Tooth Fairy (2010)

I believe that kids deserve good movies, although they get lousy movies as often as the rest of us. The difference is that when a kid sees a lousy movie, it's likely that an adult has paid to see it too. If you are the parent of a child young enough to be visited regularly by the Tooth Fairy, then you are probably aware of Tooth Fairy the movie. If you think watching it will be like pulling teeth, fear not. It's pleasantly enjoyable, and fairy devotee Kid M loved it.

Tooth Fairy stars Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as minor league hockey player Derek Thompson. I know Johnson doesn't go by "The Rock" anymore, but calling a human being "The Rock" is just too much fun. As he often does, Johnson plays a not-so-nice guy in need of comeuppance, redemption and/or a second chance in Tooth Fairy. He played the same sort of guy in The Game Plan, Race to Witch Mountain, and (my personal favorite The Rock movie), The Rundown. What is unusual about Tooth Fairy is that the road to redemption leads through Fairy Land, and involves wings and a tutu.

Thompson is a bone-crushing hockey player who has been nicknamed "The Tooth Fairy" because other players tend to lose their teeth when he's on the ice. He spends a lot of time in the penalty box, and the rest of it sending his opponents to the dentist. He also doesn't believe in fairies, or dreams, or in encouraging kids to reach for the stars. He gets into hot water with his girlfriend Carly (Ashley Judd) when he tries to tell her daughter Tess (Destiny Whitlock) that there's no such thing as the Tooth Fairy. He also gets in trouble with the Tooth Fairy, or rather, with Fairy Land head honcho Lily (Julie Andrews). Thompson is summoned to Fairy Land, sprouts wings and dons a pink tutu, and is sentenced to serve two weeks slipping dollars under little tykes' pillows and retrieving lost teeth.

Apparently there are many tooth fairies, which explains the ability to fly all over the world retrieving all those teeth each and every night. And apparently there are both male and female tooth fairies, and ordinary mortals can be involuntarily drafted into tooth service. Who knew? Thompson is outfitted with the tools of the tooth trade: shrinking paste, cat repellent, invisibility spray, amnesia dust, and so on, all designed to get him out of trouble. He manages to get into plenty of trouble anyway. There's a funny bit of business with Jerry (Billy Crystal), the giddy, smart-alecky Q-like fairy who invents the various Tooth Fairy accoutrements. Also quite funny is Stephen Merchant as Thompson's caseworker Tracy, a gangly, bug-eyed fairy with unfulfilled dreams. Johnson, charismatic as ever, spends a good deal of his time flashing his pearly whites (an extraordinary set of teeth for a hockey player) and getting all wide-eyed with fear, disbelief, and outrage. Thompson does not embrace the fairy lifestyle or the fairy ethic, he refuses to believe in dreams, and he's not very good with kids. He's especially not very good with Carly's son Randy (Chase Ellison), a sullen teen who plays a mean guitar but needs the kind of encouragement that Thompson can't bring himself to dispense. If only the kid needed a few teeth knocked out.

Speaking of which, there's a fair bit of hockey-related violence in Tooth Fairy, although no one is seriously wounded. Thompson gets bumped, bashed, crushed and crashed in his Tooth Fairy duties. And he eventually discovers the power of dreams, and learns that the tooth will set you free. 

Tooth Fairy is silly fun, competently directed by Michael Lembeck and  written by no fewer than five screenwriters, among them Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, who, aside from having the kind of names that just trip off the tongue, wrote City Slickers, which enjoined us all to find our smiles. The message of Tooth Fairy isn't really for the faithful, gap-toothed little believers out there, although they'll find plenty to smile about. Tooth Fairy is for you, the nonbelievers, the scoffers, those who've set aside childish things, o ye of little faith. Believe in the tooth! Clap your hands and let that freak fairy fly! But seriously, the audience for Tooth Fairy is primarily those who still possess deciduous teeth, and their lucky chaperones. It will also appeal to The Rock completists, particularly the ones who want to see him in tights, or diehard Julie Andrews devotees, or Billy Crystal enthusiasts, or perhaps hockey fans. That there's a pretty diverse audience. Is it possible that one individual somewhere is all of the above? Tooth Fairy is definitely for that unique person, but also for ordinary people with teeth.

If you don't believe me, take it from Kid M, who says  "it's very fun to watch" and "kids would love it" and "it's appropriate."


The Lovely Bones (2010)

In 1994, Peter Jackson made a film called Heavenly Creatures. It was based on the true story of two teenage girls, and how they come to murder one girl's mother. It was really very good. The Lovely Bones is about a different sort of heavenly creature, this one a 14 year old girl who is savagely murdered and mutilated by her creepy neighbor. It's not really very good, and at times, it reminded me a little of another Jackson movie, also not really very good, called The Frighteners, about a psychic menaced by a ghostly serial killer. In between, Jackson made some little Lord of the Rings films -- you might have heard of them -- and an excellent King Kong remake, so I can honestly say that not so good films are not the norm for him.

Speaking of in between, that's where Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan) dwells (lingers? hangs out? loiters?) following her murder. It's not exactly heaven, but a sort of groovy halfway house of the afterlife. It looks like the kind of place a 1970s teen girl might imagine heaven to be -- candy colored, with golden meadows and sandy beaches, and bubbles and butterflies. It also looks like the sort of place where Hello Kitty might live. Susie's murderer, George Harvey (Stanley Tucci), continues to live across the street from her family. Her grieving parents (Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz) cope in different ways. Her father becomes obsessed with finding her killer. Her mother withdraws. Her boozy grandmother (Susan Sarandon) takes up residence to provide some unneeded comic relief and care for Susie's sister Lindsey (Rose McIver) and little brother Buckley (Christian Thomas Ashdale).

Susie narrates The Lovely Bones, and watches her family, and her killer, from the afterlife, when she isn't traipsing among the flowers with her new dead friend Holly (Nikki SooHoo). In Susie's afterlife, metaphors happen. Gigantic ships in bottles crash on the shore of an afterlife beach, there are massive ice sculptures and trees made of birds, and sometimes, menacing things, like doors Susie doesn't care to open. Jackson and his special effects team have made the afterlife a visually arresting (if sometimes obvious and not terribly imaginative) place. It's trippy, colorful, scenic, and ever-changing, which may be what the afterlife is like, but I hope not. It's no way to rest in peace. 

The trouble with The Lovely Bones, based on Alice Sebold's bestselling novel, is that it spends too much time in Susie's almost heaven, and too little among the living. Susie is obsessed with the people she's left behind -- including her dreamy almost-was boyfriend (Reece Ritchie), and her family. She's obsessed, too, with her killer, and spends some of her time trying to reach out to the living, to let them know that the killer is the creepy guy across the street. This involves some supernatural hocus pocus like making candles flicker and appearing in dreams. By spending so much time with Susie, The Lovely Bones has little left to spend with her family, whose various manifestations of mourning are attended to sporadically and with minimal feeling. The movie never really engages with these people, and does little more than gloss the surface of a grief that ought to be profound and bottomless. This makes Susie's death (which happens offscreen), and its aftershocks something the audience never has to (or never gets to) deal with.

The only really interesting character in the movie is Harvey, who is, needless to say, despicable, and a terrible, horrible man. He builds dollhouses -- perfect, miniature replicas of life that are, in his hands, grotesque. It's easy enough to hate him, and Tucci does a fine job of portraying his unsettling, seething wickedness. But as for the rest, their parts are underwritten and underdeveloped in the the screenplay by Jackson and his frequent cowriters Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh.

The Lovely Bones is a serial killer thriller, a revenge movie, a gumdrop fairy tale ghost story, a domestic melodrama, a teen romance. It's too many movies at once, and so, its attention divided, it is both too much and too little.


Leap Year (2010)

You know me. I love all things Irish. So it is with great disappointment that I must report that Leap Year made me love Ireland just a wee bit less. The Emerald Isle has never seemed so uncharming, so inhospitable, so cranky, and so full of such miserable weather. I would pity poor Anna (Amy Adams), who had such a rotten time in Eire, if only I could care about her fearsomely bad journey with a tall, dark, and handsome stranger.

Anna Seems nice enough. Her fatal flaw -- the only thing that earns her a movie comeuppance -- is that she is super-organized and maybe a little bit of a control freak. This is later explained in the movie as being the result of growing up with a shiftless father. But whatever. She's an apartment stager -- she does a little interior decorating razzle dazzle, and apartments get rented. She has her sights set on a condo in Boston's ritziest, most exclusive building, where she plans to live with her boyfriend, a very busy cardiologist named Jeremy (Adam Scott). Jeremy, she is sure, is going to pop the question any minute, so it is with great disappointment that she receives his gift of diamond earrings instead of the engagement ring she was expecting.

Turns out Jeremy's already married to his Blackberry. Then he flies off to Dublin for a cardiology conference. Sure and begorrah, Anna is reminded of her ol' grandmother who, according to family legend, took advantage of the leap year tradition in which women can propose marriage to men on February 29. It just so happens that Jeremy will be in Dublin February 29, so  Anna flies off to Dublin to hook her fella.

The control freak soon encounters bad weather. More than once. Which results in her landing in Dingle instead of Dublin. Dingle, in addition to having a  funny name, contains a pub, which is also the local hotel and taxi stand. The publican is a cranky young cuss named Declan (Matthew Goode), the aforementioned tall, dark and handsome stranger. He calls Anna an "eedjit" several times before agreeing to drive her to Dublin. More misadventures interfere with Anna's plans, including further bad weather, missed trains, mud, and cows that poo. Anna has made the mistake of wearing very expensive platform heels, which, in short order, are covered in cow manure. You'd think someone that organized would have brought a pair of Wellies. Declan proceeds to mock and insult Anna a great deal more, which causes the two of them to fall in love for no reason except that the script demands it. Dr. Blackberry isn't looking so bad at this point.

Adams and Goode are both quite attractive and adorable. And yet, they can't sell this improbable romance because nothing that comes out of their mouths suggests that they are in any way compatible, or that they would even be friends once the bad weather clears up. The movie was written by Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont (who have collaborated before, on Josie and the Pussycats, Made of Honor, and A Very Brady Sequel), and it's charmless and unimaginative, a forced march through the romantic comedy cliche hall of fame.

Adams is a gifted actress, but she's not, on the strength of this performance, very good at slapstick, and her humiliating pratfalls, which are many, fall flat. The wan direction of Anand Tucker doesn't help. This is a movie in which things just happen, and then you move on to the next thing that happens, and so on. For example, Anna is waiting for the very last train to Dublin, thus sensibly declining Declan's offer to hike up to some picturesque castle ruins. Really, what rational gal wouldn't want to walk up a mountain with the mopey, sneering guy who has been insulting her for the last 40 minutes? Then a dog barks at Anna, and she scurries off to the castle. What happens next is quite predictable, but who cares? What I want to know is why any person lacking a demonstrable phobia of dogs would abandon a train station and march up a mountain to a castle because a dog barked at her? It wasn't a particularly big dog, nor even a particularly vicious bark. It was just a dog following a script, and the script said "Bark!" The dog barked quite convincingly, for what it's worth, but it wasn't the sort of bark that would ordinarily dislodge a person from an otherwise reasonable plan into a foolhardy temptation of fate and train schedules.

Leap Year is a non-rom com, lacking the essential rom and com. It's predictable, generic and arbitrary, but mostly it's rather dull. When the colorful Irish locals can't even liven the place up, you know you're in the muck.  If a movie like Leap Year only came along once every four years, nobody would complain. Well, I would still complain, but not as often.


Sherlock Holmes (2009)

Guy Ritchie has always struck me as the sort of filmmaker who *could* make good films if he would just stop fidgeting for a minute and focus a little. His filmmaking style is frenetic, and his movies are full of action, although it frequently just feels like action for the sake of action, which amounts to just going through the motions. His stories are generally about action too: men doing manly stuff, like boxing and fighting and shooting other men. Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes is no different. Holmes (Robert Downey, Jr.) is prone to fisticuffs, and so is his faithful sidekick Dr. Watson (Jude Law). Those two can mix it up with the roughest, toughest goons in Victorian London, and still bicker like an old married couple back in the cozy confines of 221B Baker Street. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Unlike previous iterations of Arthur Conan Doyle's proto-superhero, this revisionist (no deerstalker hat!), digital age Sherlock Holmes comes replete with lots of special effects: explosions, collapsing bridges, dangerous shipyards, and assorted mayhem. Holmes and Watson get into all sorts of close scrapes while chasing down an arch villain named Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong). Blackwood is an occultist who, after Holmes apprehends him for murder, apparently rises from the dead, hellbent on destroying the world or bringing about a new world order or something like that. Anyway, it involves fire and smoke and more murder.

But back to Holmes. When he's not working on a case, he's a wreck. Bored, strung out, twitchy, and possibly under the influence of substances stronger and goofier than the cocaine for which the great detective had a well-known predilection. He's miserable after he catches Blackwood and no longer has anything interesting to do. So he's naturally delighted when Blackwood returns, and the game is once more, as they say, afoot. Holmes, in addition to his fine powers of deduction, is a mean brawler (emphasis on the mean). While he is prone to the traditionally Holmesian explanation and recap of his deductive reasoning, this movie is not really about Holmes' brains. Holmes' doesn't even seem all that devoted to bring a brainiac. This movie is about Holmes' brawn, and so it provides handy slow motion pre-enactments (followed by a rapid enactments) of the various blows Holmes' plans to deliver, in their precise sequence, in order to inflict maximal physical disability on his opponent of the moment. That's twice the pounding for the pound sterling, which is twice as much as your old school Holmes ever supplied. He also leaps out of tall buildings.

Watson, who is far more mentally stable than Holmes, attempts to settle down with his soon-to-be fiancee Mary Morstan (Kelly Reilly), but Holmes won't have it, and does his best to sabotage the romance without being too obvious about it. This makes Watson rather peevish -- but truth be told, everyone is rather peevish in Sherlock Holmes, including Holmes, Mary, Blackwood, Inspector Lestrade (Eddie Marsan), and various malefactors, ruffians, and members of parliament. The least peevish person would be Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), an American thief of the female persuasion who makes Holmes extra twitchy. And even she gets a bit annoyed now and then.

The plot is the least interesting thing about Sherlock Holmes. Downey and Law are the best -- they're jolly good together, toying with the story's none-too-subtle homoerotic subtext, squabbling about their divergent (or are they?) lifeplans, and busting bad guy heads. The story drags a bit from time to time, and there are plot points which exist only to enable action set pieces, which in turn don't advance the plot or serve the story, but are there just because. Why set the denouement on the still-under-construction Tower Bridge? No reason, really, except that it was possible to do so, and it allowed for a traditional cliff-hanger kind of a finale (to bookend the traditional carriage-racing-through-dark-London-streets beginning). There is no shortage of things to look at in Sherlock Holmes -- every scene bustles with activity and atmosphere, from dingy, grey and muddy London to the smoky, dark rooms at 221B Baker Street, to the various grotesque laboratories, abattoirs, and dungeons where dark deeds and headbutting occur. Ritchie generally keeps the pace brisk, and takes full advantage of the comedy and tension in the turned-about Holmes/Watson partnership. If the story drags, the movie is frequently enlivened by snappy dialogue delivered fast with sharp, crisp humor. Holmes and Watson are an odd couple -- one is jittery and disheveled, the other is cool and debonair -- and their jokey, bromantic relationship is the only thing about Sherlock Holmes that really sticks, and really entertains. The rest is just Victorian popcorn -- maximally noisy and restless, a little salty, a little stale, but enjoyable enough while it lasts.