In a screen adaptation of the Philip Roth novella The Dying Animal this highly charged sexual drama comes to the fore as its central character wraps himself around a dangerous life-changing relationship. David Kepesh (Ben Kingsley) is an engaging very successful professor whose personal life he closely controls--never letting commitment get in the way and keeping the women in his life at arm’s distance. Although he can go on The Charlie Rose Show and charm with the best of them his emotional needs have remained hidden to him--that is until a gorgeous young student Consuela Castillo (Penelope Cruz) enters his classroom and rocks his tightly monitored world. Suddenly everything he thought he knew about his own human nature and longings are thrown out the window. He becomes obsessively involved with the much younger Consuela--SO obsessive in fact that his jealousy and possessiveness take their toll and eventually drive her away. Drowning his sorrows in other personal matters he will discover that this relationship is not quite over and the woman who haunts his dreams is going to come back into his life with an urgency neither one could possibly have imagined. Kingsley an Oscar winner over a quarter of a century ago for Gandhi has perhaps his richest role since then as professor Kepesh a man overwhelmed by desire he never knew he was capable of. It’s certainly unusual and definitely refreshing to see an actor who is just hitting retirement age get such a full-bodied and sexual role. Let’s face it Kingsley is no Brad Pitt but he certainly represents a group of men who are still in the game and even just discovering their full romantic potential in the autumn of life. Of course what red blooded American male wouldn’t fall hook line and sinker for the rapturous Cruz. Her Consuela is a woman in complete charge of her being--until events out of her control bring out the vulnerability. Without revealing plot spoilers there are two distinct parts to this complicated and fascinating performance and Cruz effortlessly nails both. The supporting cast is also top notch with Patricia Clarkson a particular standout as Carolyn the professor’s long-time lover who finds her mutually convenient affair threatened for the first time. There’s also Dennis Hopper as a distinguished poet and David’s good friend; Deborah Harry as Hopper’s long-suffering wife; and Peter Sarsgaard as the prof’s distant son are all fine in the exceptionally well-cast film. Spanish director Isabel Coixet (My Life Without Me) brings an intimacy and strong woman’s touch to a story that might have had a different spin if directed by a man. After all how many Hollywood films have we seen with 60 and 70 year-old male stars cast opposite much younger actresses that fail to examine the irony of those pairings? This relationship is shown warts and all in a much more emotionally complicated way than most films dare. Emphasis on Clarkson’s spurned lover also adds a nice touch and we can completely empathize with this smart sexually alive woman whose main sin is her age similarity with the man she has slept with hassle free for over 20 years. A major studio would never touch a story like this that deals with the sexual proclivities of mature adults unless it had something to do with Batman and Catwoman. We can thank Coixet’s sharply detailed work behind the camera particularly in intimate bedroom conversations and a smart adaptation by Nicholas Meyer which gets right to the heart of Roth’s ultimately heartbreaking story. Those expecting something along the raunchy lines of the aging author’s Portnoy’s Complaint will be in for a surprise with this independently made contemplative beautifully crafted and acted romantic drama. Finally a film for grown ups.
Eighteen-year-old Nick Powell (Justin Chatwin) has been for reasons too convoluted to go into left for dead. But his body’s still alive and his spirit – stuck in limbo – continues to interact with those around him desperately trying to communicate his existential plight before his body – hidden in a storm drain - expires. Being caught between life and death is probably a scary place but it’s likely more compelling than depicted here. The cause of Nick’s current dilemma is Annie Newton (Margarita Levieva) a juvenile delinquent and classmate of Nick’s whose troubled upbringing turned her into such a teen terror. Nick must try and compel Annie to locate his body but it takes an inordinate amount of time to do it during which the story – and the film as a whole - falls apart. After awhile it’s difficult to work up much sympathy to say nothing of any interest for what happens to these characters. Chatwin (Tom Cruise’s son in War of the Worlds) scores his first big-screen lead here and does about as well as can be expected under the circumstances which are fairly dire. With better material this might have been a decent showcase for his leading-man qualities. Better luck next time. Not nearly as fortunate is Levieva playing the prettiest leader of a high-school crime ring in recent memory. One minute she’s playing it tough and thrashing Nick within an inch of his life. The next she’s tearfully admonishing her little brother (Alex Ferris) not to make the same mistakes she made. It’s a terrible role and worse an inconsistent one. The biggest name in the cast Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden plays Nick’s domineering mother. Like many of the roles in the film it’s strictly one-note. Still it’s nice having a pro like Harden on hand – even if the film goes out of its way to squander her talents. Only Callum Keith Rennie as the obligatory detective on the case manages to bring a little credibility to the proceedings. So naturally the film ignores him for long stretches. David S. Goyer is better known – and rightly so – for the films he’s written (Dark City Batman Begins and the Blade films) than the ones he’s directed (Blade: Trinity anyone?). But the true blame here falls on screenwriters Mick Davis and Christine Roum whose attempt to combine a supernatural storyline doused with teen angst fails miserably. At times The Invisible feels like leftovers from The Sixth Sense Ghost Jacob's Ladder The Butterfly Effect (yikes!) any number of Twilight Zone episodes and even Groundhog Day. The Invisible is based on a Swedish novel and a previous film but like the many Asian chillers that undergo an “Americanized” remake something has been lost in the translation – starting with credibility even on its own terms. So many movies undergo reshoots these days but rarely has an entire movie felt like a reshoot. The Invisible has that dubious distinction.
Sexually frustrated after another night of unrequited lovin’ from his wife Grant Grant (Michael Rooker) heads to the local pub and later stumbles upon Pandora’s Box in the woods when he fiddles with a slug-like creature. Turns out this “thing” has landed from outer space and it spews its venom into his body turning him into a monster on the prowl. At first he only lusts after red meat but soon only human blood will do. Before long he’s “infected” several townsfolk with plans to get everyone but his wife Starla (Elizabeth Banks) has so far eluded him. She joins forces with a brave policeman (Nathan Fillion) his fledgling staff and a foul-mouthed mayor (Gregg Henry) on a mission to cut the zombies off at the source. But she has conflicting interests between the sexual tension she feels for the hunky officer whom she’s known since childhood and her lifelong vow--in health and in sickness--to her mutant hubby. The lack of star power in Slither lends so much to its gleeful B-movie sensibilities yet these actors are far from second-rate. The most deserving of praise might be the casting director for assembling a sublime bunch of misfits. Character actor Rooker perhaps still best known for 1993’s Cliffhanger goes from a lovelorn husband to a warts-and-all monster. Neither an easy nor flattering task he succeeds in blending the funny with the nasty a noteworthy trend accomplished by the entire ensemble. As the woman who literally married a monster Banks’ (The 40 Year-Old Virgin) princess of a young wife is aghast at the thought of aiding the hunt for her “squid-looking” husband. She allows that notion to play out as funnily as it sounds while maintaining her southern-belle beauty. And Fillion (Serenity) serves up the classic “hero” character with a twist: humiliation along the way to try and save the er night. He does humiliation well. While it might not feel quite right in proclaiming this Slither is actually a true achievement in filmmaking from writer-director James Gunn. He blends the disparate comedy and horror elements very succinctly even when such a dangerous mixture is always at risk of being too campy. Seamlessly transitioning from one element to the next is hard enough with today’s audiences just dying to nit-pick and laugh at awkwardness. But Slither's comedy is amazingly laugh-out-loud sardonic and straightforward while the horror is startlingly gory intense--and scream-out-loud. The director also uses just the right amount of technology to place Slither somewhere between a hypothetical ‘80s B-movie and say War of the Worlds and by refusing to take itself seriously--even in the most grisly of scenes--Slither is effectively rendered un-spoofable. In other words Gunn makes this horror-com his own.