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


Mj

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

And Yet 6 More Reviews Of 6 More Films Lisa Saw in 2014: Art and Craft, The Book of Life, The Box Trolls, The Quiet Ones, and Vampire Academy


Art and Craft (dir by Sam Cullman and Jennifer Grausman)

Art and Craft is a fascinating documentary about a fascinating human being.  As quickly becomes obvious, Mark A. Landis suffers from any number of mental illnesses.  However, he’s also one of the most successful art forgers in history.  While his own artwork is undistinguished, Landis is capable of perfectly imitating the work of other artists.  For 30 years, Landis would forge the work of other artists and then donate the forged paintings to museums across America.  (Since Landis never made any money off of his scam, he never technically broke any laws.)  The documentary follows Landis as he prepares for a show of his work and it features revealing interviews with both him and the people he fooled.  Ultimately, this is a film that — much like Exit Through The Gift Shop — forces us to consider just what exactly makes something a work of art.  Is it the name of the artist or is it the work itself?

The Book of Life (dir by Jorge Gutierrez)

The animated film The Book of Life was released in October and, for whatever reason, it never seemed to become quite the hit that a lot of us were expecting it to be.  However, even if I don’t think it came anywhere close to reaching the heights of producer Guillermo Del Toro’s best films, I still rather liked it.

The film tells the tale of Manolo (voiced by Diego Luna) who is tricked, by Xibalba (voiced by Ron Pearlman), the ruler of the Land of the Forgotten, into believing that the love of his life, Maria (Zoe Saldana), has died.  Eager to see her again, Manolo allows himself to be bitten by a snake, which kills him.  Now trapped in the spirit world, Manolo has to find a way to return to life and be reunited with Maria.

The Book of Life is a gorgeously animated film that pays wonderful tribute to the culture and mythology of Mexico.  And it’s great for los niños!

The Boxtrolls (dir by Graham Annabelle and Anthony Stacchi)

The Book of Life was not the only animated film to not quite get the respect that it deserved in 2014.  The Boxtrolls was another perfectly charming film and, considering its dual message of tolerance and not giving into paranoia, one that more people should have seen.

Taking place in a town that’s full of stupid people who are obsessed with cheese, The Boxtrolls is a memorably dark little film from the same studio that gave us Paranorman.  The citizens of the town live in fear of the Boxtrolls, a group of creatures who live underneath the city.  Little do they understand that the Boxtrolls are actually peaceful and the only reason that they come out at night is to scavenge through trash.  The citizens of the town hire the evil Snatcher to take care of the Boxtrolls and, because of their paranoia and fear, they are soon literally slaves to the whims of Snatcher.

(Insert your own NSA surveillance analogy here.)

The Boxtrolls is a memorably subversive little film, one that makes the argument that even the ugliest of animated monsters still deserve a chance to find happiness.

Dolphin Tale 2 (dir by Charles Martin Smith)

So, as some of you may remember, I absolutely loved the first Dolphin Tale.  The sequel is not quite as good as the first film but you know what?  I saw it with my niece and she absolutely loved it and I loved watching it with her and yes, the film totally made me cry.  So, as far as I’m concerned, the film succeeded.  Winter the Dolphin appears as himself and he’s joined by Hope the Dolphin.  And both Winter and Hope give Oscar-worthy performances.

The Quiet Ones (dir by John Pogue)

Want to hear something sad?  The Quiet Ones, which is probably one of the most forgettable films to be released last year, was produced by Hammer Studios.  That’s right — the legendary British studio that produced such immortal films as Horror of Dracula — also produced The Quiet Ones, a film that could have just as easily been made by …. well, by anyone.

Borrowing multiple pages from The Conjuring, The Quiet Ones takes place in the 70s, is “based on a true story,” and features a creepy doll!  Jared Harris plays a psychiatrist who wants to prove that ghosts do not exist and that poltergeist activity is the result of telekinesis.  In order to prove his theory, he and his forgettable students isolate an orphan named Jane (Olivia Cooke) and go out of their way to upset her, hoping that she’ll lash out at them with her telekinetic abilities.  Apparently, nobody in this movie has ever watched a movie before or else they would have understood why this was a bad idea.

Anyway, The Quiet Ones feels like about a hundred other recent horror films, right down to having Sam Claflin play a student with a camera who records the entire experience.  Jared Harris is well-cast and Olivia Cooke proves that she deserves a better film but otherwise, The Quiet Ones is forgettable.

Vampire Academy (dir by Mark Waters)

Speaking of being forgettable…

Actually, Vampire Academy is not as bad as a lot of critics said.  It was one of the many YA adaptations that were released in 2014.  It deals with a bunch of teenage vampires who are attending St. Vladimer’s Academy.  When the film tries to be Twilight, it’s boring.  When the film tries to Mean Girls, it’s a lot more tolerable.  Best of all, one of the main characters is named Lissa and I like any film that features a Lisa.

But, otherwise, Vampire Academy was pretty forgettable.

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


Mockingjay

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.

Trailer: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Exclusive Teaser)


CatchingFire

The next installment in The Hunger Games series, Catching Fire, looks to return later this year with a new director taking over the reins. Gary Ross began the series as director of the first film and the film enjoyed massive success and very positive reception from the critics-at-large. So, it was surprising news that Ross wouldn’t be returning to continue the series and instead Lionsgate replacing him with Francis Lawrence (Constantine, I Am Legend).

This sequel brings back everyone who survived the first film and adds some new faces in the cast such as Philip Seymour Hoffman, Toby Jones, Jena Malone and Jeffrey Wright.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is set for a November 22, 2013 release date.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (Super Bowl TV Spot)


The more I read about and see stuff on this fourth film on the Disney action-adventure franchise the more I’m really looking forward to Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.

This Super Bowl tv spot shows some new scenes that wasn’t in the official trailer released a little over a month ago. One thing I am glad to see is more Ian McShane as Blackbeard. I’m also glad that there’s still no Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley to be seen in this film. Yes, I know that they declined to be in it (that or Bruckheimer finally got the hint that it was these two who bogged down the first two sequels).

In the end, this third sequel will live or die on the performance of Depp returning as Capt. Jack Sparrow. I’d bet on Captain Jack returning to his roguish self and making this fourth film a fun ride the way the first two sequels weren’t.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is set for a May 20, 2011 release.

 

 

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (Official Trailer)


I’m a big Captain Jack Sparrow fan and I really enjoyed the first film, but the two films which went after it were a tad disappointing. Depp’s performances in both sequels were pretty good as always and most of the supporting cast as well, but the characters played by Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley were so boring that they nearly sunk both sequels. Luckily, Depp’s Sparrow was too much for even those two bores to fully sink.

Everyone thought that At World’s End was the last in the franchise, but despite lackluster reviews it still made Disney a pirate’s treasure of a profit once all the box-office was tabulated. So, out goes original director of the franchise in Gore Verbinski and in to replace him is one Rob Marshall who now starts up a new trilogy for the franchise with some new faces in addition to some welcome old ones.

Penelope Cruz comes in as a woman from Jack’s past and Ian McShane takes on the role of the pirate of all pirates: Edward “Blackbeard” Teach. Just the mention of the one and only Ian Swearingen as Blackbeard was enough to raise my hopes that this milking of the franchise will at least be entertaining and that maybe new blood in the cast will keep it from being boring.