The apocalypse is in the air these days. Todd Berger’s It’s a Disaster is the first of four end-of-the-world comedies set for release this year—the others being May’s Rapture-Palooza, June’s This Is the End, and August’s The World’s End—and it sets the bar very high for those to come. A character study of eight self-centered friends who congregate for brunch, soon discover their cell phones, Internet, and TV are dead, then learn that they’re in the middle of World War III, It’s a Disaster starts off threatening to be an insufferable exercise in hipsterism.
Emma and Pete’s marriage is on the rocks—they’re hosting the brunch so as to announce their divorce—because Emma (Erinn Hayes) slept with Buck (Kevin M. Brennan) and Pete (Blaise Miller) slept with Lexi (Rachel Boston). Yes, Buck and Lexi are a couple too, and they are basically closeted swingers. All seem like clichés: Emma is an uptight suburbanite with hair carefully parted, red lipstick strategically applied, and pearls lovingly draped. Pete is a classic yuppie bordering on a midlife crisis. Buck is a stoner washout with a Hulk Hogan mustache. Lexi is a free-spirited glockenspiel player who’s proud of the fact that she and Buck consummated their marriage in the bathroom of a TGI Fridays.
As for the rest of the brunch attendees, Emma and Pete’s doctor friend Tracy (Julia Stiles) is a mess of neuroses, maybe because she exclusively dates crazy men, or because none of her friends believe that her boyfriends have been crazy. Her new bf, Glen (David Cross, in full Tobias Fünke mode), seems more promising: he’s a fourth-grade history teacher, and the only crazy thing about him is that he’s okay with shutting off the 1812 Overture right before its famous climax. At least he’s not like Shane (Jeff Grace), Hedy’s (America Ferrera) long-term fiancé, who shuns human interaction at the brunch in favor of obsessively bidding online on a rare Alpha Flight comic book.
So yeah, all those characters sound like clichés. On paper they most definitely are. But when brought to life by this talented ensemble, they’re anything but. And once it becomes clear that their lives as they’ve known them are over — an unknown attacker drops dirty bombs and nerve gas on New York, Los Angeles, Orlando, and multiple other cities — then it becomes really interesting. Especially once they realize that the nerve gas will very shortly seep into Emma and Pete’s house and kill them all. It’s like Portlandia meets Melancholia, and it’s fascinating to see how each of the characters orients himself or herself toward the prospect of imminent death.
Worry wort comic-book freak Shane leads the charge to tape up the doors and windows and try to find some way to survive, while endlessly speculating over who attacked them — the enemy couldn’t have been from this world, right? — and planning to deal with the post-apocalyptic motorcycle gangs they’ll surely face if they live. His completely neglected fiancée Hedy, a chemistry teacher, goes into a negative panic and starts making home-cooked Ecstasy to cope. Tracy sets up one of the best jokes of the movie by lamenting all the things she never did in her life: she never went to Europe, never went to the ballet, never fell in love, never watched The Wire. The response of Glen? "All of those things are overrated…except for The Wire.” Oh, and as for Cross's Glen? Well, you’ll have to witness his unique solution for dealing with Armageddon yourself.
It’s a tricky thing to mine humor from a feel-bad situation as thoroughly awful as this — Berger even shoots his movie like an Ingmar Bergman chamber drama — but whereas this summer’s all-star comic extravaganza This Is the End appears to strive for raunchy belly laughs, It’s a Disaster settles for a general mood of wry amusement as its characters ponder questions of their own mortality that they’ve probably never pondered before…and maybe still aren’t. Two of the couples at least, Emma and Pete and Buck and Lexi, are so self-absorbed that even the end of the world can’t make them look beyond themselves: Emma and Pete are still squabbling with each other over past infidelities, and Buck and Lexi can’t overcome their “party on!” attitude toward life to appreciate the gravity of their situation. When Lexi asks Buck if he thinks there’s a band in heaven they’ll get to join once they pass through the pearly gates, Buck says, “I know there is, and we’re going to be a part of it. ‘Cause guess what they need? A glockenspielist.”
For his film Sans Soleil Chris Marker wrote, “I’ve been round the world several times and now only banality still interests me.” He has a kindred spirit in Berger, who seems amused and even a little charmed by humanity’s boundless penchant for the mundane. Berger doesn’t place himself above his characters, which makes it all the easier to imply the question: what would you do if you knew you only had hours to live? Would you suddenly experience life as exceptionally heightened and sensually gratifying? Or would nothing really change? It’s fitting that It’s a Disaster should be released the same weekend as Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder, a film that insists upon finding holiness and serene beauty in every single shot — and by extension life itself. It’s a Disaster recognizes how much of the human experience takes place in the realm of the banal, and just how okay that is.
What do you think? Tell Christian Blauvelt directly on Twitter @Ctblauvelt and read more of his reviews on Rotten Tomatoes!
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When you're in high school it feels like the whole world is against you. In writer/director Stephen Chbosky's high school-set The Perks of Being a Wallflower the whole world may actually be against Charlie (Logan Lerman) whose freshman year of high school should be listed in the dictionary under "Murphy's Law." Plagued by memories of two significant deaths as well as general social anxiety Charlie takes a passive approach to ninth grade. A few days of general bullying later he falls into a friendship with two misfit seniors Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson) who teach him how to live life without fear. Perks starts off with a disadvantage: introverts aren't terribly engaging but Chbosky surrounds Charlie with a vivid cast of characters who help him blossom and inject the coming-of-age tale with a necessary energy.
Set in a timeless version of the '90s Charlie's world is full of handwritten journals mixtapes and a just-tolerable amount of tweed. He writes letters to a nameless recipient as a way of venting a preventative measure to keep the teen from repeating a vague incident that previously left him hospitalized. The drab background of Pittsburgh fits perfectly with Charlie's blank existence. And when he finally comes to life as part of Patrick and Sam's off-beat clique so does the city. Like the archaic vinyl records Sam lusters over (The Smiths of course!) Chbosky visualizes Charlie's journey through the underbelly of suburban Pennsylvania with a raw emotion blooming lights and film grit at every turn. Michael Brook's score and an adeptly curated soundtrack accompanies the episodic affair which centers on Charlie's search for a song he hears during the most important moment of his life.
The charm that keeps The Perks of Being a Wallflower from collapsing under its own super seriousness come from Chbosky's perfectly cast ensemble. Lerman has a thankless job playing Charlie; often constrained to a half-smile and shy shrug Lerman is never allowed to grapple with Charlie's greatest fears and problems until (too) late in the film. Watson nails the spunky object-of-everyone's-affection but she's outshined by Mae Whitman as Mary Elizabeth another rebellious friend in the pack who takes a liking to Charlie. The real star turn is Miller riding high from We Need to Talk About Kevin and taking a complete 180 with Patrick a rambunctious wiseass who struggles to have an openly gay relationship with the football captain but covers his pain with humor. A scene of confrontation — at where else the cafeteria — is one of the best scenes of the year.
Chbosky adapted Perks of Being a Wallflower from his own book and the movie feels stifled by a looming structure. But it nails the emotional beats — there is no obvious path to surviving high school. It's messy shocking and occasionally beautiful. That about sums up Perks.
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.
It was a freaky weekend at the box office this weekend as the horror parody Scary Movie 3 helped moviegoers get into the spirit of Halloween--to the tune of $21.1 million*, making it the No. 1 film for the second consecutive week. But sandwiched between the slasher spoof Scary Movie 3 and the limb hacker pic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which came in third with a gory $10.9 million, was a little animated tale called Brother Bear."Brother Bear totally capitalized on a marketplace devoid of family films," Paul Dergarabedian, president of box-office tracker Exhibitor Relations told The Associated Press Sunday. "There's always an opportunity where there's a scarcity of product for a particular segment of the audience." The Disney film opened Saturday with a burly $18.4 million, an impressive debut compared to the Mouse House's recent animated features. Although Brother Bear didn't premiere as strongly as the Buena Vista/Disney and Pixar Animation Studios collaboration Finding Nemo, which netted $70.2 million when it hit theaters in May, it surpassed the openings of other Disney pics this year, including Piglet's Big Movie ($6 million) and The Jungle Book 2 ($11.4 million).The lone film to open wide this weekend, Brother Bear was also the only new addition to this week's box office Top Ten. The feel good drama Radio came in fourth with $10.2 million, while the John Grisham thriller Runaway Jury rounded out the Top Five with $6.8 million. The Human Stain, starring Anthony Hopkins and Nicole Kidman, opened in limited release with an impressive $1.2 million, while the re-release of the digitally remastered Alien: The Director's Cut, which boasts six minutes of never-before-seen footage, opened in select cities to the pulsating tune of $ 1 million. THE TOP TENDimension Films' PG-13 rated spoof Scary Movie 3 reigned in the No. 1 spot for the second week with an ESTIMATED $21.1 million (-56%) in 3,505 theaters (unchanged; $6,020 per theater). Its cume is approximately $78.6 million. Directed by David Zucker, it stars Anna Faris, Charlie Sheen, Simon Rex, Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, George Carlin and Leslie Nielsen.Buena Vista's G rated animated film Brother Bear, which opened Saturday, debuted in second place with an ESTIMATED $18.5 million in 3,028 theaters with a $6,119 per theater average--the highest of any film playing wide this week.Set against the majestic natural splendor of the Great American Northwest, the film tells the story of a boy whose life takes an unexpected turn when he is transformed into a bear.Directed by Aaron Blaise and Bob Walker, it features the voices of Joaquin Phoenix, Jeremy Suarez, D.B. Sweeney and Michael Clarke Duncan.New Line Cinema's R rated horror remake The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, slipped from second place to third in its third week with an ESTIMATED $10.9 million (-25%) in 2,970 theaters (-48 theaters; $3,670 per theater). Its cume is approximately $66.1 million.Directed by Marcus Nispel, it stars Jessica Biel, Eric Balfour, Mike Vogel, Erica Leerhsen and Andrew Bryniarski.Sony Pictures' PG-13 rated drama Radio dropped one notch to fourth place in its second week with an ESTIMATED $10.2 million (-23%) in 3,074 theaters (unchanged, $3,318 per theater). Its cume is approximately $26.8 million.Directed by Michael Tollin, it stars Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Ed Harris.Twentieth Century Fox's PG-13 rated courtroom thriller Runaway Jury fell one position to No. 5 in its third week with an ESTIMATED $6.8 million (-19%) in 2,736 theaters (-79; $2,507per theater). Its cume is approximately $33.6 million. Directed by Gary Fleder, it stars John Cusack, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman and Rachel Weisz.Warner Bros.' R rated drama Mystic River fell from its No. 5 position to sixth in its fourth week with an ESTIMATED $6.2 million (-19%) in 1,551 theaters (+58 theaters; $4,046 per theater). Its cume is approximately $33.5 million.Directed by Clint Eastwood, it stars Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne, Laura Linney and Marcia Gay Harden.*Box office estimates provided by Exhibitor Relations, Inc.Miramax Films' R rated gory actioner Kill Bill Vol. 1, held steady in seventh place in its fourth week with an ESTIMATED $4.7 million (-26%) in 2,429 theaters (-204 theaters, $1,939 per theater). Its cume is approximately $60.9 millionDirected by Quentin Tarantino, it stars Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah and David Carradine.Paramount Pictures' PG-13 rated comedy School of Rock, dropped two positions to No. 8 in its eighth week with an ESTIMATED $4.4 million (-33%) in 2,786 theaters (-165 theaters; $1,579 per theater). Its cume is approximately $69.1 million.Directed by Richard Linklater, it stars Black, Joan Cusack and Michael White.Universal Pictures' PG 13 rated romantic comedy Intolerable Cruelty held on to its No. 9 position in its fourth week with an ESTIMATED $2.6 million (-27%) in 1,661 theaters (-629 theaters, $1,600 per theater). Its cume is approximately $32 million.Produced by Ethan Coen and directed by Joel Coen, it stars George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones.Screen Gems' R rated erotic thriller In the Cut expanded in its second week to place tenth with an ESTIMATED $2.3 million at 825 theaters (+819 theaters, $2,788 per theater). Its cume is approximately $2.4 million. In the film, Meg Ryan plays a self-determined NYU professor who, following the brutal murder of a young woman in her neighborhood, tests the limits of her own safety by entering into a risky sexual liaison with a detective. Directed by Jane Campion, it stars Ryan, Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Nick Damici.OTHER OPENINGSMiramax's R rated drama The Human Stain debuted in 160 theaters with an ESTIMATED $1.1 million. Its $7,025 per theater average was the highest of any film playing this week. The film stars Anthony Hopkins as a man who, throughout his life, has been a master of deception and self-reinvention. Years later, when he becomes an esteemed professor, false accusations ruin his career.Directed by Robert Benton, it stars Hopkins, Nicole Kidman, Ed Harris, Gary Sinise and Wentworth Miller.Twentieth Century Fox's R rated sci-fi thriller Alien: The Director's Cut opened in 347 theaters with an ESTIMATED $1 million, with a $2,997 per theater average. In the film, a re-release of director Ridley Scott's 1979 film, seven crewmembers of the commercial ship Nostromo are awakened from their cryo-sleep capsules halfway through their journey home to investigate an S.O.S. distress call from an alien vessel.Directed by Scott, it stars Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm and Yaphet Kotto.WEEKEND COMPARISON The Top 12 films this weekend grossed an ESTIMATED $91.9 million, down 23.16 percent from last weekend's $119.5 million. The Top 12 movies were also down 8.94 percent from this time last year when they took in $100.9 million.Last year, Buena Vista's G rated The Santa Clause 2 debuted in the No. 1 position with $29 million in 3,350 theaters ($8,659 per theater); DreamWorks' R rated thriller The Ring stayed at No. 2 in its third week with $18.1 million in 2,808 theaters ($6,452 per theater); and Sony's PG-13 rated I Spy opened in third with $12.7 million in 3,182 theaters ($4,008 per theater).
Go to our Box Office section for recent weekend movie analysis.