**½/**** Image A Sound B
starring Timothy Hutton, Mandy Patinkin, Lindsay Crouse, Edward Asner
screenplay by E. L. Doctorow, based on his novel The Book of Daniel
directed by Sidney Lumet
ONE MISSED CALL
DVD - Image B Sound B
BD - Image A- Sound A
starring Shannyn Sossamon, Edward Burns, Ana Claudia Talancón, Ray Wise
screenplay by Andrew Klavan
directed by Eric Vallette
by Ian Pugh There's a great story just screaming to be told in Sidney Lumet's Daniel: In reworking the legacy of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg from the perspective of their fictionalized son, it's poised to deliver a fascinating tale about the tragic, perhaps inevitable consequences that starry-eyed idealism can have on the family dynamic for generations to come. This strange collision of Winter Kills, The Godfather Part II, and Citizen Kane finds sensitive intellectual Daniel Isaacson (Timothy Hutton) deeply opposed to pasting his parents' name on a foundation for "radical studies" in service to the anti-war movement circa 1967, which puts him at odds with his revolution-obsessed sister (Amanda Plummer). Soon, however, Susan attempts suicide, forcing Daniel to hunt down the facts and search his memories for the truth about his parents Paul (a manic Mandy Patinkin) and Rochelle (Lindsay Crouse), who were accused of selling--or conspiring to sell--A-bomb secrets to the Soviets and executed at the height of the Red Scare. Were they really that deeply involved in a conspiracy, or were they just patsies?
Unfortunately, trapped by the expectations of a drama centred around a period of inexcusable witch-hunts, Daniel takes the easy route far too often. From its purely retrospective stance--it was made in 1983--the film seems primarily interested in wallowing in the sense of vindication that history had bestowed upon the protestors of those double barrels of American atrocity, McCarthyism and the Vietnam War. No argument here (and that's my point), but as dominant flashback sequences trade off between the Isaacsons' ambitions and the fallout visited upon their children, I was most intrigued by how Daniel attacked the other side with surprising candour. It almost excessively stacks the deck by making Paul a well-meaning goof with the propensity to proselytize about workers' rights, yet in the film's finest moments, it attempts to figure out how much of Daniel and Susan's childhood misery--they're shunted between foster homes and political rallies as the Isaacsons languish in prison--could be pinpointed to their parents' simplistic reliance on impractical ideals.
There is, in fact, a marvellous scene in which Paul greets his children in prison for the last time before his execution, mumbling about how he passes the time with a collection of dead roaches in-between loud bursts of left-wing rhetoric that's quickly losing its relevance. Here, Daniel approaches the surreal, bearing more in common with a recent spate of druggy head movies (A Scanner Darkly, Pineapple Express) that eloquently express the crippling toll paranoia can play on the mind--even when they really are out to get you. Patinkin's easygoing clown has become a terrifying madman, completely divorced from everything in the reality outside his politics. But for all its ambiguity to this end, the picture eventually concludes that the weight of responsibility lies completely with the US government's archaic policies and brutal scare tactics. We can't determine any blame on the Isaacsons' part, because when all's said and done, we don't know a thing about them. In his own contemporary review, Roger Ebert was absolutely right to take Daniel to task for its wishy-washy stance on the Isaacsons/Rosenbergs: "I don't mean I want the movie to declare whether they were innocent or guilty--but whether they were good or bad. And there the movie holds back. The parents in this film are seen through such a series of filters--political, emotional, historical--that they are finally not seen at all." Ultimately, Daniel has no real interest in nuance, rendering its title character's investigation meaningless.
Again, while I'm not pleading for ignorance to the atrocities committed during that era, you can't ignore the complete contradiction of the film's stated goal. Here we have two people who, Daniel first argues, existed as individuals outside their status as political chits and weapons--but they're given such slight exposure that it only serves to bolster their implacable image in the public consciousness. The film wants to explore how Daniel's memory of his parents affected his views as an adult, but as he accepts that there will always be mysteries surrounding their life and death (by finally taking an active role in his generation's protest movements), its refusal to explore their motivations reduces him to a symbolic gesture, a hand-me-down extension for political convictions that were never that well-defined in the first place. Daniel seemingly concludes that there comes a time when we must shed our traumas and tragedies to fight for what's right. That's a fine stance for any movie to take; I only wish that this movie hadn't lost perspective of what "right" we should be fighting for.
One Missed Call is another film ostensibly about the dissolution of the nuclear family that doesn't have the cojones to follow through. A PG-13 remake of a Takashi Miike work, it features a mysterious ghoul leaving bizarre voicemails on the cell phones of disaffected twentysomethings that turn out to be recordings of their grisly murders from a few days into the future. A police detective (Edward Burns, still applying the defibrillator paddles to his career) eventually teams up with doe-eyed Beth (Shannyn Sossamon) to get some answers, as the curse appears to revolve around her social circle. Perhaps it's because she suffered a long history of child abuse--something she apparently shares with the supernatural killer--but more likely because she has in common with everyone else in the film a complete inability to emote as her friends are violently killed. So yeah, it pretty much dumps any possibility of genuine suspense or terror in favour of the same Americanized J-horror imagery that lost its bite when the Scary Movie franchise started spoofing it. It's not quite as abjectly stupid as the U.S. incarnation of fellow cell phone-paranoia flick Pulse, but it certainly has its share of howlers to carry it along. "That's not my ringtone," one future victim announces near the beginning of the picture with hilariously monotone dread--and it's all downhill from there. Frankly, if One Missed Call didn't kill the trend of dumbed-down, mistranslated horror films in this country, man, nothing will.
The Daniel DVD is yet another entry in Legend Films' mass-release of forgotten Paramount titles, and the presentation is actually quite admirable. The film itself boasts a broad palette (scenes of Daniel's adulthood are typically pale blue; flashbacks are always draped in a yellow-sepia) the disc accommodates with a clear, sharp 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that invokes the quality of Paramount's Godfather set at its best. The attendant DD 2.0 stereo audio is meanwhile merely adequate--nothing more, nothing less. There are no extras, not even a trailer.
Same goes for One Missed Call, brought to life in a similarly bare-bones flipper containing 1.78:1, 16x-9-enhanced and cropped fullscreen versions of the film on opposite sides of the disc. The transfer presents a nice spectrum of greys and blacks, though the dark blues predominantly on display rarely show much nuance. The Dolby 5.1 audio offers a healthy rumble for the subwoofer to do its dirty work, although its use of the back channels isn't particularly impressive. Previews for The Sick House, Otis, The Orphanage, and a Lost Boys sequel entitled The Tribe cue up on startup--along with an anti-cigarette ad and a thoroughly nauseating anti-piracy spot that recasts Casablanca to dubious ends.
THE BLU-RAY DISC - ONE MISSED CALL
by Bill Chambers If you must watch One Missed Call at all, hold out for the Blu-ray release. The 1.78:1, 1080p transfer has incredible latitude, lush colours (within the picture's narrow palette), and detail so crisp that every liquid crystal of every cell phone display comes into relief. There is some extraneous edge-enhancement, but it's not severe, while I believe that what a few reviewers have claimed to be video noise is actually delicious grain. The 5.1 Dolby TrueHD track easily out-stings the 5.1 audio of the DVD, but the mix proper is so generic that I still can't say I was blown away. There are no supps to speak of. Originally published: September 17, 2008.