Chasing Mavericks – I think I could make a case that Gerard Butler has the worst agent in Hollywood. Since becoming a star overnight in 300, he’s had a series of flops nearly unparalleled in film history. Nim’s Island, The Ugly Truth, Gamer, Law Abiding Citizen, The Bounty Hunter and Machine Gun Preacher all came and went without causing a stir at the box office, as the actor was unable to build any clout after having a $300 million springboard. What has remained constant throughout is Butler’s likability as well as his talent, both of which are on display in Chasing Mavericks, an overlooked gem that I fear was doomed at the box office from the start due to the actor’s recent track record. That’s too bad as it is a compelling and ultimately moving story about an overgrown kid and a boy in need of a father figure who find one another and bond as they attempt to tame some of the most massive waves on record. Butler is Frosty Hesson, a surf junkie who cannot give up the high he cuts hanging ten, a practice he takes to extremes with a small group of friends who go to their own private cove where the waves reach monstrous heights. Jonny Weston is Jay Moriarity, a smart kid who must deal with his alcoholic mother (Elisabeth Shue), what with his father having left, and longs to learn all that Frosty can teach him. What’s surprising about the film is that it does not adhere strictly to The Karate Kid formula as veteran directors Curtis Hanson and Michael Apted avoid the schmaltz and play the mentor-mentee relationship straight. The two actors convey a sense of caring for one another that leads to a genuinely poignant climax. To be sure, the surfing scenes are spectacular and if there was ever a movie that begged to be presented in IMAX, this is it. Based on a true story, this is far better than you might expect and will remind you how effective Butler can be with the right material.
Wreck-it-Ralph – As with most great animated movies, there’s far more than meets the eye in Wreck-it-Ralph, the feature that should have won the Best Animated Oscar instead of the inferior Brave. While it can be seen as nothing but an extended homage to video games and their makers, the film’s theme - of not letting others’ perceptions of you define who you are – is powerfully and humorously told and one that viewers, the younger the better, should hear often. The title character, voiced by John C. Reilly, is a well-meaning oaf who is tired of the bad guy role he’s been assigned in Fix-it-Felix, the Donkey Kong-like game he’s stuck in. Fated to destroy the building he lives next to again and again and again, just so the goody-two-shoes character of the game’s title (Jack McBrayer) can fix it, Ralph decides to venture out into other games to see if he can change his destiny and become a hero. While traipsing around in Sugar Rush, a girl-centric racing game, he meets Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), a young girl who’s been ostracized from the other racers because she’s a glitch, an unpredictable programing error that can potentially wreck the game’s universe if she’s allowed to race. If comes as no surprise that Ralph and Vanellope help each other realize exactly what they’re capable of, but what is refreshing is how moving the film is as each must make sacrifices along the way that test their devotion to each other and themselves. The more you know about video games, their history and how they’re programed, the more likely you are to catch the many allusions that appear throughout the movie. But even if you don’t, you’re still likely to enjoy this smart, slick and funny film that, like the best animated features, succeeds in engaging both kids and adults.