In a small town in Massachusetts in 1987, young Henry (Gattlin Griffith) lives alone with his fragile mother, Adele (Kate Winslet). She hasn’t been the same since the boy’s father left, and her depression has intensified to the point of her becoming a shut-in, only venturing away from the house once a month to collect groceries. On one such trip they encounter Frank (Josh Brolin), who has just escaped from prison and is in need of somewhere to lay low before he catches the next train out of town. Adele reluctantly helps Frank – who quietly yet forcefully insinuates harm will come to them if they do not help – but due to it being a holiday weekend and a lack of trains, Frank is forced to stay with this fractured family, and soon finds himself and Adele getting closer than he had intended. Continue reading →
Joan Allen’s Elena has been married to Kevin Kline’s Ben for 17 years. Ben is sleeping with Sigourney Weaver’s Jane, who is married to James Sheridan’s Jim. Jim and Jane have two sons, the creepy pyromaniac Sandy (Adam Hann-Byrd) and Elijah Wood’s more normal Mikey, who is sort-of dating Elena and Ben’s genitalia obsessed daughter Wendy (Christina Ricci) who, it transpires, is also the object of Sandy’s affections. Meanwhile, Wendy’s virginal brother Paul (Tobey Maguire) is desperately in love with his college classmate Libbets (Katie Holmes), and vies for her attentions with his much more confident roommate Francis (David Krumholtz). This ridiculously fractured love-dodecahedron forms the plot of this multi-stranded slow-boiler from Ang Lee, director of Brokeback Mountain and Hulk. Both sides of him are shown here, from his delicate handling of love stories to Maguire’s Paul discussing the depths of the Fantastic Four, and he ably handles all the aspects of the plot. There are many similarities with Todd Solondz’ Happiness, most notably the stellar ensemble cast and hard to watch yet easier to recognise situations the characters find themselves in. The film takes place over a relatively short period of time, with all the aforementioned relationships coming to a head during the particularly heavy ice storm of the title, with consequences both small and disastrous, yet a sense of humour is retained throughout, particularly during the swinging party.
Always be wary when a DVD cover proclaims the feature it houses is an Oscar winner, yet follows this statement with an asterisk not revealed until the fineprint on the back of the box, for more than likely this will lead to a win for one of the lesser Oscars that, though probably well deserved and awarded to people who are very good at, and have worked very hard on what they do, does not make the associated film any good. And so it is with Wonder Boys, overly proud recipient of the Oscar for Best Original Song for Bob Dylan’s Things Have Changed, so worthy is it that I cannot even remember hearing it, when part of me was specifically listening out after discovering the win. Whilst Michael Douglas gives one of his best performances as the mild-mannered, scarf-wearing, adulterous English professor Grady Tripp, he is let down by a meandering plot involving a dead dog, a 7ft transvestite, a stolen dress and an epic manuscript, and a fairly average cast with Tobey Maguire it’s obvious weak link – impressive when Katie Holmes is also involved as a besotted student. Too much takes place without a reason – is Maguire’s James fascinated with celebrity deaths just because he is weird? – and the script is far from excellent (“I’m not gonna draw you a map, sometimes you need to do your own navigating.”)
Never has a film been more squarely aimed at the nerds and outsiders of the world (OK, maybe Revenge of the Nerds), the guys with the smarts but not the brawn, good looks, athletic bodies and hot girlfriends. Fortunately, this description neatly encapsulates the majority of the superhero genre’s existing fanbase.
Tobey Maguire is Peter Parker, the afore-mentioned science nerd with a prolonged crush on Kirsten Dunst’s girl-next-door MJ, but lacking the confidence, wealth, strength and social standing required to do anything about it. After being bitten by a radioactive spider during a class field trip, he acquires some of the spider’s abilities, including wall crawling, mild precognition, shooting webs from his wrists, a vastly improved body and the ability to dangle from the ceiling into your mouth while you sleep. In real life, spider’s shoot the webs from an aperture closer to their posterior. This would have made for a much stranger film, I feel. Unfortunately, Parker’s transformation occurs around the same time as Parker’s lazy rich kid best friend Harry’s businessman father trials a new super serum on himself, with predictably disastrous results, transforming him into a suped-up madman, terrorising the city in the form of fan favourite villain the Green Goblin.