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Extraordinary Measures
Directed by Tom Vaughan

What seems like another disease-of-the-week movie is actually much better than that. It’s somewhat akin to “The Blind Side” in appearing to be the schmaltzy Hallmark movie, but both are saved by virtue of key excellent performance and stories based in truth that might have produced eyerolls if they were made up. After all, it’s hard to react with a “that would never happen” when it actually did happen.

“Extraordinary Measures” recounts the story of John Crowley (Brendan Fraser), who walked away from his high level corporate job in order to raise money to find a cure for his terminally ill son and daughter. He does this after discovering Dr. Robert Stonehill (Harrison Ford), a cantankerous research doctor who seems to have the handle on a theoretical approach to treating the disease. The children have Pompe Disease, a condition that blocks the breakdown of sugar in the body, resulting in progressive muscle weakness and very early death.  

The movie is interesting in its frank portrayal of the economics of drug research and production. Drug companies don’t make money when people die and stop taking their drug, but they also don’t make much money when people are cured and stop taking their drug. Long term treatments that require constant medication are more appealing, especially with drugs that have small markets. It’s part of a cost-benefit analysis that, combined with huge expenses for research and manufacturing, show that it’s not always profitable to help people.  
Bringing all this to the screen is an exercise in character study as much as storytelling. Ford’s performance is pivotal here – imagine “Lorenzo’s Oil” with Indiana Jones on board. Fraser seems a little hokey at first, but you come to realize it’s probably a fairly accurate portrayal given the type of person that undertakes the kind of gargantuan task that John Crowley faced. My expected eyerolling turned to tearing up on a few occasions. I appreciated both the story and the movie.

Crazy Heart

Directed by Scott Cooper

“Crazy Heart” is a very simple film, an unremarkable story of a country singer who has seen much better days, fighting barely functional alcoholism in a career reduced to playing bowling alleys in small towns. But the story is not the central element here. This is a film built around a great performance by Jeff Bridges as singer Bad Blake in a role that has already garnered multiple awards, including a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild Actor.  

It’s one of those incredibly unflattering but honest performances. It’s probably this year’s equivalent of last year’s “The Wrestler,” in which Mickey Rourke played a similarly broken down character still living on the residual recognition of former glories. Bridges is supported well by Robert Duvall and Maggie Gyllenhaal, but each play characters who exist primarily for Blake to respond to. Colin Farrell also co-stars as the more successful younger musician whose career has gone where Blake’s has not.

However, the other major component and character in the movie comes in the form of the songs. Written by Ryan Bingham and T-Bone Burnett, they are receiving as much recognition as Bridges. “The Weary Kind” has won several awards, including the Golden Globe for best original song. There’s an authenticity to the music and a sense that these could really be songs Blake has played countless times in countless small bars in countless small towns.  

This was an unfortunate year for Colin Firth’s fine performance in “A Single Man” to be pitted against Bridges, who has had four Academy Award nominations over the last four decades. But it’s a worthwhile one to watch.

Tooth Fairy & Legion
Directed (respectively) by Michael Lembeck & Scott Stewart

What a great pair of movies for a double-header come DVD time: Both examine faith in the context of winged beings. In “Tooth Fairy,” the wings are tiny, costume-like, and could use a little patching. In “Legion” they are huge, rugged and apparently armor-plated.

“Tooth Fairy” is about a professional hockey player nicknamed “Tooth Fairy” for his habit of knocking out other players’ teeth (is it only me or does this make no sense?) who has to do a stint as an actual tooth fairy as punishment for telling a small child that tooth fairies don’t exist. It’s the dental version of “The Santa Clause.” “Legion” is the tale of an attempted extermination of the entire human race by angels, on the orders of God. You might have thought that a repeat flood would have been even easier than before in a time of polar ice loss.  

“Tooth Fairy” opens with a scene in which a player loses a tooth from a location that looks like it ought to be a canine or pre-molar, a molar goes flying in the air, and a sports commentator announces the loss of an incisor. “Legion” teaches us that the “only following orders” defense doesn’t hold up even when the order comes from God. Tip: If lessons like this bother you, you’re probably in the wrong theater(s).


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