Review – Nocturnal Animals (15) [2016]

nocturnal-animals-title-banner

Star Rating 5/5

Director:

  • Tom Ford – A Single Man

Cast:

  • Amy Adams – Catch Me If You CanThe FighterThe MasterHerMan of SteelBig EyesBatman v Superman, Arrival
  • Jake Gyllenhaal – The Day After Tomorrow, Source Code, Prisoners, Southpaw, Stronger
  • Armie Hammer – Gossip Girl, The Social Network, Edgar, The Man From UNCLE, Jackpot
  • Isla Fisher – Wedding Crashers, Confessions of A Shopaholic, Now You See Me I & II, Keeping Up With The Joneses
  • Michael Shannon – Revolutionary Road,Take ShelterMudMan of Steel, Batman v SupermanElvis & Nixon
  • Ellie Bamber – The Falling, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms
  • Laura Linney – The Truman Show, Love Actually, John Adams, The Dinner
  • Andrea Riseborough – Shadow Dancer, Oblivion, Birdman, National Treasure, The Death of Stalin
  • Michael Sheen – Frost/Nixon, Twilight II & IV(i)-(ii), Alice In Wonderland I & II, Passengers
  • Karl Glusman – Love, Stonewall, The Neon Demon, Above Suspicion
  • Robert Aramayo – Game of Thrones, The Empty Man, Lost In Florence
  • Aaron Taylor-Johnson – Nowhere Boy, Kick-Ass I & II, Godzilla, The Wall

Music Composer:

  • Abel Korzeniowski – A Single Man, W.E., Romeo & Juliet, Penny Dreadful

The Light Between Oceans (TLBO) looked like a film that, at first glance, was Oscar material. It had the cast, the ideas and the cinematography to be a great film. But it was a total mess of a movie and a real disappointment. By way of contrast, Nocturnal Animals has similar components. Only, it is brilliant.

Susan (Amy Adams), alone in her mansion, drinking whiskey. She has such sad eyes that are full of the deepest of emotions.

Susan (Amy Adams), alone in her mansion, drinking whiskey. She has such blue and sad eyes that are full of the deepest of emotions.

Nocturnal Animals is a film based on the 1993 book, Tony and Susan, by Austin Wright. Susan (Amy Adams) is a modern-art gallery owner. One day, as her second husband, Walker (Armie Hammer), goes off on a ‘business trip,’ Susan gets a package in the post. It is from her first husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), whom Susan left twenty years ago. He has sent her a manuscript of his new book, entitled ‘Nocturnal Animals,’ and wants to hear her opinion.

Alone in her beautiful mansion overlooking LA, Susan picks up the manuscript and begins reading it. However, as she reads it, she is forced to relive and confront some demons from her past. Notably: her marriage to Edward and why it broke down.

Nocturnal Animals is full of suspense, tense and gripping. It is a phenomenal story within a story movie, in which both stories are fascinating for very different reasons: the first is about Susan/Amy Adams, who lives the high (empty) life in LA, but is deeply unhappy; the second is about a good family, consisting of Tony (Jake Gyllenhaal), Laura (Isla Fisher, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Amy Adams), and India (Ellie Bamber), on their way to a vacation that goes violently wrong, and a thirst for justice/vengeance ensues. Both stories could be feature films in their own rights. Yet, Director Tom Ford links them together superbly so that the second story enhances our understanding of the first and is a metaphor for it.

Tony (Jake Gyllenhaal, who also plays Edward) and detective Bobby (Michael Shannon) in the rocky plains in the middle of nowhere in Texas, searching for the scene of the crime.

Tony (Jake Gyllenhaal, who also plays Edward) and detective Bobby (Michael Shannon) in the rocky plains in the middle of nowhere in Texas, searching for the scene of the crime.

Like TLBO, Nocturnal Animals deals with a plethora of complex issues, such as love, regret, people turning into their parents, justice, revenge, and actions having consequences. But unlike TLBO, Nocturnal Animals gives substance to these issues and the result makes for a deeply satisfying watch.

Suffice to say, the whole cast excels. Amy Adams is the standout performer as the successful but emotionally broken main character, who became everything she did not want to be; Jake Gyllenhaal fits seamlessly into both the sensitive Edward and the traumatised Tony; Michael Shannon feels genuine as the detective tracking down the sick thugs who commit the heinous crimes on Tony’s family; and Aaron Taylor-Johnson is unrecognisable as the leading hillbilly hoodlum.

Furthermore, Ford’s style of directing and the music heighten the tension throughout the movie. Ford holds onto scenes (particularly the horrific ones) for longer than audiences would like. This induces fear and an unnerving sensation into viewers. The music augments this with pulsing thuds and plucky string noises to further unsettle audiences.

Ray (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) looking like he is about to break into sadistic laughter.

Ray (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) looking like he is about to break into sadistic laughter.

And if that weren’t enough, the locations add an organic terror. Nocturnal Animals lacks the beauty of landscapes such as those seen in The Way Back, The Revenant and TLBO. But the fine-looking houses have a dangerous edge, as if they suck one into a vacuous void that one cannot get out of; and the deserted planes of the Deep South, the long highways, and the abandoned dusty shacks in the middle of nowhere (where one imagines unspeakable crimes occurring in the real world) ramp up the tension to intolerable levels.

All-in-all, Nocturnal Animals is an outstanding movie. It is an arresting thriller that is absolutely flawless both narratively and in its execution. While TLBO looked like Oscar material but failed to live up to its own (high) standards, Nocturnal Animals looks the part and succeeds in the most impressive and profound ways.

PG’s Tips

Review – The Light Between Oceans (12a) [2016]

tlbo-title-banner

Star Rating: 2/5

Director:

  • Derek Cianfrance – Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond The Pines, Metalhead

Cast:

Music Composer:

There are some films that look like Oscar material. They have stellar actors in the main roles, a seemingly interesting plot, and wondrous cinematography. Yet, the film remains in post-production for longer than it should and, upon viewing, the movie simply does not work. 2014’s Serena was one such film. The Light Between Oceans (TLBO) is another.

A stunning view of the lighthouse and the ocean from Janus Rock.

A stunning view of the lighthouse and the ocean from Janus Rock.

  TLBO is a film based on the novel with same title by ML Stedman. It is December 1918 and Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) has returned to Australia from the Western Front. World War I (WWI) has taken his toll on him. To recuperate, he applies for a job as a lighthouse keeper on a remote Australian island, called Janus Rock.

After getting the job, he meets Isabel (Alicia Vikander). The two marry and go to live on the island. Life is going all right for the happy(ish) couple, until a baby and a dead man wash up on a lifeboat one day. Tom and Isabel are presented with a dilemma: one that will have consequences for the both of them.

Let’s deal with the good elements of TLBO first. The scenery is spectacular. The producers have chosen a beautiful island to represent Janus Rock and the cinematography captures the wonders (and dangers) of this isolated island. Enhancing the sense of isolation is Alexandre Desplat’s beautiful score. It tugs at the heart at times and makes us feel the eerie remoteness of the place at others.

Additionally, Alicia Vikander and Michael Fassbender, with Rachel Weisz in the chief supporting role, are attractive and perform decently. But their Australian accents are glaringly non-existent and their characters are bafflingly boring.

The happy couple, Isabel (Alicia Vikander) and Tom (Michael Fassbender), dancing at their wedding. This photo may be genuine show of affection from the two actors since they are a couple in real life as a result of this film.

The happy couple, Isabel (Alicia Vikander) and Tom (Michael Fassbender), dancing at their wedding. This photo may be genuine show of affection from the two actors since they are a couple in real life as a result of this film.

Nevertheless, actors can only work with what they are given. Even the finest of our current crop of actors cannot make something out of a poor script and a frustratingly uninteresting plot. It does not help that at 140 minutes TLBO is a long film. Nothing of significance happens for the first 45 minutes when finally the moral dilemma (i.e. the turning point of the story) arrives. That is at least 30 minutes too late. And even when it does arrive, the conundrum is handled in a woefully sentimental manner, well beyond the point of incredulity. It could even be argued that TLBO trivialises child abduction and Stockholm Syndrome, since the former is dealt with as well-meaning and the latter as a non-issue. Director Derek Cianfrance really should have done more research into these highly sensitive subjects as then the reactions of the characters would not be perplexing. Either that, or Cianfrance got the wrong end of the stick, completely.

But these are merely the start of TLBO’s problems. The film feels badly disjointed. This is despite the director’s best efforts to stitch scenes together that bear no link, using the trick of fading one scene into the next. But it does not make the movie flow any easier and makes one realise that TLBO has some fundamental storyline issues. This could explain why the movie spent more time than it should have done (near two years) in post-production.

The issues regarding the storyline are not helped by the movie trying to cover a plethora of topics, including love, grief, trauma, moral dilemmas, and the consequences of one’s actions. All of these can make for fascinating viewing if they are done well. Yet, none of them are properly fleshed out and there is too much telling and not enough showing in the film. This all makes for a recipe of unsatisfying viewing.

The parallels with Serena could not be more apparent. That film had an attractive cast, starring Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Toby Jones and Conleth Hill (better known as Lord Varys from Game of Thrones); it had gorgeous cinematography; and dealt with a lot of interesting subject matters, such as starting up one’s own business in North Carolina during the Great Depression, law enforcement, corruption, and mafia. But it was a mess of a movie. This led to questions of what director Susanne Bier had initially wanted from the film, what she had cut out in the editing room, and how she had come to release the final draft of the film because Serena was a muddle that did not know what story it was trying to tell.

A distraught Hannah (Rachel Weisz) looking for her husband and daughter. They disappeared at sea and no-one has seeing them since to her knowledge.

A distraught Hannah (Rachel Weisz) looking for her husband and daughter. They disappeared at sea and no-one has seeing them since to her knowledge.

TLBO is not on the same scale as Serena. But many of the questions that applied to Serena apply for TLBO. It would be nice if, one day, Cianfrance spoke about what he set out to achieve with TLBO, what he succeeded on, what he failed on, and why he failed on them. Ironically, that would make for a much more interesting tale than the one consisting of Alicia Vikander, Michael Fassbender and Rachel Weisz.

Over-all, TLBO is a disappointing movie. It has the cast, the setting, and the ideas to be an Oscar contender. Yet, it is a dysfunctional tangle of half-baked plots that go in directions that aren’t plausible. If that does not vex viewers, the movie’s sentimentality will take them over the edge. Indeed, soppiness of the movie will make them wish that The Light Between Oceans had remained in post-production permanently.

PG’s Tips

Review – Sausage Party (15) [2016]

sausage-party-title-banner

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Directors:

  • Greg Tiernan – Thomas & Friends
  • Conrad Vernon – Shrek II, Monsters vs Aliens, Madagascar III

Cast:

  • Seth Rogan – Knocked Up, Pineapple Express, This Is The End, Steve Jobs, Neighbours II: Sorority Rising
  • Kristen Wiig – Date Night, Paul, HerThe Martian, Masterminds
  • Jonah Hill – Knocked Up, Superbad, 21 & 22 Jump Street, The Wolf of Wall Street, MIB 23
  • Michael Cera – Superbad, Scott Pilgrim vs The World, Magic Mike, This Is The End, Human People
  • James Franco – Date Night, 127 Hours, Your Highness, The Rise of Planet of The ApesThis Is The End, The Mad Whale
  • Salma Hayek – Frida, Puss In Boots, Here Comes The Boom, Grown Ups I-II, Drunk Parents
  • Edward Norton – American History X, Fight Club, The Invention of Lying, Birdman, Collateral Beauty
  • Paul Rudd – Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Monsters vs Aliens, This Is The End, Captain America III, Mute
  • Nick Kroll – I Love You, Man, Date Night, Get Him To The Greek, Knight of Cups, Captain Underpants
  • David Krumholtz – Superbad, The Playboy Club, This Is The End, The Judge, Casual Encounters

Music Composers:

  • Christopher Lennertz – Horrible Bosses I & II, Ride Along I & II, My Big Fat Greek Wedding II, Bad Moms, The Boss
  • Alan Menken – Beauty & The Beast, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Enchanted, Beauty & The Beast

Ever wondered what an R-rated animated comedy looks like? No, probably not. That’s why Seth Rogan and Jonah Hill, along with three other writers, have come together to bring us Sausage Party. And full credit to them for doing so!

Frank (Seth Rogan) in a packet with other sausages,waiting to be picked by a god (a human). He hopes to be picked with his girlfriend, Brenda the bun (Kristen Wiig) so that they can live together in the Great Beyond.

Frank (Seth Rogan) in a packet with other sausages,waiting to be picked by a god (a human). He hopes to be picked with his girlfriend, Brenda the bun (Kristen Wiig) so that they can live together in the Great Beyond.

Sausage Party predominantly revolves round Frank (voiced by Seth Rogan). Frank is a sausage in a supermarket. Trapped inside a packet with near a dozen other sausages he yearns to be picked by one of the gods (i.e. the humans) and taken to the Great Beyond (i.e. out of the supermarket). It is said that paradise awaits the food that gets picked by humans. However, no food has ever come back to tell the tale. Frank wants to be picked so he can find out and live with his girlfriend, Brenda the bun (voiced by Kristen Wiig), in this supposed paradise.

The plot for Sausage Party might sound utterly absurd, but it is so funny. From start to finish, one cannot help but laugh. Often, one may laugh with embarrassment. But laugh, one will. Indeed, even those who usually cannot stand other (non-animated) films of this genre, such as Superbad, Pineapple Express and 21 & 22 Jump Street can still find Sausage Party very amusing. This is because animation is a different artistic medium and can get away with some of the jokes that real life cannot.

The same is true for the Toy Story movies and for The Simpsons TV-series. While Sausage Party is not on the same intellectual level as those franchises, the movie is not stupid and contains a lot of satire. The Great Beyond is a metaphor for the next world (if it exists) and the search for meaning in life. This is something that all audiences can relate to, regardless of the fact that they are watching non-sentient objects. Moreover, during Frank’s journey, he meets a bagel-shaped Jew (voiced by Edward Norton) and a lavash-shaped Muslim (voiced by David Krumholtz) who don’t want to share an isle; a sauerkraut that looks like Hitler that wants to ‘exterminate the juice’; a meat loaf, voiced by Meat Loaf, singing ‘I’d Do Anything For Love’; a Native-American Indian-looking Firewater, who smokes weed and claims to know ‘The Truth’ about the Great Beyond; and a villainous douche called ‘Il Douche’ (voiced by Nick Kroll), among countless others. All bring their own unique comedic elements to the film, and these satires enrich the experience for viewers tremendously.

Frank and Brenda walking around the supermarket along with a bagel (Edward Norton) and a lavash (David Krumholtz). Typically, the bagel and the lavash do not see eye to eye on anything.

Frank and Brenda walking around the supermarket along with a bagel (Edward Norton) and a lavash (David Krumholtz). Typically, the bagel and the lavash do not see eye to eye on anything.

Granted Sausage Party puts forward these satires with the subtlety of a brick through glass. But that does not make them any less funny, it just makes them crude and borderline offensive. Then again, if one is offended by crude humour, this is the wrong film for such a person. In fact, if one is offended by political incorrectness or racial stereotyping, or juvenile, crass, misogynistic and chauvinistic humour, this film is not for such person. The ensemble cast (and their film resumes) should have told such a person to stay away from this movie. And if he/she did not realise this from the cast, one need only look at Brenda the bun to get a sense of what he/she would be in for as the bun looks (unapologetically) like a vagina.

However, regardless of how much one is amused or offended by Sausage Party, the film drags. For a movie that is often funny and only 89 minutes long, this entails that the film cannot hold its audience as well as it thinks it can. Nor is it as witty or stimulating as it fancies itself to be.

The villainous Il Douche (Nick Kroll), stomping around the supermarket. Il Douche is furious with Frank and wants revenge as he blames Frank for his deformed appearance.

The villainous Il Douche (Nick Kroll), stomping around the supermarket. Il Douche is furious with Frank and wants revenge as he blames Frank for his deformed appearance.

After an hour, the film’s lack of wittiness and stimulation is very much down to the sheer volume of swearing. Sausage Party has enough f-bombs to raise London to the ground. There is no need for that many. It undermines the movie as, after a while, the humour (or lack thereof) becomes repetitive and uncreative… that is until the last scene. No-one can fault Sausage Party for a lack of creativity or stimulation by the end, when a (jaw-dropping) food orgy breaks out. If one ever wondered what an R-rated animation looks like, it is the final scene here because it is more pornographic than pornography.

All-in-all, Sausage Party is a very funny film. The movie becomes tedious after the hour mark and there is undoubtedly too much swearing in it. Nevertheless, it is original and innovative. And for all the film’s obscenity, vulgarity, crassness, crudity, misogyny, chauvinism, sexism, borderline racism and satire, one cannot stop laughing despite himself/herself. All comedies, regardless of whether they are animated or not, are judged by how funny they are, and Sausage Party is absolutely hilarious.

PG’s Tips

Review – Jason Bourne (12a) [2016]

Jason Bourne - title banner

Star Rating: 2.5/5

Director:

  • Paul Greengrass – Bloody Sunday, Bourne II-III, Green Zone, Captain Phillips

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • David Buckley – Blood Creek, From Paris With Love, The Town, The Boy Downstairs
  • John Powell – Bourne I-III, Paycheck, X-Men III, Green Zone, Rio I & II, How To Train Your Dragon I-III

In 2002, The Bourne Identity came out, starring Matt Damon as the titular character. Based on Robert Ludlum’s best-selling novel, audiences followed Jason Bourne, the CIA’s amnesiac, super-assassin find out who he was. The Bourne Identity was such a success, it was followed by The Bourne Supremacy (2004), The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) and The Bourne Legacy (2012), in which (strangely) Matt Damon/Jason Bourne was absent.

Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), having gone into hiding from the CIA, fights in (quasi-legal) bare-knuckle duels to make a living.

Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), having gone into hiding from the CIA, fights in (quasi-legal) bare-knuckle duels to make a living.

Now, nine years after Matt Damon last played the role, Jason Bourne is back in (the unimaginatively-titled) Jason Bourne. But after having found out (seemingly) all there was to know about his past, what new information could he learn? And, more importantly, does it make for worthwhile viewing?

Jason Bourne begins with Nicky Parsons (Julia Styles) hacking into the CIA and stealing files about Treadstone, the top secret project that Jason Bourne was part of when he first joined the CIA. Whilst hacking, Nicky finds out that Jason’s father, Richard, had a role in Treadstone. So, she goes to Athens and finds Bourne doing quasi-legal bareknuckle fighting for cash.

However, no sooner does Nicky tell Bourne that she has information about his father, the CIA are after them. Bourne now has to evade the CIA once more. Yet, at the same time, he must chase down the necessary people in the CIA who can answer questions about his father.

Jason Bourne is a typical Bourne film, just updated by the touching upon of how Wikileaks founder, Edward Snowden, and data-storing internet companies affect the workings of the CIA. Otherwise, the film has high-octane chases; some good chase sequences, the first of which is particularly well put together, occurring during an anti-austerity riot in Athens; some close-up, shaky-cam fight sequences; and several unexplained plot contrivances. All of which makes for fun viewing.

CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) keeping close watch of his bent-forward protégé, Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander).

CIA Director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) keeping close watch of his bent-forward protégé, Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander).

Yet, apart from that, there really is not much to Jason Bourne. If anything, this is a step-down from the standards previously set by the first three Bourne films. The directing and editing are awful. Part of the appeal of the original Bourne films was that the camera was so close, shaking and sufficiently cut that one felt like they were part of the fights. That happens again here and it is all right. But it is not all right for the camera to shake when there is no fight going on (seriously Paul Greengrass, invest in a tripod) or to cut fight/action scenes every second or so, as it makes one sick.

Also, viewers learn little we did not already know about the eponymous character… other than that Bourne is a doubly super-assassin. It is amazing (staggering in fact) that Bourne is still able to stay three steps ahead of his former masters, despite being out of the game for nine years. He has always been too good and too intelligent for his masters, but this time it is past the point of credulity since he has not been trained to understand and tackle the technology he is up against now. But, no, he understands how to use it and manipulate it just fine.

Perhaps, that is why all the cast look so unenthused. Matt Damon says little, but looks the part: tough and mean (then again, this could be Damon’s grumpy face at the prospect of facing another day of shooting). Alicia Vikander, for the first time in her stellar career, is badly miscast and unconvincing as the ambitious head of the cyber operations of the CIA. Her character’s motives are never clearly explained, which is half of the problem. The other half is that Vikander looks too young for her character’s role, and her character is too weak to be in the position Greengrass has put her in; especially, when compared to the similar role (and apt) Joan Allen played in Bourne II-IV.

The Asset (Vincent Cassel) trying to keep up with Bourne.

The Asset (Vincent Cassel) trying to keep up with Bourne.

The other characters of note in Jason Bourne are played by a grizzled, weather-worn Tommy Lee Jones (coming from nowhere to be the senior CIA man) and a scary, super-assassin played by Vincent Cassel (who is called The Asset. Yes, Greengrass and the other writers are so creatively bankrupt that they failed to give Cassel’s character a proper name or at least a fear-inducing codename.) Neither Jones’ nor Cassel’s performances are memorable, and (embarrassingly) Brian Cox and Karl Urban, respectively, played the exact same roles as they do in The Bourne Supremacy. As a result, one has a terrible sense of déjà vu watching Jason Bourne, and not in a good way.

All-in-all, Jason Bourne is an entertaining film, if an unnecessary addition to the Bourne series. The movie contains the standard tropes that audiences enjoy, plus Matt Damon is back. But the film adds nothing new to the franchise, and from the directing, to the acting, to the plot, to the general lack of imagination in the film, one cannot help but note that the movie is riddled with problems. What’s worse is that so much of Jason Bourne has been copied from other Bourne films. And there is no worse an insult to a sequel than for it to be deemed a poor imitation of its predecessors.

PG’s Tips

Review – Independence Day II: Resurgence (12a) [2016]

ID2 - header

Star Rating: 2.5/5

Director:

  • Roland Emmerich – Independence Day, Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow, 2012, Stargate

Cast:

  • Liam Hemsworth – The Last Song, The Expendables II, The Hunger Games I-III(ii), The Duel
  • Maika Monroe – The Guest, It Follows, The 5th Wave, The Scent of Rain & Lightning
  • Jessie T Usher – When The Game Stands Tall, Survivor’s Remorse, Almost Christmas
  • Bill Pullman – Independence Day, The Grudge, Torchwood, The Equaliser, Brother In Laws
  • Sela Ward – The Day After Tomorrow, The Stepfather, Gone Girl, Graves
  • William Fichtner – Armageddon, The Dark Knight, Entourage, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, If
  • Deobia Oparei – Thunderbirds, Your Highness, Pirates of the Caribbean IV, Game of Thrones
  • Angela Yeung Wing – Hitman: Agent 47, Ferryman
  • Jeff Goldblum – Independence Day, Jurassic Park I-III, Law & Order, Mortdecai, Thor III
  • Judd Hirsch – Independence Day, A Beautiful Mind, Sharknado II, The Muppets, Wild Oats
  • Chin Han – The Dark Knight, 2012, Contagion, Captain America IIGhost In The ShellMusic Composer:
  • Harald Kloser – The Day After Tomorrow, 10,000 BC, 2012, White House Down, Discarnate
  • Thomas Wander – 10,000 BC, 2012, White House Down

Twenty years ago, Director Roland Emmerich made the great disaster movie, Independence Day (ID1). Aliens came from space and blew up the White House. This was innovative and spectacular to watch as no-one had used CGI on such a scale before. Yet, that was in 1996. Could the same ideals that fuelled ID1 to success back then, have the same impact on viewers today?

The aliens, with its enormous space ship, destroying an American city. (It's hard to know which one as the cities all looked like smoke, ash and rubble after a while.)

The aliens, with its enormous space ship, destroying an American city. (It’s hard to know which one as the cities all looked like smoke, ash and rubble after a while.)

Independence Day II (ID2) is basically the same film as ID1. The key differences are that this one starts in outer space. While there, humans learn that the aliens have awoken after twenty years in hibernation (or whatever aliens do whilst in a state of torpor). Now, the aliens are returning to destroy the Earth again (for reasons that are never explained).

Only, this time, the aliens have even larger spaceships and more powerful weapons than first time around. All the nations of the world, across all the continents, must unite and work together if they are to stand a chance of defending the human race from extinction.

The aliens unleashing their arsenal upon London. (Haven't we seen this sight before?)

The aliens unleashing their arsenal upon London. (Haven’t we seen this sight before?)

Yes, ID2’s plot is as laughably corny as that. It is also entirely predictable. One can draw the arc of the film before going into this two hour-long action, Sci-fi, disaster fest. This is because: one, disaster movies tend to have (very) similar storylines; and, two, the plot for ID2 is an inconvenience to the special effects.

Ninety-plus percent of the film is special effects of one kind or another. Arguably, the most enjoyable part of ID2 is spotting from where Emmerich has gained his inspiration for the CGI. The aliens look remarkably similar to those from the Alien franchise and Prometheus; the space ship looks the same, just larger, than the one from ID1; and the destruction of the White House and London look like those same events in ID1, Deep Impact, Olympus Has Fallen, Thor II: The Dark World and London Has Fallen. Suffice to say the effects in ID2 do not look as innovative or inspire the same awe as they did in 1996. And that is despite the CGI being in a different league to what Emmerich had to work with twenty years ago.

Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth), filling the boots of Will Smith, and flying a fighter jet into toward the aliens to try and take them out. I wonder, will he succeed?

Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth), filling the boots of Will Smith, and flying a fighter jet into toward the aliens to try and take them out. I wonder, will he succeed?

Nevertheless, while watching ID2, one spends less time wondering about the contrast in the quality of the CGI, compared to the giant hole in ID2 known as the lack of Will Smith. Smith was the hero of the last film and ID2 does not feel right without him. (The reason for his absence differs depending upon the source: Smith claims he could not work on ID2 as he was already committed to Suicide Squad, which filmed at the same time; while the studio claims Smith asked for too much money and told him to get lost.) In Smith’s absence, Liam Hemsworth, Jessie T Usher and Maika Monroe decently fill the void without being anything remotely special. Yet, somehow, the three of them can’t quite capture Smith’s panache, and that is even with all the clichés that Emmerich has dumped into this unimaginative, by the numbers movie.

Over-all, ID2 is a standard, semi-enjoyable disaster movie. It tries to repeat what occurred in ID1, only on a gargantuan scale and with a plot that gets in the way of the CGI. All of this is done without Will Smith and the movie cannot get past it. Indeed, if anything, Smith’s absence emphasises how important he was to making ID1 so entertaining and successful in 1996. Without him, ID2 underlines how unoriginal and dull humans fighting (technologically superior, yet paradoxically primitive-minded) aliens has become.

PG’s Tips

Review – X-Men: Apocalypse (12a) [2016]

X-Men 3 - Title banner

Star Rating: 2.5/5

Director:

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • John Ottman – X-Men IIHouse of WaxFantastic 4 I-IIValkyrie, X-Men: Days of Future PastNon-Stop, 20,000 Leagues Under Sea

The Godfather Syndrome is a common problem for film trilogies. When the first film is a good and the second is better, the third film has a hard act to follow. So often, it cannot raise the bar to the required level and, consequently, the film is unsatisfactory. The Godfather trilogy is the most high profile to fall victim to this syndrome (hence the name), but the third film in the Alien franchise and in Sam Raimi’s Spiderman trilogy suffered from the syndrome as well. Sadly, so too does the third film in the X-Men prequel trilogy, Apocalypse.

Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) has awakened and keen to inflict punishment, using his incredible powers, upon the 'decadent, corrupt' world of the 1980s.

Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) has awakened and keen to inflict punishment, using his incredible powers, upon the ‘decadent, corrupt’ world of the 1980s.

X-Men: Apocalypse begins in Ancient Egypt with the creation of the most powerful mutant of all time (played by Oscar Isaac). This mutant is not given a name, but his enemies nickname him Apocalypse. No sooner is Apocalypse created when he is entombed and falls into a coma.

Fast forward to the 1980s and Apocalypse is awoken. He sees the world is full of decadence and corruption. So he decides that he must destroy it in order to make a new and better world. He recruits four (angry) mutants to his cause: Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Angel (Ben Hardy) and Psylocke (Olivia Munn), in order to carry out his master plan. Only the X-Men can stop this plan from coming to fruition. But only if they unite.

Apocalypse’s plot is quite dull, unoriginal and unfaithful to what the X-Men prequel trilogy has been about. First Class and Days of Future Past were original and interesting because they were not about good vs evil. Rather, they were about the polar-opposite approaches of Charles Xavier/Professor X and Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto to tackle the problems mutants faced in the world (mirroring the stances of Martin Luthar King and Malcolm X during the American Civil Rights movements of the 1960s). Neither Professor X’s nor Magneto’s approaches were completely right or completely wrong, which was what made First Class and Days of Future Past so fascinating and realistic (for the X-Men world that is). However, Apocalypse goes back on this theme and focusses more on stopping an all-powerful, under-developed and poorly written (and so obviously evil) villain. This is a real shame as director Bryan Singer should have done more to continue the theme of the previous two installments.

Charles Xavier/Professor X (James McAvoy) using his machine to find mutants around the world... and being mentally invaded by Apocalypse.

Charles Xavier/Professor X (James McAvoy) using his machine to find mutants around the world… and being mentally invaded by Apocalypse.

Yet, the near abandonment of the theme running through the first two movies of this trilogy is not the only major problem with Apocalypse’s plot. The storyline is bitty at best and incoherent at worst. As is so often the case in X-Men films, there are many characters with competing storylines. To condense so many storylines into a TV series is a struggle (just look at Game of Thrones). But to do it in a 144-minute film, and to develop the characters as well, is nigh on impossible. As a result, so much in Apocalypse is left under-explained or simply not explained at all: for example why Magneto begins the film in a metal-works factory in Poland (yes, just go with it)? Why, also, does Apocalypse need four assistants to help him execute his grand plan? (One would think these questions are profound enough to warrant answers. But, no, instead Singer spends the time explaining how Professor X went bald and how Storm’s hair turned blonde.)

It is safe to say that Apocalypse’s plot has enough holes to rival Swiss Cheese. However, to some extent one can ignore its many problems and enjoy watching some of our favourite mutants once more. Like in First Class and Days of Future Past, the acting and the dialogue is good. Again, both are a little bit down on the other two movies. But that may be due to viewers becoming accustomed to the high standard of acting set by James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence in particular.

No, the only real surprise in Apocalypse is how much screen time is given to the new members of the cast; notably, Sophie Turner as the young Jean Gray. Turner’s American accent vacillates across the Atlantic during the course of the film and she does not have the screen presence or the charisma (as yet) of the more senior members of the cast. But Turner does a good job with what she is given nevertheless.

The new mutants: young Jean Grey (Sophie Turner, left), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee, centre) and Cyclops (Tye Sheridan, right) in the thick of the action, trying to stop Apocalypse from carrying his plan to destroy the world.

The new mutants: young Jean Grey (Sophie Turner, left), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee, centre) and Cyclops (Tye Sheridan, right) in the thick of the action, trying to stop Apocalypse from carrying his plan to destroy the world.

And like with the acting and the dialogue, the action scenes and the special effects are good without being spectacular. Similarly though, audiences have seen what Apocalypse has to offer before (not only in previous X-Men films, but also in other sci-fi and comic-book movies). This, therefore, leaves viewers feeling underwhelmed and yearning for something more interesting to watch.

All-in-all, X-Men: Apocalypse is a disappointing film. The storyline is a muddle, undercooked and a betrayal from what made the previous two films in the trilogy so engaging. With a plot so problematic, it is no surprise that neither the quality of its cast nor the numerous (inconsequential) action sequences can save this third film from being a let-down. Thus, The Godfather Syndrome has struck again and means that the X-Men prequel trilogy has not got the conclusive third chapter that it richly deserved.

PG’s Tips

Review – Captain America III: Civil War (12a) [2016]

Captain America 3 - title banner

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Directors:

  • Anthony Russo – LuckyYou, Me & DupreeCommunityCaptain America II, The Avengers III: Infinity War: Part I
  • Joe Russo – Welcome To CollinwoodArrested DevelopmentYou, Me & Dupree, Captain America II, The Avengers III: Infinity War: Part I

Cast:

Music Composer:

Six weeks ago, Batman v Superman (BvS) finally arrived in cinemas. It was essentially about 100 minutes of a jumbled nothingness in order to get two superheroes to take opposing sides and smash each other black and blue. It was a tremendously disappointing film. So upon entering Captain America III: Civil War, with the prospect of a dozen superheroes taking sides and smashing each other up, was one right to be apprehensive? Hell no!

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) and Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) have a sensible discussion about the pros and cons of signing up the Sokovia Accords.

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) and Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) have a sensible discussion about the pros and cons of signing up the Sokovia Accords.

Put simply, Captain America III begins shortly after the events in Sokovia (the final battle in The Avengers II: Age of Ultron). The world is furious with the Avengers due to the amount of death and destruction they caused. As a result, the UN have issued the Sokovia Accords and want to ratify them, to ensure that the Avengers will be unable to act without UN approval in future conflicts. Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) agrees with the need for the accords and general oversight since he feels guilty for the carnage the Avengers caused; particularly as he created Ultron.

However, Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) disagrees. He believes in his own judgement and claims to know when it is best for the Avengers to act, not the UN. This splits within the Avengers down the middle as some take Stark’s side while others take Rodger’s side. Complicating matters further is the return of Roger’s friend, Bucky, aka the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). Stark believes he is a great danger, but Rogers does not. And so the civil war begins.

Captain America III is a lot of fun. It is 147-minutes of continuous smash ups involving our favourite Avengers characters (minus Thor and the Hulk), with some aspects of a storyline (or three) in between all the fighting. Unsurprisingly, the plot makes little sense. But to give directors Anthony and Joe Russo credit, the plot for Captain America III makes considerably more sense than BvS (despite having three times as many characters). In addition, the tone is consistent and enjoyable due to its carefree comic nature, in stark contrast to BvS’s imbalance of ultra-seriousness and unrealistic, over-the-top fight sequences.

Captain America (centre) and his side of the civil war, consisting of Bucky (Sebastian Stan), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Anti-Man (Paul Rudd) and Falcon (Anthony Mackie).

Captain America (centre) and his side of the civil war, consisting of Bucky (Sebastian Stan), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Anti-Man (Paul Rudd) and Falcon (Anthony Mackie).

Another element of Captain America III that the directors get right is the lack of background for all the characters upon their introductions, including the new Peter Parker/Spiderman (Tom Holland). That is not to say that the introductions aren’t done well. On the contrary, they are apt and very amusing too, but more in a welcome back way (with the exception of Spiderman) rather than in the form of long-winded origins stories. (Take note Zack Snyder: when something has been done well already, i.e. Bruce Wayne’s/Batman’s background in 2005’s Batman Begins; or has been overdone badly, i.e. how Peter Parker got his Spidy-powers in 2002’s Spiderman and 2012’s The Amazing Spiderman, there is no need to put in the same tale again that cinema-goers are tired of, and especially not in slow-motion.)

Captain America III gets a lot right. Nevertheless, it is too long and the constant bashing that the superheroes do to each other does become repetitive. One can have a snooze in the movie, wake up and still be watching the same fight scene or a different one. It really makes no difference. Nothing of lasting consequence ever happens.

Team Iron Man, consisting of Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Vision (Paul Bettany), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and War Machine (Don Cheadle). Spiderman (Tom Holland) is also on Team Iron Man, but he is not in the picture.

Team Iron Man, consisting of Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Vision (Paul Bettany), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and War Machine (Don Cheadle). Spiderman (Tom Holland) is also on Team Iron Man, but he is not in the picture.

Also, like in Captain America II, Civil War’s storylines run out of puff long before the film’s climactic battle(s). Viewers can be forgiven for forgetting (or even for failing to understand) why Captain America and Iron Man are fighting one another by the end. Then again, one could say that about pretty much all the Marvel comic-book films really. And, strangely enough, that is the point: it doesn’t matter. That is why viewers like Marvel comic-book films and why the studios keep churning out more of them.

Over-all, Captain America III: Civil War is an entertaining, light-hearted film. It is funny and action-packed. Yes, those who have seen other Avengers-related films have probably seen it all before, but who cares? Audiences go into comic-book films, like Captain America III, wanting to enjoy themselves, to watch an ensemble of superheroes beat each other up, and to laugh. The movie delivers, which is more than what can be said for another film about an ensemble of superheroes that fought one another recently.

PG’s Tips