Monday, January 28, 2008


Although outside my normal viewing preferences, the Goose really wanted to see this since it was filmed in Portland. I figured I would go along and try to figure out which cop was helping the bad guy in a "major plot twist". As it turned out the major plot twist was there was no major plot twist. It was just one guy who was the bad guy, the viewers knew who he was relatively quickly, his motivations were known, and who his victims would be were known.

Untraceable follows Jennifer Marsh (Diane Lane), an FBI cyber crimes agent in the FBI. Interestingly, she starts out by ordering the FBI to "knock down a door" in Eugene. Interestingly enough, over a credit card stolen online, the FBI feels compelled to take out a SWAT team to high tech no-knock break down the door and scare the family out of their wits. Now, I am no expert on FBI methodology...but that seems pretty aggressive of a reaction for identity theft. Over the top, unnecessary...and it immediately established the heroes of the piece as bullies and over reactors. I do not believe that was the INTENT of the was meant to show her talent at finding, identifying, and capturing the bad guys....but it was certainly the RESULT.

Not too long after a website called "Kill With Me" is tipped to them. She watches a cat killed. The killing intensifies as more viewers join. She proves unable to track the origin of the web cast. Later, instead of a cat it becomes people.

As the FBI tries to find this guy...missing rather obvious lines of inquiry such as power consumption, by the way...the movie tries to establish camaraderie between Griffin Dowd (Colin Hanks), Detective Eric Box (Billy Burke) and Marsh. It fails miserably. They just seem bored more than anything.

Eventually the rather tenuous link of why these people are being murdered is established and it is just a matter of catching Owen Reilly (Joseph Cross), though of course he first must capture Marsh to provide her a chance to escape his death trap and kill him live on his internet broadcast.

The movie feels more like a piece of anti-sick website propaganda than a movie designed to be entertaining. There are numerous monologues about the evils of disseminating these things but them being viewer driven (thus establishing there are people who, for whatever reason, DO want to see it). Now, I am not into the "torture-porn" type movies. Saw a few minutes of one of the Saw train wrecks and frankly found it stupid and repellent. Never saw Turistas or any of the Hostel series and never felt any desire too. Conversely, a lot of people never felt the need to watch some of my favorite movies either...Surf's Up, TMNT, Transformers, The Simpsons Movie for example...and I have no beef with that. Different people, different tastes. But they also did not feel compelled to make a movie protesting those movies while centering their protest on doing the same thing.

Untraceable makes heavy use of disturbing images. Furthermore, while protesting the dissemination of information and images about deaths it makes heavy, heavy use of them and lets a lot of people know about them. I did not know that there were websites in existence showing people's suicides, for example, prior to this movie. Now I do. Interesting protest...bringing awareness to that which you want people to not know about. It even showed maybe a half dozen or so times the suicide that provides the incredibly cheesy and unbelievable motivation for Reilly.

Memo to Gregory Hoblit; if you don't want people to know about this stuff then don't make it the centerpiece of your movie. Just sayin'...

So let's see; weak, unbelievable story with bad acting, counter-productive dialogue and images, a predictable story arc...I wonder how I will rate this train wreck?

Sunday, January 20, 2008

27 Dresses

I suppose I should not admit that I enjoy romantic comedies. After all, they are supposed to be "chick flicks". But let's look at some of the benefits of watching them. First off, there is ALWAYS some magnificent eye candy...Jessica Alba (Good Luck Chuck, 2007), Jennifer Garner (13 Going on 30, 2004), Gwyneth Paltrow (Shallow Hal, 2001), and so forth. Bonus; in all the referenced movies the women in question are scantily clad in multiple scenes. Of course, on the downside sometimes you get blindsided by a Jennifer Lopez (Maid in Manhattan, 2002) or a romantic comedy that neglects the comedy like No Reservations (2007) did. It is hard to believe there can be nothing attractive about a movie starring Catherine Zeta-Jones but they managed it.

Well, despite the occasional dud for the most part romantic comedies have a few laughs, a decent story, and some attractive girls in the legal least so they have something to offer. I had not seen a lot of previews for 27 Dresses (2008) but after a stressful week of "vacation" (link coming soon) we needed some time to ourselves and away from the mini-terrorists so we chose that over the horrendous looking First Sunday (2008), Mad Money (2008), or Cloverfield (2008). On the bright side, after the shockingly bad In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale (2007) it would not take much to amuse me and bad can a movie be when you are allowed to...nay, encouraged to, guided by the camera to look on the lovely Katherine Heigl?

The story has few is pretty much a grouping of familiar characters from the cynical, unliked yet attractive soon-to-be boyfriend Kevin (James Marsden), the doting and wonderful father who is still a bit clueless, and the gorgeous, talented, sweet heroine Jane (Katherine Heigl). It also mixes in predictable situations...such as the "oh, we like the same song so we must like each other" scene, the mis-step by the wannabe boyfriend that he needs forgiveness for, the ultimate reconciliation...

In other words, it is about exactly as advertised. There are some pretty good laughs in it, such as when Jane says, "It is like finding out your favorite love song was written about a sandwich" and the scene where she wrecks her sister's engagement party and ends that marriage before the wedding, there are some sexy scenes...I concur with the view that it is hard to find an outfit that looks bad on Heigl...and it entertains from beginning to end. This isn't a movie that will be replayed every Valentine's Day the way A Christmas Story (1983), It's A Wonderful Life (1946) and so forth are every Christmas season...but it is certainly better than most current offerings and quite entertaining.

In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale

For the last couple of decades there have been numerous movies based on video games. There have been some that were very entertaining...say, Mortal Kombat (1995) and some that were an embarrassment whether they were based on a video game or just completely new...I think Super Mario Bros. (1993) or Street Fighter (1994) would be the leading poster child for that. Then there are some that are in between...Doom (2005) is a pretty good example. The thing is, seldom does the story line make for a good movie. Mortal Kombat has a tremendous storyline for a fighter game...not so much for a movie. People pair off and fight. As a movie, the storyline is basically pit fighter porn. Yet somehow they made it work.

Dungeon Siege is a line of strategy games with a story that seems pretty strong as movie source material. Indeed In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale (2007) has a very strong story line. It has the lost prince, the heroic everyman, the dark and mysterious enemy, the beautiful heroine in peril, the redemption of the downtrodden...and it is able to work within the fantasy setting.

The movie benefited from a very strong cast. Jason Statham, Ron Perlman, Ray Liotta, John Rhys-Davies, Burt Reynolds...they gathered a strong cast. But there was Statham as Farmer was excellent. Matthew Lillard as the whining, simpering Duke Fallow, on the other hand, seemed out of place. He did not fit the gritty image projected by the backbone players of the movie. Burt Reynolds looked like a community theatre actor. Ray Liotta seemed cheesy and off-kilter. In short, the acting was abominable.

The story itself ended up being full of holes too egregious to ignore. For example, Farmer (Jason Statham) is a far superior fighter to King Konreid (Burt Reynolds) or even his elite Commander Tarish (Brian White), as is Norick (Ron Perlman). Norick is loosely alluded to as having at a long-lost point in time perhaps been a military man, though that is by no means certain, but all agree that Farmer has never had training. Why then is he so good at it?

The story makes too much use of the "Author's Hand" to move the story along. It makes no sense why they need to cross the river on the bizarre rope bridge, for example, though the scene itself is among the most entertaining of the movie. The road show portion of the movie is simply loosely connected adventures with no way of appraising how they contribute to the chase of the Krug, nor to how Farmer, Norick and friends...none of whom mourn the slaying of parents, grandparents, children, friends...know where the Krug are heading with their captives.

The movie also fails in the final duel between Gallian (Ray Liotta) and Farmer. To distract Gallian and allow Farmer to enter the secret lair of the mages, powerfully locked to keep all but mages out, the King's Magus Merick (John Rhys-Davies) battles him in one of the more entertaining wizard duels in the history of cinema where each mage mentally wields 5 or 6 swords simultaneously.

When Farmer sneaks in through a convenient vast "air hole" cave...some wizard lock, guys, well done...he confronts Gallian. Inexplicably, despite having earlier specifically addressed his lack of belief in fair play, Gallian then wields but one sword and goes mano a mano with Farmer. Uh, okay. Nonsensical, completely violates the internal consistency of the movie...but I guess you have to do what you have to do.

This review has really jumped all over the place which is fitting because so does the movie. It randomly reveals vital information mere minutes from the end of the movie...such as the fact that to be able to wield magical power Gallian has to be serving a king, which leads to his having declared himself King of the Krug...a great plot twist except you only find out it is a plot twist about 30 seconds before the twist so it has no impact...never establishes why a powerful magus like Gallian would have anything to do with a simpering dolt like Duke Fallow, forces the action with bizarre journeys, has a final battle that directly contradicts the plan that led to just Merick and Farmer invading the base of Gallian...this movie was a train wreck.

On the bright side, the battle scenes were good. Okay, I said something good about the movie, I am done here.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Charlie Wilson's War

I was not hugely interested in seeing this movie. First, it has the over-rated, annoying Tom Hanks starring in it. Second, it continues the vast wing conspiracy to pass Julia Roberts off as attractive. Third, it is a history based flick about events that somewhat revise what happened. However, traffic considerations and free popcorn at Regal conspired to lure me in. Well, that and withdrawals...I had not seen a flick this year.

It started poorly. Lots of drugs and strippers which Congressman Charlie Wilson (Tom Hanks) somehow is uninterested in while being fascinated by a televised report on Afghanistan by Tom Brokaw. If he was indeed the drunken lecher portrayed in this movie that is internally inconsistent. Of course we as movie viewers know it is poetic license to show both sides of his personality but still it set my teeth on edge.

Enter Gust Avrakotos (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the CIA guy whose career is being crushed by his new superior. We first meet Gust having an expository yet hilarious blow-up with his boss. As a result he ends up on the Afghanistan desk.

Enter Texas wealthy woman Joanne Herring (Julia Roberts). She summons Wilson to a party she is having to raise awareness of the plight of Afghanistan, manipulates him into going to Pakistan to meet their president who convinces him to view an Afghan refugee camp. This gives Wilson motivation to help the Afghan rebels.

When he discovers the U.S. officials on the ground in Afghanistan don't care he heads home, demands and appointment with the CIA and meets Gust. Together with the influence of Herring they gain funding for the rebels, put together an unlikely coalition of Israel, Egypt, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia to change the money to guns and transport them to Afghanistan. With that weaponry the rebels drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan.

At the celebration party there is perhaps the greatest moment in the movie. Gust is trying to convince Wilson to maintain funding to Afghanistan, now for schools, hospitals, and infrastructure. When Wilson seems more interested in returning to the party he says "You need to listen to what I am saying to you." and then pauses as the sound of airplanes drones off behind them.

You are intended to connect the dots. The angry orphans of Afghanistan became the foot soldiers of Al Quaeda who flew planes into the World Trade Center. In that way the film seems to be arguing our job in Iraq is to make sure the infrastructure is rebuilt in Iraq before we leave...that they have schools, roads, hospitals, jobs...that they know we were their friends when Hussein was killing his enemies at will. Will people make that connection? I doubt it. Too many people have a blind, unreasoning hatred of Bush and anything he does they will critique and take the opposite stance regardless of what makes sense. At the same time, the U.S. has repeatedly shown we have no clue how to deal with Middle East politics.

The movie was surprisingly entertaining. Seymour stole the show with his quips and one liners (in response to a question about Afghan policy he replies, "Well, strictly speaking we don't have one. But we're working on it." "Who are?" "Me and three other guys." His droll delivery turns it into a hysterical moment and he does so many other times throughout the movie.

The sly references to Wilson's attractive and provocatively dressed female staff as "jail bait" also receives a chuckle.

Really, the movie only leaves one question up in the air: able to choose between Bonnie Bach (Amy Adams), "Charlie's Angels" (Wynn Everett, Mary Bonner Baker, Rachel Nichols and Shiri Appleby), and Herring (Julia Roberts), who in their right mind would pick Roberts? It is obvious Wilson was near-sighted...