Game Review: Your Dog Has Been Abducted by Aliens (2012, David Yates)


Your dog has been abducted by aliens!  Can you find and rescue him?

This game is a Choose Your Own Adventure-type game, where you’re given a situation and then have to choose how to respond.  Making the right choice will lead to you eventually rescuing your dog.  Making the wrong choice could lead to everything from you not finding your dog to getting kidnapped by the police.

This a simple and very short game.  The author writes that he spent approximately two and a half hours on it.  By design, it’s not exactly challenging.  A good deal of the choices come down to “Search for your dog” or “Panic and run around in circles.”  In most cases, the correct choice should be obvious.  Even if the game isn’t challenging, it is well-written and it has some funny moments.  Anyone who has ever had to search for a pet will be able to relate to it.  And, if you’re a foreign alien Luddite, this game will give you a chance to learn how not to kidnap a dog.

It can be played by clicking here.

Playing Catch-Up: The Accountant, Carnage Park, The Choice, The Legend of Tarzan


Continuing my look back at the films of 2016, here are four mini-reviews of some films that really didn’t make enough of an impression to demand a full review.

The Accountant (dir by Gavin O’Connor)

2016 was a mixed year for Ben Affleck.  Batman v. Superman may have been a box office success but it was also such a critical disaster that it may have done more harm to Affleck’s legacy than good.  If nothing else, Affleck will spend the rest of his life being subjected to jokes about Martha.  While Ben’s younger brother has become an Oscar front runner as a result of his performance in Manchester By The Sea, Ben’s latest Oscar effort, Live By Night, has been released to critical scorn and audience indifference.

At the same time, Ben Affleck also gave perhaps his best performance ever in The Accountant.  Affleck plays an autistic accountant who exclusively works for criminals and who has been raised to be an expert in all forms of self-defense.  The film’s plot is overly complicated and director Gavin O’Connor struggles to maintain a consistent tone but Affleck gives a really great performance and Anna Kendrick reminds audiences that she’s capable of more than just starring in the Pitch Perfect franchise.

Carnage Park (dir by Mickey Keating)

I really wanted to like Carnage Park, because it was specifically advertised as being an homage to the grindhouse films of the 1970s and y’all know how much I love those!  Ashley Bell plays a woman who gets kidnapped twice, once by two bank robbers and then by a psycho named Wyatt (Pat Healy).  Healy chases Bell through the desert, hunting her Most Dangerous Game-style.  There are some intense scenes and both Bell and Healy are well-cast but, ultimately, it’s just kind of blah.

The Choice (dir by Ross Katz)

The Choice was last year’s Nicholas Sparks adaptation.  It came out, as all Nichols Sparks adaptations do, just in time for Valentine’s Day and it got reviews that were so negative that a lot of people will never admit that they actually saw it.  Benjamin Walker and Teresa Palmer play two people who meet, fall in love, and marry in North Carolina.  But then Palmer is in a car accident, ends up in a coma, and Walker has to decide whether or not to turn off the life support.

As I said, The Choice got terrible reviews and it’s certainly not subtle movie but it’s actually better than a lot of films adapted from the work of Nicholas Sparks.  Walker and Palmer are a likable couple and, at the very least, The Choice deserves some credit for having the courage not to embrace the currently trendy cause of euthanasia.  That alone makes The Choice better than Me Before You.

The Legend of Tarzan (dir by David Yates)

Alexander Skarsgard looks good without his shirt on and Samuel L. Jackson is always a fun to watch and that’s really all that matters as far as The Legend of Tarzan is concerned.  It’s an enjoyable enough adventure film but you won’t remember much about it afterward.  Christoph Waltz is a good actor but he’s played so many villains that it’s hard to get excited over it anymore.

Lisa Marie Picks The 50 Best Films of The Past 3 Years


Black-Swan_400

As of this month, I have been reviewing films here at the Shattered Lens for 3 years.  In honor of that anniversary, I thought I’d post my picks for the 50 best films that have been released in the U.S. since 2010.

Without further ado, here’s the list!

  1. Black Swan (directed by Darren Aronofsky)
  2. Exit Through The Gift Shop (directed by Banksy)
  3. Hanna (directed by Joe Wright)
  4. Fish Tank (directed by Andrea Arnold)
  5. Higher Ground (directed by Vera Farmiga)
  6. Shame (directed by Steve McQueen)
  7. Anna Karenina (directed by Joe Wright)
  8. The Cabin In The Woods (directed by Drew Goddard)
  9. 127 Hours (directed by Danny Boyle)
  10. Somewhere (directed by Sofia Coppola)
  11. Life of Pi (directed by Ang Lee)
  12. Hugo (directed by Martin Scorsese)
  13. Inception (directed by Christopher Nolan)
  14. Animal Kingdom (directed by David Michod)
  15. Winter’s Bone (directed by Debra Granik)
  16. The Artist (directed by Michel Hazanavicius)
  17. The Guard (directed by John Michael McDonagh)
  18. Bernie (directed by Richard Linklater)
  19. The King’s Speech (directed by Tom Hooper)
  20. Bridesmaids (directed by Paul Feig)
  21. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (directed by Thomas Alfredson)
  22. Django Unchained (directed by Quentin Tarantino)
  23. Never Let Me Go (directed by Mark Romanek)
  24. Toy Story 3 (directed by Lee Unkrich)
  25. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (directed by Niels Arden Oplev)
  26. Young Adult (directed by Jason Reitman)
  27. Sucker Punch (directed by Zack Snyder)
  28. The Master (directed by Paul Thomas Anderson)
  29. Incendies (directed by Denis Villeneuve)
  30. Melancholia (directed by Lars Von Trier)
  31. Super (directed by James Gunn)
  32. Silver Linings Playbook (directed by David O. Russell)
  33. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (directed by Edgar Wright)
  34. The Last Exorcism (directed by Daniel Stamm)
  35. Skyfall (directed by Sam Mendes)
  36. Easy A (directed by Will Gluck)
  37. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Parts 1 and 2 (directed by David Yates)
  38. The Avengers (directed by Joss Whedon)
  39. How To Train Your Dragon (directed by Chris Sanders and Dean DeBois)
  40. Win Win (directed by Thomas McCarthy)
  41. Les Miserables (directed by Tom Hooper)
  42. Take This Waltz (directed by Sarah Polley)
  43. Cave of Forgotten Dreams (directed by Werner Herzog)
  44. Rust and Bone (directed by Jacques Audiard)
  45. Cosmopolis (directed by David Cronenberg)
  46. Ruby Sparks (directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valarie Faris)
  47. Brave (directed by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman)
  48. Martha Marcy May Marlene (directed by Sean Durkin)
  49. Jane Eyre (directed by Cary Fukunaga)
  50. Damsels in Distress (directed by Whit Stillman)

Film Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2 (dir. by David Yates)


Well, we all knew it would have to end someday and now, it’s over.  The Harry Potter film series, which began way back in 2001, is concluding right now in a theater near you.  On Friday night, me, Jeff, my sister Erin, and our friend Evelyn went down to the AMC Valley View and we saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2. 

The cinematic story of Harry Potter is over and yes, I did cry as I watched it end.  I didn’t just cry because of the movie, though the movie itself is one of the best of the year and it has one of those wonderful endings that just makes it impossible to remain dry-eyed.  No, I cried because — with this film — an era of my life is truly over.  

When the first Harry Potter film came out, I was only 16 and still trying to deal with the fact that I had been diagnosed as being bipolar just a few weeks earlier.  I felt alone and broken and destined to spend the rest of my life on the outside looking in.  The three hours that I spent watching Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone were three hours when I didn’t have to worry about suddenly bursting into tears and having everyone around me worrying about whether or not I was actually taking my hated medication.  For three hours, I could escape to another world where those who were different were celebrated precisely because they were different.  For three hours, I could imagine that just maybe I had a special purpose for existing too and maybe I had benevolent wizards and witches looking out for me too.  And I’m sorry if all that sounds trite in retrospect but, when you’re 16 and you think you’re too damaged to love, anything that gives you hope and pleasure in the present is a precious treasure.

Over the years, I eventually came to realize that being bipolar was hardly a curse and, as I matured and grew up and discovered new things, there was always a Harry Potter film either playing or about to come out.  Whether I was escaping high school, graduating college, or dealing with just every good or bad thing that makes up life, Harry Potter — this character who I first met (in book form) when I was 13 — was always there.  So, at the risk of sounding overdramatic, the end of Harry Potter is the end of a chapter of my life.

One final personal note: As I watched Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part Two, I had three dolls (or action figures, as boys insist on calling them) in my purse.  These dolls — Harry, Hermione, and Ron — came out around the same time as the second Harry Potter film and my mom (who collected dolls) ordered them off of Ebay three years ago, shortly before she entered the hospital for the final time.  Now, my mom was not a huge fan of the Harry Potter series but she knew that I loved it and that’s why she made those dolls her final gift to me.

And those are some of the reasons why I found myself crying as I watched the finale of Harry Potter.  However, there’s another reason why I cried and that’s that this is just a great film and the perfect conclusion to the series.

Essentially, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part Two starts up immediately after the conclusion of Part One.  Dobby is dead, Lord Voldemort (a wonderfully neurotic Ralph Fiennes) and the Death Eaters are intent on destroying everything, and Severus Snape (Alan Rickman, wonderful as always) is in charge of Hogwarts.  After spending the first part of Deathly Hallows as fugitives, Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger (Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson) return to Hogwarts to take a final stand against Voldemort.  Things end in a surprisingly bloody battle (this film is not for children) that leaves several characters dead and ultimately reveals that one wizard wasn’t the saint we always assumed he was while another is revealed to be the secret hero of the entire series.

Let’s get one question out of the way right now: will non-Harry Potter fans be able to follow this film?  Uhmmm…no.  Sorry.  Then again, why would a non-Harry Potter fan be at a film called Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part Two anyway?  I mean, seriously, if you’re just going to film because everyone else is doing it than who are you to bitch anyway?  This is what you non-Harry Potter fans need to do.  Stop reading this review.  Go watch the previous Harry Potter films.  Watch them in order.  Take your time because Deathly Hallows is going to be in theaters for a while.  And then, once you’ve become immersed in the story, go see how it all concludes.  And then come back here and read rest of this review.

Okay, so is everybody up to date?

Cool.

One of the more interesting features of the Harry Potter series is that so many different directors (each with his own definite, individual style) have been involved in bringing these films to the screen.  Among Harry Potter fans, hours can literally be spent debating the merits (and weaknesses) of Chris Columbus, Alfonso Cuaron, Mike Newell, and David Yates.  My own theory is that each director was perfectly suited for each film he directed.  The audience-friendly vision of Chris Columbus was what the first two films needed, just as Prisoner of Azkaban needed Cuaron’s far darker vision and Mike Newell’s attention to character made Goblet of Fire one of the best of the Harry Potter films.  And while David Yates may not be as well-known (or critically acclaimed) as Newell or Cuaron, he brings exactly the right tone to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, a perfect combination of spectacle and humanity.  It is to Yates’ credit that the scenes in which the characters simply talk to each other are just as compelling as the dramatic sequences where Voldemort and the Death Eaters attack Hogwarts.  Yates understands that this material could easily come across as silly or childish and to his credit, he never allows the audience to simply dismiss this film as a lot of blathering about wands and CGI magic.  As opposed to other directors who have given us summer blockbusters, Yates takes his film seriously.

And, fortunately, so does his cast.

One of the great pleasures of the Harry Potter series is that it’s given American audiences the chance to discover (and rediscover) some of the great British character actors and a lot of them show up (some for only a matter of minutes) here in the finale.  Maggie Smith, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters, Robbie Coltrane, Gary Oldman, John Hurt, David Thewlis, Emma Thompson, and Jason Isaacs all put in appearances.  Kelly MacDonald has a great scene playing a ghost, Helena Bonham Carter is perfect as the evil Bellatrix Lestrange, and Alan Rickman is brilliantly ambiguous as Severus Snape.  (And yes, Snape’s actions are explained in this film and yes, I did cry.)

Ralph Fiennes plays so many villains that I now find myself expecting him to show up killing people in every movie I see.  He’s like a British Christopher Walken.  Still, it’s easy to take an actor like Fiennes for granted.  For the entire Harry Potter series to work, Lord Voldemort can’t just be an ordinary villain.  He’s got to be the sum total of all things evil and deadly.  You’ve got to believe that people would be scared to speak his name.  Great heroes need a great villain and Fiennes’ Voldermort is a great villain.

Ultimately, however, the true credit for the success of the Harry Potter series belongs to three actors who have literally grown up on the movie screen — Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson.  The producers are fortunate indeed that the cute kids that they cast over a decade ago have all grown up to be talented, attractive, and likable actors.  If the first part of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows seemed to showcase both Grint and Watson (almost to Radcliffe’s expense), part 2 is most definitely centered on Harry Potter.  That doesn’t mean that Watson and Grint aren’t good in this film.  They are and they get to share one of the best movie kisses of 2011.  (As well, for those who keep count, Grint says “Bloody Hell,” three times in the film.)  But, for obvious reasons, this film is all about Harry and Radcliffe’s performance as Harry.  It’s a challenge for Radcliffe and it’s a challenge that he more than succeeds at conquering.  As the film ended, I realized that I was sad to know that the adventures of Harry Potter were done but I was excited to see what the future will hold for Radcliffe, Grint, and Watson. 

Incidentally, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 has been released in both 3-D and 2-D.  We saw the 3-D version and if you have any knowledge of how I feel about 3-D (and how motion sick I tend to get while watching 3-D films) then that should show you just much I love the Harry Potter series.  I loved it so much that I was even willing to overlook my hatred of 3-D.  The 3-D here (which was added after the film has already been filmed) doesn’t really add much to the movie.  There were a few cool moments where I was all like, “Look, I can reach out and grab a piece of Voldemort,” but otherwise, the 3-D was a negligible factor as far as the overall film was concerned.

Still, there was one interesting thing about the 3-D.  The theater we saw the movie in was half-way empty.  At the same time, the neighboring theater — in which the 2-D version was playing — had a line of people waiting to get in.  They were not only waiting to see the 2-D version, they were waiting to see a showing that wouldn’t even begin until a full 90 minutes after the 3-D version started.  I mention this because, in the wake of Avatar, so many people have taken it for granted that 3-D is the future of movies and soon, as long as a film is in 3-D, we won’t have to worry about the difficult stuff like an interesting plot or compelling characters.  However, 3-D has become an overexposed gimmick.  For every film like Cave of Dreams that uses 3-D to craft an actual artistic statement, there’s a 1,000 films like Priest which use 3-D just because it’s an easy way to trick sucks into spending an extra dollars to see a crappy film. 

What so many filmmakers seem to forget is that the majority of film goers are not looking for 3-D.  We’re just looking for a good film.  And sometimes — like with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — we get lucky and we find a great film.

(Oh, and one last thing: I know everyone always expects me to claim to be just like Hermione but actually, I’ve always related more to Ginny Weasley.  Like her, I’m the youngest of four siblings, I’ve got red hair, and I always get my man, in the end.)