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TODAY

Wednesday, July 17

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Airbags

Because of vacation and work travel, I missed quite a few things that screened for critics, including the big-mountain skiing documentary Steep, opening at the Music Box today, and How She Move, the teen step dancing "drama." But there were also a couple films opening today that were not screened. The latest parody work in the same vein as Scary Movie and Epic Movie called Meet the Spartans somehow was not previewed. The other MIA film is a bit of a surprise: Rambo, which I am genuinely looking forward to seeing. Call me crazy. Here's the best (and worst) or the rest.


Untraceable

The year's first retarded serial killer movie hits theaters this week. Untraceable stars Diane Lane as FBI Special Agent Jennifer Marsh, who works as part of a cyber crime division, trapping sexual predators, identity thieves and Harry Knowles. She's a single mom, who relies a great deal on her mother (Mary Beth Hurt) to babysit since her work often requires her to work overnight, so it's clear right away that the job puts a strain on the rest of her life. Seemingly out of nowhere, an image appears on a website of a cute animal whose journey to death may or may not be dependent on how many people log on to the site. Once the animal is dead, so is the site. But soon another image pops up; this time it's a man. And the scroll across the bottom of the screen makes it clear that the more traffic that comes to the site, the faster the man will die a horrible and graphic death. The FBI scrambles to find out who is doing this, why and how they can stop this killer who isn't actually killing anybody. He's setting up the scenario and allowing his audience to do the killing for him. I supposed there's an interesting moral to this story, but it's lost on dumb ol' me.

Somewhere in the world, at some point in history, I'm positive a really good movie about cyber crimes will happen. But Untraceable ain't that movie. Lane is a strong enough actress to keep this ridiculous plot above water, but when the killer kidnaps one of the members of Lane's team, my mind went elsewhere. Lane's relationship with a local detective (Billy Burke) is tedious, and even the killer (and no, I'm not ruining anything by telling you he's played by young Joseph Cross) is a bit of a bore. As so often happens in real life, the serial killer turns his attention to Agent Marsh and the all-too-predictable series of events, false endings and impossible twists unfolds dutifully.

The most frustrating thing about Untraceable is that there are moments of a decent movie buried under all the pumped-up garbage. The way the agents figure out the identity of the killer is kind of cool. Lane plays her part just right, staying away from any kind of glamour-queen look and opting for a slightly more weather-beaten image. The wrinkles on her face are allowed to show; her hairstyle is very utilitarian and easy to wear; her clothes don't cling too tight (that's actually a bad thing in my eyes, but it does lend her character some credibility). But in the end, Untraceable is unremarkable. Borrowing its overly staged torture porn theatricality from the Saw and Hostel films, this movie doesn't even bother to try as hard as those two franchises to sicken us. This is mainstream, watered-down junk, which is too bad because the director, Gregory Hoblit, made last year's superior crime drama Fracture and another great film of that ilk, 1996's Primal Fear. The guy can make decent films, but this is not proof of that. By the time you read this, the Oscar nominations will be out. If you need something good to see this weekend, take your cue from the list of nominees instead of the list of this week's new releases.


U2:3-D

I am a rock-solid fan of the band U2. I make no apologies for that. So the thought of seeing one of their larger-than-life live spectacles (to call them concerts seems so trite) on the IMAX screen in 3-D seems also too perfect. Even the prospect of hearing their music bombarding my ears through the mega-watt IMAX speaker system seemed hard to conceive. So I walked into my screening of U2:3-D primed to enjoy the hell out of myself. Shot during two concerts in Argentina during their last world tour, this film offers up a fairly standard set list of hits, which I understand has to be the case to appeal to the broadest possible audience. Still, I'm straining my brain to understand why the entire experience didn't rock my world just a little bit more.

Part of the problem is that U2 has already put out what I consider a wonderful representation of their last tour, which just happened to be shot in Chicago (Live In Chicago). That performance (also captured over two nights, I believe) gives us a nice mix of very old and very new, uplifting arena power ballads and jarring, politically charged rockers. More importantly, that DVD features a great deal of humor and drama, both of which are sadly missing from the 3-D movie. What we get instead is a performance film. And as much as Bono tries to personalize the show by speaking to the crowd in Spanish, it didn't draw me in.

That being said, the music is absolutely fantastic. The sound mix is beautiful. When The Edge is playing piano or Adam Clayton is stroking a tasty bass lick, that instrument is boosted ever so slightly in the mix. I particularly noticed it whenever the cameras turned to Larry Mullen Jr. doing a little something extra on drums. The renditions of "Sometimes You Can't Make It on Your Own," "One" and "With Or Without You" really stand out. What also stood out was the one-two-three punch of "Love and Peace," "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "Bullet the Blue Sky," for what was clearly designed as the pissed-off part of the show/movie. And as someone who sees U2 every time they come through town, usually attending more than one show, this has to be the weakest version of "Sunday Bloody Sunday" I've ever heard. In fact, I don't think I'm out of line to say that most of the pre-Joshua Tree material falls flat here. It's clear that the band is far more passionate about their newer material, such as "Beautiful Day," "Vertigo," "The Fly" and the lovely closed-credits bonus song "Yahweh."

Before I begin to sound like I'm flatly bashing the film, the 3-D is really impressive here, especially when directors Mark Pellington and Catherine Owens put the camera far away from the stage and look out across the sea of wildly enthusiastic fans. There are a few forced and faked 3-D moments that took me out of the film, such as when words appear on the screen in the foreground, but most of what's hear looks spectacular. There's one shot of the audience jumping up in down with such force that it looks like a water during a violent storm. The one area where U2:3-D does not lack is in taking full advantage of the 3-D IMAX format. The biggest crime that the film commits is not being bad or impossible to watch. Instead, it feels like something that was unnecessary. Still, I can't think of too many other bands I'd like to see so massive. Perhaps an IMAX screen is the only place Bono's ego can fit. I think more casual fans of the band will probably really enjoy this experience; diehards might be the ones with the problems. Or maybe it's just me.


Election Day

It's probably a tough job for any documentary filmmaker to make the election process seem interesting, but director Katy Chevigny does a great deal to keep us locked in with her day-in-the-life of America on November 2, 2004 with Election Day. Chevigny and her crew of a dozen small film crews documented polling places all over the country (including Wrigleyville) during the last presidential election to discover that, yes, in fact, our means of voting and counting votes is as varied as it is a complete mess. In poorer communities, lines are two and three hours long. Antiquated balloting systems are just as flawed as state-of-the-art electronic voting. Some places say you need a photo ID, some say you don't. In some areas, election judges follow the letter of the law; others, not so much.

One of the more fascinating people we meet is a Republican poll watcher who stakes out a voting location in and around the largely Democratic Wrigleyville. He gathers his fellow watchers at the IHOP at Halsted, Broadway and Grace, and through the course of the day, he goes to different polling places making sure campaigners are staying away from voters. Each city presents a new set of mini-dramas that are each remarkable in their own way. An ex-con is one of the first in history to regain his right to vote, but he faces troubles doing so. A black woman who has taken the day off to vote is told to go to three different places in her city to vote. As angry as she is about the runaround, she has an undefeatable passion about her right to vote, and would probably travel to the moon if she had to in order to make it happen. Votes are countered and recounted, last-minute voters rush to their polling places just before doors close, and officials begin the shaky process of making sure that nobody voted early and often. The film offers an unflinching view of just how desperate and pathetic our means of voting has become, and God forbid an election is close. If you want to get just a little more depressed about the 2004 election then Election Day is made for you.


The film is playing at the Gene Siskel Film Center on Friday, January 25 at 8pm, with director Chevigny and producer Maggie Bowman on hand after the screening for an audience discussion; Bowman will also be present for an additional showing on Monday, January 28 at 6pm.


The Cool School

I do know a little bit about art history, modern art history and American art history, but my schooling on the birth of the Los Angeles School simply never took place, and I'm guessing that's true for many students of art. But the fact is that beginning sometime in the late 1950s, something resembling a real-life art movement was born in some pretty seedy neighborhoods in L.A., centering on the the Ferus Gallery operated by Walter Hopps. Since many of the artists of that time spun off from the beatnik scene, they were a lively and spirited bunch that were as much rivals as they were friends. Strangely enough, L.A. was the first place to take Andy Warhol seriously, and his showings at the Ferus were the stuff of legend.

Narrated by Jeff Bridges, The Cool School features interviews with nearly all the artists profiled in the film (only a couple have died). Names like Larry Bell, Ed Kienholz, John Alton and Wallace Berman were local legends once the scene became popular among L.A. celebrities. Actors and collectors Dennis Hopper and Dean Stockwell talk about the times and people with a reverence, as well they should. One of the more interesting interview subjects is architect Frank Gehry, who was a young artist himself at the time, among all of the giants in the field. Director Morgan Neville has put together what is probably the definitive document of this era in art, during which a group of young men grew very famous and wealthy in a short time-span and went on to become worldwide icons of art. It's clear there are still some hurt feelings about the way some of the artists were treated by curators and each other, but when the surviving members of this group get together for dinner, the camaraderie is clearly still there. It was a turbulent and exciting time for some, and it certainly went it a long way toward establishing Los Angeles as a place where real art was made and not just trashy movies. The film plays at the Gene Siskel Film Center on Saturday, January 26 at 8pm, and Thursday, January 31at 8:15pm.

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About the Author(s)

A Windy City resident for nearly 20 years, Steve writes about everything but movies at his day job for a trade journal publishing company. Using the alias Capone, he has been the Chicago Editor for Ain't It Cool News since 1998, and has been writing film reviews since he was a wee lad of 14, growing up in Maryland. Direct your questions or comments to steve@steveatthemovies.com.

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