Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Moving On Up

I know I haven't updated the blog in about a month, but that's because I've been readying a move to another site. Though it's not quite done yet, I do have another post.

So if you've been reading here or just now stumbled upon it, feel free to check out my new site:


Thursday, August 21, 2008

(Be)Rate a Movie, Vol. 1

"Man, I wish we were over there. Those people are watching Rear Window!"

Every now and then I see a movie that I hate more than I probably should. When I first saw the previews for Disturbia, I was angered that someone had the audacity to basically remake Rear Window with a bunch of unknowns without giving the original movie any credit. (At the time I didn't know who Shia was. Now I know he's a guy that likes to say, "No.")

Then the film got some good reviews. It's still only a 67% on Rotten Tomatoes, but that's more than it deserves. I couldn't help but dwell on all of the stupid things that I noticed: either lacks of logic or elements that were totally unnecessary.

To name a "few":


The film opens with Shia's father being killed in a car accident. It's actually done really well to start with. An erratic SUV pulls ahead of them on a two lane road. They're following for a bit when it suddenly swerves out of the way, revealing a stalled car right in front of us.

Shia hits it, and his car goes flying, flipping upside-down. The problem comes when both father and son seem alright only to have another truck plow into the passenger side, killing the dad.

The truck showed no signs of even hitting its brakes. There's no reason this truck wouldn't have been able to see the wreck in time to at least slow down. Even if the stalled car had been around a blind curve (it wasn't), Shia's car flew a few hundred feet past it.

Also, the people standing on the side of the road next to their stalled car never make an appearance, apparently unconcerned with either checking on the crash victims or stopping the speeding truck.

#2: Killing the father was totally unnecessary in the first place. They wanted to make us feel bad for Shia and sympathize with his bad behavior. Do they really think I'm not going to be on the side of a guy who's trying to catch a killer and no one believes him? Just give him a dead-beat dad if you're that worried about it.

#3: A year later, Shia is acting up in Spanish class. That is, he's asleep, and when he's asked to answer a question, it's clear he knows hardly any Spanish. But it's supposed to be the week before summer. If he didn't know more Spanish than this, he wouldn't have made it this far in the class.

#4: The teacher tries to be understanding with Shia and mentions something about his father, causing him to punch the guy. This, along with three priors that remain unexplained, results in Shia being placed under house arrest for three months.

The only reason they set it during the summer was so he wouldn't have to miss school while he's under house arrest.

So you're telling me that a movie that opens with killing off the father, has a kid punch out his teacher, and features a serial killer living next door decides to play it safe by not making the kid miss school?

#5: Shia is fitted with an anklet that will alert police if he strays beyond a certain distance from the house. He meets the cop that's assigned to him, who just happens to be the cousin of the teacher he punched.

While it's mildly addressed later, wouldn't this be a HUGE conflict of interests? Also, he is apparently the only cop that ever responds to the anklet going off (either with other cops or alone). He must be hanging out around the place just waiting for Shia to screw up.

#6: Shia tries to kill some time by playing XBOX online, but he's suddenly thrown off because his account is no longer active. (His mother canceled it.) He'd still have no trouble playing a game the normal way, but he abandons all hope and moves on to other things.

#7: His mother returns home to find him lazily watching TV in his room. When he accuses her of being dramatic, it's clear she's going to do something drastic. Thankfully they spared me by not having her smash the TV. Instead, she cuts the power cord.

Considering she's canceled his XBOX Live and iTunes subscription in order to pay the incarceration fee, you'd think she'd consider selling his TV for some cash.

Also, we've already seen him watching an even bigger TV in the living room, so it doesn't seem like that big of a deal.

#8: Shia answers his doorbell to find a flaming bag of poop that he stomps out with his sock-covered feet. A guy that's gotten in trouble with the law four times doesn't know this old trick?

#9: While out in his yard, he hides when he sees the new hot next-door neighbor (Ashley) driving down the street and into her driveway. But she already saw him get handcuffed on his front lawn when his anklet brought the police. How could any interaction with her possibly embarrass him further?

#10: Shia is awoken to his neighbor (the killer) coming home late at night, driving a shiny blue rare classic car with a dented left fender, which exactly matches the description mentioned on TV earlier that a kidnapper may have been driving.

But Shia doesn't call the police or even mention any of this to his mother. It would be perfectly reasonable to do so. In fact, having the police investigate at this point and find nothing would increase the stakes by making him reluctant to contact them again.

#11: Shia lets his Asian friend (Ronnie) in on his hunch, and they do some research. Turns out police suspect the recent disappearances are related to a similar thing that happened in Texas a few years prior, where, after the killer moved out, dead bodies were found hidden in the house.

They didn't track him down because he used a fake name. So apparently he left no fingerprints, no neighbors could describe him, and none of the local businesses that he frequented had video surveillance footage. Because based on how the killer lives in this new neighborhood, the police would have no trouble tracking him down once he moved away.

#12: Shia, Ronnie, and Ashley stake out the killer but find no evidence of foul play, other than his taste in redheaded club-going women.

Later that night while alone, Shia notices the woman running around the killer's house in a panic, trying to get out. He tries to film it, when suddenly his camcorder flashes.

Yes, many camcorders have flashes, but I know from experience that they are a pain to activate. Having one go off by accident is ridiculous.

#13: Shia never shows this footage of a woman in distress to anyone because moments later, after hiding for a bit, he sees her getting into her car and leaving. But as we later find out, she didn't leave. She's dead. So why doesn't she show up as a missing person? Because then Shia would have been able to show that footage to someone and get the killer arrested, that's why.

#14: Ashley throws a party, which Shia obviously can't attend. He accuses her of trying to conform. That is, not punch teachers in the face, I guess.

#15: Shia tries to ruin her party by playing loud annoying music. She storms over and threatens to throw his iPod off the balcony. When he's forced to admit that he's been spying on her, he mentions a number of cute things he's witnessed, including how she reads real books and not magazines.

This is coming from a guy who's played videogames, spied on people, and built a tower of Twinkies instead of cracking open one of the hundreds of books in his dead father's library. Why the hell would he be impressed with someone reading?

#16: Later that night while at Shia's place, Ashley spots the killer dragging a bloody bag into his garage. The next day, they make Ronnie sneak into the killer's car while he's gone. He's at a hardware store, where Ashley is spying on him to make sure he's still away from home.

She insists on sending pictures through her phone to prove that the killer is still in the store. What's the freaking point? You can just tell him that.

Plus, why even spy on the guy? She could acknowledge that she sees him and act like she's having a normal phone conversation. Ask his opinion on the shovels he's looking at. Anything to make sure he doesn't leave her sight. Instead, she hides from him and then loses track of him.

#17: That is, until he pops up in front of her car in the parking lot. And leans in through the open(?) passenger window, lets himself in, locks the door, and says creepy vaguely threatening things implying that they should stay out of his business, while occasionally touching her in inappropriate ways.

She could have easily mentioned this incident to anyone of authority which might possibly have led to an investigation of this guy. He could have told her to stop spying on him without seeming like he was about to rape her.

#18: Shia gets the blueprints to the killer's house so easily, I have to assume he Googled "blueprint to the killer's house." And that he has the capability of printing them on blueprint paper straight from his computer at home.

#19: He then rigs a home security system so that Ronnie can sneak in with a video camera that will transit its image to his computer screen. When did he suddenly become MacGuyver? And where did he get the money for this thing?

#20: Shia is supposed to keep an eye out while Ronnie sneaks into the garage and checks the bloody bag, but instead he insists on watching the live feed, putting his friend in intense peril.

#21: When Ronnie goes missing, Shia runs over to save him, which of course causes the police to show up. He tells them Ronnie is in the house and that the killer has a bag with a body in it. (Ronnie confirmed the bag had blood and hair in it.) They pull it out, but it contains a deer carcass.

Still..wtf? No one questions why the hell the killer is keeping a rotting deer carcass? And WHY does he have it? Did he know Shia would call the police over and needed a cover? Is it always in his garage to mask the smell of the other dead bodies?

#22: Shia's mom wants to go talk to the killer to hopefully get him not to press charges. Shia obviously doesn't want her to because he thinks the guy is a killer, but he gives in to her demands pretty easily considering his friend is MISSING and perhaps DEAD.

#23: Ronnie plays a practical joke by sending Shia a text that says to check his TV which shows Ronnie in a closet which turns out to be Shia's closet and when Shia opens it he yells and scares him. Not only is this overly elaborate but also it's incredibly inappropriate.

#24: Shia zooms in on an image from footage taken inside the house to reveal a body wrapped in plastic hidden behind an air vent. But he zooms in impossibly far and makes the image clearer than it originally was.

#25: Around the same time that Shia discovers this, the killer slams his mother's face against a wall, then appears seconds later in Shia's house to hit Ronnie across the face with a bat. But later Shia finds his mom tied up down in a weird basement/well thing which would have taken about ten minutes to accomplish.

#26: The killer attacks Shia, who tries to unplug the monitor for his anklet so the police will show up. But each time the killer gets closer, he lets go of it instead of just ripping it from the wall.

#27: He runs outside, trying to go beyond the radius and set off the anklet. The killer grabs him, struggling to keep him back until he finally knocks Shia out. This entire time, Shia doesn't scream in an attempt to alert the neighbors.

#28: The killer ties up Shia and explains that he's going to kill his mother and Ronnie and then Shia himself, making it look like a murder-suicide. Good plan, I guess, but not sure how he was going to accomplish that if he has bashed in Shia's brain with a baseball bat as he was trying to do earlier.

#29: In fact, why is the killer even bothering to kill them in the first place? He doesn't know that Shia has any concrete evidence. And even if he feels that he's been compromised, it's not like he can kill them and just stay in his place without being investigated. He'd have to leave town anyway, so why chance getting caught while attempting to kill three people?

#30: Ashley shows up and saves Shia for the time being. They barricade themselves in his room. The phone doesn't work. But Shia never attempts to sabotage his anklet, which as we were told point blank earlier in the film, would send the police his way.

#31: When the killer starts to bust down the door, they jump from his room to her swimming pool, and he goes after his mom. But Ashley doesn't bother calling the police and explaining everything that's just happened. Just because the police are on their way doesn't mean they shouldn't know what the hell is going on.

#32: The dispatcher calls the cousin cop to report the anklet violation even though his shift is over. He says he'll take it but waits to finish his meal first.

I don't buy this for a minute. This cop has loved busting Shia's balls, and now he wants to sit around and wait? Totally unrealistic. This was the time they were going to haul Shia off to jail. The guy should be running red lights to get there.

#33: While looking for his mom, Shia crawls into vents and rarely checks behind himself even though he knows the killer wasn't incapacitated in any way and could appear behind him at any moment.

#34: During his search, Shia finds a redheaded wig and the valuables that belonged to the club girl. So this can only mean that she's dead and the killer PUT ON A WIG before driving her car away.

Are you freaking kidding me? If Shia (or anyone else) had gotten more than a glance at him, it would have looked ridiculous. David Morse (who plays the killer) is 6 feet, 4 inches tall! He's supposed to pass for a woman?!

#35: Shia hears his mom's muffled murmuring from what turns out to be hundreds of feet away but can't hear the cop calling out to ask if anyone is home. Oh, but the cop can hear when Shia slides open a door.

#36: The killer breaks the cop's neck. Nothing wrong with this, technically, but I felt bad for him.

#37: After killing the killer, Shia and the mother emerge from the garage to the flashing lights of cops that have showed up. The scene fades out before anything really happens, but shouldn't the cops be converging on Shia, especially since the officer they sent to arrest HIM is no longer responding?

#38: When Shia gets his anklet taken off, he walks outside to find the hot girl standing right past the edge of what used to be his limits. So...she was just standing right there waiting on him? For how long?

It could have been cool if he had surprised her at her house, perhaps at her pool which had been a recurring location while he spied on her.

That's 38 negative points for Disturbia. But I liked the cast and the performances. So 36 negative points. (But actually there were other stupid things I didn't bother to mention, so it's more like 50.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Not Just A Pretty Face

Don't judge a book by its cover. It's a common maxim, passed down from generation to generation. And like any good rule, it deserves to be broken from time to time. For instance, I would never read this book. Whereas I would read this book in a heartbeat despite the large chance that it's unreadable.

A rule should exist that says don't judge an actor by his dreamy eyes, electric smile, chiseled chin, and exquisite nose. Of course, even if that rule existed, I still would have broken it. Because I've definitely written a number of actors off as "pretty boys" only to later be forced to alter my opinion.

The most recent example would be Ryan Gosling. In the space of just a few days, I watched both Lars & the Real Girl and Half Nelson. While he gave a quiet, subtle performance in both films, the characters are quite different. Sure, they're both broken and trying to solve their problem in the wrong way, but if they ever met I doubt they'd like each other.

And the roles are especially different from his star-making performance in The Notebook, where the hardest thing he had to do was make-out in the rain with Rachel McAdams. (Admittedly a bit difficult because he was obliged to restrain himself until he could deliver some lines.)

To be fair to Gosling, he had good chemistry with her, and his performance had nothing to do with the many, many reasons I hated about that movie. But I figured he would be just another pretty face who would appear in a bunch of romantic comedies that Matthew McConaughey passed on because of age issues or shirts being required.

Instead, he followed them up with the aforementioned roles. So he is not only a gifted actor but also a man who chooses his films with care. (I'll give him a pass on Stay, since all the theater-goers did as well.)

The problem is that for every Ryan Gosling, there's five Ashton Kutchers. That is, guys who get roles based simply on their looks and never progress beyond what first got them recognition. Kutcher is physically appealing in that jerky frat boy kind of way. Unfortunately, his comedy is appealing in a similar way, only in very short increments and generally only if you've not actually been through college yet. (Or if you are a jerk frat boy. You always laugh at what you know.)

I would write Gosling off as an anomaly if this was the first time this had happened, but there have been other success stories. George Clooney is one of my favorite people lately, much less actors. But for awhile he was just a guy that got a few movie deals because he was the cute doctor on ER.

Even in films of his that I enjoyed, such as Out of Sight, I felt that he was getting by more on charisma than acting. (Only later did I realize that his charisma was part of his acting, a fact that he figured out earlier on and has used to perfection.)

It wasn't until Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? that I began to give him some credit. His association with the Coen Brothers made him infinitely cooler. He's taken on a lot of different things since then and proved his chops as an actor. He was beyond fantastic in Michael Clayton, a point driven home by the fact that my favorite moment of the film is his silent taxi ride during the credits. The entire film plays over in your mind as you watch him contemplating everything that's happened.

Probably the ultimate example of facial judging was my experience with Brad Pitt. I'm not sure when he first popped onto my radar, but for awhile there (A Rivers Runs Through It, Interview with a Vampire, Legends of the Fall, Seven Years in Tibet) it seemed that he was just testing out how many hairstyles he could pull off. (Seriously?)

Even his role in the incredibly dark Seven commented on his "pretty face," as John Doe apologized for having to bash it in.

Once he tried to sell death as sexy in Meet Joe Black, I was pretty much fed up. So when what I thought was an excuse for him to show off his abs hit theaters, I didn't bother to see it.

But I was so wrong about Fight Club. I don't love the movie now as much as I did back then, but I still love Pitt's crazy laugh. Probably my favorite laugh ever. I wish I could do it.

Since then, he's still done some roles that required little more than for him to look good. (Really, what is Ocean's Eleven other than an experiment to show how cool it looks when a bunch of hots guys walk together in slow motion?) But he's taken on some dramatic roles, and, more importantly, had some fun, whether it's voicing Boomhauer's brother on King of the Hill or playing a dirty, incomprehensible boxer in Snatch.

So I want to apologize to these people, and any other "pretty boys" that I forgot about. Being exceptionally good-looking and using that to get a few lead roles isn't a crime as long as you don't squander your talent. (If hotness is your only talent, then I guess I can't blame you for continuing to do it, but it doesn't mean I have to like you either.)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Category Five: 5 Actresses Who I Can't Believe Haven't Been Nominated For An Oscar

Awhile back I wrote about five actors who I couldn’t believe had never been nominated for an Oscar. Now it’s the ladies’ turn.

It was much harder to compose this list. That can be blamed on the lack of good roles for women. Because of their scarcity, when a great role does come along and it’s performed well, the actress is generally recognized with a nomination. This isn’t to say that some great performances haven't fallen through the cracks over the years, but generally an actress with at least two exceptional roles under her belt will find herself with at least a nomination.

Therefore, it was much harder to find women with quality work that hadn’t gotten one. Of course, I’m sure they’d much rather have the problem of too many great roles to recognize them all.

#5: Blythe Danner

Notable Performances in: The Last Kiss, The Prince of Tides, The Great Santini

Finding five women was so difficult that I had to cheat a little bit with this one. While I’ve heard great things about the latter two movies (and Danner in particular), I haven’t personally seen them. In other words, I’m more or less putting her on this list because of one movie.

While that movie got heavily criticized by a number of people, I enjoyed it immensely and thought Danner was the best part of it. She plays an older woman with real problems, and that alone is enough to make her stand out. But the fact that she balances both independence and brokenness into one character makes her really stand out. If her scene on the treadmill doesn't get you, then something's wrong.

#4: Jamie Lee Curtis

Notable Performances in: Freaky Friday, A Fish Called Wanda, Trading Places

One of the biggest criticisms of the Academy is that it’s reluctant to give well-made comedies the same respect as well-made dramas. If it’s funny and doesn’t have Woody Allen’s name on it, it’s in trouble. So it should be no surprise that one of the most consistently funny actresses (whether she's being high-brow, low-brow, or somewhere in between) has never been recognized for her great work.

Kevin Kline was brilliantly hilarious in A Fish Called Wanda, as evidenced by the fact that he managed to WIN an Oscar for the role. But Curtis' performance is what held it all together. It’s her character that sets everything into motion. And its her allure that causes the other characters to do the brave, stupid, hilarious things that they do. Without her, it all falls apart.

#3: Allison Janney

Notable Performances in: Juno, Hairspray, Winter Solstice, The Hours, American Beauty

I was honestly surprised to find that Janney hadn't been nominated for an Oscar because I'm always so excited when she pops up in a film, and she steals scenes without you even knowing it, like a charming British lad pickpocket.

While she's typically more light-hearted, she can play depressed like nobody's business. Sure she didn't say much in American Beauty, but she didn't have to. She said with her eyes what Annette Bening's character had to say with a gun.

And let's not forget her great success on The West Wing. She's a pedigreed actress with exceptional talent, and given the right leading role, I've no doubt she'd get a nomination. But considering she has four Emmys sitting at home, I doubt she's too worried about it.

#2: Parker Posey

Notable Performances in: For Your Consideration, A Mighty Wind, Best in Show, The House of Yes, Waiting for Guffman

Yes, all but one of the mentioned films are directed by Christopher Guest. But if you know anything about the way he directs, that makes the performances all the more remarkable.

While she's not the only actress to give a memorable performance in his films, she got the most acclaim and was talked about around the water-cooler as the new "indie queen." Unfortunately, that never translated into an Oscar nomination.

But thanks to her performance in Best in Show, I now know the difference between a bee and a bear in a bee costume.

#1: Scarlett Johansson

Notable Performances in: The Prestige, Match Point, In Good Company, Girl with a Pearl Earring, Lost in Translation, Ghost World, The Man Who Wasn’t There, The Horse Whisperer

I had a few films in mind before I checked her credits on IMDB. Now after seeing all of her great roles, her lack of a nomination is especially surprising. Combine all of her great work with the fact that she's the type of star right out of Hollywood "golden days," (That is, a beautiful, popular woman who also happens to be a great actress.) and you'd think the Academy would eat it up.

I've no doubt that she'll get her nomination one day. Judging from her previous work, she'll continue to put out good performances. And she's just reaching the age to be able to play the most interestingly written female characters, be they original or based on actual people.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Meeting Pam Beesly

Wednesday morning while at work, I got a call from my roommate. She said, "Guess who's on campus."

Now, the previous evening, she had been talking about the start of fall football camp, so I figured she was talking about some player, or maybe a past Trojan visiting. Heck, maybe even an NFLer.

I was definitely not expecting her to say "Jenna Fischer." I will be eternally grateful for that call.

You see, there have been plenty of celebrities on USC's campus, and not once have I felt compelled to seek them out. But this was different. I named my car Pam Beesly for crying out loud.

As it turns out, two work studies in our office have been catching up on "The Office," so I told the only one who was in what I had just heard. We ventured out and staked out the set for about twenty minutes with no luck.

Later that day the third work study joined us as we went back and stayed for more like an hour this time. At one point, we saw the back of John Krasinski's head as he was walking to his trailer.

And then, someone noticed Jenna Fischer at the craft services table. At first none of us did anything, and then we decided to approach.

She was talking to someone else getting snacks, so we awkwardly stood there waiting for a chance to say hello.

I'd say we talked for about a minute and a half to two minutes. She shook our hands. She asked us where we were from, and since the work studies were both from California, I got to stand out when I said "Alabama." I told her that I love her blog, and she seemed genuinely happy about that. (I forgot, however, to tell her about my car.)

And she mentioned that she has a friend who works on campus, so she visits here sometimes. Awesome.

She was just as cute in person. Shorter than I expected, but that's a common thing. And she was incredibly sweet and nice.

Obviously I can't say I know her, but from reading her blog and the brief interaction I had with her, I'll say this. It's not more celebrities that should be like Jenna Fischer. It's more people that should be like Jenna Fischer.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Paris For President

See more Paris Hilton videos at Funny or Die

The responses I've heard to this video have ranged from declaring that this is actually McCain's energy plan to wondering what effect it will have on twenty-somethings that Paris called him "a wrinkly old white guy." But everyone is missing the biggest story to come out of this: Paris Hilton can act.

Believe me, I never thought I'd write that sentence. But for full disclosure, and to be fair to her, I've never seen any of her performances other than her short cameo on The O.C. (Well, I was a fervent watcher of The Simple Life during its first season, and I suppose it could be argued that this was also a performance.)

So while I might not be able to have a truly informed opinion, reading the reviews from her films, combined with watching her host SNL, left me feeling that she couldn't act to save her life.

But maybe they just couldn't find the right material for her because this video is legitimately funny. In fact, I think she actually out-acts the material. The punchline is Maui? Not exactly brilliant writing, but she does everything she can with it.

Of course, a lot of the humor comes from the old joke of having a character everyone thinks is an idiot (or actually IS an idiot) suddenly say something incredibly intelligent. In this case, the character happens to be a real live person.

Sure, it's good for an easy joke, but give credit where credit is due. Not every girl can pull it off and sound convincing. Here, it works.

One can't keep doing this character over and over, so this might be the end of Paris' true acting career. But I have to give credit where credit is due.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Just Add Money: Stupid 911 Calls

Two days in a row, there have been news stories about stupid people calling 911 for idiotic reasons.

One man became belligerent at a Subway when they didn’t put the spicy sauce on his Italian sub. They locked him out of the store when he went outside to call the police, via 911. Why this malady couldn’t easily be corrected I don’t know, but the fact that the man called 911 lets me know he wasn’t exactly rational. My favorite part is that he called a second time because police weren’t arriving quickly enough.

In the second story, a man called to report that a slot machine in a Hard Rock Hotel & Casino stole his money. He also called twice, so the “heat of the moment” argument is busted.

It just so happens that both of these calls happened in Florida. Not to say anything negative about a whole state based on just two people, but it must be full of idiots.

Anyway, I’m curious to hear more about these incidents, as there are a lot of questions left unanswered. Did these men later realize the error of their ways, or are they still insisting they were in the right? How exactly do the police handle such things when they show up? Why are people still eating at Subway? (Was there not a Quizno’s nearby?)

But there’s something more urgent than getting the answers to these questions. I want to hear more of these stories. Everyone loves a dumb criminal story, but these are even better. (The ultimate would be criminals calling 911, which I’m sure has happened numerous times.)

This could easily be a TV show. It’s like something Fox would have done in the 90’s. Which means it’s something pretty much any network would do now.

Title: I’ve thought about it, and honestly, there’s nothing that beats Idiot 911!

Format: Obviously you’d need to present the story, but there are a number of ways you could expand it. Interviews with the police or other people involved. If you could get interviews with the person that called, even better, especially if they still don’t think they did anything wrong.

You could even do a sort of parody of the old Rescue 911! and have badly staged reenactments. I might feel bad about myself afterwards, but I’d watch that show at least once.

Tone: No one would ever go for this, but I think it would be hilarious if it was played seriously, sort of like The Colbert Report. But let’s be honest and say that it would be snarky to the max. Actually, you should try to get Perez Hilton to host. At least these people deserve to be mocked.

Story: Well that’s up to the American people to be stupid. I’m sure we won’t be disappointed.