Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

X Men: Apocalypse (2016)

xmen apocalypse
All image rights belong to 20th Century Fox, Kinberg Genre, Marvel Entertainment and Bad Hat Harry Productions

X Men: Apocalypse – Film Review

Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Nicholas Hoult, Jennifer Lawrence, Sophie Turner, Oscar Isaac, Alexandra Shipp, Olivia Munn

Director: Bryan Singer

Synopsis: After awakening from a multiple millennium long sleep, the world’s first mutant En Sabur Nur otherwise known as Apocalypse finds himself in the 1980s and seeks to bring about human extinction, and Charles Xavier and the X Men must stop him.

Review: Despite the nine films we have now had in this franchise, the events of 2014’s Days of Future Past scrambled those timelines for good and effectively erasing all the X Men films from existence, with the exception of 2011’s First Class. The reboot that set the wheels in motion for this new trilogy and the new direction that the franchise is heading. The first X Men trilogy certainly had after two great instalments, an ignominious third chapter is probably the reason the whole franchise got rebooted to get to where we are now. After two spectacular entries to the new trilogy, one could have hoped for that brilliant third chapter, yet sadly, the latest instalment once again falls short of matching the great quality of the films that came before it.

This isn’t to say that Bryan Singer’s latest venture into the world of mutants is anything like the car crash that was The Last Stand, it certainly has its moments, but there are problems too. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender having firmly established themselves in their roles as Professor X and Magneto bring very credible and powerful performances to the mix. For Magneto in particular when it looks as things are looking up for him in a new life, it isn’t long before it all goes very badly wrong. While she doesn’t give her strongest performance as Mystique, Jennifer Lawrence, also brings some solid acting to the mix.  Without doubt one of the highlights of Days of Future Past was Quicksilver’s moment of brilliance. He has a similar scene here, and it is fun to watch him in action, but it’s nowhere near as glorious as his moment in Days of Future Past.

Of the newcomers, by far the biggest stand-out is that of Sophie Turner’s young Jean Grey, a perfect casting choice as she gives off that vulnerability but extraordinary power that we saw from Famke Jensen in the first two X Men films, with her love interest Cyclops now played by Tye Sheridan. The two of them share a connection over their powers and it is exciting to see where this could go. Similarly Kodi Smit-McPhee gives an excellent performance as a young Nightcrawler. The script by Simon Kinberg does give each of these characters to flesh out their characters, but this isn’t applicable to every mutant.

Yet when it comes to the villains, this is where the film REALLY loses its way. Oscar Isaac may have been an inspired choice to play the titular villain as he’s fast becoming a very prolific and great actor. Yet frustratingly, his performance while having its menacing moments, does feel somewhat underwhelming in a similar vein to Ultron in last years’s Avengers: Age of Ultron. This is supposedly the most powerful mutant to have ever existed and he is nowhere near as menacing as he could and perhaps should be. This frustration extends to his horseman, Storm, Psylocke, Angel and Magneto. With the exception of Magneto, their motivations are not entirely made clear and they are also given very little material to work with and flesh out their characters, unlike the younger mutants who are fighting for the X Men.

The plot is a little bit disjointed and messy in terms of its pacing at times, and there is one side arc that arguably could have just been cut out of the film altogether, although it is quite possible that it was there to help set up a future X Men film down the line. The CGI remains of a decent standard and the action scenes in particular the final throw down are enjoying to watch, but they are nowhere near as enthralling as those that were helmed by Vaughn in First Class and by Singer himself in Days of Future Past. Thus ultimately this was a real missed opportunity for Singer to make a film worthy to its two predecessors and to cement itself as a great X Men trilogy. The film’s extensive cast all certainly give their all, but with so many characters all vying for screen time, some do get left in the shadows of the great Egyptian pyramid that Apocalypse emerged from.

McAvoy and Fassbender bring the best performances, and a handful of new performances shine, but the underwhelming villain mean this doesn’t match the quality of Days of Future Past.

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

X Men First Class (2011)

xmen first class
Image righrs belong to Marvel Entertainment, The Donners’ Company, Bad Hat Harry Production, Dune Entertainment, Ingenious Film Partners and 20th Century Fox

X Men – First Class Film Review

Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Nicholas Hoult, Jennifer Lawrence, Rose Byrne, Kevin Bacon, January Jones

Director: Matthew Vaughn

Synopsis: In the middle of the Cold War, the US government seeks the help of a young Charles Xavier aided by a young Erik Lensherr, to stop the rise of Sebastian Shaw, a mutant hell bent on mutant supremacy, and human extinction.

Review: When we were first introduced to characters such as Professor X, Mystique, Magneto and the rest of the X Men crew back in 2000, they were already well established as seasoned mutant veterans, and the battle lines were already firmly drawn particularly between Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr with very different ideologies. However, the origins of that rivalry were ultimately not explored in a substantial amount of detail in the original trilogy. What made them into the enemies that they ultimately become? Matthew Vaughn after directing the brilliant Kick Ass, has the answers to the questions with this prequel tale of the story that was set in motion by Bryan Singer.

It is the 1960s, and we meet a young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) , with a head full of hair and not wheelchair bound, and his loyal friend Raven (Jennifer Lawrence by his side. Through circumstances and the plucky wit of CIA Agent Moira McTaggert, they come across the brilliant but somewhat warped Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon.) Shaw is a firm believer of mutant superiority and that mutants are the next step of the evolution process. His methods and madness certainly play on the mind of Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) who is hunting Shaw with a vengeance after some brutal tests that he carried out on him when Erik was a teenager. Through circumstances, the two cross paths and become allies in their fight to take Shaw down. But of course there is a very obvious difference between the two men in terms of their philosophy, and despite their initial friendship, the cracks begin to show.

With a whole new cast of mutants we had grown to love over the course of the original trilogy, this new crop had a great challenge on their hands, and thankfully they all came through in flying colours, particularly from McAvoy and Fassbender. McAvoy gives the younger Xavier a youthful spirit and while he remains the incredibly powerful mutant he is, he clearly loves life and cherishes those closes to him, specifically Raven, played by Jennifer Lawrence. After Rebecca Romijin’s great work with the blue skinned mutant, but Lawrence manages to give the character terrific depth as she struggles to decide where her place in the world really lies. Fassbender’s Lensherr is a man driven by hatred and revenge after some deep personal tragedy, and his performance is also incredibly powerful. It’s the work of these three that ultimately helps drive the movie forward, in particular the relationship between Charles and Erik, added with a very fine cameo from everyone’s favourite claw wielding mutant. Yet there’s a plethora of new mutants on show, and not all of them get a chance to shine which is a bit bothersome to say the least.

After showing his hand in the superhero genre with Kick Ass, Vaughn does a tremendous job once again. The screenplay that Vaughn penned with Jane Goldman along with Zack Stenz and Ashley Edward Miller goes deep into what it means to be a mutant. Are they superior to us weak and pathetic human beings, or should they be a part of society. And for some, they want to just hide away altogether. Vaughn knows how to handle the big action scenes and once again he delivers some gripping moments, with the final throw down in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis conflict is enthralling to the maximum. After suffering a few trips, this prequel gave the franchise a welcome return to form, no doubt leaving fans Xstatic and keen to see more!

With exciting performances from the new cast, especially from McAvoy and Fassbender, combined with some expert direction and action sequences, the franchise returned with a triumph!

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

True Grit (2010)

True-Grit
Image rights belong to Skydance Productions, Mike Zoss Productions, Scott Rudin Productions and Paramount Pictures

True Grit – Film Review

Cast: Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, Hailee Steinfeld

Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen

Synopsis: A young woman (Steinfeld) seeks revenge for the murder of her father and enlists the help of a US Marshal (Bridges) to help track down her father’s killer.

Review: Remakes and retelling of stories we have seen before tend to have something of a curse upon them. Audiences may tend to moan and whine and say that the new effort to tell a story that has already been told is not worth telling. Well Messrs Joel and Ethan Coen might just have something to say about that, as their retelling of the novel of the same name by Charles Portis, which was first adapted for the big screen in 1969, is well, a remarkable triumph.

The story focuses on young Mattie Ross, a girl of 14 years of age, who after her father is murdered by an outlaw, seeks vengeance on her father’s killer. To do this however, she must enlist the help of the law in the shape of US Marshal Rooster Cogburn and Texas Ranger LaBoeuf, and so begins a manhunt. The Coens certainly showed that they understood the Western genre with the thrilling No Country for Old Men, albeit that was a Western set in modern times. Here however, it’s a traditional western tale fused with good ol’ fashioned revenge, and the Coen brothers absolutely nail it once again with a terrific story and a wonderful screenplay, that is aided in no small part by the phenomenal performances of its actors, and the quality of the source material.

In the lead role of Rooster Cogburn, a role that won John Wayne an Academy Award, Jeff Bridges is excellent as he re teams with the directors that brought to life one of the most iconic film characters of all time, that’s the Dude man! His accent is very thick and a little bit hard to understand in places, and while he may have been a bit hostile towards her in the early stages, his relationship with Ross is ultimately what drives the story forward and their chemistry is excellent. Speaking of which, Steinfeld as Ross is also fantastic, in what was an incredible breakthrough performance after she beat well over 15,000 people for the role. Matt Damon also puts in a superb performance as the Texas Ranger but it is the work of Bridges and especially Steinfeld that steal the show, as the two of them ensured Oscar nominations for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress respectively came their way, and well deserved ones too.

As usual with the Coens, the film making here is of a very high quality,  the cinematography by frequent Coen collaborator Roger Deakins is as usual glorious. Night time scenes feel realistic and one can almost feel the cold of winter as the Marshal and his employer set off and encounter some of that pesky snow. Deakins certainly knows how to set up a good shot and there are plenty of these packed throughout the movie, with the Coens once again showing they certainly know how to direct remarkable action sequences that are sure to leave the viewer on the edge of their seat.

The Coens certainly know how to leave their unmistakeable stamp on a project, as they did so in emphatic fashion with No Country for Old Men, and here they do so again. As well as the acting nominations, the film secured eight other nominations, and while it failed to secure any, make no mistake, this adaptation, likes its characters certainly is full of true grit, and of a very high calibre to rank itself as one of the finest films the Coens have ever put to the big screen.

Anchored by two tremendous performances from Bridges and Steinfeld, with a great story stamped with that distinctive Coen brothers seal, top drawer film making. 

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Posted in 2000-2009, Film Review

Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003)

Kill Bill 1
Image rights belong to A Band Apart and Miramax Films

Kill Bill: Volume 1 – Film Review

Cast: Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Lucy Liu, Daryl Hannah, Michael Madsen, Vivicia A Fox, Gordon Liu, Sonny Chiba

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Synopsis: After a Bride (Thurman) is brutally beaten up by her former assassination squad members on her wedding day, after a lengthy spell in a coma, she wakens and swears revenge on her former colleagues, and her boss, Bill.

Review: If you ever want some terrific over-the-top violence and some well written characters from your movies, then Mr Quentin Tarantino is the director who usually has you covered, particularly when it comes to the over-the-top violence, and blood, lots and LOTS of blood.

For many people, their wedding day is the happiest day of their lives, well not for a lady who we initially just know as The Bride codenamed, Black Mamba. Her former colleagues of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad arrive at the ceremony to literally rain blood and bullets on her parade with some messy consequences that leave her in a coma for four years. Once she awakens, she is furious and on a very personal mission of revenge against her former assassination squad members. As the old saying goes “hell hath no fury, like a woman scored.” She is a woman on a mission with a hit list of names to find and take revenge,  which as the film reminds us, is a dish best served cold.

After making his name in very bloody fashion with Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, and six years after the release of Jackie Brown, Tarantino emerged with a new film that originally spanned over four hours, as such he decided to cut it into two movies. This first film of this extraordinary story focuses on the Bride as she tracks down the first name on her death list O-Ren Ishii, (Lucy Liu) but in typical Tarantino fashion, the story is not told linearly, jumping back and forth between the present and events in the past, but he does so with great effect.

Tarantino, after winning an Oscar for an Original Screenplay for Pulp Fiction, once again shows off his tremendous talent as a writer. Yet here he certainly honed his craft as an excellent director of action. From the very first shots that  feature a very beaten up Bride, you know it’s time to fasten your seatbelts, as you’re in for a bloody and entertaining thrill ride. The story is tremendous, with very well developed characters all round, with a superb screenplay. It’s very apparent that anime, martial arts and spaghetti westerns are influences in the writing, with plenty of visual nods to the aforementioned genres and it’s all fused together incredibly well.

Uma Thurman in the lead gives an absolutely tremendous performance, one of the very best lead female characters that has ever been put to the big screen. She is utterly without mercy and compassion as she hunts down her colleagues and will not hesitate to kill any and all who stand in her path. As she’s our protagonist,  you want to root for her as she battles her foes, with the film’s final showdown certainly being one of the most gripping and enthralling confrontations that has ever been put to screen, certainly one of the most bloody too with swords swinging and limbs flying absolutely everywhere, and lots and lots of blood.

Her former colleagues that we meet here O-Ren, Vernita Green (Vivicia A Fox) and Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah) all give tremendous performances as the merciless members of the assassination squad. Furthermore even though we never see his face, the big boss Bill emits a sadistic, cold, merciless persona just through his voice, and the late David Carradine does an excellent job bringing him to life and besides Thurman, it’s his work that helps to steal the show. Tarantino almost never fails to bring deep and interesting characters to the big screen in his movies, and the crop of characters, both lead and side characters certainly don’t disappoint. It’s a bloody thrilling ride, and we’re only halfway into the story.

Terrific writing, expert directing and some top performances particularly from Thurman and Carradine, Tarantino managed to slash together another extraordinary film that definitely ranks among his very best.

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