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.
Set in a world inhabited only by motor vehicles Cars is sort of a cross between Michael J. Fox's Doc Hollywood and NASCAR. The main hero is a hotshot rookie race car named Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson)--an obvious homage to the late fast-driving Steve McQueen--whose one goal in life is to win the Piston Cup and bask in fame and glory. Yet on his cross-country trip to the Piston Cup Championship in California to compete against two seasoned pros (real-life legendary racer Richard Petty voices the reigning champion The King) Lightning finds himself unexpectedly detoured in the sleepy--and forgotten--Route 66 town of Radiator Springs. There he meets its colorful denizens--including Sally (Bonnie Hunt) a snazzy 2002 Porsche who owns the local “rest” stop; Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) the town’s rusty but trusty tow truck; and Doc Hudson (Paul Newman) a 1951 Hudson Hornet who rules the town with a steady hand er wheel. Together they all help the cocksure Lightning realize that there are more important things than trophies fame and sponsorship. If Pixar calls you come running so it isn’t at all surprising how impressive the Cars vocal line-up is starting with legendary screen icon Newman as the Doc. Come on being the race car driving nut that he is you think the 81-year-old actor would say no to voicing a 1951 Hudson Hornet who has his own mysterious past in the racing world? Hell no. The rest of the cast also seem to have a good time channeling their inner car from Wilson’s snarky speedster to Hunt’s cute and sexy Porsche a big-city lawyer who decides to get out of the fast lane. Supporting voices include Cheech Marin and Tony Shalhoub as Radiator Springs’ low-riding body shop and Italian Fiat tire shop owners respectively. Even George Carlin gets into the act as a groovy ‘60s VW wagon who sells “organic” fuel. Good stuff. Of course what Pixar flick would be complete without its comic relief? Although he’s no Ellen DeGeneres as a short-term memory impaired fish Larry the Cable Guy fills in nicely as the dim but sweet Mater the ultimate hick tow truck. Having been out of the directing loop since his 1999 sequel Toy Story 2 Cars marks Pixar’s golden boy John Lasseter return--and this is his big love letter to the splendor that is the automobile. Of course his demand for perfection took its toll. The animators had to come up with a new technique called “ray tracing ” which allows the car stars--that are metallic and heavily contoured--to credibly reflect their environments. Even with a sophisticated network of 3 000 computers and state-of-the-art lightning-fast processors that operate up to four times faster than they did on The Incredibles the average time to render a single frame of film was 17 hours. Still all that time spent pays off. Cars is a real visual treat with another firm grasp in storytelling. Sure it’s a bit of a vanity project and may shoot way over the kiddies’ heads making them squirm a little during the “slow” parts. But as one of the recently appointed top guns at Disney Lasseter can do just about anything he wants these days--and we are going to love it dammit.
Once respected NYPD detective Jack Mosley (Bruce Willis) is now pretty much on his last legs literally and figuratively. He drinks is relegated to a desk job and walks with a limp. One morning after a long shift he’s corralled into transporting a petty criminal Eddie Bunker (Mos Def) to the courthouse 16 blocks away so he can testify by 10:00 a.m. What Jack doesn’t know is that Eddie is one of the key witnesses in a case against crooked cops--that is until the two start getting shot at. Then it becomes crystal clear. The main bad guy Jack’s former partner Frank (David Morse) basically lets Jack know Eddie will never testify to just go ahead and hand him over but Frank underestimates Jack’s desire to finally do something good. So Jack and Eddie fight their way to the courthouse block by gut-wrenching block. Oh no there’s nothing formulaic about 16 Blocks not at all. In a film as predictable as this the only thing that’ll make it stand out is the performances. 16 Blocks nearly succeeds--but not quite. It would seem Willis is playing a character he’s played a hundred times before--the misunderstood and slightly unorthodox cop with a heart of gold. But as Jack the actor does a nice job trying out some new things namely playing fat bald and grizzled. You can almost smell how bad Jack’s breath has to be. Rapper/actor Mos Def who usually brightens any film he’s in also tries his hand at something different but his choices aren’t as smart. As the talkative and affable Eddie Mos comes up with one of the more annoying nasally accents ever recorded. After about five minutes of screen time you desperately want him to stop and say “Just kidding! I don’t really talk like this.” But he doesn’t. It’s too bad something like an accent can ruin an otherwise decent performance. Old-school director Richard Donner best known for his Lethal Weapons is a consummate professional when it comes to making these kind of movies. In other words he pretty much paints by numbers. We watch Jack and Eddie get out of one tight situation after another as the gaggle of bad cops try to gun them down. I mean 16 blocks doesn’t seem that far to go so they better throw in as many highly implausible obstacles as they can. Chinese laundries alleyways rooftops subways. And yes even a city bus which the pair--who have by now bonded big time--has to hijack. Donner also employs a popular but nonetheless annoying technique of zooming in when the action heats up so you can’t really see what’s going on. Even if you’re addicted to action movies--a Bruce Willis action movie no less--16 Blocks just doesn’t deliver the goods.
Although it's modern day there's a distinct Raymond Chandler-esque feel to this story about a petty thief named Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.) who lucks into a movie audition and finds himself heading to Hollywood. Harry is replacing Colin Farrell as a detective in a film and to get the realism of the part he's shown the detecting ropes by Det. Perry van Shrike (Val Kilmer) also known as Gay Perry--because he's gay. Then Harry runs into his old high school sweetie Harmony (Michelle Monaghan) at a Hollywood party. She believes Harry is a real detective and begs him to help her. That's when the bodies begin coming out of the woodwork. Greed torture and mayhem ensue. If there's any way to prove that Downey is back in true form this is it. He's glib charming deep and truly becomes a modern-day Chaplin in this very trampy role. Kilmer avoids some of the stereotypes of playing gay but as he points out "we're not good cop bad cop we're fag and New Yorker." Both deserve awards. Monaghan holds her own as a feisty red-head. Even Downey's real-life son Indio--who plays his character in the early flashback scenes--shows incredible promise as an actor. This is the Shane Black’s directorial debut the same guy who wrote Lethal Weapon and Long Kiss Goodnight. He knows violence that’s for sure but he also has a keen sense of humor. In Kiss Kiss he mixes them well. Black sets the mood with Downey--giving his best Bogie-like voiceover-- narrating the action along the way. This is better than Get Shorty as far as a dark look into the entertainment industry and far more entertaining. And as Harry's character promises "I've seen Lord of the Rings and we're not going to end this 17 times."
Spider-Man 2 sets DVD release date
Fans anxious to get their hands on the Spider-Man 2 DVD will have to wait a bit longer than they did for the original Spider-Man's home release. Variety reported Thursday that Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment is releasing Spider-Man 2 to DVD Nov. 30--a month later than the release of the original, back in 2002. Columbia is hoping to curb the problem it had two years ago when it shipped millions more Spider-Man DVDs than actually sold. The November release date also means Columbia can focus their attention on the Seinfield series DVD set, which will be released just before Thanksgiving. Fans will also be able to purchase a two-pack with DVDs of both Spider-Man movies for $39.95. The first DVD edition of Spider-Man 2, however, will have 10 hours' worth of bonus features and commentaries.
Publicist Lizzie Grubman gets reality show
MTV is launching a reality show starring infamous publicist-to-the-stars Lizzie Grubman, who is better know for serving 37 days in jail backing her sport utility vehicle into a crowd of Hamptons clubgoers three years ago. PoweR Girls will follow Grubman and her public relations team behind the velvet rope as they live, work and play in Manhattan, Los Angeles, the Hamptons and Miami, the AP reports. The series, picked up for six episodes, will premiere in spring 2005. "I'm looking forward to MTV viewers seeing the hard work and long hours it takes to run your own business," Grubman said in a statement Wednesday. According to her Web site, her celebrity clients include Britney Spears, Russell Simmons, Sean "P. Diddy" Combs and Gloria Estefan.
Regis Philbin sets world record
Regis Philbin has set a world record for the most hours logged on television, the AP reports. Friday's broadcast of Live with Regis and Kelly gives Philbin 15,188 hours on the tube-giving him the Guinness World Record for most hours on camera. According to Guinness World Records researcher Stuart Claxton, that's more than broadcaster Hugh Downs. "Now it's all a big blur," Philbin told the AP Thursday as he looked back on his career that began as a San Diego news anchor in 1958. "When you look back that's a lot of hours on TV." Philbin, 72, has hosted the nationally syndicated Live in all 16 of its seasons--previously with Kathy Lee Gifford and now with Kelly Ripa. In his 46-year career, Philbin has hosted numerous news and entertainment shows, including the hit prime-time ABC game show, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?.
Autographed guitars auctioned to help Charley victims
Clear Channel Communications Inc. is auctioning off guitars autographed by musicians such as Britney Spears,Tom Petty and Kenny Rogers to raise money for Hurricane Charley victims in Florida, the AP reports. The radio giant said the online auction of 43 guitars signed by celebrities started Thursday and will end Sept. 20. All proceeds will be split between displaced families and the American Red Cross. Linkin Park, Stone Temple Pilots, Nickelback, ZZ Top, Tim McGraw and Shakira are also participating in the auction, which also includes a non-musical with instruments signed by conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh and comedian Mike Myers. The guitars are being offered on Clear Channel's StormAid.com Web site.
Sheryl Crow joins Vote for Change tour
Sheryl Crow, Jack Johnson and Crosby, Stills & Nash have joined the willing-to-rock coalition of musicians trying to unseat President Bush in November. Crow and the rest were added to the Vote for Change tour, which boasts a lineup of nearly 20 artists including Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Pearl Jam and Dave Matthews Band. Concert promoters told the AP Thursday the musicians will perform at some 38 shows in 32 cities in election swing states over the course of 12 days in October. Money generated from the concerts will go to America Coming Together (ACT), which promises on its Web site to "derail the right-wing Republican agenda by defeating George W. Bush." The shows will be presented by MoveOn PAC, the electoral arm of the liberal interest group MoveOn.org.
N.C. governor declares Saturday Fantasia Barrino day
North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley has proclaimed Saturday as Fantasia Barrino Day to mark the day she makes her first major singing appearance in her home state since winning the American Idol crown in May, the AP reports. Barrino is "a true testament to what happens when you put your heart and soul into your dream," Easley said in a statement, adding the singer "has shown through her amazing talent and larger-than-life personality that goodness does really grow right here in North Carolina." Barrino, who is of High Point, will perform in Winston-Salem with fellow American Idol contestants Saturday night, on the American Idols Tour 2004.
Neverland manager testifies in pretrial hearing
The property manager of Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch testified Friday that sheriff's deputies last year searched areas of the estate not specified in a warrant, The Associated Press reports. The testimony came at a pretrial hearing in which defense attorneys are trying to limit the evidence prosecutors can produce at Jackson's Jan. 31 trial. During the hearing, Joseph Marcus testified he initially cooperated when the horde of investigators arrived but objected when officers wanted to search areas that were not on the warrant. He said a deputy told him he would call and have the search warrant amended, but Marcus said that was not done as far as he knows, and the search went ahead anyway. Jackson, 45, is charged with committing a lewd act upon a child, administering an intoxicating agent and conspiring to commit child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion. He has pleaded innocent and is free on $3 million bail.
Private eye testifies in Blake case
A 70-year-old private investigator is expected to testify before Superior Court Judge Darlene Schempp on Friday--months ahead of time in Robert Blake's murder trial, the AP reports. The request was made by prosecutors who said that because of his age, William Jordan may be unavailable at the time of the trial, the AP reports. The Baretta star is charged with killing his 44-year-old wife, Bonny Lee Bakley, in 2001. She was found shot to death in their car outside a restaurant where they had just eaten. Blake hired Jordan in September 2000, in anticipation of child custody proceedings and according to phone records included in court filings, spoke with the private eye frequently up to the time of Bakley's murder. The trial is now scheduled to start Nov. 1. Blake, meanwhile, is free on $1.5 million bail but remains under house arrest.