Sunday, April 22, 2007

A Side of Comedy with my Thriller, Please

If you're asking yourself what to see when you're in the mood for a thriller and a comedy, then you might just want to get in line for Disturbia. It's by no means spectacular filmmaking, but it is a movie that has everything you want in an enjoyable night at your local cineplex. In an age of YouTube, cell phone cameras, and reality television, Disturbia's Rear Window-esque storyline is properly adapted for the techno-savvy.

Shia LaBouf stars as Kale, an angst-ridden troublemaker who lands himself on house arrest for the summer. After his mother (Carrie-Anne Moss) strips him of all his creature comforts, Kale discovers "true reality television" while watching his neighbors through a handful of well-placed binoculars. The two most fascinating being the pretty girl next door, Ashley (newcomer Sarah Roemer), and the mysterious Mr. Turner (the ultra-creepy David Morse). After a series of freaky coincidences, Kale is convinced that Mr. Turner is a serial killer. With the help of Ashley, his best friend Ronnie (Aaron Yoo), and a host of cameras, cell phones, and the always needed Internet, Kale tries to uncover what's going on behind closed doors.

As is true of most teen thrillers, the script isn't what grabs you. It's the performances. Shia LaBouf has been compared to Tom Cruise by a few critics, but I'd rather not insult the guy. I'm going to compare him to John Cusack circa 1989. LaBouf's got the good looks, great onscreen charm, and above all, acting chops just like Cusack did (and still does). I loved him in Holes, and he was just as fun to watch in Disturbia. LaBouf plays the troubled teen equally as well as the empowered young man. He makes Kale into a likable character that garners cheers from the audience every step of the way.

Another impressive performance comes from David Morse, who, in my opinion, is one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood. Morse's Mr. Turner never stands a chance at being the nice guy next door. The eye twinkles, creepy little half smiles, and oh-so-Hannibal haircut spell trouble from the get go. I felt my skin crawl whenever he was on screen, whether it be mowing his lawn or flirting with Kale's mom.

And since we're on the subject of acting, I can't talk about Disturbia without mentioning Aaron Yoo. If Shia LaBouf is John Cusack, than Aaron Yoo is Jeremy Piven. Yoo's character Ronnie is not just funny, he's literally the comic relief in more than a few scenes. Granted, his brand of comedy is about half a degree from slapstick, but that doesn't matter. Whenever the tension runs high, Ronnie is always there to remind us that these guys aren't superheroes but just regular teenagers in a highly irregular situation.

Sadly, the ending gets wrapped up pretty neatly. Everything goes back to normal as if nothing spectacular just happened, but that's to be expected in a teen genre film. Also, the chemistry between LaBouf and Roemer is a tad forced, mostly due to her subpar acting. All that aside, Disturbia made me laugh out loud several times, cling to my seat, jump a little, and even peek through my fingers at a particularly disgusting part. In other words, I was far more entertained than I thought I'd be! So much so, I think I might see it again.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Lost Gems of the 80s, Part 3

Here it is, the last part of this fun list. Enjoy, and please don't be shy about telling me what you think of my choices.

Teen Witch (1989)
Biking shorts with short skirts, “cool” white kids and their attempt at rap, and of course, a choreographed dance scene at the prom. Can you ask for more in a movie? Well, yes, but Teen Witch is the absolute pinnacle of cheesy goodness.

Louise (Robin Lively) is not popular, but like any teenage girl, she wants to be. On her sixteenth birthday, she discovers that she comes from a long line of witches, and she’s introduced to her powers by Madame Serena (the always recognizable Zelda Rubenstein). As soon as Louise has the power of witchcraft, she makes herself popular, finds a new love, and, of course, gets a host of new problems.

A happy ending is inevitable, as are most of the plot points in the movie, but when you really want to lose your head and watch a senseless bit of bubble gum cinema, rent Teen Witch and learn the words to “Top That!”

She's Out of Control (1989)
Unlike the other teen movies on this list, She’s Out of Control is more about the dad than the kid, but don’t think this movie skimps on silly teenage drama. The movie comes complete with slapstick humor, awkward dates, and even a prom in the final act.

Single dad Doug Simpson (Tony Danza) is a radio station producer with two daughters. When Katie (Ami Dolenz), his oldest, turns 15, she thinks it’s time to look older. Dad doesn’t want to lose his little girl, but when he goes out of town on a business meeting, he comes back to find that his fiancĂ©e (Catherine Hicks) has helped Katie go from wallflower to a total knockout. (Of course, this isn't very hard, seeing as how every girl in 1980s comedies was gorgeous underneath her ponytail and glasses.) Boys from every walk of life are banging down his door, and Doug doesn’t know whether to lock Katie in her room or make every new boyfriend his best friend.

Even though it could be mistaken for an ABC Family Original, She’s Out of Control is still delightful. Plus, Matthew Perry plays a preppy sleezeball with his perfect awkward charm, and Todd Bridges and Dustin Diamond make quick cameos.

and in the Honorable Mention category... Hiding Out (1987)
This is an honorable mention because it’s not technically a teen comedy like the rest. Instead of actually playing a high-schooler, Jon Cryer (the loveable Duckie from Pretty in Pink) plays a guy in his twenties who must go into hiding as a high school student.

After the mob tries to kill him, successful stockbroker Andrew Morenski (Cryer) flees to hide out at with his aunt (played by Cryer's real life mom). While waiting to speak with her at the local high school, Andrew decides enrolling himself as a student is the perfect way to hide. With help from his cousin (Keith Coogan), Andrew keeps a pretty low profile as Maxwell Hauser. Like Drew Barrymore character in Never Been Kissed so many years after him, Max doesn't fit in so well as the typical high school student, and he shakes up the high school’s status quo. He falls for the pretty girl Ryan (Annabeth Gish) and decides to run for class president. But of course, everything can't stay simple. By a small accident, the mob tracks him down, and just as he's starting to make big waves in his high school life, big men with guns are standing in his way.

Mobsters and shootouts are more prevalent than jocks and choreographed dance routines, and it’s definitely less cheesy than the rest of the list. But if you’re looking for a mob movie that’s certainly on the lighter side, Hiding Out is worth your time.

Monday, April 9, 2007

From the Inside Out

Remember that kid from "Third Rock from the Sun"? It's okay if you don't. Most people don't, but maybe you should start remembering him. Late last year, I watched a little noir film called Brick. Even though the movie wasn't spectacular, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's starring role was pretty darn impressive. And in The Lookout, he's moved right past "pretty darn impressive" straight to damn impressive--an actor who disappeared for a little while just to return as a strong indie actor coming into his own.

Gordon-Levitt stars as Chris Pratt, the once-upon-a-time popular guy whose life has been turned upside down due to a horrible car accident. Now, four years later, Pratt lives in a run-down apartment with his blind roommate Lewis (Jeff Daniels) and, because of a brain injury, must write down everything he wants to remember on a little notepad. Struggling every day, Pratt goes through the motions--attending classes to help his sequencing, meeting with his counselor, and working as a janitor at a small out-of-the-way bank. It's because of this job that he's pursued by the smooth-talking Gary (Matthew Goode) to help rob that little bank. Pratt's life is a shell of what it once was, so with promises of a better life, and a little loving from the cute Luvlee (Isla Fisher), he easily gives into the plan.

My short synopsis does this intriguing story no justice. The Lookout is a cool blend of crime drama and intelligent thriller. It's a story about coming to terms with your life and moving on from your past. Interestingly, I could relate to Chris Pratt, and I think that's exactly what draws you into the story--the utter humanity (or lack thereof) of these characters.

If I'd never seen Good Night, and Good Luck, I would've been pleasantly surprised by Jeff Daniels' dramatic turn in this movie, but I have seen Good Night, and Good Luck, so I was simply pleased to see Daniels' performance equally as strong in The Lookout. He plays the sidekick/mentor Lewis with a nice sarcastic air that helps lighten the dark brooding of Gordon-Levitt's Chris. Lewis always mentions the elephant in the room, and the audience can find relief in his candidness.

Kudos to the entire cast for incredible performances. Isla Fisher holds onto her cuteness from Wedding Crashers, but her subdued need to be important is what really sells Luvlee as a character who might actually care. Sergio Di Zio is also great as the bumbling deputy with a definite surprise up his sleeve, but Matthew Goode stood out as my favorite. His spot-on American accent is smooth and seductive. From the moment Gary acknowledges Chris in a local bar, he loses all chances of saying no to this man. In stark contrast to all the angst and vulnerability Chris holds, Gary wears his confidence and power like a badge. Even his use of an inhaler doesn't lessen his strength, instead it adds to it, making him seem more attainable. His friendly attitude towards Chris is completely lost on the audience, we always see him for who he is, but Chris is dying for a connection and never suspects anything until he's knee-deep in Gary's world.

Scott Frank has written some great screenplays--Little Man Tate, Out of Sight to name a couple--and The Lookout shows that he not only has writing chops but directing chops too. Though there are really no surprise twists or even a shocking ending, The Lookout isn't about an end; it's about the means. A film whose heart lies in the story, not in the conclusion.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Lost Gems of the 80s, Part 2

And the list continues! Here are three more to go out and see for the first time...or see again because it's just been too long. :)

Summer School (1987)
Summer School may not be one of Carl Reiner’s finest directing stints, but it’s still a fun movie. Mark Harmon plays Mr. Shoop, a gym teacher who gets his summer vacation yanked away when he’s told he must teach remedial English in summer school. Being one of the few “cool” adults to appear in an Teen 80s movie, Mr. Shoop trades in the classroom for the beach, where he lets his students do whatever they want…until he’s caught by vice-principal Phil (Robin Thomas), aka resident bad guy. Phil tells Shoop that he will be fired unless the entire class passes the end-of-term exam. Shoop, not being one for good old-fashioned motivation, bribes each student with a favor in turn for studying.

The favors range from driving lessons for Denise (Kelly Jo Minter) to showing The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in class for Dave and “Chainsaw” (Gary Riley and Dean Cameron) to letting Pam (Courtney Thorne-Smith) move in with him. I promise, there is no teacher-student romance. Shoop’s got his eye on the teacher next door, Ms. Robin Bishop, played by the "Cheers" sexy version of Kirstie Alley.

Summer School blends outrageous parties, awkward moments, feel-good messages, and the archetypal studying montage into a crazy comedy. There are no true standout moments, but I must say that the joke about the guy who was in the bathroom all semester is pretty funny!

For Keeps? (1988)
Molly Ringwald, the unofficial princess of 80s movies, starred in such classics as The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles, but how many people saw For Keeps?

Ringwald stars as Darcy Elliot, a high school senior who wants to be a journalist and travel the world. Her boyfriend Stan Bobrucz (Randall Batinkoff) is an equally successful student who has dreams of being an architect. Their dreams are dashed when Darcy discovers she’s pregnant. Darcy’s Mom says abortion is the only way, but Darcy and Stan love each other, and without his parents’ blessing, they get married.

For Keeps is Ringwald’s serious 80s movie. The film quickly goes from two kids enjoying life on their own to two young parents dealing with paying bills, post-partum depression, and a quickly dimming future. The script isn’t award-winning, but the acting is excellent. If you’re a Molly Ringwald fan, you should definitely check it out.

Loverboy (1989)
Loverboy is one of my 80s guilty pleasures. I’ve seen it a dozen times, and I never get sick of it. It’s cheesy. It’s cute. And I’ll never look at anchovies the same ever again.

The absolutely lovable Patrick Dempsey stars as Randy Bodeck—a college student in a bad place. His father has decided not to support his slacker ways, and his girlfriend thinks he's too insensitive. Since he's got to find a way to afford school and his girlfriend, Randy decides to work as a pizza delivery boy to make some extra money while also finding himself. Due to some extreme miscommunication, he ends up as a male escort. (You want to see it now, don’t you?) At first, he’s a bit put off by the idea of being with older women, but the money is just too good, and it's all good practice for his girlfriend, right?

Of course things don't go so smoothly for the lover boy. Randy soon finds himself running from some very angry husbands, trying to convince his parents that he’s not gay, and holding on to his girlfriend who's convinced he's cheating. (Mostly because he technically is, but technicalities aren't important in the 80s folks.)

On top of a ridiculously funny story, there’s a pretty notable cast too. Former Angel Kate Jackson plays Randy’s mom. Robert Picardo makes a turn as an angry husband, and Carrie Fisher and Kirstie Alley are two of Randy’s “clients.”