Tag Archives: Jennifer Garner

I Said, What’s In Your GD Wallet!


by George Wolf

Jennifer Garner has been a screen sweetheart for enough years now that it might be easy to forget she rose to fame as the action star of TV’s Alias.

Peppermint is her bloody reminder, a corpse-strewn revenge caper with few surprises but plenty of ambitions for a new franchise.

Garner is Riley North, an LA mom whose husband and daughter are gunned down on orders from ruthless drug dealer Diego Garcia (Juan Pablo Raba). Riley is injured badly but survives the shooting, eventually giving the cops positive IDs on the three gunman….which bases the entire film on a contradiction.

The flimsy reason for the hit, along with the stories of Garcia’s mythic levels of evildoing, don’t jibe with his offer to buy Riley’s silence instead of buying her the farm. If only that were the film’s biggest problem.

The script from Chad St. John (London Has Fallen – woof) serves up heaps of one-note obviousness amid layers of cop cliche circle-jerkery.

“The FBI wants to talk..”

“The Feds?”

Yes, experienced detective, that’s a big ten-four!

Treasure troves of info result from 15-second phone calls, kids living on skid row sport gleaming white teeth, and the search for any authenticity in this film is DOA.

So, dead then?

Sigh…yes! And then there’s the matter of Riley’s particularly deadly set of skills. Suffice to say there are issues there as well, but thankfully not because we’re given yet another Taken knockoff.

With Taken‘s director Pierre Morel at the helm, it’s not a big leap to expect just that. Instead, Riley’s frequent baddie beatdowns set her up as a West Coast Equalizer, but Morel can’t cash that check, either.

The reasons to get invested in any of this are hastily assembled and unconvincing, and Morel’s action sequences seldom escape a bland auto pilot, but Garner makes a comfortable return to the action saddle. She casts Riley as a likable, if less-than-believable, anti-hero, and Morel manages to keep the focus respectably gritty, never sexualizing Garner beyond some seriously long-lasting lipstick.

High on body count but low on substance, Peppermint tastes like a strange blend of committed and lazy.

Secret Love

Love, Simon

by George Wolf

Some of the most tired young adult cliches – narration, idealized characters, the dreaded climactic essay reading – show up in Love, Simon. 

So why is it such a winner?

Heart, smarts, and humor for starters. But it’s also the rare movie that earns points just for being here in the YA crowd, and for rightly assuming there’s no reason it shouldn’t be.

Simon (Nick Robinson) is an upper middle class high schooler in Georgia, with some awesome friends (Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp, Jorge Lendeborg, Jr.), awesome parents (Jennifer Garner, Josh Duhamel) and a big gay secret.

But then another kid at school comes out anonymously online, which leads Simon to adopt a fake name and reach out by email. So while much of the student body is guessing who the “secret gay kid” might be, two online pen pals bond over the uncertainties of being themselves.

Director Greg Berlanti (Life as We Know It) keeps the film moving, wrapping it with a clean, welcoming shine that would be just too peachy-keen if not for the smartly self-aware script from veteran TV writers Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker.

Adapting Becky Albertalli’s novel, the duo delivers some solid laughs (don’t mess with the drama teacher!), but more importantly, a knowing vibe that refuses to wallow in self-absorbed teen angst. Current events have reminded us that many teens are more than ready to meet harsh challenges with strength and wisdom, and Love, Simon gives them some refreshing credit.

It can’t go unnoticed that the film treats homophobic taunting as more mischievous than dangerous, but even that misstep feels ironically right. Everything about Love, Simon, from the casting to the set design, is effortlessly likable and comfortable, feeding the notion that this is nothing more or less than another teen romance.

It becomes a sweet, entertaining one, and it just might make some audience members feel a little less alone.

That makes Simon pretty easy to love.


The Man Upstairs


by George Wolf

“Who hasn’t had the impulse to put their life on hold for a moment…just vanish completely?”

Howard Wakefield (Bryan Cranston) gives in to that impulse, and his moment of resignation becomes months in a self-imposed exile, wallowing in self-pity and watching his family from an attic window.

Sure, Howard has a nice job, beautiful family and sweet home in suburban New York, but he’s been lulled into a stupor by the whole domestic routine. After yet another trying day, Howard ventures up to the attic above his separate garage…and decides to stay there.

Writer/director Robin Swicord adapts E.L. Doctorow’s short story with a workmanlike precision, dutifully providing all the building blocks for this high-concept parable, but never finding the depth or profundity she seeks.

Cranston, here’s a shocker, is fantastic, digging commendably deep in a search for the humanity his character badly needs. Howard has some first-world problems, as he labels suburbia a place people can feel “protected from what’s wild,” but can’t challenge his privilege with anything more dire than dumpster diving or poor hygiene. Howard is far from likable, and though Cranston is all in, finding a reason to root for his quest is tough sledding indeed.

As he spies on his wife (Jennifer Garner) and two daughters, Howard fancies himself the veritable wise old hermit, observing the folly of modern life and dispatching simple truths. It’s well-meaning, but these truths are of the standard greeting card variety, rendered even less impactful from the film’s inherent need to tell (through voiceover narration or talking-to-himself musings) instead of show.

At times, Wakefield has the feel of a one-man show. With Cranston, the man makes it worth watching, even when the show can’t quite keep up.





It Could Be Worse

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

by Hope Madden

I recently attended the advance screening of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, and I have to admit, my own day had been pretty craptastic. What I really wanted to do was drink to excess. But instead, I sat in the dark and watched as Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner parented four children through a crisis-riddled day.

Taken from Judith Viorst’s much beloved children’s book of the same name, the film follows Alexander on the day before and the day of his 12th birthday. At birthday-eve dinner, as Alexander recounts the woes of his miserable life – including accidentally setting his science class on fire while horrifying the girl of his dreams – each of his siblings and parents announces a wonderful life event that happened to coincide with Alexander’s misery.

So, at midnight, he makes himself a birthday Sunday and wishes his too-perfect family would have a bad day.

Well, he realizes the next day that he’s cursed each and every one of them.

And as obvious as the story is, it’s handled here with restraint and dignity.

Director Miguel Arteta – who directed one of my favorite little indies, Chuck and Buck – never panders or condescends. He has respect for his characters, his story, and his audience. It is amazing what a difference that makes in a family film.

Each character is drawn with some depth. Few actors are asked to mug for the camera. Each crisis is, of course, wildly implausible, but somehow this film and this cast pulls it off.

The cast itself helps. Carell and Garner never stoop. They are invested in these characters, and though both parents are too good to be true, they also both have dimension and faults.

As the titular Alexander, young, lisping Ed Oxenbould (Wow! That’s quite a moniker!) turns in an enjoyable performance as layered as the film could allow. He easily anchors the movie.

Plus, one outstanding cameo from the always brilliant Jennifer Coolidge.

Yes, things turn out OK. Great, in fact, and if you have a family that loves you, everything will be all right for you, too.

Beer is great, too, though. I’m not going to lie to you.




Cleveland Lite Rocks


Draft Day

by George Wolf

Don’t tell Cleveland sports fans that a movie released 25 years ago this week didn’t help turn one of their hapless losers into a championship contender.

Don’t tell us it can’t happen again.

Major League hit in 1989, and before long, the Indians were winning.

Draft Day won’t make anybody’s list of great sports movies, but if it propels the Browns toward the Super Bowl, a lifetime achievement Oscar would surely be in order.

The focus is just what the title promises:  the day of the NFL draft. And though the film was originally conceived for the Buffalo Bills organization, the more budget-friendly environment in the Dawg Pound put Cleveland on the clock.

Kevin Costner plays Sonny Weaver, Jr., the Browns GM who wakes up on draft day with some issues.

Though he doesn’t hold the first pick, Sonny is getting pressured by his owner (Frank Langella) to trade up and make a splash by landing the new hot quarterback prospect. Not only is Sonny unsure the Browns need a QB (pause for laughter), but his somewhat secret relationship with Ali, the team’s salary cap expert (Jennifer Garner), has hit a critical point.

In their feature debut, screenwriters Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph try to mix Jerry McGuire‘s sports biz love story with Moneyball‘s profile of a maverick GM. They aim high, but just can’t provide enough reason for us to care much about the couple, or about anyone else we meet.

Current players and prospective draft picks are given contrived back stories, while Sonny’s own history of trying to live up to a family legacy becomes laborious. Ditto the manufactured friction between Sonny and his head coach (Denis Leary).

Costner, as in all his sports movies, looks right at home, though Garner seems a bit lost and Leary resembles a football coach as much as Bill Belichick does a standup comedian.

Draft Day arrives with the blessing of the NFL, but that can be a double-edged sword. It certainly looks authentic, with enough logos and famous faces to sometimes resemble a “sorry about that moving your team thing” love letter to Browns fans. Heck, even some fake Ohio State game footage is impressive.

But you also get plenty of sponsor product placement and a brand- friendly message that puts executive deal-making in the same league as a late game touchdown drive.Director Ivan Reitman proves a worthy choice for the task at hand:  keep things snappy and polished, but forget about digging any deeper than a highlight reel.

The draft is now a major pop culture event, as a football-starved nation eagerly accepts anything resembling NFL entertainment and asks for more.

Draft Day will fit right in.

But still, go Browns!