The Things You Find On Netflix: The Laundromat (dir by Steven Soderbergh)


To say that Meryl Streep gives a bad performance in The Laundromat actually does a disservice to your average, run-of-the-mill bad performance.

Meryl Streep instead gives an absolutely terrible performance in The Laundromat, playing not one, not two, but three characters.  One of the characters is Ellen Martin, a middle-class widow from Michigan whose attempts to collect a fair settlement after the death of her husband provides a portal in the world of shady con men and corrupt financial institutions.  One of the characters is a secret, which means that Meryl wears a lot of make-up and frumpy clothes.  That said, from the minute the character appeared on screen, I went, “Oh, there’s Meryl again.”  Then, in her third role, Meryl plays herself, demanding campaign finance reform and striking a Statue of Liberty pose while holding a hairbrush instead of a torch.

Really, it’s the type of horrendous performance that could only be delivered by a truly great actress.  (If Meryl Streep is the modern Norma Shearer, this is her Romeo and Juliet.)  Watching Meryl Streep play the role of Ellen, It occurred to me that Meryl is one of those actresses who is incapable of being authentic but who can certainly act the Hell out of pretending to be authentic.  You never forget that Meryl Streep is acting and that’s one reason why her best performances are usually the ones where she’s playing theatrical characters, whether they’re politicians like Margaret Thatcher, celebrities like Julia Child, or the Witch in Into the Woods.  But when you cast Meryl as someone who is basically supposed to be a member of the “common people,” it just doesn’t work.  Laura Dern, Laurie Metcalf, Allison Janney, even Annette Bening probably could have done a decent job playing Ellen Martin but Meryl is just too Meryl.  As for her other two performances in The Laundromat, they don’t work because one is meant to be a joke on the audience and the other is just a retread of her standard “I’m just a middle class woman from New Jersey and I love the little people” awards show speech.

Of course, The Laundromat itself is a remarkably bad film.  Again, it takes a lot of talent to make a film this bad.  Watching the film, I found myself wondering why, at this point in his celebrated career, Steven Soderbergh would decide to become a second-rate Adam McKay, especially when McKay himself is just a third-rate Jean-Luc Godard?  The film is structured so that, while Ellen is obsessing on why she’s getting screwed over by the insurance companies, we’re also treated to scenes of Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas talking directly to the camera and explaining to use why the poor are always going to get screwed over by the rich.  That’s probably true but the film gets so heavy-handed in its execution that the resulting migraine is going to be due less to outrage and more due to the sledgehammer that Soderbergh takes to your head.

Along with Ellen’s story, we also get to see several other stories featuring people and their money.  Jeffrey Wright is a crooked accountant who has two families.  And then there’s an African businessman who bribes his wife and daughter with shares in a non-existent company and then we take a trip to China, where we learn about cyanide and organ harvesting. And yes, I get it.  It shows how a crime committed in China is ultimately felt by a widow living in Michigan.  But one can’t help but wish that Soderbergh had just focuses on one story, instead of trying to imitate the worst moments of The Big Short.

Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas are technically playing the film’s villains but they’re both so charming that The Laundromat at times seems like more of a recruiting film for aspiring money launderers than anything else.  (To continue the Adam McKay comparison, it’s a bit like how Vice actually left audiences feeling sympathy for Dick Cheney as opposed to writing petitions to send to The Hague.)  It desperately wants to leave us outraged but Soderbegh gets so caught up in his own cutesy storytelling techniques that it just leaves us feeling somewhat annoyed.  Watching the film, one gets the feeling that the perfect directors for The Laundromat would have been the Coen Brothers, who are capable of outrage but whose detached style would have kept them from bludgeoning the audience with it.  Soderbergh is too angry to be effective.

As I said, there’s a lot of talented people involved in The Laundromat.  It’s full of people who have done great work in the past and who will do great work in the future.  As for The Laundromat, it’s a legitimate contender for the biggest disappointment of the year.

Playing Catch-Up With The Films of 2017: Marshall (dir by Reginald Hudlin)


So, here I am.  January is nearly over.  The Oscar nominations have already been announced.  2018 is well under way and yet, I still have 158 films on the DVR that I need to watch and a few 2017 releases that I still need to catch up on.  At this point, I’ve accepted that I’ll probably never truly be “caught up” when it comes to watching movies.  But, that’s okay.  I love movies too much to ever regret having an excuse to watch more.

On Wednesday night, I watched Marshall, which came out last October.  A film about the early life of civil rights activist and future Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall, Marshall seemed like a movie that would perfectly capitalize on the current political atmosphere.  The film starred Josh Gad and Chadwick Boseman and a lot of people — including me — assumed that the excitement over Boseman as Black Panther would also translate into excitement over a chance to see him in this film.  (For that matter, Josh Gad has also recently been proving himself to be a far better actor than I originally believed him to be.  Never again will I refer to Gad as being the poor man’s Jonah Hill.)  The film’s reviews were respectable.  Quite a few sites, including this one, listed Marshall as being a potential Oscar nominee.

And yet, when the movie was released, it fell flat at the box office.  On the week of its release, it finished in 11th place.  I guess there’s a lot of reasons for that.  Personally, I think it would have done better if the film had been released in November or December.  In a month that is traditionally dominated by horror movies and the last gasps of a few summer blockbusters, Marshall seemed somewhat out-of-place.  Perhaps Marshall would have stood a better chance if it had been given a limited release in December, with a big awards push for Chadwick Boseman.  Who knows?  As it is, it ended up losing money and it only received one Oscar nomination, for best original song.

Having now watched Marshall, I can say it’s a good movie, though perhaps never quite as good as you want it to be.  It takes place in 1940.  After making a name for himself defending blacks in the South, attorney Thurgood Marshall travels to Connecticut to defend a black chauffeur (Sterling K. Brown) who has been accused of raping a white woman (Kate Hudson).  It soon becomes obvious that Northern justice is just as corrupted by bigotry as Southern justice.  A racist judge (James Cromwell) rules that Marshall will not be allowed to even speak in court.  Marshall ends up advising the chauffeur’s attorney, an insurance lawyer named Sam Friedman (Josh Gad).  All of Sam’s friends expect him to just make a deal with the smug prosecutor (Dan Stevens) and move on.  However, Sam believe his client to be not guilty and, with Marshall’s help, is determined to win an acquittal.

Director Reginald Hudlin never seems to be quite what type of movie he’s trying to make.  Sometimes, the film feels like a reverent biopic.  Other time, it’s an old-fashioned courtroom drama, complete with different flashbacks depending on who is doing the testifying.  And then other times, Marshall is an extremely stylish film that almost turns Thurgood Marshall into a comic book super hero.  Fortunately, Chadwick Boseman is such a talented and charismatic actor that he holds all of the disparate elements of the film together.  Not only does Boseman bring intelligence and righteous anger to the role, he also brings a sense of fun.  As played by Boseman, Marshall isn’t just outsmarting a prejudiced system and putting racists in their place.  He’s also having a good time while he’s doing it.  Boseman is a lot of fun to watch and he gets good support from Josh Gad and Sterling K. Brown.

Marshall may not be a perfect film but Chadwick Boseman is always watchable.  The excitement over Black Panther has proven that Boseman is a star but Marshall shows that he’s a pretty good actor as well.

Dead Pigeons Make Easy Targets: THE CHEAP DETECTIVE (Columbia 1978)


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THE CHEAP DETECTIVE could easily be subtitled “Neil Simon Meets MAD Magazine”. The playwright and director Robert Moore had scored a hit with 1976’s MURDER BY DEATH, spoofing screen PI’s Charlie Chan, Sam Spade, and Nick & Nora Charles, and now went full throttle in sending up Humphrey Bogart movies. Subtle it ain’t, but film buffs will get a kick out of the all-star cast parodying THE MALTESE FALCON, CASABLANCA , TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT, and THE BIG SLEEP .

Peter Falk  does his best Bogie imitation as Lou Peckinpaugh, as he did in the previous film. When Lou’s partner Floyd Merkle is killed, Lou finds himself in a FALCON-esque plot involving some rare Albanian Eggs worth a fortune. Madeline Kahn , John Houseman, Dom De Luise , and Paul Williams stand in for Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, and Elisha Cook Jr, respectively, and they milk it for every…

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A Movie A Day #204: Tank (1984, directed by Marvin Chomsky)


If you had just moved to a small town in Georgia and your teenage son was framed for marijuana possession and sentenced to years of hard labor, what would you do?

Would you hire a good lawyer and file appeal after appeal?

Would you go to the media and let them know that the corrupt sheriff and his evil deputy are running a prostitution ring and the only reason your son is in prison is because you dared to call them out on their corruption?

Or would you get in a World War II-era Sherman tank and drive it across Georgia, becoming a folk hero in the process?

If you are Sgt. Zack Carey (James Garner), you take the third option.  Sgt. Carey is only a few months from retirement but he is willing to throw that all away to break his son (C. Thomas Howell) out of prison and expose the truth about Sheriff Buelton (G.D. Spradlin) and Deputy Euclid Baker (James Cromwell, playing a redneck).  Helping Sgt. Carey out are a prostitute (Jenilee Harrison), Carey’s wife (Shirley Jones), and the citizens of Georgia, who lines the road to cheer the tank as it heads for the Georgia/Kentucky border.  It’s just like the O.J. Bronco chase, with James Garner in the role of A.C. Cowlings.

The main thing that Tank has going for it is that tank.  Who has not fantasized about driving across the country in a tank and blowing up police cars along the way?  James Garner is cool, too, even if he is playing a role that would be better suited for someone like Burt Reynolds.  Tank really is Smoky and the Bandit with a tank in the place of that trans am.  Personally, I would rather have the trans am but Tank is still entertaining.  Dumb but entertaining.

One final note, a piece of political trivia: According to the end credits, the governor of Georgia was played by Wallace Willkinson.  At first, I assumed this was the same Wallace Wilkinson who later served as governor of Kentucky.  It’ not.  It turns out that two men shared the same name.  It’s just a coincidence that one played a governor while the other actually became a governor.

A Movie A Day #140: The Rescue (1988, directed by Ferdinand Fairfax)


A group of Navy SEALs enter North Korea on a mission to destroy a submarine that has fallen into Kim Il-sung’s hands.  They destroy the submarine but are captured before they can safely cross the border back into South Korea.  With the SEALs facing a show trial and probable public execution, Admiral Rothman (James Cromwell) draws up a plan to rescure them.  The U.S. government, not wanting to escalate the situation, shoots down the plan.  (Americans giving up?  Is Carter still president?)  However, Rothman’s nerdy son, Max (Marc Price), gets a hold of the plan.  Before you can say “Why didn’t anyone else think of this?”, he and the children of the SEALs are sneaking into North Korea and rescuing their fathers!

This is a pure 1980s film.  Like Red Dawn, it shows that America is such a great country that even our teenagers are stronger than the average well-armed communist.  Of the actors playing the rescuers, the best known is Kevin Dillon.  He plays the rebel who smokes cigarettes and rides a motorcycle.  Though their relationship may be strained, his father (Edward Albert) is still happy when Dillon suddenly shows up in North Korea.  Soon, father and son are working together to blow up America’s enemies.  This movie’s about as dumb as they come and it’s another example of Hollywood presenting North Korea as just being the junior varsity version of China but it’s also undeniably entertaining, especially if you don’t care about things like plausibility.  Watch it the next time that Kim Jong-un threatens to blow you up.  Who needs Chuck Norris when you’ve got Kevin Dillon?

 

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #106: The Queen (dir by Stephen Frears)


The_Queen_movieIt recently occurred to me that, if you were so inclined, you could reconstruct the entire history of the British royal family by watching movies that have been nominated for best picture.

You would start, of course, by watching Becket.  Then you’d move on to The Lion In Winter.  After The Lion in Winter, you’ll enjoy a double feature of Ivanhoe and The Adventures of Robin Hood.  After that, it’s time to watch Henry V.   When it comes to Henry VIII, you’ve actually got three films to choose from: The Private Life of Henry VIII, A Man For All Seasons, or Anne of The Thousand Days.  I suggest that you go with the Private Life of Henry VIII and then follow it up with a double feature of Elizabeth and Shakespeare in Love.  After that, you’ll jump forward in time a bit.  You’ll watch The Madness of King George and Mrs. Brown because, even though neither was nominated for best picture, they both feature Oscar-nominated royal performances.  Finally, you’ll watch Chariots of Fire and The King’s Speech.  And, after all of that, you’ll end things by watching the 2006 Best Picture nominee The Queen.

And what a way to end!  The Queen is perhaps the best of the many Oscar-nominated films to be made about British royalty.  While the Queen is rightly known for being the film that finally won the great Helen Mirren an Oscar, it’s also a witty and frequently poignant look at how a group of entrenched people are forced to adapt to a changing world.  It’s a film that works not just because Helen Mirren gives a good performance in the role of Queen Elizabeth II but also because she humanizes Elizabeth, turning her into a character to whom viewers can relate.

The film opens with the death of Princess Diana in Paris.  As the world mourns, the British royal family struggles with how to deal with the tragedy.  Prince Charles (Alex Jennings) worries about the well-being of his sons.  Prince Philip (James Cromwell) is rather haughtily unconcerned with how the general public feels about Diana or the rest of the royal family.  The Queen Mother (Syliva Syms) continues to insist that the Royal Family is just as important as it has always been.  Only Queen Elizabeth (Helen Mirren) seems to truly understand that the Royal Family cannot continue to cut itself off from the rest of the world.  Even though Elizabeth understands that the world outside of Buckingham Palace has changed, she’s still unsure about what her place in this new world will be.

Of course, not only does Elizabeth have to adjust with the changing values of the British public but she also has to deal with a new prime minister.  Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) has been swept into office, pledging that he’s going to “modernize” British society.  While the politically savvy Blair is determined to treat Elizabeth with respect, some of his closest advisers do little to disguise the contempt with which they view the royal family.  This include Tony’s own wife, Cherie (Helen McCrory).

And so, while self-styled reformer Blair finds himself in the strange position of defending tradition, Elizabeth tries to figure whether those traditions still matter in changing times.

The Queen is a film that demands an intelligent audience, one that is capable of enjoying a film based solely on the basis of good acting and intelligent dialogue.  The Queen‘s triumph is that it humanizes an iconic figure and reminds us that even the biggest events are both historical and personal.  I have no idea whether the real Elizabeth is anything like the character played by Helen Mirren but I certainly hope she is.

2014 in Review: The Best of Lifetime and SyFy


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Hello there and welcome to January!

This is the time of year that the Shattered Lens usually takes one final look back at the best and worst of the previous year’s offerings in cinema, television, literature, and music!  Last year, I kicked things off by taking a look at the best that the SyFy network had to offer.

Unfortunately, SyFy didn’t produce as many original films in 2014 as they did in 2013.

However, my beloved Lifetime network remained a consistent showcase for some of the best and worst melodrama that one could hope for.

With that in mind, here are my nominees for the best films and performances that were featured on either the SyFy or the Lifetime network last year!  As always, winners are listed in bold.

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Best Film

Battle of the Damned

Flowers in the Attic

Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever

*Lizzie Borden Took An Axe*

Sharknado 2

Starving in Suburbia

Best Actress

Kate Beckinsale in The Trials of Cate McCall

Maria Bello in Big Driver

Annie Heise in The Good Mistress

Tara Reid in Sharknado 2

*Christina Ricci in Lizzie Borden Took An Axe*

Kierna Shipka in Flowers in the Attic

Best Supporting Actress

Kendra Anderson in The Good Mistress

*Ellen Burstyn in Flowers in the Attic*

Clea DuVall in Lizzie Borden Took An Axe

Heather Graham in Petals on the Wind

Tina Ivlev in Death Clique

Izabella Miko in Starving in Suburbia

Best Actor

Trevor Donavon in Bermuda Tentacles

Mason Dye in Flowers in the Attic

Michael Keaton in Blindsided

Dolph Lundgren in Battle of the Damned

Patrick Muldoon in Finders Keepers

*Ian Ziering in Sharknado 2*

Best Supporting Actor

James Cromwell in The Trials of Cate McCall

David Field in Battle of the Damned

*Griff Furst in Status Unknown*

Judd Hirsch in Sharknado 2

Mark McGrath in Sharknado 2

John Savage in Bermuda Tentacles

Best Director

Doug Campbell for Death Clique

Deborah Chow for Flowers in the Attic

Anthony C. Ferrante for Sharknado 2

*Nick Gomez for Lizzie Borden Got An Axe*

Christopher Hutton for Battle of the Damned

Tara Miele for Starving in Suburbia

Best Screenplay

Kayla Alpert for Flowers in the Attic

Tim Hill and Jeff Morris for Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever

Stephen Kay for Lizzie Borden Took An Axe

Thunder Levin for Sharknado 2

*Tara Miele for Starving in Suburbia*

Griff Furst and Marcy Holland for Status Unknown

Flowers in the Attic

Tomorrow, I’ll continue my look back at 2014 by revealing my picks for the 16 worst films of 2014!

Previous Entries in Our Look Back At 2014:

Things That I Dug In 2014 Off The Top Of My Head