“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?”

Insomnia File #11: Summer Catch (dir by Mike Tollin)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

Summer_catch

Whenever I look at my cable guide, I always notice that channel 834 is listed as being “MorMax.”  For some reason, I always assume that MorMax stands for Morman Max and I’m always expecting that it’s going to show movies about Joseph Smith and Brigham Young.  But actually, MorMax stands for More Cinemax.

Anyway, last night, if you were having a hard time sleeping around midnight (though why anyone would ever try to go to sleep before midnight is beyond me), you could have turned on MorMax and watched the 2001 romantic comedy Summer Catch!

Though it may be hard to believe today, there was a time when Freddie Prinze, Jr. was a pretty big deal.  From 1997 to 2001, Prinze appeared in 179 movies.  Well, actually, he only appeared in 10 but since they were all aimed at teenage girls and played on cable constantly, it felt like 179.  (Seriously, there was a time when I could not get through an entire day without seeing at least a few minutes of She’s All That.)  For the most part, all of these films were pretty much the same.  Freddie Prinze, Jr. plays a kind of dumb guy who falls in love with a girl.  Prinze’s character was usually from a working class family and had at least one wacky friend.  The girl was usually from a rich family and had one bitchy friend who would be an ex-friend by the end of the movie.  There was usually at least one scene set on the beach or at a swimming pool, the better for Freddie to remove his shirt and his costar to chastely strip down to her underwear.  There was usually a falling in love montage and at least one big misunderstanding.  Freddie would always flash the same goofy smile whenever the misunderstanding was cleared up.  Even at the time that the films were being released, nobody was ever under the impression that Freddie Prinze, Jr. was a particularly good actor.  But he was likable, unthreatening, and hot in an oddly bland sort of way.

(Speaking of oddly bland, check out the titles of some of Prinze’s films: She’s All That, Down To You, Boys and Girls, Head over Heels, and, of course, Summer Catch.)

Summer Catch opens with Ryan Dunne (Freddie!) explaining that he’s just a working class kid from Massachusetts but this summer, he’s going to be playing amateur baseball in Cap Cod and hopefully, he’ll get signed to a professional contract as result.  (Freddie adopts an inconsistent “pahk ya cah by the bah” accent and its kind of endearing to see him trying so hard.)  Ryan, of course, is just a local guy who mows lawns for a living but he’s determined to succeed.  He just has to stay focused.

However, that’s going to be difficult because he’s just met Tenley Parrish (Jessica Biel).  The Parrishes own a vacation home on Cape Cod and they are so rich that they can afford to name their oldest daughter Tenley.  Soon, Tenley and Ryan are a couple but Tenley’s father wants Tenley to marry a rich boy and Ryan’s father is too busy being all surly and working class to appreciate Ryan’s dreams.

(Tenley’s father, incidentally, is played by Bruce Davison because all snobbish WASPs of a certain age are played by Bruce Davison.  Ryan’s father is played by Fred Ward because Summer Catch was made in 2001.)

Because every Freddie Prinze, Jr. movie needs a hyperactive and wacky sidekick, Ryan’s best friend on the team is a catcher named Billy Brubaker (Matthew Lillard.)  Billy is known as “Bru.”  There’s a lot of scenes of people saying stuff like “Yo, Bru,” and “Come on, Bru!”  After a while, I found myself hoping for a scene where Bru went crazy and started shouting, “My name is Billy, dammit!  BILLY!  DAMN YOU ALL TO HELL!”  Instead, however, we get a subplot about how Billy can’t get any hits until he has sex with and wears the thong underwear of a local baseball fan.

Anyway, Summer Catch is an extremely predictable film.  It’s not surprising that this was one of Freddie’s final star vehicles because, other than his heroic effort to maintain a Massachusetts accent, even he seems to be bored with it all.  Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Summer Catch is that there’s next to no actual conflict in the film.  Oh sure, Ryan and Tenley have a few misunderstandings but it’s never anything serious.

If there’s an unheralded hero to Summer Catch, it’s the uncredited guy who we hear providing commentary during the games.  Seriously, I would have been so lost if not for him constantly saying stuff like, “This is Ryan Dunne’s chance to show what he can do,” and “Billy Brubaker needs to get a hit here…”  They should have made the entire movie about him and his efforts to remain up-to-date on all the players.

Because Summer Catch was a baseball film, I begged my sister Erin to watch it with me so that she could explain all the baseball stuff to me.  For the record, Erin says that the game scenes were okay (and I personally liked all of the totally gratuitous slow motion) but that the film wasn’t really a deep examination of baseball.  To be honest, I really wasn’t expecting that it would be.  I just wanted to make my sister stay up late and watch a movie with me.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye

 

 

Film Review: Hitchcock (dir by Sacha Gervasi)


Alfred Hitchcock is one of those iconic cultural figures who will never go out of style.  Though he’s been dead longer than I’ve been alive, he’s still one of my favorite directors.  If I see a Hitchcock film listed in the TV schedule, I can guarantee that I will find the time to watch it.  Whether its The 39 Steps, Rebecca, Strangers On A Train, Topaz, or Frenzy, if it’s Hitchcock, I’m there. And I’m not alone as far as this is concerned.  If Hitchcock hadn’t made The Birds, James Nguyen would never have made Birdemic.  If Hitchcock hadn’t made Psycho, hundreds of low-budget horror films would never have had a chance to be distributed on DVD by Anchor Bay.

While it may have been Vertigo that was recently named the best film of all time by the Sight and Sound Poll, Psycho remains Hitchcock’s best known and most popular film.  Psycho is certainly my favorite Hitchcock film, which is why I was certainly curious when I first heard about Hitchcock, a new movie that claims to tell the true story behind the making of Psycho.

Hitchcock opens with 60 year-old Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) trying to figure out how to follow up the success of North By Northwest.  Hitchcock settles on adapting a little-regarded pulp novel that’s based on the true life crimes of serial killer Ed Gein.  Over the objections of the censors, the studio, and all of his associates, Hitchcock makes Psycho his next film.  At the same time, his wife Alma (Helen Mirren) deals with living in the shadow of her famous husband.  While Hitchcock devotes all of his time to his film and obsessing over his leading actresses, Alma find herself tempted by a slick screenwriter named Whitfield Cook (Danny Huston).

(Has anyone good ever been named Whitfield Cook?)

As a film, Hitchcock is likable but shallow.  Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren have great chemistry and they’re a lot of fun to watch but you never truly believe that you’re watching the true story of the making of a movie that changed cinematic history.  Whenever Hitchcock threatens to become truly insightful about the artistic process, the story abruptly cuts away to another scene of Alma writing on the beach with Whitfield Cook.  It doesn’t help that Danny Huston plays Cook as such an obvious cad that it actually diminishes Alma as character when she doesn’t immediately see through him.

Similarly, in the role of Alfred Hitchcock, Anthony Hopkins gives a performance that is very likable and quite watchable but, in the end, still feels rather shallow.  His performance feels like a good and entertaining impersonation but it never quite feels real.  The closest that the film (and Hopkins) comes to suggesting any of Hitchcock’s inner demons is when he imagines having a conversation with Ed Gein (played by Michael Wincott).  These scenes feel terribly out-of-place when compared to the rest of the film.

The actresses playing the women in Hitchcock’s life fare a little bit better.  Jessica Biel and Scarlett Johansson are well-cast as Vera Miles and Janet Leigh, respectively.  Helen Mirren is widely expected to earn an Academy Award nomination for her performance as Alma and she does have several strong scenes in Hitchcock.  As I watched the film, I certainly could relate to Alma’s desire to be taken seriously as an individual and her frustration with being defined solely by the vows of marriage.  It’s a feeling that Mirren captures perfectly.

In the end, Mirren aside, Hitchcock is entertaining but forgettable.

Trailer: Total Recall (Official)


Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 scifi classic, Total Recall, remains one of Arnold Schwarzenneger’s better films. The film was an adaptation of the Philip K. Dick novellete, We Can Remember It for You Wholesale, and in 2012 it will once again go up on the big-screen as a Len Wiseman remake.

Wiseman’s film looks to take the basic premise of Dick’s novellete and some of the changes made for the Verhoeven production. What looks to have been changed in this upcoming remake is the absence of Mars as the backdrop for the character Douglas Quaid who believes he is actually a secret agent working to free Mars from the tyrannical rule of one Cohagen. This time around the setting is instead a dystopian future Earth where the planet has been split into two super-factions the rule planet. There’s Euroamerica which combines the North American and European Union into one sovereign entity and it’s rival in New Shanghai which puts together the economic powerhouses of China and the nations of South East Asia.

It is in this new backdrop that Colin Farrell’s Quaid must run from the forces of Cohaagen (played by Bryan Cranston) and help the freedom fighters trying to change things for the better. The trailer itself shows less of the cheesy look of the Verhoeven film and instead goes for a much slicker art design that some people have called the Mass Effect-look. I must admit that the fully-armored forces chasing after Quaid look like Blue Suns mercenaries from that BioWare scifi rpg.

I will say that the trailer does a great job in referencing similar scenes and sequences from the original Verhoeven film while adding in new touches to give the film it’s very own unique look. For one of this summer season’s last films before fall season begins this one looks like a must-see.

Total Recall is set for an August 3, 2012 release date.

Quickie Review: The A-Team (dir. by Joe Carnahan)


If my memory serves me correctly the year of 2010 ended up becoming the year of the Action Team Flicks. Arriving first was the comic book film adaptation, The Losers, which didn’t do so well. Coming out last was the Stallone testosterone action vehicle, The Expendables, which did much better though it lacked somewhat in the grindhouse it was promising. Smack dab in the middle of these two was the film adaptation of the classic 80’s action tv series of the same name, The A-Team, which in the end I thought was the best of the three Action Team Flicks of 2010.

The A-Team was a film project that once had Mel Gibson attached to it right up to Bruce Willis, but delays upon delays pared back what would’ve been a mega-budgeted action blockbuster into something in the bargain basement (for a summer film). It starred Liam Neeson in the iconic role of Col. John “Hannibal” Smith made famous in the 80’s by George Peppard. Surrounding him would be Bradley Cooper as Templeton “Face” Peck, Sharlto Copley as H.M. “Howlin’ Mad” Murdock and veteran MMA fighter Quinton “Rampage” Jackson as B.A. Baracus.  Holding court over this A-Team was filmmaker Joe Carnahan working with a script he, Skip Woods and Brian Bloom (who also had a role as the amoral, sociopathic mercenary Pike).

The film took what was great and fun about the original tv series and gives it a 21st-century upgrade. To say that the film’s plot was secondary to watching the cast having fun on the screen would be an understatement. The story dealt with Smith and his team being accused of a crime they didn’t commit and must now escape from a military prison to find out who set them up and clear their name. It’s straight out of the tv series’ basic premise which managed to last a full on four seasons. Fortunately, Carnahan and his writers only had to make this premise last just a little over two hours. While some may think that two hours would be too long for this film it actually moved quite fast for something that went beyond the two hour mark.

Right from the beginning the cast looked to have been having the time of their lives. Neeson was Hannibal through and through while the other actors making up the rest of the team managed to imbue these well-known characters with their own brand of craziness, absurdity and panache. Just like the other two Action Team flicks of 2010 this film also had it’s share of scene-chewing villains in the form of Patrick Wilson as a duplicitous CIA agent and Brian Bloom as the sociopathic leader of a private military company at odds with Smith and his team. It’s these two groups who end up trying to outguess and outmanuever each other to get that final upper hand. Each encounter between these two groups just got more ridiculous with each passing event.

If one ever wondered if one could fly a tank while it was in freefall then this film answers that question. The climactic showdown at the LA shipyard at night has some of the most over-the-top action of the last couple years that wasn’t a scifi-actioner. Laws of physics doesn’t apply in The A-Team and the film revels in that notion as if telling the audience to either get onboard and enjoy the ride or get off and go on the Toad ride instead.

It’s a shame that The A-Team didn’t do as well in the box-office as some would’ve hoped because the film does set things up for further adventures for Neeson and his crew. What Carnahan ended up making won’t be breaking down the doors to the awards committee, but he did deliver on paying homage to the original tv series while adding his own brand of crazy to a film that had just the right amount of fun, ludicrous action to make it the best of 2010’s Action Team Flicks.

The A-Team: Official Full Trailer


Finally, we get the first full trailer for his summer’s upcoming film adaptation of the popular 80’s action tv series, The A-Team.

The first trailer was a teaser version which didn’t seem to elicit much excitement from people when it was first shown. It was short on any sort of details and didn’t really introduce the characters to people who may not have seen the series. That teaser trailer was also lacking in any action sequences to tease the public into wanting to see more. Well, that is until the very final sequence with the palleted tank free-falling from tens of thousands of feet and Bradley Cooper’s character “Face” popping out of the commander’s hatch, prime the Ma Deuce and firing it while doing said tank free-fall.

It’s been a couple months since that teaser’s release and there hasn’t been much from the film’s studio to help increase buzz on the film. But it looks like this official full trailer might have fixed the problem the teaser caused. This full trailer actually makes The A-Team look like it could be a fun, action flick. There’s some of the humor from the series and the full trailer gives a quick intro of the team’s four members (I liked Murdock’s best). There’s even a subtle reference in the trailer about how give the team an hour and they’re practically invincible. This is in reference to the tv show where the team literally MacGyver’s their way through no-win situations save the day. I hope that becomes part of whatever last reel climactic action sequence the film may have.

The A-Team is set for a June 11, 2010 release. It’s directed by Joe Carnahan (Narc, Smokin’ Aces) and starring Liam Neeson (Hannibal), Bradley Cooper (Face), Quinton Jackson (BA Baracus) and Sharlto Copley (howlin’ Mad Murdock). I know I’ll be there on Day One of it’s release to watch and knowing some of my older uncles and my dad, they’ll be there as well.