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|Good “Morning”’s Stars Shine: “Morning Glory,” “Skyline,” and “Unstoppable”|
|Movies - Reviews|
|Written by Mike Schulz|
|Sunday, 14 November 2010 14:11|
The vibrant, frequently ebullient Diane Keaton and the gruff, frequently grouchy Harrison Ford have been above-the-title Hollywood stars for more than 30 years now. Why, in heaven’s name, has it taken more than three decades to get these two cute kids together?
In director Roger Michell’s Morning Glory, Keaton is Colleen Peck, the chipper co-anchor of a struggling wake-up program called Daybreak. Ford is Mike Pomeroy, the much-lauded former newsman who, to his mortification, finds himself sharing Daybreak’s anchor desk. With Peck detesting Pomeroy’s humorlessness and air of superiority, and Pomeroy openly derisive of Peck’s TV-friendly vacuousness, it’s clear from the start that the two can’t stand one another; hell, they don’t much care for each other at the film’s end. Yet in a comic pairing that we didn’t even know we were waiting for, Keaton and Ford prove to be absolutely marvelous together, her wired eccentricity a perfect counterpoint to his gravelly earnestness. (Their anchors have a subtly hostile on-air moment in which they each try to get in the last word – “goodbye” – before Daybreak’s credits roll, and I’m not sure this familiar joke has ever been played quite so well.) You have to catch the actors’ repartee in quick bursts, because Morning Glory isn’t really about them, but whenever Keaton and Ford are given the opportunity, they lift this pleasantly amiable big-screen sitcom to the realm of inspired farce.
Happily, Rachel McAdams – whose morning-show producer, Becky Fuller, is whom the movie is about – lifts it even higher. If, like me, you adore McAdams with the sort of heartfelt devotion one usually reserves for a first high-school love, I’m thrilled to report that Morning Glory finally gives the performer a role to match her beaming, bounteous talents. (Despite continually excellent work, mostly in films that don’t deserve her, the closest she’d previously come was as ingénue Kate McNab in the first season of the sublime Canadian series Slings & Arrows.) In an intensely risky high-comic performance that inches thisclose to over-the-top without ever tumbling, McAdams’ Becky is alternately frazzled and resilient, naïve and savvy, flummoxed and industrious, and through it all, every inch a professional; the character isn’t quite written (by Aline Brosh McKenna) with the depth or complexity of Holly Hunter’s Jane Craig in Broadcast News, but she’s the next best thing, which is awfully damned good.
McAdams is awfully damned good, too. Hired to lift Daybreak’s sagging ratings and corral a seemingly unmanageable staff, Becky is in a nearly constant tizzy. Yet Morning Glory’s star, even at her character’s most apoplectic, radiates serenity, occasionally eliciting laughs – and from lines that have no laughs – merely through an exquisitely timed grin, and exuding such tireless pluck, and engendering such honest empathy, that she’s wholly irresistible throughout. In the scene in which Becky pleads for a job with Jeff Goldblum’s executive, McAdams’ winning, bighearted emotionalism got me more than a little misty-eyed, and I can’t remember the last time a film moved me to tears by nothing but a performer’s sincerity.
Story-wise, nothing that happens in Morning Glory will come as even a slight surprise, and Michell’s direction is a bit too reliant on cutesy, TV-honed rhythms (particularly during Becky’s rapid-fire meet-and-greet with her new employees) and predictable pop-music montages. But the movie still provides an unexpectedly ample amount of pleasure. There are brief, terrific turns by Ty Burrell and Matt Malloy, and Goldblum makes his Daybreak exec a sardonically hilarious suit. (Every few years, Goldblum pops up in movies to remind us just how awesome he is, and thanks to this film and The Switch, he’s now done it twice in 2010.) As the de rigueur love interest, whom Becky amusingly – and kind of accurately – describes as “comically great,” Patrick Wilson clearly knows he’s being used as a prop and clearly relishes the opportunity; despite having no real character to play, he’s fantastically charming and relaxed.
And have I mentioned how wonderful Rachel McAdams is? It bears repeating. Whether her Becky is engaging in subtle and not-so-subtle power plays with Pomeroy or soothing Peck’s delicate ego or just leaping with joy in a moment of career pride, McAdams, here, is a touching and sensationally sweet comic powerhouse who not only makes the movie, but raises the game for everyone – including Ford and Keaton – in the movie. By Morning Glory’s finale, as you’d no doubt anticipate, everyone on-screen has effectively fallen in love with her. I’m guessing that bunches of moviegoers will leave with the exact same feeling.
Skyline finds a race of destructive and really hungry alien marauders arriving in Los Angeles and gobbling up the citizenry, and after about 15 minutes of tortuously bad acting, I was praying that the film’s entire cast would be on the menu. After a few more minutes of staggeringly inept plotting and sub-witless dialogue (Variants of “Have you seen what’s out there?!” are repeated so many times that the line practically becomes the film’s mantra), I was praying that directors Colin and Greg Strause and screenwriters Joshua Cordes and Liam O’Donnell were dessert. The opening shots of spacecraft descending on L.A. are effectively ominous, and the frequent images of debris and humans being sucked into the heavens provide a fair share of queasy, poetic grandeur, like watching Titanic’s climactic shipwreck in reverse. Otherwise, this plodding, D-grade sci-fi excursion is all but unbearable ... unless you go the route I accidentally did during the final reels. I don’t know exactly when it happened, but somewhere between our peerlessly whiny “heroes” running from their chic penthouse to the roof, then back to the penthouse, then to the street, then back to the penthouse, then back to the roof, then back to the penthouse, I fell dead asleep, and only regained consciousness when, during the closing credits, the gentleman sitting several seats away said “Excuse me” before he passed in front of me. I’d ask that anyone who miraculously made it through Skyline kindly tell me how the movie ended, but you know, I really couldn’t care less.
With Tony Scott again directing and Denzel Washington again playing a stalwart Everyman who has to contend with a speeding mode of public transport (albeit a locomotive instead of a subway train), it’s tempting to think of Unstoppable as The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 2. Yet there’s a nifty twist to this action thriller: Not counting the train itself, hurtling along the Pennsylvania landscape with a cargo of hazardous and potentially explosive materials, there’s no villain to speak of, and the happy surprise of the film is that it doesn’t need one. All told, there’s very little to Unstoppable, in which Washington and Chris Pine – with the help, and occasional hindrance, of Rosario Dawson, Kevin Corrigan, Kevin Dunn, and others – attempt to prevent a calamitous accident without getting killed in the process. But it’s a sleek, swift, fitfully exciting entertainment, and Scott and his leading men do a rather remarkable job of keeping the mood light even during its most nail-biting sequences. (Bickering with confident and good-natured ease, Washington and Pine gently reassure you that, despite the inherent danger, everything’s gonna work out just fine.) Nicely photographed and edited, if too dependent on those ADD-driven zooms and spins that its director is inordinately fond of, Unstoppable isn’t designed to be anything but a zippy little genre throwaway, but at this it succeeds more than admirably. All aboard!
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