Yours, Mine & Ours resurrects a 1968 comedy which starred Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda. This remake, with Dennis Quaid and Rene Russo as the parents of a modern-day "Brady Bunch" blended family, just doesn't cut it.
Peter T. Chattaway (Christianity Today Movies), who grew up with the '68 version, compares the two editions: "Alas, that moral sensibility—and the small, realistic touches that made the original film so endearing—are almost completely missing from the new Yours, Mine & Ours, which … turns the entire story into a series of physically painful pratfalls and extremely unlikely plot twists."
His closing words? "Young kids might like the film … and parents in a pinch might turn to the film as a babysitter, but really, that would be not unlike feeding your kids a bowl of marshmallows while the beer party goes on downstairs. This movie is every bit as junky, and that ain't good."
"It's refreshing to see a story that so strongly supports intact families," says Tom Neven (Plugged In), "and both parents and children learn important lessons about love, patience and the law of unintended consequences." But he can't decide who's supposed to enjoy this movie. "The Nickelodeon slapstick is not likely to appeal to teens. The conflict among the older teens is not likely to appeal to younger kids. And a bit of gratuitous though minor sexual content and some borderline language will likely have families thinking about whether they want to make Yours, Mine & Ours theirs."
Harry Forbes (Catholic News Service) says, "Despite a heart-tugging ending, director Raja Gosnell relies way too much on unrealistic slapstick. … Apart from some mild innuendo, there's nothing objectionable here from a moral standpoint. But you'll be better off renting the original. Even youngsters, we bet, will intuit the difference between that fine film and this dull, unfunny remake."
Lisa Rice (Crosswalk) says, "Audiences will just have to decide whether they care enough about the goal of family unity for this motley bunch, and whether it is worth the slapstick headaches to get there."
But Greg Wright (Hollywood Jesus) has a different perspective: "We can carp about Paramount's lack of originality; or we can be grateful that kids today can relive some of the fun that we enjoyed when we were younger—in the theatre, not at home watching decades-old movies on DVD."
Mainstream critics rate it among the worst films of the year.
Jonathan Larson's 1996 Broadway revision of La Bohème has been highly acclaimed, but now that it's come to the big screen, many critics wish it would go away. Rent, directed by Chris Columbus (Home Alone, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone), brings back the original stage cast to perform music about the glories of love and the trials of AIDS. Apparently, the stage production is preferable.
Lisa Ann Cockrel (Christianity Today Movies) says the film's rebellious spirit seems out of tune. "For all their moaning about 'the man' and the injustice of modern life, none of the characters seems to be doing much about it on a personal level." Despite its big themes, she concludes that "it still seems a bit superficial. The dirty city streets are just a bit too tidy. The pain is just a bit too sanitized. The hair is just a bit too perfect. And it probably doesn't help that people are singing all the time. There's an energy in live theater, a give and take between the performers and the audience, a certain vulnerability, that can make musicals electric. Rent is a fan favorite on the stage for good reason … But on the screen musicals are more prone than most genres to seem cheesy, and this adaptation verges on Gouda."
J. Robert Parks (Looking Closer) says the director simply blew it: "To make up for what's lost in the transition to film … Columbus has fallen back on the cinematic device of camera movement. I know it's customary among movie critics to reflexively criticize Columbus, who's made such critic-proof movies as Home Alone I and II and Mrs. Doubtfire. So I didn't want to be one of those people who shoot darts at the easy target. But, gosh, Columbus really is a hack. I've never seen crane and tracking shots appear so lifeless and arbitrary, and there's hardly a single graceful composition in the film."
Tom Neven (Plugged In) says, "The characters are defiantly anti-bourgeois and anti-authority. … Getting a job is considered 'selling out.' … This worldview taints some otherwise noble sentiments and actions in this story. It's heartbreaking to see the members of the HIV support group rely on nothing more than vague feel-goodism to get through the day. Beyond that, they seem to have no hope—or even awareness that there is hope. Similarly, advice to forgive past wrongs and to seize the day, otherwise admirable counsel, is rooted in nothing more than mere sentiment. … Whether moviegoers are aware of it or not, they're being preached at. And this sermon contains a romanticized glorification of a lifestyle … that despite the movie's upbeat conclusion ends ultimately in hopelessness."
Harry Forbes (Catholic News Service) says, "The film's subject matter may turn off many viewers, but as a snapshot of a piece of cultural history—both the era depicted and the musical itself—it's an impressive achievement. … The dissolute, countercultural lifestyles of some of the characters take second place to the overriding themes of love, connection, dealing with loss and appreciation of life."
Mainstream critics are mixed on Columbus's brand of razzle-dazzle.
Here's a little holiday sing-along for you regarding Harold Ramis's new film The Ice Harvest:
Well the movie onscreen is frightful
And the reviews, they sure are spiteful!
But if Cusack tempts you to go
Just say no! Just say no! Just say no!
For religious press critics, The Ice Harvest is this season's Bad Santa—a big-screen grinch that's tarnishing Christmas. The only things being unwrapped in this "holiday movie" are the strippers. The only celebratory beverage is liquor. Those aren't sleigh bells you're hearing; they're gunshots.
Harvest is a dark and twisted comedy about a mob lawyer named Charlie (John Cusack) who wants to escape his rotten existence. He steals a bundle of money with the help of a sleazy smooth-talker named Vic Cavanaugh (Billy Bob Thornton), and then they begin to suffer the consequences of their crime.
"With nary a likeable character, this largely unfunny flick … isn't just disappointing, it's downright despicable," writes Marcus Yoars (Plugged In). "Rather than play up the potential laughs and drama of a getaway-gone-wrong on Christmas Eve, Ramis focuses the camera—and keeps it there—on nude strippers, cold-blooded murderers and perverted drunks. The [filmmakers] … have crossed the line between offering shoddy entertainment and purely offensive smut. And they've done so brazenly, setting this dark story at Christmastime and marketing it as a holiday comedy."
David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) writes, "Despite some pungent performances … Ramis deserves nothing but coal in his stocking for this misanthropic mix of barbed cynicism and sordid nastiness. The movie opens with Cusack surveying a cold and uninviting Kansas vista, an apropos visual metaphor for the morally empty harvest to follow."
Some mainstream critics find some merit in the film, but you'll find few enthusiastic reviews.
Can you fall in love with someone who calls you "a friend"? That's the central question of Just Friends, a comedy about an overweight young man (Ryan Reynolds) who struggles to win the heart of his friend, a blond cheerleader named Jamie. Later, when he's slimmed down, successful, and a relentless womanizer, the two run into each other again. How much has really changed? Does he stand a better chance of winning her now that he's lost both the weight and his soul?
The movie isn't winning any hearts among Christian film critics.
Christopher Lyon (Plugged In) says, "Just Friends does manage to be funny at times. And the likable cast delivers intentionally ridiculous, over-the-top performances. … But as the ancient Roman orator Quintilian said, 'That laughter costs too much which is purchased by the sacrifice of decency.' Quintilian would have hated this movie and probably asked his teens to skip it."
David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) says, "Despite ending on an admirably sentimental note, director Roger Kumble's film is forced and witless, its humor alternating between unfunny and mean-spirited."
Most mainstream critics are rejecting the film.
Just as Get Rich or Die Tryin' was described as a vanity project for the rap star 50 Cent, so In the Mix is being called a big-screen ego trip for the pop star Usher. Here, he plays a New York DJ who throws himself in the path of a bullet and saves a mob boss (Chazz Palminteri). Afterward, he's hired to protect the Mafioso's daughter (Emmanuelle Chriqui), and you can probably guess what happens next.
In the Mix's director Ron Underwood is getting anything but mixed reviews for his work.
David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) calls it "a lame romantic comedy" and "a mix of plot cliché s and character stereotypes clumsily held together by a contrived script."
Marcus Yoars (Plugged In) says Usher's film is "a virtual self-love session in which showcasing himself trumps any semblance of a decent story or noteworthy acting. [The central character] … rationalizes womanizing, strip clubs and one-night stands with that oh-so-cute smile and soft-spoken temperament. Don't fall for the act."
To elaborate, he says, "Though portrayed as a hero, Darrell … matter-of-factly explains that men go to strip clubs for the same reason women visit spas: to relax and unwind. 'A man's needs are very simple,' he rationalizes. And his misguided Dr. Love spiel doesn't end there. He tells another woman that if she wants her man to be faithful and appreciate what he has, she should 'let him shop around' for other women—implying that commitment is best built upon a season of 'sowing wild seeds.'"
Mainstream critics are trying to usher moviegoers away from this disaster.
More reviews of recent releases
Walk the Line: Peter T. Chattaway (Canadian Christianity) writes, "To those who, like me, grew up with Cash the Christian and have never been big enough country fans to check out the rest of his story, Walk the Line is an eye-opener—but also a bit of a disappointment. The film covers Cash's early years. … But it ends right at the point where Cash came back to God."
He continues, "The difficulty here lies in the way these facts are poured into a pre-existing romantic-movie formula. The filmmakers and their audience regard the union of Johnny and June as a happy inevitability. As a result, people like Cash's first wife Vivian … are relegated to the sidelines—or worse, turned into obstacles that must be overcome for the sake of true love."
He does, however, go on to praise the film's musical performances.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: Gene Edward Veith (World) compares the film to its predecessors in the series and concludes, "Goblet of Fire is more mature. It does not dramatize the Muggle/Witch dichotomy, and the realm of magic is depicted not as fun but as a grim and dangerous place. … In this movie, the conflict between good and evil is genuine." But he concludes that parents need to tell their kids "that they still need to stay away from Harry Potter."
Denny Wayman and Hal Conklin (Cinema in Focus) say, "The use of symbols such as snakes and skulls to define the difference between good and evil is masterfully done within the film as well as acts of compassion and displays of 'moral fiber' within the characters."
Matt Wiggins (Relevant) raves, "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is easily the best of the series in terms of story. The movie also wins out in terms of tension and suspense and feels much more watchable than the latest entry. Fans of the books shouldn't be too disappointed, and those who have only seen the movies will be very pleased. Once again, J.K. Rowling's vision has been placed up on the silver screen with great skill and proves to be an entertaining couple of hours."
Pride & Prejudice: The only real problem with Keira Knightley in this film is the way that, no matter how hard the rain and the wrongdoing pound on her, her makeup is always picture-perfect, and that taints an otherwise winning performance. But that's a minor quibble about what it otherwise a surprisingly energetic, graceful, and delightful adaptation of a richly rewarding novel. In this season of overhyped disappointments, Pride & Prejudice is one of the few that is really worth the full ticket price. Director Joe Wright has made an auspicious debut, and I look forward to whatever he does next. My full review is up at Looking Closer.
Denny Wayman and Hal Conklin (Cinema in Focus) sum it up as "a wholesome film and an insightful exploration of social forces. … The power of the arts to help transition necessary social change is clearly seen in the works of Jane Austen. This film carries on this helpful gift as it takes the prideful prejudices of the past and shines a light on their presence today. It also shows that the power which can overcome both is love."
Shopgirl: Josh Hurst (Reveal) says, "It's a romance for grown-ups, and it's so subtle that you may not really grasp what's going on until after it happens. Give credit to Martin for crafting a warm, inviting screenplay from his heartfelt story. The writing here is filled with the same kind of wit and grace that characterize Martin's writing for The New Yorker—fans of his written works will be in moviegoing heaven."
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