British actor Aaron Johnson appears in two films that open this week. He plays the title role in Kick-Ass (featuring previous MVP Mark Strong) and he is very good both as the wimpy would-be superhero and the resilient, lithe almost-action star. And we see him in a small but crucial role in The Greatest as the beloved teenage son of Pierce Brosnan and Susan Sarandon and the all-too-brief boyfriend of Carey Mulligan. Witnessed mostly in flashback, he still makes a strong impression, making us feel his loss and connect to those who miss him.
In his next film, Johnson plays John Lennon in “Nowhere Boy.” Here’s a sneak peek:
Family movie night returns to NBC with Secrets of the Mountain, about an adventure that brings a family together in a search for hidden treasure, starring Barry Bostwick and Paige Turco.
Somewhere between the demands of her career, her ex’s wedding and her kids’ busy schedules, Dana James feels her tight-knit family starting to unravel. An unexpected offer to purchase her family’s mountain property sets up a weekend road trip. But when they arrive, they quickly learn that the mountain is much more than it seems. An ancient secret and a treacherous quest will test the family like never before. It’s an edge-of-the seat thriller that reminds us that when times are tough, families don’t run away from problems — they run back to each other.
Two gifted young women whose best work will be in other films are the reason to see this one. Carey Mulligan, so enchanting in last year’s An Education, plays a pregnant teenager in “The Greatest,” written and directed by newcomer Shana Feste. Both show a great deal of promise in this sincere but uneven film.
Mulligan plays Rose, who has one perfect moment with Bennett (Aaron Johnson) before he is killed in a car accident. They were both seniors in high school who had watched each other and waited for glimpses of each other but hardly even spoken until the last day of school when finally they work up the nerve to speak to one another. And then, suddenly he is gone, and she is pregnant.
Bennett’s parents, already dealing with a lot of dysfunction, are devastated by the loss and driven apart by it, too. Allen (PIerce Brosnan), a professor of mathematics, is rational and keeps his feelings inside. Grace (Susan Sarandon), is emotional. In one shattering scene, she is in the bathtub and he hands her a bell to ring when she misses her son. She rings it immediately, insistently, harshly, making it clear that her pain is deep and permanent and cannot be confined. She is obsessed with the 17 minutes between the crash and his death. What was he thinking? What did he say? Did he suffer? But the only one who knows is the man from the other car, who is in a coma. Grace visits him, reading aloud, monitoring his care.
Rose, who has nowhere else to go, moves in with Bennett’s family. But it takes a while for each of them, grieving separately, to find a way to reconnect as a family.
Surprisingly, Feste is best with the older generation in the film. Brosnan and Sarandon are the real center of the story and their characters are the best defined and the most compelling. Johnny Simmons (“Jennifer’s Body”) and Mulligan do their best with roles that are both under- and over-written. Simmons is the younger brother, a recovering drug addict, whose primary job in the movie is to remind his parents every day that they are left with the troubled son instead of the one they were proud of. But he is stuck with a distracting sub-plot about a relationship with a girl (Zoe Kravitz) from his support group. The problem with Mulligan’s character is Feste’s view that in the midst of terrible grieving and dysfunction, the repository of all wisdom and imperishable goodness resides in a pregnant teenager with a disastrous home life but an adorable dimple. This leaves a blank space that unbalances an already-unwieldy story but leave us looking forward to seeing how Feste learns from this film do to better next time.
Think of it as the “Good News Bears.” This sweet, sometimes sugary film is based on a real-life Little League team from Monterrey, Mexico who came to the United States to play in the Little League World Series of 1957 and not only won every match but, well, you saw the title.
Jake T. Austin of “Wizards of Waverly Place” plays the baseball-mad Angel, who lives with his parents in a desperately poor community. He and his friends love to hear about pro games and players in America. They want to learn how to play but they do not even have a baseball, much less a playing field or a coach.
Angel finds a ball and then he finds a coach in Cesar Faz (Clifton Collins, Jr.), a factory worker who once worked with the St. Louis Cardinals. The boys make their own field. With the help of Coach Faz and inspiration from Padre Estaban (Cheech Marin, adding another to his list of screen roles as a priest), the boys become a team. When they get a chance to play in the Little League World Series, they each take only one change of underwear, carried in a brown paper bag. First, it’s all they have. But second, it never occurs to them that they will win, so they assume they will be home after the first game.
But they win. And they win again. A woman reporter (Emilie de Ravin, channeling all the girl reporter actresses of the 1930’s newspaper movies) reluctantly accepts the assignment, then is captivated by the courage and dedication of the team. As they rise through the ranks, they encounter racism, xenophobia, and just plain old hostility. But they hold on to their ideals — including refusing to play unless they can be led in prayer first (we find out why they are so partial to Psalm 108. They get help from some unexpected sources: a sympathetic diner owner (Frances Farmer), the reporter and a groundskeeper who once played in the Negro Leagues (a fine Louis Gossett, Jr.). And they keep winning.
It has a retro feel that has nothing to do with its 1957 setting, but like its pint-sized team (inches smaller and pounds lighter than its opponents), the movie has so much heart that it is easy to root for. Collins and Marin are engaging enough to give the predictable and light-weight script a little extra heft. If “The Perfect Game” is not the perfect movie, it is an enjoyable little fable that will be fun for Little Leaguers and their families.