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Movie Review: The Guardian (2006)

Posted by Jay Medina on February 20, 2007

The GuardianFirst off, let me please applaud the producers and the entire cast and crew of this movie, for shining a light on a group of truly unsung heroes.  In the movie, there are some key differences between the Navy and the Coast Guard highlighted that make this movie a nice tribute to Coast Guard Swimmers.

Now, for the movie as it stands as a movie.  Not very well, or shall I say about as well as a seasick landlubber who has yet to find his sea-legs.  It pains me to have to say that, it really does.  Even though I was never a Coastie or a Navy-type (I served 9 years in the Army), I really wanted this movie to work on all levels.  I watched it with my children, and they are tremendous fans of the movie.  Perhaps that’s my problem.  I wanted this movie to be enjoyed by people of all ages, however, it was just too predictible.

Ok, so as I write this, I can see that perhaps I need to separate my thoughts between storyline (which desperately needed a water rescue of it’s own), and the technical aspects of the film.  Let me start with the storyline, so we can then move to something more positive. 

The story has a solid premise.  An elite squad of rescue swimmers, known as Coast Guard Swimmers, live by a motto they hold dear: “So that others may live”.  The story centers around a rugged rescuer named Ben Randall, played rather well by Kevin Costner (Silverado, The Bodyguard).  As Costner has come back to acting in his last few movies, this is no exception.  He carries the role of the salty, brooding Coastie with conviction.  Randall can’t imagine a life without the Coast Guard, and rescuing people is what he loves to do. So much, so, his marriage is starting to crumble. 

As Randall is a living legend among rescue swimmers, an accident during an open-sea rescue leaves him as an instructor at the “A School” where budding rescue swimmers train to be part of the elite.  Enter a young idealistic (and motivated) Jake “Fish” Fischer, played by Ashton Cutcher (The Butterfly Effect, Dude Where’s My Car?).  There’s nothing an old-veteran can’t stand more than a young, green, motivated buck like “Fish”.  As I’ve seen Cutcher in Butterfly Effect and was quite impressed with his performance, after seeing him in The Guardian, I am convinced this lad can act! 

Sidenote: It would almost be worth discussing a theory where in real life as Cutcher is idealistic, young, and motivated to be great, Costner is being challenged to keep up and therefore brings out some of his best acting in decades.  What a parallel to the movie’s story, and one worth considering, but I digress.

As the characters become fleshed out and we start to see their vulneralbilities, it starts to create a contrast of light and dark, where their mutual desire to save lives is overshadowed by their unhappy personal pasts that they are desperately trying to compensate for.  All this creates is a beast that cannot be fed enough guilt and will continue to consume, unless a breakthough can occur.

Again, the story had some real promise, however, the love or anti-love aspect of the usual “it’s lonely being a hero” has been done to death, and I was rather hoping for a fresh take on this.  In fact any love scenes between Fish and his love interest are just downright frustrating to watch.  It almost had An Officer And A Gentleman feel to it, but I stress the word almost.

Where there is real emotion is in the scene between Randal and his new ex-wife, Helen, played by the always beautiful Sela Ward (The Fugitive, Sisters).  That is probably the one scene where you really feel the pain of heartbreak, and it doesn’t come off as being contrived.

Where we start entering to usual charted waters is during the emotional breakthrough between Randall and Fish.  With trite lines like, “I’ve been trying to figure you out, and for the life of me, I can’t seem to get through.”  Uh, why?  Why would an instructor be trying to figure someone out when at the beginning of the training school, that same crusty instructor works very hard to weed out the no-can-do’s.  In fact, up to the point of that line, all Fish did wrong was show up late after having an all-nighter with his love-interest in the film.  But, lines like that need to be said, to set up for some emotional scenes that follow. 

And that is precisely my point. It’s like everything is staged and forced, and only the acting of Costner and Cutcher can even make it watchable.  In fact, I will not give away the rest of the movie, but I won’t need to, because if you’re like me, you will feel that as you watch this movie, you’ve already seen it.  Perhaps under a different title with different actors, but this movie will give you an unshakable case of deja-vu.

Now to the technical aspects of the film.  The effects are first rate, and with some night-time rescue scenes in rough seas with storms and lightning, this film does it and does it good!  The lighting is well done in either daylight or night scenes, and the sound quality is on par with some of the better productions of it’s rivals. 

The Guardian is not an awful film,  it just didn’t have me jumping in my seat, which is what I was hoping for.  The kids loved it and that’s a good thing.  It’s nice to be able to show them a movie where saving lives is heroic, instead of the usual war movie, where they depict taking lives as being glamourous and studly. 

This is one of those movies, where I couldn’t see recommending it, but also wouldn’t advise that you steer clear from it, either.  If you’ve seen this movie, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks for reading.

The Guardian on DVD here

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Movie Review: Door to Door (2002)

Posted by Jay Medina on January 17, 2007

Door To DoorI accidentally found this movie one very recent sleepless night.  What a find!  As I was looking through the free movie offerings from my digital cable’s On Demand feature, I was torn between this movie and “The Island“; a Michael Caine movie about pirates (written by Peter Benchley) terrorizing the Caribbean in modern day, or as modern as 1980 could be.

How glad I am that I chose Door to Door!  This movie is the inspiring true story of door to door salesman, Bill Porter, played expertly by William H. Macy (Air Force One, Fargo), a master actor of our generation.  Mr. Porter suffers from cerebral palsey from birth, and the movie picks up in the late 50’s, where he is preparing to interview for his first (and only) job with the Watkins Company.  Because of his condition, he is initially turned down, but that doesn’t stop him.  That only makes him more determined; and that determination has not slowed, even to this day.  The underlying message is that any of us can do amazing things, if we have patience and persistence.

The movie was co-written by Macy, and the story covers the four decades in which Mr. Porter has been an active member of his community, selling his company’s products door to door.

In the current age where anything “salesy” is not just frowned upon and rejected wholesale, but truly brings out the worst in people, this story humanizes the role of a salesman, and shows just how and why someone would take on one of the most unwanted and unwelcomed jobs in today’s society.  Quite simply: To make a living.

The story of Bill Porter shows what a true salesman can do.  He is a member of his community, and people know him by name, and he knows each of his customers.  He asks about their children, and how things are going.  Porter is genuine, not slick-selling.  He’s seen children grow into adults, and adults move into new stages in their lives.  He’s seen families end and new ones begin.  All the while, he has provided a convenient service that his customers value, and he makes it easy for them to buy from him.  But most importantly, he has become a part of their lives and they have become part of his. That sort of connection doesn’t come easy in today’s cynical society.

I think this story also hits on a bit of nostalgia for me.  I grew up in the 70’s and the 80’s, and I remember the Shaklee guy who used to come to my grandmother’s home to sell shampoo or stain remover.  The thing is, in today’s age, we can’t go to the grocery store or the even the department store these days, and get stellar service like the door to door salesman is willing to provide.

The movie is smartly cast, with Helen Mirren (Prime Suspect, The Queen) playing Porter’s ailing mother.  Kyra Sedgwick (The Closer, Phenomenon) is totally cute and priceless as Porter’s assistant, Shelly.

A piece like this isn’t noted for it’s sound, or even it’s cinematography, it’s about the writing and how well it tells the story.  To me, the writing was solid, as it is a work of art that showcases the fortitude and persisistant spirit of a truly special human being.  If you have the means, rent this movie.  Rent it NOW.  It’s available on Netflix, and you might be able to catch it for free on Time Warner Cable’s free movies on demand. We definitely need more Bill Porters in the world.

Have you seen this movie?  What did you think? 

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My First DVD Review: The Da Vinci Code (2006)

Posted by Jay Medina on January 11, 2007

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View the trailer 

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I saw this movie, based on Dan Brown’s book.  However, I did think this was a bold move by Ron Howard (Appllo 13, Backdraft) to try to create a smart mystery wrapped in an enigma.  I hadn’t read the book, but undoubedly, the movie most likely pales in comparison to the book, as most movie version usually do.  Let’s keep that debate out of this, and go strictly for the movie on it’s own merits, shall we?

I found the movie to be smart, and clever, and allows you to follow along pretty easily; even if you’re no Jeopardy champion like me.  Since the movie covers a wide range of topics from the taboo (Opus Dei and it’s dealings with the Roman Catholic Church), to the uber-intellectual (symbols and anagrams and puzzles), Howard paints a layered and textured piece that blends well with its European surroundings.

The cinematography is crisp, the music and sound adds tension to every move.  Overall, the movie gives you a sense of looking into a menagerie of characters, plot and subplot, with vividness of crisp imagery and well-lit scenes.  Even the night shots were particularly easy to distinguish, to which Howard deserves much credit.

While sometimes you might feel extremely inadequate in the IQ department, the movie lets you off the hook, by giving you enough to keep up and then feel smart for having stayed with the characters.  Dr. Robert Langdon, played by Tom Hanks (Saving Private Ryan, Forrest Gump), is a super-intelligent, anti-hero.  Hanks, in my opinion, has mastered the craft of acting, and is completely believable in his reluctant Dr. Langdon.  Only through Langdon’s understanding that there is no alternative but to solve the mystery surrounding him, does he dive in completely and use his intellect to turn the tables on his manipulators.

He posseses no bravado and is in some cases utterly frightened at the unknown.  Hanks portrays Dr. Langdon as a fish out of water, who is thousands of miles from home, and out of his usually safe and comfortable acedemic surroundings.

The damsel in part-distress, part savior, is played by Audrey Tautou (A Very Long Engagement), an accomplished French actress.  She is intelligent and a great counter-weight to Dr. Langdon.  She keeps him grounded and adds her own smarts to the mysteries surrounding them.

Jean Reno (The Professional, Ronin) is a little out of sorts as French Special Investigator Capt. Fache.  He is a little rusty playing a heavy, since the last time he did so was in Brian de Palma’s Mission:Impossible in 1996.  Most of the time, Reno is a good sidekick or a tough guy who is at home in action movies.  In this case, Capt. Fache is not a serious bad guy, but more of an obsessed stooge, doing someone else’s bidding.

The standout performance of the movie had to be Paul Bettany (A Knight’s Tale) and his portrayal of Silas.  Bettany creates a truly morbid, confused, yet fragile character that leaves you wondering whether or not to feel sorry for him.  I had to do a double-take upon seeing him, as Bettany was completely transformed into Silas, and fully devouring his role to the point of unrecognition.

Because of the controversial nature of the storyline, this may not be for everyone, however, I did enjoy the plot and the subplots, and found it to be a fun time.  At the end, I felt a little smarter for hanging in there and letting myself soak up the history and trivia, not all of which may be true.  But, hey, won’t I be the life of the party when I talk about the trivia surrounding the painting of “The Last Supper”?

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