Trifecta: Diving, driving and dying on the vine

by Mark Burger

Based on a true story, Dolphin Tale , which opens Friday, is an agreeable, unpretentious family film that wears its heart on its sleeve — or its fin, if you will.

Nathan Gamble plays Sawyer Nelson, a young boy who first discovers an injured dolphin washed ashore off the coast of Florida. While the creature recuperates in a nearby aquarium tended by kind-hearted Dr. Clay Haskett (Harry Connick Jr.) and his daughter Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff), Sawyer finds new impetus in his lonely life, which relieves his mother (Ashley Judd).

But when the dolphin, named “Winter,” must have part of her tail amputated due to an infection, all their efforts seem to have been in vain. Not so fast.

Enter Morgan Freeman as crusty but lovable Dr. McCarthy, a prosthetic specialist who develops a new tail for Winter. Maybe, just maybe, this story will have a happy ending, after all.

Dolphin Tale stacks the deck with an appealing cast that also includes Kris Kristofferson, Ray McKinnon, Frances Sternhagen and Winston-Salem’s own Austin Highsmith. There’s also a mischievous pelican on hand for comic relief.

Youngsters Gamble and Zuelsdorff shoulder a good portion of the film’s running time, and both are appealing and believable without being overly precocious. Wisely, the film doesn’t contrive a romance between Judd and Connick’s characters, although both are conveniently available. Nor, alas, does it find a way to bring those two old tigers, Freeman and Kristofferson, together for a single scene.

There aren’t a lot of surprises in Dolphin Tale but that’s not a problem. It’s not as corny or maudlin as it might have been, and the underlying message about sea ecology is a nice one. All told, a safe bet for the family audience.

(For an exclusive interview with Dolphin Tale actress Austin Highsmith, see Page 38)

As a latter-day film noir, Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive is a sleek and assured example of the genre. It’s lean, mean, stylish and extremely well-acted by all concerned.

Ryan Gosling stars as a Hollywood stunt driver by day and getaway driver by night. When it comes to outmaneuvering a pursuer — usually the kind with flashing lights — he’s second to none, and he pretty much knows it. But in a film like this, sooner or later his luck is going to run out. Indeed, that’s precisely what happens. There’s that one job where something goes wrong, and everything snowballs (downhill) from there.

As the stoic, unnamed hero, Gosling smolders with presence and Carey Mulligan, as the neighbor whom he fancies (and who indirectly causes his undoing) is equally enigmatic yet also expressive. Their mutual attraction is palpable by looks and glances alone. More is not needed. More might be too much.

The supporting cast is terrific: Ron Perlman, Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks, Oscar Isaac and particularly Albert Brooks, brilliantly wicked as a mobster whose affability is his most potent weapon. It’s a major change of pace for Brooks, and a wholly successful one.

Drive is very much a triumph of style over substance. The look of the film, courtesy cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel, is heavy on oversaturated color and reminiscent of ’80s-era noir (8 Million Ways to Die, Thief, 52 Pick-Up, et al); Cliff Martinez’s evocative score is as excellent as his recent one for Contagion. Drive is loaded with atmosphere and attitude. It hits hard and it hits fast, and hits the target.

Writer/director Miranda July’s The Future , opening Friday, stars July and Hamish Linklater as Sophie and Jason, a young couple whose decision to adopt a stray cat upends their relationship and their individual lives.

There’s some humor in how Sophie and Jason share a basic inability to connect with each other beyond offbeat platitudes and non sequiturs. They’re on a different wavelength and, indeed, so is the movie as a whole. There’s nothing wrong with being quirky, but the quirk factor in The Future soon becomes irritating, even with its odd detours into fantasy. While Sophie embarks on an affair with a middle-aged single father (David Warshofsky), Jason discovers a heretofore unrealized ability to affect time and nature. Not that any of this really matters in the end — or at all, for that matter.

Perhaps the oddest, and perhaps the most irritating, facet of the film is that July herself provides the voice for the stray cat “Paw Paw,” who is impatiently waiting for Sophie and Jason to pick him up. July adopts a squeaky, infantile voice for Paw Paw who offers a variety of profound observations including “Life goes on… and on… and on….”

So does this movie.

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