Screen Shot: ‘Love Happens’

With the broad theme that love means being true to yourself first and foremost, and loaded with Hollywood cliches, Universal’s Love Happens lives up to its romantic yet realistic title and delivers the perfect movie for fall’s sense of renewal.

Don’t expect the typically twisted boy-meets-girl affair. Aaron Eckhart (The Dark Knight) stars as a widower who turns his wife’s death into a bestselling book and seminar series about grief recovery that earns him a multimedia deal, pending throughout the movie, and the unwelcome prospect of having to practice what he preaches. When the book tour takes him to camera-ready Seattle (actually, Vancouver) where his wife died and her in-laws live, he comes to a crucial juncture.

Enter Jennifer Aniston, who has never been better as a codependent, emergently independent, florist who longs to be noticed, valued, and loved for being competent, romantic, and intelligent. Though she has a bad habit of defacing private property, which is supposed to be cute, the wholesome, knit capped Aniston is swept off her feet by the square-jawed Eckhart and Love Happens, which is mostly about the man, for a change, unfolds beautifully. The florist is an organizer who gets things done; she shows the life coach how to put the play in action. Seeing himself, literally, at his best will either make him want to push her away or claim her as his own.

Keeping it together is an actor who nearly steals the show. His name is John Carroll Lynch (Gran Torino) and he did the same thing in another recovery-themed picture released in autumn, Things We Lost in the Fire. As a father who lost his son, he gives one of the best performances in a picture this year. His sincerity is the key to what makes Love Happens: he dramatizes the point that one’s professed values, in order to be achieved, must be based on reality. It’s not easy to watch people struggle with their loss, but whether his character, Walter, gets back to work and to living his life becomes a pivotal part of the puzzle.

Martin Sheen is overdone as the gruff father-in-law with unresolved issues, a few touches are too pat, and the entire plot is fairly predictable, but one of my favorite things about this picture is its positive portrayals of people making money, pursuing profits, and enjoying living in a society based on capitalism. Both leading characters are employed by themselves, work for themselves, and they love their work. Both are skilled, knowledgeable, and successful. The boilerplate best friends are friends through work and even a kooky performance artist pays her own way. Best of all, the profit motive is never disparaged.

Contrary to the daily government-sponsored slogans being disseminated by the White House, the same old intellectuals, and their mouthpieces in the press (including and especially NBC Universal’s outlets) the upshot of this movie is that being honorable is the way to become profitable. Love Happens is co-written and directed by Brandon Camp, who is, incidentally, the son of Benji creator Joe Camp, and the film is co-written by Seattle native Mike Thompson.

New on DVD: ‘We the Living’

We the LivingAs I reported in May, a film adaptation of Ayn Rand’s 1936 novel We the Living, is available on DVD. It is also on sale through the production company.

The 1942 motion picture was recut from a pirated Italian adaptation and released in fascist Italy and Europe as two separate pictures. I’m planning an interview series about Ayn Rand’s breathtaking literary achievement and the outstanding movie version, which was theatrically released in 1988, for publication on the site.

While the film is also excellent, there is no substitute for the superior experience of reading We the Living, which was recently reprinted with an urgently relevant introduction by Leonard Peikoff, in this new trade paperback edition.

Screen Shot: ‘Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs’

Attending a screening with radio’s sharpest movie critic, Kate Tyler, I’m surprised to say I enjoyed Sony’s animated picture, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, based on a children’s story that Kate tells me she used to read to her kids.

Cloudy‘s not a great movie, yet it offers relatively innocuous family fare. Flint (Bill Hader), a creative child striving to become an inventor for the wrong reasons (pleasing others and being of service to the community) discovers as a young adult that one of his wild creations actually works and all hell breaks loose. It’s a visually fast-paced affair with the usual three dimensional (3D) tricks (no big deal) in an involving father-son story with a villain that echoes today’s authoritarian White House. Add an excellent subplot about a romantic interest (Anna Faris) whom Flint encourages to stop hiding her intelligence and a policeman (Mr. T in a fun vocal performance) that loves his work almost as much as he loves his son, who adopts a Tea Party attitude of personal responsibility and fuels the movie’s most exciting scene, and, despite an absurdist streak, you get a decent candidate for an afternoon matinee. Listen for a swipe at the Bush administration’s Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and other digs at Big Government in a generally entertaining slice of life.

Army Archerd, 1922-2009

Hollywood reporter Army Archerd has died, according to his wife, Selma. He will be missed. I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing the longtime Variety columnist last year before a film festival screening of Howard Hawks’ Red River starring John Wayne. We talked about the Duke, the Western and the Golden Age (which he mentioned in his column). In person, the Navy veteran was an outspoken, spright, and dapper man who enjoyed remembering movie stars and the way they were. I always liked that Army Archerd was neither salacious nor malicious; his work was generally oriented toward facts. When I decided to write a column for Box Office Mojo in 2005, I knew that he had done it first, longest, and with lasting results. He wrote about Hollywood like its movies mattered. Army Archerd was 87.

Movie Review: Whiteout

The poorly scripted Whiteout goes blank early and often, ruining an otherwise interesting concept—an Antarctica mystery—with some of the worst lines in a movie this year. The whodunit is blatantly obvious, which might not be a problem if the film, starring Kate Beckinsale as a U.S. marshal, made us care about the characters or the puzzle, which involves a Soviet military plane that goes down in the South Pole. An aimless script, uneven performances, and bad directing—with countless unnecessary closeups—make Whiteout a painfully bad movie. For a straightforward Cold War thriller at the earth’s other polar ice cap, see Ice Station Zebra (Rock Hudson, Ernest Borgnine, Jim Brown), based on an Alistair MacLean novel, instead.