The Big Year
20th Century Fox
Rated PG for profanity and some sensuality.
Road Comedy Recounts 1998 Birdwatching Contest
Brad Harris (Jack Black) is an unemployed slacker who moved back in with his parents (Brian Dennehy and Dianne Wiest) after getting a divorce and dropping out of graduate school. Kenny Bostick (Owen Wilson) is a roofer whose hard-to-impregnate spouse (Rosamund Pike) is impatient to have a baby. And Stu Preissler (Steve Martin) is a recently retired CEO whose business partners have been begging him to come back to the company.
These strangers’ paths probably would never have crossed had they not shared an obsession with birdwatching. But in 1998, all three opted to enter an annual tournament in which participants compete to spot the most species in North America over the course of a calendar year.
Loosely based on Mark Obmascik’s bestseller of the same name, The Big Year is a buddy comedy which recounts their spirited contest for the coveted crown while simultaneously highlighting the toll the time-consuming endeavor took on each of the protagonist’s personal lives. After all, such an undertaking involves being away from home for long stretches at a time.
Directed by Oscar-winner David Frankel (for Dear Diary), The Big Year is just funny enough to warrant this critic’s stamp of approval, even if the awkward puns, silly sight gags and pithy dialogue seem a tad forced for a cast stocked with so many seasoned comics. The production suffers from the choice of the over-the-top Jack Black as its omniscient narrator, when either Steve Martin or Owen Wilson’s relatively droll delivery would’ve been far better suited to the story’s subtle brand of humor.
Another slight flaw is the script’s lack of tension surrounding the outcome of the contest ,which is not only run on the honor system but allows the entrants to keep their mounting bird counts confidential. Consequently, the character-driven adventure has the audience caring less about the winner than whether these peripatetic, decadent divas will exhibit a sense of family responsibility and return from the road when duty calls, whether it’s Brad’s father suffering a heart attack, Stu becoming a grandfather for the first time or Kenny’s ovulating wife calling from a fertility clinic.
Still, when at its best, The Big Year devotes itself to the visually-captivating treat of displaying dozens of rare, winged creatures, ranging from the Black-footed Albatross to the Great Spotted Woodpecker to the Pink-footed Goose, either in flight or right in their natural habitats. An ornithological delight designed with the bird fancier in mind!
Very Good (2.5 stars).
Running time: 100 Minutes.
The Mighty Macs
Coach Inspires Team To Overachieve In Touching Tale Of Female Empowerment
When Cathy Rush (Carla Gugino) was hired to coach basketball at Immaculata College in the early ‘70s, athletics were a low priority at the all-female Catholic institution. It didn’t even have a functional gym, so the team had to host its home games at a nearby high school.
Initially, the new coach didn’t get any sympathy from the administration about the inconvenience since the college had serious financial problems. Furthermore, the Mother Superior (Ellen Burstyn) considered the primary function of sports to be a means of suppressing the girls’ raging hormones.
But Rush was never discouraged by the lack of support or by the disadvantage of having a student body of fewer than 500 from which to pick players. So, joined on the bench by dedicated assistant Sister Sunday (Marley Shelton), she proceeded to forge a competitive squad, placing an emphasis on teamwork and fundamentals. And by the end of the 1972 season, tiny Immaculata had blossomed into a respected powerhouse in contention for the national title.
That unlikely assault on the championship is the subject of The Mighty Macs, an overcoming-the-odds sports flick reminiscent of such basketball classics as Hoosiers, Glory Road and Coach Carter. This similarly themed adventure chronicles the miracle season of a motley crew of underdogs inspired to overachieve with the help of a devoted, no-nonsense coach.
What makes this hoops saga unique is the fact that its hero is a female at a pivotal moment in the emergence of women’s intercollegiate athletics. The pioneering Cathy Rush was rightfully recognized for her critical contributions in this regard in 2008, the year she was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
A touching, tale of female empowerment serving as a worthwhile reminder that girls weren’t always encouraged to play sports.
Very Good (3 stars).
Running time: 98 Minutes.
OPENING THIS WEEK
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
For movies opening October 21, 2011
Johnny English Reborn (PG for mild violence, rude humor, brief sensuality and brief profanity). Rowan Atkinson reprises the title role in this James Bond parody in which the bumbling British spy attempts to redeem himself by foiling an assassination attempt on a head of state by a team of bloodthirsty assassins. With Gillian Anderson, Rosamund Pike, Dominic West and Ben Miller. (In English, Mandarin and Chinese with subtitles.)
Paranormal Activity 3 (R for violence, profanity, drug use and brief sexuality). Prequel to the haunted house franchise finds a couple of siblings (Katie Featherstone and Sprague Grayden) befriending an invisible entity which enters their home only to end up tormented by it. With Brian Boland, Lauren Bittner and Christopher Nicholas Smith.
The Three Musketeers (PG-13 for action and violence). 3D screen adaptation of Alexandre Dumas‘ swashbuckling classic features the trio of legendary swordsmen (Matthew Macfadyen, Ray Stevenson and Luke Evans) teaming with D’Artagnan (Logan Lerman) to prevent the diabolical Cardinal Richelieu (Cristoph Waltz) from seizing the French throne with the help of an attractive double agent (Milla Jovovich). Supporting cast includes Helen George, Christian Oliver, Til Schweiger and Orlando Bloom as the Duke of Buckingham.
Being Elmo (Unrated). Puppeteer profile of Kevin Clash, a black man from Baltimore who made it out of the ‘hood to enjoy an enduring career as the voice of one of the most beloved Sesame Street characters. Featuring appearances by Whoopi Goldberg, Rosie O’Donnell and Frank Oz.
Cargo (Unrated). Sex trafficking drama about an Egyptian smuggler (Sayed Badreya) who develops feelings for a young Russian woman (Natasha Rinis) while driving her from Mexico to New York City. Cast includes Phillip Willingham, Raul I. Torres and Seth Ruffer.
Elevate (Unrated). Hoop dreams documentary chronicling the effort to make it to the NBA made by a quartet of unusually tall teens who migrated from Senegal to the U.S. to play for prep schools.
Glitch In The Grid (Unrated). Character-driven drama about three artists’ (Jay Masonek, Eric Leisner and Jeffrey Leisner) quest for spiritual fulfillment while struggling to survive in Los Angeles during an economic recession. With Travis Bellman, Max Daily and Homer Darnall.
Le Havre (Unrated). Unlikely buddy drama about an elderly bohemian (Andre Wilms) who decides to help an illegal African immigrant (Blondin Miguel) hide from the authorities. With Kati Outinen, Jean-Pierre Darroussin and Elina Salo. (In French with subtitles.)
Margin Call (R for profanity). Financial crisis thriller revolving around the panic at a leading Wall Street investment firm over the course of a pivotal 24-hour period during the 2008 economic collapse. Ensemble includes Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Stanley Tucci, Simon Baker, Demi Moore and Jeremy Irons.
Martha Marcy May Marlene (R for nudity, profanity, sexuality and disturbing violence). Psychological thriller about an escapee (Elizabeth Olsen) from an abusive religious cult who starts suffering from paranoid delusions that she’s being stalked by the sect’s charismatic leader (John Hawkes) after taking refuge at the home of her sister (Sarah Paulson) and brother-in-law (Hugh Dancy). With Christopher Abbott, Brady Corbet and Maria Dizzia.
Oranges And Sunshine (R for profanity). British biopic about Margaret Humphreys (Emily Watson), a social worker from Nottingham, who in 1987 singlehandedly uncovered a scandalous government program which had secretly relocated over 150,000 poor children from England to Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Zimbabwe and elsewhere around the Commonwealth without parents’ knowledge or consent. Cast includes Hugo Weaving, David Wenham and Tara Morice.
Paul Goodman Changed My Life (Unrated). Reverential biopic about the pacifist visionary, gay philosopher and bestselling author whose countercultural indictment of the establishment, Growing Up Absurd, made him a darling of the leftist anarchists back in the ‘60s.
Retreat (R for violence and pervasive profanity). Apocalyptic thriller about a couple (Cillian Murphy and Thandie Newton) who leave London for an unpopulated island to recover from the loss of a baby only to have a mysterious stranger (Jamie Bell) wash up on shore with news of an airborne virus that’s suddenly sweeping across Europe.
The Reunion (PG-13 for violence, sexuality and profanity). Dysfunctional family drama about a young woman (Amy Smart) who tries to fulfill her father’s dying wish by bringing her three feuding brothers (John Cena, Ethan Embry and Boyd Holbrook) back together. With Michael Rispoli, Lela Loren and Greg Henry.
Revenge Of The Electric Car (Unrated). Chris Paine directs this sequel to Who Killed The Electric Car? highlighting the resurgence in popularity of zero-emission vehicles courtesy of both traditional auto companies such as Nissan and GM as well as industry pioneers like Tesla. With appearances by Danny DeVito, Tim Robbins, Jon Favreau and Stephen Colbert.
The Swell Season (Unrated). Behind-the-scenes documentary shot in black & white shedding light on the strains placed by fame on the real-life relationship of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, the co-stars of the film Once, whose collaboration culminated in the couple’s winning an Academy Award for the picture’s title song.