Tag Archives: Greg Kinnear

What’s Up, Doc?

Sight

by Hope Madden

Sight, the latest inspirational film from director/co-writer Andrew Hyatt (Paul, The Apostle of Christ; All Those Small Things), leads by example rather than preaching to the choir. It’s still a mishmash of a result, but it is a step in a better direction.

Terry Chen plays Dr. Ming Wang, a real-life eye surgeon whose foundation restores sight to many without the financial means to cover the surgery themselves. But Sight tells the story that leads to this philanthropic action.

The film opens on a press conference. Dr. Wang has just performed another breakthrough surgery, but his humility and stoicism keep him from enjoying the moment. This perplexes his wizened and good-natured colleague, Dr. Misha Bartnovsky (Greg Kinnear).

Kinnear spends the next hour and forty minutes with a perpetual half smirk, half grimace as he nudges Dr. Wang toward a little satisfaction, a little happiness. Maybe a date.

Most of that running time is actually spent with young Ming Wang (Ben Wang), who grew up during China’s Cultural Revolution with a passion to become a doctor. But when those in power start burning books, you know nothing good can come of it. His life becomes a nightmare that still haunts the adult doctor. Maybe if he can save one little girl, it will all be worth it?

That’s the core crisis in Sight, and it feels pretty forced, pretty made-for-TV, as does most of the film. There’s a great deal of exposition, loads of characters, endless flashbacks, all of it skimming the surface of the story. Every character has one note: benevolent, anguished, optimistic, supportive, or evil. No one gets to be human.

Hyatt’s approach is safe, his film superficial and earnest. And though the plot takes an unexpected turn—because life took an unexpected turn for Dr. Wang and his patient—Hyatt seems desperate to tidy up, to make the narrative fit the expected framework rather than embracing its messiness.

Dr. Wang has no doubt led a remarkable and inspirational life, and anyone who’s contributed this much good to the world deserves to be appreciated. Sight does that. It does far less as a film—as a stand-alone piece of art with depth and honesty. But it’s nice and it tells a nice, safe story.

Truth and Injustice

Brian Banks

by Brandon Thomas

Anyone with two working eyes knows that the criminal justice system in the United States is far from perfect and rarely yields actual justice. The situation is even bleaker for young men of color. Even after their time is served, people convicted of a crime have a hard time finding work and maintaining new relationships.

As unfair as this is for everyone that goes through it, it can be especially grueling for people convicted of crimes they did not commit.

Brian Banks (Aldis Hodge) was once a star high school football player. He and his mother (Sherri Shepherd) had planned for Brian to attend college and hopefully make it to the NFL. All of that changed with a chance encounter that led to an accusation of kidnapping and rape. The barriers Brian faces after his release from prison lead him to a lawyer (Greg Kinnear) who might be able to clear his name and give him back his future.

Brian Banks is an interesting look at incarceration in that the film never once questions Brian’s innocence. In fact, the audience is clued in early on that Brian is a character we can trust. This film isn’t one that dwells on twists and turns. It’s more interested in Banks himself and what his plight says about our justice system. Unfortunately, that look tends to be one dimensional, and pushed through the lens of a mediocre TV movie-of-the-week.

Hodge (Hidden Figures, Straight Outta Compton) brings a humanity to this role that makes it easy to cheer for Banks despite the over-abundance of cliche. He does a wonderful job showing Brian’s frustration, hurt and disappointment all at once. It’s a tightrope performance, and Hodge pulls it off beautifully.

But there’s a cheapness to Brian Banks that makes it look like it would be right at home on the Lifetime cable channel. This is especially surprising since director Tom Shadyac spent the majority of his career making huge studio movies like Liar Liar, Bruce Almighty and The Nutty Professor. None of these films is exactly Lawrence of Arabia, but they still had a distinct visual flair. 

Despite a strong lead performance, Brian Banks can’t overcome its reliance on age-old courtroom cliche and melodrama that ends up bringing the movie down. It’s a film that had something to say, but the message became muddled and/or lost along the way.


Blinder Side

Same Kind of Different as Me

by George Wolf

It’s been over a year since the trailer for Same Kind of Different as Me arrived, and was promptly met with the widespread mockery it deserved.

Planned release dates came and went. Was it retooling, or rethinking? Maybe they weren’t really going to put out a film with so much apparent racial condescension and white guilt?

They were, they are, they did.

It’s based on the best selling memoir – steady yourself if you haven’t heard this title – Same Kind of Different As Me: A Modern-Day Slave, an International Art Dealer, and the Unlikely Woman Who Bound Them Together.

Subtle.

Ron and Debbie Hall (Greg Kinnear and Renee Zellweger) were rich white Texans in an unhappy marriage. They met homeless man Denver Moore (Djimon Hounsou) and struck up a friendship which led to millions of dollars raised for the needy.

It’s a nice story. Helping thy neighbor is a lovely message. Why does it have to be delivered this way?

Denver seems like an interesting character, and he’s listed as a co-author on the book. Did anyone think to tell the story from his point of view?

No, we must get more precious white saviors, and celebrate them for taking a black friend to their white country club while they wash their hands of violent racism with empty voiceovers (of course there are voiceovers!) such as “there are things I just don’t understand.”

Bless your heart.

Not one thing in director/co-writer Michael Carney’s feature debut feels authentic. Even smaller details, like Debbie sleeping in full makeup or a young, poverty-stricken Denver sporting gleaming straight teeth, feed the notion that this is all just a self-congratulatory show.

Well, congratulations, this might even be worse than The Blind Slide.

 





May the Bear Be With You

Brigsby Bear

by George Wolf

When does our grip on the past get in the way of our future?

Why is it so difficult to accept some people as they are?

And who would expect some doofuses from SNL to be doing such serious pondering?

Okay, “doofuses” is a bit harsh, but when you see Andy Samberg’s Lonely Island Productions in the opening credits, you don’t expect the thoughtful nuance that Brigsby Bear delivers.

SNL vet Kyle Mooney stars as James, a twenty-something man living in a secluded compound in the Utah desert with his parents (Mark Hamill, Jane Adams). Except they’re not his parents.

From the time James was a small boy, they’ve been his captors, and he’s been the sole audience for all the strange episodes of Brigsby Bear.

When he’s reunited with his real parents (Matt Walsh, Michaela Watkins), James’s acclimation is hampered by a persistent obsession with Brigsby, the only TV show he has ever known.

Anxious for new Brigsby adventures, James gets a load of all the new technology available to him, and suddenly making his very own Brigsby movie seems like it would be, as his new friends say, “dope shit, dude.”

It’s a setup that could easily have gone off the rails with the goofiness of a throwaway sketch, but director Dave McCary’s feature debut gradually wins you over with its abundance of warm sincerity. James is certainly a curiosity, but the film never wields him as a vehicle for cheap manipulation.

Mooney, who also co-wrote the script, delivers a surprisingly touching performance, and he makes James’s world a tender, inviting place that erases any urges for pity with an uncompromising sense of wonder.

Hamill leads the fine supporting ensemble with a turn that of course benefits from his long history as an icon of fandom. But again, the undercurrent is always one of respect for the lives touched rather than a mockery of the fanaticism, personified by a local cop (a stellar Greg Kinnear) who joins the Brigsby production in a role fairly close to a certain Jedi master.

Sure, there’s ridiculousness to be found in Brigsby Bear, but there’s way too much heart to call it “guilty.”

Just call it a pleasure.

Verdict-3-5-Stars

 

 





Heaven Can Wait

 

Heaven Is for Real

by George Wolf

 

Whatever message a movie may have, subtlety in sending it is rarely a bad thing.

Heaven Is for Real turns out to be more subtle than the title would suggest, with a solid group of actors to help keep it grounded when it’s in danger of too much, pardon the expression, preaching to the choir.

Based on the true story described in the best-selling book, the film introduces us to Colton Burpo, a four year old Nebraska boy who says he went to heaven.

Colton’s father Todd (Greg Kinnear) is the local pastor, with a loving wife (Kelly Reilly) and a seemingly all-around satisfying life. His peace is shattered, though, when Colton suffers a ruptured appendix and is rushed into emergency surgery where his life hangs in the balance.

He recovers, and though he was never clinically dead, Colton begins telling mom and dad that he left his body in the operating room and went to Heaven. There, he not only met Jesus, but was introduced to family members from the other side, at least one of whom his parents never told him about.

Would you believe a four old year telling that story? Well, it helps when this one is played by the impossibly composed Connor Corum. In his debut, Corum is not only cute beyond words, but his delivery of every line is totally believable. I don’t know where they found this kid, but he’s a keeper.

Do things get preachy? Of course, Kinnear plays a preacher, after all, and there’s no mistaking the abundance of “traditional” traits in Reilly’s stay-at-home helpmate character. But, the film also addresses the negative reaction to the child’s claim, starting with leaders of Burpo’s own church.

Veteran actors Margo Martindale and Thomas Haden Church move these characters beyond the one-note rubes they could have easily become. Less successful is a half-hearted attempt to confront scientific objections, as Burpo’s visit to a psychologist is reduced to little more than a courtesy call to the religion/science debate.

The very nature of its story ensures that Heaven Is for Real will be both dismissed and celebrated, sight unseen. Regardless, the important question is, how well does it tell that story?

Despite weak moments in the script, there’s enough heart and earnestness here to make it accessible, no matter who you believe.

Verdict-3-0-Stars

 

 





The ‘Stache Takes Manhattan

 

by George Wolf

 

According to facebook comments, there are humans out there who don’t think Will Ferrell is funny, and say they don’t understand all the fuss about Anchorman 2, and you know what was really funny? Delta Farce.

I am not one of those people.

Look, I’m not going to tell you The Legend Continues is as funny as the original, because , Great Odin’s Raven!, you’d know I was lying. But it is funny, sometimes downright eye-wateringly hilarious.

The swinging 70s have given way to 1980, as Ron Burgundy (Ferrell) and his news team move to New York to join GNN, the very first 24 hour news network. After finding themselves on the graveyard shift, Ron, Brick (Steve Carell), Brian (Paul Rudd) and Champ (David Koechner) set their sights on moving into primetime and taking down the network golden boy (James Marsden).

Ferrell and co-writer Adam McKay (who also directs) get more pointed in their satire of TV news in round two, which seems a natural progression. Occasionally, things get a tad too obvious, but the overall subject of the sad state of broadcast journalism is still so ripe for ridicule that the film is always able to recover pretty quickly.

Two curious plot points hold this new Burgundy adventure back from striking ratings gold, one involving Ron’s health and another concerning his strange choice of new pet (don’t worry, Baxter’s still around). Both subplots fall flat, bloating the film by at least twenty self-indulgent minutes that were better relegated to the deleted scenes section of the DVD.

The other 100 minutes, though, are chock full of nutty goodness. The four core actors again excel at this rapid fire, improv-heavy brand of comedy (especially Koechner, who jumps up a notch this time) and the new faces (Kristin Wiig, Meagan Good, Greg Kinnear) blend in well. Expect some inspired sight gags (keep an eye on that news ticker), well-played homages to the best moments from part one, a litany of welcome cameos, and a small reprise at the end of the credits.

While this Anchorman lamp may not be quite as lovable, you’ll like this lamp, you’ll really like this lamp.

 

Verdict-3-5-Stars