14 posts categorized "television"


We're having a baby: Road trip!

To be perfectly honest, I got the slightest tinge of actors acting watching "Away We Go."

That's only a slight enjoyment red flag, though, because the actors acting out front are otherwise very good.

 Well-established TV actors Maya Rudolph (a former "Saturday Night Live" cast member) and John Krasinski of "The Office" take on the roles of happy-go-lucky Verona and Burt. 

Perhaps with Jed Clampett somewhere in their distant ancestry, they're a modern couple living in a Colorado shack with cardboard covering a window.  And they make out a lot when Burt's not whittling (although he doesn't quite know the proper term).

With a baby on the way and Burt's parents (Jeff Daniels and Catherine O'Hara) going away a month before they're to be grandparents, Burt and Verona hit the road themselves.

Frankly, I had slightly higher hopes for "Away We Go."  It's directed by Oscar-winner Sam Mendes ("American Beauty"), based on the first screenplay from novelists Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, who are a couple.

Don't get me wrong.  This is a frank, often silly road film about a devoted couple tooling around the U.S. and (Montreal, CA) looking for a comfortable place to, basically, nest.  They visit friends and relatives, almost all of whom are over-the-top goofy or seriously conflicted.

From this aisle seat, I think I prefer Mendes when he takes the bumpier marital road.  Maybe the fact that Mendes was still tying up post-production loose ends on last year's scathing marital drama "Revolutionary Road" when this one launched has something to do with it. 
Perhaps it's the fact that Eggers and Vida just don't quite have a handle on consistent screenplay tone yet.

Or maybe light and fluffy comic romance stirred with serious drama isn't Mendes' strong suit as a filmmaker.

When this one's in its zone, though, "Away We Go" combines bright spirit and goofiness (Krasinski falls down some, which feels contrived) with real-life poignancy.

Look beyond the "actors acting" element and the lack of a discernible attraction spark between Rudolph and Krasinski (that may just be me), and you'll be sweetly entertained by a couple in love on a romantic journey home.

Wherever that happens to be. 

'My Sister's' weeper

"My Sister's Keeper" doesn't look or feel like a summer movie.

Nick Cassavetes' offbeat, powerful emotion-tugging tale of a family suffering through the serious illness of a teenage daughter would be a much better fit for a late fall or winter trip to the cineplex.

We're accustomed to three-hankie weepies once the bombastic action blockbusters of summer have run their special-effects-dominant course.

But here they are just the same:  A tough-as-nails California mom (Cameron Diaz) fighting to keep Kate (Sofia Vassilieva), a leukemia-stricken daughter, alive at all costs.  In this case, that means shutting out her husband Brian (Jason Patric), her son Jesse (Evan Ellingson) and her sister Kelly (Heather Wahlquist).

This sad drama based on Jodi Picoult's best-selling novel might have ended up as a TV tragi-drama had it not been for this story's most compelling element.  Oscar nominee Abigail Breslin ("Little Miss Sunshine") makes a major acting step forward as Anna, Kate's little sister who's real purpose for being brought into the world is to provide spare parts for her dying older sister.

Even though she's only 11, Anna finds an attorney via a TV commercial and sues her family for the rights to her own body.

"I thought she was selling Girl Scout cookies when she first walked into my office," the attorney (very well-played by Alec Baldwin) says.

Cassavetes, whose directing credits include both the syrupy "The Notebook" and the hard-hitting teen drama "Alpha Dog," combines those seemingly at-odds tonal asthetics for "My Sister's Keeper."

His approach is a little heavy-handed at times.  For instance, do we really need to see rain splattering across a window pane to sledge-hammer the point that something extremely sad is going on?

Overall, though, it's a loving approach to the material, perhaps because Cassavetes has a daughter of his own fighting medical challenges.

If you're a devotee of the book, don't expect Jeremy Leven (who also penned "The Notebook") to stick strictly to the printed word.  The ending is changed, for one thing.

One of the deviations involves Cassavetes' casting of the judge.  Even though the key character is a man in the book, Cassavetes talked Leven into rewriting the judge as a woman.  There's a simple reason for that.  The director always wanted to work with Joan Cusack.  Let's just say that a personal wish turns into a casting coups.  Cusack, who usually provides quirky comic relief, is spellbinding here as Her Honor.

Diaz, who fought through the sudden death of her own father during production last year, is strong as well.  She may come off as a bit of a banshee at times, but that's just the teeth-barring toughness this role requires.

I also enjoyed very much the tough, but believable performances of Vassilieva, who portrays teen daughter Ariel Dubois on TV's "Medium," and Breslin ("Kit Kittredge," "Nim's Island").

"My Sister's Keeper" will more likely than not blindside you with plot twists once and maybe twice.
Just don't forget to pack plenty of hankies.  It'll be a crying shame if you don't.


Tardy arrival works fine for 'Hangover'

Here's an idea. Show up about an hour and a half late for "The Hangover."

The funny stuff's in the end credits of this shock-raunch comedy starring Bradley Cooper and the nerdy guy from "The Office."

OK, I'll be a little more specific. It co-stars Ed Helms, who plays Andy Bernard on "The Office." That nerdy guy.

The plot of this one couldn't be more simple. A guy named Doug (Justin Bartha) is getting married, so his buddies take him to Las Vegas for a night he'll never forget.

Trouble is, no one can remember what happened when the sun comes up the next morning. There's a chicken, a tiger and a baby among the ruins of a $4,200-per-night hotel villa. And, by the way, Doug is missing.

When this kind of in-your-face, bottom-feeder gross-out comedies first came along, some of them were really fun.

Todd Phillips, who calls the low-brow shots here, has directed a couple memorable ones. "Road Trip" hit on all cylinders, and so did "Old School."

"The Hangover," despite some good moments from Heather Graham as a stripper-hooker with a heart of gold, is old hat.

If they had a hat around -- old or new -- it should have been used to cover up some of the dicier shock-humor images in the end credits.

'Lost' land, losing valuable time

Mostly, though, this feature film incarnation of Sid and Marty Krofft's mid-'70s Saturday morning TV sci-fi adventure is a yawner; an entertainment value underachiever of almost scary proportions.

Even the most memorable elements from the TV series -- those cheesy reptilian humanoids called Sleestaks -- disappoint.

But not as much as the overall adventure itself.

Ferrell, on Broadway recently as former President George W. Bush, only has bush league writing to work with here. This is all a couple of supposed writers named Chris Henchy (who runs Ferrell's production company) and Dennis McNicholas (former head writer for "Saturday Night Live") can come up with?

Bumpered with fake, and supposedly funny "Today Show" segments where Dr. Rock Marshall (Ferrell), a scientist of questionable smarts, spars verbally, then physically with Matt Lauer, this lame duck sci-fi comedy finally gets down to business.

Fade in three years later and near-bonkers Dr. Marshall has given up on making his alternate universe travel machine work. At least he does until Holly (Anna Friel of TV's "Pushing Daisies") shows up to jolt his confidence and flirt with the on switch of his show tunes-playing time warp device.

A test run of the device turns into the real thing suddenly and awkwardly in the California desert. Soon the reluctant doctor, his disciple Holly and a redneck yokel named Will (Danny McBride), who runs a rundown Devil's Canyon Mystery Cave, are flung through a space worm-hole of sorts. They hit the sand in an alternate place and time where three moons glow above and some very strange creatures lurk too close for comfort.

They're quickly joined by ape-boy Chaka, a hairy creature with a human face. He's portrayed with semi-effective grunts by Jorma Taccone, a "Saturday Night Live" writer.

The sets are elaborate and well thought out. The acting, for what it is, is adequate enough. And, frankly, it's sort of fun to get lost here for brief moments when this behemoth of a movie works.

But director Brad Silberling, who showed real promise early in his career with "City of Angels," has nothing to work with other than some cool looking retro props and a CG dinosaur nicknamed Grumpy.

Ferrell, who deserves better scripts than this (Find some, Will!), should have known better.