Gracie won’t win awards for originality with its happy ending “You can do it!” pep talks and intimidating bullies. But it is a fascinating semi-autobiographical look at actress Elisabeth Shue (of Leaving Las Vegas fame) and her family. Set in the late 1970s teenager Gracie Bowen (Carly Schroeder) loosely based on Shue lives a very middle-class existence in New Jersey with her four brothers dad (Dermot Mulroney) and mom (Shue). There’s even a soccer goal in the backyard a sport Gracie has grown playing with her brothers. After her soccer-champion older brother dies in a tragic car accident however Gracie obsessively practices soccer in order to take his place on the high school varsity team. Even though the boys push her down and her dad and coaches tell her to quit Gracie perseveres eventually making the team breaking down the gender barriers and kicking the heck out of the ball in the season’s final game. As Gracie Schroeder (Mean Creek) displays purity and resolution without any of the cutesy child actor affectations that can get in the way of a naturally inspired soccer player. The 16 year-old actress has a cryogenically frozen Pollyanna look with blonde hair and crystal-blue eyes but gives a toned-down minimalist performance. Shue channels her real-life mother portraying a defeated woman who settles for being a nurse despite wanting to be a surgeon. Like Schroeder Shue doesn’t try to do too much. Gracie however belongs as much to Mulroney (The Wedding Date) as it does to its young star. As the well-meaning dad who is obsessed with soccer and his kids Mulroney shows some volatile dramatic energy especially after his son’s death which nearly destroys him. And look for brother Andrew Shue as a coach his first acting role since his days on Melrose Place who gave it all up to play professional soccer. As a follow-up to his influential Oscar-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth all eyes and expectations are on director Davis Guggenheim. Married to Elisabeth Shue he co-wrote the Gracie story with Shue’s brother Andrew and despite the emotional familial ties it is an enterprising indie film. Guggenheim shows a flair for a different kind of storytelling – glossy fictional narrative instead of non-fiction reporting – wringing emotion from a story limited in scope. The film’s dialogue can be hackneyed to a fault with groan-inducing lines like “life is like a s**t sandwich and we all have to take a bite ” but the charm works. Gracie has a great soundtrack too including the Bruce Springsteen tune “Growin’ Up.” Inveterate soccer movie choreographer Dan Metcalfe (Kicking and Screaming) lends a hand to deliver exquisite sports realism while nature shots such as a cliff side or a close-up of a butterfly are also flecked throughout with beautiful stillness--as though Inconvenient Truth’s environment friendliness is breathing through Gracie.
As a disposable Harrison Ford vehicle Firewall is part Hostage part Catwoman. Physical violence is pervasive as Ford and his family (including Oscar nominee Virginia Madsen) are taken hostage by a band of thugs. Silver-haired Ford plays Jack Stanfield a computer-programming expert whose bank account accrues an unexplained $95 000 debt. Before he investigates a trio of men invade his house and rough up Jack’s wife (Madsen) daughter (Carly Schroeder) and son (Jimmy Bennett). At the same time a businessman (Paul Bettany) shows up at Jack’s office unannounced. A whole bunch of confusing stuff follows in which Jack must get his family back keep a low profile and not tell the police. After extorting $100 million from his company for ransom Jack tracks the bad guys down by finding the family dog’s whereabouts via Internet satellite dog collar. Bettany a real S.O.B. poisons the young son with a chocolate bar with nuts. It’s not clear why Ford and company chose to do Firewall. The script seems quite vacuous on the page and the actors’ onscreen excitement (or lack of) is palpable. Ford is brooding and frigid in the lead role. Madsen in her first role since Sideways is marginalized in the mother-hen role her earthiness underplayed. Bettany who starred in Firewall director Richard Loncraine’s previous Wimbledon is cartoon-like as a menacing hit man. Bettany reels off lines reminiscent of Sharon Stone in Catwoman. Ten-year-old Jimmy Bennett has become the go-to Hollywood kid for being pushed around in a mainstream movie (Amityville Horror Hostage). In Firewall he’s shoved poisoned and has his mouth is taped. Just another day’s work. Loncraine’s 30 plus-year directing résumé doesn’t have a whole lot of good films on it. He’s a British director with touches of aristocratic long-windedness whose best movies include Richard III with Ian McKellen and the 2002 HBO Winston Churchill biopic The Gathering Storm. Firewall is a Hollywood product stylized around action sequences bad dialogue and a persistent background soundtrack. None of Firewall's characters make an audience connection. Ford is prone to muddled logic and aloofness. Bettany as the lovably nefarious villain should have been a lot more lovable. I’m going to shift the blame of these two proven actors’ performances to Loncraine’s direction which given his history likely deserves it. References to Internet technology though presumably sound come off as jargon and white noise. The ensuing mess is a computer-code chase that doesn’t add up to much--and doesn’t whet an appetite for Harrison Ford’s upcoming Indiana Jones 4.
With six nominations each, Alexander Payne's wine-soaked Sideways and Joshua Marston's intense drug drama Maria Full of Grace lead the 20th IFP Independent Spirit Awards nominations, announced Tuesday. Both films were nominated for, among other categories, best feature, best director best male lead (Sideways' Paul Giamatti) and best female lead (Grace's Catalina Sandino Moreno). Actors Dennis Quaid and Selma Blair served as presenters at the event.
Others nominated for best feature were Mario Van Peebles' Baadasssss!; Kinsey, starring Liam Neeson as famed sex researcher Alfred Kinsey; and Shane Carruth's Primer, this year's Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize winner.
Dawn Hudson, executive director of IFP/Los Angeles, the largest non-profit membership organization for independent filmmakers, said in a statement, "Over the last 20 years, the Spirit Awards have consistently celebrated the most talented artists--known and unknown--working in independent film. We've honored many filmmakers and artists at the beginning of their careers, and this year is no different."
The winners will be announced at the IFP Independent Spirit Awards ceremony on Feb. 26, 2005 and will air live on the cable network IFC at 5 p.m. EST, as well as be rebroadcast that night on Bravo at 10 p.m. EST.
The complete list of nominations:
Maria Full of Grace
Shane Carruth, Primer
Joshua Marston, Maria Full of Grace
Alexander Payne, Sideways
Walter Salles, The Motorcycle Diaries
Mario Van Peebles, Baadasssss!
The Door in the Floor
BEST FIRST FEATURE
Brother to Brother
Saints and Soldiers
BEST FIRST SCREENPLAY
Brother to Brother
Maria Full of Grace
JOHN CASSAVETES AWARD
Down to the Bone
On the Outs
BEST DEBUT PERFORMANCE
Anthony Mackie, Brother to Brother
Louie Olivos, Jr., Robbing Peter
Hannah Pilkes, The Woodsman
Rodrigo de la Serna, The Motorcycle Diaries
David Sullivan, Primer
BEST SUPPORTING FEMALE
Cate Blanchett, Coffee and Cigarettes
Loretta Devine, Woman Thou Art Loosed
Virginia Madsen, Sideways
Robin Simmons, Robbing Peter
Yenny Paola Vega, Maria Full of Grace
BEST SUPPORTING MALE
Thomas Haden Church, Sideways
Jon Gries, Napoleon Dynamite
Aidan Quinn, Cavedweller
Roger Robinson, Brother to Brother
Peter Sarsgaard, Kinsey
BEST FEMALE LEAD
Kimberly Elise, Woman Thou Art Loosed
Vera Farmiga, Down to the Bone
Judy Marte, On the Outs
Catalina Sandino Moreno, Maria Full of Grace
Kyra Sedgwick, Cavedweller
BEST MALE LEAD
Kevin Bacon, The Woodsman
Jeff Bridges, The Door in the Floor
Jamie Foxx, Redemption
Paul Giamatti, Sideways
Liam Neeson, Kinsey
The Motorcycle Diaries
Saints and Soldiers
We Don't Live Here Anymore
BEST FOREIGN FILM
Bad Education, Spain
Oasis, South Korea
Red Lights, France
The Sea Inside, Spain
Yesterday, South Africa
Chisholm '72: Unbought & Unbossed
Hiding and Seeking: Faith and Tolerance After the Holocaust
Metallica: Some Kind of Monster
Ensemble cast of Mean Creek: Rory Culkin, Ryan Kelley, Scott Mechlowicz, Trevor Morgan, Josh Peck and Carly Schroeder
The Lizzie McGuire Movie is similar to the TV program and features the same cast and characters except here Lizzie McGuire (Hilary Duff) and friends leave the confines of Disney's Los Angeles studio headed for a class trip to Italy where you're hit with the preposterous storyline: In Rome Lizzie is mistaken for a famous pop star named Isabella and before long she is asked to impersonate the singer at a huge Italian music award show. Turns out Isabella had agreed to perform at the ceremony but backed out at the last minute leaving her singing partner Paolo (Yani Gellman) in a legal lurch. Lizzie agrees in part because she has a crush on Paolo and spends the rest of the trip prepping for the big night. There are so many things wrong with this ridiculous plot it's tough to know where to begin. The worse part is the Lizzie so many kids relate to on the tube is transformed here into a self-indulgent fashion plate who changes outfits more often than Celine Dion in concert. The result is an obvious promotional tool for the Lizzie McGuire TV phenomena rather than a movie about change growing up and the awkwardness of transitioning from middle school to high school.
Sixteen-year-old Duff recently made her big-screen debut in Agent Cody Banks but it was her two-year-old TV series Lizzie McGuire that catapulted her into 'tween idol status. In The Lizzie McGuire Movie Duff who appears in practically every scene bears the whole weight of the movie. That's an impressive feat for such a young actress and Duff does it quite professionally: her character stutters nervously when addressing her middle school graduating class and bites her lips in a kittenish manner when uncertainty sets in. Duff plays to the camera like a pro and knows how to maximize her cutie-pie image for the big screen. It's a shame her relatable Lizzie McGuire character was transformed into such a shallow teenager with very few redeeming qualities. Here's a girl who puts her own interests before that of her friends and gets them to lie for her so she can embark on a romance with a flaky pop star while stealing another one's identity. But Duff is a trooper and grins through it all despite being shrewdly marketed by studio execs like a scented Strawberry Shortcake doll.
Director Jim Fall's The Lizzie McGuire Movie is not a movie at all; it's a 90-minute advertisement for Duff. Since the handful of scribes hired to pen this sad script couldn't come up with a quasi-decent storyline Fall resorts to stringing together one montage after another of the ultra-cute teen idol. There's Lizzie singing Blondie's "The Tide is High (Get the Feeling)" in her bedroom while trying on a trillion different little outfits. There's Lizzie on the back of a dragon-red Vespa pointing and gasping at Roman landmarks like the Fontana di Trevi and the Coliseum. There's Lizzie…well you get the picture. The film's shameless self-promotion of its star overshadows any thematic elements and whatever bit of a story it had. And with a full line of Lizzie McGuire apparel and accessories coming soon to a store near you the reasons are all too clear. Sadly the opening screen credits in which Lizzie's animated alter ego spells out names with beauty products including a mascara wand and lipstick are the only entertaining thing about this 'tween pic.
January 11, 2002 11:05am EST
Shaun Brumder (Colin Hanks) is sitting on the beach pondering the mysteries of life after losing his surfing buddy to a tsunami when he finds a copy of Marcus Skinner's novel Straitjacket buried in the sand. The book by a mythical Kerouac-type author who teaches at Stanford University profoundly influences Shaun who in turn decides he will become a writer. But Shaun's dreams of attending Stanford and studying under the guidance of his new mentor get squashed when a scatterbrained guidance counselor sends the wrong transcripts to the university. With the help of his peace-loving girlfriend Ashley (Schuyler Fisk) and his junkie brother Lance (Jack Black) the trio sets off to Stanford to convince school officials to reconsider his application before the deadline the following day. After a series of catastrophes Shaun becomes convinced that his dysfunctional family is conspiring to keep him in Orange County.
Colin Hanks (Get Over It not to mention Tom Hank's son) is the film's protagonist Shaun Brumder. He and his on-screen sweetheart played by Schuyler Fisk (Snow Day not to mention Sissy Spacek's daughter) bring quality to a good script suffering from shaky direction. The two interact quite naturally and make a pretty sweet couple. Jack Black (Shallow Hal) is hysterical and not just when he is standing around half-naked and dirty. Some of the funniest scenes are when Black's character Lance tries to be serious and stoned at the same time. Catherine O'Hara (Best in Show) plays Shaun's boozy mother without going over the top and John Lithgow (Third Rock from the Sun) is equally convincing as his rich father now married to someone half his age. There are several notable cameo appearances from actors including Lily Tomlin Ben Stiller Kevin Kline and Chevy Chase but they do not bring anything unique to their performances.
Orange County is directed by Jake Kasdan (Zero Effect) who more recently directed episodes of teen TV series Freaks and Geeks Undeclared and Grosse Pointe--and it shows. While the script is hilarious and the acting above par the pacing is a bit uneven. The film jumps from really gross shots of Black prancing around in his skanky underpants to sentimentalized family issues that are a little too real to be funny. Then we are subject to scenes of Shaun's wheelchair-bound stepfather rolling out onto the street and getting hit by a car being the target of falling objects or crying out in pain because no one remembers to give him his medication. When did the blatant neglect of invalids become funny? Unfortunately these elements did not come together very well. Of course Kasdan does not resist the temptation of subjecting us to a dreaded college frat party scene involving flaky teenage girls and pompous college boys that with the help of Monica Keena (Undeclared) almost felt like a sitcom.