I say "creepy" because Untraceable’s theory could actually be a reality. The possibility of a tech-savvy psycho setting up a Web site that displays graphic murders could happen with the fate of each of the tormented captives left in the hands of the public: The more hits the site gets the faster the victims die--and in the case of Untraceable die in very gruesome ways. Of course Untraceable also gives us a peek at the good guys--the FBI division that is dedicated to investigating and prosecuting cybercriminals. Special Agent Jennifer Marsh (Diane Lane) is one such Internet expert who along with her co-worker (Colin Hanks) is stymied by KillWithMe.com’s untraceablity. But soon the movie turns predictable as the cat-and-mouse game gets personal and Marsh must race against the clock to stop the madman. Lane has certainly looked better in her past movies. For obvious effect they’ve made Agent Marsh rather worn-down with dark circles under her eyes and very little makeup as she sits in front of the computer hunting the bad guys all night on the late shift. The fact that she’s also a widow having lost her cop husband to the job and caregiver to her young daughter doesn’t help the woman get anymore rest. Then when the crap starts hitting the fan and people close to Marsh get hurt the actress really shows the pain on her already haggard face. Marsh even admits “I do a lot of things well but I don’t lose people well.” It’s a standard tough-FBI-agent role and Lane is very capable at it. Supporting her is Hanks (Orange County) as the resident comic relief (what little of it there is) as well as Billy Burke (Fracture) the local cop trying to help Marsh catch the psycho Internet killer. As for the killer himself the actor who portrays him (and I won’t give it away) is very effective in the role. There are a couple of other things Untraceable has going for it besides the chilling premise: director Gregory Hoblit who knows his way around a crime thriller having directed gems such as Primal Fear and Fracture and the dank Portland Oregon locale. Hoblit creates just the right amount of tension and dread as the clock ticks down and the race nears its end but something about an overcast rainy environ just lends itself to more doom and gloom doesn’t it? Of course there are also the torture scenes which add a certain level of Hostel-like horror. What Untraceable lacks is a compelling narrative. The bevy of writers involved (never the best of signs) tend to throw in too many conventional thriller plot points--like the red herrings on who the killer is before he’s revealed and explaining why the killer is doing what he’s doing. All these things dilute the film’s initial potential. Still let’s just hope this doesn’t spawn real-life copycats.
Nanny McPhee captures a lot of the same magic as Poppins --but without songs about spoonfuls of sugar and flying kites. McPhee starts with some very naughty children--seven of them in fact who led by the oldest boy Simon (Thomas Sangster) have managed to drive away 17 previous nannies You see the children recently lost their beloved mother so they take great offense to being looked after by a nanny. Their father Mr. Brown (Colin Firth) a nice enough fellow is at wits end coupled by the fact his rich Aunt Adelaide (Angela Lansbury) is pressuring him to marry again--or she’ll cut him off. If there was ever a need for Nanny McPhee (Emma Thompson) this is it. She arrives warts and all and the children soon notice that their vile behavior now leads swiftly and magically to rather startling consequences. Leave it to Emma Thompson to throw vanity to the wind and give one of her more appealing performances in a long while. Nanny McPhee is a woman of few words conveying her point by either staring one directly in the eye or planting her magical cane squarely on the ground. And boy is she ugly--unless of course you start obeying her five simple rules. Then her appearance mysteriously changes. What fun for Thompson. The kids are also entirely adorable even when they are throwing food around or calling each other “bum!” The standout is Sangster (Love Actually) as the ringleader. Lansbury who makes her first feature film appearance in two decades is deliciously over the top as the domineering Adelaide while Firth as the hapless widower and Kelly MacDonald (HBO’s The Girl in the Café) as the Brown’s sweet scullery maid add that loving touch. Not only is Thompson brilliant on screen she has lent her significant talents behind the scenes as well by writing Nanny McPhee. She hasn’t written anything since she won her Academy Award for her stellar adaptation of Sense and Sensibility but it’s very clear Thompson still has a keen story sense. Based on the Nurse Matilda books by Christianna Brand the actress crafts an engaging witty and yes even a little dark fable which is only enhanced by solid direction from Kirk Jones (Waking Ned Devine). This isn’t your ordinary Mary Poppins but more a magical nanny story for the Harry Potter generation. There are times the film lapses into silliness--usually when dealing with tricking the adults--but there are more moments of pure imagination and touching sentiments. Nanny McPhee is just a lot of fun for the whole family.
The works of August Strindberg long considered one of the world's
greatest dramatists are often characterized as misogynistic and not
Working out his own psychological problems (he was illegitimate and
thrice married) the Swedish author wrote essays titled "Woman's
Inferiority to Man" and grappled with the battle of the sexes in several
of his plays including the one-act "Miss Julie" that has made its way
to film in an adaptation directed by Mike Figgis.
While it's unlikely that this film will achieve blockbuster status it
should find a receptive audience from the art-house crowd.
"Miss Julie" is essentially a two-hander pitting a spoiled neurotic
aristocrat's daughter against her father's handsome if coarse footman.
The pair engages in a flirtation that leads to sex that leads to
recriminations and ultimately to tragedy. Strindberg was not only
writing about the battles between men and women but also the class
struggle with the footman often viewed as a social climber.
In addition to providing great roles for two strong actors the play is
malleable enough to accommodate a more contemporary resonance. For
example in some productions a racial element is introduced as in a
1980s production that moved the play's setting from Sweden to South
The play has been filmed three times before -- a 1912 Swedish silent
the 1951 Swedish version with Anita Bjork long considered the standard
and a 1972 British adaptation with a stunning performance by Helen
Mirren. Now it's Saffron Burrows' turn to tackle the role in Figgis'
filming of Helen Carpenter's translation.
A predominant theme in Figgis' work is the fall from grace never more
baldly addressed than in 1999's "The Loss of Sexual Innocence." So it
follows that he would be attracted by Strindberg's play as it depicts
the castigation of both of its key players. While there are inherent
pitfalls to filming what is essentially a two-character drama played out
on one set Carpenter's adaptation "opened up" the action just enough
and the virtuoso camerawork by Benoit Delhomme aided Figgis in his
It also helped that the director hired three fine actors each
contributing sterling work. Although the fine Irish actress Maria Doyle
Kennedy was saddled with the basically thankless role of Christine the
overworked cook and lover to the footman Jean she still managed to make
an impression. Burrows looks appropriately regal and aristocratic but
at first she appears miscast. Only as the film unfolds do her acting
choices in the early scenes come to make sense and her performance grows
in stature and power.
Matching her is the extraordinary Scottish actor Peter Mullan (perhaps
most known for his searing work as a recovering alcoholic in "My Name Is
Joe"). Compact and fiery Mullan crafts a portrait of a man who both
knows his station but aspires to something more. He and Burrows also
share that ineffable thing called screen chemistry and each seems to
elicit the best from the other.
Some may quibble about the necessity for yet another version of this
work but as the world moves into a new century Figgis and company
clearly point out that for all the advances in technology the
fundamental difference between the sexes continues. "Miss Julie" may be
set in the 1880s but it continues to resonate in the 1990s and beyond.
* MPAA rating: R for language and a scene of sexuality.
Saffron Burrows: Miss Julie
Peter Mullan: Jean
Maria Doyle Kennedy: Christine
An MGM/UA presentation. Director Mike Figgis. Screenplay Mike Figgis and
Helen Cooper. Play August Strindberg. Producers Mike Figgis and Harriet
Cruickshank. Director of photography Benoit Delhomme. Editor Matthew
Wood. Production designer Michael Howells. Costume designer Sandy
Powell. Running time: 1 hour 43 minutes.