The Morning After: Mar. 23, 2015

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what movies I’ve seen over the past week. Below, you will find short reviews of those movies along with a star rating. Full length reviews may come at a later date.

So, here is what I watched this past week:


Kenneth Branagh’s lavish adaptation of one of William Shakespeare’s most famous plays is fiendishly faithful, incorporating all of the dialogue from the most prominent edition and including whole bits of dialogue from other editions.

Branagh delivers a fiery portrayal of Lord Hamlet, the son of the king whose murder sends him on a quest to reveal the new king and now father-in-law’s involvement in the affair. The rest of the cast acquits themselves incredibly well in the film, making this one of the last mega ensemble casts to truly rise to the occasion, including the often weak Charlton Heston who may have delivered his best performance on celluloid.

The sumptuous 19th Century setting takes us out of the original play’s 16th Century climes, but that distinction is quickly lost as we’re pulled beautifully into the melancholy and tragedy of the Bard’s most performed work. Being so incredibly faithful to the source, however, is partly the film’s undoing. Dragging on past four hours, even the short intermission, which seems devoid of any musical interlude, feels too little to break up the tedium. Perhaps I’m not one for Shakespeare’s lengthy and verbose productions, but even with the bountiful amounts of backstory, psychological exposition and grandly exciting scenes, the film feels like it was desperately in need of judicious editing.

The Ghost and the Darkness

Not particularly well known for his cinematic astuteness, director Stephen Hopkins (Predator 2 and A Nightmare on Elm Street 5) manages to find a winning formula that blends his understanding of genre tension with a compelling look into the heart of darkness when man faces his inner fears via external threats.

The story revolves around a young army engineer (Val Kilmer) hired by a megalomaniacal land baron (Tom Wilkinson) seeking to build a bridge across the Tsavo river, to become the first to transverse Africa by rail. As soon as Col. Patterson arrives at the work site, the workers are plagued by a vicious lion attacking them in the middle of the night. After killing one, two more lions appear to ravage the workers and put an end to the work being done in spite of some measure of progress.

Screenwriter William Goldman has more to do with what works in the film than Hopkins does, though the thrilling, frightening final reel speaks to Hopkins’ capabilities. Goldman’s screenplay takes a true, though probably embellished, story about Patterson’s struggle against vicious, man-eating beasts while attempting to build a bridge over a wide river and turns it into a metaphorical examination of Patterson’s internal conflicts about becoming a father and the fear of failure and struggle for success he fights within himself. Kilmer, for his part, conveys a driven, yet fearful military man well, giving Patterson humanity and trepidation in equal measure.

Michael Douglas, in his short role as a noted hunter, is horrendously miscast and makes the scenes in which he plays feel entirely unnecessary. Wilkinson, John Kani as the camp’s secondary leader and Brian McCardie as one Patterson’s fellow builders, are significantly better in their roles. Meanwhile, Bernard Hill as the camp’s physician, Om Puri as the tribal workers’ leader and Emily Mortimer as Patterson’s wife are unfortunately some of the weaker elements.

The Divergent Series: Insurgent

The good will engendered by the weak, but compelling premise of Divergent is quickly squandered in the adaptation of the series second book, Insurgent.

After having escaped the murderous leader of the Erudite faction (Kate Winslet), Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James) embark on a quest to locate the remaining Dauntless members to form a coalition to go against Erudite and bring down the quickly corrupting regime built around the idea that divergents, those who don’t fit into a single faction within the nation, are meant to destroy society. With betrayals, subterfuge and violence at every turn, Insurgent has all the dark, dystopic qualities that series like The Maze Runner, The Giver and The Hunger Games possess without any of the visual or thematic flair.

Winslet, Woodley and Naomi Watts bring a level of gravitas to the film that the other young actors, like Miles Teller and Ansel Elgort, can’t seem to muster. This is a film that requires better actors to pull of some of the more daunting tasks. Teller, in spite of his celebrated performance in Whiplash doesn’t seem to care that his performance is almost laughable. He tries so hard to create the glaring villain that when the subtleties of Winslet and Watts are brought to bear, he fades into the background, entirely forgotten. James doesn’t have a lot to do here except act defensive and stoic, which means that the promise he displayed in the first film has been largely minimized either by a director who’s not accustomed to wringing above average performances out of his actors or from a script that gives him far too little to do.

The production design doesn’t impress the way the similarly-themed The Hunger Games did. Sure, this dystopian version of Chicago has plenty of debris and rubble to give it character, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 gave barren walls intense character despite its bleakness. This setting just seems to be a mirror and repeat of the first film’s environment, which doesn’t lend credence to the series’ continued vibrancy.

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