Who doesn't adore Julianne Moore?
Especially in Still Alice, the film for which bookmakers are betting she'll take home the Best Actress Oscar, Moore's portrayal of a linguistics professor battling early onset Alzheimer's is letter perfect. Myself having a sibling now encased in a memory care facility in Florida after being ravaged by the same affliction, every step of Alice's deterioration is recognizable: the random loss of memories, the awareness she's losing her identity, the outbursts of anger, the inability to control bodily functions, and the short-lived moments when the person you have always loved reemerges out of a fog of despair.
Sadly, Moore's performance and that of her peers in Seventh Son capture a forgetfulness, too, although not one symptomatic of an infirmity, but one characteristic of creative bankruptcy. By the time this adaptation of Joseph Delaney's bestselling young-adult classic, The Spook's Apprentice, ends and you've emptied your bladder in your mall's stall, you'll have trouble recalling what you've viewed on screen. So generically configured is this tale of medieval witches who turn into dragons, and the alcoholic heroes who try to eradicate them, you'll swear you'll have come down with an incurable case of chronic déjà vu before the credits finish rolling.
Directed by Sergei Bodrov, an apparently esteemed Russian helmer (Mongol), the screenplay by Charles Leavitt (Blood Diamond) and Steven Knight (Dirty Pretty Things) leaves no stone turned and no character fleshed out. Every soulless soul is a well-worn archetype; every monster, even in 3-D, is an anemic reiteration of a witless behemoth that couldn't scare the bejesus out of your virgin Aunt Tilly.
In this redundant battle of good versus evil, Jeff Bridges as the spook Master Gregory -- a la his eponymous role in The Giver -- has yet again to teach a young apprentice, Tom Ward (a ho-hum Ben Barnes), the seventh son of a seventh son, how to decimate witches, boggarts, ghasts, and other hangers-on who comprise an oddball menagerie of ne'er-do-wells. The lead witch, Mother Malkin (Moore), was once Gregory's lover until he buried her underground for eons. Now she's escaped and is understandably miffed. So, slowly regaining her powers thanks to the coming arrival of the blood moon, she's formulating a nasty plan to sauté mankind, and only the spook and his trainee can save the day. If only they also had a plan to entertain filmgoers.
On the plus side, you get to view Mr. Bridges overact with some woeful vocalizing, reminiscent of a drama school dropout. This is amusing for a few seconds. Additionally, Ms. Moore's agent, no doubt, had to get her several million to lend her name to this vapid epic, and if anyone deserves a few million, it's Ms. Moore.
Moving on to Eddie Redmayne in the Wachowskis' Jupiter Ascending, the young actor who has garnered unceasing praise deservedly for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything nearly snuffs out your fondness for his thespian athletics with this over-the-top, creepily dank villain characterization. Unlike Ian McKellen's Magneto in X-Men, Redmayne has been directed to howl like a banshee in diapers. You keep wanting to send him into the corner for a timeout.
As for the plot, sci-fi buffs should appreciate the twists and turns here. Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), who's been raised in Chicago by her Russian immigrant mother, doesn't realize that her long-deceased dad was an alien until the pointy-eared Caine (Channing Tatum), "a genetically engineered ex-military hunter" with well-developed pecs, rescues her from cleaning toilets. You see that, thanks to her gene pool, she's actually a princess whose inheritance includes the Earth. And, unless Jupiter regains her throne, one of her genetic children, who are in fact older than she, will take over the planet and devastate mankind in a most uncivil manner.
Of course, since this is a Wachowski offering, the visuals are frequently stunning in an overwhelming manner, and scene after scene is quite entertaining. There is a problem, though, with the casting. Ms. Kunis is an uneven actress. She can be quite applaudable (Black Swan) and she can also be god-awful (The Book of Eli). Here she falls somewhere in between, bland and disposable. As for her chemistry with Mr. Channing, let's just say it's a failed experiment.
Still, the film is never unwatchable, and your intelligence is at no time insulted. It's, in fact, sort of like a scrumptious soufflé that didn't rise high enough due to a faulty ingredient or two. If you're hungry enough, you're going to chow down anyway. - Brandon Judell
Mr. Judell has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire.com, the New York Daily News, Soho Style, and The Advocate, and is anthologized in Cynthia Fuchs's Spike Lee Interviews (University Press of Mississippi) and John Preston's A Member of the Family (Dutton). He is also a member of the performance/writing group FlashPoint.