The Forgotten, Sky Captain
1. The Forgotten (Director: Joseph Ruben)
Director Ruben is sort of a "high-trash" director, kind of like the territory mined by Adrian Lyne (Indecent Proposal, Lolita). Ruben's films include the good Return to Paradise but he also has Money Train, The Good Son, and Sleeping With the Enemy on his resume.
The Forgotten proves that you may have good chills in store for your audience, but that doesn't necessarily make it a great time at the movies. Earlier, I reviewed a film called Ju-On (which will later be Americanized as The Grudge) that was creepy as hell but as a story didn't make much sense. At least in Ju-On, though, it's meant to be an intense chiller throughout, and it gripped me. The story of The Forgotten follows Telly (Julianne Moore) a mother who has lost her son in a plane crash and is trying to cope with it. As time goes on, images of her son vanish from pictures and scrapbooks turn up only white pages. Even cherished videotapes turn up blank. So, of course, what the hell is going on, right?
Eventually, she has to start convincing people that she's not crazy, and she tries to convince another parent (Dominic West of "The Wire") that his daughter died in the same crash. So, the two of them embark on digging up dirt. The answer is really quite unsatisfying, but in the middle of all that there's some highly goose-flesh-inducing scenes that attempt to make you forget how lame everything really is. It's too bad, since it could have been something really worthwhile had they bothered to come up with a good explanation.
2. Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (D: Kerry Conran)
Many films have tried to become the next Raiders of the Lost Ark: Romancing the Stone, The Mummy, and Tomb Raider, and all the sequels to those movies. None have had all of the elements required to be the true heir.
Kerry Conran is already being anointed as the next Spielberg or Lucas with this intriguing directorial debut that computerized everything except the actors (well, they do throw in 15-years-deceased Sir Laurence Olivier from archival footage as the evil scientist). Of course, to be in the same league, you'd have to do better than just have pretty backgrounds and pay homage to Raiders, you have to engage the audience with not only a thrilling adventure but a sense that it all matters. This film very much is handicapped by improper aim.
Jude Law (in the first of five films this fall) and Gwyneth Paltrow reteam from The Talented Mr. Ripley to play Indiana Jones (real name: Joe Sullivan) and Lois Lane (real name: Polly Perkins) in the search of a mad scientist (once again, Olivier...that's kind of weird) who is sending killer robots and highly advanced planes into New York who are raiding power generators for...something. The film contains all of the same adventure trappings as a Jones film, but without a real background.
Think of Raiders. Hitler and Nazi Germany are trying to become the world power in the late teens of the 1900s. Hitler has been excavating numerous archeological sites to find the Ark of the Covenant, a piece of biblical warpower that supposedly would wipe out their conquests. Indiana Jones wants to find it for the thrill of adventure, the chance to be famous, maybe, to put it in a museum, and is essentially taking the side of the U.S. as the CIA funds his venture. On the side of Germany is another adventurer who is "in it for the money," (although we don't get the terrible, blunt line as when Bill Paxton refers to Cary Elwes in Twister) by the name of Belloq. In the subtext of the film, it's the Allied Powers versus the Third Reich. A grand adventure indeed. The finding of the Ark, along with the puzzles Indiana Jones must solve to find it, with all of the obstacles that incite good drama, made that film one of the best of all time.
Now we get Sky Captain and Entertainment Weekly wants to put it on "The Must List," going as far as saying its the birth of the popcorn film (as opposed to the "lesser" popcorn movie). Sorry, guys, Sky Captain is more a spectacle than bonafide event. The film makes even more of a mistake by not making Joe Sullivan the main character. He shares it with the reporter, Polly, and hence, our hero does not have the magnetism we are looking for, to assure us with his many skills that everything is going to be alright because he's on the job. Karen Allen, as Marion in Raiders, was a good character, but she was not in the spotlight. She was the "Jones girl," as much romantic fodder and a mere piece of the overall puzzle that a Bond girl is. Hell, she even has more of the spotlight than her predecessor Lois Lane did in all the Superman adventures.
It has genuinely good action moments, but without the similar weight that I have detailed from Raiders, there's not much of a chance you'll give a damn about whether they succeed or not. The bad guy's intentions even sound good--the only way they were able to continue to make it seem like his actions needed to be stopped was by inventing the grand old "end-of-the-world" scenario, as contrived as that concept has ever been. It's too bad, we could have had a true successor to Indiana Jones while waiting for Spielberg, Lucas, and Harrison Ford to finally have their slates clean at the same time to make the genuine article.