Sunday, September 28, 2008

Eagle Eye

When I first heard about the concept for this movie, I instantly knew that I would A.) see it as soon as I could and B.) like it a lot. Before you read this, you should probably know that I'm automatically biased in favor of almost everyone involved with this film. Here's the rundown: an idea by Spielberg (he's freakin' Spielberg), produced by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (writers of Transformers, JJ Abram's upcoming Star Trek, MI:3, and co-creators of "Fringe"), starring Shia LaBeouf (awesome) and Michelle Monaghan (if you haven't seen Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, do it now), and directed by DJ Caruso (Disturbia and the upcoming Y: The Last Man trilogy). I don't know about you, but that pretty much does it for me.

Eagle Eye
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Michelle Monaghan, Billy Bob Thorton, Rosario Dawson
Director: DJ Caruso

Let's get one thing straight - I'm tired of people saying how ridiculous and unbelievable this movie is and putting it in a negative light because of it. If you saw the trailer, you knew exactly how ridiculous it would be, and you know exactly what type of entertainment you're going to see. I put Eagle Eye in the "Michael Bay" category of action movies. Everyone loves to hate them because it makes them seem too conformist if they actually enjoy themselves while watching it. Just because a movie doesn't have the most original idea or perfect execution doesn't mean it's not enjoyable. And it's not like you're watching Death Race here - this movie (along with most of Bay's films) do deal with some complex issues, however disguised they may be by the explosions along the way. They're action films for people who want a little more than JUST the action; they don't give MUCH more, I'll grant you that, but they definitely deliver on multiple levels.

Instead of telling you the plot, just watch this trailer to get the idea.

LaBeouf shows once again that he's completely capable of handling himself in front of the camera, and dusts himself off after the debacle that was Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Jerry Shaw still has the "slacker" aspects to the character that LeBeouf emulates so well, but I for one would like to see him stretch his acting abilities into other realms. I think it would be a good test for him to play against typecast and maybe play a villain or a vampire or something next time around (after Transformers 2, of course). There were some heartfelt moments in the beginning of this movie where I gained more appreciation for Shia's acting. And I think Michelle Monaghan is an under-used actress who needs a better agent; there are plenty of roles she could play and she doesn't even have anything listed as "in development" on her IMDB page.

Director DJ Caruso does everything he can to keep the movie plowing through its standard plot, but does a good job keeping the pace high so we barely have time to realize it. The movie had a cool look to it, which I guess should be attributed to the production designer and perhaps the cinematographer, where most scenes had a slight metallic blue hue to it (seen above), giving a subconscious implication that technology is everywhere to compliment the undertones of the film.

While the two stars did everything they could to keep the movie going, it couldn't just concentrate on them. A nice supporting cast, including Rosario Dawson, Billy Bob Thorton, Ethan Embry, and Michael Chiklis all chipped in to round out the plot a little bit. Thorton and Chiklis were easily the most believable in their respective roles, while Dawson and Embry seemed a little out of place to me (you can't blame Rosario, though - her decision to star in Eagle Eye over Kevin Smith's newest comedy Zack and Miri Make a Porno was undoubtedly a steadier financial move).

Let's talk for a second about plausibility. The whole concept, like many before it, involves technology becoming so powerful that it takes control of our lives in a way that we can't foresee. Obviously we're not breaking new ground with this material; the story has been told thousands of times before, dating back to the myths of Prometheus bestowing fire on humans and more recently in films like Terminator and Live Free or Die Hard. The technological things that happen in this movie (tracking by cell phones even when turned off, utilizing security cameras in the most obscure places, even piecing together conversations through vibrations in a coffee mug when there is no other microphone to pick up the sound) are not all that far-fetched. The reasoning behind all these things being used, however, can definitely be called into question.

(Spoiler warning - reading further will ruin the movie if you haven't seen it yet.)

First off, the movie tries to keep you in the dark with who the voice is on the other side of the phone. If you've seen any of these kinds of movies before, it's fairly easy to assume that the government is involved in some way. Especially with Billy Bob and Rosario running around trying to find the answers, it's kind of a dead giveaway that they simply don't have the clearance to know the "shocking" truth. I think they kind of played this whole aspect up a little too much - it's not crazy to think that a computer that can track your every move based off past purchases and social networking profiles, so it doesn't really require that much of a "big reveal."

The thing about the movie that didn't make sense to me was Rachel Holloman's involvement. Think about it. She really didn't need to be there. Unless her son was the ONLY one playing the trumpet and the trumpet specifically was the ONLY instrument that could generate the exact sonic trigger necessary to detonate the crystal explosive at the Kennedy Center, her entire character was practically irrelevant. I'm not saying that Monaghan didn't do a good job, I'm just suggesting that the writers (there WERE like four of them) probably could have found a better way to justify her character's involvement with the story. Jerry's character is completely justifiable because he is the only one who could have unlocked the system and allowed the computer's plan to work since his twin was the one who put a bio-lock on to foil her plans (how convienient that he has a twin, huh?). But it seemed to me as if the writers wrote the whole movie around Jerry's character and then, as an afterthought, figured that he needed a girl running with him the whole time.

Also, the only other thing that kind of upset me (aside from the blatant product placement that I've come to accept) was that Jerry survived those gunshots at the end. Those were trained Secret Service agents that shot him multiple times, and not only does he survive, he's (seemingly) not reprimanded for firing shots off in such close proximity to all the major members of the cabinet? They probably all shouldn't be in one room to begin with, but that's a different story. Anyway, I thought the movie would have been much better had his character died - it would have shown that Jerry grew up into the hero that his brother was and given his character redemption from years of living in Ethan's shadow. It would have completed the arc of the character (from drop-out downer to patriotic hero) perfectly. The filmmakers instead chose to have Jerry and Rachel get together at the end, undercutting the singular strength of her character (the single mother "I'm going to do this myself" aspect) by having her rely on him to fill the role as the man who never lets her down.

Overall, as I'm sure you gathered by now, I enjoyed Eagle Eye quite a bit. It's easy to put plot holes and script problems behind you when you've got such a cool movie to watch. While it's not anything that I'd choose to own, it's definitely a nice action movie that meets its goals - entertainment with a flash of something more. Until next time...

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Week 2 - Morgan Freeman

This man needs no introduction. One of the most accomplished actors of his generation, Morgan Freeman has captured the hearts of young and old alike by mixing award-winning performances (Million Dollar Baby) with just plain fun roles in "lower esteemed" movies (Lucky Number Slevin, Wanted).

Freeman has earned his stripes, appearing in over 53 films since 1980. His work spans genres, including westerns (Unforgiven), drama (Gone Baby Gone), thrillers (Sum of All Fears), and comic book films (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight). Freeman's voice is instantly recognizable, and it up there with James Earl Jones and Don LaFontaine among my "best movie related voices of all time" list.

My favorite performance is an easy decision. Even with his outstanding track record, in my opinion nothing comes close to Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption. The combination of narration and acting makes for a performance so moving it will nearly bring you to tears. The ending (which I won't ruin) is far and away my favorite ending of a movie, ever. But the whole thing would have been different if Freeman hadn't have played Red with such a mixture of reserved contentment and childlike anticipation.

After recovering from his recent car accident, he will be seen in a few high-profile projects. The Human Factor (directed by Eastwood), where he will be playing Nelson Mandela; and one that I've never heard of called Thick As Thieves, where he plays an old thief who calls Antonio Banderas in to help him with one last job should both be out before the end of 2009.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Actor/Actress of the Week

Hello all. I've decided to start up this weekly column just to get some more activity going here at the site. Each week I will (hopefully) pick an actor or actress and link to their filmography. I'll tell you why I like them, what my favorite performance of theirs is, and give you a little insight as to what projects they've got coming out in the future. So without further delay...

Week 1 (September 14th, 2008): Clint Eastwood

Aside from being one of the most iconic actors of all time, Eastwood has made a name for himself as an A-list Hollywood director over the years (Mystic River is one of my favorite films). He's also been known to compose music for some of his movies and even cleaned up a small California town by becoming Mayor in the late 80's. He is the epitome of masculinity in film and almost singlehandedly created the archetypes of the rogue cop and the antihero cowboy.

My favorite Eastwood performance can be found in the fourth Dirty Harry film Sudden Impact, in which he drops his most famous line "Go ahead...make my day." The whole performance is especially manly and really defines Eastwood's personality for me. I like to think that the way he acted in that film is the way he acts on a daily basis.

A few projects can be found on the horizon for the living legend. He recently directed Angelina Jolie in the thriller/drama Changeling, set to come out on Halloween of this year. He's also directing and starring in the upcoming Gran Torino (not a Dirty Harry film, as previously speculated) and directing The Human Factor, a film about Nelson Mandela starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon. Until next time...

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Burn After Reading

I was afraid this was going to happen. Initially I was excited about Burn After Reading - I heard it was a CIA story of mystery and intrigue, directed by the Coen brothers and starring an A-list cast. But as time ticked closer to its release date, I started to get an unsettling feeling that this movie wasn't going to be nearly as good as I had hoped. Unfortunately, the Coen brothers' latest attempt is little more than an unfunny "in-joke" that the rest of us are not let in on.

Burn After Reading
Writer/Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring: George Clooney, John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, Brad Pitt, Tilda Swinton

After their Best Picture-winning No Country For Old Men from last year, it's obvious that the Coens wished to tackle some less serious subject matter for their next picture. Who could blame them? No Country was one of the most bleak films I can remember in a while, but it was also a really good movie - something that Burn After Reading didn't even try to achieve. This farce never gave the audience anyone to care about, any protagonist to pull for. Every character was unlikeable, every joke fell flat, and every coincidence was far-fetched. I believe this was billed as a black comedy, but I didn't find it funny at all. Perhaps it was because of the prepubescent girls behind me in the theater shriek-cackling (shrecackling?) any time Brad Pitt opened his mouth. Perhaps it was the presence of Tilda Swinton, who always makes my spine tingle (not in a good way). Or perhaps it was because the movie just kind of sucked overall.

It's hard to call the acting into question when the writing was so bad - that's like being pissed at the mailman for bringing you your cable bill. They were just conduits, trying to breathe some life into characters so stupid and poorly conceived that it makes you cringe just thinking about. Brad Pitt's character, the aptly named "Chad," was the biggest imbecile of the bunch, with his awful haircut and childlike behavior. He was painfully stupid. Malkovich appeared and then disappeared for most of the movie, drinking and heaving obscenities left and right. Clooney was a pathetic sex-crazed government agent, unhappily married and a frightengly one-dimensional cracked pillar trying to hold this film on his back. Sorry George, maybe next time. Frances McDormand, who I generally like, was the one character that I didn't have a huge problem with; even she was an unlikeable internet dater whose only real concern in life was obtaining money for plastic surgery.

Technically speaking, the lighting was solid and the camera work was nothing out of the ordinary. But the score was really off-putting to me - it relied on periodic drum build-ups that would lead nowhere. Epic music set to mundane activities is one thing, but epic music leading up to nothing is something else entirely. I understand there was probably some significance they had in mind, but I felt like I was watching a recent M. Night Shyamalan movie - it was like the directors had good intentions and a loftier vision for it, but the execution was so bad that it just makes you feel sorry for everyone involved. OK, not everyone. Maybe just the crew members. The cast is laughing all the way to the bank right now.

"You think THAT'S funny? Take a look at my check from Intolerable Cruelty!"

Plot-wise, it was reminiscient of The Big Lebowski (a Coen classic), only in that there were so many nonsensical stupid things intersecting at once that the audience almost can't follow all of the reasoning and rationale for the characters' actions. But the difference is that we (the audience) took the journey with The Dude in Lebowski - we were along for the ride and were as clueless as he was the whole time. The Dude was a laid-back stoner, sure, but he had an intelligence and zest for life that was endearing and allowed us to look past his bumbling actions. In Burn After Reading, we were more insulted at the stupidity of the characters, making them extremely hard to relate to unless you yourself are a blithering idiot.

My favorite part of the film was the far-too-short appearance of J.K. Simmons as a CIA upper level bureaucrat. His unaffected, unemotional responses to the events that transpired in the film mirrored my own as an audience member, and his final assessment of the movie ("What did we learn today? Never to do this again.") is great advice that I hope the directors follow when thinking about their next few choices for films. Until next time...