Movie Reviews

The Blind Side
Directed by John Lee Hancock
Review by Malcolm Maclachlan

The excellent 2006 book “The Blind Side” opens with a chapter-long description of a single football play— the 1985 Monday Night Football game where New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor broke Washington Redskins’ quarterback Joe Theismann’s leg so badly it looked like he had acquired a second knee just below his real one.

A note to the squeamish: the film version opens the same way, except you actually see it happen. That play— a Taylor’s career in general— turned out to be one of the most important factors in Michael Oher’s life, even though he was a fetus in the womb of his drug-addicted mother when it happened. Jump forward 17 years, and we meet Michael Oher as a black, mostly-homeless teenager living in Memphis. He rarely speaks, has a lifetime grade point average of 0.6 and a measurable IQ that puts him on the edge of being considered mentally retarded. His possessions consist of a single set of clothes plus one t-shirt he carries around in a plastic shopping bag.

He also happens to be 6’5”, 340 pounds, and possesses the kind of agility more often found in someone half his size. While the book turns into a biography of the young Oher, it’s also a fascinating examination of the history and economics of football and how the advent of speed rushers like Taylor suddenly made people like Oher worth $9 million a year in the NFL.

After the opening, the film concerns itself only with Oher’s life. While the specifics of his story might seem to lend itself to TV-movie moments, it works. The key is the two leads. Quinton Aaron is great as Oher. It’s a difficult role to play, largely because he’s so silent for much of a movie. With great subtlety, he conveys much of Oher’s essence as a kid who has been through hellish experiences to emerge without bitterness or the slightest propensity to violence. He’s not stupid, just shut down, to an extent few people can imagine.
Sandra Bullock costars as Leigh Anne Touhy, the mother in a rich white family who takes Oher in after he’s enrolled at the Christian school where their kids go. It’s a great transitional role for the now-middle aged Bullock. Touhy, in the film and apparently in real life, is sassy, tough as nails and— key in Southern society— pretty much unconcerned about what people think about her and her husband adopting a gigantic black teenager. Under her guidance, he bonds with her family, raises his grades enough to get into college, and last April went in the first round of the NFL draft.  

Like the book, the film takes on race and class, including the sticky issue of why a pair of rich athletic boosters took a sudden interest in a kid who happened to literally have one-in-a-million athletic talents. But in the end it’s that real feel good story that actually happened— and actually does have you leaving the theater feeling good.

Planet 51
Directed by Jorge Blanco
Review by Tony Sheppard & Malcolm Maclachlan

Tony says:
More entertaining than I had expected, “Planet 51” is an interesting writing exercise. It makes good use of a mixed 50’s and 60’s milieu that’s consistent with the B-movie space adventures and alien invasion movies of the time – cult hits that apparently play well across the galaxy, albeit with us as the aliens. It’s a good parallel evolutionary era for a modern human astronaut to encounter on an alien planet as it’s an endless source of iconic imagery allows for a reactionary military presence, and causes the modern American technology to seem advanced by comparison. It’s inverted xenophobia resulting in lightweight fun.

Malcolm says:
I agree that I had more fun with this than I thought I would. It got better as it went along, and the kids loved it. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is actually really funny playing a parody of himself as a strapping but not-too-bright astronaut in a story that reverses the traditional alien visitor storyline. There are lots of references to the sci-fi the mid-20th Century, especially “War of the Worlds,” but done in a way that younger audience members can be in on the jokes.

I thought they could have done more with the 1950s setting, which my parents’ generation seems to remember as both idyllic and sinister— you didn’t have to lock your doors when you left the house, but God forbid you break any social norms either. “Planet 51” does play with the combination of wholesome safety and xenophobic paranoia, but does so in a lighter-than-helium manner that doesn’t have you leaving the theater without deep thoughts on your mind.

No matter. There are plenty of funny moments, particularly provided by an adorable robot rover and a dog based on “Alien.” John Cleese contributes a nice turn as an evil alien scientist. Nothing groundbreaking here, but a pleasant way to pass 90 minutes.

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