Sky’s the limit for CGI 

‘Sky Captain’ is a special film; ‘The Forgotten’ lives up to ‘Sixth Sense’ level; ‘Facing Windows’ a masterpiece.

There are times in one’s life when things change and you know it. Something happens — a birth, a death, a move, an argument — and you realize that everything has tilted five degrees to the left or right, and will never be the same again. Because art does imitate life, the same goes for movies. Dorothy opens her black-and-white door to a world full of color. That vast white starship glides — almost endlessly — over the top of the screen in the first frames of “Star Wars.” Those computer-generated dinosaurs, big as life and twice as ugly, emerge from the jungle in “Jurassic Park.” One of those moments has come again with “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.” Shot entirely against a green screen with sets, props, giant robots and whole landscapes added in later by computer, “Sky Captain” represents the next step in a journey started by the aforementioned “Jurassic Park” — toward a time when CGI will be so good that we can’t tell what is real and what is pixel. While there are a few glitches that look oh-so-phony (bone, for instance, doesn’t quite look like real bone; and the cars don’t really move or reflect the light like real cars), the vast majority of the scenes work, complete and perfect in their reality. Better, it’s not just a technologically stunning film, it’s a great movie — an old-fashioned cliffhanger that hearkens to the golden age of motion pictures, when superheroes and serials ruled the matinee. An army of giant robots attacks New York, bent on stealing the city’s generators. This is not the modern New York, or even a past New York, but a kind of retro-future version of the city — one where the world has lived up to the Art Deco lines and economic promise envisioned after World War I. When the robots come, reporter Polly Perkins (Gwyneth Paltrow) goes out after the story and ends up darting between the feet of the robots as they go marching through the streets. She soon meets a mysterious Dr. Jorge Vargas (Julian Curry), who entrusts her with two silver vials and the name of the mad scientist responsible for the mechanized monsters: Dr. Totenkopf. Meanwhile, after the police and army are decimated by the robots, they must call on Polly’s old boyfriend Joe “Sky Captain” Sullivan (Jude Law), an ace pilot, who — with the help of his gadget-equipped fighter plane — is able to drive off the robots and save the day. Soon, however, the robots reappear at Joe’s secret airstrip/headquarters, destroying the place in search of the two vials and carting off Dex (Giovanni Ribisi), the mechanical genius responsible for all of Sky Captain’s fabulous toys. Enlisting the help of amphibious squadron (don’t ask, you just have to see it to believe it) leader Capt. Frankie Cook (Angelina Jolie), Polly and Joe soon set off on an around-the-world adventure in search of Totenkopf’s lair. A thrilling film that gets back to the roots of what good movies are all about, “Sky Captain” is a must-see for anyone who loves movies. That’s even beyond the look of the thing — a muted, comic-book world that literally looks like it was inked onto newsprint. You’ve got to see it, if only so you can tell your grandkids — after the set-making profession goes the way of the movie theater balcony — that you saw the first wholly-CGI film. — By David Koon ***** Many movies since “The Sixth Sense” seem to have painted themselves into a corner, in which you spend less time watching the film than wondering just how, exactly, the characters are going to get their fat out of the fire and/or the screenwriter is going to tie it all up nice and neat with a bow on top. You know, those “What am I missing?” movies, the ones where you can’t eat your popcorn for fear you’ll miss some seemingly arcane piece of information that turns out to be the Rosetta Stone for the whole thing, a la M. Night’s splashes of red. While some of those Shyamalan-clone movies have been good, most — in true Hollywood style — have been terrible. The latest entry into the genre is “The Forgotten,” the Julianne Moore vehicle opening this weekend. The bad news is, you’ll spend a good two hours utterly confused. The good news is, when it does come around, it comes around hard, with a spooky ending that makes you question — in much the same way “Sixth Sense” did — what is real and what is imagined. Telly Paretta (Moore) is a Brooklyn wife who spends most of her days grieving over photos and mementos of her son, Sam, who died along with several other children in a plane crash 14 months earlier while on their way to camp. A shrink, Dr. Munce (Gary Sinise), and her husband (Anthony Edwards) are trying to help her work through it. Then, one day, she goes to the dresser where she keeps her son’s photographs and finds them all blank. The videotapes of his childhood, too, are blank. Looking at photos around the house, she finds that Sam has been erased from them all. What’s worse, when her husband comes home from work, she hears from him and Dr. Munce that she never had a son and that her memories of his life and death are all delusions, caused by the trauma of a miscarriage. Munce tells her that she’s going to have to be hospitalized for more treatment. Once she escapes, Telly finds it goes even further: neighbors, friends, even the papers archived at the local library seem to reflect that her son never existed and the plane crash never happened. Soon, her poking around draws attention — dark agents of the National Security Agency, who seem to know her every move before she does. After hooking up with Ash Correll (Dominic West), a father whose daughter supposedly died on the same plane, they go racing around with the NSA agents and a mysterious, unstoppable man on their heels, trying to prove that their children once existed, and slowly realizing that no force on earth has the power to do the things they experience. Aye, there’s the rub. While there are a few flaws to “The Forgotten” (specifically that there is a damnable lack of information about just what is after them and why, even at the end), the movie is fast-paced, tense and even enjoyable in that edge-of-your-seat way. While it’s not “The Sixth Sense,” it is better than around 97.52 percent of the crop that tried to ride the coattails of that film, and well worth a look. — By David Koon **** “Facing Windows,” writer/director Ferzan Ozpetek’s runaway winner of the 2003 equivalent of the Italian Academy Awards, is a tightly woven, intricately layered story of love, loss, lost opportunities and learning. The Italian title is “La Finestra di Fronte,” literally “The Front Window.” But “Facing Windows” is much more appropriate, as the story has two of its main characters not only facing literal windows from their apartments, but all its characters facing windows of opportunity that they may or may not seize. Giovanna Mezzogiorno stars as Giovanna, an accountant at a chicken factory whose marriage to Filippo (Filippo Nigro) is in an advanced state of decay. Filippo is a good father and a nice guy but he’s irresponsible, quixotic and unmotivated. The two have increasingly bitter and scarring fights. It’s in the midst of one such fight as they’re returning to their car after some shopping that they pass an older man standing on a bridge, holding out money. The man is lost, confused, utterly without memory and obviously in the throes of an Alzheimer’s-fueled daze. Giovanna doesn’t want to get involved, but Filippo insists on taking the man to the police for help. What actually happens is that Filippo, in a bout of charitable trickery that he conceals from his wife, brings the man home, much to the chagrin of Giovanna. Slowly but surely, though, abetted by her children’s growing affection for the man they come to know as Simone (Massimo Girotti in an absolutely superb, powerful and touching performance), Giovanna comes both to accept Simone but, increasingly, to lean on him for his counsel and judgment. In his moments of clarity, Simone, possibly a former baker himself, discovers that Giovanna hates her job, has a passion for pastry-making and is miserable in her life. She spends much of her time staring out her kitchen window into the across-the-alley window of a handsome neighbor, Lorenzo (Raoul Bova, the heartthrob in “Under The Italian Sun”). Lorenzo’s and Giovanna’s paths cross when she is delivering pastries to a pub and he retrieves Simone, who has wandered away from Giovanna’s car. The fire between them is immediate and intense and with Simone as the catalyst, Giovanna decides to take a risk. It may sound as if “Facing Windows” is your basic love triangle, but there’s major back-story involving Simone, a lost lover, a Nazi concentration camp and an act of heroism and self-sacrifice that Ozpetek and co-writer Gianni Romoli weave in through a series of flashbacks and hallucinations. Brilliantly acted by all in the cast, “Facing Windows” is a masterpiece. You can stare out your window at the world, but life all depends on what you do with what you see. — By Ralph Patterson


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