Directed by the Pang brothers (Hong Kong twins who gained notice for The Eye) this last gasp at Asian-inspired horror has plenty of gotcha moments and twitchy pale-skinned ghosts crawling across the ceiling, but never rises above the derivative. A family of Chicagoans moves to North Dakota to start a sunflower farm. The sinister old house hides a violent past. Haunted by disturbed and disturbing spirits, the troubled teen daughter slowly uncovers the farm’s dark secrets while her parents fret about her inability to adjust. Whatever promise the Pangs brought to the project is undone by the tired mechanics of Mark Wheaton’s script. Lifeless dialogue and incoherent plotting frequently undermine the brothers’ carefully constructed mood. If you stumbled across The Messengers one night on Encore you might stick around long enough to see where things were going. Or not.
Director Ali Selim’s Sweet Land is not just another sunshiny ode to the rustic splendor of the plains, but a canny exploration of loneliness, community and the immigrant experience at the root of America’s family tree. The film works well thanks to the outstanding cast, led by Elisabeth Reaser’s luminous performance. She’s a true revelation as Inge, a beautiful and spirited German mail-order bride in 1920, who steps off the train with her phonograph player tucked under her arm, and into a buttoned-down Minnesota farming town that isn’t sure what to make of her.
In this unfunny romantic romp, Keaton, with the fashion sense of Minnie Mouse, is relegated to one of the darkest corners of moviedom — lame romantic comedies in which she can play either an overbearing mother or a sex-starved middle-aged woman. Here, she’s a hollow version of both. As Daphne, Keaton’s a controlling single mom who has pushed her three grown daughters to find love, but neglected her own personal life. She’s directing all of her energy into finding the right mate for the youngest and only unwed daughter, Milly (Mandy Moore). Milly, however, also lands a date with musician and single dad, Johnny (Gabriel Macht), whom we clearly see is Mr. Right. Much of the movie revolves around Milly making up her mind between the two men, and Daphne getting over herself. Is it more disappointing that the star of Annie Hall is now reduced to a caricature, or that director Michael Lehmann, who brought us the wicked fun of "Heathers," hasn’t been able to repeat in nearly 20 years?