Sunday, April 22, 2007

Disturbia

Although the official web site never explicitly states that Disturbia is a remake of Alfred Hitchcock's 1954 classic Rear Window, that's pretty much what it is. The screenwriters (who also worked on 2005's Red Eye) stayed true to the Hitchcock feel of the movie while keeping it interesting for the attention span-impaired audiences of today.


As of April 23rd, the movie is leading the box office for the second week in a row. It's easy to see why. Shia LaBeouf is so dang likeable, you can't help but pull for him. He plays Kale, a high school kid on house arrest for punching his Spanish teacher in the face. (I'd explain why, but it would give away the incredibly powerful opening scene of the film.) Relegated to within 100 feet of his house by an ankle tracking device, the cops arrive on scene if Kale breaks the barrier. To keep himself occupied, he begins spying on his neighbors and discovers some interesting drama around him - nothing of more interest than the hot new girl next door, Ashley (played by Sarah Roemes). But when Kale, his friend Ronnie (Aaron Yoo), and Ashley discover a neighbor who just might be a serial killer, things get a little more interesting.

Aside from its Hitchcockian similarites, the movie was really nothing more than an acting vehicle for Shia LaBeouf, who deservedly is on the rise as one of the Hollywood's most talented young actors. The kid has a natural charm that you can't help but like...you know the type - girls want to be with him, guys want to be him. He plays the role of Kale with ease, switching between funny and serious tones when necessary. David Morse was excellent as the eerie neighbor. If this guy wasn't cast, then Disturbia would have been pretty average. His sinister looks and commanding presence kicked the movie to another level. Carrie-Anne Moss (Trinity from the Matrix series) played Kale's mom, but her performance was so lackluster that it was interchangeable with any other actress in the necessary age range. Sarah Roemes did a fairly competent job with the girl next door character. There's no way that her character would have reacted the way she did if she was a real person, but that's no fault of Sarah's - that's the screenwriter's blunder. Even with some ridiculous situations (Kale's balcony speech), a questionable premise (house arrest? Come on...), and some improbable coincidences (the cop being the cousin of the Spanish teacher), Disturbia accomplished its goal.

To avoid being a straight up "remake" of Rear Window, the writers had to update the script accordingly. Disturbia relies on technologically proficient heroes who utilize video cameras to spy on their neighbors, unlike the binocular/zoom lens-bound Jimmy Stewart from the original. The suspense in both films was awesome, and the whole vibe transferred well to movie screens in 2007. The filmmakers did a superb job driving the tension to its highest points in dark hallways and basements near the end of the film, and the climactic confrontation was expertly edited to attain maximum "on-the-edge-of-your-seat-edness."

Personally, I think the overall statement of the movie (It's not always terrible to spy on your neighbors - you may find something illegal happening) was more relevant to its McCarthy-era counterpart. But I can see why now was a good time to "remake" it - with post-9/11 tensions the way they are in America, the same rules can apply to today's society.

If you can get past a few coincidences and trivialities, I think you'll really enjoy Disturbia. Normally after I leave a theater I tend to concentrate on things that I didn't like about the movie, but this one left me thinking about the parts I did like. When a film succeeds in doing that, I know it's doing something right. Dare I say, Jimmy Stewart would be proud. Until next time...

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Deep Rising

"A deadly monster stalks an adventurer, a thief, a builder and others out to sea." Deep Rising has been on our DVR (that's Digital Video Recorder, for those of you who aren't savvy to that kind of thing) for at least three months because we could never muster enough time to sit through what we assumed to be an excruciatingly mediocre horror movie. When we finally ran out of ideas and Wal-Mart and Blockbuster had nothing to offer, the gloves came off and we went for it.


The poster is misleading. It actually leads you to think the movie will be worse than it is. Those of you who have sat through the likes of Pterodactyl, Predator Island, CrossBones, Spring Break Shark Attack, and Rottweiler know what it's like to have your high hopes dashed upon the rocks of crappy filmmaking. I feared we were doomed to the same fate with Deep Rising, but I think we were all pleasantly surprised at how much it DIDN'T totally suck.

Stephen Sommers directed this 1998 thrillactionorromedy with ease...the storyline was obviously nothing he had to struggle with too much - it's not like he was shooting for an Oscar on this one. He also directed 1999's The Mummy, which I liked a lot.

The movie stars a bevy of C-list celebrities which I'll take the liberty of introducing to you - one of the reasons the film was so much fun was recognizing these people and saying "what is that guy from again?" Leading the pack as the "adventurer" was Treat Williams, who starred in the Substitute sequels (but not the original). His best friend/first mate, played by Kevin J. O'Connor, was the weasel-like Benny in The Mummy. The "builder" was Anthony Heald, who starred in Boston Public and Silence of the Lambs. Famke Janssen (Jean Grey from the X-Men movies) tags along as the "thief" with a heart of gold. Cliff Curtis, a lesser known actor, played a mercenary in the movie and is known for his work in Collateral Damage and Runaway Jury. Jason Flemyng (pictured at right) is one of the most obscure actors in this movie, but is still recognizable to the select few who have seen him in Transporter 2, Snatch and Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. Also along for the party is the effervescent Djimon Hounsou, famous for his roles in Gladiator, The Island, and Amistad. Whew...that was ridiculous. Watching this was a trip - every time a different actor/actress appeared on screen, you knew you'd seen them somewhere before.

OK, ya got me: The actual movie itself wasn't spectacular. But it was way more entertaining than I gave it credit for. I'm fully aware that this doesn't make it a good film (or even worth your time to see it), but this movie was so much fun that I had to tell you guys about it. I really don't want to give too much away, but suffice it to say that the monster is pretty fantastic and for the first two-thirds of the movie you (the audience) have no clue as to the size or girth of the creature that is attacking the ship and its passengers. The logic can be easily called into question (a gun that holds "a thousand rounds?" Are you serious?), and Mikey predicted the climax to EXACT specifications, but that didn't change the fact when the movie reached its ending, all three of us were excited about the possibility of a sequel.

I'm pretty distraught that I can't track down a video to post of an explosion from Deep Rising, which broke into my Top 5 90's Movie Explosions with some gusto. I guess you'll just have to rent it and see the glory for yourself. Until next time...

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Grindhouse

One of my favorite things to do is read/find out about upcoming movies in development. So when I heard that Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino were teaming up to bring us a double feature in the vintage style of 70's exploitation flicks, I was pretty stoked. By their very nature, the films were supposed to be ridiculous and over the top: I was fairly certain I was going to love Grindhouse.


I didn't love it. In fact, I only enjoyed one half of the double feature. That half was Planet Terror, directed by Robert Rodriguez (Sin City, the "Mariachi" trilogy, the Spy Kids films, The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl, From Dusk Till Dawn).

(Warning: If you haven't seen Grindhouse, I probably wouldn't recommend reading the rest of this review. Take your chances, if you're feeling daring.)

Planet Terror was BY FAR the superior film of the two involved, and I'll give you two reasons why. One: it was more faithful to the true intentions of what Grindhouse represents. Two: it was simply a better movie.

1. When the two directors came up with the idea for this project, they decided to try to recreate the experience of going to a double feature in the 70's, with exploitation entrenched in every aspect of the film. Rodriguez stayed true to this vision. The intense violence, gore, ridiculousness, and (most importantly) fun in this film are palpable, and I enjoyed nearly every minute of it. Yes, it's a zombie movie at heart. But it doesn't try to be anything else, and it embraces the concept of exploitation with open arms. There were definitely some parts in it where I cringed at the violence (the castration scene comes to mind), and I think everyone in the theater was pretty grossed out when the zombie boils/sores were popped onto Josh Brolin's glasses and later when a zombie wiped mucus goo all over Brolin's face, but here's the thing: that was the whole point of the movie! They WANT us to be shocked, because that's what happened back in the 70's; people couldn't believe that they were actually seeing what they were watching on the screen.

2. I'll get into my bashing of Death Proof in a second. This is the part where I say that Planet Terror was just a better overall film. More developed characters, more cohesive plot, more fun, more entertaining, more explosions, more laughs, more outlandishness - pretty much every aspect of the movie was better than its counterpart. I know - all you Tarantino lovers are going to try to cover for him, spewing crap like "hey man, Death Proof may have not been great, but Planet Terror sucked too!" That's not a valid argument at all. Just because you think the other movie sucks more (which is a lie, in case you're wondering) doesn't mean that it subtracts from the Suck Factor of your beloved Tarantino's monstrosity. You can't cover for him. You can't defend Kill Bill Vol. 2, and you sure as Hades can't defend this piece of crap.

Let's get into it, then, shall we? Before its release, I heard that Death Proof was supposed to be a "slasher movie" starring Kurt Russell where he kills people with his car. Hey, that sounds kind of cool. If the whole movie would have been Kurt Russell (one half of arguably the coolest cop duo of all time in Tango and Cash) running people down Death Race 2000 style, then it probably would have kicked ass. But alas, Mr. I'mTheManBecauseIDirectedSomethingGoodIn1992 had to ruin it with dialogue. I'm not saying that the film would have been better as a silent movie (wait a second...yes I am), but the dialogue that WAS used in this so-called "slasher film" probably shouldn't have been as long-winded - painfully attempting to be clever and falling flatter than Keira Knightley's chest. Freakin' A, man: we get it. You're the famous Quentin Tarantino. You speak like a twenty-four-year-old Huddle House coke addict waitress. You can put whatever dialogue into movies that you want. Guess what? That doesn't make it good. While we're at it, let's take a look at the definition of a slasher film, anyway. According to Wikipedia, a slasher film is

"a sub-genre of horror film typically involving a psychopathic killer (often wearing a mask) who stalks and graphically murders a series of victims in a random, unprovoked fashion, usually teenagers or young adults who are away from mainstream civilization or far away from help and often involved in sex and illegal-drug use. The killer almost always uses unconventional weapons such as blades, chainsaws, cleavers, and blunt objects; very rarely, if ever, using guns. There is often a backstory that explains how the killer developed their violent mental state, and why they focus primarily on a particular type of victim or a particular location."

(I'm on a rant here. Can you tell?) Let's run through that list for a second. The first two sentences are pretty well covered in Death Proof. Congratu-fing-lations Quentin, you did something right. But here's where (part of) my trouble with you lies: The third sentence. There is NO backstory in Death Proof at all. We have no clue as to Stuntman Mike's (Ho-ho! You're so smart and funny! Ha! Did you come up with that name yourself?) background: why he would want to kill the girls, what makes him a psychopath, what traumatic event caused his behavior, etc. If ANY of those things were present and the dialogue was cut in half, then it might not have been as terrible. Stuntman Mike is a pansy. He gets pwned (sic) by those girls in the end, and he can't take one shot in the arm? Come on, psycho killer! Step it up! And I haven't even mentioned that the ending leaves loose ends (what happens to the cheerleader? How do the girls explain the wrecked car to the guy they're borrowing it from?), the story is split into two halves that have nothing to do with each other, and it inexplicably made only a meager attempt at trying to capture the 70's vibe with the missing reels and popping effects on screen being held to a minimum.

All right, I'm done complaining. The fake trailers in Grindhouse were really excellent. Unlike a certain aspect of the show, they all understood the project's direction and really had fun and went for it. As Greg would say, I respect that. I will take this time to say that I heard they are making a straight-to-DVD release of Machete, which might be pretty sweet.

Well, that's about all the time we have for today. Come back for your regularly scheduled appointment and we'll take care of you. Read two reviews and call me in the morning. Until next time...

Monday, April 9, 2007

Meet The Robinsons

By Guest Reviewer Alan Trehern

Hmmm
...You didn't think I'd go see this movie since I'm 21 years old, but I did. Alas, the version I saw was not in 3D, but it was just as good...for a kid's movie. It's based on the book
A Day with Wilbur Robinson by William Joyce; so if reading book-to-movie adaptations is your thing, then here's your chance.

Meet the Robinsons is Disney's new CG, non-Pixar film, that I have been waiting a couple months for. Why? Cause the T-Rex and his small arms crack me up. Anyway, it tells the story of a young orphan named Lewis, who loves to invent things, and attends college classes to try to unlock the secrets of the human brain. Why? So he can build a mind machine that can help him remember the memory of his lost mother...duh!

Along the way, he avoids any and all interviews for new parents, who wouldn't like him for who he was anyway, and enrolls his new invention in the school science fair. After a mishap caused by a bowler hat, Lewis storms off losing all confidence in himself and therefore ripping all the notes about the machine. Meanwhile, the 1920's silent film villain has stolen Lewis' machine and attempted to use it as his own while Louis meets a time-traveler named Wilbur Robinson.

Okay, so basically this movie is ridiculous and telling you everything that happened would confuse you to the bitter end. With all its 4th dimensional thinking and good animation, Meet the Robinsons doesn't fail in the story line department. However, there are some plot holes in the middle that will make you go "Ugh, how is this going to end??", but the writers seem to tie everything together in the end. There are some twists and turns along the way that give any moviegoer a good time. And as a formidable fan of the time travel genre, this movie delivers.

With the voice talents of Adam West, Tom Selleck, and Matthew Johnston (Drew Carey fame), this movie is entertaining as well as pleasing to the eye. And as an added bonus, at the beginning of the film is an old Mickey Mouse cartoon, which brought me back some of those childhood memories. If you have a free afternoon, and Grindhouse is too awesome for you, then check out Meet the Robinsons. As for me, well, I guess you just never know where I'll turn up next. Keep your feet on the ground, and reach for those stars, readers.


Sunday, April 1, 2007

March Madness No More

It's finally April. That means that I will no longer be posting on every film I see, which is probably a good thing. The volume of information coming from this site won't be nearly as heavy as it was this past month. Never fear though: Just because I'm not posting on every movie I see doesn't mean that I'm stopping altogether. Now I can get back in the swing of writing things that I want to write, and I'm sure I'll have some more guest reviews from my friends along the way. And don't think that I'm not going to review bad movies anymore, either. Those will still be featured, but probably not as often. So keep checking back for more reviews, and you can check out the archives to your right if you missed any old ones. March, you'll always hold a special place in my movie-watching heart. Until next time...

A Scanner Darkly

(Keanu voice) Whoa.

Trippy. That's the only true way to describe A Scanner Darkly. Crazy sci-fi plot set in the not-too-distant future, written by Phillip K. Dick, and starring Keanu Reeves? You know this one's gonna be weird.

The most notable aspect of this movie was the stylistic approach that director Richard Linklater (School of Rock, Dazed and Confused) took with it. The film is definitely groundbreaking with regards to it's visual look. It's just like those Charles Schwab commercials you see on TV all the time...but 2 hours long. Personally, I think it looks really slick.

Woody Harrelson, Robert Downey, Jr. (the future Iron Man in the upcoming film), and Winona Ryder star alongside the greatest actor of the modern era: Keanu Reeves. I was incredibly amused by Harrelson's character, a drugged-out wacko who is constantly paranoid. Winona was lookin' pretty decent, but her acting (she was a drug supplier in the film) was sub-par. I didn't believe a word she said. She brought no passion to the movie whatsoever. Come on, Winona: Go Big or Go Home! Robert Downey, Jr. (who I used to hate before I saw Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) also turned in an average performance as Keanu's friend and roommate. Keanu himself was pretty mediocre, as well. There's no use denying it: I'm a big supporter of that man and nearly everything he does (with the exception of those romantic comedies). I appreciate what he was trying to do here, supporting an innovative film style and sacrificing the big bucks that he could normally demand for an independent film like this. But Keanu: step it up a little, Ace. I've come to expect so much out of you after Point Break that it's hard for you to keep delivering every time. (A small aside: I find it interesting that they cast Downey Jr. and Harrelson in this movie because they both have been plagued by drug problems throughout their careers and they play addicts in the movie. Coincidence? Definitely not.)

This movie was little more than a drugged-out sequence of events following an undercover agent trying to bring down dealers of a drug that has taken over the American people, known as Substance D. There were hallucinations left and right, along with vague attempts to explain what was going on ("The two sides of my brain are...competing?"). Keanu spends most of his on screen time in a shimmering full body suit that continuously changed his outward appearance, which says something about where our society is heading in the future with the whole technological movement toward social connectivity. There were also themes reminiscent of the Red Scare of the 50's in this movie; authority figures asking citizens to report people using Substance D and asking people to rat on their neighbors. This is probably due to the fact that the book was written in 1977, but those themes were still prominent in American culture back in those days. Parallels can be drawn to the Patriot Act in effect today, with some sort of all-seeing governmental agency spying on us all the time as the cause for paranoia. Anyway, the whole thing is about trying to take down the drug dealers who are supplying Substance D to the public. If you can manage to stay awake long enough to try to decipher what's going on, the movie is pretty predictable. If not, then you'll be just slightly more confused than someone who intently watched the film in its entirety.

Phillip K. Dick was a pretty messed up dude. If you're a fan of his stories, this may come as some sort of blasphemy, but you can't deny that he had major psychological problems. Some of his most famous works have been adapted for the big screen and include: Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, Paycheck, and the upcoming Nick Cage/Jessica Biel thriller Next. I think I liked two out of four of those, and Next looks horrendous, so I'll give the guy a solid "meh" overall.

If you're feeling like you need to solve a mystery and you don't want too difficult of a challenge, then check out A Scanner Darkly. The visual feel is cool and everything, but you get the same thing from those commercials, and it's not nearly as trippy. I think this is one of those movies that you either really love, or you don't think it's anything special. I fall into the latter category, but that's not to say that you shouldn't watch it and make your own decisions. Until next time...