New Releases for the Week of March 9, 2018


A WRINKLE IN TIME

(Disney) Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Storm Reid, Chris Pine, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Peña, David Oyelowo. Directed by Ava DuVernay

Meg Murry was devastated when her scientist father disappeared without a trace. Although others around her began to move on, Meg couldn’t. A brilliant girl herself, her studies began to suffer. Then, she is visited by three peculiar beings who inform her that her father is alive but in terrible danger – the whole universe is and only Meg can save the day. With her brother and a stalwart friend beside her, she goes on the adventure of a lifetime through space and time to find her father and save the universe. This is based on the beloved Madeline L’Engle young adult novel.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, video featurettes and promos here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, DBOX, DBOX 3D, Dolby Atmos, IMAX, RPX, RPX 3D, XD, XD-3D
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for thematic elements and some peril)

Before We Vanish

(Neon/Super Ltd) Masami Nagasawa, Ryûhei Matsuda, Hiroki Hasegawa, Kazuya Kojima. Three alien beings, acting as reconnaissance for an upcoming mass invasion of Earth, take over the bodies of three Japanese young people. From them they take every bit of their humanity – their emotions, their passions, everything that makes them human, leaving only hollow shells that are virtually unrecognizable to family and friends. This is a rare sci-fi film that has all the action you can imagine but at the same time is extremely profound, examining what the human spirit means – and how it is in the end our most devastating weapon.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: NR

Gringo

(STX/Amazon) Joel Edgerton, Charlize Theron, David Oyelowo, Thandie Newton. An American businessman heads into cartel-infested Mexico to pick up the formula for pill-form marijuana to bring back to his pharmaceutical company. However, double-crosses, betrayals and backstabbing turn his simple business trip into chaos. Can he survive the trip when there’s nobody he can trust?

See the trailer, video featurettes and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Crime Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for language throughout, violence and sexual content)

The Hurricane Heist

(Entertainment Studios) Toby Kebbell, Maggie Grace, Ryan Kwanten, Ralph Ineson. A group of bank robbers sense opportunity when a hurricane closes in on a US Mint facility. Even when the storm turns into a Category 5 – the worst of the worst – they still make their play. $600 million can buy a whole lot of band-aids after all. However they discover the code they need to get into the vault is known by only one Treasury Agent who has acquired an unlikely ally; the meteorologist brother of one of their hostages. His knowledge of how hurricanes work sets apart this adrenaline-fueled thrill ride.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of gun violence, action, destruction, language and some suggestive material)

The Party

(Roadside Attractions) Timothy Spall, Kristin Scott Thomas, Patricia Clarkson, Bruno Ganz. A woman hosts a celebration at her London home after her political ascension. As the guests arrive, some with news of their own, the dynamic slowly changes and when her husband drops a bombshell of his own, the party becomes less of a celebration and more of a psychological experiment.

See the trailer, clips and an interview here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for language and drug use)

The Strangers: Prey at Night

(Aviron) Christina Hendricks, Bailee Madison, Martin Henderson, Emma Bellomy. A family on a road trip pulls into a mobile home park to visit relatives but find the park oddly deserted. Three masked psychopaths soon begin stalking them, terrorizing them and forcing them to go beyond their limits in order to survive.

See the trailer, interviews, a video featurette and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for horror violence and terror throughout, and for language)

Submission

(Great Point) Stanley Tucci, Addison Timlin, Kyra Sedgwick, Janeane Garofalo. A former bestselling author now toils in a boring job as a creative writing professor at a small Vermont college. When he discovers a student with real talent, he takes notice. When her erotically-charged writing seems to be about her having a crush on him, he is aroused. But when she begins to manipulate him into foolish acts, he risks his career and family. This was reviewed last weekend by Cinema365; to read it, follow the link below under Scheduled For Review.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for language and some sexual references)

Thoroughbreds

(Focus) Olivia Cooke, Anna Taylor-Joy, Anton Yelchin, Kaili Vernoff. Two high school graduates, reuniting after some time apart, are bonding over their differences and their mutual contempt for the overbearing stepfather of one of them. As the summer goes on, they goad each other onto a dark path that leads them to plan the removal of the stepfather. They contact a young hustler who claims he can help them with their problem, but if they are to straighten out their lives they will need to take matters into their own hands.

See the trailer and video featurettes here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for disturbing behavior, bloody images, language, sexual references, and some drug content)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

In Between

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

The Leisure Seeker
Let Yourself Go
Loveless
Oh Lucy!
Sheep and Wolves
Ye Mantram Vesave

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Bent
Happy End
Ye Mantram Vesave

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Ye Mantram Vesave

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

A Wrinkle in Time
Gringo
The Hurricane Heist
The Leisure Seeker
Oh Lucy!
Submission

FILM FESTIVALS TAKING PLACE IN FLORIDA:

Miami Film Festival

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Dead Silence


She's bummed because she's out of both Clearasil and Coppertone.

She’s bummed because she’s out of both Clearasil and Coppertone.

(2007) Horror (Universal) Ryan Kwanten, Amber Valletta, Donnie Wahlberg, Bob Gunton, Michael Fairman, Joan Heney, Laura Regan, Dmitry Chepovetsky, Judith Roberts, Keir Gilchrist, Steven Taylor, David Talbot, Steve Adams, Shelley Peterson, Enn Reitel (voice), Fred Tatasciore (voice), Austin Majors (voice), Julian Richings. Directed by James Wan.

The thing with urban legends is that they tend to be more folklore than folk. Legends like Bloody Mary and Spring-Heeled Jack, both of whom are likely to have at least some basis in fact, have evolved into creatures who haunt our nightmares but can do little more than that.

Jamie Ashen (Kwanten) and his wife Lisa (Regan) are young and have their whole lives ahead of them. They don’t have much, but they do have a ventriloquist dummy that arrived mysteriously on their doorstep. So what does one do when one receives a ventriloquist dummy from an unknown source? If you’re Jamie Ashen, you go out for Chinese.

Naturally while he’s out picking up his Mu Shu Pork, his wife is being brutally murdered and yes, the dummy figures into it. Detective Lipton (Wahlberg), being no dummy himself, figures that the husband is suspect number one because he was the last person to see his wife alive, and this whole dummy story is completely preposterous, right? Not as preposterous as the cops letting him head back to his home town of Raven’s Falls to bury his wife, nor as much as later leaving the dummy at Jamie’s apartment despite it being an important bit of evidence. We’ll get to that later.

Jamie meets up with his Dad (Gunton) with whom his relationship has been strained to say the least but latest stepmom Ella (Valletta) seems to have mellowed him. Unfortunately, Dad’s new attitude doesn’t make much headway with his son, whose bridges have apparently been bombed and burned. However, Jamie meets up with the local undertaker (Fairman) and his addled sister (Heney) who inform him about the town’s dirty little secret; a ventriloquist named Mary Shaw (Roberts) once was accused of kidnapping and murdering a local child and was herself murdered by the irate townsfolk, who didn’t cotton much to that kind of thing. Mary was buried with her collection of more than 100 dummies, and has had her cadaver deformed to resemble a doll herself.

Of course, being murdered by irate townspeople will give a spirit one gnarly mad-on, so her spirit is rumored to have come back and picked off those responsible for her untimely demise one by one. The rumor goes that if her victim screams, Mary yanks out their tongue as well as a good deal of their soul/life force/whatever. It makes for an unpleasant nursery rhyme, but is the vengeful ghost of Mary Shaw real, and if she is, how do you fight something that has been dead for thirty years?

A fairly likable young cast performs as well as can be expected, with the character actors thrown in for good measure delivering. Kwanten is pleasant-looking enough, but struck me as more whiny than heroic. Valletta is awfully nice to look at but had sadly little to do. Gunton is one of my favorite character actors, but again is given a thankless role that gets very little screen time and makes little impact. Wahlberg is solid playing a role he has already done in the Saw movies, which Wan and writer Leigh Whannell created. He does it well enough, I suppose.

Director Wan works the tension up nicely although the pace drags occasionally. There aren’t a lot of special effects to deal with other than the articulated dolls but the dolls are first-rate when they do appear. The cinematography was adequately dark and murky to suit the mood although the set of the old theater where the climax takes place was unconvincing to my eyes.

A neat little twist at the end is the icing on a well-written cake. Although the “urban legend supernatural villains” has been done before, it hasn’t been done much better than this. Wan and Whannell go for a more atmospheric and less visceral movie than Saw and excel at it.

Unfortunately, Kwanten is uninspiring as the lead, and Wahlberg walks through his part as if he’s done it all before – which he has. There are a few too many preposterous plot points that were completely unnecessary such as the police leaving the ventriloquist dummy in the crime scene apartment. In real life something like that would be bagged for evidence along with the package it arrived in if for no other reason to rule out that the dummy’s appearance wasn’t tied to the murder. Something tells me that even I, not a professional detective, would find it a bit unusual that a murder victim received a ventriloquist dummy on their doorstep minutes before their demise and being the unprofessional that I am would be inclined to investigate it.

There are some pretty nifty scares here and some genuine creep-out moments. Horror film buffs, of which I am one, will find it a fairly fresh take on a genre that has been somewhat weak historically – the supernatural urban legend. Fans of Saw might be disappointed at the lack of gore but this is a pretty decent spookfest for those who love their horror atmospheric more than visceral.

WHY RENT THIS: Nice atmospheric thrills. Some scary moments liable to give you the creepy-crawlies.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Kwanten is not convincing as the lead. Lapses in logic throughout,
FAMILY MATTERS: Although the gore is cut down significantly from the Saw movies, the atmosphere is far too spooky for the impressionable.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Among the dolls seen in the climax are replicas of Edgar Bergen’s doll Charlie McCarthy, Jimmy Nelson’s doll Danny O’Day and Jigsaw’s doll from Saw.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There’s a music video for Aiden’s “We Sleep Forever” as well as a featurette on the making of the film’s villain.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $22.2M on a $20M production budget.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD Rental/Stream), Amazon (Rent/Buy), iTunes (Purchase only), Vudu (Rent/Buy), Flixster (Rent/Buy), Target Ticket (Purchase Only)
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Darkness Falls
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: My Old Lady

Griff the Invisible


Even a superhero needs an occasional break.

Even a superhero needs an occasional break.

(2010) Comedy (Indomina) Ryan Kwanten, Maeve Darmody, Patrick Brammall, Toby Schmitz, Marshall Napier, Heather Mitchell, David Webb, Anthony Phelan, Kelly Paterniti, Kate Mulvany, Angela Bauer, Patricia Rogan, Leon Dobrinski, Joe June, Paul Mawhinney, Kyle Beattie, Ben Borgia, Luke Hobbins, May Lloyd, Ray Carter, Sarah Becker. Directed by Leon Ford

What is real and what is in our imagination is simply a matter of our own personal perceptions. For some of us, the line between the two is thinner than others; that fine line and the ability to recognize where it is can be the difference between genius and madness.

Griff (Kwanten) is a cubicle cowboy in Australia; a sad sack nobody who is constantly bullied by Tony (Schmitz). Griff longs to be a caped crusader, a crime fighting superhero who dispenses justice along with an occasional bon mot. His brother Tim (Brammall) is very worried about Griff who seems to be losing his grip on reality. Tim’s girlfriend Melody (Darmody) on the other hand thinks Griff is more than all right; in fact, she thinks she has the potential ability to walk through walls. When Tim receives a super suit in a mysterious package that allows him to turn invisible, the evildoers of Sydney need to be on their toes!

With a zealous policeman (Phelan) on his tail, Griff seems to be drifting further and further away from reality. He is caught on surveillance video sneaking around his office in his supposedly invisible super suit and as a result loses his job. This turns into a wake-up call for Griff who at last seems to be finally turning his back on his delusions and getting back in touch with reality, but this might cost him his relationship with Melody whom Griff has fallen in love with and whose affections are definitely returned. Is the new, more responsible Griff the same person she fell in love with? Or is that just an illusion as well?

There has been a rash of “ordinary superhero” movies perhaps inspired partially by the success of the Batman movies but certainly by such movies as Kick-Ass and Defendor as well. It examines our own needs to be important, respected and in control but also our fascination with superheroes and what they represent in our society.

Kwanten, best known for his work in the HBO hit series True Blood shows promise that he could go the next step into cinematic leading man territory. He is appealing in both his sad sack Griff persona as well as his heroic crime fighter role as well. With the success of DC and Marvel Comics, it stands to reason that more and newer superhero roles are coming down the pike and it wouldn’t surprise me if Kwanten doesn’t get at least considered for some of them.

His chemistry with Darmody is also strong. She’s less known here in the States having made more of an impression on Aussie TV roles but she definitely has some appeal and could very well one day get the kind of success as her fellow Aussies Nicole Kidman and Naomi Watts currently enjoy.

The problem is that Griff and Melody are both a little bit too out to left field. I kind of get the director’s stance that when we lose our imagination we lose something of our soul, but the way that Griff and Melody both behave I can’t see them surviving in the real world without someone having them both committed to a care facility for their own protection. Certainly the actions they take in the movie put them both in mortal danger which of course works in the movies but I couldn’t help but wonder “Isn’t there someone keeping an eye on these two people?” You still end up liking them but you fear for not only their sanity but for their well-being as well.

WHY RENT THIS: Charming. Kwanten and Darmody are both appealing leads.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Griff and Melody are maybe too out there to be believable. Doesn’t hold up well with other movies with a similar theme.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a little bit of bad language and a little bit of violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was inspired by writer/director Ford observing a small child playing while sitting in a cafe one day.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There is a director’s video log in which first-time director Ford talks about some of the pitfalls of being a rookie.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Super

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

NEXT: Change of Plans

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole


Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole

Half the way there.

(Warner Brothers) Starring the voices of Jim Sturgess, Emily Barclay, David Wenham, Anthony LaPaglia, Miriam Margolyes, Helen Mirren, Joel Edgerton, Geoffrey Rush, Ryan Kwanten, Richard Roxburgh, Hugo Weaving, Barry Otto, Leigh Whannell, Sam Neill, Adrienne DeFaria, Abbie Cornish. Directed by Zack Snyder

As CGI animated features have become more sophisticated, they have begun to attract big-name live action directors. Snyder, who arguably has plenty of CGI experience with his previous two features 300 and Watchmen goes all the way with this adaptation of the first three of Kathryn Lasky’s series of novels for young adults, The Guardians of Ga’Hoole.

Young Soren (Sturgess) is entranced by the stories of the mythic Guardians of Ga’Hoole told by his dad Noctus (Weaving); the Guardians are a group of owls who live far, far away who come when owlkind is threatened – did I mention Soren is a barn owl? – and aid the weak against the strong. Soren even has his own hero, Lyze of Kiel, who defeated the evil leader of the Pure Ones in the Battle of the Ice Claw and disfigured him, forcing him to wear a metal helmet to hide his disfigurements.

His sister Eglantine (DeFaria) shares in his rapt adoration of the Guardians stories but his brother Kludd (Kwanten) is less impressed. He is in fact quite jealous of the attention Soren gets from his father, and is constantly falling short of Soren’s accomplishments.

The two go out to practice branching, a practice in which young owls glide from branch to branch in the large tree that they live in as a preface to learning how to fly for real. However, an angry Kludd knocks over Soren when he is attempting to leap off a branch, causing Kludd to lose his balance as well and the two brothers wind up on the ground, not the place they want to be.

It isn’t long before the two find out why their father warned them about the ground; they are attacked by a large rodent-like creature and it looks like one or both of them are destined to be rodent dinner until they are saved by a pair of strange owls who take them far away, to St. Aegolius, an aerie inhabited by the Pure Ones. Nyra (Mirren), the mate of Metalbeak (Whannell) who still lives, informs them that they’ve been abandoned by their families and are now part of the Tyto family – their word for Pure Ones. The strong will be Tyto warriors; the weak will be Pickers. When Soren speaks up to defend Gylfie (Barclay), an elf owl that Soren befriended on the journey to St. Aegolius, he and Gylfie are relegated with most of the others to being Pickers. Soren calls out to Kludd but Kludd denies him, and joins the Tytos.

The rest are led outside and made to sleep under the glare of the full moon, which Gylfie informs Soren will lead to a zombie-like state in which they’ll become pliable and docile. Soren means to resist the effect by staying awake the night, which he and Gylfie do. They discover the next morning that their work will involve sifting through owl pellets, the regurgitated remains of the mice and other animals that owls eat, to find a small metallic bit called a fleck, which the Pure Ones are using to create a weapon that creates a magnetic field that disorients owls. They use bats to actually handle the flecks as bats are immune to the effect.

Soren and Gylfie make plans to escape but before they do they are taken aside by Grimble (also Weaving), the Pure One who had kidnapped Gylfie. Once safe in his library, he tells them he’s been waiting for someone who would stand up to the other Pure Ones and avoid being moon-blinked; he would have left long ago if his family wasn’t being held hostage. He tries to teach them how to fly so they can escape and warn the Guardians, but they are interrupted by the arrival of Nyra, Kludd and a group of Tyto warriors. Grimble tries to hold them off to buy the two some time to escape; Soren hesitates and calls again to Kludd but it is clear that Kludd has become one of the Tytos and he again denies Soren. The two, forced to flee, barely manage to escape but Grimble dies defending them.

Exhausted, they look for a place to rest and meet Digger (Wenham), a somewhat eccentric burrowing owl and his friend Twilight (LaPaglia), a great grey owl who fancies himself a warrior bard, although his poetry leaves something to be desired. Hearing that Soren and Gylfie are off to find the Guardians, they offer to go with them on the adventure, Twilight knowing where the Sea of Hoolemere is, which is where the Island of Ga’Hoole resides. Twilight has also captured Mrs. Plithever (Margolyes), the snake that acted as nanny to Soren, Kludd and Eglantine, ostensibly as dinner but now they have a fifth companion.

On the way there, they discover an Echidna (Otto), a mystic who knows more about their journey than they let on. While flying through a raging ice storm, they are discovered by two guardians – one of whom happens to be King Boron (Roxburgh) – and escorted back to Ga’Hoole. There their story is heard, disbelieved by Allomere (Neill), one of their trusted advisors, but believed by Ezylryb (Rush), who is very eccentric but also an advisor. Boron decides to send Allomere to scout out the situation.

Eventually he returns, having barely returned alive but with two young owlets that have been moon-blinked, one of whom is Eglantine, who was led to it by her own brother. As the guardians gird for war, they have no way of knowing that they will be betrayed by someone close to them and that a hero will rise from the least likely among them. But will it be enough to overcome the numerical superiority of the Pure Ones, or evade the trap that is being laid for them?

The first thing you need to know about this movie is that the animation is absolutely superb. The owls look real, and the backgrounds are spectacular. An owl civilization is created that looks not unlike the elf civilization of Lord of the Rings. The owls are given human characteristics and each one is easily distinguishable from the others. Considering that in the past all owls looked pretty much alike to me, that’s no mean feat. Kudos must be given to Animal Logic, the Aussie firm that did most of the animation. Work like this will put them in the league of Pixar before too very long, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this winds up nominated for a Best Animated Feature Oscar come February.

This is certainly a work of fantasy, and it borrows heavily from all sorts of genres, from the high fantasy of the aforementioned Lord of the Rings to the Star Wars saga and even bits of the Indiana Jones adventures. The Pure Ones have been compared to the Nazis and while in some ways that comparison is dead on, I would also liken them to the Kali cult of India as depicted in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

While the Aussie accents are occasionally thick enough that some of the small tykes around me were repeatedly asking their parents what was just said, the voice acting is top notch here, particularly Sturgess (whose star is rising these days) as the heroic Soren, Wenham as the loopy Digger, LaPaglia as the unctuous Twilight and Mirren as the imperious Nyra.

The main complaint I have about the movie is that it seemed to be cramming a whole lot of story into the 90 minute runtime. At times the pacing seems a little rushed, which gave short shrift to some of the characters and story points. However, that’s a fairly minor sin when compared with all the positives the movie had going for it.

Another aside; the music here is wonderful, and they made effective use of Dead Can Dance’s “The Host of Seraphim” during the climactic battle scene. That happens to be one of my favorite songs, and it is so cinematic in tone that I have often wondered why it hadn’t been used in a movie until now. Dead Can Dance singer Lisa Gerrard’s voice is used on two occasions in the movie (once from one of her solo albums) and it enhances the movie’s mythic quality.

In fact, that is one of the things I liked the most about the movie, and the word “mythic” sums it up well. Lasky created a credible owl mythology, as credible as any of the fantasy worlds you would find in adult fantasy (I’m talking George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice, Piers Anthony’s Xanth and Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time so get your mind out of the gutter, it’s crowding me) and it translates nicely to the screen. I found it easy enough to follow, and it gives the movie an epic scope.

Perhaps because the movie is something of a hybrid, or perhaps people just aren’t plain interested in seeing owls as lead characters, the movie has underperformed at the box office thus far, although good word of mouth may eventually wind up saving it. I hope so, because it is clearly one of the class of the field of this year’s animated movies, clearly as good as How to Train a Dragon or Despicable Me, both of which did far better at the box office than this one has thus far. Even if you don’t have kids who want to see it, I urge you to go anyway; there’s plenty there to delight adults and if you like some of the aforementioned influences, you will love this as much as I did.

REASONS TO GO: The animation is phenomenal, up there with Pixar’s best work. The storyline is easy to follow, and along the lines of great fantasy works as Lord of the Rings.

REASONS TO STAY: Sometimes the pace seems a bit too hurried, as if the filmmakers were trying to cram too much in to the time kids would be likely to sit still for.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some scenes of brutality that might be too much for the very young, but otherwise okay for most family audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first film directed by Zack Snyder not to be rated R. This is also the first film Snyder directed not to debut in the number one position in the box office rankings.

HOME OR THEATER: Absolutely this should be seen in a theater; the breathtaking animation is worth it, and I would also recommend that you shell out the extra few bucks for 3D as well.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: City of God

Flicka


 

Flicka

Maria Bello and Tim McGraw contemplate the suckiness of kids today.

(20th Century Fox) Tim McGraw, Maria Bello, Allison Lohman, Ryan Kwanten, Daniel Pino, Dallas Roberts, Kaylee DeFer, Jeffrey Nordling, Dey Young, Nick Searcy, Buck Taylor.  Directed by Michael Mayer.

I guess it would be easy to take shots at a movie I was loathe to see in the first place, but Da Queen insisted because she’s a huge Tim McGraw fan and loves the song (“My Little Girl”) that serves as kind of a theme song for the movie and so I went, grumbling and complaining. Da Queen was adamant I go into the movie with an open mind, so I did my best, but I have seen My Friend Flicka and as much as I liked Roddy MacDowell in it, I didn’t have much hope for the modern remake.

Kate (Lohman) is a free-spirited teenager who just doesn’t fit in at the expensive private school she attends. She may be there physically but her mind and her soul are far away on the western Wyoming mountain ranges, where her father’s (McGraw) horse ranch is. So centered on it is she that during an important English final, she writes not a single word down on her paper.

When she goes home, it is with a heavy heart. She has been asked to leave the school and she knows her dad will hit the roof when he finds out. Still, she hopes her mother (Bello) and her sympathetic brother Howard (Kwanten) might run some interference for her. In the meantime, she sets out on a dawn ride into the mountains to clear her head, avoid her dad and maybe think up a way to break the news.

While she’s in the mountains, she encounters a mountain lion, causing her horse to throw her and leave her behind. She also encounters a magnificent wild mustang who saves her from the mountain lion before running off. Excited, she scampers back home, breathlessly telling her family and the laconic hands Gus (Roberts) and Jack (Pino) about what happened. Trouble is, her father knows about her problems at school. See, there are these things called fax machines that work pretty much anywhere there’s a telephone line, and they have plenty of those, even in the mountains.

To say Kate and her father are at odds with each other is putting it mildly. She still is a bit of a daydreamer, only now her focus is on that mustang she saw. While the men are out herding the…herd, she sets out to flush the mustang out and by gaw she does just that. Her father manages to capture the spirited mustang and pens her up. Kate names her Flicka, which is apparently Swedish for “pretty girl” (or so Gus says).

Kate feels an intense bond between her and the mustang, and means to ride it, but the mustang is having none of that. Her father leaves strict orders that nobody is to go into the pen with the wild creature, but Kate willfully disobeys, trying to gain the trust of the horse. Eventually she does, but the horse gets spooked and runs off with Kate aboard…well, briefly.

Her father is furious. Her daughter is disobeying direct orders and putting herself in jeopardy. Taking care of the problem is simplicity itself; he sells the wild horse to a rodeo owner (Searcy) who is making a killing on wild mustang races.  Such an inconvenience isn’t enough to stop Kate. She determines to ride Flicka in the race at the rodeo. The prize money would be enough for her to buy Flicka back, and then the horse would truly be hers. Of course, things go terribly awry…

This is based on a classic children’s novel, as I said, and if Mary O’Hara were around today, she’d be kicking somebody’s backside – real hard, too. As I remember it, the lessons that came out of the original book had to do with respecting nature, remembering always that your family loves you no matter what and believing in yourself even when nobody else believes in you. The last part Kate has down pretty much from the get-go. Lohman plays Kate as a kid who is mule-headed, obsessive, whiny and bad-tempered. She’s supposed to be spirited, but comes off being arrogant, selfish and flat-out petulant. Eventually, of course, her passion wins over her father in the movie but in real life, her passion would win her an appointment behind the woodshed. At least, I think they still have woodsheds in Wyoming. They’re pretty much gone everywhere else.

Since I can’t get behind the main character, I have to get behind the parents, and if someone told me back in the day I’d be identifying with the parents over the teenager, I’d let loose a loud, piercing shriek and faint dead away on the spot. Afterwards, I’d regain consciousness, get up and get behind Mary O’Hara in line. Be that as it may, I have to admit – and the next sound you’ll hear is Da Queen letting out a triumphant squeal – that Tim McGraw does a much better job than I expected him to. In fact, he really does carry the movie and acts more as the emotional center, which isn’t easy when he has to play the stern disciplinarian and hard-headed father figure. Still, he pulls it off and quite frankly, I shouldn’t be surprised – if you’ll recall, he did a superb job in Friday Night Lights too.

Maria Bello as the long-suffering mom spends most of the movie acting as a mediator and urging her husband to “talk to her!!!” It’s not a great role, and quite frankly its written mainly to present a picture of a stable two-parent family; otherwise, she really doesn’t have much to do but make pancakes. There is a nice scene where she and her husband go riding where you get a glimpse of what lies inside the character, but those moments are fleeting indeed; I don’t blame Bello, who does a credible job, but the writing which was kind of lazy and cliché.

It has to be said that they got the location right; the vistas of the western Wyoming mountain ranges are magnificent and you get a sense of why these people love this land so dern much. Unfortunately, much of the action doesn’t live up to the scenery it takes place in. I went through this movie feeling flat and unmoved. Granted, this is clearly aimed at tweener girls and their moms, but a better movie would have involved those not tweeners, girls or from the Rockies. This isn’t terrible, mind you. It’s just mediocre.

WHY RENT THIS: Tim McGraw gives a surprisingly good performance and proves himself to be a credible actor as the true emotional center of the film. Spectacular Wyoming vistas make this easy on the eyes.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The movie is aimed squarely at tweener girls and their moms and if you are neither you may not find anything worthwhile here. Alison Lohman’s Kate is written as spoiled more than spirited.

FAMILY VALUES: Nothing that I wouldn’t keep a young pre-teen girl from seeing.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The part of “Kate” in the book was actually male, and was named Ken. Roddy McDowell played him in the best-known movie adaptation, My Friend Flicka (1943).

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: Departures