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Entries in Dennis Quaid (5)

Friday
Sep072012

The Words

The Words is a movie that gets by on its idea alone. It comes from Lee Sternthal and Brian Klugman, first time writers/directors, and therefore is a little rough around the edges—even its talented cast comes off like first time actors who have finally caught their big break and are unconvincingly trying way too hard, a problem which hearkens back to the amateur directors—but where it lacks polish, it more than makes up for with an engaging story and an interesting, if somewhat obvious, twist. A movie that seemed so simple at first suddenly becomes surprisingly poignant. It’s an Inception like narrative that is weaved together in a way that creates a character parallel that is difficult to explain, but is immediately apparent when watching. It may be a stylistically rough movie, but thematically, it’s quite beautiful.

The movie stars Dennis Quaid as Clay Hammond, an author who is reading his latest book to a crowd of fans who have gathered around to hear him. As he reads, we’re pulled into his story and meet his character, Rory (Bradley Cooper), an author himself who is struggling to get his first book published. He’s put three years of work into his novel and despite his admittedly excellent writing, he is turned down by every publisher he submits his book to. One day, while on vacation in London, he finds a worn down valise that contains a manuscript that is among one of the best he’s ever read. He begins to type it into his computer, not with intent to plagiarize, but, as Clay the narrator says, to feel the words flow through his fingers. However, his wife, Dora (Zoe Saldana), soon stumbles upon what he typed up and begs him to shop it around, not knowing every word of it is stolen. In order to not disappoint his wife, he does just that and the book is immediately bought. It quickly becomes a hit and Rory finds himself among the top authors in the world. A few years later, an old unnamed man played by Jeremy Irons appears and begins to tell his own story (which we also see onscreen) about a man who wrote a story back near the end of World War II, but then lost it. Rory quickly realizes that the old man is referring to the story he stole.

The Words, a story about an author reading a story about a struggling author stealing a story that another author wrote many years ago, may sound confusing, but it isn’t. It somehow manages to balance the accessibility of the narrative with complex themes and meanings. It never dumbs itself down for fear of isolating some audience members (aside from a few tiny narrations from Quaid as he reads from his book) and if nothing else, it should be commended for it. It doesn’t always succeed in what it sets out to do, but The Words is unique, taking a basic foundation made popular by 2010’s Inception and tweaking it to fit within the context of a dramatic story.

Nearly every aspect of the movie, from its performances to its looks to everything in between, is a give and take. For every one thing I would fix, there’s something else I wouldn’t touch. Some scenes work wonderfully while others fall flat on their face. The best example of the latter comes when Dora tells Clay that reading his novel was more honest, true and passionate than anything else he’d ever written. She tells him that the book contained all of him, even the parts she didn’t know existed. Of course, the book wasn’t written by him, so while she thinks she’s giving him a compliment, she’s really crushing him on the inside. The scene is a catalyst for all the events to come, but it’s more amusing than it is dramatic and more worthy of laughs than it is tears.

As far as visuals go, The Words is, like everything else, a mixed bag. For example, there is some awkward framing prevalent throughout the entire movie—sometimes it’s too uncomfortable to see these actors that close up, especially given their by-the-numbers performances—but once again, it’s strengths outweigh its flaws. Interestingly, the directors opt to shoot their movie using both the digital and film formats, the former for the current time settings and the latter for the World War II setting. This gives the movie some much needed style that is missing elsewhere and it creates a distinct feeling for each time period, keeping them separated before their thematic relation is finally revealed.

It’s a nice touch in an otherwise bland looking movie. In fact, the whole thing could essentially be summarized like that. The remnants of a bad movie are there, but there is enough thought and care put behind its creation that it comes out as much more. While I hesitate to hype it up more than it’s worth, The Words is nevertheless a surprising, underrated gem that is definitely worth a look this weekend.

The Words receives 3.5/5

Friday
May182012

What to Expect When You're Expecting

If What to Expect When You’re Expecting is indicative of real life experiences for waiting parents, then childbearing must be full of clichés, caricatures and contrivances. It must be like a desperate, unfunny screenplay that thinks it’s exploring the spectrum of pregnancy possibilities when really it knows no more about the event than the characters that are going through it. This sad excuse for a film takes the miracle of childbirth and trivializes it with cheesy dialogue, over-the-top melodramatics and bad comedy. It’s not one of the worst of the year thanks to a solid cast that does as much as they can with very little, but it’s still fairly awful.

The story is comprised of individual vignettes of characters who are all, whether they like it or not, expecting a baby. First we meet famous health guru, Jules (Cameron Diaz), a current contestant on the latest celebrity dance show, who discovers she and her dance partner, Evan (Matthew Morrison), are expecting after throwing up on stage at the end of a live taping. Later we are introduced to Holly (Jennifer Lopez) and her husband Alex (Rodrigo Santoro) who are unable to have babies and are looking into adoption. Meanwhile, baby crazy Wendy (Elizabeth Banks) and her husband Gary (Ben Falcone) are so eager to raise a child that they set their phones to alert them when Wendy is ovulating. Their careful planning eventually works and Wendy soon finds herself with a baby bump. In an interesting coincidence, Gary’s dad, former racecar driver Ramsey (Dennis Quaid), and his young trophy wife Skyler (Brooklyn Decker) are also expecting. Finally, there’s a young couple, Marco (Chace Crawford) and Rosie (Anna Kendrick) who have sex just one time in the heat of the moment and find themselves facing something they aren’t ready for.

As is a problem with many movies of this type where multiple stories are juggled in a small amount of time, What to Expect When You’re Expecting is sloppy. Nearly all of the stories are rushed through, underexplored and underdeveloped and the result is a disconnected mess. Most movies will try to somehow link these stories together so it feels like there’s a reason for them to be told, but the majority of these characters never cross paths, unless you’re speaking in the literal sense in that they occasionally walk by each other, a lazy transition between already lazy stories if there ever was one. The longer this goes on, as you wait for it make a point or take an unexpected turn or, well, do anything at all, the less tolerating it becomes.

Any promising moment is ruined by its need to tell its stories quickly for the purpose of shortening the runtime (an unfortunate effect of vignette movies). For instance, when the young one time sexual offenders, Marco and Rosie, find out they’re pregnant, one would suspect them to contemplate abortion because, regardless of your stance on the issue, it’s a natural thought for scared young people who suddenly find themselves facing a responsibility they’re not sure they can handle to have. Marco does indeed allude to it by asking what Rosie’s going to do about her situation, but then it’s glossed over, almost like the question was never raised in the first place. When the movie eventually gets back to them after spending time with the other characters, their decision has been made and they’re fully devoted to having the baby. Their evolution is far too fast and strips the film of any realism.

Normally with these types of films, there are at least one or two stories that outshine the rest, but that’s not the case here. All, including the supposed-to-be-funny group of dads who support each other’s parental negligence, are bland and thinly written. The cast is game and most retain their charm—Elizabeth Banks is still affable and Anna Kendrick is as lovely as ever—but the best cast in the world couldn’t make these characters come to life. Simply put, there just isn’t much to What to Expect When You’re Expecting. I would say it’s a failure, but I’m not sure it was even trying.

What to Expect When You’re Expecting receives 1/5

Friday
Oct142011

Footloose

The original Footloose starring Kevin Bacon is one of those cherished films that the younger generation of the time grew up with and still loves to this day. Now in their late 30’s and early 40’s, those people surely remember the high spirited energy and reckless abandon of the characters who stood up and challenged a ridiculous anti-dancing law. What they probably don’t remember is that the movie is a mess. It wants to say one thing, but instead says another. Its message of expressive freedom is rendered moot by a screenplay with plot turns that contradict it. The remake is, by and large, the same. Aside from a few minor, yet notable differences, 2011’s Footloose suffers from identical problems. For all intents and purposes, the majority of this review can double as a review of the original. It’s a two for one. You’re welcome.

Ren McCormack, this time played by Kenny Wormald, is a high school teen from Boston who has just landed in the small town of Bomont, Georgia. Because of a fatal accident a few years back that occurred after a night of riotous partying, dancing and listening to loud, vulgar music have been outlawed. The person most in favor of the law is Reverend Moore, played by Dennis Quaid, who lost his son in the accident. It’s because of him the town finds dancing sinful. Ren, being the free spirit he is, disagrees with the rest of the town and, along with his new friend, Willard, played by Miles Teller, and Reverend Moore’s beautiful, but rebellious daughter, Ariel, played by Julianne Hough, he sets out to change the law and open the minds of the people of Bomont.

If a winner must be chosen, it seems pretty clear to me that this remake is a superior film than the original, even if only slightly. It’s cleaner, tighter and it does away with many of the extraneous side characters that were given little to do. Ren’s mother, who sat around and twiddled her thumbs in the original, is rightfully forgotten here, replaced by his aunt who lends an ear when the time comes for Ren’s big emotional spill about why he has to fight authority. The book burning townsfolk who came off as caricatures are also dropped, giving more time to the story at hand. In those ways, as minor as they are, this version of Footloose is able to improve upon a much loved story.

Unfortunately, the bulk of it is still the same. The situations remain, the characters are unchanged and much of the dialogue is copy and paste. If you’re familiar with the original, prepare to get a strong sense of déjà vu upon watching this. This remake is a film that refuses to find its own voice and it’s that refusal to change, to adapt to our times, that makes it suffer. It uses different musicians like Wiz Khalifa to portray the type of music the town is against, but it still rests on the same foundation of the 1984 film. Even back then, it was a story that was hard to take seriously, but it’s even harder today. The rebellious preacher’s daughter, for instance, may not have been much of a cliché in 1984, but it sure is now.

Its biggest and most glaring flaw, the entire reason both movies fail, is its approach to confronting the supposedly unjust law. Here’s a movie that wants to make the argument that dancing and music of all types don’t lead to rebellion and violence, yet nearly every violent act in the movie happens at a dance or stems directly from dancing. When Ren and his pals head out of the town to dance at a bar, Willard is overcome with jealousy while watching a random man dance with his girl, which leads to him getting his face smashed. Later, due to her attraction to the rebellious nature of Ren and his willingness to dance in the face of the law, Ariel gets smacked around by her boyfriend. When the kids finally get the approval of the town to host a dance, a fight breaks out almost immediately in front of the building it’s being held in. These things wouldn’t have happened had Ren not started a minor revolution and began dancing. In these ways, the film goes against its very reason for being.

For every step forward, this remake takes, oh, I don’t know, half a step back. It’s always leading its predecessor in terms of quality, but it’s never far off from it. I suppose if you liked the original, you will enjoy this one too, but if this story is ever told again, significant changes to its poor narrative construction need to be implemented for it to work.

Footloose receives 1.5/5

Friday
Apr082011

Soul Surfer

Nobody goes to the movies to hear a sermon. When someone finds their seat in the theater and the lights go down, they’re looking to be entertained and nothing more, but if the movie has religious themes, it can sometimes feel like it's trying to convert them. From the preachy Letters to God to the guilt trip in The Passion of the Christ, religious themed movies do too much to spread their agenda rather than tell a story. The religion centric Soul Surfer should fall in line with that crowd—characters quote scripture, attend church and youth gatherings, participate in mission trips around the world and read the Bible in times of distress—but it never does. This is simply a story about a Christian family with Christian values who use their beliefs to give them the strength to cope with a near tragedy. While nowhere near perfect, Soul Surfer is accessible to everybody, Christian or otherwise, and that is where its beauty lies.

The film is based on the true story of Bethany Hamilton (AnnaSophia Robb), a young surf enthusiast who one day hopes to be a professional surfer, but finds herself in a precarious situation when a shark bites her arm off as she rests on her board out in the ocean. Despite losing nearly 60% of the blood in her body, Bethany survives, but doesn’t know if she’ll ever again be able to do the one thing she loves. But with the help of her parents, Cheri (Helen Hunt) and Tom (Dennis Quaid), she hops back on the board and attempts to work through the struggles of trying to surf with one arm.

Soul Surfer is an inspiring movie, perhaps the most inspiring one you’ll see all year. It shows the triumph of a young girl who suffered through a painful ordeal, but found the strength to bounce back without compromising anything that made her special. As she goes through the emotional ups and downs an experience like this would undoubtedly bring forth, she ultimately learns that the world is greater than just her and that she shouldn’t mope around feeling sorry for herself. This is a movie that will remind viewers to be grateful for what they have and not to worry about what they don’t.

It’s an admirable message that is easy to pick up on and should be relevant to every person watching, but as you might expect, it comes with its fair share of cheese. There are certain scenes in Soul Surfer that are so unbearably cheesy they become laughable, which strips away much of its heart. It’s a problem that pervades many religious films because characters rely on otherworldly forces that will make the more cynical audience members roll their eyes. Once it gets to the workout montage late in the movie that features a song with the lyrics, “This is your moment,” you’ll wonder if the film is about to go over the rails, but it doesn’t.

You also might expect some melodrama, but you’ll be surprised by how little there is. Except for a few standout scenes, most of what happens rings true thanks to some terrific performances, particularly from AnnaSophia Robb, who is pretty, innocent and strong and deserves some respect (if you can forget about Race to Witch Mountain). She portrays Bethany beautifully and shows how she never lost her strength, her faith or her love for surfing.

Soul Surfer is a tad manipulative, sure, especially given the slow, moody score that tells you exactly when you should tear up, but it brought out my weaker side and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t affect me. This is a good natured film that no family should shy away from this weekend. It will teach your kids some valuable lessons and you’ll come to care about these characters, even if your beliefs are polar opposite of theirs.

Soul Surfer receives 3.5/5

Sunday
Jan242010

Legion

Ok, now it's getting a bit ridiculous. Being an avid film lover, I watch a lot of movies and let's face it, very little separates each one from the next. Leap Year is no different than the countless other romantic comedies I've seen just as The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day mimics innumerable other action flicks. Still, the apocalypse sub-genre is fairly new, or at least has seen an explosion in recent years. Each film tries to differentiate itself from the last, with modest success. We've seen a hard hitting drama in The Road, a tongue-in-cheek B-movie in 2012, the zombie apocalypse in Zombieland and the vampire apocalypse in Daybreakers. But we're pushing it a bit far now with Legion, a ridiculous movie where God sends his angels to demonically possess humans and kill everyone alive.

Huh?

That's the sentiment I had rolling around in my head as this film wrapped up. The story, as foolish as it may be, revolves around an angel who has fallen down to Earth, cut off his wings and made himself human. His name is Michael (Paul Bettany) and he has rebelled against God's wishes to wipe out the human race. You see, God is pissed off. Just as we have lost faith in Him, He has lost faith in humanity. We kill each other over race and greed and we start wars unjustly and He's sick of it. As the movie points out, the first time he lost faith in us, he sent a flood, now he is sending angels. Yep.

Well, for some reason, there's a baby that is the last hope for humanity. It's in the stomach of Charlie (Adrianne Palicki), who works at a small diner in the middle of no man's land where the next service station doesn't come around for 50 miles. She works there with a group of disposable fodder played by Lucas Black, Charles Dutton, Jon Tenney, Willa Holland, Kate Walsh, Tyrese Gibson, and Dennis Quaid. Michael's job is to protect Charlie and the baby, the main target of the angels.

This is getting out of control. While not all of the recent apocalypse movies have been particularly good (2012, The Book of Eli), at least they made sense. Legion makes as much sense as using a sterilized needle at a lethal injection. There's so much in this movie that needed to be answered, yet so little is. For example, why the baby is so important is never explained. Who is it? Is it the second coming of Christ? If it is, why would God send his angels to kill it? What the hell was going on in this thing?

The weird thing is that there's plenty of downtime for explanation. For a movie about an angel takeover and the human extermination, this thing moves slow and the copious amount of dialogue does little more than waste time in between action scenes. There were a handful of moments where two characters would have a dialogue, but it was usually about trivial matters, like why Gibson's character carried around a handgun. Well, because he grew up in the streets yo. Great, but who cares? It's irrelevant to the story, existing as nothing more than a sad sack attempt at putting a personality to the character.

Complaining about scenes that flesh out the personalities of the characters feels weird because if we want to care about them, we need to know about them, but Legion takes itself far too seriously and would have worked better as a humorous, balls to the wall action film. Surely the filmmakers knew their movie was absurd. Why not play it for laughs?

Taking the serious route did little to help them anyway. The action scenes, which are meant to be epic battles between heaven and earth, are shot so darkly that not much can be seen. The little bit that can is unimpressive and, more often than not, anti-climactic. In the trailer, a man rides up in an ice cream truck. His mouth opens wide, his arms stretch out and he runs toward the camera. In the movie, he is shot immediately after he starts to run. What could have been a tense battle ended up being a major disappointment.

I've seen lots of apocalypse movies recently, but this could be among the worst. Paul Bettany does a good job and a few moments of what looked to be a good movie were hidden in it, but everything else is a misfire. Even the wanton stupidity of 2012 was more entertaining than Legion.

Legion receives 1.5/5