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Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Covenant

Starring: Steven Strait, Sebastian Stan, Laura Ramsey, Taylor Kitsch, Toby Hemingway, Jessica Lucas, Chace Crawford

The Covenant
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Synopsis: Four young men who belong to a supernatural legacy are charged with stopping the evil force they released into the world years earlier. Another great force they must contend with is the jealousy and suspicion that threatens to tear them apart.

Review: I can wrap The Covenant up for you in one simple sentence: it’s a movie only a teenage girl could love. The story, characters, action sequences – anything that might make the movie worth watching – have all been whittled away to make room for painfully cheesy heart-throb dialogue and barely-clad twenty-somethings strutting around pretending to be teenagers. There’s plenty in this sloppy little supernatural flick to bore anyone else to tears, but slap-happy teens obsessed with mind numbing shows like "One Tree Hill" may very well herald this as the best movie of the year.

Harry Potter meets The Craft in the style of “The OC”, The Covenant tells the story of four boys who have received “The Power”. No one knows where The Power came from. Thank goodness for that as I don’t think I could have endured the extra ten minutes they would have spent explaining it. It is always passed along family lines, from father to the eldest son (why are mystic ancient powers always so misogynistic?) and begins to manifest itself when they turn 13. This Power doesn’t fully mature until they “ascend” on their 18th birthday, an experience that looks identical to what happens when one immortal kills another in Highlander.

Besides gracing the teenage boys with the bodies of Chippendale dancers, The Power grants them the ability to do anything they want, which usually manifests itself in the form of lifting women’s skirts or hurling beer kegs at each other. However, like the dark side of the force, the power has an addicting seductive side. Using it makes you want to do even more, but each usage causes damage to the user’s body, eventually leading to premature death. There’s some business in there about the families and witch hunts in the 1600s, a covenant and some Book of Damnation too. Better exploration of those aspects could have made the movie more interesting but would have required the audience to actually think. Heaven forbid.

Caleb (Steven Strait) is the oldest and most responsible of the four and the most conscientious about using The Power. He and the others attend a private academy where the students spend more time partying than studying. Incredibly enough, all four boys are members of the swim team giving them ample opportunity to wander around in their speedos. The school year takes a twist when two new transfer students arrive on campus. One is the lovely Sarah (Laura Ramsey) who steals Caleb’s heart. The other is Chase (Sebastian Stan), yet another swimmer with The Power. The boys discover Chase is a long lost descendant of a line they thought had died during the witch hunts. He has arrived with a hunger for more, looking to steal Caleb’s share of The Power.

I’d like to believe that some of the actors have a genuine talent for their craft, but they’ll never have a chance to show it until they stop taking roles where they’re cast mainly for their physique. The toughest part of Ramsey’s role was not showing too much during a completely irrelevant shower scene (gotta keep that PG-13 rating), and the major requirements for the five guys is that they can look good in swimwear while hurling imaginary spheres of The Power at each other. During the final “climactic” battle sequence between Caleb and Chase, all they have to do is grit their teeth and wave their arms around in the hopes that the special effects somehow make it look less silly. Unfortunately that doesn’t happen and the whole thing comes off looking like a reject from a Mortal Kombat movie.

As the movie neared what I prayed were the credits, it had one last bomb to drop: an open ending that promises not just a sequel, but a franchise of films. Given the financial success of other teen-dream slosh like John Tucker Must Die and She’s The Man, there’s no question that if this one does as well there’s bound to be more on the way. At least if they carry this into the guys’ college years, the actors might be closer to the right age for their characters.

*Review by Scott Gwin, CinemaBlend

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The Black Dahlia

Starring: Josh Hartnett .... Ofcr. Dwight "Bucky" Bleichert

Scarlett Johansson .... Kay Lake

Aaron Eckhart .... Sgt. Leland "Lee" Blanchard

Hilary Swank .... Madeleine Linscott

Mia Kirshner .... Elizabeth Short

Synopsis: The Black Dahlia is set in 1940s Los Angeles. Two cops, Bucky Bleichert (Josh Hartnett) and his partner, Lee Blanchard, investigate the death of Elizabeth Short, a young woman found brutally murdered. Bucky soon realizes that his girlfriend had ties to the deceased, and soon after that, he begins uncovering corruption and conspiracy within the police department.

Based on a true unsolved murder. In the 1940s, a young and beautiful woman named Elizabeth Short came to Hollywood, destined to become a famous actress. However, her brutal murder in 1947 would make her famously known as 'The Black Dahlia' and would become a conspiracy and an obsession with all involved.

The Black Dahlia The Black Dahlia
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Review:* Miscasting does in De Palma's 'The Black Dahlia'

Since "The Black Dahlia" more or less tells the story of an actress, a heinously murdered one at that, it makes sense that the first thing you notice about this so-so adaptation of James Ellroy's novel is the shoddy acting.

Fixating on the performances seems inevitable since it's a Brian De Palma picture. The director bears the unique distinction of being responsible for some of the most sublime performances in the movies (Sissy Spacek in "Carrie," say, or John Travolta in "Blow Out") and some of the worst (see ``Bonfire of the Vanities" -- or don't). But "The Black Dahlia" is woefully short on the sublime.

Ellroy's 1987 novel spun the notorious butchering of Elizabeth Short, a 22-year-old aspiring starlet from Medford, into a strange noir melodrama. Like the book, the film is set in post-World War II Los Angeles and tells the tale through the lazy eyes of Dwight "Bucky" Bleichert (Josh Hartnett), a lanky cop and ex-GI, who is promoted from beat work to the sexier warrants division.

There, along with his psychologically volatile partner, Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart), Dwight descends, as too many real-life men have, into an obsession with the case of the dismembered young woman. Mia Kirshner plays Betty dolorously in flashbacks and screen tests that provide the film with its only true emotional substance. You can see why writers and detectives would have a hard time shaking those big sad eyes.

Hartnett seems ideal for this line of work. He has a slow-to-wake innocence that suits a character whose detective skills always appear to be two or three scenes behind ours. The character's smarts are slightly below average, and Hartnett doesn't have the gravity to raise him up. He's almost too innocent.


*Review by: Wesley Morris, Boston


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