Better Angels, directed by Malcolm Clarke, is a dull, repetitive and naively optimistic documentary that argues that the U.S. and China would be better off if business and cultural relations between the two would be strengthened. Can't we all just get along? Clarke opens the film with Henry Kissinger's thoughts on the issue before including many talking heads with businessmen from the U.S. and China such as Dov Charney, Glad Cheng, Li Mianjun and Wang Jianlin. Each of them repeats the film's message about U.S.-China relations ad nauseam, so the doc quickly becomes preachy and tedious. There's very little about Better Angels that makes it cinematic, provocative nor moving----it could easily be seen on the small screen and nothing would be lost. Moreover, Clarke neglects to offer any counter arguments nor does he probe deep into anything that the subjects say. Also, what about letting some businesswomen speak for a change? At a running time of 92 minutes, Better Angels often drags and leaves you feeling underwhelmed. It's the most disappointing doc since Bisbee '17. ARTeFACT Entertainment opens it at Cinema Village.
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms
Clara (Mackenzie Foy), her siblings, Louise (Ellie Bamber) and Fritz (Tom Sweet), along with her father, Richard (Matthew Macfadyen), grief the recent death of her mother, Marie (Anna Madeley). When they attend an annual Christmas Eve party, Drosselmeyer (Morgan Freeman), Clara's godfather, hands Clara an egg-shaped metal box bequethed to her by her mother. The box needs a special key to be unlocked. Drosselmeyer sends her to the Four Realms to find that key, but once she does, a mouse steals it from her. She soon befriends a Nutcracker soldier, Phillip (Jayden Fowora-Knight), and meets the regents of each of the Realms: Hawthorne (Eugenio Derbez), regent of the Realm of Flowers, Shiver (Richard E. Grant), regent of the Realm of Snowflakes, Sugar Plum (Keira Knightley), regent of the Realm of Sweets. The Realm of Amusements, ruled by the tyrannical Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren), is the most dangerous Realm of all. It puts Clara and Phillip's lives at risk as they try to retrieve the key and to restore peace within the Four Realms.
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms fills your eyes and ears with plenty of entertaining sights and sounds, but it fails to satiate your heart, mind and soul because of the shallow screenplay by Ashleigh Powell. From the opening scenes, it's clear where most of the film's production budget went to: the costume designs, set designs and CGI. Unfortunately, breathtaking visuals have diminishing returns especially when they're so over-the-top. There's something very cold about the visuals. Perhaps the film were animated with traditional hand-drawn animation like in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or Alice in Wonderland instead of being live-action with CGI, it would've at least had a warmer look. Powell's dull screenplay doesn't help either because there's very little wit and warmth to be found in the stale dialogue. None of the characters are memorable, especially Clara who comes across as a very bland and doesn't have much of a personality that would've humanize her and make it easy for audiences to get inside her head. That's the film's most serious flaw because without that essential emotional connection between the audience and Clara, it's hard to be truly engaged by her adventures in the Four Realms or to care about whether or not she ultimately succeeds. If only the film were to slow down a bit to get to know its characters more for a change, the characters wouldn't have fallen so emotionally flat.
There's also not nearly enough comic relief. A CGI mouse that communicates with squeaks and hand gestures is mildly amusing, but not very funny and gets tedious very quickly. The same can be said about Sugar Plum who's awkward, silly and, eventually, annoying. Helen Mirren gets too little screen time with an underdeveloped character. The comedic talents of Eugenio Derbez and Richard E. Grant go to waste in their small roles. Mirren, Derbez, Grant and Knightley are all very charismatic actors, but you wouldn't know it based on this film because they don't get much of a chance to let their charisma shine. While it's nice to see an interracial relationship between Clara and Phillip, they barely have any palpable chemistry together. The Nutcracker and the Four Realms ultimately suffers from what most modern Hollywood films suffer from: it's overproduced with too much Spectacle and not enough Truth or humanism, a truly special effect.