Archive for January, 2008

Untraceable

Posted: January 29, 2008 in Film Reviews
Tags:

LOG-ON JAM: (From left) Peter Lewis, Tyrone Giordano, Diane Lane and Billy Burke in a scene from Untraceable. (Photo: John Bramley/Sony Pictures)Untraceable is a new age thriller rooted in suspense and technology; unfortunately, it unmasks the killer too soon and deconstructs the mystery predictably.

Special Agent Jennifer Marsh (Diane Lane) works with her partner Griffin Dowd (Colin Hanks) within the FBI’s cyber-crime unit in Portland, Oregon. The branch’s task is to troll the Internet and crack down on credit card fraud and sexual predators. All is business as usual until they receive a tip pointing to a new website: killwithme.com. The ‘Net savvy executioner begins with the torture of a kitten to test the viability of his site before moving to human subjects. Having established the website’s popularity among surfers, the next murder is accomplished with their assistance: the more hits the site gets, the faster the victim dies. Moreover, with an acute expertise, the website has been made utterly untraceable.

As the killer continues to broadcast the horrific deaths of his captives, he also taunts the agents with clues implying a local suspect. When he makes the investigation personal, Marsh is forced to muster all her talent and know-how to stop him before he can kill again.

Obviously the film is timely, with the FBI’s cyber-crimes unit having been established less than 10 years ago and the Internet playing such a large role in our professional and recreational lives. Furthermore, websites featuring graphic images of suicide, maiming and other real-life gore have only multiplied and gained popularity since their creation.

On the other hand, this film is really just another example of torture porn; the victims expire slowly and graphically for the viewing pleasure of the audience – both within and outside of the narrative. This phenomenon of realistic torture on screen exploded with the success of the Saw and Hostel films and has been reproduced numerous times since. Thus, is this film exploring the subject and bringing new light to the trend and society’s value of life or just spreading the disease?

The film establishes a good level of intensity at the start of the investigation as the agents team with Portland Detective Eric Box (Billy Burke) to uncover the killer’s identity. At the start, the audience follows the clues along with them, building suspense. In addition, the exponential increase of the number of people logging on to the site is astonishing and appalling. However, as the story continues, the mystery begins to unravel for audiences even though the authorities are still clueless; then, suddenly, an unfinished phrase leads all the pieces to fall into place.

On a positive note, the casting was spot on. Lane portrays the hard-working single mom trying to balance work and home to a T. Hanks perfectly represents the geeky but loveable “Griff” and Burke plays the sexy, brooding detective typically well.

If you are one of the millions who would log on to killwithme.com, you will appreciate the creativity of the tortures displayed on screen. In addition, the top two-thirds of the film are intriguing. But the predictability of the latter third tends to subtract from it’s value as a suspense thriller.

Advertisements

Mad Money

Posted: January 19, 2008 in Film Reviews
Tags: , ,

WORKIN’ HARD FOR THE MONEY: Katie Holmes, Queen Latifah and Diane Keaton in a scene from Mad Money (Photo courtesy of Alliance Atlantis)If you discovered a foolproof method of stealing thousands, even millions, of dollars, the question becomes not would you do it but for how long.

Bridget (Diane Keaton) is an upper middle class corporate wife but when she suddenly finds herself on the verge of losing her house, her lack of job skills leads her to accept the only job she can find: cleaning lady at the Federal Reserve Bank. However, once there, she discovers she has more in common with the other lowly workers than she thought – mostly, their shared need of money.

Bridget’s desperation and unauthorized observations lead her to devise the perfect plan to steal bundles of worn-out cash before it is destroyed. But to make her plan work, she needs the help of two other underestimated employees; it is a three-woman job. Approaching Nina (Queen Latifah) and Jackie (Katie Holmes) with the idea is risky but it really pays off. After all, “crime is contagious.” Of course, all it takes is one mistake and the whole thing can fall in upon them.

Mad Money is a different take on the caper film, replacing the male protagonists with clever women and focusing on the aftermath of the heist rather than the preparation and particulars of the robbery. The success of their plan is not reliant on high-tech gadgets, but rather commonsense and resourcefulness. Although the comedy that ensues from the blending of these different personalities may not stand up to that of Ocean’s 11, it is nonetheless entertaining.

This film definitely benefits from good casting, as Keaton, Latifah and Holmes mesh believably while representing each of their characters perfectly: the ingenious housewife, the strong single mom and the ditzy free spirit, respectively. Furthermore, the supporting males, whom include Ted Danson, compliment each of the women nicely and Stephen Root is just the right kind of creepy as the always watching head of security.

The story idea is great, based on the British screenplay Hot Money. The pain of watching that much money shredded on a regular basis begs for a plan to save some of it. In addition, it is easy to identify with because everyone’s had cash on the brain at some time (or most of the time) and everyone’s thought about it at least once: a million dollar cheque passes through your hands at work, the armoured truck stops across the street for a pickup and the you think “if only…”

In case you are wondering, 7,000 tons of paper money, $10 billion US is destroyed annually.

Fortunately, this Mad Money does not have to be saved for a rainy day.

Golden Globe awardThe lavish ceremony was cancelled but the Hollywood Foreign Press Association persevered, still announcing the award winners via the NBC Golden Globe “Winners’ Special,” a live-telecast from the Beverly Hilton Hotel. The subdued show was hosted by Nancy O’Dell and Billy Bush, whose comments on winners and losers were inane and unsolicited.

[Ed. note: The U.S. ratings reflected that, too, with 5.8 million tuning in to the bare-bones broadcast — just a quarter of the award show’s typical average audience]

With most networks only now running out of new material to air, this was the first major effect of the Writers Guild’s strike to really hit viewers at home. And it sucked. It just was not the same without the glitz and glamour of red carpets and star power; the sappy, long, emotional acceptance speeches; and the shots of graceful losers applauding. The thought of the Oscars suffering the same fate is unbearable.

Nonetheless, despite the anti-climactic reveals, there were some clear winners and some surprise losers (ahem… Juno going 0 for 3):

First Sunday

Posted: January 12, 2008 in Film Reviews

First SundayFirst Sunday violated the eleventh commandment: thou shalt not waste my time.

Of course it was funny – some of the time. However, for the most part, the film is a sappy, regurgitation of the boys from the hood gone bad but saved by the good hearts of the community story.

Durell (Ice Cube) and LeeJohn (Tracy Morgan) are lifelong friends and petty criminals. When Durell finds out his son’s mother is moving to Atlanta unless she can get $17,000, he becomes desperate. However, agreeing to one of LeeJohn’s harebrained schemes only puts them $12,000 deeper in debt and in a direr situation. Out of options, the pair decides to rob the neighbourhood church, only to discover someone has beat them to the punch. Determined not to leave without the money, they hold the church folk hostage but leave with something more valuable than money.

The first act focuses strictly on the duo and setting up the story, which is laborious to get through. The pimped-out wheelchair antics are more trite than funny. It is not until the addition of the church-going characters that the movie becomes watchable and entertaining.

Ice Cube is the non-comedic, straight character, which he does well but still lacks substance. Conversely, Morgan’s character has failed to reach maturity and his performance is typical and, therefore, tiresome. Katt Williams is the film’s shining light as the flamboyant choir director who always has something to say. Michael Beach was a good choice for the dubious Deacon Randy, while Chi McBride seems underused as Pastor Mitchell. Nevertheless, filmmakers fittingly casted legend Olivia Cole as Momma T, the group’s wise and noble spirit. An oddity, on the other hand, is the appearance of comedian Rickey Smiley as Bernice Jenkins, who disappears in the next scene when everyone discovers they are hostages.

The story’s emotional arcs are somewhat too serious for the film; although delivered by Loretta Devine, they tend to be touching nonetheless. In addition, the filmmakers wisely avoid a preachy tone, concentrating more on general goodness and community outreach.

Overall, this is at the most a wait for DVD movie… unless you really like Morgan’s style of comedy or cannot wait to see Williams’ portrayal.

HE GOT GAME: Uwe Boll, from the set of In the Name of the King... in Vancouver. Photo credit: Jeff HitchcockLast October, before the premiere of his latest film, In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, I had a chance to sit down and talk with notorious German director and producer Uwe Boll. In addition to discussing In the Name of the King (which opens today and was filmed in Vancouver and other locations in B.C.), we talked about why he bases his films on video games, and his response to the widespread, brutal criticism his films often receive.

What can you tell us about In the Name of the King from your side of it?
It was for me, as a director, it was by far my biggest movie and it was the most money – over 60 million dollars – and, well, it was also the most relaxed shoot I ever had. If you have five cameras, you have a great team. I had Tony Ching from House of Flying Draggers and Hero for the fight choreography. It was all the great actors, also. It was over three and a half months long. Basically the story is: you have the normal farmer, his hometown gets robbed, his farm gets robbed, his son gets killed, his wife gets stolen and he wants his wife back and he recognizes after a while he will not get his wife back if he is not saving the whole kingdom basically. This is the story.

So it’s one of those classic “hero because he has to be” stories.
Exactly, it’s a classic story and I think the difference in this movie to similar movies is that you have a lot of great characters around him and all the characters have their own agenda. You have Burt Reynolds as the king, Matthew Lillard as his nephew, Ron Perlman as his neighbor, Claire Forlani as his wife, Leelee Sobieski as the daughter of the good wizard, John Rhys-Davies as the good wizard, and Ray Liotta as the evil one. This is like a whole crowd of interesting people and you want to follow each character arch.

Did you find it difficult choosing which character to really pay a lot of attention to, or did you try to balance it out?
The theatrical version is more focused on Jason Statham against Ray Liotta… the DVD version will be 40 minutes longer and in that 40 minutes we spend more time with the side characters and supporting people basically.

Was there any character that it hurt to cut scenes from?
I thought I really liked the cut of the longer version. It’s kind of more epic, slower, where you spend more time with the people, with the landscape, with the locations. I think the strong thing in Lord of the Rings was to spend time and to relax also after the action. In the theatrical version now, let’s say it’s a fast movie. And on the other hand it’s tough to get a three-hour movie in the theatre, so we are better off with that shorter version and I think we have everything in the shorter version, all the big epic things. The big special effects are in the shorter version and we lost basically whole set-up scenes and the aftermath scenes.

You already mentioned some of the names that are in the film. What was it like working with such an established, star-studded cast?
It was, first of all, impressive if you sit on set near certain stars or the big scenes almost everybody’s in. On the other hand, I think the stars were all very easy to work with and one of the big reasons for it I think is because of our other stars. It’s kind of like everybody has more discipline if more name actors are in the movie. There was nobody who came late to set, they had no star attitude, no perks, everybody got the same trailer, and everybody got basically no extras. And because it was an adventure movie, we shot a lot of time out in nature, in the Rocky Mountains, and everywhere so it would be a bad movie for a star who needs a private cook or something.