Friday, June 27, 2008


"He's hacked into my car's computer!"

So exclaims Diane Lane's character in the thriller Untraceable. I had heard all kinds of awful things about this film in the weeks around it's release, but I was surprised at how watchable it turned out to be. No doubt director Gregory Hoblit should get the credit for that after nice turns with Primal Fear and Frequency. Hoblit tried to class things up with a boring film Fracture that boasted the acting chops of Anthony Hopkins and Ryan Gosling. He (Hoblit) feels much more comfortable here with semi-implausible-land and a certain lack of decorum. Untraceable could've gone a different way and made this a sleazy whodunit that could creep into cult land, but instead you get a middling thriller.

Lane is on the case as Jane Marsh who is in the FBI cybercrimes division. Teamed with partner Griffin Dowd (Collin Hanks in all his post pubescent dorkiness) they mostly deal with losers who steal credit card info before stumbling onto a site where a cat is brutally killed live. Marsh wants to get the sonabitch on general principle, but the game is soon changed when the cat is replaced by a man. Enter Det. Box (Billy Burke - a Hoblit fav) as the Portland cop trying to find the missing man. The victim is being streamed live online where the more hits the site gets, the faster the man will die. The public start eating this shit up and the man soon dies. Will the cyberteam catch the killer or will the killer catch them? Probably both in a movie like this.

I have to agree with a writer from the AVclub in that this film would have been better served if the bad guy's identity was kept to the very end. And you also get that Untraceable was gonna get a little dirty with Lane's character spending a lot of time with the Detective. Random nudity from Diane Lane could only help differentiate between the rest of the ho-drum thrillers of this ilk.

A lot of talk was also given to the implausability of the plot... well duh it is a movie. Most of the twists require the same suspension of disbelief that you had to have to enjoy prior Hoblit films. What the film lacked was that complete go for the throat attitude that could have made this a perennial watch. Instead you get an average thriller that has a crush on the Saw films. Not as bad as you think... they should put that quote on the DVD box.


Thursday, June 26, 2008

Very Bad Things

Four friends:Moore(Leland Orser), Michael(Jeremy Piven), Adam(Daniel Stern), and Robert (Christian Slater) take their soon to be wed friend Kyle(Jon Favreau) on his bachelor party to Vegas. And next thing you know after a lot of booze and coke, Piven kills a hooker. Isn't that always how your Vegas trips end? The five friends fearing comdemnation of all of them decide to dispose of the body and act like nothing ever happened. Only things don't work out so easy.

Peter Berg's writing/directing debut Very Bad Things is a rather auspicious one. Berg is determined to make this a dark comedy no matter what... only the dialogue feels ad libbed and the situations seem forced. Whether or not the film works for you will no doubt be based on the assinine behavior of the friends the rest of the film. I didn't buy into any of it. Throw in some overacting from Cameron Diaz and an underuse of Jeanne Tripplehorn...and you get a mess!

Berg would later go on to make The Rundown, an adaptation of Friday Night Lights, and a not bad political action film The Kingdom. So it would seem he just needs someone else script to do. I'd be hard pressed to say any of the actors were that good, but I will say that Christian Slater does just about everything he can do to make his part work. Still... the second half just doesn't make any sense and is rarely funny. It does have a bizarre ending... and I'm not sure if that helps.



Toby (Michael Pitt) had been living for awhile off the street. He is running away from some sort of abuse when he meets Les (Steve Buscemi). Les is a papparazzi and at first wants no part of Toby. Soon Les likes having a guy to talk to and brag a bit about his work when in reality Les is just barely getting by. So Toby becomes Les's assistant on a job working the "Music Awards." Toby gets caught up in an entourage of popstar K'harma (Alison Lohman) and soon the two strike up a relationship. Toby finds his friendship tested as he wants to follow his love, while not losing his best friend.

Mostly this is the same song and dance about a loser who find someone who looks up to him. Toby has no other friends so he looks past the parasitic nature of his collarboration with Les. A talent director (Gina Gershon) soon "discovers" Toby on the basis of his tryst with K'harma. The story takes a dark turn later... that maybe doesn't completely jive with the tone of the earlier film. It seems from the convo with writer/director Tom DiCillo and Buscemi accompanying the film might shed some light on that. Some of the script was toned down and perhaps that is why it comes out of nowhere.

DiCillo and Buscemi first collaborated in Living in Oblivion back in the early 90's which was the toast of film fests everywhere. He has since whiffed on many a fastball with the failures of The Real Blonde and Double Whammy. Clearly DiCillo knows what is ripe for satire in show business. The problem with Delirious is that the jokes aren't all that funny and doesn't go for the jugular. Buscemi has just done something similar with Interview - which takes on a budding actress being interviewed by a "real" journalist.

What really works for Delirious is the cast. Buscemi is always spot on so put that aside. Michael Pitt and Alison Lohman are both at the top of the list in terms of good young actors. They both can bring a realness to the characters that you just do not get with most of the souless names coming out of Hollywood. Both Pitt in The Dreamers and Lohman in Where the Truth Lies, have staked their claim in the role of serious actors. Here they get the tone of the film and try to give more than the perfunctory performance called for from the script. You actually want these two people to end up with each other.


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Sherlock Holmes and the Scarlet Claw

More old school films here at TGE... this Sherlock Holmes tale come all the way from 1944! I was a fan of Sherlock Holmes stories since I was barely old enough to read. I've only seen some movie versions of Arthur Conan Doyle's most famous character and none of them were very good. On the advice of a collegue of mine, I decided to look back a few years. Directer Roy William Neall made a bunch of Sherlock stories in the twilight of his career and I selected The Scarlet Claw to start with. Sherlock (Basil Rathbone) recieves a letter from a dead woman (she was alive when she wrote it) and things are set in motion. Joined by Watson (Nigel Bruce), Holmes sets off to Le Mort Rouge in Canada. The town believes a monster is killing people on the swamps outside of town.

Of course in older stories it was logical to set up each character as a suspect. So you get led around through Sherlock's search from character to character with the full intention of red herrings everywhere. The climatic finish takes a turn from modern movies where the killer is not a major character... but I will leave it at that since there is more to it than just that.

The two leads are both accomplished actors and the direction is solid. The set pieces used are quite good for 1944 with some nice moody atmospherics. Even with modern effects today, there is nothing like a black and white film with some big ol' smoke machines. Filmgoers with an appreciation of older films with no doubt be satisfied with this film. However, if you are still b&w adverse, perhaps you should try something else.


Murder on the Orient Express

Going old school back to 1974 with Sidney Lumet's adaptation of Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express. Lumet managed an all star cast including Sean Connery, Ingrid Berman, Lauren Bacall, Martin Balsam, Jacqueline Bisset, Vanessa Redgrave (who was hot once?), Michael York, Richard Widmark, Albert Finney, and Anthony Perkins. Each plays a character that winds up as passengers on the Orient Express when a murder occurs. Albert Finney is Poirot - a detective for hire that finds himself asked to investigate the murder by his friend played by Martin Balsam.

Essentially this is a whodunit for the last hour plus. In the movie intro you get a sad story of a kidnapping gone wrong that would seem to figure into the movie's plot. As Poirot starts his inqury you begin to understand that previous crime even better. The actors are universally good except for Perkins and Bergman - which is strange coz Ingrid picked up an Oscar for her role.

Lumet is again quite simple in his presentation of the story. He never does anything too fancy with the shots. Lumet's technique is usually to cast right and then get the hell out of the way. This way of thinking works well here where the story is really the director. The climax isn't anything too mindblowing, but it does throw you something different.

The Orient Express sputters a little out of the gate, but once the murder happens things come to life. Nothing revelatory here, but a excellent chance to see so many great actors together.


Friday, June 20, 2008

Dog Soldiers

Director Neil Marshall made everyone's list of hot new directors with The Descent. A lot of people don't realize that he actually made a little gem of a horror film before that. Dog Soldiers succeeds as the same kind of small cast, small environment element that made The Descent work.

A squad of British soldiers are out on maneuvers in the Scottish highlands when they encounter a camp of slaughtered commandos. What could possibly do such horrible butchering? Oh yeah... it's werewolves. The soldiers are quickly on the run when they find a local woman (Emma Cleasby) who seems a little too quick to help. Everyone retreats to a small house in the woods to try and hold out til morning.

People might be turned off by the low budget. You aren't going to see cool effects or big action sequences, but you will get a throwback to old horror films like Night of the Living Dead. Actors Sean Pertwee, Liam Cunningham, and Kevin McKidd are all solid as the co-leads for the budget. You never get a feeling that Marshall skimped anywhere except on the blood and guts.

So bottom line, either you can handle or embrace low budget horror or you can't. If it is your thing you are gonna love Dog Soldiers. It lacks the nice cinematic eye Marshall would later show, but for 100 mins you get a good time.


Second Skin

Sometimes you give a movie a chance for no particular reason. I can't really say one thing made me watch Second Skin. My boy Angus McFayden stars as Sam and the gorgeous (but not so good as an actress) Nastasha Henstridge is Crystal. Cystal applies for a job at Sam's bookstore and is promptly hit by a car. With the trauma to her head, Crystal is left not sure who she is or where she is running from.

This type of film is only gonna work if it goes one of two ways. Either you've got to be exceedingly clever with the narrative ala Memento or you have to go erotic-thriller. Director Darrell Roodt decides to split the difference and completely miss everything. One only has to look at Roodt's filmography to know that this is his forte.

Natasha has not real nudity of any kind and Angus seems to be sleep walking through his character. The plot has no surprises... so in the end. There's no reason at all for this film to even be made.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008


As a child of the 80's, I was raised on Arnold, Chuck, and Stallone. The first three Rambo's occupy spots on my DVD shelf and are for me a national treasure. Thou shalt not speak ill of Rambo in my house. With that being said, I was pretty pumped when Netflix delivered the newest addition to the series. I knew in my head not to expect too much coz after all its been 20 years since Rambo 3.

The fourth film finds out disallusioned vet working in some shit infested town along a river outside of Burma. Two missionaries (The Soprano's Paul Schultz and Dexter's Julie Benz) hire John to take them up river to help the people of Burma. Rambo warns the do-gooders that the only help the people need is guns. Of course, our hero's prediction comes true and the missionaries are caught up by the local military. So what's a killing machine to do? That's right... kill ever fucking Burmese soldier around and save Dexter's girlfriend.

R4 was directed by Sly himself... which explains why a lot of the killing is done by some mercs he knows. Matthew Marsden earns a top spot in the mercs no doubt due to his awesome performance in Anacondas 2....or not. The main problem is that Rambo has always been about one man versus everyone. This film seems to acknowledge the fact Stallone is getting old and lets some nameless characters have most of the fun. The action scenes are probably the most graphic you are ever going to watch. Limbs and heads explode everywhere... Dawn of the Dead has nothing on Rambo. Even the bad guys aren't established in any real way to get you rooting against them. For a film trying to create a "message" about the atrocities they sure don't spend a lot of time on that.

So I guess you'll enjoy Rambo 4 based on your expectations. If you are looking for a mindless action film with lots shit blowing up - you will probably like it. However, if you are looking for that same magic in the first 3 - that's not hanging around here.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Deer Hunter

So after that mad dash to finish the 2007 movie season via DVD, I got a little sidetracked by Lost. Seriously that show is like crack and I've fallen behind on actual films. I thought The Deer Hunter would be a good place to pick up the beat with it's longstanding status as a classic. Twas the winner of 5 Academy Awards and is largely to blame for director Michael Cimino's ability to get Heaven's Gate made. Most of the film nerds know that Heaven's Gate turned out to be a flop and a fiasco thus spiraling Cimino's career into the toilet. After watching The Deer Hunter for the first time, I have to wonder why people thought so highly of him. All the faults of TDH are largely to blame on the director.

Essentially this is the story of three friends from a small town in Pennsylvania that join the Army together to go fight in Vietnam. Michael (Robert De Niro), Steven (John Savage), and Nick (Christopher Walken) all seem unsure of their decision during Steven's wedding the weekend before their Army careers start. Complicating Michael's close friendship with Nick is their love for the same gal played by Meryl Streep. The three friends reunite in Vietnam right before they are captured behind enemy lines. The trials in the prison camp and ensuing escape will each affect the soldiers in different ways that will last forever.

Cimino takes foreeeeeeeeeeeever to get this story going with the opening act being 45 minutes of the fellas last weekend together at home. The wedding sequence is way too long with very little if anything happening except to establish minor characters in roles that do not matter to the overall story. Sure John Cazale and George Dzundza are terrific actors, but they have no importance to the main storyline and should have had their parts trimmed down.

The leads are all quite excellent in their respective parts. It is a pity that the opening sequence with all the great actors suffers from bad sound, innane dialogue, and bits of the wedding celebration that do nothing but draw attention away from them. If you get this kind of cast maybe you should... I don' know... FOCUS on them. John Savage to me is the most underrated actor of this bunch. His part is overshadowed here by the central friendship to this story. Savage is truly wonderful with the scraps the script gives him. DeNiro is pretty much just De Niro and he does do that well. Walken's part feels cut down too much with never allows you to understand the change in his personality. Which leads me to...


While taking all the time in the world with the first 45 minutes of film, Michael's trip over to Saigon to try and get his dear friend Nick back is done in barely 15 minutes. Plus you never truly establish that Nick's character would go into this life with the Russian roulette sect. I don't buy that the most grounded character, Nick, would suddenly become addicted to that life of one bullet, one kill. What may have seemed profound in 1978 feels very forced in 2008. This has to be one of the weaker entries in the Best Picture Winners in the grand scheme of things. Clearly the ending captured people and made this memorable, but alas the journey there is barely worth the ride.