February 13, 2012 12:00 PM

Big Miracle

Drew Barrymore, John Krasinski, Kristen Bell | PG |


Despite the bumper stickers, I’ve never braked for whales. (How does that help, anyway?) But even I was entranced by the 1988 real-life saga of a family of gray whales trapped beneath Alaskan ice. Big Miracle captures the spirit of the world uniting in concern over the aquatic giants, even though it nearly drowns with too many characters and plot twists.

Krasinski stars as Adam, a local reporter whose story on the whales attracts the attention of his irksome ex, environmentalist Rachel (Barrymore), and an oil mogul (Ted Danson) who bankrolls a rescue effort. Soon, everyone from the Native tribes to the President to the global press gets involved-all of them acting out of self-interest. That display of moral complexity isn’t the only thing Big Miracle gets right. The film lavishes attention on the whales, photographing them so beautifully that the chemistry-free Rachel and Adam become irrelevant. In the end even a curmudgeon like me had to cheer for those majestic creatures.


Abbie Cornish, Andrea Riseborough, James D’Arcy | R |


Nearly 30 years after “Material Girl,” Madonna is still easily distracted by shiny objects. In this tone-deaf biopic, the director obsesses over the sumptuous gowns and glittery baubles of Wallis Simpson (Riseborough), the woman for whom Edward VIII (D’Arcy) abdicated the British throne. The goods are up for auction, and Wally (Cornish), a present-day woman in a bad marriage who has delusions of royal grandeur, visits them daily. The film cuts between Wally and Wallis, paralleling their stories for no decent reason. It doesn’t help that Madonna can’t keep her camera still or coax a lifelike performance out of Cornish, who looks bored. And poor Riseborough seems to have made a career out of being the best thing in bad movies (see: Brighton Rock). Her Wallis is crisp and bracing, the real gem in a pile of junk.

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