Man on a Ledge

Posted on January 27, 2012 at 9:10 am

It wants to be a twisty-turny thriller but it is as straightforward as its title.  A man we will later know as Nick (Sam Worthington) checks into a New York hotel, orders room service (we see he has a scraped knuckle), and then he opens the window and goes out onto the ledge.  Nick is indeed a man on a ledge for just about all of the rest of the movie.

Police negotiator Jack Dougherty (Edward Burns) comes in, ready to go by the book to talk Nick back inside, to make him feel that Nick can trust him.  But Nick insists he will only talk to Lydia Mercer (Elizabeth Banks) and Jack does not have much to bargain with.  So, against his better judgment, he tracks down Lydia, who is in disgrace with the department following a negotiation gone wrong that left her torturing herself.  She has had no previous contact with Nick and has no idea why he called her, but she knows that establishing a connection with a suicide risk is critical so she is hopeful that whatever reason was behind his request will give her a place to start.

The story splits in three.  We get a flashback that tells us a little bit about why Nick is so desperate.  And we see that on the same block he overlooks on the ledge, a young couple (“Billy Elliot’s” Jamie Bell and the luscious Genesis Rodriguez) seem to be undertaking an exceptionally well-planned hi-tech heist.   And we also meet Ed Harris as an arrogant Mr. 1%-er-style bully, chewing on an enormous cigar and barking orders: “Get me the mayor!”

We’re pretty sure how it’s all going to come together and none of it holds up to any sort of logic or reality check, but there are some entertaining moments along the way.  I admit to being a sucker for heist films.  I love to see the way they plan to overcome all of the security measures and I love to see what happens when things go wrong.  Bell and Rodriguez have a fine rapport and their progress through the many layers of protections provides some momentum to balance the static setting on the ledge.  Eventually, Lydia discovers Nick’s true identity (preposterous plot element #1 is that given his situation it is impossible to believe that no one recognizes him), a police helicopter and (of course) an obnoxious TV news reporter (Kyra Sedgewick, clearly enjoying herself very much) almost throw him off (literally, in the case of the chopper), but Nick stays focused.  Worthington’s performance is bland, Harris barely qualifies as one-dimensional, and the plot falls apart in the last half hour, but Banks and Rodriguez lend warmth and humor, doing a welcome bit of heisting of their own in stealing the movie from their male co-stars.

(more…)

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Crime Drama

Red Carpet: Drew Barrymore Comes to Town for ‘Big Miracle’

Posted on January 26, 2012 at 12:11 pm

Drew Barrymore came to Washington for the premiere of her new film, Big Miracle, about the extraordinary real-life rescue of whales stranded in Alaska in 1987.  I had a blast on the red carpet, talking to the real-life characters who inspired the film as well as Barrymore, her young co-star Ahmaogak Sweeney, writers Jack Amiel and Michael Begler, and director Ken Kwapis.

It was a special treat to speak to Bonnie Carroll, who was working in the White House in 1987 when the whales were discovered and coordinated President Reagan’s involvement.  She told me that when she got on the phone for the first time with the military officer overseeing the rescue, she fell in love with him as soon as she heard his voice.  “I was in the West Wing and he was in Barrow, Alaska.  Just hearing his voice — we both knew, and we were together from then on.”  The closing credits of the movie show their real-life wedding photo.  “The world came together for the whales,” she said.  “My husband was the kind of leader who could make something like that happen.”  The premiere last night honored the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) program she founded following the  death of her husband.  Bonnie and her husband are played by Vinessa Shaw and Dermot Mulroney in the film.

I also spoke to Cindy Lowry, the environmental activist who inspired the character played by Drew Barrymore in the film.  They spent a lot of time together and Barrymore wanted to know everything about where she lived and even what she wore.  “She’s really passionate about the things she cares about and has an appreciation for why I am so passionate about whales.”  Barrymore talked about the way Lowry inspired her.  “She’s willing to cross boundaries and be very forceful, but it is always in a very informed way, to articulate your point and do it with flair.”

Director Ken Kwapis: “When I read the script, what I fell in love with was the idea of a group of people with different agendas, often competing agendas, who had to figure out a way to set aside their differences and solve a problem.  That’s what attracted me, this idea of unlikely collaborators who have to work together.  I also fell in love with the whales!  They made me cry.  The fact that they were trapped in this hole.  I found it very emotional.  The reason to see the film is the emotional experience.  There’s spectacle, there’s humor, there’s romance, there’s wonderful characters but it is really an emotion picture.  Alaska was beautiful, the people were fantastic, but it was very cold and there was a dearth of daylight.  I had a huge ensemble cast and many of them had never worked in front of a camera.  And on top of that, we had three gigantic robotic whales that worked — most of the time!  There’s something for every member of the family — a wonderful coming of age story, a romantic triangle, a lot of layers.”  This was his second time working with Drew Barrymore (they did “He’s Just Not That Into You”).  “I wanted someone who could be very forceful and at the same time very accessible. As strong as she is, she wears her heart on her sleeve.  Audiences love her for that. ”

Amiel and Begler were writing sit-coms when they got a copy of the book about the whale rescue by journalist Tom Rose, who inspired the character played by John Krasinski.  They bought the rights for $1 (Rose was paid more later when the movie went into production) and worked for 15 years to get it made.  “People all showed up for their own reasons but got involved in a story that became a massive cause for them.  There were oil companies and Greenpeace and the Reagan Administration and Inupiat whalers all coming together for what seemed like their own purpose and it ended up being everyone’s purpose,” Amiel said.  “It was important to me to show all sides in this movie, and I think we did.”

First-time actor Ahmaogak Sweeney told me why kids should see the movie:

 

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Actors Directors Writers

Trailer: ‘Complaints Choir: The Movie’

Posted on January 26, 2012 at 8:00 am

I love complaints choirs, so I am delighted to report that there is a forthcoming documentary that asks what people have to complain about and shows them having a wonderful time singing about their complaints.  When I get an update on theatrical or DVD release, I’ll let you know.

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Trailers, Previews, and Clips

The Worst Movies of 2011 — New York Magazine’s Vulture Polls the Critics

Posted on January 25, 2012 at 8:00 am

Thanks to New York Magazine for including me in their round-up of the worst films of 2011.  The ballots — unlike the movies they nominate — are smart, funny, and passionate.

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