Friday, December 17, 2004


Image Hosted by ImageShack.usMichael Mann's latest thriller, released on DVD this Tuesday, seems more of a recollection of his past successes, rather than anything new. Given the premise, and the director, one would expect an edgy, well-shot, and most importantly original work. Sadly, what starts as an electrifying, suspenseful film begins losing speed at the halfway point, and by the end feels like it is lurching to a finish in the most formulaic of manners.

The movie boasts three big stars, Tom Cruise as the icy hit-man Vincent, Jaime Foxx as Max the cabbie with big dreams but lacking the drive (no pun intended) to make them happen, and Mann himself, veteran writer and director of crime thrillers on both the big and small screen. All three have reputations as well as lofty expectations, and all three fall short of the performances they could have given in the film.

You can't blame Cruise and Fox for the lack of intensity in their acting, because despite their best efforts, the dialogue they're given is far too contrived and often wildly out of place. The juxtaposition between Vincent's threats of death in order to retain Max as his personal chauffeur for the night and his seemingly legitimate concern for the well-being of his driver just doesn't work. There's no middle ground between the two, and without it and any kind of motivation for the alternation between those modes, the screenplay can seem downright schizophrenic.

The disappointment at the lackluster dialogue is exacerbated by the extremely well-written conversation between Jada Pinket-Smith (as the high-powered prosecutor) and Foxx in the first twenty minutes of the movie. Lines flirtatiously dart back and forth between the two, and their potency rests in the unspoken fact that the driver and the passenger are from such different worlds that despite their dalliance, there can be no real future for the two characters.

Mann would have been smart to use Smith's character as a way to flesh out his protagonist -- giving him a reason to make it through the night -- but instead the writer/director falls prey to formulaic thriller doctrine that she must of course come back into the plot at the film's end. As the two story-lines overlap in a most expected way, Mann's movie takes its final step out of the realm of the interesting and into that of the mediocre and predictable.

Through all the excitement -- of which there truly is some-- the forced dialogue, and the predictable outcome, there is one moment where Michael Mann's genius flashes quickly on screen. Right before the film heads towards a disappointing end, Max has to stop the cab short in front of a family of coyotes crossing the street. Their eyes glow in the headlights as they pass, and Mann beautifully pulls out all music and ambient noise from the soundtrack, leaving Max, Vincent and the audience in absolute silence and with the realization that there is no barrier -- physical or otherwise -- between L.A.'s civilization and the wild beyond its borders. It is therefore quite telling that just as the moment happens, however, the music track comes back in and becomes a terribly grating and out-of-place alternative rock song that left me wanting to press the mute button on my set.

Collateral is the story of what could have been. Perhaps a more interesting version could be made if the viewer watches the first half, and then turns it off. Honestly, if the average audience member can think up a better ending to the film, couldn't the seasoned Mann?

Friday, December 03, 2004

Faith Rewarded: The Historic Season of the 2004 Boston Red Sox

From the moment the Red Sox won the World Series, ending an 86-year drought of baseball titles in Boston, the stampede to cash in on the occasion was astounding. Multiple books have been released, including one by Stephen King that follows his season-long correspondence about the team with a fellow fan. More magazine "special editions" line convenience stores in Boston than regular issues. And of course, Major League Baseball came out with their World Series DVD as well, but for most Sox fans it fell short of capturing the drama of this season in Boston Red Sox history.

And so to join in the media blitz, the New England Sports Network (NESN) released their championship DVD today, and I have to say that it is the most thrilling record of this historic team that I've seen or read yet.

Unlike the MLB DVD, this video follows the entire season, from the heartbreaking loss in last year's ALCS to the victory parade through the streets (and waterways) of Boston. The video makes sure to recognize that the World Series victory was a season--as well as 86 years--in the making, and does so in a stylish manner. The editing down of an entire regular and post season into 80 minutes is a tremendous feat, and somehow it was done without shortchanging anything.

The DVD uses game footage from NESN, ESPN, and FOX Sports, and audio from those three networks as well as WEEI, the Red Sox radio network. A good mix of announcers across the board, including Yankee broadcasters, gives it a broad perspective while still providing veteran fans with the requisite and always entertaining Jerry Trupiano "homerun over-call".

Player and management interviews make up the majority of the commentary and add a unique inside view into the 2004 team. While a traditional husky-voiced narration sufficiently drips with hyperbole, it is the thread of Sox talking heads weaving throughout the piece that make it special. Fans want to know what players were thinking down 0-3 to New York in the playoffs. They want to see their heros talk to them. They want to hear, from the players' mouthes, how much it meant to bring a championship to the city of Boston.

Lately, New England fans have been somewhat accustomed to championship commemorative DVDs, with two Patriots Superbowl wins in the last three years, and the slightly cheap production values of NESN (a local cable network) sometimes seem lacking when compared to the grandeur of NFL Films. Each segment of the video begins with a tacky title accompanied by music that is just pathetic. Indeed, the soundtrack at times throughout the DVD is simply atrocious, and anyone who has worked with royalty-free tracks before will hear some familiar sounds of hip-hop "lite", anemic guitar riffs, and other filler audio. The video picks it up when it counts, however, and the soundtrack to the World Series games is much more reminiscent of the NFL's cinematic style.

The main point of watching such a compilation is to try and relive the chills and thrills that the season, and especially the post-season gave us. And let it be known, there are plenty of chilling moments in the last half hour of this DVD. Sepia-colored flashbacks and slow-motion dramatics make for an exhilarating finish to the video, and while sometimes light on the suspense (most notably in the dramatic ALCS hits by David Ortiz), the end result is more than satisfying to watch. Over and over again. Seriously.

Complete with a wonderful and touching epilogue, hilarious moments with the team's more "comedic" players, and some great DVD extras (Including a segment with David Ortiz cooking for Sam Horn that will leave you speechless) this is perfect holiday gift for any Red Sox fan on your list.