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Movie review

  • 2006-12-13
Deja Vu
The Black Dahlia

Deja Vu
"Deja Vu" stars Denzel Washington as ATF agent Doug Carlin investigating the terrorist bombing of a ferry which kills over 500 people in post-Katrina New Orleans. Val Kilmer plays an FBI agent who recruits Carlin onto a special team that uses an experimental technology powered by satellites and computers to remap events which occur exactly four days and seven hours in the past. As Carlin follows the trail of dead woman Claire Kuchever (Paula Patton), who washed up on shore a few minutes before the explosion, he discovers that the technology is actually a space-time warp and that they are actually viewing the past as it is occurring. Carlin eventually uses the program to travel back in time in an attempt to save Claire and prevent the bombing. I enjoyed "Deja Vu." It's the kind of Hollywood movie that I like to see - a glossy studio production with a solid lead actor, a story with an interesting twist, and the momentum of a freight train. Denzel Washington must be one of my favorite Hollywood actors. Here, he is reliably intense and uses a nervous humor to humanize his character. Tony Scott's atmospheric and high-octane direction keeps the film rolling along at such a pace that it's a bit confusing trying to work out what Carlin's time travel actually changes. But it all seems to make movie sense in the end.
1/2( Sherwin Das )

"Deja Vu" is an oddly enjoyable movie despite its seriously over-the-top story. When a New Orleans ferry blows up, killing over 500 people on board, a newly-formed law enforcement agency recruits ATF agent Doug Carlin (Denzel Washington) to the team because of his skills at investigating crime scenes. The agency is using a new technology that allows them to look into the past exactly four days and seven hours ago in a constant stream of footage. To begin with, this idea works extremely well as a sort of film-within-a-film. But "Deja Vu" is a Tony Scott/Jerry Bruckheimer movie and it's not long before the story lurches into implausibility overdrive. Everyone plays it so straight though, including the ever-impressive Denzel Washington, that you can't help but enjoy the ride. Tony Scott handles the material with rare refinement following the dizzying visuals of "Domino" and shows himself to be a decent storyteller without having to resort to his characteristic kaleidoscopic editing. You'll certainly get the feeling that you've somehow seen it all before but "Deja Vu" is nonetheless good fun and technically impressive. Besides, it's always a pleasure to watch Denzel Washington acting with his teeth. No other actor touches him in that department. 
( Tim Ochser )

The Black Dahlia
Based on a James Ellroy novel, "The Black Dahlia" is a film noir thriller set in post-war 1940s Los Angeles about two police detectives Bucky (Josh Hartnett) and Lee (Aaron Eckhart) who become obsessed with the brutal murder of aspiring actress Elizabeth Short (Mia Kirshner). The film follows Bucky as he enters the police force, becomes part of a strangely familial trio with Lee and Kay Lake (Scarlett Johannson), and starts a love affair with wealthy bisexual Madeleine Linscott (Hilary Swank) while following the murder trail. What he uncovers is true to the genre: corruption, deceit, depravity, and disturbing family secrets. The best film noir is moody, atmospheric and dark. "The Black Dahlia" is none of these. It looks glossy and boasts some interesting camera work, but I didn't find anything particularly interesting in the movie. Scarlett Johannson in utterly miscast as a sultry temptress. And De Palma's version of the underground lesbian scene of the period looks more like the set of a Broadway musical peppered with beautiful kissing lesbians. If you've seen enough film noir, it will all seem familiar. De Palma is often criticized for borrowing shamelessly from Hitchcock and others. Whether his films are homages or flagrant rip offs depends on your definition of film. In "The Black Dahlia," De Palma is very clearly doing nothing new.
1/2 (Sherwin Das )

Many a great director has tried their hand at film noir from Robert Altman to Roman Polanski to Wim Wenders. Unfortunately, Brian De Palma is not a great director and his adaptation of James Ellroy's novel is an embarrassment from start to finish. "The Black Dahlia" is about friends and detective partners Dwight Bleichert (Josh Hartnett) and Leland Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart) who are trying to solve the gruesome murder of aspiring actress Elizabeth Short (Mia Kirshner). Of course, being a James Ellroy story there are plenty of convoluted subplots linked to the corpse but in De Palma's hands the story is just one big dead herring. The main problem is that two of the leads are badly miscast. Scarlett Johansson is simply awful as Blanchard's wife Kay. She self-consciously pouts her way through every scene but you need more than a pair of luscious lips to bring presence to a part. Josh Hartnett is equally out of place in his role. Hartnett may yet become a decent actor but he simply doesn't belong in the gritty world of film noir. Even the supposedly shock ending is accidentally comic. "The Black Dahlia" may as well have starred the Dalai Lama for all its authenticity.
( Tim Ochser )
 

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