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. 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.)