SHATTERED GLASS (2003)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 34 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Language, Sexual References and brief Drug Use

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Directed by: Billy Ray

Written by: Billy Ray

(based on an article by Buzz Bissinger)

Starring: Hayden Christensen, Peter Sarsgaard, Chloe Sevigny, Steve Zahn, Melanie Lynskey, Hank Azaria & Rosario Dawson

How much trust do you place in the news? A lot of Americans have found themselves evaluating that question after the recent incidents with Brian Williams (surprising) and Bill O’Reilly (not surprising in the slightest). Stephen Glass outdid those two reporters during the late 90’s. Glass worked for The New Republic (a much respected and honored magazine) and became a sensation during his three-year stint there. Unfortunately for the New Republic, Glass had completely fabricated more than half of his stories that were being printed as fact. SHATTERED GLASS is the directorial debut from Billy Ray (director of BREACH and writer of CAPTAIN PHILLIPS) and retells the Stephen Glass incident.

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The film is structured in a somewhat non-linear fashion as Glass lectures a high school journalism class about the pressures of reporting and keys to being a successful writer. Between these pieces of narration we see Stephen’s popularity among staff at New Republic and the chaos of an article that tore his falsely built career apart, titled “Hack Heaven.” When a writer at Forbes online branch discovers that Glass’s article seems to be a complete work of fiction and throws allegations at New Republic, editor Charles “Chuck” Lane becomes highly suspicious of Stephen. As the investigation furthers, tensions rise between Chuck, Stephen and the rest of the staff that may destroy The New Republic in the process.

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SHATTERED GLASS is based on an interesting true story. Therefore, the script doesn’t need to try too hard to be entertaining. This is a compelling story to begin with and director/writer Billy Ray seems to realize that he didn’t need to tweak too many details or plot points to win the viewer over. There’s a clear sense of frustration that rises to a fever-pitch as Stephen Glass grasps at straws to maintain his lies and finds himself digging a deeper hole for himself as he goes along, much to the dismay of Chuck Lane. There are a handful of recognizable faces throughout (including Steve Zahn, Rosario Dawson, and Hank Azaria), but Hayden Christensen and Peter Sarsgaard are the real stars of the show. Sarsgaard is completely believable as an editor who’s being placed in a comprising “damned he does, damned if he doesn’t” position. Meanwhile, Hayden Christensen is usually a so-so actor at best, but delivers a stellar performance as Stephen Glass that’s probably going to wind up as the best role of his career. You can’t believe a word that Stephen says and that’s the whole point.

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This film isn’t perfect thanks to a couple of script decisions that detract from what could have been a perfect film. Sections of Glass narrating the events to a class of high school students become downright distracting and unneeded at points. Not to mention that the way in which this narrative concludes is clichéd and disappointing. The Forbes reporters investigating the validity of “Hack Heaven” is just as interesting as everything else in this true story, but is completely neglected about halfway through the film. It seemed as if these scenes, with Steve Zahn as reporter Adam Penenberg, were building up to their own conclusion that never came to satisfying fruition. It’s not as if the script decisions derail a good movie, but they do keep it from perfection.

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SHATTERED GLASS is probably one of the most important movies about journalism and writing that I’ve seen. It will make you question how much faith you put in supposedly fact-based articles or news stories that you read/hear on a daily basis. Peter Sarsgaard and Hayden Christensen deliver phenomenal performances and the story is gripping the whole way through. Billy Ray seems to have a knack for turning real-life stories into good movies and I wish he’d make more of them. Over a decade later, SHATTERED GLASS is still relevant and highly recommended.

Grade: B

STAR WARS Episode III: REVENGE OF THE SITH (2005)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 20 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sci-Fi Violence and some Intense Images

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Directed by: George Lucas

Written by: George Lucas

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Frank Oz, Matthew Wood, Jimmy Smits & Silas Carson

If you’ve sat through two iffy entries of a trilogy (PHANTOM MENACE, ATTACK OF THE CLONES) and the conclusion is immensely satisfying, does that make the entire trilogy worth watching? Hence, the big question that’s been circling in my brain after completing my re-watch of the STAR WARS prequel trilogy. Episode III is definitely the best of Lucas’s lesser three films. Everything has come full circle, making REVENGE OF THE SITH into the bleakest STAR WARS film to date. So much repressed misery, hate, fear and pain (as Yoda pointed out multiple times in the previous two films) in Anakin is unleashed. The film is not without a couple of problems, but REVENGE OF THE SITH is a legitimately good chapter in the STAR WARS saga.

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The Clone Wars are nearing an end, but two powerful separatist leaders remain. These are the Sith Lord Count Dooku and the monstrous General Grievous. After Senator Palpatine is kidnapped, Anakin and Obi-Wan lead a rescue that has unintended consequences. Mission being an overall success, the suspicious Palpatine befriends Anakin on a personal level and corrupts him. Thus the storyline that many were excited to see when the prequel trilogy was originally announced comes full circle. Friends are torn apart, lives are lost, and galaxy becomes a far darker place…

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If you haven’t seen the original trilogy, then you might still know vague details about what exactly happens in this film. Because it’s a prequel and the original trilogy is one of the most celebrated movie series of all time, the bombshell reveal at the end of Episode V has become cinematic joke at this point. Anakin Skywalker transforms into one of the biggest movie villains of all-time and the Empire becomes an omnipresent force of evil in the galaxy. A comparison has been made between the Empire and the Nazis in plenty of different articles and is a well-warranted description. The fall of democracy to dictatorship is believable in REVENGE OF THE SITH. Padme even says something along the lines of “This is how freedom ends. With cheers and applause.” The film does go out on a much-needed glimmer of hope with a final shot on a certain planet housing characters waiting to rise again to fight evil. It’s still a mighty depressing film. That’s exactly how it should be, considering the content.

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Something also needs to be said of how exciting and fast-paced SITH is. This is a movie that consists almost entirely of pay-off for all of the build-up seen in the previous two prequels. This also has far better constructed light saber duels than in the bombastic Episode I. Though there are a couple of battle scenes involving the clones vs. droids, a lot of one-on-one face-offs take place and there’s actual (God forbid) emotion thrown into them. In the opening, Dooku delivers a more exciting showdown than his appearance in Episode II. The half-alien, half-machine General Grievous is one of the best original characters in Episodes I-III and makes me wish he had a presence in the former two entries. He also presents more of a threat in a fight thanks to super strength and four light saber wielding arms. Excess paid off in this scene. Then there’s the massive climax that intercuts between Obi-Wan facing off against a too-far-gone Anakin and Yoda fighting the newly scarred Darth Sidious. I may be going on a little long about these battles, but they really are excellent action scenes paying off in a lot of plot development building for two long movies.

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The biggest problem with Episode III was seen in the last two movies. This would still be the utter blandness of Anakin. This isn’t helped by Hayden Christensen’s (a.k.a. Mannequin Skywalker’s) wooden delivery of lines that are supposed to be menacing. He looks threatening when he doesn’t have any lines of dialogue, but as soon as he opens his mouth, all fear goes out the window. As epic and spanning as the final fight sequence between Anakin and Obi-Wan may be, it could have packed even more of a punch if the previous films hadn’t delivered a so-so friendship between those two characters. I know this isn’t something REVENGE OF THE SITH can help as its own film. George Lucas is clearly doing his best to make up for all of his past prequel flaws, but the damage has been done. Episodes I-II have ever so slightly diminished what could have been a devastating, tear-jerking reaction of watching former friend turn on devoted mentor.

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Though it could have benefitted from a stronger performer in the titular role of Anakin Skywalker (something that both Episodes I-II suffer from), REVENGE OF THE SITH makes sitting through the previous two prequels feel worth it. In spite of how silly or annoying they were at times, I actually enjoyed revisiting the STAR WARS prequel trilogy and look forward to covering the better (older) trilogy in the future (before Episode VII hits in December 2015). Episode III is a satisfying chapter of how Darth Vader and the Empire are ultimately formed, while the galaxy falls into darkness. You’re likely to crave a viewing of Episode IV soon after seeing this, because it leads so well into it. Overall, REVENGE OF THE SITH transcends the other two prequels. I’d argue this is actually a good movie!

Grade: B

STAR WARS Episode II: ATTACK OF THE CLONES (2002)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 22 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for Sustained Sequences of Sci-Fi Action/Violence

AttackClones poster

Directed by: George Lucas

Written by: George Lucas & Jonathan Hales

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Ian McDiarmid, Christopher Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, Temuera Morrison, Frank Oz, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Daniel Logan, Leeanna Walsman, Silas Carson, Rose Byrne, Pernilla August & Joel Edgerton

ATTACK OF THE CLONES is better than PHANTOM MENACE. This second prequel rides that level of quality, but never manages to become a completely “good” experience. Actually, the film still holds the position of the second worst STAR WARS movie. In this case, that’s okay and not bad. When everyone saw the title of this film and promotional art featuring familiar looking clone soldiers, we all knew what coming. Obviously, this was the origin story of the Storm Troopers. While that doesn’t really seem to be the most exciting aspect that a STAR WARS film could focus on, Episode II is entertaining.

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A decade has passed since Episode I. The Dark Side is quietly rising among the Galactic Republic. Padme has shifted political power from Queen to Senator. Despite being at a lower level of government, an assassination attempt is made on her life. This botched assassination sends Obi-Wan Kenobi and young Anakin Skywalker on a mission to figure out the identity of the culprit and the reason why someone would want Padme dead. Obi-Wan discovers a secret army of clones being built on a missing planet and tangles with bounty hunter Jango Fett, all while Anakin breaks Jedi code in a relationship with Padme. This all leads to an intense battle brimming with more sinister intentions beneath the surface.

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Though clone armies aren’t exactly the first image that springs to mind in the STAR WARS legacy, it’s certainly a lot more interesting than a mere taxation and blockade seen in PHANTOM MENACE. This second prequel opens doors for more interesting baddies, intergalactic conspiracies, and lots of well-constructed action scenes. Nice additions include the origin of Boba Fett (a personal favorite from the original trilogy). However, there’s a big hitch in the casting of Hayden Christensen. A lot of people have already taken their jabs at his wooden delivery (even though the stilted romantic dialogue is not much to work with). The best of these might be in CLERKS II, when a customer refers to him as “Mannequin Skywalker’s shitty acting is ruining saga.” Though he’s flat in most areas and comes off like a whiny brat in others, there are a couple of quiet convincing moments. These brief bits show little transformations in his attitude and personality that will eventually turn him into the masked villain that we all know and love. The love between Anakin and Padme is just plain silly in execution though. It’s almost like a Nicholas Sparks movie snuck into a STAR WARS film. The plot line feels that drastically out-of-place.

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As far as visuals, massive improvement is seen throughout. Other worlds that were brought to life in PHANTOM MENACE (one of the few redeemable aspects of that film) are fleshed out even further in Episode II. Some diehard fans might miss the gritty look, but I dug the crisp feeling of creative planets that were mainly brought to the screen through computer effects and green screen (in the same fashion that SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW and SIN CITY would use later on). There’s also more development given to certain characters this time around, though the Padme and Anakin romance needed some serious re-writes. Ewan McGregor is far better as an older, wiser Obi-Wan. However, C-3PO becomes a Jar-Jar Binks-esque character in the final third. He’s literally throwing out an annoying pun every few minutes (sometimes, spewing multiple in a matter of seconds) and they all fall flat. Cool looking grasshopper-like aliens become as useless as battle droids to the Jedi though as they’re weak opponents.

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Despite the flaws, ATTACK OF THE CLONES sports a lot of awesome scenes. One being a mid-air pursuit through the night skies of a city. Another is an intense chase scene through a meteor field against a ship that happens to use sonic blasts as weapons. Finally, there’s the finale that takes up almost a third of the film in a good way that never once bored me. It’s moving from set piece to set piece, including a fantastic gladiator stadium housing three vicious beasts eager to slice, stomp and devour our protagonists. Count Dooku also lends to a far more compelling light saber duel, in which we finally get to see Yoda in action, than the underdeveloped (badass looking) Darth Maul from the first prequel. This feels more like a STAR WARS film than PHANTOM MENACE ever did. It never reaches anything close to the feeling of the original trilogy, but I still enjoy it on its own merits.

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Watching Episodes I-II back-to-back for the first time in a decade, I can safely say that ATTACK OF THE CLONES is a massive improvement over PHANTOM MENACE. It’s not up to the quality of the original films. The film remains the second worst entry, but CLONES isn’t a bad flick. This is far more entertaining, exciting and full of better action scenes than the 1999 disappointment. There’s something to be said for significantly lowered expectations, but I think Episode II is actually an enjoyable flick (with some big problems).

Grade: B-

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