The Forgotten

© 2004 Ray Wong

I went to see THE FORGOTTEN with trepidation, wary that it might be another movie of style over substance. Unfortunately, I was right.

Telly Paretta is a grieving mother who is still mourning for the loss of her only son, Sam, in a plane crash 14 months ago. She is seeing a psychiatrist, Dr. Jack Munce, to help her let go. Her loving husband Jim tries very hard to accommodate Telly’s increasing psychosis. When personal effects such as photo albums and videos and evidence such as news articles start to disappear, and those around her deny that Sam ever existed, Telly is on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

The only person Telly could consult with is Ash Correll, an ex-hockey player whose daughter, Lauren, perished with Sam in the plane crash. At first, Ash, too, thinks Telly is a nut job. Then Ash remembers. Together they realize someone, or something, has tried to erase their memories of their children. And they believe that Sam and Lauren are still alive. As Federal agents come after them, Telly and Ash discover the conspiracy behind everything. Driven by the love for their children, they would do anything to get them back.

THE FORGOTTEN starts out strongly enough, offering an emotional core to a mystery that is slowly revealed, and the initial twists are riveting. The theme and premise are very strong. However, the story by Di Pego (ANGEL EYES) quickly descends into absurdity and cheap thrills. It becomes increasingly irritating and frustrating when minor, two-dimensional characters pop in and out of the story with no real purpose; when subplots go nowhere; and when the main plot contains so many plot holes that one has to ask why didn’t anyone ask any logical questions when making this film? The paranormal aspect of the story has so much potential. What materializes, though, is an illogical, mangled piece that is neither a psychological thriller nor an X-Files knockoff.

Director Ruben (RETURN TO PARADISE) further clutters the film by over-styling it. Dream sequences that supposedly reveal more of the mystery simply feel repetitious and gratuitous. The editing is choppy at places. The ending is sanctimonious, sappy and illogical. I am still having a hard time understanding it. For example, why would those behind the whole conspiracy, whom the Feds consider evil and dangerous, allow such a resolution? It defies logic. The only explanation we can offer is: you can’t explain it.

Moore (THE HOURS) plays the grieving mother with conviction and intensity. Some of the scenes are really heart wrenching, as we could all empathize with the pain of losing someone all over again, not able to hold on to their memories. She is by and far the best thing in the film. Her strong performance holds the film together, despite its poor story development and execution. However, West (MONA LISA SMILE) is wooden, offering us only a handful of expressions for anger, grief, and confusion. His performance is two-dimension and not very convincing at all.

The combined talent of Sinise (HUMAN STAIN) and Woodard (THE CORE) is wasted in two minor roles that never add to the story. Edwards (THUNDERBIRDS) plays a rather throwaway character, but his soft performance does support Moore in some of the more genuine, emotional scenes. Tergesen (OZ) has a breakout role as agent Patelis, a brief but pivotal character that offers some insight into the mystery and terror.

THE FORGOTTEN has such a strong start and great premise that it is a shame the writer and filmmakers, despite having a great cast, have forgotten these ingredients alone do not a good story make. Therefore, soon, this film will be forgotten as well.

Stars: Julianne Moore, Dominic West, Gary Sinise, Anthony Edwards, Alfre Woodard, Lee Tergesen
Director: Joseph Ruben
Writer: Gerald Di Pego
Distributor: Columbia
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence, language, theme


Script – 4
Performance – 7
Direction – 6
Cinematography – 7
Music/Sound– 6
Editing – 6
Production – 7

Total – 6.1 out of 10


© 2004 Ray Wong

CRIMINAL is a slick Indie film about con artists, in the vein of OCEAN 11 but in a smaller scale. The result is a taut, character-driven ride with, alas, a frizzled ending.

Rodrigo is a down-and-out con man that is not very good at what he does. He has potential, however, and he catches the eyes of master crook Richard Gaddis. After his ex-partner failed him, Gaddis is in need of a partner who has the smarts and guts to carry out a con, but the innocence to not stab him in the back. And Rodrigo seems perfect.

As Gaddis teaches Rodrigo the fine art of smalltime cons, he comes upon an opportunity of a lifetime when his ex-partner Ochoa shows up at the Biltmore Hotel, where Gaddis’ sister Valerie works. Gaddis learns that Ochoa has successfully counterfeited a rare treasury bond and a potential buyer is staying at the Biltmore for only one night. Soon everybody wants in on the scam and the stakes gets higher and higher as Gaddis and Rodrigo try to close the deal.

One of the strengths of this film is the cast of seasoned, talented performers. Reilly (CHICAGO), in one of his few headline roles, is both despicable and fascinating to watch. His portrayal of Gaddis is three-dimensional and he makes us sympathize with the character even though we shouldn’t (and that may be a fatal flaw to the film, too – I will tell you why later). Luna (THE TERMINAL) is affecting and perfect as Rodrigo. He and Reilly have great chemistry together and you really believe in their relationship. Gyllenhaal (MONA LISA SMILE) looks mature and sophisticated, but she’s simply too young to be Reilly’s sister. Her performance is, however, excellent. Tucker (THE DEEP END) plays Gaddis’ younger brother – the problem is, there is at least 20 years age difference between Tucker and Reilly, making the supposedly deep bond between them unbelievable. Mullan and Kazann round out the cast nicely as businessman Hannigan and Ochoa respectively.

Writer-director Jacobs (OCEAN 11) has written a smart script with real, sharp dialogue and interesting characters. However, I think he gets somewhat carried away in being too smart. The plot unfolds almost too perfectly at times. In hindsight we see that it is deliberate, but it still feels manipulative. Too smart for it’s own good. The direction is smooth and taut, and pacing is just about right. I especially like the fact that the characters are revealed slowly, giving us a glimpse here and there, as the plot unfolds. It gives us a sense of intimacy, even when we don’t particularly like these characters.

As I said above, I think the weakest aspect of the film is the “trick” ending. It’s a clever ending but it’s too clever for its own good. Emotionally, it alienates the audience and makes us feel cheated, as we’ve invested in these characters. To realize that we’ve been “duped,” so to speak, leaves a really unsatisfying taste in our mouths. And I don’t think it’s the reaction the filmmakers want. To top it off, we’re supposed to despise Gaddis so much that it makes the ending satisfying. But Reilly is so good in the role that we actually feel sympathy for him, despite his obvious flaws and sometimes-nasty personality. If there’s a crime for being too good an actor for the material, Reilly is the true criminal here.

Stars: John C. Reilly, Diego Luna, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jonathan Tucker, Peter Mullan, Zitto Kazann
Director: Gregory Jacobs
Writer: Gregory Jacobs
Distributor: Warner Bros.
MPAA Rating: R for language and theme


Script – 7
Performance – 8
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 6
Music/Sound– 6
Editing – 6
Production – 6

Total Score – 6.6 out of 10

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

© 2004 Ray Wong

With its art deco, noir style and straightforward storytelling, SKY CAPTAIN is a throwback of the comics in the 30s and 40s: Superman, the Rocketeer, etc. What sets this apart is the injection of state-of-the-art special effects and a painting-like world that is unlike anything we have seen before.

The story begins when a scientist mysteriously disappears onboard the Hindenburg. Reporter Polly Perkins, while investigating the story, discovers that a Dr. Tokenkopf might be behind the kidnapping of some of the world’s finest scientists.

Just then, giant flying robots appear from nowhere and terrorize Gotham City. Paired with Joseph “Sky Captain” Sullivan, they track down Dr. Tokenkopf’s secret island and must stop him from decimating the world.

That’s it. It’s a very simple premise, worthy of any sci-fi adventure. Almost every ingredient is in the mix: a spunky heroine, a dashing hero, an evil nemesis, a mysterious henchman, plausible science and a grand dose of fantasy and action. Writer-director Conran calls it “a film made by the nerds and for the nerds.” Fortunately, it’s also a film that everyone can enjoy.

Conran is our new Peter Jackson here. According to the story behind the making of SKY CAPTAIN, Conran spent four years of his life on a Mac coming up with six minutes of test footage. Without a Hollywood connection and armed with only six minutes of film and a grand vision, he managed to impress everyone along the way, including Law who signed on to be both the star and producer, and secure a $70 million budget – unheard of for a first-time director.

Law (COLD MOUNTAIN) is perfect in the title role. He’s dashing, he is self-deprecating, and he’s courageous. Paltrow (Sylvia) also does a great job bringing to life her Lois Lane-like character. The love-hate relationship between her and Law is funny and real, and they share some of the best banters. Reunited after their tour de force collaboration in THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY, Law and Paltrow continue to have great chemistry together. Ribisi (COLD MOUNTAIN) and Djalili (TV’s WHOOPI) are solid in their minion roles. Ling Bai (ANNA AND THE KING) doesn’t have much to do, hiding under a hood and acting cold and mean. There’s an interesting cameo by the late Sir Lawrence Olivier, composed by a series of archived footage. Despite stellar performances from Law and Paltrow, Jolie (TAKING LIVES) steals the film from them. Her characterization of the smart and loyal Captain Franky Cook is beautiful and crowd-pleasing, probably one of the best characters in an action-adventure film.

A combination of Superman, Indiana Jones and Buck Rogers, SKY CAPTAIN puts us back in a world where the good is good and the bad is mad. There’s a simple pleasure of watching a story unfold so purely, an almost child-like fascination. From the Indiana Jones-like musical score and the comic book look, we know we’re in for a treat. The script is smart, nothing too outrageous or strange (although I do find the “miniature elephant” oddly out of place).

However, the bad guys are always in the shadow so we only get to see things through our heroes’ perspective. That’s one drawback of the film: It feels somewhat too linear and distant. Also, even with all the action going on, there’s a lingering sense of “it’s still not exciting enough.” Perhaps it’s the languid pace between the action scenes, or the overall noir feel of the film.

The art direction and production are top-notch, however. Every frame looks like a painting and is gorgeous to behold. The retro, sepia-saturated look does take a bit to get used to. After a while, we do get somewhat weary of it. Fortunately, the screen gets brighter and livelier as the adventure speeds up. The comic-book feel works to its advantage. Except for the actors and the props they touch, everything is created by CGI or from archive photos. Some people may object to the feeling of watching a live-action “cartoon.” I personally love the look and feel, and the CG effects are first rate. It could very well be a new breed of films, one that is fitting for a world of tomorrow.

Stars: Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Giovanni Ribisi, Ling Bai, Omid Djalili
Director: Kerry Conran
Writer: Kerry Conran
Distributor: Paramount
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for comic-style violence


Script – 8
Performance – 8
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 9
Music/Sound– 7
Editing – 8
Production – 10

Total Score – 8.2 out of 10

Wicker Park

© 2004 Ray Wong

It is difficult to label WICKER PARK with a broad stroke as a bad movie. There are things that I really like, and it is unfortunate that the filmmakers have missed the mark with what could have been a potentially smart, affecting film that rivals some of the best foreign films on the planet.

Matt is an investment banker who returns to Chicago after spending two years in New York. He’s on the brink of proposing to his girlfriend/business partner Rebecca but there is something holding him back. When he catches a glimpse of his old girlfriend, Lisa, he finds himself falling into an obsession of finding her.

He skips his business trip to Shanghai; instead, he goes on a wild goose chase around town looking for Lisa. When he does, he discovers that she is, literally, a stranger who has the same name and wears the same shoes and perfume. The truth unfolds as our hero and heroines get caught in a web of lies.

The distributor made a fatal mistake by marketing this film as a psychological thriller and hinting at, perhaps, a murder mystery or violence at the core, ala FATAL ATTRACTION. True, psychology is a big part of it -- as one character says to Matt, “Love makes you do strange, unthinkable things.” The film is about obsession, deception, fate and manipulation. Strong and complex themes that would have made a compelling film in more capable hands.

The script by Boyce (APT PUPIL) is uneven in places and manipulative over all. It’s not to say I absolutely hate it. I think the dialogue is, in general, natural and real and full of subtexts. I think some of the events and actions by the characters are thought provoking. However, Boyce litters the story with so much contrived coincidence and missed encounters -- trying too hard to pull on our heartstrings with that “AWW! They missed each other again” sentiment -- it makes one resentful. There is a more fundamental problem: if Matt is so obsessed with Lisa, why didn’t he look for her in the past two years? By the end of the film, there are enough plot holes to fill the streets of Chicago.

Another major flaw the film is the lack of any compelling, sympathetic characters. Almost every character is self-absorbed, manipulative and plagued by some level of obsessive, deceptive dysfunction. Sure, that can work with stronger material (think FATAL ATTRACTION again) but it is not the case here.

Director McGuigan (THE RECKONING) does attempt a refreshing approach in storytelling. Much of the story and suspense is revealed through a series of flashbacks. At times, he lingers too long to create that sense of longing and mystery. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. The problem is that without the flashbacks, the story would have been very straightforward, probably over in under an hour. They try to create suspense and mystery through the editing and structure. It is an interesting approach. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work. It’s a false sense of suspense, done in a very manipulative way, then ten miles before we reach Oz, we already know who the wizard is. We feel cheated.

Hartnett (HOLLYWOOD HOMICIDE) is in dire need of a good film to reestablish him as a bona fide actor/star. Unfortunately he won’t find it here. His “hero” turns out very unlikable (cheating, lying, deceiving, breaking into someone’s apartment, etc.) all in the name of love. This guy doesn’t seem to have any ethics, does he? Hartnett’s characterization is lackluster as well -- we fall asleep just by staring into his puppy eyes. Lillard (WITHOUT A PADDLE) plays his normal doofus/best-friend role with good intention, but his role is merely a plot point, and you really can’t take his performance seriously. Kruger (TROY) is beautiful and engaging. However, she really doesn’t have much to do. The film belongs to Bryne (TROY). Sure, her character is despicable and ultimately a wicked witch, but you can’t help but feel sorry for her. Bryne is successful in showing her vulnerability, pain and internal conflicts -- it still doesn’t excuse her character from all the horrible things she does, but at least we get a glimpse of what makes her do them. Too bad her good performance still can’t lift the film out of its own misery.

Stars: Josh Hartnett, Rose Bryne, Matthew Lillard, Diane Kruger, Jessica Paré, Christopher Cousins
Director: Paul McGuigan
Writer: Brandon Boyce (based on L’APPARTEMENT by Gilles Minouni)
Distributor: MGM
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexuality and language


Script – 3
Performance – 6
Direction – 4
Cinematography – 7
Music/Sound– 6
Editing – 4
Production – 7

Total – 5.2 out of 10

Code 46

© 2004 Ray Wong

In a Bladerunner-isque world of segregation and isolation, William Geld (Robbins) is a fraud investigator who relies on his “intuition” to catch criminals. He travels to a city out in the desert named Shanghai (in an alternate universe) to investigate the “papelle” case. A “papelle” is a genetically coded ID and travel document, which allows an individual to travel in and out of the “special zones” – big cities full of promises and opportunities.

Someone at the Sphinx (the place where papelles are manufactured and processed) has been stealing and smuggling papelles. When William zeros in on his target, he meets an employee, Maria.

You see, before he embarked on his trip, he has injected himself with an “empathy virus” to better help with his job. Whether it’s the virus or that he feels a connection with Maria, he finds himself falling for the mysterious woman. His intuition tells him that Maria is the culprit, but he lets her go; instead, he voluntarily frames another employee and let Maria smuggle the papelle right before him. Their inevitable romance leads to a series of events that render them fugitive of an international law: Code 46.

At the beginning of the movie, we learn that Code 46 is a law to control population and ensure the quality of the future human race. People who are 25%, 50% or 100% identical genetically cannot procreate together. A violation of the law would result in pregnancy termination and memory eradication.

With that knowledge, we pretty much know where the story is heading right from the start. Any remaining suspense (involving dreams, mystery, and secrets) revolves around the fate of the two protagonists: What will ultimately happen to them in this world run by a Gestapo-like international government and law enforcements?

Robbins (MYSTIC RIVER) gives a lethargic performance here. Throughout the film, his eyes seem glazed over, his expression bland and his speech monotonous as if he’s sleepwalking instead of being the character. Or perhaps it is the character’s fault. We will never know. Morton (MINORITY REPORT), on the other hand, continues to be mesmerizing. Even in a murky, inconsistent character, she finds something worthwhile and captivating. Unfortunately, there is no chemistry between her and Robbins, and that’s a fatal flaw in a sci-fi romance. On a positive note, the hugely international cast does a good job in supportive roles.

The world conjured up by writer Boyce and director Winterbottom (WELCOME TO SARAJEVO) is interesting to behold. Using almost no extravagant CGI effects, but real locations such as Shanghai, Hong Kong and India, the result can be amusingly confusing (for example, why do they drive these old cars and SUVs in this futuristic world?) The noir feel and mood of the film, as well as the cinematography, do a great job in bringing us a future world that is both familiar and frighteningly alien.

While a sci-fi movie without CGI effects is a welcome treat, Boyce’s script is not. The common flaw of such a film is that it’s too in love with its “cool” ideas that it forgets about the story or characters. We never really fully understand the motivations behind the two main characters. We are led to believe that they share a strong connection, love, and passion but we don’t really believe it. The central suspense also elicits a “lackluster” or “ho-hum” feeling. The stakes are never high enough, which lead to a very unsatisfying and nonsensical climax near the end. The ending itself is sad and tragic, but by now, we’re so disconnected with the characters that we don’t really care. We’d come out of the theater feeling just as disconnected as the people in that world. To me, when the filmmakers break that connection with the audience, it’s a clear code violation.

Stars: Tim Robbins, Samantha Morton, Jeane Balibar, Christopher Simpson, David Fahm, Togo Igawa
Director: Michael Winterbottom
Writers: Frank Cottrell Boyce
Distributor: United Artists
MPAA Rating: R for nudity, sexual content, language, drug use


Script – 5
Performance – 7
Direction – 6
Cinematography – 8
Music/Sound– 7
Editing – 6
Production – 6

Total Score – 6.4 out of 10