Extraordinary Measures

Extraordinary Measures

Starring Brendan Fraser, Harrison Ford, and Keri Russell
Directed by Tom Vaughan (What Happens in Vegas)
Rated PG for thematic material, language and a mild suggestive moment
Appropriate for all ages

    Based on a true story, Fraser and Russell are parents to two children with an incurable disease that will most likely take their lives before they hit their teens.  Fraser enlists the support of a researcher from the University of Nebraska (played by Ford) that is doing research that could be the answer to a cure for their children.  Together, the two of them set off to raise enough money to start a biotech company in order develop a product that might save his children and thousands more like them that would die otherwise. 

    I’ll just get this out of the way since everyone has been saying it – yes this is totally ‘movie of the week’ material.  It probably didn’t deserve the big screen treatment it got and although Ford’s character tries to throw in a bit of conflict to keep things interesting, it just isn’t meant for ‘the movies.’ 

    That being said – it’s a darn high quality movie of the week.  The acting by all is far above what you would have gotten normally in a film such as this as are the production values.  If the goal is to get the story out there in grand fashion, I can’t think of a better platform than what they chose and it’s a gusty move putting a movie like this into theaters competing with what most folks consider to be popcorn-worthy pictures. 

    One thing a lot of folks may or may not like is how manipulative it is.  This film sets out to make you cry – a lot.  And even I had to fight it back a couple of times.  It’s very difficult to watch children dying (even children acting like they are dying) and not have an emotional response.  But this starts to get sappy after a while. 

    Also, the story has to follow a predictable path, I fully understand that, which means it’s important for the hero to lose everything at the end of the second act, but I have a feeling that most of the audience will be a little confused as well as depressed since the science-heavy talk abounds at the same time the hero is at his lowest.  They tried to keep this simple, but I know a lot about the health sciences field having worked in it for much of my life, and even I had to concentrate. 

    So my advice to you is if you feel like a nice and inspirational Hallmark commercial of a family movie that will have you crying yet leave you feeling good at the end, check it out.  Otherwise, wait a bit and it will be the ‘movie of the week’ on TV in no time.  C+

New on DVD

New on DVD

Unrated but contains some graphic violence and adult language    
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

We’ve all seen many World War II documentaries, but I can honestly say that you will be astonished at what lies in this set of 10 episodes chronicling the great war.  Most footage of the war was shot in black and white, but the filmmakers spent two years on a world-wide search of any existing color film that might exist and what they found was that much of it was practically pristine since it had never been seen before.  Gary Sinise  narrates the story of the war, mostly told from the point of view of a dozen individuals that experienced the war first-hand.  While some of the material is extremely graphic and disturbing, this series is visually the most impressive account of the war I have ever seen and one of the History Channel’s crowning achievements.  I started with medium expectations and was completely blown away.  A

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, disturbing images, language, and a drug-related scene
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Bruce Willis is a cop in the future where folks don’t ever have to leave their house, but instead they just live their lives through a robotic surrogate that does everything for them.  When a weapon turns up that has the ability to kill humans through their surrogates, Willis must find the inventor of the weapon and stop them before they destroy every human who owns a surrogate.  While Willis is way too old to play this part, it’s still not a bad piece of sci-fi, even if it does get a bit silly at times.  The plot gets a little convoluted in order to try to convince the audience it’s a smart film, but it is overly predictable and does not play as well on a second viewing.  The preachiness is also extremely annoying, especially if you’ve seen it once already.  C

Not Rated but contains graphic violence
Available on DVD

This indie intellectual zombie flick follows a DJ in the small Canadian town of Pontypool where the citizens have suddenly started turning into mindless killing creatures from a virus being spread through language.  For most of the film it’s just he and two employees in the studio trying to figure out what’s going on with a town gone mad.  Eventually the zombies come but it never really gets that scary or violent.  It almost plays out like an old-fashioned radio show that you would get more pleasure listening to than watching.  That being said, there is a radio show version of the story on the DVD.  Overall, it’s pretty funny and fairly intriguing, but I never really got into it that intensely.  B-

Pride & Prejudice
Rated PG for some mild thematic elements
Available on Blu-ray

I usually don’t discuss catalog titles when they become newly available on Blu-ray, but this is one of my favorites so I thought I’d give it a mention.  Joe Wright’s multi-Oscar nominated version of the Jane Austen classic pairs Keira Knightly vs. Matthew Macfadyen as the stubborn lovers, but what makes this film so special is the lovely cinematography of Roman Osin, the spectacular vision of director Joe Wright and the sweeping score of Dario Marianelli.  And if you ever want to show off your new LED or LCD home theater setup just turn to 1 hour and 19 minutes into the film and crank up the volume.  I can’t think of a more awe-inspiring movie sequence you could turn to.  A

Crazy Heart

Crazy Heart

Starring Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Colin Farrell
Rated R for language and brief sexuality
Appropriate for ages 17+

    Bad Blake (Bridges) is a broken-down, hard-drinking country singer from Houston that has had a tough life on the road and it has finally caught up to him.  A light appears at the end of his tunnel though when he meets and falls for a young journalist (Gyllenhaal) that could be just what he needs to pull himself out of the mess he’s allowed himself to get into.

    Story-wise, the film is very similar to last year’s film The Wrestler.  There’s the down and out male lead with potential and the single mother he falls for that could be his salvation.  That being said, the movie doesn’t have nearly the quality of story or the heart of the Mickey Rourke vehicle, but what it does have is a tremendous performance by the amazing Jeff Bridges.  Bridges seems so at home with this character that it almost appears he was born to play it.  As an outside observer you really want this character to rise above and get the girl and you really feel the pain when he screws up over and over again. 

    Just as impressive as the acting by Bridges though, is the wonderful soundtrack with an impressive assortment of music compiled by T-Bone Burnett, the same fellow that brought us Across the Universe and O Brother, Where Art Thou?  It seems that whenever you hear a soundtrack that you just have to go out and buy afterward, this man’s name is on the label.  So far the song ‘The Weary Kind’ by he and Ryan Bingham has already scored a Critics’ Choice Movie Award and a Golden Globe and will probably be the front runner for the Oscar.

    While the movie itself isn’t as impressive as its parts, it is still a darn good film and between its country roots and the fact that part of it takes place in Houston, you’ll probably feel a strong connection.  A-

New on DVD

New on DVD

The Invention of Lying
Rated PG-13 for language including some sexual material including and a drug reference
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

In an alternate reality where there is no such thing as a lie, Ricky Gervais is having a tough time with his life until he realizes that if he just makes stuff up, people believe whatever he says.  With his new powers, he becomes amazingly wealthy, writes the greatest movie the world has ever known, and invents an all-knowing “man in the sky” who controls the destiny of everyone.  The movie starts out with a clever premise, but Gervais’s agenda of disproving religion becomes such a theme of the movie that it gets to be a huge distraction.  If you’ve ever seen one of his stand-up routines you know that he is one of the most aggressively atheist actors in Hollywood and it doesn’t take long for you to understand that this film is simply a love letter to his own special religion.  If the film could have been funny, then at least I could have said offensive but funny, but for me it was neither.  Instead it was just kind of a sad and pathetic attempt at filmmaking.  D

Smokin’ Aces 2: Assassins’ Ball
Rated R for bloody violence and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

What was originally pegged as a prequel to the box-office dud Smokin’ Aces is now a straight-to-DVD release as a sequel, although it really bares no connection, aside from one minor character, to the first.  In this film, several assassins are all given the same assignment: kill a soon-to-be-retired FBI desk jockey who know too much.  The Feds put him into hiding, but these assassins, some talented and some just crazy, all converge on the hideout to try to collect on the bounty.  It’s an extremely violent, badly written, poorly acted, b-film that will have most women leaving the room and most men admitting they were right to do so.  The good news – it’s short.  The bad news – it’s poorly paced so it feels long.  But then again, what did you expect from such a film.  That might just be what you are looking for at Blockbuster on a Friday night.  D-

The Simpsons: The Complete Twentieth Season
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

It’s hard to believe that it’s been twenty years since this show hit the air.  I was in high school when we would watch The Simpsons, Married with Children, and Living Color back to back.  I don’t think any of would have ever thought there was a chance that the show could still be going strong and still creating high-quality comedy over twice my age later.  This twentieth year is full of great political material including George W. Bush’s last year in the White House as well as Obama’s first, Bart trading places with his doppleganger, the family buying a pub in Ireland, and border disputes with a neighboring town.  The material seems almost as fresh as day one and some of the episodes had me laughing myself sick.  The biggest plus of all – this was the first season The Simpsons were made and available in hi-def.  There’s nothing like crappy animation in big, bold, beautiful hi-def!  A

Rated R for violence, grisly images, brief strong language and some nudity
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

This will be the last time I discuss this Kate Beckinsale stinker in my column, I swear.  But in case you missed my last mention, this pic follows Kate as a U.S. Marshall in Antarctica hot on the trails of a murderer.  It’s just bad from start to finish and aside from the laughable opening shower sequence, there is not a redeeming quality to be found.  Most comical of all is that while only about 100 minutes, the film seems to last forever due to horrible pacing and the fact that the cold slows the chase and fight scenes down to a freezing crawl.  F

Rated R for strong horror violence and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

When Ben Foster wakes up in his cryo chamber in deep space, he discovers that something is wrong with his ship and that there is an evil on board killing what’s left of the thousands of survivors.  His co-captain, Dennis Quaid, attempts to guide him through the ship by radio to get things going in the right direction again so that they all can survive.  This movie died a quick death in theaters, in large part I think to the fact that they went to market without letting any press in to screen it, but it’s really not a bad film if you are a hard core sci-fi junkie.  It begs the question “what would happen if you put the film The Descent in space?”  Granted, that was already kind of done with the Alien series, but at least here the creatures are somewhat humanoid.  The film is by no means as good or scary as The Descent (you must see if you haven’t already), but it had me going and I liked the twist at the end.  Some of the writing didn’t make a whole lot of sense, but maybe it would in multiple viewings.  B-

Rated PG for thematic material including teen drinking, a sexual situation and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

This update of the original 1980 film follows the lives of a group of students at the New York City High School of Performing Arts as they go through their Freshmen through Senior years.  Some of it is motivational and inspirational, just like the original movie, and some of it is as cheesy and silly as High School Musical.  Personally, I couldn’t stand the inconsistency of the tone.  The film didn’t really know what it wanted to be.  Had it chosen to be more like the French film The Class, it could have been truly great.  Instead it toyed with that but strayed.  Perhaps it went the other direction for box office purposes.  If so, that was a big mistake because the film was a dud and teens weren’t buying.  C

The Lovely Bones

The Lovely Bones

Starring Saoirse Ronan, Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Susan Sarandon, and Stanley Tucci
Directed by Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings)
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material involving disturbing violent content and images, and some language
Appropriate for ages 15+

    Based on the best-selling book by Alice Sebold, Bones follows a young girl as she tells her story after she has been brutally murdered by one of her neighbors.  She finds herself not in Heaven, but rather in the ‘In Between’ place until she can fully let go of her life on Earth.  But she has work to do such as spy on the boy she loves but never got to experience love with, and more importantly – help her family find her murderer. 

    I found myself very torn by this film.  It’s not that the material was too tough considering the talent of the filmmaker, but rather how Jackson handled it.  Some things he did I thought were absolutely brilliant, and others I thought were horrible mistakes that were almost laughable. 

    I’m not so concerned that he varied from the book and toned down the murder quite a bit.  After all, had he included the girl being raped and murdered, the tone would have been much darker, and much more difficult to watch.  As it stands, the murder is not shown and rape is not even implied and that was probably a good decision.  That being said, I’m not sure if the tone was dark enough the way it was made.  A PG-13 movie about a girl who was slain just doesn’t sit right with me.  It feels too light at times when it should be much heavier. 

    So where he went right was in his handling of the ethereal quality of the ‘In Between’.  It’s a beautiful, eerie place and everything from the spectacular visuals to the enveloping sounds create a world for the audience that is a truly unique theatrical experience.  The only film I’ve ever seen that comes close to matching this unique look is the Oscar-winning What Dreams May Come, a spectacular vision of the afterlife. 

    Acting-wise, Ronan and Tucci both turn in terrific performances as the hunted and the hunter.  Before this film I thought Tucci would get his Oscar nod for Julie and Julia, but this role solidifies a nomination, although a win is unlikely with Christoph Waltz in the running.  He is the ultimate creepy neighbor and Ronan is the perfect naive girl that falls into the trap.  Wahlberg on the other hand was horribly miscast as the dad and his overacting is hard to stomach at times.  Weisz delivers a less than desirable performance as well.

    There were also a few huge logic flaws of which I can’t get into detail without spoiling the film.  Let’s just say that common sense tells you that if you are going to throw something very, very heavy into a pit, you pull the truck up to the pit.  You don’t push it end over end over end for thirty feet just so there is time to add an important scene in between.  This is moronic and Jackson could have easily come up with another story device to give him what he needed here.  As for the other flaws – you’ll see them as they come and you’ll snicker.  They are annoying and get in the way of the storytelling.

    What really lacks here is the emotional punch you would expect from a movie about a dead girl.  Perhaps it’s because she is telling her own story so matter-of-factly, but whatever the reason, I found it hard to get emotionally involved with any of the characters.  To go back to the What Dreams May Come example, that film had me crying from start to finish, while this film failed to get me to shed a single tear.   

    So while it’s a beautiful, artistic, and aesthetically pleasing film with a couple of good performances, overall it wasn’t handled correctly by someone who should have been able to do a much better job with this challenging material.  C+