BIRTH, directed by Jonathan Glazer, written by Glazer, Jean-Claude Carriere and Milo Addica, 100 minutes, rated R.
The provocative, controversial mystery “Birth” stars Nicole Kidman as Anna, a woman who falls in love with 10-year-old Sean (Cameron Bright), a precocious boy who claims he is her deceased husband, also named Sean.
In the film’s beautifully shot opening, in which the camera remains trained on Anna’s husband as he jogs through the snow-covered paths of Central Park, we see the moment he drops dead beneath a footbridge 10 years before.
Now, in spite of the passing of a decade and the fact that Anna is on the verge of starting a new life with her fianc?, Joseph (Danny Huston, John Huston’s son), she still is vulnerable, still in love with her dead husband, still not quite ready to marry, but urged to do so by her family, which believes she needs to get over Sean and move on with her life.
What they can’t comprehend is the depth of Anna’s grief. And so, when this young Sean turns up at the family’s Upper East Side apartment with the quiet insistence that he is her Sean, the air is sucked out of the room. “You’re my wife,” he says to Anna, while her family looks on. “I’m Sean.”
As absurd as it sounds, it turns out that this nervy kid has the goods to back up his claim. Calmly, he reveals information that only he and Anna could know, such private details as the day he and Anna had sex on the sofa on which her chilly mother, Eleanor (Lauren Bacall), now sits. Other details follow, all of them accurate, all of them met with an initial air of bemusement before annoyance, anger and then fear take root.
With the exception of Anna, who sports the very sort of haircut Mia Farrow wore in “Rosemary’s Baby,” what nobody here wants to believe is the possibility that the truth is standing before them – this Sean is that Sean. If it weren’t, then how could this odd little boy know what he knows? Is it reincarnation that brought him here? Stranger things have happened in New York.
As directed with great skill by Jonathan Glazer (“Sexy Beast”) from a script he co-wrote with Jean-Claude Carriere and Milo Addica, “Birth” is a creepy, well-acted examination of how grief can give itself over to irrationality. It pushes its share of buttons – and then pushes a few more – in how close Anna comes to feel for young Sean. Still, if you are to believe what she believes, and that a sort of madness has crept into her soul, the scenes that feature Anna bathing with Sean, and then kissing him romantically, are inevitable extensions of that madness.
In spite of Kidman, a major audience draw, and a marketing campaign that suggested it would open everywhere, everywhere obviously didn’t include Bangor. The film didn’t come here, which left dozens of irritated readers asking why through e-mail.
Those e-mails recently increased to a fever pitch when Kidman’s performance was nominated for a Golden Globe, which left one reader asking whether Bangor didn’t receive the movie because of its risqu? content and another asking whether it didn’t open locally because some might consider it to be one of those “dreaded art films.”
Likely the latter. Still, time hasn’t run out for “Birth.” Perhaps some savvy moviehouse will show it soon to meet demand.
On video and DVD
SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW, written and directed by Kerry Conran, 107 minutes, rated PG.
Forget tomorrow. Kerry Conran’s “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” is the movie to see today.
Shot entirely against a blue screen with sets, locations and several robotic and monstrous characters digitally added after principal shooting ended, the film is a fun, dashing adventure set in 1939, with today’s audiences essentially feasting on the moviemaking of tomorrow.
The film stars Gwyneth Paltrow as Polly Perkins, ace reporter for the New York Chronicle, who is forced to team with former love and ace aviator Joe “Sky Captain” Sullivan (Jude Law) to save the world from certain doom by the mad scientist, Dr. Totenkopf (played by Laurence Olivier, who died in 1989 but who has been digitally brought back to life).
Along the way, they encounter towering robots who smash through Manhattan’s skyline in search of generators, bat-like spaceships armed with heat-seeking missiles, elephants that could fit in the palm of your hand, and a caped villain played by Bai Ling.
Also in the mix is Angelina Jolie’s Capt. Franky Cook, who sports the sort of sex appeal that turns Joe’s head while making Polly seethe with jealousy. Giovanni Ribisi is just right as Dex Dearborn, the kooky, kidnapped techy Joe is fighting to save.
“Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” is a movie in love with movies, but which loves pop culture more. Inspiring it are countless films, books, comics and television shows. Still, in spite of all from which it draws, it’s an original. Just look at it lighting the screen. This is glamorous, high-end noir shot through with art deco elements heightened by the future.
It’s not perfect. The first half of the story could be tighter and the chemistry between co-stars Paltrow and Law is initially nonexistent. But when it takes off at its midpoint, there’s no keeping it down or, for that matter, forgetting it. It closes with a final shot that’s hands down among the best of any movie last year.
Christopher Smith is the Bangor Daily News film critic. His reviews appear Mondays and Fridays in Style, 5:30 p.m. Thursdays on WLBZ 2 Bangor and WCSH 6 Portland, and are archived at RottenTomatoes.com. He may be reached at BDNFilm1@aol.com.
THE VIDEO-DVD CORNER
Renting a video or a DVD? NEWS film critic Christopher Smith can help. Below are his grades of recent releases in video stores. Those in bold print are new to video stores this week.
A Home at the End of the World – B+
Alien vs. Predator – B
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy – B+
The Bourne Supremacy – B
Catwoman – B-
Cellular – B+
The Chronicles of Riddick – C-
The Clearing – C+
Collateral – B+
The Cookout – C-
Dawn of the Dead – A-
The Day After Tomorrow-B
De-Lovely – B
Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story – B
Elf – B+
Ella Enchanted – B
Envy – D
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – A-
Fahrenheit 9/11 – A-
The Forgotten – D
Friday Night Lights – B+
Hero – B+
I, Robot – B+
Kill Bill, Vol. 2 – B
King Arthur – B
The Manchurian Candidate – B+
Man on Fire – B
Mean Girls – B+
Napoleon Dynamite – B+
Open Water – A-
Paparazzi – D-
Shaun of the Dead – B+
Shrek 2 – B
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow – A-
Spider-Man 2 – A
The Stepford Wives – C
Super Size Me – C-
The Terminal – D
The Triplets of Belleville – A
Troy – C-
The Village – D+