Set in the heart of suburbia this dour and listless tale revolves around the dark soul of the humorless Henry Poole (Luke Wilson)--a man whose life has careened out of control. Looking for reinvigoration he returns to the bland suburban neighborhood of his youth hoping it will turn his mojo around and give him solitary comfort and peace. He buys a house for full price and tries to settle in but his hopes to be left alone are dashed by three female neighbors. First is a nosy woman Esperanza (Adriana Barraza) who is convinced she sees the stucco image of Christ on the side of his house. Then there’s the solemn 8 year-old Millie (Morgan Lily) who has taken a complete vow of silence since the divorce of her parents. Finally there is her mother Dawn (Radha Mitchell) who tries to reignite a passion in Henry. As crowds drawn by the Christ-like image begin to mushroom in his backyard--including a priest (George Lopez) who tries to counsel him--Henry is diagnosed with a terminal illness making him question his own faith in God and the quality of his life.
Luke Wilson fails to convince as the soulless Henry Poole a self-absorbed man throwing his own pity party. He’s so anti-social and morose through most of the film that the audience has a tough time connecting with his plight even as his life is threatened. Blame the script or Wilson himself for making Poole such an unattractive stick-in-the-mud. Young Lily as the near-autistic child next door plays it with mystical abandon but the role seems contrived. The normally reliable Mitchell doesn’t have a clue where her character seems to be going and fails to tap into her true emotional register. Lopez normally an upbeat comedic presence in films and TV plays it low-key here effective but forgettable. Stealing the film is Barraza the wonderful Oscar-nominated Mexican actress from Babel who lifts the tempo considerably every time she is onscreen. She gets the intended spirit of the material and delivers line readings in a completely convincing and fresh manner. Her belief in Esperanza’s own off-the-wall beliefs brings us to her side.Too bad everyone else seems to be in another picture. Mark Pellington (Arlington Road) can’t really locate a pulse in Albert Torres first-produced screenplay. Pellington approaches the story meant to be uplifting and inspiring in a slow-handed way--letting any chance for real dramatic sparks to fade away. Small human character studies like this need more invention in the telling to make up the lack of pizzazz inherent in the premise. What he does achieve nicely is the look and feel and a ‘40s or ‘50s-style middle class Southern California neighborhood lit by the bright sun but lacking in any kind of style or personality. When the figure of Christ is spotted on a non-descript wall of stucco it’s the first time this street has ever come to life. That works but the whole point of the story--the deeply religious spiritual underpinnings--don’t quite come across the way the director and screenwriter intended. Henry Poole Is Here remains ultimately a failure--a noble effort but misguided and largely bloodless.
Dreamer is another one of those family films--based on a true story no less--that makes you feel guilty for not liking it because it means so well. The film revolves around the Cranes who have worked on their Kentucky horse farm for generations. But gifted horseman Ben Crane (Kurt Russell) loses his love for the job when the farm hits hard times. His estranged father Pop (Kris Kristofferson) feels like his son has given up unnecessarily. Even Ben’s young daughter Cale (Dakota Fanning) can’t get through to her dad. The only way this family can heal is by helping an injured horse named Sonya get ready for a seemingly impossible goal: to win the Breeders' Cup Classic. Say it together: “Awww!” At least the film gets it half right in its casting. Russell is perfect as the beleaguered Ben a man who needs a little inspiration to get back on track and he thankfully never takes it over the top. Same goes for Kristofferson who is aptly crusty and unwilling to give his son an inch--that is until his granddaughter and that darned horse melt his heart. And the family resemblance is uncanny; apparently the two actors have been told quite often how much they look like each other. The one misstep here is Fanning. Yes she is an extraordinarily gifted actress for her age but Cale should have been played by a happy sunny child. The oh-so-serious Fanning doesn’t really qualify. Also Elisabeth Shue as the mom is all wrong. A horse farmer’s wife? Please. Writer-director John Gatins takes a big gamble making his directorial debut with a movie about an underdog horse. First there’s the underdog part. This year seems a bit saturated with the plot device what with films like Cinderella Man and most recently Greatest Game Ever Played. Second there’s the whole horse thing. It’s just going to be hard to top the Oscar-nominated Seabiscuit--the quintessential true horse-racing movie to beat them all. True Dreamer is based on a true story and is nicely--albeit conventionally--framed. But the film isn’t unique in any way. It’s the same feel-good family stuff we’ve been swallowing all year. See? I told you I’d feel guilty for knocking it.
The story arc of Bridget Jones Part Deux is identical to the first except for one little detail: Instead of trying to find a man Bridget Jones (Renee Zellweger) worries about losing the one she's got. She has already climbed her highest mountain and dreamed her impossible dream she has her soulmate Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) all wrapped up in a little bow and yet the movie keeps going. And going. In the short span of four weeks together Bridget and Darcy have already become the couple that don't speak. She stares at him while he sleeps. He chastises her for it grumpily she apologizes and then she freaks out thinking that he will break up with her. Rinse and repeat. His slinky secretary (Jacinda Barrett) flirts ominously. Bridget feeds her insecurities by stuffing her face drinking like a sailor and then slurring insults at whatever passing character will provide the maximum of shame and embarrassment. It's charming really. Hugh Grant rears his scaly head as former paramour Daniel Cleaver and a song and dance routine breaks out in a Thai prison. I wish I was kidding.
The massive appeal of the character from the books and the first film isn't that difficult to understand. Bridget isn't the smartest girl or the prettiest girl or the thinnest girl but she still wins Prince Charming. She's sweet though and she's funny and she offsets Darcy's stuffiness in a neatly symmetrical opposites attract way. But if the point of Bridget the First is finding the character's attractiveness within the point of the sequel is that Bridget is fat and stupid and the object of our ridicule.
Zellweger famously put 25 pounds back on to reprise the role but this time it seems closer to 50. Bridget's fat is zoomed in on enlarged jiggled fetishized and dragged through pig dung. And her unabashed quest to humiliate herself in public knows no bounds. None of this is exactly Zellweger's fault--the screenplay is terrible for starters--and yet all of it is. She decided to take on a sequel with a character that had absolutely nowhere to go and she doesn't muster the energy needed to save her this time. Even the acclaimed Oscar-nominated English accent sounds a little shaky.
Grant and Firth are caddishness and constipation personified but the stereotypes are way too easy. Firth's Darcy is depicted as a saint of course but one begins to wonder what sickness lurks within a man who watches idly as his girlfriend humiliates herself so brazenly. Grant's Cleaver with his thirst for random conquest is at least explainable. But Darcy seems to crave a woman who will need a quick hook at every social event and a bib at every restaurant. Maybe it's not the slinky secretary Bridget should be worried about it's the bag lady feeding the pigeons. On a positive note Jacinda Barrett is hands down the greatest actress who has ever emerged from MTV's The Real World.
Beeban Kidron who directed the hideous drag melodrama To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything Julie Newmar clearly doesn't get the Jones phenomenon. She ratchets up the camp factor well past tolerable pushes it into misguided slapstick and culminates in nails-to-the-chalkboard shrillness in the Thai prison. And making matters worse not a shred of effort appears to have been expended to make the whole undertaking any more original. Entire scenes are repeated from the first movie. The "Ugly Sweater" scene. The "Big Underwear" scene. The "Fight" scene. And so on. This isn't the first time a sequel has been a glorified remake; Desperado and Terminator 2 spring to mind. But at least those movies had some shred of ambition. Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason aspires to nothing and succeeds handsomely.
October 25, 2002 1:51pm EST
Captain Sean Murphy (Gabriel Byrne) leads a salvage team of five people aboard the tugboat Arctic Warrior with Maureen (Julianna Margulies) as something of a second in command. At a bar one night the crew is approached by a Canadian Air Force pilot (Desmond Harrington) who while monitoring icebergs in the Bering Sea spotted a mysterious vessel. He offers to divulge its location for a cut of whatever it's worth. What the crew finds are the decaying remains of the Antonio Graza an Italian cruise ship thought to be lost at sea for more than 40 years. While scavenging the vessel for valuables the salvage team discovers that something horrendous happened on board four decades ago. To make matters worse the crew starts seeing ghosts including a little girl named Katie (Emily Browning) who warns them to get off the ship before it's too late. Let's just say that the plot involves something about a ghost tricking people into boarding the ship in order to amass a certain amount of souls and complete a mission of sorts. Don't be surprised if you find yourself scratching your head when the ghost's true intentions are revealed--the film leaves many questions unanswered.
Former ER star Margulies (Dinosaur) shares the lead here with Byrne (End of Days) and the most refreshing thing of all is that there is no romance between the two characters. Maureen is a tough and independent woman who has no qualms about living at sea with a bunch of grubby men and Margulies portrays that well. We are told that Maureen and Byrne's character Murphy have a father-daughter-type relationship but that is not explored on screen. While Byrne plays a convincing rugged sea captain his character is never delved into and is dismissed rather abruptly. In fact that is the biggest problem with most of the actors and their characters; they are more like slightly more developed extras brought in to become victims rather than the film's protagonists. Harrington's (We Were Soldiers) character Jack is not as glazed over as the others and the actor conveys the different sides of his personality well enough. The rest of the crew including Ron Eldard as Dodge Isaiah Washington as First Mate Greer Alex Dimitriades as Santos and Karl Urban as Munder do the best they could with the flat and disposable characters they are given.
Ghost Ship opens up with a fantastic scene that involves hundreds of crewmembers and passengers getting dismembered by a high tension wire that slices across the boats main deck. Too bad it's so implausible because unless the wire was lined with razor blades all those bodies wouldn't have been severed so neatly. The massacre is set aboard the Antonio Graza back in 1962 when cruises were still considered a luxury. But when the film zips back to present day it becomes less imaginative and director Steve Beck (Thirteen Ghosts) dips into the old haunted-stories bag o' tricks including ghost reflections in mirrors. But while the gags are a little worn they still scare and are constant enough to keep the film from lagging. The film comes in under 90 minutes which isn't short enough to graze over some of the story's plot holes. The characters for example jump in and out of the icy Bering Sea without the slightest quiver even though their survival time in the 45-degree waters would be measured in minutes. And if Ghost Ship sounds familiar that's because it was made in 1997 and called Event Horizon except that rescue mission was set in the year 2047 aboard a space ship.