Archives for posts with tag: Movies

Here, for the sake of posterity (and because it’s original home is now defunct), is my near-epic review of “Dreamcatcher” from March 2003. This is meant as a public service for future generations of moviegoers and Netflix users.

The pain begins after the jump.
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(originally posted at re-view on March 2, 2003)

This re-view reveals the “shocking” twist ending to “The Recruit”! Don’t read if you’re totally oblivious! (Otherwise, read on.)

Avid viewers of ABC’s phenomenal series “Alias” will recognize a lot of elements in “The Recruit”. There’s the brilliant, fresh-out-of-college trainee agent, the scruffy mentor-father figure, and gadgets gadgets gadgets. Oh, and there’s a mole, or a double agent, or something. But you knew all that from seeing the trailer endlessly over the last two months, didn’t you?

On paper, “The Recruit” seems like a no-brainer, home run of a movie – hot, young star (Colin Farrell) paired with grizzled film veteran struggling to find a decent part (Al Pacino, in full “Scent of a Woman” mode) in a taut, suspense filled action thriller (written by Roger Towne, Kurt Wimmer and Mitch Glazer) with a “surprise” ending. Which is all well and good, except that the studio telegraphed the twist ending in the trailer, which has been running relentlessly since the beginning of the holiday season. The twist? Pretty obvious, when you considering the underlying theme of the film: “Nothing is as it seems.” Someone is working against the CIA as a mole. Is it James Clayton (Farrell, most recently seen in “Daredevil”), top MIT graduate, computer savant and smooth bartender? Is it Layla Moore (Bridget Moynahan), fellow CIA recruit and seemingly perfect match for Clayton? Or is it Walter Burke (Pacino), the CIA’s “scary judge of talent”? Well, if you couldn’t figure it out from the preview, stop reading this right now, walk to the nearest wall and bang your head into it. Because between the preview and the first hour of the movie, the writers couldn’t make it more obvious.

Therein lies the major failing of “The Recruit”. The story presents a whole lot of potential. The ending of the story itself presents the opportunity for a major Hitchcockian twist. But placed in the hands of hacks like Towne (“The Natural” – that’s right, he hasn’t written a film since 1984!), Wimmer (“Equilibrium”) and Glazer (whose last original work was the 1991 Cindi Lauper vehicle “Off and Running”, but is probably better known for collaborating on “Scrooged”), this story plays out as obvious and bland. Even without seeing the trailer, you can see the huge twist at the end (Pacino is the mole, getting paid $3M for a dubious-sounding computer virus…you know, normally I would have posted a spoiler warning, but let’s face it…you already knew all this) coming for the final hour of the movie. Add a suspicion-fueled love story into the mix, and the fact that some folks at the CIA go out for “margarita Monday” after work, and you wonder how this thing ever got past the first draft. Or if it actually did. In all fairness, tho, the story was moved along at a fairly brisk pace, and, while predictable at times, the film was rarely “boring”.

Despite being a spy film, the production design didn’t go off into the realm of fantasy, as was the case with, say, “xXx”. If a computer is presented on screen, if pretty much does what you’d expect a computer to do. The CIA isn’t all giant video screens, red phones and ultra-super-secure biometrics – believe it or not, there are actually cube farms at the CIA! And a cafeteria that sells overpriced sandwiches! And the logins on the computers can be defeated with anyone who knows a decent amount about computer code! (Well, maybe the last part is a bit far-fetched.) But most things act they way they should in real life – Colin Farrell’s truck doesn’t fly, and Pacino’s cell phone isn’t also a fingerprint reader, and you actually need a wireless card to get a laptop to access the CIA’s server in the middle of nowhere. All this serves to make the spiffy spy gadgets more fantastic – and when you consider that the only thing we’re really shown is a microphone that biodegrades after 48 hours, it comes off as pretty nifty. (Until you find out that the CIA seemingly gives them out with the Company newsletter, because EVERYONE’s got them.)

Farrell and Moynahan are both likable, and deal well enough with the hammy material they’re handed. There’s a great moment where Pacino sends Farrell and 4 other male recruits on an “op” into a bar to secure an “asset” with the intention of having “sex”. In the process of delivering some pickup lines, he spys Moynahan on the other side of the bar – she’s drunk and depressed because she just got the boot from the trainee program. He calls a cab to take her back to her motel, and she gradually leads him outside to make out. “OP COMPLETE!” That’s Moynahan saying that – her “op” was to cock-block Farrell. The tables have just been turned on Farrell, and he doesn’t know how to react – or what, if any, of what she’s said about her feelings for him is true. (It’s a running theme thru the whole film.) I like Farrell more and more with each film appearance, and I have no doubt that he’ll be able to open a film on his own by the time “Phone Booth” finally makes it into theatres in April or so.

Then there’s Pacino. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of Al Pacino. He was brilliant in the Godfather saga. But I’m wondering if the gaggle of writers were more than a little intimidated by his status as a movie “icon”. See, as the lead instructor at CIA’s training center (“The Farm” – a setting familiar to fans of the Tom Clancy books), Pacino’s character is frequently placed a position to lecture the trainees about the life of a spy. And Pacino growls out spy cliché after spy cliché – almost like the writers just let him ad-lib, because they couldn’t write for a guy like him. The only real difference between his performance here and the aforementioned “Scent of a Woman” was the lack of “HooWAH!” and…well…more interesting dialogue with his protégé. (In his closing monologue, after he essentially outs himself as the mole, I swear I think I saw him literally chew the scenery, Shatner style.)

Director Roger Donaldson may not be the most familiar name, but he previously directed vehicles for Tom Cruise and Natasha Henstridge (“Cocktail” and “Species”, respectively)…OK, toss in “Cadillac Man” and “Dante’s Peak”, and he hasn’t got the greatest track record. But he does a serviceable job here, and allows Collin Farrell to shine as the definite star of this film. Following the clue from the production design, the camerawork and points of view presented are often logical and rarely “fantastic”, a nice change from spy thrillers who have no qualms saying “we rented this infrared camera, damn it, we’re going to use it!” Not necessary memorable, but suited well to this film.

Overall, “The Recruit” isn’t a bad way to spend 2 hours. It doesn’t hold up to the Jack Ryan movies (and doesn’t even come CLOSE to dethroning “The Hunt for Red October” as the best spy thriller ever), but it does well to establish Colin Farrell as a leading man who can handle both action and romance, and tries to put a spin on the “double agent/mole” scenario. It’s just too bad JJ Abrams does it so much better on a weekly basis. That, a ham-fisted script, and the fact that Touchstone Pictures gave away the twist serve to sink the movie to simply “average” levels.

Daredevil is, at best, a schitzophrenic movie. I don’t say that because at times it wants to be an action movie, and at times it wants to be a romance – all comic book/superhero movies do that. What I mean is that, clearly one person envisioned a taut, intelligent superhero movie about an average kid who made the best of a bad break, and falls in love; while another person saw “The Matrix” on DVD and said “Let’s do that in our movie!”

Despite some of the bad press the movie has received in the last two days, I went into “Daredevil” hoping for the best: at the very least, be true to the title character. Daredevil isn’t one of the more well known Marvel properties, so you’ll be forgiven if you didn’t know that the story revolves around Matt Murdoch (Ben Affleck), lawyer for the downtrodden. You see, as a boy Matt got some Biohazard in his eye, stripping him of his sight but enhancing his other senses to the point that he needs to sleep in a sensory depravation tank. His powerful hearing also provides him with something of a sonar effect (akin to the type of thing bats use to navigate), which allows him to “see” to an extent. (Also of interest is that his sense of smell allows him to detect how fine Jennifer Garner is before she’s even in the same building as him.) Using his super-senses and a modest array of weaponry inspired by a blind-man’s cane, he suits up in red leather and patrols Hell’s Kitchen as Daredevil. How’s that for backstory?

Anyway, I don’t want to get too far into the plot of the movie, mainly because there’s not much to get into. I will tell you that Jennifer Garner plays Elektra, all around hottie, kung fu expert and daughter of a billionaire whose name sounds like “nachos”. Billionaire Nacho Dad is connected to Wilson Fisk, a/k/a the Kingpin (Michael Clarke-Duncan). Meanwhile, John Favreau sits around and drinks coffee, and Joe Pantoliano writes about Daredevil and Kingpin for the NY Post, and lights subway platforms on fire in his spare time.

As I hinted to earlier, this is a movie that suffers from a lack of clear direction in the script. Clearly, the writers were trying to avoid making “Daredevil” seem too much like a carbon-copy of “Spiderman”, despite the swoopy camerawork and the presence of a pessimistic newspaper man. But in trying to distinguish themselves, the writers seemed to have split their duties to the point where this felt like two separate movies with the same characters, and the projectionist was simply swapping reels at random. The scenes where Affleck appears as Murdoch (or, as Darren called him, “Blind Lawyer Guy”) were fairly well written for this type of film, and Affleck & Favreau really took ownership of the banter between their characters. But it seems someone else was in charge of whenever Affleck appeared on screen as Daredevil, and as such, the fight sequences suffer from Matrix-envy. The fights pass mostly without dialogue (thank god), but when the characters start punning, it’s almost cringe worthy. And some of the fight sequences don’t even make sense – I mean, for a guy whose powers are limited to Miracle Ear and being overwhelmed by the urine smell that plagues NYC, he doesn’t have much of a problem leaping insane heights without much effort, even if he can’t tell the difference between honey and mustard. Also, how about explaining to the audience why Kingpin is insanely strong, but needs a cane to walk, BEFORE it becomes the turning point in a fight scene! Would that be asking too much?

But I digress. The other part of this equation for mediocrity is the direction of Mark Steven Johnson, whom you may know as the director of “Simon Birch”. The script must have said something about the mood of the film being “dark”, because they sure as hell didn’t go overbudget on lighting. Watching the film, you get the distinct feeling that Johnson owes Blockbuster some back rental fees on the aforementioned Matrix and Spiderman, not to mention most of the John Woo cannon, because you won’t have much trouble spotting the bits he lifted and inserted into “Daredevil”. He was more in his element during the “Blind Lawyer Guy” scenes, mainly because no one had to kick anyone’s ass with a cane. Add in the overscoring of the action sequences with cheesy pop/metal music and some HUGELY poor CGI effects, and you’re left with a totally uninspired and derivative directorial vision.

To their credit, the actors did the best they could with what they had to work with. But even Clarke-Duncan can’t make a line like “I was brought up in the Bronx, you wouldn’t understand this sort of thing” sound plausible, in any situation. As is the case with most masked hero movies, Affleck is at his best (and that’s being generous) when he’s Murdoch, whether he’s bullshitting with Favreau (who stole most of their scenes together right out from under Affleck) or wooing Garner. For her part, Jennifer Garner was the perfect choice for Elektra, or at least the obvious one, since her character on “Alias” isn’t much different from Elektra – young girl, well trained in the deadly arts, out for revenge…and looking great in damn near anything she wears. (Only JJ Abrams gives her much better dialogue to work with, so…)

I haven’t yet mentioned Colin Farrell, cast as professional assassin for hire, Bullseye. When he throws something, he never misses. That’s his whole shtick. Well, that, and he knows some really inventive ways to kill a man. Finally “allowed” to be Irish in one of his movies, his character is as big and broad as the panels that inspired him. You can see he’s having great fun with this movie, even when he’s forced to utter horrible fight banter. (I mean, his name is his catchphrase? Whatsupwitdat?) In a particularly poorly written climax to his final fight scene with Daredevil (and a scene which sharp-eyed Christians might find insulting), he almost seems to be apologizing to the audience. But most of the time, he’s damn fun to watch.

I know this seems like it’s awfully negative, but there were some things this movie did right. It got the origin story right, more or less. The story, such as it is, focuses more on the destructiveness of revenge than the whole “with great power comes great responsibility” deal. The groundwork has been laid for all the characters to come back for a (hopefully better-written) sequel. (Or, for that matter, they’ve effectively set up the Elektra character and moved her on for a spin-off.) There’s more, but if I go on any longer, this isn’t going to be an “instant” review, is it?

Overall, the film was enjoyable for what it was, but not nearly the quality of superhero film of “Spiderman” or “X-Men”. (As a side note, the trailer for “X2” ran prior to the movie, and it looks to seriously improve on the first film.) “Daredevil” tried to be too much flash, not enough substance. Focusing the movie more on the characters and less on the implausible Hong Kong fighting sequences would have helped give the movie a focus and kept it from being a “knock off” of its more successful Marvel brethren. Not great, but not total shite.

I’m glad I waited to write this until now, because if I had posted my opinions when I got home last night (at 3 in the morning), I would have torn Episode II a new one. But hindsight, even 12 hour old hindsight, is 20/20, and I’ve been able to think back and separate out what I liked from the banta fodder.

So let me say this – I did like the film. Maybe not as much as Darren liked it, but I DID like it. That said, I did think the movie had it’s fair share of problems…

POINT: Immediately after leaving the theater, I indicted Natalie Portman’s acting as horrible. In retrospect, I think I can say (as someone who knows about these things) it wasn’t her fault. The fault, dear reader, lies not in the Senator but in the Young Jedi, as he’s a terrible, terrible actor. I swear, I’ve seen pieces of unpainted drywall in my kitchen that can act rings around Hayden Christensen. So, Natalie, you’re forgiven. After all, you can’t be blamed when your scene partner for most of the movie expresses fewer emotions than most of the droids.

POINT: The movie was uneven. The action sequences were fantastic, as were pretty much all of Ewan McGregor’s scenes. (And how can you top scenes between Samuel L. Jackson and Yoda?) But when we hit scenes from the Anakin-Amidala love story arc, the movie slowed to a crawl. And I’m not even talking about the acting anymore. The whole “will they-won’t they” thing was written too coy and too melodramatic, even for this style of movie. (And if Amidala loves Anakin so much, why did she keep cock-blocking him?) The audience knows where it has to go, so why couldn’t we have a little fun with it along the way? I almost feel like this could have been solved by interjecting everybody’s favorite droid stand-up act, R2D2 and C3P0, earlier in the story to provide some much needed comic relief.

POINT: Yoda is one bad motherf**ker. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who has not seen the movie yet, but…man, can that Muppet swing a lightsaber. While some of the CGI bothered me, a fully mobile, ass-kicking CGI Yoda a good thing was. (Bad motherf**ker honorable mention to Jango Fett.)

POINT: DUM DUM DUM DUMDEDUM DUMDE DUM! DUM DUM DUM DUMDEDUM DUMDEDUM! (Thanks for clubbing me over the head with that, John Williams. Damnit, I’m gonna end up buying the score anyway.)

POINT: I agree with Darren – while the acting and dialogue were both, perhaps, a bit wooden, the story was the real star of this movie. Glimpses of what is to come in Episode III and in the existing 2nd trilogy make it especially worthwhile.

POINT: A huge reduction in the presence of one Mr. Jar Jar Binks, and when he was on screen, he served a vital purpose. (But man, did he get played like a pool table. See the movie. You’ll know what I mean. It doesn’t take a Jedi Mind Trick to get one over on Jar Jar.)

So, on the whole, I did like it, in the end. The action sequences were fantastic. I liked the fact that we get some closure regarding Anakin’s mother (from Episode I). I especially liked the parallels to Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. There were moments where I forgot I was watching a live action movie, such was the preponderance of CGI, but I think that was minimized. (BTW – we learn in EpII that, a long time ago in a galaxy far far away, humans were already drinking coffee. Discuss.) It was a huge improvement over Episode I, although since there was so much set-up in EpI, I don’t know if that is a fair comparison. Overall, a thumbs up from me. I’d probably see it again.

This party is over. (Motherf**ker.)