“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: Kingsman: The Golden Circle (dir by Matthew Vaughn)


Before I say too much about Kingsman: The Golden Circle, I do want to acknowledge a few good things about the movie.

First off, it doesn’t take long for the film to reveal that Harry (Colin Firth) didn’t actually die when Samuel L. Jackson shot him in the head in the first movie.  Undoubtedly, that diminishes the power of that scene but, at the same time, it also means that Colin Firth gets to come back.

Secondly, Taron Egerton returns as Eggsy.  The script really doesn’t give him too many opportunities to show what he’s capable of as an actor, largely because the character of Eggsy was fully developed by the end of the first movie.  Now that Eggsy is a fully trained and competent Kingsman, there’s not really much for him to do other than trade a few quips and take a few lives.  That said, Egerton is a likable actor and he’s fun to watch.

Third, Julianne Moore has a few fun scenes as the film’s main villain, Poppy Adams.  Poppy is the head of an international drug cartel.  She’s also obsessed with the 1950s and always amazingly cheerful.

Fourth, all of the Kingsmen still wear suits and Michael Caine-style glasses.  Colin Firth gets to use his umbrella as a shield.

Finally, Mark Strong is back as Merlin.

So, that’s five good things about Kingsman: The Golden Circle.  Unfortunately, all five of those things are somewhat obscured by the fact that the movie really, really sucks.

Admittedly, I had really high hopes for the movie.  I loved the first Kingsman film, which was a stylish satire that featured one of the greatest action set pieces of all time.  And I was excited to see that not only was Firth returning but Matthew Vaughn would also be directing the sequel.

But no.  This movie just doesn’t work.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle attempts to do everything on a larger scale than the first Kingsman.  That means more violence, more betrayals, and a longer running time.  This time, the movie not only features the Kingsmen but also the Statesmen, which is the American equivalent of the Kingsmen.  (The Statesmen all dress like cowboys and speak in exaggerated Southern drawls, which I got kind of sick of listening to after about three minutes.)  Along with the returning stars of the first film, Jeff Bridges, Emily Watson, Bruce Greenwood, Halle Berry, and Channing Tatum all have small roles.  Pedro Pascal (best known for playing Oberyn Martell on Game of Thrones) has a much larger role as a Statesman codenamed Whiskey.

Unfortunately, bigger is not always better.  The Golden Circle never comes close to matching the lunatic heights of the first movie.  There are a lot of action scenes but none of them match the church fight from the first film.  There’s a surprise death but it’s nowhere near as shocking or effective as Firth’s “death” in the first film.  Even the required barroom brawl falls flat.  Nowhere does The Golden Circle match the audacity of the first film.  The first film ended with exploding heads.  This film ends with the promise of more sequels.

But really, I think what really doomed The Golden Circle was that extended running time.  There’s really no good reason for The Golden Circle to last for 2 hours and 21 minutes.  Quite a bit of the film, especially during the first hour, felt padded out and, as a result, it seemed like took forever for the film’s story to actually get started.  Probably 40 minutes to an hour could have been cut from The Golden Circle without anyone missing it.

Ultimately, I think the main problem is that the first Kingsman felt like it was made by people who truly did love the material.  This film feels contractually obligated.  The Golden Circle has a lot of action but it’s just not very fun.

A Movie A Day #171: The Program (1993, directed by David S. Ward)


There’s not a single sports cliché that goes untouched in The Program.

A veteran college football coach who, after two disappointing seasons, is now being told that he must get wins at any cost?  Check!

A cocky senior quarterback who is trying to live up to his father’s expectations?  Check!

A cocky freshman who matures during the season?  Check!

A cocky NFL prospect who suffers a career ending injury?  Check!

Corrupt rich backers?  Check!

Beer?  Check!

Steroids?  Check!

Hazing?  Check!

Football groupies?  Check!

Halle Berry wasted in a one-note role?  Check!

Kristy Swanson as the one girl on campus who is not impressed by football?  Check!  Check!  Check!

The Program has its good points.  James Caan does a good job as the coach and Andrew Bryniarski, playing a player who is always on the verge of flying into roid rage, dominates every scene in which he appears.  Kristy Swanson looks good in a tennis outfit, so it’s not all bad.  But Craig Sheffer is neither credible nor likable as the star quarterback and there is not a single scene that won’t be seen coming.

When The Program came out in 1993, it included a scene where the team bonded by laying down in the middle of a busy street, while cars zoomed by on either side of them.  Things turned out alright for the people in the movie but, for the idiots who tried to imitate the stunt in real life, it was a different story.  It turns out that, in real life, drivers don’t always stay in their lane and, if you lay down in the middle of the street, there is a good chance that you are going to get run over.  After several deaths, the scene was taken out of the film.  If you’re going to die for a movie, do it for a movie better than The Program.

Shattered Politics #62: Bulworth (dir by Warren Beatty)


BulworthSo, if you’ve ever wondered what happened to Robert Redford’s Bill McKay after he was elected to the U.S. Senate at the end of The Candidate, I imagine that he probably ended up becoming something like the protagonist of 1998’s Bulworth, U.S. Sen. Jay Bulworth.

As played by Warren Beatty, Bulworth is a veteran senator.  A former liberal firebrand, he may still decorate his office with pictures of him meeting Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King but Bulworth sold out a long time ago.  Now, he just says whatever has to say in order to get elected, including pretending to have a happy marriage. He has become a part of everything that’s wrong with Washington.

Sick of both politics and life in general, Bulworth decides that he’d rather be dead.  But, in order to make sure that his daughter collects on his $10,000,000 life insurance policy, Bulworth cannot commit suicide.  Instead, he arranges for a contract to be taken out on his life.  In two days, Bulworth will be assassinated.

Returning to California for his campaign, Bulworth gets drunk and suddenly starts to say what he actually believes.  He attacks the Washington establishment.  He attacks the voters.  He attacks the insurance companies and comes out for single payer health insurance.  With his desperate press secretary (Oliver Platt) chasing behind him, Bulworth spends the night dancing at a club where he discovers marijuana and meets a girl named Nina (Halle Berry).

(Platt, meanwhile, discovers that he really, really likes cocaine.)

Soon, Nina and Bulworth are hiding out in the ghetto, where Bulworth meets both Nina’s brother (Isiah Washington) and local drug dealer, L.D. (Don Cheadle), and gets a lesson about how economics actually work in the ghetto.  Soon, Bulworth is appearing on CNN where he raps his new political platform and suggests that the solutions for all of America’s problems would be for everyone to just keep having sex until eventually everyone is the same color.

Of course, what Bulworth doesn’t know is that Nina also happens to be the assassin who has been contracted to kill him…

I have mixed feelings about Bulworth.  On the one hand, the film starts out strong.  You don’t have to agree with the film’s politics in order to appreciate the film’s passion,  Bulworth is an angry film and one that’s willing to say some potentially unpopular things.  It’s a film about politics that doesn’t resort to the easy solutions that were proposed by some of the other films that I’ve reviewed for Shattered Politics.  Warren Beatty does a pretty good job of portraying Bulworth’s initial mental breakdown and Oliver Platt is a manic wonder as he consumes more and more cocaine.

But, once Warren Beatty starts rapping, the film starts to fall apart and becomes a bit too cartoonish for its own good.  You get the feeling that Warren Beatty, at this point, is just trying to live out the liberal fantasy of being the only wealthy white man in America to understand what it’s like to be poor and black in America.

Bulworth starts out well but ultimately, it begins better than it ends.

Icarus Files No. 1: Cloud Atlas (dir. by The Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer)


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“My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet, what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?” — David Mitchell

Let me tell you about Icarus. He took flight with wings of feather and wax. Warned not to fly too low so as not to have the sea’s dampness clog his wings or to climb too high to have the sun melt the wax. Icarus heeded not the latter and tried to fly as close to the sun. Just as his father had warned him the wax in his wings melted as he flew too close to the sun and soon fell back to earth and into the sea.

A tale from Greek mythology that taught has taught us about ambition reaching so high that it’s bound to fail. One such ambitious failure of recent times has been the epic science fiction film Cloud Atlas directed by The Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer.

The film was adapted from the novel of the same name by author David Mitchell which looked to take six stories set in 19th-century South Pacific and right up to a distant, post-apocalyptic future. Each story’s characters and actions would connect with each other through the six different time and space. The film attempts to do what Mitchell’s novel did through several hundred dense and detailed pages.

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Just like Icarus The Wachowski and Tom Tykwer’s attempt to connect the lives and actions of all six stories amounts for what admirers and detractors can only agree on as an admirable and ambitious failure.

The film boasts a large ensemble cast led by Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant and Hugo Weaving. More than one of the actors in the cast would perform characters in each and every six interconnecting stories in the film which added a sense of rhythmic continuity to the whole affair, but also made for some very awkward and uncomfortable scenes of what could only amount to as “yellowface”. This was most evident in the story set in 22nd-century Neo Seoul, South Korea where actors such as James D’Arcy, Jim Sturgess, Keith David and Hugo Weaving have been heavily made-up to look Asian.

Cloud Atlas was and is a sprawling film that attempts to explore the theme that everything and everyone is connected through time and space. It’s how the action of one could ripple through time to have a profound effect on others which in turn would create more ripples going forward through time. The film both succeeds and fails in portraying this theme.

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It’s the film’s narrative style to tell the six stories not in a linear fashion from 19th-century to the post-apocalyptic future, but instead allow all six tales to weave in and out of each other. At times this weaving style and how it would seamlessly go from one time location to another without missing a beat made for some very powerful and emotional moments. But then it would also make these transitions in such a clunky manner that it brings one out of the very magical tale the three directors were attempting to weave and tell.

Yet, even through some of it’s many faults and failings the film does succeed in some way due to the performances of the ensemble cast. Even despite the awkwardness of the “yellowface” of the Neo Seoul sequence the actors in the scenes perform their roles such admirable fashion. One would think that someone like Tom Hanks who has become such a recognizable presence in every film he appears in wouldn’t be able to blend into each tale being shown and told, but he does so in Cloud Atlas and so does everyone else.

It helps that the film was held up from a very hard landing after reaching so high with an exquisite and beautiful symphonic score composed by Tom Tykwer, Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek. It’s a score that manages to accentuate the film’s exploration of emotions and actions rippling through time without ever becoming too maudlin and pandering to the audiences emotions.

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Cloud Atlas was hyped as the next epic science fiction film from The Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer leading up to it’s release. This hype was further built-up with thundering standing ovation during it’s screening at the 37th Toronto International Film Festival. But once the film finally was released and more critics and the general public were able to see it for themselves the reaction have been divisive. This was a film that brooked no middle-ground. One either loved it flaws and all or hated it despite what it did succeed in accomplishing amongst the failures.

Just like Icarus, Cloud Atlas and it’s three directors had high ambitions for the film. It was a goal that not many filmmakers seem to want to put themselves out on the limb for nowadays because of how monumental the failure can be if their ambitions are just too high. It’s been the reputation of The Wachowskis since they burst into the scene with their Matrix trilogy. Their eclectic and, somewhat esoteric, storytelling style have made all their films an exercise in high-risk, high reward affairs that makes no apologies whether they succeed or fail. Each of their films have a unique vision that they want to share with the world and they make no compromises in how this vision is achieved.

One could call Cloud Atlas an ambitious failure. It could also be pop, New Age psychobabble wrapped up in so-called high-art. Yet, what the two siblings and Tom Tykwer were able to achieve with the film has been nothing less by brave and daring. If more filmmakers were willing to allow their inner Icarus to fly then complaints of Hollywood and the film industry not having anymore fresh new ideas would fade.

Trash Film Guru Vs. The Summer Blockbusters : “X-Men : Days Of Future Past”


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At this point, I freely admit to being a little bit confused : X-Men : Days Of Future Past opens to a somewhat lower box office take than The Amazing Spider-Man 2 did, which was only slightly behind the opening-frame receipts generated for Captain America : The Winter Soldier, and yet Cap and the X-Men are both considered “successes,” while Spidey’s considered a “disappointment” — even though, last I checked, its’ total gross ticket sales were only about $50 million behind Cap’s despite the fact that it opened a full month later?    Chances are probably good  that it will even end up closing the gap here at some point, but no matter — the die appears to have  already been cast. The stench of that rat I mentioned smelling in my Spider-Man review a couple weeks back? It’s getting a lot stronger now.

Needless to say, I’ve got a theory as to what’s going on here, and it builds upon my theory already expounded upon in that just-mentioned prior review : Disney/Marvel actively wants the Spider-Man franchise back, but the X-Men? Not so much. At least not yet.

How else to explain this clearly-orchestrated PR campaign? Look, internet movie critics are an easy bunch to buy off : for a free ticket, or even the promise of some kind of other free swag in the future, you can get thousands of people to say whatever you want them to. And from there, you can get thousands of others to mimic the already-established meme of whether a given flick is “successful” or not, because gosh, who would dare contradict the well-established critics and box-office analysts who have already passed judgment on the merits of a particular work? For the price of probably less than $10,000 in either payments or promises, DisMar has the movie-going public right where they want us, echoing their nonsensical party line and unsupported-by-the-facts pronouncements.

Needless to say, I don’t feel like playing along — for the most part. But there’s one area where I do agree with the general consensus, even if the fix is in : X-Men : Days Of Future Past is a really good superhero flick. And that might just throw a wrench in Marvel’s “this one’s dying on the vine, let’s just wait it out and see what happens” game plan.

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Seriously, friends, this one has everything and the kitchen sink going on, but somehow returning director Bryan Singer (more on him in a minute) juggles every ball thrown in the air and makes it work : the “divergent timelines” conceit that forms the core of the plot never gets confusing even though it easily could; the action sequences are brisk and spectacular; the characters are uniformly believable and compelling; and the performances, from perhaps the most star-studded cast ever assembled for a comic-book film, are all first rate. When you’ve got Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Ellen Page, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, Nicholas Hoult, Peter Dinklage, Shawn Ashmore, Halle Berry, Michael Lerner, Booboo Stewart, Omar Sy, Kelsey Grammer, Anna Paquin, James Marsden and Famke Janssen all punching the same time clock, it goes without saying that  some are going to have more to do than others, but nobody seems intent on stealing the show for themselves, which is no mean feat considering the sheer number of sizable egos that must be involved here. Sure, the script puts most of the onus of Wolverine, the young Professor Xavier, the young Magneto, the young Beast, the young Mystique,  and the villainous Dr. Bolivar Trask, but that doesn’t mean everybody else doesn’t give their admittedly smaller parts at least a reasonable effort. Shit, I’m not sure how you even get stars of the stature of Page, Berry and Paquin to even accept what are essentially tertiary-at-best roles (does Paquin even have a line of dialogue?), but somehow they keep showing up for X-Men flicks, and in this case the place doesn’t even seem that crowded. Shit, Singer even manages to sneak in quick cameo for Wolverine co-creator Len Wein.

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In many ways what makes  Days Of Future Past so successful is that fact that it’s actually more a direct sequel to First Class (which I also thoroughly enjoyed) than it is the initial X-trilogy, and some of the continuity changes that the end results of this film apparently seal into place even seem to undo how those first three films “wound up,” but whatever — the end result here is a franchise that feels like it’s been given a new lease on life after treading water for a good half-decade or so. I mentioned just a moment ago that I really dug First Class, but you can’t get by on prequels forever. At some point a movie needed to come along that propelled the X-Men franchise forward, and this does so with plenty of style and flair.

Plus, the whole thing’s a lot of fun — sure, some of the dialogue is overly- verbose and clunky and painfully expository, but those instances are rare, and actually stand out in contrast to the general ease and flow of the rest of the film. And while the premise itself requires a heavy dose of suspension of disbelief, let’s be honest here — what super-hero movie doesn’t? At least this one rewards your willingness to go with the flow in ways that even highly-touted fare like Joss Whedon’s The Avengers (a favorite target of my ire, I admit, but only because it really does suck, no matter what anyone else thinks) could never hope to manage. Plus, audiences get a chance so see Dinklage prove that he can” bring it”  in each and every role he takes on, not just on Game Of Thrones — something those of us who have been fans of his work ever since The Station Agent have long maintained.

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In case it weren’t painfully obvious already, I thoroughly enjoyed X-Men : Days Of Future Past, and after appearing to flounder in the wake of the risible Valkyrie, my faith in Bryan Singer as a director has probably never been higher — unfortunately (here’s where that “more on him in a minute” comes in), I can’t say the same in regards to my faith in Bryan Singer as a human being. I won’t kid you — the sexual abuse allegations that have been leveled against him really bother the shit out of me. And no, it has nothing to do with Singer’s sexual orientation : I don’t care if a person is straight, gay, or somewhere in between, any and all relationships — whether serious, casual, or less than casual — between consenting adults are fine by me. Everybody likes to get laid, have at it. But age of consent laws are there for a reason, and kids and teens are, and should be, off limits to grown adults. The fact that  the “fan” community seems so eager to point out that Singer’s accuser has filed civil rather than criminal charges and that he’s apparently done so in the past is both irrelevant to the reality of what may or may not have occurred,  and represents a clear case of reprehensible victim-shaming of the highest order. Sure, everyone’s innocent until proven guilty, but assuming, or even implying, that somebody who’s been brave enough to come forward with claims this serious just has to be a liar because they’re choosing to address this issue in ways that others either don’t understand or approve of is beneath contempt. Maybe we’ll never know the whole truth of this matter, but if Singer did what’s he’s been accused of, then he’s got some serious issues and needs some serious help and sure,  I feel some amount if sympathy for whatever turmoil is boiling away inside his mind — but not half as much as I do for the teen boy (s) that he’s victimized (if he has). I don’t want to see him condemned in the court of public opinion if he’s completely innocent, but I don’t want to see his accuser condemned, either, and that’s what’s been happening. Sex between adults and those not legally deemed to be adults (in most states that’s 18, in some 16) is against the law, period, and if Singer did, in fact, engage in the sort of behavior that’s been alleged,   then I’m done with him from here on out. End of rant.

Regardless of what’s he’s done in his off-hours, though, the perhaps-tragic fact (depending on how legal proceedings play out) remains that what he’s done while on company time just can’t be denied in this case. I wish I could love X-Men : Days Of Future Past with a totally clean conscience, sure, but I can’t deny that I loved it just because it may have been directed by a guy whose personal behavior is both sleazy and illegal. It’s a complex set of circumstances to weigh in one’s mind, to be sure, but so goes life. I wish its murky waters were easier to navigate, but they never have been, and they’re never going to be.

As for the future of all things X-Men, I’ll make one easy prediction right now : when this thing hits home viewing “platforms” in a few months’ time, look for a bevy of reviews along the lines of “ya know, maybe this this isn’t quite as good as we thought at first” and “on second viewing, the flaws in this one are obvious” — not because such sentiments will be true, but because Days Of Future Past is so well-done, and opens up so many possible avenues for the franchise going forward, that Marvel’s gonna want to start one of their infamous “whisper campaigns” to try to undermine the public’s confidence in having it in “other hands” and get it back in their own  grubby, greedy paws.

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.

Is It Too Late To Hate On Movie 43?


Originally,  I wasn’t planning on ever seeing Movie 43.

Remember Movie 43?  That’s the comedy with the huge ensemble cast that came out in January and stayed in theaters for about a week.  The trailers looked terrible, the commercials looked terrible, and finally, the reviews were terrible.  In fact, the reviews were so terrible (Richard Roeper called it the Citizen Kane of bad movies) that, at first, I was perfectly content never to see it.

However, as time passed, I continually heard Movie 43 referred to as being one of the worst films ever made.  Every 12 months, I post my picks for the 26 worst films of the year and I knew that Movie 43 was one of those films that would either appear on that list or, if it didn’t, I would have to be willing to defend the title’s absence.

I realized that before I could either defend or condemn, I would have to sit through the movie.  After all, I figured, it’s only 90 minutes of my life.

90 minutes that I’ll never get back, I might add.

Movie 43 is an anthology film in which 13 separate comedic sketches are loosely linked together by one overarching story.  For the most part, this is a film that was presumably made both for adolescent boys and for men who still think like adolescent boys.  Most of the humor is derived from bodily functions and there’s a real strain of misogyny running through the entire film.  However, the film’s problem is not that it’s crude and misogynistic but that it manages to be so dull about being crude and misogynistic.  If you think its hilarious when Meg is insulted on Family Guy or when Seth McFarlane smirks after making an anti-Semitic comment, you might enjoy Movie 43 but the rest of us are going to find far less to enjoy.

Oddly enough, there are actually two different versions of Movie 43 in circulation.  In the version that was released in U.S. theaters, the various vignettes are tied together by a story in which an insane director (Dennis Quaid) pitches scene after scene to a callous movie executive (Greg Kinnear).  In the version that was released in the UK, they’re linked together by a story about 3 teenagers searching for the most offensive film ever made.  To be honest, both versions are pretty stupid but I prefer the one about the 3 teenagers, if just because that way I can pretend that neither Dennis Quaid nor Greg Kinnear had anything to do with this movie.

As for the sketches themselves, there’s 13 of them and they are a mixed bag as far as both humor and quality are concerned:

1)      The Catch (dir by Peter Farrelly)

Kate Winslet and Hugh Jackman go on a blind date.  Jackman has testicles hanging from his neck and only Winslet thinks this is an odd thing.  This skit goes on forever.

2)      Homeschooled (dir by Will Graham)

Liev Schreiber and Naomi Watts explain how they’re making sure that their teenage son is getting the full high school experience despite the fact that he’s being homeschooled.  They do this through a combination of hazing and incest.  This skit worked pretty well, mostly because of the dedication that Schreiber and Watts brought to their absurd roles.

3)      The Proposition (dir by Steve Carr)

Uhmm…yeah.  So, this is the skit that opens with Anna Faris asking Chris Pratt to defecate on her.  I skipped over it because, quite frankly, life is too short.

4)      Veronica (dir by Griffin Dunne)

Neil (Kieran Culkin) is working the night shift at a depressing grocery store when his ex-girlfriend Veronica (Emma Stone) comes in.  They argue about who infected who with an STD.  Little do they realize that Neil has accidentally turned on the intercom and everyone in the store can hear them.  I actually kind of liked this short skit.  Culkin and Stone had a lot of chemistry and it was well-directed by Griffin Dunne.  Plus, it only lasted 2 minutes and, therefore, ended before the joke got old.

5)      iBabe (dir by Stephen Brill)

The iBabe is an MP3 player that happens to look like a life-size nude woman.  Unfortunately, a fan was built into the iBabe’s vagina and now, teenage boys are being dismembered while fingering and fucking iBabe.  Richard Gere plays the President of the company that makes iBabe.  I’ve never thought of Richard Gere as being a comedic actor and his performance here does nothing to change that.

6)      Superhero Speed Dating (directed by James Duffy)

Robin (Justin Long) goes speed dating and Batman (Jason Sudekis) tries to mess things up for him.  This skit – which also features (and wastes) Uma Thurman, Kristen Bell, and Bobby Cannavale – is so incredibly bad that I don’t even know where to begin.  Between this film and his appearance in last year’s The Conspirator, I’m having to rethink my slight crush on Justin Long.

7)      Machine Kids (directed by Jonathan Von Tulleken)

This commercial parody asks us to consider the children who work inside copiers and vending machines and how they are effected when we criticize those machines for not accepting our dollar.  This was actually so weird that I couldn’t help but love it.

8)      Middleschool Date (dir by Elizabeth Banks)

7th grader Amanda (Chloe Moretz) is having her first “middle school” date with Nathan (Jimmy Bennett) when she starts her first period.  In response, Nathan and his older brother (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) panic.  Believe it or not, this was actually one of the better parts of Movie 43, if just because the scene’s humor comes not from Amanda getting her period but instead from how every male around her descends into histrionics as a result.   It helps that this was the only part of Movie 43 that was both written and directed by women.  It also helps that director Elizabeth Banks is so clearly on Amanda’s side.  The end result is one of the few moments in Movie 43 that doesn’t feel misogynistic. 

9)      Tampax (dir by Patrik Forsberg)

This is another fake commercial.  Two girls are at the beach.  One uses tampax tampons and the other doesn’t.  Guess which one gets eaten by a shark?  As opposed to the previous skit, this bit of menstrual humor was obviously written and directed by a man (and the message, not surprisingly, is “Ewww!  Girls are scary and dangerous!”) but I’m going to have to admit that this one made me laugh if just because, like Middleschool Date, it reminded me of some of the period horror stories that I used to hear (and believe) back when I was younger.  (Though I was raised to be more concerned about bears than sharks…)

10)  Happy Birthday (dir by that noted comedian, Brett Ratner)

Pete (Johnny Knoxville) kidnaps an angry leprechaun (Gerard Butler) and gives it to Brian (Seann William Scott).  The leprechaun’s equally angry brother (also played by Gerard Butler) shows up and violence ensues.  Watching this skit was like being told a joke by someone who has no sense of humor.

11)  Truth or Dare (dir by Peter Farelly and Patrik Forsberg)

Halle Berry and Stephen Merchant are on a first date and Merchant has testicles on his neck…oh wait.  Sorry, that was Hugh Jackman and Kate Winslet’s skit.  In this skit, Berry challenges Merchant to game of truth or dare.  It escalates as the dares get continually more and more outrageous.  Whoops?  Did I say outrageous?  I meant to say stupid and oddly dull.  Watching this skit was like listening to a someone who has no sense of humor continue to tell a joke even though everyone else has already guessed the punchline.

12)  Victory’s Glory (dir by Rusty Cundieff)

In this parody of “inspirational” sports movies, Coach Jackson (Terrence Howard) speaks to his basketball team before they play their first game against an all-white team.  The gist of the speech is that Jackson’s team is going to win because they’re black and the other team is white.  This skit started out strong but, like a lot of Movie 43, it ran on for a bit too long.

13)  Beezel (dir by James Gunn)

This was actually my favorite part of Movie 43.  Unfortunately, since Beezel shows up in the middle of the end credits, I get the feeling that a lot of disappointed audience members had probably already walked out of the theater before it even began.  Beezel is a cartoon cat who has an unhealthy obsession with his owner (Josh Duhamel).  When Duhamel’s girlfriend (played by Elizabeth Banks) catches Beezel masturbating to pictures of Duhamel in a swimsuit, Beezel responds by plotting her demise.  Beezel was actually the only part of Movie 43 that truly felt edgy and unpredictable.  This is largely because this segment was directed by James Gunn, one of the few truly transgressive artists currently working in mainstream film.

So, here’s the question: is Movie 43 the worst film of 2013 as so many critics have claimed?  A few isolated moments aside, Movie 43 is pretty bad.  Even the parts of the film that do work can’t hope to compete with the pure horrifying incompetence of that parts that don’t.  However, thanks largely to James Gunn and Elizabeth Banks, it’s still a smidgen or so better than Tyler Perry’s Temptation.  (For all of its failings, Movie 43 never suggests that AIDS is God’s way of punishing wives who stray.  Nope, for that message, you have to go to Tyler Perry.)

Movie 43 is not the worst film of 2013.

It just seems like it.

James Bond Review: Die Another Day


Leading up to the North American release of the latest James Bond feature film, Skyfall, The Shattered Lens is reviewing each and every James Bond film in the history of the franchise. Today’s film is the controversial Die Another Day, the twentieth film in the James Bond franchise, and the final such film to feature Pierce Brosnan in the titular role as 00-agent James Bond. Despite launching to mixed reviews – particularly overseas, where it generated significantly negative reaction in North and South Korea – it was at the time the highest grossing Bond film of all time.

Our cold open for this film has us in North Korea. There, 007 is assuming the identity of a diamond smuggler who is assisting a North Korean Colonel, Tan-Sun Moon, in laundering blood diamonds as part of an ongoing search for advanced military hardware. In order to bypass the landmines of the Korean Demilitarized Zone, the good Colonel has constructed an entire army of hover vehicles which can cross the region without triggering the mines, allowing for a land invasion of South Korea. Bond proceeds with the exchange, but is identified by Zao (Rick Yune), Colonel Moon’s right hand man. Bond triggers an explosion which badly disfigures Zao’s face, which becomes embedded with dozens of diamonds. Colonel Moon attempts to escape on a hovercraft, and Bond pursues him, eventually chasing the Colonel off the edge of a waterfall, apparently killing him. Afterward, Bond is captured by General Moon, the Colonel’s father, and is imprisoned.

After over a year of imprisonment and torture, Bond is traded during a prisoner exchange for Zao. Upon returning to MI6, M (Dame Judi Dench) tells Bond that his 00-status has been suspended. Both she and the Americans believe that Bond cracked under torture and revealed classified information, necessitating the prisoner exchange that brought him back. However, the release of Zao leaves both M and Bond extremely bitter. Determined to recapture Zao, Bond evades MI6’s security and disappears. He travels to Hong Kong, seeking a way back into North Korea, but his contact there informs him that Zao has attempted to disappear in Cuba and provides him with the necessaries to travel there instead.

After he arrives in Havana, Cuba, Bond investigates a clinic there which specializes in gene therapy that is virtually unknown in the first world. Bond’s local contact describes it as prolonging the lives of their leading citizens, and the richest folks in the West, but Bond also learns that the gene therapy would allow a person to totally restructure their appearance and assume a whole new identity. During his investigation, he meets a woman who introduces herself as Jinx (Halle Berry) who, initially unknown to Bond, is an NSA agent on a similar investigation, albeit one with presumably very different goals. Bond locates Zao inside the clinic, and a chase ensues. Although Zao ultimately manages to escape by helicopter (and Jinx in dramatic fashion by diving off the sea wall and boarding a waiting boat which drives her off), Bond recovers a pendant left behind by Zao. Upon unscrewing it, Bond discovers a cache of diamonds. Upon inspection, the diamonds are chemically identical to diamonds found in Sierra Leone, but they bear the identifying mark of a diamond mine owned by a British billionaire and thrill seeker, Gustav Graves (Toby Stephens). Bond is determined to investigate.

This forms the basis of the remaining plot. Our set pieces this time aren’t quite so varied, as much of the remaining story plays out in Iceland, where Graves’ diamond mine is situated, and where he has constructed a special ice hotel for the purpose of a technology convention. Eventually, we return to Korea, for a final showdown that seems somehow empty, despite the increasingly high stakes in terms of both explosions and technology.

The truth, ultimately, is that Die Another Day is a bit of a mess. It has a seemingly incessant procession of action sequences, but they raise the stakes primarily through CGI and improbable wizardry, in a way that threatens our suspend disbelief. I know that this is Bond, and that in 80s-early 00s Bond very much fell into the trap (who didn’t?) of ‘bigger and better’. However, this film takes things a bit too far in my estimation. Its villains aren’t quite as fun as the ones in the past two films (well, Mr. Stamper is kind of a drag I suppose), and don’t really fit the Bond mold. The story is pretty straightforward, but probably doesn’t receive quite the treatment that it deserves to get us established in it. The interactions between Bond and M are a bit too stiff, and I say that even keeping in mind tomorrow’s review piece, Casino Royale. There’s something about Die Another Day that made me think everyone involved was just going through the motions, like a sense of fatigue just hung over the proceedings. It was a bit of a bummer.

As for the women of Bond, Die Another Day actually has a lot to recommend. Breaking convention, this section is heavy with spoilers, but I’m going to risk it just this once. Don’t read on if you’re new to this film and planning to watch it!

Die Another Day continues to feature Dame Judi Dench as a pleasantly strong and uncompromising intelligence chief (I probably haven’t made enough of how much I enjoy her in the role of M in my reviews up to this point). In addition, we’re treated to Halle Berry as Jinx, an ass-kicking NSA agent who seems to do a lot of getting outmaneuvered and captured for being so adept. I didn’t care for Berry’s performance in this film, and I’d be lying if I said she stacked up well against Tomorrow Never Dies’ Michelle Yeoh as a Chinese intelligence agent. Still, compared to some of the other Bond girls, Berry is definitely a warrior. The other major female character, however, is Miranda Frost (Rosamund Pike), a frigid and beautiful MI6 agent… actually, a double agent, who betrayed Bond in the cold open. Pike’s character definitely gives off the edge of competence and deadliness that I, for one, am rooting for in female characters in any Bond movie, and she sells it well. Unfortunately, she’s not nearly as fun as Elektra King, as her motivations are completely unexplored and she just feels like an add-on to the existing plot surrounding some dangerous North Koreans.

Overall, this is probably not one of the better Bond films, though I’d argue that it doesn’t deserve the bad rap that some have given it either. It’s not a terrible film, just overwrought in a kind of Michael Bay way that undermines the characters and concepts. This is a common complaint of all four Pierce Brosnan films, especially, as well as some of the Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton efforts. However, this is the one that I most agree with that assessment of. This film really gets out of control with effects and gadgetry.

That’s it for today’s review. I leave you with the theme from Die Another Day, performed by Madonna. Tomorrow’s review will be of 2006’s Casino Royale.

Trailer: Cloud Atlas (Extended Trailer)


We’ve been getting quite a bit of hype for the fall and holiday releases of 2012 but for some reason one film that should’ve been on more people’s radar seem to have gone unnoticed until this week when an extended trailer for the film was released to the public. It’s the film adaptation of David Mitchell’s epic sci-fi novel Cloud Atlas.

The film is directed by Lana Wachowski (formerly Larry Wachowski), Andy Wachowski and German-filmmaker Tom Tykwer. It’s a film that has a cast which includes Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Jim Sturgess and Susan Sarandon for starters. The story looks to stay faithful to the original novel source which interweaves six different stories spanning time from the 19th-century all the way to a post-apocalyptic far future.

It’s going to be interesting whether the Wachowskis and Tykwer will be able to keep these six stories from becoming too confusing for the general audience to follow. Most important of all will be if these filmmakers will be able to create an entertaining film out of a novel heavy on themes and ideas. One thing the trailer sure points out is that the Wachowskis haven’t lost their touch when it comes to the visual side of filmmaking.

Cloud Atlasis set for an October 26, 2012 release date.