Enduring Love
dir. Roger Michell
Opens Fri Nov 12.

Ian McEwan's novel Enduring Love opens with one of the most riveting chapters in the history of the written word. The scene it sets--of a lovers' picnic being interrupted by the unlikely appearance of a hot air balloon in mid-crash complete with grown men chasing after it, trying to bring it down, with tragic results--is both ludicrous and utterly credible thanks to McEwan's titanic imagination and deathless execution. While the rest of the novel eventually earns out the credit advanced by its staggering intro, it's the force of that first scene that sets the tone for the implausible events that follow it. If the novel has a difficult time living up to the majesty of its own opening, imagine how hard it might be for a film adaptation.

The problem with the film of Enduring Love isn't so much the film itself; if you haven't read the book, chances are you'll enjoy the adaptation just fine. If you know the book, however, you'll know that there's little room for improvement. The story concerns a professor for whom love is little more than an abstract idea--one he rejects, despite his long-term relationship with a sculptress who obviously loves him. The professor's romantic diffidence is put to the test when a freak accident (the aforementioned balloon crash) puts him in the way of a deranged young man who falls hopelessly, obsessively, and bizarrely in love with him.

The cast is superb. The steely Daniel Craig excels as the cold-hearted intellectual who can't give up his anti-love argument until it's nearly too late, Rhys Ifans is the ideal choice to play a man whose unbalanced behavior doesn't quite diminish his seemingly docile nature, and as the girlfriend, Samantha Morton is, well, Samantha Morton (which is to say, unimpeachable and mesmerizing at all times in all films). Moreover, the adaptation is largely faithful. Aside from a few tweaks (Ifans' stalker, for example, is no longer wealthy, nor is the medical reality of his affliction ever mentioned), it's exactly as the book intended. As a study of the often-perverse trajectory of love, it's a compelling little British independent film with a dark bent. Unfortunately, the literalization of the images serves to undermine, rather than strengthen, the novel's disturbing insights about long-term intimacy--i.e., that the people to whom we are closest are often those we know the least. SEAN NELSON

The Polar Express
dir. Robert Zemeckis
Opens Wed Nov 10.

Forward-gazing software wonks and gaming geeks have long discussed "the uncanny valley," a buzzword term describing how the use of newfangled CGI technology to replicate humanity has resulted in unintentionally unsettling imagery. The Polar Express, a much-hyped, mega-budgeted stab at holiday immortality, wallows in this valley, depicting an array of dead-eyed fleshbots creepier than an entire street gang of Misfit Toys. Chris Van Allsburg's charming book about a doubting kid's Xmas Eve journey to the North Pole is certainly worthy of cinematic rendering, but the process used here creates a queasy feel (never have legions of elves looked so totalitarian) that not even the nuclear charisma of Tom Hanks portraying multiple characters can dispel. Primary credit/blame must go to director Robert Zemeckis, whose once-playful mastery of technology as a narrative tool (see the Back to the Future trilogy) unfortunately seems to have been transformed into his motivation for making movies. Unlike, say, the wizards at Pixar, who understand that the primary appeal of animation is how it can leave real life in the dust, Zemeckis seems determined to replicate reality so precisely that the point of the entire enterprise is lost. Frame for frame, there's nothing here that wouldn't have worked, possibly more effectively, as a live-action film. (Caution, parents: The multiple scenes of tykes hanging off of speeding devices only fuels the suspicion that the director went animated mainly to avoid those pesky child-safety laws.) Here and there, Polar Express hits on an image or mood worthy of the season, particularly during the early scenes of the magical title vehicle, but the thundering need to make a state-of-the-art prefab classic steamrolls over most of the cheer. On Donner, on Blitzen, on Tron. ANDREW WRIGHT

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason
dir. Beeban Kidron
Opens Fri Nov 12

Desperate single women can be cute and funny. Moony, jealous women who obsess over their fancy boyfriends are neither cute nor funny. And that's all you need to know about this exceedingly lame movie.

When we left her at the end of Bridget Jones' Diary, the eponymous heroine (Renée Zellweger) had secured a real live boyfriend in the person of Mark Darcy (Colin Firth), a human-rights lawyer (or barrister, as they call 'em in England). When we meet Bridget again in the sequel, she has developed a terrifying staring problem. Specifically, she enjoys staring at Mark while he sleeps--a retch-worthy obsession that gives "running gag" a whole new meaning. Mark, for his part, is far from being worthy of such drooling adoration; Firth makes it difficult for us to believe that he even has a pulse, and when he expresses desire, it's actually sort of confusing.

A number of scenes shamelessly ape the funny bits in the original, including an all-new holiday at the parents' house (with the requisite borrowed clothing and unwelcome groping), another mini-break (this one's a trip to the mountains), and one more absurd knockdown fight between vying suitors (in a fountain this time around). But it's when the sequel diverges from this formula that it really crashes.

Somehow, Bridget ends up going to Thailand as a reporter for a television travel show. Hallucinogenic mushrooms and an army of votive candles get involved at this point, and they're off-putting enough, but then Bridget lands in jail and teaches a bunch of abused women the correct words to "Like a Virgin." It's the most contrived plot twist to grace the cinema since Brokedown Palace, and it is most emphatically neither cute nor funny. ANNIE WAGNER

dir. Dylan Kidd
Opens Fri Nov 12.

'Tis the season, apparently, for up and coming directors to tackle the borderland attraction be-tween older dames and underage lads. In director Jonathan Glazer's recent Birth, the strain of dealing with this taboo subject unfortunately sapped the vitality present in his earlier Sexy Beast. Thankfully, in the similarly themed, if less unsavory, P.S. , co-writer/director Dylan Kidd has retained the gift of gab that made his debut, Roger Dodger, such a welcome breeze. Laura Linney plays a stalled-in-neutral college art teacher convinced that her newest student (Topher Grace, rockin' his chance to stretch) might be the reincarnation of an old flame. (Perfectly understandable, actually, considering that the poor kid has the same name, and looks exactly like him.) To its credit--if somewhat puzzlingly--the film treats this quasi-supernatural element as more or less of an afterthought, and concentrates increasingly on portraying the superb Linney's prickly interactions with all around her. Such an approach plays squarely into Kidd's court, as he captures talk, particularly the way that characters subtly change depending on the current conversational partner, far better than his relative cinematic inexperience would indicate. (He also displays a knack for sneaking up on odd grace moments, particularly during a wonderfully awkward sex scene that makes a point of retaining all the fumbling and bumbling that most flicks leave in the editing room.) Audiences primed for another Chances Are may be flummoxed by P.S. 's narrative changeup from fated love to realistic character piece, but patience is rewarded; when the film dispenses with its Harlequinish plot foolishness and flies on the director's considerable instinct, it's a gas. ANDREW WRIGHT

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