Archive for April, 2011

Apocalypse Prom

It has been a long time since I went to prom—about fifteen years—but I don’t remember it as being so melodramatic. Director Joe Nussbaum gathers a cast of mostly unknown young actors for an ensemble drama about the Super Bowl of high school dances. He and screenwriter Katie Wech look to be aiming for John Hughes territory, but they seem to have forgotten about the sense of fun that made those Hughes high school comedies of the 1980s so memorable.

The Bill Collector
Pure Fun

Gosh, yes, I’m biased when it comes to director Cristóbal Krusen and his films. The good news for readers is that I’m telling you about it all up front; the bad news for Cris is that I’m typically harder on films when I know I’m reviewing material about which I am likely biased! The better news, all the way around, is that The Bill Collector is consistently entertaining, even when it dips into the come-to-Jesus moments that typify most PureFlix releases. At the heart of it all is an engaging performance by Gary Moore as Lorenzo Adams, a collection agency star who’s so effective only because he knows a thing or two (or three or four) about recalcitrant debtors.

The Way Back
Decent Throwback, But Little Else

I always look forward to a Peter Weir film, and The Way Back was no exception. At the heart of Weir’s tale this time is an apocryphal story of three men who emerged from the Himalayas on India’s border after having trekked thousands of miles on foot across Mongolia, China, and the world’s highest mountains. I won’t weigh in on the truth of the myth behind the film as the complexity of the facts are well beyond my ken—but suffice to say that the story is both intriguing and improbably plausible. The film doesn’t stack up to the Kubrick or Lean brands, though, because we’re never given reason to care about Janusz or his companions. There’s beauty in Weir’s tale, but there’s not much life.

A Talk with Sean McNamara
McNamara Dissects the Shark Attack

“The shooting of the shark attack really had to be plotted out,” says Soul Surfer director Sean McNamara. “We rehearsed it in the ballroom at Turtle Bay, you know: in the meeting room; and we rehearsed it in the pool. We had the water team there, me, the helicopter unit: everybody was there, and the doubles. Everybody had to be in the same position because we shot it in six different locations. Then we took it from the pool into the beach cove right out in front of the hotel, and rehearsed it again. I just wanted to make sure that all the actors instinctively knew that Bethany was on the right, Holt was pulling her in front, Alana was on the left, and that Alana’s brother ran ahead to make the phone call. We literally rehearsed that so we could always recreate that.”

Truth Be Told
Nicely Updated Screwball Romance

Because this is a formula film, there’s no question at all about whether Mark and Annie will get together—so there’s absolutely no spoiler on that front. In films like this, the fun comes from seeing how they get there—and Candace Cameron Bure and David James Elliot make getting there with Annie and Mark awfully appealing. Under the steady and even inspired direction of TV veteran actor Jonathan Frakes, Cameron Bure and Elliot generate the best chemistry of this sort that I’ve seen in a long time. The movie’s tag line is, “A lie brought them together. Will the truth pull them apart?” In true screwball fashion, a simple moral lesson is here delivered with a couple spoonfuls of very tasty sugar.

A Talk with Kevin Sorbo
Soul Surfer Co-star Talks About Kids

“You want to know three things about my charity, my foundation?” asked Kevin Sorbo, better known as TV’s Hercules, at the New York premiere of Soul Surfer, in which he costars as Alana Blanchard’s dad. “I have a foundation called A World Fit for Kids. And it does more than three things. But since I’m only getting three things… Number One: It teaches and trains kids to become mentors to younger children in their own community. It also works with them on physical aspects, fighting childhood obesity to become more healthy. And the major component for me is that it gives them a better education, prepares them for the real world when they get out of school, and hopefully makes them better, more productive citizens in our society.”

Fiddler on the Roof
Well Worth Revisiting

What’s beautiful about Topol’s characterization of Tevye the milkman is not his Jewishness—it’s his earthy humanity, and his close, conversational relationship with God. Whether he’s breaking out in his trademark song, “If I Were A Rich Man,” and bellowing about “some vast eternal plan,” or musing “on the other hand…” while he debates his daughters’ matches, there’s no mistaking that Tevye does not live a fragmented life in which religion is boxed neatly away until it’s needed. He lives with God, he breathes with God, and he will die with God. This is a stirringly intense portrayal of faith lived out.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
About What It Ought To Be

I’m often surprised when reviewers feel they can dismiss, or praise, a given film with any measure of authority. With the constant workload of having more and more films to see, reviewers don’t often get the second or third chance they’d like to see a film and find out whether their initial reaction was fair and/or justified. Lucky me! I actually had two chances to see Dawn Treader before it was released, and the DVD gives me my third look. And I’m glad now to have had some distance from the hype and my own “can’t we just get this over with” impatience. Seven years is far too long for me to be living with Narnia, and I didn’t even like it to begin with!

Soul Surfer
Beautiful and Tragic

On my flight to New York City for the film’s premiere, I caught Best Picture winner The King’s Speech. The performances are of course spot on, and it’s a great story; but why do all our films have such drab color palettes these days? Well, Soul Surfer, filmed on location in Hawaii and Tahiti, gives us color and life in spades. Even as a devout Christian herself, star Anna Sophia Robb had a hard time swallowing Bethany’s faith when she read the script. But when she questioned McNamara and found out the facts of the story—the shark attack happened on Halloween, and Bethany was surfing again by Thanksgiving and competing again just weeks after that—Robb became “more and more excited because this was a true, actual story.”

Your Love Never Fails
Sweetly Predicable and Charming

By the time we meet our hero’s aw-shucks charmer of a husband, Dylan, we’re pretty sure we know the answers to all our questions. Or most of them. Will Laura and Dylan get back together again? Are Dylan and Anne Marie really “just friends”? Will Laura get the promotion? Will pastor Frank get Laura to church? On a metaphorical level, will Laura get back on the horse? Aren’t having cake and eating it the same thing? Does Tom Skerritt make the most snuggly grandpa, or what? The only real mystery is why Laura and Dylan drifted apart in the first place—especially when they’ve got such good chemistry together. But Elisa Donovan and Brad Rowe, as Laura and Dylan, make finding out pretty fun and interesting.

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