Sunday, 20 January 2019

Movie Review: Diner (1982)


A coming of age drama with some humour, Diner navigates the crevasse between youth and adulthood through the story of six men grappling with growing up.

It's Christmas time in Baltimore, 1959. As both the year and decade draw to a close, a group of college friends converge in preparation for the upcoming wedding of sports trivia fan Eddie (Steve Guttenberg). His five buddies include the already married music trivia addict Shrevie (Daniel Stern), the rich, aimless and frequently drunk Fen (Kevin Bacon), charismatic gambling addict Boogie (Mickey Rourke), New York-based Billy (Tim Daly) and circumspect Modell (Paul Reiser).

The local Fells Point Diner is their favourite hangout and meeting point. Eddie is planning to subject his fiancée to a sports trivia test before finalizing the wedding. Shrevie and his bride Beth (Ellen Barkin) are already running into trouble in their young marriage. Boogie is in debt trouble and encourages bets on his dating exploits to raise cash. Billy has trouble defining his relationship with his close friend and television producer Barbara (Kathryn Dowling). And Fen is living a carefree prankster life, refusing to grow up.

With no traditional narrative structure and plenty of improvisation, first-time director Barry Levinson crafts a fine spiritual successor to American Graffiti. Diner features a brilliant cast full of pre-stardom talent, and a fluid tone allowing the men to reveal their stories through natural conversations punctuated by often misguided adventurism.

The film is set in Levinson's home town, and inspired by his own experiences. The common theme is the struggle for emotional growth, as the men confront the collective challenge of transitioning from what mattered in their youth to embracing the responsibilities of being men.

Eddie is hiding insecurities behind the pointless test he is imposing on bride-to-be (and never properly seen) Elyse, and will face his own test on what matters. Shrevie is childishly upset at Beth because she does not understand or appreciate his useless talent for knowing the song, label and colour of every hit single's B-side. She turns to Boogie for comfort, triggering another test of responsibility. Boogie himself is busy pretending to be a law student to attract the ladies while accumulating debt, and before the new decade dawns will need to confront the consequences.

Billy is close to Barbara, a woman embracing her career. Circumstances force them to contemplate the future, and the relatively simpler answers of the 1950s won't work anymore. Fen's life is wasting away in the arena of irresponsibility, and an encounter with his grounded brother reveals the breadth of separation possible between siblings. Modell is more of an observer and witness, pushing buttons as appropriate, but other than never directly asking for anything, his character is the least developed.

Levinson's remarkable achievement is in convincingly portraying the cast members as friends. He encouraged the young men to hang out together before filming, avoided excessive rehearsals and stimulated improvisation. The result is an undeniable vibe of close friendship, and Diner glows with the warmth of men most at ease hanging out together.

Mickey Rourke was third billed after Guttenberg and Stern, but exudes the undeniable star charisma that would soon catapult him into stardom. The other cast members are all steady, with Steve Guttenberg demonstrating sufficient promise to suggest he chose the wrong career path upon veering to mostly trivial comedies.

For the six friends Diner is simultaneously about not much and everything, the future hanging in the balance as young men confront short-term decisions carrying long-term implications.






All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.


Saturday, 19 January 2019

Movie Review: Leaving Las Vegas (1995)


An intense character study, Leaving Las Vegas explores a friendship at the margins of society, where two knowingly damaged people connect in search of pure companionship.

In Los Angeles, middle-aged Ben (Nicolas Cage) is a full-blown alcoholic. Estranged from his ex-wife and son, he lives a life of nothing but excessive drinking and womanizing. Ben is not surprised when he is fired, and uses his final paycheque to relocate to a sleazy motel room in Las Vegas with every intention of drinking himself to death.

A chance encounter with prostitute Sera (Elisabeth Shue) evolves into an unlikely friendship. When her Russian pimp Yuri (Julian Sands) meets troubles of his own, Sera invites Ben to move in with her. His accepts on condition that she never asks him to stop drinking. She continues working as an independent prostitute, and their relationship evolves towards genuine caring.

An admitted alcoholic with no intentions of drying out and a prostitute proud of her profession make for an unlikely pair to place at the centre of a would-be romantic drama. And yet director and writer Mike Figgis, adapting John O'Brien's semi-autobiographical book, fearlessly marches his film towards the down-and-out fringes seeking humanity's unifying sparks.

Leaving Las Vegas carries echoes of Midnight Cowboy as it teases out compassion from the filthy corners where human debris accumulates. Despite a neon-bathed Las Vegas featuring prominently as a backdrop, neither Ben nor Sera are here to enjoy the town. Alcohol is the only source of Ben's pleasure, and any room he occupies is soon overflowing with bottles. Sera navigates her profession with a survivor's practiced efficiency, maintaining a steady disposition and even demonstrating a level of empathy towards Yuri.

Ben and Sera reach a core understanding that they can care for each other only if they don't impose conditions of change. Maintaining their self-destructive trajectories is essential to who they are; and the relationship exists strictly on an "as is" basis. Figgis strips out most of their backgrounds, highlighting the immediacy of here and now: it shall not matter to Ben and Sera how they got here, only that they are here, now, and can be companions through the emotional darkness.

And it's vivid immediacy Figgis searches for, often drowning the dialogue with melancholy music. At their stage in life Ben and Sera really have not much of value to say to each other; closeness is what matters.

Nicolas Cage's descent into Ben's abyss is almost physically painful to watch, and ensures the film is always walking to the edge of despair. Elisabeth Shue finds the role of her career, providing Sera with remarkable restraint and quiet acceptance, plus a layer of searching tension just below the surface.

Leaving Las Vegas is the end of frivolous escapism, but departure is softened in the presence of a soulmate.






All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.


Movie Review: I Could Never Be Your Woman (2007)


A standard romantic comedy, I Could Never Be Your Woman has plenty of incomplete ideas and is predictably unable to cobble together a decent package.

In Los Angeles, Rosie (Michelle Pfeiffer) is a television producer in her early forties, battling against her age and having conversations with Mother Nature (Tracey Ullman) about the natural order of things. Rosie is divorced from the still amiable Nathan (Jon Lovitz), and raising her precocious daughter Izzie (Saoirse Ronan), who is just entering puberty.

Rosie's tween-oriented female empowerment show You Go Girl is struggling in the ratings, but new young-ish actor Adam (Paul Rudd) has plenty of charisma and gives the show a big boost. Rosie and Adam are attracted to each other and start a relationship, but she is gravely concerned about the age difference between them. Rosie's snarky assistant Jeannie (Sarah Alexander) has her own eyes on Adam, while Izzie is experiencing her first crush on a boy at school.

From the clumsy title to Rosie's corny conversations with Mother Nature, the incessant inside-Hollywood satirical jabs, the flimsy basis for the central relationship and the overall shallow characters, most parts of I Could Never Be Your Woman demonstrate a smidgen of promise but then don't work so well. The film cannot shake the sense that writer and director Amy Heckerling, returning after a seven year hiatus, is trying too hard to assemble a hip movie out of inherently defective parts.

Despite offering a few good laughs, the movie too often busies itself taking cheap shots at the shallow youth-obsessed Los Angeles culture fueling the plastic surgery industry. The Mother Nature interludes are interruptive and mostly twee in tone rather than witty or profound. As a result insufficient time is invested in Rosie and Adam, and they remain stock characters with no meaningful arcs. While Pfeiffer at 49 is radiant playing a character nearly 10 years younger and Rudd adds plenty of amusing free-spirited energy, both deserved a better script.

Jeannie as the perfunctory antagonist suffers most, her character existing for the sole purpose of antagonizing the central romance. It is left to young Saoirse Ronan, in her film debut, to try and rescue proceedings, and she nearly pulls it off. Heckerling saves her best lines for Izzie's character, and while the precocious kid can be a tired cliche, Ronan adds sufficient budding maturity and a droll world weariness to make it work, in the process stealing every scene she's in.

I Could Never Be Your Woman was eventually released straight to DVD in most markets. It's not bad enough to have deserved such a fate, but it's still a film that misses too many of the simple targets it aims for.






All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.


Ace Black's List: The 10 Best Movies Of 2010


More than 60 movies from 2010 have been reviewed on the Ace Black Blog. Here are the 10 Best.



 

Directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner.
Starring Kristin Scott Thomas, Mélusine Mayance, Niels Arestrup and Frédéric Pierrot.
A Holocaust drama where strength grows from sorrow, as the suffering of a family torn apart spills onto the screen, amplified by personal guilt. Full review.



Directed by David O. Russell.
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Melissa Leo.
Potent drama within a family, on the streets and in the boxing ring. Full review.




Directed by Darren Aronofsky.
Starring Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis and Barbara Hershey.
A twisted psychological drama, the normally staid world of ballet is disrupted with a lot of blood, mutilation, jealousy, and insanity. Full review.




Directed by Christopher Nolan.
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Marion Cotillard.
Imaginative science fiction thriller featuring an elaborate Matryoshka dolls structure, with fine threads connecting events across several dream dimensions. Full review.




Directed by Ben Affleck.
Starring Ben Affleck, Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Hall and Jon Hamm.
A crime thriller empowered by a sense of place where the roots below the surface are deeply intertwined, uncompromising fortitude is embraced, debts are owed across generations, and fathers throw long shadows across their sons' lives. Full review.




















Directed by David Fincher.
Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake and Armie Hammer.
The birth of Facebook, and a modern economy story where a multi-billion dollar business is launched from a dorm room. A cut-throat attitude and unwavering self-belief remain essential attributes for success.  Full review.
























Directed by Edward Zwick.
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, Oliver Platt and Hank Azaria.
A refreshingly mature romantic drama with plenty of comic elements. A multi-layered love story for adults who carry the baggage of the past and can see the problems of the future. Full review.


























Directed by Tom Hooper.
Starring Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter and Guy Pearce.
A historical royal drama, recreating the Britain of the 1920s and 1930s as a would-be King struggles to overcome a speech impairment and a troubled upbringing. The film looks as good as the performances deserve. Full review.









 

Directed by John Madden.
Starring Helen Mirren, Jessica Chastain, Sam Worthington, and Tom Wilkinson.
A dramatic thriller with a simmering human conflict hinging on a Nazi-hunting secret mission, personal achievement, private anguish and national pride spanning decades. Full review.























Directed by Denis Villeneuve.
Starring Lubna Azabal, Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin, Maxim Gaudette, and Rémy Girard.
A multi-generational drama and immigrant story drawn from a dehumanizing conflict filled with ethnic and religious strife, extreme violence, mass reprisals and hidden family secrets. Full review.


Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Movie Review: The Unbearable Lightness Of Being (1988)


A three-way grand romance set against the Prague Spring, The Unbearable Lightness Of Being explores life's profound choices through tumultuous personal relationships.

It's 1968, and the winds of political freedom appear to sweep through Prague. Tomas (Daniel Day-Lewis) is a charismatic doctor and an irresistible sexual magnet to all women, although he is closest to Sabina (Lena Olin), a free-spirited artist. Neither of them are interested in commitment, although they are soul mates in every other way.

Tomas: I must go.
Sabina: Don't you ever spend the night at the woman's place?
Tomas: Never!
Sabina: What about when the woman's at your place?
Tomas: I tell her I have insomnia... anything. Besides, I have a very narrow bed.
Sabina: Are you afraid of women, Doctor?
Tomas: Of course.

On a trip to a countryside spa to perform surgery, Tomas is entranced by young and innocent waitress Tereza (Juliette Binoche). The feeling is mutual, she follows him to Prague and they are soon married. She finds work as a photographer and he quickly resumes his philandering ways. Just as Tereza is reaching her tolerance breaking point Soviet tanks rumble into the city, crushing any hopes of liberty. First Sabina and then Tomas and Tereza relocate to Geneva. Sabina meets and starts a relationship with married professor Franz (Derek de Lint), but starting a new life in a foreign country will not be easy and Prague will exert a powerful pull.

Milan Kundera's novel was published in 1984, and four years later director Philip Kaufman brought it to the screen with a script by Jean-Claude Carrière. While Kundera did not approve of the adaptation, The Unbearable Lightness Of Being is a masterful cinematic achievement, a dreamy composition drenched in European sensibility and perfectly deploying the classic romance within upheaval template. Running close to three hours, the pace is luxurious and the visuals rich with the texture of Prague, politics and personal passions.

Through the story of Tomas' love for both Sabina and Tereza and the women's mutual appreciation of their roles in his life, Kaufman draws out the essentials for each character. For Tomas the pursuit of sexual pleasure with a succession of partners is an absolute. As he cycles through cities, careers and circumstances, his eyes will always wander.

Tomas (many times): Take off your clothes.

For Sabina unfettered freedom matters, and her jagged artistry and love of mirrors combines easily with a distaste for ever allowing anyone else to share her reflection. And Tereza is a model of patience and sacrifice, willing to do anything to stand by the one man she loves, no matter how many times he strays. Her dedication leads to sordid dead-ends in trying to emulate his emotional detachment from sexual adventurism. Tomas thrives within the carefree lightness of his being, Tereza finds it unbearable, and yet they deeply love each other.

Tereza, speaking to Tomas: I know I'm supposed to help you, but I can't. Instead of being your support I'm your weight. Life is very heavy to me, but it is so light to you. I can't bear this lightness, this freedom... I'm not strong enough.

Kaufman weaves a broader search of happiness theme seamlessly into the lovers' travails. Choices about where to live, whether to conform or resist, and tests of commitment to each other and to independent thought are interjected throughout the film. Places matter and influence well-being: Prague is the warmth of home first with the exciting freedom of expression then with the steel boot of communism, while Geneva offers cold safety in a foreign land. Late in the film an unexpected locale and the opportunity for a new lifestyle is presented, allowing the activist urbanites to explore a surprisingly attractive dynamic.

Daniel Day-Lewis, Lena Olin and Juliette Binoche are unforgettable in their roles, and create three compelling people well worth spending time with.

With frequent scenes featuring lovemaking and nudity, The Unbearable Lightness Of Being targets mature audiences willing to invest the time to soak up its tender brilliance. All three characters carry their affections alongside their faults, and they are all also endearingly human in their uncompromising search for a life worth living.

Tereza: Tomas, what are you thinking?
Tomas: I'm thinking how happy I am.






All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.


Monday, 14 January 2019

Movie Review: On The Basis Of Sex (2018)


A biographical drama, On The Basis Of Sex recounts the story of the remarkable Ruth Bader Ginsburg as she starts challenging archaic laws preventing gender equity.

It's the late 1950s, and Ruth (Felicity Jones) is one of the few women first-year students at Harvard Law School. She clashes with the sexist attitudes of Dean Griswold (Sam Waterston) and Professor Brown (Stephen Root). Ruth is married to second-year law student Martin Ginsburg (Armie Hammer), who supports her career ambitions, and together they are raising baby daughter Jane. The couple deal with a health scare and relocate to New York City when Martin lands a corporate position specializing in tax law.

Ruth graduates first in class from Columbia, but because she is a woman corporate doors slam in her face, and she reluctantly accepts a professor position teaching sex discrimination and the law. By 1970 the anti-war and women's rights movements have translated into street protests, with Jane (Cailee Spaeny) an active participant. Martin notices a tax case involving gender-based discrimination against a male caregiver; he reignites Ruth's passion for practicing law, and she starts assembling a court challenge with far reaching implications.

Inspired by real events, On The Basis Of Sex has a terrific story to tell. The fight to free women's social rights from a myriad of discriminatory laws written by men and upheld by various court rulings over many years was a daunting undertaking. Ginsburg combined clarity of thought with astonishing determination to start the task of chipping away, and found the perfect opening in a case involving tax benefit discrimination against men.

As directed by Mimi Leder from a script by Daniel Stiepleman, the film does occasionally threaten to descend into standard-fare hagiography territory, and a few moments of gotcha triumphalism cheapen the narrative. Much better is the depth provided to Ruth's character. She is presented with well-rounded flaws, including an owly disposition and an inability to empathize and easily connect at a human level, traits that place her at odds with the teenaged Jane.

Also contributing to the film's appeal are supporting characters with key roles. Martin Ginsburg is much more than a supportive husband. He plays a crucial role as father and partner in legal strategy, the struggle for women's right much stronger when enlightened men join the battle. Mel Wulf (Justin Theroux) of the American Civil Liberties Union is another important part of the story, and helps to highlight the cross-currents of tension between pragmatism and academia.

On The Basis Of Sex earns respect for not shying away from several thorough but still accessible discussions of legal intricacies. Reversing the recent trend of biographies cowering away from explaining the relevant subject matter as in The Theory Of Everything and The Imitation Game, here Leder fearlessly wades into an admirable level of discourse about legal cases, briefs and process.

Felicity Jones as Ruth adopts an indomitable attitude of walking through walls until others suggest that maybe she needs to sometimes try and walk around. Her performance energizes the film, despite being short of nuance for stretches. Fighting discrimination On The Basis Of Sex required a new kind of warrior. Maybe Ruth Bader Ginsburg did not smile enough, but only because she was busy altering the course of history.






All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.


Sunday, 13 January 2019

Movie Review: Written On The Wind (1956)


A four-way romantic drama smoldering within an oil tycoon family, Written On The Wind offers up love and lust among the idle rich.

Kyle Hadley (Robert Stack) is the hard-drinking playboy and scion of the Texas-based Hadley oil empire, founded by his father Jasper (Brian Keith). Kyle's best friend since childhood is Mitch Wayne, a geologist and stand-up guy, and son of salt-of-the-earth farmer Hoak (Harry Shannon). Kyle's sister Marylee (Dorothy Malone) is the conniving town tart, sleeping with any willing guy while still hoping to attract Mitch's attention.

While on a business trip to New York City Kyle and Mitch meet executive secretary Lucy Moore (Lauren Bacall). Both fall in love with her, but Mitch stands aside and allows Kyle to instigate an immediate courtship followed by a quick marriage. Lucy helps Kyle settle down and stop drinking, but within a year he receives unwelcome news, rocking his new-found stability.

A melodramatic and over-clocked drama, Written On The Wind is one of the templates for what would become standard television prime-time fare a couple of decades later: lust, love, jealousy, miscellaneous between-the-sheets shenanigans and the all-round bad behaviour of the rich and famous, all presented in glossy imagery, vivid colours and with photogenic stars.

The book by Robert Wilder receives a script treatment by George Zuckerman, and director Douglas Sirk delivers a grandiose, sappy-music infused film. Sirk is either taking the drama with utmost seriousness or making complete fun of his characters with a straight face, and in a good way the film works in both contexts. Fans of sordid romantic entanglements can enjoy the overflowing emotional showdowns just as much as jaded viewers can laugh at the whole lot of them.

Missing from the lives of the characters is any sense of purpose or working for a living. Mitch gets one scene with a pencil behind his ear to pretend he is a geologist taking his career seriously. Otherwise, the lives on display are devoid of any responsibility other than drinking, partying, fighting and plotting the next romantic conquest.

The cast do what is required. Rock Hudson and Lauren Bacall are generally stand-offish, their would-be romance on ice for the duration of the film as Lucy foolishly falls for the deeply flawed Kyle.

Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone get the showier roles. Stack fires blades from his eyes and sweat from every alcohol-clogged pore as the highly-strung and disrespected but stupidly rich son of a tycoon. Malone gives an uninhibited and dynamically aggressive performance, breaking out into wild dancing on a couple of occasions, Sirk intercutting her explosive gyrations in red with a sudden and tragic family death. When it's Written On The Wind, it's always bold and brash.






All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.


Saturday, 12 January 2019

Movie Review: Wise Guys (1986)


A witless comedy, Wise Guys fails to find humour in the story of two bumbling low-level mob operatives.

In New Jersey, Harry Valentini (Danny DeVito) and his sidekick and neighbour Moe Dickstein (Joe Piscopo) are non-violent and none-too-bright members of the crew run by mobster Anthony Castelo (Dan Hedaya). The gruff Frank "Fixer" Acavano (Lou Albano) gives the pair menial daily assignments. When Harry and Moe manage to botch a horse racing bet and lose a bundle of Castelo's money, the pair get into a heap of trouble.

Harry and Moe steal Acavano's Cadillac and make their escape to Atlantic City, where Harry hopes his connected Uncle Mike will help. But instead they tangle with casino owner Bobby DiLea (Harvey Keitel), who has an agenda of his own.

A lightweight and inconsequential comedy, Wide Guys threatens to drift off at the mere hint of a puff. In one of his least inspired outings, director Brian De Palma constructs a breathlessly unfunny premise riding solely on the antics of dimwits and idiots. A couple of chuckles just about escape from the dross, but otherwise this is a distressingly poor effort.

Danny DeVito tries to compensate with a frantic over-acting fast-talking performance, all to no avail. Joe Piscopo is all wide-eyed vibratory expressions and nothing else. The rest of the cast hide behind stock characterizations, and late on Harvey Keitel mails in one of his  blandest characters, raising doubt as to whether he even cared enough to read the script.

Wise Guys celebrates a special kind of stupid. The sloppy script offers gems such as Harry and Moe destroying Fixer's Cadillac while driving it at highway speeds, prematurely celebrating a race win when the horses are barely out of the gate, and leaving a massive credit card trail when theoretically on the run.

The one small mercy is the compact running time of 100 minutes. The short length cannot disguise Wise Guys as hopelessly short of talent and desperately short of inspiration.






All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.


Movie Review: The Seventh Sign (1988)


A supernatural thriller, The Seventh Sign imagines the end-of-the-world with a mixture of derived and original ideas.

A series of strange and cataclysmic events occur around the world. All marine life starts to die off the Haitian coast; a town in the Israeli desert is destroyed by a freak ice storm; and many people die in Nicaragua, turning a river red with blood. A brooding stranger (Jürgen Prochnow) breaks a mysterious seal at the location of each apocalyptic event, while Father Lucci (Peter Friedman) investigates the phenomena on the behalf of the Church.

Meanwhile in Venice, California, Abby Quinn (Demi Moore) is pregnant but anxious, having previously miscarried. Her supportive husband Russell (Michael Biehn) is a lawyer trying to save convicted killer Jimmy from the electric chair for murdering his incestuous parents. The stranger, now calling himself David, arrives to rent a carriage house from Abby and Russell. She starts to experience disturbing visions, and finds ancient scrolls in David's possessions leading her to believe he is threat to the unborn child. She reaches out to a rabbi for help, but a young Jewish student is more accommodating and starts to help her interpret Biblical prophecies.

Drawing on elements from Rosemary's Baby, The Omen and The Exorcist, The Seventh Sign feigns a devilish story but then heads in a different direction. Director Carl Schultz and writers Clifford and Ellen Green have a sly agenda in mind, and go searching for more religiously themed interpretation of the end of the world. The film is a combination of a familiar but benign level of spookiness mixed with some clunky execution (perhaps betraying a limited budget) and ending with some nice human-focused touches.

By not conforming to expectations the film both befuddles and surprises, and the wayward oscillations occasionally threaten to hamper enjoyment. The more common components dominate the early scenes and include a likeable but anxious couple, unexplained destructive forces and events, a priest chasing after an explanation, the intermittent intervention of animals seemingly serving a higher purpose, ancient scrolls in impenetrable languages foreshadowing something really bad happening, and the obligatory scenes in creepy churches.

But as The Seventh Sign reveals its real intentions though a slightly jerky left turn, the story becomes less about abominations and more about a here-and-now challenge to Abby, and a more contemplative film emerges.

With a strong assist from Jesus Christ himself, in one of his more unusual and memorable screen appearances, and a game Demi Moore working hard to move past brat pack territory, Schultz lands The Seventh Sign with a tolerable amount of damage. It's always a good sign when the film's better moments arrive late, and by the time the fifth and sixth signs are out of the way and humanity's future is at stake on the delivery table, the momentum and emotions are palpable.






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Movie Review: The Mothman Prophecies (2002)


A supernatural horror movie, The Mothman Prophecies offers flashy execution of a hopelessly muddled premise.

Washington Post reporter John Klein (Richard Gere) loses his wife Mary (Debra Messing) after she succumbs to a brain tumour in the aftermath of a car crash. Before she dies, she scribbles demonic images of a winged creature. Two years later and while on a business road trip, the still-grieving John inexplicably finds himself in the small town of Point Pleasant at the border between West Virginia and Ohio. He tangles with the highly-strung Gordon (Will Patton), and meets sympathetic local police officer Connie (Laura Linney).

Connie explains the townsfolk are reporting unusual events. Gordon claims to be communicating with a supernatural presence predicting future disasters. Others report sightings of a demon-like creature. John starts receiving garbled phone messages, as well as contact from the dead Connie. He reaches out to paranormal expert Alexander Leek (Alan Bates), who warns of a dire disaster to come.

Author John Keel published his book The Mothman Prophecies in 1975, claiming to be an investigation of real events and featuring a hodgepodge of supernatural phenomena including a winged Mothman creature and UFOs. It all culminates in the real 1967 collapse of the Silver Bridge across the Ohio River.

The book is brought to the screen by director Mark Pellington with a script by Richard Hatem, who tries but fails to make some sense of the book, and at least takes out the UFO elements. The movie is all over the place and no place at the same type, literally and figuratively, playing with inexplicable time and geographic jumps. Spooky graphics and creatures make brief appearances but never quite enter the story, and strange voices issue doomsday warnings over distorted phone messages.

With the material unraveling quickly due to abject incoherence, Pellington leans heavily on style. The Mothman Prophecies at least looks good, with the supernatural elements poking in and out with pizzazz and sharp camera movement. In terms of mood the film never quite descends to all out horror, and settles more in unnerving territory.

Richard Gere is engaged enough to maintain a basic level of interest. Laura Linney is given precious little to do as the local police, and indeed hands over the investigative work to Klein, a stranger in her town. Will Patton is suitably unhinged as Gordon, always one wrong twitch away from harming someone.

The Mothman Prophecies chooses to explain almost nothing, leaving multiple interpretations available. The most likely explanation is dubious source material playing fast and loose with fact and fiction.






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