“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?”

4 Film Reviews: Bridge To Silence, The Chocolate War, Kiss The Bride, Wedding Daze


Last week, I watched six films on This TV.

Which TV?  No, This TV!  It’s one of my favorite channels.  It’s not just that they show a lot of movies.  It’s also that they frequently show movies that are new to me.  For instance, last week, This TV introduced me to both Prison Planet and Cherry 2000.

Here are four other films, two good and two not so good, that This TV introduced to me last week.

First up, we have 1989’s Bridge to Silence.

Directed by Karen Arthur, Bridge To Silence was a made-for-TV movie.  Lee Remick plays Marge Duffield, who has a strained relationship with her deaf daughter, Peggy (Marlee Matlin).  After Peggy’s husband is killed in a traffic accident, Peggy has a nervous breakdown.  Marge and her husband, Al (Josef Sommer) take care of Peggy’s daughter, Lisa, while Peggy is recovering.  However, even as Peggy gets better, Marge still doesn’t feel that she can raise her daughter so Marge files a lawsuit to be named Lisa’s legal guardian.  While all of this is going on, Peggy is starring in a college production of The Glass Menagerie and pursuing a tentative romance with the play’s director (Michael O’Keefe).

Bridge to Silence is one of those overwritten but heartfelt melodramas that just doesn’t work.  With the exception of Marlee Matlin, the cast struggles with the overwrought script.  (Michael O’Keefe, in particular, appears to be miserable.)  The film’s biggest mistake is that it relies too much on that production of The Glass Menagerie, which is Tennessee Williams’s worst play and tends to be annoying even when it’s merely used as a plot device.  There’s only so many times that you can hear the play’s director refer to Peggy as being “Blue Roses” before you just want rip your hair out.

Far more enjoyable was 1988’s The Chocolate War.

Directed by Keith Gordon, The Chocolate War is a satirical look at conformity, popularity, rebellion, and chocolate at a Catholic boys school.  After the manipulative Brother Leon accidentally purchases too much chocolate for the school’s annual sale, he appeals to one of his students, Archie Costello (Wallace Langham), to help him make the money back.  Archie, who is just as manipulative as Leon, is the leader of a secret society known as the Vigils.  However, Archie and Leon’s attempt to manipulate the students runs into a roadblack when a new student, Jerry Renault (Illan Mitchell-Smith) refuses to sell any chocolates at all.  From there, things get progressively more complicated as Archie tries to break Jerry, Jerry continues to stand up for his freedom, and Leon … well, who knows what Leon is thinking?

The Chocolate War was an enjoyable and stylish film, one that featured a great soundtrack and a subtext about rebellion and conformity that still feels relevant.  John Glover and Wallace Langham both gave great performances as two master manipulators.

I also enjoyed the 2002 film, Kiss The Bride.

Kiss The Bride tells the story of a big Italian family, four sisters, and a wedding.  Everyone brings their own personal drama to the big day but ultimately, what matters is that family sticks together.  Directed by Vanessa Parise, Kiss The Bride featured believable and naturalistic performances from Amanda Detmer, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Brooke Langton, Monet Mazur, and Parise herself.

I have to admit that one reason why I liked this film is because it was about a big Italian family and it featured four sisters.  I’m the youngest of four sisters and, watching the film, I was reminded of my own big Irish-Italian family.  The movie just got everything right.

And then finally, there was 2006’s Wedding Daze.

Wedding Daze is a romantic “comedy.”  Anderson (Jason Biggs) asks his girlfriend to marry him, just to have her drop dead from shock.  Anderson’s best friend is afraid that Anderson will never get over his dead girlfriend and begs Anderson to not give up on love.  Anderson attempts to humor his friend by asking a complete stranger, a waitress named Katie (Isla Fisher), to marry him.  To everyone’s shock, Katie says yes.

From the get go, there are some obvious problems with this film’s problem.  Even if you accept that idea that Katie would say yes to Anderson, you also have to be willing to accept the idea that Anderson wouldn’t just say, “No, I was just joking.”  That said, the idea does have some comic potential.  You could imagine an actor like Cary Grant doing wonders with this premise in the 30s.  Unfortunately, Jason Biggs is no Cary Grant and the film’s director, comedian Michael Ian Black, is no Leo McCarey.  In the end, the entire film is such a misjudged failure that you can’t help but feel that Anderson’s ex was lucky to die before getting too involved in any of it.

Sundance Film Review: Old Enough (dir by Marisa Silver)


(As I sit here writing this, the Sundance Film Festival is currently in full swing in Utah.  Starting last Thursday with Blood Simple, I have been reviewing films that originally made a splash at Sundance.)

As I mentioned in my review of Circle of Power, the Sundance Film Festival was not always the Sundance Film Festival.  For the first few years of its existence, it was known as the US Film Festival.  It wasn’t until 1984 that the US Film Festival became the Sundance Film Festival.  (And let’s be honest — as far as names go, Sundance is a huge improvement over its generic predecessor.)  That year, the inaugural Sundance Grand Jury Prize was awarded to a coming-of-age story called Old Enough.

Old Enough is a New York movie, one that follows Lonnie (Sarah Boyd) and Karen (Rainbow Harvest) over one eventful summer.  Lonnie is 12 years old.  She lives in a nice apartment and she attends an exclusive private school.  She has a close relationship with her mother (Susan Kingsley) while her father is a stuffy snob.  From the minute that Lonnie first sees Karen, she wants to be her best friend.  Karen is a year or two older and her family is definitely not rich.  Karen is uninhibited and, on the outside at least, totally confident.  Lonnie is envious of Karen’s freedom.  Karen is envious of Lonnie’s stability.  From that, an unlikely friendship is born.

At first, the film focuses on how much Lonnie looks up to Karen.  Karen wears makeup so Lonnie starts to wear makeup.  Karen is Catholic so Lonnie decides to be Catholic as well.  Karen shoplifts so Lonnie gives it a try.  Karen tries to dress like Lonnie and she even tries to navigate the streets of New York with the same confidence.  It’s only later in the film, when Lonnie attempts to introduce Karen to her friends from school, that it becomes clear that Karen is as out of place in Lonnie’s world as Lonnie is in Karen’s.

The film is at its best when it concentrates on the friendship between Karen and Lonnie.  There’s a wonderful scene where Karen and Lonnie go up to the roof of Karen’s apartment building and take in the beautiful view of New York City at night.  It’s a scene that perfectly captures what it’s like to be young and to know that there’s an amazing world out there, waiting for you to discover it.  And then there’s an extended shoplifting scene, one that I absolutely loved even if it did bring back enough memories to make me cringe just a bit.

Old Enough struggles during it second half, when the focus shifts from Karen and Lonnie’s friendship to Lonnie’s crush on Karen’s older brother, Johnny (Neil Barry).  Johnny, however, is obsessed with the new neighbor (Roxanne Hart), who may be having an affair with Karen’s father (Danny Aiello).  Those scenes feel a bit forced, as if Robert McKee suddenly popped up and said, “Time for Act III!”

No, the heart of the film is in Karen and Lonnie’s friendship.  Both Sarah Boyd and Rainbow Harvest gave very naturalistic and believable performances as the two unlikely friends.  By the end of the movie, you’re happy they got to spend a summer together even though you know they probably won’t still be friends in another five years.  It’s a sweet movie, one that provides a very realistic portrait of growing up.

If you’ve never heard of Old Enough, you’re not alone.  Until I started doing research for these reviews, I had never heard of it, either.  Some times good movies are forgotten.  That’s why it’s important to always keep looking.

As of this writing, Old Enough can be viewed on YouTube.

Previous Sundance Film Reviews:

  1. Blood Simple
  2. I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore
  3. Circle of Power

A Movie A Day #206: Conflict of Interest (1993, directed by Gary Davis)


Conflict of Interest is a by-the-numbers direct-to-video movie about a tough cop named Mickey who is obsessed with taking down a drug dealer and club owner named Gideon.  Mickey is a widower.  Years ago, his wife was gunned down in front of him and his son.  His son is now a teenager with a motorcycle and a mullet.  Gideon hires Mickey’s son to work at one of his clubs and then frames him for murder.  Even though his superiors order him to back off, Mickey is determined to clear his son’s name.

Why should you watch Conflict of Interest?  How about this:

That’s Judd Nelson, going heavy on the sideburns and eyeliner in the role of Gideon.  I am not sure if this movie was filmed before or after the famous “puffy shirt” episode of Seinfeld.

Judd chews up and spits out every piece of scenery that he can get his hands on.  Matching Judd step-for-step is Alyssa Milano, who plays Eve.  She falls in love with Mickey’s son, even though she is already a member of Gideon’s harem.

Mickey is played by Christopher McDonald, who gets a rare lead role in Conflict of Interest.  McDonald may not be a household name but he is one of the great Hey, It’s That Guy actors.  Usually, he plays smarmy businessmen and game show hosts.  He’s a surprisingly good action hero in Conflict of Interest, though his mustache cannot begin to compete with Judd’s sideburns.

About as dumb as dumb can be, Conflict of Interest is enjoyably ridiculous.  Conflict of Interest may have been made in 1993 but it is an 80s film all the way through, the type of movie where almost every chase ends with someone’s car exploding.  Even Gideon’s nightclubs are “heavy metal clubs,” which are populated by people who would not have been out of place in Heavy Metal Parking Lot.

And then there’s the Judd power stare:

As we saw in Shattered If Your Kid’s On Drugs, the Judd power stare has the Burt Reynolds seal of approval:

A Movie A Day #88: Where The Day Takes You (1992, directed by Marc Rocco)


This month, since the site is currently reviewing every episode of Twin Peaks, each entry in Move A Day is going to have a Twin Peaks connection.  Where The Day Takes You is a movie that has not just one but two connections to Twin Peaks.

Where The Day Takes You is an episodic film about young runaways living on the streets of Los Angeles.  Led by 22 year-old King (Dermot Mulroney), who ran away from home when he was 16, the runaways form a surrogate family.  While being constantly harassed by both the police and well-meaning social workers, some of the runaways get addicted to drugs while others turn to prostitution in order to survive.  Some find love.  Some find death.  They all go where the day takes you.  (Not sure if that was the movie’s tag line but it should have been.)

Where The Day Takes You is a gritty and often tough film, though it’s effectiveness is undercut by a predictable ending and the presence of too many familiar faces in the cast.  The runaways are made up of a who’s who of prominent young actors from the 1990s.  Balthazar Getty plays King’s second-in-command.  Sean Astin plays an obviously doomed drug addict.  Alyssa Milano and David Arquette play prostitutes.  Ricki Lake and James Le Gros play comedic relief.  Will Smith, in his film debut, plays a wheelchair-bound runaway.  Christian Slater and Laura San Giacomo show up as social workers while the police are represented by Rachel Ticotin and Adam Baldwin.  Everyone gives a good performance but the film would have worked better with unknown actors or even real runaways.  No matter how good a performance Sean Astin gives as a heroin addict, he is always going to be Sean Astin and it is always going to be difficult to look at him without saying, “I might not be able to carry the ring but I can carry you!”

The movie’s first Twin Peaks connection is that Lara Flynn Boyle, who played innocent Donna Hayward on Twin Peaks, plays innocent runaway Heather in Where The Day Takes You.  The role is cliché but Boyle shows the same charm that she showed while playing Donna.

The movie’s second Twin Peaks connection is more unexpected.  Kyle MacLachlan is effectively cast against type as Ted, the drug dealer who keeps most of the runaways hooked on heroin and who is perfectly willing to leave an overdosed junkie in a garbage bin.  Ted is about as far from Dale Cooper as you can get.

Guilty Pleasure No. 14: Fear (dir by James Foley)


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After I wrote my review of Horror of Dracula, I started thinking about all of the cinematic bad boys that I have known and loved.  There’s just something undeniably exciting about having a good-looking psycho obsessing over you!

That leads us to today’s guilty pleasure.  First released in 1996 and a mainstay on cable, Fear is one of the ultimate bad boy psycho films.

Fear tells the story of what happens when 16 year-old Nicole (played by Reese Witherspoon) meets and falls for David (Mark Wahlberg), a polite young man who happens to be crazy.

The first half of the film actually makes a pretty good case for hooking up with a bad boy.  David treats Nicole like a princess, encourages her to break curfew, fingerfucks her on a roller coaster in a scene that makes fingerfucking seem as romantic as anything you’ll find in a Nicholas Sparks novel, and finally sneaks into her house so he can take her virginity.

These scenes capture the appeal of a bad boy — the feeling of danger, the thrill of rebellion, and, most poignantly, that feeling that only you can truly understand what a prince you have discovered.  Witherspoon and Wahlberg are especially good in these scenes, with Witherspoon perfectly capturing the wide-eyed thrill of being in love while Wahlberg is the epitome of every guy in high school that I should not have dated but did.

There’s one small moment that hints at what is going to come.  While talking to Nicole’s dad, Steven (played, with characteristic intensity, by William Petersen), David orders Nicole to get him a drink, causing the overprotective Stephen to glance up with a look of sudden suspicion.  It’s a well-acted and subtle scene, one that will feel painfully real to anyone who has ever been in a similar situation.

It’s shortly after that scene that the entire film basically goes crazy.

fear-mark-wahlbergAfter David catches Nicole’s best friend giving her an innocent hug, David responds by going crazy and beating him up.  Nicole dumps David but then, largely as a response to her father being overprotective, she decides to give him a second chance.

Steven confronts David and orders him to stay away from his daughter.  In an oddly hilarious scene, David responded by robotically beating his chest until he’s apparently covered with bruises.  It’s a totally over-the-top scene that pretty much lets us know that Fear is no longer interested in being a realistic portrait of a naive girl dating an abusive guy.

Chest Beating

Suddenly, we discover that David isn’t just a jerk with anger issues.  Instead, he’s some sort of teenage crime lord, who lives in a dilapidated mansion with his equally low-life friends.  While Nicole is busy writing Nicole Luvs David on her notebook, David is selling crack and having sex with her best friend Margo (played by, believe it or not, Alyssa Milano).

But that’s not all!  When Nicole dumps David for a second time, David responds by tattooing her name on his chest and then gathering together his minions so that they can lay siege to Steven’s mountainside home.

“Don’t worry,” Steven tells his wife (Amy Brenneman), “I’m not going to let anyone get in here.”

And so, in that moment, Fear goes from being every girl’s fantasy of finding her misunderstood prince to being every parent’s fantasy — not only is Steven proven right about his daughter’s boyfriend but he also gets to kick his ass.

Watching Fear is an odd experience.  The film starts out being romantic, well-acted, and, at times, even achingly poignant until, suddenly, it turns into one of the most over-the-top home invasion films ever made.  It makes for an oddly schizophrenic viewing experience and it also makes this film into a true guilty pleasure.

Fear