Monday, January 28, 2008


UNTRACEABLE (Gregory Hoblit, 2008)

Careful where you click online. You might be tempted into becoming one of the millions of accomplices to a murder, or so the sluggish thriller UNTRACEABLE would have us believe.

Portland FBI cybercrimes agent Jennifer Marsh (Diane Lane) wades through the internet's dirty corners looking for spoofers and phishers preying on the unsuspecting's personal data. Chat room pedophiles are more the domain of her colleague Griffin Dowd (Colin Hanks). The latest bit of nasty online entertainment to grace Jennifer's browser is a website featuring a live stream of a kitten being tortured.

As the theory goes, serial killers begin with animals and advance to humans. Sure enough, it isn't long before the site shows a restrained man with superficial cuts on his chest. The more people who visit, the faster an anticoagulant is released into his bloodstream to hasten his bleeding to death. Unable to shut down the site, the agents watch in horror as the hits go up until the victim succumbs.

The killer in UNTRACEABLE continues to employ novel methods for interactive murder, and millions in the surfing public seems more than willing to play along in his deadly game. Adding to Jennifer's distress, the perpetrator knows where she lives and breaches her home computer.

Like Jigsaw in the SAW films, UNTRACEABLE'S boogeyman is a scold who holds up a mirror to society's ills. He arranges death chambers and puts the onus on those who visit his site, automatically making them participants in his twisted enterprise. Obviously such moral grandstanding is laughable. His hands are far from clean. The problem with UNTRACEABLE is that it is guilty of the same hypocritical fingerpointing. It lures with the promise of horrible torture scenes and then reprimands the viewers for wanting to watch. (For what it's worth, the violence is not as graphic as the torture porn films of the past couple years.)

UNTRACEABLE goes into hysterics about what is on the internet, which makes it hard to take seriously no matter how much computer terminology the characters use. If the filmmakers were less concerned about portraying such an outlandish scenario, it might have scored points worth making. Whether it's how much of our lives are available online or the easy access and potential temptation of anything imaginable at our fingertips, there is a case to be made about the negative consequences from the worldwide web's lack of boundaries.

Brushing aside the story's huge logic gaps, UNTRACEABLE is guilty of being uninvolving. It comes up short as a character study and a mystery. Lane is fine as the cybercrimes agent, yet in spite of the character details she's given, there's simply nothing to Jennifer. The killer's identity is revealed fairly early, although his motivation isn't explained until later. Still, none of that information makes an impact. The procedural elements are given their due diligence and presented with as much excitement as a sense of obligation entails.

Boring, hypocritical, and didactic, UNTRACEABLE is an exercise in tut-tutting the audience for being curious about the very stuff the film traffics in. Watching it is punishment enough. I don't need the sermon too.

Grade: C-

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Meet the Spartans

MEET THE SPARTANS (Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, 2008)

At the risk of praising with faint damning, MEET THE SPARTANS isn't the worst film I've ever seen; however, I'm not suggesting that this feature-length parody of 300 is good in any way. It's as unfunny and cheaply constructed as expected, but co-directors Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer set the bar so low with DATE MOVIE and EPIC MOVIE that they needed to reach NORBIT-like depths to provoke greater hatred for their latest work.

As in 300, Leonidas (Sean Maguire) and his fellow Spartans leave home to fight the Persians. Rather than engaging in hand-to-hand combat, they battle in a STOMP THE YARD-styled dance competition. That's pretty much the gist of MEET THE SPARTANS: borrow one film's framework to reference other movies and make fun of them in the lamest ways imaginable. Unlike many recent parody movies, at least this one has the semblance of a through line. Story is obviously unimportant, but an organizing principle in a sketch film like this is welcome. It provides clues as to how much longer the misery must be endured.

The shelf life for MEET THE SPARTANS is relatively brief. The film functions as a time capsule storing pop culture targets from November 2006 through September 2007. Although riffing on material no older than little more than a year, the filmmakers are at pains to explain anything the audience might have already forgotten. Don't recognize Ken Davitian as Xerxes? Never fear. The narrator will tell you that the character looks like the fat guy from BORAT (because it is!)

In essence MEET THE SPARTANS isn't terribly different from VH-1's BEST WEEK EVER, except for the lack of self-conscious irony and smugness. It stands above (or below) the culture and takes potshots at easy targets. The triumvirate of celebrity bad girls are mocked, Spartans are totally gay for each other, and reality TV judges are self-absorbed clowns. Finally, someone has the bravery to speak the truth!

Considering the humor's juvenile nature, MEET THE SPARTANS plays like something study hall students would scribble in their notebooks and pass around the table instead of doing their homework. Then again, that's not fair to the kids. They could probably write something funnier and more inspired than what passes for jokes here. It wouldn't take longer than fifty minutes to write.

MEET THE SPARTANS is so bereft of ideas that it pauses for ads, usually in the guise of poking fun at the commercials, and boasts two scenes with "I Will Survive" sing-alongs. (THE APPRENTICE/SPIDER-MAN 3 scene from the trailer is nowhere to be found unless I blacked out for a period or it popped up deeper in the end credits.) Find a friend and make wisecracks while watching ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT. You'll save the ticket prices and laugh a lot more.

Grade: F

Friday, January 25, 2008


RAMBO (Sylvester Stallone, 2008)

RAMBO muscles its way into theaters twenty years after Sylvester Stallone's last screen appearance as cinema's killing-est, flashbacking-est Vietnam veteran. John Rambo is now biding his time capturing snakes for a roadside attraction in rural Thailand, but it doesn't take long before he's back firing his compound bow into bad guys' eyes.

Christian missionaries from Colorado come to Rambo seeking his help in going up the river into Burma. They want to provide assistance to the Karen rebels engaged in a civil war with the Burmese army. At first he declines, but Sarah (Julie Benz), the lone female, eventually persuades him to pilot them.

An encounter with pirates doesn't deter the noble volunteers, so they forge ahead. Rambo safely delivers them to their destination, but it comes as no surprise when he receives word that the village where they were providing relief has been slaughtered. The aid workers are believed to be alive and held hostage by the military. Rambo is again employed to take some people into Burma on his boat, only this time a group of mercenaries sent to rescue his first passengers is on board.

In 2006 Stallone resurrected Rocky Balboa. As writer-director-star for RAMBO, he attempts to do the same for his 80s action hero. It's a different assignment, though. Stallone plays a character dealing with his mortality as Rocky. He occupies an ageless archetype seemingly impervious to death as Rambo. Stallone still has the physique to pull off both an aging boxer and one man army, but the former is a lot more interesting to watch than the latter.

Highly indebted to SAVING PRIVATE RYAN for its visual style in presenting combat, RAMBO is a passable action movie. The story is stripped to the basics, leaving plenty of room for the good guys, Rambo in particular, to turn the villains into something resembling the contents of a butcher's display case. RAMBO fulfills all promises when it comes to presenting carnage for the sake of it. Heads explode as easily as dropped water balloons, and mines transform their victims into a fine, bright red mist.

There's something distasteful, though, in how RAMBO uses the real life conflict in Burma to satisfy the audience's bloodlust. The film probably raises awareness of the southeastern Asian country's decades-long violence for many, but to what end does it aspire? It's unlikely that viewer response will be a letter-writing campaign to politicians about these atrocities. Lingering memories will most likely be the awesomeness of the variety of ways the Burmese soldiers are killed, not how awful that the army is doing what the film shows. (Also, I don't think you can attribute the pleasure taken in the screen revenge as wish fulfillment since the situation may be news to most seeing the film.)

Stallone opens RAMBO with news footage that graphically depicts the savagery the military unleashes upon the freedom fighters. To turn that into the background for escapist entertainment doesn't sit quite right. Qualms about RAMBO'S contextual appropriateness aside, this guns-ablazing movie works on a primal level, but stiff performances and a musty script has it firing its share of blanks too.

Grade: C+

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Weekend documentary: The Rape of Europa

I wanted to direct Columbus readers' attention to the Wexner Center screenings of THE RAPE OF EUROPA this weekend. Here's what I wrote about the film during my Cleveland International Film Festival coverage last March:
The doc is concerned with the Nazi plundering of art and cultural treasures during World War II and the measures that museum workers took to safeguard their precious collections. Workers at the Louvre and Hermitage cobbled together evacuation plans to keep their most important items from being stolen. Although decades in the past, the story continues with legal skirmishes waged over the rightful ownership of paintings taken at the time. The sheer volume of artwork the Nazis stole, hid, and destroyed is mind-boggling. In one sense, it's a miracle anything survived.

THE RAPE OF EUROPA also looks at the damage inflicted on architecture during the war and the repairs still being done today. Allied commanders had to decide what they would attack and bomb despite the historic or artistic value of the buildings. Information like this keeps the documentary fresh.

I wouldn't be surprised if THE RAPE OF EUROPA turns up on PBS or The History Channel at some point. It's a solid piece of work that presents a unique aspect about the war. The title suggests a bleaker film than it is. To be sure the loss of life in the war was a greater tragedy, but this film underscores the idea that valuable parts of culture and history were lost too.
Co-director Bonni Cohen will introduce the film on Saturday night. More information is available here.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

27 Dresses

27 DRESSES (Anne Fletcher, 2008)

Like the bumbling leading man in a romantic comedy, the movies have been looking for America's next sweetheart but haven't found her yet. For a time Reese Witherspoon appeared to be first in line as Julia Roberts' successor. Despite expectations, she never seemed to aspire to the title. Rachel McAdams was also poised to step into Roberts' shoes, but she has been absent from movie theaters for more than two years, an eternity in today's star-making machine.

So the role of the nation's favorite leading lady remains up for grabs. Katherine Heigl's delightful performance in 27 DRESSES indicates that it's hers for the taking if she wants it.

Heigl's Jane is the perpetual bridesmaid to friends, co-workers, and, as the 27 dresses in her closet suggest, any acquaintances who ask her. She accepts the attendant responsibilities with genuine happiness and interest, but one can sense that just once she would like to be the center of attention than in the supporting cast.

Jane's wedding day is anything but imminent, though. Every page of her Filofax is filled with bridesmaid duties that keep her busy and and unable to work on her personal life. A hopeless crush on her saintly and oblivious boss George (Edward Burns) is the extent of her romantic prospects, and even that infatuation evaporates when her younger sister Tess (Malin Akerman) snags the bland bachelor.

New York Journal society writer Kevin (James Marsden) spots Jane taxiing between two weddings on the same night. Upon finding her Dagwood-like planner, he becomes more intrigued in her dedication to the nuptials of others. In her Kevin sees a story that can release him from the drudgery of covering the weddings of the wealthy.

You can probably guess where 27 DRESSES is headed, and you'd be right. By their nature, romantic comedies are highly predictable because they provide the rush of discovering love that audiences seek. The characters may be prettier and richer versions of ourselves, but they share our foibles and fumblings and overcome them, as we hope will happen in real life.

Jane is the viewer's stand-in, so it's silly to criticize the film for acting as though men wouldn't be knocking down her door. The character proves to be a kind, confident woman with more heartache than she'd like but an optimistic attitude nevertheless. (Lest her perfection become overbearing, she's paired with a wonderfully snarky Judy Greer in the thankless best friend part.) Heigl smashes this softball of a role out of the park. How could she not endear herself to the audience?

Aline Brosh McKenna's screenplay constructs 27 DRESSES as more of a character piece, which offsets a good deal of the story's predictability. The indicators of a boilerplate romantic comedy are visible, but they aren't given much significance. For that matter, Jane's inevitable romance with Kevin seems almost an afterthought, which spares us from the genre's maddening habit of generating massive shockwaves from tiny, easy-to-fix misunderstandings. Since the film concentrates on having fun with the character than getting to her destination, it seems more effortless. Even the clichéd public sing-along--Jane and Kevin belt "Benny and the Jets" in a bar--is playful and amusing.

Bridesmaid dresses are notorious for being unflattering, single occasion garments. Although formulaic, 27 DRESSES wears well on its star. Whether it crowns Heigl as America's sweetheart or leaves her earthbound as another pretender to the Julia Roberts throne is up to the public.

Grade: B

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

There Will Be Blood

THERE WILL BE BLOOD (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)

Although his pipeline does not lead to God, oilman Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) possesses a prophet's gift for promising prosperity that will spring forth from the ground and rain down from the heavens. Upon finding his salvation at the bottom of a mine, a prospecting Daniel drags himself out of the earth and across the inhospitable landscape to follow his calling and earn his fortune. He may proclaim himself a family man and carry himself with religious conviction--not to be confused with religious belief--but make no mistake, Daniel worships mammon and will sacrifice anything for it.

Daniel's initial discovery in THERE WILL BE BLOOD pays off nicely. Within a few years he is running a successful operation, but real opportunity comes knocking when Daniel is offered a tip on some property where oil is believed to be plentiful and the owner is liable to sell the farm for a cheap price.

Sensing a big strike, Daniel and his son H.W. (Dillon Freasier) set out for the rural Little Boston. He has no difficulty persuading the Sunday family to sell him their ranch. The main concession he must make is to give financial assistance to a church that Eli Sunday (Paul Dano) wishes to build and lead. Before long Daniel gobbles up drilling rights in most of this rocky California desert land and appears well on his way to becoming filthy rich.

Beginning in a silver mine in 1898 and concluding in a lavish basement in 1927, THERE WILL BE BLOOD tracks the thirty-year descent of a man pursuing wealth at all costs. Day-Lewis' performance is one for the ages. Without a doubt, the ferocity he applies to this hateful man is responsible for much of his acting's power. Daniel savors his misanthropy and competitiveness like a lion feasting on a gazelle.

Electrifying as his monstrous moments are, Daniel Plainview isn't all bluster and scenery-chewing. Observe him as he sits back to size up everyone else, as he moves the focus from himself and onto those wishing to negotiate. He could sell water to a drowning man, but his skill is rooted in shrewdness in reading people and spotting their weaknesses rather than just talking a good game.

The ultimate scene in Day-Lewis' staggering performance comes when Daniel goes through the motions of pleading for Christ's forgiveness. He must put on a show so he can purchase a desperately needed slice of land. There's definitely a bemused quality in how he professes his desire to receive the blood and be cleansed. Yet there are glimpses of the vulnerability that he otherwise never allows to be visible. Daniel may be acting for the congregation, but the brilliance of this scene is how Day-Lewis slips in flashes of the character's acknowledgement that he knows he has not been a good father. It's devastating to witness and devastating for Daniel to feel. The rare soft cell he may have still had will turn hard from this point on.

Biblical in scope, THERE WILL BE BLOOD can be viewed as an etiological tale of contemporary corporate greed and the danger to organized religion when intermingling with capitalism, but the film is more compelling in how it connects to the past. The derrick functions as a temple near which the worker's tents are assembled and where sacrifices are given in the lives of the men killed on the job. So too does Daniel present H.W. as an offering. Never one to pass up exploring the fragile state of father-son relationships, writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson couldn't make it clearer what Daniel values when he abandons H.W. in his greatest time of need to bask in the eruption of oil and fire that rages like the spitting of an unholy beast in the bowels of hell.

On a formal level THERE WILL BE BLOOD is an astounding accomplishment. Cinematographer Robert Elswit finds beauty in the harsh panoramas and the blackness that emanates from Daniel. (The oilman's fireside declaration of misanthropy is devilishly lit.) Jack Fisk's detailed production design makes the era come alive so that the smell and taste of the air are tangible. Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood's dissonant score scrapes and swells like Daniel's distaste for mankind.

Anderson, of course, brings it all together with his superb direction and a screenplay he adapted from Upton Sinclair's OIL! The first reel of THERE WILL BE BLOOD is nearly wordless, a bold choice that Anderson uses as a turn-of-the-century update to 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY'S Dawn of Man sequence. He references other films--CHINATOWN and CITIZEN KANE most notably--yet this too is a way of showing the timelessness of the examined themes. THERE WILL BE BLOOD is a spectacular achievement that, at this early date, seems worthy to be mentioned alongside cinema's avowed masterpieces.

Grade: A+

Sunday, January 20, 2008

How to Read the Bible

Although this is a site primarily dedicated to writing about films, you'll notice that the subheader also allows room for "other ephemera", my tongue-in-cheek way of granting me space to expound upon other topics in pop culture. My subject for this entry certainly isn't ephemera. In fact, I feel pretty safe in saying that it qualifies as the ultimate popular culture work.

I'm speaking of The Bible, and no, my intention isn't to be glib. No matter how well known the book, song, film, or any other artistic/cultural contribution in history you can conceive of might be, chances are those creations don't come close to being as widely exposed or having as much influence or relevance as the Good Book, especially in Western civilization.

I expect that some of you may already be rolling your eyes and wondering if I'm going to get all churchy on you when you just want a review of THERE WILL BE BLOOD. (My unqualified rave is forthcoming, if you're curious.) My aim is not to evangelize but to work out my thoughts on James L Kugel's book How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now. It set my head spinning for the month I needed to dig through it, and believe it or not, some of Kugel's writings did make me reflect upon film criticism. So this won't be as off topic as you might consider it.

First, though, I feel like I should lay my religious background on the table. I was raised as a regular churchgoer in Protestant denominations and continue to identify as a Christian and attend church. Like many, I am not anywhere near as familiar with the Bible as I probably should be. Unlike many, belief and faith have not been difficult for me. I have always been uncomfortable with demonstrative displays of faith that are wielded like a cudgel.

That brings us to How to Read the Bible, a doorstop-sized book in which Kugel explains how ancient interpreters came to understand these holy writings and how modern biblical scholars from the 19th century onward apprehend these old texts. In this way the author compares and contrasts two critical schools of thought that work from premises not unlike how I approach films for review. More on that later.

I should point out that the Bible under discussion here is the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament. Kugel asserts that the ancient interpreters approached the text with what he calls The Four Assumptions:

1. The Bible is cryptic by nature, so it is up to the interpreters to locate the hidden meanings.

2. The Bible collects lessons intended for readers in their own time despite appearances of the book as history.

3. The Bible does not contradict itself or contain any errors.

4. The Bible is a divine text.

Modern biblical scholarship is heavily influenced by Benedict Spinoza, who proposes a different tack from the ancient interpreters. He suggests:

1. "All knowledge of Scripture must be sought from Scripture alone."

2. Scripture must be understood on the basis of its original language and way of perceiving the world rather than how we see things today.

3. Scripture should be interpreted literally unless contradictions within it reveal such things to be metaphorical.

4. Meaning can also be uncovered by studying the historical context of the writings and how they were assembled.

5. Prophetic teaching are often contradictory, so it is more important to focus on their points of agreement.

Perhaps I have misunderstood something here or have not paraphrased these rules correctly because it seems to me that the first point calls for sticking solely to the text while two of the others call for extra-textual assistance.

I find it interesting that the ancient interpreters' perspective seems to be the prevailing view even today. While it might be easy to typify this as the fundamentalist approach, I think that you wouldn't get much argument in any pews on Sundays regarding three of the four criteria. There might be less consensus on Scripture's cryptic nature and the need to find hidden meanings. Still, we're talking about an approach that is thousands of years old and ingrained in us without our knowledge.

On the other hand, the modern biblical scholarship method makes perfect sense to me. Of course many of the stories are etiological and not intended to be read as historical fact. Of course it is entirely logical to read these texts within the context of the times in which they were written. Of course there are errors and contradictions in the texts through, in no small part, the absence of vowels and punctuation in the original writings and the inevitable mistakes and intentional alterations made in generations of transcribing and translating. None of this makes the Bible less valuable or less true.

Yet if the Bible is the living word of God, doesn't modern biblical scholarship consign it to the history or mythology sections? I don't think so, but I can understand why some would feel that way. My response is how else can we make sense of what we're reading, especially the parts most foreign to our everyday lives, without the context in which it was written?

Here's where I step aside and compare this with my methods as a film critic. The text--what is on celluloid or encoded in ones and zeroes--is of primary importance; marketing campaigns and filmmaker quotations during the publicity rounds don't (or shouldn't) factor into my evaluation of the work. What is on screen is there because someone intended for it to be there. Those extra-textual things that matter are the context within which films are made and how they interact with other works. (These considerations are particularly critical when reviewing old films.) I am looking for the viewpoint of the creator rather than attempting to impose my interpretation of what is before me.

I suppose what's most interesting about my approach--not a unique one, in my opinion--is that it mixes ancient and modern interpretation. Back on point, Kugel would argue that the two are not compatible, but he's speaking in terms of biblical scholarship.

There's also the idea of whose meaning is most important in a text. Is original intent or what becomes attached to it more valid? Song of Solomon likely originated as erotic poetry, yet over time it became read as the relationship between God and humanity than a man and a woman. The original meaning is overtaken by what the readers find in it. Which one is correct?

The question of authorial intent and ownership versus reader/viewer appropriation and interpretation is certainly as much an issue today, although less is at stake. Fanboys wail whenever George Lucas tinkers with the STAR WARS films because they see the movies as belonging to them. To the joy of some and chagrin of others, J.K. Rowling reveals backstory secrets from the Harry Potter universe that aren't explicitly in her novels. How much truer is her vision if such details aren't in the texts?

If you're wondering where I'm going with all this, so am I. The book inspired a lot of thought and moved me deeply, but trying to put it all together, especially when combining it with film critic elements not in the book, is a difficult undertaking. Good thing this is a blog and not an academic paper.

Kugel's book is a lot to absorb. Frequently it confirms what I believe about reading the Bible, but it also challenges what I've taken for granted in my understanding of it. The author says early on that How to Read the Bible may be upsetting to some readers. Moses and other biblical heroes may not have been real. The Exodus probably didn't happen. Stories and laws bear unmistakable similarities to the legends and codes of other societies, which certainly challenges the perception that these were divinely given to a chosen people. Earlier portions of the Bible recognize monolatry more than monotheism.

Although I can certainly understand why some would be taken aback, I didn't find How to Read the Bible to be disturbing. Instead I found it to be a comfort, even if it can be unsettling at times. In general it fits with my understanding of the Bible. Kugel answered several questions I had about parts I've thought were confusing. His book has given me reason to engage in the worthy pursuit of examining why I believe what I believe.

Sneakily enough, he's also persuaded me to want to take a closer look at his subject. Kugel isn't really practicing criticism, but like a good critic, his writing makes me want to check out the book he's writing about. Rather than risk being like Tom in Metropolitan, who prefers to read criticism of Jane Austen's novels than the books themselves, I ought to read the Bible now that Kugel has provided the necessary tools.

If I've given the impression that How to Read the Bible is impenetrable academic scribblings, purge such thoughts from your mind. For such a weighty book, it's very accessible. I dare say it's a page turner. It's rare to encounter anything that could or does change one's life, and I hesitate to give Kugel's book such credit, if only because that's a lot to heap on it. I wouldn't go so far as to say that reading it makes me feel like a different person, but I believe that How to Read the Bible has stimulated thought and opened my eyes to a collection of texts that have been an organizing principle in my life while being largely shrouded in mystery. I'll leave it up to you to decide if that's life-changing.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Bucket List

THE BUCKET LIST (Rob Reiner, 2007)

Rob Reiner's directorial career has been producing diminishing returns for quite some time. RUMOR HAS IT..., ALEX & EMMA, and THE STORY OF US, not to mention the notorious flop NORTH, are far cries from his work on THIS IS SPINAL TAP and THE PRINCESS BRIDE. Considering Reiner's track record this past decade, one can be forgiven for expecting the worst from the tear-jerking comedy THE BUCKET LIST. Terminal cancer patients setting off on a grand adventure to live life to its fullest? Ick.

Filthy rich hospital owner Edward Cole (Jack Nicholson) and wise, soulful mechanic Carter Chambers (Morgan Freeman) share a room in one of Edward's institutions. Although Edward could afford and desires a private room, he needs to be accommodated like the commoners so that he doesn't bring charges of hypocrisy and bad public relations to his business.

The two men are little alike. Carter is a family man who receives regular visitations from those he loves and who love him. Edward is estranged from his daughter and not on good terms with his ex-wives. Personal assistant Thomas (Sean Hayes), who makes sure his employer is well supplied with expensive coffee and gourmet take-out meals, is his only guest.

Aware that his remaining time may be shorter than he wishes, Carter scribbles a list of the things he would like to do before he dies: a bucket list, so named because the tasks on it are to be accomplished before kicking the bucket. Edward derides the idea as cutesy, an exercise best left in a philosophy class. Discouraged, Carter discards the plan.

When both men are informed that they have six months to live, a year tops, Edward changes his mind and asks Carter to accompany him on a worldwide jaunt that will allow them to have some fun before they die. Why sit around waiting to croak when there's skydiving, car racing, and globetrotting to the pyramids, the Himalayas, and the Taj Mahal to be done?

If given the opportunity, who wouldn't want to embrace their last months with courage and an adventurous spirit; however, THE BUCKET LIST portrays rapid health decline as a playground of earthly delights. It feels more than a little dishonest--and unattainable for most people--to watch these men indulging in the high life with just the rare acknowledgement of their illnesses. The travel itinerary they keep would test the physical stamina of those in peak condition, yet off Edward and Carter go like strapping young men. Doctors are nowhere in sight.

Also largely out of the picture is Carter's devoted wife Virginia (Beverly Todd). She's relegated to the margins, a quiet reminder of whom Carter is leaving behind while he gets his kicks. THE BUCKET LIST chalks up Carter's seemingly uncharacteristic choice to empty nest syndrome, but it's a tough pill to swallow. Carter is a saint and a sage whose true purpose is to improve Edward's life rather than come to terms with his own mortality. Freeman has played the spiritual mentor role so many times that it is beyond a cliché. He's good playing the part, but that doesn't make the character believable.

Although THE BUCKET LIST shouldn't sit well on the stomach, it goes down as easily as meals through an IV. The film coasts on the inherent likability of its stars, which explains why a funeral scene is throat-constricting even though such emotion is undeserved. Reiner banks on Freeman's fatherly decency and scalawag Nicholson's redemption to get the tears flowing. THE BUCKET LIST is more effective than it has any right to be. Then again, how hard is it to draw out empathy for actors with screen personas that appeal to us no matter how phony the scenario?

Grade: C+

Friday, January 11, 2008

6th annual Central Ohio Film Critics Association awards

Here's the press release I sent to publicize the Central Ohio Film Critics Association 2007 awards:

No Country for Old Men finds home atop 6th annual Central Ohio
Film Critics Association awards

(Columbus, January 10, 2008) Joel and Ethan Coen's No Country for Old Men was named Best Film in the Central Ohio Film Critics Association 6th annual awards, recognizing excellence in the film industry for 2007. The film also won four other awards, including Best Director and Best Screenplay-Adapted (Joel and Ethan Coen), Best Supporting Actor (Javier Bardem), and Best Ensemble. Juno, which finished third on the Best Film list, was awarded two prizes, Best Actress (Ellen Page) and Best Screenplay-Original (Diablo Cody).

Two past COFCA award winners were acknowledged again. Daniel Day-Lewis was named Best Actor for his portrayal of a turn-of-the-century oilman in There Will Be Blood. Cate Blanchett was selected the Best Supporting Actress for her performance as the mid-1960s Bob Dylan in I'm Not There. Day-Lewis won COFCA's inaugural Best Actor prize for 2002's Gangs of New York while Blanchett was named 2004's Actor of the Year.

Other individual winners include: Actor of the Year Philip Seymour Hoffman for his exemplary work in Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, Charlie Wilson's War, and The Savages; Breakthrough Film Artist Sarah Polley for Away from Her's direction and screenwriting; Óscar Faura for Best Cinematography for The Orphanage (El
; and Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová of Once for Best Score.

Other honored films include: The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters for
Best Documentary; The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) for Best Foreign
Language Film; Ratatouille for Best Animated Film; and Air Guitar Nation for
Best Overlooked Film.

Founded in 2002, the Central Ohio Film Critics Association is comprised of film critics based in Columbus, Ohio and the surrounding areas. Its membership consists of more than 25 print, radio, television, and new media critics. COFCA's official website at contains links to member reviews and past award winners.
Winners were announced at a private party on January 10.

Complete list of awards:

Best Films
1. No Country for Old Men
2. The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen)
3. Juno
4. Once
5. There Will Be Blood
6. Lars and the Real Girl
7. 3:10 to Yuma
8. The Savages
9. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
10. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Le Scaphandre et le papillon)

Best Director
-Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men
-Runner-up: Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood

Best Actor
-Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood
-Runner-up: Ryan Gosling, Lars and the Real Girl

Best Actress
-Ellen Page, Juno
-Runner-up: Amy Adams, Enchanted

Best Supporting Actor
-Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men
-Runner-up: Ben Foster, 3:10 to Yuma

Best Supporting Actress
-Cate Blanchett, I'm Not There
-Runner-up: Emily Mortimer, Lars and the Real Girl

Best Ensemble
-No Country for Old Men
-Runner-up: 3:10 to Yuma

Actor of the Year (for an exemplary body of work)
-Philip Seymour Hoffman, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, Charlie Wilson's War, and The Savages
-Runner-up: Josh Brolin, American Gangster, Grindhouse, In the Valley of Elah, and No Country for Old Men

Breakthrough Film Artist
-Sarah Polley, Away from Her (for directing and screenwriting)
-Runner-up: Ellen Page, Juno (for acting)

Best Cinematography
-Óscar Faura, The Orphanage (El Orfanato)
-Runner-up: Roger Deakins, No Country for Old Men

Best Screenplay – Adapted
-Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men
-Runner-up: Paul Thomas Anderson, There Will Be Blood

Best Screenplay – Original
-Diablo Cody, Juno
-Runner-up: Tamara Jenkins, The Savages

Best Score
-Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, Once
-Runner-up: Dario Marianelli, Atonement

Best Documentary
-The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
-Runners-up (tie): In the Shadow of the Moon and No End in Sight

Best Foreign Language Film
-The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen)
-Runner-up: The Orphanage (El Orfanato)

Best Animated Film
-Runner-up: Paprika

Best Overlooked Film
-Air Guitar Nation
-Runner-up: The Lookout

COFCA offers its congratulations to the winners.

Past Best Film winners:

2002: Punch-Drunk Love
2003: Lost in Translation
2004: Million Dollar Baby
2005: A History of Violence
2006: Children of Men

For more information about the Central Ohio Film Critics Association,
please visit or e-mail

The complete list of members and their affiliations:

Kevin Carr (, ; Nick Chordas (The Columbus Dispatch), Bill Clark (; Nikki Davis (Columbus Alive); John DeSando (90.5WCBE); Johnny DiLoretto (Fox 28 WTTE); Chad Dull (The Other Paper); Frank Gabrenya (The Columbus Dispatch); Jordan Gentile (The Other Paper); Kaizaad Kotwal (C Magazine, Gay Peoples Chronicle); Kristin Dreyer Kramer (; Joyce Long (820 WOSU); Rico Long (820 WOSU); Clay Lowe (90.5 WCBE); Colin Mack (freelance); Hope Madden (The Other Paper); Paul Markoff (WOCC-TV3); David Medsker (; Neil Miller (Film School Rejects); J. Caleb Mozzocco (; Lori Pearson (,; Mark Pfeiffer (Reel Times: Reflections on Cinema; WOCC-TV3); Margaret Quamme (The Columbus Dispatch); Dave Redelberger (WBWR-The Brew @ 105.7); John Ross (Columbus Alive); Melissa Starker (Columbus Alive); Jason Zingale (

Monday, January 07, 2008


ATONEMENT (Joe Wright, 2007)

For 13-year-old Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan), an overactive imagination, a busybody's curiosity, and a youthful misunderstanding of what she observes are all she needs to commit a sin that will haunt her forever in ATONEMENT.

Like most adolescents Briony is a little too pleased with herself and harbors a crush on a young man, but these are not crimes. One afternoon she spots housekeeper's son Robbie Turner (James McAvoy), the object of her infatuation, in what appears to be a confrontation with her older sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley).

Later Briony's nosiness gets the better of her when she tears open a note Robbie asks her to give to Cecilia. He mistakenly encloses a lewd message instead of the more formal letter of affection he handwrote. For a girl in 1935 England, the contents are positively shocking. As if all this isn't plenty for one day, Briony stumbles across Robbie and Cecilia making love before dinner.

By this point Briony is convinced that Robbie is a sex maniac. When she comes upon an adult male assaulting her cousin Lola (Juno Temple) in the shadows, she incorrectly believes that Robbie must be the offender. Her eyewitness account is all that is needed for him to be hauled to prison.

Robbie and Cecilia will not meet again until three and a half years later. She is a nurse tending to the war's wounded. He has agreed to enlist as an army private stationed in northern France rather than remain in jail. Their passion is undiminished, and the possibility of a life together after World War II exists. Meanwhile, Briony (Romola Garai) has bypassed university to be a nurse too. It's her way of doing penance for the grievous error she now realizes she made, although news of this sacrifice hardly redeems her in Robbie and Cecilia's eyes.

In his first two feature films, ATONEMENT and his marvelous 2005 adaptation of PRIDE & PREJUDICE, director Joe Wright has demonstrated a remarkable ability to tell stories using the entire cinematic language. He's particularly keen at utilizing sound to express key qualities. The buzzing bee, which eventually draws Briony's attention to Robbie and Cecilia by the fountain, is heard early in the scene as a hint of her mounting frustration. The repetitive clacking of a typewriter, the most important sound in ATONEMENT, is matched with a flickering light, an indication of the writer's ability to illuminate and obscure the truth. The sound design also heightens the smallest noises, like the flicking of a lighter or tapping of an envelope, to make the environment feel alive.

Wright loves the nuance of non-verbal communication and what it reveals about relationships and emotions that dialogue does less eloquently. This is a tactile film, so it follows that he is drawn to close-ups of hands. Robbie's reaction when Cecilia gently places her hand atop his while his other hand stirs a cup of tea is as expressive as a close-up of their faces could have been. Considering Wright's fondness for hand shots, it is not surprising that one of the most telling signs of Briony's long-held guilt is the furious scrubbing she gives hers at the hospital.

Non-verbal cues are not always properly read, though. Briony's declining opinion of Robbie hinges on misinterpreting the gestures, posture, and expressions in the disagreement she sees from her bedroom window. He appears commanding and angry from her vantage point, but when the scene replays closer to the action, Robbie's manner and Cecilia's glare reflect the intensity of their repressed feelings for each other.

All this focus on the details is not to ignore the cast's stellar performances. The revelation is Ronan in her first major film role. She plays Briony's blind self-confidence and self-righteousness as the product of her age and upbringing. Certainly it doesn't mean that the character is blameless or sympathetic. Briony is a complex role, and Ronan challenges our willingness to forgive her. Also worth noting is the brief appearance Vanessa Redgrave makes in the devastating coda. Wright just has to fix the camera on her and let the veteran actress do the rest.

From the precise sound design to the sprawling tracking shot of the evacuation to Dunkirk, Wright attends to the small and the large with a masterful touch. ATONEMENT is an exquisitely crafted film bursting with the possibilities that cinema has to offer.

Grade: A

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Margot at the Wedding

MARGOT AT THE WEDDING (Noah Baumbach, 2007)

Margot (Nicole Kidman) and Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh) are not the closest sisters, and a reconciliation hardly seems imminent in MARGOT AT THE WEDDING. Margot is a fiction writer whose work liberally borrows from her family members' least proud moments. That explains the long chill in their relationship, but Pauline offers an olive branch anyway when Margot comes to visit. It makes little impact as Margot would rather use it to beat her sibling.

Margot and her son Claude (Zane Pais) have traveled to the island where her parents' home, now owned by Pauline, will host her sister's wedding. Pauline will be marrying Malcolm (Jack Black), an unemployed schlub who occupies his time writing letters to the editor. Needless to say, he is easy pickings for Margot's withering opinions.

Writer-director Noah Baumbach's last film, the divorce dark comedy THE SQUID AND THE WHALE, depicted domestic fallout in painstaking detail, but MARGOT AT THE WEDDING takes psychological warfare and familial hostility to a higher level. The film portrays a deeply dysfunctional and unsympathetic lot who spit darts at each other as naturally as breathing. They do so in the name of honesty and openness, which makes them blameless in their eyes.

Baumbach remains skilled as ever with well-turned lines and stinging humor. If anything, the two years between films gave him time to sharpen his knives so the jokes would cut with greater precision. The laughs hurt, but one has to appreciate the artistry in such wicked wit.

Yet only so much nastiness can be endured without greater insight into the human condition, or at least these characters. We would flee from these people in everyday interactions. Being stuck with them for an hour and a half can be downright unbearable.

As a kind of theater of cruelty, MARGOT AT THE WEDDING is unarguably successful; however, after choking on laughs for a period, the question becomes whether Baumbach has anything to deliver beyond his misanthropic floggings. Little introduction to Margot and the others is needed to see them for the hateful people they are, but what is the point of subjecting us to this caustic environment if there isn't a larger idea behind observing it?

The ugliness extends to the visual palette. The film has the appearance of being shot through a polarized lens. Cinematographer Harris Savides gives an oppressive darkness to the images, a choice in line with the murky emotions clouding the air. The decision is artistically defensible, but it comes at the expense of leaving the already weary viewer feeling even gloomier. If it's possible to get seasonal affective disorder from a movie, this might be the one.

Ultimately, the matter of degree is what trips up Baumbach in MARGOT AT THE WEDDING. The problem is not that the characters are unlikable or totally unfamiliar. Indeed, their harshness and lack of generosity may be all too closely recognized, albeit in smaller doses. No, the trouble is that he has drawn caricatures incapable of self-editing and possessing shreds of decency that we would expect to find in non-sociopaths.

Grade: C+

National Treasure: Book of Secrets


When Mitch Wilkinson (Ed Harris) reveals a long-missing page from John Wilkes Booth's diary to the public, treasure hunter extraordinaire Ben Gates (Nicolas Cage) couldn't be more dismayed. His great-grandfather Thomas Gates is potentially implicated in the plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln.

In NATIONAL TREASURE: BOOK OF SECRETS Ben must again find and decipher the clues that will absolve his ancestor and possibly lead to a fabled city of gold that the Confederates sought. He reteams with technology whiz Riley Poole (Justin Bartha), adventure-seeking father Patrick (Jon Voight), and archivist and former squeeze Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger). New to the crew is his mother Emily Appleton (Helen Mirren), a Native American language expert whose acrimonious split from Patrick is as bitter as ever despite the intervening years.

Their search includes visits to Paris, Buckingham Palace, Mount Vernon, and Mount Rushmore and a most unlikely abduction of the President of the United States (Bruce Greenwood). The President is the only one with access to a secret book that is rumored to be passed from the nation's outgoing chief executive to the incoming. The book is a conspiracy theorist's wet dream, but getting one's hands on it is next to impossible. Since a key piece of information is probably in that book, Ben has to steal the President away for a short while and hope he's a good sport about it.

Like its predecessor, NATIONAL TREASURE: BOOK OF SECRETS plunders national monuments and documents for elaborately coded messages that will help the heroes on their mission. Any complaints about realism or the utility of these century-old (and older) methods of concealing information are beside the point. NATIONAL TREASURE and its sequel are intended to be rollicking, old-time adventures. They're about the thrill of the chase accompanied by rosy views of patriotism and history.

Director Jon Turteltaub and the cast march through the paces with enthusiasm, but there's one crucial problem amid the onslaught of riddles and historical mysteries. No, it's not that the characters know the answers to the secrets faster than Ken Jennings would buzz in at a sports bar's electronic trivia game. The audience's inability to participate in cracking the codes sucks a lot of the fun out of the process.

There's no way to outguess Ben and company because viewers aren't given the means to play along. Instead, it would be as though everything underneath a car's hood was disassembled and set on the garage floor. A mechanic would return everything to its proper place in record time and then turn around to ask, "Got that?" One can see how he attained the result but not have any real understanding of what was done. The film does the same thing. The process is broken down, but there's no way to arrive at those conclusions independently.

Unlike the Indiana Jones films, rough models for these movies, the characters don't capture our imaginations because there is little romance in their pursuits. They're shoved from location to location like stops on an assembly line. Practically a duplicate of the breezy (and bloated) original, NATIONAL TREASURE: BOOK OF SECRETS is not without charm, but it lacks the thrill seeker's joy of discovery.

Grade: C+

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story


From humble southern roots Dewey Cox (John C. Reilly) rises to the top of the music charts, hits bottom, and, of course, finds redemption in the end. WALK HARD: THE DEWEY COX STORY tells this familiar show business tale, but unlike other year-end, award-trawling dramatizations of celebrity success and suffering, this one is a goof on rags-to-riches biographical films.

Dewey sets hearts aflutter and ministers a-fulminatin' from practically the first chords his teenage rock and roll band strums at a talent show. Convinced to make a life of his own in music, Dewey and his soon-to-be wife Edith (Kristen Wiig) leave with stars in their eyes and Pa Cox's (Raymond J. Barry) harsh words nipping at their heels.

Sure enough, Dewey presses a hit record in no time flat, but accompanying his meteoric success are the usual pitfalls: orgies, drugs, and, when he and Edith separate, a fight for custody of the chimp. The primary other woman is Darlene Madison (Jenna Fischer), a virtuous backup singer who gets Dewey hotter than a pepper sprout. Through the decades she drifts in and out of his life as easily as Dewey changes styles, including a Dylanesque firebrand phase and endless studio tinkerer like Brian Wilson.

WALK HARD writer-director Jake Kasdan and co-writer Judd Apatow borrow the framework and story from WALK THE LINE. Bits of RAY and conventions from other biopic are included for good measure. Mostly, though, it's a scene for scene answer to the Johnny Cash film down to the way shots are framed and lit.

Direct, feature-length parodying of a single film runs the risk of punchlines being anticipated before the set-ups are made. Once WALK HARD'S corresponding WALK THE LINE scenes are recognized, many jokes can be predicted with ease. Sometimes it is funnier to foresee what's coming, but when the level fails to rise above the kinds of wisecracks a rowdy audience might sling at the screen, the humor needs to be freshened. (This goes double for the extensive wordplay riffing on Dewey's surname.)

The film is more assured when it makes mincemeat of tried and true biopic clichés. WALK HARD makes a mockery of actors unconvincingly playing a wide range of character ages, the overnight fame ascension montage (done here in an afternoon), and heavy-handed views of the past through the eyes of the present, often the most cringeworthy moments in period films. (Think of the confident professions of skepticism about something then unproven or unaccepted but now well-known or commonplace).

Reilly is game for anything Kasdan and Apatow throw at him. He deserves points for keeping a straight face in a two-shot close-up the likes of which won't be found in any other Hollywood films. Reilly also proves himself versatile as a singer, equally at ease with a ballad suited for Roy Orbison, upbeat rockabilly in the vein of Cash and Elvis, and a cryptic, singsongy Dylan tune.

What he lacks is a steady comedic partner. In WALK THE LINE June Carter and the romance were front and center with The Man in Black, but WALK HARD, focused more on stringing sketches than building narrative, underutilizes its potential lead actress. Fischer is called upon to do no more than look foxy as Darlene. Even her funniest scene, the subtlety-free, double entendre-dripping "Let's Duet", finds the actress lip-syncing.

Without question the film's highlights are the credible imitations of pop music spanning at least three decades. For all of the care and creativity put into WALK HARD'S original songs, the rest of the film feels less inspired and maybe a little lazy.

Grade: C

One Missed Call

ONE MISSED CALL (Eric Valette, 2008)

Cell phone radiation and talking while driving are the most commonly mentioned dangers associated with the mobile devices; however, no one ever raises the specter of receiving a portentous call that reveals the precise moment of one's death. ONE MISSED CALL proposes that voicemail messages from the future can be deadly, although using a cell while in the movie theater is probably a more realistic threat to one's well-being. (I'm looking at you, text messagers.)

Like a spammer with a new list of e-mail addresses, an evil spirit is blazing its way through cell phone address books to claim one life after another. The victim gets a call signified by a different ringtone. Caller ID shows the incoming message from the previous victim time stamped a day or two in the future. It's creepy enough to get a call from a deceased friend, but the voicemail, which contains the recipient's final words, is far freakier.

Beth Raymond (Shannyn Sossamon) feels helpless as she watches her friends get picked off during the course of a week. She knows it's only a matter of time until her number is dialed. Police officer Jack Andrews (Edward Burns) determines that his sister was the first victim in the chain, but tracing the source of the calls turns up more questions than answers. As the only believers in the phenomenon--others find it to be mere coincidence--Beth and Jack race to stop whatever malevolent force or being is at play.

The opening credits name Yasushi Akimoto's novel CHAKUSHIN ARI as the film's basis, but it is quite apparent that ONE MISSED CALL is a rip of Takashi Miike's 2003 movie. While it may be clichéd to proclaim the original foreign film to be superior, the fact remains that the Japanese pic contains more scares and intended laughs than this slapdash American remake.

Miike's film is no classic, but the workhorse Asian extreme director invested his version with enough dark humor and the grotesque to keep the conventional material (for him) reasonably entertaining. Eric Valette's ONE MISSED CALL is the latest in a string of J-horror yawners reliant on soundtrack stingers and questionable CGI effects in place of atmosphere and disturbing imagery. Valette's quotation of one of Miike's more striking and humorous images--a severed hand dialing the next victim--is on screen too briefly to register.

To its detriment this streamlined ONE MISSED CALL charges through plot points too. The dialogue is absurdly on the nose while failing to make the proceedings no clearer than they were in the original. The ending is a head-scratcher as well. Both films are similarly confusing plot-wise. In the end, the qualitative difference between the two is like receiving a personal phone call and one from an automatic dialer. The former has a better chance of holding one's attention than the latter.

Grade: D

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Worst Films of 2007

In my eleventh year as a film critic I gave myself permission not to feel as though I had to see every film to unspool in my friendly neighborhood theaters. Specifically, I targeted as skippable those films that might as well have offered money-back guarantees if they weren't awful. ("If this isn't one of the worst films you've seen, we'll refund your ticket!") Studios tried to help me out by not screening many of the likeliest duds in advance, although half of those making my bottom ten were shown to local press.

I went to the press screenings of expected stinkers. I also sought out the curiosities and disasters which I thought might be worth writing about or which beckoned me in spite of all the warning bells they triggered. I decided, though, that life could still be complete without seeing EPIC MOVIE or the latest Tyler Perry offerings. My list of the worst films of the year may not be as exhaustive as previous inventories, but trust me, there's still plenty of badness.

1. NORBIT (Brian Robbins, 2007)

I'd place NORBIT among the worst movies I've ever seen, so when it fouled theaters in February, it laid early claim to the dishonorable position of year's worst and never vacated it. Imagine a less preachy Tyler Perry-scripted live-action cartoon with Eddie Murphy playing a Napoleon Dynamite-like lead to get a rough idea of what this stunningly bad film is like. NORBIT is the kind of film that bounces stupid rays at those within reach of the light reflected off the screen. It's crude, mean-spirited, and deeply unfunny.

2. GOOD LUCK CHUCK (Mark Helfrich, 2007)

If ever there was a competitor for the the year's cinematic nadir, GOOD LUCK CHUCK was up for the challenge. Sex comedies are vulgar by nature, but the Dane Cook film left me feeling in need of a long chemical shower after watching it. America has been having a love affair with penguins at the movies, but that didn't mean anyone needed to see Cook performing cunnilingus on one in plush toy form.

3. FLANNEL PAJAMAS (Jeff Lipsky, 2006)

Misery equals truth in the view of this agonizing indie about a disintegrating romance. The uglier the behavior, the more honest it must be...or so the thinking goes. The Cassavetes-lite FLANNEL PAJAMAS features a completely unpleasant couple metaphorically tearing each other to shreds, yet there's nothing here to convince us that they should ever have been together or that they're decent people.

4. CODE NAME: THE CLEANER (Les Mayfield, 2007)

This dire comedy about an amnesiac Cedric the Entertainer deserves to be dropped in a vat of solvent to remove its stink. Directed by Les Mayfield, who helmed the equally horrendous THE MAN with Samuel L. Jackson and Eugene Levy, CODE NAME: THE CLEANER doesn't contain jokes so much as desperate flailing for attention.

5. I KNOW WHO KILLED ME (Chris Sivertson, 2007)

You would expect Lindsay Lohan to be consigned to garbage like this after her fall from grace, not before it, yet here she is in a B-grade thriller with Kieslowkian overtones that include doppelgängers, intertwined fate, and thematic use of color. Think of this as what the Polish auteur might have done if he had the good sense to also employ robotic limbs, stigmatic twins, Art Bell, and a twist ending that will BLOW YOUR MIND. This is much weirder than expected. All that and Lohan's Razzie-worthy perfomance made I KNOW WHO KILLED ME one of the funniest movies I saw all year.

6. DOA: DEAD OR ALIVE (Corey Yuen, 2006)

If junior high school boys wrote a cheesecake syndicated TV show and spun it off into a movie, the result would be DOA: DEAD OR ALIVE. When in doubt of what to do next in this action film about elite fighter babes, the camera ogles and caresses taut bodies and then turns to the umpteenth uninteresting fight scene with poor wire work. The preponderance of bad CGI and virtual sets does as much to highlight the film's tackiness as the fake tans and gallons of peroxide used to make up the actors.

7. ALIENS VS. PREDATOR: REQUIEM (Colin Strause and Greg Strause, 2007)

How hard can it be to screw up the main premise of a movie called ALIENS VS. PREDATOR? Pretty easy, as it turns out. There's an understandable problem when the eponymous characters don't speak, so you need some humans around for dialogue and such (although I wouldn't put it past Mel Gibson to make a film entirely in the Predator click tongue). Handing over the bulk of the movie to the soap opera exploits of dull people for whom we care not a whit is the wrong way to go, though. The dark, rainy action scenes are next to impossible to follow. Incredibly there's no big pay-off battle.

8. P.S. I LOVE YOU (Richard LaGravenese, 2007)

On her 30th birthday a widow begins receiving letters from her dead husband commanding her to follow his instructions as a means of dealing with her grief. Handled in the right way the concept in P.S. I LOVE YOU might have worked, but in execution it seems like he's being controlling from beyond the grave. Plus, the film gets off on the wrong foot by introducing Hilary Swank's Holly as petty and immature and then trying to get us to like her because her husband dies off-screen during the opening credits. Director Richard LaGravenese fails to find a consistent tone. The fluctuations may mirror a widow's confusion, but stabs at romance and comedy at the wake come across as being horribly out of place. While singer Nellie McKay's performance as Holly's sister has little bearing on the evaluation of the film, it's worth mentioning that her exceptionally odd work--she's like a drunken toddler--parallels P.S. I LOVE YOU'S overall tone problems.

9. GEORGIA RULE (Garry Marshall, 2007)

Sexual abuse, alcoholism....that's what comedy is made of, or so one would gather from GEORGIA RULE. Garry Marshall's tone deaf direction and Mark Andrus' sloppy script try to play the dramatic material for laughs. Their major miscalculation is compounded by keeping the truth about allegations of paternal molestation shrouded in lies and jokes for much of the film.

In keeping with the image she's buffed in the tabloids (and during the production of this film), Lindsay Lohan comes across as an obnoxious brat with a rasp seasoned from whiskey-guzzling and chain-smoking. To be sure, her party girl isn't supposed to be appealing at first, but the film builds up so much ill will toward her that sympathy is hard to come by when it might be deserved.

10. CAPTIVITY (Roland Joffé, 2007)

What would my worst of the year list be without a horror film, particularly one of the torture porn variety? This could just as well be Rob Zombie's HALLOWEEN remake or HOSTEL: PART II, although it's a sign that the disreputable genre is already passé when this year's entries failed to fire up my righteous indignation to the level that prior films fueled it. I don't know that CAPTIVITY is the worst of the lot--take your pick, they're all pretty dreadful--but Zombie and Eli Roth are owed credit for displaying flashes of talent with capturing images, even if neither can tell a story. I suppose what earns CAPTIVITY more demerits to earn inclusion on the list is its inability to deliver the deplorable goods it promises.