Film Review: Holmes & Watson (dir by Etan Cohen)


Will Ferrell is Sherlock Holmes!

John C. Reilly is John Watson!

Together, they get really bad reviews!

Well, that and solve crimes and protect royalty.  Holmes & Watson, which came out this previous Christmas, features Sherlock and John attempting to prevent Professor Moriarty (Ralph Fiennes) from assassinating Queen Victoria.  Watson, being the proud Englishman that he is, is an obsessive fan of Queen Victoria.  In fact, he’s such a fan that, upon meeting her, he insists that she pose for a “self-photography” with him and Holmes.  Of course, cameras back then were a lot bigger and more bulkier than cameras today so Watson ends up bashing the Queen in the head.  Watson and Holmes are terrified that they’ve killed the Queen.  But then she wakes up.  That’s the joke.

Holmes & Watson isn’t so much a parody of the original Sherlock Holmes stories as much as it’s a parody of the Guy Ritchie films that almost everyone has already forgotten about.  Of course, it can be argued that the Guy Ritchie films were, themselves, parodies which makes Holmes & Watson a parody of a parody.  (Now, we just need someone to parody Holmes & Watson so that the universe can collapse in on itself.)  As a result, the film opens with a young Sherlock Holmes being tricked into kissing a donkey’s ass and then it progresses to an adult Holmes using his deductive powers to deduce that a man is a compulsive masturbator.  The film never seems to be quite sure if its version of Holmes is meant to be an eccentric genius or an overrated bungler and Will Ferrell’s inconsistent performance doesn’t help matters.  When Holmes starts to incorrectly suspect that Watson has betrayed him, we don’t know if we’re supposed to share Watson’s feeling of betrayal or if this is just another case of Holmes being a brilliant idiot.  The film doesn’t seem to know either.

In the role of Watson, John C. Reilly is expected to do most of the dramatic heavy lifting.  He gets several scenes in which he discusses how difficult it is to always be the sidekick.  It’s a role that Reilly has played in several other films and perhaps that explains why he seems so bored in this movie.  We’re all kind of used to Will Ferrell being an inconsistent performer but it’s far more depressing to see John C. Reilly sleepwalking through a film.

Anyway, Holmes & Watson is not a film that I normally would have wasted my time seeing but, with so many people proclaiming it to be not only the worst film of 2018 but the worst film of all time, I felt that I had a certain obligation to do so.  After all, I’ll be posting my worst of and best of lists over this upcoming week and Holmes & Watson seemed like it would be a legitimate contender for one of those lists.  Having now seen the film, I can say that it’s pretty bad.  Unfortunately, unlike some other bad films, it’s also rather dull and forgettable.  It’s certainly far more dull than any film featuring John C. Reilly, Ralph Fiennes, Rebecca Hall, Hugh Laurie, Steve Coogan, and Kelly MacDonald has any right to be.  It’s a comedy where so many of the jokes fall flat that even the jokes that do work kind of suffer just by association.  Usually, I would have laughed at the film’s Billy Zane cameo but I was still annoyed by the film’s unnecessary musical number so I merely chuckled.

If Holmes & Watson has a saving grace, it is that it’s just a silly comedy.  It’s not really pompous enough to justify the claim that some have made that it’s the worst film of all time.  It’s neither as smug as Vice nor as pretentious as Life Itself.  In fact, it’s not even the worst comedy of the year.  (That honor would belong to The Happytime Murders.)  What Holmes & Watson is, is a huge disappointment.  With all the talent involved, you would hope that the film would be a bit more memorable.

Weekly Trailer Round-Up: Joker, Stan & Ollie, Ralph Breaks The Internet, The Oath, Solis, The Haunting of Hill House, The Twilight Zone


Despite the success of Wonder Woman, DC Entertainment has still struggled when it comes to crafting a compelling cinematic universe.  The upcoming Joker is not an official part of the DCEU but that could change if the film is a success.  An origin story, Joker features Joaquin Phoenix taking on the role of the clown prince of crime.  Though it will be over a year before we see the final results, director Todd Phillips has released a teaser, showing us Phoenix in his Joker makeup.

In Stan & Ollie, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy finally get the biopic treatment, with John C. Reilly in the role of Hardy and Steve Coogan as Laurel.

Along with playing Oliver Hardy, John C. Reilly will also be returning to the role of Ralph in Ralph Breaks The Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2.  The mayhem continues on November 2nd.

In The Oath, all Americans are required to sign a loyalty oath the day after Thanksgiving.  A new red band trailer for this dark comedy was released this week.

In Solis, Steven Ogg plays an astronaut who is trapped on a spacecraft that is on a collision course with the sun.  That’s not a good place to be.

Just in time for Halloween, Netflix will be reimagining The Haunting of Hill House as a ten-episode television series.  The show drops on October 12th.

Finally, The Twilight Zone is returning once again, this time under the direction of Jordan Peele.  The CBS All Access show will premiere in 2019.

Other trailers that were released this week:

Cleaning Out The DVR Yet Again #25: Marie Antoinette (dir by Sofia Coppola)


(Lisa recently discovered that she only has about 8 hours of space left on her DVR!  It turns out that she’s been recording movies from July and she just hasn’t gotten around to watching and reviewing them yet.  So, once again, Lisa is cleaning out her DVR!  She is going to try to watch and review 52 movies by the end of Tuesday, December 6th!  Will she make it?  Keep checking the site to find out!)

marie-antoinette_poster

On November 12th, I recorded 2016’s Marie Antoinette off of Starz.

Before I review Marie Antoinette, I think it’s important that you know that I am an unapologetic Sofia Coppola fan.  I love every film that she’s made and I look forward to her upcoming remake of The Beguiled.  At the same time, I can also understand why some people feel differently.  Sofia Coppola’s films are not for everyone.  For one thing, almost all of her films deal with rich people.  The existential angst of the wealthy and/or famous is not a topic that’s going to fascinate everyone.  When you watch a Sofia Coppola film, you never forget that you’re watching a film that’s been directed by someone who largely grew up in the spotlight and who knows what it’s like to have money.  An ennui born out of having everything and yet still feeling empty permeates almost every scene that Sofia Coppola has ever directed.  (If you have to ask what ennui is, you’ve never experienced it.)  Many viewers look at Sofia Coppola’s filmography and they ask themselves, “Why should we care about all these materialistic people?”

However, while Sofia Coppola may not know what’s it’s like to be poor (or even middle class for that matter), she does understand what it’s like to feel lonely.  Her filmography could just as easily be called “the cinema of isolation.”  It doesn’t matter how much money you may have or how famous you may or may not be, loneliness is a universal condition.  A typical Sofia Coppola protagonist is someone who has everything and yet still cannot connect with the rest of the world.  More often that not, they turn to excessive consumption in order to fill the void in their life.  To me, the ultimate Sofia Coppola image is not, regardless of how much I may love them, Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation.  Instead, it’s Stephen Dorff (playing a far less likable version of Bill Murray’s Translation character) standing alone in the desert at the end of Somewhere.

Marie Antoinette, which was Sofia’s follow-up to Lost in Translation, is technically a historical biopic, though it makes little effort to be historical or accurately biographical.  Kirsten Dunst plays Marie Antoinette, the final queen of France before the French Revolution.  It was Marie Antoinette was accused of dismissing starving French peasants by announcing, “Let them eat cake!”  (For the record, it’s probable that Marie Antoinette never said that.  It’s certainly never heard in Coppola’s film.)

Marie Antoinette opens with the title character arriving in France at the age of 14.  She’s an Austrian princess who has been sent to marry the future king of France, Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman).  From the minute we meet her, Marie Antoinette is portrayed as being a pawn.  Her mother arranges the marriage as a way to seal an alliance with France.  The king of France (played by Rip Torn) expects Marie Antoinette to get produce an heir to the throne as quickly as possible.  Meanwhile, her new husband is an infantile and immature fool who doesn’t even know how to make love.  Marie Antoinette finds herself isolated in a strange country, expected to be all things to all people.

And so, Marie Antoinette does what I always do whenever I’m feeling unsure of myself.  She hangs out with her girlfriends.  She throws expensive parties.  She gambles.  She flirts.  She shops.  She has fun, regardless of whether it’s considered to be proper royal behavior or not.  Occasionally, she is warned that she is losing popularity with the French people but she’s not concerned.  Why should she be?  She doesn’t know anything about the French people.  All she knows about is the life that she was born into.  She didn’t choose to be born in to wealth and power but, since she was, why shouldn’t she have a good time?

The French Revolution doesn’t occur until near the end of Marie Antoinette and when it does happen, it happens quickly.  And yet, the shadow of the revolution hangs over the entire film.  We watch the knowledge that neither Marie Antoinette nor her husband possess: eventually, they are both going to be executed.  And knowing that, it’s hard not to cheer Marie Antionette on.  She may be destined for a tragic end but at least she’s having a little fun before destiny catches up with her.

Kirsten Dunst makes no attempt to come across as being French or Austrian but then again, neither does anyone else in the film.  After all, this is a movie where Rip Torn plays the King of France without once trying to disguise his famous Texas accent.  Coppola isn’t necessarily going for historical accuracy.  Instead, in this film, Marie Antoinette serves as a stand-in for countless modern celebrities.  In the end, Marie Antoinette is portrayed as not being much different from Paris Hilton or Kardashian.  Meanwhile, the people who eventually show up outside the palace, carrying torches and shouting threats, are the same as the viewers who loudly condemn reality television while obsessively watching every episode of it.

Coppola’s stylized direction results in a film that is both thought-provoking and gorgeous to look at and which is also features several deliberate anachronisms.  (In many ways, Marie Antoinette blatantly ridicules the very idea that history can be accurately recreated.)  Perhaps because it was following up the beloved Lost In Translation, Marie Antoinette has never got as much praise as it deserves but I think it’s a film that is totally deserving of a reevaluation.

(Sidenote: Fans of Italian horror should keep an eye out for Asia Argento, who has a small but very important supporting role.)

Film Review: The Secret Life of Pets (dir by Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney)


The_Secret_Life_of_Pets_poster

If you own a pet, then you know the experience of wondering what they do all day while your away from the house.  My sister Erin and I own a black cat named Doc.  When I leave the house in the morning, he’s usually sleeping on the couch.  When I come back home 8 hours later, he’s usually still there.

“Doc,” I’ll say, “didn’t you do anything while I was gone!?”

“Meh,” Doc will reply, before getting up, stretching, and then hopping off the couch.  He’ll then lead me into the kitchen and demand that I feed him.  Once he’s been fed, he’ll hop back up on the couch, curl up, and wait for Erin to come home.

Now, personally, I think that’s all an act.  There’s no way that any living creature could spend 8 hours doing nothing.  My theory is that Doc spends the day patrolling the house, taunting the dogs next door, and watching old movies on TCM.  But, until I learn to speak his language (because he has shown next to no interest in learning how to speak English), I will never be able to talk about classic Hollywood filmmaking with him.  And that’s a tragedy.

The new animated film, The Secret Life of Pets, shows us what pets do when their owners aren’t around.  (Or, at the very least, it shows what a small group of animals in Manhattan do.)  Some pets party.  Some hunt. A lost guinea pig named Norman (voiced by the film’s director,Chris Renaud) wanders through the heating ducts and tries to find his way home.  Chloe (voiced by Lake Bell), a Tabby cat, lays about her apartment and talks about how apathetic she is.

Meanwhile, a terrier named Max (Louis C.K.) spends all of his time eagerly waiting for his owner, Katie (Ellie Kemper), to come home.  Max is very proud of the fact that he and Katie are best friends.  His life revolves around her, so you can imagine his surprise when Katie comes home with a new dog.  Duke (Eric Stonestreet) is a gigantic and shaggy mongrel.  Even though Katie says that Duke is now a part of the family, Max takes an immediate dislike to him.  When Duke’s attempts to be friendly are ignored, he responds by turning into a bully.

(In Duke’s defense, he has just gotten out of the pound.  Before he was captured, he was owned by a kindly old man but, one day, Duke got out of the house and got lost.  When you consider what Duke has suffered, you can’t help but feel that he has the right to be a little bit grouchy.)

After Max and Duke both get lost while being taken for a walk, Max decides to help Duke get back to his old home.  Meanwhile, under the leadership of Gidget (Jenny Slate), a Pomeranian who has a crush on Max, all of the other pets try to track down their friend and help him return home before he’s captured by animal control.

And, then there’s the revolutionaries.  Living in the sewers, a group of former pets are plotting to overthrow their former owners.  They are being led by a bunny named Snowball, who is not only a sociopath but also sounds exactly like Kevin Hart.

Anyway, The Secret Life of Pets is a cute film.  It never quite escapes the shadow of Toy Story 3 (which it frequently resembles) but it’s genuinely sweet and Louis C.K. does such a good job voicing Max that even a cat person like me couldn’t help but fall in love with that neurotic little dog.  There are a few jokes that don’t quite work (To cite just one example, the film introduces a hawk voiced by Albert Brooks and then fails to really do anything with the character) but you really can’t go wrong with talking animals.  The Secret Life of Pets is a cute little crowd pleaser.  It might not make you think in the way that a great Pixar film can make you think but it will definitely make you laugh and leave you feeling good.

It might make you cry, too!  There’s a montage of various owners coming home and being greeted by their pets and it caused my mismatched eyes to tear up because it was just so sweet!

I think I’m going to go give Doc a hug now…

Film Review: Minions (dir by Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda)


Minions_posterThe Minions, everyone’s favorite group of little yellow weirdos from the first two Despicable Me films, now have a movie of their very own!  Earlier tonight, Jeff and I braved a theater that was full of hyperactive little children and we watched Minions.

I have to admit that I was really looking forward to seeing Minions.  After all, I loved both of the Despicable Me movies and, much like Through the Shattered Lens co-founder Arleigh Sandoc, I thought the minions were pretty adorable.  Along with the fact that they were just so weird that you couldn’t help but love them, the minions were distinguished by the wonderfully cheerful approach that they took towards their work.  Even when one of them was accidentally launched into space during the original Despicable Me, he continued to smile.  He was just happy to be a part of the project.  Seriously, who wouldn’t want a bunch of minions to do her bidding?

Now, it was established during the first Despicable Me movie that the minions were specifically created by the super villain Gru.  However, Minions reimagines their origins.  Now, we discover that the minions have existed since the beginning of time and, apparently immune from aging, they have always sought to serve a villainous master.  During the film’s opening, we watch as they serve a Tyrannosaurus Rex, Dracula, and Napoleon.  Unfortunately, the minions’ combination of enthusiasm and stupidity proves fatal to most of their employers.

Eventually, the minions find themselves exiled to Antarctica.  After several centuries, the minions find themselves suffering from depression and ennui.  Finally, three brave minions (all voiced by director Pierre Coffin) volunteer to go out into the world and find a new master to serve.  Kevin is the responsible leader.  Bob is the cute, enthusiastic one who always carries a teddy bear with him.  (Bob also has heterochromia, just like me!)  And finally, Stuart is the one who likes to play his guitar.

Kevin, Bob, and Stuart get in a rowboat and eventually, they reach New York City.  However, it turns out that the year is 1968 and there is a serious shortage of evil super villains to serve!  Not only is Gru just a child but Bill Clinton hasn’t even launched his political career yet!  Eventually, though, our three minions learn about Villain-Con, being held in Orlando, Florida.  Hitching a ride with a family of aspiring bank robbers (Micheal Keaton is the voice of the father), the minions reach Orlando and eventually, they end up working for Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock) and her husband, Herb (Jon Hamm).

Scarlet explains that, ever since she was a little girl, she has wanted to be the Queen of England.  But she doesn’t have the crown!  She orders Kevin, Stuart, and Bob to get that crown and reads them a bedtime story about three minions who failed to get a crown and were subsequently killed by an angry wolf.  AGCK!

This leads to our three minions going to London and, since it’s 1968, that also leads to a lot of good (if predictable) songs on the soundtrack.  As a result of several odd incidents, Bob is briefly the King of England.  And things only get stranger from there…

The children in the audience loved it but, at the same time, I could never bring myself to like Minions as much as I wanted to.  Minions just doesn’t have as much heart as Despicable Me.  There’s no moment in Minions that’s anywhere close to being as joyful as the “It’s so fluffy” scene from Despicable Me.  The minions are fun supporting characters but they don’t quite work as well as protagonists for a 91 minutes film.  Sandra Bullock tries really hard as Scarlet Overkill but she just doesn’t have the right voice for the character.  Part of Sandra Bullock’s appeal, after all, is that she not only looks but sounds like she’s totally down-to-earth and that’s one thing that Scarlet definitely is not.  Jon Hamm, however, is hilarious as the vacuous Herb.

Minions is a cute movie that doesn’t really make much of an impression.  Kids will love it, though.  And, even though I would never actually eat there, I’m still going to go by McDonald’s and order a Happy Meal so I can get the little minion that’s inside.

(Especially if it’s one of those cursing minions…)

Cursing Minions

A Teasing Glimpse Into The Secret Life of Pets


TheSecretLifeofPets

Pixar and Dreamworks had been the only two big boys in the CG-animated block, but in the last couple years we’ve had another studio make some inroads into that very block. It’s the studio that brought to the world Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2. It is also set to release Minions (itself a spin-off from the Despicable Me franchise).

Illumination Entertainment has released the first teaser trailer for their 2016 offering: The Secret Life of Pets.

From the look of the trailer we may be looking forward to a sort of Toy Story-type narrative but instead of toys coming to life and behaving like their owners it’s pets standing in.

The Secret Life of Pets is set for a July 8, 2016 release date.

Shattered Politics #85: In the Loop (dir by Armando Iannucci)


In_the_Loop_poster

First released in 2009, In The Loop is one of the most brilliant political satires ever made.

The film opens in London, as a slightly ridiculous man named Toby (Chris Addison) starts his first day as the special assistant to the Secretary of State for International Development, Simon Foster (Tom Hollander).  And what a day to start!  Both the President of the United States and the British Prime Minister are eager to invade the Middle East and, during an interview the previous night, Simon accidentally announced that war was “unforseeable.”  This has led to people accidentally assuming that Simon is anti-war (Simon really doesn’t seem to have an opinion one way or the other) but it also means that the Prime Minister’s compulsively profane assistant, Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi), is now running around the office and threatening people.

(I doubt that there’s any way that I can do justice to Capaldi’s performance here.  You simply have to see him.  He is a force of nature, a tornado of nonstop profanity and aggression.)

Not every government official in the U.S. is enthusiastic about going to war.  Both Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomacy Karen Clarke (Mimi Kennedy) and her former lover, Gen. George Miller (James Gandolfini) are opposed to the war.  Karen’s assistant, Liza (Anna Chlumsky), has even written a paper that explains why a war in the Middle East could not be won.  Karen hopes to use Simon as a spokesman to keep the British out of the war and, therefore, America as well.

(Toby, meanwhile, just wants to have sex with Liza.)

However, there are a few factors that complicate things.  First off, Malcolm is determined to make sure that the Prime Minister gets what he wants and if that means bullying and scaring everyone into supporting an unwinnable war, that’s exactly what he’s going to do.  Secondly, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State For Policy Linton Barwick (David Rasche) is eager enough to start a war that he’s actually started a secret committee to find a way to get into the war.  (The committee, of course, has been called the Committee For Future Planning.)  Third, and perhaps most importantly, Simon is an idiot.

Along with being both a satire of American-British relations (my favorite moment comes when a random American tourist tells Malcolm to stop cursing in public) and the lead-up to the Iraq War, In The Loop is also a devastating look at how government works.  In the Loop makes a good case that, for all the titles and the committee and the talk about doing what’s right, most government policy is the result of a combination of stupidity and needless aggression.  As played by Capaldi, Malcolm has no ideology or core beliefs.  He simply makes sure that the Prime Minister gets what he wants.

And if that means going to war, then Malcolm will do whatever it takes to push Britain into war.

Director Armando Iannucci is probably best known for creating two political comedies, the Thick of It and Veep.  And while I’ve never seen The Thick Of It, I absolutely love Veep.  From what I’ve read, all three projects share the same fictional universe.  (Capaldi’s Malcolm was the main character on The Thick Of It.)

Though, actually, I think it’s debatable just how fictional that universe is.  Ultimately, In The Loop is probably one of the most plausible satires that I’ve ever seen.