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Entries in Jennifer Garner (3)

Wednesday
Aug152012

The Odd Life of Timothy Green

The titular character in Disney’s The Odd Life of Timothy Green is a wondrous kid, the type any parent would be happy and proud to have. He’s generous, kind, funny and lovable and he always sees the positive in things. Early in the movie, when he fails miserably at soccer, his coach asks him why he’s smiling, to which he glowingly replies, “I can only get better.” He’s an ideal kid for any parent and it’s impossible not to love him. If only the same could be said for his movie. While certainly not bad, it fails to grab the viewer in a meaningful way. Its wish for tears brings only the occasional goose bump and its humorous moments are only funny in a “how cute” kind of way. It’s enough to get it by, but the film clearly has higher emotional aspirations and it doesn’t ever fully reach them.

The film begins with Cindy and Jim Green (Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton) at an adoption agency. They’re in the process of telling a strange and miraculous story to an adoption agent, but it begins with a sad notion. After trying for years, they were told that they would never have children, a thought that crushed them. One night, they decided to write out on little cards what their ideal child would be like. They hoped for a child with a big heart who was honest, artistic and funny—not burp and fart funny, but actually funny—among other things. They took those wishes, placed them in a box and buried the box in their backyard garden. That night, a storm hit and a child popped into existence with all the characteristics they wrote out on those cards. They didn’t quite know what to do at first, but after he revealed his name was Timothy (CJ Adams), the only boy name they had picked out, they realized something special had happened. They quickly took him in, but strangely, he had leaves poking out of his legs. They didn’t know it at the time, but those leaves had a strong significance and they were eventually going to find it out what that significance was.

The Odd Life of Timothy Green is a silly premise given a silly execution and a heavy handed ending. It goes nowhere you don’t expect it to and it hits each emotional beat as surely as a jump scene in a horror movie, but its central character’s likability cannot be denied and it elevates its dramatically rote story from tolerable to entertaining, even if only mildly so. Its only surprises come from an uneven tone that sometimes feels more like one of those jumpy horror movies than a family friendly adoption tale. The beginning in particular, if not for the slow, soothing music could easily be mistaken for one. When the storm hits, the camera heads outside where it’s shown that something is pushing its way through the soil. Back inside, the door is open, making enough noise to make Jim check it out. He closes the door and grabs a drink at the fridge before heading back to bed, at which Timothy promptly runs in front of the camera, a shadow in an already darkened interior, the only thing missing being the startling musical cue. Coupled with the fact that the house is isolated from any neighboring town or person, it almost felt like I was watching The Strangers 2 than a Disney movie.

Its creepy factor extends from these horror elements, though, into at least one strangely sensual and increasingly awkward scene where Timothy paints a portrait of Cindy’s boss. Before he begins, he walks up to her and slowly takes her glasses off before letting down her hair with a softness that would have led up to a sex scene in another movie. It’s an uncomfortable moment and it blows my mind that nobody involved in this film’s production spoke up about it.

So I suppose the question is: why am I recommending it? Because the moments mentioned are only brief departures from what is otherwise a feel good charmer. It has some plot turns that don’t work, including the death of Uncle Bub (M. Emmet Walsh), who is shown in one scene prior, which is certainly not enough to make an impact, and it thinks it’s more profound than it really is, but the performances are good and it will make you smile more than it will make you cringe. The world these characters inhabit isn’t perfect, but it’s also not violent and its goodness outshines the rampant negativity we’re used to in our own world. If nothing else, The Odd Life of Timothy Green allows you to live in a happy place for two hours and for that alone, it’s worth seeing.

The Odd Life of Timothy Green receives 3/5

Friday
Apr082011

Arthur

When a movie like Arthur comes along, I can’t help but sigh. Is the 1981 original really worthy of an update? No matter how you cut it, I would argue it isn’t. While a popular comedy in its own right, its name is not recognizable enough among all generations to ensure a high number of ticket sales, but more importantly, it holds up remarkably well. It isn’t a film that has degraded with time and needs a modern retelling. So who exactly is this remake of Arthur for?

Taking the role from Dudley Moore in the original is Russell Brand as the titular character. He’s the wealthy son of Vivienne, played by Geraldine James, who supplies him with endless amounts of cash ($950 million if we’re being exact) for him to live his life the way he wants. However, she has grown tired of his slacker ways and has become embarrassed by his confrontations with the law. His public troubles are hurting her company, so she tells him she is cutting him off unless she marries Susan, played by Jennifer Garner, a woman she hopes will set Arthur straight. Unfortunately, Arthur doesn’t love Susan, but agrees to go through with it anyway to keep the cash. However, he soon meets Naomi, played by Greta Gerwig, the love of his life, and he finds himself torn between love and money.

There are two things this remake does better than the original. In regards to the cast, Gerwig is infinitely more likable than the bland (yet inexplicably popular) Liza Minnelli. She has a radiant onscreen presence and, along with her performance in last year’s Greenberg, has catapulted herself to the head of America’s sweethearts. She is to die for and conveys a type of innocence that is all but missing from women in the cinema these days.

The other step up is that the romance in this update is sweeter and better developed. While largely thanks to Gerwig, it also helps that the Arthur character isn’t as obnoxious here. In the original, he was loud and grating, stumbling over his words and his feet as he drank himself stupid. It was never entirely clear why Minnelli’s character fell for Arthur, but it’s understandable in the remake. Although he does drink and can sometimes be a little too much to handle, his crazy antics rarely reach the unpleasantries of his 1981 counterpart.

The problem is that those crazy antics are what made that movie so darn funny. The romance may have been a bit weak, but its main goal was to make you laugh and it succeeded. That prioritization is the same in the remake, but it only gets the less important romance parts right while the jokes strain to get the slightest reaction from its audience. A few are undeniably funny, but the rest are lazy, boring and obvious.

A lot of the original’s charm and laughs came from the butler character, played by John Gielgud (who won an Oscar for the role), but that charm is entirely missing here. Instead, the role is taken over by Helen Mirren, who laces her lines with contempt. Rather than coming off as cynical, yet playful as she is supposed to, she simply comes off as mean. So when the time comes for the inevitable late movie bonding scenes, they feel forced and fake.

To continue along with this doesn’t-live-up-to-the-original rant, Brand is simply a poor replacement for Dudley Moore. He has given me plenty of laughs in the past in movies like Get Him to the Greek, but he is strangely subdued here, probably because he is forced to restrain himself to keep with the PG-13 rating. Aside from the previously mentioned positives, everything in this remake (including those left unmentioned) is a step down from the original. I suppose those who haven’t seen it may find something worth watching here, but if you’re like me, there’s really no comparing the two.

Arthur receives 2/5

Friday
Feb122010

Valentine's Day

There are few days of the year that make me feel as miserable as I do on Valentine's Day. It's one of those days where the single become non-existent, where swooning couples become the center of attention. As far as this day is concerned, if you aren't in a relationship, you mean nothing. My cynicism for the day goes far beyond what I've typed here, so imagine my dismay at the thought of sitting through a movie that bears its title. But my job is not to judge based on my preconceived thoughts on the actual day, but rather on the film itself and in doing so I found that Valentine's Day actually isn't half bad.

Much like Love Actually, Valentine's Day features an ensemble cast with dozens of notable actors including Julia Roberts, Bradley Coooper, Jessica Alba, Jessica Biel, Jennifer Garner, Jamie Foxx, Patrick Dempsey, Topher Grace, Anne Hathaway, Ashton Kutcher, Taylor Lautner and even Taylor Swift. However, this is more like a second rate Love Actually rather than a direct comparison. While that film is an absolute delight and explores love in more authentic ways, Valentine's Day is hit and miss with more than its fair share of poorly drawn out romances that feel forced from the page. There isn't a single normal relationship in the entire movie. Even the 51 year old relationship between veteran actors Hector Elizondo and Shirley MacLaine that is meant to show the everlasting endurance of true love proves to be less perfect than expected, with an unnecessary affair popping up in conversation halfway through the movie.

Now, I've purposely skipped over the plot description of the film because there are a large number of storylines, with each character sporting their own, and they are juggled relatively well. Most of them get equal screen time, though a few are left at the wayside and never fully come to a conclusion.

Keeping in mind the actors above, it's easy to see how inconsistent this movie can be. With great talent from Julia Roberts, Jamie Foxx and Anne Hathaway comes the less so Taylor Lautner, Jessica Alba and Ashton Kutcher. Actually, the first two characters introduced in the entire movie were Kutcher and Alba with a scene that ends in their engagement. Kutcher and Alba? That's a recipe for disaster.

Surprisingly, Kutcher's storyline ended up being the best part of the movie. He's the guy that I suspect most men in the audience will relate to the most. He's euphoric with the thought of love after his engagement, but even when he later realizes love isn't as joyous as he originally imagined, he thinks of others. He finds his friends and tries to prevent them from making the same mistakes and feeling the pain that he does. He's a wholly likable guy, most notably when a young boy walks in his flower shop and orders a dozen roses for his elementary school crush. He hands over 11 dollars, far short of what a dozen roses costs and Kutcher simply smiles and asks what the lucky girl's name is. His character is written well and he downplays his usual insufferable comedic antics to fit the role. It still feels weird saying it, but Ashton Kutcher was the shining light in an otherwise mediocre film.

Of course, his storyline was still fairly predictable, as were nearly all of the others. I knew exactly what was going to happen to Garner, Biel, and even Roberts, whose storyline was nonetheless very sweet. The only one that caught me by surprise was Bradley Cooper's. The movie smartly set his storyline up in a manner that makes you believe you know where it is heading, but then turns it 180 degrees and goes somewhere else. It was this surprise that ultimately pushed me to the side of a recommendation.

Lucky for it because most of this thing simply lacked the charm or wit of its far superior spiritual brethren Love Actually. Not to mention that Taylor Swift is simply atrocious and needs to stay as far away from movie cameras as she possibly can. Of course, expecting it to match Love Actually is lofty, so as long as you don't focus on how much worse it is, you might be surprised at how much better your perception will be.

Valentine's Day receives 2.5/5