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.
This week’s New Year’s Eve stars almost every single tabloid-cover-adorning actor working today. (Plus Hector Elizondo.) It’s a formidable ensemble from a purely celebrity standpoint, but that doesn’t necessarily say anything of the A-listers’ collective acting ability. It got us thinking about the best ensemble casts of all time – with performances, as well as star power and overall volume, factored in. Here’s what we came up with.
Pulp Fiction/Reservoir Dogs
All Quentin Tarantino movies are of the ensemble variety, and nobody finds and mines large quantities of talent better than QT. Exhibits A and B are – in no particular order – his first two directorial efforts, whose massive, disparate casts are almost as responsible for the movies’ amazingness as Tarantino. Reservoir Dogs is a master class in acting, with virtually every actor pitching in in ways as unique as their characters’ “colorful” names. Pulp Fiction, meanwhile, probably belongs to John Travolta more than anyone, but virtually every part and corresponding actor in the film is memorable – and integral.
The Royal Tenenbaums
Gene Hackman was unequivocally the lead and the best – not to mention the title character – but for those of us who reside on the “loved it!” side of the fence of Wes Anderson’s characteristically quirky, if a tad twee, Tenenbaums, the great performances extend far beyond Hackman to include everyone in the movie’s crammed poster. And, perhaps most of all, Anderson’s beloved Kumar Pallana (aka Pagoda).
Best in Show
Great performances aren’t exclusive to dramas; same goes for great ensembles. Case in point: Best in Show. Christopher Guest assembled his typical hooligans – including, as always, himself – for this in(s)anely hilarious, largely improvised dog-show mockumentary, and almost everyone in the vast cast hijacked the show at one point or another.
Don’t let the two lackluster blockbuster sequels cloud your judgment/memory: The first installment in the Ocean’s-reboot franchise was about as starry as it gets, and the performances were pretty great across the board, lending to the overall watchability of this fun, slick, cool-in-its-day heist caper. And witnessing arguably the two biggest movie stars on the planet, Brad Pitt and George Clooney, riff on each other was – again, before they reprised their roles in the unnecessary Twelve and Thirteen – pretty neat, especially because they both happen to be good actors.
Paul Thomas Anderson wouldn’t be able to pull off his trademark loooooong, sweeping one-take shots without an amazing (and large) cast, and that’s never been more true than with Boogie Nights. The porn quasi-biopic doesn’t just feature an outstanding performance from a then-struggling-to-be-taken-seriously Mark Wahlberg but also – and in some cases more so – Julianne Moore, Burt Reynolds (!), Luis Guzman, Philip Seymour Hoffman, John C. Reilly, Don Cheadle, Heather Graham and more. And most of the cast has gone on to have careers marked by consistency and acclaim, which speaks even more so to the abilities of Paul Thomas Anderson and his eye for actors. See also: Magnolia.
The Usual Suspects
The supporting cast of this beloved whodunit vastly – and intentionally – outshines Gabriel Byrne’s de facto “straight man” lead. Kevin Spacey won the Oscar, rightfully so, but a star was born, er, immortalized with Benicio Del Toro’s stellar gibberish performance.
Robert Altman is an ensemble-cast pioneer as far as directors go. Short Cuts features a downright incredible cast of characters and actors, but a similar case could be made for almost any movie (or TV show!) from Altman's astonishingly prolific directing career.
A little cheesy – but still gritty by Ron Howard standards – this family dramedy, on which the current NBC show of the same name is based, boasted some undeniably great performances from its HUGE multigenerational cast, which included a young Keanu Reeves and an even younger Joaquin Phoenix.
12 Angry Men
How could we not include one of the best-acted films of all time with a 12-strong (very strong) cast that basically IS the entire movie? We couldn’t!
Big cast, even bigger performances (Benicio Del Toro won an Oscar for his) in Steven Soderbergh’s masterpiece on the global effect of the drug trade. Like most of the films on this list, it easily won Outstanding Performance by a Cast at the SAG Awards; also like most other films on this list, it's what that prestigious award is all about.
Though ostensibly successful 2009’s The Final Destination represented to many a horror franchise on its last hackneyed legs. Rote uninspired and humorless it scored a (modest) hit only by virtue of the novelty -- and added ticket price -- of its 3D transfer. Two years later Final Destination 5 arrives with a slightly tweaked formula a beefed-up storyline actors you might actually recognize and genuine honest-to-goodness 3D. It’s still schlock mind you -- but artful schlock and a marked improvement over the preceding entry.
The story begins in familiar fashion with a cursory introduction to the characters followed by a grisly premonition that sees them perish wholesale. An assortment of cubicle-dwellers at a paper factory are being bused to a corporate retreat when one of them Sam (Nicholas D’Agosto perpetually bug-eyed) dreams of a massive bridge collapse in which he and his co-workers are impaled beheaded bisected crushed by cars singed by tar -- however many ways a suspension bridge can kill a person the film’s opening set-piece explores it gruesome detail. Sam awakens duly horrified and demands the bus be evacuated. Seconds later the employees watch in horror from the sidelines as Sam’s vision comes to fruition.
You know what happens next. One-by-one death stalks the survivors who meet their fate in a series of elaborately-staged incidents. Some are relatively straightforward; others involve fiendish head-fakes and red herrings. The range of victims is older and more colorful than in previous Final Destination films in which death preyed exclusively on attractive nubile teenagers but the end result is invariably the same. (Not to give anything away but those considering acupuncture or laser eye surgery would be wise to avoid the film entirely.) As death’s scheme becomes achingly evident Sam his lachrymose girlfriend Molly (Emma Bell) and his increasingly unhinged buddy Peter (Miles Fisher) become increasingly desperate. Enter the ever-ominous Tony Todd returning to the franchise after (wisely) taking the previous film off offering a potential way out. But is it genuine or just another of death’s cruel tricks?
Director Steven Quale a James Cameron protege hired principally for his 3D expertise takes full advantage of the added dimension delivering some of the most vivid and immersive 3D sequences in recent memory. Unlike The Final Destination which seemed little more than a amalgam of crude one-liners Final Destination 5 feels like a real movie one with a discernible plot an element of suspense and a handful characters who are more than just punchlines. Most of the actors are surprisingly competent save for Fisher a credible doppelganger for Tom Cruise (he parodied him 2008’s Superhero Movie) who imbues every line with couch-jumping intensity.
Final Destination 5 ends with a twist that while genuinely unexpected feels like a Hail Mary for a franchise that can’t forestall its inexorable descent into stale irrelevance despite the best of efforts from Quale. Its trademark formula has simply lost its potency -- a problem no amount of cosmetic upgrades however welcome can fix. That the film is bracketed by two pointless and time-consuming montages -- the first an animated sequence that hurtles various hazardous objects at the audience the second a greatest hits compilation of memorable kills from previous Final Destination films -- is a telltale sign that the saga’s creativity is on life support. Perhaps it’s time to pull the plug.
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.
Gabriel Byrne (The Usual Suspects
) says that Lucasfilm is considering him for a role in the next Star
"They have approached me and they are talking about
it, but nothing is definite yet," Byrne told the website Showbiz
"The way George Lucas works is not the usual way where they
have a script, then they offer you a role. I think they develop
characters around particular people as far as I know. They have not said
anything to me about what role I would play."
Byrne indicated that
negotiations with Lucasfilm have been dicey, "because they get into all
Hollywood types hope their best work will be remembered when that other awards show announces its nominees Tuesday. But unfortunately, their worst work won't be forgotten either, not if the Golden Raspberry Awards Foundation has anything to say about it.
At least "Wild Wild West" knows it won't walk away honor-less. Last summer's Will Smith stinker, along with the blockbuster "Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace", topped the nominations for the 20th Annual Razzie Awards, announced today.
"Wild Wild West" and "Phantom Menace" are up for eight Razzies each. The digs at "West" include nods for Worst Picture, Worst Actor (Kevin Kline), Worst Screen Couple (Kline and Smith), Worst Director (Barry Sonnenfeld), Worst Supporting Actor (Kenneth Branagh) and two nods for Worst Supporting Actress (Salma Hayek and Kline as a prostitute).
The flick will duke it out for Worst Picture dishonors with "Phantom Menace," as well as "Big Daddy," "The Haunting" and "The Blair Witch Project.".
The Golden Raspberrys also announced nominations for the worst actor and actress of the entire blinkin' 20th century. The uncoveted races will pit the likes of Kevin Costner against Pauly Shore, and Madonna against Brooke Shields.
Past multiple Razzie winners "Striptease," "Showgirls," "Hudson Hawk," "An Alan Smithee Film: Burn, Hollywood, Burn!" and "The Postman" are all in contention for the title worst picture of the 1990s.
Some of today's picks reveal the Razzies' "pet" performers. Consider the Sofia Coppola worst supporting actress nomination for "Episode I." (Blink and you missed her as one of Queen Amidala's handmaidens. And what were her lines, other than, say, "Yes, your Majesty"?) And what about Sylvester Stallone's nomination for Worst Actor of the Century -- noting he deserves the nod for "99.5% of Everything He's Ever Done." (Ouch.)
The most curious dig: Madonna's nomination for Worst Actress of the Century. According to the Razzies, her bad-movie resume includes 1980's "Endless Love." But, was she even in the film? (No comment yet from the Razzies on that apparent typo.)
Oh well: Like Madonna would show up to the ceremonies, which, for the record, are scheduled for March 25 -- 24 hours before the real-deal Academy Awards -- at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.
The actual award, a gold-spray-painted plastic raspberry atop a mangled Super 8 film reel, reportedly is worth about $4.27.
Here's the complete nominee list for the 20th Annual Razzie Awards:
"Big Daddy" "The Blair Witch Project" "The Haunting" "Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace" "Wild Wild West"
Kevin Costner, "For Love of the Game" and "Message in a Bottle" Kevin Kline, "Wild Wild West" Adam Sandler, "Big Daddy" Arnold Schwarzenegger, "End Of Days" Robin Williams, "Bicentennial Man" and "Jakob The Liar"
Heather Donahue, "The Blair Witch Project" Melanie Griffith, "Crazy in Alabama" Milla Jovovich, "The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc" Sharon Stone, "Gloria" Catherine Zeta-Jones, "Entrapment" and "The Haunting"
Worst Screen Couple
Pierce Brosnan and Denise Richards, "The World Is Not Enough" Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones, "Entrapment" Kevin Kline and Will Smith, "Wild Wild West" Jake Lloyd and Natalie Portman, "Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace" Lili Taylor and Catherine Zeta-Jones, "The Haunting"
Worst Supporting Actress
Sofia Coppola, "Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace" Salma Hayek, "Dogma" and "Wild Wild West" Kevin Kline (as a prostitute), "Wild Wild West" Juliette Lewis, "The Other Sister" Denise Richards, "The World Is Not Enough"
Worst Supporting Actor
Jar Jar Binks (voice by Ahmed Best), "Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace" Kenneth Branagh, "Wild Wild West" Gabriel Byrne, "End of Days" and "Stigmata" Jake Lloyd, "Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace" Rob Schneider, "Big Daddy"
Jan DeBont, "The Haunting" Dennis Dugan, "Big Daddy" Peter Hyams, "End Of Days" George Lucas, "Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace" Barry Sonnenfeld, "Wild Wild West"
"Big Daddy" "The Haunting" "The Mod Squad" "Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace" "Wild Wild West"
Worst Actor of the Century
Kevin Costner The Artist Formerly Known As Prince William Shatner Pauly Shore Sylvester Stallone
Worst Actress of the Century
Elizabeth Berkley Bo Derek Madonna Brooke Shields Pia Zadora
Worst Picture of the Decade
"An Alan Smithee Film: Burn, Hollywood, Burn!" "Hudson Hawk" "The Postman" "Showgirls" "Striptease"
Worst New Star of the Decade
Elizabeth Berkley Jar Jar Binks (voiced by Ahmed Best) Sofia Coppola, "The Godfather Part III," "Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace" Dennis Rodman, "Double Team" and "Simon Sez" Pauly Shore
Julie Walters shines as Bernie McPhelimy a working-class mother of four who is sick to death of living on the front lines. In curlers and a housecoat she chews out a gunman shooting from her welcome mat as if he were a naughty child. But it isn't until her best friend is shot dead while looking after one of Bernie's kids that she turns from Valium to activism. Daring to criticize the IRA as well as the British army Bernie becomes the town pariah though her gumption turns her into an unlikely celebrity. Ostracized and bullied by their friends her kids -- especially adolescent Ann who just wants to keep her new boyfriend -- resent her and suspect all this fame is going to her head.
In her best film role since "Educating Rita " Julie Walters shows she still has a surplus of piss and vinegar. Her Bernie also displays a sardonic (if exhausted) wit and an all-too-human ego as her fame spreads. While Ciaran Hinds is effective as the ulcer-addled apprehensive husband and Nuala O'Neill gives an appropriately mopey angst-ridden performance as Ann vibrant supporting performances by the townspeople really bring soul and humor to this film.
Quite different from his last film the glossy fluffy "Notting Hill " Rodger Michell's "Titanic Town" is a small indie with many fine miniature moments such as Bernie's preoccupation with the dust bunnies under the bed as British soldiers forcibly search her home. With a spate of IRA films preceding it Michell's is the only one to really show "The Troubles" through a mother's eyes.