After a fantastic season, Shameless delivers a (mostly) fantastic finale. Let's take a look:
Surprise, surprise! I thought Fiona was going to stay in prison until next season, but she gets out early due to over-crowding. Her parole officer gives her a firm talking to, and sets her up with a waitressing job with Jeffrey Dean Morgan (whoa!), as well as the nearest NA and AA support groups. Fiona returns home late to a silent house (a conceit that's quickly becoming all too familiar) – but after yet another chilly homecoming, she wakes up to the hero's welcome she always wanted. Unfortunately, the happy reunion is somewhat tempered with news of Ian's bipolar disorder. As she talks it over with Lip, we get another heart-to-heart between them: she finally admits that she is the one driving the bus that is her life, and vows to take responsibility for her actions from here on out. And with that, character growth and a light at the end of a long tunnel finally come to be. Here's to Season 5!
And guess who else is back on track? Frank... and unfortunately not in a good way. He manages to sneak out right under Sheila and Sammi's bickering noses, and appears to be off the wagon once more. He has Carl (his one remaining enabler) wheel him out over a frozen Lake Michigan, where he proceeds to cuss out God ("I'M STILL HERE, YOU F**KER!"). Sure, it makes sense for the character, but watching him take that first blissful gulp of booze was shades of heartwrenching and disappointing. Guess Frank is back to square one.
Now, after the events of last week, Mickey comes back to the Alibi Room, fully armed and ready to brawl again – and he's surprised to find, with the notable exception of his incarcerated father, nobody cares that he's gay. The Alibi regulars return his volley of, "If anyone's got anything to f**kin' say, then f**kin' say it!" with a laundry list of all of their favorite gay celebrities – Mickey's still reeling a little when Kev pours him a beer on the house and toasts to "butt buddies." But alas, it's not happily ever after for Ian and Mickey, just as we expected. First, Mickey's wife rather convincingly threatens to stab them both in the heart with screwdrivers if he doesn't take on his fair share of parenting. And then things take a serious turn for the worse when it becomes clear that Ian has finally crashed into the depressive stage of manic depression. Mickey's flummoxed, but the Gallaghers spot what's going on right away. When Fiona informs him that Ian will need medical attention, maybe even a stint in the psych ward, Mickey insists that he be the one to personally nurse Ian back to health. Which is sweet, if ill-informed – here's hoping that the two of them can weather it together.
Oh, and they just had to end the season on a cliffhanger: it turns out that Jimmy/Steve (now known as "Jack," ugh) is still alive. To which, I say, "Meh." I was never a huge fan of Justin Chatwin's, and honestly wasn't too bothered that he was gone, especially since he had such an outlandish offing. But, grumblings aside, I'm already counting down the days until Season 5.
* How come we never got closure on Debbie/Matt?
* Also, what's going on with Lip and Amanda? The music swelled romantically when they kissed at her creepy sorority event, but then he's quite shaken at the sight of Mandy (someone I never thought he seriously cared for) at the local diner. Guess we'll have to wait until next season.
* Ah, poor Carl. The first heartbreak of many.
* Speaking of heartbreak, Sheila broke mine when the council refused her petition to adopt, though I'm honestly glad we're not going down that road.
* Also: hello, Dichen Lachman!
Even by Shameless standards, this episode has a lot going on. To recap the recap: Frank gets a new liver, Fiona goes to jail, Lip cons a cool $10,000, Debbie gets Carried by Matt's girlfriend, and Mickey comes out and a full-out brawl ensues. Whew.
With Fiona in the "pokey," it's all up to Lip to keep the family running – and with their sole breadwinner gone, they're in a bit of a jam. So Lip bails on meeting Amanda's parents – and she's correspondingly angry at him, until they come up with the perfect solution: since she wants to use him to scare her parents, they decide to all have dinner at Chez Gallagher, for maximum scare-factor.
It works – especially seeing as Bonnie's entire cadre of homeless siblings are screaming in the living room, whilst a put-upon social worker surveys the whole scene. It works so well, in fact, that Amanda's dad pulls Lip aside and offers him 10 grand in cash. What's a Gallagher to do? He takes it. Amanda storms out, smug father in tow. Things aren't looking good, until it turns out that the whole thing was a set up. Apparently, Amanda's dad has a habit of bribing her boyfriends – so voila! The Gallaghers are golden for Fiona's remaining 80+ days in the clink, and Lip might just have a real girlfriend for once.
Lip's not the only Gallagher headed for a happy ending (pun intended): the Ian/Mickey romance has building all season to stunning (and gory) heights. Tired of being blackmailed by his wife, and faced with an ultimatum from Ian, Mickey reaches boiling point at his father's jail-release party. He comes out to the entire Alibi Room, and subsequently gets attacked by Terry. Ian in turn attacks Terry and the whole thing has to get broken up by the cops. Luckily, one of the gay cops gives Mickey a free pass, while Terry gets hauled back to jail for violating parole. Bloody and beat up, Mickey and Ian engage is some profane witty banter (as only they can), and the scene might just be their sweetest to date.
The whole episode is delightfully framed with its titular character Emily. She's a little wisp of a girl who's hoping for a heart transplant. Oddly enough, when Frank wakes up with his brain "screwed on backwards" (in the ever-eloquent words of Carl), he mistakes her for a decades-younger Fiona. He gives her what must be a long-awaited apology, and she, thinking of her own abandoning father, forgives him in Fiona's place. In an ultra sweet moment (Shameless is a show of contrast, isn't it?), they even hold hands across hospital beds. It's not a surprise when her flat-lining gurney is carted away, but she serves to create a beautiful tableau for Shameless' least beautiful character.
* Poor Debbie. Matt's girlfriend employs her half-brother to seduce her and humiliate her in front of the whole school. Upside? Matt dumps aforementioned girlfriend, and agrees to take Debbie to the dance. Yay?
* I laughed for a full minute when Carl suggested that the Asian-American social worker might be Amanda's real mom (not only was she far too young for a college-age daughter, it had just been established that Amanda was "bought" from a whorehouse).
* Also, Lip and Amanda's celebratory kiss after seeing his stellar report card was adorable, especially as we pan out to very disapproving looks from both of her parents.
* Frank offering to take "Fiona" to Claire's to get her ears pierced: aww!
* Mickey taunting his dad with tidbits from his sex life while both of them were facedown on the hoods of squad cars getting handcuffed was kind of epic.
“My dick is going to get so wet tonight ” declares Costa the foul-mouthed ringleader of a trio of sex-starved teens in the opening moments of Project X the new “found-footage” comedy from director Nima Nourizadeh and producer Todd Phillips (The Hangover). Believe it or not this qualifies as one of his more charming moments in the film. All of 17 but blessed with an obnoxiousness lesser men would take decades to cultivate Costa (Oliver Cooper) is the perfect mascot for a film that makes no bones of its mostly prurient intentions proffering what is essentially a succession of debaucherous montages intermingled with uneven attempts at comedy and held together by the slimmest pretense of a plot.
Caustic as he is Costa at least exhibits something of a recognizable personality; the same cannot be said of his two cohorts the tubby dweeb J.B. (Jonathan Daniel Brown) and the earnest blank Thomas (Thomas Mann). None of them seem to enjoy much in the way of popularity at their high school located in the fictional suburb of North Pasadena but Costa has a plan to fix that. On the occasion of his 17th birthday Thomas whose parents have conveniently departed for the weekend reluctantly agrees to host a party that Costa promises will be a “game-changer” for their lowly social status.
Hardly a game-changer is Project X’s script co-written by Matt Drake and Michael Bacall which mostly treads a predictable teen-comedy path. At its outset the party appears to be a bust. Soon however hordes of eager revelers descend upon Thomas’ house and the event swiftly devolves into a festival of wanton hedonism that would impress Charlie Sheen. The orgy of booze drugs and sex is captured by Nourizadeh in one impressively slick sequence after another set to a vibrant soundtrack.
To maintain the guise of an actual movie – and to occupy us between shots of topless beauties downing tequila and frolicking in the pool – Project X tosses in a few familiar tropes to push its story along: an unstable drug-dealer bent on revenge a buzzkilling neighbor seeking to end the night’s festivities prematurely a budding but hesitant attraction between Thomas and his childhood friend Kirby (Kirby Bliss Blanton). But the scenes are so hollow and contrived that you get the sense even the filmmakers don’t buy them and only added them to the film in a transparent ploy to forestall allegations of complete and utter vapidity. The efforts serve only to add a dash of the banal to the proceedings.
Project X’s natural forebears – R-rated teen comedies Superbad and American Pie – tempered their crudity and outrageousness with a surprising degree of depth and sincerity. Moreover they were actually funny. Project X is a shallow affair to be sure but a dearth of laughs is what ultimately dooms it. A belligerent little person who goes on a crotch-kicking spree after being tossed in an oven amounts to the film’s most sophisticated attempt at humor. More often it relies on recycled gags from previous films (including Phillips’ own library from Road Trip to The Hangover Part II) and Jackass-inspired mishaps.
The found-footage approach has proven to be a potent (if overused) tool in horror films but its utility in the service of comedy at least in the hands of Nourizadeh is limited. It mostly comes across as a needless gimmick good for marketing purposes but little else. Perhaps acknowledging as much Project X’s backup plan calls for an incessant raising of the stakes. As the once-innocuous gathering metastasizes into a fully-fledged riot one so dangerous that even the police dare not intervene the specter of parental disapproval gives way to the threat of incarceration and finally to the potential incineration of the entire neighborhood. The scale of the destruction is impressive – especially for such a (presumably) low-budget film – but like much of what precedes it almost entirely pointless.
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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.