© 2007 Ray Wong


There seems to be a recent surge of adaptations based on Philip Dick's literary work. Based on his novel, The Golden Man, this movie boasts a preposterous premise and a subpar plot.

n1Cris Johnson (Nicolas Cage) is a garden variety Vegas magician. He lives a low-key existence until an FBI agent, Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore), is hot on his trail. It seems that Agent Ferris believes Cris has the ability to see the future, and she needs his help to find a nuclear bomb in Southern California. The fact is, Cris does have that ability -- only that he can only see up to two minutes of his own future. Except for mysterious woman -- he keeps seeing her in his vision; he knows he will meet her, just not when.

n2Cris would have nothing to do with the government or espionage. He just wants to live a quiet life. Unfortunately, an incident at a casino reveals his true ability to both the FBI and the "bad guys." Then he meets his dream girl, whose name is Liz (Jessica Biel), and he asks her to take him out of town. When the FBI arrives, Cris convinces Liz to help him escape. Unfortunately, Liz gets kidnapped by the terrorists. Seeing in his vision what will happen to Liz, Cris has no choice but help Ferris find the perpetrators.

n3Nicolas Cage (Grindhouse) needs to take an advice from me and not his agent: stop making these action films. They may have made him a very, very rich action hero, but I believe Cage is a much better actor than that. His performance in Adaptation proved it. Here, he is playing the same mindless roles that have absolutely no depths in their character. And what's it with his hair? It's distractingly bad.

n4Julianne Moore (Children of Men) plays another hard-boiled agent but her performance here is superficial and unsatisfying, compared to her freedom fighter in Children of Men. I can't really fault her since her character is underdeveloped. Jessica Biel (The Illusionist) has a far better role playing Liz, a confident teacher who reluctantly gets involved. She shows enough vulnerability and complexity to make us care.

n5The supporting cast includes Thomas Kretschmann (The Celestine Prophecy) as the terrorist leader, Jose Zuniga (Prison Break) as a casino manager, and Tory Kittles (Dirty) as FBI agent Cavanaugh. They all do their job except their characters are nothing more than pawn pieces. The biggest wasted cameo belongs to Peter Falk (The Thing About My Folks), who, despite getting major billing, appears only in a brief scene that adds nothing to the story.

n6In addition to the mediocre performances and cardboard characters, the script by Gary Goldman (Navy Seals), Jonathan Hensleigh (The Punisher) and Paul Bernbaum (Hollywoodland) have turned Philip Dick's story about destiny and responsibility into a mindless action flick. The dialogue is cheesy, and the plot is nonsensical and forced. The characters lack real motivations and emotions, and the relationship between Cris and Liz is unconvincing.

n7There are so many plot holes I forget to count. I can understand that in a sci-fi story like this, they don't necessarily need to explain everything. However, some of the plot elements are simply there to move things along -- they are illogical and require a huge dose of suspension of disbelief. And the "trick ending" is a pure rip-off, making me realize I just wasted 96 minutes of my life.

n8Director Lee Tamahori (xXx: State of the Union) is a master of action flicks, and he does a generally good job putting all the pieces together, despite the poor script. The pacing is good and it has enough tension to keep things going and the audiences interested. It's fast-paced enough to prevent the audiences to stop and think. The special effects are rather low-grade, however, especially during the final climactic sequence. We can't help but think: "They spent all that money on this?"

For its flat characters, preposterous plot, cheesy dialogue and unsatisfying ending, I will leave you with this final word: NEXT.

Stars: Nicolas Cage, Julianne Moore, Jessica Biel, Thomas Kretschmann, Tory Kittles, José Zuniga, Peter Falk
Director: Lee Tamahori
Writers: Gary Goldman, Jonathan Hensleigh, Paul Bernbaum (based on novel, The Golden Man, by Philip K. Dick)
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violent action, some sexuality and language
Running Time: 96 Minutes


Script – 5
Performance – 5
Direction – 6
Cinematography – 7
Music/Sound– 6
Editing – 7
Production – 7

Total – 6.1 out of 10


© 2007 Ray Wong


More of a psychological drama than a legal thriller, Fracture goes for the brain instead of the heart to deliver a story that is intricate as a woven sweater.

f1Assistant DA Willy Beachum (Ryan Gosling) is on the move. He's just landed a coveted position at one of L.A.'s biggest law firms, after achieving an impressive 97% conviction rate. His boss, Joe Lobruto (David Strathairn), think he's wasting his talent in corporate law. But Beachum has more on his mind than his career -- he's engaging in a love affair with Nikki Gardner (Rosamund Pike), a partner at the firm.

f2Before Beachum wraps up his duties at the DA office, a murder case lands on his lap. It seems like an open-and-shut case: the accused, Ted Crawford (Anthony Hopkins), allegedly killed his younger wife (Embeth Davidtz), locked himself in his posh house, and later signed a confession. Thinking he will end his days at the office with an easy victory, cocky Beachum takes the case without much preparation. His arrogance costs him dearly. Due to technicalities, the judge throws out the signed confession. And one more problem presents itself: there is no murder weapon. They search the house multiple times and cannot find the gun that shot Crawford's wife.

f3As the case continues, Beachum finds more and more problems with the case. He's also under extreme pressure both from the DA office and the law firm, and his career is in jeopardy. Meanwhile, he knows Crawford is guilty but he simply can't find any evidence. Crawford has, in fact, carried out a perfect murder. Should Beachum give up, or should he pursue Crawford at the risk of ruining his own future?

f4Anthony Hopkins (All the King's Men) is rather typecast here in a Hannibal Lecter-like role: calm, cold, smart, and calculated. Don't get me wrong -- Hopkins is fetching in the role, playing to his strength with his steely stares and crooked smile. He can probably play that part in his sleep. Gosling (Half Nelson), coming off his Oscar-nominated performance, is somewhat bland as the hero. He has enough intensity and good looks to rival Tom Cruise in The Firm; unfortunately, his character is a bit passive, and he pales next to Sir Hopkins.

f5As Beachum's boss, David Strathairn (Good Night and Good Luck) doesn't have much to do but act as a wise mentor to Gosling arrogant upstart. His performance is solid, however. Rosamund Pike (Pride & Prejudice) is excellent as Beachum's corporate boss and girlfriend, deftly playing up the ambition as well as vulnerability the character requires. Billy Burke (Ladder 49) does a good job as tortured Detective Rob Nunally, who happens to have engaged in an affair with Crawford's wife, played vulnerably by Embeth Davidtz (Junebug).

f6The script, written by Daniel Pyne (The Manchurian Candidate) and Glenn Gers (The Accountant), is as calculated as Ted Crawford himself, just not as smart. The story opens with a full reveal of the murder. While it's an intriguing opening, it gives away far too much, taking away some of the suspense. Any sharp viewers would have guessed how Crawford did it to, literally, get away with murder. And it becomes frustrating to watch Willy Beachum and everyone else around him stumble and fall.

f7However, the cat-and-mouse game is made more interesting by introducing Beachum's character arc. In comparison, there's no arc to Crawford, so that character remains a rather two-dimensional villain. As with many thrillers, there are plot holes, some of which minor and some glaring. A late development involving Detective Nunally stretches credibility. The perfect murder is also perfect by the writers' design. I mean, there's no way Crawford could have planned everything exactly how he wanted it. So in that sense, the script seems manipulative.

f8Director Gregory Hoblit (Hart's War) does a good job in putting the film together. Despite the flaws in the writing, the film is very good technically, hitting all the right notes as far as a legal thriller is concerned. Los Angeles is a beautiful backdrop, and Hoblit seems to have an eye for architecture. And like architecture, the film has a meticulous look and feel to it. The problem is, somewhere along those lines, a little bit of heart and soul is lost. We really don't care that much about any of these characters -- there's simply not a lot of depth for us to root for. So, while the film is an interestingly plotted story for the mind, it's not fractured enough to really fascinates us and hold on to our hearts.

Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Ryan Gosling, David Strathairn, Rosamund Pike, Embeth Davidtz, Billy Burke, Cliff Curtis
Director: Gregory Hoblit
Writers: Daniel Pyne, Glenn Gers,
Distributor: New Line
MPAA Rating: R for language and some violent content
Running Time: 112 Minutes


Script – 6
Performance – 7
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 7
Music/Sound– 7
Editing – 7
Production – 7

Total – 6.8 out of 10


© 2007 Ray Wong


Unabashedly marketed as a teen version of Rear Window, D.J Caruso's new film, starring Shia LaBeouf, modernizes Hitchcock's masterpiece with today's MTV sensibilities.

d1After his father was killed in an accident, Kale (LaBeouf) becomes moody and disinterested in everything. An assault on a Spanish teacher results a house arrest, and Kale is stuck at his house for three long summer months. Bored out of his skull, he starts to spy on his neighbors with his binoculars and video cameras. First, it's just fun and curiosity, especially when he starts watching a new neighbor, beautiful Ashley (Roemer). When Ashley confronts him, he realizes she doesn't really mind.

d2Then he begins to suspect his next-door neighbor, Mr. Turner (Morse), as a murderer. Women have been missing around town, and Turner's hotrod matches the cop's descriptions. Suspicion leads to investigations. His friend Ronnie joins him and Ashley in their "stakeout." Weird things happen at Turner's house, and Kale wants to get to the bottom of it. But Kale is such a clumsy spy that soon Turner catches on. It becomes a game of cat and mouse.

d3Shia LaBeouf (Bobby) handles his role rather blandly. He practically plays himself. His character is not entirely likable, either, and there are times when I just want to scream: "Get a hold of yourself and don't be so stupid." It may not be completely LaBeouf's fault but he lacks certain charisma to pull off the clumsy, irritable role. Sarah Roemer (The Grudge 2) is beautiful and sexy, but she merely plays a sex object with not much subtlety either in her character or her performance.

d4Carrie-Anne Moss (Fido) is mostly wasted here, playing a concerned, clueless mom. She and LaBeouf are more like big sister and little brother than mother and son. Moss is great playing stronger women (who can forget her in the Matrix series?) but she's reduced to a helpless lump here. David Morse (Hounddog) has a better time playing the bad guy. His steely and intense stares are unnerving. It's an obvious, villainous role -- no subtlety required. But Morse manages to get some oomph out of the two-dimensional character.

d5Matt Craven (Deja Vu) has a brief role as Kale's hapless father. His relationship with Kale seems the most genuine; unfortunately, that doesn't last long. Jose Pablo Cantillo (Bones) plays a cop with a personal vendetta against Kale, but his motivation rides on rather thin ice; he's a police officer, after all. The standout is Aaron Yoo (Rocket Science) as Kale's goofy friend, Ronnie. The guy is so animated and likable that he steals every scene from LaBeouf.

d6The script by Christopher B. Landon (Boys Life 3) and Carl Ellsworth (Red Eye) begins well: nice premise, promising introduction and just enough tension to get us hook. Then it turns into some kind of drawn-out romantic comedy. Boy and girl meet cute, with some lovey dovey banters. But even that doesn't go deep enough to make us really care. At least James Stewart and Grace Kelly made us care in Rear Window. The only saving grace is Aaron Yoo's comic relief and the promise of something tense coming our way. It doesn't quite disappoint, though, as Mr. Turner starts to turn up everywhere. The plot picks up again nicely with great tension. Then the climax becomes extremely irritating to watch -- the characters are so naive and foolish that you just want to scream. There are so many plot holes and inconsistency, leading to a climax that is both predictable and ridiculous.

d7If the writers' aspiration is Rear Window, then they've really missed the boat. The Alfred Hitchcock classic is poignant, suspenseful, witty, and subtle, with two of the most charismatic actors sharing an immense chemistry together. It's not the case with Disburbia. Nothing is subtle in this production, and the plot feels forced. The characters are two-dimensional, and the ending is ridiculous.

d8Director D.J. Caruso (Two for the Money) does manage to put some energy into the film. His choice of camera angles can be interesting. Many times, though, the images are too dim to make out of what is going on on screen. There are some tense moments that are handled well. But once the final mayhem begins, the film quickly sinks into yet another mindless Hollywood thriller, complete with the villain's monologuing (oh, come on, will the bad guy just kill them already?) and a ridiculous hide-and-seek. The film loses its credibility, and that's the most disturbing thing about this teen thriller that starts well but ends flat.

Stars: Shia LaBeouf, Sarah Roemer, Carrie-Anne Moss, David Morse, Aaron Yoo, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Matt Craven
Director: D.J. Caruso
Writers: Christopher B. Landon, Carl Ellsworth
Distributor: DreamWorks SKG
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for terror and violence, some sexuality
Running Time: 104 Minutes


Script – 6
Performance – 6
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 7
Music/Sound– 7
Editing – 7
Production – 7

Total – 6.7 out of 10

The Hoax

© 2007 Ray Wong


Based on true events, The Hoax chronicles one of the biggest literary frauds in American history, told from eyes of the perpetuator, Clifford Irving, himself.

h1The year is 1971. Clifford Irving (Gere) is a nonfiction writer who sees his career going downhill after his publisher, McGraw-Hill, decides to pass on his next book. Struggling to find the next big thing, he stumbles upon an idea that would make him rich and famous: a Howard Hughes biography. No one has seen or heard from the eccentric billionaire in years, and an authorized biography would become an instant sensation. Clifford pitches the idea to his editor Andrea Tate (Davis), who later gladly announces that McGraw-Hill would pay him almost half a million dollars for the exclusive right if he can actually deliver the goods.

h2The problem is, Clifford Irving has never met or spoken with Howard Hughes. And he has no intention of getting Hughes's approval or cooperation. Helped by his wife Edith (Harden) and his best friend Dick Susskind (Molina), they concocted a deliberate scheme to con the publisher. He forges Hughes's handwriting and presents McGraw-Hill with letters and taped recordings to convince them of his authenticity. Dick is himself an aspiring children's book writer, and a very good researcher. Through their research, Clifford and Dick uncover all kinds of information and insider secrets on Hughes, making their book as authentic as can be.

h3However, the lack of actual face time with Hughes makes the publisher extremely nervous and suspicious. Even though handwriting experts have authenticated the letters, they want physical proofs, and Clifford's scheme starts to unravel. Desperate, he asks for a million dollars and sinks deeper and deeper into his deceptions. He has passed a point of no return.

h4Richard Gere (Shall We Dance) really impresses as the con artist. Gere is like fine wine -- his performances get better with his age. As Clifford Irving, Gere displays his usual charm with an underlying ruthlessness and crassness that make us at once despise and root for him. Gere also tones down his movie-star good looks and immerses himself into the character. Alfred Molina (The Da Vinci Code) is wonderful as well. He can play a larger-than-life villain just as well as a down-to-Earth con man. Here, as the befuddled writer who gets sucked into such a partnership, he almost steals every scene, which is very impressive considering how solid Gere is.

h5The supporting cast is top-notch. Hope Davis (Infamous) is delightful as Irving's trusting editor. She turns in a nuanced, heart-felt performance and we feel very bad for her character. Marcia Gay Harden (American Dreamz) plays Clifford's devoted but mistreated wife beautifully; she definitely gets our sympathy votes. Stanley Tucci (The Devil Wears Prada) plays his usual brash corporate executive with gusto, and Julie Deply (Broken Flowers), as Irving's mistress, adds certain pathos to his deceptive tale.

h6Based on Irving's own novel (I'm surprised he still had a career, albeit writing fiction), the screenplay, written by William Wheeler (The Prime Gig), is fast-paced and layered, with multiple subplots weaved into the main story. The intriguing plot reminds us of both Martian Scorsese's The Aviator and Steven Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can. Hughes's life and eccentricity were legendary, and it's also fascinating to see a real-life con unfold.

h7Unfortunately, some of the plot elements are rather implausible, making us wonder how much Irving himself has embellished and exaggerated. For example, he must have been really good to pass the tests of not one, but two handwriting experts, and to pull off stunts after stunts and still get away with them. After a while, it all becomes sort of a caricature, and the story loses some credibility even when the suspense is palpable.

h8ah8bHowever, director Hallström (Cassanova) keeps the pace fast and the tension taut. His deft skills and fluid storytelling help the film sustain its energy and intrigues. The solid cast adds tremendous value to the production. Echoing recent literary frauds such as the James Frey-Oprah debacle, the story has an odd relevance even though it happened more than thirty years ago. One wonders: How far would we go to achieve fame and fortune? With such strong themes and an above-average production, Hallström's film is anything but a hoax.

Stars: Richard Gere, Alfred Molina, Hope Davis, Marcia Gay Harden, Stanley Tucci, Julie Delpy, Eli Wallach, John Carter, Christopher Evan Welch
Director: Lasse Hallström
Writers: William Wheeler (based on Clifford Irving's autobiographical novel)
Distributor: Miramax
MPAA Rating: R for language and some sexuality
Running Time: 115 Minutes


Script – 7
Performance – 8
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 8
Music/Sound– 8
Editing – 8
Production – 8

Total – 7.6 out of 10