Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Episode 38

The Terminal - Tom Hanks plays Viktor Navorski, a native of Krakozia, who wishes to visit New York City. Unfortunately, while he is in transit on a flight from his homeland to America, Krakozia's government is overthrown, and the country finds itself in the midst of a coup. When he lands at the airport in New York, Viktor is led to the office of the person who is second in command on the premises: Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci). Unable to understand each others' languages very well, Frank and Viktor have a confusing conversation, but the gist of it is as follows. As Krakozia is currently not recognized by the United States due to the coup in progress, Viktor is temporarily without a home country. Hence, it would be illegal for him to step foot on U.S. soil. Frank tells Viktor that he may reside within the walls of the airport until his country is once again recognized, but that once he exits the building, he'll be breaking the law. His assumption is that Viktor will get tired of waiting after a short period of time and leave the airport, becoming someone else's problem. However, after Viktor agrees not to leave the airport, Frank discovers that this eastern immigrant is a man of his word. Days become weeks, and weeks become months, and as Krakozia's government remains in a state of unrest, Viktor Navorski remains a resident of the currently under construction Gate 67. During his stay at the airport, Viktor makes several friends among the staff including janitor Gupta Rajan (Kumar Pallana), meal cart driver Enrique Cruz (Diego Luna), and baggage handler Mulroy (Chi McBride). Perhaps most importantly, though, Viktor has several chance encounters with a lovesick flight attendant named Amelia Warren (Catherine Zeta-Jones). As time goes by, Frank Dixon begins to regret his decision to allow Viktor Navorski to remain in the terminal, but with a long-awaited promotion looming before him, he mustn't be too hasty to make a scene at the workplace. If only he could figure out what Viktor is keeping in that Planter's peanut jar that he carries around everywhere... The Terminal is the latest in a long line of films directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Hanks. Many people and institutions consider Spielberg to be the best director of all time. While I don't agree with this statement, I certainly am not crazy enough to say that the man doesn't have an incredible talent for telling a story. In most cases his films feel like modern day fairy tales. The Terminal is a perfect example of this. The events in this movie would never happen. Ever. Yet, The Terminal does not tell an entirely outrageous story. There are no dinosaurs or aliens, but you'll have to suspend your disbelief quite a few times while watching it nonetheless. Characters do and say things that real people in their situations would never in a million years do or say. Yet while I was fully aware of the absurdity of the goings on, I never felt that any of it was done in bad taste. A machine ridiculously spewing quarters in Tom Hanks' face and numerous people slipping on wet floors didn't phase me in a way that they may have in another film because of Spielberg's care in crafting a story that can rip your heart out one minute and make you smile uncontrollably the next. Not all the credit goes to the director, though. Tom Hanks (as almost always) gives his standard great performance. In the first few minutes of the film I had my doubts that he'd be able to pull off the Russian accent and "fish out of water" role of Viktor Navorski, but before long he'd won me over. I was also a bit worried when the love interest was introduced because of the incredibly unbelievable circumstances under which she enters the main character's life, but I was very pleased with the way her role was ultimately handled. Another little tidbit that was a bit hard to swallow was the character of Gupta, or rather what part he ends up playing in the overall story. As with the rest of the absurdities in the film, though, Spielberg managed to ease my concerns with nothing more than a few facial expressions on the actors' faces. Perhaps the only problem that I had with the movie that wasn't fully remedied by the time that the climax rolled around was Stanley Tucci's Frank Dixon. The character was played well by Tucci, but it really didn't feel like he should have been so damn upset with Viktor all the time. Of course, as with any light-hearted drama in the vein of The Terminal, there needs to be a bad guy. Yet, I honestly still feel as though there needed to be a little more reason for Dixon to despise Viktor as much as he did. Outside of that, I found The Terminal to be an enjoyable viewing experience. It certainly won't be making my list of all time favorite films, but it's definitely worth a watch.

Skeleton Key - Caroline Ellis (Kate Hudson) has spent the years since her father's death as a hospice worker in New Orleans. However, after losing another in a long line of elderly patients and not being able to do much to help them, she decides to take a job as a live-in nurse on a plantation. Her feeling is that this will be less depressing than her previous job. Her clients are a secretive old woman named Violet Devereaux (Gena Rowlands) and her husband Ben (John Hurt), who was left an invalid following a stroke. Violet immediately disapproves of Caroline, but as the family lawyer Luke (Peter Sarsgaard) explains to her, it's nothing personal. Violet has disapproved of every girl who has taken the job thus far, which explains the number of girls who have previously quit the position. Caroline vows to keep the job though, as Ben reminds her of her own father whom she regrets ignoring in his final months. Before long Caroline becomes suspicious of Violet and all of her secrets involving the house. She doesn't allow mirrors inside, there is a locked room in the attic, and there's something strange going on with Ben. Looking into the mysteries further, Caroline discovers that the house has a history involving hoodoo, an old African American form of magic that only works if you believe in it. She brushes it off as an old wives tale, but when Ben, supposedly suffering from full body paralysis and an inability to speak, begins struggling to talk and attempts to commit suicide, Caroline discovers that there may be more to hoodoo than legends and folklore. Skeleton Key is neither a movie that I ever intended to watch, nor expected to enjoy. As fate would have it, I ended up doing both. In among the horror movie craze of late with films such as The Ring, The Grudge, House of Wax, The Return, and The Amityville Horror among others, Skeleton Key got lost in the fold for me. However, a chance viewing turned my preconceived opinion of this particular film around. Much like House of Wax, which I expected to be an entirely forgettable film, Skeleton Key actually had several redeeming factors. First of all, the acting is better than I would expect from a seemingly standard horror movie. Kate Hudson did a good job in the lead role and Gena Rowlands played the old woman you love to hate perfectly. John Hurt, though unmoving and silent for the duration of most of his screen time, achieves spectacular displays of emotion based purely on his facial expressions alone. Less than spectacular was Caroline's friend Jill, played by Joy Bryant, who is perhaps most recognizable as the girl who yells "Go Spidey, Go!" while jumping up and down in Spiderman 2. Can anyone say "over-acting"? At least she wasn't in the movie for very long. The movie starts out stereotypically enough, setting up a distrust for the character of Violet and introducing us to the creepy locale of the house on the plantation, as well as giving us some less than original back story for Caroline. However, once the concept of hoodoo is introduced to the viewer, Skeleton Key takes a whiplash-like turn for the better. At first the concept of magic is just used as an interesting way to instill terror in the audience along with the evil portrayal of Violet by Rowlands, but when the twist ending hits, it packs a huge punch. Seriously, Skeleton Key may contain one of the best and most unexpected twist endings that I've ever seen. It was so clever, original, and out of left field that I found myself uncontrollably grinning right up until the credits rolled and then some, as I worked out the events in my head again. For horror movie fans, Skeleton Key may not be the goriest or most frightening film you've ever seen, but I kid you not, the ending is reason enough to watch this movie. I can't think of another film with a similar ending to that of Skeleton Key, and that's what really sets it apart from the rest of the pack. Climaxes like this just don't happen every day.

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