Thursday, September 22, 2005

"Proof" Lacks Life; "Lost" Still Has It

Capsule review:


directed by John Madden
starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Anthony Hopkins, Jake Gyllenhaal, Hope Davis

What you see is pretty much what you get in this polished but inert adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play that stars Gwyneth Paltrow (in a role first played by Mary-Louise Parker on Broadway) as Catherine, the daughter of a brilliant, recently deceased mathematician (Anthony Hopkins). As the movie reveals in flashback, the mathematician, Robert, went nuts late in life, and Catherine became his self-appointed caretaker in their fusty Chicago home. Consequently, she’s devolved into a reclusive bundle of frayed nerves, weighed down by an obsessive fixation with what she may or may not have inherited from her father. With his death and funeral, complications arise when two outsiders arrive to salvage what they can of Robert’s legacy. One of them—by far the cuter and more benign—is Hal (Jake Gyllenhaal), a young mathematics professor who studied under Robert and hopes to find some lingering flash of his mentor’s genius among the meaningless scrawls of his final years. The other is Claire (Hope Davis, looking more and more like Hillary Clinton), Catherine’s older sister, an annoyingly put-together bobo from New York who sees Catherine as a task that must be managed with discretion. To say more would be to give away too much, though the plot is rather disappointingly by the numbers. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

While “Proof” does flirt with some potentially interesting ideas on heredity and transference, and the tension between proof and belief, it doesn’t dig deep enough to make them anything more than pretty thematic constructions. In the end, the film is little more than a foursquare showcase for the acting, which is good but unremarkable. This may be Paltrow’s weightiest performance, but it’s nothing she didn’t already do (and arguably did better) in the little-seen “Sylvia.” Also, she’s far too distractingly beautiful to sustain the fiction of an unkempt hermit who just may be a mathematical genius. Hopkins and Davis, both veteran players, are solid as always, doing the best they can with thinly sketched characters. But the breakout star, surprisingly, is Gyllenhaal, who finally rises to the hype by getting geeky-sexy just right.

RATING: ** 1/3

DOWN THE HATCH: "Lost" keeps the momentum going

I can’t blog everything I watch (or else I’d never have time to watch any of it), but I feel impelled to offer a few words on the season premiere of “Lost.” All I can say is I don’t know if the writers know where the hell they’re taking us, but getting there continues to be a blast...Tantalizingly little happened on tonight's episode, and yet it still managed to be a nail-biter—a vast improvement, methinks, on last season’s finale. What I love most about the show is the way it weaves a chapter from each character’s past with his or her present predicament, and tonight’s episode did that in spades. Though raise your hand if you *totally* saw what was coming when that guy said to Jack, “See you in another life!” It’s going to be interesting to see how that one gets explained...I also loved the parallelism between Sara’s miraculous recovery—specifically, her wiggling toes—and Locke’s similar “miracle” when the plane crashed on to the island. You can bet the “Lost” fanatics are generating a thousand theories on this as I write this. I'll leave them to it; meantime, I'm just having fun watching this Chinese box unfold.


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