Film Review: Hamlet (dir by Michael Almereyda)


What if Hamlet was a hipster douchebag?

That appears to be the question at the heart of the 2000 film adaptation of William Shakespeare’s most famous play.  In this adaptation, a young Ethan Hawke plays a Hamlet who is no longer a melancholy prince but who is instead a film student with a petulant attitude.

As you probably already guessed, this is one of those modern day adaptations of Shakespeare.  Denmark is now a Manhattan-based corporation.  Elsinore is a hotel.  Hamlet ponders life while wandering around a Blockbuster and, at one point, the ghost of his father stands in front of a Pepsi machine.  While Shakespeare’s dialogue remains unchanged, everyone delivers their lives while wearing modern clothing.  It’s one of those things that would seem rather brave and experimental if not for the fact that modern day versions of Shakespeare have gone from being daring to being a cliché.

At the film’s start, the former CEO of the Denmark Corporation has mysteriously died and his brother, Claudius (Kyle MacLachlan), has not only taken over the company but he’s also married the widow, Gertrude (Diane Venora).  Hamlet comes home from film school, convinced that there has been a murder and his suspicions are eventually confirmed by the ghost of his father (Sam Shepard).  Meanwhile, poor Ophelia (Julia Stiles) takes pictures of flowers while her brother, Laertes (Liev Schreiber), glowers in the background.  Polonius (Bill Murray) offers up pointless advice while Fortinbras (Casey Affleck) is reimagined as a corporate investor and Rosencrantz (Steve Zahn) wears a hockey jersey.  Hamlet spends a lot of time filming himself talking and the Mousetrap is no longer a player but instead an incredibly over-the-top short film that will probably remind you of the killer video from The Ring.

I guess a huge part of this film’s appeal was meant to be that it featured a lot of people who you wouldn’t necessarily think of as being Shakespearean actors. Some of them did a surprisingly good job.  For instance, Kyle MacLachlan was wonderully villainous as Claudius and Steve Zahn was the perfect Rosencrantz.  Others, like Diane Venora and Liev Schreiber, were adequate without being particularly interesting.  But then you get to Bill Murray as Polonius and you start to realize that quirkiness can only take things so far.  Murray does a pretty good job handling Shakespeare’s dialogue but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s totally miscast as the misguided and foolish Polonius.  One could easily imagine Murray in the role of Osiric.  Though it may initially seem a stretch, one could even imagine him playing Claudius.  But he’s simply not right for the role of Polonius.  Murray’s screen presence is just too naturally snarky for him to be convincing as a character who alternates between being a “tedious, old fool” and an obsequious ass kisser.

Considering that he spends a large deal of the movie wearing a snow cap while wandering around downtown Manhattan, Ethan Hawke does a surprisingly good job as Hamlet.  Or, I should say, he does a good job as this film’s version of Hamlet.  Here, Hamlet is neither the indecisive avenger nor the Oedipal madman of previous adaptations.  Instead, he’s portrayed as being rather petulant and self-absorbed, which doesn’t necessarily go against anything that one might find within Shakespeare’s original text.  Hawke’s not necessarily a likable Hamlet but his interpretation is still a credible one.

At one point, while Hamlet thinks about revenge, we see that he’s watching Laurence Olivier’s version of Hamlet on television.  There’s Olivier talking to Yorick’s skull while Hawke watches.  It’s a scene that is somehow both annoying and amusing at the same time.  On the one hand, it feels rather cutesy and more than a little pretentious.  At the same time, it’s so over-the-top in its pretension that you can’t help but kind of smile at the sight of it.  To me, that scene epitomizes the film as a whole.  It’s incredibly silly but it’s so unapologetic that it’s easy to forgive.

Film Review: Rescue Dawn (dir by Werner Herzog)


Dieter Dengler (Christian Bale) has been obsessed with flying ever since he was a child in Germany.  Towards the end of World War II, while his native country burned around him, Dieter would stare up at the skies and watch the American planes fly overhead and he knew that was not only what he wanted to do someday but also who he wanted to do it for.  Jump forward two decades, to 1966.  Dengler is now a lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force, an always smiling optimist who is considered to be something of a wild man.  When Dengler is reported as having been shot down over Loas, his fellow pilots are not only convinced that Dengler survived but that he’ll also eventually escape captivity.  Why?  Because they now Dieter Dengler is not the type to give up.

And they’re right.  Dengler not only survives the crash but he also survives in the wild.  After growing up in the rubble of Germany, Dengler is confident that he can survive anything.  Even when he’s finally captured by communist rebels, Dengler remains optimistic that he’ll make it back home.  When he’s told that he can go free if he signs a statement denouncing the United States, he refuses.  Dengler’s not going to turn on the country that allows him to fly.  Dengler soon finds himself being held in a POW camp with four other men, including two other Americans (played by Jeremy Davies and Steve Zahn).  The guards are determined to break Dengler but he’s just as determined to escape.  Hearing that it’s impossible to do so only makes Dengler more determined.

The story of Dieter Dengler and his eventual escape from captivity was originally told, by Dengler himself, in Werner Herzog’s 1997 documentary, Little Dieter Needs To Fly.  That Herzog saw Dengler as a kindred spirit is evident in the fact that, 9 years after the documentary, Herzog again told Dengler’s story in the 2006 film, Rescue Dawn.

On the face of it, a story about a group of Americans escaping from a POW camp might sound like an unlikely topic for a Werner Herzog film but it doesn’t take long for Herzog to put his own distinctive stamp on the project.  As played by Bale, Dengler is another one of Herzog’s obessessive heroes.  Dengler’s obsession is not just with flying but also with being free.  For Dengler, that’s what being an American means and that’s why he would rather be tortured than sign a simple piece of paper denying the existence of that freedom.  Much as how Grizzly Man portrayed Timothy Treadwell as being a man who would rather be eaten by a bear than live a life that’s been dictated by others, Dengler would rather suffer than betray his adopted country.

Rescue Dawn also centers around another common Herzog theme, the pitilessness of nature.  Watching Dengler trying to make his way through the jungle, we’re reminded that nature will always win in the end.  In Herzog’s world, neither nature nor the universe as a whole has any ideology.  Long after every warrior has died, the film tells us, nature will still be there.  The one thing that the POWs and their captors have in common is that they’re all at the mercy of the chaos of nature.  Just as the jungle threatens to swallow up Dengler and the other prisoners, their captors are slowly starving to death due to a drought.  As filmed by Herzog, the jungle is both beautiful and overwhelming.  Even at the film’s triumphant conclusion, it’s hard not to feel that, for all the planning, Dengler’s escape and survival was due to the random chaos of the universe.  How much can we control and how much must we simply leave up to the whim of nature?

Bale, Davies, and Zahn all give excellent performances and Herzog keeps the story moving quickly.  It’s probably one of his most emotionally accessible films and it’s impossible not to shed a tear at that final scene.  That said, I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that there’s a good deal of controversy about the way that Rescue Dawn portrays Gene DeBruin, the POW played by Jeremy Davies.  The film often contrasts Dengler with DeBruin.  If Dengler is always hopeful and determined, DeBruin is portrayed as being unstable and unreliable.  However, by most accounts — including the one given by another one of the prisoners — DeBruin was actually the exact opposite of how he was portrayed in the film.  Instead of being selfish, he was a source of strength for the POWs and he actually refused to take advantage of a previous chance to escape because it would have meant abandoning the rest of the prisoners.  Herzog has said that he wasn’t aware of DeBruin’s heroism when he wrote and directed the film and that he now regrets the way that DeBruin was portrayed.  (DeBruin’s brother has said that Herzog refused to talk to the family while the film was in poduction.)  Rescue Dawn is a well-made and wonderfully acted film and it’s one that always brings tears to my mismatched eyes but, while watching it, it’s impossible not to regret the injustice that was done to Gene DeBruin.

The Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Get In With Get Out!


Today, the Washington D.C. Area Film Critics announced their picks for the best of 2017!  After picking up awards from many of the other precursors, Get Out has finally been named best picture of the year.  While it’s always debatable how much weight these various groups carry with the Academy, Get Out can use all the help it can get to become one of the few horror films to ever receive a best picture nomination.

​Best Film
Call Me by Your Name
Dunkirk
Get Out – WINNER
Lady Bird
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Best Director
Guillermo del Toro – The Shape of Water
Greta Gerwig – Lady Bird
Christopher Nolan – Dunkirk – WINNER
Jordan Peele – Get Out
Dee Rees – Mudbound

Best Actor
Timothée Chalamet – Call Me By Your Name
Daniel Day-Lewis – Phantom Thread
James Franco – The Disaster Artist
Daniel Kaluuya – Get Out
Gary Oldman – Darkest Hour – WINNER

Best Actress
Sally Hawkins – The Shape of Water
Frances McDormand – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri – WINNER
Margot Robbie – I, Tonya
Saoirse Ronan – Lady Bird
Meryl Streep – The Post

Best Supporting Actor
Willem Dafoe – The Florida Project
Armie Hammer – Call Me By Your Name
Jason Mitchell – Mudbound
Sam Rockwell – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri – WINNER
Michael Stuhlbarg – Call Me By Your Name

Best Supporting Actress
Mary J. Blige – Mudbound
Tiffany Haddish – Girls Trip
Holly Hunter – The Big Sick
Allison Janney – I, Tonya
Laurie Metcalf – Lady Bird – WINNER

Best Acting Ensemble
Dunkirk
It
Mudbound
The Post
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri – WINNER

Best Youth Performance
Dafne Keen – Logan
Sophia Lillis – It
Brooklynn Prince – The Florida Project – WINNER
Millicent Simmonds – Wonderstruck
Jacob Tremblay – Wonder

Best Voice Performance
Will Arnett – The LEGO Batman Movie
Gael García Bernal – Coco
Michael Cera – The LEGO Batman Movie
Bradley Cooper – Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Anthony Gonzalez – Coco – WINNER

Best Motion Capture Performance
Andy Serkis – War for the Planet of the Apes – WINNER
Dan Stevens – Beauty and the Beast
Steve Zahn – War for the Planet of the Apes
Taika Waititi – Thor: Ragnarok

Best Original Screenplay
Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani – The Big Sick
Jordan Peele – Get Out – WINNER
Greta Gerwig – Lady Bird
Martin McDonagh – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri
Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor – The Shape of Water

Best Adapted Screenplay
Hampton Fancher & Michael Green, Story by Hampton Fancher – Blade Runner 2049
James Ivory – Call Me by Your Name
Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber – The Disaster Artist
Aaron Sorkin – Molly’s Game
Virgil Williams and Dee Rees – Mudbound – WINNER

Best Animated Feature
The Breadwinner
Coco – WINNER
Despicable Me 3
The LEGO Batman Movie
Loving Vincent

Best Documentary
City of Ghosts
Faces Places
An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power
Jane – WINNER
Step

Best Foreign Language Film
BPM (Beats Per Minute) – WINNER
First They Killed My Father
In the Fade
The Square
Thelma

Best Production Design
Beauty and the Beast
Blade Runner 2049 – WINNER
Dunkirk
The Shape of Water
Wonder Woman

Best Cinematography
Roger A. Deakins – Blade Runner 2049 – WINNER
Sayombhu Mukdeeprom – Call Me by Your Name
Hoyte Van Hoytema – Dunkirk
Rachel Morrison – Mudbound
Dan Laustsen – The Shape of Water

Best Editing
Baby Driver – WINNER
Blade Runner 2049
Dunkirk
Get Out
The Shape of Water

Best Original Score
Blade Runner 2049 – WINNER
Coco
Dunkirk
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri

The Joe Barber Award for Best Portrayal of Washington, DC:
An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power
Last Flag Flying
Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House
Spider-Man: Homecoming
The Post – WINNER

Horror Film Review: Joy Ride (dir by John Dahl)


The 2001 film Joy Ride is an example of a subgenre of horror that I like to call the Don’t Fuck With Truckers genre.  It all started with Duel back in the early 70s and since then, there’s been a large number movies about ordinary people who end up getting on the wrong side of a trucker.

Myself, I would never piss off a trucker.  First off, I have a few cousins who are proud members of the Teamsters and I can tell you, from personal experience, that you don’t want to get on their bad side.  Secondly, those trucks are really, really big and it takes a certain amount of skill to drive them, certainly more skill than it takes me to drive my little convertible.  (Truckers can make turns in those gigantic trucks and somehow do it without crashing into a stop light.  I can barely parallel park.)  Trucks block out the road, making it impossible to see anything beyond them, which makes the prospect of trying to pass them all the more frightening.  Essentially, if you get into a vehicle fight with a trucker, you’re going to die.  There’s just no way your little car is going to be able to beat that giant truck.

Now, I have to admit that I really like Joyride but sometimes, I feel like maybe I shouldn’t.  It basically comes down to two things:

Number one, I have always defended horror movies against the charge that they always feature people making the stupidest possible decisions.  My defense is usually that people in real life are actually far more stupid than they realize and that whenever anyone says, “I would never be stupid enough to wander around a deserted camp ground in the middle of the night!,” they are essentially lying.  Seriously, everyone would do that just so they could later joke about how it was just like being in a horror movie.

That said, the majority of the characters in Joy Ride are really, really dumb.  Basically, two brothers (Steven Zahn and Paul Walker) are driving from California to Colorado so that they can pick up Walker’s best friend (Leelee Sobieski).  Along the way, Zahn and Walker decide to have some fun by getting on the CB radio and telling a trucker who calls himself Rusty Nail (voiced by Ted Levine, who was also the killer in The Silence of the Lambs) that there is a prostitute named Candy Cane waiting for him in a motel room.  The joke, of course, is that Zahn and Walker know that an obnoxious businessman is actually staying in the room.

The next morning, after playing their little joke and then listening to Rusty Nail and the businessman have a huge fight, the brothers are informed that the businessman has been found on the side of the road.  He’s still alive but his jaw was ripped off.  The brothers’ reaction is to get the Hell out of town.

Okay, so far, so good.  The joke was mean but people are mean.  Leaving town instead of helping with the police investigation was selfish but people are selfish.  What drives me crazy is that, once they’re on the road, the brothers get back on the CB radio and inform Rusty Nail that there was no Candy Cane and that they were just playing a joke on him.

IDIOTS!  Seriously, you’ve just been told that the guy ripped off another man’s jaw and now you’re going to piss him off more?

My other problem is that Leelee Sobieski’s character is so underdeveloped.  The film’s nearly halfway over before Zahn and Walker reach Colorado and pick her up.  Just a few scenes later, Sobieski is kidnapped by Rusty Nail.  Characterwise, she pretty much only exists to be kidnapped and held hostage.  It seems like a waste of Sobieski’s talents and the flatness of her character is especially disappointing when you consider how well-developed the characters played by Walker and Zahn are.

And yet, despite all of that, I really like Joy Ride.  It’s just a well-made film, a relentless thrill ride that succeeds largely because director John Dahl never gives the audience any time to relax and think about whether or not the film makes any sense.  As a largely unseen threat, Rusty Nail is both plausible and seemingly supernatural at the same time.  I mean, that truck literally pops up out of nowhere sometimes.  Zahn and Walker are very well-cast as brothers, with Zahn’s natural goofiness nicely paired up with Walker’s natural earnestness.  You like them, even if they are selfish idiots.

Almost despite itself, Joy Ride is a good movie and it features an important message: Don’t fuck with truckers.

What If Lisa Had All The Power And Picked The Oscar Nominees: 2015 Edition


oscar trailer kitties

With the Oscar nominations due to be announced tomorrow, now is the time that the Shattered Lens indulges in a little something called, “What if Lisa had all the power.” Listed below are my personal Oscar nominations. Please note that these are not the films that I necessarily think will be nominated. The fact of the matter is that the many of them will not. Instead, these are the films that would be nominated if I was solely responsible for deciding the nominees this year. Winners are starred and listed in bold.

(You’ll also note that I’ve added four categories, all of which I believe the Academy should adopt — Best Voice-Over Performance, Best Casting, Best Stunt Work, and Best Overall Use Of Music In A Film.)

(Click on the links to see my nominations for 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, and 2010!)

best picture

Best Picture
Brooklyn
*Carol*
Clouds of Sils Maria
Ex Machina
The Final Girls
Inside Out
Mad Max: Fury Road
Room
Sicario
Straight Outta Compton

George Miller

Best Director
John Crowley for Brooklyn
Alex Garland for Ex Machina
F. Gary Gray for Straight Outta Compton
Todd Haynes for Carol
*George Miller for Mad Max: Fury Road*
Denis Villeneuve for Sicario

Jacob Tremblay

Best Actor
John Cusack in Love & Mercy
Gerard Depardieu in Welcome To New York
Johnny Depp in Black Mass
Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant
Michael B. Jordan in Creed
*Jacob Tremblay in Room*

alicia vikander

Best Actress
Katharine Isabelle in 88
Brie Larson in Room
Rooney Mara in Carol
Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn
Amy Schumer in Trainwreck
*Alicia Vikander in Ex Machina*

Del Toro

Best Supporting Actor
Michael Angarano in The Stanford Prison Experiment
Paul Dano in Love & Mercy
*Benicio Del Toro in Sicario*
Idris Elba in Beasts of No Nation
Arnold Schwarzenegger in Maggie
Sylvester Stallone in Creed

MA

Best Supporting Actress
*Malin Akerman in The Final Girls*
Elizabeth Banks in Love & Mercy
Cate Blanchett in Carol
Jessica Chastain in Crimson Peak
Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hateful Eight
Kristen Stewart in Clouds of Sils Maria

amyp

Best Voice Over Performance
Jon Hamm in Minions
Richard Kind in Inside Out
Jason Mantzoukas in The Regular Show Movie
*Amy Poehler in Inside Out*
James Spader in Avengers: The Age Of Ultron
Steve Zahn in The Good Dinosaur

EM

Best Original Screenplay
Clouds of Sils Maria
*Ex Machina*
The Final Girls
Inside Out
Sicario
Trainwreck

mara_blanchett_carol

Best Adapted Screenplay
Brooklyn
*Carol*
The End of the Tour
Love & Mercy
Room
The Walk

Inside_Out_(2015_film)_poster

Best Animated Film
*Inside Out*
The Good Dinosaur
Minions
The Peanuts Movie
The Regular Show Movie
Shaun The Sheep

Amy_Movie_Poster

Best Documentary Feature:
3 ½ Minutes 10 Bullets
*Amy*
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief
Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s The Island of Dr. Moreau
Prophet’s Prey
The Wolfpack

The_Tribe_poster

Best Foreign Language Film
The Connection
Gloria
The Mafia Only Kills In Summer
Misunderstood
A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Contemplating Existence
*The Tribe*

Brooklyn

Best Casting
*Brooklyn*
Carol
Mad Max: Fury Road
Sicario
Straight Outta Compton
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Sicario

Best Cinematography
Carol
Clouds of Sils Maria
The Green Inferno
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant
*Sicario*

carol3

Best Costume Design
Brooklyn
*Carol*
Cinderella
Ex Machina
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Suffragette

MMedit

Best Editing
Carol
Ex Machina
*Mad Max: Fury Road*
Room
Sicario
Straight Outta Compton

Arnold-Schwarzenegger-in-Maggie

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Black Mass
Brooklyn
Carol
Mad Max: Fury Road
*Maggie*
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

bl

Best Original Score
*Carol*
The Hateful Eight
It Follows
Mad Max: Fury Road
The Revenant
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Spy2015_TeaserPoster

Best Original Song
“Love Me Like You Do” from Fifty Shades of Grey
“See You Again” from Furious 7
“Better When I’m Dancing” from The Peanuts Movie
“Flashlight” from Pitch Perfect 2
“Feels Like Summer” from Shaun the Sheep
*“Who Can You Trust” from Spy*

Compton 2

Best Overall Use Of Music
Furious 7
The Hateful Eight
Joy
Love & Mercy
The Martian
*Straight Outta Compton*

cp

Best Production Design
*Crimson Peak*
Ex Machina
The Final Girls
Mad Max: Fury Road
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Unfriended

sicario-emily-blunt-trailer

Best Sound Editing
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Furious 7
The Revenant
*Sicario*
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Straight Outta Compton

Compton

Best Sound Mixing
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Furious 7
The Revenant
Sicario
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
*Straight Outta Compton*

MM Stunt

Best Stunt Work
Furious 7
Kingsman: The Secret Service
*Mad Max: Fury Road*
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
Spy
Star Wars: The Force Awakens

star-wars-force-awakens-official-poster

Best Visual Effects
Ant-Man
Avengers: The Age of Ultron
Ex Machina
Mad Max: Fury Road
*Star Wars: The Force Awakens*
The Walk

Films By Number of Nominations:
11 Nominations – Carol
10 Nominations – Mad Max: Fury Road
9 Nominations – Sicario, Star Wars: The Force Awakens
8 Nominations – Ex Machina
7 Nominations – Brooklyn, Straight Outta Compton
5 Nominations – Furious 7, Inside Out, Love & Mercy, The Revenant, Room
4 Nominations – Avengers: The Age of Ultron, Clouds of Sils MariaThe Final Girls
3 Nominations – The Hateful Eight
2 Nominations – Black Mass, Creed, Crimson Peak, The Good Dinosaur, Maggie, Minions, The Peanuts Movie, The Regular Show Movie, Shaun the SheepSpy, Trainwreck, The Walk
1 Nomination – 3 ½ Minutes 10 Bullets, 50 Shades of Grey, 88, Amy, Ant-Man, Beasts of No Nation, Cinderella, The Connection, The End of The Tour, Gloria, Going Clear, The Green Inferno, It Follows, Joy, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Mafia Only Kills in Summer, The Martian, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, Misunderstood, A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence, Pitch Perfect 2, Prophet’s Prey, The Stanford Prison Experiment, Suffragette, The Tribe, UnfriendedWelcome to New York, The Wolfpack

Films By Number of Oscars Won:
4 Oscars – Carol
3 Oscars – Mad Max: Fury Road, Sicario
2 Oscars – Ex Machina, Inside Out, Straight Outta Compton
1 Oscar – Amy, Brooklyn, Crimson Peak, The Final Girls, Maggie, Room, Spy, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Tribe

Will the Academy be smart enough to agree with me on these picks?  We will find out on Thursday!

Lisa and Evelyn at the Oscars

Lisa and Evelyn at the Oscars

Playing Catch Up: The Good Dinosaur and The Peanuts Movie


The Good Dinosaur (dir by Peter Sohn)

It may be hard to remember this now but, at the beginning of 2015, a lot of film bloggers were very excited about an upcoming film from Pixar Studios.  “This,” they said, “is the film that will remind people why they love Pixar in the first place!  In fact, this might be the first animated film to get a best picture nomination since Toy Story 3!”  Of course, there was another movie from Pixar that was due to come out in 2015 but everyone agreed that movie sounded too weird and silly to be a legitimate contender.  One of the movies would be a huge success and the other would probably be forgotten in a year or two.

And, at the time, everyone was sure that The Good Dinosaur would be the triumph while Inside Out would be the also-ran.

Instead, the exact opposite happened.  Inside Out turned out to be one of the most innovative and charming animated films ever.  Meanwhile, The Good Dinosaur — despite being a financial and critical success — has struggled to escape from Inside Out‘s shadow.

But you know what?  Taken on its own terms, The Good Dinosaur is a likable and entertaining movie.  No, it’s not as good as Inside Out but then again, the same can be said for a lot of good movie that were released in 2015.  Inside Out, of course, is a movie for adults that can still be enjoyed by kids.  The Good Dinosaur is definitely a movie for kids but it’s still visually striking enough that adults can get something out of it as well.

Plotwise, The Good Dinosaur imagines a world in which that meteorite did not strike the Earth and dinosaurs and humans developed next to each other.  A teenage dinosaur — eager to prove that he’s worthy despite being clumsy and easily scared — gets separated from his family and tries to get back to them.  Along the way, he deals with villainous pterodactyls and befriends a human child that he names Spot.  Sadly, the film brings about as much depth to the idea of talking dinosaurs as Pixar previously brought to the idea of talking cars but still, it’s an enjoyable and undeniably effective film.  Unlike Inside Out, it may not be great but it’s definitely good enough.

The Peanuts Movie (dir by Steve Martino)

My sister Erin and I saw The Peanuts Movie when it first opened last November.  As we left the theater, we both agreed that the movie was genuinely sweet and cute but that the ending just didn’t feel right.  Ultimately, we agreed that the ending was just too happy.

I don’t claim to be the world’s biggest expert on the life of Charlie Brown but I do know that he’s been around for nearly 70 years and, in that time, I don’t think he’s ever really had a traditionally happy ending.  From what I’ve seen of his holiday specials, it seems that Charlie is usually fated to end up sitting by himself while snow falls all around him.  And really, that always seemed to be the main appeal of Charlie Brown as a character.  Even though nothing ever goes his way, he never stops trying.  Even though he may sometimes get discouraged, he never gives up.  The Peanuts Movie actually rewards Charlie Brown for his patience and that didn’t quite feel right.

But you know what?  Maybe, after 70 years, Charlie Brown has finally earned the right to have at least one unambiguously positive ending.  The Peanuts Movie was a financial success so I imagine there will be a sequel.  If, during that sequel, Charlie wins a game or kicks that football or gets a kite to fly or actually wears a flattering outfit, it’ll be a problem.  But for now, it’s acceptable and perhaps even appropriate that he finally got to feel good about something at the end of The Peanuts Movie.

As for the rest of the film, it’s a cute homage to the original Peanuts specials.  Despite that happy ending, it remains true to the spirit of its source material and it’s obvious that the filmmakers had a lot of affection for Charlie, Linus, Snoopy, and all the rest.

And yes, Snoopy does steal the entire film.

Was there ever any doubt?

44 Days of Paranoia #41: Shattered Glass (dir by Billy Ray)


For our latest entry in the 44 Days of Paranoia, we take a look at one of the best films of the first decade of the 21st Century, 2003’s Shattered Glass.

Shattered Glass tells the true story of Stephen Glass (played, in a surprisingly brilliant way, by Hayden Christensen), a smart and charming journalist who, through a combination of showmanship and carefully calculated moments of vulnerability, has established himself as one of the top reporters at one of the top political magazines in America, The New Republic.  As the film begins, we find Glass at his old high school, giving advice to a classroom of adoring student journalists.  As the self-assured Glass talks about his career, we see scenes of him investigating, pitching, and writing his stores at the New Republic.  It’s here that we see the other side of Glass — not only is he a good writer but he’s a good salesman.  While the rest of his coworkers struggle to pitch dry-sounding stories about Congress, Glass puts on a show as he vividly describes articles about everything from offering his services as a boxing expert to witnessing drug-fueled hijinks at a Young Republican meeting.

However, as the film progresses, we see yet another side to Stephen Glass.  Not only is he a talented writer and an enthusiastic showman but he’s also a pathological liar.  When the head of the Young Republicans challenges Stephen’s article, New Republican editor Mike Kelly (Hank Azaria) investigates and, despite being initially suspicious, is eventually won over by Stephen’s apparent earnestness.

Later, after Kelly has left the magazine and been replaced by new editor Chuck Lane (Peter Sarsgaard), Stephen turns in an article entitled “Hacker Heaven.”  In the article, Stephen writes about witnessing a 12 year-old computer hacker being given a million dollar contract from a company known as Jukt Micronics.  The only problem is that a reporter at Forbes (Steve Zahn) checks the facts in Stephen’s articles and can find no evidence of a company called Jukt Micronics ever existing.

As Lane starts to look into Stephen’s reporting, it starts to become obvious to him that Stephen not only made up the events of “Hacker Heaven” but that he may have falsified several other stories as well.  Already struggling to fill the shoes of the popular Kelly, Lane now finds himself having to investigate one of his most popular reporters.

Shattered Glass is one of those fascinating and unusually intelligent films that I always make a point of watching whenever it shows up on cable.  Not only does it tell a genuinely interesting story but it also features excellent performances from Sarsgaard, Azaria, Chloe Sevigny, and especially Melanie Lynesky.

Even more importantly, it features a revelatory lead performance from Hayden Christensen.  Fairly or not, Christensen is always going to be associated with Star Wars.  In Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, Christensen didn’t seem like he was a very good actor but then again, did anyone comes out of those films looking better than before they went in?  As bad as Christensen may have been in those two films, he’s absolutely brilliant in Shattered Glass.  He plays Stephen Glass with a puppy dog eagerness to please that is deceptively charming and likable.  It’s only as the film progresses that the audience realizes that there’s nothing behind that affable facade.  Instead, it becomes apparent that he’s a sociopath who lies to hide the fact that his existence is ultimately an empty one.  It’s an amazing performance and one that will make you think twice before blindly accepting the analysis of any of the journalistic “experts” who are regularly trotted out on any of the news shows.

Shattered Glass is also a film that should be seen just so viewers can appreciate the brilliant way that Peter Sarsgaard delivers the line, “This doesn’t seem like a real business card to me.”

Shattered Glass needs to be seen.

Other Entries In The 44 Days of Paranoia 

  1. Clonus
  2. Executive Action
  3. Winter Kills
  4. Interview With The Assassin
  5. The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald
  6. JFK
  7. Beyond The Doors
  8. Three Days of the Condor
  9. They Saved Hitler’s Brain
  10. The Intruder
  11. Police, Adjective
  12. Burn After Reading
  13. Quiz Show
  14. Flying Blind
  15. God Told Me To
  16. Wag the Dog
  17. Cheaters
  18. Scream and Scream Again
  19. Capricorn One
  20. Seven Days In May
  21. Broken City
  22. Suddenly
  23. Pickup on South Street
  24. The Informer
  25. Chinatown
  26. Compliance
  27. The Lives of Others
  28. The Departed
  29. A Face In The Crowd
  30. Nixon
  31. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
  32. The Purge
  33. The Stepford Wives
  34. Saboteur
  35. A Dark Truth
  36. The Fugitive
  37. The Day of Jackal
  38. Z
  39. The Fury
  40. The Manchurian Candidate (1962)