Reviews of the Past: ‘London’ nothing but another big mess

london-has-fallen

BY ROGER THOMAS

I vaguely remember “Olympus Has Fallen.”
I watched it. I guess I remember enough about it that when I saw a television ad for “London Has Fallen,” I knew immediately that it was a sequel to “Olympus.” I concluded that based on the three lead actors: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart and Morgan Freeman. Other than those three actors together in an action film, and the fact that the story took place at the White House, there is little good or bad about “Olympus Has Fallen” that I can recall.
In fact, while I was watching “London Has Fallen” I was reminded about elements of the first film. The President, played by Eckhart, mentions his son several times and I remembered his son was in the first film. The son never appears in this sequel. I also seem to recall the First Lady dies at the beginning of the original, therefore there is no president’s wife in this film. Those are about the only two things I could recall about the first film as I watched the second.
Fortunately for me, I can go back and look at my thoughts of “Olympus Has Fallen.” This is some of what I wrote in 2013 about the first “Fallen” movie: “This film is a by-the-numbers action thriller. The opening scenes with the attack on D.C. and the capturing of the White House are done well. But the first 10 minutes, which takes place a year before the attack, are more engaging than anything that happens in the rest of the film.
“Great effects amount to little when the story is so predictable. While we are on the subject of predictability, I wonder if anyone who sees this film believes the hero will not win in the end.”
That exact thought was there again the second time: Is there anyone in this theater who thinks there is a chance the hero will lose and the President will not survive? I will not reveal here if my prediction turns out to be accurate. But you can probably guess.
Beyond the predictability of “London Has Fallen,” there are other elements that troubled me. I do not remember all the carnage that happens to Washington D.C. in the first film, but as I watched all those grand historic structures in London, I found it troubling.
I know it is just effects and no buildings were harmed during the filming of “London Has Fallen.” However, as I watched these truly amazing structures being destroyed, I questioned how that could be entertaining for anyone. The point is moot.
For many years of cinema, aliens, terrorists and a whole host of other entities have destroyed precious monuments to excite audiences in the cinema. I suppose some were troubled by the devastated Statue of Liberty in the final scene of “Planet of the Apes.” These things have not troubled me before, but they did with this film.
Beyond the destruction of historical buildings, there is plenty of loss of life, though for an R-rated film, it was not as bloody as I expected it to be.
The three leads, Butler, Eckhart, and Freeman, do a fine job in their roles. However, Freeman and Eckhart have made so many extraordinary films it seems almost shameful for them to be a part of now two films that are simply messes. As for Butler, he has now starred in two of my least favorite films of 2016: “Gods of Egypt” and “London Has Fallen” and it is only March. He may have a few more flops before the year ends.
In conclusion, I hope nothing else “falls.” I am hoping this series ends with two films. If not, perhaps there can be less destruction on screen and more construction in the screenwriters’ office.

  Roger Thomas is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association. He reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.

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Reviews of the Past: ‘Zootopia’ another fun animation

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BY ROGER THOMAS

Earlier this year, I praised the first animated film released in 2016: “Kung Fu Panda 3.” I wrote then about the beautiful animation, clever humor and appealing characters.
The second animated release of 2016 has many of the same qualities. First and foremost, “Zootopia” is a colorful world that unites the city life of the animals with some of their natural environments. The characters and their clothing also add to the tapestry of brilliant shades.
As with “Panda” the screenplay for “Zootopia” offers many humorous moments that work well. The familiar scene with the sloths is one of the best bits, but there are others almost as delightful. There is also a very clever parody of “The Godfather” which will mean nothing to the children in the audience, but for fans of that great film, it is quite amusing. Even without the knowledge of the classic, the scene still works well to advance the plot of the crime mystery that drives the film.
Then there are the characters. I would love to know the exact count of the animated animals created for this film. Especially in the bustling city scenes, this is a crowded motion picture. There are main characters that drive the story such as Judy Hopps, Nick Wilde, Bellwether, Mayor Lionheart and Chief Bogo. Then there are many more minor characters like Flash the Sloth, and a swarm of animated extras that create this amazing environment.
Another strength of the film is the abundance of actors who give voice to the many species on screen. Ginnifer Goodwin, of television’s “Once Upon a Time” speaks for Judy Hopps. Film and television star Jason Bateman offers the dialogue for Nick Wilde. Recent SAG award winner Idris Elba, Oscar winners J. K Simmons and Octavia Spencer and actress Bonnie Hunt voice other characters.
With all of this, beautiful animation, quick humor, fun characters and celebrity voices, the film would not succeed without a compelling script. “Zootopia” is a mystery. The film moves in several directions, sometimes exposing the plot and at other times offering a twist.
Sometimes the answers to the mystery are easier to solve than at other times. One pivotal revelation seemed obvious very early, yet it did not distract too much on the whole. Ultimately, the plot works as a story. It engages the viewers enough that one wants to know what will happen.
Beyond the mystery plot, the film also has a moral. It is not heavy-handed, at least not for this reviewer, but the film does offer a message about stereotyping and prejudice. Again, the film is not overtly aggressive in selling this moral. In fact, the key audience, children between 4-10, will probably never grasp the concepts the filmmakers are offering.
Years from now, when those children see the film again, possibly with their own children, they will realize that there is a special message amidst the colors, actions, humor and all the other elements that define “Zootopia.”
Thus far, 2016 has given us two animated features which are quite charming and deserve to be seen by many audiences of all ages. I am not sure that either of these will be the best animated feature of 2016. I am holding out for “Finding Dory,” the sequel to Pixar’s masterpiece, “Finding Nemo.”
But until “Nemo” opens later this year, there are at least two animated films that have many strong elements.

  Roger Thomas is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association. He reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.

Reviews of the Past: First look at fall’s best, rest of ’15

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BY ROGER THOMAS

When I first started contemplating a list of films for the fall and the rest of 2015 that I am most anticipating, I immediately thought of “Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens.” After all, this film opens on Dec. 18, three days before the beginning of winter. Then I realized there are so many compelling titles opening soon, I probably need to do two articles, one for September and October now, and one for November and December. So here are the top ten films to which I am most looking forward in the next two months. I’ll have November and December later in the year. Some will disappoint and others take their place, but it seems like it is going to be a good early autumn.

September

“The Visit” (Opens Sept. 11): Yes, the trailer seems to be over the top, but this is the first scary work of M. Night Shyamalan (“The Sixth Sense,” “Signs” and “Unbreakable”) in quite a while. It may turn out to be nothing, but I, for one, am hoping this will be the comeback film for a director that deserves many more hits.
“Black Mass” (Sept. 18): Gangster films are like boxing movies, it sometimes seems we have had our quota for two lifetimes. But the trailer is captivating both because of the make-up that almost makes Johnny Depp unrecognizable and the amazing performance that trumps even the make-up artists’ work.
“Everest” (Sept. 18): There are many things I have concluded that I will never do. Climbing a snow-capped mountain is one of those, or really any mountain at this point. As I watched the trailer for this film, it drew me into the story and created an excitement within me. I hope the film is as good as the trailer.
“99 Homes” (Sept. 25): Michael Shannon and Andrew Garfield are two actors who have not yet received the attention they deserve. Garfield’s work in “The Social Network” and Shannon’s work in “Take Shelter” says it all.

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“The Walk” (Sept. 30): Joseph Gordon- Levitt stars in the true story of a street performer, Philippe Petit, who stretched a wire between the World Trade Center buildings while they were under construction and then he tried to walk the wire. Directed by Robert Zemeckis, who has given us “Forrest Gump,” “Back to the Future,” “The Polar Express” and “Cast Away,” just to name a few.

October

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“The Martian” (Oct. 2): Ridley Scott directs Matt Damon, who plays an astronaut who gets stranded on Mars. The trailer is incredibly emotional. Hopefully, it will not feel like a replay of “Gravity” but something unique and touching.

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“Pan” (Oct. 9): A few years ago I heard a film critic pose the question: “Has there ever been a really good ‘Peter Pan’ film?” I actually enjoy the 2003 version with Jeremy Sumpter in the title role. Just judging from the trailer, this new version with intriguing twists on the original just might become my favorite. It’s directed by Joe Wright, who gave us “Atonement”, the best film of 2007 in my humble opinion.
“Steve Jobs” (Oct. 9): You know the name and much of the story. There has already been one bio-film. But the trailer makes this one seem to be much more aggressive in telling the story. Plus, the film is directed by Danny Boyle, who directed “Millions,” “127 Hours” and his Best Picture-winning film “Slumdog Millionaire.”
“Bridge of Spies” (Oct. 16): This is probably the one film I am most anticipating. Director Steven Spielberg directs Tom Hanks in a historical legal drama with American and Russian spies. It’s Spielberg’s first film in three years and it opens in less than two months. I am excited!
“Suffragette” (Oct. 23): Three reasons this film is on the list: Carey Mulligan, who will hopefully score another Oscar nomination since she did not win for “An Education” in 2009; Meryl Streep, who gets to redeem herself for “Ricki and the Flash” and the plot about the equality of women, a fight that is still sadly being fought around our world.

  Roger Thomas is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association. He reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.

This movie is bold, brillant and beautiful

Me, Earl and the Dying Girl

(Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight) Thomas Mann, center, and RJ Cyler learn a lot from Olivia Cooke’s character in the film “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.”

BY ROGER THOMAS
Film Critic

“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” is not a film for everyone.
I know people who would say it is too artsy, tries too hard to jerk the heartstrings, ends wrong or a whole host of other issues. I can sum the film up simply with three little words: bold, brilliant and beautiful.
There are a lot of reasons why I loved the film. First, someone who loves film made it. There are more references to other movies in this 105-minute film than almost any I have ever seen. Greg (“Me” in the movie) and Earl have been remaking their favorite films since they were children. Now as high school seniors, they have a large collection of amateur remakes of classic films and these are displayed throughout the film, often offering humor in the midst of a story about cancer.
Another great strength of the film is the cast. The three leads – Thomas Mann (he plays Me of the title, who happens to be named Greg), RJ Cyler (Earl) and Olivia Cooke (the Dying Girl, who is named Rachel) – all give phenomenal performances. Beyond these three, Nick Offerman and Connie Britton as Greg’s parents and Molly Shannon as Rachel’s mother all deliver amazing supporting roles.
Then there is the story. Teenage cancer. Awkward friendship. The search to discover who you want to be and the pressures of high school to be someone else. Parents who want to understand, but fail. Anger, regret, joy, creativity, ignorance, selfishness and selflessness. And lots of quirky moments that leave one scratching their head until suddenly, it all makes sense. I did not particularly like every moment of this film, but I loved it as a whole work.
In fact, the only criticism of the film at all was that at the beginning, it took me a while to adapt to the rhythm of the movie. Once I was in sync, I liked it more and more.
I begin with three little words: bold, brilliant and beautiful. Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon boldly places bits and pieces of this film that immediately cause one to question why. At least that was my experience. The more times I saw that “claymation” moose, the more I liked what it was depicting. One of the many “bold” choices in a film filled with them.
The film is brilliant for the artistic choices, but also for the story. There are so many moments of clarity in this script, so many times the words spoken, the actions taken, ring so true and yet equally the script offers surprises and unique affirmations of the journey of life.
Finally, the film is simply beautiful. When Greg finally displays his most recent creative achievement, it is less and more in a way that only art can be. Or perhaps I expected more and found less to be tremendously satisfying and authentic.
“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” is one of my favorite films of 2015. You probably have already guessed that. If your taste lean towards traditional narrative styles and simple concise plots (insert any Nicholas Sparks film here as an example), then “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” is probably not for you.
However, if you want something that deviates from the mainstream, but ultimately satisfies, this is the film for you.

 Roger Thomas is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association. He reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.

‘Genisys’ is fun in spite of its flaws

Terminator Geniysis

(Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures) Arnold Schwarzenegger continues to keep his eye on Sarah Connor (Emilia Clark) as the Terminator out to protect her in the latest installment of this franchise.

BY ROGER THOMAS
Film Critic

I had not seen “The Terminator” before I saw “Terminator 2: Judgement Day.”
My first exposure to the story of Sarah and John Connor (played by Edward Furlong in the second film) was with the sequel. I saw it in a mall in Knoxville, Tennessee, and I was amazed watching the evil liquid terminator transform from one shape to another. It was a startling good film and I was hooked on this saga.
I, of course, sought out the original as soon as I got home. Though the first film did not have quite the amazing effects of the second, it was still incredible storytelling. I hoped for more.
And, of course, we got more. There was “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,” which I only vaguely remember. Nick Stahl became the second actor to play John Connor and Claire Danes was his future wife. This time, the evil terminator had a female form during much of the film.
Then came “Terminator Salvation” with Christian Bale, who ends up being the third actor playing John Connor. That is about the only element of the film that I can recall at this point.
Then there was the short-lived (two seasons) television series: “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.” This series was the best imagining of the Terminator story since the second film. There was no Arnold Schwarzenegger and Thomas Dekker became the fourth actor to play John Connor.
Now we have “Terminator Genisys” with the fifth actor, Jason Clarke, playing John Connor. Throughout these films and the television series, John Connor has been the focus. The prevention of John’s conception is the intent of the first terminator, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger.
His second terminator is sent to protect the young John. Throughout the series, John Connor’s existence has been paramount and for me, that is the greatest downfall of the new film.
I object to the direction the film takes with respect to the John Connor character. It is almost like discovering that Luke Skywalker will become a Sith Lord in the new Star Wars film. That just is not cool.
But I have other criticisms as well. The first half hour or so moves really fast. I know this series specializes in amazing action, but even in the best film, “Terminator 2,” the action paused for meaningful conversations. There is little of that here.
Then there is the whole time travel element that gets very convoluted the more the characters discuss it. I am not asking for the film to be simpler, just have one character who is not quite catching on so someone can explain it to him, and the members of the audience like me who are still catching up.
Another distraction happens when the heroes are fleeing from the villains. There is an awful lot of collateral damage along the way. This is true in all the “Terminator” films. When you are trying to save humanity, innocent bystanders just have to be sacrificed. I get that about action movies, but every so often, I start wondering how many people die while the good guys are doing whatever they have to do to save the future. In this film, the off-camera death toll had to be pretty high.
By no means would I call “Terminator Genisys” a great film. In fact, I have spent most of this review explaining the weaknesses of it and the superiority of its predecessors, at least some of them. However, the effects are stellar, the humor is often quite amusing, and Arnold’s character is great.
I will close with a statement I said immediately exiting the theater: “Well, for all its shortcomings, it is a fun film, and what does one want from a big summer blockbuster if it is not fun.” If you want two hours of fun, ignore the lesser parts and go for it.

 Roger Thomas is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association. He reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.

Nothing ‘Fantastic’ about this

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(Photo courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox) From left to right: The Thing, Johnny Storm, Reed Richards and Sue Storm come together to fight a deadly enemy.

BY ROGER THOMAS
Film Critic

I do not remember much about the plots of old Saturday morning cartoon versions of “Fantastic Four.”
I am not sure how old I was when I begin to watch the series. But I vividly remember that I never wanted to miss it. I loved those characters. I even had “Fantastic Four” pajamas. Those four were my introduction to the world of superheroes. Well, those four and the campy “Batman” series with Adam West and Burt Ward.
There have been two previous “Fantastic Four” films. The first, entitled simply “Fantastic Four,” came out in 2005 and the sequel, “Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer,” released in 2007. Neither of those films was very good. “Silver Surfer” is better but very weak in comparison to many of the superhero films we have had in the last decade.
So with the revealing of my historical relationship with Reed Richards, Johnny Storm, Sue Storm and Ben “The Thing” Grimm, allow me to offer my opinion of the new version of the “Fantastic Four.”
First, the film moves at a snail’s pace. This is the origin story (again) with a whole new cast. However, the audience is there for the action, not the science. The film is 105 minutes long, which I endorse as a good idea for all superhero films. I have often criticized the ones that go over two hours for being bloated. However, with “Fantastic Four” the problem is not the length of the film, it is the fact that the first 49 minutes are leading up to the transformation of the heroes.
I applaud the film for the brevity of length, but the front half of this movie could have been reduced even more to create a better film.
Then there is the cast. I have watched the career of Jamie Bell (The Thing) since his starring role as the title character in “Billy Elliot” when he was 14. Michael B. Jordan (Johnny Storm) was the lead in my favorite film of 2013, “Fruitvale Station.” And Miles Teller (Reed Richards) delivered great work in last year’s “Whiplash” and 2013’s “The Spectacular Now”.
This trio of great actors are left with so little to do in this film, that they can never create a bond with the audience. I never cared about any of them or any of the other characters that populated this world. There is just no emotional connection here, while so many films of this genre have successfully excited and moved the audience.
Another crucial element of hero films is the humor. Most superhero films have clever humor. Almost unanimously, hero films have great wit, from skilled screenwriters who know how to enhance the plot and get the audience chuckling. A recent example of this is “Ant-Man.” The humor in that film is one of the greatest strengths of the screenplay. I am not sure I laughed more than twice in “Fantastic Four.” Quite simply, the laughs never came.
To add to these flaws, there were moments when the special effects did not impress, the villain was not menacing enough and the early sets were supposed to be like 2007 but these looked more like sets for a film depicting the 60s.
I really hoped this film would be better than the previous ones, but alas, it was less. There is no good reason to recommend this film to anyone. There are too many good, and a few great, films playing in cinemas now. No reason to patronize the “Fantastic Four.”

  Roger Thomas is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association. He reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.

‘The Gift’ proves to be a real treat

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(Photo courtesy of STX Production) Joel Edgerton proves to be pretty creepy, especially around Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall in “The Gift.”

BY ROGER THOMAS
Film Critic

The Gift is a different kind of film.
It is a thriller with very little violence or blood. There are no supernatural elements to it, yet it offers the audience several jolting scares. And in the end, a group of 10 people could see it together and reach different conclusions about the climax of the film. Not necessarily what happened, but what and who made things ultimately play out as they did.
This is the story of a young couple that moves back to California where the husband grew up. On a day of shopping for items to decorate their new home, a man approaches the husband and re-introduces himself. The two men were in high school together. A few days later, the man shows up at the couple’s home and seems to want or possibly need friends. One can conclude this much from the trailer, and perhaps a little more, but I will stop there.
As I watched “The Gift,” I found it too often be a quiet film. Even most of the conversations are subdued, spoken softly, at least until tempers flare.
I especially enjoyed the three main performances in the film. Jason Bateman, who picks many great projects, plays the husband, Simon. His performance here is constantly changing, as we understand more about his character.
Rebecca Hall plays the wife and she is the heart of this story. If anyone in this story is completely sympathetic, it is Hall’s Robyn. Her character also travels the longest emotional journey throughout the film.
Then there is Joel Edgerton as the former acquaintance, Gordo. Edgerton has been in several films that I really admire, but I have to admit, I did not recognize him here. This character seemed very distant from anything he has chosen to do in his prior work.
If Hall is the heart of the film, Edgerton is the driving force. Collectively, these three deliver a powerful collaboration.
There are a few bumps along the way. There are a couple of things I question in the plot development. There are issues that arise, or at least arose in my mind, but then again, most thrillers have some weaknesses.
But in the end, the film kept surprising me. It went in directions I did not expect. And it was about far more than one lonely man preying on a couple. As much as anything it is about identity, who one is and what one will do.
Does our past dictate our future? And how much do we change who we are from who we were? These are deep thoughts for a thriller, but they are all there, if you look for them.
As the film reached its climax, I did notice there was a buzz in the audience as people were beginning to realize what was going to happen. The knowledge swept through my mind along with them. Just because you realize a truth in no way diminishes the power of those last few minutes. “The Gift” is a small intimate thriller that satisfies.
I have realized as I write this review that most of my favorite films this year are about the characters’ feelings. The best film of the year for me is still “Inside Out” and it is all about feelings and emotions.
“The Gift,” though a thriller and a mystery, is also a film about feelings, from the past and the present. It is a film filled with emotions and is also one of the better films I have seen this year.

  Roger Thomas is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association. He reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.

‘Gods’ early leader for worst film

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(Photo courtesy of Fox Studios) While “Gods of Egypt” is a big-budget film, it’s storyline (or lack thereof) didn’t bring a lot of people to see it.

BY ROGER THOMAS
Film Critic

Let me begin with a simple truth: I hope I do not see another film this year as bad as “Gods of Egypt.” In fact, I hope every other film I see in 2016 is a lot better than this one. I cannot name in recent memory a film I detested as much as “Gods of Egypt.”
With that said, allow me to offer the filmmakers one tiny glimmer of praise: I liked the way the Egyptian gods were depicted as larger than the mortals. The two species live in harmony at the beginning of the story and one can easily differentiate between the two. It makes the humans seem childlike, which is certainly found in most faiths including Christians.
We refer to God as our Heavenly Father and we are his children. Throughout religious history there has been a relationship between the deities and the mortals. This one element, gods as giants, mortals almost childlike, worked very well. And this one effect, the size discrepancies, almost always seemed perfect in the midst of many flawed effects.
As for the rest of the film, none of it is enthralling, including the often boring performances. Geoffrey Rush, who has made many marvelous films, including his Oscar-winning performance in “Shine,” is the grandfather of the gods in a very strange depiction. I am not sure if the character was written poorly, directed poorly or Rush performed it poorly. Perhaps it was all three.
Brenton Thwaites, who has done good work in “Oculus” and “The Giver,” is the mortal hero of the film. For every heroic deed he does, he seems to create another mishap. There is little overall to make his hero someone to root for.
He spends most of the time running away from whatever the effects artists have created. There are many others including Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Courtney Eaton, Chadwick Boseman and Gerard Butler. None of them earned a viewer’s attention or passion.
Then there were the effects. I honestly believe the filmmakers thought that was all the film needed. “A gripping story is unnecessary. Character develop not important. Dialogue that sounds authentic is needed in other films, but not this one. The only thing we need is to wow them with CGI.”
And so they made sure almost every frame of film was something startling, or at least what they thought was astonishing.
I found myself critiquing the effects and thinking, “Oh wow, that one looks much more fake than the one before.” Or, “What were they trying to do with that. I do not think they meant it to look that way.” One example of this is the god Ra, played by Rush. He is an Egyptian god but he is flying around space on what looks like a ship that belongs in “Star Wars” or “Star Trek.”
Then there are some inappropriate moments in the film. My guess is that if anyone likes this film, it will be 10-year-old boys. The busy parts of the film will be appealing to that demographic. It would have appealed to me when I was that age, and the quality of the effects was far less.
However, I can think of a couple of scenes that push the PG-13 rating. There is no nudity, but intimacy is heavily implied. These moments did nothing to advance the plot.
Finally, I do not know a lot about the gods of Egyptian mythology. The film may or may not follow the traditions. Regardless, the filmmakers believed if they built a spectacle, and “Gods of Egypt” is spectacular even as it fails, audiences would come.
I am advising you not to.

Roger Thomas is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association. He reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.

Oscars rewind, look ahead to rest of ’16

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BY ROGER THOMAS
Film Critic

Well, another Oscar ceremony has come and gone. And one thing is for sure … no one knew what was going to happen this past Sunday night.
My overall predictions were far less than impressive. I got 12 out of 24 for 50 percent. To use my favorite metaphor of predicting the Oscars, I hit a lot of potholes.
At least I got Mark Rylance for “Bridge of Spies.” Many were confidant Sylvester Stallone was going to finally win for playing Rocky Balboa in seven different films. I predicted three out of four of acting awards, both the writing awards, the documentary and foreign film awards, cinematography, production design, makeup, musical score and animated feature.
But I missed Best Picture as “The Big Short” turned out to be the biggest pothole of them all, only winning one award for screenplay. However, I will still argue that it is the best film of 2015. I also did not see the avalanche of awards that were destined for “Mad Max: Fury Road.” That film is still my least favorite of the eight “Best Picture” nominees.
But what a great year in film. May 2016 give film lovers as many diverse and thrilling experiences as 2015 surely did.
Here are just a few of the films I looking forward to this spring. First, there are three comic book heroes coming to a theatre near everyone. While the R-rated “Deadpool” is still racking up the dollars, over the next three months, a trio of super films are on the way: “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” “Captain America: Civil War” and “X-Men: Apocalypse.” I hope each one is outstanding, but just watching the trailers, I think “Captain America” has the edge.
Then there are non-superhero sequels. Alice is back this time in “Alice Through the Looking Glass.” And so are the “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising.” The first one was incredibly crude, but there were some good laughs. And after many years, along comes “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2.” I personally was not a huge fan of the first, but who knows whether this one will shine.
A couple of animated features might stand out: “Zootopia” looks grand and is from the people who gave us “Frozen” and “Big Hero Six.” Then there is adaptation of a video game entitled “The Angry Birds Movie.”
I do not know a great deal about “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” but the trailer looks funny and I do like Tina Fey.
“Elvis and Nixon” sounds intriguing. Another chapter in the “Divergent Series,” this one subtitled “Allegiant.” The effects look good but I hope the story is stronger than the second one. Then there is J.J. Abrams production of “10 Cloverfield Lane.” The original film “Cloverfield” is quite unique and the trailer for this one is captivating.
Finally, a film I will not miss is the one that will transport me back to my earliest memories of the cinema. The first film I remember seeing on the big screen, and for several years it held a place in my heart as my favorite film, is now getting a remake by the same people who did it so splendidly the first time.
Whenever the trailer comes up in the theater, I feel five again. Of course, I am talking about “The Jungle Book.” Disney did the animated version in the 1960s, and now they are giving us a live action/CGI version that looks to be a visual feast.
I feel younger just thinking about it.

  Roger Thomas is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association. He reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.

‘Rogue’ a big summer success

Mission Impossible color

(Photo courtesy of Paramount) At age 53, it’s good to see Tom Cruise can still ride with the best in the fast-paced “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation.”

BY ROGER THOMAS
Film Critic

I have been fairly clear that many of the summer films of 2015 have left me disappointed.

“Jurassic World,” which is now the third highest-grossing film in history, was too much like the original “Jurassic Park.” “The Avengers 2” was too long, especially the final sequence. The jokes of “Minions” were mostly childish (playing to their intended audience, I know). “San Andreas” and even the much lauded “Mad Max: Fury Road” left me wanting something more or different.
On the other hand, I have praised some films that I did not expect to like. “Ant-Man” was a pleasant surprise. Unlike most reviewers, I also found enough to like about “Terminator: Genisys” to call it fun. And though I always expect greatness from Pixar, “Inside Out” (my favorite film of 2015 thus far) startled me with its brilliance.
Now comes along “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation.” This franchise has produced five films based on the old television series that people my age remember for three things: Peter Graves, exploding tape recorders and the theme song.
The first film was in theatres in 1996 and starred Tom Cruise. He was in his mid-30s then. He is now 53 and has starred in all five films.
I have seen all the “Mission Impossible” films, but like the old series, I do not remember a lot about the plots of the previous films. I remember the cool masks. I remember some of the stunts. I cannot remember what any specific film was about except that I knew Cruise’s character, Ethan Hunt, was going to win the day. And he did.
The fact that I cannot remember the plot is not a criticism of the films. Since they are making one about every four years, it is hard to keep the plots clear in one’s head. I see a lot of films in four years and I cannot remember them all. But I can remember that I enjoyed them.
I especially enjoyed the most recent one before “Rogue Nation.” This fourth film, “Ghost Protocol,” I loved in part due to the scene where Cruise hung outside on a skyscraper. I cannot remember why he was hanging there, just that it was a great moment.
Which is my main point about the new film. “Rogue Nation” is an implausible thrill a minute. Riding on the outside of a plane, an intricate chase scene between motorcyclists and a car, a drowning of a major character … all propel this film forward with hyper speed. There are hardly any moments when one can just catch a breath and relax.
“Rogue Nation” delivers as a summer movie. It is one of the best of the season. Is it profound? Perhaps the villain reminds us of the billionaires who want to buy our elections, except he is British, so no one would think that but me. There may have been some undertones of political ideas, but long after those thoughts have passed, most audience members will still remember Cruise on the side of that plane.
My personal mental files of the past four “Mission Impossible” films are not very thick. In fact, I am toying with the idea of re-watching those four to see how they stand up against the latest chapter.
But here’s the thing, whether I remember the plot for a week or four years when the next one arrives, (and Cruise is almost 60): I want to believe I will always remember, “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation” is an incredible fun time at the movies. And as I have said often this summer, this is the season for “fun” at the cinema.

 Roger Thomas is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association. He reviews films for The Stanly News & Press.