Playing Catch-Up With The Films of 2018: The 15:17 To Paris (dir by Clint Eastwood)


As we all know, October is the month when we usually ignore everything but the horror genre here at the Shattered Lens.  However, I’m going to briefly interrupt our horrorthon to say a few words about The 15:17 to Paris.

Directed by Clint Eastwood, The 15:17 to Paris is a film about the 2015 Thalys train attack.  This was when a terrorist named Ayoub El Khazzani opened fire on a train that was heading from Amsterdam to Paris.  He wounded three passengers and probably would have killed countless more (there were over 500 people on the train) if he had not been subdued by three American friends, one British passenger, and a French train driver.  The 15:17 to Paris focuses on the three Americans, Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler, and Alex Skarlatos.

When the film was released on February 9th, it got middling reviews and was considered to be a box office disappointment.  Myself, I saw it the first week of March, just a few days before Jeff and I left for a two-week stay in the UK.  I meant to review it when we returned to America but I just never got around to it.  However, about a week ago the film made its cable debut and seeing as how Clint Eastwood has a second film coming out this year that might be the Oscar contender that his first film probably won’t be, I figured now is as good a time as any to defend The 15:17 To Paris.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  The 15:17 to Paris is not a great film by any stretch of the imagination.  In fact, the film’s first line of dialogue — in which Anthony Sadler, in voice over, says that he knows we’re probably wondering why “a brother like me” is hanging out with two white guys — made me cringe so hard that I was worried I might sink into my seat and never be able to escape.  Sadler, Spencer Stone, and Alex Skarlatos all play themselves in the movie and none of them comes across as being a natural actor.  They may be heroes but they aren’t movie stars.

And yet, the fact that none of them are stars is also the film’s greatest strength.  Throughout the film, Eastwood emphasizes how totally and completely average Sadler, Skarlatos, and Stone are.  None of them really get the type of “hero shots” that one normally expects to see in a film like this.  Instead, Eastwood continually reminds us that they’re just three friends who happened to be on the train when the shooting started.  They put their own lives at risk to take the shooter down and they also provided first aid to a man who had been shot.  Whether they have movie star charisma or not, they still saved countless lives.  The film’s point is that you don’t have to be Chris Pratt or Chris Evans to be a hero.  You can just be Chris from across the street.  You just have to be someone willing to do the right thing at the right time.  It’s a sincere and heartfelt message and it’s one that comes across specifically because Eastwood cast three nonprofessionals.

The film starts with a lengthy sequence that depicts the childhoods of the three lifelong friends.  It’s kind of a strange sequence, largely because almost all of the supporting roles are filled by talented actors who are best known for their comedic work on television.  Thomas Lennon plays a high school principal while Tony Hale shows up as a coach.  Even Jaleel White (!) has a role as a teacher who gives the boys advice on self-defense.  When the childhood scenes work, it’s largely due to the performances of Jenna Fischer and Judy Greer, who plays the mothers of Alex and Spencer.  But whenever Fischer and Greer aren’t around, the childhood scenes are a bit too slow and awkward.

However, once Sadler, Skarlatos, and Stone are on that train, the film definitely picks up.  Whatever awkwardness that the three nonprofessionals may have exhibited earlier in the movie disappears as they spring to action and they recreate their responses to the attack on the train.  It’s here that Eastwood’s no-nonsense approach to storytelling definitely pays off, as he recreates the train attack without any of the showy tricks that you might expect from other directors.  Instead, Eastwood allows things to play-out naturally.  Like the passengers on that train, all we can do is watched as the three men rush the gunman.

The 15:17 to Paris may not be one of Eastwood’s best films but it’s hardly the disaster that it was made out to be.  Instead, it’s a sincere and unapologetically old-fashioned celebration of heroism and doing the right thing.

An Olympic Film Review: Blades of Glory (dir by Josh Gordon and Will Speck)


All good things must come to an end and the Winter Olympics have done just that.  Tonight, here in the States, NBC will wrap up their coverage of the Games and they’ll broadcast the Closing Ceremonies.  As NBC tends to do, they’ll pretend that they’re broadcasting live but the truth of the matter is that the Winter Games are over and now we’ll have to wait two years for the far-less exciting Summer Games.

I enjoyed the Winter Olympics this year.  I was one of those obsessive people who would watch all of the recaps at one in the morning.  Medal-wise, Norway dominated with a total of 39 medals.  The United States came in fourth with only 23 medals but that’s still 22 more medals than Latvia got!  (Just kidding, we love you, Latvia!)  Overall, though, it was a pretty good Olympics.

That said, there were a few things missing.

For instance, no one attempted to recreate JFK’s affair with Marilyn Monroe on ice.  I thought that was definitely a missed opportunity.

There weren’t any frantic chase scenes.  No mascots were injured over the course of the Olympics.  I guess we should be happy about that, all things considered.  Still, it’s hard not to feel that this break with Olympic tradition left something lacking in the games.

Finally, none of the skating routines featured the risk of decapitation.  Again, I guess this is a good thing.  I mean, we really don’t want to see anyone lose their head, especially not when the games are being broadcast across the world.  But again, it was hard not to feel that lack of the Iron Lotus was unfortunate.

In short, the Winter Olympics may have been good but they were nothing like the 2007 film, Blades of Glory. 

Blades of Glory tells the story of two very different ice skaters.  Jon Heder is Jimmy McElroy, who was adopted by a hyper-competitive, kinda creepy millionaire (William Fichtner) and practically raised to become a gold medalist.  Will Ferrell is Chazz Michael Michaels, who is a hard-drinking, hard-living, sex addict.  Jimmy is all about technical perfection.  He’s a non-threatening, almost child-like celebrity, the type who has earned himself his own obsessive stalker (Nick Swardson).  Chazz is, on the other hand, is a self-styled rock star, as well as being something of an idiot.  In 2002, when they both tie for the gold, they get into an argument that 1) leads to a mascot getting set on fire, 2) brings shame upon the “World Winter Games,” and 3) leads to them getting banned from men’s single competition.

But, as Jimmy’s stalker figures out, that doesn’t mean that they can’t compete in pair skating!  The former rivals may loathe each other but it’s either that or a future of skating in cheap ice shows and working in retail!  Under the guidance of their burned-out coach (Craig T. Nelson), Jimmy and Chazz learn to work together.  And what better way to win the gold than to do an extremely dangerous maneuver that could potentially lead to one of them losing his head?

However, not everyone is happy to see Chazz and Jimmy return to competition.  The reigning champions — Straz and Fairchild Van Waldenberg (Amy Poehler and Will Arnett, who were still married when they played creepy siblings in this film) — have no intention of allowing themselves to be upstaged.  And if that means using their younger sister (Jenna Fischer) to try to drive a wedge between Chazz and Jimmy, so be it…

So, obviously, Blades of Glory is not a serious look at the world of ice skating.  The plot is really just an excuse to highlight the absurdity of putting people who clearly don’t belong there on the ice.  This is another Will Ferrell comedy where the majority of the laughs come from the absolute dedication that Ferrell brings to playing an almost absurdly stupid human being.  Ferrell has the ability to deliver even the most nonsensical of dialogue with total sincerity and conviction.  In Blades of Glory, he’s well-matched by Jon Heder, who brings his own odd style to the role of Jimmy.  If Ferrell is all about aggressive stupidity, Jon Heder is all about impish stupidity and it becomes surprisingly compelling to see whose stupidity will ultimately win it.

While it never quite reaches the highs of Anchorman, Blades of Glory is still a funny movie.  It made me laugh and that’s always a good thing.

What Lisa Marie Watched Last Night: The Office Episode 0102 — Diversity Day


Last night, I watched a classic episode of the Office: Diversity Day!

Why Was I Watching It:

Down here in Dallas, they show reruns of The Office twice a day on Channel 27.  I can literally say that I’ve probably seen every episode about 20 times at this point and now, if I’m home at night with nothing to do, I’m more likely to see what’s on LMN.  However, Diversity Day remains like one of my favorite episodes of the Office ever so, when I saw it was going to be on, I had to watch it.

What Was It About:

As the show begins, we find ourselves in the familiar offices of Dunder Mifflin Scranton.  However, things are slightly different from the office we force ourselves to watch today.  Kelly Kapoor is dressed conservatively.  Michael Scott, with his thinning hair slicked back, is still in the manager’s office and, as opposed to being a somewhat docile idiot manchild, is just kind of a jerk.  Jim and Pam are still cute and flirty (and Pam is still dressing like someone who actually works in an office).  Robert California is nowhere to be seen and, for that matter, neither is Andy Bernard.  In fact, we manage to get through this entire episode without anyone breaking out into song.  Dwight’s pretty much the same, though.

Basically, Michael has offended just about everyone in the office by performing  the infamous “Chris Rock Routine.”  Corporate has responded by sending down Mr. Brown (a hilarious Larry Wilmore) from Diversity Today who leads the entire office through “sensitivity training.”  Naturally, Michael feels threatened by this and so he decides to form his own company (which he calls Diversity Tomorrow because “…(T)oday is almost over.”) and leads his own sensitivity training workshop.  This, of course, leads to Michael eventually getting slapped by Kelly when Michael asks her if she wants to step into his convenience shop and sample his “cookie cookie.”

What Worked?

Yes, Diversity Day is old school Office, back when the show was both incredibly funny and achingly sad too.  It was also the first episode to be broadcast after the pilot and it remains one of the best episode of the Office ever.  Whenever I catch these old episode of The Office in syndication, I’m always surprised to discover just how sweet and oddly poignant these shows were.  Michael is truly a bad boss, the characters are clearly coworkers as opposed to being friends, and there’s none of the silliness that has come to dominate the show after the third season.  One reason why the relationship between Jim and Pam was so special in those early episodes is because its made clear that both of them would spend their entire workday miserable if not for the time they spend talking to each other.

I think the main difference between these old episodes and the new episodes is that, if someone had suggested everyone who works at Office spend the weekend together at a Garden Party during the first three seasons, no one would have shown up.  That is perfectly epitomized in this episode as all the characters find themselves forced to interact in an awkward attempt to celebrate diversity and mutual respect.  The show works because Michael is so hilariously clueless to the fact that most of his employees would just rather work until five and then go home.

(If this episode was made today, Andy would end up pulling out his guitar and leading everyone in a sing along.)

This episode is also full of wonderful little moments and an observant eye for the details that distinguish a good show from a great one.  Among my favorite moments: Dwight’s explanation of what a hero truly is (and Mr. Brown’s patient response of, “You’re thinking of a superhero.”), Michael’s cheaply done Diversity Tomorrow Video, and Pam finally falling asleep on Jim’s shoulder.

What Didn’t Work:

The episode itself was about as perfect as perfect can be but as I watched it, it was hard for me not to think about how different The Office is today as compared to what it once was.  And that’s all I’ll say about that.

“Oh my God!  Just like me!” Moments:

I’ve always enjoyed talking about diversity training because it gives me an excuse to mention that I’m an Italian-Spanish-German-Irish American.

Lessons Learned:

Reruns are always better.  Plus, if you are a racist, I will attack you with the north…

6 More Quickies With Lisa Marie: Beginners, Hall Pass, Horrible Bosses, Paul, Prom, and Terri


When I swore to myself that I would write a review of every new film I saw in 2011, I failed to take into consideration that 1) I see a lot of films, 2) I have a day job, and 3) I’m like Ms. ADHD.  So, as part of my effort to catch up, here’s 6 quickie reviews. 

Beginners (directed by Mike Mills)

Beginners opened with a lot of critical hype earlier this year and, though it’s not quite as great as it’s being made out to be, it still deserved the majority of that praise.  At the very least, I retain better memories of Beginners than I do this summer’s other similarly hyped film, A Better Life.  Ewan McGregor is an artist who struggles to come terms with the death of his gay father (Christopher Plummer) while falling in love with a French actress (Melanie Laurent).  The autobiographical film effortlessly shifts from flashbacks to Plummer’s life in-and-out of the closet to McGregor’s relationship with Laurent and the end result is a meditation on love, secrets, and life.  Most of the pre-release buzz dealt with Plummer’s performance but, honestly, Plummer is good but you never forget you’re watching Christopher Plummer and Goran Visnjic, who plays Plummer’s boyfriend, overacts.  The film really belongs to Ewan McGregor who gives one of his best performances in this film.  Seriously, does any actor fall in love as wonderfully as Ewan McGregor?

Hall Pass (directed by Peter and Bobby Farrelly)

Best friends Owen Wilson and Jason Sudekis are given a “hall pass” (i.e., permission to cheat) by their spouses (Jenna Fischer and Cristina Applegate).  The film’s forgettable but seriously, guys, don’t go asking us for a hall pass, okay?  One interesting point is that this film was co-written by the guy who won the first season of Project Greenlight.  Remember that show? 

Horrible Bosses (directed by Set Gordon)

Jason Sudekis also appeared in another comedy this year and if Hall Pass is one of the year’s most forgettable comedies, than Horrible Bosses is one of the best.  Basically Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, and Sudekis are stuck working for horrible bosses (played by Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell, and Jennifer Aniston) and they decide that the only way to handle the situation is to commit mass murder.  There’s a lot I could say about this film but chances are, you’ve already seen it.  Therefore, you already know that this is a rare dark comedy that actually has the guts to be truly dark.  You also know that the entire cast brings an almost heroic sincerity to their often bizarre roles with Charlie Day’s misunderstood sex offender as an obvious stand-out.  Probably the best advice that I can give in this review is to enjoy and appreciate this film while you can before the inevitable sequel comes out and screws up all these good memories.

Paul (directed by Greg Mottola)

I didn’t see Paul when it was first released in theaters because the trailer really made it look kinda awful.  However, I did eventually give it a shot OnDemand and I was pleasantly surprised.  Two English sci-fi fanboys (played by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) are taking a road trip to visit all of the major UFO sites in the U.S.  This leads to them meeting an alien named Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen) who is being pursued by the typical guys in black suits.  Anyway, this is a predictable film and the balance between the serious and comedic is often a bit awkward.  However, it’s still a likable film and how can’t you enjoy watching Pegg and Frost?  They can make even the lamest of jokes hilarious.  Kristen Wiig steals the film as a fundamentalist who, upon being enlightened about the nature of the universe by Paul, embraces blasphemy with endearing enthusiasm.

Prom (directed by Joe Nussbaum)

No, I did not force Jeff to take me to see this when it was first released in theaters back in April.  I tried, mostly be saying things like, “Wow, Prom looks like it would be a funny movie to see and spend the whole time making mean jokes about and making all the little tweens in the audience cry…” but he saw through my ruse and, if memory serves me correct, I ended up seeing the second worst film of 2011 (a.k.a. The Conspirator) instead.  Anyway, I ended up seeing Prom OnDemand last month and it’s not really that bad.  It’s not good either.  It’s just kinda there.  In other words, Prom is incredibly meh and that’s one thing prom night should never be.  (I loved my proms, by the way, and, whenever things seem overwhelming, I often think to myself, “If only every night could be Prom Night…”)  Prom is forgettable and inoffensive but come on, tweens deserve better films.  They are the future, after all.

Terri (directed by Azazel Jacobs)

Terri made me cry and cry and was one of my favorite movies of the summer.  It’s a surprisingly poignant film that worked wonders with material that, at first glance, seemed awfully conventional.  Terri (played by Jacob Wysocki) is a sensitive, obese teenager who is taken under the wing of an unconventional assistant principal (John C. Reilly).  It’s a familiar story but director Azazel Jacobs tells this story with care and sensitivity and Wysocki and Reilly bring their characters to life with such skill that you can’t help but get caught up in their story.  Terri’s loving but senile uncle is played by Creed Bratton, who proves here that he’s capable of doing a lot more than just parodying himself on The Office.  When I went to this movie, two old women sitting behind me went, “Awwww!” at a scene where Wysocki spontaneously hugs Reilly.  The film earns the sentiment.

Most of these films are available via OnDemand or are currently available on DVD.  Horrible Bosses and Terri are scheduled to be released in October while Beginners will come out in November.

A Quickie From Lisa Marie: Lollilove (dir. by Jenna Fischer)


In the role of Pam Beesley on the American version of The Office, Jenna Fischer has served as a role model for artistic, red-haired receptionists everywhere. (I write this, of course, as an artistic, red-haired receptionist.)  However, before she played Pam on a sitcom disguised as a documentary, she played herself in 2004’s Lollilove, a satire disguised as a documentary.

Lollilove tells the story of Jenna and James Gunn (played by Fischer and her then-husband, Slither director James Gunn), a young, idealistic Hollywood couple of decide that they want to do something good for humanity.  After giving it a lot of thought (at one point, we see that Jenna has written “Charity is hard!” in all caps in her diary), Jenna and James decide that their purpose in life is to pass out lollipops to the homeless.  Recruiting Hollywood friends like Judy Greer, Jason Segal, and Linda Cardellini (all playing themselves), they set out to make their dream of homeless people sucking on lollipops a reality.

Clocking in at a brisk 64 minutes, Lollilove is like the Office’s slightly more psychotic cousin.  In the best tradition of transgressive art, Lollilove is fully committed to its ludicrous story and, to its credit, it never wavers from pursuing its story to its ludicrous (if all too believable) ending.

A large reason why the movie works is because of the lead performances of Fischer and Gunn.  Lollilove probably features Fischer’s best work outside of the Office and Gunn proves himself to be as good an actor as a director.  Both of them bring a manic sincerity to their crazed alter egos.  Mention should also be made of the homeless of Los Angeles who play themselves in the film’s final scene.  Yes, when the “fictional” Gunns hand out their inspirational lollipops, they’re giving them to the real homeless. 

And, it must be said, some of the homeless do seem to appreciate the gesture.

(As an added bonus: Lloyd Kaufman has a cameo in which he plays a priest and it has to be seen to be believed.)