Far too slow-paced to work as a thriller and too shallow to properly challenge us as science fiction, this film is unlikely to please many audience members. That isn't to say that it's unwatchable: it looks terrific, and features a strong cast who are solid in thinly written roles. But the material promises far more than the film delivers.
At the centre is Will (Johnny Depp), an artificial intelligence expert who is attacked by an anti-technology terrorist group. With only weeks to live, his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) and his colleague Max (Paul Bettany) upload his consciousness into his computer system, so after he dies he is able to transcend his humanity to solve far-advanced problems. He directs Evelyn to create a vast secret hideout to further develop the work, which progresses for two years until the terrorists, led by Bree (Kate Mara), find them. And now Will's old colleague Joseph (Morgan Freeman) and an FBI agent (Cillian Murphy) have to choose which side they're on.
This is precisely where the script fails: the sides are far too clear from the start. What should be a story packed with moral ambiguity is instead shaped into a straightforward good versus evil drama that betrays screenwriter Jack Paglen's mistrust of technology. And since everything is slanted so sharply, there's nowhere for the story or characters to go. First-time director Wally Pfister (the Oscar-winning Dark Knight cinematographer) makes sure everything look terrific, but everything moves so hesitantly that we feel like we're watching the movie in slow motion. It's as if the film is always on the verge of saying something important, but can never quite get the words out.
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What makes this thriller extraordinary is its willingness to make us scratch our heads and ask questions as the tense, fable-like story patiently unfolds. This creates an almost unbearably involving vibe, from the slow-burn pacing to the unusual character detail. And all of this allows the cast members to dig deep inside their characters.
It starts as two families in rural Pennsylvania get together to celebrate Thanksgiving, then discover that their two young daughters are missing. Keller and Grace Dover (Jackman and Bello) and Franklin and Nancy Birch (Howard and Davis) search the neighbourhood frantically, then try to help local detective Loki (Gyllenhaal) with his investigation. He settles on an oddball (Dano) who seems unable to provide any information at all. With no evidence against him, he's released. But Keller can't bear to think of this man being free while the girls are missing, so he hatches his own plan to sort things out.
There's a lot of symbolism in this screenplay, as everyone reacts to the situation in his or her own way (clearly echoing the world's response to the War on Terror). But it's also a riveting personal story of the desperate need for justice and revenge. Jackman is terrific as the deeply religious man whose love of guns informs his decision-making. He impulsively reacts like Liam Neeson in Taken, charging to the rescue. By contrast, Gyllenhaal's Loki is more measured and observant, while Howard's Franklin struggles with his own moral decisions. The women are a completely different story, and equally provocative: Davis is feisty but helpless, while Bello crawls into her shell.
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While this package has all of the key marketing elements to reach the Twilight audience, the film itself is rather a lot more fun, made with some wit and intelligence, plus a cast that's happy to chomp on the scenery. Based on a four-novel series, this film actually has more in common with True Blood than Twilight, with its Deep South setting and the clash between religious fundamentalism and supernatural beings.
At the centre is Ethan (Ehrehreich), a 16-year-old who is bristling against the isolation of his small South Carolina town. His recently deceased mother instilled in him a love of books banned by the town's hyper-religious leaders, and the local librarian Amma (Davis) helps keep his interest alive. As a result, he's more open than the other teens when Lena (Englert) arrives at school. But she's shunned because her Uncle Macon (Irons) is the town's pariah, a landowner whom everyone thinks is a devil worshipper. Actually, the whole family are casters, people with special powers that are designated good or evil on their 16th birthday.
The plot stirs up some suspense as Lena's big day of reckoning approaches. She's terrified that she'll go over to the dark side like her man-eating cousin (Rossum) or, worse still, her spectral mother, who does her mischief by inhabiting the body of the town's most pious housewife Mrs Lincoln (Thompson). This of course gives Thompson two insane characters to play at the same time, and she has a ball with it. As does Irons with the shadowy, snaky Macon. And at the centre, Ehrenreich and Englert both show considerable promise, with their strikingly non-Hollywood good looks and a depth of character that makes the film more engaging than we expect.
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At a down-home church in Pacashau, Georgia, GG (Parton) is peeved when she's not offered the job after her choir-director father (a brief Kris Kristofferson cameo) dies. The new leader is her rival Vi Rose (Latifah), who plans to win the upcoming regional competition with pure gospel. To further stir things up, GG's bad-boy grandson Randy (Jordan) is back in town, and he's smitten with Vi Rose's 16-year-old daughter Olivia (Palmer).
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Shy 11-year-old Sawyer (Gamble) struggles to relate to other kids, and now his revered swim-champ cousin (Stowell) is heading off to war just as summer begins. One day Sawyer helps rescue Winter, a dolphin entangled in a crab trap, and gets involved in her rehabilitation with Dr Clay (Connick) and his daughter Hazel (Zuehlsdorff). Sawyer's mother (Judd) reluctantly lets him skip summer-school to work at the aquarium, which is under threat from mounting bills. And Sawyer convinces a prosthetic expert (Freeman) to help the now tailless Winter regain her ability to swim.
Continue reading: Dolphin Tale Review
Leigh Anne (Bullock) is a Memphis housewife with a fast-food magnate husband, Sean (McGraw), and two bright, witty kids (Head and Collins). Meanwhile, the hulking, black 17-year-old Mike (Aaron) has been admitted to her daughter's posh private school, and Leigh Anne takes an interest in him when she discovers that he's essentially homeless. Eventually he becomes part of the family, emerging from his shell after a lifetime of abuse and discovering that he has a skill for American football. Although he'll need a tutor (Bates) to improve his grades so he can play.
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Eli (Washington) is a loner walking through a decimated American landscape some 30 years after "the war" brought about "the flash". His most precious possession is an old book, and he's willing to fight to the death to protect it as he heads west. Then he stumbles into a roughneck town run by the greedy Carnegie (Oldman), who's searching for the legendary book with his brutal henchman (Stevenson). And when the daughter (Kunis) of Carnegie's blind girlfriend (Beals) runs off after Eli, things get messy.
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The cell phone-jumping ghost plays by unique rules. Sometimes, it's a physical creature and attacks people like the ghost from The Ring. Other times, it causes fatal freak accidents like the ghost in Final Destination. Often, it finds victims by searching through the former victim's cell phone address book. It gives a few days notice by leaving a post-dated voicemail of the victim's voice right before death. The ghost is kind enough to leave red candies in the deceased's mouth, too.
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Opening with an annoying, clichéd fight between Holly (Hilary Swank) and husband Gerry (Gerard Butler), P.S. I Love You quickly takes a turn for the worse with Gerry's death right after the opening credits. Of course, Gerry was the perfect man and devised a plan to send several letters to his widowed wife to help her through her grief after he's passed away. But the film wheels these emotions with no regard for the impact on the characters. Holly's grief is dealt with the same way the film approaches the couple's happy flashbacks -- barely scratching the surface and relying on the sentimental, such as personal trinkets and highlights from their relationship.
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Okay, I'm joking about the backwards part, but to tell you the truth, this retread could have used it. It certainly needs a lot more than Pacino's overacting and cinematographer Wally Pfister's mood lighting to be watchable.
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These talents, of course, provide voices to an array of talking animals in the live action heartwarmer Racing Stripes, a sort of stripy Seabiscuit about an orphaned zebra with a horse's heart for racing. The misled mare, aptly nicknamed Stripes, wants desperately to compete with rival horses at the Kentucky Open - the Bluegrass State's natural landscapes contributing an exquisite backdrop to the film's conventional action. Along the way, the zebra is coached by a widowed father (Bruce Greenwood), his dedicated daughter (Hayden Panettiere), and a stable of talking animals including a Shetland pony (Hoffman), a goat (Goldberg), a rooster (Jeff Foxworthy), and two manure-craving flies named Buzz (Steve Harvey) and Scuzz (David Spade).
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So, imagine my horror as I sat alone in the cavernous theater, trying to muster a chuckle or a titter. Ornery ostriches didn't do the trick. Neither did a transsexual stripper, a pot-smoking dog or an appearance by Fabio.
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Nobody survives the gauntlet... no one, that is, except for the filmmakers of My Dog Skip.
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Perhaps the problem is director Charles Shyer, a guy known for his comedic streak, both as the man behind the Father of the Bride movies, and as a writer working with wife Nancy Meyers (The Parent Trap, Baby Boom). With Shyer's swing over to drama, it's tough to tell if parts of The Affair of the Necklace are supposed to be funny.
Continue reading: The Affair of the Necklace Review