British writer-director Terence Davies (The Deep Blue Sea) is an expert at digging beneath the surfaces of his stories and characters. So it's especially intriguing to see him take on a biopic about the enigmatic American poet Emily Dickinson. Like her writing, the film has a moody, dry exterior that conceals a fiendishly sharp wit. It's also an unusually smart film, combining emotional resonance with brainy conversation, even as it moves at a glacial pace.
It's set in 19th century Massachusetts, where Emily (young Emma Bell, then Cynthia Nixon) grows up in a fiercely religious household. But then, everyone in this community is devout to the point of distraction, and no one knows what to do about Emily's unusually outspoken thoughts. The way she speaks about her faith horrifies her parents (Keith Carradine and Joanna Bacon), even though they raised Emily and her siblings Vinnie and Austin (Jennifer Ehle and Duncan Duff) to think for themselves. As Emily begins publishing her poems anonymously, she also challenges the role of women in this society, where they're expected to be little more than decoration. So it's no wonder that the plain-speaking new arrival Vryling (Catherine Bailey) catches her attention.
The film covers the final decades in Emily's life, punctuating scenes with her evocative, often disturbing poetry. Davies keeps the period details crisp and unfussy, using period photographs to great effect, such as in the striking sequence that traces the American Civil War. That said, the Dickinson family's life seems like little more than a sequence of nasty diseases and personal conflicts, which isn't easy to stick with. Thankfully, Nixon brings an alertness to Emily that catches the imagination, and her connection with Ehle's Vinnie is lively and engaging. These two women are inquisitive and sharp, in stark contrast to the gloomy people around them.
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Nineteenth-century American poet Emily Dickinson might be well known now for her classic catalogue of work, but when she was alive she was elusive to most. As much as she was always a bright, intelligent and well-behaved child, as she grew older she disappointed her father Edward by refusing to marry or give herself to the church. Instead, she preferred her own company; shutting herself inside and becoming so reclusive and reluctant of guests that she was noticed by many. She shared few friendships in her lifetime, and even those she had - like that with sister-in-law Susan Gilbert - were wrought with pain and uncertainty. She was the victim of a number of bereavements in her lifetime, experiences that would have a massive effect on her health and her later popular literary work.
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On a corporate outing, Sam (D'Agosto) has a horrific premonition that a suspension bridge will collapse. He escapes the doomed bus with six colleagues and their annoying boss (Koechner), but Death isn't letting them get away that easily. Soon they start dying in complicated freak accidents. A federal agent (Vance) questions Sam ("That looks premeditated to me!"), while a coroner (Todd) says they can escape if someone dies in their place. So while Sam tries to get his ex (Bell) back, his friend Peter (Fisher) looks for a way out.
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Sam Lawton is with his girlfriend Emma, when he has a premonition that the bridge they are on will collapse, killing everyone that's on it. It is only when his vision starts coming true that he manages to save himself and Emma, as well as a handful of other people. But it soon becomes clear to the group of survivors that they were all supposed to die on the bridge. As they try to cheat death, they all start dying starts one by one.
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Joe (Ashmore) isn't hugely thrilled that his best pal Dan (Zegers) has invited his girlfriend Parker (Bell) along for a day of skiing. But she comes in handy when they need to charm the chairlift operator (Ackerman) into giving them a free ride. On the other hand, on their last trip up the mountain the lift is switched off for the week, and they're stranded in the chair. With a storm rolling in. And wolves braying for blood beneath them.
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