Nick Cage sci-fi flick ‘Knowing’ starts great, self-destructs in final hour

I have a certain liking, and at the same time apprehension when it comes to disaster films. The thought, the idea that the world could end under extraordinarily violent circumstances gives me something of a chill. Nicolas Cage’s new film Knowing is very much a mixed bag in this area.

Nicolas Cage, despite being a fantastic actor, has starred in a whole lotta junk lately. National Treasure 2, Ghost Rider, Next, Bangkok Dangerous…He’s sort of carved out a little niche in Hollywood of starring in bad action movies, which is unfortunate. However, he remains a great actor, and he’s effective in his role here as an MIT professor who realizes the world may end.

In 1959, to celebrate the opening of a new elementary school, a class puts into a time capsule drawings of what they predict 2009 will be like. 50 years later, they open the capsule. One little boy gets not a drawing, but a paper with rows and rows of numbers.

His MIT professor of a father, John Koestler (Cage), sees an eerie pattern in the numbers: They document, in perfect sequence, the days, dates, and coordinates of every major disaster of the last 50 years, with only 3 left. What happens when the numbers run out?

The film has a great first hour. It maintains a tense atmosphere, and sports an incredible, 3-minute long plane crash sequence. But in the end is where it runs awry. The majority of the last hour is exposition, but there’s a GIANT science fiction twist which is completely ridiculous. It destroys all the tensity and believability the film masterfully builds itself up towards. However, the visual effects, although sparsely used, are really incredible, especially the final scene. (which, ironically, is the worst scene in the film) The dialogue is rather underwritten, as well.

Knowing is ambitious, moreso than many recent action films. But it’s incredibly uneven, at that. Although Nicolas Cage is good, the visual effects are great, and it has an excellent first hour, Knowing self-destructs towards the end. What a shame. What a disappointment. C-

‘Watchmen’ a flawed masterpiece

Watchmen is an oddity. It partially mocks comic-book films, but at the same time its a landmark for that very genre. Its action sequences are over-the-top and cartoony, deliberately so, but also features some really breathtaking sequences. One moment there’s blood and bullets flying everywhere, another there are moral decisions and actions that will question many. It’s really quite mature, so lets make this clear: This is no Spider-Man 3.

The most interesting aspect of the film is that it basically takes the idea of the perfect superhero and rips it to pieces. It’s set in an alternate 1985. Superheroes are a reality. People indeed have dressed up in costumes and fought crime, calling themselves the Watchmen, until they were outlawed in the 1970s. Richard Nixon, in his fifth term as President, won the Vietnam War many years ago because of these ‘superheroes’.

The film realizes that if people actually fought crime, they’d most likely be crazy. Take The Comedian for an example. He fights crime, sure. He’s also a raging alcoholic. Adrian Veidt is the smartest man on Earth who makes money by selling Watchmen action figures. Rorschach is a man in a mask, who’s also a psycho who kills criminals to justify his tragic childhood.

The opening credits are really unique. They capture the history of these masked crimefighters, set to Bob Dylan’s ‘The Times They’re A-Changing’. It’s an extended 7-minute sequence that cleverly tinkers with how superheroes would affect history. We are immediately drawn into the action, when an ex-vigilante The Comedian is thrown out of a window by a mysterious figure. Immediately, another former crimefighter turned psychopath Rorschach suspects it’s a giant conspiracy to kill costumed heroes…Turns out he may be right.

Some of the greatest strengths and weaknesses lie in the performances. Patrick Wilson as mild-mannered Dan Dreiberg is okay. He gets the ‘aw-shucks’ aspects of the role right, but is still a little wooden on delivery. Matthew Goode as Adrian Veidt tinkers with a German accent and it doesn’t really pay off. Worst of all is Malin Akerman as Silk Spectre, a woman who is only fighting crime because her mother used to. Her delivery is flat and monotonous the entire time, which gets distracting as she has a meaty part of the film.

Luckily, for every mediocre performance in the film, there is a great one. Jeffrey Dean Morgan as The Comedian is fantastic. The true revelation here is Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach. He’s in an ink-blotted mask almost the whole time, and gives an unforgettable performance. He’s frightening yet funny. Crazy yet sympathetic. He also gets the coolest final scene of any film character in a long time.

Watchmen is based on an epic 400-page graphic novel which, incidentally, is my favorite book. It’s only natural that I felt protective of it. Director Zack Snyder (300, Dawn of the Dead) adapts the graphic novel really faithfully, like almost frame-for-frame faithful. The film never really develops its own personality that differs from the book, which can be frustrating at times.

The visual effects are also a mixed bag. There are moments like the Manhattan sequence towards the end that really push the envelope (heads up fellas – the ONLY way to see this in IMAX!) or it falls flat, like the Mars sequences that look really campy. The set direction, however, is incredibly well-done.

Watchmen does have major flaws. Some of the performances are weak, the visual effects are campy. But most of the time it doesn’t focus on action, but character development. It focuses on the story, not the blood. It’s thought-provoking, but doesn’t forget to blow our minds. My feelings on Watchmen are mixed, and perhaps a second viewing will clarify them. Until then, I remember something of a heavily flawed masterpiece. A-