While many summer movies are light, some are not. Here's a Collision of Opposites Ticket Stub for ya --

* Little Miss Sunshine -- A perfect choice for Ladies Movie Night, this standard indie-issue "quirky family dramedy" puts each actor in the spotlight. The adorable Abigail Breslin plays the titular miss with verve -- some day she will be in a movie with Dakota Fanning and the screen will melt from their combined "old soul" authenticity. She's an aspirant in a cheesy beauty pageant, which necessitates a road trip for the whole f'ed up family: harried mom, thwarted dad, mute-by-choice brother, lewd grandpa, and gay uncle Frank who just survived a suicide attempt. Fun for everyone! But actually, it is -- the acting is so strong here (Toni Collette and Greg Kinnear together again!) that a real family bond is convincingly portrayed despite the whisper-thin plot, which rolls along effortlessly to a hilarious, cathartic conclusion. Obligatory synth-o-pop score and heavy overtones of Wes Anderson aside, it's a simple picture and I like those best. Many extra points for the bearded Steve Carrel, whose puppy-dog eyes are put to poignant use here -- more dramas, man! (A-)

* World Trade Center -- At home in NJ, a mere 12 miles from Ground Zero, this was not my first choice for a matinee. My dad vetoed Miami Vice at the last minute, so I acquiesced and was pleased to find the film nearly harmless. I didn't realize that Oliver Stone didn't write the script until the credits rolled, and aside from a few visual tricks the movie bears none of his hallmarks, except for Frank Whaley. It is a straight-up rescue story, deserving of the big screen because of the subject matter but otherwise indistinguishable from a tidy movie-of-the-week about trapped miners, for example. The unbearable tension that builds in the first minutes, from knowing what's about to happen on that ordinary sunny morning, is deftly handled by paying as little attention to the big picture as possible -- the camera stays with the (un)lucky Port Authority cops as the disaster envelops them, literally. The hijacked planes appear only as a shadow, or a sonic boom. The words Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, and even terrorist are not spoken once -- the men are just going to where the trouble is, trying to help. As they enter the WTC concourse, the first tower comes down on top of them, and eventually two are rescued from an elevator shaft. That rescue is what makes the movie watchable -- even Oliver Stone could not make a movie about all the horrors of that day. Just this one slice is enough. Nic Cage plays the somber sergeant with gruff aplomb, trying to talk the rookie, Michael Pena, through the night. The story clicks back and forth between them, their wives and families, their hallucinations, and their rescuers. We feel relieved when they pull through, but Stone doesn't squander the point that could have overwhelmed the whole film -- thousands of others didn't make it. The last moments pull us directly from the cops' celebrating families to those gut-wrenching "missing person" posters that blanketed NYC, and images of empty subway cars and sidewalks. That brief reminder is probably all we can take, even five years out. I'll never watch this movie again, but it was Ron Howard-esque enough to be recommended. Points off for Maria Bello's creepy blue contact lenses, though. (B)

No comments: