Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Review of "My Sister's Keeper"

Some children are conceived out of love, some out of wild irresponsibility, and still others out of some combination of the two; Anna Fitzgerald (Abigail Breslin: “Little Miss Sunshine”) was neither; she was conceived by design to be a medical resource for her older sister, Kate (Sofia Vassilieva: “Medium”). Kate is dying of Leukemia.

From birth, Anna has been harvested for various materials to help Kate, but when, at the age of 11, she is faced with altering her life forever by giving up a kidney, she hires attorney Campbell Alexander (Alec Baldwin: “30 Rock”) to put a stop to it. A decision that could cost her not only her sister's life, but her family.

Based on the novel by Jodi Picoult, “My Sister's Keeper” is not really a movie about a courtroom battle for Anna's medical emancipation; in fact the court battle is more of a frame for the real story. At its heart, this is a movie about life, death, love, and family; it somewhat transcends being a tear-jerking “chick flick”, and goes on to be hardcore award bait. I will not be at all surprised to see some acting nominations for the movie's stellar performances, if not for it's less than stellar writing.

The best thing about this movie is easily the acting; Breslin in particular is phenomenal at playing a girl mature beyond her years due to the trauma of her upbringing, but acknowledgments must be made to the other stars of the film. Cameron Diaz, while a bit young for the role (she has two high school age kids, and is supposed to be old enough to have been a successful lawyer before Kate got sick) does a great job at displaying the range of emotion this movie demands. It is a big departure from “Shrek” and “Charlie's Angels” movies for her, and may open up a whole new range of roles for her.

This film is not without it's problems; the whole thing feels compressed and shallow, as if it should have had another twenty or thirty minutes to flesh the story out better. It's as you are looking out a window at a beautiful scene only to find that it's not a window at all, just a very well done two dimensional painting.

The story skips back and forth in time showing us scenes from the lives of the characters frequently without any sort of context or time frame. About the only way you can judge what order some things happen in is how much hair Kate has, as the other characters remain unchanged. In one sequence another character shaves their head so that Kate will not feel so self-conscious in public, however this character's hair is never shown to even be short in any other scenes despite the fact that some must take place shortly after the shaving scene.

The character that seems to suffer the worst from the movie's lack of real depth is Jesse (Evan Ellingson: “CSI Miami”). Not only do his parents seem to forget about him, the filmmakers seem to have as well. He's almost a part of the scenery in a lot of the movie, and the only time that really is dedicated to him seems to try and skirt around the fact that he's on a bad path. The bad path he is on is only shown as him hanging out in a seedy part of Hollywood, but what he is doing there is never explained, and only seems to be a set-up for one scene that is both a little funny and a little sad, but completely glossed over; lacking any sort of impact that it should have had, and ultimately being unnecessary. If not for the role he plays in the film's climax, Jesse could have been completely written out (as at least one semi-major character was) of the entire story.

This is not a great movie, but the acting in it does save it from being a bad one. It is perfect counter programming for “Transformers”, and like “Transformers” it is not a movie you should give a lot of thought to after you see it. The movie is full on inconsistencies, unanswered questions, and scenes that relate to nothing other than themselves. It's a shame really, because with a little more effort, and a little better writing this could have been a fantastic movie.

If you want something girly to see while the guys and geeks are watching the robots, and you want to cry in public, then this is the movie for you. If you're not in the mood to cry this weekend, then you will not miss out on any part of the experience by waiting for this film to hit DVD.

“My Sister's Keeper” opens in theaters nationwide on Friday, June 26th. Be sure to bring your hanky.

Monday, June 22, 2009

A Review of "The Proposal"

**NOTE** I wrote this after seeing a screening of the movie almost a month ago, and forgot to post it before the film's release. Oops.

You know this plot, you've seen it before. An immigrant who is facing deportation who is willing to do anything to stay in America comes up with the idea of marrying an American citizen just to get citizenship. So how do you prevent this from becoming a remake of “Green Card” or the short-lived series “Billy”? You combine it with a fish-out-of-water story.

Margaret Tate (Sandra Bullock: “Speed”) is a powerful editor at Colden Books; she's good at her job, but her employees are terrified of her. This doesn't really matter to her though, as she doesn't have time for people, or , it seems, for doing the paperwork that will keep her from getting deported back to Canada.

Margaret's assistant, Andrew Paxton(Ryan Reynolds: “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”), is dedicated to doing whatever he needs to for his boss, even though he doesn't like her very much. He wants to be an editor himself, and he wants to get published, and he believes that hard work and dedication will eventually lead to his goal.

Faced with deportation, Margaret decides to blackmail Andrew into marrying her long enough for her to become a citizen. He reluctantly agrees, but to make things seem legit to a skeptical immigration agent he makes her come home to Alaska with him for his grandmother's 90th birthday.

Upon arriving in Alaska, Margaret is introduced to Andrew's mother (Mary Steenburgen: “Joan of Arcadia”, “It Runs In The Family”), who just wants the family to be together again, his father (Craig T. Nelson: “Coach”, “Poltergeist”), who wants Andrew to come home and take over the family businesses, his Grandma Annie (Betty White: “Golden Girls”), and his ex-girlfriend, Gertrude (Malin Akerman: “Watchmen”). Andrew's family and friends are surprised to find out he's marrying a woman whom he seems to hate, but for the most part are happy for him.

As the film progresses, Andrew and Margaret predictably start to fall for each other for real; both denying it, of course. This leads to the climax where they have to figure out if they are really fooling the immigration agent, Andrew's family, or just fooling themselves.

“The Proposal” is a cute little chick flick that can also double as a date movie (no doubt in trade for seeing something a bit manlier like “Star Trek” or “The Hangover”). There's nothing particularly special in it, but nothing really to dislike either; it's cinematic popcorn, it's crunchy and enjoyable, but there's no real substance to it.

Reynolds and Bullock share the screen well together, and create a believable sense of chemistry between them, but much like “Yes, Man” we have a huge age gap between our romantic leads. Despite being a dozen years older than her romantic interest, Bullock looks really good, and since the age difference is acknowledged (in a throw-away line, but it's acknowledgment all the same) it's only going to be a distraction for you if you let it be.

One of the things that surprised me the most was Betty White. First off, she seems to only be about three feet tall now, and sometimes looks like a really well made animatronic. The other was her performance; sure she's still playing the I'm-not-as-dumb-as-I-seem type of character that she's been playing for the last thirty years, but somehow it seems to work better for her here than in some other films.

The biggest disappointments would have to be the rest of Andrew's family, and Gertrude, his ex. It's not that there's no reason for them to be in the film, it's more that they seem to be there for only that reason. Gert is there to make Margaret feel bad, Joe is there to cause problems and explain why Andrew left Alaska in the first place. I know it seems silly to pick on this in a romantic comedy, and in the limited amount of time the filmmakers had it makes sense that they would focus more on gags than character development, but still, Ramone (Oscar Nunez: “The Office”), the island's caterer/justice of the peace/stripper, gets more screen time than any of these other characters.

I will admit, I liked this film, it was certainly better than “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past”, but it's still really not my cup of coffee. If you are looking for a cute little date movie, then this is not a bad choice. In fact, given the movies it's up against on its opening weekend (“Year One”, and “Whatever Works”), it may be your best choice. Still, you won't be missing anything by waiting for DVD.

Sweet without being syrupy, cute without being too dumb, and tugging upon heartstrings without tear-jerking; “The Proposal” will be making its offer to you in theaters nationwide starting June 19th.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Personal Effects: Dark Art

"Personal Effects: Dark Art" finally out, have you bought your copy yet? If you haven;t you owe it to yourself; Hutchin's is a fantastic writer, and you are depriving yourself by not reading his work.

Also be sure to check out the free podcast prequel to "Dark Art", "Personal Effects: Sword of Blood"