Music Video Of The Day: Dance Again by Selena Gomez (2020, dir by ????)


For the record, even under lockdown, I’m still dancing.

Of course,  now, I have to either go do it in the backyard or clear some space in the living room.  But that’s okay.  It’s not important where you dance.  Instead, it’s just important that you do it.

Enjoy!

Playing Catch-Up With The Films Of 2019: The Dead Don’t Die (by Jim Jarmusch)


Uh-oh, the dead are rising again.

Seriously, I’ve lost track of how many zombie films I’ve seen over the past ten years.  This last decade was the decade when zombies went mainstream and I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about it.  Zombies have become so overexposed that they’re no longer as scary as they once were.  I mean, there’s even PG-rated zombie movies now!  How the Hell did that happen?  Everyone’s getting in on the act.

There were a brief flurry of excitement when Jim Jarmusch announced that his next film would be a zombie film.  Myself, I was a bit skeptical and the release of a terrible trailer didn’t really help matters.  The fact that the film was full of recognizable names also made me uneasy.  Would this be an actual zombie film or would it just be a bunch of actors slumming in the genre?  The film opened the Cannes Film Festival and received mixed reviews.  By the time it opened in the United States, it seemed as if everyone had forgotten about The Dead Don’t Die.  It was widely chalked up as being one of Jim Jarmusch’s rare misfires, like The Limits of Control.

Last month, I finally watched The Dead Don’t Die and you know what?  It’s a flawed film and yes, there are times when it even becomes an annoying film.  That said, I still kind of liked it.

In The Dead Don’t Die, the Earth’s rotation has been altered, the result of polar fracking.  No one seems to be particularly concerned about it.  Instead, they’re just kind of annoyed by the fact that the sun is now staying up in the sky a bit longer than usual.  Cell phones and watches stop working.  House pets abandon and occasionally attack their owners.  In the rural town of Centerville, the dead rise from their graves and start to eat people.  Whether or not that’s connected to the Earth’s rotation is anyone’s guess.  (I like to think that the whole thing about the Earth’s rotation being altered was Jarmusch’s homage to Night of the Living Dead‘s suggestion that the zombies were the result of space radiation.)

We meet the inhabitant of Centerville.  Zelda (Tilda Swinton) is the enigmatic mortician.  Bobby (Caleb Landry Jones) is the horror movie expert.  Farmer Miller (Steve Buscemi) is the red-hatted farmer who hates everyone.  Zoe (Selena Gomez) is the traveler who is staying at the run-down motel with two friends.  Cliff Robertson (Bill Murray) is the police chief who wants to save everyone but Farmer Miller.  Ronnie (Adam Driver) and Mindy (Chloe Sevigny) are police officers.  They’re all in the middle of a zombie apocalypse but very few of them seem to really be that surprised by any of it.

Throughout the film, we hear Sturgill Simpson singing a wonderful song called The Dead Don’t Die.  Cliff demands to know why the song is always one the radio.  Ronnie replies that it’s the “theme song.”  Ronnie, we discover, has an answer for almost everything.  He explains that he knows what’s going to happen because he’s the only one that “Jim” allowed to read the entire script.  Cliff isn’t happy about that.

That’s the type of film that The Dead Don’t Die is.  It’s an elaborate in-joke, a zombie movie about people who know that they’re in a zombie movie but who are too detached to actually use that information to their advantage.  The script has been written so they have no choice but to do what the script says regardless of whether it makes them happy or not.  It’s a clever conceit, though a bit of a thin one to build a 103-minute movie around.

As I said, the film can occasionally be an endurance test.  Everyone is so deadpan that you actually find yourself getting angry at them.  But, whenever you’re on the verge of giving up, there will be a clever line that will draw you back in or the theme song will start playing again.  Bill Murray and Adam Driver are fun to watch and Driver reminds us that he’s actually a good comedic actor.  (In the year of Marriage Story and Rise of Skywalker, that can be easy to forget.)

It’s a flawed film and definitely not one of Jim Jarmusch’s best.  At the same time, though, The Dead Don’t Die is not as bad as you may have heard.

Here’s The New Red Band Trailer For The Dead Don’t Die


I know that I should probably be more excited about The Dead Don’t Die, the upcoming zombie comedy film from Jim Jarmusch.

I mean, after all, Jim Jarmusch has made some brilliant films and I enjoyed his take on vampires, Only Lovers Left Alive.  Add to that, the film is full of wonderful actors, people like Adam Driver, Bill Murray, Selena Gomez, Steve Buscemi, and Tilda Swinton.  And yet, for whatever reason, I can’t summon up much enthusiasm for The Dead Don’t Die.  Everything that I’ve seen about it so far just seems to add up to one big “meh.”

Maybe it’s just the fact that there’s seems to be a new zombie movie every week.  Seriously, zombies were a lot more interesting before they went mainstream.

Anyway, The Dead Don’t Die opened the Cannes Film Festival yesterday and the response so far has been rather lukewarm, if respectful of the fact that the film was directed by a very important filmmaker.  Reading the reviews, you get the feeling that it’s a film that the reviewers wanted to like more than they actually did.

To coincide with the Cannes premiere, here’s a new redband trailer!  You can watch it below.  Maybe it’ll leave you with a bit more enthusiasm than it does me.

The Dead Don’t Die comes to theaters on June 14th.

2017 In Review: Lisa Marie’s 14 Favorite Songs of 2017


(Originally, I was going to list my picks for the best in SyFy today.  However, I need one more day to work on that so look for that tomorrow!   For now, here are my favorite songs of 2017!)

Every January, I list my favorite songs of the previous year and, every January, I include the same disclaimer.  My favorite songs are not necessarily the favorite songs of any of the other writers here at the Shattered Lens.  We are a large and diverse group of people and, as such, we all have our own individual tastes.

If you ever visited the TSL Bunker, you would be shocked by the different music coming out of each office.  You would hear everything from opera to death metal to the best of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.  And then, of course, you would reach my office and you would discover that my taste in music pretty much runs the gamut from EDM to More EDM.

Now, usually, I do try to listen to a variety of music.  You can go to my Song of the Day site — Lisa Marie’s Song of the Day — and see that I do occasionally listen to other types of music.  But, I have to be honest.  2017 was not a year that inspired me to really leave me comfort zone.  If anything, music provided me with some much needed consistency in an otherwise chaotic year.  2017 was a year that made me want to dance until it was all over and, for the most part, my favorite songs of the year reflect that fact.

Before I list my songs, I should make something else very clear.  These are my favorite songs of 2017.  I’m not saying that they’re necessarily the best songs of 2017.  I’ll leave that debate for others.  Instead, there are the songs that I found myself listening to over and over again.  These are the songs made me dance.  These are the songs that made me sing.  A few of these songs relaxed me when I needed to be relaxed.  These are songs that I liked.

You might like them.

Or you might not.

That’s the beautiful thing about art.  Everyone experiences it in their own individual way.

Here are my favorite songs of 2017:

14. Shutdown by Joywave

13. Love So Soft by Kelly Clarkson

12. Rainmaker by Sleigh Bells

11. I feel It Coming by The Weeknd featuring Daft Punk

(Technically, this is a 2016 song but I listened to it a lot in 2017 and this is my list so fuck it, I’m including it.)

10. Alone by Alan Walker

9. Byte by Martin Garrix & Brooks

8. You Could Be by R3HAB featuring Khrebto

7. Mirage by Lindey Stirling featuring Raja Kumari

6. Rich Boy by Galantis

5. What About Us by P!nk

4. First Time by Kygo & Ellie Goulding

3. Escape Reality Tonight by Paul van Dyk & Emanuele Braveri ft. Rebecca Louise Burch

2. Look What You Made Me Do by Taylor Swift

  1. It Ain’t Me by Kygo, featuring Selena Gomez

For tomorrow’s look back at 2017, I will (finally) share my picks for the best of the SyFy Network!

Previous entries in the TSL’s Look Back at 2017:

  1. 2017 in Review: Top Ten Single Issues by Ryan C
  2. 2017 in Review: Top Ten Series by Ryan C
  3. 2017 In Review: Top Ten Collected Edition (Contemporary) by Ryan C
  4. 2017 In Review: Top Ten Collected Editions (Vintage) by Ryan C
  5. 2017 in Review: Top Ten Graphic Novels By Ryan C
  6. 25 Best, Worst, and Gems I saw in 2017 by Valerie Troutman
  7. My Top 15 Albums of 2017 by Necromoonyeti
  8. 2017 In Review: Lisa Marie’s Picks For the 16 Worst Films of 2017
  9. 2017 In Review: Lisa Marie’s Final Post About Twin Peaks: The Return (for now)

Back to School Part II #54: Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (dir by Nicholas Stoller)


(For the past three weeks, Lisa Marie has been in the process of reviewing 56 back to school films!  She’s promised the rest of the TSL staff that this project will finally wrap up by the end of today, so that she can devote her time to helping to prepare the site for its annual October horrorthon!  Will she make it or will she fail, lose her administrator privileges, and end up writing listicles for Buzzfeed?  Keep reading the site to find out!)

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How many times can the same thing keep happening to the same people?

That’s a question that you may be tempted to ask yourself while watching Neighbors 2.  Neighbors 2 is, of course, a sequel to the original Neighbors.  In the first film, Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne played Mac and Kelly Radner, a married couple who are struggling to deal with the fact that, as new parents, they are now officially adults.  When a crazy and wild fraternity moves in next door to them and refuses to tone down their partying ways, Mac and Kelly are forced to take matters into their own hands.  Occasionally hilarious mayhem ensues.

In Neighbors 2, Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne again play Mac and Kelly Radner, a married couple who are struggling to deal with the fact that, as parents who are awaiting the arrival of their 2nd child, they are now officially adults and may have to finally move into a more family friendly house in the suburbs.  When a crazy and wild fraternity sorority moves in next door to them and refuses to tone down their partying ways, Mac and Kelly are forced to take matters into their own hands.  Occasionally hilarious mayhem ensues.

Yeah, it’s all pretty familiar.  Not only are many of the same jokes from the first film repeated but they’re often repeated at that exact same spot in which they originally appeared.  To the film’s credit, it does occasionally acknowledge that it’s repeating itself, though it never quite reaches the self-aware heights of something like 22 Jump Street.  Even Zac Efron returns and, again, he is initially the Radner’s enemy before eventually becoming their ally.

That said, the familiarity is not necessarily a bad thing.  Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne both know how to get laughs, even when they’re telling the same joke that they told a year ago.  Zac Efron tends to try too hard whenever he has a dramatic role (like in The Paperboy, for instance) but he’s got a real talent for comedy.

Ultimately, though, the best thing that saves Neighbors 2 from just being a forgettable comedy sequel is the sorority.  As opposed to the first film’s creepy fraternity, the sorority in Neighbors 2 is partying for a cause greater than just hedonism.  Shelby (Chloe Grace Moretz, finally getting to have fun in a movie) starts her independent sorority in response to being told that official sororities are not allowed to throw parties and, instead, can only attend misogynistic frat parties.  When Shelby and her sorority buy the house, it’s not just to make trouble.  It’s because they need a place where they can have a good time without feeling that they’re in constant danger from drunk and perverted frat boys.  A subtext of empowerment through partying runs through Neighbors 2 and it elevates the entire film.

Neighbors 2 is an entertaining film, even if it never leaves as much of an impression as you may hope.  (I have to admit that, whenever I try to list all the films that I’ve seen this year, Neighbors 2 is one of those that I often have to struggle to remember.)  That said, it’s not a terrible way to spend 97 minutes and it’ll make you laugh.  And, ultimately, that really is the most important thing when it comes to comedy.

As for the question of how often can the same thing happen to the same person…

Well, I guess we’ll have to wait for Neighbors 3 to get our answer!

ALOHA! What is your deepest pit? #TheFundamentalsOfCaring


 

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Ok, going to preface this review by just saying three things:

1: I needed a good cry movie tonight; I had to get some things out of my system.

2: The rest of this review might not be SFW!

Oh, forgot, the technicalities:

The Fundamentals of Caring is a Netflix original movie based on the book “The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving”  by Jonathan Evison

Stars:

Paul Rudd: as Ben  (Friends, Anchorman, 40-year-old virgin)

Selena Gomez: as Dot (Yeah, all that teenage stuff, singer turned amazing actress.)

Jennifer Ehle: as Elsa (Fifty Shades of Grey, The Black List, also born in my home town!)

Craig Roberts: as Trevor (Being Human, Red Oaks)

Director: (Emmy Award Winning) Rob Burnett

Plot:

A man (Rudd) after suffering a horrible loss decides to reach out and, not in his best interest, become a caregiver. Trevor (Roberts), a bitter kid without a Dad decides to take him on.  How does this end up? Well, on a road trip across the country with the kid he is there to care-give for, fountains of youth are found….In a deep dark pit between them….

Review:

I needed a good cry movie tonight, and The Fundamentals of Caring did that for me! Actually, Selena Gomez kinda took the movie in a way I wasn’t expecting.Got to give her a lot of props for what she did in it. Was it a great movie? By no means…Does it fill a deep pit in your soul when you need a movie to cry too?…Yes, it absolutely does!

The Fundamentals of Caring is on Netflix now… and if you want to see a trailer you can…..

WAIT…WAIT…WAIT…. I said there was three things in my preface!!

3: fuck you…No, Fuck you…NO…FUCK you!…Now Stand up and take your piss! Stand up and take a PISS!

Told ya, Not all of this review would be SFW!

 

BTW: Trevor Conklin was handsome and cool……ALOHA!

Playing Catch-Up: The Big Short (dir by Adam McKay)


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The Big Short is a film that is so critically acclaimed and that has been so passionately embraced by those who enjoyed it that it’s a bit intimidating to admit that it really didn’t do much for me.  (It’s even more intimidating for me to admit that I nearly included it on my list of the 16 worst films of 2015.)  It’s a big, angry movie and, even though it’s not really that good, it definitely taps into the zeitgeist.  It captures the anger, the frustration, and the fears that people (including me) are feeling right now.  It didn’t do much for me but I can understand why others have so passionately embraced it.

As for the film itself, it’s about the housing collapse and the financial crisis of 2008.  The main characters are all people who realized that the economy was about to collapse and who managed to make a profit off of the crisis.  For the most part, everyone gets at least two scenes where they get to rail about how angry they are that they’re making a profit off of other people’s misery.  However, they all still collect their money at the end of the film.

For the most part, our main characters are the type of quirky eccentrics who always tend to pop up in ensemble films like this.  They’re all played by recognizable actors and they all have an identifiable trait or two so we can keep them straight.  For instance, Christian Bale has trouble relating to people socially, plays drums, and looks like he probably has terrible body odor.  Steve Carell has a bad haircut and spends a lot of time yelling at people.  He’s also haunted by the suicide of his brother and he’s married to Marisa Tomei but she only gets to appear in two scenes and doesn’t really do much because this is a film about menfolk, dagnabit.  (I love Steve Carell but this is probably the least interesting performance that he’s ever given.)  John Magaro and Finn Wittrock are two young investors and they especially get upset when they realize that the economy is about to collapse.  Their mentor is played by Brad Pitt.  Since this is an important film, Brad Pitt plays his role with his important actor beard.

And then there’s Ryan Gosling.  Gosling plays a trader and he also narrates the film.  And really, Gosling probably gives the best performance in the film, perhaps because his character is the only one who is actually allowed to enjoy making money.  I think we’re supposed to be outraged when he brags about making money while people lose their houses but Gosling’s so charismatic and the character is so cheerful that it’s hard to dislike him.

(Of course, listening to Gosling’s narration, it’s impossible not to be reminded of The Wolf of Wall Street.  And it’s appropriate because The Big Short is kind of like The Wolf of Wall Street for people who don’t want to have to deal with ambiguity or nuance.)

The film has gotten a lot of attention for Adam McKay’s direction, which is flashy and always watchable but, at the same time, also rather shallow.  For the most part, McKay’s directorial tricks only served to remind me of other movies.  The narration, of course, made me think about The Wolf of Wall Street.  The scenes where characters look straight at the camera and say, “This isn’t the way it really happened,” only reminded me of how much more effective it was when the same thing happened in Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People.

And then there’s the celebrity cameos.  These are the scenes where a special guest celebrity is brought on screen to explain to us how Wall Street actually works.  The first time, it’s Margot Robbie in a bubble bath and it works well because it admits the debt that The Big Short owes to Wolf of Wall Street.  (Plus, it ends with Robbie telling the viewers to “fuck off,” which is probably what I would do if a huge group of strangers interrupted my bubble bath.)  If McKay had limited himself to just doing it once, it would have been brilliant.  But McKay drags out three more celebs and, with repeated use, the technique gets less and less interesting.

But I guess it’s debatable whether any of that matters.  The Big Short taps into the way people are feeling now.  It’s a zeitgeist film.  People are rightfully angry and The Big Short is all about that anger.  A decade from now, it’ll probably be as forgotten as Gabriel Over The White House.  But for now, it’s definitely the film of the moment.

Here Are The Winners of The 2015 Hollywood Film Awards, Whatever The Hell Those Are.


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Oh my God, y’all — the Hollywood Film Awards were held on Sunday and a bunch of potential Oscar contenders were honored!  Which all leads to one very important question:

What the Hell are the Hollywood Film Awards?

As I pondered that question, I realized that I had vague memories of sitting through the Hollywood Film Awards last year.  The ceremony was broadcast on CBS and it was distinguished from other awards shows in that there were no nominees.  Instead, only the winners were announced.  It was so amazingly dull and I can remember watching it and thinking, “Awards season has finally jumped the shark.”

(And this was even before Sasha Stone and Jeff Wells had their annual breakdowns…)

Anyway, the Hollywood Film Awards for 2015 were given out on Sunday and I’m assuming they weren’t televised.  (I was busy watching A Student’s Obsession anyway…)  You can find the winners below.  For the most part, it’s a pretty boring list (and why give out awards in November?) but it does allow us an early glimpse into some of the films and performers that are contending for Oscar gold.

Here’s the list.  Along with a gif of a kitty showing just how excited he is over Awards Season…

YAY! AWARDS! I'M SO EXCITED..I'M SO EXCITING...I'M SO ... SCARED!"

“YAY! AWARDS! I’M SO EXCITED..I’M SO EXCITED… I’M SO … SCARED!”

Career Achievement Award presented to Robert De Niro by David O. Russell.

Producer Award presented to Ridley Scott (“The Martian) by Russell Crowe.

Director Award presented to Tom Hooper (“The Danish Girl”) by Amber Heard.

Actor Award presented to Will Smith (“Concussion”) by Jamie Foxx.

Actress Award presented to Carey Mulligan (“Suffragette”) by Jake Gyllenhaal.

Supporting Actor Award presented to Benicio Del Toro (“Sicario”) by Reese Witherspoon.

Supporting Actress Award presented to Jane Fonda (“Youth”) by Laura Dern.

Breakout Actor Award presented to Joel Edgerton (“Black Mass”) by Johnny Depp, Dakota Johnson.

Breakout Actress Award presented to Alicia Vikander (“The Danish Girl”) by Armie Hammer.

New Hollywood Award presented to Saoirse Ronan (“Brooklyn”) by Ryan Gosling.

Ensemble Award presented to “The Hateful Eight” by Quentin Tarantino.

Breakout Ensemble Award presented to “Straight Outta Compton” by Ice Cube.

Comedy Award presented to Amy Schumer (“Trainwreck”) by Selena Gomez.

Breakthrough Director Award presented to Adam McKay (“The Big Short”) by Steve Carell.

Screenwriter Award presented to Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer (“Spotlight”) by Mark Ruffalo.

Blockbuster Award presented to “Furious 7” by Kurt Russell.

Song Award presented to “Furious 7” (“See You Again”) by Vin Diesel.

Animation Award presented to Pete Docter (“Inside Out”) by Amy Poehler.

Cinematography Award presented to Janusz Kaminski (“Bridge of Spies”).

Composer Award presented to Alexandre Desplat (“The Danish Girl,” “Suffragette”).

Documentary Award presented to Asif Kapadia (“Amy”).

Editor Award presented to David Rosenbloom (“Black Mass”).

Visual Effects Award presented to Tim Alexander (“Jurassic World”).

Sound Award presented to Gary Rydstrom (“Bridge of Spies”).

Costume Design Award presented to Sandy Powell (“Cinderella”).

Make-Up and Hair Styling Award presented to Lesley Vanderwalt (“Mad Max: Fury Road”).

Production Design Award presented to Colin Gibson (“Mad Max: Fury Road“).

"Yawn. These awards are boring..."

“Yawn. These awards are predictable and boring.  You disappoint me…”

6 Reviews of 6 More Films That Were Released in 2013: The Company You Keep, Dracula 3D, Getaway, Identity Thief, Pawn, Welcome to the Punch


In part of my continuing effort to get caught up on my 2013 film reviews, here are 6 more reviews of 6 more films.

The Company You Keep (dir by Robert Redford)

Shia LeBeouf is a journalist who discovers that attorney Bill Grant (Robert Redford) is actually a former 60s radical who is still wanted by the FBI for taking part in a bank robbery in which a security guard was killed.  In one of those coincidences that can be filed directly under “Because it was convenient for the plot,” LeBeouf’s girlfriend (Anna Kendrick) works for the FBI.  Anyway, all of this leads to Grant going on the run and meeting up with a lot of his former radical colleagues (all of whom are played by familiar character actors like Susan Sarandon, Nick Nolte, Richard Jenkins, and Julie Christie).  Ben pursues him and discovers that Grant could very well be innocent and … oh, who cares?  The Company You Keep is a big smug mess of a film.   It’s full of talented actors — like Stanley Tucci, Brendan Gleeson, and Brit Marling (who, talented as she may be, is actually kinda terrible in this film) — but so what?  I lost interest in the film after the first 20 minutes, which was a problem since I still had 101 more minutes left to go.

Has there ever been a movie that’s actually been improved by the presence of Shia LeBeouf?

Dracula 3D (dir by Dario Argento)

Dario Argento’s version of the classic Dracula tale got terrible reviews when it was briefly released here in the States but I happen to think that it was rather underrated.  No, the film can not compares to classic Argento films like Deep Red, Suspiria, and Tenebre.  However, the film itself is so shamelessly excessive that it’s impossible not to enjoy on some level.  The film’s moody sets harken back to the classic gothic villages of the old Hammer films, Thomas Kretschman turns Dracula into the type of decadent European aristocrat who you would expect to find doing cocaine in 1970s New York, and Rutger Hauer is wonderfully over-the-top as Van Helsing.  Yes, Dracula does turn into a giant preying mantis at one point but if you can’t enjoy that then you’re obviously taking life (and movies) too seriously.

Getaway (dir by Courtney Solomon)

I saw Getaway during my summer vacation and the main thing I remember about the experience is that I saw it in Charleston, West Virginia.  Have I mentioned how in love I am with Charleston?  Seriously, I love that city!

As for the movie, it was 90 minutes of nonstop car chases and crashes and yet it somehow still managed to be one of the dullest films that I’ve ever seen.  Ethan Hawke’s wife is kidnapped by Jon Voight and Hawke is forced to steal a car and drive around the city, doing random things.  Along the way, he picks up a sidekick played by Selena Gomez.  Hawke and Voight are two of my favorite actors and, on the basis of Spring Breakers, I think that Gomez is a lot more talented than she’s given credit for.  But all of that talent didn’t stop Getaway from being forgettable.  It’s often asked how much action is too much action and it appears that Getaway was specifically made to answer that question.

Identity Thief (dir by Seth Gordon)

My best friend Evelyn and I attempted to watch this “comedy” on Saturday night and we could only get through the first hour before we turned it off.  Jason Bateman’s a great actor but, between Identity Thief and Disconnect, this just wasn’t his year.  In this film, Bateman is a guy named Sandy (Are you laughing yet?  Because the movie really thinks this is hilarious) whose identity is stolen by Melissa McCarthy.  In order to restore both his credit and his good name, Bateman goes down to Florida and attempts to convince McCarthy to return to Colorado with him.  The film’s “humor” comes from the fact that McCarthy is sociopath while Bateman is … not.

It’s just as funny as it sounds.

Pawn (dir by David Armstrong)

An all-night diner is robbed by three thieves led by Michael Chiklis and, perhaps not surprisingly, things do not go as expected.  It turns out that not only does Chilklis have a secret agenda of his own but so does nearly everyone else in the diner.  Pawn is a gritty little action thriller that’s full of twists and turns.  Chiklis gives a great performance and Ray Liotta has a surprisingly effective cameo.

Welcome to the Punch (dir by Eran Creevy)

In this British crime drama, gangster Jacob (Mark Strong) comes out of hiding and returns to London in order to get his son out of prison.  Waiting for Jacob is an obsessive police detective (James McAvoy) who is determined to finally capture Jacob.

In many ways, Welcome To The Punch reminded me a lot of Trance and n0t just because both films feature James McAvoy playing a morally ambiguous hero.  Like Trance, Welcome to the Punch is something of a shallow film but Eran Creevy’s direction is so stylish and Mark Strong and James McAvoy both give such effective performances that you find yourself entertained even if the film itself leaves you feeling somewhat detached.

Any Takers For “Spring Breakers” ?


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So, we’ve finally discovered what it takes for Harmony Korine to go mainstream — a couple of  established stars, a little T&A, and hey! — he’s in the club. Hell, he can even manage to get himself invited onto Letterman outta the deal — although apparently he can’t stick around for long. Still, the fact remains — long (hell, decades) after you’d given up on the very notion it would ever happen, Hollywood has opened its doors to the guy who gave us GummoJulien Donkey-Boy, and Trash Humpers. And truth be told, he didn’t have to dumb down his sensibilities all that much in the process.

Okay, yeah — Spring Breakers is full of Girls Gone Wild-type footage of hot young flesh parading around in bikinis (or less), muscle-heads partying in jock straps, beer bongs being poured on impossibly tight stomachs, impromptu lesbian make-out sessions, yadda yadda yadda. But it’s piled on so thick and so repetitiously that there’s no way Korine can possibly be engaging in anything but parody of the Bacchanalian subculture he’s depicting. The film never takes itself too seriously, even when it ventures into some pretty dark territory, and it seems to me  that our guy Harmony is sending a none-too-sly message to the Tinseltown suits who previously wouldn’t have touched his work with a 50-foot pole : “this is what you want? Okay. But we’re doing it my way.”

And frankly, that “way” hasn’t changed much — the ultra-naturalistic hand-held camerawork, hallucinatory pacing and editing, and free-from improvisation (as usual, the story per se here doesn’t seem to follow any set “script” as you or I understand the term and appears mostly to consist of the actors getting into character and then ad-libbing from there) of his earlier efforts remains, and the end result is more akin to a series of “found footage” snippets pieced together pretty haphazardly than anything else. The setting may be different this time around, but the basic Korine modus operandi is essentially the same.

In short, if you’ve been following this guy’s career over the course of the pas couple of decades, you’ll only think you’re getting into something different with Spring Breakers, but by the time Ellie Goulding’s “Lights” plays over the end credits, there’s no doubt that this work fits in very comfortably with the rest of his directorial oeuvre. Think Trash Humpers in bikinis, or Gummo with “hotties” rather than genetic rejects, and you won’t be too far off thSo, here’s the deal — four friends (Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson and Korine’s wife, Rachel) at a piece of shit college in piece of shit Kentucky are bored out of their minds and want to go down to St. Pete to live it up over Spring Break. There’s just one problem — they don’t have enough money. In order to alleviate that situation, three of them (Gomez’s character — named, appropriately enough, Faith — a devoutly religious young woman most of the time sits it out) decide to pull a heist at a local fast-food chicken stand using those purportedly realistic-looking squirt guns the cops are always telling us fooled ’em whenever they shoot some poor kid who was holding one dead. They get away with it and head down for a week of sun, fun, sex, booze, and drugs — but they don’t get away with that, because they’re busted at a party that gets out of hand. Don’t fret too much, though, friends, as they aren’t forced to cool their heels in jail for very long. A local dope dealer/wannabe-rapper who goes by the handle of Alien (James Franco, doing his best impression of Gary Oldman in True Romance , just substitute hip-hop for reggae) takes a liking to them when he sees them in court and bails ’em out en masse. Does he have ulterior motives? Of course, and watching him use pimp-like “turning out” psychological manipulation on the ladies in order to seduce them into into being hench-women in his pot-selling-and-armed-robbery enterprise (his only other “employees” are two identical twin brothers that Korine taps from the low end of that gene pool he’s always wading in  ) is both creepy and cool at the same time.

That being said, Alien’s not a one-dimensional character (even though most of the girls, frankly, are) and he does seem to develop a genuine emotional bond with his new recruits. Faith doesn’t fall for his shtick and hops a bus home, but the rest are in. And that, of course, is where the troubles really begin.

Korine follows a pretty delicate balancing act the rest of the way — he eschews standard “don’t aim higher than your station in life or it’ll end in tears” morality-play-style sermonizing even though the material could be played that way pretty easily, while simultaneously upping the ante on the over-the-top-ness of it all in a manner so sly that you almost don’t even notice that it’s happening. The ladies get Alien to fellate a gun silencer and it feels perfectly natural, fer cryin’ out loud! But what the hell, they all appeared before the judge in nothing but their bikinis a few short scenes ago, so anything goes here, right?

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The final shoot-’em-up at the end, at which point another of the former-foursome has made her way northward after taking a bullet in the arm, does in fact strain credulity a bit, but by then the ethos of the film —in short, presenting the blatantly absurd in the most free-form, unforced manner possible — is so firmly established that, even if you don’t exactly buy it, you don’t mind it. The flick’s firing on all its admittedly warped cylinders, and your choices are either go with the flow or pull your hair out. Since I don’t have all that much hair left, the decision is  a pretty simple one.

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I suppose, at the end of the day, there will be those who go into this thing for no other reason than to see three-and four-way sex or former “Disney Girls” gone bad. If that’s your thing, fair enough — but I have to warn you, if that’s what put your butt in the seat, you’re destined to head for the exits scratching your head, even though the film delivers everything you want to see in even more ample proportion than you’d probably been expecting. The rest of us? We’ll have thoroughly enjoyed a movie that’s never as stupid as it pretends to be.