Yellow (2012)


Beware of yellow in the pool.

Beware of yellow in the pool.

(2012) Dramedy (Medient) Heather Wahlquist, Melanie Griffith, Sienna Miller, Gena Rowlands, Lucy Punch, Ray Liotta, David Morse, Max Thieriot, Daviegh Chase, Riley Keough, Brendan Sexton, Ethan Suplee, Elizabeth Daily, Cassandra Jean, Onata Aprile, Gary Stretch, Nancy De Mayo, Malea Richardson, Bella Dayne, Tonya Cornelisse. Directed by Nick Cassavetes

Florida Film Festival 2014

There are those of us who live mainly in our heads. What must that be like if they are constantly bombed out of their skulls on drugs and alcohol?

Mary Holmes (Wahlquist) is a substitute teacher who fits that description. She brings her yellow painkillers and bottles of alcohol to school with her. Some of the teachers at the school think of her as the school bicycle – everybody’s had a ride. When one of the parents partake of her pleasures, she loses her job.

Mary copes with an often harsh reality by escaping into fantasy. School meetings turn into opera; a bike ride in the neighborhood becomes a psychedelic animation. She talks with her non-existent children, all of whom were aborted. When she goes home to Oklahoma to lick her wounds, her family is perhaps more eccentric than she – a hyper-religious grandmother (Rowlands), a sister (Punch) who is mentally ill and a mother (Griffith) who is as far away from reality as Mary herself.

Nick Cassavetes is a talented and promising director. His father John was known as one of the founders of independent cinema and was a tremendous actor and director in his own right. In many ways, this film hearkens back to the freak-out cinema of his father’s era.

I’ve been deliberately vague about the plot. I think the movie works best when you don’t know so much about what’s coming. Some of the movie’s best moments come out of left field so I’ve left the plot description short and, hopefully, sweet.

David Morse, who plays Holmes’ therapist, is always a welcome addition to any cast. You will quickly realize the truth about his character if you’re reasonably observant and maybe have seen a movie or two. Melanie Griffith looks as good as she has in years, and this is one of her best roles ever. She is manic when she needs to be, nurturing at least on the surface and carries the wounds of a sordid past deep in her eyes. It’s a terrific role, particularly as the movie begins to divulge details about Mary’s past.

There are times that it is difficult to distinguish between Mary’s active fantasy life and reality. There is one point where the film violates its own internal logic and that has to do with Mary’s bitchy older sister Xanne and Mary’s illusory children. That’s a big no-no, but it only happens once thankfully.

The effects are pretty nifty (considering the minuscule budget the movie surely had) and the cast is impressive as well, again considering the budget. The movie looks awfully good. My issue with it is that the characters are just so damned unlikable. Nearly everyone in the movie has some sort of mental or emotional instability to varying degrees, enough so that I felt like I needed a shower after the screening was done.

Yellow was actually made in 2012 and is only getting to the festival circuit now. There hasn’t been a great deal of press on the movie thus far, at least that I could find, but nearly all of it has been highly laudatory. That should tell you something. Critics have a tendency to like films that are different. For most audiences, this is going to be a bit of a stretch. The movie didn’t connect with me personally and I found most of the characters to be repellant. There wasn’t anyone I could really latch onto and identify with which makes it difficult to engage with the film. Some of you out there won’t have that issue and will find this imaginative and innovative. I have no argument with that. However, I don’t believe that most audiences will feel the same. If you like things out there, a bit different and a bit edgy, you’ll be in heaven. Most audiences will find this bleak, confusing and too cerebral. Me, I found it to be a movie whose aims I respected but the execution for which I found unsatisfying.

REASONS TO GO: Imaginative. Some of the sequences are funnier than frack.

REASONS TO STAY: May be too out there for most.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s drug use – lots and lots of drug use – and plenty of foul language with some sexuality as well.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Wahlquist, who co-wrote the screenplay, is Cassavetes’ wife and of course Rowlands is the director’s mother.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/30/14: Rotten Tomatoes: no score yet. Metacritic: no score yet.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Blue Ruin

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The Other Woman (2014)


Leslie Mann knows how to binge.

Leslie Mann knows how to binge.

(2014) Comedy (20th Century Fox) Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann, Nicolaj Coster-Waldau, Don Johnson, Kate Upton, Taylor Kinney, Nicki Minaj, Kenneth Maharaj, Alyshia Ochse, Victor Cruz, Madison McKinley, David Thornton, Olivia Culpo, John “B.J.” Bryant, Chelsea Turnbo, Brooke Stacy Mills, Raushanah Simmons, Cheryl Horne, Nancy De Mayo. Directed by Nick Cassavetes

Infidelity is one of the most notorious deal-killers in any marriage. For many, it is the most unpardonable of marital crimes ranking just below physical abuse. While it isn’t the most common cause of divorce, it is right up there. Different people react to infidelity in different ways . Some are forgive and forgive sorts. For others, it’s not about getting mad so much as getting even.

Carly Whitten (Diaz) may well just have it all. Beautiful, smart, successful, she’s a lawyer at a high-power New York corporate law firm. She has a gorgeous apartment. Most importantly, she has a male model-handsome Mark King (Coster-Waldau), her new boyfriend who dotes on her and gives her the most amazing sex ever. He’s willing to meet her irascible dad (Johnson) and as she tells her self-centered assistant Lydia (Minaj), she’s cleared all her other guy friends off the bench. He may well be the One.

Then when he has to break his date to meet her dad because of some plumbing catastrophe at his Connecticut home, Carly is pissed off. Taking her dad’s advice to go and see him in Connecticut, she dresses up like a hooker plumber. The woman who answers the door however, is not Mark’s housekeeper; she’s his wife Kate (Mann).

Hurt and humiliated that she didn’t pick up on the clues that her shining knight was already taken, Carly wants nothing at all to do with Mark. In a strange twist however, Kate befriends Carly. Kate has been isolated and marginalized. She literally has nobody to talk to; all her friends are Mark’s friends she wails, and “they’ll blab!” Carly is at first repulsed but grows strangely drawn to the fragile and clingy Kate. Eventually they become friends, although never without the occasional brawl.

They soon discover that Mark has been a very bad boy. Not only is he cheating on them with Amber (Upton), a beautiful but none-too-bright model sort but he’s been skimming money from his firm. He’s also put Kate in the position to take the fall if he’s ever discovered. The three women decide to team p to teach Mark a lesson he’ll never forget and when you put brains (Carly the lawyer), bitch (Kate the wife) and boobs (Amber the…hey, my eyes are up here!) together, there isn’t a man alive who can withstand the combination.

On the plus side, I’m pleased to see a movie in which the female leads are formidable, strong and confident for the most part. On the negative side, there is a lot of stereotyping going on here; the strong women are vindictive and bitchy, the man a serial cheater and liar. The ladies feed poor Mark enough laxative to make him crap his pants, lace his protein shake with female hormones so intensely that he starts growing man boobs and put hair removal cream into his shampoo until he begins losing hair. It’s almost enough to make one feel sorry for the guy who definitely doesn’t deserve any sympathy.

In fact, the pants pooping incident is only one of two major fecal gags in the film. Now, I like a good poop joke as much as the next person but I think considering the subject matter it’s a bit disrespectful to the ladies who are doing their best to make this an adult comedy. Stuff like that doesn’t really go along with the theme of smart women taking their revenge against a douchebag who deserves it.

Diaz has become one of Hollywood’s most versatile actresses, equally at home in heartrending dramas (My Sister’s Keeper, Gangs of New York) or in comedies both dark and light (Bad Teacher, There’s Something About Mary). Here she plays smart, sexy and a little bit hard-edged but then Diaz has never been the softest, most feminine actress out there. She often uses her attractiveness as a weapon, a means of saying “See this? You can’t have it!” in a very subtle way. I’ve never warmed to her as much as admired her and her work here leads me to believe that she’s only going to get better as she moves into a new phase of life and career.

It’s not a revelation but Leslie Mann steals the movie for my money. Long known more for being a supporting player and Judd Apatow’s wife, she’s always shown a great deal of talent in the too-brief glimpses we get of her onscreen. Here she finally shows that she is absolutely capable of being one of the top comic actresses in Hollywood, adept at both physical humor and delivering zingers. She also shows a very appealing vulnerability as she allows Carly (and the audience) to see just how deep the wounds cut.

Unfortunately, the humor is a bit uneven. The movie is bipolar when it comes to comedy – when they get it right, they nail it but when they miss it’s crickets bad. And while I complain about some of the really venal things the women do, I have to admit I did laugh so in that regard mission accomplished. I did feel bad about laughing though and still I have to point out that I think the world is ready for a movie in which female leads don’t have to resort to scatological jokes and ultra-bitchiness to prove they’re strong.

REASONS TO GO: Leslie Mann is a consummate performer. Some very funny moments. Strong female leads, a refreshing change.

REASONS TO STAY: Gets a little muddled. Perpetuates stereotypes. Not all the comedy succeeds. Too much poop humor.

FAMILY VALUES: There are plenty of sexual references and some foul language, along with mature thematic content.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first film to be released internationally by 21st Century Fox, one of two companies formed by the split of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. The new company continues to own 20th Century Fox film studios and the Fox Network, among other assets.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/12/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 24% positive reviews. Metacritic: 39/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The First Wives Club

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: The Final Member

The Notebook (2004)


What could be more romantic than a couple reuniting in the rain?

What could be more romantic than a couple reuniting in the rain?

 

(2004) Romance (New Line) James Garner, Gena Rowlands, Ryan Gosling, Rachel McAdams, Kevin Connolly, Sam Shepard, Joan Allen, James Marsden, Starletta DuPois, Heather Wahlquist, Ed Grady, Jennifer Echols, Andrew Schaff, David Thornton, Tim O’Brien, Meredith O’Brien, Cullen Moss, Kweli Leapart, Jamie Anne Allman, Traci Dinwiddie, Lindy Newton. Directed by Nick Cassavetes

CINEMAOFTHEHEART-4

Love has a tendency to transcend all the obstacles laid before it, even if it takes years. Love has a patience that most people don’t possess these days.

Duke (Garner) visits an elderly woman (Rowlands) in a nursing homes. She has a form of dementia (Alzheimer’s? It’s never made clear) that makes her a handful. She seems to be calmed down when Duke reads to her from a fading handwritten journal.

The story that unfolds is that of Noah (Gosling), a smirking self-confident boy from the wrong side of the tracks, and Allie (McAdams), a girl from a life of privilege and wealth. He asks her out. She says no. He persists until finally she says yes. It takes just one date before she realizes that she’s in love with him.

Her parents (Shepard, Allen) are aghast. This is not what they raised their daughter for. Stubborn, Allie defies them. They send her off to college. Noah goes off to war. Noah writes her every day but the letters are intercepted by the mom. Disheartened, each one believing the other has moved on, they at last both go their separate ways, Allie into the arms of Lon Hammond (Marsden) who her parents definitely approve of.

Noah doesn’t really move on though. He buys the broken-down house that he was going to buy for Allie and she at last realizes that he truly loves her. Her mom, crestfallen, shows Allie the letters that for whatever reason she kept. Now Allie is faced with a choice – love or duty. Which shall she choose?

Author Nicholas Sparks is a Southerner so the lines between the two can be somewhat blurred. While this wasn’t the first of his novels adapted for the screen, it is the best-loved of them to date. There are plenty of folks who look to this as a touchstone for romantic movies; it is the favorite of many. I’m not one of them, but I do find this to be the least maudlin of his efforts.

Part of the appeal here is the performances of McAdams and Gosling. There is legitimate chemistry between the two and they make one of the most appealing screen couples of the 21st century. Cassavetes, showing himself a chip off the old block, utilizes the beautiful cinematography of Robert Fraisse and strong performances from the entire cast to create an atmosphere. While the story itself is no great shakes and lends itself to all sorts of emotional manipulation, Cassavetes prevents the film from descending into treacle by allowing his performers to create realistic personalities. Oftentimes in Nicholas Sparks adaptations the characters are of the cookie cutter variety but here these are interesting people you’d actually like to spend time with.

While the “twist” ending is one that you should be able to figure out before it is sprung upon you, that doesn’t lessen the emotional impact. In fact, this is the kind of movie that will bring tears to the eyes of all but the most hard-hearted viewer. Ladies, if your boyfriend doesn’t get misty-eyed at a minimum at least once during the course of this movie, dump him immediately. You’ve gotta like a Valentine’s Day movie that can act as a litmus test as to whether your boyfriend is in touch with his emotions or not.

WHY RENT THIS: Inspiring performances from Gosling and McAdams. Terrific atmosphere and supporting cast.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: If you don’t like Nicholas Sparks, you won’t like this.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s a little bit of sexuality and some violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The kitchen table depicted in the movie was actually built by Gosling when he was preparing for the role, living in Charleston for two months and rowing the Ashley river each morning and building furniture the rest of the day.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There is a featurette on author Nicholas Sparks on the DVD version while the Collector’s Edition Gift Set Blu-Ray features a look at director Cassavetes and his film pedigree. The Ultimate Collector’s Edition also includes a heart-shaped locket, a notebook (how appropriate!) and five photo cards from the film.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $115.6M on a $29M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Evening

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

NEXT: Cinema of the Heart concludes!

Life (1999)


 

Life

Martin Lawrence and Eddie Murphy ponder the meaning of Life.

(1999) Comedy (Universal) Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence, Obba Babatunde, Nick Cassavetes, Anthony Anderson, Barry Shabaka Henley, Brent Jennings, Bernie Mac, Miguel A. Nunez Jr., Michael “Bear” Taliferro, Guy Torry, Ned Beatty, Bokeem Woodbine, Lisa Nicole Carson, Noah Emmerich, Clarence Williams III, R. Lee Ermey, Heavy D, Sanaa Lathan. Directed by Ted Demme

 

Once upon a time in America, life in prison meant precisely that. There was no early parole, no time off for good behavior. If you were sentenced to life, you could pretty much count on dying a prisoner in some godforsaken camp, farm or prison.

Rayford Gibson (Murphy) is a small-time crook in Prohibition-era New York trying to get out of debt to a Harlem mobster (James). He sets up a scheme of driving some Mississippi moonshine to the mobster’s speakeasy in New York. He ropes in as his driver Claude Banks (Lawrence), a bank teller (a bank teller named Banks? haw haw!) who has also fallen afoul of the mobster because of an unpaid gambling debt.

Gibson’s weak nature gets the better of him and after receiving the liquor shipment, he decides to do some gambling in a rural club. He gets cheated by a local card sharp (Williams) who later mouths off to the town sheriff, who murders him. Banks and Gibson have the misfortune of discovering the body, and being seen with it. They get, you guessed it, life in prison.

The two, initially antagonistic to one another, are forced to rely upon each other in the brutal work camp to which they are sentenced. Time passes and they dream of the freedom it seems will be denied them for a crime of which they aren’t guilty. Prison changes them – but will it be for the better?

There are a lot of poignant moments in Life and with Murphy and Lawrence, even more funny ones. There is social commentary in the form of how black men are treated in the South, but it isn’t strongly told or terribly compelling. Other movies explore that subject in greater depth and with greater insight.

The problem with “Life” is that the filmmakers aren’t sure whether they wanted to make a comedy, an examination of prison life in the Deep South of, say, 50 years ago, or a political/social commentary on the shaft given African Americans. They decide to do all these things, and in fact their reach exceeds their grasp.

Rick Baker does a great job of aging the two actors for their 60 year stint in prison and both actors have made a career of doing old age well; in fact, the make-up got an Oscar nomination that year. The various eras portrayed in the film are captured pretty nicely, and despite the fairly large cast the pace moves along at a good clip.

Some of the best African-American comics and comic actors in the country show up in the film, including the late Bernie Mac in a small role at the beginning of his career. The acting certainly isn’t the problem here. No, I think that the big problem is that this is kind of a Song of the South fantasy that glosses over the big issues – these guys are in prison for a crime they didn’t commit, after all – and goes for more of a sweet feeling that simply doesn’t mesh.

Life really doesn’t give you any new insights into anything. It’s mainly an excuse to pair two of the brightest comic minds at the time in America. Watching the two at work individually is fascinating, but Lawrence and Murphy don’t generate enough chemistry to hold any interest as a team, which is why they never teamed up in a movie again. Still, these two remain some of the best comedians of the past 20 years and seeing both of them together in the same film has some attraction right there.

WHY RENT THIS: Any opportunity to see Murphy and Lawrence is worth taking. Excellent supporting cast.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Ignores the larger issues. The chemistry between Murphy and Lawrence isn’t quite as good as I would have liked.

FAMILY MATTERS: There is some violence as well as plenty of salty language.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Rick James’ limp as Spanky was genuine, as he’d just had hip replacement surgery.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: There are some outtakes in which Lawrence and Murphy try to crack each other up – and in all honesty, some of these are funnier than what you’ll find in the movie.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $73.3M on a $75M production budget (estimated). The movie was a financial failure.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Shawshank Redemption

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: The Dark Knight Rises

The Hangover Part II


The Hangover Part II

One night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble.

(2011) Comedy (Warner Brothers) Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Justin Bartha, Ken Jeong, Paul Giamatti, Jeffrey Tambor, Mike Tyson, Mason Lee, Jamie Chung, Sasha Barrese, Gillian Vigman, Nick Casavetes, Yasmin Lee, Sondra Currie, Nirut Sirichanya. Directed by Todd Phillips

Nothing exceeds like excess, and what happens in Bangkok, stays in Bangkok. I imagine if you look hard enough, you can find a cliché to fit any situation – and if you can’t find one that works, just make one up.

Stu (Helms) is getting married to a beautiful Thai girl (Chung) whose father (Sirichanya) doesn’t really approve of Stu or of his dental profession. It is determined that the wedding will take place in Thailand at a lovely island resort. Of course, Stu’s buddies Doug (Bartha) and Phil (Cooper) are going to go, although Phil is grousing about the lack of a bachelor party. Considering what happened in Vegas for Doug’s celebration, it’s understandable why Stu is a bit leery.

However, Doug’s brother-in-law Alan (Galifianakis) has been putting intense pressure to be invited to the wedding, their exploits in Vegas being the highlight of his life. To keep the peace, the three of them venture into Alan’s room (“I’m a live-in son,” he tells them) at his parents’ house which is a shrine to forbidden Vegas memories where Stu reluctantly invites him and thus the Wolfpack is reunited.

Added to the mix is Stu’s soon-to-be brother-in-law Teddy (Lee), a prodigal 16-year-old about to graduate at Stanford in pre-med with an eye to becoming a surgeon, as well as a classically trained cellist. Alan takes an immediate dislike to the boy, considering him an interloper on Alan’s turf. Stu, still sulking over the lack of a bachelor party, proposes that the guys all head out to the beach for a single beer and a bonfire. There they all go, ready to cast one final toast to Stu’s freedom.

They wake up in a seedy hotel with no idea where they are, how they got there and what they did the night before. Alan’s head is shaved. Stu has a Mike Tyson tattoo on his face. All of them have raging headaches. And all that’s left of Teddy is a severed finger with his Stanford ring floating in a bowl of cold water. There is also a Capuchin monkey and Mr. Chow (Jeong), the neurotic Chinese gangster from the original The Hangover.

They have to find Teddy before the wedding – there’s no way that the doting father-in-law will ever allow the marriage to take place without the apple of his eye, Teddy. To go there, the Wolfpack must brave the seedy bars and strip joints of Bangkok, the palaces of power and a singing performance by Mike Tyson. That’s right, I said singing.

If the plot sounds familiar, it’s because it is. The sequel is essentially the first movie transplanted to Bangkok in the sweltering tropics. There are some different running jokes (we don’t see Jeong’s bare tush but we see full nudity of a bunch of Thai transvestites) but the song remains the same.

The main leads here – Cooper, Helms, Galifianakis and Jeong – are all pretty amiable and Cooper looks like a romantic lead in the making. Galifianakis looks like he has the most potential in the group. His timing is impeccable and he makes Alan into a somewhat disturbed individual but anything but a caricature. Helms, from “The Office,” also has his moments and the frenetic Jeong has some as well.

The problem here is that the producers took the safe route. There is little variation in the routine that made the first movie so enjoyable. The good news is that the original routine worked pretty damn well, and we haven’t had time to get tired of it yet. There are a lot of great set pieces and really funny jokes, mostly uttered by Galifianakis. In many ways it’s his movie and the others are just reacting to him.

There is some waste here too – Giamatti as a criminal boss lacks the bite of his work in Shoot ‘em Up and Tambor basically appears in only one scene. And this movie is crude. I’m talking crude enough to make the Farrelly Brothers wince and Judd Apatow murmur “Too far man, too far…” Certain mainstream critics have been criticizing the movie for it but c’mon, if you saw the first movie you have to know what was coming. Don’t write your review for the Tea Party bluenoses.

So does it deserve the huge box office numbers it’s been getting? Yes and no. Obviously, people are looking for the familiar in their multiplexes and certainly this will give the people what they want in that regard. I have no objection to the concept of a The Hangover Part III but I sure hope they put some kind of variation in the formula when they make that one.

REASONS TO GO: The movie is funny more often than it is not, which is an accomplishment these days. Helms, Cooper, Galifianakis and Jeong rock.

REASONS TO STAY: Pretty much the first movie done in Bangkok instead of Vegas,

FAMILY VALUES: Oh, the language. It could have been the sexual situations and nudity. Maybe it’s the violence, or the drug use. In any case, this got an R rating for a reason.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Former President Bill Clinton visited the set in Bangkok, leading to rumors that he was performing a cameo in the movie but this proved to be erroneous. Bradley Cooper stated on several talk shows that he actually expressed interest in doing a sequel to The A-Team if one was ever made.

HOME OR THEATER: It is not mandatory to see this in a theater, but you may want to so that you can understand the water cooler references afterwards.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Cave of Forgotten Dreams

My Sister’s Keeper


My Sister's Keeper

It's an awkward moment as Cameron Diaz asks Alec Baldwin about any openings on 30 Rock.

(New Line) Cameron Diaz, Abigail Breslin, Alec Baldwin, Jason Patric, Joan Cusack, Sofia Vassilieva, Evan Ellingson, Emily Deschanel, Thomas Dekker. Directed by Nick Cassavetes

As parents, part of our job is to protect our children. It is a given that we will do anything – absolutely, positively anything – to keep our child safe from harm. When we are helpless to do so – as in the case of a terrible disease for example – our fight takes on a different tone.

At first glance the Fitzgerald family seems nearly perfect. Dad Brian (Patric) is a fire chief, while mom Sara (Diaz) is a top-notch lawyer. They have three great kids; Kate (Vassilieva), Jesse (Ellingson) and Anna (Breslin).

“Nearly” can be a very important word, however. Kate is suffering from a particularly dreadful and aggressive strain of leukemia. As a matter of fact, most kids who have it don’t live past the age of five. However, Sara is willing to do anything to keep her daughter alive. That includes having another child, fertilized in vitro, to supply Kate with bone marrow, blood and other spare parts to keep her alive.

The plan works, although it’s far from perfect; Anna (the test tube baby) is subjected to frequent and often painful hospital procedures in order to procure whatever it is that Kate needs to continue to live. She’s a teenager now, and the disease has reared its ugly head again and this time it’s going to take more than a blood transfusion or bone marrow; Kate’s kidney has shut down and she needs a new one to survive.

Normally she’d go to the spare parts store that is her sister, but Anna has had enough. She realizes the consequences of having only one functioning kidney and it means the end to any sort of normal life that she might want to lead. She engages the services of a lawyer, the kind that advertises on bus benches and late night TV. His name is Campbell Alexander (Baldwin) and after some deliberation, decides to accept her suit for medical emancipation from her parents.

Sara is no slouch as a lawyer and prepares her own defense, but as the case drags on, Kate grows weaker and weaker and the case tears the family apart. Is Anna turning her back on her sister or is she just reaching for the only chance at a normal life she may ever have?

This is a movie that raises some interesting, fundamental questions and to its credit, gives the viewer much room for thought. The unfortunate part is that it wraps the compelling concepts in so many tearjerker clichés that after awhile what might have been a fresh take on a difficult subject seems very formula and rote.

There is some fine acting going on here. Breslin is in my opinion the best child actor in Hollywood at the moment, having dethroned Dakota Fanning who is in the teen actress realm now. She plays Anna as terribly conflicted but intensely driven. Her Anna is much more like her mother than her mother would care to admit, and rather than showing the common traits in the same way that Cameron Diaz shows them instead gives them her own take.

Baldwin, who is as hot as anyone in Hollywood at the moment, is also superb as the quirky lawyer who has a bit of a prima donna in him. He’s self-deprecating and the part is so solidly in Baldwin’s wheelhouse that you can’t imagine any other actor in the role.

Diaz is not normally someone I’d turn to for her acting chops, but she delivers here. She does chew the scenery a little bit but just a little bit. The mother is a bit of a shrew and more than a little of a control freak, but there is a fierce love for her child that is so consuming that it nearly blocks her other children out entirely. It’s not an unusual situation in families, and it’s played out here quite naturally.

There are some nice turns. The hospital romance between Kate and another cancer patient (Dekker) provides the movie with some of its sweetest moments, although the outcome is somewhat predictable. Joan Cusack plays the judge who has some empathy for Kate, but much more wisdom than the tunnel visionary mom.

There is also an unnecessary third child who I guess is in the movie to illustrate Sara’s complete focus on her one sick daughter at the expense of her other children. He is usually onscreen accompanied by melancholy folk music; it gets a bit distracting, to be honest.

Still, the movie is strong enough for me to recommend. I know that it is fashionable for critics to snipe about movies that manipulate emotionally, but I find that hypocritical; all movies are manipulative in one form or another; these tearjerkers are just upfront about it. If the manipulation is done well and brings me a bit of catharsis, I consider it a job well done and so I can recommend My Sister’s Keeper on that basis. If you are in need of a good cry, by all means your ship has arrived.

WHY RENT THIS: For those in need of a cathartic release, this is the movie to see. Breslin again shows she is the best child actor in Hollywood.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: At times, the movie sinks unnecessarily into maudlin cliché.

FAMILY VALUES: The topic is very mature and certainly will upset children who may not understand the dynamics of what’s going on; the frank depiction of the disease and its consequences will also be difficult for the sensitive. Parents should also be aware there are some scenes of teen drinking and sexuality as well.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The part of Kate was originally offered to Dakota Fanning, with her sister Elle to be cast as Anna; however, Dakota reportedly balked at shaving her head for the role, so both sisters bowed out of the production.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: Valkyrie