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Review – Ex Machina (15) [2015]

Ex Machina - title banner

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Alex Garland

Writer:

  • Alex Garland – 28 days Later…, Sunshine, Never Let Me Go, Halo

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Geoff Barrow
  • Ben Salisbury

For decades, mankind has had a continuing urge to create and enhance artificial intelligence (AI). This has been reflected and taken to all kinds of extremes and dangers in science fiction films, such as the Terminator franchise, A.I., i,RobotHer and Transcendence. Ex Machina, Alex Garland’s directorial debut, smartly deals with the issue of AI again and the possible consequences of it.

Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) finding out at work, to his delight, that he has won the competition to be part of a break-through experiment.

Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) finding out at work, to his delight, that he has won the competition to be part of a break-through experiment.

Ex Machina is about a programmer called Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), who wins a competition at work to go to a remote facility to be part of an experiment. Nathan (Oscar Isaac), the man behind the experiment, wants Caleb to find out if his human-looking robot, Ava (Alicia Vikander), can pass the Turing Test. But neither the experiment nor Nathan is what they seem.

Ex Machina is an interesting and stylish movie. Alex Garland successfully contrasts the beautiful and open nature of a remote location, with the claustrophobic feel of being based there. This creates a natural tension that never truly leaves viewers. It might be allayed for parts of the film, but at the slightest change in circumstance, this tension (re-)tightens one’s muscles, reminding viewers of how terrifying remote locations can be.

In addition to this natural terror, Garland, who has written a superb script, tackles some thought-provoking (and disquieting) topics concerning AI, to augment one’s terrors. Some of the topics have already been done with varying levels of success in Transcendence and Her which dealt with the (disturbing) issues of consciousness within AI and having a relationship with AI, respectively. But Ex Machina arguably takes these issues to higher (and more alarming) levels by blurring the lines between people and machines; notably, by giving AI robots sexual desires and the capability to act on and enjoy them.

Nathan (Oscar Isaac, unrecognisable with a beard) talking with Caleb about the purpose of the experiment.

Nathan (Oscar Isaac, unrecognisable with a beard) talking with Caleb about the purpose of the experiment.

Ostensibly, the issue of sexual desire within an AI robot may seem far-fetched and ludicrous. But watch the documentary series Through The Wormhole, plus appreciate the intelligent ways that modern technology can respond to requests, and it might dawn on audiences that what we see in Ex Machina is not so far-fetched or ridiculous and that the lines between people and machines is genuinely being distorted. Bearing all this in mind, Ex Machina enables audiences to believe in this distortion because of Alicia Vikander’s astonishing performance as the AI robot, Ava. Ava’s (arousing) physique and general movements are robot-like. But her facial features and her observational and intellectual sharpness are so human-like that one almost forgets they’re watching an AI robot.

Yes, it helps that Ava/Vikander is an attractive woman and that the special effects on her are outstanding. Equally, though, it helps that Caleb and Nathan, played well by Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac, respectively, buy into Ava’s supposed realness and respond to her (human?) personality in differing but very human ways. Indeed, their responses say something about their personalities. Yet, while audiences learn about Caleb’s background and why he is the way he is, the same cannot be said for Nathan. This is unfortunate as there is undoubtedly more to Nathan than he lets on; his brooding face, alone, tells us that.

Caleb having one of his sessions with Ava (Alicia Vikander), to determine if Ava has human-like consciousness.

Caleb having one of his sessions with Ava (Alicia Vikander), to determine if Ava has human-like consciousness.

However, the lack of information given about Nathan is not the only element of Ex Machina’s plot that weakens it. The film is slow-paced; so much so, that for much of the movie one may wonder where the film is going. Moreover, the ending leaves itself open to scrutiny, not to mention out of kilter and jarring to the rest of the film. Nevertheless, one should not stress too much on the movie’s faults because so much of it is impressive.

Over-all, Ex Machina is an intriguing, weird, and noteworthy film. The movie is slow and the ending is questionable, but all the same Alex Garland has made a striking piece of work in his directorial debut. He deals perceptively and philosophically with important issues regarding AI. These are extremely pertinent considering mankind’s disconcerting hunger to further enhance AI. For heaven knows that these issues will not be isolated to the realms of science fiction films for much longer as it is likely that the world’s first Ava will be created in the not-too-distant future.

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Review – Interstellar (12a) [2014]

Interstellar - title banner

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Director:

Cast:

Music Composer:

There are some directors whose movies are simply a cut above the rest. Steven Spielberg, David Fincher, Alfonso Cuarón and Martin Scorsese do not necessarily make films often, but when they do their films are invariably of the highest quality. Christopher Nolan rightly has a place among these filmmaking giants and his latest movie, Interstellar, confirms this despite the film’s problems.

Professor Brand (Michael Caine) explaining the mission and its purpose to Cooper (Matthew McConaughey)

Professor Brand (Michael Caine) explaining the mission and its purpose to Cooper (Matthew McConaughey)

Interstellar is set in the not-too-distant future. The Earth will soon be unable to sustain life due to crop failures. Mankind needs to find a new planet in order to survive. With the situation desperate, Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) leads a team of astronauts into space so as to find another planet that can sustain habitable life.

Interstellar is an ambitious, innovative and stimulating movie. Like The Dark Knight Trilogy, The Prestige and Inception, Interstellar is a film full of ideas such as Murphy’s Law, gravity, love, and how time bends in space to name but four. These ideas keep viewers fully occupied throughout the film’s 167-minute running time. As in the above-mentioned films, Nolan again illustrates his intelligence by writing an ingenious script that holds much realism and does not fall into the generic (and dull) intergalactic ray-gun war between men and monsters. Nolan must be applauded for it and for not patronising his audience (harrumph Michael Bay).

Cooper saying goodbye to his little daughter, Murphy (Mackenzie Foy) before he goes on the mission.

Cooper saying goodbye to his little daughter, Murphy (Mackenzie Foy) before he goes on the mission.

Granted, most viewers probably will not completely comprehend Interstellar’s dialogue as one may need to be a quantum physics professor and an astrophysics nerd for that. If viewers are neither of those and find the dialogue difficult to grasp, they can still easily enjoy the film simply by sitting back and admiring the awesome sceneries, the breath-taking special effects, and the phenomenal music. The CGI and the music, in particular, make audiences feel like they’re on a wonderful rollercoaster ride through space, and the length of the film enhances this riveting sensation.

However, not even this terrific sensation can override or conceal the gaping holes in Interstellar’s storyline (as a train could fit through them). These holes stem from moments of tension that are there solely for the sake of tension (and filler) rather than advancement of the storyline; and from the ending being too rushed and contrived for the movie to make sense. With most directors, viewers would generally accept these plot holes as par for the course. But with Nolan, viewers expect better. Scenes of tension in his previous films have had consequence(s) upon the storylines, and he has given us some of the most original, thought-provoking and satisfying endings in movie history. To see his film suffer from similar problems as those of (cheesy) action films and (second-rate) sci-fi movies feels wrong as Nolan is too smart a man to fall into such holes.

Cooper speaking with Amelia (Anne Hathaway) as they try to determine what to do next as they search for a habitable planet.

Cooper speaking with Amelia (Anne Hathaway) as they try to determine what to do next as they search for a habitable planet.

Yet, the above-mentioned holes are not the only issues staring back at Interstellar. Like Inception, Interstellar is so plot heavy it has no time for character development. For any film, it is excusable not to give peripheral characters proper story-arcs since that bloats the film’s running time unnecessarily and can render a film with a terribly swollen cast (like Interstellar) impractical to make. But what is not excusable for any film, including Interstellar, is for the major characters to not have proper story-arcs. This is because one of the most fascinating parts of a film is the journey the main characters go on and watching how the journey affects them, for good or ill. Without such story-arcs for the major characters, Interstellar feels like a large plate with little food on it: somewhat unsatisfying.

Over-all, Interstellar is a very ambitious, intelligent and challenging movie. Yes, it has plenty of plot problems. And, yes, it does not give its characters enough time for sincere character growth. On the flip side, though, the movie is made worthwhile by the stunning landscapes, the spectacular special effects, the spellbinding music, and the interesting ideas that are seldom explored in films. Suffice to say, Interstellar does not make for an easy 167-minutes and the film would have ended up as a total mess if it were to have been directed by anyone other than a master of his/her craft. This underlines why Christopher Nolan is such an extraordinary director and why he rightly stands among the best in the business in Hollywood.

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Review – The Drop (15) [2014]

The Drop - title banner

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Michael R. Roskam – Bullhead

Cast:

Music Composer:

The engine to every story/film is its characters. Without characters, viewers have no means of entering the story and so cannot enjoy the story. But do characters have to be likeable for viewers to enjoy the story? Rust And Bone and The Wolf Of Wall Street demonstrated that characters could be repugnant, yet the story/film could still be enjoyed. Michael R. Roskam’s The Drop adds further evidence to this theory.

Bob (Tom Hardy) with his boss and cousin, Marv (James Gandolfini, in his final role before his death) outside the back of Cousin Marv's, listening to their Chechen gangster boss.

Bob (Tom Hardy) with his boss and cousin, Marv (James Gandolfini, in his final role before his death) outside the back of Cousin Marv’s, listening to their Chechen gangster boss.

The Drop is based on the short story Animal Rescue by Dennis Lehane. The film is about two intertwining stories that take place in a poor part of Brooklyn, New York. Bob (Tom Hardy) is a bartender who works for his cousin Marv (James Gandolfini) at the latter’s former bar. Cousin Marv, as the bar is called (even though Marv no longer owns it), is a drop box for local gangsters to put brown envelopes of cash into. However, one night, the bar is robbed by gunmen and Marv’s boss, a Chechen gangster called Chovka (Michael Aranov), wants to know where his money has gone. Or else.

At the same time, Bob walks home from the bar one night, only to overhear a dog whimpering in the dustbin of a neighbour, Nadia (Noomi Rapace). Bob opens the bin to find a maltreated pit-bull puppy in it. Between him and Nadia, they take care of the puppy. Nevertheless, one day when Bob is playing with the dog in the park, the notorious Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts) finds him and tells him that the dog belongs to him. Bob insists that he is not giving up the dog, and that is when Eric tells him that if he does not pay him $10,000 by the next day for the dog, he promises to kill him, maltreat the puppy again, and do worse to Nadia.

Bob with Nadia (Noomi Rapace), buying stuff for the pitbull puppy, Rocco.

Bob with Nadia (Noomi Rapace), buying stuff for the pitbull puppy, Rocco.

The Drop is a slow-burning, increasingly tense thriller. The film feels less like a Hollywood production and more like a British one due to the gloomy mood throughout the movie’s 106-minute running time. Indeed, if it weren’t for the accents and the design of the houses, one might have mistaken it for a British production due to the constant grim, grey sky and the run down state of the homes in the area. Such features are typical of British productions like Harry Brown, Tyrannosaur and the Channel 4 TV series Top Boy, and enable viewers to feel the brooding atmosphere of a place in which something nasty is going to happen.

One senses that something nasty is going to happen because the area in which The Drop is located in is full of nasty people, ready to do (and cover up) their dirty work. The nasty people are all brought to life vividly by a cast with less than a handful of redemptive features between them. Tom Hardy commands a strong performance in the central role. He personifies the brooding atmosphere of the film with his perpetual frown, and few actors have Hardy’s rare ability to convey so much with just a bland stare.

Of the rest of the cast, Noomi Rapace does a good job with Nadia, even if she does not have a lot to work with other than being low on confidence and insecure. Similarly, Matthias Schoenaerts plays well (and with worrying realism) in his familiar role as a scum bug. At least in Rust And Bone, Schoenaerts’ character had one redemptive feature. In The Drop, his character has none! Yet, none of the characters are as ostensibly interesting as the one performed by James Gandolfini in his final role. Gandolfini’s character, Marv, may not be a nice person. But he is the most layered and complex character in the film and this makes viewers want to see more of him/Gandolfini as, arguably, it is Marv that makes the movie tick.

Nadia, looking good but ditressed with Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts) at Cousin Marv's.

Nadia, looking good but ditressed with Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts) at Cousin Marv’s.

The setting and the acting are top-notch in The Drop. However, other than those (very important) elements, the film does not have much else to ride on. The plot raises several questions that go unanswered, which is annoying because the questions do not seem especially difficult to answer. Additionally, some of the key moments in the movie take place off-screen, which is again annoying. There is a rule in art: show, don’t tell. That The Drop ignores this rule is its major hindrance as otherwise it is a very solid film.

Over-all, The Drop consists of most things that one could want from a slow-burning thriller. For certain, it has some plot holes that could have been handled better. Nevertheless, the dismal and threatening atmosphere of the film; the gradual rise in tension; and the fine acting of the cast all make the movie thoroughly worthwhile and enjoyable. Thus, The Drop illustrates once more that a film with dislikeable characters can still be enjoyed.

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Review – Fury (15) [2014]

Fury - title banner

Star Rating: 3/5

Director:

  • David Ayer – Harsh Times, End Of Watch, Sabotage

Cast:

  • Brad Pitt – Snatch, Mr & Mrs Smith, 12 Years A Slave, The Big Short
  • Shia Lebeouf – Disturbia, Transformers I-III, Nymphomaniac I-II, Man Down
  • Logan Lerman – 3:10 To Yuma, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Percy Jackson I-II, Noah
  • Michael Peña – Crash, End Of Watch, The Lincoln Lawyer, The Martian
  • Jon Bernthal – The Air I Breathe, The Ghost, The Wolf Of Wall Street, Sicario
  • Jason Isaacs – Black Hawk Down, Windtalkers, Harry Potter I-VII(i) & VII(ii), Stockholm, Pennsylvania

Music Composer:

  • Steven Price – The World’s End, Gravity

The topic of World War II (WWII) is well trodden territory in Hollywood. Seeing stellar American soldiers gunning down Nazis and ‘Japs’ has been revisited on many, many occasions as Saving Private Ryan, Pearl Harbour, Band Of Brothers, Flags Of Our Fathers, and Red Tails testify, to name a handful. Unsurprisingly, after such a high volume of movies on the topic in the last two decades alone, there is a sterile and samey feel to WWII films, unless a new film adds something unseen to the genre. Alas, Fury does not do this.

Young Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman, inside right) joining his crew of tank-men, and being derided for his inexperience by Boyd (Shia Lebeouf), 'Gordo' (Michael Peña) and 'Coon-Ass' (Jon Bernthal).

Young Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman, inside right) joining his crew of tank-men, and being derided for his inexperience by Boyd (Shia Lebeouf), ‘Gordo’ (Michael Peña) and ‘Coon-Ass’ (Jon Bernthal).

The film is fictional and begins in 1945. The Allies are advancing into Nazi Germany, and Fury, the name of the tank led by Sergeant ‘Wardaddy’ Collier (Brad Pitt), is in one of the regiments leading the assault into the Fatherland. Including Sergeant Collier, the tank consists of a five man crew: Boyd ‘Bible’ Swan (Shia Lebeouf), Grady ‘Coon-Ass’ Travis (Jon Bernthal), Trini ‘Gordo’ Garcia (Michael Peña), and newcomer Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman).

As the crew push deeper into Germany, Sergeant Collier takes it upon himself to educate young Ellison about the brutal nature of war and how to deal with it, as the personality of the enemy sinks to ever more depraved levels.

Fury’s premise is simple and the film sticks to it rigidly. Fury has a raw, muddy, and claustrophobic feel to it. One gains a true insight into what it must have been like (and probably still is like) for a group of soldiers inside a tank while fighting in a war. The movie shows how the crew’s situation turns from uneventful to frenzied chaos upon the rippling of a machine gun or the boom of an explosion. Suffice to say, there is plenty of both and all the action scenes are well done.

Sergeant 'Wardaddy' Collier (Brad Pitt) thinking over a key decision that he has to make.

Sergeant ‘Wardaddy’ Collier (Brad Pitt) thinking over a key decision that he has to make.

Another aspect of Fury that’s done well is the developing relationship between Sergeant Collier/Brad Pitt and Norman Ellison/Logan Lerman. This is because David Ayer’s script is good and the actors perform their roles well, particularly Pitt as the grizzled but caring war-veteran. To Pitt’s credit, in a film which he dominates, he manages to hold viewer’s attention, whether it is with Ellison, the other members of his band of brothers, other American soldiers, or Germans. Pitt’s/Collier’s character is most interesting and revealing when he is teaching Ellison/Lerman about the nature of the Nazi enemy as audiences get to see the complexities in his character.

Yet, as a corollary of Pitt dominating the film, the rest of the non-peripheral members of the cast don’t get enough screen time to illustrate that they are much more than (lazy) personifications of their nicknames. (Nevertheless, they do get time enough to praise Sergeant Collier/Brad Pitt. For which film starring Brad Pitt wouldn’t give the supporting cast time to applaud him?) That the other characters are not given adequate screen time is a bit of a shame as the actors all do good jobs with what they’re given; even, shockingly, the much-derided Shia Lebeouf!

Other than Fury being (yet another) glorification of Brad Pitt, the film lacks direction and the storyline does not go anywhere as a result. Arguably, the movie never intends to build up to a climax (although it half does); and, instead, merely goes out to highlight the grisly, ghastly and inhumane horrors of war, merely from the angle of tank crewmen. Yet, if this were the case, Fury does not go far enough. Many criminal elements and horrors of war/WWII are not shown in the film, especially in comparison to the harrowing Schindler’s List and The City Of Life And Death.

What a surprise! Sergeant Collier/Brad Pitt takes off his shirt, gives himself a wash, and shows off his abs to put most men to shame. Haven't we seen this before? (Fight Club? Troy?)

What a surprise! Sergeant Collier/Brad Pitt takes off his shirt, gives himself a wash, and shows off his abs to put most men to shame. Haven’t we seen this before? (Fight Club? Troy?)

Additionally, Fury lacks depth. There are several occasions when some of the cast talk about criminal acts they’ve committed during the war. They may talk about it with remorse, but no-one ever questions their actions. This renders the scene frustrating because the film misses the chance to explore the moral conscience of each character, and pointless because it means that such scenes have no consequence (positive or negative) on the rest of the movie.

Indeed, frustration and pointlessness sum up Fury. It is a film that has a lot going for it due to a good script; solid acting from all the cast; the a muddy set which enables one to feel what it must have been like (and what it probably still be like) to be inside a tank during war; and the graphic way that warfare is depicted is gruesome and sickening. However, ultimately, the above-mentioned positives of Fury are not enough to satisfy viewers, considering that WWII has been portrayed in films so many times over the last two decades alone. Thus, Fury has the sterile and samey feel of so many other WWII movies which not even the dominant display of Brad Pitt (and his abs) can overcome.

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Review – Before I Go To Sleep (15) [2014]

Before I Go To Sleep - title banner

Star Rating: 3/5

Director:

  • Rowan Joffe – Brighton Rock

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Ed Shearmur – Cruel Intentions, Derailed, Miss Congeniality, Masters of Horror

In my review of last year’s Trance, I wrote about how psychological thrillers mess with the mind and how they tend to be enjoyable and very intense, with semi-plausible plot twists that keep audiences guessing long after the conclusion of the film. Before I Go To Sleep is more of the same and a credit to the genre.

Christine (Nicole Kidman) wakes up, as she does every morning, not knowing who she is or her husband, Ben (Colin Firth), sleeping next to her.

Christine (Nicole Kidman) wakes up, as she does every morning, not knowing who she is or her husband, Ben (Colin Firth), sleeping next to her.

Before I Go To Sleep is based on the 2011 novel with the same title by SJ Watson. The film centres round Christine (Nicole Kidman), an amnesiac unable to remember a thing from one day to the next, to the despondency of her husband, Ben (Colin Firth). Dr Nash (Mark Strong) calls Christine every morning to make her watch a video recording of herself from the previous day. This way Christine can remind herself of what she did the previous day in an attempt to cure herself of her amnesia and, more importantly, so that she can figure out/remember the truth about the incident that gave her amnesia.

Before I Go To Sleep is an intense and entertaining film. It is not as complex as Trance, but Before I Go To Sleep still holds audience’s attention with great success throughout its relatively short, 92-minute running time. What makes the movie so absorbing is the way the film slowly (and deliberately) dangles carrots of information to viewers, so that they naturally form conclusions in their heads as to how Christine became an amnesiac. This adds to the thrill of the story and guarantees that when the twist comes, it is a genuine surprise in a good way.

Christine having a meeting with Dr Nash (Mark Strong), without Ben's knowledge or consent.

Christine having a meeting with Dr Nash (Mark Strong), without Ben’s knowledge or consent.

However, whether the twist makes plausible sense upon looking back on the film is highly questionable. One of the problems with the twist is that viewers are not given a crucial piece of information midway through the film. While it is common in psychological thrillers not to reveal vital pieces of information about events prior to the starting point of the film (timeline-wise) until the final revelation, it is another thing entirely for information to be (cynically and sinfully) withheld from viewers from the start of the movie’s timeline. This feels like the director has cheated on his audience and not in a good way.

Putting the plot twist aside, the dialogue throughout the film has been well written and the acting is decent, without being outstanding. Nicole Kidman plays believably as the anxious and emotionally distraught central character. She looks the part: gaunt, skinny, vulnerable and confused. More could time been devoted to her backstory, but that is not the real issue with Kidman’s performance. The real issue is that her performance carries the odour from her last film: the ill-fated The Grace of Monaco. With this mephitic whiff emanating from Kidman, it is hard to watch her in Before I Go To Sleep without feeling that her career has fallen and that she is trying (hard) to get herself back on track again.

The same odour, however, does not affect from the performances of the two main members of the supporting cast. Both Colin Firth and Mark Strong do good jobs with the material that they are given. If anything, the material and screen-time that they are given lets them down. Neither Firth nor Strong are given enough time on screen and the movie does not explore their personalities and their motives deeply enough.

Christine watching and recording herself in secret to try and remind herself who she is and what did the previous day.

Christine watching and recording herself in secret to try and remind herself who she is and what did the previous day.

Apart from the acting, Ed Shearmur’s score is not outstanding but it is atmospheric and unsettling. This helps to mess with one’s mind and helps to make Before I Go To Sleep a good film and a worthwhile addition to its genre.

All-in-all, Before I Go To Sleep is a thoroughly enjoyable and intense psychological thriller. It has a much simpler plot than other films in its genre, but that is not to the movie’s detriment due to the force of the storyline, the dialogue and the acting. Before I Go To Sleep’s plot twist is suspect, yet it will certainly take viewers by surprise and, therefore, like Trance, will keep audiences thinking long after the film has finished.

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Review – The Inbetweeners II (15) [2014]

The Inbetweeners 2 - title banner2

Star Rating: 3/5

Directors/Writers:

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • David Arnold – Independence Day, The World Is Not Enough, Paul, Sherlock, Bond 24
  • Michael Price – The Judge, Wild Target, Horrid Henry: The Movie, Sherlock, Tell The World

2011’s The Inbetweeners Movie was a phenomenal success both narratively and at the box office. On the back of the hilarious TV series audiences, with delight, followed their four favourite misfits on holiday in Greece. But the 2011 film was supposed to be a last stand for the cast. A sequel had not been intended at the outset and, to some extent, this is to the detriment of The Inbetweeners II.

Jay (James Buckley), Will (Simon Bird), Simon (Joe Thomas) and Neil (Blake Harrison posing in front of Sydney Harbour to prove that they actually did go to Australia.

Jay (James Buckley), Will (Simon Bird), Simon (Joe Thomas) and Neil (Blake Harrison posing in front of Sydney Harbour to prove that they actually did go to Australia.

The Inbetweeners II revolves round the four losers known as Will (Simon Bird), Simon (Joe Thomas), Neil (Blake Harrison) and Jay (James Buckley). Will and Simon are at university, while Neil is doing the odd job here and there. Jay, however, has taken some time out and has gone to Australia for a gap year. After reading a message from the teller of tall tales himself, Will, Simon and Neil decide to visit Jay to see for themselves how great Jay’s life is going down under.

The Inbetweeners II is a funny film. Its humour might be juvenile, crude and vulgar (not to mention misogynistic); yet, the movie delivers on its promise to make viewers laugh regularly and often. Like the TV series and the 2011 movie, the script has been superbly written and the four main losers have great chemistry between them. Arguably, the best parts of The Inbetweeners II are when the four of them are together in a car or walking around talking because, in more ways than one, viewers know people with similar characteristics to them (which is what made the TV series and the first film so amusing).

Will meets Kate (Emily Berrington), an old classmate of his from primary school, and immediately (and unsurprisingly) takes  a liking to her.

Will meets Kate (Emily Berrington), an old classmate of his from primary school, and immediately (and unsurprisingly) takes a liking to her.

However, watching the four loners make the same (hackneyed) jokes outside their small (crappy) town somehow dilutes the jokes’ effects. In the same way that one cannot take Hogwarts out of a Harry Potter film and expect the movie to have the same magical effect on audiences (Harry Potter VII(i)), one cannot take the inbetweeners out of their unique setting as half the gags no longer work.

Additionally, narratively, The Inbetweeners II runs out of gas between two-thirds and three quarters of the way through movie. Symbolically, this happens when Jay’s car runs out of petrol in the middle of nowhere. Yet, by that point old jokes have been rehashed, and the directors have cranked up many of the other jokes to eleven in the (forlorn) belief that making something louder and cruder equals funnier (which is always the sign of desperation and the exhaustion of ideas).

Simon's girlfriend, Lucy (Tamla Kari), who has turned psychotic since the last film for... reasons.

Simon’s girlfriend, Lucy (Tamla Kari), who has turned psychotic since the last film for… reasons.

Worse, the sequel does not develop the four oddballs. This entails that we don’t learn anything new about them and that they have not changed or grown up. This is disappointing as there have been events that have happened off-screen to the boys since the last film and some of these must have had consequences on their personalities. But, no: little of these events are divulged on screen and the corollaries of these events even less so to the disadvantage of the film and the Inbetweeners phenomena itself.

All-in-all, The Inbetweeners II is a highly amusing film. The humour may have plunged to shamefully depraved levels, but it will still have audiences laughing more often than not. Nevertheless, one cannot help but feel that the directors did not plan for this sequel and only green lit it upon the success of the 2011 movie. Whether it is the storyline; the direction of the film and the characters; or even the jokes themselves, The Inbetweeners II goes flat long before the end. Interestingly, in a recent interview, the directors said that they were ‘killing’ the Inbetweeners with this film and that this was to be the boys’ last outing. It would be no surprise if the directors get their wish this time.

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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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