Film Review: Missing Link (dir by Chris Butler)


The year is 1886 and Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman) is the world’s greatest adventurer.

Or, at least, that’s what he says.  Actually, Sir Lionel may have made a name for himself and gained some popularity as a result of his many adventures but his fellow explorers and adventurers don’t take him seriously.  They view Sir Lionel as being little more than a self-promoter and they’re largely unimpressed with the all the time that he’s devoted to searching for mythical beasts like The Loch Ness Monster and lost lands like El Dorado.  Sir Lionel desperately wants to join the London-based Society of Great Men but the snobbish Lord Piggot-Dunceby (Stephen Fry) refuses to accept his application.

When Sir Lionel receives a letter from someone in America who claims to have tracked down the legendary Sasquatch, Sir Lionel and Lord Piggot-Duncey make a bet.  If Sir Lionel can prove that the Sasquatch exists, he will be allowed to join the Society.  Sir Lionel heads off to America while Lord Piggot-Dunceby promptly hires an evil bounty hunter named Willard Stenk (Timothy Olyphant) to prevent him from accomplishing his mission.  As Lord Piggot-Dunceby explains to his assistant, Mr. Collick (Matt Lucas), the world is changing too quickly.  If Sir Lionel isn’t stopped, people might start to believe in things like evolution or women’s rights.

When Sir Lionel arrives in America, he promptly starts searching for the Sasquatch and, amazingly enough, it doesn’t take him very long to find him.  It turns out that the Sasquatch — who Sir Lionel names Mr. Link — not only speaks remarkably good English but he’s also the one who wrote to Sir Lionel in the first place.  As played by Zach Galifianakis, Mr. Link is a rather laid back and good-natured Sasquatch.  In some ways, Mr. Link is surprisingly worldly and, in other ways, he’s rather naive.  He takes everything that he hears literally, which poses a problem since Sir Lionel has a tendency towards sarcasm.  It also turns out that Mr. Link is lonely but he thinks that he might be related to the Himalayan Yetis.  And Mr. Link thinks that Sir Lionel is just the man to help him get from America to Asia!

Sir Lionel reluctantly agrees.  Accompanying them on their journey is Sir Lionel’s former girlfriend, Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana).  And pursuing them, every step of the way, is Lord Piggot-Dunceby and Willard Stenk.

Missing Link is an enjoyable and undeniably cute stop-motion animated film.  It was produced by Laika, the same animation outfit that previously gave us Kubo and The Two Strings.  While Missing Link is never as memorable or emotionally resonant as Kubo, it’s still a good-hearted film and entertaining enough that an adult can watch it without wanting to tear their hair out.  Blessed with impressively detailed animation and the comedic vocal talents of Hugh Jackman, Stephen Fry, Timothy Olyphant, and Zach Galifianikis, Missing Link has enough funny moments and clever lines that most audiences should be able to overlook the fact that the story itself sometimes feels a bit haphazard in its construction.  Much like the Sasquatch at the center of its story, Missing Link is a rather laid back film.  If Kubo was a carefully-constructed work of art, Missing Link feels like it was almost thrown together at random.  The film is at its best once it reaches the Himalayas, where the humor becomes very barbed and Emma Thompson steals the show in a sharp-witted cameo.

I enjoyed Missing Link.  It’s just too sweet-nartured not to like.

Playing Catch-Up: Love & Friendship (dir by Whit Stillman)


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Earlier this week, I named Pride and Prejudice and Zombies as the worst Jane Austen adaptation of 2016.  Of course, I understand that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies isn’t really a Jane Austen adaptation.  Instead, it’s an adaptation of a jokey novel that took Austen’s characters and combined them with zombies.  But you know what?  Nobody would have given a damn if the name of that book and that movie didn’t include three words:  Pride.  And.  Prejudice.  That’s the power of Jane Austen.

But anyway, my point is that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was pretty much a low point as far as Jane Austen films are concerned.  Fortunately, 2016 also saw the release of a very enjoyable and entertaining Jane Austen film named Love & Friendship and, even better, Love & Friendship was based on something that Austen actually wrote.

Of course, though Austen may have written the novella Lady Susan, it wasn’t published until long after her death and there’s speculation that it was an unfinished (or abandoned) first draft.  In fact, it’s debatable whether or not Lady Susan was something that Austen would have ever wanted to see published.  While it shares themes in common with Austen’s best known work, it also features a lead character who is far different from the stereotypical Austen heroine.  Lady Susan Vernon is vain, selfish, manipulative, and unapologetic about her numerous affairs.  She’s also one of the wittiest of Austen’s characters, a woman who is capable of identifying and seeing through the hypocrisies of 18th century society.

In Love & Friendship, Susan is played by Kate Beckinsale, who does a great job in the role.  One of the best things about Love & Friendship is that it serves to remind us that Kate Beckinsale is a very good actress, even when she isn’t dealing with vampires and Lycans and all that other Underworld stuff.  Lady Susan is a recent widow and has been staying, with her daughter, Frederica (Morfydd Clark), at the estate of Lord and Lady Manwaring (Jenn Murray and Lochlann O’Mearáin) .  That’s a good thing because, as a result of the death of her husband, Lady Susan is now virtually penniless and homeless.  But, once it becomes obvious that Susan is having an affair with Lord Manwaring, she and Frederica are kicked out of the estate.

They eventually find themselves living with Susan’s brother-in-law, Charles (Justin Edwards) and Charles’s wife, Catherine (Emma Greenwell).  Susan, realizing that she needs to find not only a rich husband for Frederica but also one for herself, immediately starts to scheme to win the hand of Catherine’s brother, Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel).  Meanwhile, Susan also tries to arrange for Frederica to marry the hilariously slow-witted Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett).  Needless to say, things do not go quite as plan and it’s all rather chaotic and hilarious in its wonderfully refined way.

Director Whit Stillman, who has spent his career making refined and witty movies about morality and manners, is the ideal director for Austen’s material and he’s helped by an extremely witty (and, with the exception of Chloe Sevigny, very British) cast.  In the role of Susan, Kate Beckinsale is a force of nature and Tom Bennett is hilariously dense as Sir James, the type of well-meaning dunce who is literally stumped when someone asks him, “How do you do?”  Never before has dullness been so hilariously performed and Bennett’s performance really is a minor miracle.

Love & Friendship was a wonderful excursion into Austenland.  It didn’t even require zombies to be enjoyable.

 

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 Quick Review: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (dir by Peter Jackson)


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It seems kind of weird to do a quick review for a 144 minutes film that not only serves as the end of one epic trilogy but also as a prequel for yet another epic trilogy.

Well, so be it.  I hate to admit it but I really don’t have that much to say about The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies beyond the fact that I saw it on the day after Christmas, I enjoyed it, and I thought Aidan Turner was really hot.  It’s not a perfect film but then again, The Hobbit has never been a perfect trilogy.  As opposed to the Lord of the Ring films, The Hobbit told a story that could have easily been told in two films.  As a result, whenever you watch one of The Hobbit films, you’re aware of all of the filler that was included just to justify doing three films.

But so what?  The Hobbit films are fun.  Despite the cynical economic reasons behind turning The Hobbit into a trilogy, director Peter Jackson’s love for the material always came through.  In the title role, Martin Freeman was always likable.  Ian McKellan and Christopher Lee made for properly enigmatic wizards.  Though apparently his inclusion caused some controversy among purists, it was nice to Orlando Bloom as Legolas.  I also liked Evangeline Lilly’s elf character, even if everyone else seemed to dislike her and her love story with Aidan Turner.  And then there was Benedict Cumberbatch providing a perfectly evil and self-satisfied voice for Smaug.

I have to admit that, with the exception of Aidan Turner, I was never a big fan of the dwarves.  They were all so surly and bad-tempered and it didn’t take me too long to get tired of Richard Armitage showing up as Thorin and acting like a jerk.  However, in the final part of the trilogy, Armitage’s surly performance started to make sense.  As Thorin grew more and more paranoid, I saw that The Hobbit was actually using both the character and Armitage’s performance to make a much larger point.  Power corrupts and most conflicts are ultimately all about money and property.  It was a good message.

When the Battle of the Five Armies started, I was shocked to discover how little I remembered about the previous two Hobbit films.  It took me a while to get caught up on who everyone was and why they were all fighting over that mountain.  As opposed to the LoTR films, it’s not always easy to get emotionally invested in The Hobbit films.  But, Jackson is a good director and he’s a good storyteller and, even though it took me a while to get caught up, I was still often enthralled with what I was watching on screen.  The images were so stunning and the battle scenes were so spectacularly done that I could handle being occasionally confused.

Battle of the Five Armies is a fitting end for the Hobbit trilogy.  It’s not a perfect film but it is exciting and fun and that’s really all that matters.  At the end of it, the audience in the theater applauded, not just for the film but in recognition of everything that Peter Jackson has given us over the past 14 years.

It was a good way to spend the day after Christmas.

Trailer: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (Teaser)


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It hasn’t been received as well as Jackson’s own The Lord of The Rings trilogy, but The Hobbit did hit it’s stride with 2013’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. People still haven’t bought into Jackson’s decision to film the prequel trilogy in the 48-frame rate format which gives the films an ultra-definition look that anyone with an HDTV will recognize when watching with the anti-judder effect on.

Yet, this is The Hobbit and any flaws and ill-timed decisions made still hasn’t diminished it’s hold on those who have read the book and on those who were pulled into the cinematic world adapted by Jackson. We now see the final film in the Middle-Earth cinematic universe about to come down on audiences this 2014 Holiday. This weekend at the Comic-Con saw the first teaser trailer air at Hall H to the delight of those in attendance.

Warner Brothers has seen fit to release a shorter version of the teaser shown at Hall H, but it still shows that all the set-up and slog through the first film will have an epic pay-off with the final leg of this trilogy: The Battle of the Five Armies.

Trailer: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Sneak Peek)


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“The lord of silver fountains,

The King of carven stone,

The King beneath the mountain

Shall come into his own!

And the bells shall ring in gladness

At the Mountain-king’s return,

But all shall fail in sadness

And the lake shall shine and burn.”

Today, over in NYC a special fan event for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug was held which introduced a new one-sheet poster (look above), but also premiere a 3-minute sneak peek trailer to the second entry in The Hobbit Trilogy.

To say that this extended trailer is a vast improvement to all the previous teasers and official trailers for this second film in the prequel set would be an understatement. It still shows the film as being much more darker in tone than the book source it’s being adapted from, but it definitely shows a film that looks and feels much more put together than the first film (still just an assumption, but I have hopes I’ll be correct).

We see more of Luke Evans as Bard the Bowman who looks to fit in rather well instead of looking “too modern” as some feared he would look. I like how the trailer uses the poem, “The King Beneath the Mountains”, but in an altered form to make it sound like it was a prophecy. I know purist will probably rail and scream to anyone who will listen that this wasn’t how Tolkien wrote the poem. If they haven’t figured out by now that these film adaptations have been altering the written work to better fit the story then what have they been watching over the past decade.

I, for one, can’t wait for this middle film in the trilogy to finally come out and come out it shall on December 13, 2013. I saw the first film in every format and watch it in all format I shall for this one as well.

Trailer: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2nd Official)


It just a littleunder 3 months before Peter Jackson takes us back to Middle-Earth with the first of three films that will make up The Hobbit trilogy.

There’s not much else to say other than this latest trailer for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journeyjust continues to whet the appetite for all things Middle-Earth. It’s much more action-packed with some nice new scenes instead of just rehashing what was in the original teaser trailer from year ago.

Enough words. Just watch the trailer below and decide for yourself whether another trip to Middle-Earth (before all the War of the Ring brouhaha of the first trilogy) is worth your monies.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey premieres worldwide on December 14, 2012.