Weekly Trailer Round-Up: Glass, Aquaman, Shazam, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Gridenwald, Patient Zero, I Still See You, Second Act, On The Basis of Sex, The Walking Dead


First, in 2000, there was Unbreakable.  Then, 16 years later, there was Split.  This January, M. Night Shyamalan brings us the third part of his Eastrail 177 trilogy, Glass.  The first trailer for Glass was dropped at SDCC this weekend and it leads off this week’s trailer round-up.

Also dropping at SDCC was the first trailer for Aquaman.  The DC hero that everyone loves to ridicule is finally get a movie of his very own.  The trailer hints at the origins of Arthur Curry, features the expected underwater action, and features enough ironic line readings that it could almost pass for the latest entry in the MCU.

If Glass and Aquaman are not heroic enough for you, there is always Shazam.  Back in the 1940s, Shazam was known as Captain Marvel and his adventures were published by Fawcett.  Claiming that Captain Marvel was clear rip-off of Superman, DC attempted to sue Fawcett out of business and then purchased the character, renaming him Shazam.  Now, Shazam is coming to theaters.  Shazam’s appeal has always been retro so, naturally, the trailer is full of references to Game of Thrones and self-reflexive humor.

Following the 2014 Godzilla reboot and Kong: Skull Island, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is the third chapter in Legendary’s Monsterverse.  This one will see Godzilla meeting Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah.  Godzilla: King of the Monsters will be released on May 31st, 2019.

Also released at SDCC was the latest trailer for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Gridenwald.  Fantastic Beasts will be released on November 16th.

In Patient Zero, Matt Smith and Natalie Dormer try to find a cure for a virus that is transforming humanity into zombies.  The film is scheduled to be released through video-on-demand on 14 August 2018, before a limited theatrical release on 14 September 2018.

I Still See You is the latest B-movie to feature Bella Thorne getting stalked.  Will you see I Still See You when it’s released on October 12th?

In the upcoming comedy, Second Act, Jennifer Lopez plays an ambitious woman who is mistaken for a high-level business consultant.  With a plot like that, Second Act sounds like it could be the funniest film of 2004.  Second Act will be released on November 21st, 2018.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg has already been the subject of one of the year’s most successful documentaries.  She gets the biopic treatment with On The Basis of Sex.  Felicity Jones plays Ginsburg while Mimi Leder returns from her cinematic exile to handle directing duties.  On The Basis of Sex will be released on December 25th.

Finally, the trailer for the 9th season of The Walking Dead dropped at SDCC and promised a new world with new rules.  Season 9 premieres on October 7th.

 

Horror Film Review: The Forest (dir by Jason Zada)


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Why, as of late, have I been seeing so many movies about Aokigahara Forest?

Aokigarhara Forest is this location in Japan that’s right at the foot of Mt. Fiji and apparently, hundreds of people go there every year and commit suicide.  It happens so frequently that the location has been nicknamed “The Suicide Forest” and the problem has gotten so bad that the local authorities have even resorted to putting up signs that 1) ask people not to kill themselves and 2) reassure visitors that their problems will get better.

To me, that’s pretty depressing and not really something that should be glamorized or exploited.  I mean, this is an actual forest where real people — not fictional characters but real human beings — got to end their lives.  In fact, it’s been reported that local officials no longer publicly discuss the number of dead bodies that they find in the woods because they don’t want publicize Aokigahara’s reputation.

And yet, this year saw not one but two movies released about the Aokigahara Forest, both of which made a point of specifically saying that they were set in this very real location.  (Would I have been more comfortable with the films if they had been located in a fictional location where people go to commit suicide, even if that fictional location was obviously based on Aokigahara?  Probably.)  One was The Sea of Trees, a mawkish and sentimental mess from Gus Van Sant.  The other was The Forest.

Do you remember The Forest?  You might not because it came out in January and most of us were too busy trying to catch up on the Oscar nominees to waste much time with it.  Traditionally, the worst movies are released in January.  That’s especially true of horror movies.  I mean, let’s just be honest.  If a studio has a good horror movie, they’re going to release it in October and try to pick up on all the Halloween business.  When a studio has a bad horror movie, they’re going to dump it in January and hope that no one notices.

Anyway, The Forest came and went without a trace and now it’s making the rounds on HBO so you can watch it if you really want to.

The film stars Natalie Dormer as both Sara and her troubled sister, Jess.  Ever since their parents died in a mysterious car accident, Jess and Sara have had a strained relationship.  Jess witnessed their deaths but Sara did not.  By the film’s logic, this means that Jess starts dressing in black while Sara shakes her head in disapproval.  Anyway, Jess goes to Japan and disappears in the Aokigahara Forest.  Everyone tells Sara that Jess must be dead but Sara says that, since their twins, she can tell that her sister is still alive.

So, of course, Sara goes to Japan so that she can go search the forest for herself!  Now, since Sara is an American in Japan, we have to get at least one shot of her sitting in a taxi with all the lights of Tokyo reflected on the back windows.  Seriously, this shot appears in every single American movie made about Japan.

Sara goes to a bar and meets an American reporter.  His name is Aiden, he’s played by Taylor Kinney, and he’s not that interesting.  Aiden, Sara, and a guide (Yukiyoshi Ozawa) go into the woods and stuff happens.  I was tempted to say strange stuff happens but actually, none of it is that strange.  It’s pretty much exactly what you would expect to happen in a horror film set in the Suicide Forest.  By the time the mysterious schoolgirl showed up and started telling Sara not to trust anyone, I had pretty much lost interest.

I’m tempted to say that, at the very least, The Forest was atmospheric but … no.  I mean, there’s a lot of shots of shadowy trees and deserted tents and all of that but that’s all pretty much basic stuff.  That’s Horror 101.  I mean, even Grave Halloween, a 2013 SyFy film about the forest, managed to make the forest atmospheric.  So, no, I’m not having it.  There are too many good but underappreciated horror films out there for me to waste time making excuses for something like The Forest.

That’s The Forest.  It came out in January and, having watched it, I can see why.

Sci-Fi Film Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2 (dir by Francis Lawrence)


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It’s finally over!

It probably sounds like I’m really excited that the final Hunger Games adaptation has been released.  It may sound like I’m happy that the saga of Katniss Everdeen and her life in Panem has finally come to an end.  And, to a certain extent, I am.  After everything that Katniss has been through, she deserves some peace and, fortunately, the series has ended before Jennifer Lawrence got bored with playing the role.  (To see what happens when actor gets bored with an iconic role, check out Daniel Craig in Spectre.)  Even though I think it can be argued that Mockingjay Part Two is the weakest of all the Hunger Games films, it still allows both Katniss and the actress who brought her to life to go out on a high note.

There’s a part of me that cringes a little when I think about all of the films that were released as a direct result of the success of The Hunger Games.  The Giver, The Maze Runner, Divergent, Tomorrowland, the list goes on and on.  I’ve reached the point where I can now say that I am officially sick of sitting through adaptations of Young Adult dystopian fiction.  And yet, I was still excited to see The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part Two (even if that title is way too long and unwieldy).  Regardless of the number of mediocre films that it may have inspired, The Hunger Games franchise has always remained compelling.

So, how was Mockingjay Part Two?  Obviously, it doesn’t work as a stand-alone film.  The pacing is totally off, characters appear and disappear almost at random, and it’s all rather confusing.  If you haven’t seen the film that came before Mockingjay Part Two, I imagine that you would be totally confused by this film.  But, when viewed as the fourth part of one gigantic epic story, the whole thing is rather brilliant.

When the film opens, Katniss is still being used a prop in Alma Coin’s (Julianne Moore) revolution.  The majority of the film deals with her journey into and through the capital.  She wants to track down and assassinate President Snow (the wonderfully evil Donald Sutherland) whereas Coin just wants to use her as a symbol to solidify her authority.  As Katniss quickly realizes, there’s not much difference between Snow and Coin.  However, it takes one great tragedy for Katniss to truly understand the truth about the Alma Coin and her revolution.  If you’ve read the book, you’ll already know about and be prepared for that tragedy but it’s still a heart-breaking moment.

It’s also the most important moment in the franchise, one that reminds us that The Hunger Games has always been far more politically sophisticated (and thematically darker) than all of the films, books, and fan fic that has been inspired by it.  This is a seriously dark and, some would say, cynical movie and, as a student of history, I appreciated that.  I appreciated that Mockingjay didn’t try to force a happy ending on us and I also appreciated the fact that Mockingjay didn’t buy into the simplistic Manichaen worldview that is currently ruining worlds both real and cinematic.  The film’s final scene may be hopeful but it’s never naive.

It’s a bit unfortunate that Mockingjay had to be split into two separate films.  Mockingjay Part Two is full of exciting moments but there’s also a lot of scenes that feel like filler.  You get the feeling they were included to make sure that Mockingjay Part Two’s running team was equal to the other films in the franchise.  This is a film that features a lot of genuinely exciting action and some truly emotional moments.  It’s also a film that features a lot of speeches.  If only both parts of Mockingjay could have been released as one six hour film.  I would have watched it!

The film also features the final performance of Philip Seymour Hoffman, playing the rule of Plutarch.  Hoffman is not in many scenes and reportedly, he died before filming two of his biggest scenes.  Those scenes were rewritten and his dialogue given to other actors.  At one point, Woody Harrelson starts to read a letter that was written by Plutarch and it’s a sad scene because you’re aware that, originally, Hoffman was meant to deliver those lines in his trademark style.  As it is, Hoffman only appears in a few minutes of Mockingjay Part Two and he doesn’t do much.  But, when the film briefly features his bemused smile, you’re reminded of what a great actor the world lost when Philip Seymour Hoffman died.

Of course, the entire Hunger Games franchise has been full of great actors.  Jennifer Lawrence brought Katniss to wonderful and empowering life and one of the joys of Mockingjay Part Two is getting to see her bring the character’s story to a close.  But even beyond Jennifer Lawrence’s rightly acclaimed work, the entire cast of the franchise deserves a lot of credit.  I’ve always loved Donald Sutherland’s interpretation of President Snow and he’s at his best here.

For that matter, if there ever is another Hunger Games film or a Hunger Games spin-off, why not make it about Jena Malone’s Johanna Mason?  The way that Malone delivered her angry and frequently sarcastic dialogue was definitely one of the film’s highlights.

Regardless of whether there are any future films, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part Two is a worthy conclusion to a great story.

(By the way, as you may have guessed from the title of this post, December is science fiction month here at the Shattered Lens!  We hope you enjoy it!)

Previous Hunger Games Reviews:

  1. Quick Review: The Hunger Games (dir by Gary Ross)
  2. Review: The Hunger Games
  3. 44 Days of Paranoia: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
  4. For Your Consideration: Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games Mockingjay Part One

For Your Consideration #6: Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part One


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Of the three The Hunger Games films released so far, Mockingjay Part One is definitely the weakest.  That does not, however, mean that it’s a bad film.  It’s just that it doesn’t quite reach the grandeur of the first film, nor does it have the same political immediacy as the second one.  However, there’s a lot of good things to be said about Mockingjay.  Julianne Moore is perfectly cast as the charismatic but faintly sinister Alma Coin.  Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performance reminds us of what a towering talent we lost earlier this year.  Donald Sutherland continues to transform President Snow into a villain for the ages.  Even though he’s only in the film for a few minutes, Stanley Tucci is perfectly vapid as Caesar Flickerman.

In fact, the only real problem with Mockingjay is that it’s so obviously a prologue to something bigger.  Much as with The Maze Runner, we watch Mockingjay with the knowledge that it’s only part one and that the majority of the issues raised by the film will not be settled until next year.  The film itself knows this as well and, as such, it lacks the immediacy and much of the excitement of the first two Hunger Games films.

But yet, with all those flaws in mind, Mockingjay still works and it’s largely because of Jennifer Lawrence’s performance as Katniss Everdeen.  Whereas the first two Hunger Games films featured a Katniss who was always at the center of the action and always taking charge of any situation that she found herself in, Mockingjay features a Katniss who has far less control over her fate.  (One of the neater ironies of the series is that Katniss was actually more independent as a prisoner of President Snow than as a “guest” of Alma Coin.)  In Mockingjay, Katniss finds herself forced — with more than a little reluctance — to become the figurehead for the entire revolution and the film’s best moments are the ones in which others debate how to best “market” her.  These scenes are all about how Katniss — who is now not only a celebrity but a political icon as well — deals with losing control over her own public image.  Considering that Jennifer Lawrence’s rise to fame and acclaim occurred just as abruptly as Katniss’s, it’s probable that — even more so than in the previous films — the actress brought a lot of herself to the character.

So, yes, I would argue that Jennifer Lawrence does perhaps deserve some awards consideration for her performance in Mockingjay.  However, she truly deserves it for the consistent quality of her performance throughout the entire Hunger Games franchise.  From the very first film, Jennifer Lawrence’s performance has been iconic.  Fiercely independent without giving into the usual cinematic clichés that come with that, Katniss Everdeen has provided an alternative role model for a generation of girls who, otherwise, might have only had the likes of Bella Swan to look up to.

If that’s not worthy of being honored, then I don’t know what is.

Game of Thrones Season 4 “Foreshadowing”


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April 6, 2014 is when we return to the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. We will see a continuation of the war and the storm of swords which troubles the lands. The Red Wedding will pose consequences for those who participated and across the Narrow Sea the Mother of Dragons begins her conquest and plans her inevitable return to reclaim the Iron Throne that is her birthright.

Here is a 14-minute sneak peek that foreshadows the events foretold for the upcoming season where Winter is still coming.

Film Review: Rush (dir by Ron Howard)


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Rush, the latest film from Ron Howard, is the type of film that I usually hate.

It’s big, bombastic, and so extremely mainstream that it actually features Chris Hemsworth uttering the line, “This is what I was born to do,” without a hint of irony.  This is a film about rich boys playing with expensive toys and the movie’s portrayal of women manages to make Aaron Sorkin look enlightened by comparison.  Finally, the film is about a sport that I previously knew nothing about and, after having spent two hours watching this film, I still know very little  about.

And yet, I didn’t hate Rush.  In fact, I really enjoyed it and I think the reason why comes down to one thing.

I have a weakness for hot guys who drive fast cars.

Rush tells the true story about the rivalry between two Formula One racers, the flamboyant Englishman James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and the extroverted German Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl).  The film follows them from their first meeting in 1970 until they both find themselves competing for the Formula One championship in 1976.  Along the way, we watch how both of them deal with the temptations that went along with being a rich celebrity in the 1970s.  (Lauda resists the majority of them.  Hunt does not.)  Along the way, one of them struggles to recover after a horrifying accident and both of them try to maintain a balance between their personal lives and the fact that each race they run could potentially be their last.  (In one of the film’s best scenes, Niki explains that he’s prepared to accept a 20% chance of dying during a race but not a point more.)

Plotwise, Rush is pretty much a standard sports film, full of men talking about the importance of being men while women stare up at them with adoration.  Inspirational speeches are delivered and everything comes down to one final race.  If, like me, you’re not into Formula 1 racing, the film can occasionally be difficult to follow.  During one extended montage of cars racing across the world and occasionally crashing, I found myself seriously wondering how many races could possibly be run in a Formula One season.  As the film reached its conclusion, James and Niki started talking about which racers have the most points.  Their conversation would have undoubtedly been easy to follow for someone who was into Formula One but for me, it took a few minutes to figure out what they were going on about.

However, none of that matters.

Rush works.

There’s a lot of reasons why Rush works.  The film’s glossy recreation of the 1970s (in all of its frequently tacky glory) is enjoyable to watch and Hans Zimmer’s score is properly loud and majestic.  Both Hemsworth and Bruhl give good performances, with Hemsworth coming across as properly flamboyant and Bruhl bringing some much-needed humor to a character who, in the hands of a lesser actor, could have been insufferable.  Both Olivia Wilde and Alexandra Maria Lara do good work bringing seriously underwritten characters to life.

However, the film’s ultimate success belongs to director Ron Howard.

Ever since Frost/Nixon prevented The Dark Knight from getting a best picture nomination in 2009, there has been a certain loud element of the online film  community that has used Ron Howard as a go-to example of a safe and thoroughly commercial director.  He is often dismissed as being the epitome of a mainstream, conventional filmmaker.

However, as mainstream as Howard’s sensibility may be, Rush proves that he still knows how to craft an exciting scene.  I may have occasionally had trouble keeping track of who was and wasn’t in each car but that didn’t make the races any less thrilling or the accidents any less horrifying.  During the film’s best sequences, you feel the thrill of being in control of the uncontrollable and you understand why Niki and James are willing to risk death just so they can experience being alive.

Review: Game of Thrones S2E10 “Valar Morghulis”


“We are the watchers on the Wall.” — Qhorin Halfhand

[spoilers within]

With last week’s explosive ninth episode, “Blackwater”, it was going to take much to make tonight’s season finale to really stand out. Just like the first season’s finale we get an episode that deals with the aftermath of the previous episode and also goes a long way into setting up events for the upcoming third season.

“Valar Morghulis” is the title of tonight’s episode and it’s spoken by Jaqen H’ghar to Arya as the two part ways. It’s a saying in Essos from ancient High Valyrian (a Roman Epire-like civilization which perished centuries before the series’ timeline) that translated means “All men must die”. Jaqen sees potential in Arya in becoming like him, a Faceless Man, assassins who follow the teaching of the so-called Many-Faced Gods. While Arya seems intrigued by the offer her need to re-connect with her family takes precedence over everything else. As the two part ways Jaqen imparts to Arya a coin that should she ever need passage to Braavos to start her journey into becoming a Faceless Man. In another instance that this series still has magic in it’s DNA we finally see why Jaqen is a Faceless Man as he walks away from Arya and her group wearing a new face.

Tonight’s episode lays the foundation that next season magic and sorcery may become more common place than the first two season of the series. We see Daenerys finally make her way into the House of the Undying to retrieve her dragonlings from the warlocks of Qarth. It’s a sequence that’s akin to spirit journey for the Targaryen Queen-to-be and Mother of Dragons as she walks the darkened halls and corridors of the House of Undying until an egress suddenly takes her North of the Wall to find a Dothraki tent where she discovers the two most precious things she has lost since coming to Essos. In what I could only see as a surprise that was kept by showrunners Benioff and Weiss from the press and bloggers (a feat nowadays) Daenerys sees her husband Khal Drogo and who could only be their son both alive and waiting for her.

Her reaction to this event was both poignant and tragic in that she finally has a chance to be with those she loves most but must give up the quest to retake Westeros with her dragons. Her decision to leave the tent and leave behind those she loves comes as her character finally realizing that sentimentality and the needs of her heart must take a back seat and wait. Daenerys comes out the other side a more confident ruler and one whose magic really is stronger than those warlocks who scheme to keep her and her dragons captive for themselves. It really sets up the Daenerys character on a much stronger footing for next season just like last season’s finale did. For all the moping around Daenerys did for most of season 2 the pay off in the end goes a long way into forgiving the show’s writers in their inability to write her character’s motivations consistently. Most likely the naive young girl being used by others for their own agendas and ends would be seen less and less next season while the Mother of Dragons reasserts her authority.

The same can’t be said for one of the five kings vying for control of Westeros. For those who have read the third novel the scenes with King Robb Stark were full of sentimentality but lacking in the cold-hearted logic that rulers must use in order to play the game of thrones successfully. Even his mother, Catelyn Stark, sees danger in Robb’s actions with the Volanti healer Talisa Maegyr. Catelyn knows well enough that Robb could destroy everything he has won and worked for since war begun because he has thought with his heart and not with his head. In what could almost be seen as more doom coming for the House of Stark, Robb cements his relationship with Talisa in secret even though we’ve come to learn through two season of this show that nothing ever remains secret for long.

Back in King’s Landing we see the balance of power shift once more as Tywin Lannister’s opportune arrival to take victory from the jaws of defeat at the end of last week’s episode sees him back as Hand of the King to Joffrey. Tyrion has lost all the advantages he had worked and gamed for all season as even Bronn has been removed as Commander of the Goldcloaks. We’ve not seen Tyrion laid so low as we have in this episode and the horrible scarring of his face looks to go deeper as he finally realizes that as much as he would enjoy running away with Shae and leave the politicla intrigues and backstabbing of the kingdom it’s something that he would miss terribly because it’s the one thing he’s best at. With Tywin now in charge of the kingdom and Petyr Baelish having earned himself the king’s good graces for manufacturing the alliance between the two most powerful houses in the kingdom with the Lannisters (Baratheon by name only) and the Tyrell’s of Highgarden. It’s going to be interesting to see how Tyrion readjusts to the new power dynamics in King’s Landing for season 3. If there’s one thing we’ve come to learn about Tyrion over two season’s worth of episodes it’s that he’s a survivor first and foremost.

Lastly, we come to Jon Snow and his dilemma North of the Wall. A captive of the wildlings and seen as someone very important for the still unseen Mance Rayder the so-called King-beyond-the-Wall, Jon must do the only logical thing (something Qhorin halfhand agrees as the only thing that could save Jon and maybe give him time to warn the Wall) and earn the trust of Ygritte, Rattleshirt and the rest of the wildlings even if it means killing one of his own to do so. In what would be one of several sweeping scenes that show the epic nature of this series lest we forget Ygritte shows Jon over the lip of a glacier the army of wildlings Mance Rayder has gathered.

Yet, it’s not that army that gives tonight’s episode that cliffhanger send-off that last season’s finale did with Daenerys coming out of the funeral pyre with her three dragonlings perched on her unharmed body. No, tonight’s episode gets a cliffhanger that is more ominous and reinforces the House Stark motto of “Winter Is Coming”. We see poor Samwell Tarly (having been abandoned by the two other Night’s Watch Brothers once they heard the three horn blasts in the distance) scared out of his wits as he realizes that the three horn blasts that hasn’t been heard for thousands of years could only mean one thing: the White Walkers are on the march towards the Wall. In a final acknowledgement that as realistically the show has tried to portray the series in terms of warfare and political intrigue there’s no getting away from the fact that magic is still alive in this world born out of George R.R. Martin’s fevered mind as a massive army of undead slouches south towards the Wall and the kingdoms beyond it.

This scene just ups the ante on what we could only imagine what would be season three of the show. Across the Narrow Sea we have Daenerys Stormborn gradually detaching sentimentality from how she operates and this could only mean more bad news for the warring kingdoms of Westeros. The power struggles against King Joffrey looks to be going the mad king’s way as Lannisters and Tyrells ally together to retake the rest of the rebelling kingdoms. Now we have two armies, one living and preparing to go south towards the Wall (most likely to get away from the gathering White Walker horde) and the other undead and also heading towards the only bastion (one that is ridiculously undermanned) protecting the southern kingdoms from a gathering darkness.

If there was a complaint about this season’s storytelling it was that so much of the novel this season was based on was condensed to make it fit in a ten-episode season. Despite lulls in character development with Jon Snow and Daenerys we get major pay-offs for these two with tonight’s season finale. It’s good news that showrunner Benioff and Weiss has decided to split book three, A Storm of Swords, into two with the first half comprising season three with the latter half set aside for season four. Even with missteps along the way tonight’s season finale goes a long way into proving that HBO’s Game of Thrones is currently the best genre show on tv and one of the best tv shows airing now.

Now we have ten months of waiting to see how Westeros and Essos will deal with the events that ended season two. One thing for sure is that we’ll see more people die before all questions get answered if ever.