Big Miracle

February 3, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Drew Barrymore, John Krasinski, Ted Danson
Directed by: Ken Kwapis (“The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants”)
Written by: Jack Amiel (“The Prince and Me”) and Michael Begler (“The Prince and Me”)

Not counting “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home,” movies about whales are usually aimed squarely at kids, teeming with mystical mumbo-jumbo about the intelligence of the giant creatures and their special connection with children and the close-minded adults who are too caught up in, oh, I don’t know, providing for their families to actually appreciate the marine mammals. In most cases, appreciation usually comes right before the credits roll. Throw in some big-time movie stars slumming in a movie their kids can watch and a goofy animal friend, like a dog that covers its eyes when something goes wrong or a seal that barks comically at the grumpy old man threatening to shut down the amusement park/aquarium/whatever, and you’ve got yourself a movie any third grader will love. Thankfully, “Big Miracle” avoids this formula.

“Big Miracle” is based on the true story of three gray whales trapped five miles from the open ocean underneath a sheet of Arctic ice and the international effort that arose to save them. Set fairly unconvincingly in 1988, the story opens with   reporter Adam Carlson (John Krasinski) covering the local color in Point Barrow, Alaska. While out documenting a local’s less-than-spectacular snowmobiling stunts, Adam stumbles upon a hole in the middle of the ice, the frigid water inside regularly breached by the rostrums of the aforementioned whales surfacing to breathe. After Adam’s report on the trapped cetaceans goes national, the tiny frozen town is soon overrun with people looking to save the whales (nicknamed Fred, Wilma, and Bamm-Bamm), for both ideological and opportunistic reasons. Leading the effort are Rachel Kramer (Drew Barrymore), a strident Greenpeace activist, her frequent foil, Arctic oil baron J.W McGraw (Ted Danson, not the least bit convincing as an oil man), and the local Inupiat tribe, all of whom have their own motives for participating in the rescue effort.

Director Ken Kwapis, veteran of “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” and numerous TV series like “The Office” and “Malcolm in the Middle,” wrangles a large cast full of comedy ringers in tiny roles (Andy Daly, Rob Riggle, and John Michael Higgens, among others) into a surprisingly funny and wry family movie. While other films about sea-faring mammals tend to play down to kids and overdose on the treacle (I’m looking at you, “Dolphin Tale”), “Big Miracle” isn’t afraid to lay bare the real intentions behind the characters’ actions beyond “let’s save these whales!” Barrymore’s Rachel uses the occasion to call into question the environmental policy of the Reagan administration. Danson’s McGraw provides heavy de-icing equipment to put an environmentally-friendly face on his oil drilling operation. Krasinski’s Adam and Kristen Bell’s Los Angeles-based reporter Jill Jerard see the international attention as the big break their broadcast careers need. And the Inupiats see an opportunity to show the world they are more than culturally out-of-touch whale hunters.

While sometimes ungainly with too many characters fighting for too little screen time, “Big Miracle” ends up entertaining nonetheless. The real, honest laughs come from genuinely funny scenes, like an exasperated teacher in a classroom full of students doing identical oral reports on the whales, an icy helicopter ride wherein the pilot’s frozen eyelids are creatively defrosted, or winking reference to Alaska’s favorite idiot Sarah Palin, thankfully not from the typical family movie stabs at humor like a mugging pelican or beat-boxing otter.

Going the Distance

September 3, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Drew Barrymore, Justin Long, Charlie Day
Directed by: Nannette Burstein (“American Teen”)
Written by: Geoff LaTulippe (debut)

In a typical romantic comedy it’s usually an unwritten rule that a best friend character is given just enough material to steal a scene or two and then spends the rest of his or her time providing sound advice or a shoulder to cry on. But in “Going the Distance” you don’t have to get too far into the film before it becomes evident who is really carrying the rom-com where it needs to go. It is unfortunate Drew Barrymore and Justin Long had to come along and cramp their style.

In “Going the Distance,” Barrymore and Long take a backseat to comedians Charlie Day (TV’s “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”) and Jason Sudeikis (TV’s “Saturday Night Live”), who play Dan and Box, the best friends of Garrett (Long), a record label employee living in New York City who falls for Erin (Barrymore), a newspaper intern, six weeks before she’s scheduled to finish up her internship and move back home to San Francisco.

Despite the short amount of time they have to spend together, Garrett and Erin start their cutesy courtship and first-time screenwriter Geoff LaTulippe makes sure to squeeze as much out of their clever personalities before they retire to opposite sides of the country. Before Erin departs, however, the two decide they want to try a long-distance relationship.

Alone in their respective cities, the new couple, through formulaic montages and rom-com romance revolving around text messages and Skype, Garrett and Erin journey through the vast emotions one would feel if their significant other was thousands of miles away. There to balance out all of Garrett’s jealously and loneliness are Dan and Box, who inject some much needed humor into all his pouty moments. Meanwhile on the West Coast, Christina Applegate plays Erin’s concerned sister Corinne, a character shamelessly cut from the same cloth as Leslie Mann’s in “Knocked Up.”

But like most wannabe Judd Apatowesque comedies, “Going the Distance” has neither the charm nor enough laughs to drag it from the trenches. Aside from the few secondary characters that brighten up all the lame lovie-dovieness that Garrett and Erin share both from afar and when they have the cash to fly in for a visit, Oscar-nominated documentary director Nannette Burstein (“American Teen”) just can’t make the profanity-laced script mesh well enough with eyelash-fluttering romance. 

What’s left are gags about dry humping, pop culture references of “Top Gun,” and a mishap in a tanning salon that set the bar fairly low even for Long’s lack of slapstick-comedy prowess. Barrymore’s still as accessible as ever, but if she’s trying to find some edge in her roles she’ll have to travel farther than this.

Everybody’s Fine

December 4, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Robert De Niro, Kate Beckinsale, Drew Barrymore
Directed by: Kirk Jones (“Nanny McPhee”)
Written by: Kirk Jones (“Nanny McPhee”)

If you don’t pick up the phone and call your mother and father and tell them how much you love them immediately after watching “Everybody’s Fine,” you just might be like that rotten ol’ Grinch with a heart three sizes too small. While there are moments in the Christmas dramedy that might feel familiar, the film’s sweet-natured doctrine – along with Robert De Niro’s reserved performance – is cozier than a pair of warm cotton socks.

In “Everybody’s Fine,” De Niro plays Frank Goode, a retired widower, who we learn has supported his family his entire life working in a factory where his job was to coat telephone wire to protect it from the harsh elements. In essence, Frank is one of the small cogs that make telephone communication possible across the country.

But while Frank has spent his life connecting families with each other, he can’t seem to break through to his own grown kids. All four of them – who live in different cities – have called at the last minute to cancel their trip to see him for Christmas. Instead of waiting around for the next holiday visit, Frank decides – against his doctor’s orders – to drop in an surprise each of them. Frank wants to know that everyone is fine. It’s going to take more than a phone call to convince him. He wants to see it for himself.

But as he make his one-man adventure, much like Jack Nicholson in “About Schmidt” but without the dark humor, Frank realizes there is something wrong although he can’t quite put his finger on what it is. His first visit to his son David in New York City comes up empty when he never finds him at his apartment. The rough start doesn’t let up as Frank continues his journey to visit his two daughters – Amy (Kate Beckinsale) in Chicago and Rosie (Drew Barrymore) in Las Vegas – and his other son Robert (Sam Rockwell) in Denver.

Each city brings with it its own letdowns. Amy’s home life isn’t perfect, Rosie’s dream to be a dancer has fallen short, and David isn’t the conductor of an orchestra like his father thought he was. They’re all revelations that had been kept from Frank since it was always his late wife his kids opened up to. Frank wonders what else his own children haven’t told him. “I tell you the good news and spare you the bad,” Amy tells her father during one scene.

Adapted from the 1990 Italian film “Stanno tutti bene,” which stars three-time Oscar nominee Marcello Mastroianni, “Everybody’s Fine” is a subtle drama that’s glossed over a bit too much by director Kirk Jones (“Nanny McPhee”) but manages to pluck enough heartstrings without becoming cloying.

There’s plenty of tonal indecision by Jones especially on a metaphorical level, but there is still a nice message that gets through all the excess baggage the script carries: No matter how hard you support and love your children, sometimes things don’t work out quite the way you anticipated. The central theme to “Everybody’s Fine” is a great one for the holiday season when families should always reevaluate their priorities for the New Year.

Whip It

October 2, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Ellen Page, Marcia Gay Harden, Kristen Wiig
Directed by: Drew Barrymore (debut)
Written by: Shauna Cross (“Taking 5”)

While former wild child Drew Barrymore proves to have some potential as a filmmaker, there’s still much to be desired in her directorial debut “Whip It.” She and author/screenwriter Shauna Cross (“Taking 5”) know the kind of hipster movie they wanted to make, but their ideas don’t translate into the edgy feminist bash they were hoping for.

In “Whip It,” Academy Award-nominated actress Ellen Page (“Juno”) leads the mostly all girl cast as Bliss Cavendar, a small-town Texas girl who decides she can’t bottle up her true personality any longer just to please her parents.

Bliss is not the type of girl who enjoys the beauty pageants her mother (Marcia Gay Harden) holds in such high regard, but she does them anyway because there’s really nothing else that interests her.

But when Bliss and her best friend Pash (Alia Sahwkat of “Arrested Development”) sneak away to attend a roller derby match in Austin, Bliss finally realizes what she’s been missing in her life: a stiff combination of roller skating and face bashing performed in front of hundreds of people. It only takes one night of the brutal sport for Bliss to stop her prim and proper charade and trying out for the punkish league.

What Bliss lacks in power she has in speed and therefore becomes the newest member of the last-place team known as the Hurl Scouts. But as soon as Bliss laces up her skates, puts on her helmet, and picks a witty skate-name (Babe Ruthless), the team starts to think they can win a few games. Even Iron Maven (Juliette Lewis), league bad girl and captain of the defending champs, notices a change in the misfits’ confidence and feels threatened.

It all leads to a predictable coming-of-age story that might have worked better if director Barrymore was able to actually capture the essence of the sport. On the track, there is entirely too much mediocre camerawork that takes us out of the action. We want to be riding on the skate straps of these bruisers, but instead Barrymore simply doesn’t know what angle to shoot from. Even worse than the lackluster skating scenes is when she tosses us in center ring with an unfunny Jimmy Fallon who cameos as the league’s play-by-play announcer.

The rest of the secondary characters aren’t much more exciting. Talented women like comedian Kristen Wiig (“Adventureland”), stuntwoman Zoe Bell (“Death Proof”), and even Barrymore herself are wasted and one-dimensional. Sure, they all look great doing their best Suicide Girl impressions, but Barrymore forces “Whip It” into a place reserved only for movies that 11-year-old girls would watch at slumber parties.

He’s Just Not That Into You

February 13, 2009 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Ginnifer Goodwin, Justin Long, Jennifer Aniston
Directed by: Ken Kwapis (“License to Wed”)
Written by: Abbie Kohn (“Never Been Kissed”) and Marc Silverstein (“Never Been Kissed”)

Just when you thought women couldn’t be portrayed more desperate and neurotic than Sarah Jessica Parker at the end of “Sex and the City: The Movie” (if you think Carrie Bradshaw taking back Mr. Big was romantic, then I really don’t understand the opposite sex), meet the ladies of “He’s Just Not That Into You.”

While Bradshaw showed at least some signs of independence in “SATC” (she is a single woman living in New York City after all), the unapologetically weak women of “HJNTIY,” led by the likeable Ginnifer Goodwin (“Walk the Line”), are so unbelievably hopeless, you can’t help to not feel one ounce of sympathy for any of them who might end up alone for the rest of their lives.

The relationship troubles in this cliché romantic comedy start with Gigi (Goodwin), a twenty-something young woman from Baltimore who is searching for Mr. Right and always coming up short. Along with running into relationship dead-ends, Gigi, like Charlotte York from “SATC,” is a hopeless romantic and doesn’t quite grasp the idea of a man blowing her off after an amicable date.

There to soften the fall after her last taste of rejection is Alex (Justin Long), a bar manager who plays the all-knowing love guru and attempts to explain the rules of dating to a wide-eyed and heartbroken Gigi. She, of course, isn’t the only one with relationship woes in “HJNTIY.” Spread thinly across a forgettable script penned by “Never Been Kissed” screenwriters Abbie Kohn and March Silverstein, other characters include Beth (Jennifer Aniston), whose long-time boyfriend Neil (Ben Affleck) doesn’t believe in marriage; Ben (Bradley Cooper), who’s in a sexless marriage with Janine (Jennifer Connelly) and gets involved with aspiring singer Anna (Scarlett Johansson); and Mary (Drew Barrymore) who complains about how technology is ruining her love life.

Between these stories, director Ken Kwapis (“License to Wed”) decides to add filler with mock testimonials from men and women about their personal experiences in the dating scene. While it worked in a film like “When Harry Met Sally,” in “HJNTIY” it’s phony and unimaginative.

“HJNTIY” feels like a therapy session with friends you haven’t talked to in a long time. They mean well when they give you advice, but what do they know about what you’ve been going through in the last few years? Who needs advice anyway, when you’ve got Justin Long teaching the dos and don’ts of dating anyway? Lesson No. 1: girls are clingy, psychotic, mentally unbalanced morons whose happiness is determined by the men they are dating. It may not be a great morale for those who chose to soak it up like scripture, but, hey, at least its got a cute cast, right?

Beverly Hills Chihuahua

October 5, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Drew Barrymore, Andy Garcia, Piper Perabo
Directed by: Raja Gosnell (“Never Been Kissed”)
Written by: Analisa LaBianco (debut ) and Jeffrey Bushell (debut)

It might be easy to dismiss the idea of “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” if you associate the movie with heiress Paris Hilton carrying a pooch in her purse down Rodeo Drive or think of nothing but a bunch of talking mutts, but make no, er, bones about it, “Chihuahua” is surprisingly one of the best family films of the year not starring a trash-collecting robot.

In “Chihuahua,” Rachel (Piper Perabo) is left to dog-sit her Aunt Viv’s (Jaime Lee Curtis) most prized possession: her spoiled Chihuahua Chloe (voiced by Drew Barrymore). Treated like the furry queen of the castle, Chloe enjoys the finer things in life like designer doggie clothes, choice cuts of meat for dinner, and her time at the day spa. But when Chloe is dog-napped during Rachael’s spontaneous trip to Puerto Vallarta with her friends, she must fend for herself or become a four-legged casualty on the stray-filled streets of Mexico.

“Beverly Hills Chihuahua” is entertaining first and foremost because of the great voice work by some talented actors. As Delgado, a former police dog who saves Chloe from participating in an underground dog fight, Andy Garcia is fantastic. Who knew you could get so much enthusiasm to come out of mouth of a German shepherd? Edward James Olmos is also noteworthy as Diablo, a fiendish Doberman on a mission from his owner to hunt down Chloe and get his paws on the diamond collar she is wearing.

As a smitten Chihuahua named Papi, George Lopez brings a humorous “Lady and the Tramp”-like perspective to the film. Between serenading Chole with Spanish love songs and calling her “mi corazon,” Lopez’s Papi might be too flashy at times, but every story needs a little romance even when the suitor comes with a wagging tail. Cheech Marin is great as one of the very few non-canine characters, Manuel, a cunning mouse who works the streets as a con artist with his iguana friend Chico (voiced by Paul Rodriguez).

Not only does “Chihuahua” showcase some well-cast actors, there is a surprisingly sweet message that wins through without becoming intolerably stereotypical or corny. Sure, we could do without insubstantial one-liners like “Hold your tacos” and the always overused “We’re Mexican not Mexican’t,” but there’s plenty of value for kids and adults alike when “tiny but mighty” pups are teaching us about inner-strength.

As far as live-action talking animal movies go, “Chihuahua” isn’t speaking the language of “Babe” or “Charlotte’s Web,” but it’s charming. Don’t let the unpromising trailers fool you. This dog definitely has some bite behind its yappy bark.