Archive for December, 2011

War Horse
Spielberg Goes Back to War

When it was first announced that Steven Spielberg was going to be directing War Horse, a movie that featured young actors and a war-based story, the initial thought was “How could it go wrong?” After all, this is the same guy who won an Oscar for directing Saving Private Ryan, he produced Band of Brothers, and he worked with kids in everything from E.T. The Extra Terrestrial to this summer’s Super 8 (which he produced). Unfortunately, the end result, while not necessarily a bad movie, certainly fails to live up to its high expectations.

We Bought a Zoo
A Nice Family Movie

In 2006, the Mee family purchased the closed down Dartmoor Zoological Park in England, refurbished it, and reopened the zoo to the public in July 2007. It is a very nice story that has already inspired a four-part television documentary, and Benjamin Mee, a former journalist, wrote a book about how the experience changed their lives. Now, their story has inspired Cameron Crowe to return to the director’s chair for the first time since 2005’s Elizabethtown. The resulting film also makes for a nice story; nothing more, nothing less.

The Adventures of Tintin
Pure Spielbergian Adventure

When he made Schindler’s List in 1993, Steven Spielberg was praised for having “grown up” as a filmmaker. As good as that movie was, the famed director is still at his best when he lets that kid inside of him come out to play. This winter is a perfect example of that as it sees releases from both the grown up Spielberg and the boy-who-wouldn’t-grow-up Spielberg, and The Adventures of Tintin certainly scores a win for the latter.

Dolphin Tale Redux
Ordinary Package, Excellent Film

I was dead right that it would be difficult even for hard-nosed, jaded reviewers to pan this film. The critics’ score at Rotten Tomatoes stands at 83% fresh… two points higher than the audience score of 81% fresh, a rarity. Not bad for a film that amounts, at a certain level, to an animal version of an illness-of-the-week TV movie. The story succeeds, however, in part because the dolphin Winter actually exists, actually did lose her tail to a crab trap, actually did survive, actually does inspire disabled children and vets in her home at a Clearwater aquarium, and even stars in her own biopic. It also succeeds because Smith and company craft a sensitive, believable, and affecting fiction of childhood loss regained around Winter’s truly tall tale.

Young Adult
Needs More Flair

Director Jason Reitman has directed only three feature films to date, but all three have been critically acclaimed with the last two, Juno and Up in the Air, earning Oscar nominations for best picture. It’s reasonable, then, to expect that his latest movie, Young Adult, would be earning some early award buzz, especially considering that it reunites the director with Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody. The movie has garnered some attention for a couple of its actors, but it seems that as more and more people see the movie, the further it falls off the award radar… with good reason.

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
Mission: Accomplished

For all of its eye-popping visual effects and how much the trailer makes it look like it is trying to follow in the footsteps of the Bourne trilogy, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is actually a throwback of an action movie. It’s a throwback to the days when action heroes would get beat up for an entire movie and show not a single bruise or scratch (although hero Ethan Hunt does feature an ever-increasing limp throughout the movie) and it’s a throwback to the days when the hero would always send off the villain with a cheesy one-liner. In fact, this movie even starts off with one as the opening credits scroll following Ethan’s instructions to “light the fuse.”

New Year’s Eve
Celebrate 2012 a Month Early

Director Garry Marshall seems determined to make the American version of Love Actually, a multi-plotline romantic comedy that revolves around a particular holiday. Last year he tried to do it with Valentine’s Day, but that movie ended up getting lost amidst a sea of characters that we just didn’t care about. For New Year’s Eve, the action moves from Los Angeles to New York City so that an even more plentiful cast of characters that we only marginally care about can gather in Times Square and—hopefully—watch the ball drop.

The Help Redux
Well Worth Writing About

Like most contemporary filmmakers schooled in the Steven Spielberg Formula for Succcess, The Help director Taylor Tate knows that “show them, don’t tell them” can be distilled down into efficient single shots that convey as much as a page or two of dialog. So, for instance, when we are first introduced to Aibileen at the Leefolt’s place, Tate sneaks in a shot of the “L-shaped scratch on the dining room table.” But it’s not just a plot point for later reference; it’s also, as Aibileen slides a serving dish over the scar, symbolic of the hurts that are covered up and glossed over in the Leefolt household… and in Jackson, and the South, and America. If you’ve been waiting to see The Help, wait no further.

The Heart of Christmas
Never Mind the Title

Apparently, it’s been hard getting the word out about this film, which is, as near as I can tell, a marginally fictionalized account of young Dax Locke’s ill-fated battle with Leukemia. By the time Dax is two years old, x-rays show he’s got a tumor in his brain. Tests quickly diagnose Leukemia, and his parents’ lives are naturally derailed. The made-for-TV movie doesn’t follow Dax, though—it follows Dax’s mom and dad, who must come to grips with the “ultimate bad news” that Matthew West sings about in the title song. Cameron and Neilson are very appealing as the female leads here, and Dax’s story is certainly worth hearing about. But really… this has precious little to do with Christmas. The connection is incidental at best.