Image A Sound A Extras A- "Two Swords," "The Lion and the Rose," "Breaker of Chains," "Oathkeeper," "First of His Name," "The Laws of Gods and Men," "Mockingbird," "The Mountain and the Viper," "The Watchers on the Wall," "The Children"
by Jefferson Robbins I suspect "Game of Thrones" has started to find its high-fantasy elements as tedious as I have. In the show's fourth season, the trio of dragons reared by Danaerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke)--the only thing that makes her a ruler, aside from her family name--is far more felt than seen, and momentarily more a curse than an asset. Brandon Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) and his young cronies have to fight off a frozen-lake's worth of Ray Harryhausen skeletons, a homage so derivative it adds up to me snorting my beer out of my nose. An epic assault on the epic-sized Wall includes an epic total of two giants. The fantasy convention of magic swords with hoity-toity names comes in for ridicule, too, when brutal asshole King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) demands a title for his new enchanted blade and some wags in the audience yell back "Stormbringer!" and "Terminus!" Woman warrior Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie), the most gullible when it comes to matters of knightly virtue, gets a nifty pigsticker, names it "Oathkeeper," then spends her only battle of the season beating her adversary's face in with a rock. Magic, in this adaptation of contemporary fantasy's most successful novel series, is bogged down in human muck and mire.
*/**** Image A+ Sound A- Extras B- starring Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Orlando Bloom screenplay by Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens & Peter Jackson & Guillermo Del Toro, based on the book by J.R.R. Tolkien directed by Peter Jackson
by Walter Chaw During the first ten minutes of the first day of Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (hereafter Hobbit 3), Smaug dies. I don't intend this to be a spoiler, because, you know, the book's been around for almost as long as this movie runs, and Rankin & Bass already adapted it (somehow squeezing Tolkien's slim volume into one 77-minute animated flick)--but if you don't read and live under a rock: the dragon dies. This acts as prologue. A better prologue would recap what the hell happened in the first two Hobbits; I appear to have scrubbed them completely from the ol' memory bank in a heroic act of self-defense. This prologue, by the way, is the key moment in the book, meaning that although the CGI fireworks never let up, the rest of Hobbit 3 is the decline in action to the conclusion.
by Bill Chambers Inexplicable, tone-deaf Looney Tunes pairings are legion in post-Termite Terrace revivals of the brand, but rare is the Golden Age head-scratcher quite like The High and the Flighty, an otherwise pro forma Foghorn Leghorn cartoon guest starring...Daffy Duck? Introduced joyfully bouncing a ball towards a mysterious "rope limit" that turns out to be the reach of the leash holding Barnyard Dog in check, Foghorn starts another war with his canine nemesis that travelling salesman Daffy Duck espies and decides to capitalize on by selling both parties his wares from the Ace Novelty Company, double agent-style. Once Foghorn and Barnyard realize that Daffy's exploited their conflict to line his pockets, they turn the tables on him. It's really that simple. There's a reason Daffy works for Ace and not Acme--because his products work, more or less; that's something, I guess, and as usual Foghorn Leghorn, thanks to Mel Blanc and writer Tedd Pierce, is immanently quotable ("We have been flimflammed!"), though his relative size is even more all-over-the-place than usual. But Daffy Duck is an insuperably odd presence here, with Pierce and director Robert McKimson seemingly recognizing Daffy's inherent dissonance in this milieu by casting him in a generic huckster role that suppresses his persona--they've only tailor-fitted the comeuppance gag for him, which consequently feels mean-spirited--yet cannot eclipse his iconic baggage. Punning the name of John Wayne's proto-Airport sudser The High and the Mighty, the title doesn't make much sense, either. Available on:Looney Tunes: Platinum Collection, Vol. 2 [Blu-ray](Running Time: 6:39)
*/**** starring Liam Neeson, Joel Kinnaman, Vincent D'Onofrio, Ed Harris screenplay by Brad Ingelsby directed by Jaume Collet-Serra
by Walter Chaw Jaume Collet-Serra's Run All Night fulfills every requirement of the Liam Neeson subgenre of elder-vengeance while simultaneously completing the Grumpy Old Men trilogy in an unexpected way. It's a hollow stylistic exercise that mainly exposes how good We Own the Night was, and while some slight comparisons have been to Phil Joanou's underestimated State of Grace, really the only thing Run All Night resembles is everything else Neeson has decided will be his legacy since the first Taken movie about seven years ago. What's most painful, I think, is how consistently great Neeson is at doing this one thing over and over again. He makes it hard, in other words, to stop wishing he'd go back to doing something worthy of him.
**½/**** starring Cate Blanchett, Lily James, Richard Madden, Helena Bonham Carter screenplay by Chris Weitz directed by Kenneth Branagh
by Walter Chaw Notable in however these things are notable for not being an Ever After revisionist Cinderella but rather a fairly straightforward adaptation of the Disney animated version, Kenneth Branagh's Cinderella would be interesting to look at next to Kenneth Branagh's Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, if only to see how Helena Bonham Carter morphs from immortal beloved to Fairy Godmother. (Answer? Awkwardly.) It's not a bad conversation to have, actually, in a film that finds a great deal of depth in Cate Blanchett's Barbara Stanwyck take on Lady Tremaine, the evil stepmother. In a nicely-played scene, she stops just short of confessing that the reason she resents Cinderella (Lily James) is because, for women, society abhors the aged and venerates the youthful. It's not deep (and maybe it's not meant to be), but it does add a little bitter undertaste to its "happily ever after."
Finally opening this weekend in limited U.S. release are two films Walter Chaw and I, respectively, loved on the festival circuit, David Robert Mitchell's It Follows (Canada: March 27) and Ethan Hawke's Seymour: An Introduction (Canada: next week, March 20). Don't miss them.
DUMB AND DUMBER TO ***/**** Image A Sound A Extras B- starring Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, Rob Riggle, Laurie Holden screenplay by Sean Anders & John Morris and Peter Farrelly & Bobby Farrelly & Bennett Yellin & Mike Cerrone directed by Peter Farrelly and Bobby Farrelly
HORRIBLE BOSSES 2 **/**** Image B+ Sound A Extras C- starring Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston screenplay by Sean Anders & John Morris directed by Sean Anders
by Bill Chambers The Farrelly Brothers' Dumb and Dumber To opens with Jim Carrey's Lloyd Christmas emerging from twenty years of catatonia. As the trailers were eager to give away, he's just been playing an elaborate hoax on best friend Harry Dunne (Jeff Daniels), but still: point taken. To put things in perspective, more time elapsed between Dumb and Dumber and its sequel than did between The Godfather Part II and The Godfather Part III, and the popular form--along with the popular taste in--movie comedy has changed significantly in the interim. This is the Rip Van Winkle of franchises, squarely un-hip no matter how evergreen is its scatological humour; the filmmakers, ultimately to their credit, value tonal continuity with Dumb & Dumber over blending in. With a plot revolving around a McGuffin that felt rickety when the first one did it in 1994, the picture embraces the quaint charms of the old school to ironically novel effect.
CHAPPIE */**** starring Sharlto Copley, Dev Patel, Sigourney Weaver, Hugh Jackman screenplay by Neill Blomkamp & Terri Tatchell directed by Neill Blomkamp
UNFINISHED BUSINESS **/**** starring Vince Vaughn, Tom Wilkinson, Dave Franco, James Marsden screenplay by Steven Conrad directed by Ken Scott
by Walter Chaw The schadenfreude winner of the week is Neill Blomkamp's benighted trainwreck of a fanfic reel Chappie, which presents a horrific tale of how a child raised by art-rap band Die Antwoord would grow to be this unholy Frankenstein of Sharlto Copley and Jar Jar Binks and Gorillaz and a mechanical rabbit. It's a mess. The completion of the Short Circuit trilogy no one was asking for, it's also an update of not only the Verhoeven RoboCop, complete with ED-209, but Blomkamp's own District 9 as well in its themes of class inequality, sentience, and transformation. In its favour is how legendarily irritating the Chappie character is, to the point that when the slo-mo "hero strut" happens in the second half, the compulsion to punch the movie in its neck is nigh irresistible. To its detriment, Chappie purports to have solved the puzzle of digitized sentience, Transcendence-style, and in the process gifted immortality to Björk-lite squeaker Yolandi Visser. That's at least Fourth Circle of Hell stuff right there.
by Bryant Frazer One of the hallmarks of contemporary remix culture is derivative artistic ventures that seek shortcuts to the id, making a playful, self-aware succotash of genre tropes in lieu of inventing new cosmologies. Cleverly done, the approach can yield brainy ruminations on form and content along the lines of Alan Moore's Watchmen or alternate-universe joyrides like Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction and Inglourious Basterds. When the endeavour is shabby and commercial, executed with no love, you end up with smug mediocrities like The Cabin in the Woods or smarmy trash like Dracula Untold. (Nobody--not George Lucas, not Ridley Scott--seems to grok less about what made the original properties they're trying to exploit great in the first place than the fools charged with revitalizing the monster franchises at Universal.) Somewhere in the middle, you get a project like "Penny Dreadful", a monster mash-up set in late-Victorian London that earns no originality points for series creator John Logan, best known for his screenwriting credits on Hugo, Skyfall, and Rango. Named after the pulpy serial publications that sold in old London for a penny each, his show is even more specifically derivative of latter-day pastiches like Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Kim Newman's Anno Dracula than it is of their own 19th-century sources. Still, at its best, his knock-off has an engaging flamboyance that makes it, if not must-see TV, at least agreeable popcorn drama.
Also opening this weekend in limited release is a trio of movies Walter Chaw reviewed on the festival circuit: '71, Everly, and The Duke of Burgundy, which has finally come to Toronto. Meanwhile, I covered Maps to the Stars at TIFF '14; it makes its U.S. theatrical bow today.
**/**** starring Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Rodrigo Santoro, Gerald McRaney written and directed by Glenn Ficarra & John Requa
by Walter Chaw The world's most polite heist/caper/con-man Charade thing, which feels it's finally time to continue that death trudge towards completion of a Matchstick Men trilogy, John Requa and Glenn Ficarra's Focus is a studiedly-inoffensive star vehicle for Will Smith that's interesting only because of Will Smith's casual attitude towards miscegenation. Easy to say that in 2015 a black guy with a white girl isn't that big a deal, but I still can't think of too many examples where a superstar like Smith is willing to repeatedly cast himself opposite a cross-racial leading lady. Smith is even a producer of Will Gluck's intriguing Annie, which, in addition to being a very strange bookend to the surveillance-state nightmare of The Dark Knight, features at its centre an interracial love story between characters played by Jamie Foxx and Rose Byrne. I'm spending a lot of time on this, because Focus, aside from the sexy shenanigans of Smith's expert con-man Nicky and his ingénue protégé Jess (Margot Robbie) and the fact of their race-mixing in a mainstream, medium-big studio flick, isn't about anything and isn't otherwise that interesting about it.
by Walter Chaw Unsentimental and terrifying and set against lovely, John Constable-esque watercolour backgrounds, Martin Rosen's adaptation of the Richard Adams novel Watership Down arose in that extended lull between Disney's heyday and its late-Eighties resurrection. (This period also saw, in addition to Rosen's film of Adams's The Plague Dogs, Rankin & Bass's The Last Unicorn and Ralph Bakshi's most productive period, which included 1978's The Lord of the Rings.) Watership Down points to the dwindled potential for American animation to evolve into what anime has become: a mature medium for artistic expression of serious issues. A shame that this flawed piece is possibly the pinnacle of animation's ambition on these shores, Richard Linklater's Waking Life notwithstanding.