[Movie Review] The Mothman Prophecies

The Mothman PropheciesStarring: Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Will Patton, Debra Messing, David Eigenberg
Director: Mark Pellington
Genre: Thriller
Cert: 12
Released: 2002

You know those Christmas presents that you are certain you are getting? You have a hunch that someone has bought you something in particular and you are really looking forward to it. Even the package that it is wrapped in makes it look like it is the present you desire. Then you open it – and it’s not there. This other present is rubbish and you are very disappointed.

Bad analogy, but that’s “The Mothman Prophecies” for you in a nutshell.

Washington Post journalist John Klein (Gere – “Chicago”, “Unfaithful”, “Autumn in New York”) has his world turned upside down after he and his wife Mary (Messing – TVs “Will and Grace”) are involved in a car crash. She dies as a result of her injuries and after her death, a distraught Klein discovers a series of mysterious and disturbing drawings that his wife left behind.

A few years later things get very bizzare. Klein, driving through the night to reach the Virginia capital, ends up getting stranded in a small Ohio town – 400 miles in the wrong direction. He discovers that something is very wrong when an angry local man (Patton – “Remember the Titans”, “Entrapment”, “Armageddon”, “The Client”) accosts him at gunpoint and accuses him of harassing him three nights in a row. Local cop, Connie (Linney – “The House of Mirth”, “The Truman Show”, “Dave”), tells Klein that ordinary local people have been behaving very oddly for some time. One of the strangest occurrences is a sighting of a peculiar winged-creature – the same one that Klein’s wife had drawn two years earlier.

Something strange is happening and Klein, haunted by the memory of his wife’s question ‘did you not see it?’, needs to find out why he has been lured to this small town and what it has to do with his wife’s death.

“The Mothman Prophecies” is an intriguing premise, and indeed there is plenty to get excited about early on. But for some reason, this near two-hour film degenerates into a repetitive, boredom-inducing, series of deliberating scenes at the expense of real action and story progression. Diretor Mark Pellington, who was responsible for the enjoyable “Arlington Road”, creates an independent feel to the movie by using a lot of high angles and fuzzy shots to portray confusion and an element of bewilderment. To that end, he’s done well.

But the pacing of the movie is poor and it soon becomes a chore to keep interest as for large portions very little actually happens that influences the storyline. The acting is passable but I will admit to being quite impressed with the once maligned Richard Gere. His character is gentle and perplexed, deeply traumatised by his wife death, and driven to discover the secret behind what he discovers to be ‘The Mothman’.

This is a TV movie wrapped in a big-name blanket, and one is advised to steer well clear.

1star

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[Movie Review] Croupier

CroupierStarring: Clive Owen, Alex Kingston, Nicholas Ball, Gina McKee, Alexander Morton, Paul Reynolds
Director: Mike Hodges
Genre: Drama
Cert: 15
Released: 1998

Jack (Owen) is a struggling, aspiring writer who reluctantly follows the suggestion of his father (Ball) and accepts the job as a croupier in a London casino. His girlfriend Marion (McKee), whose flat he lives in, is not keen on his job and sees him become moodier and more detached over time.

Despite being one of the few straight croupiers left, Jack soon finds himself surrounded by corruption whether it be his boss (Morton) cocky croupier, Matt (Reynolds), the sexually provocative Bella (Hardie ) or South African gambler Jani (Kingston). But his new situation helps remove Jack’s writers block and as his novel develops, he soon finds himself assuming the lead role in his book.

Anyone who saw the uninspiring trailer for “Croupier” might be surprised at just how entertaining and engrossing the movie turned out to be. Clive Owen’s tired and uncharasmatic portrayal of Jack is spot on. A world-weary character such as this can become a chore and tiresome to watch (cf Dougray’s Scott turn as Tom Jericho in “Enigma”) but he conveys enough intrigue to keep you watching and, importantly, liking him. Alex Kingston and Gina McKee add excellent support as the enigmatic femme fatale (perhaps) and the loyal but exasperated girlfriend respectively.

Writer Paul Mayersberg has not really put anything top notch out before, but his story is gripping and has enough slight twists to keep it interesting and almost mysterious. Hodges brings a swiftly-told, but well paced unfurling yarn to the screen, introducing the characters idiosyncrasies with great timing (Marion’s former employment and Jack’s father’s history, for example). The end-of-movie payoff is sufficiently satisfying to make it all more than worth while.

3halfstar

[Movie Review] Minority Report

00222_001Starring: Tom Cruise, Max von Sydow, Colin Farrell, Steve Harris, Kathryn Morris, Samantha Morton
Director: Steven Spielberg
Genre: Thriller
Cert: 12
Released: 2002

It’s not often that Spielberg treads thin critical ice (no, I didn’t watch “Hook”). So when the dream hook-up of Spielberg and Cruise was announced last year, saliva was generated in record amounts on the lips of drooling cinema-goers. “Minority Report”, based on a short story by science fiction writer, Philip K Dick (previous stories converted to celuloid include “Blade Runner”), is a futuristic action movie dealing in the concept of ‘pre-crime’.

In 2054, the pre-crime experiment has eliminated murder in the DC area for the previous six years. Director of pre-crime, Lamar Burgess (Sydow – “Judge Dredd”, “Awakenings”), is looking to send pre-crime nationwide via a national referendum. But the very concept of pre-crime raises serious constitutional issues. Using the visions of three gifted individuals known as ‘pre-cogs’, detectives can obtain specific information about future murders and are able to stop them before they are committed. The introduction of pre-crime came six months too late for Detective John Anderton (Cruise) who mourns the abduction, and probable murder, of his son. With his marriage breaking up as a result, Anderton throws himself into his work and is one of the main reasons for its continued success.

However, despite the statistics, pre-crime has its doubters, and one of them is Detective Ed Witwer (Farrell – “Tigerland”, “Harts War”) whose obtrusive observation is either one of general concern for the constiutional questions surrounding pre-crime or else a fixation on taking Anderton’s job. Anderton’s rightful claim that the system is ‘never wrong’ comes back to haunt him as he is indentified by the pre-cogs as being repsonsible for the future murder of Leo Crow, a man he doesn’t even know. Convinced of his own future innocence, Anderton goes on the run to try and find answers but is pursued by his own team, now led by Witwer. Using his knowledge of the system to avoid detection for as long as possible, Anderton tries to buy enough time to find answers to his main question – is there a flaw in the system?

Off the bat, I’ll tell you that “Minority Report” is a terrific movie. Based on, but greatly expanding, a short story by Dick, Spielberg has gone all out to create a science-fiction experience that makes you think as well as blowing your mind with sharp and inventive futuristic touches – the freaky spy-spiders, retina recognition sensors that trigger personalised advertising in the street, interactive video screens that can be controlled by the wave of your hand and ultra-cool video-newspapers.

Spielberg has poured an awful lot of storyline into the 140 minutes that the movie runs to and the frenetic pace and cliff-hanging action sequences are exhausting in the extreme. He’s one of the best directors in the business and he proves it time and time again with a number of great scenes including a thrilling pursuit of Anderton through the back alleys of DC and some real cringe-moments that will make the faint-hearted turn away from the screen.

It’s another notable turn from fast-rising star Colin Farrell who excels as the FBIs slick trouble-maker. Although not as demanding as his quality turn in “Vanilla Sky”, Cruise again does a good job, playing the confident cop with an emotional chink in the armour. Max von Sydow offers solid support as his pre-crime mentor.

“Minority Report” is full of great ideas, numerous twists and oustanding visuals and even though I suspect that the storyline doesn’t stand up to in-depth scrutiny, that’s no reason to miss one of the years top movies.

4halfstar

[Movie Review] The Others

The OthersStarring: Nicole Kidman, Fionnula Flanagan, Alakina Mann, James Bentley, Christopher Eccleston, Eric Sykes, Elaine Cassidy
Director: Alejandro Amenábar
Genre: Horror
Cert: 15
Released: 2001

I wonder why Nicole Kidman held back for so long. After a career spent dwadling in mainly inconsequential movies like “Far and Away”, “My Life”, “The Peacemaker”, “Batman Forever” and “Days of Thunder”, recent years has seen her break free and become one of Hollywood’s hottest stars after “Moulin Rouge”, “The Hours” and this movie, “The Others”.

In 1945, Grace Stewart (Kidman) lives in a large rural house with her children Anne (Mann) and Nicholas (Bentley). Struggling to cope since her husband (Eccleston – “Gone in Sixty Seconds”, “24 Hour Party People”) went to war, she hires three house servants to help with the housework and look after the children. The job of looking after the children is made especially difficult by their condition – both are photosensitive and so cannot be exposed to natural sunlight, meaning that the curtains need to be drawn during daylight hours.

But after some mysterious goings-on, Grace becomes convinced the house is haunted. Anne insists that a child called Victor visits her from time to time and is responsible for opening curtains and locked doors while new housemaid Ms Mills (Flanagan – “Some Mothers Son”, “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood”) seems to sense the presence too and soon empathises with the dismayed Grace. But just how much does she know?

"So you're not ET?"It’s very easy to like films such as “The Others”. It’s spooky, well crafted, directed expertly and features spot-on performances from the entire cast.

Amenábar writes and directs, and considering that he also wrote the peculiar “Vanilla Sky”, you can not be surprised at the twists and turns that the story throws up. But writing is only half the success here, and it is his direction that equally propels “The Others” into classic status. The story is full of ingenious plot devives such as Grace’s insistence on no two adjoining doors being unlocked at the same time, her refusal to use electricity or the requirement that the curtains remain drawn before her children enter a room

While Kidman is superb in her role as a troubled and sometimes unreasonable woman, grieving for the husband she assumes has died in the war, she is lent sterling support by the brilliant performance of Alakina Mann. Mann’s character rebels in a way unheard of for children at the time, questions the very basis of religion (she doesn’t believe that God created the world in seven days and that Noah got all the animals on a boat) and vociferously refutes her mother’s allegations of mischief, insisting that ‘the others’ are responsible for it.

“The Others” ranks up there with the best of the year and will probably be recognised as an all time classic in its genre.

5star

[Movie Review] 28 Days Later

28 Days LaterStarring: Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson, Naomie Harris, Noah Huntley, Megan Burns, Christopher Eccleston
Director: Danny Boyle
Genre: Horror
Cert: 18
Released: 2002

Irish courier, Jim, (Murphy) awakes from a coma in his London hospital bed to find a deserted building and deserted streets around it. An abandoned newspaper stand reveals that the city has been evacuated and the surreal experience multiplies after he is chased from a church by a vicious mob. Rescued by two soldiers (Huntley and Harris), he finds out that a deadly virus has broken out and infected almost the entire country in the last 28 days.

While we assume that we’ll be viewing a study of survival in a post-apocalyptic world, “28 Days Later” meanders off into safe territory. The emotional issues surrounding doomsday love and life itself, are replaced by a predictable, and slightly ludicrous, cat-and-mouse chase for continued existence. Maybe this is why, good as this movie is in the main, you feel left just a little bit short by the closing credits.

By no means poor, “28 Days Later”, however, could have been so much more.
3star

[Album Review] "Riot Act" – Pearl Jam

Riot Act - Pearl JamAlbum Title: Riot Act
Artist: Pearl Jam
Year: 2002
Running Time: 54m 15s

Track listing: 1 Can’t Keep; 2 Save You; 3 Love Boat Captain; 4 Cropduster; 5 Ghost; 6 I Am Mine; 7 Thumbing My Way; 8 You Are; 9 (Wanted To) Get Right; 10 Green Disease; 11 Help Help; 12 Bushleaguer; 13 1/2 Full; 14 Arc; 15 All Or None

Oh what a pleasure. Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam return with album number seven, the boisterous-sounding “Riot Act”. There’s been nothing riotous about Pearl Jam’s music since the early days of “Ten” and “Vs”. In fact the band have probably developed and matured into a far better act over the last few years and albums like “Vitalogy”, “No Code” and “Binaural” contain numerous examples of under-stated rock brilliance. “Riot Act” is no different, and in fact is probably their best album since “Vs”.

Opening with the superb and typically unhurried ‘Can’t Keep’, we launch into the brazen frenzy of ‘Save You’, Vedder’s illustration of a love-hate relationship.

His lyrical supremacy is prevalent throughout the album. ‘Love Boat Captain’, a Pearl Jam classic and probably single material, is a further depiction of his black-and-white but almost poetic outlook on life. ‘The young, they can lose hope cause they can’t see beyond today’ he relates, before sensibly admitting that it is because they need ‘the wisdom that the old can’t give away’.

‘Cropduster’ is another lyrical and musical triumph. ‘I thought I thought the world; Turns out the world thought me; It’s all the other way round; We’re upside down’, he admits cryptically, supplying once and for all the answer to the oft-asked question ‘why are we here?.

In ‘Ghost’, Vedder discusses existentialism with his usual vigour and in ‘I Am Mine’ the spiritual side of his existence. ‘I only own my mind’, he acknowledges before admitting that ‘I know I was born and I know that I’ll die; the in-between is mine’.

‘You Are’ is a catchy, funky, bass-heavy love song and drummer Matt Cameron proves that he can write a mean rock tune too with the straight-forward ‘Get Right’. He’s not the only band member writing. Bassist Jeff Ament is responsible for the catchy ‘Help Help’ as well as the coarse and fun ‘1/2 Full’, and guitarist Stone Gossard has penned the wonderfully gentle self-realisation tune ‘All Or None’.

He’s also responsible for the ingenious ‘Bushleaguer’, a not-so-subtle verbal assault on current US President, George W Bush. ‘He’s not a leader, he’s a Texas leaguer; Swinging for the fence, he got lucky with a strike’, explains Vedder, relating the thoughts of most of the world. The casual downbeat metal riff is a perfect backbone especially for the foreboding realisation that ‘blackout weaves its way through the cities’.

‘Thumbing my Way’ is a more reflective country-style love song and ‘Green Disease’ is enjoyable punk-tempo rock fare.

I’m giving this the full five stars, because not only is there not one weak song on it, but the best songs are simply outstanding. It probably won’t return Pearl Jam to the forefront of rock music, but that’s more a reflection on the easy listening, lowest common denominator tastes of today. It’s engrossing, introspective, psycho-analytical – it’s loads of things. It’s superb.

5star