“Ice Age: Continental Drift”

Richard’s Review:  2 stars

I loved “The Longest Daycare,” The Simpsons’ short that plays before “Ice Age.” It’s a funny, gently-paced thriller for kids with jokes that parents and film geeks will love. In fact, I wanted more of that and less of “Ice Age: Continental Drift.” The main feature is nicely animated. However, it is saddled with a story that is so by the book it would have been old even in the ice age.

The movie begins as “Ice Age” regular Scrat, the sabre-toothed squirrel, tries to protect his prized acorn. That attempt leads to the great continental drift.

As the earth shifts and breaks apart, woolly mammoth Manny (Ray Romano), Sid the sloth (John Leguizamo) and Diego the sarcastic Smilodon (Dennis Leary) get separated from their families. Their journey to reunite with their kin puts them directly in the path of the ape pirate Captain Gutt (Peter Dinklage) and his murderous band of misfits, including Shira (Jenifer Lopez) -- a female sabre-toothed tiger who learns the meaning of friendship and love.  

Manny and friends are not aided by this movie’s lazy script, which feels like it was run through the prehistoric model of the Cliché-O-Matic. The continental divide device is novel, but the theme about the importance of family has been done before and better.

There are some funny sitcom gags at the beginning of the film, particularly when Manny tells his daughter she’ll be allowed to go out with boys when “I’m dead, plus three days to make sure I’m dead.” But many of the film’s jokes come out of nowhere and feel tacked on.

For example, in the middle of the great land divide a bird asks a mammoth if water tastes like boogers when they drink through their trunks. It has nothing to do with anything in the story. It’s merely inserted to get some laughs and maintain a moviegoer’s interest.

There is one self-aware comment, however, that works. “We fought dinosaurs in the ice age,” says Sid. “It didn’t make sense, but it was fun.”  

The voice work is also by the book, with the exception of Dinklage's Captain Gutt. Dinklage brings some real life to this museum piece. 

Captain Gutt is a ghastly seadog, but in a kid-friendly way. But the most horrifying thing about the “Ice Age” series is that they still have 20,000 years of history to go -- not to mention the sequel potential -- until Manny and company retire.

 “Neil Young Journeys”

Richard’s Review:  3 1/2 stars

“There is a town in North Ontario,” Neil Young sings in “Helpless,” one of his most famous songs. That town is Omemee, where the singer-songwriter spent many of his formative years. It is also where the new documentary, “Neil Young Journeys” begins with, as he says in the song, “With dream comfort memory to spare.”

In their third collaboration, Young and director Jonathan Demme take a memory-filled road trip through Ontario in one of Young's classic cars, a 1956 Ford Crown Victoria. At the end of the road is a two-night stand at Toronto’s iconic Massey Hall. The footage from that event is interspersed throughout the film.

Early on Young says of his old hometown, “It's all gone but it's still in my head.” He talks about eating tar off the road after being told it would taste like gum. He also reminisces about blowing up a turtle (“This was long before my eco days,” he laughs), as well as the school’s town which is dedicated to his father. But this film isn’t strictly a walk down memory lane.

On display is a vital artist who sprinkles his set list with old favourites such as "My, My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)," "Ohio" and "Helpless," as well as new material from his 2010 album, “Le Noise.”

When Young sings, “I've been in love and I've seen a lot of war,” in the new song “Love and War” it feels like an artist continuing a life-long tradition of singing personal, confessional songs about deeply-felt convictions. It has a link to the past but feels remarkably current and vibrant. 

Director Demme has a feel for music documentaries. Aside from his work with Young, (“Heart of Gold” and “Trunk Show”), he also directed the classic Talking Heads doc, “Stop Making Sense.” His films are to music videos what videos are to Andy Warhol’s “Empire” (Google it!).

Demme doesn’t overwhelm the honesty of Young’s performance with flashy camera work or special effects. Demme’s camera is an observer – and sometimes a very up-close-and-personal-observer as we see with shots so tight they look like something in a dentistry textbook. But Demme’s camera captures the sounds created by one man and one guitar on a stage that Young has played on many times. Only once during “Ohio” does Demme let his guard down when he gets ham-fisted with visuals.     

In the film Young says, “You don’t have to worry when you lose friends because they’re still in your head and heart.” That’s what “Neil Young’s Journeys” is exactly about -- memory with heart.

“Lola Versus”

Richard’s Review: 3 stars, or 4 Gerwig stars  

“Lola Versus” displays all the reasons why Greta Gerwig will never be a mainstream movie star.

Gerwig plays the title character, a 29-year-old woman dumped by her fiancée as they plan their wedding. For the first time since high school Lola finds herself single. People say the usual things to her like “being alone breeds character.” She also goes to Yelp’s Number One Best Bar with her best friend Alice (Zoe Lister Jones) in an attempt to meet new people. Even so, she’s not ready to have a relationship.

“I can’t be picked up right now,” she says to one potential suitor, “I’m in a really bad place.”

After some drunken sex and a fling with her best friend (Hamish Linklater), Lola comes to realize that she can’t love anyone else until she learns to loves herself.

Lola is a character we’ve seen before. She’s a New Yorker with hip friends who always have a quick line to share. She’s Carrie Bradshaw before she met Mr. Big; the kind of hot mess who shows up drunk at the front door at four in the morning.

Despite such familiarity, Gerwig never falls into the rut of playing a stereotype. Gerwig is hands-down the most natural actor working today. There isn’t an ounce of artifice about her, even though her drunk act could use a little work. Gerwig brings realism and a genuine sense of character to this story even in the film’s most clichéd moments.

Many of the characters are nicely drawn in this movie. Co-writer and co-star Zoe Lister Jones gives herself most of the film’s best lines as the struggling actress and pill head, Alice. But Gerwig is the movie’s anchor. In her hands “Lola Versus” becomes less a comedy and more a look at self-realization. That is why Gerwig will never be a mainstream star -- and that’s lucky for us as long as she keeps making movies like this.