The original Seuss story is a wonderful--albeit simple
--children's tale about two bored kids left alone in their house on a cold wet day. They're visited by a six-foot-tall talking adventure-seeking feline who's looking for a little fun (OK maybe a lot of fun). Against the warnings of the children's seriously repressed pet goldfish the Cat (with the help of a couple of troll doll look-a-likes called Thing One and Thing Two) turns the house upside down then puts it all right-side-up again before the kids' mother gets home. The question for Hollywood is how to turn a story like this one that's left an indelible impression on millions of readers young and old since 1957 into a major motion picture? While the film thankfully keeps to this original's plot talking fish and all it obviously tries to flesh things out adding some new characters and tacking on a few life lessons. The kids now have very distinct personalities: Wild older brother Conrad (Spencer Breslin) plays fast and loose with the rules while sister Sally (Dakota Fanning) an uptight control freak has driven all her friends away with her rigidity. Their mother Joan (Kelly Preston) works at the town's real estate office run by the anal retentive Mr. Humberfloob (Sean Hayes) and she's dating the guy next door Quinn (Alec Baldwin) a superficial scumbag who wants to send Conrad to military school. On the particular cold wet day in question Joan leaves instructions not to mess up the house since she's having an important business meet-and-greet there later that night. When the Cat (Mike Myers) arrives he quickly assures Sally and Conrad they can have all the fun they want and nothing bad will happen. Ignoring vocal opposition from the Fish (voiced by Hayes) the Cat quickly puts into motion a series of events that will a) prove his point b) destroy the house and c) teach the kids a sugary-sweet but valuable lesson about being responsible while living life to the fullest.
Just as Jim Carrey immortalized the Grinch Mike Myers seems born to play the Cat in the oversized red-and-white striped hat--he has the sly slightly sarcastic wholly anarchistic thing down cold. Myers' impersonations of a redneck Cat mechanic (with requisite visible butt crack) an infomercial Cat host and a zany British Cat chef are outrageous as are the hilarious little asides he spouts although they'll probably go over kids' heads: "Well sure [the Fish] can talk but is he really saying anything? No not really." But even though Myers has some fun moments he just isn't the Barney type and when he turns on the come-on-kids-let's-have-fun charm and adopts a dopey laugh he seems uncomfortable. As for the kids Fanning and Breslin (Disney's The Kid) do a fine job reacting to the wackiness the Cat surrounds them with although Fanning basically plays the same uptight character she created in the recent Uptown Girls. Of the supporting players Baldwin has the most fun as the villainous Quinn a bad-guy role that while a little superfluous gives Baldwin plenty of opportunities to chew the scenery. Hayes is also good in his dual role; he stamps Humberfloob indelibly on our brains then kicks butt as the voice of the beleaguered Fish.
It must have been a no-brainer for producer Brian Grazer to do another Dr. Seuss adaptation after all the fun magic and profits the 2000 hit How the Grinch Stole Christmas generated. With Cat in the Hat however he didn't collaborate with his usual directing partner the Grinch's Ron Howard. Instead Grazer took a chance on first-time director Bo Welch who previously served as production designer on Tim Burton's Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands and has three Oscar nods to his credit for production design on other films. Welch certainly takes his quirky cue from Burton when it comes to the look of Cat in the Hat especially Sally and Conrad's suburban Southern California neighborhood with its lilac frames and blue roofs. The gadgets are cool too from the Cat's Super Luxurious Omnidirectional Whatchamajigger or S.L.O.W vehicle to the Dynamic Industrial Renovating Tractormajigger or D.I.R.T. mobile for cleaning up the house. When we enter the Cat's bizarre world though the film's Seussian look starts to have problems possibly because there's nothing of this place in the original book. Hidden within the feline's magical crate the Cat's world can produce "the mother of all messes " and in keeping with that purpose there's some effort at making it look like a fragmented Cubist painting. But it's more plastic than Picasso and in the end it's about as interesting as a Universal Theme Park ride (a fact the movie actually mentions).
As the weary crew of the World War II sub USS Tiger Shark heads home to Connecticut after a long grueling mission they come across three survivors of a torpedoed British hospital ship including one female nurse (Olivia Williams). Tough ambitious Lt. Brice (Bruce Greenwood) takes the survivors aboard--to the chagrin of the crew who is reminded of the old adage that a woman on a sub is bad luck. Bad luck it turns out is exactly what they get--whether it's due to the woman aboard pranksters playing tricks the sanity-eroding effects of oxygen deprivation or ghosties in the dark. The sub and its crew already dodging the Nazi U-boats that hover above them in the Atlantic waters periodically sending down depth charges or trolling the deep with massive sub-catching hooks must also contend with the strange happenings inside--frightening noises voices whispering from the sub's depths phantasmic visions and alarmingly inexplicable mechanical failure. Suddenly the sub is stuck on the ocean floor--oxygen is running out the too-close quarters are seemingly getting even more cramped and bizarre unspeakable accidents are killing off the crew.
Chilling with a glittering snakelike gaze Greenwood's Brice manages to cover his slowly unraveling psyche with a capable-officer façade like a lid on a pressure cooker-- until the lid blows off completely. His performance is vaguely reminiscent of Jack Nicholson's in The Shining in that somewhere beneath the escalating madness there's a sense of reason that sometimes peeks out like a face behind a mask to let us know he hasn't gone completely over the deep end (no pun intended). Matt Davis (Blue Crush) shows promise as young Ensign Odell the only seaman willing to stand up to Brice and question his dubious decisions while helping to save the sub from certain disaster. Other standout performances include Holt McCallany (Panic Room) as the strong sensible Lt. Loomis who staunchly believes there's a rational explanation for the weird happenings on the sub until he literally gets the scare of his life; and Jason Flemyng (Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) as crewman Stumbo a practical joker who reels from the reality of the situation that unfolds.
Below was first envisioned years ago by Requiem for a Dream writer/director Darren Aronofsky who reportedly once claimed it would be the scariest movie of the last decade. In director David Twohy's (Pitch Black) hands it's creepy but hardly that scary. The film definitely captures the cramped claustrophobia of a sub trapped at the bottom of the ocean while still showing the hugeness of the vessel and the U-boats above it; there are also some fascinating underwater shots that reinvent the submarine movie altogether. Where the film falters though is in the scare factor. C'mon…jaded horror fans are hardly going to take seriously things like a Benny Goodman record suddenly playing on its own ghostly faces appearing in the dark or voices whispering from the beyond although the scene in which Stumbo thinks he hears a dead body wrapped in a blanket talking to him is truly unsettling--there should have been more like it. Though the film tries to blur the line between what is happening in the seamen's minds and what are really supernatural occurrences eventually it sort of degrades into a "haunted house beneath the sea" kind of thing despite the more intriguing psychological angle. The ending is the most disappointingly silly part of it all conveniently wrapping everything up in a neat package.
Bobby Garfield (David Morse) returns to his small hometown to attend the funeral of his childhood friend and remembers the fateful summer in 1960 when his whole world changed. The story flashes back to when 11-year-old Bobby (Anton Yelchin) and his best friends Carol (Mika Boorem) and Sully-John (Will Rothhaar) capture the pure joy of youthfulness. When a mysterious stranger named Ted Brautigan (Anthony Hopkins) moves upstairs and starts to pay attention to Bobby the boy suddenly realizes what's truly missing from his life--the love of a parent. Bobby's mother Liz (Hope Davis) is embittered by the death of Bobby's father and shows little compassion for her son's growing needs. Ted fills a void with the boy opening his eyes to the world around him and helps Bobby come to terms with his real feelings for Carol--and his mother. But Ted also has some deep dark secrets of his own and Bobby tries hard to stop danger from reaching the old man.
The performances make the film especially in the genuine camaraderie of the kids. Yelchin Boorem and Rothhaar never deliver a false move with an easiness that makes us believe we are simply watching three 11-year-old children grow up together. Yelchin in particular is able to get right to the heart of this young boy who misses his father and clings to the only adult who will listen. And his scenes with Boorem simply break your heart. (Davis) does an admirable job playing a part none too sympathetic. She manages to show a woman whose been beaten down but who does truly love her son in her own way. Morse too is one of those character actors you can plug in any movie and get a performance worth noting. In Hearts you want to see more of him. Of course the film shines brightest when Hopkins is on the screen. It may not be an Oscar-caliber performance but the actor is unparalleled in bringing a character to life--showing the subtleties of an old man looking for some peace in his life.
If you are expecting the Stephen King novel you may be disappointed. Screenwriter William Goldman and director Scott Hicks (Shine) deftly extracted the King formula of telling a story through a child's eye and explaining how the relationships formed as a child shaped the adult later. Hicks did an amazing job with his young actors especially Yelchin and Boorem. But where the novel continued into a supernatural theme explaining Brautigan's fear of being captured by "low men in yellow coats" (a reference to King's The Dark Tower series) the movie downplayed the mystical elements instead giving real explanations for Brautigan's man-on-the-run. That was the one problem with Hearts--we needed more danger. Introducing men from another dimension may not have been the way to go but had there been more tension the film would have resonated more especially when Bobby risked his own safety to save Ted.