Move over cupid; it’s time for the angel of death to play matchmaker in Life As We Know It a rom-com from director Greg Berlanti and first-time screenwriters Ian Deitchman and Kristin Rusk Robinson which proves the old adage that there’s no better catalyst for love — and comic hijinks — than the sudden tragic demise of loved ones.
Holly Berenson (Katherine Heigl) and Eric Messer (Josh Duhamel) could not be more different. He’s an aspiring television sports director and an unrepentant cad whose casual seat-of-your pants approach to life is best symbolized in the ratty baseball hat that perpetually adorns his dome (always worn backwards — classic movie shorthand for “slob”). She’s a successful caterer with a five-year plan and a strict intolerance for disorder of any kind. He has a penis; she a vagina. We’re talking Israel and Palestine here folks.
The mutual disdain between Holly and Messer is palpable and intense but the two are always able to put their differences aside when in the presence of their goddaughter Sophie the unbearably adorable spawn of his best friend Peter (Hayes MacArthur) and her best friend Alison (Christina Hendricks). When the youthful parents perish suddenly in a car accident (the tragedy of which is compounded by the loss of Mad Men star Hendricks on-screen for all of a few minutes and annoyingly clothed throughout that span) there’s little time to mourn before hilarity comes calling in the form of an estate lawyer who reveals that Peter and Alison mischievous rascals that they were mandated in their will that Sophie be raised by Holly and Messer in the event that the child is abruptly orphaned.
One’s heart really goes out to Duhamel’s character here: Not only does he lose his best friend but he’s saddled with both a helpless one-year-old and Katherine Heigl. What sort of mass-murdering past life is this guy being forced to atone for? Put this material in the hands of Clint Eastwood and it’s got Oscar potential. And yet not only does Messer not strangle Holly in her sleep he falls in love with her! And she for him! Their romantic bond flowers unexpectedly as they devote themselves to the task of caring for Sophie within whose many noxious emissions it seems is housed some sort of powerful aphrodisiac that renders even the most unappealing people somehow irresistible.
The effect spreads to the audience as Duhamel and Heigl conspire to win our affections establishing a keen romantic chemistry that almost makes Life As We Know It’s far-fetched (and occasionally bizarrely macabre) plot palpable. Duhamel hits that sweet spot between eye candy and everydude as well as any actor working today and his easy charm rubs off on Heigl whose trademark busybody antics aren't nearly as cloying as in the previous seven chapters of her “Men Are Pigs” rom-com decalogy. In fact she’s downright likable in this film. Maybe there's some truth to all that nonsense about babies being little miracles after all.
Paranormal Activity’s unlikely run atop the box-office chart may have come to an end but the moviegoing public’s nascent fascination with otherworldly phenomena — the unfriendly variety in particular — shows no signs of waning. The Fourth Kind a supernatural thriller from writer-director Olatunde Osunsanmi represents Hollywood’s latest attempt to capitalize on this peculiar trend.
Paranormal Activity and The Fourth Kind are very different movies to be sure but they share the same basic approach employing gritty documentary-style footage to convince us that what we’re watching unfold onscreen is more “real” — and thus more convincing — than the typical glossy Hollywood thriller.
But The Fourth Kind goes far beyond Paranormal Activity in its effort to establish its legitimacy. In an unprecedented — and exceedingly ballsy — maneuver star Milla Jovovich begins the film by breaking the fourth wall and addressing the camera directly. In a lengthy monologue she introduces herself as “actress Milla Jovovich ” explains that she’ll be portraying real-life psychologist Dr. Abigail Tyler and declares that the documentary footage scattered throughout The Fourth Kind is authentic recorded during a sleep-disorder study conducted in Nome Alaska a few years ago.
Why Nome? Because we’re told its citizens are afflicted with an unusual number of nighttime sleep disturbances the bulk of which are accompanied by terrifying visions of hostile alien-like creatures. Nasty fellows these extra-terrestrials are taunting and tormenting and probing their victims as they lie helpless paralyzed with fear. Some of the otherworldly visitors even have the audacity to take possession of their somnolent subjects using them as vessels to deliver ominous warnings to Abby and her colleagues. Speaking in ancient tongues with voices horribly distorted they demand that she end her research.
But Abby won’t listen to them and her persistence effects increasingly dire consequences. One of her afflicted patients kills himself and his family; another is paralyzed after levitating during a harrowing hypnotic episode; finally the aliens set their sights on Abby herself. One might be tempted to dismiss these episodes as merely the hallucinations of a badly traumatized woman — the classic unreliable narrator — if it weren’t all captured on video.
For those willing to buy into The Fourth Kind’s claims of authenticity the experience is at times genuinely terrifying. But after a while it becomes increasingly obvious that the film’s documentary sequences are staged — and often badly so. Director Osunsanmi brought a clever idea to the table but he didn't quite have the skills — or the actors — to pull it off and the result feels like an elaborate cinematic con job.
Looking like something that might have been made 50 years ago there is nothing even remotely “new” about New in Town. Lucy (Renee Zellweger) is a big-city Miami career woman sent by her company to check out a small town Minnesota plant and devise a plan to downsize it. Almost immediately she locks heads with the local Union rep Ted (Harry Connick Jr ) and further alienates the folksy employees who “all tawk like theeese doncha know” by instituting firings and a new streamlined work ethic. Things get dicey when initial conflict turns into romance (surprise!) between Ted and Lucy and her bosses inform her she must shut down the entire plant putting everyone out of work. In the right role Zellweger can be compellingly offbeat. Not here. She’s not miscast but woefully lacking any kind of chemistry with Connick Jr. who played the same kind of role on Broadway in The Pajama Game and seems to be going through the motions this time and without the songs. Particularly painful are moments when Zellweger tries way too hard to be funny giving us the “ick” factor instead. The banter between the pair could have come out of any ‘30s screwball comedy updated with all the comic panache of a low-rent sitcom. Considering the film represents Danish director Jonas Elmer’s American debut and because we think of ourselves as a kind and understanding critic we can chalk up its shortcomings to translation problems. Oh … plus a total and complete lack of invention and originality. What is supposed to be a light fluffy comedy is shot in such a dark and dreary style that it’s downright depressing. Minnesota’s tourism office should sue.
Successful architect Jonathan Rivers' (Michael Keaton) peaceful existence is shattered by the unexplained disappearance and death of his wife Anna (Chandra West). But that's not the worst of it. Jonathan is then contacted by a man who claims to receive messages from Anna through Electronic Voice Phenomenon (EVP) a form of clairvoyance in which the dead can communicate through such electronic devices as radio television and computers. Well that's just plain crazy talk! Not to Jonathan who is soon convinced EVP is the real deal. He becomes obsessed with it setting up his own EVP den of snowy white noise-filled televisions computer screens and recording devices in hopes of hearing from his beloved. Problem is--and it's a rather major problem--the further he probes into this paranormal activity the more he opens himself up to hearing from all the dearly departed some of whom aren't so dear. In fact there are more than a few on the "other side" who are downright psychotic and none too happy about being meddled with. They're heeeeeeere!
Just where the heck has Michael Keaton been? Although he turned in a powerhouse performance in HBO's Live From Baghdad in 2002 the actor has been out of the movie limelight for quite sometime save for a brief and wasted appearance as the President of the United States in last year's tepid First Daughter. White Noise regrettably doesn't do the talented actor any justice either but at least he's back in the driver's seat. To his credit Keaton is convincing as the bereft Jonathan grasping at whatever he can to ease the pain but he has a tougher time once the film veers off into Poltergeist territory. In the supporting roles Deborah Kara Unger also does a nice turn as Sarah a kindred spirit who finds closure after contacting her dead fiancé but whose life is in danger once she gets wrapped up in Jonathan's obsession. But the most dead-on (pun intended) line comes from Jonathan's young son Mike (Nicholas Elia) who asks "Are you going to be all right daddy?" From the mouths of babes …
EVP is a bonafide practice. There are people and organizations all over the world devoted to this little-known but growing paranormal activity. Now whether you believe in EVP or not the idea of it is still very fascinating and one could see how making a film about it could be chillingly entertaining. Unfortunately however screenwriter Niall Johnson and BBC-TV director Geoffrey Sax in his feature film debut muck it up and turn White Noise into a contrived muddled mess. Perhaps if the film concentrated on the Poltergeist-meets-Ghost aspect as Jonathan gives into his obsession and lets the nasty entities take over it could have worked. But like the dreadful 2002 Dragonfly in which a man is sent on a rescue mission directed by communications from his dead wife White Noise takes a sudden shift as Jonathan's wife guides him to hunt down a serial killer. This tacked-on hackneyed plot point obviously devised to heighten the suspense only brings the film down. Even White Noise's look is unoriginal with its very antiseptic water-dripping and cold-concrete sets. Been there done that.
Johnny Doyle (the enviably named Mars Callahan who also wrote and directed) is a pool-playing wunderkind who as his shady mentor Joe (Chazz Palminteri) puts it makes an art out of the hustle not just by conning his victims but making them like it. Johnny's getting tired of the sharking game and his law-student girlfriend Tara (Alison Eastwood) is putting the press on him to get legit--or get out. When he finds out double-crossing Joe screwed him out of a chance to join the professionals 15 years ago so they could remain hustling partners Johnny dumps Joe in a violent confrontation and tries (unsuccessfully as it turns out) to go straight despite his love of the game the respect he gets from his younger brother and his friends and of course the astounding amount of money he can win. Plus Tara's millionaire uncle Mike (Christopher Walken) can run the table pretty well himself and he's taken a liking to rebel Johnny. Meanwhile Joe vowing to settle the score has taken on top-ranked pro Brad (Rick Schroder) as his new protégé to help him do just that.
Callahan looks a lot like Walken by default or by design--his hair expressions mannerisms could make him Walken's son--but the similarity ends there. Callahan's no weighty actor but his easy delivery and quippy one-liners balance the heft brought in by Walken (who steals the entire shebang with a few choice scenes) and Palminteri (who with his malevolent scowl and loathsome behavior chews up and spits out the scenery as if tasting a spoiled bar burger). Wan and vapid token chick Eastwood has zero presence on-screen and even less chemistry with Callahan. The scenes involving Johnny's young wannabe-grifter brother Danny (Michael Rosenbaum) and his pals are a hoot but many are unnecessary. Schroder has maybe two lines and gives a good butt-whuppin' but he mostly just does a lot of lip mashing to show his frustration satisfaction confusion…
How newbie director Callahan convinced this exceptional group (in addition to Palminteri and Walken Rod Steiger appears in his final role as an aged streetwise poolhall owner with an old saw for every unfortunate situation) to sign on is anyone's guess--this ain't no Paul Newman pool movie and everyone knows it. Thankfully Callahan's cast is skilled enough to rise above its corny diatribes and some stiff dialogue and the script does have some very funny lines and scenes that give the cast something to work with. However at a breezy 90-some minutes the movie could done away with a few of the scenes in favor of more character development and back story. Way too much time is wasted on a long party scene in which one of Johnny's young buddies tries to get laid more still on his brother's band's performance at some club and even more on the parts with Tara's bitchy friend--yet we never really find out what drives Joe to be such a jerk or why Johnny is such a loser other than a few lines about his neglectful parents.
If you have ever been embarrassed by your big loud family then you will certainly relate to Toula (played by Nia Vardalos) the narrator and main character in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. After all her suburban home is modeled after the Parthenon and her father (played by Michael Constantine) believes a squirt of Windex can cure anything--including bursitis--and that every word in the English language derives from a Greek root. At 30 Toula is still living at home and kowtowing to her strict father--who believes that every Greek woman's ambition should be to marry a Greek man have Greek children and feed everyone until she dies. Suffice it to say he is less than happy when Toula becomes engaged to Ian (played by John Corbett)--a non-Greek. What ensues is a hilarious tale of what happens when two families--one loud Greek Orthodox the other conservative Episcopalian--must reconcile their differences for the sake of their children's happiness. Vardalos' narration of the events that are occurring--and how she feels about them--helps draw the viewer into Toula's world.
Vardalos is great as Toula and presents her character's traits and peculiarities fittingly well like her low self-esteem and the way she slouches. More importantly Vardalos made Toula's character believable. When Toula begins taking classes at a local college her confidence improves she puts on a little makeup combs her hair and voila! She's transformed into a beautiful person oozing happiness. It's quite charming. Corbett is well cast as the sweet and accepting fiancé but he comes across as a little bland. That really dated haircut certainly doesn't win him any points either. Constantine as Toula's strict father is chauvinistic and thick-headed but he plays his cards just right so you can never really hate the character straight out even though he treats his wife and kids like a Neanderthal would. As Aunt Voula Andrea Martin is by far the most hilarious of the bunch and she delivers each line with zany conviction. For all you 'N Sync fans Joey Fatone has a small role as Toula's cousin and has maybe three lines in the film.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding is based on comedy writer Vardalos' one-woman show. Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson saw the show and apparently liked it so much they decided to produce it through their Playtone studio. Directed by Joel Zwick the film is not the first to deal with big weddings and what happens when too many family members get involved. Ang Lee did it better with the 1993 romantic comedy The Wedding Banquet about a gay Taiwanese-American man who marries a young Chinese woman to satisfy his parents as did Mira Nair with last year's Monsoon Wedding about an arranged Indian marriage. But Zwick who has directed a slew of TV shows from Happy Days to The Wayans Brothers keeps things fresh and funny despite the tired storyline. Set in Chicago but filmed in Toronto the film feels authentic especially the scenes in the family's diner Dancing Zorbas their house and their neighborhood. But the movie could have done without the cartoonish old-world granny with anti-Turkish sentiment.