Monday, October 26, 2015

"Frequency" (2000) Dir: Gregory Hoblit

What I remember:

With my beloved New York Mets returning to the World Series for the first time in 15 years (since this movie was in theaters), I feel it's appropriate and timely to bring this film back for reconsideration. 

I think I caught this on HBO or whatever a year or so after it’s release. Of course, had I known that the MacGuffin was the 1969 World Series, then I would have probably gone to the premier. I don’t remember it being much of a hit. From the outside it seemed like another of those cheesy pseudo-scifi jobs, like much of the UFO films of that era. However, upon watching, I found it extremely clever, and more than a little heart-string pulling. 

Many of my generation were turned on to baseball by our Dads, and I am no exception. The fact that we were a broken home, meant that any activity we did together was treasured by me. Some of my earliest memories were about sports; going with Dad to Rutgers football, singing the songs we used to sing (Vive la MORE, or was it Vive l’amour- now I am not sure, but I always assumed it was about scoring more points since we sang it after a touchdown). There was also one time he took me to the Polo Grounds to see the 1962 New York National League expansion team, the Metropolitans. I was 7 years old. I remember that you entered on the top level and walked down to your seats. I also remember it being the greenest place I’d ever seen. Green grass, green stands, green poles, green seats. 

New York was Yankee crazy in those days of Mantle, Maris, Ford and Stottlemyre. For some reason, I always liked the underdog, and the Mets woeful play appealed to me, maybe because I, too, sucked at sports. This all changed in 1969, when the Miracle Mets took over baseball. New York went Mets crazy, and I finally had a winner to root for.

Right; we were talking about movies. Well, that wasn’t as much of a digression as you’d think. Much of this film’s plot hinges on a man’s reconnection to his father whom he lost when he was very young. It also hinges on a quite absurd phenomenon, and, oh yes, a very miraculous World Series. I do recall enjoying this film a lot. It was densely plotted, and fairly action packed. Let’s see if the absurdities don’t come back to haunt it, as I time travel back to (sing it like Conan) the year 2000.


 "Ya'know the past is a funny thing, we all got skeletons in closet and ya never when one is gonna pop up and bite ya in the ass.” -John Sullivan 

John Sullivan, a NYC policeman (Jim Caviezel) somehow reconnects with his fireman dad, Frank (Dennis Quaid) using an old ham radio. The twist is that Dad is dead, having been killed in a fire doing something heroic 30 years prior when John was but a child. The sonic time travel is assisted by an extremely powerful Aurora Borealis. When the son (now a grown man) figures out that he is in touch with the past, he tries to warn his Dad about the fire, to maybe change history. His father is saved, but the history change causes a series of events that include his mother, Julia (Elizabeth Mitchell) getting murdered by a serial killer. So now, the job is for the son and father to catch the killer, saving not only the mother but also an additional 7 women killed by the villain.


Ahhhh…Time travel movies. It is such a difficult row to hoe. I mean, no problem going to the future, but yikes—when you go to the past, and do anything, well, devastation can occur. Let’s say you’re a fireman, and your son 30 years hence, by some miracle, is able to communicate with you and warn you that you are going to die tomorrow if you go the wrong way to rescue someone in a burning warehouse. That next night you go to the hospital to visit your wife, a nurse, who ends up saving a man’s life because she catches a doctor giving the man a second dosage of a strong medication. Then that man lives, and ends up killing a whole bunch of nurses to show his gratitude. One of those nurses is your wife. 
Now hold on, you say, that’s just the tip of the iceberg! What about the so-called "Butterfly Effect"? I mean, maybe one of THOSE saved nurses saves a man’s life who might end up inventing cold fusion, or the doctor who would have had his license revoked after killing the bad guy, stays practicing and saves the life of an FBI guy who manages to uncover a plot to fly planes into the World Trade Center….

What I am saying is that, if you admit that changing history is going to affect a few things, then you must admit that it would probably change a boatload of things, possibly everything! What I am also saying is, you can’t watch one of these change history jobs and not be in full possession of your Suspension of Disbelief (SOD) pill. That’s the pill you take to deal with a serious case of holy plot-line. 

In actuality, the “Butterfly Effect” deal was not my strongest bone of contention with “Frequency”. It is the fact that the way our two heroes communicate is via a ham radio whose signals bounce off of a clearly visible Aurora Borealis in Bayside, Queens. Let’s set aside the fact that there is nothing scientific in the LEAST about an atmospheric illusion having an effect on the time/space continuum. Let’s just deal, shall we, with the improbability of even seeing the Aurora Borealis in New York City.  Bayside may be the most northern point of Queens county, but it is a damn sight too southern to be anywhere close to seeing the Northern Lights. I was there in New York in 1969, and lemme tell ya….if you could see the Northern Lights, then the Mets in the World Series might have been the second most popular topic of conversation.  Meanwhile, in “Frequency”, it seems like the old AB is flashing brighter than the Great White Way! Why, you’d half expect it to have a sign flashing “Tonight’s lights brought to you by Rheingold Beer”. 

One other problem for me is that they (father and son) are both traveling through their respective time periods at the same rate. Why, tell me, when John says we’ll talk tomorrow, is it actually the following day in 1969 the next time they talk? Why would it not just be tomorrow in the present but still the same day in the past? 

That being said, like Rian Johnson’s very cool time travel flick “Looper”,  a medium size dosage of the SOD pill does this movie just fine, because it is a fun little thriller, with lots of cute moments and some really creative plot turns. In fact, I believe “Looper” borrowed one very sweet effect from “Frequency”, but I will leave that to you to discover since it is a pretty big spoiler. 

Is there profundity here? No, it’s not profound, even a bit. The deepest message one gets is—wait for it;  we love our family. 

Oh, and that being a baseball fan could save your life! 


The director of this little number was a man named Gregory Hoblit, and I am sorry to say that I have not seen anything else that he has made. His films consistently rate between 6.2 and 7.8 on the Tomatometer, so mediocrity is apparently his norm. Most of Hoblit's career has been TV direction, and almost all have been either police procedurals or thrillers. 
"Frequency" can fall into both categories in a way, since the tracking of the serial killer is a major part of its engine. Since the film's plot is so dense, what falls upon Hoblit is the intensity of the action scenes, and then whatever he can do creatively with the camera and cutting. Also, it fell upon him and DP Alar Kivilo to do something interesting and convincing with the history change moments, particularly the first one, when Frank beats the warehouse fire.
Those scenes do seem to be a bit forced, but to their credit, they are done differently each time. The first is a classic glass falling in slow motion, intercut with possible new history being made. Memories are obviously being changed, and the whole thing is a tad heavy-handed. For some reason, when the change involves his mother being eradicated, the montage of images from his life being added or eradicated just works better, possibly because you're not sure what's happening. There is no question it's done more subtly. 
There's another scene, right after the ripple that saves Frank, where he finally gets to teach John how to ride a bike, and the camera does a crane shot, while the boy and his father do circles, dancing with their shadows and multiple versions with their multiple shadows. Hey, it's as close to artistic as a movie like this gets, and I really appreciated it.

One really bad moment is early in the film, when Frank and Julia are doing some horseplay/pda stuff in the kitchen, and there’s a shot of young John and best bud Gordo watching them with big smiles. No. Most 7 year olds would be totally disgusted at seeing their parents do this sort of stuff. The proper reaction would be for John to yell “EWWWWW”.

Musically, Michael Kaman's score is exactly what you'd expect in a movie like this. Maybe just a bit less would have helped you feel like things were more realistic, but who am I kidding. That's not gonna happen with this movie.

One shout out to the make-up department is needed. I thought the aged versions of everyone were very true to what they would look like, especially Andre Braugher's Satch character (more on him in a bit).


Let's start with the two leads. I've never been a huge Dennis Quaid fan, and this film didn't really change my mind. He does a good job with the affable, somewhat frenetic hero. That's his job here, but I think a better actor would have played the meeting with his grown son much more powerfully, kind of the way Kathleen Turner does when she talks to her Grandmother on the phone in "Peggy Sue Got Married". The same can be said about Jim Caviezel, whose character is more dour (having lost both of his parents and his girlfriend during the film). His response to the realization that he is talking to his Dad, well it's just not what you need to strengthen the emotional punch.

The one actor who does a great job at realizing his part is Braugher, who is simply brilliant. He plays John’s boss in NYPD Homicide (typecast, much?), and is also a family friend. One scene that was exactly as I remembered it, was the part where Satch is talking to Julia, explaining exactly why Frank is the prime suspect in the serial killings (yes, it goes there). Frank has already told Satch about the conversations, and that he and the grown up John have figured out who the killer is. Of course Satch thinks that Frank has gone insane. For proof that he has knowledge of the future, Frank describes play for play how the Mets will get a key couple of runs in the game that starts later. As Satch is briefing Julia, this part of the game starts to happen on a nearby TV. His expression goes from sour and serious to delighted as the game unfolds in the precise manner which Frank described. Much of it is with his back to the camera, facing the TV. As he realizes that Frank is a) not insane and b) not the killer, he turns back to Julie with this bigger and bigger smile on his face. 

As for the other players, Noah Emmerich, whose brother Toby wrote the script (and also the script for “The Butterfly Effect”) plays the grown up Gordo. He’s a bit dopey, and quite believable. He’s great in the current TV series “The Americans”. Do you think naming him Gordo was a shout out to Quaid’s first real breakthrough role as Gordon “Gordo” Cooper in “The Right Stuff”? 

Here’s a bit of trivia: Sharp eyes will see that adult Gordo's son, Gordo Jr. is played by a prepubescent Michael Cera! 


Your question to me might be, “Well, Wayne. Did you choke down the SOD pill, and did it help you enjoy this movie as much as the first time you watched?” 
Answer: I tried. I really did. But I guess a combination of mediocre acting and lots of time travel issues did manage to take this film down a notch for me. It is one hell of a plot, maybe even more dense than I recalled. It is well paced, and the action and chase scenes work quite well. I think a tweak here or there with the time stuff, and maybe casting some really great actors might have made this a classic. Instead, it’s a clever, fun movie, and a nice diversion if you are in the mood for something like that. If you want to watch a great film about fathers and sons and baseball, then go see “Field of Dreams”, or better yet, read the book it was based on, “Shoeless Joe”.

Last but not least, let me just add…..LET’S GO METS!

On First Look: ✭✭✭1/2      On Second Look: ✭✭