(On Cable TV, January 2018) Frankly, I expected the worst schmaltz from this family melodrama featuring a genius-level kid. Hollywood seldom deals well with genius, and the temptation to turn this into a syrupy rote “brain doesn’t matter at much as heart” Hollywood pap seemed irresistible from the plot synopsis. But Gifted actually works better than expected thanks to a few winning performances and generally well-executed conventions. Chris Evans is rather good as a smart-but-troubled ordinary guy trying to raise his genius niece despite significant challenges. McKenna Grace is fine as the genius kid, while Jenny Slate is immensely likable as a teacher trying to help. Octavia Spencer does her best with a limited role, while Lindsay Duncan is suitably hissable as the antagonist. Director Marc Webb returns to simpler drama after disappointingly overblown superhero films, and the genre suits him much better. Otherwise, Gifted is a straightforward family drama, not too syrupy and decently heart-warming when it needs to be. Some of the plot turns aren’t necessarily happy (and the conclusion is bittersweet enough). The details are interesting: there’s a cute Lego reference, and the look at mathematical academia is intriguing despite a bit of showboating with a celebrated “unsolvable” problem. Gifted doesn’t avoid the usual “heart> brain” stuff, but it does seem to come to its conclusion honestly. It could have been much worse, and the result is palatable enough.
(Video on Demand, July 2016) As a parent, you get to see the weirdest things, and I’m being completely honest when I say that Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked was nowhere my radar of things to watch. But daddy proposes and kitty decides, so that explains what I’m doing watching animated chipmunks sing to popular songs while landing on a deserted island. What’s even less probable is that I ended up enjoying myself. Oh, this isn’t particularly sophisticated filmmaking or even particularly refined comedy. The film is for kids, the jokes are obvious, the actors taken pleasure in hamming it up (with particular props to David Cross as a Chipmunks-hating antagonist and Jenny Slate as a castaway steadily getting crazier as the film advances. I knew practically nothing of the series beyond gagging at the trailers for the first two movies, but it’s not hard to quickly pick up on the basics. The rest is too cute to be angry, as the CGI animals blend with the otherwise live-action movie. (As noted elsewhere, this is practically a subgenre by now.) There are enough chuckles here to make the experience enjoyable by adults, and the bouncy musical numbers (including a predictable final rendition of “Survivor”) will keep the kids hopping. Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked is a cartoon, it’s fun and it’s not entirely insulting. My standards for kids’ movies are age-appropriate.