Former Christian missionary turned myth busting, miracle debunking collegiate professor of science, Katherine Winter (Hilary Swank, Boys Don’t Cry), is well known for her record: 48 miraculous occurrences with 48 scientific explanations. A small town called Haven in Louisiana might put an end to that record however, with the local river inexplicably turning blood red. When Katherine and her partner set upon the small secluded town to investigate, they face the challenge of rationalizing a sequence of events that mirror the Ten Biblical Plagues. “Signs” meets the “The Omen” in this fast paced horror thriller, but bloody water and rotting frogs aren’t the only plagues here. Predictable plot revelations by effect reveal an undeveloped story. Screenwriters may be running out of surprise endings, but easy compensation could lie in the intricacies of the story. Shock moments are overused, amplified by raising the volume inside the theatre, and prolonged with obnoxious chaotic camera movement. They’re redundant devices for a movie with special effects well developed enough to produce a “God is watching” terror that paralyzes. Clearly there is the smell of propaganda in the air with the heroin possibly converted from intellectual atheist to scared Christian by the film’s end. Even with the promise of causing outrage in the religious community for a myriad of reasons, the film still feels mediocre and has nothing to do with harvesting or crops.
MY RATING: C
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy, Suspense/Horror, Thriller and Politics/Religion
MPAA Rating: R for violence, disturbing images and some sexuality
Runtime: 1hr 38min
Warner Bros. Pictures
From the winter of 1971 to January 7, 1972, American authors Clifford Irving (Richard Gere) and Richard Suskind (Alfred Molina) had major publishing company McGraw-Hill, Time (magazine), and the rest of the media world convinced that the aging and eccentric billionaire “demigod” Howard Hughes had authorized the two to write his autobiography. The ruse was hard to refute given the letters forged by Irving which Hughes was widely known to communicate through, and that Hughes had become a fascinatingly peculiar recluse living in hotels to avoid paying income taxes and avoiding media attention pending litigation relative to his ownership of Trans World Airlines. After requisitioning one million dollars, according to the film (the bulk of which was ostensibly for Hughes), the jig was up in early January 1972 for Irving and Suskind when Hughes allowed a televised phone interview with multiple journalists denouncing the book as a hoax. Irving got a two year sentence for money laundering among other charges, serving only 17 months, while Suskind served six months. Initially, the subject matter of this film seems so niche that it would appeal only to an older generation with nostalgia for the days of literary scandals, black lists, and rumination on what was then unimaginable wealth. Instead, the story is scripted as a buddy comedy with a dynamic performance from Alfred Molina as a comic sidekick whose humor attempts to mask obvious frailties. Richard Gere is highly relatable as a schemer trying to stay financially afloat, but his greed and lust for fame drive him to scandal. The film easily shifts gears from comedy to suspenseful drama, with those who already know the outcome pining to see how it will play out on screen. Actress Hope Davis rounds out the impressive performances as McGraw-Hill associate and Irving’s personal friend ‘Andrea Tate’. Her spunk and anticipation for the success which would have come with the book being published alone could carry a film.
MY RATING: A
Genre: Drama, Adaptation and Biopic
MPAA Rating: R for language
Runtime: 1hr 55min
New on DVD: The Italian
The attractive melancholy tone of “The Italian” likens it to the best of indie avant-garde, but almost as odd as the genre itself, the script doesn’t match the tone. Set in a Russian orphanage which appears more like an elementary dorm school, ‘The Italian’ is young Vanya Solntsev whose curiosity about his own mother is peaked when another orphan’s mother is angrily turned away by the headmaster when she returns to the orphanage in search of the son she abandoned after he has already been adopted. Surrounded by peers with identical circumstances, Vanya is not isolated from the others for any reason, except that he is soon to be adopted by an affluent Italian couple, which is apparently enough to earn him the nickname. The orphanage is run by a worry-browed headmaster who clearly cares for the young scraps beneath his ever-annoyed façade. Vanya pressures an older orphan to teach him to read by meeting her at the spot daily where truckers, to whom she sells her body (not depicted), drop her off. Newly literate, and aided by the teenaged cabal who micromanages the orphanage, he discovers his mother’s address and sets off to meet her only to be hunted down by the good natured but money driven adoption broker. While the film maintains a calm somber tone without high drama, none of the characters seem to have cause for depression despite their being abandoned by their parents. It is Vanya’s inquiring mind that moves him to slip away in search of his mother; seemingly for closure before he is adopted, just in case she too wanted to meet him. Played by the adorable Kolya Spiridonov, the charm of the character obviously depended on the cute-factor of the actor in the role. While flaws are present in visually establishing the setting and character development (other than Vanya), the picture does establish itself as a cute story for a sleepy Sunday afternoon.
MY RATING: B
Genre: Drama, Adaptation and Biopic
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some violence, sexual content, language and thematic issues
Runtime: 1hr 39min
Sony Pictures Classics