The Lookout

This time there is a “the”. Except the title is meant to refer to main character Chris Pratt, and he never actually is a lookout. More a hapless distraction.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt (from Third Rock from the Sun, now attempting to leap the gaping chasm between child actor and actor actor — he’s 26, but he looks young) plays Chris, once a high-school hockey star from a wealthy family. But wealth and popularity couldn’t save him from a horrible accident, though a little common sense would have. He takes his girlfriend and another couple out driving in his convertible, along a country highway at night, to show them the fireflies. Of course, since fireflies are pretty pale, he had to turn the car’s headlights off so everyone could see them. So we’ve got a country highway, dark, fast-moving convertible, no headlights. Now, I like watching fireflies — I spent many hours doing that as a child — but I never imagined anyone liked looking at them that much.
Two of the car’s occupants die. Four years later, Chris is left with crushing survivor guilt, several large scars, and a brain that no longer quite functions as it should. He falls asleep without warning, cries without reason, and throws fits without much provocation. Oh, and he has to write down everything in his little notebook. I mean everything. A typical entry: “I take a shower, with soap.” Because he would, literally, forget to shower if he didn’t see the note. He isn’t as badly off as the guy from Memento — he recalls his name and can drive himself to work, but he’s much worse than me, and my bad memory is nearly legendary. I’m not sure it’s such a good idea for him to be driving, since he still seems to have some trouble remembering that cars come with headlights, but that’s the state of Missouri’s problem.
He goes to classes to try and improve his cognitive functions, and holds a job cleaning at a rural bank in a faded farm town. His roommate is Jeff Daniels (who plays Lewis, no last name; as one character points out, he kind of looks like Larry Flynt, minus the wheelchair), who was blinded years ago because of his own foolish teenage escapades, and now dispenses fatherly advice to Chris and tries to deal with his tantrums, since Chris’ own family seems to prefer to pretend that nothing’s happened. Every day is very much like the next for Chris, but that’s what happens when you live by the list.

Chris meets the smooth-talking Gary.

But you know one day has to end up different, or this wouldn’t be a movie, at least not a big-budget one. Gary Spargo (Matthew Goode, but don’t let the name fool you) insinuates himself into Chris’ life, offering a friendly ear and some very convincing sympathy that never turns into the pity that Chris hates. The food, alcohol, and pretty girls don’t hurt, either. Chris gets very friendly with ex-exotic dancer (Isla Fisher) Luvlee Lemons. That’s not a typo, that’s her stage name. Why she’s still using her stage name, I can’t even guess. Granted, she’s about as sharp as a bowling ball, but still. Could her real name possibly be worse?
Gary, of course, is up to no good. He knows that the fall harvest money will soon be coming through for the farmers, and he also knows that rural banks are frequently light on security. He also knows all the right buttons to push to get Chris to listen, since he had the foresight to follow him for some time. Before Chris quite knows what’s happening, he’s agreed to help Gary and his scary friends with their robbery plans.
And they are scary. One looks like he used to pull the wings off flies as a boy, and tends to look at Chris as though he were some sort of bug. One, who everyone calls Bone, looks like he skipped tormenting insects and went straight to humans because they scream. He barely speaks, preferring to stand menacingly in the background, wearing all black and dark sunglasses. He looks kind of like Keith Richards, only more so.
Now, I went into this movie expecting more thriller, but the bank robbery stuff doesn’t really get going until the second half. But don’t get me wrong, I liked that. It was a great character study and exploration of what brain damage can do to a person, and I thought Joseph did an excellent job. There’s a scene where he tries to persuade the bank manager to let him work as a teller instead of just a cleaner that made me tear up — it seemed so real, and it was heartbreaking to think that such a simple dream looked so impossible.
It was also a convincing portrayal of how Chris (or anyone) could be pulled in to something like that. Gary is a serious manipulator, probably without any conscience, and much more frightening than Bone could ever be in how he can use people’s weaknesses against them — and Chris’ weaknesses are worse than most. In his desperation to get his old life back, he grasped at any lifeline, and this one turned out to be illegal.
This one gets four and a quarter idols. It has a couple of weak points in the script — the fate of Luvlee, for instance, is weak, which is a shame since the actress did such a good job with the part. The acting was uniformly very good, from the kind yet tactless police deputy who feels obligated to look after Chris, all the way to the case worker assigned to him, even though she was apparently only there for some hot chocolate and some exposition. But overall, the story holds your attention and has some very good, subtle touches — pay attention for some tantalizing hints of what Chris was really like before the accident. And please, please drive safely to and from the theatre. All these car accident movies are making me jumpy…


Not the shooter, just shooter. Really, Shooting would be a more accurate title, because that’s what happens most here. Everyone has a gun! I must be the only person in the U.S. who doesn’t have a gun these days. I know I’m the only one without a cell phone.
I was a little leery of this one. For one thing, the main character is named Bob Lee Swagger. Gah. I refuse to call him that. And hearing the critics say that Mark Wahlberg is the best he’s ever been just isn’t on a par with hearing that, say, Matt Damon is the best he’s ever been. But now I see what the critics meant — he spends much of his time brooding, and he is very good at brooding. Thankfully he doesn’t just brood, or I would have gotten very tired of that, but when he did talk, I often wished I could ask him to repeat what he’d just said. He mumbles.
Anyway, the gist of the plot is pretty simple. Mark is a Marine sniper, on a mission with his partner in Ethopia. He also shoots with one eye closed, even though I’m told the really good shooters never do that. Anyway, things go horribly awry, after Mark has a chance to demonstrate his shooting prowess, of course, and instead of pulling them out, the government leaves them, since they’re not supposed to be in Ethiopia. Mark’s partner, who is just a nice guy looking forward to going home to his wife, predictably gets killed. He also gets killed pretty gruesomely, and let me just add here that I was a little unnerved by how many people in the theatre were ready to laugh at people getting shot in the head or their arms blown off. It was creepy.
Thirty-six months later (no, I don’t know why they don’t say ‘three years later’, I’m just quoting the caption) Mark is living an isolated life in the mountains, Unabomber style. I didn’t see any manifestos in progress, but I’m sure there was one somewhere. Then Danny Glover (he has great presence, as always, even though he never goes above a hoarse whisper), Elias Koteas (from Zodiac, and my fellow House fans will remember him as Jack Moriarty), and some nameless g-men show up to recruit him for a top secret mission. The president is in danger, and as a good soldier, Mark needs to help them out by using his extreme long-range sniper skills to tell them how the attempt could be made.

Mark, Danny and the gang take time out for a quick game of Diplomacy.

Since this question is answered within the first fifteen minutes, you know things have to go horribly wrong somewhere else. Before you know it, Mark is shot and on the run in Philadelphia, accused of being the assassin. Only it isn’t the president who’s dead, but rather the unfortunate foreign dignitary who was standing next to him on the podium. So you know Mark’s innocent, because our hero would never miss his intended target. The plot thickens!
Well, really it just becomes your standard action-movie plot, though not as mindless as some. Mark finds a pretty girl to dress his wounds (Kate Mara) and she is (willingly) dragged into his schemes to clear his name. Honestly, I’m sure she’s a good actress, but all she really got to do here was look worried and be scantily-clad. Part of her helping Mark involved her dressing like a hooker, except I’m pretty sure even hookers don’t dress quite like that anymore. It attracts too many police officers.
Anyway, my favorite character was FBI agent Nick Memphis (Michael Peña). Just three weeks out of the academy, he’s helping guard the president while stationed on a street corner that looked like it had first been allowed to run down for decades and was then the site of a major gun battle. So it was probably in Camden, New Jersey, which is just across the river from Philly. I don’t know if they really would have had security that far out, but I’ve been to Camden and Philadelphia, and I’m not sure anyplace in Philly looks that bad.
But the point is, Nick is there, on the edge of the action, when a bleeding Mark Wahlberg knocks him down and takes his gun and his department-issue car, earning poor Nick the label of “Disgraced FBI Agent”. The captions on the news even call him that, which might be edging on libel. Nick isn’t as slow as his superiors seem to think, though, and he’s immediately suspicious of the assumption that Mark is the shooter. In spite of being hoplessly idealistic about the law as the last bastion of all justice, Nick has a healthy dose of skepticism when it comes to the people actually enforcing the law, and sets himself the task of uncovering the conspiracy.
In short, it’s a good action film, though not much else. There are all the usual improbabilities you generally find in these “one lone person against a government” sort of movies — no worse than usual, no better. There’s no character background or development, unless you count Nick seeming a little more confident near the end. And they don’t really take advantage of having good actors as villains in order to give them a little depth. There’s never any question of having to make difficult moral choices in trying to serve the greater good, or even of them trying to justify their evil. They’re just baaaad.
Poor Danny Glover is pretty much wasted. Ned Beatty at least looks like he’s having fun as the corrupt senior senator from Montana, but he doesn’t get any acting challenges either. Two and three-quarter idols for this one. It’s an excellent weekend action flick, but there’s nothing more to it than that, and there could have been. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go check my backyard for camouflaged snipers, because this movie has taught me that they’re everywhere.

Major Overhaul: Impact – none

Ok, if everything went well, you should notice no difference in how you get music from my site. However, it is all changed. The backend is a full-blown database, which means easier updates for me, and more music online in the long run.
Here’s some that have been waiting in the wings for too long… In order from longest at 3:18 to shortest at 9 seconds.


When you go to the theatre every week, you can bet that you stay up-to-date on all the latest trailers. I’d seen the preview for this film several times, and it looked good — even Yahoo movies told me I’d probably like it. And does anyone not like Sandra Bullock? I mean, seriously. Besides, the only way I would have agreed to review Dead Silence is if someone brainwashed me into thinking it was a comedy.
Sandra (I just feel like I have to be on a first-name basis with her) plays Linda Hanson, Everywoman. She’s a housewife living in a nice house in a town that’s never named, with her hardworking husband and 2.4 adorable children. Er, I mean, their two adorable daughters. She even has the same kind of coffee mug my mother does. The only thing missing is the faithful dog with soulful eyes. She drives her kids to school, cooks, cleans, and somehow manages to look terribly pretty without looking like her personal stylist has just finished with her. I don’t know how she does that. Oh, and she also lives the days of the week out of their usual order. I don’t know how she does that, either.
Poor Sandra is equally confused. She lives through the nightmare of a police officer appearing on the doorstep with the news that a loved one is dead — in this case, her hardworking husband, Jim — only to discover the next morning that Jim is alive and well and eating Raisin Bran in their nice, homey kitchen. Her efforts to figure out what’s happening only confuse her more, and every time she wakes up (sometimes every time she turns around, it seems) it’s a different day, and not the day she was expecting. At one point she prefaces a question to her husband (on one of his “alive” days) with a faintly helpless, “If tomorrow is Wednesday”, which gets about the reaction you’d expect, and I really feel for the poor woman.
In fact, you’ll feel for Sandra through this whole movie. Her reaction to the news of her husband’s death is heartwrenching, her efforts to make sense of it all are realistic and tense, and the camera work really pulls you in. I’m often a little leery of handheld cameras, because they all too often end up as a distraction, but here it gave a feeling of being in the room with the actors, just as it should. In spite of the fact that it’s filmed like a horror movie at times, it’s really a very homey picture, revolving around friends, family, and what it means to be married with kids and a mortgage.

Sandra waits for all her nightmares to come true.

Unfortunately, the film loses its way a little towards the end — or the beginning, depending on how you look at it. A wise old priest appears from nowhere to explain things, and it all seems rather forced. I’d heard that Groundhog Day originally explained Bill Murray’s plight as being the result of a curse placed on him by an ex-girlfriend, and I’m very glad they took that out. It’s better unexplained. And since this film is being compared to Groundhog Day a lot, it’s a shame they didn’t learn from that example on this point.
Aside from that, though, it was a good film. Sandra carries the whole thing pretty much single-handed, but she can do it effortlessly ’cause she’s Sandra. Not that the supporting cast isn’t good — Peter Stormare, for instance, has a fun little part playing the only psychiatrist in town, which probably explains why he has such a cool office — but it’s all about Sandra’s struggles. I’d never seen Julian McMahon, who plays Jim, in anything before (he was Victor Von Doom in Fantastic Four), but he seems like a good actor. He just needs to do something with those perfectly horizontal eyebrows of his. They’re distracting.
So the bottom line is three and a quarter idols. Almost three and a half. It’s spooky, but not overwhelmingly so, intelligent, and very entertaining. So go watch Sandra now. Just be careful of some of the flashbacks — the director was unfortunately very fond of fading to pure, blinding white instead of black, so watch out for retinal damage.