A Movie A Day #285: Bless The Child (2000, directed by Chuck Russell)


Kim Basinger is Maggie, a nurse who has adopted her autistic niece, Cody.  Her sister, Jenna (Angela Bettis), used to be a junkie but now she has cleaned up her act and married a former-child star-turned-cult leader, Eric Stark (Rufus Sewell).  Because Jenna’s daughter has supernatural powers and Eric is a Satanist, they want the little girl back.  Christina Ricci is Cheri, a junkie goth who used to be a member of the cult and who tries to warn Maggie before getting her head chopped off.  Jimmy Smits is John Travis, the FBI agent who helps Maggie out when Jenna and Eric kidnap Cody.  Mostly, though, he’s just Jimmy Smits, a TV actor who looks out of place whenever he appears in a movie.

Bless the Child was one of two movies that Kim Basinger made after winning an Oscar for L.A. Confidential.  She also made I Dreamed Of Africa, which probably did the most damage to her career but the box office and critical failure of Bless The Child probably did not help either.  Bless The Child was an overlong rip-off of The Omen films.  The only suspense is whether Cody is the antichrist or the reborn messiah.  Basinger and Jimmy Smits both look lost amid all the theological chaos raging around them.  Even Christina Ricci is wasted in a role that could have been played by anyone willing to dye her hair black.

One final note: Rufus Sewell is not terrible in Bless The Child, even if the majority of his lines sound more appropriate for Darth Vader than a former child actor.  (He even tells Maggie to feel the hate growing inside of her, like Vader trying to draw Luke over to the dark side.)  Sewell is still a busy actor but it seems like he has never really gotten his due in Hollywood.  Most of the good Rufus Sewell roles now seem to go to Jude Law.

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.

 

 

Trash Film Guru Vs. The Summer Blockbusters : “Hercules”


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It’s been a weird week at the movies for yours truly, my friends : first off, I went to the theater three times this week, which almost never happens anymore (what do you think I am, rich?), and secondly, while I enjoyed The Purge : Anarchy about as much as I expected to (which is to say quite a bit), the other two flicks I saw both took me by surprise for different reasons : I was far less impressed with Richard Linklater’s much-celebrated Boyhood than I expected to be, and I ended up liking Brett Ratner’s new take on Hercules waaaaaayyyy more than I figured I was going to.

Though not because of anything Ratner himself did. But we’ll get to all that in a minute.

Full disclosure : I only went to see Hercules because my dad wanted to check it out. He’s a sucker for this kind of thing (he absolutely loves the old Kevin Sorbo TV series), and my mom wouldn’t touch a movie like this with a ten-foot pole, so when he mentioned he was hoping to check it out, I said I’d go with him. We’ve all gotta spend time with our parents while they’re still with us, right? But it’s fair to say, given Ratner’s involvement with this thing, that I wasn’t expecting much.

And ya know? He doesn’t deliver much — the direction here isn’t actively bad by any means, but it’s pretty straightforward stuff : the numerous “big battle” scenes are handled competently, and the actors by and large turn in decent enough performances, but there’s no real unique authorial stamp on any of the proceedings, and frankly, a  lot of the CGI is several rungs below what we’ve come to expect from these mega-budget summer popcorn flicks. All in all, technically speaking, it’s a fairly mixed bag.

Why, then, did I find myself pleasantly surprised by this latest (and third so far this year alone, by my count) take on Greek mythology’s most famous demi-god warrior? Simply put, the script offers a neat revisionist take on the hero, and is smart, intelligent, engaging, and surprising — it’s entirely unlike any iteration of the character we’ve seen before, and for my part, I really dug it.

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Before I give all of the (or even any) credit to screenwriters Ryan Condal and Evan Spiliotopoulos for this film’s suceess, though, let me state for the record that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is perfectly likable in the title role, and while he may be a pretty conservative casting choice, that’s okay — he’s more or less pitch-perfect and his supporting actors (including Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell, and Ingrid Bolso Berdal as members of his mostly-merry mercenary band and John Hurt and Joseph Fiennes as the film’s principal villains) do their jobs well, too. So kudos to everyone for putting in an honest day’s labor all the way through here. But let’s get back to the novel new twist on the whole legend/premise here, shall we?

This Hercules is radically different to his predecessors not just because he can actually talk (something Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lou Ferrigno, and Steve Reeves really weren’t so great at when they tackled the role), but because he a) may not actually be the son of Zeus; b) is leader of a group of freelance soldiers-for-hire; and c) was driven from his home after having name dragged through the mud for supposedly killing his own family. Told’ja this was a new set-up, didn’t I?

There are also some intriguing moral complexities woven into the story that I won’t give away here — hey, I want to keep things at least nominally “spoiler-free” when and where I can — and the interpersonal relationships between Hercules and his fellow travelers — as well as those they lend/sell their services to along the way — have considerably more depth than any reasonable human being would expect from action movie fare such as this. I was both mightily impressed by this intriguing series of twists, and frankly taken more than just a little aback by them. It wasn’t until the end credits rolled that my “aha!” moment came and I realized I shouldn’t have been shocked at all, if only I’d done a little bit of homework beforehand.

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As it turns out, Ratner’s film is an adaptation of a comics series (well, two comics series, actually) penned by the late, great Steve Moore. I don’t know much about the publisher of these books, an outfit called Radical Comics , but I do know plenty about Steve Moore, and you should, too. Moore, who passed away from natural causes at his home earlier this year, is probably best known to comics fans as Alan Moore’s best friend (no relation despite sharing the same last name), and was a genuinely remarkable talent and, by all accounts, a genuinely remarkable human being. His comics work was sporadic, but he was at the forefront of the “British Invasion” of the early 1980s with works such as the criminally-underappreciated Laser Eraser And Pressbutton, and outside the field of comics he was a regular contributor to Fortean Times magazine as well as being a part-time musician and experienced occultist. He lived his entire life in the house he was born in and apparently carried on a decades-long erotic/romantic relationship with a moon goddess entity known as Cybele. All in all, then, a thoroughly interesting guy, as well as being an insanely talented creative force.

I wish I’d known about his Herclues comics when they came out — I don’t know if they just didn’t get very good US distribution or what (the cover of the first issue is pictured above), but I honestly don’t recall ever seeing a single copy of any of them out on the shelves at my local comic shop, and I’m there every week. A quick search on Amazon shows that two trade paperback collections of the series are available, but one is out of print and commanding rather high prices. Oh well, think I’ll probably order it up anyway.

Here’s the kicker, though — as much as I enjoyed this flick, now I feel kinda bad for  having shelled out any cash on it. Why, you ask? Because Steve Moore’s surviving family isn’t getting a dime off it. A quick Google search shows that Alan Moore has been absolutely up in arms about how his recently-deceased friend (and, in many respects, mentor) has been screwed over by the producers of the film, and he’s called for a boycott of it. I know, I know — Moore’s got a reputation for being a curmudgeon and for telling people not to buy, well, anything, but the damn thing is, more often than not, he’s absolutely right. The cinematic adaptation of The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen was, in fact, every bit as horrendous as he claimed it was going to be, the Before Watchmen comics were by and large positively awful, and the V For Vendetta movie was an atrocious dumbing-down of his far superior original work. Yeah, he was none too pleased about the Watchmen film, either, but I won’t use that as an example of him being correct because by and large I kinda liked that one. Still, his criticisms are spot-on more often than not.

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So here’s what I’m thinking knowing what I know now : Ratner’s Hercules is, in fact, a far superior effort than I felt sure it would be going in, yes — but it’s probably nowhere near as good as the comics it was based on, and the fact that Steve Moore got swindled — even (and especially) after death — from seeing so much as a penny from a big-budget adaptation of his work is positively unconscionable. Again, I haven’t read any of these comics yet, but it’s a safe bet that anything good that survived the translation from the printed page to the screen is only there because Steve Moore put it there in the first place. In short, he’s the main reason this movie is actually pretty damn good, and that makes perfect sense when you think about it because you know full well Ratner isn’t capable of delivering the goods on his own. We all remember Red Dragon, don’t we?

Okay, fair enough — I’ve tried my best to put that out of my mind, too.

So in the end I guess I’m left with something of an ethical conundrum here — I liked Herclues. I really did. But mostly for its unique and original story. And now that I know the story behind that story (whoops, I’m being repetitious here, sorry), I sorta wish I’d never seen the thing. Okay, on that note. I’m off to Amazon to order up these books.

 

Review: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (dir. by Timur Bekmambetov)


Timur Bekmambetov is one filmmaker that can never be said to hold things back visually on any of his films. He has a style that can be called a combination of the Wachowski Brothers and Zack Snyder. Now one can read that and just groan. The Wachowskis and Snyder are not what one would call the paragon of the filmmaking community. What they do tend to do are create pop-friendly and consumer-friendly films. Whether thse films are of high quality is another thing altogether.

Bekmambetov is an interesting filmmaker from Kazakhstan (who could easily pass for what we imagine Genghis Khan to look like if he was still alive) whose brand of action films tend to focus on all style with little to no substance. For some audiences this just means dumb, brainless fare that has no reason to be paid to see, but I tend to think these same people who shout loudest about how these type of films are dumbing down it’s audiences secretly watch them like crack addicts once they’re on cable. Bekmambetov’s latest film, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, definitely follows his unique action and storytelling template he’s established with past films as Nightwatch, Daywatch and Wanted.

The film lives and dies on the simple conceit that one of the United States’ greatest Presidents was also vampire hunter of some skill. We see how an encounter with the vampire which led to the death of Abe’s mother (who had died of the condition known at the time as milk sickness) propels him through the intervening years to plot revenge on the same vampire. It’s during a failed attempt at revenge that he’s noticed by one Henry Sturgess (played by Dominic Cooper) who sees another potential vampire hunter in the young man (adult Lincoln played by one Benjamin Walker who could easily pass for a very young Liam Neeson). We get the usual training montage where Sturgess teaches Abe the finer points in vampire hunting and killing. It’s only proper that Abe would end up picking the rail-splitting axe he’s more comfortable in using than the more practical firearms.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is almost a straight adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith’s novel of the same name. Some minor subplots are discarded to keep the film moving in the one path the filmmakers and screenwriter (Grahame-Smith himself) decided to concentrate on. It’s this one thing that really pushes the film into a level that would win an audience to it’s cause or lose them altogether. This thing I speak of is the idea that slavery was due to the vampires who have set themselves as the so-called shadow aristocracy of the South and needed a ready source of food to keep themselves hidden from the humans. Yes, slavery was started and made into a near industrial level by vampires. This in turn moves Lincoln to move beyond just vengeance on the vampires who have affected his life from such an early age and instead go towards abolishing slavery from the country as a way to destroy the vampires once and for all.

These are heady ideas that doesn’t seem to fit well with historical facts and figures. Yet, the film does a good enough job of keeping things serious with just the right amount of over-the-top action sequences that Bekmambetov has become well-known for. One such action sequence involves Lincoln and a vampire having a chase scene involving a huge horse stampede. They fight in and amongst the stampeding equines and then on and above them. It’s a sequence that’s equal parts exciting and ludicrous that one just has to either sit back and enjoy it or stand up and walk out. Which is the film in a nutshell. One either goes all-in on the film’s story or folds mentally.

This is not to say that the film has no flaws. It has some glaring flaws that threatened to push the film over the edge of being a fun action flick into all-out dreck. For starters the vampires themselves made for good villains, but Rufus Sewell as the leader of the American vampires (who happens to call himself Adam) looked bored with the whole proceedings. There were brief moments when the charm that we expect from vampire leaders show, but it’s far and few between. Most of the time Sewell looks to be just standing in a particular scene looking bored. The rest of his clan of vampires are no better though Marton Csokas asBart, one of Adam’s lieutenants and main supplier of slaves, did such an over-the-top performance that one wouldn’t be surprised to catch a glimpses of scenery stuck between his teeth.

It’s really the performance by Benjamin Walker in the title role that keeps the film afloat. He has a commanding presence on the screen and he’s able to be convincing as Lincoln both as a young man and then as the elder statesman (some very good old man make-up effects that put the elder Peter Weyland make-up in Prometheus to shame). Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Mary Todd Lincoln also does a good job in what could’ve been a thankless role, but she didn’t look out of place in this peculiar period piece.

The action sequences themselves were choreographed well even though Bekmambetov was still relying a lot of his own brand of slo-mo to accentuate the cool kills Lincoln makes with his silver-coated axe. After awhile this gimmick began to get repetitious, but then again one shouldn’t be surprised to see such a thing over-used in a Bekmambetov film. If one has seen his three previous films then they should know what to expect. Yet, even this doesn’t detract from what this film ultimately turned out to be and that’s just plain fun despite lacking in the acting in certain roles and the sensational, some would say tasteless, use of the Civil War and slavery to tell a story about a vampire-killing President.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter will not make filmmakers like Christopher Nolan, Lars Von Trier and Michael Haneke quake in their shoes. It’s not a film that was made to win awards (though I can see it being nominated for best fight sequence in the MTV Movie Awards). What this film does seem to succeed enough in doing is be a fun and exciting film that rises above it’s source material on the strength of it’s lead and the action created by it’s filmmaker. For a genre film it certainly did a better job of mashing together disparate ideas than last year’s Cowboys & Aliens. Maybe if this film is enough of a success we’ll finally get some movement in the planned film adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith’s other literary classic mash-up: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. One can only hope.