February 27, 2005

Movie Reviews: Cellular & Collateral

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We watched two movies this weekend (actually, we watch two movies nearly every weekend), Cellular and Collateral. They were both thrillers and they were both pertty good.

What struck me the most with Collateral was the camera shots. It was one of those "in your face" types of movies, literally. I mean we were so close to Tom Cruise's character I could see his nose hairs. Collateral was fast paced, almost too much so, but it was fun to watch the situation go from bad, to worse, to impossible. I have to admit, I had a hard time swallowing Cruise's character portrayal at first, this was such a different role for him, but after a while, he convinced me. His character was particularly hard because he had to portray a ruthless killer while still allowing the audience to glimpse his screwed up psyche. There were times I almost felt sorry for him.

Jamie Foxx was a huge surprise. I thought he did a really good job portraying the taxi driver. The writer did a good job putting enough of his personality thoughts/goals into his character that I ended up liking, and rooting for, him.

The ending was satisfying, though sad. It's one of those films you sit back and contemplate human complexities. Don't be surprised to see a spin-off of this story on my Imagination Overload blog. I wrote some notes on the underlying theme of this movie. It was thought-provoking.

Cellular was interesting in the fact that it gave a whole new spin on the kidnapping theme. Basically, this family is in the wrong place at the wrong time and will end up paying for that misfortune with their lives. I thought it was interesting that the main characters in this movie didn't even meet until the end.

This was another one of those films that was non-stop from the first "ring." I love the movies where everything is thrown at the characters, just shy of the kitchen sink, and we get to sit back and watch how they will react.

Chris Evans (Ryan) ,is an unknown to me, but he did a really good job playing an irresponsible surfer dude who is suddenly thrust into a life and death situation, and not his own. He did a good job carrying us with him on his various attempts to not lose phone contact with Jessica (Kim Basinger).

And speaking of Basinger, she's not my favorite actress, but I have to give her two thumbs up for her portrayal of a kidnapped woman, locked in an attic with only a precarious phone connection to a stranger she's relying on to save her family. She had to act literally scared to death the whole movie and I'm sure that was exhausting. The character had enough strength and took enough chances, that I ended up liking her and wanting to see her save her family.

Below are excerpts of The New York Times' Reviews.

August 6, 2004
FILM REVIEW; Killer in a Cab, Doing His Job


IN ''Collateral,'' the edgy new thriller from the director Michael Mann, the city never sleeps; it doesn't even relax. Set in Los Angeles mostly after dark, after the city's sunshine has given way to cool noir, the story centers on a taxi driver, Max (Jamie Foxx), and the assassin Vincent (Tom Cruise), who hops a ride with him deep into the night. As the pair cover the city, looping over interchanges and down wide open boulevards, they travel a landscape alive with wild animals and wilder men, noisy with unfamiliar music and chatter, and punctured by the hard pop of occasional gunfire.

Following a few preliminaries, including some flirty minutes with Jada Pinkett Smith as a harried passenger, the story gets down to its dirty business with Vincent jumping into Max's meticulously clean taxicab. Nattily turned out in a gray suit and matching salt-and-pepper hair and light beard, Vincent takes the story precisely seven minutes east of downtown.
With the meter running, Max waits for his fare, fetishistically poring over luxury-car brochures and fantasizing about the limousine company he hopes to start. Then a body lands splat on the roof of the taxi, shattering the cabbie's nerves and a large section of his front window, and Stuart Beattie's screenplay kicks into overdrive. Vincent, Max discovers to his horror, is a killer for hire, and this is only the first stop on what looks to be a very strange trip.

Wired for action, ''Collateral,'' which opens nationwide today, initially seems like a return to basics for Mr. Mann, as exemplified by ostensibly straight early films like ''Thief,'' about a safecracker in love, and a retreat from the more self-consciously serious films like ''Ali,'' his underrated movie about the legendary boxer.

The new film takes place against a backdrop that pits a drug cartel against law enforcement agencies presumably intent on shutting it down, and to that end features big, beefy men wielding big, scary guns and the jolting image of Vincent hitting his marks, specifically with two bullets to the chest and one through the head. But because Mr. Mann makes thrillers the way that John Ford made westerns, using genre as a way into meaning rather than as an escape, ''Collateral'' bears little relation to the usual Hollywood blowout.

That becomes evident as Max and Vincent drive through the emptied-out streets and the story shifts from a two-hander to a road movie, a tourist-board nightmare and a bloodied valentine to the director's adopted hometown. A portrait of radically different souls clinging to radically different paths, ''Collateral'' hinges on the moment when fate intersects with choice.
Vincent is clearly a nutcase, seething with inarticulate rage and locked-down demons, but he's also a man seemingly in charge of his destiny. For Max, who's been hanging onto his well-tended fantasy for years (''this is just part time,'' he repeatedly insists of his hack job), his passenger represents an imminent threat, but also a necessary wake-up call. For Mr. Mann, it always seems, there is nothing worse than a life on automatic pilot, not even death.

Mr. Foxx can't have had an easy time playing foil to the world's biggest movie star, but he holds his own gracefully. For his part, Mr. Cruise, whose famous self-discipline has helped turn him into a bankable personality and a less-than-believable regular guy, makes Vincent scarily convincing. Underappreciated as an actor, Mr. Cruise is most at ease when he can deliver a good portion of his performance through his body. He's an intensely physical performer, one whose jumping muscles and athleticism often express the inner workings of his characters more plausibly than any scripted line. Clad in the sort of form-fitting, slightly too-short slacks favored more by modern dancers and Gene Kelly than (I assume) contract killers, he plays Vincent from the outside in, as a citadel of physical perfection and ability.

That makes the star an ideal fit not merely for this role but for this director, whose male characters inevitably express themselves more through their deeds than their words. One of the signatures of Mr. Mann's films is that while his male characters tend to be tight-lipped (if often very loud and certainly dogged in their beliefs), the director's visual style and musical choices verge on the extreme, at times the operatic. Filled with incessant rhythms, washes of gaudy color and heartbreaking beauty, the films boldly convey the passions and deep feelings the director's men rarely voice. It's the sort of expressionistic gambit that pointedly makes the case that movies create meaning both with what's on the scripted page and with images of palm trees bobbing against a moonlit sky and the everyday Los Angeles surrealism of coyotes prowling an otherwise urban street.


September 10, 2004

FILM REVIEW; Teacher Kidnapped! Or, Can You Hear Me Now?

One of the many virtues of ''Cellular,'' an improbably enjoyable new telecommunications action thriller, is that it wastes very little time on preliminary exposition. Kim Basinger, looking glamorous in a black dress and sunglasses, is walking her young son to the school bus. Their conversation lasts just long enough to establish the crucial information that Ms. Basinger's character, Jessica Martin, is a science teacher. The extra wave goodbye that she and her son exchange is a signal that something bad is about to happen, and a minute later some bald, black-denimed kidnappers kick in the kitchen door of Jessica's elegant Brentwood home, shoot the housekeeper dead and drag Jessica away to a remote safe house in the hills above Los Angeles.
All of this happens before you have time to ask how a science teacher can afford a brand-new Porsche Cayenne and a Brentwood mansion with live-in help, or why, on a day when school is in session, this particular science teacher is not at work. (You may also wonder why none of your science teachers looked or dressed like Ms. Basinger, but never mind.) But to pose such questions -- and others that arise during the diverting, implausible 89 minutes of ''Cellular,'' which opens today nationwide -- is to miss the point and spoil the fun.

Directed by the talented David R. Ellis with the same combination of breeziness and rigor that he brought to the underrated teen-scream fright-fest ''Final Destination 2,'' ''Cellular'' is the kind of movie that has become all too rare in this age of self-important blockbuster bloat. It's an honest, unpretentious, well-made B picture with a clever, silly premise, a handful of sly, unassuming performances and enough car chases, decent jokes and swervy plot complications to make the price of the ticket seem like a decent bargain.

When the chief bad guy, whose name is, of all things, Ethan (Jason Statham), throws Jessica into her attic holding cell, he makes sure to smash the wall phone with a sledge hammer. It's a sturdy old rotary-dial machine, though, so it still works well enough for Jessica to place a random call, which reaches the cellphone of Ryan (Chris Evans), an affable, carefree surfer busy researching bikini styles on the Santa Monica Pier.

According to his ex-girlfriend, Ryan is shallow and self-centered, but he shows remarkable decency and steadfastness in agreeing to help Jessica by staying on the phone until he can find the police.

Needless to say, helping her turns out to be a much more dangerous and complicated proposition, thanks to the vagaries of cellular technology and the unreliability (to say the least) of certain members of the Los Angeles Police Department. Through a series of accidents and misjudgments, Ryan finds himself speeding all over the west side of Los Angeles, from Los Angeles International Airport to Century City and beyond, in a series of borrowed and stolen cars, on the trail of an elaborate and nefarious conspiracy. He also repeatedly collides with the officiousness, selfishness and bad manners of his fellow Angelenos, who force him to take desperate measures like holding up a cellphone store and carjacking an obnoxious lawyer whose vanity license plate is one of the movie's many pieces of whimsical, if somewhat obvious, satirical humor.


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