips, an interview and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action

Rating: R (for sequences of intense violence and action, brief language, some sexual content and teen partying)

Killer Elite

(Open Road) Jason Statham, Clive Owens, Robert De Niro, Dominic Purcell. A former elite operative comes out of retirement to rescue his mentor, who has been captured by a ruthless gang of assassins. In order to succeed, the operative is going to go up against some of the most vicious killers in the world. This is supposedly based on a true story.

See the trailer, clips and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action Thriller

Rating: R (for strong violence, language and some sexuality/nudity)

Life, Above All

(Sony Classics) Khomotso Manyaka, Keaobaka Makanyane, Harriet Lenabe, Audrey Poolo. A young girl in a sleepy South African village comes under the suspicion of her neighbors when in rapid succession her baby sister dies tragically and her mother becomes gravely ill. Despite the attempts of her Auntie to shield her from the town’s mistrust, she soon becomes embroiled in a rapidly escalating situation. Her bright future is rapidly disintegrating and she will have to use every ounce of her strong will to survive.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic material and some sexual content)

Moneyball

(Columbia) Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright. The true story of Billy Beane, the General Manager of the Oakland As. His revolutionary ideas of evaluating baseball players changed the game forever. Sounds boring, but it’s actually a pretty amazing story of a ballclub that couldn’t afford to compete with teams in larger markets that suddenly became a contender.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: True Life Sports

Rating: PG-13 (for some strong language)

Red State

(Smodcast) Michel Angarano, Kyle Gallner, John Goodman, Melissa Leo. Three teenage boys are lured into a small town with the promise of a party. What they find instead of fun is a fundamentalist compound, whose preacher-leader wants to punish them for their sins big time. To make matters worse, they’re about to get caught in the crossfire of an FBI raid. This is the latest – and possibly last – from cult director Kevin Smith.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: R (for strong violence/disturbing content, some sexual content including brief nudity, and pervasive language)

Senna

(Producers Distribution Agency) Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Jackie Stewart, Frank Williams. Charismatic Formula 1 racer Ayrton Senna was a rock star in his own time. His meteoric rise through the ranks of drivers made him one of the greatest ever. His attempts to make the sport safer made him a visionary. His untimely death made him a legend. While Americans are more partial to NASCAR than they are to Grand Prix, his story makes for compelling viewing.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: PG-13 (for some strong language and disturbing images)

Powder Blue


Powder Blue

Ray Liotta looks for redemption in the seedy underbelly of L.A. where it is seldom found.

(Speakeasy) Jessica Biel, Ray Liotta, Forest Whitaker, Lisa Kudrow, Patrick Swayze, Kris Kristofferson, Eddie Redmayne, Sanaa Lathan, Alejandro Romero. Directed by Timothy Linh Bui

Big cities are a terrible place to look for redemption. Cities are impersonal, seedy, uncaring and mean. Still, redemption can be found in places where you least expect it.

Charlie Bishop (Whitaker) is a former clergyman who is carrying a load of pain greater than he can bear. The death of his wife has left him overwhelmed and looking for release. He drives the city streets of Los Angeles in the dark of the night with a bag containing his life savings of $50,000. He intends to give this to whosoever can deliver him from his pain – with the gun that is also in the bag.

Rose-Johnny (Biel) is a stripper but not because she wants to be. Her son lies in a coma in a hospital bed and is unlikely to ever come out of it. She rails against the doctors and the world that is insensitive to the needs of a single mom who only wants to hold her laughing son once again. Her boss (Swayze) is more interested that she makes it to work on time than in the heartache she feels for the only one in the world she cares for.

Qwerty Doolittle (Redmayne) has inherited the mortuary that his father started and is barely keeping his head above water. He has no time for dating and partying and is intensely lonely, generally only kept company by the dead. He wanders through life knowing he wants more than just existing and also fully aware that he is unlikely to get what he wants.

Jack Doheny (Liotta) has just been released from prison after 25 years behind bars, but not because his sentence is up or because of good behavior. He has terminal cancer and nowhere to go, nobody to be with. An old buddy (Kristofferson) gives him a briefcase full of money and the name “Rose-Johnny” written on a piece of paper. What this is for is anybody’s guess.

Sally (Kudrow) is a waitress who is separated from her husband. She, too, is lonely and scared and wants to reach out to somebody but working the night shift in a coffee shop isn’t exactly conducive to meeting a nice guy. She remains cheerful and upbeat, but deep down she has needs and fears that are colliding in her heart.

For those who have seen movies like Crash and Traffic, these stories are meant to be separate but related, interweaving until the very end when they are theoretically supposed to be tied together with a nice big bow. It’s a means of storytelling that Robert Altman was a master at and that many independent filmmakers of the first decade of the 21st century have tried to imitate with varying degrees of success.

There’s not a lot of success here. Liotta fares the best out of all the actors, bringing dignity and pathos to a character who is Mickey Spillane-tough. Kudrow is also likable and sympathetic in her mostly supporting role.

The problem here though is not the actors, who do their best, but with a script that is scattershot and sometimes senseless, giving the actors lines to say like “You’re not a doctor! Doctors cure people! You’re not curing anybody!” Some of the dialogue is equally cringeworthy. You have to feel for the actors in cases like that, especially for Swayze (whose final screen appearance this is) who is made up in excessive eyeliner and looks like a transvestite version of his character in Road House had that character been castrated early on, and Biel who went to great lengths to learn how to be an exotic dancer and does indeed go topless. Not many actresses of her caliber are willing to do that these days.

Bui has a good eye for color and tone but at times he goes for style over substance. The strip club in which Rose-Johnny toils is a neon palace where the strippers are lit like rock stars and the patrons cheer, whistle and throw dollar bills like confetti on cue. Not that I spend my time in strip clubs, but I’ve seen my share and I’ve never seen one like that.

The problem with these kinds of interweaving stories is that you have to care enough about the characters to want to follow them through the weave of the tapestry that is being unfolded before you. That doesn’t happen here; even the great Forest Whitaker chews his scenery like he hasn’t eaten in weeks. The only thread I cared about was Liotta’s and I found myself wishing he was in more of the film. That’s a bad sign for a movie with this means of storytelling. Considering the top-of-the-line cast Bui assembled, this should have been a far better movie than it turned out to be.

WHY RENT THIS: Liotta does a solid job as the dying ex-con.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A scattershot script and some wacky over-the-top performances submarine this effort.

FAMILY VALUES: Much foul language, plenty of nudity and sexuality and some scenes of graphic violence. All in all, much more suitable for mature audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The color blue is featured in some way in every scene.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: Don’t Tell (La bestia nel cuore)