Monday, February 27, 2012

GONE (2012)

Rated: PG-13

STARS: Amanda Seyfried,  Daniel Sunjata,  Wes Bentley,  Sebastian Stan, 
Emily Wickersham 
DIRECTOR: Heitor Dhalia
GENRE: Psychological Thriller

Would you begin to question your own sense of reality when everyone around you is telling  you that you are delusional?  Young Jill Parrish (Amanda Seyfried) never wavers from her belief in her own truth--but the questions remain, and become intensified for the audience in the new thriller, Gone, from Brazilian director  Heitor Dhalia. 

Jill has a history. A history of mental illness. Or so it is has been declared. A year ago she told a story of being kidnapped by a really bad dude who kept her imprisoned in a well and tried to kill her. She escaped. But her story didn't check out with the police. They could find no trace of the man, and no trace of the big hole in the ground where she claimed he kept her. Another blow to her credibility is that she spent some time in a mental institution after her ordeal.

 When her sister, Molly, (Emily Wickersham) turns up missing from the home they share together, she fears that the man is back--intending to take her again, but settling for the sister when Jill wasn't home. She reports the disappearance to the cops, but due to her history, they  flat out don't believe her. I found this element of Gone hard to swallow,  because no matter what, the authorities are supposed to routinely follow up on missing persons reports.  These cops come off as totally cavalier boobs. But,  as is often the case with the psychological thriller genre, SOMEBODY has to be or do something really stupid to make the plot work.

Jill is thrust into the role of being the lone crusader trying to find and save Molly before it's too late. When the police learn she has a gun, they feel she may be a danger to herself and others, and so the "manhunt" for her is on. It then becomes a race against time--and this is where the dramatic tension is created--as Jill tries to find a potential killer before the cops nab her and put her out of commission.  

Gone is a decent thriller--nothing that's going to tax your brain all that much--we know we will learn in the end whether Jill is connected to reality or a real nut job. And whether sis--who has a drinking problem--has maybe just gone off on an alcoholic bender and will stagger home later with a slurred WHASSUP, SUCKAHS? There ARE enough red herrings floating around in the soup of this movie to keep us guessing and second guessing as to who the real bad guy is-assuming he exists. 

Amanda Seyfried herself may be the biggest draw for guys--she's at least a 9 on the beauty scale--with (not Betty Davis) Zooey Deschanel eyes, big as saucers. She turns in a believable performance as the girl nobody believes. (Tell me what I say!)

Nobody else worth mentioning here, but doggone if Gone doesn't deliver a satisfying "touche" type of ending that may put a smile on your face as you walk out of the theater. 

Grade:  B

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


Rated:  PG-13

Stars: Thomas Horn,  Tom Hanks,  Sandra Bullock,  Max von Sydow
Director: Stephen Daldry
Genre: Melodrama

Maybe I've been watching too many art house and independent films lately, because as Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close began to unfold, I felt there was real potential there.... BUT... then that aura of SLICK HOLLYWOOD PRODUCTION just started dripping from every pore of it, and I knew  what I was in for. How to describe...well...blatant manipulation of your emotions at every turn, where the poignancy of it seems manufactured, rather than stemming naturally from the story.  Let's see, what would a character naturally say and do here?  Hmm...forget that...gotta be something really gooey to get those tears gushing. 

Oskar (Thomas Horn) is a precocious, but socially inept 11 year-old whose dad, Thomas Schell, (Tom Hanks) perished in the World Trade Center on 9/11. By all accounts, he was a good dad. He invented scavenger hunt games and made up stories to stimulate his son's imagination and get him to interact with other people. There's the fanciful story of New York's "lost sixth borough," for example. (Which kinda took me in, even.)  

On the day of the tragedy, Oskar stands frozen and listens to the increasingly frantic phone calls on the answering machine from his father. He decides to conceal the recordings from his mother (Sandra Bullock). A year later, the boy is still consumed by his loss. In his dad's closet, he finds a key in a vase with the word "Black" written on the envelope. Oskar surmises that the key must have been left for him to find, and that it must fit the lock of some box that contains undiscovered messages from his father, in the event of his early demise. And that Black must be the surname of the person who holds the key (no pun intended) to this mystery.  So he compiles a list of everyone in the five boroughs named Black (and there's a crapload of them) and sets off on an odyssey to visit each one of them until the mystery is solved.

Again, there were some things here that drew me in...the disparate people that he meets...their own stories of personal loss, or just the touching ways in which they send him off with love and godspeed. Unfortunately, and I don't know if this was intended, or it's just the way the inexperienced young actor comes off, (they found him from an appearance on Jeopardy) Oskar is extremely obnoxious and incredibly annoying--an insufferable little brat who feels entitled to make all the world feel guilty about HIS  pain, and HIS loss, because no one else has ever experienced such things, you see. He continually spouts off from recall a bunch of amazing facts and figures in a monotone staccato voice, like some kind of idiot-savant, to illustrate his points and show us how bright he is for his age.That's fine as far as it goes--but in scenes that would seem to require it,  the young Mr. Horn appears unable to convey any real nuance of emotion. 

Why was he chosen for the protagonist role in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close?  Because  Haley Joel Osment and Macaulay Culkin are grown up now...what do you want from me??? (But he's got plenty of time to learn his craft,  and no doubt will improve.)

No one feels obliged to put Oskar in his place. Not even his mother, who is still dealing with her own pain, but tries to carry it with some semblance of dignity.  In what is surely the most manipulative scene in this movie, her son, with venom in his eyes, tells his mom that he wishes SHE had been in the World Trade Center that day, instead of his dad. (If you can imagine.) There is a pregnant pause--we're supposed to wait for her reply because it will surely be good--but I knew immediately what she was going to say. The one self-deprecating thing she could have said designed to wrench the maximum amount of  boo-hoo from the audience. 

The only one who tries to rein the kid in is the mysterious man who rents a room at Oskar's grandmas place, played by the great Max von Sydow. He doesn't speak. Not because he can't, but because he's suffered a trauma of his own. The renter decides to accompany the boy on his arduous odyssey through New York City. 

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close also suffers from some totally implausible plot elements near the end. With all of its flaws, the film is still an extremely  (see how I like to play off that word?) effective tearjerker.  There was lots of sniffling going on around me in the theatre, and I know all those people didn't have colds. Me, I had a little piece of rock in my eye...or something...and kept tearing up to try to flush it out.

Bring lots of tissue.  

Grade:  B --