Film Review: The Butterfly Effect (dir by Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber)


How many different ways can Ashton Kutcher fuck up time and space?

That’s the question asked in the gloriously silly The Butterfly Effect, a film that was a minor hit back in 2004.  Ashton plays Evan Treborn, a disheveled college student who is studying how memory works.  All through his life, Evan has suffered from seizures that are triggered by stress.  Evan has a lot of stress because apparently, there’s not a single bad thing that didn’t happen to him when he was a child.

Crazy father who tried to strangle Evan before being gunned down in front of his son’s terrified eyes?  Yep.

Sexual molestation at the hands of a suburban drunk?  Yep.

A best friend who blew up not only a mailbox but also a mother and a baby?  Yep.

A dog that was set on fire by a neighborhood bully?  Yep.

Another friend who was driven into a catatonic state by all the madness around him?  Yep.

A girlfriend who, due to family tragedy, had to move away?  Yep.

However, things seem to be getting better for Evan.  Now, he’s a psychology major with a bright future.  His professors love him.  He’s even got a roommate named Thumper (played, somewhat inevitably, by Ethan Suplee).   And, as he’s soon to discover, he possesses a special power.  All he has to do is read his old journals and, for a limited time, he can go into the past and change his history.

Of course, it turns out that changing history is a lot more complicated than it looks.  Evan goes back into the past and confronts the pervy suburban drunk.  He then goes back to the present and discovers that he’s now a shallow frat boy who is hated by both his professors and Thumper!  Even worse, he eventually ends up in prison for killing a man.  Going back into the past and saving his dog leads to his friend Lenny (Elden Hansen) spending the rest of his life imprisoned.  Another trip to the past results in Evan waking up as a double amputee.  Depending on what Evan does, his friend Kayleigh (Amy Smart) either becomes a shallow sorority princess or a drug-addicted prostitute.  Meanwhile, Kayleigh’s brother (William Lee Scott) goes from being a psychotic murderer to a clean-cut religious guy.

Thumper never changers, though.  Thumper endures.

This, of course, is a lot of pressure to put on any character played by Ashton Kutcher and soon, Evan is having nosebleeds and migraines.  Every time he changes the past, his brain is flooded with 20 years worth of new memories.  His brain might explode before he can fix all the damage that he’s done….

Watching The Butterfly Effect is an odd experience because, on the one hand, the premise is genuinely intriguing but, on the other hand, the film stars the reliably goofy Ashton Kutcher.  Ashton grows a beard and doesn’t wash his hair for the first half of the movie, which is the film’s way of letting us know that we’re meant to take him seriously but it doesn’t change the fact that he’s still Ashton Kutcher.  Even when playing the most dramatic of scenes, Ashton tends to deliver every line as if it’s the set up for a punch line.  It’s not surprising that the best part of The Butterfly Effect is when Ashton wakes up and discovers that he’s now a frat boy.  Those scenes are intentionally funny and they take advantage of what Ashton Kutcher is actually good at.

At the same time, it’s hard not to get into The Butterfly Effect.  It’s a mess but it’s a likable mess and it’s undeniably enjoyable to see how everyone’s life changes as a result of Ashton’s constant meddling.  (William Lee Scott especially has fun, switching between being full-blown psycho and full-blown religious.)  The Butterfly Effect may be dumb but it’s fun.  It’s a film that’s best watched with your snarkiest friends.

Cleaning Out The DVR Yet Again #32: Sister Cities (dir by Sean Hanish)


(Lisa recently discovered that she only has about 8 hours of space left on her DVR!  It turns out that she’s been recording movies from July and she just hasn’t gotten around to watching and reviewing them yet.  So, once again, Lisa is cleaning out her DVR!  She is going to try to watch and review 52 movies by the end of Wednesday, December 7th!  Will she make it?  Keep checking the site to find out!)

Sister Cities originally aired on Lifetime on September 17th.  When it first aired, I was really expecting to like it just because it’s a movie about four sisters and I’m the youngest of four sisters.  Add to that, one of the sisters was named Dallas and Dallas is my city.  Seriously, I seemed destined to like Sister Cities.

But then I actually saw the film.  And I have to admit that, for the first hour or so, I felt a little bit guilty about not liking the film.  It may have been a painfully slow film but I figured that it deserved some credit for at least trying to take the time for the viewers to get to know the four sisters.  As well, I couldn’t deny that casting did a good job when it came to selecting the four lead actresses.  You looked at them and they all had enough features and mannerisms in common that you could actually believe that they were related.

In the film, the four sisters gather together after the suicide of their mother (played, in flashbacks, by both Amy Smart and Jacki Weaver).  The sisters all have their own distinct personalities and, for some reason, three of them are named after cities.

For instance, the youngest sister is named Baltimore (Troian Bellisario).  She’s a free-spirit who does what she wants.  Now, my boyfriend is from Baltimore.  I have friends who live in Baltimore.  I’ve visited Baltimore and I loved it.  But I would not name my daughter Baltimore because Baltimore is a great name for a city but it’s a terribly clunky one for a human being.  If I was going to pick a city to name my daughter after, I’d probably go with Savannah or maybe Charlotte.  Or, for that matter, maybe Ardglass.   But not Baltimore.

Then there’s Dallas (Michelle Trachtenberg), who is the super organized and neat sister.  She’s the one who gets taunted for always wearing matching underwear but seriously, what’s wrong with that?  At least Dallas gets a pretty name.

Austin (Jess Wexler) has a pretty name too.  We’re told that she’s a successful writer.  We never believe it for a second.  Austin lived with her mother and she’s the one who called the other sisters back home.  Austin is as close as the film comes to having a central character.

And then there’s Carolina (Stana Katic), who is the oldest.  She’s a lawyer and she’s angry because her mother named her after one of the Carolinas but never clarified which one.

To be honest, it’s a bit too much.  The sisters are all exaggerated types.  The mother is an exaggerated type.  They all have cutesy names.  The nonstop theatrical quirkiness of it all is very off-putting and it doesn’t help that the film’s first hour is painfully slow.  There’s a few attempts at dark humor but it’s never as insightful or affecting as it seems to think it is.

Then we get to the second hour and the film remains painfully slow but it also turns into a rather strident screed about assisted suicide.  Eventually, the whole film comes down to an extended flashback of a beatific-looking Jacki Weaver smiling as she calmly explains that Austin will have to help her commit suicide because she’s the only sister who is emotionally strong enough to handle it.  It was all so manipulative and heavy-handed that I ended up getting so annoyed that I took off my shoes and nearly threw them at the TV.

Sorry, Baltimore.

Sorry, Dallas.

Sorry, Austin.

Sorry, Carolina.

Back to School #61: The Battle of Shaker Heights (dir by Efram Potelle and Kyle Rankin)


Poster_of_the_movie_The_Battle_of_Shaker_Heights

“When you’re 17, every day is war.” — Tagline of The Battle of Shaker Heights (2003)

Anyone here remember Project Greenlight?  It’s a show that used to be on HBO and Bravo, in which Matt Damon and Ben Affleck would arrange for a director and screenwriter to get a chance to make their low budget feature film debuts.  The catch, of course, is that a camera crew would then follow the director as he (and all of the Greenlight “winners” were male) struggled to get the film made.  Mistakes would be made.  Money would be wasted.  Producer Chris Moore would randomly show up on set and start yelling.  In short, it was typical reality show drama with the catch being that the film itself would then be released in a theater or two.

Well, after being consigned to footnote status for the past nine years. Project Greenlight is coming back for a fourth season and a lot of people are pretty excited about it.  And why not?  I own the first two seasons of Project Greenlight on DVD and I’ve watched the third season on YouTube.  It’s a lot of fun, mostly because all of the directors, with the exception of season 3 winner John Gulager, turned out to be so incredibly inept.  (Gulager is one of the few Project Greenlight success stories — not only did his movie, Feast, come across as being made by a professional but he’s actually had a career post-Greenlight.)  It all makes for good televised drama.

However, it doesn’t necessarily make for a good movie.

Case in point: 2003’s The Battle of Shaker Heights.

The Battle of Shaker Heights is about a creepy 17 year-old named Kelly (played by the reliably creepy Shia LaBeouf).  His mother (Kathleen Quinlan) is an artist.  His father (William Sadler) is a former drug addict who, despite having been clean for 6 years, still has to deal with his son’s constant resentment.  Kelly is a high school outcast who spends all of his spare time thinking and talking about war.  Every weekend, he takes part in war reenactments.  At night, he works in a 24-hour grocery store where he doesn’t realize that he’s the object of Sarah’s (Shiri Appleby) affection.

(Why Sarah has so much affection for Kelly is a good question.  Maybe it’s the scene where he throws cans of cat food at her…)

At a reenactment of the Battle of the Bulge, Kelly meets and befriends Bart (Elden Hansen), which leads to him meeting Bart’s older sister, Tabby (Amy Smart).  Tabby is an artist, because the film isn’t imaginative enough to make her anything else.  (We’re also told that she’s a talented artist and it’s a good thing that we’re told this because otherwise, we might notice that her paintings are the type of uninspired stuff that you can buy at any county art fair.)  Kelly decides that he’s in love with Tabby but — uh oh! — Tabby’s getting married.  Naturally, she’s marrying a guy named Minor (Anson Mount).  Imagine how the film would have been different if his name had been Major.

As a film, the Battle of Shaker Heights is a bit of a mess.  It never establishes a consistent tone, the dialogue and the direction are all way too heavy-handed and on the nose, and Shia LaBeouf … well, he remains Shia LaBeouf.  In some ways, Shia is actually pretty well cast in this film.  He’s an off-putting actor playing an off-putting characters but the end of result is an off-putting film.

Of course, if you’ve seen the second season of Project Greenlight, then you know that The Battle of Shaker Heights had an incredibly troubled production.  Neither one of the film’s two directors were particularly comfortable with dealing with the more low-key human aspects of the story.  Screenwriter Erica Beeney was not happy with who was selected to direct her script and basically spent the entire production whining about it to anyone who would listen.  (Sorry, Erica — your script was one of the film’s biggest problems.  When you actually give a character a name like Minor Webber, it means you’re not trying hard enough.)  Finally, Miramax took the completed film away from the directors and re-edited it, removing all of the dramatic scenes and basically leaving a 79-minute comedic cartoon.

So, in the end, Battle of Shaker Heights is not a very good film.  But season two of Project Greenlight is a lot of fun!

Back to School #55: Varsity Blues (dir by Brian Robbins)


james-van-der-beek-varsity-blues-e1358953220340

“I don’t want your finger.”

Bleh!

The 1999 high school football film Varsity Blues has been showing up on cable fairly regularly lately and, seeing as how I’m currently in the process of reviewing 80 of the best, worst,  most memorable, and most forgettable high school films of all time, I decided that I might as well watch the whole thing.

Don’t get me wrong. I had seen bits and pieces of it over the years.  I knew that it was set in Texas.  I knew Jon Voight played a fanatical football coach.  I knew that James Van Der Beek played an idealistic quarterback who clashed with the coach.  I knew that there was a fat guy named Billy Bob, mostly because every time an out-of-state director makes a film about Texas, there’s a fat guy named Billy Bob.  I knew about as much as one could learn from that episode of The Office where Michael Scott shows the film during “Movie Monday.”

"I don't want your truck."

“I don’t want your truck.”

But I had never seen the whole film so I decided, why not?  After all, I had already decided to review several other Texas-set high school films — The Last Picture Show, Dazed and Confused, Dancer, Texas, and Rushmore.  And hey those films were all good so maybe Varsity Blues would be good too!

Bleh.

One of the big clichés about Texas is that the entire state is obsessed with football.  (The other big cliché, of course, is saying that “everything is bigger in Texas.”  As if being a tiny state like Vermont is somehow preferable…)  I’ve always found the whole “Texas worships football” thing to be amusing because I’m a Texas girl and I don’t know a thing about football.  People tend to talk about Texas and football as if there aren’t any fanatical football fans in New York or California.  Ultimately, of course, it has little do with football and everything to do with the fact that the rest of the country loves to hate my home state.  If Vermont was known for being obsessed with football, there’d probably be thousands of articles about the “proud history of Vermont football.”  But since it’s Texas, we end up with movies like Varsity Blues.

"I don't want your painfully obvious at social commentary."

“I don’t want your painfully obvious attempt at social commentary.”

Anyway, Varsity Blues tells the story of Mox (James Van Der Beek), who is a backup quarterback for the championship-winning West Caanan High School football team.  However, Mox isn’t just your average jock.  For one thing, he’s seen reading Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five.  (It’s indicative of this film’s approach to characterization that we never learn whether Mox actually understands or even likes Slaughterhouse Five.  We’re just supposed to be impressed by the fact that he owns a copy of the book.)  Mox wants to leave Texas to go to an Ivy League school.  He doesn’t want to play under the legendarily abusive Coach Kilmer (Jon Voight).  (How evil is Kilmer?  So evil that he poses for pictures like the one above.)   And Mox resents the pressure put on him by his football-crazed father.  (“You throw that fucking pigskin!” his dad shouts at one point.)  As Mox puts it, “I don’t want your life!” and the line is just hilarious because Van Der Beek’s attempt to sound like a Texan is hilarious.

(Tip for actors: If you can’t do the accent, don’t try.  Because I guarantee, if I ever meet James Van Der Beek, I’m going to tell him that his accent sucked and then I’m going to laugh and laugh.  It probably won’t do much for his self-image.  Sorry, James.)

"I don't want James Van Der Beek's career."

“Get me on Hawaii 5-0 because I don’t want James Van Der Beek’s career.”

Anyway, when star quarterback Lance (Paul Walker) is injured, Mox is suddenly the team’s starting quarterback.  And you know what?  Mox is going to play the game his way!  Soon, he is standing up the cartoonishly evil Coach Kilmer and challenging small town Texas’s obsession with high school football.

And here’s the thing: this is a film that wants to have it both ways.  It wants to challenge the philosophy of winning at all costs and it also pretends to be about the unfair pressure that high school athletes are put under.  But you better believe that the film ends with Mox leading his team to victory.  And it’s not so much that Mox wins as much as it’s the fact that you know the film would never have the courage to actually have Mox lose.  The film wants to be celebration of rebellion but, ultimately, it’s just a standard sports film.

And, even beyond that, it’s just not a very good film.  I was shocked, when I checked with the imdb, to discover that Varsity Blues was actually filmed in Texas because the film feels like it was made in California.  It has no authentic Texas flavor to it.  What it does have is some of the worst fake accents that I’ve ever heard in my life.

Mox may not want his father’s life but I don’t want this stupid film.

varsitybluesheader

“Well, we don’t want your review!”

Review: Crank (dir. by Neveldine/Taylor)


Through the Shattered Lens has been quite eclectic when it comes to reviewing films, music and all forms of entertainment. While we’re not averse to the more high-brow and artistic fare what will come across to most visitors of the site is how love for grindhouse and exploitation films are quite strong in this place. Grindhouse and exploitation of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s usually fill the bill but once in a while a certain film of aq more recent time frame will make the cut. One such film is the over-the-top, ultraviolent and extremely funny film Crank from Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, or as they like to call themselves, Neveldine/Taylor.

One thing I must point out is how this movie has confirmed Jason Statham in my eyes as the current action-star of the last couple years. A favorite of Brit action-auteur director Guy Ritchie, Statham has gradually built himself a decent list of action-movies that take good advantage of Statham’s old-school sense of machismo and smirking confidence reminiscent of the such past macho actors like Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson and Steve McQueen just to name a few. Statham is thick in body, but none too muscular and his wry, British sardonic personality mixes well with his many different action-movie personas. In Crank he pretty much steals and holds the ludicrous and unique different plot from spiralling out into camp and MST3K territory. Even though Statham would never be considered an acting giant, his performance as the hitman Chev Chelios racing against time to avenge his inevitable death was very well done. Crank starts with a bang and doesn’t let up. Like the actions and behavior of its main character, this film seems to be racing towards the end and not caring to slow down and give the audience a chance to take a breather. He literally willed this film to be nothing but crazily entertaining.

Many have called the idea for Crank as another derivative of the mid-90’s action film Speed. I’d be the first to say that they’re really not off the mark by much. Instead of a bus wired to explode if it dips below a predetermined speed, Crank puts the same premise and uses a human body instead. The human in question is one Chev Chelios whose botching of a contract hit lands him in a bit of hot water with the underworld bosses who hired him to do the job. Ambushed and knocked unconscious, Chelios soon wakes up to realize that something is definitely wrong with him. A bit of villain grandstanding from the employer he disappointed, Chelios quickly finds out that he has been injected with an exotic cocktail of chemicals called the Beijing Cocktail (definitely sounds like something made-up for a grindhouse flick) which would kill him by inhibiting his body’s ability to produce adrenaline. He learns from a colleague that he will need to keep his adrenaline pumping constantly to remain among the living and must do so by any means necessary. Whether he accomplishes this through extreme physical activities, drugs, and energy drinks Chelios must do them all in order to buy himself enough time to tie up lose ends in his life and to find the employers who have killed him. That is pretty much the story of Crank in a nutshell.

Crank doesn’t take much of the film’s early minutes to explain some backstory on Chelios other than him being a professional hitman. Instead writer-directors Neveldine/Taylor use the entire running time of the movie to gradually give glimpses into what kind of a person Chev Chelios is. With their use of handheld digital cameras and kinetic-style editing and camera shots, Neveldine/Taylor takes the premise of Crank and lets the audience ride along not just as passive viewers but almost like active participants. The “in the now” look of the film with some shots angled so that they’re almost in first-person or over the shoulder views doesn’t look as gimmicky as it sounds. One film released the same year that compares to Crank in terms of unique filmmaking for an action film it would be Running Scared that was released earlier this year. Both take the action flick conventions and dare to rise above it either through a dark fairytale style that was Running Scared or the manic, darkly amoral humor that gives Crank such an exhilirating sense of pacing.

The one thing that people will remember most about this movie is the many action sequences that happen throughout the film. With their decision to use handheld digital cameras, action sequences in Crank take on an almost hyperkinetic look to them. Again this film shares some similarities with Running Scared with how its action sequences were shot with such inventive use of angles and framing not to mention in-your-face violence. Crank has less of the surreal quality of Running Scared and more of a live newscast. In fact, at times I felt as if I was watching a news crew vainly chasing after Statham’s character as he paints the Los Angeles with non-stop adrenaline-pumping violence and activities. Whether its him getting into an outnumbered free-for-all brawl with a certain inner-city gang or having a very impromptu, unexpected and thoroughly indecent display of public affection with dozens in witness, the film’s amoral and sense of active nihilism makes this film a most politically-incorrect one. There’s a scene involving a taxi driver that was wrong on so many levels yet it invoked some of the biggest laughs and reactions from myself and the audience around me when I first saw it in the theaters.

The violence comes hard and fast and unlike Statham’s past couple of Transporter flicks, there’s nary a martial art choreographed fight scene to be seen. No, Chelios is an action film character who attacks and fights with sudden directness and brutality with as little movements required as possible. Chelios doesn’t need kung fu or karate moves to take out an opponent when a a well-placed kick, punch, elbow, etc…is all that’s needed to put a man down. Crank’s action sequences also had no CGI used (something I learned prior to seeing the film) with Statham doing most of his stunts. This wouldn’t be too much of a big deal until one factors in the fact that one of the action pieces takes place in a helicopter flying a thousand or so feet above the street of LA. Statham must have quite a steely pair if there’s truth behind him doing that helicopter fight with no greenscreen CG trickery or wire-fu assistance used.

Outside of Statham the rest of the cast took to their roles with a relish and had fun with them. And as with every action-flicks the hero will need a foil to motivate him. Statham’s Chelios has his opposite number in Verona played with thuggish calculation by Jose Pablo Castillo. Then there’s Doc Dwight Yoakam as Doc Miles. Chelios’ acquaintance whose knowledge of all things chemical borders on the absurd but in Crank makes it work. But the other performer who stood out outside of Jason Statham has to be Amy Smart as Chelios’ ditzy but well-meaning girlfriend, Eve. She plays this character to the hilt and seem to be having a ball while doing so. Her outdoor scene of PDA with Statham and a follow-up scene during a car chase shows me that Ms. Smart was pretty game about going all the way with how to portray her character.

I won’t mention too many more details on what actually happens in the film since I think its best to see it for oneself. Words can’t really describe the sheer insanity and fun mayhem this movie puts up on the big-screen. The story may not be too original and it’s lead may not be the best actor out there, but what Statham lacks in acting proficiency he more than makes up for sheer charisma and old-school machismo that’s way too rare in action-flick actors nowadays. Crank is more than your run-of-the-mill action movie. The creativity shown by writer-directors Neveldine/Taylor gives Crank a unique look and their attempts to try new techniques succeeds more than it fails. But in the end this film lives and dies on the shoulders of Jason Statham who I must say is the action-hero of this new generation of actors.

So, better grab hold tight of something or someone, because this film is one hell of a ride and you’re not getting off until the very end whether you like it or not.