Wanderlust—*Hippie Trip*

First things first: yes, Jennifer Aniston appears topless, but it’s heavily pixilated and not a big deal at all.

Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd play a New York couple with money problems. They hit the road, happen into a commune and decide to stay a while.

Copious amounts of pot relieve the stress of being broke. But a lack of privacy and the prospect of free love with commune members are issues they must deal with.

“Wanderlust” has its funny moments. Aniston and Rudd are attractive stars with good comedic chops. Both have appeal for women and men.

But “Wanderlust” somehow feels like a movie that could’ve been made decades ago. Maybe having 70’s sitcom stars Linda “Alice” Lavin and Alan “M*A*S*H” Alda in the cast helps make it feel dated. By the way, Lavin and Alda are the strongest actors among a supporting cast that, overall, is a bit weak.

So… you like Jennifer; you like Paul. Do you go see this one at the theater this weekend or wait to rent it from Redbox this summer? I think that depends on how much you like movie house popcorn and those ginormous boxes of Raisinets.

There is no urgent reason to see this movie now. Having said that—if you want to see a movie this weekend and you like comedies, go see “Wanderlust.” You won’t have your mind blown but you’ll be amused.

“Wanderlust” is rated R for language and “graphic nudity,” among other things. For what it’s worth, the graphic nudity will not titillate; in fact, it may have the complete opposite effect.

This Means War—(Reese Piece)

Ever had a food item that was good but made better by some special sauce or seasoning? In “This Means War,” Chelsea Handler provides the spice that makes this good movie better.

“This Means War” is a romantic action comedy. All three of those genres get their due. Reese Witherspoon meets two guys—one through an online dating service; the other via video store flirting. She ends up going out with both. Here’s the kicker: The two guys work together as CIA operatives! Plus they are best friends!

Personal anecdote that relates: When I moved to the Twin Cities a few decades ago, the first two women I dated—one via an arranged blind date; the other from a chance meeting at the state fair—both worked at the Three Sisters retail clothing store at Rosedale Mall! (I am now happily married to one of them.)

Back to TMW: Reese’s two guys are Chris Pine and Tom Hardy, two good-looking, likeable guys who realize early on that they’re dating the same woman. But Reese doesn’t know they know each other. Classic sitcom plotting, but handled well here.

Reese gets romantic advice from her married friend, played by Chelsea Handler. Handler is hilarious in this movie. Reportedly, “This Means War” was originally rated R, but some of Handler’s saucier language was clipped to get the rating knocked down to PG-13. I generally ignore “unrated” version DVD ‘s, but might look for this one when it comes out this spring or summer.

In addition to the romance and comedy, there’s action. The film kicks off with a battle in Hong Kong between our two CIA guys and some really mean bad guys. The fight involves gun play, hand-to-hand combat, helicopters and a fall from a tall building. The movie’s climax comes with a well-executed chase scene. The CIA aspect comes into play as each guy monitors the other guy’s wooing of Reese.

If I had to rank the movie’s three elements, I’d put comedy first, followed by action, then romance. My wife—you may remember her from Three Sisters in Rosedale Mall—ranks them exactly the same.

“This Means War” is not a movie to love, but is one to like. Have some fun with it.

The Vow—((A Heart-Shaped Movie))

I have seen your cable channel future and it is “The Vow.” I predict this movie will become a cable staple for women like “Where the Heart Is” was a few years ago. It will turn up throughout the ‘teens on Lifetime, Hallmark, Oxygen, OWN and others and will be watched over and over by many.

Take two attractive, likeable characters. Put them in a crisis. Flash back to their meeting, their courtship and their marriage (which includes their self-written vows). If you have a romantic gene in your DNA, you will become engaged in their story.

The key element here is Channing Tatum’s character. Leo is the sensitive, romantic guy that most women want their own guy to be. He is not shown to have a jerky side, but is totally dedicated to his woman, Paige, played by Rachel McAdams. Leo also happens to be somewhat hunky.

The story, “inspired by true events,” has the couple involved in an auto accident. After recovery, Paige has no memory of the past few years, which include her entire time with Leo. Her parents, from whom she had been estranged, come back into her life after the accident.

Do I need to issue a spoiler alert? I won’t reveal whether the situation gets resolved, but will point out that this is a romantic movie being released just before Valentine’s Day.

Overall, this is a well-crafted movie with a few unexpected plot points. It feels just a bit too long, but that could be a result of the movie’s deliberate pacing and Tatum’s restrained acting style. Yes, “The Vow” is a perfect date movie—for new couples, as well as for old married people.

At the screening I attended, there were an inordinate number of women without men in the audience. If you’re a woman and your guy won’t take you to see “The Vow,” it’s okay to go with girlfriends. If you’re a man, here is an opportunity to show your woman that you can be just as sensitive and romantic as Leo (if not as hunky) by taking her to this movie.

“Big Miracle”—(Whale Tale)

Many things are going on in “Big Miracle.” Animals are in peril. Ways of life are threatened. The environment is at risk. Media are swooping in. And a relationship may or may not be rekindled.

As with movies like “Apollo 13” and “Titanic,” you know pretty much how things will turn out. It’s the telling of this real-life story (with some fictionalized aspects added in to make it more dramatic) that gets you to the resolution in an entertaining way.

This is an excellent family film. No sex, violence, nudity or profanity. Take the kids. Take Grandma.

The crisis occurs in October, 1988, when early cold weather freezes the surface of ocean waters near the northern tip of Alaska, trapping three whales who need to surface often for oxygen. The whales need to get to open water to begin their annual migration to Baja.

Help comes from many sources: the native Eskimos (who initially consider harvesting the whales), Greenpeace (Drew Barrymore plays an activist), Big Oil (Ted Danson is the oil mogul), the military (Dermot Mulroney is a National Guard commander), the USSR (a Soviet naval vessel chips in) and the media (John Krasinski is the TV news reporter who breaks the story which soon gets national attention). You can read my blog post about the Public Relations lessons this movie offers on my PR blog: “Big Miracle” Movie Has Useful PR Lessons

The talented cast also includes character actors Stephen Root, John Michael Higgins and Tim Blake Nelson—if you don’t know their names, you know their faces. Ahmaogak Sweeney makes a nice movie debut as Nathan, an Eskimo youngster.

The underwater shots of the whales are spectacular. The archival video of network news anchors Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings and Dan Rather reminds us that this was a real event.

“Big Miracle” is entertaining and will make you feel good. One more thing: the depiction of extreme cold in “Big Miracle” will make you appreciate our current mild winter weather even more.

“The Woman in Black”—((Goosebumps!))

“The Woman in Black” is creepy good. With a tension-building musical score and clever lighting, the movie keeps the tingle going from scare to scare.

With an “all growed up” Daniel Radcliffe as the centerpiece of the movie, TWIB brings some old-fashioned fright. As opposed to many recent films that scare with outrageous CGI creatures and unbelievable settings, “Woman” takes us places we’ve all been. Darkened hallways, strange house noises, shadows in windows, late night door knocks, nervous dog barks, odd looks from strangers, sudden weird behavior from seemingly normal people—these occurrences in the movie help root the story in real life.

Radcliffe is Arthur Kibbs, an early 1900’s London attorney who is sent to a rural England town to go through a recently deceased woman’s papers. His job is to ascertain that the will his firm has is the correct one. Many of the townspeople give him dirty looks. Some discourage him from going to the woman’s home, a classic haunted house. Its location, on a hill, at the end of a long causeway, surrounded by a coastal marsh, adds to the mystique of the house.

When he arrives at the house, the spooky stuff begins. A favorite scene has Arthur exploring the upstairs of this haunted mansion. The creepy soundtrack music goes silent, allowing us to hear the creaks, pops and other vague noises that the house (and whoever else may be there) produces.

Arthur finds two useful allies in Mr. and Mrs. Daily, played by Ciaran Hinds and recent Oscar nominee Janet McTeer. They are rich enough to own the only car in town, but they share a particular sorrow with many others in the town.

Radcliffe, now 22, demonstrates that he is now old enough to grow whiskers and successfully portray a young adult. He’ll always be Harry, but he has a big future ahead that may someday equal his success of the past decade at Hogwarts.

If you’re a parent who allows kids younger than 13 to attend PG-13 movies like this one, take note. There are some scary elements that may engender nightmares and/or late night interruptions of your sleep by your troubled offspring.