reel reviews
movie reviews
June '07

SICKOLIVE FREE OR DIE HARD
A MIGHTY HEART1408EVAN ALMIGHTY
FANTASTIC 4: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFERONCENANCY DREW
OCEAN'S 13SURF'S UPMR. BROOKSGRACIEKNOCKED UP

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Sicko
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

Few people in the public eye have endured as much universal scorn from the Far Right as Michael Moore. The rabble-rousing filmmaker rankles conservative pundits because of his impudent use of irreverent humor to skewer many of the things they hold dear.

Of course, everyone knows that Moore views the world from the Far Left. As demonstrated in previous documentaries like Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 911, Moore stacks the deck to make his case. In that respect, he’s the Ying to Rush Limbaugh’s Yang.

Accepting that going in even skeptics will find a lot to learn in Sicko, Moore’s funny and informative examination of the ailing American health care system. He takes on a lot of villains but saves most of his bile for insurance companies. While his methods are sometimes outrageous, no one can deny that he makes his point in an entertaining and thought-provoking way.

The film begins with a hilarious clip of President Bush making an unintentional blunder while addressing the problem of health care. From there, we’re offered a number of nightmare examples of a system that is seriously out of whack. He gets most of his mileage out of comparing the US system to those in other nations.

In a damning sequence that any Star Wars fan will appreciate, a scroll begins, featuring a seemingly endless list of illnesses that insurance companies can deny coverage for. As Moore states, his movie isn’t so much about the “uninsured,” it’s about how the “insured” really aren’t.

One sequence filmed in Kansas City focuses on the story of Julie, a worker at St. Joseph’s Medical Center. Fully insured and a hospital employee, she believed that her family would receive the best care possible. When her husband needed a bone marrow transplant, the insurance company balked. They said that this kind of treatment was “experimental” and refused to cover him. He died.

This is just one of many horror stories Moore provides. In a sequence sure to raise the hackles of conservative apologists, Moore shares the story of a handful of 9/11 rescue workers suffering from ailments related to their efforts. They have not been able to receive proper care, so Moore takes them to Cuba…where they’re treated for “free.”

Although he conveniently neglects to say what the out-of-pocket tax costs are for citizens of countries with socialized medicine, he focuses on the fact that in England, France and Canada, everyone gets treatment without fear of being turned away or bankrupted by expenses. By contrast, he shows a harrowing sequence where indigent patients are systematically dumped on LA’s Skid Row.

Love him or hate him, Michael Moore skillfully forces us to focus on yet another controversial issue that many would rather ignore. For that, he deserves our rapt attention. (PG-13) Rating: 4 (Posted 06/29/07)


Live Free or Die Hard
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

It’s been nearly 20 years since Bruce Willis first became an action hero in the blockbuster thriller, Die Hard. But like Sylvester Stallone demonstrated in the latest installment of the Rocky saga, Willis can still take a few more punches.

Live Free or Die Hard is the fourth over-the-top extravaganza featuring John McLane, a tough as nails New York cop who has a knack for winding up in the middle of a lot of mayhem.

This time out, McLane finds himself battling a group of highly trained and well-funded Internet terrorists who are using technology in an attempt to cripple the US economic system.

After an incident of destructive hacking and the deaths of some accomplished nerds, the FBI orders that a group of known hackers be rounded up. Detective McLane is ordered to bring in a techno-wizard named Matt Farrell, played by the very well cast Justin Long, best known from ubiquitous Mackintosh commercials.

But Farrell is merely a pawn in the machinations of another greedy and unbalanced fellow,

It seems that a disaffected Defense Department computer expert named Thomas Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant from TV’s Deadwood) has decided to seek revenge after being rebuffed by officials. He’d been warning them that their network was vulnerable to hackers but was publicly humiliated for his efforts. Now he’s out to prove that he was right.

There is another new element to McLane’s saga. He’s got a rebellious teenage daughter named Lucy, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Grindhouse), who Gabriel uses as a human shield when McLane gets too close.

As in all of the previous Die Hard adventures, the emphasis is on fast-paced and elaborately staged stunts and action sequences. The movie gets steadily less credible as these scenes become more and more spectacular. If there was any film that required checking your brain at the door, this is it.

All of that is irrelevant, of course. What fans want are to see Willis put through the paces and tossing off sly wisecracks along the way. ”Yippee Ki Yay Mo!”

Director Len Wiseman, the man behind the hit contemporary horror thrillers Underworld and Underworld: Evolution, pulls out all the stops. The special effects and stunt work are top-notch.

And Willis, bless him, manages to exude the cool indestructibility that has become his trademark. He looks like could take even more punishment and still thwart the bad guys.

Who knows, maybe Stallone and Willis can team up. Rocky Dies Hard, anyone? (PG-13) Rating: 3 (Posted 06/29/07)


A Mighty Heart
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

On Jan. 23, 2002, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl disappeared. He was in Pakistan digging around for information about the accomplices of Richard Reed, the man who failed in his attempt to ignite his shoes and bring down a US airliner.

In the new movie A Mighty Heart, filmmaker Michael Winterbottom (Tristam Shandy: A Cock & Bull Story) takes a look at the story of Pearl’s disappearance from the viewpoint of his wife, Marieane, played by Angelina Jolie (Mr. and Mrs. Smith).

Adapted by screenwriter John Orloff (Band of Brothers) from Marieane Pearl’s book, this harrowing account gives viewers a well-detailed and thoughtful look at the attempts by Pearl’s friends, associates and the Pakistani authorities to locate him and his captors.

Although the film is told mostly in chronological order, Winterbottom and Orloff engage in flashbacks that help to flesh out the relationship between Pearl (Dan Futterman from The Birdcage) and his wife, who was also a reporter.

Most of the film’s running time is dedicated to the search. Once Pearl steps into a cab on that fateful day, the focus turns to Mariane and her tireless efforts to locate her husband. She enlists the aid of the editorial staff of the Wall Street Journal, the US Consulate in Pakistan, the local police as well as government authorities.

Among those who help out are a coworker (Archie Panjabi from Bend It Like Beckham), a police captain (Irrfan Khan from The Namesake), a US Embassy official (Will Patton from Remember the Titans) and a newspaper executive (Kansas City native and Tony Award-winner Denis O’Hare).

The film follows the many leads and dead ends these investigators track, giving us a real sense of the agonizing frustration they felt, as well as their waning hope.

As with Winterbottom’s other politically inclined work like The Road to Guantanamo and Welcome to Sarajevo, A Mighty Heart uses techniques that give the narrative a documentary-like quality. The hand-held camerawork and choppy editing help create a sense of immediacy and urgency that gives the film a realistic edge.

But it is Jolie’s portrait of a fiercely intelligent but understandably distraught woman that carries the movie. While the Oscars are still many months away and Academy members have short memories, Jolie might just be remembered for her solid, emotionally charged performance.

Involving but eschewing sensationalism (the infamous video of Pearl’s execution is avoided), A Mighty Heart is both a tribute to Pearl and to those who worked so hard to find him. (R) Rating: 4 (Posted 06/22/07)


1408
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

Over the last couple of decades, the horror film has evolved from a genre that formerly intended to give us a few scares, into an utterly disreputable category that intends to titillate us with gore. The term “horror porn” or “torture porn” has been used to describe the works of many filmmakers working in the milieu.

Thankfully, there are exceptions. The Exorcism of Emily Rose and The Others had more on their minds than pandering to our more base instincts.

1408, based on a short story by Stephen King, is one of the smarter horror entries to come along in recent years, a psychological thriller that serves up the chills while also having something to say about the human condition.

John Cusack stars as Mike Enslin, a once promising writer who, for the sake of financial stability, now writes throwaway books about “haunted” places. But he isn’t a believer in paranormal phenomenon…or God for that matter. He writes his paperbacks to make ends meet. After all, nobody wants to read about life when there are other things to be afraid of.

One day, Mike gets a postcard telling him about room 1408 at the Dolphin Hotel on Lexington Avenue in New York City. Reportedly, many people have died in that room and now the management refuses to allow anyone to stay there.

Mike is tempted and has his publisher (Tony Shaloub) check the law regarding the hotel management’s position. It seems that they cannot legally refuse his request to stay in the room.

Despite warnings from the Dolphin’s manager (a throwaway role played by Samuel L. Jackson) about the deadly nature of the room, Mike is adamant. He’s insistent in spite of the fact that he hasn’t been to the city since the death of his young daughter, a loss that has left him estranged from his wife (Mary McCormack).

Reluctantly, the manager allows Mike to occupy the evil room and, as you would expect, all hell breaks loose. Not long after checking in, Mike discovers that many strange things occur in this room. It doesn’t take long before he’s realized what a colossal mistake he’s made, but he can’t get out.

Swedish director Mikael Håfström, whose last English language picture was the Hitchcockian thriller Derailed, delivers a solid chiller that doesn’t dictate how the audience should interpret it. Is Mike going mad, has he been doped, is the place actually haunted? These questions are left up to us to figure out.

The movie is all Cusack and special effects. Fortunately, both are very good, making 1408 a horror flick that stands out for its intelligence. (R) Rating: 3.5 (Posted 06/22/07)


Evan Almighty
Reviewed by Deborah Young

Morgan Freeman returns as God in the second film of the “Almighty” franchise. The franchise features God in human form doling out life lessons to a human who desperately needs them.

In the first film, Bruce Almighty (2003), angry TV reporter Bruce Nolan (Jim Carrey) gets to be God for a while. Not only does he find out that being God is not such an easy job. He also creates some hilarious comedy in the process.

This time around, writer Steve Oedekerk (who co-wrote Bruce Almighty with Steve Koren and Mark O’Keefe) and director Tom Shadyac (Bruce Almighty and Liar, Liar, 1997) have modernized the biblical story of Noah. Steve Carrell (The Forty Year Old Virgin, 2005) plays Evan, a recently appointed congressman who starts getting messages from God right after he moves to the DC area for his new job.

On the first morning in his new house Evan’s alarm goes off at 6:14. He’s surprised because he’d set it to go off at 7:00. But he shrugs and goes about his daily hygiene regime, which includes an extensive nose-hair obliterating routine.

He soon starts getting other messages: A messenger delivers a box of odd tools to his house and the Alpha and Omega Company drops off a truckload of wood that he didn’t order.

Before long, Evan (who was a reporter with Bruce in the first movie) has become the town weirdo who is building a huge boat and is constantly accompanied by animals that appear out of nowhere.

Unlike Jim Carrey (who often relies on physical comedy and over-the-top displays of emotional expression), Carrell mostly uses facial expressions to convey an overwhelmed cluelessness. He’s basically the butt of what appears a cruel joke.

The supporting cast (including Wanda Sykes, John Michael Higgins and Jonah Hill as his congressional team) adds to the hilarity by reacting to Evans transformation. Sykes’ deadpan delivery of her lines makes her observations about Evan even funnier. She fears that her boss preparing for a journey to loony land, and she wants him to get it together with the quickness, so she won’t lose her sweet gig.

Evan Almighty has an obvious message, but the filmmakers have reserved the hammers for ark building. The message is spooned to viewers with lots of sugary humor and slapstick cherry on top. The light-hearted story will elicit laughter from many children and their parents. It’s good family fun with lessons about loving and the rewards and challenges of trying to change the world (one random act of kindness at a time, as God tells Evan). (PG) Rating: 3.5 (Posted 06/22/07)


Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
Reviewed by Deborah Young

The second time’s a charm for this franchise. Less talk, more action and eye-catching effects boost Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer above its predecessor.

This time around, meteor-like objects start creating strange changes on earth. Suruga Bay in Japan solidifies, and two inches of snow falls in an Egyptian desert.

But these drastic changes in nature don’t deter media coverage of the upcoming wedding of Susan Storm (Jessica Alba) and Reed Richards (Laon Gruffudd). The couple (along with the other two members of the Fantastic Four) has become A-list celebrities.

As one might expect, Johnny (Chris Evans) loves the media attention. He arrives at his sister’s wedding in a shiny black sports car with a model by his side. He hops out with a huge smile on his face and informs the audience to calm down and respect his sister’s wedding. Then he says, “just kidding,” and says they’ll be selling souvenirs later.

The big guy, Ben (Michael Chiklis) seems to be taking his celebrity in stride. He has a woman (Kerry Washington as Alicia) by his side. He’s simply lumbering through the celebrity experience with people constantly gawking at him.

The strange phenomenon interrupts Susan and Reed’s wedding and introduces the Silver Surfer to the gang. Johnny winds up chasing the Silver Surfer and losing a scuffle with him. This gets the ball rolling, and the gang joins the military to catch the Silver Surfer before he destroys earth.

At times John Ottman’s score sounds like soap opera music, as the orchestra plays softly to the melodrama of Susan’s wedding talk. And, of course, there are the obligatory (and over-the-top) fight scenes, which come mostly in the last 30 minutes of this 92-minute film.

Still, Silver Surfer exceeds the quality of last year’s Fantastic Four film because it relies less on stunts, lame jokes in dialogue and self-conscious humor, and more on the charm of the characters.

For the life of me, though, I can’t figure out why Jessica Alba’s eye makeup was different in almost every scene. Unfortunately, the focus is more on the actress’s looks than the character’s role. Such is the life of a super heroine! Fortunately, the film provided enough laughs and thrills that most viewers will be able to grin and bear this unfortunate fact. (PG) Rating: 3 (Posted 06/15/07)


Once
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

Whenever someone pronounces the movie musical a dead genre, a film comes along to change that notion. Most recently, Chicago and Dreamgirls achieved both critical and box office success.

Now comes Once, a winning musical from Ireland that shakes the mothballs out of the format by indulging in a bit of reinvention. Unlike the previously noted extravaganzas, Once is a small movie that eschews the showy glitz of Hollywood in favor of a credible sense of gritty reality. In spite of its modesty, it manages to cast a powerful romantic spell.

The winner of the World Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival, Once focuses on the relationship of two pop musicians…played by two pop musicians.

Glen Hansard of the Irish band The Frames stars as a threadbare street musician (called a “busker”) playing his guitar on the working class streets of Dublin. Although he harbors a desire for a career in music, he also works in his father’s vacuum repair shop to make ends meet.

One day, a pretty young woman from the Czech Republic (Marketa Irglova) stops by to listen to our hero’s melancholy tunes. (In an unusual twist, the names of these characters are never uttered.) A street vendor selling roses, this young woman is also musically inclined and is drawn to the young man’s melodies.

Eventually, the duo winds up in a piano shop jamming together on the outline of a tune that the guitarist offers. They then begin a collaboration that may or may not lead to romance, but the social dance they engage in feels undeniably real.

Both of these characters are dealing with personal matters that complicate their relationship. He’s nursing the wounds of a recent breakup with girl who has moved off to London while she is the mother of a toddler and is waiting to see if her husband is going to be able to leave the Czech Republic to join them in Ireland.

There is never a false moment in this low-key tale that is infused with a lot of extremely appealing music and an equally likable cast. Its nearly documentary-like feel is softened tremendously by the movie’s easygoing charm.

While the songs and the performers give the movie an emotional lift, a lot of credit also has to go to writer/director John Carney (On the Edge) who steers the story in an unpredictable and emotionally involving direction.

Heartfelt and honest, Once is a movie worth seeing twice. (R) Rating: 4 (Posted 06/15/07)


Nancy Drew
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

Back in 1930, a fictional teenage sleuth first appeared that youngsters couldn’t get enough of. The Nancy Drew mystery novels by an author named Carolyn Keene were a publishing hit. Of course, Carolyn Keene was just a pseudonym for any number of authors who cranked out these pulp novels for the Stratemeyer Syndicate.

The stores were later developed into series of four movies starring Bonita Granville and in the 1970s; there was a TV series that starred Pamela Sue Martin.

Although these attempts at bringing Nancy Drew to the screen have had mixed results, the books have remained popular. Naturally, Hollywood is giving it another shot.

The new kids’ flick Nancy Drew is a feeble attempt to resurrect and update the character. Even though the idea has plenty of potential, this tepid attempt is so poorly written and clumsily directed that it should shove the character back into mothballs for the foreseeable future.

Emma Roberts (daughter of Eric, niece of Julia and the star of TV’s Unfabulous) takes on the title role, that of an unusually precocious and inordinately intelligent lass who happens to have a knack for solving crimes.

In what is either the result of budget constraints or an attempt to add some glitz to the project, the film is set in Hollywood. Writer/director Andrew Fleming (The Craft) and co-writer Tiffany Paulsen (an actress seen in Runaway Bride) have contrived a plot that has River Heights’ Nancy spending some time in Tinseltown because her clueless father, Carson (Shooter’s Tate Donovan) is on a business trip there.

Once they’ve temporarily rented an old Beverly Hills mansion, it becomes clear that Nancy is about to become embroiled in another adventure. It turns out that this seedy residence is the former home of a deceased movie star named Dehlia Draycott, played in flashbacks by Laura Elena Harring (Inland Empire).

Free to roam the decrepit but sprawling home, Nancy uncovers clues that lead her to believe that the actress was the victim of foul play.

The filmmakers are obviously targeting young girls, but they make the mistake of playing down to the audience and not respecting the intelligence of youngsters who enjoy mysteries. There is an unwelcome tongue-in-cheek attitude that undermines the whole venture.

Roberts is quite winsome in the title role, but the labored attempts a humor and lackluster pacing prevent the movie from ever taking off.

In the end, Nancy Drew plays like an episode of Scooby Doo…but without the loveable dog. Zoinks! (PG) Rating: 1.5 (Posted 06/15/07)


Ocean's 13
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

Hollywood would like us to believe that the third time is the charm. So far this year, we’ve had Spiderman 3, Shrek the Third and the third installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, At World’s End.

Now we have the third appearance of a group of slick con artists led by Danny Ocean (George Clooney) called Ocean’s 13.

This time out, George, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and friends are out to bust a sleazy Vegas casino owner named Willie Banks, played with over-the-top relish by Al Pacino. He’s taken advantage of their friend Ruben, played by Eliot Gould, and they’re out for revenge.

After Banks cheats Ruben out his rightful share of a new mega-casino on the Strip, Ruben suffers a severe heart attack and a debilitating bout of depression. Danny and the boys try to get Banks to make amends but when he balks, they devise yet another elaborate scheme to fleece his entire casino on opening night.

The script by Brian Koppelman and David Levien (Rounders) barely tries to be credible. In fact, from the likes of the contrivances in their screenplay, it appears that they’ve been watching too many old James Bond movies. (The con men are able to get their hands on not one, but TWO of the mechanical tunnel diggers used to make the Chunnel and then burrow under the Vegas Strip…without anybody noticing!)

The affable supporting cast includes Don Cheadle, Casey Affleck, Scott Caan, Bernie Mac, Carl Reiner, Andy Garcia, Shaobo Qin and Eddie Izzard. Ellen Barkin has an amusing role as Pacino’s horny assistant. (It’s her first appearance with Pacino since 1989’s Sea of Love.)

Back in 1963, legendary filmmaker John Ford took some members of his usual repertory company of actors (including John Wayne) and carted them off to Hawaii for a lightweight comedy called Donavan’s Reef. It was more like a vacation with friends than a movie.

With the Ocean’s franchise, director Steven Soderberg (Traffic) appears to be doing the same thing. It seems like the whole enterprise serves as an excuse for a group of friends to enjoy a little getaway. It’s too bad that the audience can’t enjoy it as much as the cast.

There isn’t a believable moment in this silly enterprise that derives much of its appeal from the undeniably likable cast. But it conveys a sense of 1960s-style Vegas cool that makes it lightweight fun. (PG-13) Rating: 3 (Posted 06/08/07)


Surf's Up
Reviewed by Deborah Young

Lots of fidgeting and whining went on during the Surf’s Up screening I attended. The audience’s youngest viewers just didn’t seem captivated, particularly during the movie’s first half. But that doesn’t mean the film doesn’t have virtues.

The animated mockumentary captures the story of Cody Maverick (Shia LaBeouf), a 17-year-old penguin who aspires to become a championship surfer. Like the protagonist of Happy Feet, Cody is an outsider in his community. His brother Glen (Brian Posehn) considers him a hopeless slacker. His mother worries that his surfing aspirations won’t be realized.

Cody’s big opportunity comes when a surfing scout visits Shiverpool (Cody’s hometown) to scout Cody for the Big Z Memorial surfing competition. Cody follows the scout back to the scene of the competition.

Unfortunately, the young surfer discovers that he’s a definite underdog. He gets injured during a pre-competition match with the reigning champ, Tank Evans (Diedrich Bader).

But Cody’s injury turns out to be a blessing in disguise. After his accident, a female lifeguard (Zooey Deschanel as Lani Aliikai) drags him to a penguin that can treat his wounds and help him to become a better surfer.

Surf’s Up has wit and a unique approach. It’s a great (although often predictable) parody of the sports world where players are commodities and promoters manipulate athletes and their fans. The movie even has a Don King look-alike in the character Reggie Belafonte, a beaver who promotes penguin surfers.

The downside: Surf’s Up’s lack of action and slow moments will probably lose many little viewers (and some big ones). It’s cute and smart but not gag-packed and never uproariously funny. Next to competitors like The Incredibles and Shrek, this movie seems minor league. (PG) Rating: 2.5 (Posted 06/08/07)


Mr. Brooks
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

In a hilarious scene from Madonna’s 1991 concert film Truth or Dare, actor Kevin Costner (The Guardian) briefly visits the singer in her dressing room after a performance. He tells her that the show was, “Neat.” After Madonna answers with the obligatory, “Thanks,” Costner exits. Madonna then looks to the camera and sticks her finger down her throat.

Audiences laughed at what a square Costner seemed to be. Strangely, it is that very quality that makes his performance in the new thriller Mr. Brooks work as well as it does.

Costner plays Earl Brooks, an appropriately staid pillar of the community. The owner of a box manufacturing company in Portland, Earl seems to be as square as they come. A hard working businessman with a wife and teenage daughter, his only hobby appears to be pottery making.

But Earl has another pastime. He’s a serial killer.

He is an addict who gets a thrill from the kill. Because he plans his adventures carefully, no trace of evidence is left behind. He’s been able to reign in his bloodlust for a year thanks to the friendly counsel he receives at AA meetings. (Hey, he just says, “I’m an addict.” He doesn’t say what he’s addicted to.)

But Earl has a demonic subconscious that constantly prods him to kill. This character is played by William Hurt (A History of Violence) as a kind of satanic version of Harvey.

One night after giving in to the urge to kill, Earl notices he’s made an egregious error, leaving the blinds open during a murder. Sure enough, an amateur photographer named Mr. Smith (played by stand up comic Dane Cook) snaps Earl’s photo and blackmails him. Mr. Smith doesn’t want money, however. He wants in on the next kill.

So what’s a poor serial killer to do? He wants to stop, but he’s got his personal devil and a nosy amateur pressuring him to continue.

If you can get past the artifice of using William Hurt as a devise to personify Earl’s evil side, there are some chills to be had in this thriller from writer/director Bruce A. Evans (Kuffs). But there are a lot of other things that are hard to swallow. (Demi Moore is a cop with $60 million in the bank??)

Mr. Brooks is a sleazy opus that lacks the depth of Silence of the Lambs or Se7en. Still, it is produced and performed with utter conviction. Its aim is to creep us out. On that count, it certainly succeeds. (R) Rating: 2.5 (Posted 06/01/07)


Gracie
Reviewed by Deborah Young

Is Gracie the American version of Bend It Like Beckham? Definitely not.

Instead, Director Davis Guggenheim’s latest effort mixes teen soap opera, inspirational sports flick and a struggle-against-the-status-quo story. It’s sort of a Lifetime girl-in-crisis flick meets Rocky meets Footloose.

Dedicated to William Shue (actress Elizabeth Shue’s deceased brother), Gracie reincarnates the story of Elizabeth’s struggle to play on her high school’s boy’s soccer team in the late 1970s.

During that time soccer was considered a boys’ sport. So Shue must have received much flack from peers and school administrators.

In real life, Elizabeth’s brother William, an accomplished soccer player, lived through her groundbreaking struggle. But in the movie, the death of Gracie’s brother, Johnny (Jessie Lee Soffer), provides the impetus for Gracie’s desire to play on the school’s soccer team.

After Johnny’s death, Gracie’s father, Bryan (Dermot Mulroney), shuts down. At the same time, Gracie (Carly Schroeder) tries to deal with her grief by turning to the sport her brother loved. Bryan, however, wouldn’t hear of it … until Gracie begins acting out (letting her grades slip and hanging with the wrong crowd).

Then, the father and daughter channel their energies into preparing Gracie for tryouts with the boys’ team (although it’s uncertain whether the school board will approve a girl on the team). Gracie encounters the expected obstacles and undergoes the training that’s a staple in these kinds of movies.

But Schoeder’s stellar performance and the movie’s time-tested theme about the rewards of perseverance entertain, despite the clichés. Gracie is not the American version of Bend It Like Beckham, because Gracie is all seriousness and melodrama. In contrast, Bend It Like Beckham showed us a girl’s love of soccer with the humor of a family’s idiosyncrasies.

Still, Gracie will likely bring a smile and warm feeling to many viewers. (PG-13) Rating: 3.5 (Posted 06/01/07)


Knocked Up
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

So, how do you make sex and drugs humor palatable for a wide audience? How do you turn an overweight slacker a hero to millions?

Well, amazingly, the makers of Knocked Up have found the way.

These alchemists have taken ingredients of different genres and mixed them together in a creative way, producing a flick that should cut across many demographic lines. They’ve combined lowbrow, frat boy humor with the sentimentality of a chick flick. Even Dr. Frankenstein would have had a hard time sewing those pieces together and bringing the creation to life.

Writer/director Judd Apatow, who earlier worked his box office magic with The 40-Year-Old Virgin, figured out that you could heap a lot of crass material into the audience’s lap as long as you give it heart.

Seth Rogen, best known from TV’s Freaks and Geeks, plays Ben Stone, a pudgy, twentysomething nerd sharing a house with a group of like-minded friends. For years, they’ve been tinkering on a website featuring celebrity nude scenes.

One night at a bar, he meets a stunning beauty named Alison Scott (Katherine Hiegl from TV’s Grey’s Anatomy). An upwardly mobile on-air personality for an entertainment news TV show, Alison is Ben’s polar opposite. Thanks to the power of alcohol, the unlikely duo engages in a one-night stand.

Naturally, Alison gets pregnant. Rather than pursue other options, she decides to have the baby and tracks down Ben to see if he’d like to be a part of their lives.

While this setup is fraught with opportunities to turn deadly serious, Apatow and his cast never allow that to happen. Hey, this is a movie and reality doesn’t necessarily play a major role.

But that doesn’t mean that the movie lacks substance. It has some sharp points to make about modern relationships, one of which is played out by supporting players Leslie Mann (Orange County) and Kansas City’s own Paul Rudd (Anchorman). As Alison’s bickering sister and brother-in-law, they provide a chilling cautionary example of contemporary marriage.

The performances are just right, making this unlikely romance seem almost credible. Rogen brings an affable, hangdog sensibility to his character and is blessed with excellent comic timing. Hiegl is sweetly open-minded as Alison. Although Ben has more than his share of personality defects that would turn most women off, Hiegl manages to convey a tolerant mindset, giving their relationship a chance.

If raunchy humor isn’t your thing, then the appeal of Knocked Up may be lost on you. But thanks to a genuine infusion of heart, it may just win you over. (R) Rating: 4 (Posted 06/01/07)


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