Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Dark Phoenix (2019)

Image is property of 20th Century Fox, Marvel and TSG Entertainment

Dark Phoenix – Film Review

Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Sophie Turner, Nicholas Hoult, Jennifer Lawrence, Jessica Chastain, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp

Director: Simon Kinberg

Synopsis: After a mission in space goes awry, a deadly cosmic force connects with the powerful Jean Grey creating an unstoppable force that threatens to have deadly consequences for mutants and humanity alike…

Review: Fox’s X Men franchise was for a time, the pinnacle of superhero films in the 2000s, at least before the genesis of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Yet even as the MCU grew, Fox remained undeterred and, even with a few misfires, produced some outstanding superhero showdowns. However, with the deal to bring Fox under the Disney/Marvel umbrella now officially complete, this franchise is now coming to its conclusion. Though there is one more entry to come before the passing of the torch, this represents one final opportunity for the franchise to go out with a bang, but unfortunately it fizzles out into nothing.

Eight years after the events of the Apocalypse, the X-Men are summoned to a space mission that has gone badly wrong, leaving the lives of the astronauts in serious peril. During the rescue mission, a cosmic force of unknown power latches itself onto Jean Grey, creating the very powerful Dark Phoenix. Upon touching back down on Earth, though everything seems to initially be fine, trouble begins to brew and the X-Men must try and contain Jean’s power before she becomes too powerful for any of them to stop.

For every high that this franchise has experienced, there has always been a crushing disappointment, and sadly Dark Phoenix falls into the latter category, which given its troubled production, shouldn’t be that much of a surprise. Things started off brightly when we first met these characters, though in the wake of the underwhelming Apocalypse, this continues that downward trajectory. For a story that is very popular in the comics, and one that has already been attempted before in The Last Stand, writer/director Simon Kinberg efforts to translate it for the big screen fall completely flat. It has a promising start, but once the Phoenix is born, the plot meanders along, only occasionally perking up every now and again to deliver an action scene, which while exciting, is not nearly enough given what we know this series is capable of.

One thing these films absolutely got right was the casting of the younger versions of these characters. James McAvoy is once again excellent as Xavier, being that father figure presence. Though he doesn’t get nearly enough material to work with, Michael Fassbender is solid once again as Magneto. Though, Jennifer Lawrence has definitely had better moments in the blue of Mystique. The key player here is Sophie Turner’s Jean Grey, she does a sterling job conveying the pain and anguish that her character is experiencing at that moment in time, but her arc definitely had room for improvement.  Jessica Chastain’s presence  as a villain adds nothing substantial to the plot. Her motivations are threadbare and she’s just not intimidating enough to be taken seriously, a scandalous waste of her immense acting talents.

With the future of this franchise now in the hands of the folks running the Marvel Cinematic Universe, fans were probably hoping for the franchise to sign off in spectacular flaming glory. The potential was there, but even with the talents of all these actors, and another excellent score from Hans Zimmer, it’s just not realised. The great journey that we have been on these characters started off well, but they didn’t get the send off that they would have wanted. It’s a real shame that the penultimate entry in this iteration of the X-Men franchise flickers briefly before being extinguished with a whimper.

Another attempt at this iconic story is regretfully another misfire, thanks to some lacklustre performances, stilted dialogue and a very tedious plot. This is one phoenix that won’t be rising from the ashes any time soon.

 

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

The Favourite (2018)

Image is property of Fox Searchlight and Film4

The Favourite – Film Review

Cast: Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone, Nicholas Hoult

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos

Synopsis: In 18th Century England, with the country at war with France, a frail Queen (Colman) relies on her confidante (Weisz) to run the country. However when a new woman (Stone) arrives at court, a battle for the Queen’s attention ensues.

Review: If you encounter someone who complains about Hollywood becoming too dominated by superheroes, reboots , prequels etc., you should encourage them to seek out the filmography of Yorgos Lanthimos. If you are after something unconventional, he is your man. Eccentric to the extreme, having dabbled in a dark love story, and a wholly unique spin on the classic revenge tale. Now Lanthimos takes his idiosyncratic style to the realm of period dramas, and combines it with some very dark comedy, and a riotous romp ensues.

At the centre of this royal feud is Queen Anne, who is in rather poor health at this moment in time that means she finds it difficult in terms of being the Queen and governing her country. Instead, the Queen likes to fill her time with some rather obscure past-times so her confidante Lady Sarah is effectively ruling in her stead. This is until a new arrival at court, Lady Sarah’s cousin Abigail arrives seeking employment to turn around her own fortunes, and gain favour with the Queen, giving rise to a feisty battle between the two women to be the Queen’s “Favourite.”

Though not written by him, this feels of similar ilk to Lanthimos’s previous filmography, simple because of how out of the ordinary it is, Downton Abbey this most certainly isn’t. Telling a story in chapters is nothing new, but it’s done in a manner that feels extremely innovative. The screenplay by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara packs in a copious amount of expletives which go hand in hand with some very sharp and witty dialogue that just works so fluently between these engaging characters who seem to be continuously scheming. There are more than a few extremely humorous exchanges that should get those laughter muscles moving.

Though every member of this cast are on top form, including a brilliant turn from Nicholas Hoult, it is the performances of the three central women that are by far the standouts. Colman as Queen Anne is delightful when she wants to be, screaming at those who dare look at her. Yet she is at other times melancholic, given the tragic nature of her past. As the Queen’s confidante/lover, Sarah can be a bit bossy when push comes to shove, but Weisz plays her so brilliantly that you sympathise with her in what she is trying to do. It is however the fierce rivalry that ensues between Lady Sarah and Emma Stone’s Abigail that is the driving force of this story. This is a far cry from her work in La La Land, but Stone takes to this role like a duck to water, and just bosses it from the moment we are first introduced to her, after she has fallen face first into a pile of mud.

As he demonstrated with his previous films, Lanthimos brings a very unique visual style to this film which includes a considerable use of wide shots. The gorgeous cinematography provided by Robbie Ryan only adds to the visual flair of the film. No expense was spared when it came to the production design or the costumes as both are just absolutely exquisite, very befitting for a Queen mind you. Though the film does start to lose its way a little bit in and around the third act, it is only dips momentarily. Lanthimos is certainly different in terms of what he brings to the big screen. While different doesn’t always mean great, it has just the right amount of idiosyncrasy that makes it such a riot to watch.

Raunchy to the maximum, but an extremely witty screenplay with a trio of terrific performances from its leading ladies cement this as a period drama that revels in its eccentricity. 

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.

b

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

mad max
Image rights belong to Kennedy Miller Mitchell, Village Roadshow Pictures and Warner Bros. Pictures

Mad Max: Fury Road – Film Review

Cast: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Zoe Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whitely, Adelaide Clemens, Riley Keough

Director: George Miller

Synopsis: Humanity is on the brink following a collapse in law and order in the face of tyranny and resources are scarce. However, humanity’s last hope might just be in the form of a wandering road warrior…

Review: If the title of a film alone was to offer any indication of the spectacle that the audience is going to be treated to, then very few films can compete with the Mad Max franchise. Cars, explosions, extremely intense chases. The adjective “mad”  certainly is one of many that could be used to describe it, but truth be told, mad is only scratching the surface of this larger than life, and exhilarating franchise, because it is MUCH more than mad, it’s INSANE.

Returning for a fourth adventure after a three decade hiatus following the release of Beyond Thunderdome in 1985. The third entry was a somewhat less than spectacular outing, but with the two solid previous entries before it, full of intense chases, explosions and edge-of-your-seat action sequences, there was much potential and hope for this new instalment with a bigger budget. With the vision and genius of Oscar winning director George Miller who brought this crazy world into existence back once again for this latest adventure that exceeds all of the previous films of a franchise that is surely going to explode into life once more.

With Mel Gibson occupying the titular role in the previous instalments, and owning it throughout, the role has passed on to Tom Hardy. From Bane to Mad Max Rockatansky, quite the career progression! But like most Tom Hardy performances, the man is on outstanding form here. He may be a man of few words, but he is definitely a man of action, quite often of an explosive variety, as he strives to protect a group of people seeking to break away from the main colony.

Leading the charge against the Road Warrior is the villainous Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and aiding Max in his fight is Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) and Nux (Nicholas Hoult). Female characters in modern cinema rarely have that tough, strong woman spirit about them, yet Furiosa is an exception and then some. She more than gives Max a good run for his money and should provide a shining light for Hollywood writers on how to write a decent female character.  Yet the villain, was a bit of a weak link, as he was overshadowed by his crazy army of War Boys.

As previously mentioned, madness is an adjective that barely scratches the surface of this film, as it is absolutely insane. Almost immediately from the off, the film is packed with some crazy, enthralling action sequences. The previous films established themselves as benchmarks for action films in the late 70s and early 80s, yet that benchmark has been blown away (quite literally) by this new adventure.  The action here is simply incredible, whilst at the same time being completely insane and almost ridiculous. Guitars that shoot out flames, cars, lots and lots of explosions. It is almost like Top Gear blended with a Michael Bay movie full of explosions, except this film, unlike many of Michael Bay’s movies has real heart and feeling to it.

You care for these characters and you want them to succeed in their crazy quest and avoid their maniacal pursuers. There is no shaky cam, just well filmed, hardcore intense action scenes to take your breath away, in the same way that movies such as 1991’s Terminator 2 Judgement Day did. We have already seen some terrific action movies as we approach this halfway point in the decade, and Mad Max: Fury Road is definitely up there with the best of them so far in the 2010s.

Miller said in an interview that there could be more from the Road Warrior depending on how well Fury Road did, and judging by its success, we could very well get more craziness, cars, explosions and electric flame throwing guitars back on the big screen before long. Brace yourself, because you have arrived at madness station and this is not going to be the only stop on this train! Oh what a fantastic movie!

Visually incredible with explosive and some extremely well filmed and realistic action sequences that are just crazy and awesome to behold, the path down Fury Road is one you will not want to miss!

a