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.
Part Mean Girls part Heathers—hell there’s even a little bit of Hilary Duff’s ridiculously stupid The Perfect Man thrown in there—John Tucker Must Die fits the genre nicely. But the word “die” is a little harsh. Actually when three high school girls—wannabe journalist Carrie (Arielle Kebbel) head cheerleader Heather (Ashanti) and vegan activist Beth (Sophia Bush)—find out they are all dating the delectable John Tucker (Jesse Metcalfe) the school’s basketball star they decide to get even. After several embarrassing tactics backfire the girls come up with the perfect idea. They’ll recruit pretty but anonymous new kid Kate (Brittany Snow) doll her up and get Tuck to fall in love with her so she can ceremoniously dump him. Wow I can’t see anything going wrong with that plan. Not at all. Talk about some pretty people John Tucker has got them in spades starting off with the insanely handsome Metcalfe who literally had women weak in the knees as the hot gardener who woos Desperate Housewives’ Eva Longoria. It’s not a big stretch to see him as the sexy Tuck the most popular er player in school. Then there’s the trio of revengeful hotties: tall lean and blonde Kebbel (Aquamarine) as the “smart” girl; curvy singer/actress Ashanti (Coach Carter) as the bring-it-on “cheerleader”; and luscious and exotic Bush (TV’s One Tree Hill) as the “experienced” one. But really its the perky Snow’s (The Pacifier) show effectively playing the “invisible” girl no one knows or even cares to know who moves around a lot whenever her mother (Jenny McCarthy in a nice bit part) breaks up with a “John Tucker” herself. What’s wrong with these single moms dragging their daughters all over the place after their hearts get broken? Betty Thomas best known for her turn as Sgt. Lucy Bates on Hill Street Blues doesn’t have the best track record in town as a director (I Spy is hers for example). But she’s helmed enough passable comedies (The Brady Bunch Movie Dr. Dolittle) to grant her admittance into the club. Problem here is Thomas isn’t teamed up with a sharp writer like Saturday Night Live alum Tina Fey whose Mean Girls script simply zings. John Tucker is pretty standard fare taking bits and pieces from the already established high-school formula. Still the coveted teen market will more than likely enjoy all the antics in the film—especially the whole “thong” bit in which Tuck caught wearing a thong in one of the girls’ schemes makes it cool for guys everywhere to wear thongs. Yeah you get the picture.
Phil Weston (Ferrell) is a kindly fellow who owns and runs a vitamin store has a lovely wife (Kate Walsh) and son and has some serious issues with his father Buck (Robert Duvall). All his life Phil has had to endure his father's over-the-top competitive nature and he always falling short of the mark. When Phil decides to coach his 10-year-old son's soccer team he once again goes up against Buck who coaches his own young son on the top team in the league. Of course Phil's team is the worst team on the league but that doesn't matter. Something suddenly snaps in Phil and he sees a chance to settle some old scores with the old man. He starts using extreme measures to try to whip his young charges into shape. They include getting Mike Ditka as an assistant coach (played by the real ex-football coach oddly enough) bringing on two Italian whiz kids as secret weapons and drinking lots and lots of coffee (trust me it works). Phil can taste his first real shot at victory and will stop at nothing to win the championship trophy.
Some of you might think Ferrell's antics are wearing a little thin that maybe he's a little overrated and overexposed. But I'm not one of them. Ferrell could read a telephone book and I'd laugh. So watching him once again play a hapless bighearted loser--who is pushed to the edge so much so that he berates children calls the formidable Ditka a "Juice-box boy" and melts right on down to the nub--is another treat for me. Of course much like Walter Matthau in Bad News Bears Ferrell has some help from his younger costars. The misfit soccer team includes all the different types: a diminutive fireplug (Elliot Cho) whose lesbian mothers (played hilariously by Rachael Harris and Laura Kightlinger) keep insisting is "shy"; a wisecracker (Steven Anthony Lawrence) with a serious overbite; and of course Phil's own sweet son Sam (Dylan McLaughlin) who just wants to have fun. Ditka also seems to be having a good time in all his bullying glory. Duvall however doesn't really have much to do except throw his weight around a bit--and perhaps relive some of his The Great Santini moments.
Kicking & Screaming has a couple of things going for it. The father-son and underdog themes are tried and true plot contrivances that inherently work because of the ultimate payoffs. Director Jesse Dylan (American Wedding) along with the writing team of Leo Benvenuti and Steve Rudnick (The Santa Clause) knows this and exploit the machinations to their fullest capabilities. You want Phil's team to win at any costs but of course you want them all to learn a big lesson. Ho hum. Unlike the charming Parenthood or the irreverent Bad News Bears Kicking & Screaming unfortunately caters to the formulaic a tad too much. Save for a few comic bursts from its lead player it never really finds its own individuality.
As Love Actually begins we are told that perhaps the world isn't such a dire and hateful place that "love actually is all around." Around London anyway. The film explores no less than seven different romantic scenarios within the bustling British capital--all of which interconnect and eventually resolve on Christmas Eve. There's the newly elected dashing Prime Minister (Hugh Grant) who is smitten with his secretary the earthy Natalie (Martine McCutcheon); Karen (Emma Thompson) whose husband Harry (Alan Rickman) has strayed with his seductive secretary Mia (Heike Makatsch); Sarah (Laura Linney) the American wallflower who has a crush on her colleague Carl (Rodrigo Santoro); Jamie (Colin Firth) who falls for his pretty Portuguese housekeeper Aurelia (Lucia Moniz)…there are lots more but you get the gist. As love goes things may not get tied up neatly in brightly colored packages for everyone but there's still enough good cheer to spread around.
Showcasing some of Britain's finest actors Love Actually doesn't have a bad banana in the bunch. Floppy-haired Hugh Grant turns in an endearing performance and proves there isn't a romantic comedy he can't handle. He has an uncanny knack for connecting with any actress he happens to be romancing; in this case it's the adorable McCutcheon best known for the hit British TV drama EastEnders. Rickman and Thompson are quite good as the couple whose long-term marriage is beginning to crack; Thompson especially does a nice job trying to hide her pain while being a happy mom. Linney too shines as Sarah who glows with excitement when she finally gets what she so ardently wished for. Veteran stage and film actor Bill Nighy (Underworld) however steals the show as a carefree aging rock star desperate for a comeback. His Billy Mack smacks of Mick Jagger Keith Richards and Rod Stewart all rolled into one.
"I'm worried that we don't have the word 'massacre' in the title " writer/director Richard Curtis fretted to Entertainment Weekly referring to how horror-loving American audiences might not take to his new romantic comedy that is already a huge hit in Britain. True perhaps a romantic comedy starring a multitude of A-list British actors might not bring in the required masses. But who cares about the money (did I just say that)? Curtis who has written some of the best romantic comedies of the last decade including Four Weddings and a Funeral Notting Hill and Bridget Jones' Diary steps behind the camera for the first time here and is able to give each story a unique point of view from the lovesick to the wacky. There actually may be too many stories in Love Actually but it's a small gaffe. Love Actually is a refreshing good old fashioned warm and gushy movie that takes your mind off the bad things for the holiday season and Curtis should feel confident about his directing debut.
as a dramatic musical with an ambitious score by Sting the Disney brass
monkeys decided to tinker with their "Kingdom of the Sun" script drop
the show tunes and detour in an entirely different direction. The result
is a lighter and probably much more successful approach. Ruling over his
pre-Columbian kingdom the obnoxious and self-centered Kuzco's (David
Spade) reign is threatened when his evil advisor Yzma (Eartha Kitt) and
her dopey henchman Kronk (Patrick Warburton) try to poison him. But nothing
goes according to plan with these things and instead of doing away with
the emperor the wrong poison turns him into a llama. Dropped into the
middle of the forbidding jungle Kuzco begrudgingly enlists the aid of
a good-hearted peasant Pacha (John Goodman) to help him return to his
kingdom and well de-llamafy himself.
A plum role to showcase the comic talents of Spade the Disney animators
capture the former "Saturday Night Live" performer's facetious cynical
distance perfectly. On the flip side those who find Spade's humor one-note
and grating may be advised to sidestep this venture. As the steadfast Pacha
good-natured lug Goodman is fine but an obvious choice. As the villainously
wicked Yzma it's refreshing to hear Kitt (a grand underused talent) work
her magical voice once again. And as Yzma's thick and distracted henchman
Kronk Warburton's thug-like delivery is a nice comic choice but his monotone
mumbling is sometimes hard to understand.
Breezily paced and not above poking fun at Disney stereotypes director Mark Dindal
(Warner Brothers' animated "Cats Don't Dance") and his animation team's
contemporary approach clever art direction and attention to detail make
for an entertaining and memorable 80-minute diversion. Arguably the funniest
product spun from the Mouse Factory since "Aladdin " "Groove" may appeal
more to parental units by eschewing the standard formula momentum-stopping
songs for Dindal's zanier more insightful comic moments.