Comic violence and some jump-out-at-you surprises, character is a ghost
This movie starts out badly, gets much worse, and then after it is just dull for a while, it veers off into a whole new category of awful. Stay away.
The premise is promising. How do we know? Because it has been done with various levels of success before, first and best in Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit, where just as a widower is celebrating his new marriage, the ghost of his ex-wife appears to stir things up. Everything that one did right, this one did wrong, however. That one had wit and charm and a storyline that was supple and surprising. This one: none of the above.
Beliefnet salutes 2008 movies and the all-time top Westerns
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This is my third year as one of the nominators for Beliefnet’s annual awards that pay tribute to the most spiritually nourishing and inspiring films of the year. Each of the candidates is presented with pro and con statements (mine is the pro for Emile Hirsch’s performance in “Into the Wild”), with the awards to be decided by Beliefnet voters. Please visit the site and let us know what you thought about the nominated films and performances.
And I enjoyed Idol Chatter’s list of the 10 Most Inspiring Westerns. Westerns are epic and mythic. They present stark contrasts — cowboys and Indians, outlaws and sheriffs, ranchers and herders, railroads and farmers, gamblers and solid citizens, dancehall girls and prim schoolteachers. I do not agree with all of the choices (especially “Maverick” and “Tombstone”), but endorse with enthusiasm the selection of Silverado as the top choice. This year’s 3:10 to Yuma is worth including. But why limit the list to recent films? Classics like The Searchers, High Noon, My Darling Clementine, How the West Was Won, How the West Was Won, and Red River should be seen by everyone.
“Grace is Gone” is the story of a father who cannot bear to tell his daughters that their mother has been killed in Iraq, so he takes them on a road trip to a theme park called Enchanted Garden. It was written and directed by James C. Strouse, who spoke to me about making the film. You worked with two of my favorite actors on this film, John Cusack, who played Stanley and Alessandro Nivola, who played his brother.
John wanted to try something different. It was written pretty specifically, you could see it on the page that was buttoned down and quiet, slightly repressed, and he was excited to try that. I had a backstory for him and put him in touch with a couple of people including a man who lost his wife and has three kids. John was ready to do and came up with a lot of the performance on his own.
Alessandro is just phenomenal. That was one of the last roles we cast and as soon as he read the script he said, “Yes, I’ll do it.” He’s so smart. It’s great to meet an actor who not only understands their part but the larger story as well. It’s kind of a luxury, when they understand the micro and macro at the same time. From the first take, I had very little to say because he just got it so clearly. Like his character, he was a breath of fresh air, a fun presence. The girls just instantly were smitten with him. I loved his film Junebug and I poached as many people as I could from that film, not just Alessandro but also the editor, screened the movie for Junebug’s director Phil Morrison to get his comments.
This farm team follow-up to “Daddy Day Care” puts Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Paul Raye as Charlie and Phil, the parts originated by Eddie Murphy and Jeff Garlin. Note that the ads proclaim this is “from the studio” that gave us the first one. Even the writer, director, and stars of the original wanted to get as far away from this one as they could. So should audiences.
The day care center Charlie and Phil began in the first film is flourishing and their sons are now seven and want to go to camp. So, Charlie buys broken-down Camp Driftwood, the camp he went to as a kid. And of course everything goes very, very wrong. Much of it involving things that smell very, very bad. And then comes the big inter-camp competition with the rich meanies over at Camp Canola. We know they have to be evil because they have valet parking, because the owner is a bully who says he hates children, and because it is named after cooking oil.
If this was a live performance, the people in the front row of the audience would have to bring a plastic sheet, like the audience for watermelon-smashing comedian Gallagher. A lot of wet stuff flies toward the screen and there are many, many intended-to-be-hilarious gags (in both senses of the word) about things that smell bad. There are jokes about getting lost in the woods, barfing, exploding backed-up toilets, skunk odor, bees, poison ivy, burping, and more barfing. This is the part that is supposed to be funny. Not so much.
Charlie (father of what is apparently the only black family in town) has to struggle with feeling that he never got the approval of his own father, a tough military man named Buck (Richard Gant) and wanting the approval of his son Ben (Spencir Bridges). When the camp’s buildings, programs, and balance sheet begin to fall apart, Charlie has to call in reinforcements — Buck. This is the part that is supposed to be heart-warming. Not so much.
We are also supposed to care that the arrogant bully who runs Camp Canola was once responsible for Charlie’s humiliating defeat in the inter-camp Olympiad. So, even though Charlie is all about nurturing and against competition, he gets caught up in the honor of the thing and decides that for his self-esteem he needs to have his campers win this year. So it turns that that a combination of Buck’s leadership and Charlie’s supportiveness is the right answer. This is the part that is supposed to be interesting. Not so much.
A character describes camp as “all those snakes, spiders, and wedgies,” and that’s pretty much the entire movie. While neither Charlie nor Phil seems to notice this, there are some children at the camp, and Smurf-style, each is allotted one characteristic. One is a redneck with a mullet. One is a videogame freak who develops a crush on a girl and can only think to ask her if she likes “World of Warcraft.” One has a barfing problem and one has a bed-wetting problem. Each is tediously trotted out one at a time like Hansel and Gretel on a barometer to perform his or her little function (nerd! redneck! hyper-articulate! precocious about sex! secret shame!). The not-so-secret shame is what attaches to everyone involved with this cynical, pandering piece of claptrap, as unwelcome as a raging case of poison ivy.
Parents should know that this movie is filled with gross-out humor involving bodily fluids and functions. Characters use some strong language for a PG, including “crap.” There is some comic peril and some fighting, including getting hit in the crotch. Parents may be concerned by some of the values apparently endorsed by the movie, including the idea that the way to respond to cheating is to cheat better. Charlie also lies to his wife and puts the family’s home at risk.
Families who see this movie should talk about the different parenting styles of Charlie and Buck. Why was winning so important to the Canola campers?
Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy Camp Nowhere and Meatballs.