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.



Sci-Fi Review: Regular Show: The Movie (2015, directed by J.G. Quintel)

Regular_Show_the_MovieAfter airing for seven seasons and counting on the Cartoon Network, Regular Show has finally gotten its own feature-length movie!  In Regular Show: The Movie, the Earth is in danger of being destroyed by a time jumping volleyball coach and it is up to our two favorite slacker groundskeepers — Mordecai the Blue Jay and Rigby the Racoon — to save the world.  But to do so, they are going to have to confront their past and Rigby is going to have to reveal something that not even his oldest friend, Mordecai, knows about.

Regular Show: The Movie opens in the future, with a massive battle in space.  Rigby is leading a squadron composed of his former co-workers at the state park against the forces of the evil Mr. Ross, a former high school volleyball coach-turned-cyborg who is using a “timenado” to destroy time itself.  (Ross is in a hurry to destroy Earth because, after devoting 25 years to his evil plan, he has a lot of television to catch up on.)  During the battle, Rigby is shocked to discover that his former friend Mordecai is one of Ross’s soldiers.  Mordecai tells Rigby that he wants revenge for something that Rigby did in the past.  Rigby manages to escape in a time ship but not before getting shot by Mordecai.

Regular Show

Future Rigby lands in a Georgia state park where, as usual, present day Rigby and Modecai are trying to get through the day by doing as little work as possible and without getting fired by their boss, an uptight gumball machine named Benson.  Before Future Rigby dies, he reminds Present Rigby and Mordecai of the time that they built a time machine in high school.  The time machine malfunctioned and caused the science lab to explode, which led to Rigby and Mordecai being expelled from high school.  It also caused Mr. Ross to lose a volleyball game, which set Mr. Ross on his path to madness (or, as Mr. Ross, puts it, drove him “craze-o” because that is how they say crazy in the future).

Regular Show

Using the time ship, Present Rigby and Mordecai try to stop Past Rigby and Mordecai.  But before they can save the world, Rigby has to find the courage to reveal his secret to Mordecai, a secret that causes them to question and reconsider their friendship.

Regular Show: The Movie is a fun and trippy movie that is full of nods to 80s and 90s pop culture.  (The Ferris Bueller homage was my favorite.)  The voice work is also excellent, with Mark Hamill a stand-out in the role of Skips, a very intelligent and reasonable Yeti.  Devotees of the series will not be disappointed by this frequently hilarious expansion.


Shattered America #73: Team America: World Police (dir by Trey Parker)


So, are we once again allowed to watch Team America: World Police?

As you may remember, back in December, the entire nation totally freaked out over the possibility that North Korea might be offended by the James Franco/Seth Rogen comedy The Interview.  Hackers — who many assumed were working for North Korea — released embarrassing emails that were exchanged among Sony executives and filmmakers.  Barely literate threats were posted, warning that any theater showing The Interview would be blown up.  Common sense should have told us that these were empty threats but instead, everyone panicked.

Sony announced that they would not be releasing The Interview.  The film would never see the light of day.  Overdramatic people like me got on twitter and announced that, if Sony didn’t release The Interview, then free speech was dead.  “It is every American’s duty to see The Interview!” I tweeted, “If you don’t see The Interview, you’re letting the terrorists win!”

Then Sony changed their mind and released The Interview after all.  People got to watch it.  Critics got to slam it.  Free speech lived for yet another day.

As for me, I never got around to watching it.

Uhmm, anyway…

What got forgotten in all of this drama is that some theaters announced that they would show the 2004 film Team America: World Police in the place of the Interview.  In many ways, it was a brilliant idea.  Team America, after all, is a brilliantly profane satire from South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone.  Not only was the film a parody of overdone Hollywood blockbusters but it also featured the members of Team America using their powers to take out Kim Jong-il, the father of the political leader targeted for assassination in The Interview.  Even better than that, it featured Team America violently destroying the vapid (and surprisingly well-armed) celebrities who Kim Jong-il had tricked into supporting him.  How can you not love a film that features a puppet of Michael Moore blowing itself up?

Oh, did I mention that the entire movie features puppets?  Because it so does!

The use of puppets allows Parker and Stone to not only create some spectacular action scenes but also to feature parodies of more than a few real-life celebrities, all of whom are portrayed as being stupid, trendy, and easily manipulated.  The fact that Sean Penn saw himself lampooned in the film and then wrote an angry letter to Parker and Stone (ending it with, “Fuck you!”) is one of many reasons to love Team America.

So, we weren’t going to get to see The Interview but at least we could see Team America.  But then Paramount Pictures announced that they were not going to let any theater show Team America.  As annoyed as I was by what happened with The Interview, the ban on Team America was even more annoying.

I mean, we all knew The Interview as probably a really bad film.  But we also knew that Team America was great!  Indeed, banning Team America seemed like exactly the type of thing that one of the film’s puppet celebrities would have demanded.

Plus, as Team America‘s theme song reminded us — “America!  Fuck yeah!”  Bowing down to dictators does not make anyone want to shout, “America!  Fuck yeah!”

More like, “America!  Fuck no!”

Anyway, eventually Sony relented and released The Interview.  But I haven’t heard anything about Team America.  However, it’s currently available on Netflix so I’m going to assume that it is once again legal to watch Team America.  But that doesn’t change the fact that I still felt like I was breaking the law when I recently rewatched it.

Yet another reason to love Team America: World Police.

Review: Kung Fu Panda 2 (dir. by Jennifer Yuh Nelson)

In 2008, Dreamworks Animation released what many had thought was one of their animated films. Some even went so far as to consider it on the same level as many of the Pixar animated offerings. This was high praise indeed and the praises from critics was awarded by public acclaim as Kung Fu Panda became an instant classic for Dreamworks Animation. It wasn’t a huge surprise that a sequel was quickly greenlit by the studio and now three years has passed and that sequel has finally come out. Kung Fu Panda 2 does one of those rare feats in film-making where it surpasses it’s original predecessor in all things. This was a sequel that was able to take what made the first one so fun and thrilling and build on it without losing the charm that made it so beloved in the first place.

Kung Fu Panda 2 brings back the Dragon Warrior Po (Jack Black returning in the role of the big fat panda) as he continues to live his dream of having become the Dragon Warrior and fighting evil, bandits and criminals with his fellow kung fu masters, the Furious Five. Instead of the film highlighting Po’s size as a detriment and keeping him a buffoonish character like in the beginning of the first film this sequel actually makes him an equal of his heroes, if not, surpassing them. This is a refreshing change since the writers could’ve easily banked on Po as a character who bungled and stumbled his way through most of the film.

This film was a continuation of Po’s journey as a hero which the first film was just the first step. Despite being a kung fu master in his own right his culture becomes threatened by a villain even more devious than the first film’s Tai Lung. Lord Shen (voiced by Gary Oldman) is the mad peacock heir to Gongmen City who has found an ultimate weapon through fireworks that he plans to defeat kung fu and conquer all of China. Kung fu is everything to Po and he journeys with the Furious Five to confront Lord Shen and stop his plans before it’s too late.

It’s during this journey that Po learns more about his true past and where he truly comes from. The sequences where Po’s adopted goose father tells of Po’s past was some of the best animations Dreamworks has done and I’d say surpasses some of Pixar’s own work. After seeing this film I’m sure many kids and some adults would want themselves their very own baby panda. Who would’ve thought that baby pandas sounded like human babies when they cried. It’s knowing his past that Po must now learn to find his inner peace if he’s to ever go beyond just being a kung fu master.

Kung Fu Panda 2 was actually quite a dark film in places as themes of genocide, destructive march of technology against nature, difficulties of adopted children finding their true origins and many others. That’s not to say that this sequel wasn’t fun to watch. The action took the kung fu fight scenes from the first film to a whole new level, but without turning it into all flash and no substance. It’s during some of the thrilling fight sequences that we see Po truly become part of the Furious Five and even affection from some of it’s members. It would be interesting to see how a third film would explore the growing relationship between Po and certain striped-feline.

The story gets a much needed infusion of creative help from one Guillermo Del Toro who served as creative producer. His inclusion in the film’s development was probably why the film had a much darker and serious tone in addition to the charm it continued from the first film. If there was anyone in Hollywood who knows how to further develop a character through a Campbellian hero’s journey then it’s Del Toro. If Dreamworks Animation is able to keep Del Toro on hand to further treat their other projects then it will be quite a coup for the studio.

The animation in this film is a step above the first film and anything Dreamworks Animation has ever done. With each passing year and release it looks like Dreamworks Animation has been able to come to the same level of animated work Pixar has set with their own projects. While I’m sure there’s no animosity between animators fo the two houses there probably is some sort of friendly rivalry which helps push both studios to improve on their animation work. All this means is that the public wins out in the end as we’re treated to better animated features from both Dreamworks and Pixar. It’s a good thing that Dreamworks Animation has also improved their storytelling with each new film that they’re not being called the weaker films when compared to Pixar’s latest.

In the end, Kung Fu Panda 2 more than lives up to it’s predecessor and actually surpasses it in every way. This sequel’s animation and use of stereoscopic 3D was some of the best in CG animation to date. It had a story that continued to explore and build the characters from the first film that they’ve gone beyond simple, basic animated characters but fully realized and complex individuals. Even the ending scene in the film which definitely sets-up a third film doesn’t seem tacked on but looks like something that would further continue Po’s hero’s journey. Sequels and milking of a franchise usually don’t sit well with serious film fans, but this franchise seems to be doing it correctly and using each new film to further an epic tale. Here’s to hoping we see Po and his Furious Five friends back for more in the coming years.