Monthly Archives: July 2014

Review – X-Men: Days of Future Past (12a) [2014]

X-Men 2 - title banner

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • John Ottman – X-Men II, House of Wax, Fantastic 4 I-II, Valkyrie, Non-Stop, X-Men: Apocalypse

The Batman and X-Men franchises have undergone similar arcs and reboots in relatively recent times. 1997’s Batman & Robin and 2006’s X-Men 3: The Last Stand were so bad that the franchises were torn up and magnificently re-started in the form of 2005’s Batman Begins and 2011’s X-Men: First Class. And just as 2008’s The Dark Knight was a great sequel to Batman Begins, so Bryan Singer’s return to the X-Men franchise with X-Men: Days of Future is a great continuation of First Class.

Storm (Halle Berry), Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Blink (Blingbling Fan), Magneto (Ian McKellen) and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) decide upon their plan of action, whilst watching in horror as the Sentinels attack.

Storm (Halle Berry), Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Blink (Blingbling Fan), Magneto (Ian McKellen) and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) decide upon their plan of action, whilst watching in horror as the Sentinels attack.

X-Men: Days of Future Past is loosely based on the comic-book with the same title. The movie starts in the apocalyptic, present day or the near future. Led by the reunited Charles Xavier/Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Ian McKellen), the last handful of mutants are trying desperately to hold out against the invincible, changeable Sentinels.

With the situation hopeless, Professor X, via Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), sends Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back in time to 1973. Professor X’s hope is that Wolverine can persuade a younger, mentally-broken Charles (James McAvoy) to re-establish his friendship with Erik (Michael Fassbender) and stop Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) from creating the Sentinels.

X-Men: Days of Future Past has an engaging storyline that interlinks the two time-periods within the film nicely, if not without problems for some of the other X-Men films. Indeed, Days of Future Past may come at the expense of some elements of the three original X-Men movies and may even black-out the existence of the two Wolverine spin-offs (but that is probably for the best).

Moreover, Days of Future Past involves itself in crucial events in history, in the same way that First Class did with the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Civil Rights movement in America in the 1960s. Like with its prequel, Days of Future Past does this in a smart and hilarious way. This, combined many in-jokes and phenomenal special effects, makes Days of Future Past very enjoyable to watch.

Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) finds Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender), who finds out that she is still furious with him about something that happened off-screen in the past.

Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) finds Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender), who finds out that she is still furious with him about something that happened off-screen in the past.

Nevertheless, what makes (First Class and) Days of Future Past so interesting is that it is not about a showdown between Good and Evil; it is about the friendship/rivalry of Professor X and Magneto. These two characters may not have the depth or the darkness of Bruce Wayne in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, but their personalities and differing ideologies make for a refreshing change to the crash, bang, boom nature of other superhero movies like all five Spiderman films, Iron Man III and Captain America II among countless others.

Additionally, the dialogue and acting in the latter two X-Men films is significantly better than in those above-mentioned superhero movies, with the exception of The Dark Knight Trilogy. All the actors in Days of Future Past (old and new) are brilliant without fail. Whether it is Sir Ian McKellen or Michael Fassbender, Magneto is played with the same vigour and damaged personality as in First Class; Jennifer Lawrence is wonderful as the vulnerable Mysterique, whose unhappiness in her own skin has led her to take vengeance against anyone who takes a dislike to mutants; Hugh Jackman once again shows that he owns the Wolverine character; Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy play magnificently as Charles Xavier, although McAvoy undoubtedly has the more demanding parts of the role; and Peter Dinklage is great as Dr. Trask, even if his accent switches from his normal New Jersey accent to Tyrion Lannister’s English accent for no obvious reason.

The above-mentioned characters may dominate Days of Future Past, but they are only a minority of the swollen cast. Consequently, a great many characters are not given much screen time, including new mutants like Blink (Bingbing Fan), Sunspot (Adan Canto) and Warpath (Booboo Stewart). These mutants have a back-story and it would have been good to hear it.

Otherwise, in the eleven years between the end of First Class and the beginning of Days of Future Past (1962-73), viewers are told of many interesting developments that have occurred off-screen. It would have been nice to have been shown these. (Then again, another film in between these two movies would have been needed for that.)

Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) explaining why he needs to create the Sentinels.

Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) explaining why he needs to create the Sentinels (which come to look remarkably like the machine-monster Thor fights in Thor I).

And, lastly, the film deviates quite significantly from the same-named comic-book; for example, in the comics, it is Kitty Pryde who goes back in time, not Wolverine. But if comic-book geeks are honest, even they would accept that Kitty Pryde cannot dominate the screen (or hold viewer’s attention) in the same way that Wolverine can. And besides, these alterations should not knock down a film that achieves so much by way of its ambition and is so entertaining.

Over-all, X-Men: Days of Future Past is a really good film. It has its flaws and it would have been nice to learn more about the non-central characters, and to see some of the events that happened off-screen. But, on the whole, Days of Future Past is amusing; it deals well with its two competing time-periods; continues the conflict maturely between Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr; and is a credible sequel to X-Men: First Class. Now all the franchise needs, like with The Dark Knight Trilogy, is a satisfying conclusion in its third instalment, X-Men: Apocalypse.

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Review – 22 Jump Street (15) [2014]

22 Jump Street - title banner2

Star Rating: 2.5/5

Directors:

  • Phil Lord and Christopher Miller – Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs, 21 Jump Street, The Lego Movie

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Mark Mothersbaugh – 21 Jump Street, Last Vegas, The Lego Movie, Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs I & II

2012’s 21 Jump Street was juvenile, crass, vulgar, patronising, stupid, misogynistic, irritating, and seldom amusing. It also did inexplicably well at the box office. So what could one have expected from a sequel? Well, more of the same really.

Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill) arrive at college to unearth who is behind the drugs operation there.

Jenko (Channing Tatum) and Schmidt (Jonah Hill) arrive at college to unearth who is behind the drugs operation there.

22 Jump Street is a comedy that is a carbon copy of its prequel. But this time, Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) are not sent back to high school by Ice Cube to bust a drugs operation (as if anyone believed that Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill were high school students); they are sent to college.

22 Jump Street employs exactly the same plot as well as the same juvenile, crass and stupid humour as its prequel. However, this time, audiences are prepared for the movie’s utter inanity and so won’t be (unpleasantly) surprised by it.

Also, the film has a surprisingly good climax and the ending scene(s) of the film are probably the funniest bits of the movie (which says something about the rest of it). That is not to say that one won’t laugh during the film. 22 Jump Street continuously mocks itself (and several superhero movies at the same time) by explicitly confessing that it is a sequel devoid of ideas (unlike so many other sequels that are equally devoid of ideas, only they refuse to admit it). Nevertheless, by 22 Jump Street stating that it is ripping itself off, viewers are likely to loosen their guards at an early stage. This means they’re likely to laugh a few more times than they thought they might have done prior to seeing the film.

Schmidt meets the nice Maya (Amber Stevens) who does little in the film other than smile and look pretty.

Schmidt meets the nice Maya (Amber Stevens) who does little in the film other than smile and look pretty.

Just like the plot, the acting and the dialogue in 22 Jump Street are illogical, and both would be staggering if the two lead actors did not have such great chemistry on screen. Indeed, Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill look they had a whale of a time making the movie (which, invariably for a comedy, means that the film won’t be very funny) and it is not as if they play their roles badly, either. Tatum does a decent job as the stupid, popular jock; and Jonah Hill (once again) shows us that he is the go-to-man when a director needs a crude, stupid slob, who (predictably) makes every fat joke that can be found on the internet. (Seriously, Hill, you are a smart guy. When are you going to gain some dignity and stop doing these roles?)

Of the rest of the cast, Ice Cube again spends his entire time on screen shouting and swearing (because shouting and swearing per se is funny, right?). Amber Stevens is merely there to be eye candy; Wyatt Russell is solely there to be the third wheel in a bromance love triangle that quickly grates on the nerves; and Dave Franco and Rob Riggle make cameo appearances (to add fifteen minutes onto the film’s running time and) so audiences can be reminded of what these two (idiots) did in the first film (just in case viewers have suffered amnesia in the last two years).

Jenko getting drunk at a party, whilst striking up a friendship with his American football team-mate, Zook (Wyatt Russell), much to Schmidt's jealousy.

Jenko getting drunk at a party, whilst striking up a friendship with his American football team-mate, Zook (Wyatt Russell), much to Schmidt’s jealousy.

Otherwise, the music used throughout the film feels random and oddly timed, if not out of place. But, hey, 22 Jump Street is a comedy that has little discipline, sense of timing or intelligence, so why should the music be any different?

All-in-all, 22 Jump Street is certainly as juvenile, crass, patronising, stupid and irritating as its prequel. But it is less vulgar and misogynistic, plus a little funnier than 21 Jump Street. Undoubtedly, this is because of 22 Jump Street’s self-derision; because audiences have become used to the film’s sense of humour (if one can call it that); and because viewers have somehow come to like the two central characters for the fools they are.

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Review – Concussion (15) [2014]

Concussion - title banner

Star Rating: 2/5

Director:

  • Stacie Passon – Strange Things Started Happening

Cast:

  • Robin Weigart – Deadwood, The Sessions, Explosion
  • Julie Fein Lawrence – Farewell Miss Fortune
  • Maggie Siff – Then She Found Me, Nipp/Tuck, Mad Men, Sons of Anarchy
  • Johnathan Tchaikovsky – Descent, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs
  • Claudine Ohayon – Flushed

Music Composer:

  • Barb Morrison

In any artistic medium, there is a simple formula: show don’t tell. Invariably, whenever film directors, artists or writers show audiences the message they wish to portray in the medium, it has a far greater emotional weight upon audiences than if the same message were recanted by someone. Stacie Passon sadly does not appear to have taken this formula on board and her interesting debut film, Concussion, suffers because of it.

Kate (Julie Fein Lawrence) with  her wife, Abby (Robin Weigart), after Abby gets hit by a baseball.

Kate (Julie Fein Lawrence) with her wife, Abby (Robin Weigart), after Abby gets hit by a baseball.

Concussion is a low-budget, indie drama set in present day, up-market, suburban New York. The movie starts with Abby (Robin Weigart) getting hit by a baseball in the side of the head. She suffers minor concussion from it.

Upon waking up, Abby, an interior designer/decorator by trade, who spends most of her time at the gym or in Pilates classes, becomes disillusioned with her life; especially, with regards to her loveless, lesbian marriage to Kate (Julie Fain Lawrence). With the help of her co-worker, Justin (Johnathan Tchaikovsky) Abby decides to become a high-class lesbian escort.

Concussion’s plot is simple, grounded and (almost solely) revolves round Abby, whom audiences can empathise with to a degree. In addition, the acting is decent, the setting is apt, and Passon treats the storyline’s subject matter in a non-judgmental way. This is commendable as it would have been easy to turn Concussion into a whore bashing exercise or a gratuitous light-porn film (like the four-hour dirge Nymphomaniac or the impressive Blue Is The Warmest Colour).

Abby being gentle with one of her clients, Lisa (Claudine Ohayon).

Abby being gentle with one of her clients, Lisa (Claudine Ohayon).

Although, strangely, by Passon treating the subject-matter with such maturity, she brings up some other issues. The thought of working/non-working women going off during the day to pay for sex suggests that people have good reason not to trust their wives, which is both worrisome and (hopefully) wrong… Unless Passon believes this issue to be more common than is generally known.

The subject-matter might be dealt with sensibly; however, apart one instance near the end of the film, Concussion lacks depth in its plot developments. Part of the problem is that the film does more telling than showing. For example, viewers are told that Abby was hit by a baseball and suffers concussion, but we are not shown either of these. Likewise, viewers are told that Abby is very involved with her local synagogue, yet we don’t see her ever go to synagogue or do anything remotely Jewish-related.… Hang on a moment, Passon herself is Jewish and is in a lesbian relationship. Is Abby merely Passon’s avatar? Or is Concussion Passon’s way of illustrating her marital problems and/or her (repressed?) sexual desires?

Regardless of what Passon’s motive behind Concussion might have been, it is understandable that Passon cannot show everything due to budgetary constraints. Nevertheless, the consequences of showing audiences too little is that the extent to which audiences can become emotionally invested in the characters is frustratingly limited; especially, as there is clearly more to the characters than is divulged.

Abby with another one of her clients, Sam (Maggie Siff).

Abby with another one of her clients, Sam (Maggie Siff).

Abby, her clients and Kate probably all have interesting back-stories. And it would have been intriguing to gain a deeper understanding as to why they are the way they are; why Kate shows Abby little love; and why each of Abby’s clients come to her, as they all have their reasons. Yet, (with the exception of Sam, played by Maggie Siff), all of these details and depths are sadly missing from the film; to its detriment.

Over-all, Concussion is a frustrating and disappointing movie. The film’s premise has not been touched upon before and the movie deals with it in an adult manner. It also has a cast that buys into the subject-matter. All the same, Stacie Passon unfortunately misses the boat on Concussion. The film’s Achilles-heal is that viewers are unlikely to care about the characters and their situations. This is because the movie does too much telling and not enough showing.

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