Category Archives: 2010s

X-Rated: The Greatest Adult Movies of All Time (2015)

*. The title might be parsed. Great adult movies? Have there been any, unless we make that judgment strictly relative? And of all time? When do we start? With stag films? Nudie cuties?
*. For the question of when we start the answer is obvious: with Deep Throat, Behind the Green Door, and Devil in Miss Jones. These were the three films that made porn chic in the early ’70s. But what was porn chic, anyway? Did it really amount to much, or have any lasting impact? I don’t think so.
*. Then there’s the question of whether any of these movies are great. Or even good. My own feeling is that very few of them are. I do think Behind the Green Door and Devil in Miss Jones are at least worth a look. After that, however, I don’t think any of the titles ranked here are even of historical interest. Maybe Café Flesh works as a kind of futuristic social allegory. And Andrew Blake is a director with an erotic eye (Hidden Obsessions is the Blake title they go with in this listing). But after that, there’s nothing.
*. We may well ask what makes a porn film great. Given its function, shouldn’t it just be sexy? So how impressed should we be at the vain attempts at comedy in so many of these movies? In their reworking of various influences? Or their ability to waste a (relatively) big budget on cheesy effects? Doesn’t all this stuff just get in the way? Did anyone think Star Wars XXX: A Porn Parody was either sexy or funny?
*. The almost sad thing is that it really appears as though some adult directors try. Brad Armstrong, one of the directors interviewed in this film, says that if you cut the sex out of his movie Flashpoint it would still be decent entertainment, with a “B-movie vibe.” Oh, Brad. No.
*. This might have been a decent little documentary, but it’s really just an industry showpiece. Produced by Paul Fishbein of Adult Video News, which may explain why they keep talking about how many AVN awards some of these movies won. Or maybe there’s just no other metric available for judging which of these movies is the best. But are there no real porn critics? Al Goldstein was one of the few who seemed to take the role seriously, and may have even invented the job. But he didn’t end well.
*. Directed by Bryn Pryor (whose porn name, Eli Cross, comes from Peter O’Toole’s character in The Stunt Man). One of Cross’s adult titles makes the list. Or perhaps more than one. I wasn’t taking a lot of notes. Hosted by performer Chanel Preston, who does well enough with her clothes on.
*. Some of the interviews with vets are OK, and Jacky St. James provides a rare spark of personality and intellect. But nothing particularly insightful is said. Commentary by current porn stars also seems pretty pointless. As I say, it’s just an exercise in self-congratulation. There is no discussion of what makes a film erotic or of changing tastes in these matters, no historical or political context, no critique of the industry, or even acknowledgment of such critiques.
*. Still, X-Rated did make me think. The porn industry has tracked new technologies closely, from peep shows to VHS to the Internet. But given how completely it has adapted to the latter, is there any future in porn features, the kind of movies celebrated here? It may be, as Preston says at the end, that in the sort of fare offered up on various tube sites what we’re seeing is “a return to the loops and vignettes” that started it all. What place does film criticism have in responding to any of this? Little to begin with, I suppose, and less and less all the time.

Frankenstein (2015)

*. Back in 2010 DC Comics stirred up a bit of controversy by putting Superman in a hoodie on the cover of a new graphic novel series called Superman: Earth 1. A hoodie seemed not the kind of thing Superman would, or even should, be seen wearing.
*. I had a flashback to that cover when I saw the DVD box cover for this version of Frankenstein, which gives us the monster in a hoodie. That’s not false advertising either, as Adam (or the Monster) wears a hoodie through most of the second half of the movie. This conceals his decaying appearance and gives him street cred.
*. The tie-in to Superman also works because this monster is a superhero too. He actually hasn’t been put together out of spare parts taken from corpses but instead seems to have been turned out with a 3-D printer and then given an elixir of life. For some reason this gives him the strength of ten men and an accelerated life span. So he’s basically rotting daily.

*. Even if Adam isn’t a monster made out of bits and pieces the movie sure is. The gear shifts made my head spin. Things start out very low budget and almost art house in the scenes when Adam is brought to life. Then there is an eruption of splatter when he breaks free. Then it turns into an update of the classic 1931 film, including variations on the scene with the girl tossing things into the water and the Monster hooking up with a blind man. This leads into a bit of social commentary, as the Monster becomes a homeless version of the Elephant Man, living among L.A.’s down and out while looking to get his revenge on the corporate jerks who made him.
*. Some of it I rather liked but the whole thing doesn’t hold together at all. The narrative stitching is as loose as you can imagine, with several elisions where Adam just seems to wander from one part of the story to the next. The larger point of it all is hard to reckon. For example, Adam is fixated on his mother (the always cool Carrie-Anne Moss) but his feelings are not reciprocated. At least they don’t seem to be. But the door is left open I guess, and they do seem to achieve a kind of vision of reconciliation at the end.
*. It seems to have been a project that meant something to Bernard Rose (who did Candyman and Immortal Beloved) but exactly what I’m not sure. I appreciate the independent spirit with which it was undertaken, but I came away confused and underwhelmed.

Zoolander 2 (2016)


*. You can’t keep a good (profitable) franchise hero down. Even if the character of Derek Zoolander seemed pretty much played out by the end of his first film, as there wasn’t much there in the first place, that wasn’t going to stop bringing the gang back for another strut down the catwalk.
*. Perhaps being aware of how little they had to work with, it seems as though a conscious decision was made to go big, which is almost always a bad way for comedy to go. So there are even more cameos, more lavish production values, and a way over-the-top plot that throws in late Austin Powers with some nonsense about a secret society of designers coveting the holy blood of “Steve.” Steve, of Adam and Eve and Steve, is the legendary forefather of all supermodels, and his blood is the formula of the Fountain of Youth and it runs in the veins of Derek’s son, Derek Jr. (a.k.a., the Chosen One).
*. If that sounds both really stupid and way too much, it is. I think 2016 was also late in the day for such a lame Da Vinci Code parody, but in their (partial) defence they were apparently working on the script here for nearly ten years. Ten years to come up with this. You really have to wonder how that happens.
*. Another matter relating to timing: when the film came out it attracted controversy for its casting of Benedict Cumberbatch as the non-binary model All in a way that was seen as culturally insensitive. There were the usual calls for a boycott, which were probably unnecessary, but I have to say that the exchange of looks between Derek and All is probably my favourite part of the entire movie. There’s a lot going on there. But in an interview done in 2022 Cumberbatch thought that the scene “backfired” and if the movie were to be made today the character would have been played by a trans or non-binary actor instead. I doubt it would have been as funny, but that’s the way things go.
*. Sticking with the matter of the times a-changing, another part of the movie I got a smile out of is the way that Derek and Hansel haven’t smartened up a bit but they seem brighter because the world has grown more stupid. There was a bit of this in Bill & Ted Face the Music but it’s more pronounced here. All (Cumberbatch) is a plank that Derek and Hansel can’t communicate with, while Katinka (Kristen Wiig) and the hot new designer Don Atari (Kyle Mooney) were as incomprehensible to me as they were to our heroes. Nor does Justin Beiber — playing himself! — come off any better.
*. That our world got a whole lot dimmer in just fifteen years is a point that I thought more could have made of. It had real potential. Unfortunately we’re stuck with the aforementioned caravan of cameos and the Austin Powers/Da Vinci Code plot with a bunch of stuff about Derek having to learn to be an understanding father, since Derek Jr. (Cyrus Arnold) isn’t as really, really, ridiculously good looking like his dad.
*. Critics hated it and it failed at the box office, which left Stiller feeling relieved because he didn’t want to make another sequel. Personally, I thought it was about as entertaining as the first movie. The best stuff was better though the worst stuff was quite a bit worse. The supporting cast, including Will Ferrell coming back as Mugatu, Penélope Cruz as a hot fashion agent, and Kristen Wiig as another evil designer all turn in decent performances with little to work with except excess. Even Sting is endurable. That I rated it just as high as the first film can probably be put down to a recency bias though, and I share Stiller’s relief that this is the end. For now.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2017)

*. Not just hip but hipster Shakespeare. I really feel like I shouldn’t have liked this, but while it was certainly uneven I enjoyed it.
*. Athens is now Hollywood and Hermia is a movie star, Theseus a big-shot producer, Helena a screenwriter, Lysander a photographer, Demetrius an agent, the mechanicals a bunch of film students, Puck a pothead surfer dude and Oberon . . . well, I’m not sure what Oberon is exactly. Some kind of vaguely benevolent drug lord?
*. It’s all very gimmicky and clever, to the point where the gimmicks can become a distraction. You have the feeling Shakespeare is being put in a blender. Some of the lines appear as text messages. The Pyramus and Thisbe play is done as a Star Wars homage, with the lion appearing as Chewbacca. Lines from other plays are used as gag lines. When Bottom is looking for the rehearsal studio he accidentally enters the wrong door. “2B?” he asks. “Not 2B,” is the reply. In Theseus’s screening room a dog is sitting in his chair and he has to tell it “Out, damned Spot.” Groan.
*. These are all, however, relatively minor things. Window dressing. More significant is having Bottom being given not the usual donkey head but instead a pair of buttocks. He literally has an ass face. Now this is startling, and I think for a lot of people will be somewhat off-putting. Personally, I thought it went with the spirit of the rest of the film, which is the best I can say for it and so I’ll leave it at that.

*. Another change made by director Casey Wilder Mott is to add a flashback where we see Demetrius finding the arrow fired by Cupid, which is what initially turns him away from Helena to Hermia. Which helps to sweeten his character up a bit. Also endearing is making Peter Quince a woman (Charity Wakefield) who has a bit of a thing for Bottom (Fran Kranz). Again, this is sweet.
*. Some people found this all too much, but I thought it was fun. The only problem I have with doing Shakespeare like this, especially with the very abrupt, rapid editing, is that it mangles any sense of sustained rhythm or progressive thought in the language. I think the idea is to make it sound more realistic, but I always feel such efforts make the play seem even more unnatural. This isn’t “dialogue” as a contemporary screenplay understands it, and treating it that way does violence to it. As it is, Saul Williams as Oberon seems the only one capable of speaking his lines with any conviction.
*. You could compare it to other contemporary American riffs on Shakespeare. Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet is the usual name to be brought up, though I thought Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing seemed a better fit for the millennial vibe. But I think the film I was most reminded of was Troma’s Tromeo and Juliet (1996) for its spirit of anarchic farce and mayhem.
*. It is not great Shakespeare, but overall I thought it had enough wit to keep its head above water. Williams, Lily Rabe, and Rachael Leigh Cook are all pretty good. The presentation is too frantic for me, but then I never really got with the twenty-first century.

I, Frankenstein (2014)

*. Frankenstein’s monster re-imagined as a Marvel superhero, or as another part of the Underworld universe, with the vampire and lycans replaced by the gargoyle order and the 666 (or so we’re told) legions of demons. That it was produced by Lakeshore Entertainment, the same company that did (or does) the Underworld movies, should come as no surprise. Nor that a crossover was originally planned. Hell, Bill Nighy even reprises the same role he played in Underworld, except instead of Viktor he’s called Neberius.
*. Another link to Underworld has to do with the weirdly depopulated nature of the city we’re in. Where are all the people? Well, as explained on the commentary track the production couldn’t actually afford them because they would make the effects too difficult. So again we have hordes of monsters running through empty evening streets, while the gargoyles inhabit a ginormous cathedral in the centre of town that appears to be totally abandoned.
*. The point of all this being that any movie can now be turned into the same movie, which is to say a CGI, comic-book inspired action film.
*. Mary Shelley’s novel is quickly recapped at the beginning and then we’re off to the races, being introduced to characters with names like Gideon, Zuriel, Keziah, and Ophir. The monster himself is re-christened Adam. It’s all very faux-biblical, and the cast deliver their portentous lines in suitably British accents (despite most of them being Australian). Aaron Eckhart is the exceptional American, who just sounds like a bear trying to talk.
*. Director (and co-writer) Stuart Beattie: “It’s really kind of funny dialogue if you look at it on a page, and it takes an actor of Miranda [Otto]’s calibre to actually sell it as real. . . . That’s one of the great things about actors, that the right ones will sell anything you want them to.” Well, all I can say is that the right ones try. Perhaps they shouldn’t have tried so hard. As critics agreed there isn’t so much as a hint of wit or humour in any of the proceedings. The actors might have had some fun and helped out in this regard.
*. Not-so-great moments of DVD commentary. Beattie again: “That line ‘It’s alive, it’s alive!’ you have to have in any Frankenstein movie, in reference to the classic Hammer films.” I hope that was a slip of the tongue.
*. The commentary is actually worth a listen, as Beattie gives a lot of good insight into the making of the film and what his thought processes were. But you have to shake your head at times. What he was most proud of about I, Frankenstein is that it was a “character-driven” action film. What he means by this, he explains, is that things happen because of the needs of the characters and not the plot.
*. This amazed me. Everything that happens here happens because it’s a requirement of the (ridiculous) plot. The demons have to either get Adam or get Frankenstein’s How-To manual on bringing the dead back to life. The gargoyles have to stop them. Character seems to have nothing to do with it. Even at the end I wasn’t sure what Adam’s hang-up was about the book. And his much-adverted to loneliness is just thrown out there without ever being represented in any way.
*. Indeed, one of the notable things I found about the movie was just how disposable the characters were. They seem to keep dying ahead of time, and we barely notice when they’re gone. At least Keziah and Ophir are going to a better place.
*. It’s an effects movie but the effects are nothing special. The demons dissolve into fireballs as they are “descended.” They also seem to come apart pretty easily. And as for their appearance, they really just look like guys wearing rubber Hallowe’en masks. I was not impressed.
*. Yes, once again the fate of the entire world hangs in the balance. And once again our hero has to adopt the mantle of Christ in some oversized sacrificial gesture. Superhero movies really need a reboot. Or at least a little bit of fresh thinking.
*. There’s no point trying to figure it out. It doesn’t make a lick of sense. Why has Neberius been collecting dead bodies for hundreds of years and going through all the trouble of storing them in that fantastic facility? Why? Why not just revive dead bodies as he needs them? Why do it all at once? There’s no point asking.
*. The one point that did bother me was the blending of magic and science. I kept wondering why in such a demon-haunted world ruled by supernatural forces the demons needed “one of the world’s most respected electrophysiologists” to figure out how to raise the dead. Especially when the big secret seems only to be to increase the power flow.
*. Meanwhile, why is this turf war being fought by such low-level flunkies? Where are the archangels we hear about? Are Michael and Gabriel too busy to lend a hand? Beattie says that they apparently “sent” Adam to help, but that seems a leap of faith to me. And where are Beelzebub and Lucifer? Couldn’t they even be bothered to make a cameo? Or were they being saved for a sequel? If so . . . ha!

This Is Not a Movie (2019)

*. The title has nothing to do with Magritte. Instead, this is a documentary on the journalistic career and ethos of reporter Robert Fisk, and the title comes from something Fisk says at the end about how real life, which is what he hopes to capture in his writing, isn’t like a movie.
*. Fisk died in 2020. I thought he did a great job covering the Middle East, and his book The Great War for Civilisation is a landmark work on the history of recent conflicts in the region. This film isn’t about the Middle East though, but instead lets Fisk tell his own story, laying out his philosophy on the role of a reporter today.
*. That philosophy involves leaving “a direct and emotional record” as a witness, so that ages hence no one will be able to say they didn’t know or weren’t told about some specific crime or outrage. Journalism is, in other words, a calling, which it pretty much has to be for someone so willing to put himself directly in harm’s way as both a columnist and a street reporter. And if having a calling can make you sound at times a little full of yourself, that also comes with the territory.
*. I didn’t mind this, because I think journalists need a sense of idealism. It serves as an anchor, and antidote not just to the lack of rigour exercised in a lot of Internet reporting but to the nihilism that infects so much of our post-truth dispensation. People often mistake outraged idealists as cynics, but the true cynics are the ones who make such charges because they’re afraid of the idealists, seeing them as whistleblowers.
*. It’s not just the nihilistic spirit of the age Fisk opposes but the digital form it takes. Fisk is presented as the last of a breed, writing with pen into his notepad and with a study at home that’s lined with bales of newspaper cuttings and other physical records. As with other aspects of his belief system, this can come across as a little much. But he does have a point. Where will we find the truth when everything is in the cloud, where it’s far easier to manipulate or be made to disappear entirely?
*. In one conversation with a younger journalist I thought Fisk even came out a bit worse for wear in an argument over the value of digital journalism. Fisk doesn’t condemn the Internet, but he has his doubts, while insisting on the value of his own old-school methods. “If you don’t go to the scene and sniff it and talk to the people and see with your own eyes you cannot get near what the truth is. I more and more feel, especially in the age of the Internet, when so little is proved and so little checked out, that there’s more and more reason to do the old kind of journalism.”
*. But against a deeper form of nihilism, moral rather than epistemological, there is no defense. “It doesn’t matter how much we blame the bad guys, I don’t think it has a lot of effect. It would be nice to believe that the Foreign Correspondent movie was the real thing, he manages to get the bad guys, the German spies, everything works out fine. But the truth is that this is not a movie, and it’s very arrogant of any journalist to think they can change the world or alter the course of a war. You do like to think that sometimes you can switch on the lighthouse and the beam touches something and something that otherwise would happen will not happen. When you try to tell the truth maybe occasionally the torture stops and the condemned’s cell opens. and maybe we helped. Mostly, I fear, what we write doesn’t make the slightest bit of difference. Like constantly having to tell the story of the Palestinians. You will never win over the world to your version of events, however accurate, however truthfully told, however angrily written. You’ll never win. But you will lose unless you keep on fighting.”
*. This seems a “heads you lose, tails they win” sort of thing. Still, like Camus’ Sisyphus we have to believe Fisk was happy fighting his battles. If he suffered from illusions, at least they were of the productive kind.

King Lear (2018)

*. I’ll be honest and say that I had my heels dug in against this version of King Lear, directed by Richard Eyre, right from the start. The glittering lights of the City. The black SUVs gliding toward the Tower of London. This doesn’t feel right.
*. The earliest film versions of King Lear had Stonehenge as a backdrop, or men in furs and horned helmets (see what it looked like in 1909 and 1916). The actual story is set in an ancient, pagan Britain, so this isn’t far off the mark. But does it work in modern dress? Yes, for its cruelty and sense of the absurd, even its post-civilization air of collapse. But the tribal code feels out of place. Is a prime minister or a CEO more or less than an ancient king of England? I had to wonder.
*. Then there is the opening scene. I think this only makes sense as a big public show, as it’s already been made clear that Lear has decided how he’s going to divvy up the kingdom. So they might have put it on TV here. But instead it’s done in a room in the Tower among a small, select group of family and courtiers, which kind of upsets the notion of Lear asking for a public declaration of love.
*. After that, however, my cavils were mostly silenced. I still didn’t like what they made of Edgar (a nerdy academic), but this is a solid production that moves really well (coming in at just under two hours), with some excellent performances. Even Cordelia (Florence Pugh) works in this first scene, not playing a shrinking violet but a modern woman not interested in all this profession-of-love bullshit. And given what I’d seen of her in Lady Macbeth and Midsommar I had no trouble buying her resolve. A Cordelia we can believe in is a rare thing in productions of this play.
*. There’s a modern tradition of emphasizing Lear’s mental deterioration even before his semi-abdication, with suggestions of erratic behaviour and perhaps the onset of some mild dementia. This has the effect of making Goneril and Regan, who remark on this, more sympathetic.

*. That angle is really played up here, as I think we have to be on the side of Goneril (Emma Thompson) in the early going. Anthony Hopkins’ Lear comes off as downright abusive, both verbally and physically, while his men are boorish louts who even track mud into her palatial digs. We have the sense that he’s the one driving her mad at the beginning of the play, and not the other way around. We don’t see her as someone bad by nature, but rather as a society lady who snaps when pushed to her limit. Oswald (Christopher Eccleston) makes a nice complement, being a foppish personal assistant who didn’t sign on for any of this drama. Regan (Emily Watson) is the quieter, but dominant sibling. Which is not how she’s usually drawn, but after all, she’s the one who married the odious Cornwall.
*. Effective performances throughout, though I’m starting to wonder at the casting of Black actors as villains in what are otherwise mostly or all-white casts. Here we have John Macmillan as Edmund, which made me think of Sophie Okenedo as Queen Margaret in The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses. And while I guess it fits with the idea of Edmund’s bastardy, is that somewhere they really wanted to go?

*. It plays like The Hollow Crown adaptations too in the way the script is cut to run more naturalistically, like a quickly-edited TV drama. Don’t expect a lot of long takes and full speeches. But this is what twenty-first century Shakespeare looks and sounds like because we’ve changed too.
*. I also liked Karl Johnson as an old Fool. That part is usually played as a younger part, but here it makes perfect sense that he’d be a frail old man, a companion of Lear’s going a long way back. Plus, they can explain his disappearance by having him suffer a heart attack after the hovel scene.
*. The hovel itself is a cargo container (rather nicely turned out) that’s in a tent city of homeless. That worked as a modern update. The fight between Edgar and Edmund, however, has to be done as an MMA-style fight because obviously no one has a sword or armour (Edgar’s face is concealed behind a black balaclava). I didn’t much care for that. And finally there’s yet another underwhelming storm on the heath. I wonder if Shakespeare really knew what he was doing here, as it’s hard to work on stage as well. But he wanted a world falling into chaos so that’s what he dialed up.
*. In sum, it won me over and I came away enjoying it quite a bit, being thoroughly entertained throughout. Very much a King Lear for our time, which is as it should be.

Riders of Justice (2019)

*. I’m not sure why I pulled this one off the DVD shelf at the library but I’m glad I did. The box cover wasn’t particularly catchy, consisting mainly of a big picture of Mads Mikkelsen’s face, complete with a gracefully silvered beard. But behind him you see a trio of motorbikes tearing away from a giant fireball explosion in a road cutting through some hilly country, and this turned out to be egregious false advertising. The only explosion is the one on the subway that gets the story rolling and the only motorbike we see is the one being driven by the hapless boyfriend of Mikkelsen’s daughter. In other words, nothing remotely like what’s show on the box cover is in the movie. There aren’t even any hills. Just some flat cornfields once we get out of the city.
*. Another thing that there was no evidence for on the box is that this is a Danish production. This didn’t bug me because I watch movies with subtitles on even if they’re in English, and I think the fact that the cast was speaking their native language probably improved their performances. But it’s another way that picking up the DVD turned out to be a pleasant surprise. At least for the movie itself. The DVD is a bare-boned production. No extras, and indeed not even an option for scene selection. They still release movies on DVD without having a scene selection option? Yes, they do.

*. But getting to the movie, I’m happy to report that the news is good. I was expecting to see Mads Mikkelsen going full Liam Neeson. He’s a tough military man on duty in some war-torn desert land who comes home when his wife is blown up in an explosion on a subway train that may have been an accident but which a data scientist (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) thinks was a targeted assassination. The scientist and a pair of similarly geeky buddies point Mikkelsen in the direction of a criminal gang that Mad Mikks proceeds to exact vengeance upon. Somebody is going to pay! That’s the tag line on the DVD box.
*. So far, so shopworn. But writer-director Anders Thomas Jensen, a veteran of this brand of action-comedy in his native land, has crafted a film that’s touching and charming and smart, without overdoing any of these elements. I mentioned how working in Danish might have helped with the performances, because the cast here are great. This is a comfort zone with Jensen, as he’s worked quite a bit with Mikkelsen and Kaas before. There’s not a ton of action, but it’s used as punctuation nicely and Mikkelsen doesn’t sugarcoat his role as the violent patriarch. He really does seem like a psychopath. The Lone Gunmen are stock types as well, but given enough individuality and weirdness to be memorable.
*. The plot that has MM, yes, defending his daughter from the evil gangsters (I told you about going full Liam Neeson) also has an interesting motif about calculating probabilities and the laws of causation that doesn’t add up to much but does play nicely in the background. The humour isn’t laugh-out-loud funny but has the sweet ironic vibe of ugly Christmas sweaters. Throw in a happy ending and my least-favourite Christmas carol is nearly redeemed.
*. The bottom line is that even though this is bog-standard plot, everyone involved is in good form and they play well together. It gave me the same sort of feeling as In Order of Disappearance, but with a lighter touch. Why such simple films are coming over as imports and finding an audience is hard to explain, as they don’t do anything bold or new but are just well-turned-out entertainments. It’s not a formula that Hollywood has lost. In fact, they may be too stuck in a rut of conventional formulas. What’s missing is the spirit, Christmas or otherwise.

Ophelia (2018)

*. “You may think you know my story. Many have told it. It has long passed into history, into myth. I have seen more of heaven and hell than most people dream of. But I was always a wilful girl, and always followed my heart and spoke my mind. And it is high time I should tell you my story, myself.”
*. Those are the opening lines of Ophelia and they’re a declaration of independence, delivered by voiceover as we see Ophelia (Daisy Ridley) floating in the river in full Millais mode. The “myth” the character Ophelia refers to is a prominent one for feminists, making her an icon of victimhood, collateral damage in a revenge tragedy and game of power politics. In telling her story herself she will not just gain agency but become the hero.
*. So far, so obvious. And coming right at the start I feared Ophelia was going to turn into a lot of feminist tub-thumping. But it settles down, and while it sticks to its revisionist agenda it’s not as crude as this opening would suggest.
*. I thought the premise was wonderful. It’s sort of like Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead in giving us a different perspective on the old warhorse, while also operating a bit as a prequel in laying out the back story for the events of the play. For example, along with Ophelia herself, I’ve always found Gertrude to be a mysterious figure. What does she really know about what’s going on? Or what does she suspect? Here there’s plenty, as Naomi Watts plays a woefully underserviced wife who starts fooling around with her brother-in-law Claudius (Clive Owen) before Hamlet Sr. is offed with poison.
*. There’s a lot of rejigging of the language and the plot. The speech is modernized, even when borrowing scenes directly from Shakespeare. So Polonius advises Laertes “Don’t borrow any money, or lend it. And above all, be true to yourself.” Again, that’s fair play. The plot, however, really gets an overhaul, helped along in particular with a solid infusion of Romeo and Juliet. Hamlet (George MacKay) and Ophelia are actually married by a kindly old priest, and there’s a poison that “mimics death but mocks it.” There needs no ghost from the grave to tell them about Claudius’ plot because Ophelia turns Nancy Drew and figures it out for herself. Both of them only feign madness. There’s no Ghost, but a witchy woman who gathers herbs in the forest.
*. It’s fun to follow along and see what all they’ve changed. Like Ophelia cutting her hair at the end and pretending to be a boy to get back to Elsinore for the big duel. A boy named . . . Osric. Ho-ho! For English majors this kind of thing is a treat. I won’t give away the ending, but I got a big laugh out of it too. And I mean that not in a mocking way. It’s incredibly silly, but if you’ve made it that far it’s not a disappointment.
*. In places it goes too far. I didn’t think they needed the witch in the forest in the first place, but to have her be related to Gertrude and Claudius was a bit much.
*. The drawback here is that the source was a YA novel and that’s the same demographic the producers seem to have targeted. There’s a lot of pretty scenery (including mountain ranges in Demark!) and romantic posing, but this just isn’t a grown-up movie. Critics were quick to brand it as Shakespeare meets Twilight, and that’s not unfair. It’s also directed, by Claire McCarthy, without a lot of snap and energy. Ridley is good, and the rest of the movie is earnest and cute in a teenage sort of way. It’s not my thing, but I’m sure no one involved would be upset by that.

Time Trap (2017)

*. Time Trap is the sort of movie you don’t see much of anymore. It’s also a movie that could have gone wrong in a lot of ways but remarkably stays upright for 87 minutes.
*. Why do I say that? For starters, it’s a little SF picture that’s quite technically ambitious, which is usually a recipe for disaster because going big when you don’t have the budget for it almost always ends in disaster. It’s also a time-travel story without a script that makes a whole lot of sense, and those have a habit of going wrong as well. But despite all this, I thought Time Trap stayed the course as a nice bit of fun.
*. The story has an archaeology professor (Andrew Wilson) going into a cave looking for the remains of his missing sister, who along with some hippies was looking for a fountain of youth when they disappeared back in the 1970s. Then, when the prof disappears a group of his students go into the cave after him.
*. As it turns out, the cave is a place where time passes a lot slower than in the outside world. I’m not sure they ever work out just how much slower, but from what I’ve been able to gather it’s somewhere around the order of one minute in the cave equaling 15 years anywhere else in the universe. So the ropes the spelunkers use quickly rot and they can’t use them to climb back out.
*. The rescue party find the professor and a whole lot more, including a bunch of cave people and some conquistadors that have been fighting in a frozen tableau for hundreds of years. There’s also an actual fountain of youth that not only reverses time but brings the dead back to life. And then there are spacemen who are entering the cave from our own future.
*. As I said, I don’t think the plot makes a whole lot of sense, but it’s quick enough that you don’t have much time to ask pesky questions, and I found the idea of the future raiding into the present while the present goes looking for the past to be quite interesting.
*. The writing-directing team of Mark Dennis and Ben Foster originally planned on doing it as a found footage movie (a bit of which still gets worked in), but by 2017 that fad was pretty much done. I’m glad they didn’t go that route, though I thought it might have made an intriguing experiment. Pulling off a story like this in that fashion would have been really complicated though.
*. The whole thing has the goofy, wholesome feel of an after-school TV special, with no bad language or gore and a super-happy ending. They were going for a cross of The Descent with The Goonies, and that’s another mash-up that should have spelled disaster but doesn’t. Not that I’m saying this is a great movie in any way, but if you just look at it as a bit of fun it’s quite alright.