Based on yet another novel by The Notebook’s Nicholas Sparks (the new king of romance) Rodanthe’s story is a simple but touching one. Adrienne Willis (Lane) escapes to Rodanthe in the Outer Banks of North Carolina to take care of a friend's inn for the weekend and fret over the fact her wayward husband wants to come back. Almost as soon as she gets to this small coastal town a major storm is forecast--and the only guest for that weekend Dr. Paul Flanner (Gere) arrives. He’s there with his own issues to work out. Quite a fun pair these two make but they end up helping each other work through their problems. And as the storm closes in they finally succumb to their attractions. Soon it becomes a magical weekend for them both and sets in motion a life-changing romance. Lane and Gere have had quite a progression in their onscreen pairings. They first played reckless young lovers in Cotton Club at the beginning of their careers teaming up again much later as a long-married couple in Unfaithful which saw Lane stray from her leading man. Now with Rodanthe it seems a fitting denouement to their evolution as Hollywood’s favorite onscreen couple; they fall in love all over again but this time with a world of experience. The two actors truly have a certain something together which makes a fairly sappy story more poignant. Also good is Mae Whitman (HBO’s In Treatment) as Adrienne’s surly teenage daughter who at first hates her mom for not getting back with her dad but then comes to understand Adrienne in new and more profound ways. She and Lane have some nice moments together. Director George C. Wolf (Lackawanna Blues) understands his material and handles it with delicate strokes. Of course shooting in the Outer Banks can’t be a bad way to go with it’s gorgeous beach vistas. And the house they found to represent the inn is one of a kind which oddly enough is located in the real town of Rodanthe. Imagine that. Maybe one drawback to Rodanthe is its limited appeal. The Notebook had the younger audiences enthralled with the flashback romance between the fetching Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling while the older audiences identified with the James Garner and Gena Rowlands characters. Rodanthe is strictly for the older set but I find this refreshing in the fact it IS a modern-day romance between two mature people. Just don’t know how much of a reach it will have.
Like Madagascar the story starts at the New York Zoo. Samson (Kiefer Sutherland) the lion is once again the star of the show but unlike Madagascar’s Alex Samson claims he came from the wild. He regales the other odd assortment of zoo denizens--including a talkative giraffe (Janeane Garofalo) a lisping anaconda (Richard Kind) a snarky Koala (Eddie Izzard) and a take-charge squirrel (Jim Belushi)--with tales of danger and excitement abroad. Of course Samson can’t tell the real truth that he was actually born in captivity and is making it all up because everyone including his rebellious teenage son Ryan (Greg Cipes) would think less of him. But when Ryan runs away thinking he can’t live up to his dad’s reputation and is mistakenly shipped off to the wild Samson has keep up the charade as the gang embarks on a dangerous mission to rescue him. The lion does come clean at some point in case you were wondering. Another vocal roster of big names another dollar. This time around we’ve got Sutherland Garofalo Belushi all doing the animal thing. There’s also William Shatner as a villainous wildebeest headed for the loony bin after deciding he’s tired of being the prey and turns predator. He’s even got his herd of wildebeest dancing a Busby Berkeley number around a volcano á la Lion King. Sigh. Luckily there is one saving grace--sort of: Izzard as the wisecracking Koala bear Nigel who gets mistaken for a god by the wildebeest and milks it for all its worth which isn’t a whole lot. Still if anyone has seen the British comedian’s hilarious HBO special Eddie Izzard: Dressed to Kill you can just imagine him strutting around as a Koala dressed in women’s clothing and doing his shtick. The Mouse House once again proves it doesn’t have an inventive bone in its body--or even the gumption to realize that had something with potential. Apparently the pitch from writers Mark Gibson and Philip Halprin had been mulling around Disney for about nine years before it got made giving the likes of Nemo and Madagascar a head start (I’d be peeved if I were those writers). But even if The Wild did come first it still wouldn’t be able to measure up mostly because the story is insipid. Wildebeest turning into predators? What’s THAT all about? The CGI-animation is spot on of course but we are definitely taking all of that for granted these days. No now what we want is a good compelling story. If not that then at least we should have a couple of really funny characters--like commando penguins or a fish with short-term memory--to help things move along. The Wild doesn’t have either so while children may be left mildly entertained for an hour and a half parents will be left twiddling their thumbs waiting for it to be over.
Taken from the pages of Thomas Harris' terrifying first novel in the trilogy Red Dragon is certainly a twisted psychological encounter of the best kind. The pacing of the film is unstoppable racing from one scene to the next in hopes of trying to stop a serial killer. Ex-FBI agent Will Graham (Edward Norton) known for his expertise in delving into the minds of the madmen he is trying to catch quits the Bureau after a messy run-in with a supposed ally who turns out to be the mother of all serial killers--Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). Years later living a quiet existence with his wife Molly (Mary-Louise Parker) and son in Florida Will is sought after once again by his former boss Agent Jack Crawford (Harvey Keitel). Seems there's a new serial killer in town known as The Tooth Fairy for his gruesome use of teeth in killing two families. The Tooth Fairy is really a quiet man named Francis Dolarhyde (Ralph Fiennes) who has a cleft palate a dilapidated mansion and thinks he is a reincarnated William Blake painting called The Red Dragon. (Don't we all?) Graham gets sucked in easily (as he is wont to do) but ultimately needs a little help from his now-incarcerated old friend. Obviously Graham is more than reluctant to have to confront the man who tried to kill him but his desire to catch Dolarhyde is greater. And Lecter is one of the best forensic psychiatrists there is. Let the psychotic cat and mouse game begin.
Each actor hits the nail on the head but honestly with a cast like this one it would be very hard to go wrong. Starting with Norton as Graham the actor infuses his character with the right amount of intellect charm and fear without ever overplaying one of those attributes. Of course we mustn't forget Norton's own skill at playing the psychotic in Primal Fear earning him an Oscar nomination. He is an actor of amazing talent. Fiennes also steps up to the plate as Dolarhyde but it isn't the rantings of a crazy man that grabs your attention. It's the quiet tender moments he has with his girlfriend (and we say "girlfriend" loosely because it's as close as to one as this freak can get). Played exquisitely by Emily Watson she's blind and cannot see what Dolarhyde has become so playing God with her is useless to him. The two stage-trained actors get to the heart of the relationship without a hint of effort. Instead Dolarhyde can just be with her and she almost makes him want to stop his insane going-ons. Almost. Then there's Hopkins. Winning an Oscar for portraying Lecter in Silence of the Lambs Hopkins simply is Lecter. There isn't anyone else who can play him. But what more can an actor do with a character he's played three times? Plenty as Hopkins proves in Dragon. This time it's the relationship he has with Graham that gives a new twist to Lecter. We see in Hopkins' eyes he may not like Will as much as he did Clarice Starling (come on everyone knows he was in love with her) but he respects Will. That's the difference and handled subtly by the British actor. Still now that the trilogy is done perhaps Hopkins may be able to put aside those cannibalistic impulses for good.
Fans of this Harris novel should feel comfortable with this rendition. Directed by Brett Ratner and adapted by Oscar-winning screenwriter Ted Tally (who won an Academy Award for Silence of the Lambs) it's a taut psychological roller coaster ride. Luckily Dragon is more about mind games and less about the gore than Hannibal. Ratner knows his stuff and delivers a powerful film. There have been other movie incarnations of Harris' novel particularly the 1985 Michael Mann version Manhunter but many fans felt Mann's film didn't truly capture the book even if it was well-made. Of course Mann also didn't have Hopkins playing his Lecter (although British actor Brian Cox did a heck of a good job). This is one of the keys to making Red Dragon great but it's also what keeps it from being better than Lambs. The story is different granted but it's territory we've seen covered before. Lecter in Lambs simply horrified us and the film was chilling all the way through. Dragon actually has more heart and is much more about relationships than about cold-blooded killing. The journey Ratner takes us on through serial-killer land is certainly terrifying but maybe it would have been a little different and even more intriguing to concentrate even more on its emotional aspects.