Friday, January 25, 2008


I’m not a fan of torture porn which usually make as much sense to me as Nicole Richie‘s celebrity. These types of films throw logic and common sense out the window in favor of sadism, torture, violence and gore. A “good” one will make you uncomfortable and raise issues such as morality and social norms. A bad one will bore you to no end, cause you to wonder if it was written by mentally retarded insane people with low IQ’s, and make you feel sorry for everyone involved. Untraceable is the latter.

Jennifer Marsh (Diane Lane) is the head of an FBI task force focused on cyber crime. When a serial killer (Joseph Cross) creates a website that allows users to kill his victims based on page hits, Jenny and her gang go to work to catch him.

This film is riddled with so many issues it’s hard to decide where to begin. I don’t know if they used the same technological consultant as Firewall (read that review) but considering it’s back-assward logic and lack of technical understanding it seems likely.

Our killer, with no real training, is the world’s most unstoppable computer hacker who creates Internet sites which can’t be traced or shut down, designs elaborate traps and torture devices that are activated and affected by users around the country (but doesn’t allow foreign access), and hacks into cell phones, the FBI, and OnStar. And he can do this because?

This movie actually makes Firewall look plausible.

Those familiar with the genre of torture porn will get what you expect. Victims are trapped in overly-elaborate traps and we get to watch them die painful deaths. Joy. Sadly though it’s the audience who gets tortured. The story makes no sense, nor does the investigation which makes Nostradamus-like leaps in logic and plot to try and corral this wildly implausible tale. And even if you can ignore all the bad dialogue, script problems, and lame torture scenes, the film still fails to entertain in even the smallest possible way.

Lane gives a nice performance, as do Colin Hanks and Billy Burke as part of her team, but that’s far from enough to save this catastrophe from itself. You will groan, you will laugh (at the constant stupidity), and you will feel real pain (at having to watch), but you won’t be entertained, frightened, or amused. And if I haven’t steered you away from this witless wonder, and you are still curious, just wait six to eight months and pull it out of the bargain DVD bin (where it truly belongs).

Michael Clayton

“I’m not a miracle worker; I’m the janitor.”

Michael Clayton (George Clooney) is a lawyer, though not in the traditional public perception of the term. Michael doesn’t practice law, he doesn’t show up in court, and he doesn’t work on legal documents behind the scenes. Michael is the firm’s “fixer” who comes in to solve problems. Some refer to him as a miracle worker but in his own words he’s a bag man, a janitor who is called in to clean up the mess. And he’s the best at what he does.

The firm’s latest problem involves its senior litigating partner Arthur Edens (Tom Wilkinson), a manic depressive off his medication who seems to have lost his mind. After Arthur undresses in a deposition and proclaims his love to the plaintiff (Merrit Weaver) in a three-billion dollar case which in which he is defending U-North, a company who is merging with his law firm, Michael is sent to straighten his friend out. But the more time he spends on the case the more questions are raised about the cause of his friend’s behavior and the validity of the plaintiff’s claims.

The performances are all top-notch. Clooney carries the film and the supporting cast from Wilkinson, to Weaver, to Sydney Pollack are all worth mentioning. Tilda Swinton, as the head honcho for U-North is the only character who I found a little thinly written. Although the entire company is complicit in their crime the film highlights her as a lone villain in the piece and forces her to make continually odd and increasingly illogical and evil choices (which no one questions or seems to have any trouble following).

The film also contains subplots which include Michael’s failed bar, his rocky relationship with his brother (David Lansbury), and his son’s (Austin Williams) obsession with a book. None of these three threads are explored as exhaustively as I would have liked but each adds something to the picture of who Michael Clayton is.

My major complaint with the film is in the editing and scoring of the film. The film begins with a short sequence designed to illustrate the type of person and lawyer Michael Clayton is before jumping back into a prolonged flashback which takes up 80-90% of the film before coming back to these original scenes. Although I understand the reasoning of using this scene to showcase and introduce the character, I’m not a big fan of this technique and would have preferred to simply learn about who Michael Clayton is over the course of the film. Using this scene from later in the film also brings up some editing issues. The scene where Michael drives home from his meeting with a client through the woods includes an ominous background score that doesn’t fit the scene (that is until we see the reasons behind it over an hour later into the film). I found it odd and distracting and a little insulting for the film to use the score to tell me how to feel and when to feel it rather than simply to help enhance and tell the story. I can only assume someone thought the writing wasn’t strong enough to stand on its own in certain sequences (or was too lazy or incompotent to make necessary changes when scenes were moved or repeated), and that’s a shame.

It’s not great film, but it is a very good one. Although I had some issues with the Michael Clayton, the story and acting make it an easy recommendation. The film made #14 on my best films of 2007.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Sydney White on DVD

“Does anyone know another word for douchebagery? I don’t want to repeat it a third time.”

Amanda Bynes stars as a Sydney White, a girl raised by her plumber father (John Schneider) who goes away to college and has a hard time fitting in as she pledges her mother’s sorority. The movie follows a basic structure of Snow White with the young girl fighting off a witch (Sara Paxton), meeting a Prince (Matt Long), and eventually moving in with seven odd fellows. For more on the basic plot of the film check out the original review.

Not all things improve with multiple viewings, as Sydney White can attest. It’s not quite cheesy enough to be a guilty pleasure and certainly not smart enough to take seriously. And the extras provided here on this one-disc collection are actually harder to watch than the film itself.

“Sydney and Her Prince,” “Kappa’s Forever?,” and “The Original Dork” featurettes all show cast and crew gushing about how much the love each other and what a wonderful experience making this film was for each of them. You’ve seen these types of “features” before, although this DVD sure seems intent on making understand how great all these people are. None of these give you insight on the cast or crew and they run dangerously close to propaganda (but after being stuck in this turkey I understand the need for some self-promotion).

The DVD also includes two featurettes about the dorks - “Meet the Dorks” and “Welcome to the Vortex.” The first gives the dorks a chance to mug for the camera and talk about how awesome it was working with the other dorks, and the second appears to have been set-up to travel the set of the dork’s home, but doesn’t show us anything new or travel around the set due to the constant interruption of the nerds themselves. Also included are some forgettable deleted scenes, a short featurette on the Snooze the puppet, and one of the most boring blooper reels I’ve ever sat through. There’s nothing here to add to add value to the DVD.

You sort of want to like Sidney White. It’s filled with nice people, it’s sweet and goofy, but it’s as appetizing as a year-old rice cake. If you are a 7 to 13 year-old girl you might find some fun here. From script to DVD Sidney White comes off as a cute girl trying to get through life on her looks alone and unwilling to put in anything more than the bare minimum token effort on anything else.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Cassandra's Dream

“We’re crossing the line Ian; there’s no going back from this, I tell you.”

Ian (Ewan McGregor) and Terry (Colin Farrell) are brothers living outside their means. Ian has dreams of running hotels in California and a new expensive girlfriend (Hayley Atwell). Terry has a wife (Sally Hawkins) and a sizable gambling debt. Stuck in a situation without any alternatives the brothers reach out to their wealthy Uncle Howard (Tom Wilkinson) who agrees to give them the cash they need in exchange for one simple favor - murder a man who is set to testify against him (Philip Davis).

If this sounds familiar you probably saw Sidney Lumet‘s Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead released earlier this year which involves a similar tale of brothers in financial difficulty choosing to commit a crime. The film is also very similar to Woody Allen‘s earlier films Crimes and Misdemeanors and Match Point (read that review) without adding anything new to the equation. The film is well done and the story is engaging enough, but we are constantly noticing we have seen this all done before, and done better.

Much like the new remake of Sleuth this film is more a curiosity than anything else. The only interesting piece of the tale is the casting against type of both McGreggor and Farrell. It’s kind of interesting to watch McGreggor play the hard ass and Farrell play the conscience of the film. Although this makes for a cool acting exercise for both of them it isn’t really enough to carry the film.

Cassandra’s Dream isn’t a bad film, it’s just one that we’ve seen many times before in both story and style. At this time of year it’s hard to find quality movies at the theater and Cassandra’s Dream certainly qualifies as a well-made film. But it doesn’t really qualify as a well-made Woody Allen film. If you’re curious enough give it a try, but otherwise head to the video store and spend a little less on one of his other, better, films.

27 Dresses

Jane (Katherine Heigl) has a great job, and a man she adores. The problem is George (Edward Burns) is her demanding boss who doesn’t think of her romantically. Jane’s life is further complicated by a reporter (James Marsden) secretly doing a story on her and the appearance of her younger sister (Malin Ackerman) who immediately hits it off with George.

I don’t know if there is actually a book entitled “How to Make a RomCom,” but if so the these writers have read it cover to cover. Every cliche is present, the disinterested right guy, the animosity to meeting the really right guy, the embarrassing situations, the betrayal, the miscommunication, and the inevitable happy ending. The film even goes farther with wacky cab rides and bad drunken karaoke.

Nor does the story make that much sense. Both of the men here are complete jerks. Her choices are they guy who constantly takes advantage of her and never takes her feelings into account, or the guy who goes behind her back, lies to her, and makes a mockery out of her life. Ladies get in line to snatch up one of these prize hubby candidates.

About half-way through the film there exists a scene between Heigl and Marsden where she tries on all the bridesmaid dresses she owns and talks about being a bridesmaid. Somewhere, hidden deep down, in this is an interesting tale of a woman who gives so much of herself and makes everyone else’s dreams come true. There’s actually something there that might make the center of a good film. Sadly that’s lost among the bad jokes, groans, and pratfalls. And for a comedy there sure isn’t much to laugh at. There ware a couple lame attempts that got a chuckle from me, but only one genuine laugh from the entire film. I won’t ruin that one moment for you in case you are forced to see this film, though if your girlfriend drags you to this you might want to reconsider your options.

The quote above comes from the film. If only Hollywood would take it to heart and stop making these generic movie in a box tales filled with lame humor, stupid characters, “funny” coincidences and humiliations. You’ve seen it all before, and you’ll see it all again. Actresses seem cursed with having to make these films as some kind of rite of passage. It’s almost as if the studios want to see how bad of a movie an actress can carry without destroying her career. If she makes it through maybe she gets better scripts and if not she becomes Kate Hudson.