Knowing

Nicolas Cage movies generally fall into in two categories: intentionally funny (Raising Arizona), and unintentionally funny (The Wicker Man). However, Knowingis neither of these. Knowing uses Cage as a regular actor to portray a regular guy...and that, my friends, the least entertaining path to take.

It all begins with in 1959 with a Wednesday Adams look-alike (the painfully cute Laura Robinson), withsad eyes and a large forehead, looking very worried. When her teacher presents a time capsule project for her class, the girl hears voices (of course) telling her to write down a series of numbers, instead of drawing the future like she was told.

Fifty years later, physics professor Johnathan Koestler’s (Cage) smarter-than-average (read: amazingly argumentative) son Caleb (Chandler Cantebury) gets the numbers, and things start getting nuts. Koestler figures that a lot of the numbers are the dates and body counts for natural disasters,but he’s not sure what the other numbers mean... yet.

By now we’re expecting a classic Nic Cage style freak-out ("HOW'D IT GET BURNED!?! "), and instead we're disappointed by him actually doing a rather decent job with a well-realized character. Koestler and his son have a strained relationship, as his wife died in a hotel fire, and naturally they both miss her dearly. They never talk about things like “emotions” outside of a painfully sweet exchange in sign language exchange, being men and all.

Koestler throws himself into trying to solve the mystery using the "Single Barrel" Research Method, which involves crawling into a bottle and watching the newsfor any headlines matching the numerical pattern.  After doing this all night, he sleeps through a whole day and wakes up to his son calling, saying he has afternoon car-pool. CRAP! Off he goes to get stuck in highway traffic, still contemplating what all the numbers mean when he realizes, after looking at his GPS, those other numbers are map coordinates: latitude and longitude...like the one he’s on right NOW. A few seconds afterthis realization, a 747 crashes,dipping its wing into the Earths’ crust and cutting a trench through that very highway.

Koestler tries in vain to help these people, and we still don't get that freak out we've been waiting for! His next step is to seek out Diana Wayland (Rose Byrne), the daughter of Worried Wednesday from the opening. She too has a daughter (Robinson again). Koestler tries to get Wayland to open up about her dead crazy mother and reveal the secret to life, the universe, and everything.

The exchange begins poorly, of course, but later they hit it off just in time for Koestler to figure out that there’s a massive Solar flare heading for Earth and everyone’s going to die unless. . . well, nothing. You can’t really stop the sun from reducing the Earth to a heavy metal album cover, but the movie still has forty-five minutes to go. What happens is a half interesting, half Deus-Ex Machina-but with a fiercely depressing twist.

Overall, this movie suffers from a case of “Not Quite Enough-itis.” While director Alex Proyas (I, Robot , Dark City ) is not short on directing skill or adorable brunettes in various stages of life, the plot is pretty much "figure out the code, realizeit's hopeless and do NOT give us a Nicolas Cage Freakout in spite of this."  It’s competent enough, but asks heavy questions and presents some crazily optimistic answers, playing it fairly straight the entire time with no zany antics and few ludicrous moments. As such, it might not work for a Cavalcade, so go with NeXt instead.

Law Abiding Citizen

You know you're in for it when a pair of thugs break into King Leonidas' ... er, Clyde Shelton's (Gerard Butler)  home and kill his wife and daughter quite graphically in the first two minutes of the movie.

Then a hotshot attorney, Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx), who knows the law well enough to know that you apparently have to bend over backwards to get any real justice, makes a deal with the actual killer to send his accomplice to death row. But fortunately, Shelton is a man who plans. If he wasn't, the movie would only have been about ten minutes long.

We jump ahead ten years later to the execution of the guy who didn't actually kill anyone that Rice sent to death row. Unfortunately, somebody messed something up so he dies worse than the Nazis in Raiders of the Lost Ark .

Shelton then kidnaps the real murderer and cuts him into 23 pieces. When you successfully get away with carving a dude up like a Thanksgiving Turkey, that should make the point well enough. However, Gerard Butler has penchant for playing absurdly violent men, and, well... here we are. The cops, including Colm Meany, are helpless due to some legal weirdness. Next, he kills the attorney who got the actual murderer off, you know the one he ALREADY killed into little pieces.Then he kills another 10 people with a mix of carbombs and a nifty remote-controlled combat robot.

Let's just recap real quick: After killing the ONLY two people involved in killing his family, Shelton kills almost a dozen other people to make the point that the legal system is broken. This is kind of like burning a cross on your lawn to make the Ku Klux Klan look bad.

The movie is beautifully shot throughout, mostly on location in the wonderful (and appropriately crime-ridden) city of Philadelphia, by director F. Gary Gray who also gave us the classic Friday and the superficially cerebral The Negotiator among other films.

Law Abiding Citizen is one those movies that's sure to spark a conversation about the nature of vigilantism, before you realize you just watched a film where the guy from Bait was the chewy moral center. You could just easily pair this off with another super-violent Gerard Butler film, or you could throw the audience a curve ball and show them P.S. I Love You , one of the sappier movies in recent years.

Surrogates

In the future, everyone has a sexy robot version of themselves that they pilot around to avoid being ugly. A side effect of this is no one can actually die, until Jack Noseworthy shows up with a what appears to be an industrial flashlight that fries users through their robots.

Welcome to the world Surrogates.

The whole living through robots thing sucks all the life out of the whole movie. If the characters are never in danger, where's the excitement? Nowhere, dammit.  Surrogates commits the cardinal sin of making a boring action movie, which is a shame because director Jonathan Mostow directed the very exciting U-571 and the somewhat exciting Terminator 3, so his next movie is sure to be a grand achievement in the realm of boring.

The main failure of this movie is not knowing what the audience wants and expects. In Surrogates, everyone has been worked over with that CGI smoothing technique they used in X-men 3 to make Xavier and Magneto young again. It works fine for a minute or so, but more than half a movie with it, and you realize just how plastic the technique makes people look.  Not only do we not want dull action movies, we do want Bruce Willis to be bald and grizzled. He's made his career out of being a wise cracking tough guy, and seeing him smoothed out with bright pink lips and a bad blond hair piece is just disturbing. You know that one guy holding onto to youth too hard? Computer generated hussy Willis looks like that, but creepier.

You can be anything with these surrogates? Why doesn't the world look more like Second Life? Oh, because no one would want to see that movie. . .

The movie I did want to see, tucked away inside Surrogates, was about the rebel faction that refuses to use surrogates and are second-class citizens as a result.  How do they undermine the rest of the world if they are completely out numbered by android puppets that are ten times as durable as they are? (With shotguns, to start)

All of those questions go unanswered, and I grew stiff with boredom as I realized that anything bad that happened to most of the main characters was that they would get kicked off an online video game. You use a surrogate, you probably run the risk of a host of other issues as well, like diabetes, weird sexual fetishes and demonstrating a super exaggerated version of John Gabriel's Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory , but none of that makes me want to pay attention to you.

After meandering around a murder mystery in a way that telegraphed the conclusion in the first ten minutes, Bruce Willis...

[slider title="spoiler"] saves everyone from being killed but destroys all the surrogates in a comic scene where they all just fall over with hysterical clangs and clinks around the extremely clean version of the city of Boston. Now everyone can live their lives the way god intended, the end.[/slider]

This movie is sticks to classic paranoia tropes of technology ruining humanity and, as such, would go great with Johnny Mnemonic, or Robocop 2 at any Cavalcade. Just keep the booze on hand

Just in case you were wondering, some of us thought U-571 and T3 were terrible too-The Management