“Going All Kanye On You”: New Year’s Eve (dir by Garry Marshall)


“New Year’s Eve is the worst, people who don’t drink or party all year suddenly going all Kanye on you.”

That line was delivered by Ashton Kutcher in the 2011 film, New Year’s Eve.  Seven years ago, when the film was first released, I thought it was an awkward line, partially because Ashton Kutcher sounded like he was drowning in self-loathing when he said it and partially because the sudden reference to Kanye West felt like something that would be considered clever by 60-something screenwriter who had just spent a few hours scanning twitter to see “what the kids are into nowadays.”

(Of course, hearing the line in 2018 was an even stranger experience.  People who don’t drink or party all year suddenly going all Kanye on you?  So, they’re putting on red MAGA caps and spending New Year’s Eve tweeting about prison reform?  True, that’s the way a lot of people celebrated in my part of the world but I’m not sure how exactly that would play out in Times Square.)

In New Year’s Eve, Kutcher plays a character named Randy.  Randy is a comic book artist, which means that he’s snarky and cynical and doesn’t really see the point of celebrating anything.  Fortunately, he gets trapped in an elevator with Elise (Lea Michele) and, with her help, he comes to learn that New Year’s Eve is not the worst.  Instead, it’s the most important holiday ever created and, if you don’t think so, you’re worse than the devil.

Fortunately, Hillary Swank is present to make sure that we all get the point.  Swank plays Claire Morgan, who is in charge of making sure that the ball drops at exactly the right moment at Times Square and who gets a monologue where she explains that the purpose of the ball is to make you think about both the past and the future.  As she explains it, the world comes together one night a year, all so everyone can watch that ball drop.  Apparently, if the ball doesn’t drop, the new year doesn’t actually start and everyone is trapped in a timeless limbo, kind of like Iron Man at the end of Avengers: Infinity War.

Of course, there’s more going on in New Year’s Eve than just Randy taking Kanye’s name in vain and Claire refusing the accept that Times Square is not the center of the universe.  There’s also an old man (Robert De Niro) who wants to time his death so he passes right at the start of the new year.  Sarah Jessica Parker plays the mother of frustrated teenager Abigail Breslin and gets to make a “girls gone wild” joke.  (A Kanye reference and a girls gone wild joke in the same film?  It’s like a pop culture tsunami!)  Michelle Pfeiffer tries to accomplish all of her new year’s resolutions with the help of Zac Efron.  Halle Berry worries about her husband (Common) , who is serving overseas.  Josh Duhamel searches for a woman who once told him that his heart was more important than his business.  Seth Meyers and Jessica Biel compete with Til Schweiger and Sarah Paulson to see who can be the family of the first child born in the new year.  Jon Bon Jovi thinks about the woman that he nearly married and Katherine Heigl wonders if she’s ever going to have a career again.  In other words, New Year’s Eve is an ensemble piece, one in which a bunch of slumming Oscar winners and overachieving TV actors step into small roles.  It leads to some odd pairings.  De Niro, for instance, shares scenes with Alyssa Milano while Sofia Vergara and Ludacris are both relegated to playing sidekicks.  Michael Bloomberg, New York’s then-mayor and general threat to civil liberties everywhere, also shows up, playing himself with the type of smarminess that already has many people dreading the prospect of his 2020 presidential campaign.  This is one of those films where everyone has a familiar face but no one makes much of an impression.

New Year’s Eve was directed by the late Garry Marshall and it’s the second film in his so-called holiday trilogy, sitting right between Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.  By most accounts, Garry Marshall was a nice guy and popular in the industry, which perhaps explains why so many familiar faces were willing to sign up to appear in New Year’s Eve.  Though the film is ruthlessly mediocre, it’s actually the best of the holiday trilogy.  For all the schmaltz and forced sentiment, one gets the feeling that the film actually is sincere in its belief in the importance of that ball dropping in Times Square.

I remember that, when New Year’s Eve was first released, a lot of people joked that Marshall was going to make an ensemble romantic comedy about every single holiday, all with the hope that at least one of them would eventually become a television perennial in the style of It’s A Wonderful Life or The Ten Commandments.  Interestingly, that’s exactly what happened with New Year’s Eve.  Yesterday, E! aired New Year’s Eve three times, back-to-back!  For better or worse, this film is probably going to outlive us all, ensuring that, in the far future, viewers will spend New Year’s Eve asking themselves, “What’s a kanye?”

Film Review: Maggie (dir by Henry Hobson)


Maggie_(film)_POSTERMaggie is a terrific and sad film about a father who finds himself helpless as his teenage daughter slowly dies.  It’s a thoughtful and heart-rendering film and it’s one of the best of the year so far.  Unfortunately, you wouldn’t necessarily know that from looking at some of the reviews.

Of course, there’s nothing new about a good film getting bad reviews.  I’m actually surprised that anyone even bothers with reviewers anymore, considering just how often they get things wrong.  There are any number of reasons why good films get dismissed.  Some movies are genuinely ahead of their time.  Some critics prefer to judge based on genre than by what they actually see on screen.  Occasionally, a critic feels obligated to like or dislike a movie based on the politics or culture of the moment.  The fact of the matter is that most film critics like to feel important and the easiest way to feel important is to hop onto a bandwagon with all of the other critics.

So, what’s the excuse as far as Maggie is concerned?  Why does Maggie, one of the best films of the year so far, only have a rating of 51% on rotten tomatoes?  In Maggie‘s case, it’s a combination of genre (Maggie is a zombie film and there’s a lot of critics who still feel guilty over liking The Walking Dead) and star.  Maggie has been promoted as being an Arnold Schwarzenegger film, even though his role is essentially a supporting one.  The majority of critics have been willing to admit that Schwarzenegger gives a good performance but they always have to qualify the praise.  As a result, you have critics at both Hitflix and the A.V. Club writing that Schwarzenegger’s performance works because his character is designed to take advantage of Schwarzenegger’s limitations as an actor, as if all good performances aren’t, to some degree, the result of good casting.  In order to make up for praising Schwarzenegger (who is not only an action star but a Republican as well, which is a combination that many reviewers — especially those who work exclusively online — will never be able to see beyond), many critics undoubtedly feel obligated to be overly critical of Maggie.

(What does that 51% mean anyway?  That Maggie is 51% good?)

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As for the film itself, it tells a simple story, one to which a lot of people will undoubtedly relate.  As the film opens, we learn that the zombie apocalypse has already begun.  The world has been hit by a virus.  The infection spreads slowly, forcing the victims and their loved ones to watch as the infected are gradually transformed into mindless and cannibalistic zombies.  However, the U.S. government has reacted with swift and ruthless efficiency.  Martial law has been imposed.  The infected are allowed to say with family up until the disease enters its final stages.  At that point, they’re taken into quarantine and are euthanized.  Though we never actually see a quarantine center, we hear enough about it to know that there is nothing humane about it.  (Indeed, one reason why Maggie is so effective is because we know that the real-life government would probably be even less humane than the film’s government.)  Society has contained the plague but it’s done so at the cost of its own humanity.

College student Maggie (Abigail Breslin) has been infected.  She was bitten by  a zombie and, as a result, she now has a grotesque black wound on her arm.  As the virus moves through her body, her eyes grow opaque.  Her veins blacken.  When she breaks a now dead finger, she reacts by chopping it off with a kitchen knife.  As there is no cure, all Maggie can do now is wait until she is sent to quarantine.

Her father, a farmer named Wade (Schwarzenegger), brings Maggie back to his farm with him so that he can take care of her during her final days.  Wade knows what quarantine is like and he has no intention of forcing his daughter to go through that.  With government doctors and police officers constantly and, in some cases, forcefully demanding the he give her up, Wade protects Maggie as best he can.  He sleeps with a rifle at his side, knowing that eventually he’s going to have to use it on his own daughter.

And I’m crying again.  Between this review and the one I did for Terms of Endearment, my face is going to be a mascara-smeared mess.

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Maggie is a low-key and thoughtful film, a meditation on life, love, family, and death.  Though the film does feature Schwarzenegger fighting zombies, most of the action happens off-screen.  Instead, we just see the haunting aftermath.  Schwarzenegger doesn’t deliver any one liners in this film and the film deliberately plays down his action hero past.  He’s still got the huge body and the muscles but, in Maggie, they’re not intimidating.  Instead, they’re evidence that Wade has spent his life working the land and they actually emphasize just how helpless Wade is in the face of Maggie’s disease.  Director Henry Hobson makes good use of Schwarzenegger’s heavily-lined and weather-beaten face.  His sad and suspicious eyes communicate everything that we need to know.  When he cries, you don’t consider that you’ve never seen him cry before.  Instead, the moment captures you because the tears and the emotions behind them are real.

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But really, the film ultimately belongs to Abigail Breslin.  It’s appropriate that the film is named after her character because the film really is her story.  Maggie is about how she deals with knowing that she’s going to die and how she searches for meaning in her final days.  It’s a good and heartfelt performance, one that reminded me of Brigitte LaHaie’s poignant work in Jean Rollin’s Night of the Hunted.

So, ignore the critics.

Ignore that stupid 51% on Rotten Tomatoes.

See Maggie.

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Arnold Schwarzenegger Will Win An Oscar In 2016…


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Okay, probably not.

But still, the former governor of California has been getting some unexpectedly good buzz for his performance in the upcoming film zombie film Maggie.  In a role that reportedly emphasizes honest emotion over crowd-pleasing action, Schwarzenegger plays a small-town farmer whose daughter (Abigail Breslin) has been infected with a zombie virus.  The trailer, which was released today, seems to hint that Maggie is going to be a bit more thoughtful than your average Arnold Schwarzenegger zombie film.

Maggie is scheduled to be released on May 8th and, hopefully, it won’t be too overshadowed by the 2nd weekend of Avengers: Age of Ultron.

6 Obscure Films Of 2013: The Call, Copperhead, It’s A Disaster, See Girl Run, UnHung Hero, Would You Rather


Well, it’s that time of year when I look at the list of the films that I’ve seen over the past 12 months and I realize that there’s quite a few that I haven’t gotten around to reviewing yet.  Here are my thoughts on six of them.

The Call (dir by Brad Anderson)

Abigail Breslin is kidnapped by a serial killer.  While trapped in the trunk of the killer’s car, Breslin manages to call 911.  Breslin’s call is answered by Halle Berry, a veteran operator who is recovering from a trauma that — by an amazing and totally implausible coincidence — was caused by the same guy who has just kidnapped Breslin.

Before it became a feature film, The Call was originally developed as a weekly TV series and, as I watched, it was easy to imagine weekly episodes that would all feature a different guest star calling 911 and needing help.  For the first hour or so, The Call is well-made and acted but undistinguished.  However, during the final 30 minutes, the entire film suddenly goes crazy with Breslin running around in her bra, Berry turning into a blood thirsty vigilante, and the killer suddenly getting very verbose.  However, those 30 minutes of pure insanity were just what The Call needed to be memorable.  There are some films that definitely benefit from going over-the-top and The Call is one of them.

Copperhead (dir by Ronald Maxwell)

Copperhead is a historical drama that takes place during the Civil War.  In upstate New York, farmer Abner Breech (Billy Campbell) is ardently opposed to both the Civil War and the union cause.  In most movies, this would make Abner the villain but, in Copperhead, he’s portrayed as being a man of principle who, by refusing to compromise on his views, is ostracized and ultimately persecuted by the rest of his village.  Abner’s views also bring him into conflict with his own son, who is pro-Union.

Copperhead is a slow-moving film that features some rather good performances along with some fairly bad ones.  However, I’m a history nerd so I enjoyed it.  It certainly tells a different story from what we’ve come to expect from American films about the Civil War.

It’s A Disaster (dir by Todd Berger)

Of the six films reviewed in this post, It’s A Disaster is the one to see.  In this darker than dark comedy, Julia Stiles brings her new boyfriend (David Cross) to Sunday brunch with 6 of her closest friends.  During the brunch, terrorists explode a dirty bomb in the city.  With everyone trapped inside the house and waiting for the world to either end or somehow revert back to normal, long-simmering resentments come to the forefront.

To say anything else about It’s a Disaster would be unfair so I’ll just say that it’s a very funny film, featuring excellent work from both Stiles and Cross.  If Jean-Paul Sartre was alive and writing today, he would probably end up writing something very similar to It’s a Disaster.

See Girl Run (dir by Nate Meyer)

Bleh!  That’s probably the best description I can give you of this film.  It’s just a whole lot of bleh.

Emmie (Robin Tunney) is unhappy with her boring marriage so she runs back to her Maine hometown, stops wearing makeup and washing her hair, and pines for her high school boyfriend, Jason (Adam Scott), who works at a sea food restaurant.  Jason also happens to be friends with Emmie’s depressed brother, Brandon (Jeremy Strong).  It’s the same basic plot as Young Adult, just with no humor and a lot more talking.  In Young Adult, it was hard not to admire Charlize Theron’s wonderfully misguided character.  In See Girl Run, you just want to tell Robin Tunny to take a shower, put on some clothes that don’t look like they were stolen from a hospital storage closet, and stop whining all the time.

It’s difficult to put into words just how much I hated this movie.  This is one of those films that critics tend to describe as being “a film for adults.”  I have to agree — this is a movie for really boring, depressing adults who like to talk and talk about how their lives haven’t worked out.  If See Girl Run is what being an adult is like, I’ll just continue to be an immature brat, thank you very much.

UnHung Hero (dir by Brian Spitz)

So, this is not only the worst documentary of 2013 but it’s also quite probably one of the worst documentaries ever made.  The film opens with footage of Patrick Moote (who claims to be a comedian) asking his girlfriend to marry him.  As Moote goes on (and on) to tell us, she turns down his proposal and then dumps him because, according to her, his penis is too small.  Moote spends the rest of the film talking to various people and asking them whether size really matters.

Well, he could have just asked me and saved a lot of time.  I’m sorry if this endangers any fragile male egos but yes, size does matter.  If Moote’s penis really is as tiny as he claims it is, I probably would have turned down his proposal as well.  Then again, Moote could be hung like Jamie Foxx and I’d probably still refuse to marry him because, quite frankly, he’s the whiniest and most annoying person that I’ve ever seen.  He’s like an even less charming version of Morgan Spurlock.  What Patrick Moote never seems to understand is that size matters but personality matters even more.

Would You Rather (dir by David Guy Levy)

Would you rather have a root canal or sit through this piece of crap?  Having seen Would You Rather, I can tell you that it’s not an easy question to answer.

Jeffrey Combs plays a sadistic millionaire who invited a bunch of strangers (including Brittany Snow, John Heard, June Squibb, and Sasha Grey) to his mansion and forces them to play an elaborate and deadly game of Would You Rather.  Unfortunately, none of the characters are interesting, the film’s sadism is more boring than shocking, and talented actor Combs is totally wasted as the one-note villain.

Trailer: Ender’s Game


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It’s finally going to happen. A film adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s sci-fi novel Ender’s Game is going to be on the bigscreen. This was a property that was often talked about becoming a film, but years upon years of talk never amounted to much other than fan casting and never getting past the concept stage.

I knew that the film adaptation had gotten the greenlight over a year ago, but I just assumed that something will derail it once again and leave Ender’s Game as another case of film vaporware. The fact that there’s now a trailer released by Summit Entertainment means that the film will come out. Now whether the film adaptation satisfies the book’s legion of fans and still entertain those who never read a word of Card’s novels still to be determined.

Ender’s Game is set for a November 1, 2013 release date.

Film Review: Rango (dir. by Gore Verbinski)


Rango is something of an anomaly.

It’s an animated feature that isn’t in 3D. It caters as much to adults as it does to kids, and doesn’t seem to try toMovie Poster for the Film "Rango" lower itself to be “shiny” in that way. There are a number of scary images that I think would frighten younger kids, but overall, the film is very well done. It’s a fantastic homage to the Wild West, though it does get a little weird at times. I’ll admit that I walked in expecting something like Tangled. It reminds me more of George Miller’s Happy Feet, in how serious at times the story gets. And it does all this under the Nickelodeon banner. Wow, this is a big jump from Spongebob and Rugrats.

It ironic and feels right that Gore Verbinski – who gave us the Budweiser Frogs commercial so long ago and The Mexican – takes on an animated tale. He teams up with his Pirates of the Caribbean stars Johnny Depp and Bill Nighy again, and the results are worth it. Depp brings a spark of funny weirdness to the character of Rango, and the film has a number of pop culture references (including one for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas). The supporting cast is okay, Isla Fisher (Confessions of a Shopaholic) makes for a quirky female lead trying to hold on to her land and Abigail Breslin (Zombieland) didn’t seem like she was used enough. Ned Beatty and Nighy in particular are the other vocal standouts here, along with Harry Dean Stanton (Big Love) as the the head of a mole family of outlaws. Timothy Olyphant (Justified) has a great cameo as well.

Rango is a chameleon who wishes to be the star of his own story. After an accident leaves him stranded in the desert, he finds is way through the blistering sun to the tiny town of Dirt. The townspeople of Dirt are a diverse lot, and it all has a real Mos Eisley in Star Wars to it. The currency of the town is water, which is pretty hard to come by these days. When he’s asked who he is, Rango takes the moment to be the character he envisioned. After he amazes the town with a display that adds fuel to the fire, the townsfolk end up making him the Sheriff of Dirt and charge him with finding a solution to their money/water issues.

Visually, Rango is a feast for the eyes despite how ugly the main character is. Fur moves, whiskers twitch and the open desert looks wonderful (especially when riding). Sunsets are colorful and Industrial Light and Magic really did some interesting work here. Honestly, I wouldn’t mind seeing this in 3D, but it’s actually nice that it isn’t in that format. Musically speaking, Hans Zimmer’s score adds a nice touch to the film, especially during one key scene involving a chase. I ended up getting the score shortly after seeing the movie.

If Rango suffers from any problems, it would be that it slows down a little in the middle, as if it’s not entirely sure of where it wants to go at one point. It quickly picks up, but the lull may be a little much for younger viewers looking for cartoon action throughout the film. I don’t believe adults will mind this, though.

But what about the Kid Factor?

It’s a Nickelodeon film. It’s designed for kids, and my audience (made up of parents and kids) appeared to really love it. The lessons to learn are that you truly are the center of your own story and growth comes through dealing with struggles. You can’t have a Protagonist without an Antagonist, and a story has to have conflict for it to go anywhere. You can take your kids to see Rango, but Parental Guidance is suggested. There’s a nude top half of a Barbie doll, no biggie there. Nighy’s Rattlesnake Jack brought up a lot of murmurs and gasps from the kids in my audience, so that might be something to be concerned about. There’s also shooting – it is the Wild West, after all – so there are characters that will die. If that doesn’t bother you, then you’ll have tons of fun with Rango. It’s definitely worth seeing.