The Day After Tomorrow
Dir. Roland Emmerich; writ. Emmerich, and Jeffrey Nachmanoff; feat. Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal, Emmy Rossum, Dash Mihok, Sela Ward, Kenneth Welsh (PG-13)
Certain people out there are going to feel very silly about trying to make a political event out of The Day After Tomorrow - a film which is not only not educational, but could be taught a thing or three (about physics, motivation, and cell-phone reliability) by reasonably smart folks in the audience. As a piece of entertainment, though, the film has an old-fashioned sensibility that (compared to director Roland Emmerich's bloated Independence Day, say) could almost be called modest.
Modesty isn't a word one associates with Hollywood disaster movies, but the heroism here is on a wholly different scale from earlier "save the planet" thrill rides: A high school boy races an oncoming tidal wave to save a girl he loves; the boy's father sets out on an impossible icy trek to find the son he has failed too many times in the past.
Tomorrow has the quasi-scientific moorings of classic '50s sci-fi. Paleoclimatologist Dennis Quaid announces that the end is nigh because, speaking of the salt/freshwater mix that produces oceanic current, "We've hit a critical de-salination point." Long story short, the northern hemisphere is about to be flash-frozen, and Quaid's kid (Gyllenhaal) is on a field trip to NYC.
Emmerich has some fun with politics, presenting a cowering President and Oz-like VP. After Quaid convinces the White House that the only hope is a mass evacuation to the warmer south, a series of ironies unfold that will appeal to critics of America's immigration policy.
That exodus, like most things in the film, is depicted without concern for the way the logistics would work in real life. But Emmerich's unrealistic vision of the end of the world is something to see, awesome if not shocking. His CGI only fails in a sequence involving marauding wolves that would have been more effective using clever editing and real animals.
Tomorrow ends not with a plucky action hero, but with Mother Nature deciding she's done enough. Survivors emerge, and Gyllenhaal earns his lady's love. And from its new home south of the border, the White House admits that it was wrong all along about its environmental policy, and that it will do better henceforth.
Now that, my friends, is a science-fiction movie. — John DeFore
Dir. Garry Marshall; writ. Jack Amiel, Michael Begler; feat. Kate Hudson, John Corbett, Joan Cusack, Hayden Panettiere, Spencer Breslin, Abigail Breslin, Helen Mirren, Sakina Jaffrey, Kevin Kilner, Felicity Huffman (PG-13)
Touchstone Pictures and Garry Marshall have teamed up again to offer us yet another Kate Hudsonfest. Raising Helen will surely be a crowd pleaser if the crowd is full of parents burned out on animation and looking for a cute, innocent time. For the rest of us, don't bother.
The premise is terribly similar to the classic Baby Boom starring Diane Keaton, only the adorable Miss Hudson is a young, chic administrative assistant with connections. Her life is suddenly turned upside down by the death of her sister and brother-in-law. She becomes the unlikely guardian to her nieces and nephew, much to the chagrin of her Super Mom sister played by the once-amazing Joan Cusack.
The superficial mentality of Helen (Hudson) is gradually reformed by exposure to responsibility and, of course, a (lackluster) romance with Pastor Dan, played by ultra-nice guy John Corbett. Helen faces a layoff from the kid-hating fashion industry, a battle with Audrey (Panatierre) over teen sex and dating, and two kids who haven't dealt with the deaths of their parents. She is cute in every scene and finds that she needs to establish authority where she was once in cahoots.
Raising Helen is chock full of physical gags, Paris Hilton cameos, and urban/suburban juxtaposition, but nothing from the glitzy lifestyle to the romance with Pastor Dan seem real or even enviable.
Helen Mirren (Calendar Girls, The Madnesss of King George) is wasted as Dominique and practically edited out of the film. This film does not achieve any of its goals; perhaps Director Garry Marshall is getting tired. The plot resolution seems quick and forced, but at least it is pretty and shiny.
It is truly frightening to witness the typecasting going on in this film. Hudson gives us her cute stare every 10 seconds and proves to be the spitting image of her mother, Goldie Hawn, with every lingering pose. John Corbett has certainly found his niche as the toothless suitor, and must Joan Cusack always be the sister?
This film may seem fun and harmless but as Kate Hudson's exposure grows, the total effect on the American psyche could be irreparable. If you must watch it, rent it. — Laura Goenri
Dir. Alfonso Cuaron; writ. Steve Kloves, based on the novel by J.K. Rowling; feat. Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Robbie Coltrane, Michael Gambon, Richard Griffiths, Gary Oldman, Alan Rickman, Fiona Shaw, Maggie Smith, Timothy Spall, David Thewlis, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters (PG)
Advance rumors that the latest installment in the life of the tremendously popular English boy wizard is terrible are, frankly, unfounded. The special effects are used a little less frequently, and with a little less finesse, but Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban indicates that the films, like the books by J.K. Rowling on which they are based, intend to grow with the character and, theoretically, the audience. Potter is in his third year of wizard school now, and yes, I think that might be peach fuzz on his chin. A little older and wiser, too, are his companions, the know-it-all but helpful-in-a-pinch Hermione Granger (Watson), and the erstwhile Ron Weasley (Grint) whose voluble mug lights up the screen.
While the script, which involves a dangerous escaped wizard who is alleged to have helped the evil Voldemort kill Harry's parents and a revelation about Harry's past, feels a little truncated, the books' popularity rest on their deft advice and emotional support for adolescence, with magic and Muggles - the boorish, ordinary humans who refuse to see the wonderful possibility in life - as the allegorical tools. Here Prisoner of Azkaban succeeds tremendously with affecting performances by the three leads, on whom the story focuses. The reduction of Harry's nemesis, snotty Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), to a whiny caricature is somewhat compensated for by this installment's monster, an entertaining cross between an eagle and Pegasus. There are also lots of fun clues strewn throughout: in names such as Sirius Black (Oldman) and Professor Lupin (Thewlis), and in a bar denizen who is reading Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time - a hint at the plot's resolution.
This third episode begins darkly, with Harry running away from home. Scary shrunken heads with Jamaican accents heckle the young apprentices, and it's apparent that Potter has got a temper and an orphan's grief yet to deal with. But there is plenty of levity, too. Emma Thompson, in particular, who plays the divination teacher, seems to have missed the memo that instructs the august actors who comprise Hogwart's faculty to take the role as seriously as Shakespeare. But then, those of us who live with young teens learn that a little humor is sometimes all that keeps the peace, and the sanity. — Elaine Wolff
Dir. Jean Cocteau; writ. Cocteau, Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont; feat. Jean Marais, Josette Day, Marcel André, Mila Parély, Nane Germon (NR)
Disney has given us many lovely and sweet versions of familiar fairy tales - cartoons that simplify complex stories, then juice them up with musical numbers and cute talking animals. Their Beauty and the Beast was arguably the last time they got this formula right.
But there's another side to fairy tales, one that suburban kindergarteners are not supposed to encounter except in tiny doses: Children get torn to pieces by wolves, and witches cast horrifying spells. If there ever has been proof that this darker side is an essential part of the wonder of fables, it is Jean Cocteau's glorious film La Belle et la Bête, in which an undercurrent of surreal danger makes the transformation of love all the more potent.
The most memorable aspect of La Belle et la Bête is the way Cocteau redefines reality at will. The Beast's dark castle is a place of weird magic: Real human arms jut out from the wall to hold torches; statues suddenly open their eyes. Belle, who has allowed herself to become the Beast's hostage so that he won't kill her father, is understandably terrified. But even though his nature demands that he hunt like a wild animal, Belle's captor has a human soul. Slowly, she comes to see that. We've all heard this story a million times, but Cocteau brings it to life. Here, the idea of loving someone for his or her "inner beauty" isn't a corny platitude; it's the essence of the story, conveyed with enough awe and magic to make it undeniable. — John DeFore
La Belle et la Bête screens as part of Texas Public Radio's "Cinema Tuesdays" series at 7:30 pm, June 8 at the Bijou at Crossroads Theatre. Ticket price is $10 members / $12 non-members. Info and reservations: 614-8977 or tpr.org.