I seem to have watched a lot of films recently in which Julianne Moore stars, if we take “recently” to mean within the last six months.
JM plays Callie Ferris, the leader of an FBI task force charged with stopping terrorists from detonating a nuclear device on American soil, and with this in mind she is seeking help from Cris Johnson (Nicholas Cage), a stage magician and professional gambler with the ability to see two minutes into the future. Johnson however doesn’t want to become a “servant” of the government, instead wishing to pursue his pre-ordained romance with Liz (Jessica Biel). The plot was inspired by Philip K. Dick’s story “The Golden Man”, though I suspect the theme of terrorism wasn’t in the original. The film is at its best when showing how the two minute prescience allows Johnson to function (finding the right line to impress Liz, dodging awkward situations, winning at cards etc.), but somewhat loses it when moving to a larger scale – I have difficulty seeing how Johnson’s ability would allow him to sidestep bullets fired from a machine gun, and at times he is permitted the plot convenience of seeing much further into the future, so the rules don’t really apply. And, with hindsight it’s hard to fathom how the two minute rule would let him prevent the explosion – yes, he can see the news report two minutes ahead of time, but that’s not enough leeway to stop the event itself unless the bomb is located in the next room. The plot gets round this obvious objection by having the terrorists take an interest in Johnson and Liz, perceiving them as a threat. JM does well in a role that doesn’t ask much of her, convincing as somebody who will do bad things for the greater good, but not really a character you can take to (perhaps for that reason), a mostly one dimensional part. The film as a whole is a mildly entertaining popcorn guzzler, more rewarding for the ideas it contains than what it does with them.
Liam Neeson plays Marks, an alcoholic air marshal who receives a message on his mobile phone warning that a passenger will be killed every twenty minutes if a ransom is not paid. Subsequently he finds himself at odds with just about everyone on the plane as he pursues a veritable shoal of red herrings in his attempts to discover the identity of the culprit, and is himself implicated in the plot. Finally we have the threat of a bomb on board the plane to contend with. Throughout all this passenger Jen Summers, played by JM, is the one person Marks feels he can trust, or at least most of the time. I found the basic premise something of a stretch, with the way in which the deaths occurred dependent on two parts coincidence to one part blind luck for the killer. And the final half hour or so, with the identity and motive of the blackmailers revealed, took a leap from the improbable into the realms of the downright ludicrous, causing a film that was pushing at the boundaries of plausibility to lose credibility completely. Again, JM’s role didn’t require much of her and she did the best she could with the material, while Neeson was simply channelling his Taken role and adding a touch of mildly confused desperation to the mix. As action movies set on board planes go, this was most definitely a poor relation to Snakes on a Plane, to name one.
Tom (Ben Barnes) is the seventh son of a seventh son, and also the son of a witch, a combination that gives him the potential to defeat the newly risen witch queen Mother Malkin (JM). He is taken on as an apprentice by Gregory (Jeff Bridges), the last surviving member of an order of knights dedicated to destroying the evil of witches and other supernatural entities. Tom benefits from “on the job” training, but his dedication to the role of witch killer is undermined by the attraction he feels towards Alice, the daughter of Malkin’s sister Bony Lizzie. And so the stage is set for a final showdown at Malkin’s castle stronghold. There’s really not a lot to be said for this – it’s heavy on the sfx, looks good on the screen, and from a plot perspective pretty much plays out as you’d expect, with love the key to defeating evil. Julianne Moore, like Michelle Pfeiffer and Famke Janssen before her, seems to have a gleeful time playing the witch queen, cackling on demand and transforming into a dragon when things get too hot for her. Her people see her as a saviour of sorts, and so she isn’t entirely evil, or at least only from the perspective of the victims of her magic (in fact, we see plenty of evidence that witches can be a force for good, and that Gregory has become blinkered in pursuit of his mission), and the character is further fleshed out by the revelation of a romance with Gregory in the distant past, adding a personal side to their antagonism. Moore has fun in the role, and the film itself is fun, if hardly memorable.
JM plays Telly, who has memories of the life and death of her son Sam, though her husband and psychiatrist insist that she never had a child. Telly goes on the run when they try to have her committed, and makes contact with a man who also lost a daughter that everyone else claims didn’t exist. At this point agents of a national security organisation give chase and the parents realise they are on to something much more involved than simply memory loss. The trail leads them to the activities of the nefarious and all powerful “them”, who are conducting experiments on human beings. I have mixed feelings about this film, with the opening half certainly catching my interest and intriguing, but then it goes off the chart and into territory where the plot is driven by deus ex machina shenanigans, none of which the viewer has been suitably prepared for, so that it seems as if suddenly we are watching a different movie entirely. In the abstract, I like the idea of a higher power who see humans as nothing more than lab rats (The X-Files ran for umpteen years using a similar premise) but in context here it doesn’t really feel like something events were leading up to so much as an act of desperation on the part of the writers to get out of the corner they’d painted themselves into, requiring unnecessary intervention by the security services to forward the plot. Overall the story doesn’t quite ring true, though on the plus side the idea that a mother’s love conquers all resonates powerfully, and Moore turns in a first class performance in a difficult and challenging role. She is the best thing about the film; well except maybe for the “snatch” effects used by “them”.