Movie Reviews: Rom-com fails the soccer mom test

Robert Moyes reviews Playing for Keeps and Rise of the Guardians, both playing at Victoria area theatres this week.

Gerard Butler stars in PLaying for Keeps, playing in Victoria area movie theaters now.

Keeping Score

In the romantic comedy Playing For Keeps, “scoring” takes on an obvious double meaning as faded sports hero George (Gerard Butler) has to learn to finally become an adult while contending with a swarm of soccer moms who like his coaching style, but mostly want to learn more about his off-field moves.

George was a wealthy, Beckham-level pro till he had a career-ending injury several years before. These days he’s bedeviled by money woes. But what worries him more is that the ex-wife he still cares for, Stacie (Jessica Biel), is getting remarried. Equally challenging is 11-year-old Lewis, the son he long ago mostly abandoned and now hopes to patch things up with.

Back in town and looking for work as a TV sports announcer, George decides — with a big nudge from Stacie — to take over the coaching chores for Lewis’s soccer team. This quickly puts him in the sights of several luscious soccer moms (played by Uma Thurman, Judy Greer, and Catherine Zeta-Jones) who are either recently single or married to obnoxious louts with cheating hearts.

The setup is obvious, and the script plays out like a promising but flawed class project from Screenwriting 101. There are jerky segues from broad comedy to mawkish sentimentality to contrived pathos, as George tries to put his life — and his family — back together. Most critics have reviled the flick, but it’s not that bad: as formulaic romcoms go, let’s call it barely mediocre.

Biel, however, brings her A-game to the role of a mother (and wronged woman) who has a tough decision to make, while Butler uses his gruff, testosterone-rich charm to good effect. And those snappy cameos by the likes of Thurman and Zeta-Jones, while appreciated, make one wonder what they were thinking when they signed on for this flimsy vehicle.

 

Playing for Keeps ★★

Directed by Gabriele Muccino

Starring Gerard Butler, Jessica Biel

PG – 106 minutes

Continues at the Capitol

Calling All Icons!

Rise of the Guardians, one of the year’s more imaginative animated movies, boasts a stellar lineup: a very Russian-accented Santa Claus, a very Australian-accented Easter Bunny, a mute Sandman, a perky Tooth Fairy, and a mischievous Jack Frost with “attachment issues.” These jolly imaginary icons are the guardians of childhood innocence and they have to band together to oppose the baleful Pitch Black when he unleashes his dark powers on all the world’s children.

Jack Frost is at the centre of the story — he’s like a reckless but well-meaning teenager who doesn’t want to fit in. His quest to find out how he came to be Jack Frost drives much of the narrative, and helps set him up as the major threat to Pitch Black. Rise gallops merrily along with an ambitious narrative; it also benefits from lots of visual razzle-dazzle and a lively sense of humour. The characters are well voiced, including Chris Pine as Jack, Hugh Jackman as the Bunny, Alec Baldwin as Santa, and a marvelously sinister Jude Law as the perfidious Pitch.

It is a bit odd to see the likes of Santa and the Easter Bunny presented as superheroes, but their powers are not hugely warlike and their characters remain kindly and positive. This ain’t exactly Finding Nemo, but older children and parents alike should be charmed by its mix of warm magic and high-tech storytelling. M

Rise of the Guardians ★★★

Directed by Peter Ramsey

G – 97 minutes

Continues at the Capitol,  SilverCity, Uni 4 & Westshore

 

PERFECTLY POTABLE

 

Malbec continues to grow in popularity — and why not? This flagship red varietal from Argentina combines earthy charm with great price. I recently discovered Gascon, which is made from a family-run operation in Mendoza dating from 1884. Deep violet in colour, its mouth-filling flavours include blackberry, black cherry, and hints of mocha. This one cries out for a pepper steak or a savoury pasta dish. Although not the cheapest Malbec at $14, Gascon is well worth a try.

 

Film listings

 

Opening

 

THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY -(Capitol/SilverCity/Uni 4/Westshore) This long-expected film, which takes place several decades before the events portrayed in Lord of the Rings, stars a young Bilbo Baggins as he heads off with a posse of dwarves to reclaim some treasure stolen by a mean old dragon named Smaug. With Ian McKellen, Ian Holm, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee, and Andy Serkis as the perfidious Gollum. Starts Fri.

HITCHCOCK -(Odeon) Anthony Hopkins (aided by several pounds of latex) stars as the brilliant — and decidedly warped — director Alfred Hitchock, in a film that depicts the creation of the sublimely creepy Psycho. With Helen Mirren as his long-suffering wife and Scarlett Johansson as the girl who gets stabbed in the shower. Starts Fri.

 

 

Continuing

 

★★★ ANNA KARENINA -(Odeon) English director Joe Wright reunites with Keira Knightley (Pride and Prejudice) to present a glossy and intriguingly stylized version of Tolstoy’s classic tale of doomed, adulterous love affair set amidst the aristocracy of 1870s Russia. With Jude Law and Emily Watson.

★★★½ ARGO -(Caprice) Despite some liberties taken with the facts, this account of a CIA agent who managed to smuggle six Americans to safety from Iran during the famed 1979-’80 hostage crisis is surprisingly even-handed, very suspenseful and truly entertaining. Directed by and starring Ben Affleck.

★★½ CLOUD ATLAS -(Odeon/Caprice) German director Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) combines forces with Andy and Lana Wachowski (The Matrix) to take us on an exotic, wildly ambitious trip as characters lead parallel and contrasting lives in six different storylines in the past, present, and future. Starring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, and Hugh Grant.

DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: DOG DAYS -(Caprice) Greg is totally ready for summer when suddenly his plans all fall apart. What’s the poor guy gonna do now?

★★★ FLIGHT -(Odeon) Denzel Washington is excellent in a morally complex drama about a heroic pilot who “impossibly” saves an airliner from certain destruction, only to find himself in a world of trouble for unexpected reasons.

★★★½ FRANKENWEENIE -(Caprice) Tim Burton, master of the amusingly morbid, is in fine form in this darkly droll animated tale of a boy who uses lightning to bring his beloved pooch back from the dead. Not surprisingly, there are unexpected consequences.

HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA -(Caprice) A hotel where vampires and sundry other monsters hide out from humans gets a big scare when a backpacking dude shows up looking for a room. This animated comedy features the voices of Adam Sandler, Kevin James, and Andy Samberg.

★★½ KILLING THEM SOFTLY -(Capitol) Brad Pitt plays a hitman who gets called in after some dumb guys rob a Mob-protected card game and an example has to be made. Co-starring Ray Liotta, Richard Jenkins, and James Gandolfini. Despite some fine performances, this is a nasty and overly violent film with a very heavy-handed “message” about how gangsters are just another variant of American business.

★★★½ LIFE OF PI -(Odeon/SilverCity) Oscar winning director Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain) helms this visually gorgeous adaptation of Yann Martel’s magical and spiritual novel about a young man’s epic adventures while lost at sea — most of which are shared with a terrifying Bengal tiger.

★★★★ LINCOLN -(Odeon) Stephen Spielberg directs award-winning playwright Tony (Angels in America) Kushner’s account of Abraham Lincoln’s darkest days as he fights the Civil War and also fights political battles in his cabinet over plans to free America’s black slaves. The superb cast includes Daniel Day-Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones and Sally Field.

★★★½ LOOPER -(Caprice) This trippy, noir-tinged sci-fi thriller is a stylish mash-up of hitmen and time travel. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Premium Rush), Bruce Willis, and Emily Blunt.

★★ THE MASTER -(Caprice) The latest from Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood, Magnolia) stars Philip Seymour Hoffman as the charismatic leader of a cult religion who has an intense relationship with an emotionally damaged man (Joaquin Phoenix). Despite powerful performances and a lush filming style, this drama is a dull and very disappointing misstep from a great director.

★★ PLAYING FOR KEEPS -(Capitol/SilverCity) Gerard Butler and Jessica Biel star in a ho-hum romcom about a faded sports star who is attempting to get his life back together while coaching his son’s soccer team. And suddenly, all those perky soccer moms are messing with his head. Poor man! See review.

★★★ RISE OF THE GUARDIANS -(Capitol/SilverCity/Westshore) Jack Frost, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and other magical icons come together to save childhood innocence after a very evil spirit named Pitch starts making trouble. This animated lark is voiced by Hugh Jackman and Alec Baldwin. See review.

★★★ SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK -(Odeon) A bi-polar man (Bradley Cooper, The Hangover) is trying to put his life — and his marriage — back together when he meets a fascinating woman (Jennifer Lawrence, The Hunger Games) with problems of her own. This quirky romantic comedy is directed by David O. Russell (Three Kings, The Fighter).

★★★★ SKYFALL -(Capitol/SilverCity/Uni 4/Westshore) The latest James Bond spy thriller features cool gadgets, exotic locales . . . and a villain with a vendetta against poor old M. Easily one of the best Bonds ever, this has all the usual thrills but also an elegiacal tone and some unexpected drama that will leave the audience shaken and stirred. Starring Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, and Ralph Fiennes.

★★½ TAKEN 2 -(Caprice) Liam Neeson reprises his role as a retired CIA tough guy who has to use his nastiest skills when his wife gets kidnapped by the vengeful father of the goon that Neeson killed in the last movie. Well-directed if rather soulless action porn that benefits from its Istanbul setting.

★★½ TWILIGHT: BREAKING DAWN PART 2 -(SilverCity/Uni 4/Westshore) This most underwhelming vampire-werewolf soap opera finally comes to an end. The good news, such as it is, is that this is the best of a lame series, mostly because droopy emo-girl Bella has now transformed into a kick-ass vampire.

★★★ WRECK­–IT RALPH -(SilverCity/Westshore) John C. Reilly provides the voice for a video-game villain who tires of being a bad guy and sets out on a quest that throws an entire video arcade into chaos. This occasionally-inspired animation lark includes the voices of Sarah Silverman and Jane Lynch.

★★½ TAKEN 2 -(Caprice) Liam Neeson reprises his role as a retired CIA tough guy who has to use his nastiest skills when his wife gets kidnapped by the vengeful father of the goon that Neeson killed in the last movie. Well-directed if rather soulless action porn that benefits from its Istanbul setting.

★★½ TWILIGHT: BREAKING DAWN PART 2 -(SilverCity/Uni 4/Westshore) This most underwhelming vampire-werewolf soap opera finally comes to an end. The good news, such as it is, is that this is the best of a lame series, mostly because droopy emo-girl Bella has now transformed into a kick-ass vampire.

★★★ WRECK­–IT RALPH -(SilverCity/Westshore) John C. Reilly provides the voice for a video-game villain who tires of being a bad guy and sets out on a quest that throws an entire video arcade into chaos. This occasionally-inspired animation lark includes the voices of Sarah Silverman and Jane Lynch.

★★★ SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK -(Odeon) A bi-polar man (Bradley Cooper, The Hangover) is trying to put his life — and his marriage — back together when he meets a fascinating woman (Jennifer Lawrence, The Hunger Games) with problems of her own. This quirky romantic comedy is directed by David O. Russell (Three Kings, The Fighter).

★★★★ SKYFALL -(Capitol/SilverCity/Uni 4/Westshore) The latest James Bond spy thriller features cool gadgets, exotic locales . . . and a villain with a vendetta against poor old M. Easily one of the best Bonds ever, this has all the usual thrills but also an elegiacal tone and some unexpected drama that will leave the audience shaken and stirred. Starring Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, and Ralph Fiennes.

Leaving Thurs.

★★½ MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN -(Odeon)

★★ RED DAWN -(SilverCity/Westshore)

★★★★ SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN -(Capitol)

★★★½ THE SESSIONS -(Odeon)

 

IMAX

AIR RACERS -(1 pm, 5 pm & 8 pm, Mon.-Thurs.) Paul Walker narrates this pulse-pounding documentary about the world’s fastest race, as amazingly nimble planes negotiate a tricky course at 500 MPH.

HUBBLE -(French only on Mon., Dec. 17, 10 am only)

THE LAST REEF: BENEATH THE SEA -(11 am: Fri.-Wed. & daily at 2 pm, 4 pm, 6 pm)

MYSTERIES OF EGYPT -(10 am: Fri.-Sun. & Tues., & 3 pm daily)

★★½ POLAR EXPRESS -(10 am Thurs. only & 7 pm, Fri.-Sat.)

TO THE ARCTIC -(noon, & 7 pm: Mon.-Thurs.)

 

 

SCREENINGS

 

MOVIE MONDAY – Is screening Indie Game: The Movie, a documentary about the underdogs in the video-game industry. By donation. 6:30pm MONDAY in the 1900-block Fort. 595FLIC. moviemonday.ca

AWARENESS FILM NIGHT -screens Genetic Roulette, the latest doc from the author of Seeds of Destruction. This film explores the serious health threats posed by genetically engineered foods, as well as the bullying and deceit of the biotech industry. WEDNESDAY, 7 pm, at Edward Milne Community School theatre, 6218 Sooke Road.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL . . . AND SANTA, TOO! -The Victoria Film Festival folk are screening the ultimate version of the ultimate seasonal film: A Christmas Carol starring Alastair Sim as the grasping, stingy miser who has a lot to learn about the meaning of Christmas . . . and one night to do it in. This is very much a family-friendly screening, and includes a visit with Santa for those so inclined. SATURDAY, 1 pm (movie starts at 2 pm), at the Vic Theatre, 808 Douglas St. Cash only at the door.

 

Cinecenta

 

Cinecenta at UVic screens its films in the Student Union Building. Info: 721-8365. cinecenta.com.

★★★½ SIDE BY SIDE -(Wed.-Thurs., Dec. 12-13: 7:00, 9:00) You don’t have to be a film nerd to be fascinated by this documentary examining the aesthetics — and conflicts — as moviemmaking makes a paradigm shift from celluloid to digital. With great pro-and-con commentary from the likes of Martin Scorsese, Christopher Nolan, and many other master directors and cinematographers.

★★ THE MASTER -(Fri.-Sat., Dec. 14-15: 6:45, 9:20) The latest from Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood, Magnolia) stars Philip Seymour Hoffman as the charismatic leader of a cult religion who has an intense relationship with an emotionally damaged man (Joaquin Phoenix). Despite powerful performances and a lush filming style, this drama is a dull and very disappointing misstep from a great director.

★★★ THE INTOUCHABLES -(Sun.-Mon., Dec. 16-17: 7:00 only) This funny and heart-warming French film features a wealthy aristocrat, a quadriplegic after a hang-gliding accident, who gets more than he bargained for when he hires a rough-edged black man from the projects to be his care aid. Based on a true story. Back — again — by popular demand!

A CHRISTMAS TALE -(Tues., Dec. 18: 7:00 only) This 2008 film from France revels in very messy human truths as three generations of a fractious, very dysfunctional family meet to celebrate the holidays. With Catherine Deneuve.

LOVE ACTUALLY -(Wed., Dec. 19: 7:00 only) This much-touted romantic comedy has genuinely touching moments and lots of sharply-crafted comedy, but it’s also cloying and burdened with several subplots devoid of charm: it’s like the highlights reel from a half-dozen mediocre chick flicks. Hugh Grant and Emma Thompson head up a huge and impressive cast.

 

 

 

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