Mediocre: Knowing

Knowing (2009)
Directed by Alex Proyas
Written by Ryne Douglas Pearson, Juliet Snowden, Stiles White
Produced by Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal, Alex Proyas, Steve Tisch, Ryne Douglas Pearson, David J. Bloomfield, Topher Dow, Norman Golightly, Stephen Jones, Aaron Kaplan, Sean Perrone
Starring Nicolas Cage, Chandler Canterbury, Rose Byrne, Ben Mendelsohn, Nadia Townsend, Lara Robinson, D.G. Maloney
It’s an ingenious germ worthy of Bradbury, Ellison or Eco: an apparent numerical cryptogram inscribed by a troubled schoolgirl in 1959 is stowed with her classmates’ conventionally juvenile images of a projected future in their school’s time capsule; disinterred a half-century later, it’s discovered to chronologically foretoken dates, death tolls and coordinates of numerous consequential catastrophes that occurred during its fifty years underground, as well as three imminent. Alas, in the pudgy paws of Proyas, this overscripted, overscored, overproduced eschatological thriller degenerates into bathetic banality when a widowed astrophysicist (Cage) tenured at MIT happens upon and interprets the portentous string after his bratty son (Canterbury) receives its leaf upon exhumation. What might’ve been a fun race to deter disasters presaged instead wallows in familial distress and sappy hysterics, bedizened with flagrantly fake CG in a picture focused on characters who’ve neither sufficient amenity nor insight to warrant such an overpersonalized story. Whether he’s underplaying monotonously or hamming his passions with that goofy voice, Cage is unfit as ever a dramatic lead; everyone else — including underfed Byrne — is credible yet unable to indue to their stock personae any especial interest. Some clever prefigurements, presagements and misdirections can’t salvage considerable potential trifled on tragedy depressing beyond engagement and mythic hokum in a story too trite to affect.

Palatable: Adore

Adore (2013)
Directed by Anne Fontaine
Written by Doris Lessing, Anne Fontaine, Christopher Hampton
Produced by Philippe Carcassonne, Michel Feller, Barbara Gibbs, Andrew Mason, Dominique Besnehard, Francis Boespflug, Sidonie Dumas, Troy Lum, Naomi Watts
Starring Naomi Watts, Robin Wright, Xavier Samuel, James Frecheville, Ben Mendelsohn, Jessica Tovey, Sophie Lowe, Gary Sweet
No customary taboo known to this critic would contribute to the obloquy of a widow (Watts) and divorcee (Wright), lifelong friends who covertly bed each others’ sons (Samuel, Frecheville) by spleens of sheer concupiscence that flower to an adoration of abiding ardency. Her widely derided Anglophonic foray finds Fontaine handily adapting Lessing’s short story with a tenderness necessary to buoy it well above depths of incidentally ithyphallic indulgence without hazarding surplus schmalz, a precarious balance braced by the art of its principals, a littoral home to which their characters are bound as much as to one another, and Christophe Beaucarne’s photography, illuminating their natural beauty. That inevitably controversial premise is more provocative but hardly so arresting as the picture’s suggested, secondary subjects: true friendship’s felicity and fidelity, silent surges of incipient sex, furtive first kisses more fervent than all following and a quiet misery attending the ineludible cosmetic depredations of middle age, personified by Watts in starkly unbecoming close-ups for which she commendably sacrificed a volume of vanity to enact. Too often, Christopher Gordon’s score confers cloyingness rendering scenes unsavory that might’ve been quietly profound, but otherwise this quasi-incestuous convergence of aberrant and amative lusts is for its erotic and consequential insights deserving of some reappraisal.