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The Wicker Man chimes in from the latest screening of Sam Raimi's THE GIFT

Hey folks, Harry here with the latest on Raimi's THE GIFT. It's looking like Sam is going to get this film ready in time for release this fall. This marks the second test screening of the film I've heard of thus far. And we should be having a couple of additional looks at how it's coming along by Monday or Tuesday. However, it looks like Raimi is very much in line to deliver yet again. Man... he's doing Spider-Man.... Cool. And this is cool as well...

Hey Harry,

The Wicker Man here with a bit of kewlness by my side. I happen to get the chance to see the upcoming Raimi flick, "The Gift" last night in CA. Now, originally I'd heard he was going to go into "Spider-Man" and then do post-production on this film, but apparently it's going full force. All I knew is that when I heard Sam Raimi was working with a script by the "One False Move" team of Billy Bob Thornton and his partner Tom Epperson, I was hooked immediately, having loved "A Simple Plan" and being sorely upset at its poor marketing and subsequent lackluster response.

So I'll try to put this all into words without giving anything away. I'll keep the plot description to a minimum.

Let me first start off with a clear feeling on "The Gift". This movie, well, I'm still not quite sure if I know what Mr. Raimi has on his hands, but it's scary as hell and will give you the willies. Raimi is further proving he is the man for dark and provacative mainstream projects and I'm more and more convinced of "Spidey's" imminent greatness. Burton who?

I think this is best summed up as a movie of surprises. Not just in the way the frights are executed but in the way we're used to seeing some of these actors. The setup is that Cate Blanchett is Annie, a widowed fortune teller in a southern town with three children, making a living by reading into the lives of some very troubled locals, including Giovanni Ribisi and Hillary Swank. Her abilities are ridiculed by the town until they come into play in an investigation of the disappearance of one particular local (I won't say who). Greg Kinnear plays a local schoolteacher and Katie Holmes his fiancee, with Keanu Reeves as Swank's crazed husband. Annie gets involved with the investigation only to learn that she may be a victim of it.

The performances are downright powerhouse. Ms. Blanchett truly has the gift of accents. She does a great job as a woman who finds herself both trying to do the right thing and protect her children at the same. She is virtually in most of the film's shots and keeps a cool head in the midst of madness. Greg Kinnear is very effective as he plays a man torn up by loves present and lost (although he seems to slip in and out of a southern accent for no apparent reason), and Katie Holmes, plays against the "Dawson's Creek" sweet-type in a small role filled with utter tactlessness. Hillary Swank has only some small screen time as a client of Annie's, but she's simply so interesting to watch regardless that her role works and is played out well. Gary Cole and Michael Jeter turn in solid performances as town legal eagles.

But Keanu Reeves and Giovanni Ribisi, well they just flat out scared the hell out of everybody and really made the creep factor what it is in "The Gift". Keanu plays one SOB so mean that you will not soon forget his performance. He bullies anyone and everyone around him. It's a risky type of role to play, but he flat out nails it (The girl behind me knee-jerked my seat every time he came onscreen). Giovanni is a troubled mechanic and his role sort of can be closest-described to Donnie Wahlberg's character in "The Sixth Sense", only Ribisi makes Wahlberg look like a well-adjusted person by comparison.

At first, the film had an ending I didn't like at all. But on the way home, the more and more I thought about it, the more it seemed to make perfect sense to me. The direction is wonderful, as is the scenery (there were a little too many establishing shots of trees, as with the cornfields of Lynch's "The Straight Story"). The script just kicks ass and under Raimi puts the good stuff in all the right places. The one problem I ultimately came away with was that Blanchett's abilities as a card reader are very poorly established, but that's not where she has most of her visions anyway. You really don't get much insight as to the method of card-reading which is a missed opptunity with Blanchett's character.

So yes, "The Gift" scares hard. It's super coolness as it is now, will be even better upon release. I think it's one of those little surprises like "Stir of Echoes" was last year. Now Paramount dropped the freakin' ball with "A Simple Plan", let's see if they can get it right this time and do Raimi some justice.

Burn on sayeth The Wicker Man

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