Seriously, it’s always good to start a new year with something to look forward to, right?
This one look intense, no? Jack O’Connell plays a British soldier who, during the British occupation of Northern Ireland, finds himself lost behind enemy lines in Belfast. Jack O’Connell is a rising star and the film won best director at the British Independent Film Awards.
2) Veronika Decides to Die
This was actually filmed in 2008, premiered in Brazil in 2009, played in Germany in 2010, and, seven years later, it’s finally getting a U.S. release. It’ll premiere in theaters and on VOD on January 20th and then, in March, it’ll be released on DVD. That would seem to indicate that First Look International, the film’s distributor, doesn’t have much faith in it. But you know what? Some of the best films ever made were distributed by people who had no faith. This could be a challenging, edgy film. Or it could be crap.
We’ll find out!
3) A Little Chaos
This historical drama stars Kate Winslet and it was directed by Alan Rickman! The trailer looks gorgeous. I majored in art history so I have to admit that I will always have a weakness for films like this.
4) Woman in Gold
Will Ryan Reynolds ever star in another good film? That’s a question that I often find myself pondering. Reynolds is the type of talented actor who deserves more than co-starring in R.I.P.D. and showing up in a cameo in A Million Ways to Die In The West (BLEH!).
While Woman in Gold does not look to be the type of film that’s going to help re-establish Reynolds as being a rising star, it does look like a film that will give him a chance to remind people that he actually can act. Undoubtedly, it’ll help that he will be co-starring with Helen Mirren. Woman in Gold is scheduled to be released on April 3rd.
5) Wild Card
It’s not January unless Jason Statham is killing someone. 2015’s Jason Statham film will be Wild Card. It’ll be released on January 30th.
And finally, we have Blackhat. It’s scheduled to be released on January 16th. It’s directed by Michael Mann and stars the official sexiest man alive, Chris Hemsworth. Apparently, Hemsworth will be helping to capture whoever it was who hacked Sony.
2014 will not go down in history as one of humanity’s finest moments. Considering all that’s happened over the past year, it’s hard for me to be surprised by the fact that several of my favorite films of the year were films that I would normally describe as being entertaining escapism.
In 2014, we needed to be entertained. We needed to escape.
Will 2015 be any better? What will be the way of the future? It’s a question that Leonardo DiCaprio asked at the end of Martin Scorsese’s 2004 film The Aviator and it’s a question that we’re still asking today.
So, Christmas is over and, at this point, you’re probably sick of hearing about Christmas movies. However, before we say goodbye to 2014 and welcome the new year, I wanted to take this opportunity to tell you about two new holiday films that I saw this month.
Directed by Glenn Miller and produced by the wonderful people at the Asylum, Santa Claws tells the story of what happens when Santa Claus comes into contact with three adorable kittens. Unfortunately, it would appear that Santa is highly allergic to cats and he ends up sneezing so much that he falls off the roof of a house. Of course, this means that it’s up to the three kittens to climb into Santa’s sleigh and deliver the rest of the gifts. Fortunately, Santa’s sleigh is equipped with a GPS system and two talking reindeer.
Did I mention that the kittens can talk too?
Because they so totally can!
Okay, okay — this is the type of low-budget, straight-to-DVD family film that critics are always snarky about. But you know what? I’m a cat person and I think kittens are the cutest things in the world. And when they’re capable of talking, it’s even better! Whatever flaws the movie may have had (and it had more than a few), the kittens were cute and really, that’s all that matters.
Add to that, Santa Claws was full of Asylum in-jokes. For instance, one creepy, Santa-obsessed character also happens to love (and own) Sharknado. When the kittens pulls up the list of who has been naughty and who has been nice, one of the names at the top of list is that of frequent Asylum actor (and star of A House Is Not A Home) Gerald Webb.
And, after you watch Santa Claws, you can watch a film that basically takes place in an entirely different universe. Happy Christmas was this year’s film from director Joe Swanberg. Swanberg, of course, is one of the major figures in the mumblecore movement, making films that feature improvised dialogue and which treat the mundane realities of life with the same reverence that most mainstream films reserve for chase scenes and CGI explosions. Swanberg’s previous film, Drinking Buddies, was one of the best of 2013.
Happy Christmas never works as well as Drinking Buddies but fans of both Swanberg and the mumblecore movement will probably enjoy it. Anna Kendrick plays Jenny, an irresponsible woman who might be an alcoholic. When she breaks up with her boyfriend, Jenny ends up moving in with her older brother Jeff (played by Joe Swanberg, himself). The rest of the film follows Jenny as she goes to parties with and embarrasses her friend Carson (Lena Dunham), dates an amiable pot dealer named Kevin (Mark Webber), and bonds with Jeff’s wife, Kelly (Melanie Lynesky).
Kelly is a novelist who has been suffering from writer’s block. With the help of Jenny and Carson, she starts to work on what Jenny refers to as being a “trashy, sexy mom novel.” Probably the best scene in the film features Jenny, Carson, and Kelly just sitting around and debating the best euphemisms to use while writing a sex scene.
(As well, I think that any writer can relate to Kelly’s situation here. Who hasn’t been tempted to just sell out and just write something that’s totally commercial and goes against every idealistic dream you’ve ever had about being a serious writer?)
Many viewers will probably dismiss Happy Christmas as being a film where nothing really happens but I think they’re being shortsighted. There’s a lot going on in Happy Christmas — you just have to be willing to look underneath the surface. Though Happy Christmas rejects the melodramatic conventions that we’ve come to expect from most movies, that doesn’t mean that the film itself is plotless. By the end of this rather short film, neither Kelly or Jenny is the same person that she was at the start of the film. They’ve both changed for the better but — much as in real life — that change isn’t always obvious. But the change is there, waiting to be discovered by those perceptive enough to notice.
Finally, it’s interesting to see both Anna Kendrick and Melanie Lynesky playing against type here. Kendrick especially seems to be having a lot of fun, finally getting to play a character who doesn’t always do the right thing.
And so, next Christmas, watch Happy Christmas when you want to think and watch Santa Claws when you need an excuse to go, “Awwwwww!”
So, January is coming up and as a film lover, you already know what that means. Along with at least one movie featuring Liam Neeson killing people, we’re all going to get a slew of really bad films that the studios and stars are hoping no one will notice.
That said, sometimes a January film can prove to be good, trashy fun. That’s certainly what I’m hoping will be the case with The Boy Next Door. I have to admit that I was not even aware that there was an upcoming movie called The Boy Next Door until earlier tonight. My sister Megan and I spent four hours watching Lifetime and, every 15 minutes or so, they showed a commercial for The Boy Next Door.
As for the movie itself, it would appear to have a few things to recommend it. First off, the great Kristin Chenoweth appears to be playing Jennifer Lopez’s undoubtedly sassy best friend. Secondly, it looks like there will be at least a few minutes of soft-focus, saxophone-themed sex and that’s always a good sign for those of us who like our January films to be just a little bit over-the-top and ludicrous. Finally, the entire trailer reminded me of the trailer for another trashy film that I happen to have really enjoyed, The House At The End of the Street.*
2014 has been a very good year in the realm of great television. We have the perennial stand-outs like Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Game of Thrones, Justified and The Americans. Some shows that have been brought down a peg or two in seasons past made a resurgence in quality and consistency with The Walking Dead and Sons of Anarchy.
Yet, it is with the new kid on the block that I pick my latest “Scenes I Love” and probably the most memorable scene on TV all year. The scene I speak of is the “seance” scene of the second episode of Showtime’s gothic horror series Penny Dreadful. This scene wasn’t even the big reveal in the episode but it ultimately set the tone for what’s to come for the rest of the series’ inaugural season.
The scene focuses on Eva Green’s character, Vanessa Ives, as she attends and participates in a seance held by Madame Kali in the home of renowned Egyptologist Ferdinand Lyle. It’s a powerful performance from Eva Green who has become an actor with a penchant for pulling off bravura performances in the small and big screen.
Green’s Ives has several more performances such as these during the rest of the season, but they all didn’t come with that first shock and awe this scene gave the episode and the series. It’s actually a shame that Green’s work on Penny Dreadful hasn’t garnered as much, if any, year end accolades. Her work as Vanessa Ives was that good.
When Locke first premiered in American theaters earlier this year, I have to admit that I didn’t pay much attention to it. On the one hand, I was intrigued by the fact that the entire film was apparently just Tom Hardy driving around in a car and taking hands-free phone calls from people. Tom Hardy, after all, is one of my favorite actors and I’ve always felt that he deserves to be known for a lot more than just being the bad guy in The Dark Knight Rises. At the same time, a lot of the reviews made it sound as if Locke was a thriller in the style of Getaway or Need For Speed and I’ve reached the point where I’m only interested in car chases if they involve Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum.
And I thought to myself, “Well, I guess I better see Locke…” And, earlier today, I finally got a chance to do just that.
My first two immediate reactions:
1) All of those critics who made Locke sound like the Getaway owe me (and probably a lot of other people) an apology. Locke may have been advertised as being a thriller but it’s actually a very moody character study. Despite the fact that he has a name that feels appropriate for an action movie, Ivan Locke is not a criminal, a cop, or a superspy. Instead, he’s a rather ordinary man whose perfectly structured life falls apart over the course of one very long drive. And, though Locke does spend the entire film driving his car and staring out at the road while either taking phone calls or delivering a bitter monologue to the estranged father that he imagines is sitting in the back seat, there’s not a single car chase to be found in Locke. This is not an action film. The only thing chasing Locke are his regrets, his obligations, and one mistake that he’s determined to “make right.”
2) Tom Hardy is a great actor. He is literally the only character to appear on screen and it’s up to him to carry the entire film. He manages to do just that, giving a performance that will probably be imitated in acting classes around the world for at least the next ten years or so. Depending on who is calling him on the phone, Locke can be charming, forceful, caring, narcissistic, and even a little bit desperate. However, he’s always in control. It’s only when Locke is off the phone and he’s alone with his thoughts and his imaginary father that Locke allows his anger to come through. It’s been said that the key to great acting is to be found in the eyes and Hardy’s eyes are on fire all through Locke. It’s really a great performance.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Locke is a great film. It’s a good film. Hardy gives too masterful of a performance for the film to be anything other than good. But at the same time, Locke ultimately feels like an experiment that doesn’t quite work. You can admire the film’s attempt to tell a compelling story without leaving the confines of Locke’s car and still admit that the film doesn’t quite pull it off.
But, that said, Locke is worth seeing for Tom Hardy’s performance. Tom Hardy probably won’t receive his first Oscar nomination for Locke but his performance is brilliant nonetheless.
Legendary Picture’s Godzilla tops my list. The kid in me that loved Shōwa and Heisei films enjoyed it. The redesign was interesting and the origin story was satisfying. Looking forward to a sequel and a possible crossover with the Pacific Rim franchise!
Captain America: The Winter Soldier was more enjoyable than the original in my humble opinion. The action sequences and gadgets satisfied this geek. It was a near perfect adaptation of the original comic story arc. My only complaint is Arnim Zola didn’t have a vessel befitting his genius.
Guardians of the Galaxy was perfect! The characters felt real and had a spark. There was a nice balance of comedy, action, cast chemistry, Easter Eggs and science fiction. Part of me wants to see more Redneck Space Pirates in films/television thanks to Rooker’s performance.
We’re closing out another year and it’s always time to reflect back on the events the we all experienced.
Here in Through the Shattered Lens we saw a new writer join the ranks with the arrival and addition of Alexandre Rothier. We also saw more and more of our writers grow in confidence with their writing. This didn’t just translate into more writing from them, but better as well. There’s Dazzling Erin with her constant surprise of finding new artists to share. Then leonth3duke who finally made the jump to truly appreciating horror. Leonard Wilson continued to find his voice with each new review he wrote.
I can’t forget necromoonyeti who continues to be my source of all things music and with each new band written I pick up something new to experience. Semtex Skittle showed the world his appreciation not just for the franchise of Final Fantasy but Sailor Moon as well and to that otaku are grateful. Speaking of otaku there’s the site’s own big bear of one with pantsukudasai56 who always brings in his choice recommendations in anime.
Then there’s Dork Geekus giving us his thoughts on things comic book. We also have trashfilmguru gracious enough to take time to share his unique take on horror, comic books both high and low-brow who also keeps the rest of us from drinking the Marvel Kool-Aid wholesale which makes for a better site.
Finally there’s my co-founder and partner-in-crime Lisa Marie Bowman who upped her game as she literally propped up the site at times with her voluminous, insightful and unique brand of writing. I will be forever grateful for her continued support and for becoming one of my closest friends.
I’ve chosen the latest “Song of the Day” as an analogue to what I saw myself and this site go through this year of 2014. I had just lost my father at the tail end of 2013 (it is a loss still felt even today) and then had fallen deathly ill around the holidays. Through it all I was thankful and proud of the work my fellow writers were able to do in my absence through my grief and sickness.
Basil Poledouris remains an artist I’ve admired from the moment I heard his music transform John Milius’ screen adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s Cimmerian barbarian from just your standard violent sword-and-sorcery matinee piece to something close to a perfect blend of epic fantasy and primal storytelling. Poledouris would go on to make other memorable film scores, but it’s his work in Conan the Barbarian that always remains his most iconic piece of work.
With the final denouement that follows the climax of the film we have a somber piece titled “Orphans of Doom/The Awakening” closing off the film. I chose this piece to symbolize the year Through the Shattered Lens went through. The piece begins on a somber note with the use of a choir adding a layer of the ethereal, but as the piece continues to it’s conclusion it gradually segues into something triumphant with hope for the future.
This song perfectly encapsulates Through the Shattered Lens circa 2014 and it’s my hope that brighter future awaits me and mine as the new year dawns.
I had such a mixed reaction to Into the Woods, the latest Rob Marshall-directed musical adaptation, that it’s hard to really know how to start my review, let alone how to conclude it.
So, I’ll start by answering the most important question that you probably have about this film. I think sometimes that film snobs like me tend to forget that, for most people, it’s just a question of whether or not the film is worth the time, effort, and money that it will take to sit through it. In other words, having seen Into the Woods, do I recommend it?
Yes, I do. Well, kind of anyway. As I said before, it’s complicated. But, for the most part, I enjoyed Into the Woods. The audience that I saw it with (and the theater was absolutely packed) seemed to really love the film and there was even a smattering of applause at the end of it. Into the Woods is a crowd-pleaser. It’s a well-made film. It’s perfectly cast. It’s full of funny moments. The costumes are absolutely to die for. (I’m totally in love with the gown that Anna Kendrick gets to wear to the ball.) Meryl Streep will probably get an Oscar nomination. Chris Pine deserves to be given a lot more awards consideration than he’s received. It’s such a good film and yet…
And yet, I never loved Into the Woods like I thought I would. I watched it and I kept thinking about how much I, of all people, should have loved this film. I love musicals. I love spectacle. I love fairy tales. I love revisionism. I love satire. I love handsome, charming men, like the one played by Chris Pine. In a perfect world, Anna Kendrick would be my best friend and we’d spend all of our time going to wine tastings and watching Lifetime movies. Into the Woods was full of everything that I should have loved and the final song actually brought tears to my mismatched eyes but I never quite came to love the film. Something was just off.
Before I go any further, I should admit that my reaction may have been influenced by outside factors. On the one hand, all of the Bowman girls are together right now for the holidays and I loved the fact that, as I watched Into the Woods, I was watching it with my sisters and all four of us were sharing in the experience. Really, that’s the ideal way to watch something like Into The Woods. This is the type of movie that was specifically made to be watched and appreciated by large groups, preferably made up of people who understand and appreciate the conventions of musical theater.
On the other hand, we had the most obnoxious woman ever sitting directly behind us. She laughed through the entire film, regardless of whether anything funny was happening on screen or not. (The film features a lot of comedy but it grows progressively darker with each passing minute.) It wasn’t just that she wouldn’t stop laughing as much as it was that her laugh was so insincere. You could tell that she was laughing because she wanted everyone to be impressed with the fact that she “got” the film. But ultimately, all she did was get on everyone’s nerves with her inability to understand that we weren’t there to listen to her dry heave of a laugh. We were there because we wanted to see Into the Woods. The experience was not meant to be about her. It was about the movie.
As for what the film is about, it’s an adaptation of the famous Stephen Sondheim musical in which the Baker (James Corben) and the Baker’s Wife (Emily Blunt) attempt to break the spell of a not-quite-evil-but-definitely-bad-tempered witch (Meryl Streep). By bringing the witch several things (the majority of which can be found in the woods that sit right outside their village), they can lift the curse that has made it impossible for the Baker’s Wife to get pregnant. Along the way, they run into everyone from the witch’s daughter, Rapunzel (MacKenzie Mauzy) to Jack the Giant Slayer (Daniel Huttlestone) to Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) to the Big Bad Wolf (Johnny Deep, playing up the sexual subtext of the story of Little Red Riding Hood) to not one but two charming princes (played by Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen)! Into the Woods starts by poking gentle fun at the fairy tales of old and then gets darker and darker until, by the end of the film, only a few characters are left alive.
It’s a great idea and it’s gorgeously executed but yet the film itself never quite makes the transition from being good to being great. Towards the end of the musical, the surviving characters sing about missing their loved ones and it brought tears to my eyes but that was one of the few moments when the film itself actually made an emotional connection. Otherwise, I spent a lot of time feeling curiously detached from what was happening on screen.
Thinking about Into The Woods, it’s hard not to compare it to 2012’s version of Les Miserables. In Les Miserables, all of the songs were recorded live on set. And, for all the unfair criticism that Russell Crowe received for his singing, this brought a definite raw power and immediacy to the entire production. What some of the actors may have lacked in conventional singing ability, they made up for with the sheer power of their performances. In Into The Woods, the majority of the songs were pre-recorded. Everyone sounds almost too perfect. There’s none of the vitality or danger that came with Les Miserables or even Rob Marshall’s previous musical, Nine.
(As far as casting, direction, and almost everything else is concerned, Into The Woods is a hundred times better than Nine but it still never manages to produce a moment as vibrantly silly and memorable as Kate Hudson’s performance of Cinema Italiano.)
Into the Woods does have a uniformly excellent cast. Everyone — even the much-criticized Johnny Depp — does a wonderful job with their role. Meryl Streep has been getting all of the awards-consideration, largely because she’s Meryl Streep and, if she could get a nomination for giving that performance in August: Osage County, then she can probably get a nomination for anything. (And don’t get me wrong — Meryl’s great and all but there’s still a part of me that would have loved to have seen what a less self-enamored performer — like Marion Cotillard or Helen Mirren — could have done with the role of the Witch.) But, to me, the film’s best two performances really came from Anna Kendrick and Chris Pine. Whether pausing to strike a heroic pose or casually trying to seduce a woman who he meets in the woods or explaining that he’s been raised to be charming and not sincere, Chris Pine is never less than outstanding.
So, to get back to the only question that really matters, did I like Into The Woods? I did but I did not love it, which is unfortunate because I really wanted to love it.