Trailer: The King’s Man


I love the Kingsman series. It looks like we have a third installment to the series, with a prequel showcasing the origins of the secret agent organization. Ralph Fiennes, Tom Hollander, Aaron Taylor-Johnson (who also worked with director Matthew Vaughn in Kick-Ass), Gemma Arterton, Daniel Bruhl, Djimon Hounsou, Charles Dance, Matthew Goode, and Stanley Tucci are all on board.

The King’s Man is due out February of 2020.

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: The Imitation Game (dir by Morten Tyldum)


The 2014 film, The Imitation Game, takes place in three very different time periods.

The majority of the film takes place during World War II.  While the Germans are ruthlessly rolling across and conquering huge swaths of Europe, the British are desperately trying to, at the very least, slow them down.  A key to that is decrypting the secret codes that the German forces use to communicate with each other.  Since the Germans change the code every day, the British not only have to break the code but also predict what the next day’s code will be.

Working out of a 19th century mansion called Bletchley Park, a small group of mathematicians, chess players, and spies work to design a machine that will be able to decode the German messages.  Heading up this group is a man named Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch).  Alan is a remote and, at times, rather abrasive figure, a man who appears to be more comfortable dealing with equations than with other human beings.  The people working under him occasionally chafe at Alan’s lack of social skills.  Commander Denniston (Charles Dance) suspects that Alan’s a Russian spy and would just as soon close down the entire operation.  At first, the only person who seems to have any faith in Alan’s abilities appears to be Winston Churchill himself.

It’s only when Joan Clarke (Kiera Knightley) joins Alan’s team that they start to make progress.  Joan brings Alan out of his shell and teaches him how to deal with other human beings.  When Joan’s parents object to her being away from home, Alan even offers to marry her.  Of course, Alan also explains that it would just be a marriage of convenience, one that will last until they get Christopher up and working.

Christopher is the name that Alan has given to his encryption machine.  Why Christopher?  Throughout the film, we get flashbacks to Alan’s time in boarding school and his close friendship to another student, a boy named Christopher.

And finally, serving as a framing device to both the World War II intrigue and Alan’s relationship with Christopher, is a scene that’s set in 1951.  Alan’s home has been broken into and, as the police investigate the matter, they come to realize that Alan is hiding something about both his past and his present.  Their initial assumption is that Alan must be a communist spy.  The truth, however, is that Alan is gay.  And, in 1951 Britain, that is a criminal offense….

The Imitation Game is based on a true story.  During World War II, Alan Turing actually was a codebreaker and he did play a pivotal role in creating the machine that broke the German code.  After World War II, Turing was arrested and charged with “gross indecency.”  Given a choice between imprisonment or probation and chemical castration.  Turing selected the latter and committed suicide in 1954.  Alan Turing’s work as a cryptographer is estimated to have saved 14 million lives during World War II but he died a lonely and obscure figure, a victim of legally sanctioned prejudice.

Admittedly, The Imitation Game does take some liberties with history.  For one thing, most of the people who worked with Turing described him as being eccentric but not anti-social.  Though the film pretty much portrays the decoding machine as solely being Turing’s creation, it was actually a group effort.  Perhaps the biggest liberty that the film takes is that the machine was never called Christopher.  Instead, it was called Victory.

That said, The Imitation Game is still a strong and effective film.  Anchored by a brilliant lead performance from Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game is a film that manages to be both inspiring and infuriating at the same time.  It’s impossible not to get caught up in the team’s joy as they realize that they actually can beat the Germans at their own encryption game and, after spending 90 minutes listening to everyone doubt Alan’s abilities, you’re more than ready to see him and his unorthodox methods vindicated.  And yet, because of the film’s framing device, you already know that Alan is not going to get the credit that he deserves for his hard work.  Instead, he’s going to be destroyed by the laws of the very country that he worked so hard to save.  Success and tragedy walk hand-in-hand throughout The Imitation Game and the end result is a very powerful and very sad movie.

I have to admit that it was a bit jarring when the opening credits appeared onscreen and the first words that I read were “The Weinstein Company Presents.”  It’s only been a year and a half since Harvey Weinstein was finally exposed and forced out of power but it’s still easy to forget just how much the Wienstein Company used to dominate every Oscar season.  In many ways, with its historical setting and its cast of up-and-coming Brits, The Imitation Game feels like a typical Weinstein Company Oscar contender.  In this case, The Imitation Game was nominated for a total of 8 Oscars, including Best Actor for Benedict Cumberbatch, Best Supporting Actress for Keira Knightley, Best Director for Morten Tyldum, Best Adapted Screenplay for Graham Moore, and Best Picture.  In the end, only Moore won his category.  In a decision that continues to confound me, the Academy named Birdman the best film of the year.

Godzilla: King of Monsters 2nd Official Trailer


Godzilla King of Monsters

This past summer we saw the first trailer to Godzilla: King of Monsters. To say that the reaction to that trailer was positive would be an understatement. It was one of the highlights of San Diego Comic-Con 2018.

Now, Warner Brothers Pictures saw fit to release the second trailer for the film. This time with less classical music and more Kaiju mayhem visuals instead. Michael Dougherty takes over directing duties from Gareth Edwards and this time it shows as the film stresses the action in the film rather than the human interactions underfoot.

Kaiju films have been fan-favorites for decades upon decades because of the monsters and less about the humans. The humans really were just there to give voice to the different factions of monsters duking it out. It looks like this time this sequel will follow the same formula.

Godzilla: King of Monsters is set for May 31, 2019.

Horror Film Review: Underworld: Blood Wars (dir by Anna Foerster)


The Underworld films are bad for my ADD.

Seriously, I’ve seen all five of the Underworld films and I’m still not quite sure what’s going on.  That’s odd because, in every film, Selene (Kate Beckinsale) spends a good deal of time explaining what has happened and why it’s happened.  And yet, every time I try to listen, I’m usually left even more confused than usual.  I can’t help it.  As soon as I hear someone say, “The war between lycans and vampires,” I zone out.

So, I’ll admit it.  I’m the person who, after the movie, is always asking, “Is Selene still a vampire?  Why are the lycans and the vampires at war?  Oh, wait — that was Selene’s daughter?  Why would they want to create a hybrid?  So, are they in the real world or are they in an alternate world?  Is this movie taking place in the past or the future?  Why can’t they just call them werewolves?  Wait — that character died?  When did that happen?”

What’s funny is that, even though I can never understand what exactly is going on, I still tend to enjoy the Underworld films.  It’s not that I think they’re great movies and, to be honest, I tend to forget about them within a day or two of watching them.  But, that being said, the Underworld films typically have style to burn and Kate Beckinsale always kicks ass as Selene.  Every time I watch an Underworld film, I find myself trying to do slow-motion spin kicks.  The Underworld franchise has led to me spraining my ankle more than a few times.

Underworld: Blood Wars, the latest installment in the franchise, was released in January and it played for a few weeks before vanishing from theaters and most people’s minds.  It says something about the way the Underworld films are perceived that the latest installments are almost always released in January, a month when most movie goers are more concerned with getting caught up with the Oscar nominees as opposed to seeing new releases.  Obviously, the Underworld franchise has made enough money to justify five films.  (A sixth installment is currently in pre-production.)  But, at the same time, no one will ever mistake this franchise for the MCU.  Indeed, in most franchises, the challenge is to make each film bigger and more extravagant than the last.  The Underworld movies tend to take the opposite approach.  Even by Underworld standards, Blood Wars looks cheap.  The entire film takes place in darkness, in castles that look like they’ve been constructed for a community theater production of The Lion in Winter.

Blood Wars starts out with Selene narrating a lengthy recap of the story so far.  I tried to pay attention to the recap but as soon as Selene said, “lycans and vampires,” my ADD kicked in and I started playing with my phone.  As far as I can tell, in Blood Wars, a member of the Vampire Council named Semira (Laura Pulver) offers to give Selene clemency if Selene will come to her castle and train a new generation of Death Dealers.  However, it’s all a trick because Semira actually just wants to drink Selene’s blood and gain all of her powers.  Meanwhile, the lycans want to get Selene because they’re trying to track down Selene’s daughter because apparently, they can use her to create some sort of hybrid creature that will allow them to finally destroy the vampires.  Meanwhile, there’s a bunch of Nordic vampires running around and they’re all blonde because they’re Nordic.  (I do have to admit that part of the film made me laugh.  It’s as if the filmmakers said, “What can we do to make sure everyone knows that these are Nordic vampires?  Wait a minute!  Scandinavia.  Blonde hair.  I’m getting something here!”  If it had been an Irish coven, I assume they all would have had red hair.  And if it had been a Texas coven, they all would have been wearing cowboy hats.)  As usual, the whole thing leads to a big vampire/lycan battle.  Blood spurts.  Heads are ripped off of bodies.  All in all, it’s a typical Underworld film.

The film is largely forgettable and the plot is borderline incoherent but Kate Beckinsale still gives a remarkably committed performance.  As opposed to Daniel Craig in the latest Bond film, Kate Beckinsale still seems to be somewhat invested in her most famous role.  In typical Underworld fashion, Blood Wars doesn’t offer anything new but, at the same time, it also doesn’t demand much from the audience.

“Sit back and relax,” the film says, “nothing really matters anyway.”

Playing Catch-Up With The Films of 2016: Alice Through The Looking Glass, Gods of Egypt, The Huntsman: Winter’s War, Me Before You, Mother’s Day, Risen


Here are six mini-reviews of six films that I saw in 2016!

Alice Through The Looking Glass (dir by James Bobin)

In a word — BORING!

Personally, I’ve always thought that, as a work of literature, Through The Looking Glass is actually superior to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  That’s largely because Through The Looking Glass is a lot darker than Wonderland and the satire is a lot more fierce.  You wouldn’t know that from watching the latest film adaptation, though.  Alice Through The Looking Glass doesn’t really seem to care much about the source material.  Instead, it’s all about making money and if that means ignoring everything that made the story a classic and instead turning it into a rip-off of every other recent blockbuster, so be it.  At times, I wondered if I was watching a film based on Lewis Carroll or a film based on Suicide Squad.  Well, regardless, the whole enterprise is way too cynical to really enjoy.

(On the plus side, the CGI is fairly well-done.  If you listen, you’ll hear the voice of Alan Rickman.)

Gods of Egypt (dir by Alex Proyas)

I don’t even know where to begin when it comes to describing the plot of Gods of Egypt.  This was one of the most confusing films that I’ve ever seen but then again, I’m also not exactly an expert when it comes to Egyptian mythology.  As far as I could tell, it was about Egyptian Gods fighting some sort of war with each other but I was never quite sure who was who or why they were fighting or anything else.  My ADHD went crazy while I was watching Gods of Egypt.  There were so much plot and so many superfluous distractions that I couldn’t really concentrate on what the Hell was actually going on.

But you know what?  With all that in mind, Gods of Egypt is still not as bad as you’ve heard.  It’s a big and ludicrous film but ultimately, it’s so big and so ludicrous that it becomes oddly charming.  Director Alex Proyas had a definite vision in mind when he made this film and that alone makes Gods of Egypt better than some of the other films that I’m reviewing in this post.

Is Gods of Egypt so bad that its good?  I wouldn’t necessarily say that.  Instead, I would say that it’s so ludicrous that it’s unexpectedly watchable.

The Huntsman: Winter’s War (dir by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan)

Bleh.  Who cares?  I mean, I hate to put it like that but The Huntsman: Winter’s War felt pretty much like every other wannabe blockbuster that was released in April of last year.  Big battles, big cast, big visuals, big production but the movie itself was way too predictable to be interesting.

Did we really need a follow-up to Snow White and The Huntsman?  Judging by this film, we did not.

Me Before You (dir by Thea Sharrock)

Me Before You was assisted suicide propaganda, disguised as a Nicolas Sparks-style love story.  Emilia Clarke is hired to serve as a caregiver to a paralyzed and bitter former banker played by Sam Claflin.  At first they hate each other but then they love each other but it may be too late because Claflin is determined to end his life in Switzerland.  Trying to change his mind, Clarke tries to prove to him that it’s a big beautiful world out there.  Claflin appreciates the effort but it turns out that he really, really wants to die.  It helps, of course, that Switzerland is a really beautiful and romantic country.  I mean, if you’re going to end your life, Switzerland is the place to do it.  Take that, Sea of Trees.

Anyway, Me Before You makes its points with all the subtlety and nuance of a sledge-hammer that’s been borrowed from the Final Exit Network.  It doesn’t help that Clarke and Claflin have next to no chemistry.  Even without all the propaganda, Me Before You would have been forgettable.  The propaganda just pushes the movie over the line that separates mediocre from terrible.

Mother’s Day (dir by Garry Marshall)

Y’know, the only reason that I’ve put off writing about how much I hated this film is because Garry Marshall died shortly after it was released and I read so many tweets and interviews from people talking about what a nice and sincere guy he was that I actually started to feel guilty for hating his final movie.

But seriously, Mother’s Day was really bad.  This was the third of Marshall’s holiday films.  All three of them were ensemble pieces that ascribed a ludicrous amount of importance to one particular holiday.  None of them were any good, largely because they all felt like cynical cash-ins.  If you didn’t see Valentine’s Day, you hated love.  If you didn’t see New Year’s Eve, you didn’t care about the future of the world.  And if you didn’t see Mother’s Day … well, let’s just not go there, okay?

Mother’s Day takes place in Atlanta and it deals with a group of people who are all either mothers or dealing with a mother.  The ensemble is made up of familiar faces — Jennifer Aniston, Julia Roberts, Kate Hudson, and others! — but nobody really seems to be making much of an effort to act.  Instead, they simple show up, recite a few lines in whatever their trademark style may be, and then cash their paycheck.  The whole thing feels so incredibly manipulative and shallow and fake that it leaves you wondering if maybe all future holidays should be canceled.

I know Garry Marshall was a great guy but seriously, Mother’s Day is just the worst.

(For a far better movie about Mother’s Day, check out the 2010 film starring Rebecca De Mornay.)

Risen (dir by Kevin Reynolds)

As far as recent Biblical films go, Risen is not that bad.  It takes place shortly after the Crucifixion and stars Joseph Fiennes as a Roman centurion who is assigned to discover why the body of Jesus has disappeared from its tomb.  You can probably guess what happens next.  The film may be a little bit heavy-handed but the Roman Empire is convincingly recreated, Joseph Fiennes gives a pretty good performance, and Kevin Reynolds keeps the action moving quickly.  As a faith-based film that never becomes preachy, Risen is far superior to something like God’s Not Dead 2.

 

 

Film Review: Ghostbusters (dir by Paul Feig)


Ghostbusters

If you need any further proof that 2016 is a screwed-up year, just consider the fact that Ghostbusters, an entertaining but ultimately rather mild-mannered and innocuous summer action/comedy, has become the center of one of the biggest controversies of the year.

It all started, of course, when the reboot was first announced.  Fanboys reacted with outrage, offended that Hollywood would even consider remaking a film that was apparently one of the defining moments of their childhood.  Then, it was announced that Ghostbusters would feature an all-female cast and it would be directed by Paul Feig, the director of Bridesmaids.  The howls of outrage grew even louder.  Then that infamous trailer was released and even I felt that trailer sucked.  I wasn not alone because the trailer quickly became one of the most disliked videos in the history of YouTube.  Reading the comments underneath that trailer was literally like finding yourself trapped in a production of Marat/Sade.

Suddenly, in the eyes of very vocal group of internet trolls, the reboot of Ghostbusters went from being simply another dubious idea to being a crime against humanity.  And the trolls were so obnoxious that they managed to turn this big-budget, studio-backed production into an underdog.  Here was a movie directed by one of Hollywood’s biggest directors and starring some of Hollywood’s hottest stars and suddenly, it had become David in a biblical showdown with the Goliaths of internet.

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And then it happened.  Earlier last week, Ghostbusters was finally screened for critics.  The first reviews started to come in and they were surprisingly positive.  In fact, they were so positive that I found myself distrusting them.  I found myself wondering if critics were reacting to the film or if they were simply trying to prove that they were better than the trolls who leave obscene comments on YouTube.

Which was true, I wondered.  Was Ghostbusters the worst film ever made or was it the greatest?  Or was it perhaps just possible that Ghostbusters would turn out to be a typical summer film?

With all the controversy, it’s tempting to overpraise a film like Ghostbusters.  Battle lines have been drawn and sometimes, I feel as if I’m being told that failing to declare Ghostbusters to be the greatest and most important comedy of all time is the equivalent of letting the trolls win.

Well, that’s not true.  Ghostbusters is not the greatest or the most important comedy of all time but you know what?  Ghostbusters is good.  Ghostbusters is entertaining.  Especially during the first half, it’s full of laugh out loud moments.  At times, Ghostbusters is everything that you could hope for.

No, it’s not a perfect film.  Paul Feig is a great comedy director but, in this film at least, his direction of the big action sequences often feels uninspired (especially when compared to his previous work on Spy).  The final fourth of the film gets bogged down in CGI and the film goes from being a clever comedy to being just another summer spectacle.  Even the one-liners, which flowed so naturally at the start of the film, feel forced during the final half of the film.  Ghostbusters is good but it never quite becomes great.

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Here’s what did work: the cast.  As he previously proved with Bridesmaids, Paul Feig is a director who is uniquely skilled at creating and showcasing a strong comedic ensemble.  Kristen Wiig plays Erin Gilbert, who is denied tenure at Columbia when it is discovered that a book she wrote on the paranormal has been republished and is being sold, on Amazon, by her former best friend, Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy).  When Erin goes to confront Abby, she not only meets Abby’s newest colleague, Dr. Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) but she also gets dragged into investigating an actual case of paranormal activity..  Soon, Erin, Abby, and Holtzmann are investigating hauntings and capturing ghosts, all with the secret approval of the Mayor of New York (Andy Garcia).  Of course, for PR reasons, the mayor’s office has to continually disavow the Ghostbusters and occasionally have them arrested.  Working alongside the three scientists are Patty (Leslie Jones), who apparently knows the history of every building in New York, and Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), their adorably stupid receptionist.

As written, both Patty and Kevin are fairly thin characters.  Kevin’s the handsome dumb guy.  Patty is streetwise and sassy.  But both Hemsworth and Jones give such enthusiastic and sincere performances that they transcend the stereotypical nature of their roles.  At times, Kevin runs the risk of becoming too cartoonish for even a Ghostbusters film.  But if you can’t laugh at Chris Hemsworth explaining that he took the lenses out of his glasses because they were always getting dirty, what can you laugh at?

Erin is an interesting character and Kristen Wiig deserves a lot of credit for her performance.  Erin is actually given a fairly affecting backstory, centering around how she was haunted by the ghost of the old woman who used to live next door to her.  Erin is a former believer, someone who, in order to succeed in the “real” world, gave up her beliefs and conformed to the expectations of society.  When she actually meets a ghost, it’s more than just a confirmation of the supernatural.  It’s a chance for Erin to finally embrace who she truly is and what she truly cares about.  When she and the other ghostbusters chase after evil spirits, Erin is not just doing a job.  Instead, she’s finally found somewhere where she belongs.  She no longer has to pretend to be someone that she isn’t.  Wiig plays the role with just the right touch of neurotic wonder.  She grounds the entire film.

Wiig McKinnon

But the true star of the film is Kate McKinnon.  Whether she’s cheerfully smiling as a ghost vomits all over her colleagues or cheerfully explaining how easily their equipment could kill them all, Holtzmann is the greatest character in the film and McKinnon gives the best performance.  If Wiig grounds the film, McKinnon provides it with a truly demented soul.

The first half of the movie, which focuses on the relationships between the characters and features snappy and endlessly quotable dialogue, is wonderful and I was thrilled while watching it, convinced that the entire movie would be as good as the first hour.  However, the second half of the film gets bogged down in a rather predictable plot and the final action sequences could have just as easily been lifted from Pixels or one of The Avengers movies.  The surviving cast of the original Ghostbusters all show up in cameos that are, at best, inoffensive and, at worst, groan-worthy.  The end result is rather uneven.  If the film had maintained the momentum of that first hour, it would be a classic.  But that second half transforms it into just another entertaining but not quite memorable summer action film.

That said, Paul Feig is an excellent comedy director and let’s hope that he never gets so self-important that he ends up turning into Jay Roach.  Hopefully, if there is a sequel, Feig will return to direct it and Kate McKinnon will have an even bigger role.

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Film Review: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (dir by Burr Steers)


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I had high hopes for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the just-released film which, like the novel upon which it is based, attempts to combine Jane Austen and The Walking Dead.  The source material was good.  The cast — with Lilly James as Elizabeth Bennet, Jack Huston as Wickham, and Matt Smith as Parson Collins — was impressive.  The trailers looked great, promising a combination of zombies, ornate costumes, and a very British sense of humor.  Sadly, however, the ultimate film is a bit of disappointment.

Actually, it’s more than just a bit of a disappointment.  It is a HUGE disappointment.  To have so much promise and then to turn out so bland — well, it’s enough to make you wonder if maybe zombies have become so common place in popular culture that they’re no longer as interesting as they once were.  Don’t get me wrong, as a symbol of the impossibility of escaping death, zombies are great nightmare fuel.  But, when you see them in a relatively bloodless PG-13 film like this, you realize that it takes more than just a few random zombies to make an effective horror film.

Plotwise, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is exactly what it says it is.  It tells the same basic story as Pride and Prejudice, with the exception being that England is now under siege from zombies, the Bennet sisters have now been trained in how to kill zombies, Mr. Darcy (played by Sam Riley) is now Col. Darcy and he’s an expert at tracking down zombies and killing them, and Wickham is now more than just a cad, he’s a cad who wants to help the undead overthrow the living.  As I typed all that out, I realized I was probably making the film sound a lot more fun than it actually is.  And really, the movie should be fun but it’s not.

Director Burr Steers never manages to capture the proper tone for telling this story.  The satire is never as sharp as it needs to be.  The scenes that are meant to pay homage to Austen try a bit too hard to capture Austen’s style without contributing any of her insight and the romance between Elizabeth and Darcy is sabotaged by the fact that Sam Riley and Lilly James had absolutely no chemistry together.  The scenes with the zombies are bland, largely because this is a PG-13 rated film and bloodless zombies aren’t particularly scary.  A typical episode of The Walking Dead is more graphic than anything you’ll see in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

Which is not to say that there aren’t a few moments when Pride and Prejudice and Zombies kind of works.  It has moments but they’re isolated and they never really come together to build any sort of narrative momentum for the film as a whole.  Sam Riley is a bit of a dud as Darcy but Lilly James, Jack Huston, and especially Matt Smith all give good performance.  (Smith, in particular, is so good as Collins that I would like to see him play the role in an actual adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.)  Early on in the film, there’s a fun scene where the Bennet sisters destroy a horde of zombies and it actually strikes the right balance between comedy and horror.  Before that, we get the traditional scene that we get in all Austen adaptations, of the Bennet sisters preparing for a ball and, in between lacing up corsets and discussing whether they will all be able find husbands, they also carefully conceal the daggers and knives that they will be carrying just in case they happen to run into any of the undead.  It’s one of the few scenes that suggests what Pride and Prejudice and Zombies could have been if it had only found a consistent tone.

For that matter, I also liked the animated opening credits, which wittily explained how the zombies first appeared in England and, not surprisingly, suggested that it was all the fault of the French.  And the film also had a fairly effective scene that shows up in the middle of the end credits and suggested what would might happen if Pride and Prejudice and Zombies 2 is ever put into production.

But ultimately, even those moments that worked only left me frustrated that the rest of the film did not.  For all of its potential, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies disappoints.