Tag Archives: Jennifer Garner

Wonder Park

June and her mother (Jennifer Garner) have expansive imaginations. Together they created a pretend theme park called Wonderland, a special place that peopled by June’s favourite toys: a warthog named Greta (Mila Kunis), a hedgehog named Steve (John Oliver) a blue bear named Boomer (Ken Hudson Campbell), and brought alive by the pictures and blueprints that June and her mother draw together, wallpapering June’s room with their designs.

But then June’s mother gets sick, and June can’t bring herself to play their favourite game without her. June’s dad (Matthew Broderick) thinks it’s a good idea that she spends her summer at math camp, but halfway there, she gets cold feet and heads back. But she gets so turned around she ends up in – Wonderland? But how is the amusement park in her imagination a real place? And how are her toys talking, breathing characters?

One thing’s for sure: Greta the pink warthog and friends feel abandoned by the “voices” who inspired their adventures and brought life to their home. June realizes that she’s been so afraid to lose her mom that she’s somehow lost herself. But in the meantime, saving Wonderland presents itself as a real thing. We don’t know how June has wandered into the actual iteration of the park, but she’s there, and must contend with the consequences of her neglect. Luckily, as the inventor of Wonderland, there’s no one better to fix it up and save it from the darkness.

It’s hard to make a movie with colourful, talking stuffed animals in a fanciful amusement park address grief, so the script does not, not in any meaningful or profound way, even though grief is the catalyst for June’s neglect, and her need for escape, and for pretty much 80 of the film’s 85 minute runtime. It also talks about the nature of play, and what happens when you shut down an integral part of yourself, but without really saying anything about it. The movie is really content just to a diversion for kids than to be something with a moving story or a plot that makes sense. But it’s fun and full of energy and perfectly likable if you’re 5 and think bendy straws are the shit.

Sidebar: it’s shocking how many animated kids movies have erection jokes in them. Like, it’s pretty much all of them. This one’s no exception. In fact, it’s not exceptional in any way.

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Peppermint

In two heartbeats, Riley North loses everything. Her husband and young daughter are gunned down in a drive-by shooting. The only thing that licks at her grief is justice. She stumbles out of the hospital to identify her assailants in a line-up, and then confronts them in court. But the justice system fails Riley (Jennifer Garner), and the killers walk free.

Contorted with rage and sadness, Riley disappears, and spends the next several years obsessing about revenge. When she resurfaces in Los Angeles on the 5th anniversary of Peppermint-1her family’s murder, she’s got a plan, and she’s got the skills and weapons to see it through. First, a trio of dead gang members are found hanging, execution-style, from the carnival ride where Riley spent her last moments with her daughter. It’s a message to the city, to the cops, and to the criminals she holds responsible. She’s coming for them.

And for the next 24 hours her time (102 minutes our time), it’s a goddamned bloodbath. The cops don’t know how to stop her and the city rallies behind her, their angel, their vigilante.

Jennifer Garner steps very nimbly back into badassery, and it feels like the genre has missed her. Although her character benefits from movie magic as the bad guys politely wait their turn to attack, single file, never overwhelming or completely outnumbering her, she still feels somewhat real. Maybe it’s the mom in her that never dies – she’s a kamikaze filled with revenge lust, but she still remembers to buckle her seat belt. Maybe it’s because Garner is a fierce mama bear in real life, admirably so. Riley is tough, but she hasn’t forgotten her humanity. She is haunted by the ghost of her little girl but has a soft spot for all children, sometimes to her own detriment. Otherwise, she’s not playing around. She wears boots, not heels, because she means business. Does she maintain unrealistically cute beachy waves? She does. But her hair is dirty, and her body is coated in blood and grime and she basically goes through hell – twice.

Director Pierre Morel knows a little something about putting families in jeopardy – he’s the guy behind Taken. Peppermint has a certain visual style that’s fun to watch. Morel takes us to the gritty streets of Los Angeles, plants us firmly in skid row, and the wrong side of the boulevard, but he also has Garner shooting up a pinata shop in gleeful contrast. The action sequences are tight, the action is hot, and Garner has fun uttering the perfect one-liner as the body count multiplies.

The Tribes of Palos Verdes

Medina’s parents, Sandy and Phil Mason, have recently moved their family to Palos Verdes, California, for a fresh start. Phil (Justin Kirk) has always wanted to be a surgeon to the stars, but Sandy (Jennifer Garner) doesn’t fit the real housewives of Palos Verdes mold. Instead of fixing things, home only becomes more volatile, and Medina (Maika Monroe) and her twin brother Jim (Cody Fern) seek solace in the surf outside. Or in anything else, including the kind of trouble teenagers will always get into.

Wowza do parents fuck up their kids. Although to be honest, having treated myself to Incredibles 2 this weekend, it’s this messed up depiction of fatherhood that feels more MV5BY2JiZWVlZDYtZmQ3YS00YzA4LTljM2QtNDBkYjE1OTEyNjY1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjUxMTg4Mzk@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1353,1000_AL_familiar to be, more comfortable: the leaving kind. The not caring kind. There is no Hollywood gloss on this depiction of family. The father is worse than useless, and the mother’s grief borders on insanity, and the children are forgotten in their wake.

And then a plague descends. Because things always get worse. This is what breaking points are made of. But movie wise, while it achieves a lot of separate pieces of despair, it struggles to stitch them together into something cohesive. The tone and pace are meant to be melancholic, yet it needs to be building toward something. The actors all do their thing rather admirably, but it always seems like the scene lets them down. Jennifer Garner, as the desperate housewife, is really something to watch, in a role I for one haven’t seen from her before. Her eyes flash with crazed rage, then go blank with hopelessness. I only wish the circumstances allowed a little more sympathy toward her.

The beautiful setting and cinematographer are gentle and constant reminders that the trappings of success are no inoculation against life’s disappointments.

Miracles From Heaven

Can an atheist such as myself give an unbiased review of a movie with a distinctly Christian bent?

For reals: I don’t think I can. And I’m doing everything I can to be fair here, trying to look beyond the bible-thumping to find something else to focus on, and maybe even, to enjoy.

Okay, let’s talk about Jennifer Garner. It took me a long time to come around to her. Back in her Alias days, I kind of disliked her, for not big reason that I can relate. She married Ben Affleck in 2005 and that softened her for me. And now that they’re divorced, I like her even more, for being stoic and strong and not running her mouth. For putting her family first. For helping him get sober even as he runs around with a new girlfriend. For being a good person, too good for stupid Ben Affleck. I suppose her loving a man who didn’t deserve her makes her pretty damn relatable. And now that she’s “free” she’s a little more present on social media – and she’s funny, and dorky, and unselfconscious. She’s also very hands-on with her 3 kids, taking them to school, to get ice cream, to church.

So I suppose this movie kind of makes sense for her – it’s family-friendly, and it’s churchy, MV5BNDJjNjM2ZTQtMGZlOS00ZDAxLWEyZTMtODMwODY1MGM3MmU3XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc3MjUzNTI@._V1_as evidenced by her rather large, Texan hair and the lively church services she attends, the kind with the “funny” pastor and the earnest rock band praising jebus. She plays a real-life mother of 3 named Christy Beam who goes through one of the very worst things a mother can experience: a sick kid. A very sick kid. Her middle daughter, Anna, comes down with one of those mystery illnesses that doctors can’t diagnose so they ignore, while a little girl writhes in pain and wastes away. And only because her mother is persistent does she eventually get a prognosis that isn’t very helpful: she has a severe and incurable disease where she basically doesn’t process food, and she will die from it.

So that’s terrible to watch. If you have kids, or, scratch that, any loved one at all, you know how hard it is to watch them be so sick when you are powerless to help. Even 24 hours of vomiting can undo a family – imagine if that became your life. [And side note: does everyone have a “sick bowl” – that special bucket that Moms seem to keep on hand specifically for those times you can’t quite make it to the toilet? Is that a thing in other families?]

So Christy’s faith is tested, because why would a loving god allow her innocent child to be sick? And her faith is further tested when other “Christians” accuse her of deserving it – whether through her own sins, her husband’s, or potentially even Anna’s. It’s the kind of thing that makes even a hardened atheist such as myself roll her eyes and whisper “Oh lord.” Even poor little Anna is starting to wonder why god hasn’t healed her. Is it possible he doesn’t care (or, um, exist?).

But no. This is a Christian movie, destined to be screened by church groups and almost no one else. So of course, a miracle must occur, and if possible, perhaps even the voice of god himself could make itself known. And if that doesn’t stun you into prayerful submission, someone will offer that miracles are god’s way of letting us know he’s here (don’t ask yourself what god is telling us when he lets other little kids die left and right).

So as much as I might praise Garner for her performance, I can’t really look past the message of this film, which is preaching to the choir at best, and downright insulting at worst. They wring this story for all it’s worth, and while I was sorry for the real Anna’s pain, and happy that she survived (make no mistake: there is no doubt that she will survive – the only question is how long they’ll string us along for first), I find it dangerous to label something a “miracle from heaven” when it really seems like a “coincidence on earth” and “an accident in an old tree”. Because otherwise we’d have to ask ourselves what makes one child more worthy of a miracle than any other, and I really, really, really hate where that takes us. That kind of fear and competitiveness makes nice, casserole-toting, big-haired church ladies into real bitches – so where would that leave the rest of us?

Wakefield

Howard Wakefield is a cruel man possibly in the throes of a nervous breakdown – but let’s not let that excuse him. In a fit of selfish pique, he one day decides to leave his wife and kids – only not leave them in the traditional sense, but rather he decides to disappear without telling a soul. Which leaves his wife and daughters devastated, but not devastated enough, according to Howard, who in fact has not actually left but is hiding out in the garage so he can more effectively spy on his grieving family.

It’s not as creepy as it sounds – it’s way, way creepier. Wakefield is a difficult movie to watch because Harold is a nasty soul impossible to forgive. He talks to us, the audience, as if we can relate, but no Harold, we can’t. He has everything he ever wanted – ever Wakefield_Mingasson_2060.CR2cheated in order to get, but when he finds that it’s not enough, he doesn’t just abandon it, he makes it into a game, one that his family can never win because they don’t even know they’re playing, but even if they did, the deck isn’t just stacked against them, the rules are impossible. It’s not really his family that’s the problem – it’s Harold’s own dark, empty soul. And it’s terrifying to get glimpses of it as he spends months becoming a feral creature up in the attic of his detached garage. He risks starvation and exposure just to carry out this cruel little experiment. Is he missed enough? Grieved enough? His absence respected enough? No one can ever measure up – but Harold himself conveniently escapes his judgement.

Harold is brilliantly played by Bryan Cranston, which makes him riveting, but all the more loathsome to watch. But really it’s his wife who’s the most compelling – we see and experience her only through Harold’s narrow focus. Jennifer Garner has the difficult task of animating her, a woman who can never truly be real to us, even if we do project our own anguish and frustration on to her. I can’t say I enjoyed this film; it’s a bit dull and uneventful, but more than that, it’s just detestable. Harold is an anti-hero incapable of redemption. But there are two fine performances and ideas about marriage and identity that will challenge the least of us. Who are we really – are we fully knowable to our partners? And do we all have secret garage moments?

Pearl Harbor

Yesterday, December 7th 1941, a date which will live in infamy, the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the empire of Japan.

It’s been 75 years since that fateful attack on US soil, and 15 years since Michael Bay made a movie about it, and people are still arguing about which one was worse.

Oof, okay, sorry. No more joking about it. Sean and I are actually in Honolulu right now, visiting the Pearl Harbor site, and that’s a super-somber thing for uss_arizona_memorial_4sure. But beautiful too, in its way. There’s a floating memorial right over top where the USS Arizona lays beneath the ocean. You take a small shuttle boat over to it, and you can walk around on the very spot where it happened. It’s a lovely memorial, sobering as it is built right over the battleship, where 1102 of the 1177 crewmen killed still rest. In aerial shots, you can make out the outline of the ship. Lots of quiet moments to think about this loss of life.

Does Michael Bay’s movie afford the same opportunity? Not so much. The spectacularly bad dialogue makes it hard to take seriously. And critics derided the love story, though lots of Pearl Harbor-era veterans thought it pretty accurate. It’s maybe not the kind of love story we’re used to today, but if you compare it to a romance from the actual 1940s, it’s not so far off the mark. pearl-harbourPlus, war and love make us do crazy things. Michael Bay, however, is just the worst choice to convey those things. The 40 minute action sequence: superb. Very Michael Bay. Very explody. It’s even in the Guinness book of records for movie with most explosives used. There’s one shot of 6 explosions in “Battleship Row”, which was staged on real Navy ships. 6 ships, 600 feet each, rigged with 500 bombs on each boat, using 700 sticks of dynamite, 2000 feet of cord and 4000 gallons of gasoline. It took 7 months of coordination, a month and a half to rig them, permission from the government of Hawaii, the EPA, and the Navy, plus 100 extras on hand and 6 planes flying overhead, and 14 cameras to film it and in the end, it was a 7 second explosion that was stretched to 12 seconds on screen. That’s how Michael Bay do.

Otherwise it’s bloated and clichéd and weak in both plot and character. Bay has a special kind of super power where he routinely takes 3 hours to say very little, and almost never authentically. But there’s a lot of flag-waving. 1503b4f462b99050922864481f727176Wouldn’t you like to see Michael Bay and Clint Eastwood in a flag-off? Who would drop first? Pearl Harbor manages to make a spectacle out of a profound moment in history, where blood was shed by real people embroiled in their own acts of love, intimacy, bravery, fear, courage, and duty. But those stories never get told. Instead, Michael Bay offended the Japanese by upping the “barbarism” of the whole thing, which also insults American vets, who would be right in thinking the real event was bad enough. A better tribute to those who died, and those who survived, is found at the memorial, where a 23 minute documentary is shown, and manages in those 23 minutes to be more honest and more informative than Bay’s 183.

 

 

 

 

Catch Me If You Can

My first encounter with the life of Frank W. Abagnale, Jr. was accidental.  I was about 5 or 6, poking around the house, when I came across a book cover that instantly imprinted on me:Catch Me

I didn’t read it then, because I couldn’t read a 50 page book before my short little attention span made me want to “look at” ants through a magnifying glass or something similarly fun.  And I never ended up reading it at any time in the next three decades.  It’s probably still sitting in my parents’ bookshelf, and as a kid I would have read it ten times over if I had just read a different page every time I picked it up instead of just looking at the creepy faceless man on the cover over and over again.  But really, the cover was enough for me to draw my own conclusions about how this “amazing true story” turned out.  And it was not until this week that I learned how wrong I was all these years.

My biggest mistake was thinking that this story centred around the fact that this guy actually had no face and that’s why he needed the pilot mask. Symbolism was lost on me then (and probably still is to this day).  It turns out that this guy had a normal face, wrote a lot of bad cheques, and for some reason the key to his scheme was pretending to be a pilot.

I found that part of the story absolutely amazing.  Most of all because I feel like it’s probably true.  Pilots in the 1960s were gods among men.  They were the paragon of success and reliability.  So much so that a pilot’s uniform changed Frank Jr.’s cheque scams from fruitless endeavours to an avalanche of other peoples’ money.  Can you imagine this happening today?  It seems as likely as an apparently successful model taking a cheque in exchange for turning tricks.  Which, as I learned, also happened in this true story.

Incidentally, that successful model was played by Jennifer Garner.  Catch Me If You Can is full of soon-to-be-stars making cameos, including Amy Adams, Elizabeth Banks and Ellen Pompeo.  Add Christopher Walken, Tom Hanks, Martin Sheen, and Leonardo DiCaprio, and you’ve got a pretty impressive cast.  And the director, Steven Spielberg, is no slouch either.

Maybe all these young faces are the reason that watching Catch Me If You Can felt doubly nostalgic.  As only a movie set in the good old days can, the movie puts a bright sunny face on $2.5 million worth of cheque fraud, where if you go big enough then inevitably the FBI will negotiate your release from prison so they can offer you a job.  And those good old days now seem to be either the 1960s, when this movie is set, or the early 2000s, pre-financial crisis, when this movie was made.

Catch Me If You Can is an entertaining movie that remains enjoyable mainly because it fully embraces its ludicrous premise.  If it took itself more seriously, it may still have worked in those good old days but by now probably would have lost its luster, as I think we are now too jaded to be charmed by ultra-rich assholes who think the rules don’t apply to them (with Donald Trump being an obvious and unfortunate exception).

But Spielberg and DiCaprio didn’t ask me to like Abagnale.  Instead, they gave me a kid who figured out how to do one thing really well but who was terrible at every other aspect of life, a guy I almost felt sorry for, and that was a brilliant choice.  Add Tom Hanks as an opponent/father figure who by the end of the movie sees right through Abagnale, and you get a movie I should have watched long before now, especially when it has been sitting on our DVD shelf since Jay and I moved in together.  Things might have been different if the DVD cover had a man with no face – because then I would undoubtedly have picked it up long ago.  That was Dreamworks’ one misstep.

Catch Me If You Can gets a score of nine giddy stewardesses out of ten.