Saturday, April 26, 2014

Heaven Is for Real

Yesterday I saw Heaven Is for Real, starring Connor Corum and Greg Kinnear.

Colton Burpo (Corum) is an adorable four-year-old boy with a preacher, Todd, (Kinnear) for a father. Though the family struggles financially, they cherish what's most important: family and God.

After a particularly rough patch, Colton's appendix ruptures and his chances of survival are in danger. Todd questions his faith and his wife Sonja (Kelly Reilly) does her best to keep it together. Thankfully, Colton pulls through, but after he returns home, he begins talking about the supernatural experiences he had while he was in the operating room, including a visit to heaven.

At first, Todd assumes it's just his imagination, but when Colton begins telling him things about the family that he has never previously known, Todd is understandably rattled.

The town questions Colton's story; Sonja grows tired of Todd's obsession with it and the media descends on their close-knit community.

This is all, of course, based on the true events of the real-life Burpo family. We just get the highlights here, but I can imagine the circus it must have been when the real incidents happened.

Kinnear is easily believable as the sincere, conflicted Todd, and sweet little Corum clearly has a future on the big screen ahead of him.

In fact all of the performances were great—even those of supporting characters like Margo Martindale, who are only there to serve borderline-stereotypical purposes.

The film is enjoyable to watch, especially if you're open to the fact that Colton may really have met Jesus, etc. But aside from the cookie-cutter way the series of events is portrayed, there's not a whole lot to it.

I would've liked to see more "heaven" and explore more of why such a decent, hard-working family was struggling so much.

But for what it is, it was fine.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Million Dollar Arm

Tonight I screened Million Dollar Arm, starring Jon Hamm and Suraj Sharma.

The real-life sports agent J.B. Bernstein was at a crossroads in his career, in danger of losing everything when he had the idea to recruit and train the first Indian professional baseball players from a crop of cricket players in their homeland. This film, tells his—and their—story.

J.B. (Hamm) isn't really that nice of a guy. He has a great house and a great car, but as he begins to lose his great career, he's more concerned about maintaining his glamorous lifestyle than he is preserving the integrity of his players. When everything is on the line, he travels to India with a talent scout (Alan Arkin) to host a contest to find a "million dollar arm." While there, he finds Rinku Singh (Sharma) and Dinesh Patel (Madhur Mittal); neither have ever played baseball, but both have the potential to pitch their way to greatness.

He brings them both back to California and a typical fish-out-of-water story ensues. They stumble over the language, try foods unknown to them and awkwardly acclimate to a technologically advanced world. The movie comes close to furnishing too many of these situations, but is luckily saved by the welcome presence of Lake Bell, as J.B.'s tenant Brenda, who flirts her way into the hearts of the men on-screen as well as the audience.

Jon Hamm is solid in the role (though I'll admit I was puzzled by his hoarse-sounding voice throughout—maybe the real man has a gravely voice?) and the boys who play the recruits and their translator were perfectly sweet.

You can't help but root for them—even Bernstein—as they rapidly make sense of their new world while thrown into a pressure cooker of tryouts.

If you enjoy a good, old-fashioned sports movie, this should be right up your alley.


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Today I saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier, starring Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson.

Captain America (Evans) is as apple-pie appealing as one could imagine a frozen-in-time superhero could be. His eyes glisten blue, his skin is white as porcelain and his body resembles that of a Ken™ doll. It would be really hard not to root for him.

It seems that everywhere we turn these days, us Americans are reminded of our past rivalry with Russia. In this film, it comes in the form of a long-forgotten foe called "The Winter Soldier," a fierce Soviet agent.

When the good guys discover this entity is the cause of their recent drama, Captain, along with Natasha (Johansson) and Falcon (Anthony Mackie) team up to go get him.

I'd be spoiling it all if I went any further, but let's just say there's an abundance of kicking and gymnastics and throwing the shield around like a Frisbee. Plus, car chases and explosions!

I enjoyed the chemistry and banter between Captain and Natasha, and Robert Redford's time on screen as the powerful Alexander Pierce kept my attention.

Other than that, I wish it had been about 40 minutes shorter.

Still, not a terrible way to kick off a pre-summer season of popcorn films.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Finding Vivian Maier

Tonight I saw the documentary Finding Vivian Maier.

Part hoarder, part loaner, part voyeur, part genius—Vivian Maier was comprised of many things. Like the photos that are now making her famous, there was a raw, yet mysterious, aspect to her persona, which she guarded her whole life like a national secret.

The film chronicles how a student hoping to find historical photos for an assignment purchased a storage locker full of negatives and stumbled on a treasure trove of never-before-seen brilliant images. All of the pictures were taken (and hidden) by Vivian, a nanny who bounced from family to family all of her adult life.

As the student dug deeper and deeper into her past, he discovered a tragic soul—described as everything from eccentric to angry. What was so remarkable about uncovering the photos was that none of the people who knew her realized that they existed. Sure, they saw her with her camera around her neck, and the children remember being photographed and filmed, but no one had any idea her catalog boasted thousands of museum-quality shots. Some which Vivian herself never had the privilege of viewing.

The film emphasizes Maier's "stern spinster" status, but she was so much more complex than that. As one of the former children she cared for points out in the film, Vivian probably suffered from mental illness, but that didn't dim her gift for creativity and her technique for capturing wonderful moments on film.

It's a wonderful way to spotlight the legacy of someone who didn't crave fame, but most certainly needed validation.

To view some of Maier's work, visit her official website.