Botched Robbery

I’d hoped to be able to say, for this first of hopefully many posts covering the weekend at the movies, that I saw 6 or more movies for the price of two. But as it stands, my numbers are terribly more pedestrian: four for the price of three. Paranoia and simple time management foiled my plans.

And so it’s just these that I have to type about:

Day One (A Freak and a Geek)

Eight years ago, Mike White and Jake Kasdan worked together on a television show that everyone agrees was canceled too early. Only one of them seems to have gotten over it, and he’s the one writing about actual tragic loss…

Year Of The Dog – They said this was going to be 2 hours and 15 minutes. Which is what made stealing the next movie nigh on impossible. Because it isn’t. It’s maybe 100 minutes. And that’s about what it ought to be. But if it did go 35 minutes or so longer, it might have led to where I started to hope it would: Molly Shannon as animal rights terrorist.

As it stands, Peggy (Molly Shannon) is just a person who likes things. Specifically animals. More specifically dogs. And even more specifically, her dog, Pencil, who dies early on and leads to all the liking of less specific things.

But becoming a crazy (as in violent) animal activist would send the opposite message than intended, which is, of course, that it’s not so strange and this kind of unhinging could happen to any of us if the one thing we loved was taken from us.

But this sort of judge not lest ye be judged stuff only makes me want to judge it more, I think. Because I wanted Peggy to go just a little crazier than she did. Towards the end, there’s a montage of cubicles and in them all there are signs of obsession that we’re supposed to equate with Peggy’s. But having a “Go Vikings” pennant is not the same as quitting your job and heading to a PETA rally hundreds of miles away. Even if all of said Vikings had been poisoned to death by your forgiveably neglectful neighbor and the only other Viking fan you could find in the world was their geeky, asexual physical trainer (in this case, Peter Sarsgaard) who politely, if obliviously, declines your advances.

It’s shot like a low budget Coen Brothers movie, with everyone at center screen when they speak to each other. Which only augments the already bland set up of point-counterpoint. Look how crazy Peggy is getting, look how crazy everyone else already is. Crazy is normal. Oh, how illuminating. And it’s too bad because as a movie about woman dealing with the loss of the one thing that mattered to her, and realizing it was the only thing that mattered to her, it works pretty well.

The TV Set – I don’t know what Jake Kasdan has to whine about. But it must have been eating at him because while this movie is funny enough, it’s extremely one-sided. Mike Klein (David Duchovny) is constantly compromising his artistic vision, which consists of a supremely personal and (therefore?) flawed sit-com (or a one-hour comedic drama, it’s hard to tell.) It’s supposed to play the way all these stories do, the artist struggling against his benefactors, succumbing to the pressures and ultimately embarrassed by the final product. But it’s not just that we’ve seen it all before, it’s that it’s just wrong.

One of the running gags is a show on the Panda network schedule called Slut Wars. It’s fine as something you see in the background during a network meeting, along with other fictional shows (the best being Jean Poole) and real shows with fictional time slots (Everybody Loves Raymond at 8pm.) But then the joke slowly morphs into an allegory for all reality television and how depraved and stupid it is. By the end, we get to see a quick clip of Slut Wars (hosted by Seth Green) and it seems as this was the right choice, because the rest of the theater loved it every time it came up. Just saying the name was enough for a laugh. But it just comes off as desperately bitter. A “real” writer attacking the bane of his existence and trying to hide it in a transparent (not to mentioned tired) parody.

Otherwise, The TV Set is just a hodge podge of borrowed scenes from other behind the camera movies. The best-take-in-rehearsal bit from Living In Oblivion, inane studio decisions from The Player and warring factions of production from Day For Night. And as such, it can’t add up to anything cohesive, never mind original. And it’s not as if there’s any marketing department to blame for that this time.

Day Two (Paranoia)

Sunday was a nice day. Outside, I mean. So there was no one at the movies. Certainly not at 3pm. So when an employee motioned towards me as I came out of Vacancy, I couldn’t very well just walk past the encroaching manager and into The Hoax. Or so I thought at the time. I’m sure now I was overreacting. Of course, if I learned anything from the two movies I had seen thus far, it should have been that that isn’t possible…

Disturbia – I suppose the prospect of a man having killed his wife, and only his wife, is no longer a terrible danger. Not enough to build a movie around. And so this isn’t really a remake of Rear Window. It takes the premise and goes a different way. Which is fine. Because there’s not really anybody left around that could make that work anymore.

And for most of Disturbia, everything was moving along just fine. I’d like to say Shia LaBouef is being wasted in a movie like this, because he is incredible. But he elevates what could otherwise be the remakes of When A Stranger Calls or The Hitcher. David Morse as Raymond Burr doesn’t hurt either. But ultimately, it has to go where every other movie of its ilk has to go.

Namely, the mostly uninteresting confrontation between hero and villain. I don’t understand how a movie that plays with conventions throughout the first two acts has to succumb to the same conventions in the third. (And don’t start blaming the studio, Mr. Kasdan. ) Early on, Kole (Shia LaBouef) is videotaping Mr. Turner (David Morse) and a flash goes off, which sends Kole scurrying around the floor, afraid he’s been seen. I’m not even sure where this flash came from, but I figured (hoped, even) that it was going to be incorporated in the climax somehow. Like maybe he’d try to blind Mr. Turner with it after he broke into his room but it wouldn’t work. But it just never comes up again. Instead, Kole has to fight Mr. Turner, a man twice his size or more and clearly more adept at that sort of thing. And even that goes well at first, with Kole managing to survive, but nothing more. But once his mother is taken hostage, Kole can now suddenly overpower his enemy. It’s not motivated by anything more than the need to end the movie with the hero physically vanquishing the villain. Which is a shame because it was going so well.

Vacancy – If you haven’t yet noticed, I have no reservations about giving things away. Because this isn’t really conceived as something you come to to find out what movies to see, but rather as a place to read about the things you’ve already seen (or not come to at all, really.) But there is a moment in Vacancy I won’t give away specifically. And it is one that seemed as though it would make this movie one the best of the young year. But then it is ruined. Completely reversed. It’s the kind of thing you assume there has to be an alternate take of on the DVD, but even that doesn’t make it any more palatable.

Besides that, it really does seem better handled than this genre generally does. What seems at first like a baffling choice for both Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale (even though neither has really earned that place in our moviegoing minds) becomes something else. Kind of like Breakdown if Kathleen Quinlan never got kidnapped and was even just sort of good at acting. It’s not scary, but I’m not convinced it wants to be. It wants a sense of danger, but not necessarily the jumps that most of these movies are after. Which is maybe why it might actually accomplish a few of them.

But much like Disturbia, it devolves into a series of moments the audience apparently wants, logic and unexpectedness be damned. And so all you’re left with is the feeling that you just saw yet another supposed thriller that ended the same way they all do instead of remembering the beginning when it had yet to become that movie.

I’ll do better next time. Hopefully they will too.

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