Maggie (F). Perhaps the “F” grade isn’t quite fair—if you want a movie that will simply make you feel bad, this one will do the trick. Otherwise, I urge you to steer clear. It’s kind of like The Fault in Our Stars, except in Maggie the attractive young woman has the zombie virus instead of cancer. Which is way worse, of course, because at least cancer sometimes goes into remission. Arnold Schwarzenegger (Batman & Robin) stars as a simple Midwestern farmer, trying to eke out a living in a post-zombie-apocalypse America where law and order have been reasonably well restored. Unfortunately, his sweet teen-aged daughter Maggie (Abigail Breslin, Zombieland) has been bitten by one of the hungry undead, and in this version of the zombocalypse, victims live on for six to eight weeks before finally succumbing to the virus. So for 95 minutes, we get to watch Arnold watch his beloved daughter slowly turn all grey and veiny and gross. It is a long, depressing slog.
Ender’s Game (C-). I’ve never read the novel on which this movie is based, so I had no particular expectations going in. I found it to be a fairly dull sci-fi/action flick with tons of special effects and very little else. In the future, mankind has barely survived an attempted alien invasion by some nasty bug-like aliens. In the following decades, the government has thrown its full weight into (1) building a space fleet to fight the aliens when they return and (2) training gifted young people to fly those ships. Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield, Hugo) emerges as the Chosen One, a teenager with such prodigious strategic gifts that he is promptly packed off to a sort of Hogwarts-in-Space to complete his training and lead the battle fleet. Indeed, most of the movie is about Ender doing his training, meeting his Hermione (Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit), playing zero-G Quidditch, and what have you. It’s just not very exciting stuff. Harrison Ford (Witness) plays the gruff Dumbledore of the outfit. Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine), who’s looking more grown-up all the time, has a couple of scenes as Ender’s sister. My goddaughter loved it (or at least claimed to), but I suggest you give it a pass.
Zombieland (B-). I’m no horror-movie buff, but I’m kind of developing a taste for zombie movies — or at least ones that have a sense of humor about them, like Shaun of the Dead and this current release. As our movie begins, the zombies have already conquered America, leaving only a very few human survivors. There’s Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg, Adventureland), a neurotic fellow of about 25 who has developed roughly 31 rules for staying alive in Zombieland. There’s Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson, Management), a buff crazy dude who loves to kill zombies. And there are sisters Wichita (Emma Stone, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin, No Reservations). Despite some friction, the four team up and head out west, where they have heard there might not be any zombies. Apparently the zombies hordes have been depopulating themselves somehow, because there really aren’t all that many zombies around, and the movie is largely a road-trip movie with some decently clever dialogue and a truly bizarre but entertaining sequence involving an extended cameo by a major Hollywood star. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some gross zombie stuff too, but not as much as you might expect. Cute little Abigail Breslin is starting to grow up, so we’ll see how she segues into older roles. And Emma Stone was much more attractive than I had any reason to expect from her past roles.
If you go see this movie, be advised that there is apparently a final scene after the closing credits, or so I have read. I didn’t know that, so I didn’t stay for it. Dad gum!
Nim’s Island (C). This movie should have been better than it was. A research scientist and his daughter Nim live an idyllic existence on a remote Pacific island, where she has befriended a sea lion, a lizard, and a pelican. She reads a lot, and she especially loves a series of books (novels?) by and about the heroic exploits of Indiana-Jones-like Alex Rover. Only “Alex Rover” is really Alexandra Rover, an agoraphobic and germophobic author in San Francisco. The scientist (Gerard Butler, 300) goes missing after he is out at sea alone in a bad storm, so Nim (Abigail Breslin, Raising Helen) emails “Alex Rover” (Jodie Foster, Napoleon and Samantha) for help. Alexandra, against her better judgment, decides to travel to Nim’s Island. Despite the good cast, I didn’t think the acting was particularly good, and somehow the movie sort of fell flat for me. But I imagine kids would be reasonably entertained by Nim’s plight and the antics of her animal pals.
Kit Kittredge: An American Girl (C). Star Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine) is perhaps the finest child actor working today, but even she can’t elevate this mediocre movie above, well, mediocrity. Breslin plays the title character, a happy girl and aspiring reporter whose idyllic life takes a turn for the worse when the Great Depression costs her dad his job. Dad leaves home to look for work in Chicago, and Mom takes in boarders to help make ends meet. Kit and Mom befriend a couple of hobos who do odd jobs around the house for food, but when some valuables and the hobos go missing it doesn’t look good for their new friends. Despite a fine cast (including Stanley Tucci, Jane Krakowski, Julia Ormond, and Joan Cusack), the movie somehow falls flat. Cusack in particular overacts shamelessly and spastically.
Raising Helen (D+). I did not care for this movie, although it packs a fair amount of acting talent. Kate Hudson (The Skeleton Key) is Helen Harris, a freewheeling single gal working in New York’s fabulous fashion industry. She has two older, married sisters, played by Joan Cusack (School of Rock) and Felicity Huffman (Christmas With the Kranks). Felicity and her husband are killed in an offscreen car accident, and Helen is stunned to learn that she is the designated preferred guardian for the decedents’ three kids (who include Hayden Panettiere of TV’s Heroes fame, and Abigail Breslin from Little Miss Sunshine). Mix in John Corbett (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) as Helen’s potential love interest and Helen Mirren (The Queen) as her boss, bake for 2 hours, and you should have a heartwarming story about a young woman who learns what’s really important in life from three adorable dependent children. Instead, you get a clunky and irritating knock-off of the infinitely superior German movie Mostly Martha. Even the mediocre American remake of Mostly Martha, the Catherine Zeta-Jones movie No Reservations, was better than this. (Didn’t that movie feature Abigail Breslin as an orphan too? The girl’s going to get a complex!) The romantic subplot involving Helen with the Presbyterian pastor/principal at the kids’ school was especially painful to watch.
Definitely, Maybe (B-). It’s tough to come up with an original plot for a romantic comedy, but this one makes a game run at it. Will Hayes (Ryan Reynolds, Just Friends) is a thirtysomething guy in NYC. He’s going through a divorce, and one day its his turn to pick up his 10-year-old daughter Maya (Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine) from school. The school is in pandemonium because parents have just found out that their kids have just been taught some pretty graphic stuff in sex-ed. (A big minus is how much sexual dialogue they foist on cute little Abigail.) Anyway, when Will puts Maya to bed that night, she wants to know how Will and her mom met, so maybe they can see what went wrong and fix it. So the bulk of the movie is a flashback as Will tells Maya about the three serious girlfriends he had in his single days, and she has to guess which one eventually became her mom. There’s his college sweetheart Emily (Elizabeth Banks, The 40-Year-Old Virgin), the quirky April (Isla Fisher, Wedding Crashers) whom Will meets while working for the Bill Clinton campaign, and the free-spirited journalist Summer (Rachel Weisz, Agora). It’s not a bad flick, and it’s a hoot to see true-believer Will have to deal with Bill Clinton’s foibles as they come to light in his flashbacks over the years.