Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Movie Review: Left Behind/Strange Magic (2015)

Time to return to that always endearing topic of Christian propaganda films. Yay. It’s not like the last time I did that was extremely painful or anything(!) The original Left Behind, released in 2000, is the poster child for the Rapture movie; in that, it is the most popular example and it is also a good indicator for just how bad the rest of them can get. Morally questionable actions made by both sides, rampant use of stock footage, an inability to show the complete story in a single film; everything that makes the Rapture sub-genre what it is is in there. Then there’s the inclusion of Kirk Cameron, one of the most insane human beings alive today that is somehow getting mass media attention. Who else in the world would say that you should of lit-up crosses whenever they see trees in a Christmas movie? Yeah, I eagerly await when Saving Christmas gets an Australian release, because that kind of na├»ve madness is perfect for this blog. Until then, I have the remake of Left Behind to deal with. Yes, seriously; even the realms of Christian cinema have gotten the re-hash bug. This is Left Behind.

The plot: Reyford Steele (Nicolas Cage) is a commercial airplane pilot flying from New York to London. While in mid-air, a sudden flash of light occurs and some of the passengers just disappear into thin air. As the remaining passengers try to figure what has just occurred, Reyford’s daughter Chloe (Cassi Thomson) is still on the ground, and millions of people have also vanished. Amidst the rioting and mass panic, she discovers that the answer to what has happened may lie with God.

Nicolas Cage was told that he would get to play a character named Captain Steele and, in later films, battle with the Antichrist if he agreed to be in this one. This is literally the only reason I can think of why Cage signed on for this film, because he is way too good for this movie. This is surprising because not only is he good in this movie, he isn’t the usual Cage-style ‘punching out people in a bear suit’ good. He is legitimately trying here, which is much more than I can say for pretty much anyone else, except for maybe Jordin Sparks as Shasta who gets one moment that has at least some energy to it. Other than that, we have actors that people will probably recognize from material that is far, far better than this. Chad Michael Murray is admittedly more charming than Kirk Cameron who had his role in the original, but then again he doesn’t have to try that hard to do it and it shows. Probably the biggest disappointment here is Lea Thompson as Cage’s wife; after seeing her in Back In Time and remembering just how much I missed her as an actress, going to this right after is depressing.

The original Left Behind shows the beginning stages of the Antichrist to take over the world in the aftermath of the Rapture, while the few ‘true Christians’ rally up against him. This takes that film’s first act and made it into the entire film. I, much like Nic Cage in that hypothetical scenario, am seriously let down that we didn’t get to see Cage fight the Antichrist. Instead, this film focuses on the initial mystery: Millions of people have disappeared off the face of the Earth, and no-one knows why. We’ll ignore the fact that anyone who actively goes to see this film will already know the big twist of the reason for the missing people. The filmmakers do literally nothing with that concept, and the little that we do get when it comes to people accusing others for what happened, it’s both brushed under the rug in record time and not even treated as that big a deal in the moment.

Other than that, all that happens is that we watch these supposed-to-be-characters reacting to the fact that everyone is gone, while Steele tries to safely land the plane. For about 90 minutes of the film’s 110 minute running time. Maybe Martin Klebba will do something antisocial, but even then it amounts to nothing in the overall plot. This is probably the most padded-out film I’ve seen in a while, as there are just so many scenes that go absolutely nowhere, even when one of the passengers is moments away from committing suicide in her distress. Maybe they should have stuck to the original story, because they clearly don’t know how to give sufficient beef to this dead carcass of a narrative. The only thing with any kind of pulse to it is the music, but for all the wrong reasons. It feels like Jack Lenz had several ideas for compositions and just threw them together without any attempt to mesh them together. Because of this, we have weirdly juxtaposed Western guitar crammed into the same box as typical orchestral strings, along with wacky caper music at random in one scene.

This film didn’t even need to involve the Rapture, considering it barely factors into the core plot. If anything, it’s background information for why the people have disappeared. With the original film, because it delved a bit deeper into the times of Tribulation and the like, the Rapture had a narrative reason to happen. Here, it could literally be anything and it still wouldn’t matter. It doesn’t help that the depiction of the Rapture is, frankly, inconsistent. The film is going with the angle that all the Christians were raptured and everyone else… will go through trials that will only exist in this film’s sequel which, given how they are going the long road to crowd-fund it, probably won’t end up surfacing. As such, this film contains a lot of cut-and-dry morality that shows that being good and/or bad isn’t nearly as complex as it is in real life; it’s just a matter of belief.

The fact that the film keeps making a point of saying that every child was taken, knowing the ultimate reason, is proof enough of this film’s bullcrap; I’ve been around enough little kids to know that some of them, if not most of them, are as innocent as newborn baby rats. Then again, this mindset is cyclically proven to be true by having stereotypically intolerant/crazy people remain on the plane, along with one lone Muslim just to make sure we know that only people of the ““””””””””right”””””””””” religion went up to Heaven. And let’s not even get into the idea that the God of this film’s universe took people in the middle of driving/flying, no doubt killing others in the process and robbing them of a chance to redeem themselves in his eyes. You’d think that, given how he knew well enough to cast decent actors instead of Kirk ‘Crocaduck’ Cameron, Vic Armstrong would have learnt not to copy the film’s other mistakes as well.

All in all, it’s really sad when I actively wished that this film was morally offensive like God’s Not Dead; at least then, it would have been engaging. Instead, through a weakly thought-out script, disinterested acting and enough tension to fit into a gnat’s asshole with room to spare, all this manages to do is bore for its nearly 2-hour running time. When you have Nicolas Cage as a character named Captain Steele, being boring is almost an offence on all thing sacred. It’s worse than Home Sweet Hell, as this doesn’t even have any decent notions to bring to the table. Sure, the one’s in that film were recycled beyond recognition, but they still existed. However, since all this film really did was just bore me, it still isn’t as bad as Now Add Honey’s atrociously misguided approach to comedy.


When Disney absorbed LucasFilms into its gargantuan mass, sci-fi fan boys the world over let out an echoing sigh of relief. For reasons I’ll get into when I finally get around to the latest Star Wars film, I was not one of them. However, when the company changed hands, there was a project that was still in-development under George Lucas. It was a pet project of his, something he wanted to make that his daughters could watch; what Star Wars was to 12-year-old boys, this would be to 12-year-old girls. Words from the man himself, in case his lack of common sense wasn't already well known. This is something he had been working on since around the time the prequels were first being developed, going through different hands to finally realize Lucas’ vision. Since this vision includes the words ‘romance’ ‘musical’ and ‘based on the works of Shakespeare’, I can hardly wait to see the sudden realization that just because LucasFilms changed hands, that doesn’t mean that they are immune from making failures. So, in preparation for what will be the inevitable let-down of galactic proportions in a week or so, let’s take a look at the first release from the ‘legendary’ studio post-Disney. This is Strange Magic.

The plot: On the border between the land of the fairies and the land of the bog creatures, there grows a patch of Primrose flowers. These flowers are crucial in the recipe for love potions. After being repeatedly (and rightfully) rejected by fairy princess Marianne (Evan Rachel Wood), prince Roland (Sam Palladio) asks elf Sunny (Elijah Kelley) to retrieve a Primrose, under the pretence of making a potion so Sunny can win the heart of Marianne’s sister Dawn (Meredith Anne Bull). But as he delves into the bog, Sunny gets the attention of the Bog King (Alan Cumming), who never wants another love potion to be brewed.

This is easily one of the most bizarre musicals I’ve come across. Not because of its subject matter; after works like Hedwig & The Angry Inch and the South Park movie, this is extremely tame. No, this musical is bizarre because of its execution. All the songs found here, with a few possible exceptions, were picked out by Lucas himself. Given all the loathing for Lucas that exists in the world right now, it seems like this film has also caught some of it because this film hates its own musical numbers. It is perplexing to witness but the film and its characters seem to be trying their damnedest to ignore whatever singing goes on. Whether it’s awkwardly talking in-between the lyrics or watching the trolls groan in pain over how bad the singing is, this film feels like it’s being forced to be a jukebox musical at gunpoint.

Of course, the trolls are absolutely right: The music is terrible. The song choices are decent enough and work within the otherwise anaemic story, but the renditions we get here are beyond weak. It starts out on Can’t Help Falling In Love, a song that has already been performed better in an animated musical earlier this year; it only gets worse after that. From then on, Marius de Vries’ compositions just serve up bland renditions of old-school Elvis tunes and an even blander version of Kelly Clarkson’s Stronger. That should not be possible. Hell, even the songs that are actually done with some degree with competency end up failing because, quite frankly, they’re too weak in their own right for the characters they’re given to. I love Deep Purple, but Mistreated is a bit of a weeny song to give the (supposed) antagonist. As a result of how much even the film hates its own soundtrack, the film gains a certain degree of hilarity through that mutual understanding. It gets more than a little ridiculous just how the characters react to the songs.

Then there’s the voice cast, and can someone please point me in the direction of the numbnuts who said that Evan Rachel Wood was a good singer? I honestly wouldn’t mind the talk-singing she does here if she was just delegated a couple of songs, but no; she’s heard the most out of the entire cast. Same goes for Anne Bull, whom if I never hear sing Sugar Pie Honey Bunch again, it’ll forever be too soon. Palladio is essentially playing blond Elvis, and he carries that half-a-note well enough dramatically but not so much musically. Not to say that everyone is bad here, though, as there are a few that make a genuine attempt in their numbers. Alan Cumming can do no wrong as a singer, and it helps that he’s given the songs that are the best orchestrated (relatively speaking), Elijah Kelley brings some energy to his voice and Chenoweth… not only did is she the crowning jewel in this musical mush, but her treatment of Love Is Strange completely negated the gag reflex I get from that song thanks to Pitbull and co.’s mangling of it for Back In Time. In a film this milquetoast, that’s an impressive accomplishment.

Remember the disturbing Uncanny Valley effect from the Fairy Godmothers in Maleficent? Hope not, because this is eerily close to that level of quality in the facial department. I’ve seen cheap CGI give a plastic sheen to models before, but this is the first time that they literally look like they are made of plastic. It just looks like the director’s daughter was having a little too much fun with Barbie Mariposa and he decided to animate around it rather poorly. This especially sucks because the texturing on the settings actually looks decent. The sets kind of give Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland flashbacks something major, but they at least look more structurally sound than the characters in front of them. Kind of sums up the film in a nutshell, really.

All in all, it’s a musical where the music is awful. That really should be the final nail in the coffin for this thing, except the filmmakers treat it like a mandatory project, right down to mocking the music in-universe. As a result, it becomes kind of hilarious as the film echoes the sentiments of the audience. If anything, this attitude of acknowledging and making fun of what the film has to do because of Lucas’ involvement kind of gives some hope for The Force Awakens. At least, it does for me. It’s better than the Poltergeist remake as, despite doing a better job of reinterpreting the source material, it didn’t deliver nearly as much enjoyment as this did, however incidentally. However, since that laughter wasn’t legitimately earned, it falls short of Dumb & Dumber To which hit transcendence at one point with how clever its comedy was. It may have only gotten there at the end of the film, but it happened nonetheless.

1 comment:

  1. Christian here going through the archives. I really, really hate Christian films. They're pandering and stereotype-laden. Their plots are ridiculous and black-and-white. The only one I do like is Prince of Egypt.