A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.


April 18, 2010


I’d like to start on a tangent today. Working, as I do, in the video retail business I have frequently had cause to complain to my customers about the evils of “fullscreen” or “pan & scan.” I have many times in the past had customers complain to me that the movie they were watching had bits cut off the top and bottom of the screen. I even once had a long argument with a customer who had rented a pan & scan copy of Seven Years in Tibet and was upset that the opening credits were letterboxed. I tried in vain to explain that otherwise the movie would have opened with the title “even years in Tibe” and even put the movie into the store’s VCR so we could see that after the opening credits were over it switched to “fullscreen.” In short – I have been fighting to promote widescreen for more than a decade now. And today’s movie is a prime example of why. The opening of the movie – laying out the background for Cosmo and Marty – takes place in a 4:3 aspect ratio (with some of the opening credits overlapping and reaching out into the black space to either side) and then when the bit in the past is over it widens out to 16:9. It’s a very cool trick. And it wouldn’t work at all in a non-letterboxed version of the movie.

I’d also like to say something about the tech involved in this movie. Most of it seems pretty realistic. Sure they have the magic zoom software that lets them resolve digital images into very clean close-ups (standard issue in the CSI shows.) And it seems silly that not only is Air Traffic Control online but using a simple ASCII substitution for its radar displays. But there’s no whiz-bang ridiculous GUI like we saw in Hackers or Jurassic Park or any other movie with computers. There’s mostly just cool detective work that makes sense and looks like it would probably work in the real world.

Watching this movie now I’m astounded as I always am by the casting. This movie has absolutely the most astonishing dream cast of all time. Robert Redford, Sidney Poitier, Dan Aykroyd. River Phoenix before his tragic and all-too-early demise. Mary McDonell, who will always now for me be President Rosalind. I remember being astonished when I watched David Strathairn in other movies because he did such a convincing job in this movie as Whistler and I was sure he was actually a blind actor. Amazing.

And the direction in this movie is so impressive as well. Things like shooting up through the glass table during the scene with the scrabble table. Or the great moment when Gregor steps into shadow, obscuring his face before telling Marty to trust him. The great way the tension builds during the scrabble scene, during the traced phone call and then with Whistler walking Marty through what the car ride sounded like. God, so many fantastic moments.

What’s curious about this movie is that it shouldn’t be as good as it is. It’s sort of a comedy/mystery/thriller which is odd. It shouldn’t work at all. But through the great direction and the astonishing cast it rises up to be one of those fantastic movies that I’d gladly watch any time. If I tuned through it on TV I’d probably pull out my DVD of it so I could watch it uninterrupted and in the proper aspect ratio. So, yeah, definitely a movie I like and enjoy.


April 18, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Guest Review (JP) – Sneakers

Note: This review was written by the friend I am currently visiting.

I’m not the kind of person who should write movie reviews – I can’t remember actors’ names, or worse, I’ll mix them up. Directors? Can’t list more than four. And most unfortunately, give me too many characters at the beginning of a movie that aren’t distinct enough, I’m going to mix them up. This turns out to be a problem when watching Sneakers.

Sneakers came out in 1992, which means that I was too young to be in the target audience. That being said, I live with someone who probably has an FBI file from what he did in high school (you can refer to the reviews of Hackers, minus the super-arcade and the Gibson.) So when I mentioned a few months ago to my partner that I hadn’t actually seen Sneakers, not all the way through, he thought it was preposterous. When A planned to come visit, given the blog was in full form by then, and we discussed what movies our collections had in common, I picked Sneakers because it was high time I sat through the whole thing.

As a result, I’ve come to realize that I’ve seen the second half of the movie several times. The first and second halves of the movies seem to be entirely separate to me. The first half, while necessary in part, seems unnecessarily complicated. I tried to multi-task while watching it, realized I was lost, and ended up having to pause the movie and go over plot points. Not a good sign for me or the first 45 minutes of the film.
So, here goes: Guy narrowly escapes getting busted for computer crimes, his partner goes to jail, main character runs away, comes back with a new identity later, and then gets pegged by Group 1 to steal stuff from a crazy math guy with super-80s fashion sense that breaks any cryptography of any sort – exceptions will be explained later, but it’s all BS and it’s movie computer magic, so I yell at it but let it go. Group 1 turns out to be not the government, but frames him for a murder (which is kind of random and not, IMO, necessary), and doesn’t kill him, which seems like it would make sense at the time. Now, given the Russian guy who is murdered – he’s not necessary. Other information is easily found that would tell us Group 1 is not the government, and if they wanted to frame the main character, they could just do what the Antagonist and Ex-Partner does later – show proof that he was involved in earlier computer crimes! But given the time period it comes from, and the social anxieties of the time, of course they had to throw the Russians in. But this whole generic white-guy fest blurs a bit into one for me, and not only do I not know who to trust – the key point of the movie – I’m having a hell of a time remembering who is who. It’s not until about now that everyone’s names start coalescing. Martin! Main Character! Okay.

The second part starts, to me, after Martin gets released from his kind-of-stupid kidnapping. Now it’s a heist film. Heist films are great! You’ve got enough characters, each playing their individual parts, doing their thing that they do best. Suddenly, the movie becomes interesting and I can follow it. I guess political mysteries are just not my cuppa. Anyway, they steal the magic technology back and all their super-technology is stuff I have installed on my netbook, and that kind of kills it, and in the end, James Earl Jones rewards them like a Grumpy Federal Bureau of Santa Claus, and it’s over.

In conclusion, I’ve now watched Sneakers all the way through. I seem to be missing the magic my friends see. It’s an early technology-war movie, which makes it kind of fundamental in some ways. If I want to watch a spy movie, there are better ones. If I want to make fun of modems and bulky beige consoles, I’ll watch Hackers, because it’s funnier.


April 18, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | | Leave a comment

Movie 49 – Sneakers

Sneakers – April 18th, 2010

I will preface this by saying that I love this movie. I love this movie with a passion. It’s incredibly well crafted and a lot of fun to watch. It’s tense in the right places and humorous in the right places too. So it feels serious enough, but with tension-breakers so you don’t spend the entire movie with elevated blood pressure. I love the whole cast and I love the writing and I love the plot. It’s just complicated enough without being impossible to follow (though I have seen it many many many times, so that probably helps a good deal).

The thing is, it’s a good suspense/mystery, so it is indeed complicated. The character of Martin is introduced via a flashback where we learn that he and his friend Cosmo committed bank fraud by breaking into the bank accounts of various people and groups such as Richard Nixon and transferring funds to other groups, such as the Society for the Legalization of Marijuana. Cosmo got caught, but Martin had gone out for pizza and escaped. Twenty years later he’s using an assumed name and running a business where, as described in the movie he “breaks into people’s places to prove no one can break into their places.” When it seems the NSA has found him and wants him to get a hold of a device that can decipher any encrypted information in exchange for clearing his name (and otherwise they’ll toss him in jail), he ends up wrapped up in a lot more than he bargained for. I don’t want to go into detail about what happens, because I honestly think anyone who hasn’t seen this who might want to should see it without the twists and turns fully mapped out, but it’s not your typical run-of-the-mill espionage plot.

The key phrase in this movie is “too many secrets.” It embodies the entire movie. No one is telling the entire truth or unembellished truth or any truth at all. People start dying and things turn out not to be what Martin and his crew thought they were. Things turn very dangerous very quickly. It all starts when they play a little with the device they’ve gotten and realize just how powerful it is and what could be done with it. From there on in, things get serious. There are still quips and little funny moments, but you know that there’s a lot at stake in the plot. You follow the crew as they figure it all out and make plans and then put those plans into motion. There’s a lot of talking, but it doesn’t ever feel slow. Part of that is the writing and part of it is the performances.

Martin’s crew is key in this movie. It’s really very much an ensemble piece. He’s got a hacker whiz kid, a blind phone line expert (I mention that he’s blind because his attention to audible details is key at several points), a conspiracy theorist B&E guy and a former CIA agent. His former girlfriend Liz says it well: “You don’t have a business, you have a club! It’s a boys club…” She’s right, of course, and her presence in the movie adds not just a female presence but an outside view. Someone who isn’t steeped in the suspicious nature of Martin’s work. Someone who comes at it with a fresh and often skeptical view. Then too, the crew is also fantastic. My personal favorite character is Whistler, the phone expert. Now, this could be because he has a few fantastic lines and moments and it could be because he’s played by David Strathairn, who I love.

The movie is also fantastic for many other things. Some of the visuals and places are fantastic, like Cosmo’s office and the shots of Martin and Liz playing with the Scrabble tiles on a glass topped table, shot from below. With the latter, I love that you don’t know what they’re seeing until they have something to show you. And then there’s the writing. But that ties into the plot I wrote about above. But even a good plot can have a bad script. That’s not the case here. The script is tight and full of excellent lines and dialogue. In fact, there’s only one scene I really hate watching and as one might expect, given my previously stated issues, it’s a comedy-of-embarrassment type scene. Namely, it’s the “passport” scene. But since that’s one scene in such an otherwise amazing movie? I can cope. It’s well worth the momentary discomfort to watch this movie again.

April 18, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment