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.

 

 

A Movie A Day #4: The Glory Boys (1984, directed by Michael Ferguson)


glory-boysProfessor David Sokarev (Rod Steiger) is a nuclear physicist who is scheduled to give a lecture in London.  When he is informed by Mossad that a Palestinian splinter group is planning on assassinating him, Sokarev wants to cancel his trip.  However, the Israeli government insists that he go to London and put his life in danger.  To do otherwise would only serve to embolden the terrorists.  Accompanied by two Mossad bodyguards, Sokarev reluctantly leaves for London.

Three Palestinians are intercepted as they attempt to sneak into England.  Two of them are killed but the youngest, Famy (Gary Brown), survives and makes his way to London.  He meets up with McCoy (Aaron Harris), a world-weary member of the Irish Republican Army.  Though McCoy would rather just spend his time with his innocent girlfriend, Norah (Sallyanne Law),  he has agreed to help the Palestinians but is shocked to discover that Famy is so inexperienced that he doesn’t even know how to drive.

The head of MI5, Mr. Jones (Alfred Burke), is tasked with keeping Prof. Sokarev safe.  He recruits Jimmy (Anthony Perkins), a retired agent.  Jimmy once saved Jones’s life but now he is an alcoholic and is considered to be unpredictable and insubordinate.  Once Jimmy comes out of retirement, Jones worries that Jimmy is so obsessed with violence that he’s willing to use Sokarev as bait to draw out the terrorists.

The Glory Boys was originally a three-part miniseries that was made for Yorkshire Television.  It was later re-edited into a 104 minute movie that was released in the United States.  Even late into the 1990s, it was not unusual to come across the edited version of The Glory Boys on late night television.  Based on a novel by Gerald Seymour, The Glory Boys holds up well and the issues that it raises, about how far the government should go to battle terrorism, remain relevant today.  Rod Steiger brings a lot of dignity to the role of Sokarev and Joanna Lumley has a small role as Jimmy’s girlfriend.  But ultimately, the main reason to see The Glory Boys is because of the strange casting of Psycho‘s Anthony Perkins as a British intelligence agent.  Perkins’s accent is dodgy but his jittery persona works surprisingly well for the role.  Jimmy (Is the name meant to be a swipe at the infallible persona of James Bond?) is ruthless, paranoid, and possibly sociopathic, which makes him perfect for intelligence work but worthless for almost every thing else.

For tomorrow’s movie a day, Anthony Perkins returns in another British spy film, ffolkes.

glory-boys-2

Horror Film Review: The Satanic Rites of Dracula (dir by Alan Gibson)


The_Satanic_Rites_of_Dracula_posterFirst released in 1973 and, like Dracula A.D. 1972, set in what was then the present day, The Satanic Rites of Dracula was the 8th entry in the Hammer Dracula series.  It was also the last to feature Christopher Lee in the role of Dracula and that perhaps is why, judging by some of the other reviews that I’ve read online, The Satanic Rites is one of the more reviled entries in the series.

Judging from a lot of those reviews, the attitude seems to be that The Satanic Rites of Dracula was so bad that it was the film that made Christopher Lee say, “No more!”  Reportedly, Lee felt that the film itself was both poorly written and that it was too violent.  And, even though the film is rather tame by the standards of today’s horror films, The Satanic Rites is still probably one of the more extreme entries in the series.  The film features a graphic and drawn-out flashback in which we see a naked woman sacrificed by a Satanic cult, a scene that’s bloody even by the standards of Hammer.  Later, when Jessica Van Helsing (played by Joanna Lumley, who took the role over from Dracula A.D. 1972‘s Stephanie Beacham) is menaced by a pack of female vampires, the vampires literally claw at her body like wild animals.  And finally, when one of Dracula’s brides is staked, blood literally splashes across the screen.

Christopher Lee was not a fan of The Satanic Rites of Dracula and neither are a lot of critics but you know what?  I think The Satanic Rites of Dracula is actually rather underrated.  If nothing else, it’s certainly far more unpredictable than some of the far more critically embraced Dracula films.

Satanic Rites opens with a British secret agent (Maurice O’Connell) escaping from a country house in which he had previously been held prisoner.  Though he’s fatally wounded during the escape, the agent manages to tell his superiors that, at the house, he witnessed a Satanic ritual that involved some of the most important people in the British government.  Since one of the accused occultists is a government minister, the secret service passes the case on to Scotland Yard’s Inspector Murray (Michael Coles, reprising his role from Dracula A.D. 1972) and then provide him with clandestine assistance.  (Or something like that.  To be honest, I get the feeling that the main reason Murray was called in was to maintain some continuity between Dracula A.D. 1972 and The Satanic Rites of Dracula.)  Murray suspects that vampires may be involved so he calls in Lorrimar Van Helsing (Peter Cushing).

After discovering that his old friend, scientist Julian Keeley (Freddie Jones), is a part of the cult, Van Helsing deduces that it’s all part of huge conspiracy headed by none other than Dracula himself.  The plan is to release a mutated form of bubonic plague and wipe out humanity.

Why is Dracula planning on destroying humanity?

Van Helsing theorizes that this might be Dracula’s way of committing suicide.  By wiping out humanity, Dracula will no longer have anyone to feed upon and his undead existence will finally end.  And, if nothing else, you have to admit that is a pretty interesting motivation!

How can you not enjoy a film that’s as strange as The Satanic Rites of Dracula?  It may not be a typical Hammer Dracula film and it may be a bit too obviously an attempt to revitalize a fading franchise by tossing everything that was then trendy at it but so what?  This is one of those movies that could have only been made at a certain point in time by a certain group of filmmakers and, as such, it’s valuable as both history and entertainment.

Christopher Lee may have hated The Satanic Rites of Dracula but he’s being way too hard on the film.  If nothing else, it provided a nice excuse for Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing to face off and how can you not appreciate that?