DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEWs of Disturbia, Fracture, Civic Duty, Love Thy Neighbor, Mr. Brooks, Transformers; Revenge of the Fallen


Title: Disturbia 

Release Date:  2007

Nationality and Language: USA, English

Running time: 104 min

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Distributor and Production Company: Paramount, Dreamworks 

Director; Writer: D. J. Caruso, wr Christopher Landon, Carl Ellsworth


Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Sarah Roemer, Carrie-Anne Moss, David Morse, Aaron Yoo 

Technical: Flat 1.85 to 1

Relevance to DOASKDOTELL site:  learning


The obvious comparison for this movie will be Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954), but where as the classic is an exercise in abstract film noir, here the plot itself seems less clever and more interested in becoming a morality play, however lively, about what makes kids "good" and what makes them learn. In the opening we see Kale (Shia Saide LaBeouf) flyfishing in Montana (in a scene with scenery right out of Brokeback Mountain) with his dad (Matt Craven), when dad will be killed in a particularly horrible car wreck from which Kale walks away barely injured. A few months later, he punches out his Spanish teacher when the teacher insults the memory of his dad. Still a juvenile legally, He is sentenced to three months house arrest (you wonder why he didn't get professional grief counseling, as he would) in his mother's (Carrie-Anne Moss) suburbia home in "Springdale". When he doesn't clean up, she takes away his iPod and xBox access, but leaves all of his Internet and video toys intact. Now we get some grating ideas about the way house arrest works, with the bracelet, that grates on his hairy leg, making it chafe and itch (a point you see when the device is removed at the end of the movie). Pretty soon, Kale starts play Rear Window on the neighbors, and gradually becomes suspicious of the creep (David Morse) next door. Ronnie (Aaron Yoo) and Ashley (Sarah Roemer) become his runners. At one point, he tries to get away from the killer by getting out of bounds so that the ankle bracelet will go off. Finally, all the "worst fears" become well founded, even good enough for the police, and Kale becomes the teen, however Harry Potter-like hero.


Kids will love this movie, and in Arlington VA the audience clapped. But it leaves one wondering about what makes kids learn. Kale is quickly the master of video splicing and most of all computer hacking, so he can perform private background investigations (better than the FBI's) of his new neighbor -- right out of American Beauty. Then why is Spanish such a big deal? If kids can teach themselves to hack, why is learning to work simple pattern-based problems about conic sections in Algebra II such a big deal? They will say that the "teachers didn't teach it to them" when it shows up on a test, but when they really want to know something that does require abstract thinking and problem solving, they can teach themselves in a hurry when they see a psychological payoff. Kale, here, is a "good kid" (however "disturbed" by exogenous events) and what he doesn't need is an authority structure impose by others in society for its own ends. That seems to be a message of the movie. Teenage rebellion is sometimes justified.


The film is shot flat, in regular 1.85 to 1, without full wide screen, and that tends to keep the film focused on Kale, almost as if it were an animated stage play. In that respect, the movie follows the technical example set by Hitchcock. 


LaBeouf appeared on Jay Leno recently and he can certainly ad lib comedy on his feet. On April 14, he is headed for a Saturday Night Live hosting event; he wwill be one of its youngest hosts (except for, as the folks at Landmark Theaters say, Drew Barrymore) -- below legal drinking age. (Oh, and he can't rent a car yet, either.) It takes talent to talk funny when doing interview appearances. He seems to make a good comparison to other young character actors like Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ryan Gosling, and Gregory Smith.


Fracture (2007, New Line, dir. Gregory Hobit, wr. Daniel Pyne and Glenn Gers, 113 min, R), Speaking of the devil (above). Is this a simple fracture, a compound fracture? Maybe more of a greenstick fracture. The title is a bit artificial, as is the setup. Ted Crawford (Anthony Hopkins, right out of "Silence of the Lambs") shoots his wife in the face when he catches her with a detective Rob Nunally (Billy Burke), who looks just a bit seasoned. Is this really that evil? Well, assistant DA Willy Beachum (Ryan Gosling) is on his way to "The Firm" and in his last week on the job. He takes on Crawford, who defends himself and gets off on a technicality. Beachum has to walk the ethical line, get a second chance and keep his new job. You like Gosling as the ultra-good guy young male hero (as good as, say, Sam in Supernatural), but the setup seems too contrived, although the breakpoints in the script do work. As for his acting, the charisma is terrific, even if the body mechanics seem a bit stiff. Shot in the Hollywood Hills in scope, the film does look sharp.  


Civic Duty (2007, Freestyle Releasing / Landslide / Sepia, dir. Jeff Refroe, wr. Andrew Joiner, 100 min, R, Canada) is a low-budget thriller that borrows all of these: "Rear Window" "Disturbia" and a lot of "Arlington Road." In fact, you can see a bit of Jeff Bridges in the protagonist, a white (and hot-headed right-wing type) accountant Terry Allen (Peter Krause). He gives everybody a hard time, starting with the teller when he deposits his severance check. We learn he has a habit of getting fired from jobs for losing his temper at work. The opening scenes, focusing on hairy chest, suggest a steamy "Song of Solomon" relationship with his wife Marla (Kari Martchett), but she is already nervous about his rage. Soon, a middle eastern man Gabe Hassan (Khaled Abol Naga) moves in to an apartment downstairs across a court yard. Allen notices all kinds of suspicious things with his dumpster diving, and soon contacts the FBI (Richard Schiff is controlling as Agent Hillary) who (like his wife) warns him about his over-active imagination and taking the law into his own hand. But Allen does get out of control, leading to a confrontation with Gabe.  At one point, Gabe accuses Allen of stalking and staring at him, as if Allen "preferred men" to his wife. Later, Gabe will actually admit his Palestinian sympathies and the horrors inflicted by Israeli occupation. Although the FBI finds nothing wrong with Gabe at first (including his "benevolences" charity envelopes),  there really are weird things in the apartment, like a rudimentary chemistry lab. Gabe says he is isolating Prussic acid (HCN) from drinking water for a graduate school project -- but why in a residential apartment?  Eventually, Allen takes Gabe hostage, and the swat team assembles. Allen winds up in a mental hospital before the denouement. Let us say that the "plot" really does represent a dangerous imagination and requires a lot of connecting of dots.


The movie purports to be set in Boston but was actually filmed in Vancouver, and makes best use of cramped quarters, in the style of similar films mentioned here. But the film is indeed a warning.  


Love Thy Neighbor (2005, Marvista / Lifetime (LionsGate), dir. Paul Schneider, 89 min, sug PG-13, Canada) sounds, from the title, that it would take the Rear Window theme in another direction. The film plays on the theory about how easy it is to attract enemies and trouble, no matter how secured and gated the community one lives in, and the trouble can come from next door. Laura and Jim Benson (Alexandra Paul and Gary Hudson), with their teenage daughter Erin (Ksenia Solo) move into a gated suburban Chicago community after their townhome in the city is broken into (it's a full scale and brutal home invasion that looks undeterable) why the wife and daughter are at home. The family dog is shot. The husband sells jumbo jets to airlines and travels on business all the time, setting up the classic issue of being able to "protect" his family.  But things go wrong quickly in the new home, as the neighbor Janice Rivers (a comical Shannon Lawson) starts playing games with them. Soon they found out that the previous owners had left because of her, but the realtor needs her commissions, right? Hubby goes on a business trip, although not until a stray cat adopts them, and, as it turns out, can do as good a job of protecting the home as any canine.  Laura faces two threats, one from one of the robbers who got out on bail, and from Janice. They may or not be inter-related, and the concept seems improbable. Another interesting puzzle comes when Janice twice spreads false rumors at school (one of them that Erin uses anabolic steroids) in order to get her own daughter on the high school soccer team. It seems that the principal of the school will believe any rumor, and shoot first and ask questions later. Like many Lifetime movies, the story presents troubling situations of real perils that people (especially women) face just living middle class lives. One situation is "neighbors" (like in other "Rear Window" movies), but another is that witnesses to crimes (as well as judges who pass sentences on them) often remain or become marks, something that forces them into hiding, new identities, and obliterates their former selves -- a compelling theme for movie making. The treatment seems too stereotyped (in "Lifetime Dogme") to really become compelling. 


Mr. Brooks (2007, MGM / Element Films / Relativity Media / Eden Rock Media, dir. Bruce A. Evans, wr. with Raynold Gideon, 120 min, R) presents an aging, withering Kevin Costner as successful businessman Mr. Earl Brooks as a modern day "Dr, Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" -- without too much reference to Robert Louis Stevenson's famous horror classic. In fact, he might be "Mr. Hyde," but there is an accomplice of sorts "Mr. Smith" (a summery and slightly pockmarked Dane Cook) who might have been inspired by "Mr. and Mrs. Smith". Now Brooks says he is "addicted" to serial killing and goes to AA-like meetings. He commits these crimes "just to do it" or "because I can" or "to know what it feels like." He has the knowledge of good and evil. It's a pretty nasty premise, one that  is "not good for you." I hope it doesn't give people ideas, and is appreciated for the filmmaking, which is a rather bombastic extension of the Hitchcock "Rear Window" concept.  (Remember, one of those "Good evening" Hitchcock television mysteries had been about motiveless murder, which turns out not to be motiveless.) The voyeur is, in fact, "Mr. Smith" -- and he invites himself into the mayhem for mysterious reasons. (I wondered why, in the alone-in-bed scene, Dane Cook had his chest hair cropped.)  The film is shot flat, in plain 1.85 to 1, which tends to let the director focus on these intimate, sometimes embarrassing close-ups, the way Hitchcock would. (Cinemascope could have brought in the Portland, OR scenery, which, however attractive, could be distracting.) The rest of the plot elements are strung together somewhat randomly, but it still might fly in a wannabe director's pitch "On the Lot."   There is the aggressive female police officer Tracy Atwood (Demi Moore) who is involved in a nasty divorce and this could make her the prey as well as the hunter. There is the suggestion that Earl's pregnant college-age daughter might have committed a compulsion crime on campus -- that the Neanderthal "propensity to kill for pleasure" is inherited -- and this movie was made before the Va. Tech tragedy.  There is demonstration of the shocking ease with which Brooks picks or bumps his way into homes when people are actually home, usually with passionate activity in bed. Most of all, there is Earl's imaginary playmate, Marshall (William Hurt), who will die if Earl goes, and who lets Earl step outside of himself and live through his schizophrenia. Virtuoso filmmaking this is. I'm not sure that it all has much point. But, often there is no point. This film, after all, is a "Chiller." Think of it as horror as much as it is about crime.  


Transformers (2007, Dreamworks / Paramount, dir. Michael Bay, ex prod Steven Spielberg, 144 min, PG-13, based on the 1984 TV series, story by John Rogers and others). Shia La Beouf still seems like Kale, or rather, Kale is an unfortunate migration from the 16 year old Sam Witwicky, who in this movie proves that the Renaissance-man teenage boy (whatever the biology of the growth of the teen brain) is the man to save the world, just by his feline curiosity and desire to tinker with cars and computers and impress the ladies. Sam is giving a presentation in history class, and unfortunately the regular teacher (rather than a sub) is there, and won't let him use the opportunity to sell his stuff. He's already ready to lead an Amway team. Business executives love that. The teacher promises him just a B- in the course, not good enough to get a new car. So his old man buys him a clunker, that turns out to be a robot that can transform itself into a mechanical alien, which it does.


In the meantime, robots have attacked US forces in Qatar (and probably the sectarian terrorists in Iraq, but the movie doesn't go there). Jon Voigt, Secretary of Defense, has bigger problems now than justifying "don't ask don't tell" as there is a real war, betweem the Autobots and the Decepticons.


Now, it turns out that the Autobots knew who Sam was because of his Ebay page. (I think it would have been more interesting if his public identity and "reputation" had been established with a Myspace profile and some blogs -- we could show that Google goes into outer space and that your reputation transcends the speed of light and becomes known throughout the Milky Way, at least.) But another reason they know is that Sam's granddad had found The Cube in the Arctic, and The Cube was being hidden under Hoover Dam at levels higher that SCI Top Secret. The Cube is a fractal, and when Sam gets a piece of it, he runs like a tight end through the streets of devastated Los Angeles, heading for the touchdown -- the military (Josh Duhamel) tells him that he has been commissioned in the Army, and then announces that a "civilian boy" has the family jewels. 


There are some pretty cool jokes (about masturbation as "time for private enjoyment) and at one point Sam says he has written a book about football and brain injuries.  Good topic. Again, Shia (his first name apparently means "monotheistic" and comes from both Hebrew and Muslim faiths) has become Everyman, in a world that needs one. 


Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen ("Transformers II": 2009, Paramount/Dreamworks, dir. Michael Bay, 150 min, PG-13)  winds up with a battle at the Pyramids. Shia LaBeouf carries the picture, visually one of the most stunning ever. Blogger.  





Related reviews:.  Rear Window     American Beauty   Brokeback Mountain  Arlington Road  Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde   Mr. and Mrs. Smith


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