An Olympic Film Review: Miracle (dir by Gavin O’Connor)


(Back in 2011, Chris Mead — who wrote under the name Semtex Skittle — reviewed Miracle for this site.  At the that time, I had not seen the film.  Below are my thoughts but please, also be sure to read Chris’s review as well.)

 

Like all good people, I’m currently obsessed with the Winter Olympics.  Earlier this week I asked a couple of friends if they could recommend some good Winter Olympics movies.  A lot of movies were suggested but, without fail, everyone thought I should see Miracle.  (A lot of people also suggested Cool Runnings, which I’ll be watching next week.)  Having watched Miracle earlier today, I can see why everyone recommended it.

The year is 1980 and two hockey teams are about to face off at the Winter Olympics in upstate New York.  (The location, to be exact, is Lake Placid.  Fortunately, the giant alligators are nowhere to be seen.)

On one side you have the Russian team (or the Soviets as they were known back then).  They are widely considered to be one of the greatest hockey teams in history.  They are big, fierce, and determined.  Coming from a system that has declared individuality to be a crime against the state, the Soviet team plays like a machine.  The Soviets have won the gold in the last four Olympics.  As one American coach puts it, their greatest strength is that every other hockey team in the world is terrified of them.

On the other side, you have the American team.  However, this isn’t the type of American dream team that one would expect to see today.  In 1980, professional athletes were not allowed to compete on the U.S. Olympic team.  Instead, the 1980 hockey team is made up of amateurs and college players.  Unlike the Soviet teams, the American don’t have a government that grooms and supports them.  Instead, win or lose, they have to do it on their own.

Of course, it’s not just two hockey teams that are about to face off.  It’s also two super powers and two very different ways of life.  In 1980, the U.S. and the Soviet Union were the two most powerful rivals in the world.  The Soviets were trapped in an endless and unpopular war in Afghanistan.  Meanwhile, in the U.S., the economy was shaky, American citizens were being held hostage in Iran, and an ineffective President gave long-winded speeches about how unhappy everyone in the country appeared to be.  Both countries needed a victory but only one could win.

And it would take a miracle for that winning team to be American…

I don’t think it requires a spoiler alert to tell you that’s exactly what happens.  I mean, after all, I’m reviewing a film  called Miracle!  On top of that, it’s based on true events.  The U.S. hockey team — made up of college students and led by Coach Herb Brooks (played, in one of his best performance, by Kurt Russell) — not only managed to defeat the highly favored Soviet team but they went on to win the gold medal.

Even if you didn’t know that the Americans beat the Russians, you would never have any doubt about how Miracle is going to end.  Miracle is a film that utilizes almost every sports film cliché but it manages to do so with such sincerity and such style that you don’t mind the fact that the movie doesn’t exactly take you by surprise.  Is there any actor who is as good at project sincerity and human decency as Kurt Russell?  Whenever he says that he’s going to make his team into champions, you believe him.  When he says that he’s being hard on them because he wants them to be the best, you never doubt him or his techniques.  When he says that he’s proud of his team and his country, it brings tears to your eyes.  If there’s ever a movie that deserves a chant of “USA!  USA!  USA!,” it’s Miracle.

Playing Catch-Up: The Accountant, Carnage Park, The Choice, The Legend of Tarzan


Continuing my look back at the films of 2016, here are four mini-reviews of some films that really didn’t make enough of an impression to demand a full review.

The Accountant (dir by Gavin O’Connor)

2016 was a mixed year for Ben Affleck.  Batman v. Superman may have been a box office success but it was also such a critical disaster that it may have done more harm to Affleck’s legacy than good.  If nothing else, Affleck will spend the rest of his life being subjected to jokes about Martha.  While Ben’s younger brother has become an Oscar front runner as a result of his performance in Manchester By The Sea, Ben’s latest Oscar effort, Live By Night, has been released to critical scorn and audience indifference.

At the same time, Ben Affleck also gave perhaps his best performance ever in The Accountant.  Affleck plays an autistic accountant who exclusively works for criminals and who has been raised to be an expert in all forms of self-defense.  The film’s plot is overly complicated and director Gavin O’Connor struggles to maintain a consistent tone but Affleck gives a really great performance and Anna Kendrick reminds audiences that she’s capable of more than just starring in the Pitch Perfect franchise.

Carnage Park (dir by Mickey Keating)

I really wanted to like Carnage Park, because it was specifically advertised as being an homage to the grindhouse films of the 1970s and y’all know how much I love those!  Ashley Bell plays a woman who gets kidnapped twice, once by two bank robbers and then by a psycho named Wyatt (Pat Healy).  Healy chases Bell through the desert, hunting her Most Dangerous Game-style.  There are some intense scenes and both Bell and Healy are well-cast but, ultimately, it’s just kind of blah.

The Choice (dir by Ross Katz)

The Choice was last year’s Nicholas Sparks adaptation.  It came out, as all Nichols Sparks adaptations do, just in time for Valentine’s Day and it got reviews that were so negative that a lot of people will never admit that they actually saw it.  Benjamin Walker and Teresa Palmer play two people who meet, fall in love, and marry in North Carolina.  But then Palmer is in a car accident, ends up in a coma, and Walker has to decide whether or not to turn off the life support.

As I said, The Choice got terrible reviews and it’s certainly not subtle movie but it’s actually better than a lot of films adapted from the work of Nicholas Sparks.  Walker and Palmer are a likable couple and, at the very least, The Choice deserves some credit for having the courage not to embrace the currently trendy cause of euthanasia.  That alone makes The Choice better than Me Before You.

The Legend of Tarzan (dir by David Yates)

Alexander Skarsgard looks good without his shirt on and Samuel L. Jackson is always a fun to watch and that’s really all that matters as far as The Legend of Tarzan is concerned.  It’s an enjoyable enough adventure film but you won’t remember much about it afterward.  Christoph Waltz is a good actor but he’s played so many villains that it’s hard to get excited over it anymore.

2016 In Review: Lisa Picks The 16 Worst Films of 2016!


Well, here’s the time that I know we’ve all been waiting for!  It’s time for me to reveal my picks for the 16 worst films of 2016!

(Why 2016?  Because Lisa doesn’t do odd numbers!)

Now, I should make clear that these are my picks.  They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the other writers here at Through The Shattered Lens.  In fact, I know that a few of them most definitely do not!

What type of year was 2016?  It was a pretty bad one.  There weren’t many memorable films released but there was a lot of mediocrity and disappointment.  Do you know why 2016 was so bad?  I think it’s because, if you add up 2 plus 1 plus 6, you end up with 9, an odd number.  For that same reason, 2017 is going to be much better.  If you add up 2 plus 1 plus 7, you end up with 10, which is an even number that can be cleanly divided.

So fear not!  2017 is going to be a great year!

For now, however, here are my picks for the 16 worst films of 2016!

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16. The Girl on the Train (dir by Tate Taylor)

15. The Fifth Wave (dir by J Blakeson)

14. Alice Through the Looking Glass (dir by James Bobin)

13. Jane Got A Gun (dir by Gavin O’Connor)

12. Mother’s Day (dir by Garry Marshall)

11. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (dir by Burr Steers)

10. The Sea of Trees (dir by Gus Van Sant)

9. Money Monster (dir by Jodie Foster)

8. Me Before You (dir by Thea Sharrock)

7. Independence Day: Resurgence (dir by Roland Emmerich)

6. Zoolander 2 (dir by Ben Stiller)

5. The Purge: Election Year (dir by James DeMonaco)

4. Paradox (dir by Michael Hurst)

3. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (dir by Zack Snyder)

2. Yoga Hosers (dir by Kevin Smith)

And finally, the worst film of 2016 … drum roll please ….

  1. HARDCORE HENRY! (dir by Ilya Naishuller)

Seriously, Hardcore Henry is one of the few films that I have ever had to walk out on.  I literally got physically ill while watching the film, largely due to the nonstop shaky cam.  Seriously — when your film’s selling point is a technique that literally induces nausea, you’re going to have some problems.  Now, before anyone leaves any angry comments, I did make it a point to go back and watch the rest of Hardcore Henry before making out this list.  Not only does Hardcore Henry feature a nausea-inducing gimmick but it’s also a rather uninspired and dull action film.

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(Feel free to also check out my picks for 2010, 2011, 2012, 20132014, and 2015!)

Agree?  Disagree?  Leave a comment and let us know!  And if you disagree, please let me know what movie you think was worse than Hardcore Henry!

Tomorrow, I will be posting my 10 favorite songs of 2016!

Previous Entries In The Best of 2016:

  1. TFG’s 2016 Comics Year In Review : Top Tens, Worsts, And Everything In Between
  2. Anime of the Year: 2016
  3. 25 Best, Worst, and Gems I Saw In 2016
  4. 2016 in Review: The Best of SyFy
  5. 2016 in Review: The Best of Lifetime

 

Back to School Part II #39: The Glass House (dir by Daniel Sackheim)


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Originally, I was planning on using the 2001 thriller The Glass House as one of my guilty pleasure reviews.  Because, seriously, this film truly is one of the guiltiest of all guilty pleasures.  I mean, there’s so much that you can criticize about the movie but it’s so much fun that I always feel rather bad for doing so.  However, after giving it some thought, I decided to use The Glass House as one of my Back to School reviews.  Seeing as how I just totally trashed a Leelee Sobieski film called Here On Earth, it only seems fair to now recommend one of her films.

In The Glass House, Leelee plays Ruby Baker, a 16 year-old whose parents are killed in a car accident.  Though their uncle (Chris Noth) wants to adopt them, the will states that Ruby and her nine year-old brother (Trevor Morgan) will instead be looked after by their parents’ best friends, Erin (Diane Lane) and Terry (Stellan Skarsgard).

Now, here’s the thing.  This is going to blow your mind.  Guess where Erin and Terry live?  They live in a big mansion in Malibu and the entire house is made out of … GLASS!  We have a title, right!?  But wait, there’s more!  Guess what Terry and Erin’s last name is?  That’s right — GLASS!  So, the house is not only literally a glass house but it’s also the Glass house as well!  And beyond that, there’s that old saying that people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones and … well, that really doesn’t apply to this film.

Anyway, I’m making such a big deal about the title because it pretty much tells you everything that you need to know about The Glass House.  There is not a single subtle moment to be found in this entire film. And really, this is not a film that requires or rewards subtlety.  We know that Terry Glass is up to no good from the minute we meet him, largely because he’s played by Stellan Skarsgard and when was the last time Stellan Skarsgard played a trustworthy character?  Skarsgard pretty much gives the same performance here that he’s given in almost every thriller that he’s ever appeared in (including David Fincher’s rehash of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo — which I’m still ticked off about, by the way) but it works wonderfully because there’s not a hint of pretension to The Glass House.  It just wants to entertain and it does just that.  There’s little that can match the entertainment value of watching Stellan Skarsgard go totally over the top.

Sure, the film has all sorts of flaws.  Ruby’s intelligence changes from scene to scene, depending on what the film’s story needs her to do.  (For that matter, the same thing can be said about every character in the film.)  But the film’s a lot of fun and Leelee Sobieski gives one of the best and most sympathetic performances of her career.  Ruby may be an inconsistent character but she’s so well-played that you like her anyway.  In a film that often threatens to go just a little bit too crazy, Leelee gives a performance of both believable grief and believable inner strength.  She keeps the film grounded just enough that you’ll continue to watch even when the narrative hits a rough patch.  As well, Bruce Dern is hilariously sleazy as a possibly duplicitous attorney.  The only thing more entertaining than watching Stellan Skarsgard go over the top is watching Bruce Dern do the same thing in the same film.

The Glass House is one of those films that seems to show up on cable constantly.  And, 9 times out of 10, I’ll at least watch at least a little bit of it.  It’s just a fun movie.

Film Review: Jane Got A Gun (dir by Gavin O’Connor)


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Jane Got A Gun, which was released with little fanfare in January and is now available on Netflix, could just as easily have been called This Bishop Boys Are Coming And Who Gives A Fuck?

In fact, I like that title better than Jane Got A Gun.  As far as I’m concerned, I am no longer reviewing Jane Got A Gun.  Instead, I am going to tell you about a film called The Bishop Boys Are Coming And Who Gives A Fuck?

The film is a western, taking place shortly after the end of the Civil War.  (Isn’t it interesting how every western recently produced has taken place shortly after the Civil War?  Way to avoid awkward historical truths, Hollywood.)  Jane (Natalie Portman) lives on an isolated farm, with her daughter and her husband, Bill Hammond (Noah Emmerich, who is wasted both figuratively and literally).  Hammond used to be an outlaw but now, he’s a pretty good guy.  But the Bishop Boys are still after him!

Who are the Bishop Boys?

Well, John Bishop is Ewan McGregor.  He’s an evil businessman and a bounty hunter and he used to be in love with Jane but now it seems that he mostly just wants to collect the bounty that’s on Hammond’s head.  I love Ewan McGregor but, as we all should have learned from his performance in Haywire, he doesn’t make the most convincing villain.  McGregor is one of those actors who radiates an inner humanity.  No actor falls in love as convincingly as Ewan McGregor.  That’s what makes him a compelling actor but it also means that he’s totally miscast as a bounty hunting sociopath.

Anyway, the Bishop Boys end up putting five bullets in Hammond so he goes home to die.  “The Bishop Boys are coming,” he says and Jane has to prepare for the upcoming siege.  Fortunately, her surly neighbor, Dan (Joel Edgerton, who seems to be bored with the whole thing), just happens to be her former fiancée and he’s still in love with her, though he tries to hide his love behind bitterness and pithy one-liners.  It also turns out that Dan was a hero in the Civil War but he’s weary of violence.

Don’t worry, though!  Dan is still willing to kill.  After all, not much would happen in the movie if Dan wasn’t willing to shoot people…

Anyway, The Bishop Boys Are Coming And Who Gives A Fuck only lasts for 98 minutes but there’s a lot of hints that there was originally supposed to be a lot more to the movie than actually showed up on screen.  We get a few lengthy flashbacks, all of which hint at a story that actually explores what it means to be a woman in a patriarchal society and which, if properly handled, would have made The Bishop Boys Are Coming And Who Gives A Fuck the feminist western that it’s attempting to be.  Watching this movie, you get the feeling that a lot of the original storyline was either not filmed or left on the cutting room floor.

To be honest, I really wanted this to be a great movie or, at the very least, a decent showcase for Natalie Portman, who was one of my favorite actresses even before Black Swan.  However, I officially gave up on this film after 50 minutes.  That was around the time that Dan started to ramble about life, death, and doin’ the ratt thang.   It was all just so clichéd and the rest of the film wasn’t any better.

The Bishop Boys Are Coming And Who Gives A Fuck? did receive some attention because its screenplay was included in the Black List, which claims to be an annual survey of the best unproduced screenplays in Hollywood.  The Black List is one of the greatest con jobs ever perpetrated by the film industry.  While it’s true that American Hustle and The King’s Speech appeared on the Black List, a typical Black List screenplay usually turns out to be something like The Beaver, Broken City, or Cedar Rapids.  You can add The Bishop Boys Are Coming And Who Gives A Fuck? to the long line of Black List scripts that became utterly forgettable movies.