The Painted Veil
In "Perfect Stranger," Halle Berry plays Rowena, a star New York investigative reporter who revels in bringing down powerful, flawed men. When an old acquaintance turns up dead, she begins to investigate the links between the murder and married advertising tycoon, Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis). In search of hard evidence, she penetrates his ad agency and engages him both online and offline. Sprinkled with lesbian supermodel officeworkers and naughty online chatting, "Perfect Stranger" tries desperately to be a sexy thriller. But movie popcorn is more arousing. Willis, who spends most of the film smirking smugly, looks more like a nightclub bouncer in a new suit than a chief executive. He offers us Hill's corporate philosophy with gems like "It's not kill or be killed anymore. It's kill or become irrelevant." Berry isn't very believable either as a seasoned reporter chasing evidence which would seem flimsy to a 10 year-old. As a whodunnit, the plot is overwrought. And the final revelation is a cheap trick and feels like it has nothing to do with the movie you've been watching. Clearly, some filmmakers still think that audiences are just dumbsuckers.
( Sherwin Das )
What do you get when a group of middle-aged men (played by John Travolta, Martin Lawrence, William H. Macy and Tim Allen) decide to take time out from their sedate suburban lives and go on a cross-country motorcycle trip? Well for one, in "Wild Hogs" you get lots of gay jokes as our foursome are routinely mistaken for being, well, a foursome. In one scene, an unsuspecting family joins our pals for a swim in a pond and discover, to their horror, that they're all skinny dipping. In another, a muscular cop stumbles upon them sleeping and spooning at their campsite and is about to haul them in for indecency when he reveals, to their horror, that he'd rather join them. "Wild Hogs" is an ensemble buddy comedy where what happens, which isn't much, isn't as important as the comic situations that its stars find themselves in. And while a few of the scenes are quite funny, the film gets boring fast with conventional elements like a big, bad motorcycle gang chasing down our heroes. But it's innocuous entertainment overall with many familiar actors. Obviously, they were all looking for work around the same time. It's a shame there wasn't better material from which to choose.
( Sherwin Das )
The Painted Veil
It's a long time since I read any W. Somerset Maugham which is perhaps why I enjoyed this faithful and intelligent adaptation of his novel so much. "The Painted Veil" is a refreshingly old-fashioned and epic love tale in which love is at once a tragic and redemptive force. Everything else pales into insignificance for the tortured lovers at the center of the story, including a cholera epidemic which is decimating the population of a rural Chinese village, and the breathtaking landscapes surrounding them.
The story starts in 1920s London when Walter Fane (Edward Norton) falls in love with Kitty (Naomi Watts) at an evening party. Eric Satie's sublimely plaintive Gnoissiene no.1 is playing in the background, perfectly setting the tone for everything to follow. Kitty unenthusiastically accepts Walter's marriage proposal as a way of escaping her overbearing family and joins him in Shanghai where he works as a bacteriologist.
She soon embarks on an affair with suave British diplomat Charlie Townsend (Lieve Schreiber) and falls passionately in love with him. But when Walter discovers the affair Charlie refuses to publicly stand by her.
Walter volunteers to work in a remote Chinese village which is suffering from a deadly cholera epidemic as a means of punishing Kitty for her infidelity.
The couple coexist in mutual loathing for some time as Walter throws himself into the task of trying to stop the spread of cholera and Kitty languishes in boredom and loneliness.
To make matters more complicated, anti-British feeling is extremely high after British soldiers shoot some Chinese strikers and the couple find themselves at risk of being attacked by the villagers.
Naomi Watts and Edward Norton both play their parts to perfection. Watts is spot on in her depiction of an independently-minded but rather naive woman trapped by the rigorous and repressive behavioral code of the time. Norton is equally impressive in his finely nuanced portrayal of a humble civil servant struggling to make sense of a disintegrating world around him.
"The Painted Veil" is a compelling and strangely nostalgic movie. Maugham was a masterful storyteller and this adaptation is faithful to him in both style and substance. Cholera never seemed so romantic.
( Tim Ochser )