Last year director Garry Marshall hit upon a devilishly canny approach to the romantic comedy. A more polished refinement of Hal Needham’s experimental Cannonball Run method it called for assembling a gaggle of famous faces from across the demographic spectrum and pairing them with a shallow day-in-the-life narrative packed with gobs of gooey sentiment. A cynical strategy to be sure but one that paid handsome dividends: Valentine’s Day earned over $56 million in its opening weekend surpassing even the rosiest of forecasts. Buoyed by the success Marshall and his screenwriter Katherine Fugate hastily retreated to the bowels of Hades to apply their lucrative formula to another holiday historically steeped in romantic significance and New Year’s Eve was born.
Set in Manhattan on the last day of the year New Year’s Eve crams together a dozen or so canned scenarios into one bloated barely coherent mass of cliches. As before Marshall’s recruited an impressive ensemble of minions to do his unholy bidding including Oscar winners Hilary Swank Halle Berry and Robert De Niro the latter luxuriating in a role that didn’t require him to get out of bed. High School Musical’s Zac Efron is paired up with ‘80s icon Michelle Pfeiffer – giving teenage girls and their fathers something to bond over – while Glee’s Lea Michele meets cute with a pajama-clad Ashton Kutcher. There’s Katherine Heigl in a familiar jilted-fiance role Sarah Jessica Parker as a fretful single mom and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges as the most laid-back cop in New York. Sofia Vergara and Hector Elizondo mine for cheap laughs with thick accents – his fake and hers real – and Jessica Biel and Josh Duhamel deftly mix beauty with blandness. Fans of awful music will delight in the sounds of Jon Bon Jovi straining against type to play a relevant pop musician.
The task of interweaving the various storylines is too great for Marshall and New Year’s Eve bears the distinct scent and stain of an editing-room bloodbath with plot holes so gaping that not even the brightest of celebrity smiles can obscure them. But that’s not the point – it never was. You should know better than to expect logic from a film that portrays 24-year-old Efron and 46-year-old Parker as brother-and-sister without bothering to explain how such an apparent scientific miracle might have come to pass. Marshall wagers that by the time the ball drops and the film’s last melodramatic sequence has ended prior transgressions will be absolved and moviegoers will be content to bask in New Year's Eve's artificial glow. The gambit worked for Valentine's Day; this time he may not be so fortunate.
After garnering widespread praise (and an Oscar nomination for screenwriting) for his 2000 directorial debut You Can Count on Me Kenneth Lonergan was in-demand. In September 2005 the writer/director began production on a follow-up feature: Margaret which touted Anna Paquin Matt Damon Mark Ruffalo Matthew Broderick Allison Janney as well as legendary filmmakers Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella (The English Patient) as producers. The movie wrapped production in a few months time. The buzz was already growing.
Now six years later the movie is finally hitting theaters. So…what took so long?
The journey to this point hasn't been an easy one and it shows. If a film's shot footage is a block of granite and the editing process is the careful carving that turns it into a statuesque work of art Margaret feels like it was attacked by a blind man with a jackhammer. The film is a cinematic disaster a mishmash of shallow characters overwrought politics and sporadic tones. The story follows Lisa Coen (Paquin) a New York teenager who finds herself drowning in chaos after distracting a bus driver (Ruffalo) causing him to hit and kill a pedestrian (Janney). Initially Lisa tells the police it was all an accident but as time passes regret takes hold and the girl embarks on a mission to take down the man she now regards as a culprit. That's just the tip of the iceberg–along the way Lisa deals with everyday teen stuff: falling for her geometry teacher (Damon) combating her anxiety-ridden actress mother losing her virginity dabbling in drugs debating 9/11 and the Iraq War cultivating a relationship with her father in LA and more. There are about eight seasons of television stuffed into Margaret but even a two and a half hour run time can't make it all click.
For more on Margaret check out Indie Seen: Margaret the Long Lost Anna Paquin/Matt Damon Movie
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
In the late '50s a group of elementary students put futuristic drawings in a time capsule that is then buried on school grounds. One overly obsessed kid Lucinda goes her own way by writing hundreds of mysterious seemingly non-sensical numbers on her entry. Fifty years later it’s dug up and comes into the possession of Caleb the young son of John Koestler a recent widower and astro-physics professor who becomes obsessed with the papers Caleb has brought home from class. He soon discovers the random digits are actually not-so-thinly disguised dates (including 91101 of course) for “future” disasters and there are clearly three of those dates yet to come. Although nobody believes his ramblings about this code for impending doom a nearby plane crash proves he is on to something so ominous the fate of the world could be in jeopardy. With all hell about to break loose the prof takes matters into his own hands.
WHO’S IN IT?
Just a couple of years ago Nicolas Cage starred in Next as a magician who could see into the future and had to prevent a nuclear attack. Now he’s at it again as an MIT professor who also has clues to future catastrophes and also is out to prevent the inevitable. And of course in the National Treasure films he latched on to maps that had contained similarly dark deeply held secrets. Nic clearly likes “knowing” stuff before the rest of us and he’s quite believable even if some of the circumstances in his latest sci-fi adventure are really out there -- literally. Cage somehow makes you buy into this stuff which is key to the ultimate success of the flick. As the key kids Chandler Canterbury as Caleb and Lara Robinson as Lucinda (and later Abby Lucinda’s granddaughter) are properly eerie and haunted-looking. Rose Byrne is also along for the ride as Lucinda’s grown daughter who is able to provide goosebump-inducing information that the numbers alone can’t. There’s also some dead-on creepy emoting from D.G. Maloney as a quietly foreboding stranger who seems to be following Caleb.
Unlike some recent movies of this type with nothing on the agenda but pure mayhem “Knowing” delves into the bigger issues of why we are all here providing something other than just big explosions to talk about on the way home from the multiplex. Director Alex Proyas (I Robot Dark City The Crow) certainly knows how to pull off complex action set-pieces but he and his screenwriters also seem to be genuinely interested in exploring the meaning behind the madness.
Some of the more pedantic dialogue Cage is given can be groan-inducing but since he plays John as a total believer we can forgive it. Also the film falls victim to a final act that veers into typical disaster movie territory and isn’t as compelling as the first two thirds which try to keep the premise at least marginally credible. At two hours it probably could have been tightened anyway.
The rain-soaked plane crash sequence with its gritty hand-held photography is riveting to watch and one of the most frightening depictions of a jetliner disaster put on film yet.
GO OUT AND GET POPCORN WHEN ...
If you are really squeamish it might be worth "knowing" that you should take breaks in the big disaster sequences as the CGI effects can get pretty violent and graphic particularly for a PG-13 movie.
The Writers Guild of America has announced its nominations for outstanding achievement in screen in 2002.
Antwone Fisher, Bowling for Columbine, Far From Heaven, Gangs of New York and My Big Fat Greek Wedding have been nominated for the WGA's best original screenplay award.
About a Boy, About Schmidt, Adaptation, Chicago and
The Hours meanwhile will contend for best adapted screenplay.
Antwone Fisher, Written by Antwone Fisher; Fox Searchlight
Bowling for Columbine, Written by Michael Moore; United Artists/Alliance Atlantis/Salter Street Films/Dog Eat Dog Films
Far From Heaven, Written by Todd Haynes; Focus Features
Gangs of New York, Screenplay by Jay Cocks and Steven Zaillian and Kenneth Lonergan, story by Jay Cocks; Miramax Films
My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Written by Nia Vardalos; Gold Circle Films/HBO/MPH Entertainment/Playtone
About a Boy, Screenplay by Peter Hedges and Chris Weitz & Paul Weitz, based on the novel by Nick Hornby; Universal Pictures/Studio Canal/Working Title Films/Tribeca Productions
About Schmidt, Screenplay by Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor, based on the novel by Louis Begley; New Line Cinema
Adaptation, Screenplay by Charlie Kaufman and Donald Kaufman, based on the book The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean; Columbia Pictures
Chicago, Screenplay by Bill Condon, based on the musical play, book by Bob Fosse and Fred Ebb and the play by Maurine Dallas Watkins; Miramax Films
The Hours, Screenplay by David Hare, based on the novel by Michael Cunningham; Paramount Pictures/Miramax Films
Animation--any length--one airing time (new category)
"The Bart Wants What It Wants" (The Simpsons), Written by John Frink & Don Payne; Gracie Films in association with 20th Century Fox Television; Fox
"Blame It on Lisa" (The Simpsons), Written by Bob Bendetson; Gracie Films in association with 20th Century Fox Television; Fox
"Godfellas" (Futurama), Written by Ken Keeler; 20th Century Fox Television; Fox
"Jaws Wired Shut" (The Simpsons), Written by Matt Selman; Gracie Films in association with 20th Century Fox Television; Fox
"My Own Private Rodeo" (King of the Hill), Written by Alex Gregory & Peter Huyck; 20th Century Fox Television Productions in association with Deedle-Dee Productions, Judgmental Films and 3 Arts Entertainment; Fox
Santa Baby! Written by Peter Bakalian & Suzanne Collins; Rankin/Bass; Fox
Original Long Form--over one hour--one or two parts, one or two airing times
Dor to Door, Written by William H. Macy & Steven Schachter; Turner Pages, Inc.; TNT
The Gathering Storm, Teleplay by Hugh Whitemore, Story by Larry Ramin and Hugh Whitemore; a Scott Free Production in association with HBO Films; HBO
Sins of the Father Written by John Pielmeier, based on the magazine article that appeared in Texas Monthly by Pamela Colloff; Artisan; FX
Strange Relations, Written by Tim Kazurinsky; Showtime; Granada Entertainment; Showtime
Adapted Long Form--over one hour--one or two parts, one or two airing times
"Batogne" (Band of Brothers), Written by Bruce C. McKenna, based on the book by Stephen E. Ambrose; DreamWorks/Playtone/HBO; HBO
Hysterical Blindness, Teleplay by Laura Cahill, based on the play by Laura Cahill; Hysterical Films, Inc.; HBO
Last Call, Screenplay by Henry Bromell, based on the memoir Against the Current: As I Remember F. Scott Fitzgerald by Frances Kroll Ring; Room 520/Barnstorm Films; Showtime
Mark Twain's Roughing It, Teleplay by Steven H. Berman, based on the book Roughing It by Mark Twain; Larry Levinson Productions; Hallmark Channel
Episodic Drama--any length, one airing time
"Game On" (The West Wing), Written by Aaron Sorkin & Paul Redford; John Wells Productions in association with Warner Bros. Television; NBC
"In Place of Anger" (Six Feet Under), Written by Christian Taylor; Six Feet Productions; HBO
"Nino Del Polvo" (Resurrection Boulevard), Written by Robert Eisele; Showtime; Viacom Productions, Inc.; Patagonia House; Showtime
"On the Beach" (ER), Written by John Wells; Constant C Productions; Amblin Television; Warner Bros. Television; NBC
Pilot (The Education of Max Bickford), Written by Dawn Prestwich & Nicole Yorkin; 20th Century Fox Television; CBS
"Whoever Did This" (The Sopranos), Written by Robin Green & Mitchell Burgess; Soprano Productions, Inc.; HBO
Episodic Comedy--any length, one airing time
"Change of Address" (Sex and the City), Written by Julie Rottenberg & Elisa Zuritsky; Darren Star Productions in association with HBO Original Programming; HBO
"I Heart NY" (Sex and the City), Written by Michael Patrick King; Darren Star Productions in association with HBO Original Programming; HBO
Pilot (The Bernie Mac Show), Written by Larry Wilmore; Regency Television in association with 20th Century Fox Television; FOX
"My First Day", (pilot, Scrubs), Written by Bill Lawrence; Touchstone Television Productions; NBC
"Plus One is the Loneliest Number" (Sex and the City), Written by Cindy Chupack; Darren Star Productions in association with HBO Original Programming; HBO
"Rooms With a View" (Frasier), Written by Dan O' Shannon & Lori Kirkland & Bob Daily; Grub Street Productions in association with Paramount Pictures; NBC
"The Wedding" (Ed), Written by Rob Burnett & Jon Beckerman; Viacom Productions in association with Worldwide Pants, Inc. and NBC Studios; NBC
Comedy/Variety---Music, Awards, Tributes--Specials--any length
The Kennedy Center Honors Written by Don Baer and George Stevens, Jr., Film Sequences Written by Sara Lukinson; A George Stevens Jr. Presentation - Kennedy Center Television Productions, Inc.; CBS
NBC 75th Anniversary Special, Written by Doug Abeles, James Anderson, Robert Carlock, Tina Fey, Charlie Grandy, Steve Higgins, Lorne Michaels, Paula Pell, Herb Sargent, Michael Schur, Michael Shoemaker; Broadway Video in association with NBC Studios; NBC
Comedy/Variety--(including talk) Series
Dennis Miller Live, Written by Eddie Feldmann, Jose Arroyo, Richard Dahm, David Feldman, Jim Hanna, Rob Z. Kutner, Kirsten McFarland, Dennis Miller, Jacob Sager Weinstein; Happy Family Productions; HBO
Late Night With Conan O'Brien, Written by Mike Sweeney, Chris Albers, Andy Blitz, Kevin Dorff, Jonathan Glaser, Michael Gordon, Brian Kiley, Michael Koman, Brian McCann, Guy Nicolucci, Conan O'Brien, Andrew Secunda, Allison Silverman, Robert Smigel, Brian Stack, Andrew Weinberg; Broadway Video; NBC
Mad TV, Writing Supervised by Scott King, Written by Dick Blasucci, Garry Campbell, Lauren Dombrowski, Bryan Adams, Bruce McCoy, Michael Hitchcock, Steven Cragg, Chris Cluess, John Crane, Jennifer Joyce, Tami Sagher, Devon Shepard, Rich Talarico, Jim Wise, Kal Clarke, Sultan Pepper, Bill Kelley, Maiya Williams, Dino Stamatopoulos; QDE/Girl Group; FOX
Saturday Night Live, Written by Tina Fey, Doug Abeles, Leo Allen, James Anderson, Max Brooks, James Downey, James Eagan, Hugh Fink, Charlie Grandy, Jack Handey, Steve Higgins, Erik Kenward, Dennis McNicholas, Lorne Michaels, Corwin Moore, Matt Murray, Paula Pell, Matt Piedmont, Ken Scarborough, Michael Schur, Frank Sebastiano, T. Sean Shannon, Eric Slovin, Robert Smigel, Emily Spivey, Andrew Steele, Scott Wainio, Jerry Collins, Tom David; Broadway Video in association with SNL Studios; NBC
Guiding Light, Written by Millee Taggart, Lucky Gold, Christopher Dunn, Tita Bell, Jill Lorie Hurst, Penelope Koechl, David Kreizman, Eleanor Labine, Alan Madison, Danielle Paige, A.J. Pierce, Janet Reed Ahearn, Susan Rice, David Rupel, Melissa Salmons, Eddie Sanchez, Lisa Seidman, David Smilow; Procter & Gamble; CBS
The Young and the Restless, Written by Kay Alden, Trent Jones, John F. Smith, Jerry Birn, Jim Houghton, Natalie Minardi, Janice Ferri, Eric Freiwald, Joshua McCaffrey, Michael Minnis, Rex M. Best; Columbia TriStar; CBS
Elmo's World: Happy Holidays!, Written by Christine Ferraro; Sesame Workshop; PBS
Off Season, Written by Glenn Gers; Showtime Networks, Inc.; Showtime
Our America, Teleplay by Gordon Rayfield, Based on the book "Our America: Life and Death on the South Side of Chicago" by Lealan Jones, Lloyd Newman and David Isay; Joseph Stern Productions; All Media, Inc.; Showtime
The Red Sneakers, Teleplay by Mark Saltzman, Story by Jeffrey Rubin; Lynch Entertainment, Tom Lynch Company, RS Productions, Ltd., Showtime Networks, Inc.; Showtime
Bioterror (Nova), Written by Matthew Collins; A Nova Production by the New York Times/ Granada Factuals USA and Lone Wolf Pictures, Inc., for WGBH/ Boston in association with Channel 4 Television; PBS
The Man Who Knew (Frontline), Written by Michael J. Kirk, Kirk Documentary Group; PBS
9/11, Written by Tom Forman & Greg Kandra; Goldfish Pictures, Inc.; CBS
Rollover: The Hidden Story of the SUV (Frontline), Written by Marc Shaffer & Barak Goodman; 10/20 Productions; PBS
Documentary--Other Than Current Events
America's First River, Part One, Written by Tom Spain; WNET/Educational Broadcasting Corp.; Public Affairs Television; PBS
Empire State Building Ironworker (A Day in their Lives), Written by Peter Hankoff; Termite Art Productions; History Channel; History Channel
Evolution of a Revolution (Founding Brothers), Written by Kelly McPherson and Melissa Jo Peltier & Allison MacEwan; MPH Entertainment Inc.; History Channel; History Channel
Monkey Trial (American Experience), Written by Christine Lesiak; WGBH Educational Foundation; PBS
News--Regularly Scheduled, Bulletin or Breaking Report
Attack on America Written by Jerry Cipriano, Paul Fischer, Thomas Harris, Hugh Heckman, Bruce Meyer; CBS Evening News; CBS
September 11th Controllers, Written by Jonathan W. Kaplan; CBS