The Nutcracker and the Four Realms Review

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One look at Disney’s The Nutcracker and the Four Realms will instantly remind one of their earlier Alice in Wonderland and Oz: The Great and Powerful, where the Mouse took classic children’s novels and added armour, swordplay and prophecies to disappointing results. The films boasted excellent, jaw-dropping scenery and some entertaining performances but were ultimately empty and forgettable, with The Nutcracker and the Four Realms being little different.

Nutcracker is slightly better than the aforementioned Alice and Oz, however, especially when it comes to source material. If you’re going to make an epic fantasy out of a children’s favourite, ETA Hoffman’s The Nutcracker and the Mouse King makes more sense than Wonderland and Oz, given that there were battles and grudges in there already (even if the ultimate fight between the two title characters takes place off-screen). Unlike Alice and Oz, Nutcracker is not a sequel or a prequel but a reimagining, so it’s a little easier to judge it on its own rather than against its source material.

That said, fans of the novel may be disappointed in some of the choices made. Mouserinks in the film may steal a key and call upon an army of mice to form a giant mouse, but is not as interesting or memorable as her novel counterpart; the evil mother of the Mouse King who curses a princess with ugliness and made the Nutcracker what he was in the first place. Speaking of the Mouse King, while a giant mouse made up of smaller mice is a good idea, a large, seven-headed monstrous mouse would have been more welcome.

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms seems to have several influences other than the novel and the ballet, so you’ll also find a bit of Babes in Toyland, Narnia and even Frankenstein in this film, which sadly make the script feel disjointed and the world feel less real. A shame because, once again, the world created for this film looks marvellous. Despite the film’s title, we only spend a little time in realms other than the sinister “Fourth Realm”, which perfectly captures that cliché that refuses to die: the haunted abandoned amusement park. It is so beautifully sinister it almost justifies the too-close-to-Halloween-for-a-Christmas-film release date.

The cast is a mixed bag. Morgan Freeman was the perfect choice to play Drosselmeyer, but sadly, we do not see much of him. Keira Knightley, in a role that takes influence from Glinda the Good Witch, is a delight to watch, but Mackenzie Foy, playing heroine Clara, sleepwalks through the role, making it hard to care about the story and her adventure.

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms provides some entertainment and some interesting, surreal visuals, but don’t expect anything you haven’t seen before.

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The Nun Review

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The Nun, the latest film spun off from 2013’s The Conjuring, certainly seems to have an appreciation for the classical elements of the horror genre. Several scenes take place in a fog-shrouded graveyard with constant shots of crows perching, the very place you’d expect Scooby Doo to sneak around in. The opening scene includes a door that leads to a dark abyss, doors opening by themselves, candles going out and upside-down crosses, all the types of things you’d expect to find in a theme park haunted house, and these things only get more frequent as the film continues.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing and The Nun could have been a frightening and fun film even with these clichés, but sadly, the clichés are made even more stale by attaching them to a dull and lifeless story that makes an hour and a half seem like an eternity.  The two main characters – priest Father Burke (Demian Bichir) and training nun Irene (Taissa Farmiga) – are played well enough, but there isn’t really anything that interesting about them. Burke is similar to The Exorcist’s Lankester Merrin – an exorcist battling his own demons – but never comes off as engaging nor are the demons he faces as frightening as Pazuzu. The demonic nuns, who bear more than a passing resemblance to Kurt Barlow from the Salem’s Lot miniseries, are more laughable than terrifying.

A good horror film should have you hiding under the seat, hoping the terror will pass and that the main characters will survive. The Conjuring franchise can create a movie like this, as last year’s Annabelle Creation proved, but watching The Nun, you’ll just wish it’ll end.

Ant-Man and the Wasp Review

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One of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s most impressive feats is how it takes previously fairly-obscure superheroes and brings them vividly to a mainstream audience. Iron Man and most recently Black Panther are good examples of this, and so is Ant-Man, though that movie was not as good as the previous two. Nonetheless, it was thrilling and funny, and the idea of a superhero-themed heist movie is still a novel idea. After the events of Infinity War, the MCU needed a “breather” film and Ant-Man and the Wasp delivers on that front; enjoyable and entertaining without the stakes of the previous two 2018 MCU movies (Infinity War is referenced here, not to spoil anything).

Long ago, Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) were Ant-Man and the Wasp, but Janet ended up lost in “the quantum realm” after shrinking too small. Since in the previous film, the new Ant-Man Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) entered the quantum realm and escaped, Hank and his daughter Hope, the latest Wasp (Evangeline Lilly), hope to find Janet. Hank, Hope and Scott all work together in hopes of rescuing Janet, but their plans are complicated not only by Scott’s house arrest, but a mysterious figure called “Ghost” (Hannah John-Kamen) who wants Hank’s technology to cure her unstable condition.

Ant-Man and the Wasp can’t really be called one of Marvel’s best films, but it isn’t really trying to be. It’s meant to be really nothing more but a fun superhero romp and it certainly succeeds there, like its predecessor did. In fact, in some ways, it’s an improvement over Ant-Man, like how the villain this time is a lot more interesting. Ghost does some questionable things in her quest to become normal again, but thanks to John-Kamen’s acting, one really does want to see her achieve her goal. It seems Marvel’s villain problem may have been solved now that they’ve brought audiences three successfully sympathetic antagonists in a row.

The rest of the cast also excels, bringing plenty of humour and joy to their characters. Rudd is definitely a highlight, having plenty of amusing banter both with Douglas and Lilly and with his ex-con friends, and he brilliantly reveals his frustration at figuring out how his new size-changing suit works. Probably the best thing about this movie is how much pleasure it takes in finding ways to use Pym’s size-changing technology, with entire buildings being carried around like suitcases and actual cars being stored in a Hot Wheels carrying case.

Ant-Man and the Wasp may not be as good as this year’s last two MCU entries (or Deadpool 2 really), but it is still immensely enjoyable.

Hotel Artemis Review

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In the not-too-distant future, nurse Jean Thomas (Jodie Foster) runs the titular Hotel Artemis, an exclusive hospital catering towards criminals. One night, during a violent street riot, the hospital receives a number of visitors that may spell trouble: bank-robbing brothers Sherman (Sterling K Brown) and Lev (Bryan Tyree Henry), assassin Nice (Sofia Boutella) and arms dealer Acapulco (Charlie Day). Having them in the hospital is bad enough, but there’s also a cop, Morgan (Jenny Slate), who comes hoping for medical assistance and has some connection to Thomas, and the city’s biggest crime boss “The Wolf King” (Jeff Goldblum) is coming as well.

As Hotel Artemis sets up the eponymous hospital and those within it, it does make one want to keep watching and find out more. The characters get quite a few entertaining interactions with each other, with Foster being a highlight, playing a character who almost has always something to respond with to her more difficult clients. You can really tell this a person who has dealt with this sort of thing for a long time. The other actors also play their characters well, and make one interested as to how their stories will collide.

The Hotel itself, like it should, is a character itself, and its dark, grave corridors and its mixing of classic aesthetic and futuristic technology create a fittingly dystopian atmosphere. It’s an intriguingly sinister place filled with intriguingly sinister characters, but they sadly seem to overstay their welcome. Foster and Brown are such good actors that one wants to see their characters pull through, and there are some good moments near the ending – including one involving a 3D printer – but the story grows less interesting the more it continues, with the action and resolutions not being as good as they could have been.

That said, Hotel Artemis is still a fun movie. It is a film one can watch again and again, but it’ll hardly stick in your memory.

Avengers Infinity War Review

Do you remember 2012’s Avengers Assemble and how unbelievable it sounded back then? After getting they each got their own big-screen movie, Iron Man, Hulk, Thor and Captain America appear alongside each other in another big release. Six years and several Marvel movies later, the cast of Avengers Assemble seems downright quaint with the release of Avengers: Infinity War, which has the cast of Assemble along with Doctor Strange, Spider-man, the Guardians of the Galaxy and more. However, with so many interconnected Marvel movies released as well as other films like DC’s dull Justice League, the novelty of so many heroes in one film has worn off somewhat.

Yes, Infinity War, being the culmination of ten years of Marvel movies is far from what you would call a standalone film. While you could go into Black Panther or Spider-man Homecoming without watching any prior Marvel releases, this does require a decent knowledge of past films to really enjoy and understand.

Infinity War is best enjoyed with a good knowledge of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and with as little knowledge about the film itself as possible, so I’ll try to keep spoilers to a minimum. The crossover aspect of Infinity War works mostly with some good interactions between close comrades and heroes who have never met until this moment. Everything you liked about these characters in previous movies is on full display here, maybe a little too much as Infinity War often feels like a “Marvel Universe’s Greatest Hits” (which I suppose is appropriate given the prominence of the Guardians in this film).

The amount of characters does often make the story feel a little jumbled and overlong, and sometimes like you’re watching two separate films sewn together. One strength of the MCU movies is how each one feels distinct, and that feels a little too apparent here. The characters are still entertaining and sympathetic (but again, it’s better if you’ve watched their movies first) and Thanos is actually more than just a big bad world-destroying villain. The visuals are once again fantastic, for there are a lot of worlds to explore this time, and the action is very well-staged and exciting.

Avengers: Infinity War is extremely enjoyable, as have been most Marvel movies, with plenty of action, humour and even some effectively emotional moments. But is it the best MCU movie ever? Not really.

Ghost Stories Review

It has been argued that the best format for a horror story is a short story, because then the horror is delivered to you in one sitting. So that is perhaps why not only do we see a lot of horror short story anthologies on our bookshelves, we see them on the screen as well. It’s why we have Tales from the Crypt, Creepshow and Trick r TreatGhost Stories, brought to us by Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson adapting their stage show of the same name, follows this format, though there is something bigger beneath the stories it tells.

Professor Phillip Goodman (Nyman) has been exposing so-called psychics and debunking the paranormal, but then he is sent to investigate three people who claim to have had genuine interactions with the supernatural. A former night watchman (Paul Whitehouse) who encounters a spectre on his shift, a young man (Alex Lawther) who has a nasty surprise while driving without a license and a man (Martin Freeman) haunted while awaiting his child’s arrival.

The stories themselves are very suspenseful and well-told, utilising the classic horror tropes marvellously. It truly does feel like classic British horror – it may even be familiar to those who have read or seen Whistle and I’ll Come to You. The film really gets interesting after the stories are told, and Phillip sees that things might not truly be as they seem. Actual places are turned into paper backdrops, an unseen baby eating dog food…it truly feels like a nightmare.

If you enjoy British horror, anthology horror, or well, horror in general, this is a fine film to watch.

(The original version of this review had spoilers but I made it less spoilery as per Andy Nyman’s wishes)

Six Terrifying Versions of Humpty Dumpty

Easter is just around the corner, and when you think of that time of year, what comes to mind? Bunnies. Chickens. Daffodils and sunshine and of course, eggs. When you think of eggs in a whimsical, fairy-tale setting, the story of Humpty Dumpty is bound to come to mind. It’s a poem that’s only four lines long, and yet has become a massive, instantly-recognisable pop culture icon.

It also is one of those things from your childhood that can come off as a bit creepy when you think about it as an adult. A children’s poem, a nursery rhyme that revolves around a sentient creature being smashed to pieces, unable to be reassembled. Several writers and artists have noticed that too, and have created their own versions of Humpty Dumpty that err more towards horror than humour. These are just a few of those versions:

Smarties Mini Eggs

Well, okay, this isn’t exactly what you’d call horror, and is an advertisement for children’s snacks, but there is something, well, rotten about this advert. Here, Humpty’s fall was no accident. He was sitting on the wall, minding his own business, when he gets spooked by a Mini Egg, causing him to plummet. Adding insult to injury, as he’s being carried away on a stretcher, the Mini Eggs laugh sadistically, even calling out “omelette”. The nice pastoral backdrop only makes this malicious act all the worse.

McFarlane’s Action Figure

This “Twisted Fairy Tales” figure is definitely not one for the squeamish; here’s a link if your stomach is strong enough. It hasn’t gone unnoticed that the rhyme never actually says that Humpty was an egg (not even by yours truly) and that’s the direction this action figure takes. This Humpty is one of flesh and blood, not shell and albumen, and that’s fully revealed to us here. However, even with all these disgusting details, even with all the stitches and blood and worms, the most noticeable thing about this character is his cute little propeller beanie.

TurboTax

If you ever wondered what Humpty would be like if he existed in real life, this might give you an idea. I must say, however, that the “king’s men” anachronistically existing alongside helicopters and televisions make this a very surreal take on the rhyme. Unlike most versions, Humpty is put back together but you still feel bad for his predicament here, especially given that he’s fully conscious while broken in pieces. When he says “everything hurts”, you believe it.

WC Field’s Version

The most famous appearance of Humpty outside the rhyme was Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, and while he was arrogant there, it wasn’t exactly what you would call frightening. The same can’t be said for his appearance in 1933’s Alice in Wonderland, where he was played by none other than WC Fields. A giant rubber-faced egg with beady eyes and a gigantic smile that could rival that of the Cheshire Cat. It’s a wonder Alice stayed to chat.

The Big Over Easy

This is a spin-off of Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series, and like that series, features several characters from literature interacting with each other and satirising the very nature of fiction itself, with “Amazing Crime Stories” being a true crime magazine that wants to outlaw bodies being discovered by people walking their dogs. This is a murder mystery about the circumstances of Humpty’s fall, where it might have been more than just the fall that killed him and he might not have been such a good egg after all. Not only does Humpty appear, but the case is being investigated by Jack Spratt and Mary Mary, with Solomon Grundy as a suspect and Wee Willie Winkie as another victim. It’s an interesting and entertaining read, as is its sequel.

Kinder

When one thinks of “creepy Humpty Dumpty” this is most likely the first thing that came to mind. Certainly one of the most infamous renditions of the character, with him almost always coming up in discussions about unintentionally-disturbing children’s TV. He has the same beady eyes and wide smile as Fields’, but it’s even worse here. Like McFarlane’s, is a creature made of flesh, but is terrifying without resorting to excessive gore. A giant talking egg in the real world would be a frightening sight and this just proves it.