Horror on The Lens: The Tower (dir by Richard Kletter)


Hi there and welcome to the October Horrorthon!

This is our favorite time of the year here at the Shattered Lens because October is horror month.  For the past five years, we have celebrated every October by reviewing and sharing some of our favorite horror movies, shows, books, and music!

A part of the tradition of Horrorthon is that we begin every day in October by sharing a free movie.  Now, I should warn you that most of these movies will come from YouTube and you know how YouTube is about yanking down videos.  So, if you’re reading this in 2024 and wondering where the promised movie disappeared to … well, you should have watched it in 2018!

Let’s start things off with the 1993 made-for-television movie, The Tower!

Have you ever asked yourself what Die Hard would have been like if it had starred Paul Reiser and the Alan Rickman role had been played by an overzealous automated security system?  Well, watch The Tower to find out!  This is one of those movies where the hero, played by Paul Reiser of all people, manages to get almost everyone in the movie killed and yet we’re not supposed to hold it against him.

By the end of the movie, you’ll totally be on The Tower’s side!

Enjoy!

(I wrote a more in-depth review of The Tower over at HorrorCritic.)

Catching Up With The Films of 2017: The Little Hours (dir by Jeff Baena)


You don’t necessarily have to be from a Catholic background to find The Little Hours to be hilarious but it probably helps.  You also don’t have to be an expert in satirical Italian literature from the Medieval era but, again, it probably helps.  Of course, what helps the most is to have a good sense of humor.

Technically, The Little Hours is based on The Decameron, though not even that famously bawdy  book featured dialogue like, “Don’t fucking talk to us!” and “Stop fucking looking at us!”  Both of those lines are delivered by Aubrey Plaza, who plays a nun in a medieval convent.  The fact that Plaza is playing a nun tells you a lot about the humor in The Little Hours.  The sets and the costumes are meticulously accurate. It’s easy to imagine that, if you got your hands on a time machine and traveled back to the Fourteenth Century, what you would see would look a lot like The Little Hours.  But the dialogue and the attitudes are all straight from the 21st century.

The Little Hours tells the story of three nuns and the people who get in their way.  Aubrey Plaza plays Sister Fernanda, the sarcastic nun who is willing to beat up anyone who looks at her for too long.  Ginerva (Kate Micucci) is the repressed nun who can’t wait to get everyone else in trouble.  Alessandra (Alison Brie) is the nun who is only a nun because her father (Paul Reiser) is making her.

When you’re bored and stuck in a convent, you find interesting ways to keep yourself amused.  For instance, gossip is always a fun way to pass the time.  Or you can get drunk on communion wine.  If you get really bored, you can always join the local coven and dance around a fire.  Or you can lust after the new handyman, a handsome deaf-mute named Massetto (Dave Franco).  Of course, Massetto isn’t really a deaf-mute.  He’s just pretending because he doesn’t want to be executed for having sex with his former master’s wife.  Life was never easy in medieval Italy.

The film may be based on The Decameron but all of the dialogue was improved.  Whenever I hear that anything’s been improvised, I always know that the end result is either going to be hilarious or it’s simply going to be unbearable.  Fortunately, the cast of The Little Hours is full of comedic pros.  They all play off of each other well.  Each line of dialogue seems like a challenge being delivered by both the character and the performer.  Behind every joke is a subtext of “Try to top this.”  Supporting roles are played by everyone from Molly Shannon to Nick Offerman to John C. Reilly.  Fred Armisen plays the Bishop who has the unenviable task of trying to keep straight everything that’s happened and his display of exasperation is absolutely brilliant.

As you can probably guess, I enjoyed The Little Hours.  It’s probably not a film for everyone.  As I said, it helps to not only have a Catholic background but to also have a sense of humor about it.  But, for those in the right mood, it’s a hilarious film.

Film Review: War on Everyone (dir by John Michael McDonagh)


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War on Everyone opens with a question.

“If you hit a mime,” Detective Bob Bolano (Michael Pena) asks, “does he make a sound?”

“Now, you know,” Detective Terry Malone (Alexander Skarsgard) replies, as he drives his car over a mime.

For the record, the Mime was a cocaine dealer so the detectives did have a reason for chasing him.  Then again, the Mime was also on foot while the detectives were in a car.  And the Mime was attempting to surrender when the detectives ran him over.

That scene pretty much sets the tone for the rest of War on Everyone, the latest film from Irish filmmaker John Michael McDonagh.  McDonagh is best-known and rightfully acclaimed for his previous two films, The Guard and Calvary.  Those two films were both darkly comedic and often violent meditations on life, death, morality, guilt, and redemption.  While War on Everyone may not share either one of those films’ deeper concerns, it is definitely violent.  And the comedy is definitely dark.

Bob and Terry are two of the most corrupt cops in the history of cinematic police corruption.  Bob is a family man, who is full of useless trivia and usually seems to speaking a mile a minute.  Terry is single and not quite as talkative.  He views the world through permanently bloodshot eyes and always stands with an insolent slouch.  Terry is the type who, when he drives down a city street, intentionally bumps into every parked car.  When asked why he became a cop, Terry shrugs and replies that it was the only job available where he could shoot people without getting in trouble.  When Bob and Terry confront an informant, they both get so caught up in snorting the informant’s cocaine that they forget what they wanted to ask about.  Their lieutenant is constantly telling them to ease up on the corruption but, since he’s played by Paul Reiser, no one takes him seriously.

War on Everyone does have a plot but it’s debatable just how important it is.  Bob and Terry learn about an up-coming heist.  They decide to let the heist happen so that they can then bust the crooks and take the money for themselves.  However, because there’s nothing that Bob and Terry can’t screw up, they not only fail to stop the heist but end up spending the rest of the movie trying to track down the money.  Along the way, they bond with an orphan and Terry pursues a romance with a former stripper (Tessa Thompson, doing her best with an underwritten role).

The plot is really just an excuse for McDonagh to parody the conventions of the American cop film.  Much like Seven Psychopaths (which was directed by John Michael McDonagh’s older brother, Martin), War on Everyone is a film about tangents.  The point is to see how many weird directions the story can go in.  This is the type of film where, at one point, Terry and Bob fly to Iceland just because.

(Don’t get me wrong.  They have a reason for being in Iceland but still, you mostly come away with the feeling that McDonagh thought to himself, “What other New Mexico-set heist film features a trip to Iceland?”)

Particularly when compared to something like Calvary, War on Everyone doesn’t add up to much and yet that really is a part of the film’s charm.  At a time when so many films are trying way too hard to be something more than what they actually are, War on Everyone is content to be a thoroughly over-the-top action comedy.  It’s a bit like The Nice Guys, just with an even darker worldview.

What’s remarkable is how many critics have insisted in trying to find a deeper meaning where there clearly is none.  I hardly ever do this but I have to point out that the A.V. Club review — headlined, undoubtedly by an intern hoping to impress the bosses with the power of snark, Sorry War On Everyone, but it’s not the best time for a comedy about giddily corrupt cops — is remarkable in just how thoroughly it misses the point of the film.  If anything, it reads as if the reviewer couldn’t think of anything to say so he decided to engage in some preemptive political virtue signaling.

The review cited above makes the mistake of assuming that War on Everyone is supposed to be taking place in the real world.  Everything — from the over-the-top violence to the mix of crude humor with philosophical asides to the mix of 70s music with modern technology — indicates that War on Everyone is meant to take place in a reality other than our own.  It’s a dream-like world that was created by other cop movies and, ultimately, those other movies are the only thing that War on Everyone is attempting to critique.  In much the style of early Tarantino, War On Everyone is a movie about movies.

(Unlike Tarantino’s last few films, War on Everyone only lasts 98 minutes, which would seem to indicate that McDonagh is superior to Tarantino in one important regard: he knows how and when to edit himself.)

War on Everyone is not for … well, everyone.  It’s certainly not a masterpiece in the style of either The Guard or Calvary.  It’s lesser McDonagh but, when taken on its own terms, it’s an enjoyable ramble of a movie that’s distinguished by the perfect casting of Skarsgard, Pena, and Reiser.

Just don’t take it too seriously.

 

Film Review: Whiplash (dir by Damien Chazelle)


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I really only need five words to review Whiplash:

J. K. Simmons kicks ass.

He so seriously does.  The deep-voiced character actor, beloved by fans of Allstate Insurance, Spider-Man, Jason Reitman, and the Coen Brothers alike, has been memorable so many times in the past that it’s easy to take him for granted.  However, with Whiplash, he proves himself to be not just a distinctive screen presence but to be a brilliant actor as well.  There’s a lot of good things about Whiplash but, ultimately, it’s Simmons who makes the film something more than just another promising indie film.

Simmons plays Terrence Fletcher, the legendary and feared conductor of the Schaffer Conservatory jazz band.  (We’re told that Shaffer Conservatory is the best music school in the country.  Of course, in a real life, the best music school in the country is located at University of North Texas, where I studied Art History but still enjoyed occasionally listening to the One O’Clock Lab Band.)  As played by Simmons, Fletcher is both a genius and a sadist.  When he talks about music, he does so with a passion that makes it impossible not share his love for all that jazz.  When he conducts his band, he does so with a cruelty that makes you question if the music is worth the cost of the emotional stability of the people playing it.  When he hears that someone is out of tune, he responds by reducing a musician to tears.  When he says, “Not my tempo,” it’s both a critique and a threat.  The fact that he’s creative and quick-witted with his insults does nothing to lessen the pain that they cause.

Fletcher’s latest protegé/victim is a talented 19 year-old drummer named Andrew (Miles Teller).  Andrew shares Fletcher’s love for jazz but nothing can prepare him for the lengths that Fletcher will go to manipulate him.  Whether it means insulting Andrew’s father (Paul Reiser) or casually threatening to give Andrew’s spot away to another drummer, Fletcher’s nonstop and often viscous criticism makes Andrew a better drummer but also threatens to destroy his sanity.

Director and screenwriter Damien Chazelle understands that those of us in the audience have seen literally hundreds of films about intense teachers and the students that they teach.  Chazelle cleverly manipulates all of our expectations.  The minute that we expect Fletcher to say something encouraging or to reveal himself to actually be a compassionate mentor, Simmons instead barks out another insult or regards Andrew with a withering glare.  And, as we wait for Andrew to stand up to Fletcher or prove his mentor wrong, we are instead forced to admit that Fletcher’s approach does seem to be working.

When, towards the middle of the film, Andrew crashes his car while rushing to a jazz competition and then attempts to play the drums with both blood on his suit and a broken hand, you can’t help but both admire his determination and fear where that determination is going to take him.

As I said at the beginning of this review, there’s a lot of good things about Whiplash.  As you might expect for a film about jazz, it has a great soundtrack.  Miles Teller gives a great lead performance, one that may be overshadowed by J.K. Simmons but which — along with his work in The Spectacular Now — indicates that Teller is an actor to watch.  (We’ll just forget the fact that he was also in Project X.)  Some of the film’s best moments don’t even involve J.K. Simmons, instead they’re just scenes of Teller obsessively drumming until his hands are bloody.

But, ultimately, it is J.K. Simmons who truly elevates this film.  Simmons makes Fletcher into a truly fascinating villain, one who constantly leaves you guessing.  By the end of the film, you may not like Fletcher but you definitely can not get him out of your head.

Ultimately, the success of Whiplash stands as a tribute to the talent of J.K. Simmons.