Independence Day: Resurgence

Cast: Liam Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Maika Monroe, Jessie T. Usher, Travis Tope, William Fichtner, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Judd Hirsch, Brent Spiner, Sela Ward

Director: Roland Emmerich

Writers: Nicolas Wright, James A. Woods, Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich, James Vanderbilt

It’s no secret that nostalgia is a strong selling point for audiences seeking to recapture their pasts, childhood especially, with adult colouring books and Pokemon Go marking just two of the popular trends to emerge this year. It’s the reason why we keep getting movies and shows that honestly have no business existing like Dumb and Dumber To and Fuller House. Because we associate the original works with our fond memories of the past we crave for more of the same regardless of whether they were actually any good or not. Our expectations are then so twisted by our memories that we are inevitably disappointed by the cheap knock-off that couldn’t possibly have lived up to our nostalgia. While Independence Day was very much its own thing when it came out, pretty much every disaster movie that has come out since has tried to copy and outdo it. Should it be a surprise then that the sequel feels like nothing more than another cheap imitation of the original?

In the twenty years since the alien invasion human society has made great advances in its technology and global security and have established a defensive base on the Moon. A couple of days before the twentieth anniversary of their victory David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) makes a discovery with Catherine Marceaux (Charlotte Gainsbourg) that leads him to believe the aliens might return soon. Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman) shares the same belief as his telepathic connection with the aliens gives him a premonition of their arrival. His daughter Patricia (Mae Whitman Maika Monroe) is now grown up, is on the staff of the current president Elizabeth Lanford (Sela Ward), and is engaged to Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsowrth), a hotshot pilot stationed on the Moon. There he comes to blows with his former best friend Dylan Dubrow-Hiller (Jessie T. Usher), the son of Jasmine (Vivica A. Fox) and the late Steven Hiller and one of the best pilots in the armed forces. On July 4 the aliens do indeed return, this time in greater numbers, which means that the Earth must once again band together to combat them.

Independence Day is perhaps the quintessential popcorn movie which is why criticising it for its illogical plot or its stereotypical characters does little to deter viewers. People are watching this movie for one simple reason: spectacle. Who cares about the ridiculousness of defeating an entire alien army by uploading a computer virus onto their mothership if it means we get to see Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum escaping a giant explosion in a spaceship? Back then the visual effects were so mindblowing and the actors were so entertaining that people were willing to put up with any number of faults in terms of story and character. This time around, we’ve seen it all before. Independence Day: Resurgence looks like every other disaster movie being made today which means that it falls short in spectacle. We’ve seen cities get levelled, spaceships get into dogfights and famous landmarks get destroyed in a countless number of movies over the last two decades. Because it all feels so done and tired, it doesn’t feel like anything is really at stake in this story. The result is a movie lacking in thrills and suspense.

The biggest absentee from the first film is Will Smith and it shows. When you see the kind of stilted dialogue and weak characterisation that many of these actors have to put up with, it makes you realise just how much life Smith brought into the first movie through sheer charisma alone. Few actors possess that same level of on-screen presence and none of them are in this movie. Jeff Goldblum gets on alright as he revives the ticks and quirks that made him a household name in the 90s but the others are not as successful. While Hemsworth, Usher, Monroe and the other new kids do what they can, there is only so much they can bring when the film only requires them to be good looking, run around a bit, and fire the occasional laser. A more thrilling experience might have distracted me from these faults like in the first movie but here they were inescapable.

Independence Day is a movie that isn’t and didn’t need to be perfect. It is a silly, corny thriller with some neat effects and decent comedy that holds up pretty well today. It was its own thing that had its time and place in the 90s and there was nothing about it that warranted a revival. This sequel isn’t exactly terrible but it is dull, stale and pointless. It has the same ludicrous plot, stereotypical characters and hackneyed dialogue except this time the spectacle isn’t nearly spectacular enough to distract us. This movie is almost indistinguishable from the dozens upon dozens of other films that have followed Emmerich’s example except that this one happens to share its name with the movie that started it all. Everyone who worked on this movie has wasted their time by trying to capture something that could probably have never been recaptured anyway. Independence Day: Resurgence is what happens when we allow nostalgia to govern our movies above all else: we get an empty, hollow imitation of the original.

The Conjuring 2

Cast: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Frances O’Connor, Madison Wolfe, Simon McBurney, Franka Potente

Director: James Wan

Writers: James Wan, Chad Hayes, Carey Hayes, David Leslie Johnson

In his sequel to The Conjuring James Wan focuses on another famous paranormal incident from the 1970s: the Enfield Poltergeist. When watching the director at work in this time period, it is immediately apparent how much he has been influenced by the horror films of this era such as The Omen, Poltergeist and, aptly enough, The Amityville Horror. He has drawn from these movies cinematic tricks and techniques that elevates his style of horror above the usual crop of lazy, unimaginative movies that think making a viewer jump is the same thing as scaring them. The Conjuring 2 is essentially a showcase of 70s and 80s horror movie practices put together by a director who understands how and why they work. While the sequel isn’t quite as strong as its predecessor, whose characters resonated a little more strongly and horror was meted out a little more evenly, The Conjuring 2 is still a worthwhile film that shines like a beacon amid the endless stream of tired, mediocre horror movies still being made today.

The film opens in 1976 with Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) investigating the Amityville Horror. During a séance Lorraine receives a haunting vision of a demonic figure and a dark premonition of Ed’s fate. So unsettled is she by this vision that she begs Ed to stop going on investigations for a while. A year later the Hodgson family in London starts encountering strange experiences in their home, most of them involving Janet (Madison Wolfe), the second oldest of the four children. Once it becomes clear that these occurrences are paranormal, the mother Peggy Hodgson (Frances O’Connor) starts looking for help from the church. After it is discovered that Janet might be the victim of a demonic possession, the story becomes a media sensation and eventually reaches the Warrens. Lorraine, still troubled by her vision and fearing for Ed’s life, reluctantly agrees to follow Ed to London but warns him not to get too involved in the case. There they hope to discover the true nature of this demonic threat and save the Hodgsons from the spirit haunting them.

There are some great moments of horror in this film. Using some of the tricks he’s picked up from the horror movies of this era such as the uncomfortably long takes of Kubrick’s The Shining and the eerie lighting of Friedkin’s The Exorcist Wan is able to create some truly creepy scenes. A good example is when Ed Warren first attempts to interview the spirit possessing Janet. Here the camera is fixed squarely on Ed’s face and depicts his reaction while Janet sits out of focus in the background. This staging places an amplified focus on the creepy voice coming out of this 12-year-old girl while also allowing for a strong degree of ambiguity in regards to whether or not the Warrens actually believe that this is an authentic paranormal threat. The scares however are not as consistent or as effective as they were in the first film due to issues of tone and pacing. There are number of scenes that, while not bad, are just unnecessary and could easily have been cut out to allow for a tighter, scarier experience. One such example is a scene where Patrick Wilson does his best Elvis and serenades the family with a rendition of ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’. It’s fun, but distracting.

As in the first film Wilson and Farmiga are utterly devoted to their roles and deliver equally strong performances. Farmiga is particularly compelling as Lorraine undergoing a crisis in confidence and faith. Challenging her faith is the fantastically designed demon nun haunting her visions with sacrilegious images and a premonition of Ed’s death. She struggles throughout the film to keep Ed safe and to keep herself from going insane and Farmiga sells every second of it. The Hodgsons are not quite as strongly defined or relatable as the family in the first film which means that some of the horror loses its weight. Frances O’Connor is fine but doesn’t really leave much of an impact as the distressed mother. Wolfe does a decent job playing the little girl being tortured by this spirit but I cannot help but compare her to Eleanor Worthington-Cox’s terrific turn as the same character in Sky’s The Enfield Haunting.

The Conjuring 2 doesn’t quite hit the mark to the same extent as its predecessor or indeed any of the films it so clearly emulates. However, with the aggravating number of cheap, lazy horrors being made today, any film in this genre made by a director with actual cinematic competence is welcome. Wan is certainly a capable director and his technical skill in producing horror within the vein of movies made in the 70s and 80s is indisputable. He shows a remarkable level of attention to detail in his desire to pay homage to these films as can be seen in his accurate recreation of the time period. His mistake with this film was getting carried away with it and adding in more than was needed. A little more time in the editing room might have allowed this film to be the equal of the first Conjuring movie. Nevertheless The Conjuring 2 still delivers the scares where it counts and is worth a watch, if only because decent horror movies are a rare commodity these days.


When Marnie Was There

Cast: (voiced by) Hailee Steinfeld, Kiernan Shipka, Geena Davis, John C. Reilly, Grey Griffin, Catherine O’Hara, Ellen Burstyn, Vanessa Williams

Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi

Writers: Masashi Ando, Keiko Niwa, Hiromasa Yonebayashi

Since Studio Ghibli doesn’t seem to have any movies in development at the moment, it looks like When Marnie Was There could very well be their final picture. This gives the film an added emotional weight as it marks the end of a significant chapter in world cinema. From the tragedy of Grave of the Fireflies to the enchantment of Spirited Away to the poetry of The Wind Rises, Studio Ghibli has certainly left its mark. It introduced an entirely different culture and new form of film to children worldwide and told incredible stories in fantastic ways that Western studios can only dream of emulating. Ghibli often treated its audience with the utmost seriousness and was never afraid to include challenging subjects, mature themes and moments of tranquillity and stillness. If When Marnie Was There does indeed mark the end of this astonishing movement in Japanese film, then it is to be sure a fine way to end nearly thirty years of cinematic magic.

Anna is an introverted orphan girl who feels like an outcast and suffers from severe depression. After collapsing from an asthmatic attack she is sent to stay with her foster-mother’s cousins in the countryside for the summer. There she still remains isolated and actively refuses to socialise with others or open herself up to anyone. She does however become fascinated with a mansion, long since abandoned, across a marsh from the rest of the town and spends her days drawing pictures of it. One night she ventures there and meets a free-spirited girl called Marnie and is immediately entranced by her. The two form a deep, affective friendship and spend their nights meeting in secret to learn more about each other and go on adventures. As Marnie opens Anna’s eyes to an entirely new world and way of living, Anna starts to wonder whether Marnie is even real or if she is simply a figment of her imagination.

Like many of the films Ghibli has produced, When Marnie Was There touches on themes of friendship, compassion and fantasy and depicts a young girl’s search for emotional strength. It is a tender film with an utterly moving relationship at its centre. Anna, largely due to being an orphan, has never felt like she has ever belonged and hates herself for not being “normal”. She separates herself from all the other girls her own age by cutting her hair short, wearing collared shirts and shorts, and refusing to participate in such activities as shopping and talking about boys. Marnie meanwhile has everything a young girl could ever want, a home, family and comfort, but feels just as lost and alone as Anna does. She is a playful, carefree girl with long blonde hair and pretty dresses who lives life with a certain whimsicality. Although they are virtual opposites, they find in each other what it is they want more than anything else. Anna finds happiness and Marnie finds security.

When I saw the trailer for this film I felt there was a strong suggestion that the relationship between Anna and Marnie would be a romantic one. This had me interested, as I cannot think of a single mainstream children’s film that has openly depicted an LGBT relationship as its central focus. However, without giving too much away, this idea is pretty much laid to rest by the film’s ending and its unambiguously platonic resolution. And yet, before the film reached its third act, I was convinced by the girls’ statements, expressions and gestures that their bond was an intimate one. I’m wondering now if this is something I’ve imagined or if their affection is rather indicative of cultural differences that my Western perception has failed to appreciate. Given the secretive nature of the relationship, the loneliness and isolation that they both feel when they’re not together and the way the act and speak when they are around each other, it seems to me that a romantic bond is perfectly within character for them both. If this was intentional on the film’s part then I applaud it for creating what I found to be a moving and tender portrayal of young love.

Even without the romantic connotations that may or may not be present, When Marnie Was There still works as a touching film about family, loneliness and the search for belonging and acceptance. The fantasy elements work to add in and extra layer of mystery and mystique in Anna’s quest to discover herself. As their relationship develops Anna finds herself unable to distinguish between fantasy and reality. She doesn’t know if Marnie is a ghost or an imaginary friend she has created and finds that while she is with her she forgets details about her own life. All Anna really knows for sure is that she cares about Marnie more than anybody else and needs her and that Marnie feels exactly the same way. The journey they go through together and the discoveries they make all amount to a beautiful film. If this is to be Studio Ghibli’s swan song, then this lovingly written and exquisitely drawn film is a fine way to cement their legacy once and for all.


Mother’s Day

Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson, Julia Roberts, Jason Sudeikis, Timothy Olyphant, Britt Robertson, Héctor Elizondo, Jack Whitehall

Director: Garry Marshall

Writers: Tom Hines, Anya Kochoff Romano, Matt Walker

Mother’s Day is the third offering by Garry Marshall in his calendar rom-com series, a bunch of movies that are more interested in making posters packed with (mostly white) A-Listers than in telling smart and funny stories. They pick a bankable holiday, land an ensemble of big name actors with bills to pay and work them into a bunch of loosely related stories that range from the silly to the clichéd to the cringeworthy. These overstuffed films feature a plethora of bland characters dealing with first-world problems in implausible and unfunny ways before leading to an ending of simplified solutions, weak morals and more schmaltz than the human mind can handle. When it comes down to it, Mother’s Day is probably not as terrible as New Year’s Eve was, but that’s not saying much. It’s still a weak, unwitty film with barely any insights to offer on motherhood and absolutely no entertainment value.

As Mother’s Day approaches a group of characters must deal with their maternal relationships. Sandy (Jennifer Aniston) fears losing her status as a mother to her two children when her ex-husband Henry (Timothy Olyphant) marries his much younger girlfriend Tina (Shay Mitchell). Bradley (Jason Sudeikis) is a widowed father who has taken on the role of the mother for his two daughters. Jesse (Kate Hudson) and her sister Gabi (Sarah Chalke) are dreading the impending visitation of their conservative mother Flo (Character Actress Margo Martindale) as they’ve yet to tell her about Jesse’s Indian husband Russell (Aasif Mandvi) and their child or of Gabi’s wife Max (Cameron Esposito). Meanwhile Kristin (Britt Robertson) shares a child with her comedian boyfriend Zack (Jack Whitehall) but is still reluctant to marry him due to her abandonment issues from being an adopted child. Lastly Miranda (Julia Roberts), an accomplished writer who remained unmarried and childless to focus on her career, receives an unexpected Mother’s Day surprise.

An attempt to provide an insight into what to expect from this film seems almost redundant to me since anyone who has so much as glanced at the poster knows exactly what kind of movie this will be. This is a mainstream vanilla movie that is desperate to avoid any kind of controversy whatsoever. It’s the kind of film where any attempt at comedy is to strictly remain light and inoffensive for fear of showing even the slightest glimpse of an edge. It’s the kind of film where political correctness is considered the same thing as being progressive. It’s the kind of film where moments of drama are soapy and sentimental because the prospect of having a moment that actually matters is terrifying. This film wants to be as broad and mainstream as humanly possible and actively avoids taking so much as a single risk in its story or humour for fear of alienating a single audience member. Thus by seeking to be as safe and unoffending as possible, the film fails to provide even a semblance of character or substance.

Heavens knows what this ensemble could have accomplished with a story worthy of their abilities. That the comic talents featured in this cast could barely attain a laugh between them speaks to the weakness of the material they were given. Whether its Jason Sudeikis getting embarrassed while buying tampons for his daughter or Jack Whitehall giving a stand-up routine without anything even resembling a joke in it, it’s difficult to see how any of the cast members could possibly have risen above this movie. We’re talking about a film that made casual racism more of a quirk than a flaw for Character Actress Margo Martindale’s role. Not even Julia Roberts escaped with her dignity intact. The wig she dons is so damn distracting that I can barely remember what her character even did in the film. The sheer talent that was wasted in this film is just embarrassing.

This movie is nothing more than a waste of time for both the crew that made it and the audiences that have watched it. It advertises itself as a celebration of motherhood but offers little to nothing in the way of insight about the challenges and fulfilment one gets from being a mother. The drama in this movie is cheap and contrived because all Mother’s Day wants is to cash in on the sentimentality without putting in the work to actually earn the heart it pretends to have. To stop its audience from realising this it tries to distract them with recognisable faces and a bit of light comedy that is supposed to appear quirky but is actually depressingly flat and nauseating. I want to conclude however by adding that I admire Garry Marshall as a writer and director and was sad to hear of his passing. It is a shame that such a long and distinguished career that has included such works as Happy Days, The Odd Couple and Pretty Woman should end here. Whatever my thoughts on his more recent films, Marshall’s effort to continue working after more than half a century in the business reflects a deep and profound enthusiasm for the movies. I certainly cannot find any fault with that.

Where to Invade Next

Director: Michael Moore

In his new movie Michael Moore tackles many social issues such as healthcare, feminism, education, crime and politics. Many of the “good ideas” he encounters in his travels are ones that I wholeheartedly, ideologically agree with. I feel like this is something I should make clear from the start because the issue of ideology and bias in reviews is one that is often brought up when these kind of films are being discussed. There are some who would argue that critics should leave their personal beliefs out of reviews and should just focus on the movie itself. A fair argument, but not one that I agree with. I, like many other critics, believe that reviews cannot help but be personal because the experience of watching a movie is unique to each individual viewer. Since I share many of Moore’s political and moral beliefs, I feel like it would be dishonest of me to keep those views hidden regardless of whether I actually liked the movie or not. As it happens, I did like it.

In this movie Michael Moore assumes the role of an invader. His plan is to invade a host of nations in pursuit of good ideas for the USA to adopt. He starts off in Italy where he learns that workers enjoy generous amounts of paid holidays and parental leave. In France he finds a school where the children enjoy high-class nutritious meals. He finds another school in Sweden which has seen remarkable results following the abolishment of homework and standardised testing. Over in Slovenia he meets students who have attained a university education without having to pay a single tuition fee. Next is Germany where workers have achieved a hugely comfortable balance between their professional and personal lives. Over in Portugal he learns about how a progressive change in their drugs policy and the abolition of the death penalty has had a positive effect on the country. He is then surprised in Norway to find their astonishingly humane prison system. Meanwhile in Tunisia he finds that the women have managed to create a healthcare system that enables them to take control over their own bodies. Finally he ventures to Iceland where he discovers the amazing progress they’ve made following the rise of women to power.

The point that Moore is making is a simple one: these are all good ideas that work, why aren’t we doing the same things in America? That simplicity works both for and against the film. Moore can certainly be accused of excessively simplifying the problems he presents and also for being too one-sided in his arguments. Solving the enormous number of problems that the USA faces and implementing change upon a vast nation with its own complex culture, political system and economy is not as simple as pointing at a few neat ideas in other countries. But Moore knows this. He’s smart enough to know that Rome wasn’t built in a day just like he knows that a single movie cannot solve all the world’s problems. By being so unabashedly simplistic in his approach perhaps all Moore wants us to take away from this film is the simple fact that these ideas exist and that they do work.

What Moore finds to be the most startling as he encounters these good ideas is the revelation that many of them were inspired by the USA. The humane prison system in Norway is based on the principle of the US constitution against “cruel and unusual punishment”. It was in America that the Equal Rights Movement for women first started, a movement that reached global proportions and that led to Vigdís Finnbogadóttir of Iceland becoming the world’s first democratically elected female president. Moore also observes that in 1846 it was his home state of Michigan that was the first modern society to abolish the death penalty, an example that Portugal has since followed. At the very end he returns to Germany to look at the remains of the Berlin Wall, a structure he saw collapse nearly thirty years ago. He reflects on how unthinkable such a monumental event would have been before 1989 and on the remarkable progress that the world has made in the three decades since. This thought gives him hope that something that might be considered inconceivable today might not be so out of reach thirty years in the future.

While this film may be simplistic in its approach and resolution its content still remains very much valid. The places Moore visits and the people he meets are all real and the ideas they practice are shown to work. Michael Moore is a documentarian who understands that being objective isn’t the same thing as being neutral and makes no apologies for presenting such a brazenly one-sided argument. In all of his movies Moore has maintained the principle that a problem is a problem is a problem and has never been afraid to shine a spotlight onto it. He’s using this film as megaphone to announce that if something clearly doesn’t work and never has, then it needs to be replaced with something that does. That he’s able to do this in a way that succeeds in being funny, engaging and entertaining rather than preachy and self-indulgent makes this film all the more worth watching. It’s very possible that the film only appears that way to me because it appealed to my liberal ideals, but I still thoroughly enjoyed this film for its eye-opening discoveries, entertaining format and optimistic conclusion.


Warcraft: The Beginning

Cast: Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper, Toby Kebbell, Ben Schnetzer, Robert Kazinsky, Daniel Wu

Director: Duncan Jones

Writers: Charles Leavitt, Duncan Jones

I didn’t play much of the Warcraft games growing up. I gave World of Warcraft a go when I was 14 or 15 but never got into it the way some of my friends did. My knowledge of this universe with its expansive history and lore was thus little better than one being introduced to Warcraft for the very first time. Adapting such a universe into a movie franchise is tricky. There’s so much to share and yet so little space in which to include it. Sometimes introducing an audience to a world of magic, myth and adventure can be as simple as starting with “a long time ago in a galaxy far away”, but there are still many movies that make the mistake of dumping exposition or failing to establish their own rules. The Lord of the Rings trilogy however proved that such an adaptation can work. And so, considering the story this film wanted to tell and the space in which it had to tell it, I think that Warcraft: The Beginning did a pretty decent job.

The orc world of Draenor is being destroyed by a mysterious force called fel magic, and so the orcs must search for a new home under the leadership of the warlock Gul’dan (Daniel Wu). They enter the world of Azeroth through a portal and begin their colonisation campaign by raiding human settlements. Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel), the military leader of Stormwind, is sent to deal with these raids and ends up meeting the mage Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer). He tells him that he has found traces of fel magic in their world, leading Anduin to call a meeting with Llane Wrynn (Dominic Cooper), the king of Stormwind. Llane sends Anduin and Khadgar to find Medivh (Ben Foster), the Guardian of Tirisfal, hoping that he might hold the knowledge they seek. Their investigation soon leads them to Garona (Paul Patton), a half-orc warrior who pledges herself to Stormwind. Meanwhile Durotan (Toby Kebbell), orc chieftain of the Frostwolf Clan, starts to believe that Gul’dan’s channelling of fel magic is too dangerous and will cause Azeroth to suffer the same fate as Draenor. He therefore tries to reach out to the humans to form an alliance for the sake of both of their peoples.

One of the movie’s weaknesses is the sheer abundance of names and places that the audience is expected to remember while following this story. 30-45 minutes into the movie I was still trying to sort out who was who and what was happening where. Once I had a basic idea of all these things though I found that I was actually rather engaged by the story. It was difficult to keep track of but when it finally came down to the final battle I was both interested and invested. While the intricacies of the plot could be distracting and messy, I was still drawn into the larger story being told about two vastly different cultures struggling to overcome their differences in order to face a greater threat. The obstacles and perceptions that have to be overcome are great, perhaps insurmountable, and this film simply lays the groundwork for what will be a much larger conflict told over successive chapters. To that end I think the movie is satisfactory. It may not have astounded me the way it wanted to but I am interested in seeing what comes next.

One aspect of the games that this film has down to a tee is the look. From the different species and creatures to the cities and landscapes right down to the oversized armour and mystical auras, this game looks exactly like the World of Warcraft that I remember. Although the visuals do have a tendency to look cartoony, I think that can be forgiven in an adaptation of a video game franchise with a cartoony design. The area where the film probably struggles the most is with its characters. While I didn’t find them to be badly written or acted, there were just too many for the film to keep track of. There were a few standouts like Kebbell as Durotan, the orc who believes his people are losing their way, and Patton as Garona, who feels torn between two different cultures that both regard her as an outsider. The rest of the characters left large enough impressions that I could remember who was who, but that’s about all they did.

I think it’s fair to say that I liked Warcraft: The Beginning more than I expected to. It is messy and it is overstuffed with characters and plot details but not to the extent that I couldn’t enjoy the film. Once I got past the stage of working out what exactly was going on, I was able to enjoy it for the epic fantasy adventure that it wants to be. For those like myself who are not intimately familiar with the games and their universe, the film is not inaccessible to them. So far as I can recall there are not any excessive exposition dumps to scavenge through, no confusing plot developments that only make sense if you’ve done your homework and no gratuitous fan service that gets in the way. Warcraft: The Beginning isn’t a film that will have you deeply invested in its compelling characters or blown away by the massive scale and scope of its action like The Lord of the Rings did. However it is a fun and sometimes thrilling movie with neat visuals that has piqued my interest enough for me to return for the next instalment.


Alice Through the Looking Glass

Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway, Matt Lucas, Rhys Ifans, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen

Director: James Bobin

Writer: Linda Woolverton

Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is one of my favourite stories and I absolutely love the Disney cartoon to death. Although this story has been adapted to the big screen time and time again, the 1951 animation is one of the only true successes. Disney understood that it is the madness that makes Wonderland work and fully embraced it. Wonderland is a world of nonsense where logic and reason go to die. It is a world where up is down, black is white and wrong is right. The fun comes from watching the rational, level-headed Alice attempt to apply reason to her encounters only to get lost in the insanity of it all. This is something that the Disney cartoon appreciates but that the 2010 Tim Burton film does not. Here the ingenious surrealism of Carroll’s work takes a backseat to something altogether more boring and trite: prophecies, politics and civil war. The film didn’t work because it attempted to introduce logic and sense to a world where it didn’t belong and created a story that was illogical and nonsensical. Sadly the sequel makes the exact same mistake.

Three years after taking over her father’s role in his trading company, Alice Kingsleigh (Mia Wasikowska) returns from China to find that she will lose her family home unless she agrees to sell her ship and stake in the company. Unable to cope with this ultimatum, Alice runs away and happens upon Absolem (Alan Rickman) who leads through a mirror back into Wonderland (I refuse to call this world by the name they use in these films). There the White Queen (Anne Hathaway), the Tweedles (Matt Lucas), the Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry) and all her other friends inform her that the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) is in poor health due to the loss of his family in the Jabberwocky attack. Alice sets out to meet Father Time (Sacha Baron Cohen) and persuade him save the Hatter’s family. After he turns her down Alice takes the Chronosphere and travels into the past herself to change history. Time however is hot on her heels and is intent on stopping her before she destroys the very fabric of the universe.

Everything that was wrong in the previous film is wrong in this one. The colours are a little brighter and there are occasional glimpses of a world that actually resembles the Wonderland from Carroll’s stories but nevertheless the core problems remain the same. There is no madness, no wonder and no magic in this movie. Wonderland is a world of nonsense inhabited by crazy and fantastic characters where strange and wonderful things happen; being in Wonderland should feel like being in a dream. Instead the film tries to bring you down to Earth with its stories of Alice’s struggles as an independent woman in the oppressive Victorian world and of the tragic histories of the Mad Hatter and the Red Queen. If there has ever been a franchise that should not be restrained by the confines of a plot, Alice in Wonderland is it. A plot by its very nature has to be logical, coherent and structured. Wonderland is none of those things. Ironically the film is also none of these things but for the wrong reasons!

The film introduces the concept of time travel which should have made for an incredible adventure by allowing Alice to explore an entirely new dimension of Wonderland’s insanity. But then we learn that there are rules that have to be followed because the past cannot be allowed to change and paradoxes cannot be allowed to happen or else the very fabric of the universe will be undone or something like that. To make matters worse the film decided to introduce even more logic into the universe by explaining why some of these characters became “mad” in the first place. I really wish this film had a face that I could slap because it infuriates me how they can take something so wonderful, fun and creative and produce such a bland, clichéd and joyless story. This very idea of the Mad Hatter having father issues or the feud between the Red and White Queens being caused by some terrible secret is just so galling to me as it stomps over everything that made the original stories fun. It isn’t imaginative, inventive or surreal; it’s just overdone and dull.

Wasikowska’s Alice continues to be disinterested in the world around her and the incidents she experiences. She turns in the same one-note performance that made her a bore in the first film even though the film wants her to be some kind of strong, spirited figure who defies 19th century norms. Putting aside that I’m not convinced a feminist message is warranted in a story that has no point, the character in this film does not earn this status in any meaningful way. Many of the side characters from the first film return in this latest instalment and, if you enjoyed any of them the first time around, I suppose you’ll like them fine here. For me the only one who even came close to resembling her literary counterpart, and by extension the only one I found to be at all enjoyable, was Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen. Father Time is the biggest new character they introduce and he is actually quite interesting at first with his clockwork design and Werner Herzog accent. However there’s nothing about his personality that stands out because, just like the rest of the characters, it’s too grounded in logic and reason.

The kindest thing I can really say about this film is that it didn’t enrage me as much as the first film did. At least this time the drab, grey world of “Underland” (God, how I hate that name) has been replaced by actual colour. There was also the odd occasion when a character would actually do something that their character would do, that is something strange and nonsensical. Overall however this film was a bore and a displeasure to watch from beginning to end. It has next to nothing to do with the inspired, fantastical world that came from Carroll’s imagination and fails to conjure up anything even remotely interesting, fun or creative to take its place. It fails to capture that sense of imagination and wonder that is so crucial to making Wonderland the dream-like adventure that it should be. I believe that one of the most offensive things a film can possibly do is take a story that holds immeasurable promise and possibilities and then squanders it. This is why Alice Through the Looking Glass is such an offensive movie to me. The only reason this film even exists is to capitalise on the success of its equally infuriating predecessor. This film is unimaginative and lifeless and is entirely unworthy of the material it is based on.

The Nice Guys

Cast: Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Angourie Rice, Matt Bomer, Margaret Qualley, Keith David, Kim Basinger

Director: Shane Black

Writers: Shane Black, Anthony Bagarozzi

My experience with Shane Black’s work was minimal prior to watching this film. The only movie of his that I had ever seen before was the divisive Iron Man 3, a perplexing but sometimes entertaining movie. I now understand that The Nice Guys as a concept falls more within his wheelhouse and marks a sort of return to basics for him. Based on what I’ve heard about his movies Black is more in his element when depicting unlikely duos dealing with sex, murder and mystery in tongue-in-cheek movies that blend comedy, violence and vulgarity. This film in particular is a neo-noir and has thus been compared to his directorial debut Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, a film I’ve yet to see. There’s an intricate mystery, a dubious setting, colourful characters and a strongly defined visual style. The Nice Guys is also a black comedy though and so it does as exemplary a job of parodying these tropes as it does of duplicating them.

In 1977 Los Angeles hapless private investigator Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is hired to look into the death of a famous porn star. The trail leads him to pursue a girl called Amelia Kutner (Margaret Qualley). This lead brings him into direct conflict with the hard as nails Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe), an enforcer hired by Amelia to prevent others from looking for her. When Amelia goes missing however Healy realises that he needs to team up with March to find her before the hired thugs Blue Face (Beau Knapp) and Older Guy (Keith David) do. Assisting them is March’s daughter Holly (Angourie Rice), a bright young girl with a strong moral compass to keep her father’s in check. What they discover is an elaborate conspiracy with twists around every corner encompassing a wide variety of sleazy and notorious characters.

If this film is demonstrable of the type of movies that Black usually creates, then I am definitely looking forward to checking out the rest of his filmography. In this movie he exhibits a distinctive style that is both entertaining and fascinating to watch. As opposed to the grim and ruthless violence of the classic noir movies that have so clearly influenced him Black favours a more awkward, comedic form of violence. It is a style that allows for randomness, absurdity and luck to be key factors in the story without seeming unwarranted. It is also a style that allows for a funny and entertaining means of establishing and furthering character, setting and story. Early on in the film there is a scene where March attempts to break through the glass pane of a door to unlock it from the inside only to horrifically cut himself on the broken glass. As well as being humorous this scene enables us to better understand the viciousness of 1970’s LA, the sad inadequacy of this character, and the random and pitiless nature of violence in this universe. Black’s use of this style is so skilful that he maintains a degree of unpredictability in this film. The characters walk and stumble their way through the story in equal measure and, when chance occurs, we never know whether it will for the protagonists or against them.

The unlikely duo that Gosling and Crowe form in this film is an awesome one, made by possible by strong performances and chemistry. March shows himself to be both shameless and inept as we see him often disregarding his morals for a paycheck and dropping the ball on many an occasion, usually at the worst possible moment. However this pathetic character is one that he has created from misfortune and self-pity as we learn from the occasional glimpses we see of a less useless, less unprincipled version of himself. While March wallows in his inadequacy Healy actively seeks to better himself. He does what he does because he’s good at beating people up but maintains standards, limits and rationale in his work… for the most part at least. Both characters are broken in their own ways but, like all unlikely duos, they come together out of necessity and discover better versions of themselves in their partnership. Helping them to get there is Holly, played terrifically by Angourie Rice, who grounds them both with her level-headedness and reliability.

The script could’ve used a little polish and some tighter editing might have allowed some of the weaker jokes to work a little better but The Nice Guys is, all things considered, a wildly entertaining movie. The characters are crazy and memorable. The 1970’s look is gorgeous and stylish. The action is hilarious and well choreographed. In an age where visual comedy is almost a lost art, Black’s expert use of slapstick is very welcome and greatly appreciated. Like most good film noirs The Nice Guys boasts of a convoluted yet engaging story, intriguing characters and an irresistibly strong sense of mood and tone. Throw in some of Black’s wicked sense of humour and you have a thoroughly enjoyable movie that succeeds in being stylish, thrilling and funny all at once. That is not an easy mix to pull off.


X-Men: Apocalypse

Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac, Nicholas Hoult, Rose Byrne, Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner, Oliva Munn, Lucas Till

Director: Bryan Singer

Writer: Simon Kinberg

As much as I’ve enjoyed some of the movies in the X-Men franchise (First Class being my personal favourite), I don’t think the film series has been realised as fully as it could be. When watching the cartoon and reading the comics what appealed to me about the X-Men was how they worked as a collective. The best parts were always when they’d charge into a situation together as a team and would then display their diverse powers, working with and off each other. So far there hasn’t really been a movie where we’ve had the X-Men charge together into a skirmish and then just had them be the X-Men. In ­X-Men the team is pretty much just there to back up Wolverine. In X2 the characters are separated and a couple of them get knocked out. Days of Future Past was a lot of fun because we actually got to see some of the minor characters like Quicksilver, Iceman and Colossus show off their powers in new and creative ways. Therefore, with Apocalypse bringing back some familiar characters from the earlier films, it was my hope that this might be the ­X-Men movie that I’d been waiting for.

Taking place 10 years after Days of Future Past (in a universe where every mutant presumably possesses the Wolverine gene that stops them from aging) Professor Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) is now the headmaster of a flourishing academy for young mutants. His newest student Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan) arrives to learn how to control his heat vision and there meets the telepathic and telekinetic Jean Grey (Sophie Turner). Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) meanwhile is working covertly to save mutants but refuses to become the heroic symbol that the young mutants proclaim her to be. Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) has gone into hiding in Poland where he lives with his wife and daughter. His peaceful and contented life is tragically destroyed, leading him to seek vengeance once again. He finds his chance for revenge in Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), an ancient and powerful mutant who has recently woken up after centuries of hibernation. He recruits Magneto as one of his four horsemen in his mission to scourge the Earth of the plague that is humanity.

The biggest problem with X-Men: Apocalypse is simple: it’s more of the same. We learn about Magneto’s tragic backstory again. Professor X gets kidnapped again. The X-Men travel to Alkali Lake again. On top of that we have a generic bad guy with an apocalyptic plan backed by a vague motivation, some forced fan service and a failure to use some of these characters the way they should be used. While watching the climatic battle I found myself comparing it to the airport scene in Captain America: Civil War. Those characters all had their reasons for being there that the film took the time to establish and the scene actually had some fun with their differing abilities, playing them with and against each other. Here the film sort of pushes its characters into the climatic setting and then has them use their powers in the most straightforward, routine way possible. There are some great moments in there like the Quicksilver scene and the Wolverine cameo (which isn’t the spoiler that it should be thanks to the trailer) but even they are little more than recreations of scenes we’ve already watched.

McAvoy and Fassbender continue to be excellent in their roles as Professor X and Magneto, more so than the film deserves. When Erik’s peaceful family life is inevitably taken away from him, it’s a predictable and derivative moment that we can see coming from a hundred miles away, but damned if Fassbender doesn’t sell it. Jennifer Lawrence however doesn’t bring half the life into her role that she did in First Class. Here she gives exactly the kind of performance that Hollywood stars give when they are only in the movie to fulfil their contractual obligations. Some of the new(ish) mutants that are brought into the trilogy like Cyclops, Jean Grey and Nightcrawler do well enough with what they are given but others like Storm and Angel are barely given enough to justify their presence in the story. Oscar Isaac meanwhile is completely wasted as Apocalypse, one of the blandest and least memorable villains that the films have come up with.

Apocalypse isn’t exactly a bad movie, especially not when compared to The Last Stand and Wolverine. It’s just generic and formulaic. It brings very little to the table that we haven’t seen before in the previous movies. Anyone who is familiar with the comics or the cartoon knows that there is a treasure trove of potential in this concept and these characters, but it is almost entirely wasted here. Perhaps this movie was following the example of Star Wars: The Force Awakens where more of the same meant a return to basics but did so without either the inspiration or the imagination that made it a success. I do hope that, at the very least, the groundwork this film has laid for future sequels will lead to greater things, especially now that some of the original characters have returned to the universe, but the film itself doesn’t stand on its own. Although it has the same characters that we’ve enjoyed watching in the previous films, this time they’re trapped in a movie that doesn’t know what to do with them.


Me Before You

Cast: Emilia Clarke, Sam Claflin, Janet McTeer, Charles Dance, Brendan Coyle

Director: Thea Sharrock

Writer: Jojo Moyes

This is a film that has targeted itself towards a particular audience and, for all the girls and women out there looking for a melodramatic, tearjerker romance, Me Before You will hit all the right notes for them. It has a bubbly, socially awkward young woman as its protagonist. She meets a young, handsome lad with a tragic disability that has rendered him withdrawn and unfeeling. He has given up all hope of ever being happy again, but perhaps this kind, pretty and caring woman he’s grown rather fond of despite his initial resistance can bring him back from the edge. Although they are from two completely different worlds, they share a deep connection unlike any they’ve ever felt before. If these characters had been given American accents, I’d have sworn that I was watching a movie based on a Nicholas Sparks novel. Me Before You thankfully isn’t quite that trite but I did find it pretty schmaltzy at times.

Lou Clark (Emilia Clarke) has recently lost her job at the local café and needs to find a new one to help her family meet ends. She learns of an opening as a caregiver for Will Traynor (Sam Claflin), a son in a wealthy family who two years ago became completely paralyzed after a motorcycle accident. While Will already has a doctor called Nathan (Steve Peacocke) to attend to his medical needs, Lou’s job is to keep him company. His parents Camilla (Janet McTeer) and Steven (Charles Dance) are concerned with his cold, withdrawn demeanour and hope that the presence of a kind and pretty girl might help to restore his spirits. Will initially treats Lou with hostility but they gradually warm up to each other. Before long they start to develop feelings for each other despite the presence of Lou’s athletic boyfriend Patrick (Matthew Lewis). When Lou learns that Will is intent on going to a euthanasia clinic in Switzerland, she makes it her mission to inspire within him the will to live.

While I wasn’t quite won over by the film’s romanticism and sentimentality, I can understand why someone would be. There is definitely some chemistry between the two leads and the romance they share is whimsical enough that I can see why someone could be swept away by it. The film takes the time to form a believable bond that is built from Lou’s affectionate care for Will and the eye-opening introduction he gives her to a world that she has never known in her sheltered existence. Together they watch foreign movies (the film they show is Of Gods and Men which is a magnificent picture), attend fancy concerts where they get to dress up and travel to exotic locations. Will prides himself on having always lived life to the fullest, something he is no longer able to do, and implores Lou to start doing the same. There are some tired clichés that have to be endured through it all though like the initial reluctance before the blossoming of the romance, the boyfriend who turns out to be a jerk (because of course he does) and the idealised carpe diem message. Those who have fallen under the film’s spell won’t care about such things but those who haven’t will be rolling their eyes at certain intervals.

The two leads certainly put their all into the film and deliver performances that made the cornier parts of the movie more bearable. Emilia Clarke is sufficiently delightful as the vivacious, clumsy, caring Lou who has spent her entire life putting other people’s needs ahead of her own. Opposite her is the dashing and charming Sam Claflin playing a broken man unable to bear a life trapped in a wheelchair. Both actors deliver the attraction and the tears when they are needed and share a spark that comes across rather well. The actors are however victims of the film they’re in and must bring the schmaltz where it’s needed as well. The film also contains a number of big names in British TV working with far too little to really put their talents to good use. The exception is Joanna Lumley who kills it in her fabulous 60-second cameo.

Me Before You is soppy, mushy and romantic and it’ll either work for you or it won’t. The leads are likable but conventional. The romance is charming but sentimental. The tragedy is clear but a little forced. The film avoids any attempt to provide a challenging and thoughtful discussion on euthanasia and instead uses it as a simple means of generating sympathy and sadness. In essence the film is a fairy tale, albeit not exactly a happy one, and its success depends on whether or not you fall for its spell. Although I myself wasn’t wholly moved by this film, there was certainly no shortage of girls and young women sniffling and wiping away tears in the cinema. Me Before You is the quintessential ‘movie that your girlfriend will love’ and has all the right ingredients for appealing to that demographic. As a simple movie it is pretty hackneyed and schmaltzy but isn’t without charm.