The Films of Mark Waters
The House of Yes
Head Over Heels
Warning: Parental Advisory
Freaky Friday (July 26/03)
Based on the book by Mary Rodgers, Freaky Friday stars Jamie Lee Curtis as uptight psychologist Tess Coleman and Lindsay Lohan as her punk-rockin' daughter Anna. The two don't seem to get along at all, fighting constantly, much to the chagrin of Tess' soon-to-be husband, Ryan (Mark Harmon). But after an old Chinese woman (Lucille Soong) puts a spell on the two via fortune cookies, Tess and Anna find themselves trapped in each other's bodies. Hijinks and confusion abound, as the two try to adapt to their new lives. There's something incredibly refreshing about a movie like Freaky Friday, as its wholesomeness and good-natured vibe is something that's been lacking from most recent big-screen fare. The performances, for example, are just about perfectly suited for this sort of material; Curtis is very effective as both the straight-laced Tess and the free-spirited Anna. No stranger to comedy, Curtis brings a lot of humor to the role(s) without going over the top (which must have been a temptation). Likewise, Lohan does a nice job of keeping Anna likeable, even in her I-hate-everybody early scenes. And Mark Harmon proves to be incredibly charismatic and engaging, and despite his limited screen time, he's able to turn Ryan into a far more interesting character than we should've had any right to expect. This being a Disney movie, it should come as no surprise that there's a good amount of sentiment present - especially towards the end. Screenwriters Heather Hach and Leslie Dixon effectively ensure the movie never becomes overwhelmingly syrupy, with the more mawkish elements seamlessly integrated into the story. But mostly, Freaky Friday is just an exceedingly entertaining film that the whole family can enjoy (unlike the recent Spy Kids 3-D, which only holds appeal for small children). Aside from a brief stretch towards the end of the second act that drags a little, the film's pace is quick and brisk. It's virtually impossible to watch the movie without smiling throughout, and for that alone, Freaky Friday is worth a look.
Just Like Heaven
The Spiderwick Chronicles (February 15/08)
Though The Spiderwick Chronicles ultimately fares a whole lot better than the majority of its contemporary fantasy brethren, there's little doubt that followers of Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black's series of books will find themselves scratching their heads at the omission of several key plot points and characters. Worse still, screenwriters Karey Kirkpatrick, David Berenbaum, and John Sayles have removed virtually any trace of the five novels' decidedly epic sensibilities - something that's certainly reflected in the baffling choice to move the film's climactic battle from an imposing ogre stronghold to a ramshackle house (huh?) The storyline - which follows three siblings (played by Sarah Bolger and Freddie Highmore in a dual role) as they're unwittingly drawn into an alternate world dominated by faeries, sprites, and other mystical creatures - basically retains the essence of DiTerlizzi and Black's work, which does ensure that the film possesses a number of genuinely thrilling action sequences (although, admittedly, the filmmakers' overuse of computer-generated effects sporadically lends such moments a distinctly cartoonish vibe). It's consequently entirely likely that The Spiderwick Chronicles will work best for those viewers unfamiliar with the books, as fans will surely spend much of the movie's brisk running time questioning the myriad of changes that have been made - with the most glaring and unwarranted example of this the downright bewildering decision to scrub the fifth tome's tear-jerking conclusion in favor of a comparatively bland and upbeat finale.
Ghosts of Girlfriends Past
As superficial and melodramatic as one might've expected, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past stars Matthew McConaughey as Connor Mead - a high-powered fashion photographer who has long-since established a reputation for himself as an unapologetic ladykiller. His skirt-chasing ways are threatened after he's provided an up-close-and-personal look at the meaningless nature of his existence by three ghosts, which inevitably forces him to reconsider his relationship with longtime friend Jenny Perotti (Jennifer Garner). Ghosts of Girlfriends Past has been infused with precisely the sort of predictable and downright familiar sensibilities that one has come to associate with most modern romantic comedies, and it's certainly not surprising to note that McConaughey's mere presence ultimately winds up exacerbating the film's various problems - as the actor delivers a variation on the smarmy work that he offers up at least twice a year in other films of this ilk. It's clear that McConaughey actually fares more poorly than he usually does, however, as he's inexplicably playing even the most low-key of moments at a level of energy that seems incongruous to the material (although, to be fair, the actor does a nice job with a heartfelt third-act speech). And while the supporting cast has been peppered with a number of familiar faces - including Breckin Meyer, Lacey Chabert, and Robert Forster - Michael Douglas' turn as Connor's sleazy uncle inevitably establishes itself as a highlight within the proceedings (which, given a proliferation of lines like "dames, they're like horses - they spook easy," certainly doesn't come as much of a surprise). The end result is an almost aggressively mediocre romcom that's unlikely to hold much appeal for most viewers, and it's impossible not to wonder just how many more of these things McConaughey has in him (ie it's becoming increasingly difficult to remember that the guy once possessed a whole lot of promise).
Mr. Popper's Penguins
Bad Santa 2 (December 9/16)
A slightly inferior sequel, Bad Santa 2 follows Billy Bob Thornton's Willie Soke as he once again agrees to team up with Tony Cox's Marcus Skidmore to pull off a lucrative heist - with the endeavor conceived and planned by no less than Willie's equally hateful mother (Kathy Bates' Sunny). There's little doubt that Bad Santa 2 works best in its entertaining and often laugh-out-loud funny first half, as scripters Johnny Rosenthal and Shauna Cross deliver a relatively fresh narrative that doesn't feel like a complete rehash of the original film's - which is no small feat, certainly, given the heist-centric storyline and proliferation of familiar faces in the supporting cast. (The return of Brett Kelly's Thurman Merman is, in terms of the latter, handled surprisingly well, to be sure.) It's clear, ultimately, that Bad Santa 2's mild success is due mostly to Thornton's often spellbinding turn as the title character, with the actor's sardonic, caustic performance generally compensating for the less-than-successful elements within the screenplay (and it's clear, too, that both Cox and Bates acquit themselves quite well here). The film, then, begins to run out of steam as it progresses into its plot-heavy final third, as filmmaker Mark Waters places an all-too-prominent emphasis on action-oriented beats that grow increasingly tedious - which ensures that Bad Santa 2 ultimately does end with more of a whimper than a bang. It's nevertheless undeniable that the movie fares a whole lot better than most contemporary comedy sequels (eg Dumb and Dumber Too, Neighbors 2, etc), with the somewhat iconic nature of Thornton's antihero ensuring that future possible followups wouldn't be entirely unwelcome.