[Movie Review] Disturbia

DisturbiaStarring: Shia LaBeouf, Carrie-Anee Moss, David Morse, Aaron Yoo, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Matt Craven
Director: D.J. Caruso
Genre: Thriller
Cert: 15
Released: 2007

Who is Shia LaBeouf? Well, I thought he was a girl to be honest. Turns out he was in “Transformers”, “Constantine” and “I, Robot”. He seems to be a bit of a pin-up for the young girls and perhaps that’s why I’d never heard of him.

In “Disturbia” he plays the main protagonist, Kale, who, a year after losing his father in a tragic accident, gets in to a bit of trouble by punking out his goading Spanish teacher.

Because he’s under 18 a Judge puts him under house arrest, unable to leave the confines of his garden. Bored to tears, Kale spends his time eating junk food and playing video games until his mother, Julie (the MIA Carrie-Anne Moss), snips the TV power cord and cancels his internet game subscriptions. With time to pass Kale grabs his binoculars and takes up spying on his neighbours.

Maybe it’s Kale’s overactive imagination but one night he notices that neighbour Robert Turner (David Morse) drives a car that matches the description of a murder suspect’s car on a local news report. With suspicions aroused, he convinces his best friend Ronnie (Aaron Yoo) and next-door neighbour Ashley (Sarah Roemer) that something is going on. Although they are dismissive at first, further events lead them deeper in to the mystery. But things are complicated for Kale who wakes up one morning to find Robert in his kitchen, happily chatting to Julie.

With Officer Gutierrez (Jose Pablo Cantillo) eager to settle a score for his Spanish-teaching cousin, Julie becoming more and more disillusioned with her son’s selfish behaviour and Robert shooting some uneasy glares in Kale’s direction is the troubled teen biting off more than he can chew?

“Disturbia” (directed by DJ Caruso who was also responsible for the five-star “Salton Sea”) can be firmly categorised as a teen thriller, carried by the emerging LaBeouf and Roemer and with a lightweight plot to boot. Think “Rear Window” with a lite-tech “Mission Impossible” edge and you’re almost there. The plot doesn’t really go for the twists and the few question marks there are can be quite easy to see through.

Having said that, it would be disingenuous of me to dismiss it out of hand. Caruso does his best with the material and directs effectively, certainly well enough for most 15-20 year olds to be entertained. They will also pull for the angsty LaBeouf and Roemer to get it on. For the older folk like me we can get a kick out of the always excellent David Morse (sporting a mini-mullet) and the beautiful Carrie-Anne Moss who seems way too young to play the mother of a 17 year old character.

Overall “Disturbia” is watchable fare but it will try the patience of those of us who think they are a bit old to relate to the teen romance storyline. Yeuck!

2star

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[Movie Review] The Negotiator

The NegotiatorStarring: Kevin Spacey, Samuel L Jackson, JT Walsh, David Morse, Paul Giamatti
Director: F Gary Gray
Genre: Thriller
Cert: 18
Released: 1998

If you went back just three years before the release of this movie, you may find that Samuel Jackson and Kevin Spacey were two of Hollywood’s lesser known names. Jackson was just about to break with “Pulp Fiction” but previously might only have been recognisable from bit parts in movies like “True Romance”, “Menace II Society”, “Jurassic Park” and “Goodfellas”. Spacey was also close to mainstream recognition with his upcoming appearance in “The Usual Suspects” for which he won an Academy Award. Prior to that his role of honour included excellent turns in low-profile but critically acclaimed movies “Glengary Glen Ross” and “Swimming with Sharks”.

So now we have two of the most watchable and well known actors in Tinseltown thrown together for the first time.

“The Negotiator” opens (predictably!) with a negotation scene. We see Lt Danny Roman (Jackson) demonstrating his ability to dominate a hostage scene and come out on top despite his dubious tactics. His renegade approach wins him praise from most, but notably Commander Beck (Morse – “The Green Mile”) is not impressed and is obviously waiting for Roman’s first screw up.

At a colleagues 60th birthday party, Roman’s partner, Nate, tells him that his informant says officers are skimming off the pension fund and that internal affairs are involved to some degree. But when Nate is found murdered by Danny the next night, he soon realises that not only is he being set up for the murder but also is being framed for stealing money from the fund. Not knowing who to trust and desperate to clear his name, Danny takes hostages in an FBI building, and then demands to talk to a fellow negotiator from another district – Chris Sabian (Spacey). Roman wants to clear his name. Sabian wants to save the lives of everyone involved in the situation. The police want Roman dead.

The most intriguing part of this movie is definitely the head-to-head between Roman and Sabian. To this degree, elements of “The Fugitive” are very apparent. For Jackson, read Harrison Ford – accused of a crime he didn’t commit and fighting to clear his name. For Spacey, read Tommy Lee Jones – the man brought in to capture the outlaw, with no interest in whether or not he is guilty of the crime he is accused of.

But while it all sounds explosive and breathtaking, it fails to live up to expectations. The story suffers from implausability from the start. Danny is a nice guy and clearly is being framed for the murder of his partner, but suddenly we are to believe that he is capable of putting it all on the line by becoming a hostage taker. The script tries to illustrate why he takes this step, but it struggles to make a convincing job of it.

Meanwhile we are stuck with a “whodunnit” angle as we aim to pick out the crooks in the police force. In the end, it was who I thought it was and I’d imagine a lot of others had probably guessed too. Add to that a terribly telegraphed moment as Danny aims to show what he is capable of doing to one of his hostages in order to further his demands – very see through stuff.

F Gary Gray works the directors chair reasonably well. Within the compact setting of the 20th floor of an FBI building, a reasonably amount of tension builds up and there are some decent action scenes as Roman shoots to survive.

But overall there is nothing that rises above mediocre, save for the strong performances from the two leads. An honourable mention must also go to JT Walsh, to whom this movie is dedicated – he died shortly after the filming. Walsh accumulated 50 movies in 8 years, only 8 of which were made for TV. His name is not as well known as his face, and there can’t be many casual moviegoers that don’t remember him from “Breakdown”, “Executive Decision”, “Nixon”, “The Client”, “Sniper”, “Backdraft”, “A Few Good Men” and numerous other hits from the last decade. A wonderful actor, who will be greatly missed by many.

2star

[Movie Review] The Green Mile

Green MileStarring: Tom Hanks, David Morse, James Cromwell, Michael Clark Duncan
Director: Frank Darabont
Genre: Drama
Cert: 15
Released: 1999

It’s been a long time since I’ve put fingers to keys in order to write a movie critique. Casting my eye back over my archives, I think it may have been “Wag the Dog” in the autumn of 1998 which last received one of my scathing attacks.

Well that time has arrived again as the lure of Stephen King’s novel-turned-movie, “The Green Mile”, was enough to encourage me to make a recent theatre excursion.

So what’s it all about? “The Green Mile” Sounds like one of those 1940s dramas about a strained relationship between a young athlete and his trainer during the war. Well, it isn’t.

The film is mainly based in the 1930s on a death row, or ‘the green mile’ as it is referred to by the prison guards. Although “The Green Mile” relates several stories which are all neatly interwoven, the main focus is around newly condemned prisoner, John Coffey (Michael Clark Duncan) and the incredible relationship he strikes up with the guards who are soon to execute him. Coffey is an imposing figure at over seven feet tall with muscles on his muscles, but has a mind that is simple. Senior prison guard Paul Edgecomb (Hanks) starts to believe that Coffey might actually be innocent of the crime he is convicted of, the brutal murder of two young girls.

Essentially the movie is a character-driven vehicle which demands, and delivers, excellent performances from the cast. Hanks (carrying a few extra pounds it seems!) is excellent throughout as the honest and respected Edgecomb. Fellow prison guard David Morse (“The Negotiator”, “Contact”) puts in a powerful performance as Brutal, as does James Cromwell (“Babe”, “LA Confidential”) as the tormented Prison Warden, Hal Moores. Doug Hutchinson is perfect as the vulgar and spoilt Percy Wetmore.

But the outstanding performance is from relative unknown, Michael Clark Duncan who plays the doomed simpleton, John Coffey. There is no doubt the role was bound to strike the right emotions with the audience regardless of who played it, but he did it and he did it well. And of course was nominated for an Oscar in the process.

There’s plenty to chew on in the 3 hours that this movie weighs in at. This is essentially the usual Stephen King story – good vs evil. One particularly striking scene between John Coffey and a fellow prisoner brings this to light perfectly. There is an element of stereotyping on display – Coffey is your stereotypical 19th century touched black man, Wetmore is the over-characterised vile prison guard, “Wild Bill” Wharton (Sam Rockwell) is the over-the-top satanic lunatic. But I can live with it. The characters on the surface are easy to understand and you can concentrate on their inter-relationships a lot easier. Ok, so it would be nice to know why Wetmore is such a dick, or what made Wharton a psychopath, but it’s not really that important in the context of the movie.

There’s no point getting up in arms about the unrealistic aspects of the movie either. I mean how nice were prison guards likely to behave towards a black simpleton in the 1930s. Infact how likely was it that John Coffey would make it to trial at all considering that he was found with the dead bodies of two white girls by an angry white mob with shotguns. But this is a story, and stories don’t have to be real. That is why there are elements of fantasy, a mystical aspect to the movie that leaves you open-jawed.

The range of emotions felt are wide-ranging. There are moments when you feel anger, times when you laugh out loud, occasions when you shed a tear, and flashes when all you can do is smile and feel really good in your heart. I don’t wish to labour the point, but this movie touched me like few films have before.

Walk the mile. It’s worth it.

4star