Shotgun Stories (2007)

shotgun_stories

Shotgun Stories
Dir. Jeff Nichols
Premiered at Berlin February 14, 2007

Although it remains the greatest year in cinema history, 2007 feels very much like a prelude to the current decade in filmmaking. But for a handful of factors that will come up at the end of this series, 2007 would probably have been remembered not as a standout year in itself but as the vanguard of a whole new era of powerful independent filmmaking that challenged Hollywood’s understanding of audience, genre, and the business overall. And if anyone represents the continuity between the ten years ago and today, it’s Jeff Nichols.

Although nowhere near as famous as Denis Villeneuve or Nicolas Winding Refn, you’ve probably seen some of his movies if you’re reading this: Mud, Take Shelter, last year he did two movies, Midnight Special and Loving. And though his works take on many different genres, they all have a similar personality: rural, wide-angle, lots of scenes on porches, a steadfast refusal to explain anything early on, and probably starring whoever was in William Friedkin’s last movie. Shotgun Stories is basically the same: a character-driven slice-of-life from Nichols’ native Arkansas, it’s an experiment in supposition, and lets you the viewer fill in the gap. This is equally riveting and frustrating.

The film begins by following Son Hayes (Michael Shannon). By day, Son is a fish farmer, whose coworkers speculate about the origin of the shotgun wound permanently embossed on his back. By night, he’s a gambling addict, a math whiz whose insistence on having a “system” drives his wife and son to leave the home. In their place, Son takes in his homeless brothers, youth basketball coach Boy (Douglas Ligon) and tent-dwelling loverboy Kid (Barlow Jacobs).

Hearing of the death of their estranged father, Son takes it upon himself to attend the funeral and publicly dispell the deceased’s cultivated image of piety and good-naturedness. This upsets dad’s second family, the other Hayes boys (Lynnsee Province, Michael Abbott, Jr., and Travis Smith), sending the two families down a path of honor-bound bloodshed, all of it offscreen.

And to tell the truth, not much happens. Aside from the inciting incident at the funeral, none of the major plot points are actually shown. Instead, we get well-acted brotherly bonding and well-shot scenery, so while not unpleasant, I expect to completely forget having ever seen it. I recognize Nichols’ contribution to the current period of filmmaking, but this is a problem I’ve had with all of his movies: all meat with no bones.

Signs This Was Made in 2007
Boy considers putting rims and underlighting on his van, and mentions Christina Aguilera and Missy Elliot’s cover of “Car Wash” from the Shark Tale soundtrack of all things.

How Did It Do?
Despite a positive reception at the Berlin Film Festival, Shotgun Stories was only picked up by Multicom Entertainment Group, a distributor so obscure that it doesn’t have a Wikipedia page– contrast with Peace Arch Entertainment, the people who distributed Chapter 27. Buried in March of 2008, it played in just one theater stateside, grossing $168,237 and failing even to recoup its miniscule $250,000 budget. Despite this, Shotgun Stories managed to make several critics’ 2008 top ten lists, including a #1 spot from Bill White of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Fresh out of film school, director Jeff Nichols was only able to cast star Michael Shannon through a professor who knew him. This proved to be fortuitous. Shortly after Shotgun Stories premiered at Berlin, star Shannon made a splash when William Friedkin’s comeback vehicle Bug went wide. After biding his time in minor roles for over a decade, he quickly transitioned into a beloved character actor, and possibly the hardest-working, having performed in fourteen films over the last two years. With Shannon’s backing, Nichols was able to parlay his work on Shotgun Stories into a critically-acclaimed directing career.

Next Time: Bridge to Terabithia

Advertisements

Beaufort (2007)

beaufortposter

Beaufort
Dir. Joseph Cedar
Premiered at Berlin February 14, 2007

I live in Israel. I came here to work in the local film industry, and have spent the past month getting acquainted history of Israeli cinema.

Before coming over, I read an assortment of blogs by American immigrants to Israel. This is an entire genre of blog, and they all say the same thing: Americans question why anyone would want to move to a “war zone” (which it isn’t), and Israelis question why anyone would want to leave the richest, most powerful country on earth where life simply must be better (which it isn’t).

Contemporary Israeli cinema is an extension of these two worldviews. A small country with the population of London and a language spoken nowhere else, Israeli movies are only encouraged to thrive, by government subsidies at home and middle- to high-brow audiences abroad, when they feed into the rest of the world’s preexisting idea of Israel, which is less of a “country” and more of an “issue.” Social dramas, war dramas, Holocaust dramas. Even movies that deviate from the formula, like last year’s political dark comedy Norman, are obliged to reference these themes.

But there’s a reason Israel has been able to support a film (and television) industry. There’s a reason Quentin Tarantino gushes about it. However restricted they may feel by the demands of the market, Israeli filmmakers don’t take the opportunity for granted, with Beaufort as a perfect example.

The year is 2000. Eighteen years have passed since the mighty Israeli military machine foundered for the first and only time in its attempt to uphold the Phalangist government in Lebanon in exchange for a peace treaty, a conflict that one of my film professors once likened to the US involvement in Vietnam– if Vietnam was a thirty-minute drive from your house.

Yet Israel still clings to a strategic buffer zone in the far south of the country, and shots are still occasionally fired between them and the emergent Hezbollah militant group. The jewel of Israel’s defense is Beaufort Castle, a 12th Century Crusader fortress that, due to a miscommunication at the war’s very start, is anachronistically used by the Israelis for its original purpose.

After all these years, public pressure has finally provoked the Israeli government to withdraw. Knowing this, Hezbollah has dramatically ramped up missile attacks on the compound, hoping to make the withdrawal look like a total defeat. Trapped in the bunkers beneath the castle in the dead of winter, the unusually young, iron-willed outpost commander (Oshri Cohen) can only wait and hope that not too many of his men get killed before the evacuation order comes through. Would that he were so lucky, as after years of fighting, these final days seem to break him.

In America, Lieutenant Librati (Cohen) is nobody’s idea of a cinematic commander– he’s short, scrawny, argumentative, and is over-familiar with his men, identifying with them not only as a soldier, but as a friend. He’s Israeli. And while knowing that he is going to leave costs lives, it also attaches him to the mountain in an entirely new way– from which it is implied he’ll never escape. Although the means of fighting and command may seem strange to the outsiders, the feeling is one that can be related to around the world.

How Did It Do?
As an Israeli war film, Beaufort was subject to a lot of specific criticisms that other movies probably wouldn’t be. For example, the fact that some of the actors had not served in the military was a point of controversy (though which actors this was and the nature of their abstention from service is unclear). And in a strange reversal of the “depiction equals endorsement” fallacy, I noticed many YouTube commenters on the trailer interpreted the film as anti-war and criticized the citizenry of Israel for even entertaining the notion of criticizing the defense of the homeland.

However, Beaufort got perhaps the most unseemly break since Black Hawk Down coincided with 9/11: Between the film’s production and release, a second war broke out southern Lebanon, this time between Israel and Hezbollah itself. The war lasted only 33 days, but it was the top story around the world during that time, and this strongly influenced what happened next.

First, the film was critically lauded, with an 86% fresh rating on RottenTomatoes. David Edelstein and Haaretz’s Nirit Anderman compared the imagery to that of the previous year’s Letters from Iwo Jima, which should be considered the highest compliment. Joseph Cedar won Best Director at the Berlin Film Festival, and Beaufort was Israel’s submission to the Academy for Best Foreign Language Film; which it’s rumored to have gotten through a bit of dirty dealing, but I’ll cover that when we get to Cannes. It was nominated, but lost to The Counterfeiters.

Unfortunately, Beaufort took a loss. Despite being one of the most popular Israeli movies in Israel, where domestic fare tends to not actually do very well, it earned only about $1.2 million against a $2 million budget (Israel’s really bad at keeping box office receipts, so I can only estimate). Cedar, who’s lucky the Israeli film industry is state-supported, has continued to climb the ladder, going on to release the acclaimed 2011 film Footnote and the aforementioned Norman.

Next Time: Shotgun Stories

Hot Fuzz (2007)

2007-hot_fuzz-5

Hot Fuzz
Dir. Edgar Wright
Premiered February 14, 2007

The 2000s were a dark decade. The horrors of the September 11 attacks in 2001 cast a shadow over the western world, yes, but even in those innocent days leading up to that terror, an inexplicable melancholy was emerging. This new world was pale, dour, and clad head-to-toe in black. Absent a much-needed sense of common sacrifice and effort, Hollywood decided that we had to become monsters in order to fight monsters. Angst was the law. Fun was the enemy. We didn’t know how to switch off.

It was into this milieu that audiences were first treated to Hot Fuzz, the third directorial feature of Edgar Wright, and the second entry in his Cornetto Trilogy of buddy-centric genre parodies. I don’t know how general audiences reacted when this film came out, but it must have been a welcome shock to the system.

After putting his colleagues to shame with his stellar record, hyper-competent London police sergeant Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) is sent away to rural Sandford, Gloucestershire. Initially repulsed by the parochial residents and lax policing, he finds an unlikely friend and partner in Danny Butterman (Nick Frost), an overeager devotee of shoot-em-up cop movies including, notably, Point Break and Bad Boys II. Although Angel is disdainful of cowboy antics, he soon finds himself in the action flick to end all action flicks when a conspiracy seems afoot and people in the village start dying mysterious, uncommonly gruesome deaths.

Once upon a time, action movies were looked down upon as pablum for the masses (an idea that filmmakers have occasionally played with). In 2007, when parody and genre tributes were either shallow, hateful, or cynically above-it-allHot Fuzz (and a couple of other films we’ll soon discuss) taught us how to mock with love for the first time since Mel Brooks was a hitmaker. Today, action movies are finally getting the respect they deserve (as long as they’re not remakes), making Hot Fuzz a prescient trendsetter, as well as a riotously funny, meticulously crafted, and often quite sweet action-comedy.

How Did It Do?
Hot Fuzz took in a cool $80.7 million against a $12 million budget. It was also a critical smash, earning a 91% fresh rating on RT. It’s since become a home movie staple and is often quoted in media. Wright, whose breakout Shawn of the Dead had yet to overshadow his work as a teenage directing prodigy in British television, was a name and a brand, and has used it wisely in the decade since.

Hot Fuzz wasn’t the only comedy in 2007 to handily tackle the subject of platonic male friendship. The other is one of my all-time favorite films. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Next Time: Beaufort

The Number 23 (2007)

poster

The Number 23
Dir. Joel Schumacher
Premiered February 13, 2007

The Number 23 is the first entertainingly bad movie of this series.

For a long time, I’ve known that the Number 23 was a bad movie. But I’ve never known anyone to hold it up as the hilarious disasterpiece that it truly is. Everything in this movie is in soft focus. Multiple takes are left unedited as continuous shots. Nothing in this movie is set up. And the number 23 has fuck-all to do with anything in the film.

As the plot is pretty much stitched together from nothing, it’s going to be hard to summarize, but here goes: Walter Sparrow (Jim Carrey) is an animal control officer whose wife  (Virginia Madsen) gives him a book called The Number 23 for his birthday. The book gets him unconvincingly obsessed with the 23 enigma, a bit of inconsistent numerological nonsense that apparently leads people to see the number 23 everywhere, no matter how contrived the situation. Sparrow also begins to see loose parallels between the main character in the book and himself. I don’t know why they didn’t make the parallels stronger, because the first half of the movie ends up calmly pointing out the silliness of its own premise. Somehow, the film turns into a murder mystery in its last thirty minutes that ends up with Sparrow himself having been the killer all along.

Please note that nothing in the plot actually hinges on the number 23. They could have chosen any number or left it out altogether.

But none of that does the movie justice, because it’s ridiculous. The plot itself isn’t set in motion until most of the way through. The editing, visuals, and acting are frequently hilarious. Jim Carrey does seem to realize how horrible this movie is and goes for outright silliness with his performance. Considering the golden age of bad movies we’re living in, I’m surprised this one doesn’t get much love.

Signs This Was Made in 2007
I actually ended up watching this with my friend visiting from the east coast, and we were making fun of a scene that looked “like a bad darkwave music video.” Lo and behold, “Tear Her Apart” by She Wants Revenge started playing over the scene, and we both burst out laughing. There was a lot of bursting out laughing.

Meanwhile, Carrey’s character claims that it’s been 13 years since a sequence of events in his backstory that took place in 1991, so the screenplay at least was written in 2004 and nobody could be bothered to fix this. This will not be the last time that a movie from 2007 dates itself three years earlier.

Additional Notes
There’s quite a lot of saxophone in this movie. Jim Carrey never plays it, but every time it shows up onscreen, I couldn’t help but mimic the intro to “Baker Street” by Gerry Rafferty. I highly recommend incorporating this into your viewing.

My friend also decided to make some hilarious gifs of the movie, and here they are for your pleasure:

sax2

shoes

How Did It Do?
The Number 23 earned $77.6 million against a $30 million budget. Most critics laughed at its incompetence, earning it an 8% fresh rating on RT. Schumacher has kept on keeping on, but his films since have largely gone unadvertised, at least in the United States.

Next Time: Beaufort

The Counterfeiters (2007)

554full-the-counterfeiters-poster

The Counterfeiters
Die Fälscher
Dir. Stefan Ruzowitsky
Premiered at Berlin February 10, 2007

Holocaust dramas are a mainstay of European prestige films. Sometimes they’re Son of Saul, sometimes…Life is Beautiful. The Counterfeiters is radically different from the usual presentation, in both story and format: recounting the true story of Operation Bernhard, the film opens in the resurgent glamour of Monte Carlo after the war, as wealthy gambler Salomon Sorowitsch (Karl Markovics) spends a night on the town. Sorowitsch is a man of few words, whose mysterious wealth betrays a tale of endless compromise and bewilderment. For this alone, The Counterfeiters may be the finest Holocaust drama of the 2000s, and not only because I haven’t seen any others.

A decade earlier, Sorowitsch is a high-roller Berlin, ignoring the panic of his fellow German Jews, and disgust of the city’s upper-crust, as he makes a living printing fake passports for those fleeing the Nazis– he may in fact be the world’s greatest forger. First, this gets him caught by the SS and sent to labor camps, but his skills as both an artist and a pickpocket enable him to survive for years, until the officer who first arrested him (David Striesow) appoints him and a handful of captured Jewish artists, graphicists, financiers to a secret project– secret even to most of the concentration camp where they are stationed– perfecting counterfeit British Pounds and US Dollars.

At first, one may find the plot similar to another story of imprisonment in the Second World War, The Bridge on the River Kwai. In counterfeiting, Sorowitsch and his compatriots are given an unexpected and deeply uneasy sense of purpose, and are treated with relative favor by the commanding officer. But rather than revel in the same obvious irony as Kwai, The Counterfeiters raises much bigger questions about the tenuous line between duress and collaboration. For Sorowitsch, he is winning every day the Nazi war machine needs him or any other supposedly inferior Jew to keep functioning. Had Sorowitsch been forging Pounds in a basement in Rotterdam rather than a concentration camp, he would almost certainly (and rightly) have been executed at the war’s end. And indeed this is raised by Burger (August Diehl), a loyal Communist and unrepentant saboteur who would rather have them all die than help the Germans– not to bankrupt the Allied economies, as they are initially told, but to finance Germany’s defense through laundering. Interestingly, it is Burger’s memoirs that formed the basis for the script.

The Counterfeiters is not a visual spectacle by any means. It’s shot on old film and has that slightly-off coloration associated with the period in which it’s set, and uses a good deal of handheld camera, but that only makes it look like everything else post-Band of Brothers. But it is a powerfully-written and even more powerfully-acted story of determination, even ambivalent determination, which we frankly don’t get enough of. When Oscar Bait movies utilize real events, it’s hard to tell as a viewer whether you’re blown away by the story or the movie itself, and it’s a confusion that more cynical filmmakers and studios take full advantage of. That wasn’t a problem here. Although I had heard about German counterfeiting efforts before, I didn’t know how true this story was until the end credits and found it terrific anyway, and that’s the highest compliment.

How Did It Do?
The Counterfeiters grossed $20.2 million against a $6.3 million budget, mostly in Europe, especially for some reason in Spain. This was a good time to be a German prestige movie: while The Counterfeiters screened at Berlin, 2006’s The Lives of OthersThe Lives of Others won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Picture. Although it doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor, The Counterfeiters followed in its footsteps, winning another Oscar for the language.

Next Time: The Number 23

Operation Homecoming (2007)

operation-homecoming-writing-the-wartime-experience-images-678b35d7-5aa6-4b23-b2f1-1d5d6c77c3e

Operation Homecoming
Dir. Richard E. Robbins
Premiered February 9, 2007

“You didn’t wake up in the morning and go ‘I’m gonna go bring freedom.’  …your life was ‘I’m gonna have to get into that humvee or that tank and not die.”

–Sgt. John McCary

Americans love the troops. We love them because they are brave, because they believe in what their country stands for, and because we still have fearful memories of a time when they were not looked on so kindly. But during the wars in Afghanistan and especially Iraq, “support the troops” became something of an abstraction. For the first time since the Mexican-American War, the US fought years-long campaigns without the aid of conscription, and consequently the wartime experience drifted far from the public mind. Operation Homecoming aims to resolve that divide.

At the beginning of the Iraq War, the National Endowment of the arts launched Operation Homecoming, where writers were sent to military base camps to train soldiers, marines, and airmen in the art of writing. As Operation Homecoming the film demonstrates, the project was a smashing success: all different types of men on all different types of missions wrote poetry, narrative nonfiction, fiction, and even satire about their experiences. Expanding on their writing, director Richard E. Robbins presents furtive dramatizations of their work through staged readings and a variety of visual styles. In between, Robbins interviews the authors themselves as well as notable writers who served in previous wars about their own experiences.

As you might expect, Operation Homecoming is very episodic and somewhat uneven, though not as much as might be expected. Altogether, glory, blood, and politics are absent. The only overt judgment given by interviewees is their own disturbance over the indifference to the war on the home front. Aside from that, though, action is the only concern. As a result, Operation Homecoming has aged far better than other most other war content of the time.

How Did It Do?
Operation Homecoming ran in exactly one theater for exactly one week. It grossed just $6,745, but the real ticket was an Oscar nomination, which it received but didn’t win.

Next Time: The Counterfeiters

Norbit (2007)

norbit_xlg

Norbit
Dir. Brian Robbins
Premiered February 9, 2007

How the hell did we get here?

Like Epic Movie, I hesitated to watch this movie, making sure my roommates had all left for Thanksgiving before popping the DVD in. And like Epic Movie, I wasn’t really in a position to discuss this film’s importance. It’s become a cliché that Eddie Murphy’s career post-1988 has been “revenge” for some award snub or other; that he was once the biggest star on the planet, the top comedian in a decade when comedians were bigger than rock stars, and that those days are never coming back. But I’m mostly unfamiliar with Murphy’s filmography, even the good ones.

However, Norbit does have an important place in the history of Hollywood: it marks the point at which bad comedies became a genre unto itself, with their own tropes, visual style, and cadre of anonymous directors. In the case of Norbit, that director is Brian Robbins, who went on to direct Murphy’s zero-percenter A Thousand Words. If the leaked Sony emails are anything to go by, studios don’t want to make these movies. Why they have to is unknown.

Norbit (Eddie Murphy) is a simpering, lisping 1950s-style nerd who spends most of his life in an unpleasant relationship with the hideous gangland princess Rasputia (alsoB Eddie Murphy). This is extremely weird as both Norbit and Rasputia are also played by child actors free of any affectation, so when Rasputia eventually becomes preening, hateful, adulterous, and abusive, it comes right the fuck out of nowhere. Murphy also plays Norbit’s horrifyingly racist Chinese adoptive father.

When Norbit’s childhood sweetheart Kate (Thandie Newton) comes back to town with her fiancé (Cuba Gooding Jr.), he tries to leave Rasputia, only for Rasputia to lie about being pregnant. Sparks fly between Norbit and Kate, leading to… you know what, fuck it. The movie doesn’t care. I don’t care. With it’s CG pratfalls, cringe-inducingly racist humor, lots of flat jokes at the expense of overweight children, I was totally prepared to unleash my fury on this film, but the whole is so empty and flaccid that I can’t care.

Watching this, Murphy seemed like he was being held hostage to make this movie, but on closer inspection I discovered that he and his brother Charlie wrote the screenplay. I don’t know why anyone would write this, but it’s revealing in how Murphy views the world and himself. Maybe. Fuck this movie.

Signs This Was Made in 2007
The Pussycat Dolls and Kelis’ “Milkshake” are prominently featured. Two characters are pimps and it’s no big deal. Pubic hair is depicted as inherently disgusting and undesirable. Actually, this movie seems to be set in 2005.

How Did It Do?
Norbit infamously received an Academy Award nomination for Best Makeup. Mind you, Best Makeup is one of the squirrelier categories, and you can’t fault Rick Baker for doing his job well. But you can fault global audiences for making it the biggest movie of February 2007, grossing a truly astonishing $159.3 million against an equally astonishing $60 million budget. Critics rightfully hated it, earning the film a 9% fresh rating on RT. Murphy had recently received an Oscar nomination for his supporting role in Dreamgirls, and many critics believed that Norbit would cost him that prize. He didn’t win, and I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if that was why.

Next Time: Operation Homecoming

La Vie en Rose (2007)

la_mome

La Vie en Rose
La Môme
Dir. Olivier Dahan
Premiered at Berlin February 8, 2007

I was starting to wonder if I’d become numb to some of these movies. La Vie en Rose was the third French prestige film I’d seen in a week (we’ll get to the others later), and at first glance it seemed disappointingly similar to every other musician biopic from the 2000s. But with time, it got to me. For a while.

La Vie en Rose tells the life story of Édith Piaf (Marion Cotillard, in a star-making role), a woman of extremely humble origins who used her vocal talents to escape poverty, becoming the defining voice of mid-20th century Paris. However, neither her talents nor her success could not save her from continuing to a very tragic life: abandoned by her mother, raised for a time in a brothel and for a time on the streets with her father, being abused and manipulated by the seedy underbelly of Parisian entertainment, falling for a married man only for him to die in a plane crash, and a lifetime of drug and alcohol abuse leading her to age far beyond her years and die at the premature age of 47.

At 141 minutes, La Vie en Rose is far longer than it needs to be. The cinematography is dark, claustrophobic, and overuses the handheld camera, while the editing sometimes resembles a low-budget documentary. No effort is made to conceal the digital nature of the production, which is only accentuated by the period setting.

However, the saving grace of the film is Cotillard as Piaf. It is a rare for a June wide release to win its star an Oscar, BAFTA, and Golden Globe, but here it’s understandable and inarguably deserved. Her performance is seamless and continually draws the viewer in. It helped at the time that Cotillard was relatively unknown, but even now I don’t see her, I only see Édith Piaf. And ultimately, that’s what La Vie en Rose is all about.

Signs This Was Made in 2007
The aforementioned issues with cinematography and editing.

How Did It Do?
La Vie en Rose grossed $86.3 million against a $25 million budget, most of that coming from its native France, where whopping 10% of the total population saw it in theaters. For comparison, that’s about the same as the proportion of British who have seen Dunkirk. It was a patriotic mega-hit.

It earned a 74% fresh rating on RottenTomatoes. It won Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Lead Role (launching Cotillard into stardom in the English-speaking world) as well as for Best Makeup, and received a nomination for Best Costume Design.

Next Time: Norbit

Epic Movie (2007)

mv5bmta3ndm5odu3nzleqtjeqwpwz15bbwu3mdgymjgynde-_v1_uy1200_cr9006301200_al_

Epic Movie
Dir. Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer
Premiered January 25, 2007

Epic Movie is not a parody of epics. At no point does it reference such classics as Ben Hur, Lawrence of Arabia, Papillon, Amadeus, or Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet.

Nor is Epic Movie itself epic. Whereas actual, watchable parodies Airplane, Not Another Teen Movie, or anything by Mel Brooks really capture the mood and feel of the films they lovingly mock, Epic Movie is a hateful little film with no production value, attention span, awareness of its source material, or sense of humor. I didn’t even see YouTube comments on the trailer try to defend this piece of shit, and that’s saying something.

The best thing to be said about Epic Movie is that it wasn’t a hard watch. Not a minute went by that didn’t give me something to include in this review. It’s so lazy, so random, so incoherent, so loathsome, and so stupid that it could be taken down from any angle.

Drawing its general plot from the story– or rather what writer-director team Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer assume to be the story– of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Epic Movie begins with overgrown orphans Edward (Kal Penn), Peter (Adam Campbell), Susan (Jayma Mays), and Lucy (Jayma Mays). Through various contrivances, the four end up with golden tickets to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, only for Wonka (Crispin Glover, the former George McFly and a man who demands to be taken even more seriously than Jared Leto) to take them prisoner in order to harvest their organs for his chocolates, resulting in a generic club music video wherein Wonka begins vivisecting the protagonists alive.

Did I mention that this opens with David Carradine being tied up in a speedo? I’d say that hasn’t aged well, but that wouldn’t distinguish it from anything else in the movie

The orphans escape Wonka by going through the wardrobe into “Gnarnia” (go with it) where Edward is seduced by the White Bitch (Jennifer Coolidge) into betraying the others…somehow. I don’t know how. The movie doesn’t explain. But the main thing is that they’re actually a family separated at birth, despite all appearances, and their return fulfills some kind of prophecy, and the White Bitch has the albino monk from The Da Vinci Code as a henchman, and there’s a goat-man who loves a version of Scarface where Tony Montana is also a goat-man…and Aslan is Fred Willard.

And so it goes: at one point, Lucy gets her tongue ripped out (no story), and after making a joke about how she can’t talk, she immediately starts talking again. And when Susan first appears, and only when she first appears, she has disgustingly hairy legs. Um, okay.

The acting is elementary school theater-level. Even the actors I recognize, people I’ve seen do well, are like this. It’s as if Seltzer and Friedberg told everybody to phone it in, because what’s commitment in comedy?

Also odd are the choices of targets for parody. For a film that purports to take the piss out of the then-recent wave of fantasy movies, The Lord of the Rings trilogy is conspicuously absent. Instead, the film instantly dates itself by taking aim mostly at The Da Vinci Code, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Superman Returns, and the Narnia movies. Epic Movie also makes sure to skewer acknowledge the existence of such dramatic epics as Nacho Libre, Click, Snakes on a Plane, Talladega Nights, Borat, and the SNL sketch “Lazy Sunday.” Because what’s more ripe for parody than things that weren’t serious to begin with?

People always say that Seltzer and Friedberg are making fun of posters and trailers rather than movies, but I always assumed it to be hyperbole. It isn’t. I’m not sure that Seltzer and Friedberg have ever seen any movie. Unsurprisingly, most of the jokes in this movie don’t make any sense. I wouldn’t even call most of the attempts at humor “jokes.” In fact, I wouldn’t call them “attempts.” Let’s have two examples:

  1. Wolverine gives Peter the finger with his adamantium claws, but the joke doesn’t work because the movie being parodied already made that joke.
  2. The film mocks the fact that the cast of the Harry Potter movies are way older than their characters, which might surprise some of you who have noticed that that’s not remotely true. That’s Kids in the Hall alum/person who should not be here Kevin McDonald playing Harry, by the way.

The lack of concern or consideration in every conceivable way is awful, but such mindlessness is so expected at this point that it feels pointless to even take note of it.

Signs This Was Made in 2007
Epic Movie might be the most horribly dated motion picture of all time, as it eagerly references “Thug Life,” K-Fed, Diddy, drift racing, Sudoku, Dr. Phil, Paris Hilton, Nicole Ritchie, MySpace, The Olsen Twins, Saddam Hussein (who was executed between the film’s production and premiere), 50 Cent’s tattoos, the then-current run of GEICO ads, Cialis, “What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas” (superfluous comma not mine), The Pussycat Dolls, Fantasia Barrino, Punk’d, Cribs, “This Is Why I’m Hot,” Brad Pitt and Angeline Jolie adopting African children, the fact that Edward is a half-parody of his own character from Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle and refers to the White Bitch in-universe as “Stifler’s Mom,” the fact that Lucy wears a designer velour sweatsuit, and Kanye West’s famous “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” ad-lib in response to Hurricane Katrina.

How Did It Do?
Epic Movie grossed $86.9 million against a $20 million budget, ensuring that Seltzer and Friedberg, who had broken into directing with the previous year’s Date Movie, would have work for years to come. So while the film got a 2% fresh rating on RottenTomatoes, S&F pumped these out, and the critics hated them ever more: The next one got 1%, and the one after that got 0%, but they kept making money…until they suddenly fell through the bottom, now relegated to micro-budget direct-to-VOD releases.

Next Time: La Vie en Rose

Chapter 27 (2007)

mv5bmtc5mdq2mtu4nv5bml5banbnxkftztcwnda1mdy2mg-_v1_

Chapter 27
Dir. J.P. Schaefer
Premiered at Sundance January 25, 2007

When first-time filmmaker J.P. Schaefer, Chapter 27 was a bold move, and bound to leave an impact. Inspired by a series of interviews with Mark David Chapman, the crazed fan who assassinated former Beatle John Lennon, the film attempts to find insight into the mind of one of recent history’s most famous assassins. There’s only one problem: if the movie is any indication, Mark David Chapman is not interesting.

It doesn’t help that Chapman is played by Jared Leto, the former teen heartthrob, erstwhile screamo frontman, and future notoriously pretentious Oscar-winner. With Leto in literally every scene, he has unlimited time to show off, playing Chapman in a croaking sing-song voice that recalls Eddie Redmayne in Jupiter Ascending as he embarks on a three-day jaunt to New York City to re-enact the plot of Catcher in the Rye, followed by meeting and killing John Lennon outside his apartment building. This is not Chapman’s first attempt to catch the man, and his obsession more-or-less conforms to Donald Glover’s assessment that crazy men always want to kill people they love in order to own them.

That’s a reasonable angle for the film to take, but it doesn’t justify the laser focus on Chapman, which creates other problems as well. Aside from a fellow fan with oddly clunky dialogue (Lindsay Lohan) and a curiously self-aware paparazzo (Judah Friedlander), the film consists almost entirely of endless, repetitive monologues by Chapman, intercut with stock footage and non-sequitur bits of other scenes in a vain attempt to hide the fact that there’s nothing to look at. Undermining his own ambitions as a screenwriter and a director, J.P. Schaefer seems to think that the mere idea of a film about Mark David Chapman would be interesting in itself, and accordingly comes off as smug and lazy.

Signs This Was Made in 2007
The involvement of Lindsay Lohan. In the mid-2000s, she was everywhere, making a huge effort to escape her child-actress fame and take on more diverse roles, such as this and Robert Altman’s swan song A Prairie Home Companion. By the end of 2007, she would be a national punchline. We’ll get to how that happened later, but it’s relevant to this review because…

How Did It Do?
Chapter 27 wasn’t released in commercial theaters until March 2008, after getting mostly disastrous reviews in the festival circuit (18% fresh on RottenTomatoes), and long after Lohan’s modest involvement had become a liability. In a rare instance of a movie being distributed independently as well as produced independently, Canadian outfit Peace Arch Entertainment released the film into just 11 theaters, making less than $200,000 globally. Peace Arch went under in 2013, and J.P. Schaefer never directed another film.

Next Time: Epic Movie