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Entries in David Duchovny (2)

Friday
Mar012013

Phantom

Phantom, which is inspired by largely mysterious, but believed-to-be-true events, runs into a very significant problem right off the bat. It takes place almost entirely on a Soviet submarine and all of its inhabitants are Russian, yet all the actors, or all the major players at least, are American. Despite an opening title card sequence that sets the time and place in the Soviet Union during the Cold War, it takes some time to realize that these characters aren’t actually American, partially because nobody even tries to hide it, seemingly forgetting that they’re, you know, actors and should be capable of crafting a character of a different ethnicity. This is just one of many blunders in Phantom, a tepid thriller filled with empty dialogue and clichéd plot turns.

Ed Harris plays Demi, the captain of the vessel, and his mission is vague, written on a piece of paper and locked inside a safe onboard. Additionally, he has a few straggler technicians that have been sanctioned to accompany them for reasons unknown, the leader being Bruni, played by David Duchovny. Bruni is the forceful type and demands he follow his orders, despite a chain of command that places Demi at the top. Eventually, Bruni’s sinister intentions become clear and the boat splits into two sanctions. An underwater battle is about to ensue and the victor will either save the world or destroy it.

Phantom sounds exciting. A war between friendlies turned against each other inside of an underwater metal tomb full of claustrophobic spaces and unforeseen consequences should lead to the type of tension that causes nail biters to file them down until their fingers start bleeding, but such is not the case here. Up until the final sequence of events when the tension is admittedly palpable, the most exciting thing that happens is a slight bump with a cargo ship. Such an event is surely dangerous in real life, but it doesn’t make for a particularly exciting movie.

Perhaps aware of this, the filmmakers give Demi a haunted past, a past that is burdened with bad memories and difficult decisions. This gives way to hallucinations that recall that troubled past. There are fires, floods, collisions, blood and more, most of which make sense given that these moments he’s recollecting took place during a doomed expedition, even if they are superfluous to the actual story at hand. Now, the ghost dog that jumps out at him, where that came from is anybody’s guess.

Due to some surprisingly committed performances, particularly from the great Ed Harris, Phantom is at its best when it isn’t talking. The actors say more with their eyes than they ever do with their words, especially given that much of it is drab Navy dialogue that all but the already underwater initiated will find boring. There’s lots of plotting courses, ordering dives, readying the weapons, reaching thermocline and more and most of this dialogue is yelled into the intercom to the crew rather than spoken through character interaction. This type of dialogue will fail to resonate with most and it doesn’t do much to help craft compelling characters either.

Furthermore, the editing of the film fails to keep its place consistent, particularly in the placement of certain characters in relation to others. When one quietly sneaking sailor rises out of a cover in the floor to an imposing boot, one naturally believes he’s accidentally stumbled onto an enemy, but in reality, he’s come full circle and is back with his comrades. To make matters worse, most of these characters are extraneous in nature, so it’s difficult enough to separate them into good and bad camps, much less keep track of what they’re doing and where they’re heading.

Phantom is a mess. At times, particularly during the final sequences (at least before its hokey ending that plays up the crew’s sacrifices), it’s an enjoyable mess, but its few positives certainly don’t outweigh its general sloppiness. Submarine thrillers aren’t exactly oversaturating the market, so if that’s your cup of tea, I suppose Phantom will scratch that itch, but everybody else can steer clear knowing they aren’t missing much.

Phantom receives 2/5

Friday
Apr162010

The Joneses

Have you ever heard the phrase "keeping up with the Joneses"? It's one of those sayings you hear said about someone else, usually because they own the most extravagant, expensive products on the market. They want to give off the idea that they are financially successful because they own things you don't. If there's a similar family livng near them, it becomes a rivalry to see who can come out on top. Well, what if that family wasn't competing with you to be the best, but rather faking it to sell their clients' products?

The Joneses follows a family who does just that. The thing is, though, they aren't really a family. They are four separate employees who work within their age and gender to sell things fasionable to their crowd. There's Steve (David Duchovny), who spends the majority of his time golfing to sell sporting goods, Kate (Demi Moore), who talks up beauty products to her gal pals, Mick (Ben Hollingsworth), who does his best to sell video games and other toys to high school boys, and Jenn (Amber Heard), who, well, doesn't seem to do much at all.

She does, of course, but her character is so underdeveloped that you never really get a sense that she is doing anything other than exploring her promiscuity. If she's not crawling naked in bed with her unknowing "father," she's heading off to be the mistress to a married man on his private yacht. When things go wrong for her, you simply don't care.

But that's about as far as the negatives go in The Joneses. She may be benched for the majority of the movie, but that's because it spends most of its time with the other characters who are all dealing with their own issues. Mick isn't quite the person people think he is, Kate is job obsessed and won't allow herself to fall in love despite her obvious attraction to her fake husband and Steve is in inner turmoil over the falsity of his life. He pretends to be someone else to sell products, but in the process starts to lose his real self. He starts to want nothing more than to simply settle down and be with Kate in the real world rather than living behind this false façade.

It's an interesting dynamic because they are not a family, yet they still fall apart like a real family would. They have their good times, they have their bad, and it seems like nothing will be able to save them.

Then you have the underlying themes of commercialization and consumerism that drive the meaning of the movie home. The Joneses embody the walking billboards of America. They embody every person out there who walks around with the latest Nike shoes or Gucci handbag. They embody the celebrities and athletes who wear a particular brand because they are promised money in return. They even embody the young middle school boy who shows off his brand new handheld video game system to get his friends jealous, all of whom eventually shell out the money for one of their own.

It may be a pretty outlandish concept to think that companies would pay good money for a fake family to live in a neighborhood simply to sell a handful of products to those people—that business philosophy would surely cost more than what they're taking in from it—but at the same time it gets you thinking. The Joneses neighbor is the perfect example of the American way of life in that he spends more than he can afford in order to keep up a false veil of stature amongst his peers. He, like many Americans, spends himself into debt and finds it difficult to crawl back out. The movie makes the case, in a fairly literal fashion, that our material objects are weighing us down. See the movie and you'll know exactly what I mean.

All of that is handled with style and assurance from first time writer and director Derrick Borte. His debut is a mighty one indeed and he tells this tale with a sense of authenticity, conveying drama perfectly while still interjecting some hearty laughs in the midst of things. This is a man who knows what he's doing and I expect great things from him in the future.

The Joneses is a film that will, sadly, go under the radar. Even I had no clue what it was before I sat down to watch it, but those who seek it out will find a sweet, funny, dramatic, meaningful and hard hitting story that will connect with everyone from the poorest of the poor to those so rich they blow their noses with 100 dollar bills. They may find different meanings, but that's the beauty of the film. There's so much here on the surface and under that many will walk out with conflicting analyses, yet none will be wrong. The Joneses is shaping up to be one of the best films of the year.

The Joneses receives 4.5/5