The great character actor J.K. Simmons pulls off a tricky performance as a hard-headed father who is unexpectedly reunited with his son after an extended period of estrangement. The film’s success depends largely on Simmons, who must at once convey a personality that is both antagonistic and compassionate–tough yet vulnerable. The other half of its success lies with the character of the son Gabriel (Lou Taylor Pucci, also very good), who is suffering from a brain tumor that prevents him from creating new memories. Music seems to help, and it leads father and son to confront their past. Based on an essay by Oliver Sacks about a true-life case, the film, unlike others about overcoming disease, has a noticeable progression of Gabriel’s recovery that acknowledges its limits and the slow process to get there. Available on DVD.
I couldn’t help but stare at the background of a good number of shots in Rio. It’s truly a marvel at times to see this photorealistic and luscious view of a computer-generated Rio de Janeiro and the jungle around it. That, I suppose, it not saying much about the movie itself, and that’s fine. It’s a pretty and pretty inconsequential story of a rare parrot named Blu (voice of Jesse Eisenberg) who leaves the safety of his cold Minnesota home to attempt to repopulate his species with its only surviving female Jewel (voice of Anne Hathaway). The material at the beginning showing Blu’s spoiled lifestyle is amusing, and then it becomes a fairly routine escape plot once the bird arrives home. My review is here. Available on DVD, 2-Disc DVD, and Blu-ray.
No offense intended to her real-life counterpart, who overcame a vicious shark attack to rejoin the world of competitive surfing, but there seems to be a lot of more important things happening around the movie version of Bethany Hamilton (AnnaSophia Robb) than finding her way back to the waves in Soul Surfer. Take a trip to visit a tsunami-struck village in Thailand, where the message she gets, in the midst of all that suffering, is that she really needs surf again. This is a well-intentioned movie about overcoming the odds (It’s never through her own determination and ability, though, since there’s a heavy religious undercurrent to the picture) but one that’s overwhelmed by misplaced reasoning and sports movie clichés (The redundant announcers are particularly obnoxious). Available on DVD and Blu-ray.
The Perfect Game (released over a year ago and just now having a home video release) is another sports drama about an underdog team that makes good (here, a little league team from Mexico participating in the American little league season). This is tough to pull off, because–let’s face it–the drama isn’t in the collective but in the individual. There may be no “I” in “team,” but there certainly is a “me” in there, if you eliminate and rearrange the letters correctly. In order to highlight the team, a bunch of its members get their quirky or sincere moments, which add up to very little when the climactic game boils down to whether or not one player will achieve the titular accomplishment. My review is here. Available on DVD and Blu-ray.