Julianne Moore

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2007

Revolution Studios

Produced by Nicholas Cage, Todd Garner, Norman Golightly, Graham King and Arne Schmidt

Directed by Lee Tamahori

Screenplay by Gary Goldman, Jonathan Hensleigh and Paul Bernbaum

Based on “The Golden Man” by Philip K. Dick

One question folks like to ask me is this golden oldie: “Have you ever seen a movie so bad that you walked out on it?”  And I’ve always answered: “No.”  And don’t think that I stay to watch a movie all the way through out of some principal that I should stay to the end of a movie so that if I trash it later on I can do it fairly.  I stay because I’ve paid my money and I’m not getting up until I’ve seen what I’ve paid for.  That doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of movies I’ve wished I’d walked out on.  I could give you a list in two minutes flat of 25 movies I wished I’d walked out on.  And NEXT is near the top of that list. NEXT is so appallingly bad that I don’t know who I feel sorrier for: the people who see it or the people who were contractually obligated to work on this movie.  At least I hope they were contractually obligated.

Cris Johnson (Nicholas Cage) is a third rate Las Vegas magician performing under the name Frank Cadillac.  He’s not flashy enough to play the big rooms.  He mainly works the small lounges where the losers nurse their drinks while trying to figure out how to tell their wives they’ve lost the kid’s college fund shooting craps.  Cris deliberately stays under the radar because he does have a gift that is akin to real magic: he can see two minutes into his own future and tell what’s going to happen to him before it happens.  He uses this talent to rake in some extra cash at the blackjack tables until one shitty night when he finds himself preventing a robbery that hasn’t happened yet and winds up on the run from not only the Las Vegas Police Department but also FBI Special Agent Callie Ferris (Julianne Moore)

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Turns out that Agent Ferris knows all about the special power Cris has, apparently from studying casino videotapes and somehow she’s convinced herself that Cris can help her find and stop a band of terrorists who have a nuclear device somewhere in Los Angeles that they’re going to denote in five days. Yeah, you read that right.  Terrorists have an active nuclear device on American soil and the FBI is chasing after a Las Vegas magician instead of trying to find the bomb.  Using his ability, Cris manages to stay out of the clutches of the cops and the feds as he desperately needs to find Liz (Jessica Biel) a young woman who keeps appearing in his visions of the future.  But these visions don’t take place two minutes in the future.  They apparently take place days and even weeks ahead.  Cris wants to find her to find out why.  This leads to a scene that is actually kinda amusing and clever: using his ability to see two minutes ahead Cris can actually ‘try out’ different approaches of meeting Liz until he finds one that works.

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Now while Cris and Liz are falling in love and Agent Farris is tearing her hair out trying to catch up to Cris, the head terrorist (Thomas Kretschmann) finds out that the FBI is trying to catch Cris because they think he can help them.  In a stunning leap of logic that dazzled me beyond belief, Terrorist Number One pulls all of his people from their main objective of blowing up Los Angeles and sends them to kill Cris.  His reasoning?  Well, if the FBI thinks Cris can catch him then Cris has got to be killed at all costs.  You think the guy would do a background check or something before committing all of his people to such an action but NEXT never lets anything resembling common sense or logic get in the way of the next CGI action sequence.

Supposedly NEXT is based on a ‘novel story’ called “The Golden Man” by Philip K. Dick.  I’ve never read the story but I’d be willing to bet you my autographed copy of Clive Barker’s ‘Weaveworld’ that it bears no relation to the movie at all.  In fact, NEXT feels an awful lot like a television pilot on steroids.  It plays as if the Johnny Smith character from ‘The Dead Zone’ was the hero of ‘24’ instead of Jack Bauer.  To be honest, I think the character of Cris Johnson/Frank Cadillac to be interesting enough to sustain a television series and the ways he uses his power in the movie shows he’s a guy with brains. It’s a given that he can actually dodge bullets since he knows where a sniper is going to shoot him before the sniper pulls the trigger. And he can evade and escape his pursuers since he literally knows where they’re going to be before they do.  He can outfight just about anybody since he knows from which direction their punches are coming.  But there’s a goofy chase sequence where he orchestrates an escape that has a kind of lunatic Wile E. Coyote kind of deranged genius in the way one thing crashes over and flips something else over and causes something else to roll downhill.  There’s also a nifty scene where Cris ‘searches’ an entire ship by himself simply by running through his mind every possible route he could take through the ship and foreseeing how the multiple routes will end.

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And even though “Ghost Rider” is the better movie (although not by much) I liked Nicholas Cage’s performance in NEXT much better.  Not once in “Ghost Rider” did I buy him as a daredevil motorcycle stunt rider but here, he inhabited the skin of this character very well.  Julianne Moore walks through her performance as if she just wants to get this over with, get her check and call Paul Thomas Anderson to beg him to have a role for her in his next movie.  After seeing Jessica Biel in “The Illusionist” and being highly impressed with her in that movie I was wondering if she was truly developing into a gifted actress or if it was just the director and the material of “The Illusionist” that made her look better than she was.  After watching her in NEXT I would say that yes, her performance in “The Illusionist” was a fluke.  And Peter Falk is in the movie for all of five minutes.  If you sneeze you’ll miss him.  The director Lee Tamahori knows how to direct action as anybody who’s seen “Die Another Day” and “XXX: State Of The Union” can attest but the action sequences in NEXT all were familiar to me, as if I’d seen them before.  Especially in the last 30 minutes that play like outtakes from ‘24’.

And the ending of NEXT…I sat there in my seat for maybe a minute not believing that they actually had ended the movie the way it did.  I’m sure that the writers sat around congratulating themselves on how clever they were.  I don’t think they were clever at all.  I think they wasted my time and the time of everybody at the showing I saw it with.  I remember vividly seeing this in the theater while on vacation with my wife in Florida. I looked at some of the faces of the people leaving the theater with me and they were not happy faces at all.  That ending, combined with the silly, sloppy premise of the story and an overwhelming number of plot holes as big as craters on The Moon made for a horrendously disappointing movie.

Rated: PG-13

96 minutes

Game Change

2012

HBO Films

Directed by Jay Roach

Produced by Tom Hanks and Gary Goeztman

Screenplay by Danny Strong

Based on “Game Change” by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin

Anytime and every time I watch a movie that is based on incidents that actually happened or that starts off with the words; ‘This Is A True Story’ I immediately start thinking of bovine excrement.  Because for me, unless somebody was right there with a camera at the moment that it happened, you’re not accurately documenting events as they actually happened.  And even then, documentaries can be edited to reflect the attitudes, prejudices and politics of the filmmaker (I’m looking at you, Michael Moore) But even that’s all right with me.  We’re human beings and I don’t think that any of us can be truly and completely objective about anything that we passionately care about.  And that includes politics.  A subject that in the past decade has polarized this country in a way none of us have ever been seen before and probably never dreamed could happen.

My point being that I can’t take movies based on true events  entirely seriously.  They’re made long after the fact when people have had time to analyze, scrutinize, discuss and dissect what happened and why.  Factor in that everything everybody remembers or doesn’t remember is flavored by their emotional, mental and even physical condition before and after adds up to too much of a gap for me to accept everything presented in a movie based on true events in good faith.  But that was before we entered the age of YouTube, CNN, TMZ and two dozen 24-hour news channels.  This is pointed out by McCain Campaign Chairman Steve Schmidt (Woody Harrelson) to Sarah Palin (Julianne Moore) early on in GAME CHANGE and he’s right on point.  The 2008 Presidential Election was without a doubt the most compelling and important election in American history as it was the election that saw an African-American man elected President of The United States.   It was played out in public in a way that elections never had been before thanks to the communication and social media that now dominates and in so many ways infects our society.

And it also gave us Sarah Palin, former governor of Alaska who was picked by Senator John McCain’s staff to be his running mate.  Both are still with us and if GAME CHANGE teaches us anything is that even if Sarah Palin didn’t become Vice President of The United States, she still won.  Presidential hopeful Senator John McCain (Ed Harris) is losing the race and he knows it.  In desperation he calls up genius political strategist Steve Schmidt and begs him to come on board his team and save his campaign.  Schmidt’s plan is to find a running mate who can compete with the rock star popularity and megawatt charisma of Barack Obama.  Campaign Manager Rick Davis (Peter MacNicol) thinks he’s got just the thing: Alaska Governor Sarah Palin who appears to have all the qualities they need and more.

She’s a married mother of five, everybody loves her, she’s accessible, she’s extraordinarily popular and it certainly doesn’t hurt that even after having five kids she’s gorgeous and looks wonderful on camera.  The problem is that she is woefully unprepared for the job.   She’s devastating in public appearances where she demonstrates a rock star personality equal to Barack Obama’s.  She’s spectacular when giving a speech.  But in horrendous one-on-one interviews with the press it’s as obvious as a slap upside the head that she doesn’t know a thing about domestic and foreign policy.  She’s ignorant of basic government practices and information that fifth graders know.  She can’t even name a single newspaper even though she claims to read “a lot of them every day” She makes statements that are blatantly untrue. And it soon becomes clear to Schmidt, Davis, McCain speechwriter Mark Salter (Jamey Sheridan) and Senior Advisor Nicolle Wallace (Sarah Paulson) that they’ve been given the mother of sow’s ears and they have absolutely no idea of how to turn it into a silk purse.

I wish that HBO had went ahead and made a whole mini-series based on the book as it deals with a whole lot more than just the McCain/Palin campaign which actually is only one section of the book.  But that’s a small quibble.  Taken purely as drama, GAME CHANGE is worth seeing just for the really strong cast that sells the story.  Ed Harris, Woody Harrelson, Jamey Sheridan, Peter MacNicol, Sarah Paulson and Ron Livingston are all great here.  And as Sarah Palin, Julianne Moore looks and sounds so much like her that it’s downright scary.  And while it would be easy for the movie to give us the Tina Fey version of Sarah Palin, the movie is remarkably fair in its depiction of her.  We see the opportunistic Sarah Palin who suddenly found herself thrust onto the world stage and promptly milked it for all it was worth.   But we also see the frightened and very much out of her league Sarah Palin who starts out as a goldfish among sharks but quickly learns how to be a barracuda.  I also liked how the movie showed the many times when John McCain was urged by his staff to run a dirty, mud-slinging campaign and refused.  As played by Ed Harris he comes across as a man of dignity and honor.

It wouldn’t take much for GAME CHANGE to have been pushed into a full-blown political satire as it comes awful close at times.  And through the use of today’s technology which enables the actors to be flawlessly inserted by digital black magic into archival footage, the line between fact and fiction is erased far too well, if you ask me.  Well worth your time to watch if you have HBO.  And if you don’t, be sure to look for it on DVD or Netflix.

120 minutes.  

There’s no rating for GAME CHANGE.  While there is no sex or violence in the movie, be advised that the f-bomb is dropped numerous times.