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3 items from 2007

The Orphanage

28 December 2007 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

NEW YORK -- This Spanish supernatural thriller begins interestingly and finishes intriguingly. But what lies between drags because the film lacks a driving story line.

The muddy middle means that The Orphanage doesn't live up to the eerie promise of its early scenes -- even though a sustained performance by Belen Rueda as a distressed mother goes a long way to paper over the cracks.

Orphanage, directed by first-timer Juan Antonio Bayona and executive produced by Guillermo Del Toro, is Spain's entry for the foreign-language film Oscar. Del Toro, still riding high after "Pan's Labyrinth," has put his name behind the film, which could prove an initial boon at the boxoffice. But the Picturehouse release isn't scary enough to do much business in theaters.

Bayona mixes two styles of supernatural thriller as the moody atmosphere of 1970s films like The Omen blends with the grim bitterness of contemporary J-horror.

The story takes place in, yes, a secluded mansion. Laura (Rueda) and her husband, Carlos (Fernando Cayo), are a pleasant middle-class couple who move into a seaside manor with their adopted son, Simon (Roger Princep). The twist is that Laura grew up in the place back when it was an orphanage. When young Simon disappears, Laura claims that he has been taken prisoner by the ghosts of the orphans. No one believes her, so she starts to investigate on her own.

Like many genre films, this one borrows at will. A plot about a child who can see dead people is obviously similar to The Sixth Sense, and the idea of everyday people coming face-to-face with evil forces reminds of "Rosemary's Baby." Some contemporary touches arise from the director's attempts to replicate the cruel frights of J-horror. But these demand a nastiness that's out of sorts with the film, thus the shocks often fail to hit home.

Rueda is the glue that holds everything together. It's a dramatic performance that rises above the constraints of genre work and gives the film an incredible lift. Production values are high, with Oscar Faura's probing cinematography a standout.



Rodar y Rodar Cine y Television and Telecini Cinema


Director: Juan Antonio Bayona

Screenwriter: Sergio G. Sanchez

Producers: Mar Targarona, Joaquin Padro, Alvaro Augustin

Executive producer: Guillermo del Toro

Director of photography: Oscar Faura

Art director: Josep Rosell

Music: Fernando Velasquez

Costume designer: Maria Reyes

Editor: Elena Ruiz


Laura: Belen Rueda

Carlos: Fernando Cayo

Simon: Roger Princep

Pilar: Mabel Rivera

Running time -- 100 minutes

MPAA rating: R


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The Seeker: Dark Is Rising

5 October 2007 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

We've seen the spawn of Satan in such films as Rosemary's Baby and The Omen, and bad seeds have frequently tickled and terrified audiences. Child saviors haven't been as prevalent in the movies. But in The Seeker, based on the popular children's novel The Dark Is Rising, we have the story of a child chosen by the forces of light to battle evil spirits; the fate of the earth hangs in the balance. With some quasi-religious overtones, the film might have a built-in audience, though it's not going to make much of a dent in the Harry Potter franchise.

The opening cleverly thrusts us into an ultra-contemporary world of cell phones and high-tech malls where Will Stanton (Alexander Ludwig) is not quite at home. The youngest of six sons in an American family transplanted to England, Will is not comfortable with his peers. To make matters worse, he keeps seeing flocks of ravens that want to claw his flesh. Eventually, he learns that he has a mission to save the world from dark forces that intend to wreak havoc. His nemesis is a threatening figure called the Rider (Christopher Eccleston), but he also has a group of allies known as the Old Ones who instruct him in his supernatural powers and guide him on his otherworldly quest.

Seeker is well cast with a mix of British and American actors. Ian McShane, who often is cast as a Satanic figure, here plays Will's spiritual guide, and he lends stature and dignity to the battle between good and evil. Eccleston exudes malevolent power, and he has fun playing the Rider's alter ego, a bumbling English doctor. The young actors who play Will's siblings have a natural ease on camera, and Ludwig is inherently likable, capturing the character's befuddlement as well as his innate decency.

Yet the film plods along without a lot of excitement or inspiration. There's one scary sequence with an army of snakes led by an albino cobra, but a lot of other scenes depend on elaborate CGI effects that aren't all that thrilling. Another problem is that the plot requires young Will to go through a series of trials to find the six signs that will enable him to save the world, and there simply isn't enough variety in these ordeals. The movie's one surprise twist will be pretty transparent to anyone above the age of 6.

Although the film is extremely well photographed by Joel Ransom, it fails to build a sense of mounting terror. The denouement is completely predictable, which might be satisfying to young viewers who haven't seen a lot of movies. For the rest of us, Seeker is a ho-hum exercise in mysticism and hocus-pocus.


20th Century Fox and Fox-Walden

Marc Platt Prods.


Director: David L. Cunningham

Screenwriter: John Hodge

Based on the novel by: Susan Cooper

Producer: Marc Platt

Executive producers: Ron Schmidt, Adam Siegel

Director of photography: Joel Ransom

Production designer: David Lee

Music: Christophe Beck

Costume designer: Vin Burnham

Editors: Geoffrey Rowland, Eric A. Sears


Will Stanton: Alexander Ludwig

The Rider: Christopher Eccleston

Merriman Lyon: Ian McShane

Miss Greythorne: Frances Conroy

Dawson: James Cosmo

Old George: Jim Piddock

Maggie Barnes: Amelia Warner

John Stanton: John Benjamin Hickey

Mary Stanton: Wendy Crewson

Gwen Stanton: Emma Lockhart

Max Stanton: Gregory Smith

Running time -- 99 minutes

MPAA rating: PG


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Artios fetes Donner, Hirschfeld

3 August 2007 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

Director Richard Donner and casting director Marc Hirschfeld will be the special honorees at the Casting Society of America's 23rd annual Artios Awards.

Donner is set to receive a career achievement award, recognizing excellence in casting as well as overall contributions to the industry as a whole. As both director and producer, Donner has been involved in such successful movies as The Omen, Superman, Maverick and the Lethal Weapon series.

Hirschfeld will receive the Hoyt Bowers Award, honoring casting professionals who have elevated the profession by embodying the spirit and ideals of the late casting director.

Hirschfeld, executive vp casting at NBC Universal Television, oversees casting for all NBC Entertainment, Sci Fi Channel, Bravo and USA Network scripted programs. Most recently, Hirschfeld has overseen the casting of such NBC series as The Office, Heroes, My Name Is Earl, 30 Rock and Friday Night Lights, among others. Before joining NBC, Hirschfeld spent 12 years at Liberman/Hirschfeld Casting, which he founded with partner Meg Liberman.

Winners in 20 theatrical casting categories will be announced Nov. »

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