- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 31, 2011

New Releases

Soul Surfer

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment


In 2003, 13-year-old Bethany Hamilton (AnnaSophia Robb of “Race to Witch Mountain”) was a rising star in amateur surfing. Raised by two professional champions (portrayed by Oscar and Emmy winner Helen Hunt and Emmy nominee Dennis Quaid), Bethany was a natural on a surfboard from her first ride.

Growing up in a close-knit family in Kauai, Hawaii, Bethany and her brothers were home-schooled and raised with a strong faith in God. That faith was sorely tested when, while preparing for a major professional surfing contest, Bethany was attacked by a shark and lost her left arm. “Soul Surfer” is the inspiring, if somewhat flawed, story of her struggle to deal with the aftermath of the attack while hoping to find a place for her passion in her altered life.

AnnaSophia is a charming actress, whose good looks and open personality make it easy to root for Bethany as she deals with the emotional and physical pain of her loss. Her acting skill, as well as that of the established professionals around her, gives the film an emotional foundation that it builds on effectively in its early scenes.

Unfortunately, director and co-screenwriter Sean McNamara has trouble building on that foundation. Part of his problem, I think, lies in the fact that, though the movie’s screenplay (based on the book by Miss Hamilton, now 21, her pastor and a professional writer) is credited to Mr. McNamara and two other writers, the screen story on which the script is based has been credited to another seven writers.

This means the film has gone through several sets of hands, each with a different viewpoint on the characters and focus for the story. The large number of writers causes the film to wobble in its approach to dealing with the role of faith in the heroine’s life. Some scenes celebrate it, some downplay or ignore it.

It seems as if the filmmakers find themselves caught between preaching and storytelling and, unable to focus on a direction, allow things to drift from time to time. Also, some water-set scenes, such as the shark attack, are not well-staged.

Extras on the DVD are limited to material shown during the credits, including Hamilton family photos and videos, competition footage and interviews with Miss Hamilton after her recovery.

Despite its flaws, “Soul Surfer,” thanks to a cast of talented professionals in front of the camera, has a message worth hearing, and seeing, about dealing with the challenges life presents and being all the better for those obstacles. Those looking for a solid story and those looking for a spiritual message should be pleased. MPAA Rating: PG for some scenes of intense action, including the shark attack.


Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment


Jesse Eisenberg of “The Social Network” and Anne Hathaway of “The Princess Diaries” head the cast of big-name voice actors for this pleasant, if predictable, animated family film. Mr. Eisenberg provides the voice for Blu, a rare blue macaw who ends up in Minnesota as the beloved pet of a girl named Linda.

Fifteen years later, a domesticated Blu is lonely for a mate. Through a series of circumstances, he and Linda learn that the only female blue macaw is in Rio de Janeiro. While Blu makes it to Rio, he and Linda are separated, and Blu discovers he doesn’t know how to fly.

The movie offers plenty of messages about freedom and being who you are, no matter what your background. Unlike the Pixar films, which have something for viewers of every age, the bright colors and fast pace of “Rio” likely will please small children but leave teens and adults only mildly amused.

Extras on the Blu-ray combo pack include music videos, deleted scenes and brief features about the movie’s main characters.

A lively bit of animated fluff, “Rio” dances to a pleasant but fairly ordinary tune. MPAA Rating: PG for some slightly crude humor.

News & Notes

Hoping to give its handheld 3-D gaming system a boost in time for the holiday season, Nintendo announced that it will slash the price of the unit by one-third, effective Aug. 12.

Variety reports that the price for the Nintendo 3DS will go from $250 to $170. In an attempt to avoid a major backlash from consumers who bought when the device was released in April, Nintendo said it will give those consumers 20 free downloads from the company’s eShop - 10 for the 3DS and 10 for the Game Boy Advance.

*Joe Barber is the entertainment editor for WTOP-FM and a critic-panelist for WETA-TV’s “Around Town.”

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