Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters.
"JEREMY FINK AND THE MEANING OF LIFE"
When Lauren Bullock, a teacher at Bedford Middle School in Westport, was grieving for her two teen-aged nieces who were killed in a car accident, she went to the Westport Library and discovered Wendy Mass' book about a sorrowful 12-year-old boy whose father died when he was 7. The coming-of-age tale so moved her that she decided to make it into a motion picture as a tribute to them.
Just before his 13th birthday, Jeremy Fink (Maxwell Beer) receives an elaborately locked wooden box from his father, a present that's supposed to hold the "Meaning of Life." But the keys are missing. Despite reassurance by his mother (Mira Sorvino), Jeremy is afraid to venture far from his New York City apartment building alone. So, accompanied by his best friend Lizzy Muldoun (Ryan Simpkins), he embarks on a quest to find the keys.
Their first stop is the office of his father's lawyer who mailed the package. When they break in, they're caught and ordered to do community service. Remanded to the home of mysterious Mr. Oswald (Joe Pantoliano), they're then dispatched on various delivery errands. Chauffeured by James (Michael Urie), Jeremy and Lizzy encounter a variety of eccentric characters (Betsy Brandt, Marian Seldes, Roscoe Orman).
Adapted and directed by Tamar Halpern ("Shelf Life"), the movie is filled with simple yet deceptively clever animation. Episodic, it's a metaphysical story of moments, as life lessons unfold, albeit somewhat unevenly. Maxwell Beer embodies quirky Jeremy, while Ryan Simpkins is delightful as impulsive Lizzy, and Oscar-winner Mira Sorvino ("Mighty Aphrodite") oozes loving maternal support.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life" is a touching, insightful 7. It's a wistful, warm and wise adventure for the whole family.
"Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life" will be shown at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 27, at the Bowtie Royale 6 Cinema in Norwalk and again at 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 29, at the Bow Tie Royale 6.
"THE BIG YEAR"
Beware of manic middle-aged men with binoculars. They can be obsessive and competitive, as evidenced by ornithologists Stu Preissler (Steve Martin), Brad Harris (Jack Black) and Kenny Bostick (Owen Wilson) who criss-cross North America -- from the Everglades to the Aleutians -- for 12 months in a determined effort to log the most sighted bird species.
A ruthless strategist, arrogant Bostick is the defending world champion of birding, much to the chagrin of his long-suffering wife Jessica (Rosamund Pike), who desperately wants to have a baby.
About to become a grandfather for the first time, wealthy Stu is about to retire from his corporate CEO position but, as his wife Edith (JoBeth Williams) observes, "If they ever stop competing, they die."
"Sooner or later, you're going to have to do something with your life," his dad grouses.
Their ambition is the 700 Club, an elite group of birders who have reported 700 sightings during a calendar year -- all on the honor system.
Formulaically written by Howard Franklin ("Someone to Watch Over Me"), who adapted Mark Obmascik's 1998 nonfiction book, "The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature and Fowl Obsession," and guided it through 13 years in "development hell," it's affably directed by David Frankel ("The Devil Wears Prada," "Marley & Me"), who fails to make the most of his talented comedic cast, settling for whimsical grins and chuckles instead of going for hearty laughter.
Along with the tedious trudging and fanciful bird lore, there are some inventive scenes -- like when Stu closes a deal for his company by using the deceptive tactics of a nasty little bird that he particularly admires -- and supportive turns by Anjelica Huston, Rashida Jones, Tim Blake Nelson and Jim Parsons.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Big Year" is a fine-feathered, somewhat funny 6. Yet it's a quirky, outdoorsy expedition that fails to take flight.
According to legend, bank robbers Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were killed in a skirmish with the Bolivian military in 1908. But what if they'd survived?
That's the premise for this story which begins in 1927, as Butch has evolved into a grizzled rancher named James Blackthorn (Sam Shepard). Apparently, years earlier, Butch and Sundance pulled a switch with dead bodies and headed for the border, after which Sundance died in the mountains.
After years of quiet seclusion, breeding horses in South America, Butch decides to return to the United States since his and Sundance's ex-girlfriend, Etta Place, died in San Francisco, leaving behind a boy who is either his son or nephew. En route home, Butch is ambushed by a Spanish civil engineer, Eduardo Apodaca (Eduardo Noriega), who convinces the outlaw to spare his life by promising to share $50,000 that he has stashed away in a silver mine that's not far away. Apodaca explains that he stole the money from one of the country's largest mine owners and is on the run from a Bolivian posse. But that's not exactly the truth, as Butch later discovers. In the meantime, Butch is recognized by McKinley (Stephen Rea), the determined Pinkerton detective who has been on his trail for almost 20 years.
Laconic Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright/actor Sam Shepard controls every scene as an older, wiser incarnation of iconic outlaw having one last adventure. Glimpses of his backstory with Sundance and Etta are revealed in flashbacks, utilizing younger actors (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Padraic Delaney, Dominique McElligott) in roles created back in 1969 in George Roy Hill's "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" by Paul Newman, Robert Redford and Katharine Ross.
Unevenly written by Miguel Barros, it's sparingly directed by Mateo Gil ("The Sea Inside," "Agora"), evoking memories of Sergio Leone's mythic series of spaghetti westerns. Only this time, there's J.A. Ruiz Anchia's superbly photographed showdown on the salt flats, as exhausted desperados struggle to survive.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Blackthorn" is a speculative 6, reviving the American folk hero.