Tag: Review

Gravity

GravityAnyone who watched the trailers for Gravity when they appeared much earlier this year would have been more than a little excited. The gut wrenching visuals revealed in the preview promised so much. I was one of those people; however as the film grew closer to release I heard snippets of spoilers here and there and surmised that this was just a one woman show for Sandra Bullock, an actress I really don’t rate, and so I wrote it off as something I’ll catch up on at home. This evening I was bored and so I wandered into my local multiplex and Gravity in 3D was the next film available (not involving animated planes or snails at any rate) so I paid my money and sat down expecting to be bored… Boy was I wrong! Continue reading “Gravity” »

Star Trek: Into Darkness

STiD-PosterIt feels like an age since I wrote the preview for Star Trek: Into Darkness and my excitement has been building steadily given just how much I enjoyed the 2009 reboot to the franchise. Once again J J Abrams takes the helm and I must applaud him for what is, once again, an incredibly good film. It is getting to the point that when I see the Bad Robot logo on the beginning of a movie I just sit back and grin. Star Trek’s writing duo of Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman are joined by Damon Lindelof, who worked with JJ on Lost, and between them they have created a cracker of a story that borrows from the existing Star Trek canon without seeming to be rehash of stories us Trekkers know well. Continue reading “Star Trek: Into Darkness” »

Star Trek IX: Insurrection

Enterprise-EInsurrection is the ninth film outing for the starship Enterprise and her crew. Following on from the critical success of the first ‘Next Generation’ film Star Trek: First Contact, once again Jonathan Frakes takes on the directing duties for a story penned by Star Trek stalwarts Michael Piller and Rick Berman. Continue reading “Star Trek IX: Insurrection” »

Argo (2012)

Ben Affleck never seemed to be anyone’s favourite actor. Not only did he feature as a punchline to a song in Team America, he seldom gets credit for the Oscar he won alongside his writing partner Matt Damon for Good Will Hunting. Despite some great films in his early career he appeared to go from (critical and financial) flop to flop. Though it’s hard to lay all the blame at his door, most people often did.

Despite a lot of positive attention for his portrayal of George Reeve in Hollywoodland, a year later he jumped behind the camera for his directorial debut Gone Baby Gone which opened to rave reviews. His next effort The Town (which he also starred in) was a commercial and critical success. Even his acting was getting better reviews. It’s through this that people can now say without irony that they’ll looking forward to the next Ben Affleck film…especially if he’s directing it.
Continue reading “Argo (2012)” »

X-Men: First Class

Was X-Men: First Class, first class?

The marketing blurb from Twentieth Century Fox tells us “Before Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr took the names Professor X and Magneto, they were two young men discovering their powers for the first time. Before they were archenemies, they were closest of friends, working together, with other Mutants (some familiar, some new), to stop the greatest threat the world has ever known. In the process, a rift between them opened, which began the eternal war between Magneto’s Brotherhood and Professor X’s X-MEN.”

As I detailed previously I am a big fan of the original X-Men cartoon (but have never picked up any of the comics) and now that my kids are a bit bigger it was much easier to get a late night pass to hit the local multiplex to catch the latest incarnation.

The first thing to note is that Bryan Singer is back in the writing credits and his production company (Bad Hat Harry) were again running the show, something that hadn’t been the case for films 3 and 4.  I feel that this shows and the over-arching story is a good one and the screenwriters have done a pretty reasonable job of converting that story into dialogue that is not too cheesy.

So here we have a brand new cast and a jaunt back first to the 1940s (for an almost identical opening sequence to the one in X-Men) and then to the 1960s for the remainder where the plot is set against the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Michael Vaughn directs well, and the movie feels like both the excellent Kick Ass and Layer Cake that preceded it.

We have mutants new and old but only four of them get any real form of character definition.

The mantle of psychic Charles Xavier has fallen to James McAvoy, who dusts off his posh English accent from Atonement and sets to work first studying and then seeking out and uniting the world’s mutants.  Whilst I liked his Charles I did find that he lacked the right depth of gravitas and I would have hoped that he would have helped Raven more with her issues, rather than seemingly ignoring them, but that is more a criticism of the writing than the actor himself.

Erik (Magneto) is played by Michael Fassbender and much like James McAvoy, he struggles with the emotional depth of his character.  He jumps from ANGRY to HAPPY and back with not much in between.  Still he does ANGRY very well and the rage shown as he hunts down his childhood tormentor and matricidal nemesis is well portrayed.

Old hand, Kevin Bacon plays the villainous Sebastian Shaw, and here is the first problem…  Ham Acting.  Throughout the film, he is bad.  Whether speaking German in the 1940s or speaking Russian or American in the 1960s he is just trying too hard.  Ham Acting in a comic conversion is fine, if you can pull it off like Jack Nicholson in Batman, but get it wrong and you throw the whole genre over to ridicule.

Jennifer Lawrence, who was new to me, plays Raven (Mystique) and we see her struggle with her blue-ness as she grows up an Charles’s adopted sister.  She is credible in the role, but I can see nothing here to suggest how she was nominated for an Oscar in a previous film.

Beyond those four, only Rose Byrne as CIA Agent Moira MacTaggert gets any real opportunity to shine.  Despite the horrendous break from the X-Men canon, switching her from Scottish Geneticist to US CIA Agent (so no need for a bad attempt at a Scottish Accent), she comes across really strongly.  I remember seeing her as one of the few lights to come out of the film Troy, where she played the priestess Briseis, and she continues here to show her quality.  1960s Moira is a much put down (by her misogynistic bosses) agent, aching to prove she is better than any man, as she shows right from the off by stripping down to her skimpies to blend in with the entertainment at the Hellfire Club or interrupting Charles mid chat-up to get him to talk seriously.  The growing affection between her and Charles is downplayed to a comfortable level, leaving the ending rather poignant.

The rest of the ensemble are OK, but the material doesn’t really give them room to show off their talents so most of them just coast through the roles.  I would have liked to see more from (we see plenty of) January Jones as Emma Frost, but her character is underused and there seems to be no reason for her to stay with Shaw.

So is this a good film?  Absolutely, it is better than pure pop-corn fodder and whether you know the future or not it should be a fun romp for anyone who likes the genre.  Comic book purists will no doubt quibble over the inaccuracies but they should have learned by now that what works on the page doesn’t always work on screen, and original X-men characters like Iceman (who the films have already set as a child born in the 1990s) and Miss Marvel add nothing to the plot mix.

If you like the genre you will like this film.  If you are comic book fan-boy then you may want to stay away and go and watch the Green Lantern.

Post Script:  The three trailers before this film were for Green Lantern, Transformers – Dark of the Moon and The Three Musketeers.  They all looked universally awful!  I shudder at the state of the summer blockbuster!  Roll on Harry Potter 7 pt 2!  Jase.

X:Men – Comical Conversions

X-Men

This is commentary on films long released and does contain storyline spoilers.
 

Growing up in the UK, the only comics I was ever exposed to were The Beano, The Dandy and later on Eagle. Had I grown up in the US I suspect I would have been nose deep in Spiderman, Batman and the like from an early age; however as it was, I only knew these characters for the Saturday morning cartoons and serials.

I suppose that means I was less concerned when I heard there were to be big movie versions of the likes of Spiderman and Batman as I had no notion as to whether the films were true and honest to the source material or not. This meant that I approached the films with quite an open mind and took them for what they were, not what I thought they should be.

So I look back at Batman Forever, Batman & Robin, Daredevil & Elektra and can see some light amongst the oft-reported dark. In fact I would much rather watch them again then the Fantastic Four films, which I thought were terrible!

The one major exception to all of this was X-men. Around the age of 16 I started watching the TV cartoon and by the time I left University I had them all recorded on VHS (and have since upgraded them to an eFormat). When I found out that Bryan Singer was converting the series into a film I was concerned. I cared about Wolverine, Rogue and Jean Grey. I knew the history of Phoenix in great depth. And I prayed they would find someone to play Moira MacTaggert with a better Scottish accent!

I’m about to head off to see the 5th film in this franchise, but thought I would share with you my thoughts on the first four instalments and then write a review for First Class when I get back.

X-Men

Back in 2000 this film blew me away! I loved Hugh Jackman as Wolverine and whilst some of the casting was bad (I’m looking at you James Marsden), in general I think Bryan Singer got this film right.

Obviously I was disappointed that the wider raft of characters were not present, but I was realistic in my own expectations. I would have loved to see a full strength Rogue, however her origin story and the end result are a bit far-fetched for a first film, so I accepted the absence (but still a “Whatever you say sugar!” in her southern drawl would have been nice!).  Again, Beast and Gambit were sadly absent, but thankfully Jubilee was made into a tiniest of bit parts!

The plot worked, the script wasn’t too cheesy, and the acting wasn’t too badly hammed.  The special effects were good enough and Ray Parks got to pretend he was Darth Maul all over again!  It’s a close call, but this isn’t my favourite movie of the franchise, but it was still a great start.

X2

Three years for a sequel! Not fair Bryan, we wanted this much sooner! (Clearly too busy doing uncredited bit parts in bad Star Trek films!)

The plot to this film is much stronger than the original and I enjoyed the direction that most of the characters were taken.  Some were thankfully reduced to bit parts (I’m still looking at you James Marsden!) and others came to the forefront.  I thought the story and some of the small details were done really well; I loved Mystique’s use of mercury to free Eric.  Alan Cumming as Nightcrawler was a bit of an odd choice, but his chemistry with Halle Berry was noticeable and it sold the role for me.

What didn’t work so well were the “youngsters”, and by that I mean Rogue, Pyro and Iceman.  Talk about needing to be slapped more!?  Ironically the other youngsters despite having tiny roles showed what I would have expected from people educated by Xavier, and yet the older ones were clearly running under the influence of their hormones too much!

Lady Deathstrike was downplayed and any hint of a romantic link to Logan was absent whilst Brian Cox’s William Stryker was a ham and cheese feast!  I would have liked to see a bit more of his non-mutant sidekick soldier (Sgt. Lyman) as well.  Initially he seemed so competent and yet he and his force are practically thrown away at the end with a rookie mistake!

There was something about the gradual change in Jean as she becomes Phoenix that really grabbed me.  I think it comes back to knowing the back story and guessing at / hoping for the future arcs, such that when she dies at the end and ultimately “something” is shown flying under the lake, I was reduced to tears!

Definitely my favourite of the first three films.

X-men: The Last Stand

Oh dear!  This film promised so much and simply didn’t deliver.  Well off canon, which is OK if you tell a good tale, the story was incredibly predictable and even the nerdy references with the overload of new mutants was pretty average.

As a way of finishing the story it works, but this is no “The Return of the King” trilogy closer!  As a popcorn movie this is fine, but I was disappointed.  The new bad guys were rubbish and adding Kelsey Grammer to the older good guys line-up was criminal!  The only nerdy addition I liked was Ellen Page as Shadowcat and she only showed how annoying the youngsters around her were.

Anyway, there was an upside to the film…  RIP Cyclops!!!!!!!!  YAY!

But the final thing which sums this movie up is this is Olivia Williams. What kind of Scottish accent is that? I’ll take the cartoon version of Moira over you!  No wonder you wanted to be uncredited!

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

By the time Wolverine hit the cinemas, my life was very different (babies) and so it passed me by.  It got good reviews in some circles and I just assumed I would pick it up on DVD or Blu-ray later.

In the end I borrowed a copy and watched it late on a Friday with the kids in bed and my wife out stitching up the locals (as a Doctor, not as a comedienne or con-artist).  I remember my first impressions were good, but not overwhelming and I couldn’t remember too much of the plot, so when I decided to write this article I thought I had better go watch it again!

Now installed in my Blu-ray collection I sat down and watched Wolverine over morning coffee!  A bit odd I know, but times have changed, my kids are a bit bigger and if I really want to crank up the sound on my 5.1 Dolby Digital set-up, sitting on my reclining sofa watching the 58″ plasma, then I generally do it during the day with the kids at school!

What a great film!  I had forgotten so much. The cast was all excellent, the plot was well written and the script, whilst not Oscar territory, was definitely an improvement over the earlier films.  Like Batman Begins, taking a single X-Men character and dramatising their origin story really allows you to invest more time in the emotional side of thing.

X-men diehards will dislike the breaks from canon, but again if you tell a good story who cares? The addition of some of the unused X-men characters like Gambit gave me a tingly feeling of nerd-joy and the ending showing Xavier and introducing the memory loss made me pleased that they had decided to link this film into the stories laid down by the first three.

I have two things that I didn’t like, minor though they are…

  1. Why use Hugh Jackman to play Wolverine’s Dad, when it turns out that he isn’t his Dad?
  2. Why when the whole film has been carefully crafted to feel “real” do you use Fred Dukes (aka The Blob) in such a terrible fat suit!

Anyway, this is a great film so I wish I had seen it on the big screen.  Now I just need to wait 7 hours until I get to see First Class!