New to DVD: 'Save the Whales' 'Jeff, Who Lives at Home' and 'Project X'
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3 stars = Good
"Big Miracle," slapped with a blandly generic title, is far from a miraculous movie but proves more educational and entertaining than you might imagine.
Three California gray whales, christened Fred, Wilma and Bamm-Bamm, are trapped off the coast of Barrow, Alaska, north of the Arctic Circle. They're essentially stranded in a pocket of water that hasn't crusted over with ice and serves as their breathing hole; miles of ice block their path to freedom and migration.
If something isn't done, the two adults and the young male will die, a plight that captivates the world in fall 1988 when "Big Miracle" is set. It was inspired by the real story that competed with the presidential race for airtime on the nightly news.
In the PG-rated blend of fact and fiction, it's small-town TV reporter Adam Carlson (John Krasinski of "The Office") who spots the whales quite by accident.
When the story goes national and then international, the media circus comes to town, Greenpeace activist and Adam's ex, Rachel Kramer (Drew Barrymore), shows up, and everyone from President Reagan to a no-nonsense National Guardsman (Dermot Mulroney) and an oil tycoon (Ted Danson) get involved.
"Big Miracle" proves surprisingly heartwarming and shows image-conscious businessmen can turn into do-gooders, Eskimos accustomed to hunting whales can find ways to keep them alive and entrepreneurship can thrive anywhere, even at the top of the world.
3 stars = Good
Jeff (Jason Segel) indeed lives at home in Baton Rouge with his widowed and increasingly exasperated mother (Susan Sarandon). Jeff spends most of his time in the basement of his childhood residence, smoking pot, watching television and ruminating about the 2002 Mel Gibson movie, "Signs."
He eventually crosses paths with his younger brother, Pat (Ed Helms), whose wife, Sharon (Judy Greer), left no doubt about her anger at his purchase of a Porsche without consulting her. Pat suspects his wife is having an affair, even as Sharon discovers, through instant messaging on her work computer, that she has a secret admirer.
The movie, from directors, writers and brothers Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass, meanders around Baton Rouge with signs, sleuthing and ruminating until all of the main characters confront what could be their destiny or baptism.
At just 83 minutes or so, "Jeff" is slight but economical with little mistaking the family dynamics.
Sometimes watching a movie you wonder, "Where is this going?" and the answer is nowhere. This time you may ask the question but your patience will be rewarded.
2 stars = Mediocre
"Project X" takes the tried and true formula -- parents out of town, so spread the word about the party -- and inflates it like a bouncy house. This time, anonymous high schooler Thomas (Thomas Mann) is turning 17, and his parents are going away to celebrate their anniversary.
His father confesses, "I'm not an idiot, I know you're gonna have friends over." He says Thomas can have four or five people, tops, to their house in North Pasadena, but his car and office are off limits. He's not really worried about a blowout, telling his wife, "He's a sweet kid, but he's a loser."
He does not count on Thomas' wheeler-dealer pal Costa (Oliver Cooper). The bash, being organized with a third friend, JB (Jonathan Daniel Brown), is going to change everything for them, they hope, and it turns out they're right.
"Project X," directed by Nima Nourizadeh, celebrates sexist, illegal, selfish and just plain stupid behavior although it is energetically assembled and set to hip-hop and indie rock music. It's amusing to see just how far the party will go, but it's clearly aimed at immature teenage boys who lust for girls normally out of their league.
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-- Post-Gazette staff and Rick Bentley, McClatchy Newspapers
First Published June 21, 2012 12:00 am