Writer: David Lowery, Toby Halbrooks (screenplay), Malcolm Marmorstein (novel)
Stars: Bryce Dallas Howard, Oakes Fegley, Wes Bentley, Karl Urban
Release date: September 15th, 2016
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Running time: 102 minutes
Best part: The dragon.
Worst part: Urban’s kooky antagonist.
Disney is a cash cow, able to take serious risks without losing large sums. The company – cashing up on Marvel, Star Wars etc. – is handing remakes of 20th century animated gems to interesting, independent-minded filmmakers. Jon Favreau and Kenneth Branagh dived into The Jungle Book and Cinderella before. Pete’s Dragonis the heavyweight studio’s latest satisfactory experiment.
Pete’s Dragon is based on one of Disney’s most eclectic animated works. The original is a miasmic tale of a boy and his pet. It delves into strange places – leaving some viewers scratching their heads. This version is more straightforward but less interesting. It begins with Pete finding Elliot the Dragon by chance. The story jumps years ahead, and Pete (Oakes Fegley) is a child running, jumping and living alongside his magical friend. One day, Pete stumbles upon park ranger Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard) in the forest. After finding him and taking him in, Grace – along with her partner Jack (Wes Bentley), Jack’s daughter Natalie (Oona Lauence) and Grace’s father Meacham (Robert Redford) – learn more about Pete’s story and way of life. Jack’s brother Gavin (Karl Urban) has dastardly ideas for Elliot.
Like J. J. Abrams-helmed Super 8, Pete’s Dragon showcases Steven Spielberg’s long-lasting legacy and overall influence. This nostalgic fantasy-family epic lives and dies on director/co-writer David Lowery(Aint Them Bodies Saints)’s love of the classics. The opening scene encapsulates his style and storytelling prowess. This three-minute sequence is worth the admission cost. It glides through multiple emotions, a tragic event, our lead’s isolation and discovery of the big, green father figure. Indeed, the epilogue depicts love and loss effortlessly. Afterwards, the movie is fairly mundane. Lowery borrows every Spielberg convention (Spielberg face, country town charm, kids connecting with creatures and magic etc.) without quit. As other central characters come into play, the movie’s story and pace slow drastically.
The characters, of course, change from simple-minded to wide-eyed and adventurous as craziness occurs. However, none of them matter. Howard continues her run of underwritten characters flip-flopping between courageous and outrageous. Even her red hair and gorgeous looks cannot save her. Bentley is given less development as the concerned nice-guy. Redford’s charm pushes him through silly dialogue. Urban is given one of 2016’s most baffling characters; woefully switching between gruff redneck, hunting champion and slightly mentally challenged. Lowery spoon feeds his love of middle America. The twangy soundtrack and gleaming cinematography clumsily convey regional bliss.
Pete’s Dragon resembles every other 2016 blockbuster – easy on the eyes but hard to connect with. This year, this Spielberg admirer performed better than Spielberg himself. The cast perform admirably despite two dimensional, wacky material. The dragon himself is the runaway winner.
Hollywood has latched onto organised-religion crowds for greater box-office returns. Movies including God’s Not Dead, although strange to most, appeal to a large segment of the population. Tinseltown’s most talented are also getting on board, with Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kings also aiming for that market. 2016’s Ben-Hur remake may single-handedly destroy this trend.
Actually, this is not the first ever Ben-Hur remake. The William Wyler-directed 1959 version is the quintessential version. The huge budget, Charlton Heston’s vigour, chariot race and epic scope helped it score 11 Academy Awards and become an instant classic. Surprisingly, there were multiple Ben-Hurs in the early 20th Century. This version never strays from convention. Here, Jewish nobleman Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston) and adoptive Roman brother Messala (Toby Kebbell) grow up together in Jerusalem’s higher class. Messala, despite his affections for Tirzah (Sofia Black D’Elia), feels alienated by matriarch Naomi (Ayelet Zurer) and the family’s faith. After his enlistment and time in the Roman Army, he returns to warn Ben-Hur of oncoming threats. From there, the two butt heads and become fearsome foes.
The 1959 hit influenced Gladiator and sword-and-sandal epic in between. This Ben-Hur begs the question – Why now? No matter what the studio, cast, creatives etc. created, nothing would have eclipsed the 1959 version’s quality, exhaustive length, touching religious commentary and revolutionary tricks. Writers Keith Clarke and John Ridley (the latter behind 12 Years a Slave) deliver irritating and alienating dialogue. The first half relies on religious discussion between the characters, grinding the pace to a screeching halt. Non-religious folks will despise the movie’s feckless stance on faith and history. Sadly, director Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) is not fit for the material. Lacking Ridley Scott’s deft touch, the schlock filmmaker appears bored by everything besides the action, special effects etc.
Ben-Hur follows the long line of laughable, anachronistic and feeble-minded modern historical/mythical epics. The movie never diverts from the standard revenge-drama narrative. It’s predictability is almost cowardly – the good guys are sweet and vanilla, the love interest – Esther (Nazanin Boniadi) – is whispy, the bad guys snivel and twist moustaches, Morgan Freeman plays the wise cracking mystical-magical black man etc. Jesus Christ (Rodrigo Santoro) pops up to deliver bumper-sticker lines. This version may be remembered for its South American-looking depiction of the famous carpenter. Bekmambetov, halfway through, appears to wake up. The slave-ship sequence, training montages and almighty chariot race are particularly inventive. The grand sound design and fun action beats reduce the tedium.
Ben-Hur, like most of 2016’s blockbusters, is unnecessary, generic and borderline offensive. This useless remake squanders a fantastic cast, capable director and momentous resources. Attention Hollywood: Not everything should be remade!
Stars: Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Jonah Hill, Bill Hader
Release date: August 11th, 2016
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Running time: 88 minutes
Best part: The stellar cast.
Worst part: The racial stereotypes.
Writer/director/producers…actor…Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have made some of Hollywood’s most controversial gross-out comedies. Superbad explored teenage sexual angst, This is the End skewered Rogen and his friends’ fame, and The Interview almost kicked off World War III by pissing off North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un. So, What next?
How about an animated sex-comedy about food? Sure, why not. Now, Sony will let them get away with anything. Sadly, Sausage Party proves studio notes and executive decisions are sometimes worthwhile. The movie’s plot is bizarre and simplistic. Hot dog Frank (voiced by Seth Rogen) and his girlfriend – hot dog bun Brenda (Kristen Wiig) – live next to one another in grocery store Shopwell’s. Frank, alongside fellow sausages Carl (Jonah Hill) and Barry (Michael Cera), believes they will be chosen by the gods, taken to ‘The Great Beyond’ and set free. However, the plan goes awry after an argument with feminine hygiene product Douche (Nick Kroll) leads to a spill, and mass casualties, in the isles. Frank finds out their situation isn’t as it seems.
Sausage Party and Suicide Squad are part of one of 2016’s most irritating trends. Both, featuring wholly predictable plots and characters, are covered in a nasty, immature allure catering to cheap desires. They also feature unique and interesting premises butchered by abysmal execution. Make no mistake, Sausage Party would have made for a kinetic, cutting short movie. Rogen and Goldberg are talented and interesting enough to know better. The final result leaves much to be desired. It lingers between parody and cheap dig at Pixar. Despite the allure, the basic plot follows Toy Story’s friends-finding-one-another story-line step by step. The twists and turns are wholly predictable and lack depth.
Sausage Party relies on the MA15+ rating and the filmmakers’ sense of humour. The comedy is pitifully hit and miss, relying on expletives and sexual references throughout. Every frame features lazy sex, fart, and weed jokes and food puns. If the first three-quarters weren’t haphazard enough, the finale takes some distressing and demeaning left turns. The movie, nowhere near as smart or interesting as it thinks, delivers a broad commentary on organised religion. The food products, convinced of the gods’ kindness, deliver a loud, brash musical number each morning about their fate. However, after that small splash of genius, we’re given borderline-offensive stereotypes from Woody Allen-esque bagel (Edward Norton) to angry Arabic lavash (David Krumholtz). Oy vey!
Sure, Sausage Party has a stellar voice cast and neat ideas. It’s clear Rogen and Goldberg had a clear vision from day one. However, their self-indulgence has gone too far. This may be 2016’s biggest disappointment.
Stars: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana
Release date: July 21st, 2016
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Country: USA, China
Running time: 122 minutes
Best part: The central cast.
Worst Part: The villain’s convoluted plot.
In its 50th year, Gene Roddenberry’s creation Star Trek is one of pop-culture’s most lucrative and unique franchises. Its run has been extended by TV series’, films, comic books, fan fiction and everything else in between. The Trekkies and Trekkers have helped the series become an ever-changing organism. With nerd being the new black, the franchise must bend and warp to gather as many fans as possible.
The newer Star Trek instalments have, for the most part, done a bang-up job. The 2009 reboot introduced a new timeline and cast. Fans grew to love the younger crew members, director J. J. Abrams’ love of lens flares and the USS Enterprise’s shinier aesthetic. The Sequel, Star Trek into Darkness, fumbled the ball. Star Trek Beyond, the third feature in the Kelvin timeline, sees the crew in the third year of a five-year mission to explore strange worlds, meet new beings and bring order to the galaxy. Flying peacekeeping group the Federation’s flag, Starfleet captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) feels lost in the deep, dark void of space. Key members including Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto), chief medical officer Leonard McCoy (Karl Urban), communications officer Nyota Uhura (Zoe Saldana), chief engineer Montgomery Scott (Simon Pegg), helmsman Hikaru Sulu (John Cho) and main navigator Pavel Chekov (Anton Yelchin) also hit the wall.
Of course, a movie about the crew hanging up their skivvies 10 minutes in would be deeply unsatisfying. Receiving a distress call from the nebulous zone outside Federation base Yorktown, they are ambushed and captured/disbanded by warlord Krall(Idris Elba)’s drone/alien army. The first third balances cute comedic moments and high stakes threats. The opening scene is a blast – detailing how some missions go better than others. The aforementioned ambush sequence is electrifying, with the Enterprise and its crew torn apart with devastating velocity. The second act takes a peculiar turn, splitting the lead cast into twos. Pegg and Doug Jung’s script provides greater insight into each key member. Although the plot and momentum stall, the middle section delivers infinite character development and wit. In true sequel fashion, new characters including alien warrior Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) create several surprises.
With Abrams off on Star Wars duties, director Justin Lin (Fast and Furious’ Tokyo Drift through to Six) takes control of the ship. Not to be underestimated, he balances between the original series and this franchise’s bold, blockbuster-y direction. The exhilarating filmmaker piles action sequences on top of one another in the third act. The motorcycle set-piece clicks with the movie’s tone and close-quarter scope. The finale combines a high-flying spaceship battle, clever banter and a Beastie Boys’ track with aplomb. Meanwhile, the fist-fight finale injects pathos and resonance into an otherwise light-weight story. Assisting Lin’s breezy direction, Michael Giacchino’s score is as slick and dynamic as the Enterprise herself. The talented, good-looking performers aptly bounce off each other. Pine and Quinto snuggly fit into their famous roles. Urban, Pegg and Boutella are standouts. Meanwhile, Elba is let down by the character’s befuddling backstory and master plan.
Star Trek Beyond ventures where the franchise both has and has never gone before. Credit belongs to the performers, living up to the original cast’s crackling chemistry. Lin and co. have refueled and beefed up the Enterprise for future adventures. Most importantly, Yelchin and Leonard Nimoy are given touching send offs.
Writers: Adam Cozard, Craig Brewer (screenplay), Edgar Rice Burroughs (novel)
Stars: Alexander Skarsgard, Margot Robbie, Samuel L. Jackson, Christoph Waltz
Release date: July 7th, 2016
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Running time: 110 minutes
Best part: Samuel L. Jackson.
Worst part: The inconsistent visual effects.
Dear Hollywood, no one on Earth was asking for a ‘dark and gritty’ reboot of Tarzan. In fact, everyone is sick of those words being the basis for every reboot, reimagining and rejigging from the past ten years. 2016 in film, so far, proves tinseltown is having a major identity crisis. Almost every sequel has bombed, the smaller genre flicks have gone gangbusters and we responded to Zac Efron’s comedies with a collective shrug. What an age we live in!
Like The Lone Ranger and The Man from U.N.C.L.E, The Legend of Tarzan brings an old-school franchise into the 21st Century. Sadly, it resembles the former – a bloated, out-of-touch product that should have stayed hidden. Based on acclaimed author Edgar Rice Burroughs famous stories, this reboot does start promisingly. After the Berlin Conference, the United Kingdom and Belgium divided up the Congo. The Belgian government is close to bankruptcy and left with a useless railroad and other infrastructure. King Leopold of Belgium II sends Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) to claim mineral deposits including the diamonds of Opar, protected by Chief Mbonga (Djimon Hounsou). Meanwhile, the British Prime Minister (Jim Broadbent) and US envoy George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) convince John Clayton III/Lord Greystoke (Alexander Skarsgard) to return to Africa and become Lord of the Apes once again.
Tarzan – despite leading multiple films, books, serials etc. – came from a more ‘innocent’ era in the Western world. This version attempts an elaborate balancing act between classic action-adventure and revisionist perspective. It’s a refreshing premise; throwing us into a world already aware of Tarzan’s existence. Screenwriters Adam Cozard and Craig Brewer manufacture false drama from the outset. The first act spins its wheels as the Tarzan rejects the offer, mulls it over with wife Jane (Margot Robbie), and agrees to tag along. From there, the movie leaps between plot-holes and overused plot-points. Its colonialist overtones are wholly uncomfortable, with every scene showing this impressive white man coming to native Africa’s rescue.
Despite mediocre results, director David Yates (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix to The Deathly Hallows Part 2) swings for the fences. The director juggles Tarzan’s backstory (his parents’ deaths, an upbringing helped by apes, reason for leaving etc.) at inopportune moments with narration and flashbacks. His vision forcefully compares the Belgian Congo and American Civil War’s atrocities. The mix of fictional aura and historical events calls Hollywood’s racial politics into question. Yates’ visual style distorts every frame with anachronisms, confusing camerawork and sepia tone, while the action sequences and CGI are shoddily handled. Worse still, bland performances by Skarsgard, Robbie and Waltz are inexcusable. Jackson, thankfully, provides some much-needed levity and charisma.
The Legend of Tarzan, like the many animals in starring roles, is a fascinating but destructive creation. Despite the cute comedic timing and aim-high attitude, this reboot/reimagining/whatever proves a worthwhile director, cast and budget can falter spectacularly.
Stars: Zac Efron, Adam DeVine, Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza
Release date: July 7th, 2016
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Running time: 98 minutes
Best part: Efron and DeVine’s chemistry.
Worst part: The characters’ sheer stupidity.
Hollywood has made multi-million dollar creations out of other movies, TV shows, video games, board games etc. and now true stories based around Craigslist ads. Mike and Dave Need Wedding Datescomes from a strange and concerning place in popular culture from the past few years. With that said, the movie could have actually been a lot worse. Objectively speaking, however, it definitely should have been better.
Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is actor/female Viagra Zac Efron’s third comedy of 2016 after Dirty Grandpa and Bad Neighbours 2. In fact, this one fuses the other two’s best and worst elements. It kicks off with Mike (Adam DeVine) and Dave Stangle (Efron) ‘winning at life’ as slimy liquor salesmen. The pair – living and working together – survive on hormones, drugs, expletives and danger. Parents Burt (Stephen Root) and Rosie (Stephanie Faracy) call for an intervention, blaming them for causing disasters at all family gatherings. Their little sister Jeanie (Stephanie Beard) asks them to bring dates to her wedding to Eric (Sam Richardson) in Hawaii. Their Craigslist ad, and appearance on morning TV, attracts attention from women everywhere, including Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza) and Alice (Anna Kendrick).
Anyone who’s seen the poster can beat-by-beat predict the plot. Unsurprisingly, Tatiana and Alice are more adventurous, disgusting and psychotic than Mike and Dave. Handling this many purposefully unlikable characters, the director and screenwriters are forced to create a series of increasingly unfortunate events. This scenario grinds this gross-out comedy to a screeching halt. It copies almost every plot point from Wedding Crashers without achieving the same hilarious results. It also boils down to repulsive, strung-together sequences and slapstick gags. The trailer even spoils the movie’s biggest set-pieces, landing with a thud in the final cut.
The humour is bafflingly hit and miss. Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O’Brien’s screenplay delivers many funny lines and cute moments. However, thanks to first-time director Jake Szymanski, the actors are given too much improv leeway. Mike and Dave’s dynamic is still effective. Efron and DeVine’s winning chemistry elevates the majority of their scenes. Dave, sporting potential compared to his shrewd older brother, is a sympathetic presence in amongst the screwball antics. He and Alice develop a somewhat sweet relationship – proving Efron and Kendrick deserve better material. However, the movie is hamstrung by DeVine and Plaza’s grating schtick. DeVine pulls out Kevin Hart’s arsenal of fast-taking monologues and screams. Plaza is weighed down by her over-the-top, personality-free character.
Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is the prime example of potential undercut by execution. Like Efron’s other 2016 comedies, the actors put 110% effort into a mediocre product. If anything, these young and charming cast members might be motivated to move on to bigger and better things.
Stars: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton, Jemaine Clement
Release date: June 30th, 2016
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Running time: 117 minutes
Best part: Mark Rylance.
Worst part: The uneven pacing.
If you have even a mild interest in cinema, you cannot go past Filmmaker Steven Spielberg’s excellent multi-decade career. It is so hard to believe the director of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Jaws, ET: The Extra Terrestrial, The Indiana Jones franchise, Jurassic Park, The Colour Purple, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, and Munich is the same guy!
Spielberg is the best action/drama/comedy/family-adventure filmmaker in cinema history. He can transport millions to other worlds thanks to his style, command of the system and collection of regular collaborators. He returns with the adaptation of one of Roald Dahl’s many seminal children’s stories. The BFG begins with miserable child Sophie (Ruby Barnhill), living in an orphanage fittingly labelled ‘The Orphanage’, wandering the halls until 3am. Sophie unexpectedly sees the Big Friendly Giant (Mark Rylance) traipsing the streets of 1980s London. The BFG, seeing Sophie seeing him, takes her well north of Great Britain to Giant Country.
Spielberg, despite immense critical and commercial acclaim over an extensive career, has been a little hit and miss throughout the past decade. For every Lincoln or Adventures of Tintin, there’s a Kingdom of the Crystal Skull or War Horse. The BFG is certainly one of the filmmaker’s lesser efforts. Unlike his children’s classics, it never finds the balance between comedy and drama. In love with the late Melissa Mathison’s screenplay, the director leaves little on the cutting room floor. After a brisk opening, this fantasy-adventure plods through its first two-thirds. Sophie and BFG spend an exorbitant amount of time in and around his multi-layered home. Restricted to a handful of settings and characters, it sorely cries out for a more epic scope and tighter pacing. Although the focus on conversation over action is intriguing, the story and characters aren’t quite interesting enough for a 2-hour run-time.
The antagonists – some much bigger and nastier giants including Fleshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement) and Bloodbottler (Bill Hader) – show up to cause trouble. One set-piece focuses on the book’s arresting themes. Sophie can only watch on in horror as the bigger giants needlessly pick on BFG for being kind and subdued. To a certain extent, Sophie and BFG’s core dynamic is quaint. The movie finds a new lease on life when the two meet up with Queen Elizabeth II (Penelope Wilton) and servants Mary (Rebecca Hall) and Tibbs (Rafe Spall). Slapstick hijinks and fart jokes galore, Spielberg dives into new territory here. Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski and composer John Williams once again serve Spielberg’s vision with aplomb. Rylance, backing up his Oscar win for Bridge of Spies, returns to Spielberg’s realm with a fizzy mo-cap performance. However, Barnhill immediately veers into over-the-top-child-actor mode.
The BFG, unquestionably, provides a warm and fuzzy time at the movies. Its chases, dream-catching sequences, and commendable cast make for several memorable ‘Spielberg Face’ moments. However, the woe and whimsy trip Spielberg over; failing to delve deeper into the material’s darker shades.
Stars: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Hayden Rolence, Ed O’Neill
Release date: June 16th, 2016
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Running time: 103 minutes
Best part: Ellen DeGeneres.
Worst part: The familiar story.
Disney is one of the world’s most powerful companies, capable of ruling over the box office from here to eternity. Along with Star Wars and Marvel, the company also owns Pixar Animation Studios. Setting the bar for animated cinema, the studio makes us laugh, cry, and question our place in the universe. Finding Dory, although not quite up there with Pixar’s best, continues the studio’s penchant for unique voices (in front of the microphone and behind the scenes).
Finding Dory is the much-anticipated sequel to 2003’s smash-hit Finding Nemo. The original’s fun visuals and sense of humour helped it become one of the past decade’s most memorable movies. As illustrated by the title, the sequel focuses on sidekick turned fan favourite Dory (Ellen DeGeneres). Set one year after the events of the original, the movie explores the Blue Tang’s struggle with short-term memory loss. Despite growing close to Clownfish Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence), Dory begins having fragmented dreams and flashbacks to life with her parents, Jenny (Diane Keaton) and Charlie (Eugene Levy). After regaining some of her memories, she feels a sudden urge to find them. In true Pixar fashion, our heroes head off on a literal and figurative journey over hundreds of miles.
There are two versions of Pixar: one creates game-changing and thought-provoking adventures appealing to all four quadrants. The key examples – the Toy Story trilogy, Monsters inc., The Incredibles, Wall-E, Up, Ratatouille, and Inside Out – exceed all expectations. The other side of the coin includes polarising/cash-grab entries including the Cars movies, A Bug’s Life, Brave, and The Good Dinosaur. Like Monsters University, Finding Dory lands somewhere in the middle. Don’t get me wrong, I would take Dory over the Minions any day. This time around, the crew – heading from the Great Barrier Reef to straight to the Jewel of Morro Bay, California – meets a school of new and eclectic characters stuck in a marine park. Although a new setting is always welcome, the plot largely resembles that of the original. Despite the overall familiarity, however, the stellar visuals and rollicking pace are worth every second.
Whereas the original laughed at Dory’s short-term memory loss, Finding Dory hangs its emotional and psychological weight on it. The movie’s twists and turns revolve entirely around her, continually switching from wacky comic relief to sympathetic lead character here. Along with Dory, several supporting characters carry varying physical, psychological, or neurological conditions. Sidekicks including near-sighted whale shark Destiny (Kaitlin Olson) and nervous beluga whale Bailey (Ty Burrell) are cute and concerning simultaneously. Although kooky seal Gerald and batty bird Becky are borderline offensive, ill-tempered Octopus Hank (Ed O’Neill) and sea lions Fluke (Idris Elba) and Rudder (Dominic West) are hilarious.
Emotionally resonant fish (?), Sigourney Weaver (?!), Car chases (?!!) – Finding Dory delivers some of Pixar’s many wacky ideas. Yet again, Pixar respectfully provides a light-hearted look at life’s darker shades. However, is familiar feel makes it more appropriate for easy, care-free home viewing.
Stars: Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper
Release date: June 16th, 2016
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Running time: 123 minutes
Best part: Toby Kebbell as Durotan.
Worst part: The human characters.
Hollywood has had a difficult run of adapting video games to the big screen. Over the past two decades, each entry has become a critical and commercial bomb. Sure, the Resident Evil and Silent Hill franchises are enjoyable, but not well made. The ins and outs of even the most popular video game properties appear to be lost on modern movie audiences.
Warcrafthas stepped up to the plate, hoping the achieve what Max Payne, Doom, Prince of Persia, Need for Speed, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Super Mario Bros., Hitman (twice) and every fighting game franchise failed to do. Does it succeed? Nope, not even slightly. It merely adds to the long-line of silly, pitiful video game adaptations. It kicks off with the Horde, as the orc chieftain of the Frostwolf Clan, Durotan (Toby Kebbell), his pregnant wife, Draka (Anna Nelvin), and his friend, Orgrim (Robert Kazinsky), prepare to leave dying orc realm Draenor. Led by warlock Gul’dan (Daniel Wu) and dark magic known as the Fel, the orcs leap into human realm Azeroth via portal and soon wreak havoc.
From conception to execution, Warcraft presents all of Hollywood’s worst and craziest impulses. Writer/director, and long-time WOW fan, Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code) has worked on this adaptation for the past few years. Jones’ intentions are admirable, attempting to turn this franchise into the next Lord of the Rings-sized cinematic experience. Indeed, thanks to his unique style, it features several unpredictable twists and turns. In particular, the action sequences are directed with enough physical and emotional impact. Throughout its exhaustive 123-minute run-time, however, those unrequited with the lore will struggle to keep up. Marketed as an origin story, the movie exists entirely to set up a potential franchise. Jones is a little too infatuated with the world of Warcraft, throwing together a plethora of sub-plots, characters, and specifics from the franchise without explanation.
Similarly to Avatar and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the movie provides a hands-on look at a whole new civilisation. The orc characters are fascinating, making rational decisions and showcasing their impressive brute strength in equal measure. However, the human characters are reduced to one-note performances and stereotypes. Vikings actor Travis Fimmel fails to make Military commander/lead badass Lothar appealing. Despite vague attempts at humor, he suffocates under the dour, self-serious tone and artificial backdrops. Charming actors including Dominic Cooper and Ruth Negga, both from AMC series Preacher, deliver monotonal, deer-in-headlights performances. The Mage characters are laughable, with Ben Foster and Ben Schnetzer providing little else beyond out-of-place American accents. A miscast Paula Patton is buried under green paint and awkward prosthetics as human/orc warrior Garona.
Warcraft marks yet another failed attempt at adapting a video game into the celluloid medium. Despite Jones’ best intentions, the impenetrable exposition, stale performances, and lack of excitement make for one of the year’s most forgettable movies. Here’s hoping Assassin’s Creed, out on Boxing Day, can break the curse.
Writers: Linda Woolverton (screenplay), Lewis Carroll (novel)
Stars: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway
Release date: May 27th, 2016
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Running time: 113 minutes
Best part: Sacha Baron Cohen.
Worst part: Johnny Depp.
A-lister extraordinaire Johnny Depp has had, even by his standards, a bizarre past twelve months. On top of hilarious run-ins with foreign governments, the actor was forced to confront his mother’s passing, a costly divorce to Amber Heard, allegations of domestic abuse, a dwindling worldwide fanbase, and a string of critical and commercial flops. His latest misadventure, Alice Through the Looking Glass, has done nothing to part the dark clouds hanging over his current predicament.
In amongst misfires like The Lone Ranger, Transcendence, The Tourist, Dark Shadows, and Mortdecai, 2010’s woeful Alice in Wonderland and its sequel add to the actor’s ever-growing list of crushing cinematic hiccups. Part of 2016’s collection of sequels nobody asked for, this installment continues ‘acclaimed’ filmmaker Tim Burton’s bright, shiny, unwarranted vision. This time around, Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is an accomplished ship captain coming home after over a year on the high seas. Cast out by her bitter ex-fiance (Leo Bill), she falls back into Underland with a thud. With help from the White Queen (Anne Hathaway), Absolem (Alan Rickman), Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry), White Rabbit (Michael Sheen), Bloodhound (Timothy Spall) and Tweedledum and Tweedledee (Matt Lucas) among others, Alice seek to cure the Mad Hatter(Johnny Depp)’s sadness.
Alice Through the Looking Glass is an unnecessary and underwhelming homage to Alice in Wonderland‘s legacy. Based very loosely on Lewis Carroll’s seminal works, the movie delivers few original ideas or twists. Plot-points including the Hatter’s long-lost family and the Red Queen’s backstory fail to justify this sequel’s existence. Although covered in Burton’s grimy fingerprints, director James Bobin (The Muppets) is left to pick up the scraps. This time around, the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) returns from exile with a new antagonist – Time himself (Sacha Baron Cohen). So that’s…something. Despite said talented cast and crew, everything about this production – From the typecasting to its overwhelming reliance of style over substance – comes off as pure self-indulgence.
Alice Through the Looking Glass haphazardly toys with several intriguing ideas. Time’s dungeon-like domain is operated with textbook precision. Each person’s soul is encapsulated by a stopwatch, with human life determined by Time’s current mood. Leaping between his own motivations and Underland’s well-being, the character – supported by Cohen’s Werner Herzog/Arnold Schwarzenegger impression – provides a welcome spark of life. Sadly, the movie delivers a mind-numbing assault on the senses. Packed with unconvincing green-screen vistas and brash CGI characters, the experience is more tiresome than entertaining. In this day and age, over-the-top performances from Depp, Carter, and Hathaway are no longer interesting. Meanwhile, talented actors including Rhys Ifans, Lindsay Duncan, and Geraldine James are underutilised.
Like many of 2016’s new releases, this fantasy-adventure reeks of sequelitis’ unbearable stench. Dragging a talented cast and crew through the mud, the uninspired direction and leaden screenplay make this yet another strike against Depp’s once-glowing reputation.
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine
Release date: November 6th, 2014
Distributors: Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures
Countries: USA, UK
Running time: 169 minutes
Best part: The mind-blowing visuals.
Worst part: The exasperating length.
Whenever a Christopher Nolan feature is released, two distinctive camps wage war. One group, known simply as the Nolanites, strives to elevate the acclaimed British filmmaker’s status. Convinced he’s cinema’s biggest game-changer, this cult pushes internet comment sections to breaking point. The other group directly clashes with the Nolanites. Convinced he’s another Michael Bay or Brett Ratner, the group causes a stir before, during, and after each movie’s buzz-time. His latest monster,Interstellar, has crafted the decade’s boldest cinema-related feud. Inexplicably, it’s a behemoth ripe for praise and parody.
Matthew McConaughey vs. the universe.
So, how did Interstellargarner said backlash? Oh boy, where do I begin?! There are many reasons behind said divisive reaction. Hot on The Dark Knight Rises‘ heels, it had a fascinating production history. Passed from Steven Spielberg to Nolan, the production undertook several exponential changes. Working from brother/writing partner Jonathan Nolan’s original script, Nolan crafts a concoction of weighty concepts, directorial ticks, and peculiar casting choices. Indeed, Spielberg’s version would have worked. However, Nolan’s version is a scintillating yet flawed epic. The story is…seriously, where do I begin?! This extravaganza follows mankind’s journey to infinity and beyond. Former NASA test pilot/engineer turned corn farmer Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) leads a bland life. Born into a warring world, he’s pushed through food wars, social obliteration, and his wife’s death. This widower, fathering Tom (Timothee Chalamet) and Murph (Mackenzie Foy), treats his job and father-in-law Donald (John Lithgow) with contempt. Humankind, regressing into an agrarian society, must contend with blight, dust storms, and economic/political/social/cultural failure. In fact, its schools teach children about phony, propagandistic space programs and 20th-century “excess and wastefulness”. Murph, convinced a ghost haunts her room, asks for Cooper’s help. Thanks to gravitational anomalies, it outlines a binary message listing nearby coordinates. Finding NASA’s underground station, Cooper is chosen for a humanity-saving mission. Aided by astronaut Amelia (Anne Hathaway), physicist Romilly (David Gyasi), geographer Doyle (Wes Bentley), and artificially intelligent robots TARS (Bill Irwin) and CASE (Josh Stewart), Cooper searches for life-sustaining systems and multi-tiered dimensions.
Interstellarbares several overwhelming positives and mind-numbing negatives. Wanting to have its cake and eat it too, the movie reaches for the stars but just misses. As notoriety and power rushes to these siblings’ heads, their latest aims higher than the Dark Knight trilogy and Inception combined. Despite Chris’ majesty, his reach still exceeds his grasp. So, with this in mind, why the high rating? The well-renowned filmmaker, switching from mind-bending blockbusters to unique drama-thrillers (Memento, Insomnia) to outside-the-box surprises (Following, The Prestige), still deserves immense credit. His style, delivering blockbusters no one else can compete with, deserves meticulous study and discussion. Interstellar, despite being a lesser effort, is born from full-blooded ambition. Unlike previous efforts, light, space, and optimism solidify its core. Fuelled by intriguing ideas, multi-layered plot-lines, and major themes, each act delivers significant twists and turns. Standing out from the second-two thirds, the opening 45-60 minutes weave through parenthood, global degradation, and spirituality. Despite the leaps in logic, the first third delivers touching moments and picturesque flourishes. Ripping up/burning down corn fields, poetic happenstances, and far-fetched ideologies, its less-is-more approach switches between apocalyptic-actioner tropes and ponderous dream-weaving. After Cooper’s run-ins with Dylan Thomas poetry aficionado/Earth saviour professor Brand (Michael Caine), Nolan hurls us into the stratosphere. Pulling us into his galaxy-hopping journey, the second-two-thirds obsess over quantum mechanics, wormholes, potential home-worlds, black-holes, physics, and relativity. The convoluted screenplay, spilling vital details through exposition, becomes a miasma of theoretical physicist Kip Thorne-approved science mumbo-jumbo, plot-holes, needless plot-strands, and contrivances.
“We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars, now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.” (Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), Interstellar).
Jessica Chastain & Casey Affleck.
Sadly, Interstellar‘s egregious run-time is inexcusable. Exhausting his audience, Nolan’s latest is too dark for too long. In the last third, its grand-scale messages send it into a crash landing. Flipping between hard science and love-and-fate-conquer-all posturing, Nolan becomes lost in his own tumultuous labyrinth. However, its smaller moments add emotional resonance, awe, and stakes. Nolan’s uncompromising visual flourishes are worth the admission cost. Wearing its central influences – 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Right Stuff – on its sleeve, it laps up the universe’s wondrous creations. Lapping up our solar system, Saturn has never looked so appealing! Also, the black-holes/wormholes are vast, awe-inspiring obstacles. The planets – constructed of water, ice and sand – are imaginative constructions. Shooting on anamorphic 35mm film, Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography paints with delectable strokes. Nolan’s world-building – depicting space’s weightlessness, silence, and claustrophobia – delivers edge-of-your-seat thrills. Nolan’s process – utilising practical effects over CGI – improves over each set piece, visual flourish, and extended take. Capturing space travel, human endeavour, and astronomy’s overwhelming merits, his style crafts engaging dreamscapes. Hans Zimmer’s organ-based score, coming in at opportune moments, amplifies the movie’s atmospheric glow. Throughout the middle-third, cross-cutting between space-and-time-tearing adventures and Murph(Jessica Chastain)’s and Tom(Casey Affleck)’s sibling rivalry, its overly insistent momentum swings wildly. However, the action – including one set piece connecting a shuttle to a damaged spacecraft – amplifies Nolan’s glorious style. Also, McConaughey elevates this monolithic sci-fi extravaganza. Crafting new inflections and ticks, the Oscar winner solidifies his immense worth.
Swinging for the fences, Interstellar attempts to deconstruct blockbuster cinema and create ground-breaking celluloid playgrounds. Despite the polarising screenplay and directorial choices, Nolan’s ambitions deliver several heart-breaking moments and wondrous flourishes. Delivering 2014’s ultimate movie-going experience, his willpower and attention to detail overshadow other action-adventure filmmakers’ styles. Aiding Nolan’s grand-scale project, McConaughey and Hathaway are flawless in beautiful roles. As an enthralling concoction of Cloud Atlas, Sunshine, and The Grapes of Wrath, this is true big-budget spectacle. However, Gravity achieved much more in half the length.
Verdict: A flawed yet invigorating sci-fi extravaganza.
In Hollywood, one man towers over all others whilst giving back to everyone within eye shot. He went from football to wrestling, all while honouring his Samoan-American heritage. Over the years, his kind smile has changed the game and set off a billion box-office tills. I’m, of course, taking about legendary manly-man Dwayne Johnson. Formerly labeled ‘The Rock’, this hard-as-nails badass is a stone-carved testament to the WWE.
Dwayne Johnson IS Hercules!
Transitioning into a successful leading man, his latest, Hercules, will determine whether or not he’ll stay on top or fall from grace. Sadly, despite being one of Hollywood’s most unique and charismatic screen warriors, the studios don’t know what to do with him. Passing him off as ‘yet another’ tough guy, the big-wigs are yet to give him a franchise to carry by himself. Lord knows, he can carry anything! Sadly, Hercules is far from the fuel needed to keep his burgeoning acting career going. In a twist on the legend, we are ‘treated’ to a Hercules of unconscionable modesty and honour…sort of. Here, Demi-god/war-lord Hercules (Johnson) is a mercenary on the verge of redemption. Thanks to his nephew/PR assistant Iolaus (Reece Ritchie), Hercules’ reputation has migrated across Ancient Greece for all to relish in. Talking of Hercules’ completion of the Twelve Labors, the surrounding districts seek out this particular anti-hero to do their dirty work. However, despite his reputation, Hercules is boosted by a merry band of warriors. Rounded out by loyal thief Autolycus (Rufus Sewell), prophet Amphiaraus (Ian McShane), rabid warrior Tydeus (Aksel Hennie), and Amazonian archer Atalanta (Ingrid Bolso Berdal), Hercules’ notorious squad bolsters his considerable prowess.
John Hurt – King of Paycheques!
Hercules’ story – thanks to several movie and TV iterations – has been flipped and switched countless times. At first, Hercules presents itself as a balls-to-the-wall slice of pure escapism. We expect to see, judging by everything the alluring marketing campaign promised, a refreshing take on Herculean feats of wonder and awe. Oh, how we were wrong to expect anything from this bland and uninspired sword-and-sandal flick! Sadly, everything we were promised has been left on the cutting room floor or out of the script entirely. Sadly, notorious hack director Brett Ratner (the Rush Hour series, X-Men: The Last Stand) only cares about his expansive action sequences. Ripping off Gladiator and 300, Ratner’s work bares little resemblance to anything of style or gravitas. Within the first five minutes, this reboot/prequel/sequel abomination delivers everything we expect in a Hercules flick. Thanks to awkward narration and choppy editing, the prologue delivers a brushed-over account of the Twelve Labors and Hera’s Betrayal. From the prologue onward, Hercules scraps its interest factor to deliver a by-the-numbers military-action narrative. Depicting a simplistic account of Greek Mythology, the movie seems entirely uninterested in the original story. Instead, in true micro-blockbuster fashion, political debates and laughable moments hinder this mindless affair. Tasked with aiding King Eurystheus (Joseph Fiennes) and Tharacian leader Lord Cotys (John Hurt), Hercules‘ story divulges into unhinged backstories and convoluted exposition.
“I am Hercules!” (Hercules (Dwayne Johnson), Hercules).
An even-more-badass Ian McShane.
Alarmingly, Hercules tries and fails to manufacture any sense of tension or tragedy. Hercules’ past, involving the death of his wife and three children, is sporadically picked up and dropped. It’s one thing to reinvigorate a character’s origin story to make a profit. However, it’s another thing entirely to throw the positive elements away. The premise, despite its more intriguing concepts, besmirches Hercules’ good name. By reinventing the legend, Ratner and co.’s efforts yield few rewarding payoffs or impactful moments. By presenting him as an advantageous tough-guy, the Son of Zeus becomes the movie’s least interesting character. Bizarrely, the movie strives to say something about our blockbuster-driven realm. Oddly enough, with ancient warriors talking like time-travellers from 2014, the movie is nowhere near as intelligent or witty as it thinks it is. Pointing out holes in Hercules’ legend, certain comedic moments highlight the movie’s own obviousness. Despite the flaws, Johnson uses his immense physicality and charm to power through this underwhelming action-adventure. In addition, Hercules‘ visuals and action sequences deliver a handful of enjoyable parts. Breezing through plot-points, cliches, and montages, CGI-heavy battles bolster this action extravaganza. The first fight, in which Tharacian forces fight green-skinned rebels, is worth the admission cost. However, despite shining throughout these sequences, the supporting characters are sorely underdeveloped.
In all honesty, I would watch Johnson read the phonebook if it meant giving him more screen time. Flashing his muscular frame and likeable personality across every frame, Johnson’s Hercules is certainly an intriguing creation. Sadly, in this iteration, everything surrounding its lead is more rotten than a decapitated corpse. Thanks to Ratner’s bland direction, this version will be little more than a distant memory come next month.
Stars: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Ferrell, Morgan Freeman
Release date: April 3rd, 2014
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Running time: 100 minutes
Best part: The wink-and-nudge humour.
Worst part: The slightly exasperating length.
One toy company, over past few years, has caused more societal shifts than every government put together. The Lego Group, creating miniature architects and production designers, has an affecting stranglehold on almost every household in the Western World. Venturing into big-budget filmmaking, Lego’s latest spectacle, The Lego Movie, is history’s first BLOCK-buster (you can all have that one!). Fortunately, this animated roller-coaster ride delivers hysterical jokes, fun action sequences, and a modest tone.
Chris Pratt as Emmet Brickowski.
Nowadays, with Lego’s video games (Star Wars, Lord of the Rings etc.) conquering the small screen, this franchise delivers hefty amounts of nostalgia. I grew up with these yellow, plastic men myself. I, normally one to turn my nose up at nostalgia-drenched blockbusters, fell head-over-heels for this enthusiastic thrill-ride. Here, The Lego Group steps back about one-or-two cubit meters. Allowing the cast and crew to show off their unique talents, the multi-billion dollar company is displaying its modest side. This could be seen as an ongoing moment of weakness. However, this is a surprising move for this expansive corporation to undertake. Interestingly enough, the movie comes off as a running commentary on capitalism, industry, and social progress. However, before delving into its thematic relevance, I’ll describe the plot before this review smashes into tiny pieces. The story focuses on kooky everyman Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt). Emmet, following orders printed in specialised instruction manuals, fits into his city’s way of life. Listening to pop tunes, buying overpriced coffee, and working at a local construction site, Emmet lacks significant qualities. One day, after running into alluring warrior Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), Emmet discovers the key to the universe’s survival.
Elizabeth Banks & Morgan Freeman.
Labelled “The Special” by the master builder’s leader Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), and told to collect the fabled “Kragle” weapon, his journey kicks off in spectacular fashion. As you can tell, The Lego Movie‘s plot is lifted from influential action-adventure flicks. Slotting genre tropes and familiar sequences together, the plot rollickingly speeds along toward the explosive climax. In the first third, the Matrix-style narrative kicks into overdrive. Defined by an all-knowing prophecy, the movie is wholly aware of its conventional tropes. Shifting from one action trope to another, The Lego Movie taps into multiple generations’ senses of nostalgia. With Lego being a major part of our childhoods, the movie captures a child’s acute and inventive imagination. Exposing Lego’s lighter and heavier shades, writer/directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miler (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, 21 Jump Street), by throwing these lego creations onto the big screen, accentuate their humorous and clever style. Here, the dynamic duo examines Lego’s pop-cultural impact. Commenting on its own existence, The Lego Movie humbly points out the each twist and turn’s absurdities. This modern animated classic takes its relentless nature and builds upon it. Lord and Miller’s senses of humour place rectangular blocks into affable and important places. Following an intrinsic instruction manual, the duo’s screenplay delivers several eclectic comedic jabs and one-liners. Admittedly, it’s shameful to criticise The Lego Movie for its silliness. Basing a big-budget extravaganza on a famous toy, Lord and Miller keep up the tempo throughout its extensive run-time.
“Whoa, are we inside my brain right now? It’s big. I must be smart.” (Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt), The Lego Movie).
Will Ferrell & Liam Neeson.
Fortunately, Lord and Miller, saving this plot from falling apart, kickstart one action sequence after another. After zany characters like Good Cop/Bad Cop (Liam Neeson) and Batman (Will Arnett) are introduced, certain set pieces fit together seamlessly. Developing a gigantic chase across multiple worlds, these set pieces mix humour, stellar animation, and stylish choreography. The Old West jet battle, featuring a steam train, police planes, and the Batmobile, is an early highlight. Beyond the pulsating action sequences, the animation style enthusiastically bolsters this questionable premise. Fusing CG animation, stop-motion effects, and detailed miniatures, Lord and Miller’s Lego universe is chock-a-block (zing!) with surprises and exhilarating moments. Venturing into “Middle Zealand”, the high seas, and corporate mogul Lord Business(Will Ferrell)’s lair, The Lego Movie trounces Pixar’s more recent efforts. In addition, the little yellow figures, stuck in these chaotic events, are the movie’s most engaging creations. Tapping into Lego’s extensive history, the cast list includes the 2002 NBA All-stars, Michelangelo, Abraham Lincoln, 80s-something spaceman (Charlie Day) and Princess Unikitty (Alison Brie). Beyond this, the movie provides a meta-commentary on Warner Bros. properties. Along with characters from Star Wars, Harry Potter, and LOTR, the movie comes close to creating a Justice League spinoff. Superman (Channing Tatum), Green Lantern (Jonah Hill), and Wonder Woman (Cobie Smulders) are welcome additions. Eclipsing these references, the lead voices cap-off this wondrous comedy. Pratt, Banks, Arnett, Freeman, and Neeson stretch their immense acting talents in these enlightening roles
By all means, The Lego Movie should’ve bombed spectacularly. At first, this overwhelming concept seemed like nothing more than a cheap gimmick. However, put in Lord and Miller’s careful hands, this animated gem, from its conquering landscapes to slick vehicles, has been built with precision, imagination, and care. Of course, credit also belongs to Pratt and co. for bringing these plastic heroes and villains to life. This may be cheesy, but this Lego creation reaches skyscraper-level heights.
Verdict: A humorous and enjoyable animated adventure.
Stars: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ray Winstone, Emma Watson
Release date: March 28th, 2014
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Running time: 138 minutes
Best part: The immense scale.
Worst part: The bloated final third.
In spite of our insightful ideas and beliefs, there’s no denying we live in a complacent, opportunistic, and cynical world. Today, whether it be individuals or major companies, some view others’ creations and strive to make them their own. Alarmingly, Hollywood continuously carries out these profit-making actions. Nowadays, blockbusters are based on novels, comic books, and video games. So why do they adapt Bible stories into big-budget follies like Noah? Well, for starters, they don’t have to pay anyone for the rights.
However, most importantly, The Bible contains several awe-inspiring stories. As arguably history’s most involving and relevant text, The Bible’s seminal parables and messages touch millions in vastly different ways. Certainly, this is a sensitive and meaningful subject. Bible-based movies, and the reviews covering them, are prone to criticism. With major Christian groups boycotting this big-budget extravaganza, the movie might suffer significant box-office losses over its opening weekend. Graciously, I’ll take logical steps to describe the movie’s thematic relevance and heartbreaking narrative. Whether you’re Christian, atheist, or agnostic, everyone is aware of the tale of Noah’s Ark. However, this movie incoherently utilises ideas from the original material, preceding cinematic endeavours, and written interpretations. Here, we are exposed to an untamed, bland, and blunt examination of one of the Old Testament’s most seminal passages. An animated opening sequence introduces/reintroduces viewers to The Bible’s most valuable stories. Developing a specific timeline and guidelines, this sequence links Adam & Eve’s journey to Cain, Abel, and Seth’s story. Outlining certain passages, this prologue latches onto the movie’s expansive narrative. Noah, as a young boy, is forced to witness his father Lamech(Martin Csokas)’s murder. Years Later, adult Noah (Russell Crowe) must scour the sun-scorched Earth for food and shelter.
Inevitably, and ploddingly, Noah‘s narrative takes several colossal turns after the first act. With fallen angels turned rock monsters labelled The Watchers aiding this quest, Noah – along with his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), sons Shem (Douglas Booth), Ham (Logan Lerman), and Japheth (Leo McHugh Caroll), and adopted daughter Ila (Emma Watson) – must build a gigantic ark before his apocalyptic visions become reality. Before I continue on, I’ll address the liberties taken with this version. Director Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan), a self-proclaimed atheist, spent 20 years pleading with studios and financiers for the chance to adapt this tale. Aronofsky, not one to abide by original material, has thrown in several peculiar and jaw-dropping concepts. Unfortunately, his version delivers a flood of inconsistencies and unconvincing turns. Don’t get me wrong, I love this iconic tale of hope, sacrifice, and bravery. It’s one of the most inspiring stories ever created. However, this version, when judged as a cinematic endeavour, doesn’t rise above its momentous issues. The first-two thirds, though sumptuous, refuse to stretch the original narrative’s boundaries. With plot-points and character motivations needlessly explained, Aronofsky’s version comes off like a simplistic and nonsensical retelling. Sadly, like with the doomed human populations, there’s no room for subtly on this ship. Noah, presented as a Lord of the Rings-style action-adventure flick, throws nuance and depth overboard whilst attracting vast audiences. The final third, depicting post-flood events on the fabled ark, is an anticlimactic and cloying slog. Melodramatic subplots and fantasy-epic cliches undermine the narrative’s transcendent aura. Before long, fistfights, meaningless subplots, Tubal-Cain(Ray Winstone)’s involvement, and obvious symbolism weight down this already lifeless journey.
“A great flood is coming. The waters of the havens will meet the waters of Earth. We build a vessel to survive a storm. We build an ark.” (Noah (Russell Crowe), Noah).
Funnily enough, like with other Hollywood trends, these modern biblical epics are arriving two-by-two. Later this year, we’ll have Ridley Scott’s Exodus to compare this to. Ironically, relying on blockbuster cliches, Noah comes off like one of Scott’s historical epics. Aronofsky, pressured by Paramount Pictures throughout its tumultuous production schedule, answers far too hastily to this ‘higher power’. Despite matching immense scale with CGI-fuelled battles and wondrous creations, this version lacks the original material’s emotional impact. Unfortunately, throughout this Ten Commandments-like epic, Aronofsky’s seminal visual, sensorial, and thematic styles are stripped bare in favour of monstrous creatures and violent set pieces. This immaculate filmmaker’s idiosyncrasies shine through only a handful of sequences. Thanks to the opening credits sequence, blending an earthy aesthetic and flash cuts, Aronofsky’s vision starts off promisingly. In addition, the time-lapse-fuelled vision sequences, displaying Noah’s imminent future and the theory of evolution, are refreshing moments in this otherwise hokey and underwhelming epic. However, despite the glorious premise, little separates this blockbuster from similar fare. Oddly, the characters are shallow vessels in charge of channelling the story’s revelations and viewpoints. Highlighting the plot’s more intriguing aspects, the story’s incestuous family dynamic becomes startlingly uninspired. Pushing its pro-environmentalism/anti-industry agenda, Noah’s quest is little more than selfish, psychotic, and overblown. Fortunately, enthusiastic performances save this meandering fantasy-epic. Crowe, fittingly seamlessly into period-piece settings, tares chunks off this all-important role. Thanks to his gruff tone and powerful physique, Crowe outshines his under-utilised co-stars.
Overlooking The Bible’s purposeful “thee” and “thou” aspects, Noah earns points for striving to reach out to a wider audience. Stretching beyond the mass religious crowds, Aronofsky’s effort falls apart long before its inevitable conclusion. Despite the movie’s glowing positives, the seminal filmmaker’s ambitiousness results in this didactic, stolid, and inconsistent fantasy-epic. Concerning Aronofsky’s style, less really is more. Like with Noah himself, Aronofsky’s willpower has blinded his gaze.
Verdict: An ambitious yet unimpressive biblical epic.
Writer: Steve Conrad (screenplay), James Thurber (short story)
Stars: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Adam Scott, Sean Penn
Release date: December 26th, 2013
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Running time: 114 minutes
Best part: The charming performances.
Worst part: The awkward comedic hijinks.
For short periods of time, daydreams detach us from our conscious selves to provide joy, exhilaration, and knowledge. In these intimate moments, the boundaries separating reality and fantasy are blurred. Escaping from mundane situations, people zone out to temporarily experience something else entirely. This broad description illuminates similarities between this particular humanistic action and cinema’s overall purpose. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty director/star Ben Stiller invites us to follow in his larger-than-life footsteps. However, this fantasy-adventure flick becomes as tepid and unexacting as the situations we subconsciously escape from. The movie, though peppered with exciting sequences, may be drowned out by more influential holiday releases. Also, this superficial yet exhilarating comedy-adventure won’t attract newcomers to Stiller’s zippy filmography.
With its ingenious premise, Stiller had the perfect opportunity to make a profoundly engaging and heartening remake. However, as a perfect example of 2½-star entertainment,Walter Mitty is only a utilitarian and concise comedy-adventure.Walter Mitty, despite its commendable intentions and engaging performances, is crushed by Stiller’s immense hubris. In lesser hands, this movie would get a free pass. However, with Stiller’s immense success in front of and behind the camera, the movie never cements his noteworthy talents and courageous oeuvre. Unfortunately, this disappointing yet enlightening adventure hurts more than expected. With an intriguing premise and immaculate big-budget-film-making tools at his disposal, Stiller’s adaptation of James Thurber’s short story becomes a saccharine and uninspired 2-hour Hallmark moment. Being the second big-screen remake after the 1947 Danny-Kaye-starring version, this version proves quality deservedly overshadows quantity. The plot, diverting from Thurber’s influential material, borrows from several genres, movements, and generic action-adventure conventions. This version kicks into gear when office drone and lonely schlub Walter Mitty (Stiller) walks into New York’s LIFE Magazine headquarters. Sadly, with the magazine transitioning from print to online, the majority of employees face the chopping block. Facing constant complaints from transition manager Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott), Mitty has little time to impress cute co-worker Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig).
Unable to efficiently operate his E-Harmony dating profile, Mitty faces loneliness, unemployment, and a debilitatingly miserable existence. However, his fortunes change thanks to one photonegative. With negative no. 25 missing from photojournalist Sean O. Connell(Sean Penn)’s final LIFE Magazine reel, Mitty takes it upon himself to track down the all-important image. At the behest of mother Edna (Shirley MacLaine) and sister Odessa (Kathryn Hahn), Mitty – normally escaping to (dreaming up) fantastical worlds and dangerous situations – embarks on a spiritually transformative journey across the world. As a family-friendly farce, the movie becomes an uninspired and inoffensive Frank Capra-esque trip down memory lane (in multiple ways). However, this version contains several outstanding moments and concepts. Stiller’s creative side occasionally rises above the conventional and manipulative material. With daydreaming a commonplace practice, the first few scenes are, despite the CGI set-pieces and outlandish scenarios, startlingly relatable. His fantasies – ranging from jumping through windows, to saving dogs from explosions, to being a seductive mountaineer crashing into LIFE Magazine headquarters – are suitably charming. However, this movie doesn’t add up to the sum of its parts. These dream sequences, though enthralling, add little to the movie’s enlightening narrative. Despite the glorious imagery and sweet touches, the movie’s all-important intricacies are wholly separated from one another. Unfortunately, Walter Mitty is significantly less enthralling than Stiller thinks it is.
Underneath its alluring sheen, the story hits familiar beats and dull patches. Sadly, the movie sticks to every Stiller-comedy-movie trope. With underwhelming twists and turns, kooky characters, and unexplored subplots, the movie never reaches its full potential. Sporting major logic leaps and contrivances, the stakes are limited despite Mitty’s stupefying journey. Tonally shifting between specific plot-strands and influences, the movie is also overwhelmed by its self-consciousness and contrarian messages. Throughout this roller-coaster ride, Stiller’s perspective hurriedly switches between each overcooked and excessive idea. Its living-the-dream overtones are overtly and repeatedly touched upon. In addition, this clichéd theme clashes with Stiller’s commentary on the working class hero. Beyond this, it ignorantly dives into the modernity vs. tradition debate. Switching from underdog story to hypocritical Hollywood farce, Walter Mitty is as shaky and bizarre as the titular character’s imagination. Despite the significant flaws, Walter Mitty, dramatically and visually, alludes to several distinctive comedies and influential dramas. As a Boxing Day family-friendly smash, the movie is comparable to Life of Pi. In addition, the movie’s ambitiousness and scope are reminiscent of Forrest Gump and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (the latter awkwardly referenced here). However, the most relevant influence is Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind. This whimsical yet forgettable drama marks Stiller’s most earnest directorial effort yet. With Zoolander and Tropic Thunder being quotable and energetic big-budget comedies, Stiller has proven himself a note-worthy and engaging director.
“I just live by the ABCs: Adventurous, Brave, Creative.” (Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn), The Secret Life of Walter Mitty).
His style normally highlights each project’s most unique and outrageous aspects. However, Walter Mitty‘s visual flourishes and directorial ticks become steadily irritating. Influenced by Michel Gondry, Woody Allen, Danny Boyle, and Robert Zemeckis, Stiller develops a pale concoction of the aforementioned filmmakers’ styles. Unable to deliver the comedic timing, zany visuals, and kinetic pacing of his previous efforts, his style lacks edginess, heart, or creativity. Each trick, awkwardly plastered across the screen for convenience’ sake, decreases the movie’s overall emotional impact. Stiller – pasting words across settings, adding montages at opportune moments, and flooding sunlight into every frame – applies conventionality to his extraordinary narrative. However, Stuart Dryburgh’s immaculate cinematography delivers vertigo-inducing thrills. Iceland, Greenland, New York and, the Himalayas are gorgeous and exhilarating locations. Also, the skateboarding and mountaineering sequences elevate the second half. However, the distracting product placement damages Mitty’s comically charged adventure. Shout-outs to E-Harmony, Papa Johns, American Airlines, and LIFE Magazine contradict the story’s over-arching messages. Despite Stiller’s comedic chops, the hit-and-miss gags provide false notes. Only a handful of clever lines save this otherwise dour dramedy. Despite the cookie-cutter characters, the enlightening performances are refreshing. Stiller, though preoccupied, delivers a gleeful and multi-dimensional performance. Playing a familiar average Joe type, his earnestness fits this intriguing role. Wiig is an engaging presence as Mitty’s quick-witted love interest. Scott ably portrays yet another over-the-top antagonist. Thankfully, Penn and Patton Oswalt bring tenderness and heart to the movie’s final third.
With insurance-advertisement-level depth and Kodak-moment-level visual stimulus, Walter Mitty is an advantageous yet misguided vanity project. With self-affirming shots of Stiller’s face, CGI overload, conventional screenwriting, and engaging performances, Stiller’s latest directorial effort becomes a confusing, pandering, yet engaging fantasy-adventure aiming specifically at common audiences.
Verdict: An awe-inspiring yet underwhelming comedy-adventure.
Writer: David Magee (screenplay), Yann Martel (novel)
Stars: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Adil Hussain, Rafe Spall
Release date: November 21st, 2012
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Running time: 127 minutes
Best part: The sumptuous 3D sequences.
Worst part: The occasionally unconvincing CGI creations.
“Life is all about letting go, you should take a moment to say proper goodbyes.” This line from Oscar-calibre adventure Life of Pi explains one of the story’s many profound life lessons. Life of Pi is a story about embellishing what is there before it’s gone. This meditative fantasy film may give director Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain) his 2nd Academy Award. It would be a deserved victory for sure, as his new film is a splendid and spiritual survival tale.
Life of Pi is told from the perspective of Piscine Molitor ‘Pi’ Patel. The middle-aged Pi (Irrfan Khan) recalls his life from childhood to the present. Named after a Parisian swimming pool, its pronunciation gets him picked on at school. Pi’s enthusiasm for belief and integrity extends to spirituality. Born Hindu, he learns more about the universe and other cultures through Christian and Islamic studies. Ignoring his family’s atheist beliefs, Pi (Suraj Sharma) becomes an honest and independent individual. His life changes forever when Pi and his family are forced to leave Pondicherry, India, taking their zoo with them. However, disaster strikes when a storm destroys their cargo ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Pi luckily escapes in a resourceful lifeboat. A Hyena, an injured Zebra, an Orang-Utan and a Bengal Tiger join him as Pi must contend with both the dangerous crew and his own psyche.
Richard Parker (the tiger).
Life of Pi is an amazing journey of self-discovery and spirituality. Lee has taken a commendable gamble adapting Yann Martel’s best-selling novel. Many directors before him including Alfonso Cuaron and M. Night Shyamalan abandoned the project. This so-called ‘unfilmable’ novel has now been adapted into a religious fable-like character study and unique survival tale. Lee is known for questioning the importance of belief and humanity. His delicate handling of the multi-layered source material is a testament to his sensitivity and constructive direction. He has created a world in which everyone is a symbol of divine purpose. Lee’s handling of Pi’s existence is both pleasantly comedic and heart-wrenching. Similarly to Cast Away and 127 Hours, a character is imaginatively brought to life through a punishing story of mental, spiritual and physical endurance. Without coming off as preachy, the film also outlines the importance of culture and faith. Pi is obsessed with absorbing the wonders of different ideologies. His knowledge of maths, French and religion evolves into an emotionally affecting and in-depth study of philosophy, metaphysics and precociousness. It’s hard to ignore the sheer quality of the world Lee has created. Not only is India a vibrant plethora of colour and contrasting influences, but Pi’s journey across the Pacific Ocean is one of breath-taking beauty. The shipwreck sequence is an enthralling set piece which defines Pi’s struggle to communicate with the gods watching over him. It’s a harrowing scene of survival against great odds and possibly the best shipwreck sequence since Titanic.
“I suppose in the end, the whole of life becomes an act of letting go, but what always hurts the most is not taking a moment to say goodbye.” (Adult Pi Patel (Irrfan Khan), Life of Pi).
Pi’s journey is where the real heart of this story is, as Lee condenses the novel’s valued themes into a courageous quest across an unpredictable and dangerous environment. The film’s steady pace is attributed to Lee’s focus on this contemplative and metaphorical survival tale. Every day of Pi’s journey contains an unbelievable event. Scenes involving a whale’s majestic migration are as awe-inspiring as Pi’s attempts to control his blood-thirsty crew. The stand out sequence is the omnivorous island. Shaped like a person being laid to rest, the island is a labyrinth filled with deadly secrets and obedient meerkats. These stunning sequences are enhanced by the effective use of 3D technology. Similarly to Avatar and Hugo, a master director has perfected the controversial process. Pi is portrayed by a multitude of actors over the course of this story. Sharma, in his first role, displays a kinetic balance of charm and determination. Acting against a green-screen for most of his scenes, he is a worthy talent for this arduous role. Sharma portrays a sympathetic soul with the will to overcome any obstacle. He ingeniously conveys a varied range of emotions in several heart-wrenching scenes. Khan and Rafe Spall’s story line bookends the film. Both actors are charismatic in their energetic dialogue sequences. Breaking down the story, their characters define the importance of two ideologies coming together through destiny. Another stand out performance is from the Bengal Tiger. Known as ‘Richard Parker’, the tiger is a ferocious and beautiful creation. Not since Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes has an animal been created with both depth and an understanding of its troubling surroundings. It’s a seamless CGI creation and an important symbol of the moral challenges Pi must overcome.
A moving and thought provoking experience is garnered from this survival tale. Impressive CGI sequences prove film technology to be important for both story and style. While Pi’s quest for belief and hope is an inspirational example of how our decisions and interactions continually affect our way of life.
Verdict: A beautiful tale of survival and spirituality.
Stars: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jane Lynch, Jack McBrayer
Release date: November 12th, 2012
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Running time: 101 minutes
Best part: The video game universe.
Worst part: The sugar-coated humour.
Video games are merely seen as a way of escaping reality. But the imaginative worlds created for every Halo, Call of Duty or Super Mario Bros. game may be small parts of something much greater. This is vaguely the premise of Disney’s new animated feature Wreck-It Ralph. The video game universe is given a new lease of life here. This behind-the-scenes look at our favourite pixelated heroes and villains is a testament to how far technology has come in the past 40 years. It’s a fun, vibrant and heart-warming journey through the 32-bit universe.
John C. Reilly.
Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) is one of two main characters in the arcade game Fix-It Felix, Jr. (inspired by Donkey-Kong). His destructive ways have left him isolated from the game’s other characters, forced to watch them side with its titular hero Fix-It Felix (Jack McBrayer). After a disastrous support group meeting for disgruntled villains, Ralph comes back to his game having not been invited to its 30th anniversary party. Ralph’s existential crisis pushes him to strive for hero’s status. Hopping games inside the grid, Ralph will find his courage and humility in two games; Hero’s Duty and Sugar Rush. His illegal pursuit into the realm of Sugar Rush leads to his greatest challenge- friendship. This comes in form of young sugar-fuelled racer Vanellope Von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman). Vanellope and Ralph must bond to achieve their goals before the video game multiplex becomes obsolete.
Wreck-It Ralph is a surprisingly inventive animated feature in the vein of Hoodwinked and Kung-Fu Panda. Disney has learnt from Pixar’s standard of breath-taking animated film-making. Disney animation has developed an epic, brightly-coloured and energetic version of Toy Story set in a multi-layered video game universe. Ralph’s journey towards both a hero’s medal and salvation is exhilarating whilst tugging the heartstrings at just the right moments. Ralph is ostensibly a nice guy in a bad guy’s intimidating exterior. Kids will enjoy this story of self-confidence and determination. Despite using the undying animated film theme of ‘always believe in yourself’, the film depicts a sensitive outlook on how our differences make us truly special. The main characters are all outsiders in their own games. They become the heroes they choose to be and never forget about each other along the way. Ralph and Vanellope’s instant chemistry works out the kinks in their contrasting personalities. Wreck-It Ralph‘s comedic moments however strictly serve the younger viewers. Vanellope’s goofy humour steadily becomes tedious. While Sugar Rush is a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-like plethora of candy related puns.
Wreck-It Ralph smartly bases its characters on the actors portraying them. The characters exude the same interior and exterior traits that make these actors some of the most likeable in Hollywood today. Reilly embodies Wreck-It Ralph with his usual every-man persona. Known for playing likeable characters in dramas such as Magnolia and We Need to talk About Kevin, Reilly’s portrayal of this down-on-his-luck hero comes off as a loving representation of his own indelible on-screen attitude. Silverman energetically voices a fun-loving child. Vanellope’s optimistic attitude keeps Ralph on his toes, proving that persistence is the key to happiness. Her snarky jokes at points crackle, drawing a sense of heart from Ralph’s tough exterior. Glee‘s Jane Lynch is hysterical as the Ripley-esque bad-ass chick. Lynch’s tom-boyish silver haired warrior is in desperate need of a silver lining. While 30 Rock‘s McBrayer plays an enjoyably optimistic character willing to give Ralph a chance.
“When did video games become so violent and scary?” (Wreck-it Ralph (JohnC. Reilly), Wreck-it Ralph).
Director Rich Moore is clearly inspired by the great Disney animated features that made the company an overwhelming success. The universe that Moore and Disney have created rivals the luscious landscapes of Pixar’s greatest feature films. The fore and backgrounds are teeming with classic video game and film references. Modern entertainment owes Disney many debts of gratitude for changing cinema throughout the past 40 years. However, this film is Disney’s homage to other popular genres and movements in the entertainment industry. Both adults and kids will have fun pointing out multiple arcade and 3-D video game references. The support group for example includes Pacman’s ghost nemesis, Bowser and Street Fighter‘s Zangief. The grid is also a plethora of video game influences. Any video game junkie will love the realm filled with Halo-meets-Aliens-like first person shooters, Nintendo/Super Mario Kart inspired racing games and every classic arcade game character imaginable. Look out for Sonic the Hedgehog, Mortal Kombat contestants and Q*Berg.
Disney’s latest animated feature is perfect for the holidays. Swerving away from Dreamworks’ generic pop-culture obsessed animated material, Wreck-It Ralph is a pacy mix of delectable set-pieces and likeable characters.
Verdict: A nostalgic and colour-saturated thrill ride.
Stars: Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Rosamund Pike
Release date: March 30th, 2012
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Running time: 99 minutes
Best part: The sumptuous visuals.
Worst part: The lack of depth.
Illustrating a world of grotesque monsters, bearded gods and vivid desert landscapes, Wrath of the Titans, despite conveying many problems from the lacklustre 2010 original, emphasises and exaggerates its mythological action-adventure appeal; creating a fun, special effect fuelled popcorn feature aimed primarily at fathers and sons, but not carved into the stone of memorable Hollywood spectacle.
This enjoyable romp through fantasised Greek mythology cleverly begins its journey with re-telling the brave events of fisherman turned demi-god Perseus (Sam Worthington) in the first adventure. We revisit him in a small village, fishing with his young son and teaching the ways of honest living. But war between the gods almost immediately disrupts the peace Perseus created as titans and traitors threaten the existence of mankind. With Zeus in great peril and murmurs of the titan’s release, its up to Perseus, spirited warrior queen Andromeda (Rosamund Pike) and the son of Poseidon, Agenor (Toby Kebbell), to reach the underworld and destroy the minions and masters of hell once and for all.
Wrath of the Titans lives up to its name by delivering exactly what it promises. There’s Wrath, and there’s Titans. The film’s simplicity leaves room to showcase one cracking action sequence after another. Director Jonathan Liebesman (Battle: Los Angeles) Turns what could easily be video game-like hack and slash monster mashes into breath taking set pieces, each one excitingly increasing in quality. The fast pacing aids the brisk yet captivating action set pieces while the threats of annihilation by monsters, gods and the almighty Kronos build to a thrilling and climactic final third. With shaky cam and quick cuts plaguing the original, the sequel defies all expectations in its most appealing elements by showcasing immersive tracking and panning shots, fluid choreography, beautiful CGI effects and sharp sound editing. The maze sequence is filmed and designed with the ingenuity and epic scope of a labyrinth inside the mind of Christopher Nolan. Unlike the disappointing misuse of the monsters in the original, the raw, wriggling and disgusting creations in this film create one startlingly imposing threat after another. They range from slobbering minotaurs, to blood stained siamese twin warriors called Makhai, to Cyclops’s looking remarkably like British soccer hooligans. Much like the original, its over dependence on action set pieces leaves much to be desired with the script and story telling.
“We may not be gods. But we do what people say can’t be done, we hope when there isn’t any… whatever odds we face, we prevail.” (Andromeda (Rosamund Pike), Wrath of the Titans).
Rosamund Pike & Bill Nighy.
With a story solely based on following the characters struggle against every monster in the Greek isles, it falls flat on its face as its hollow interior leaves nothing but a straightforward quest for our gaggle of misfit characters. Plot twists based on the bonds between fathers, sons and brothers become increasingly confusing as this theme is just one of many opportunities sorely wasted by a conventional screenplay. One and two dimensional characterisations and stilted dialogue also harm proceedings as Wrath of the Titansnoticeably lacks a necessary emotional connection. The cast does an adequate job with the little they’re given. Worthington drastically improves on his dull performance in the original through a charismatic yet stoic portrayal of this fabled yet modest hero, while surprisingly convincing in his comedic moments. Kebbell as the wise-cracking thief and demigod Agenor lifts the tone slightly with clever one liners. Pike as the love interest seldom gets enough screen time to make her normally gorgeous presence known. While older actors such as Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Danny Huston and Bill Nighy are captivating yet suffer due to lacking screen time, unclear character motivation or diminutive story involvement. Fiennes and Neeson deliver great chemistry between each other; creating a believable relationship as brothers.
Banking on the success of Worthington and Liebesman, Wrath of the Titans is obviously a made-by-focus-group action flick. Being a sequel to one of the biggest flops of 2010, the movie barely scrapes by on pure adrenaline and brute force.
Verdict: A shallow yet entertaining action-adventure sequel.