Tag Archives: X-Men

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.

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Review – Deadpool (15) [2016]

Deadpool - title banner

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Director:

  • Tim Miller

Cast:

  • Ryan Reynolds – X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Proposal, Buried, Truth In Advertising
  • Karan Soni – Supremacy, Goosebumps, Other Space, Ghostbusters
  • Ed Skrein – The Sweeney, Game of Thrones, The Transporter Refueled, The Model
  • Stefan Kapicic
  • Brianna Hildebrand – Prism, First Girl I Loved
  • Gina Carano – Haywire, Fast & Furious 6, In The Blood, Scorched Earth
  • Morena Baccarin – The OC, Homeland, Gotham, Malevolent

Music Composer:

Ryan Reynolds has wanted to play Deadpool since 2005. In 2009’s (forgettable) X-Men Origins: Wolverine, he got his wish; although, it was an insignificant role and did such an injustice to the foul-mouthed, raunchy character that has lit up Marvel comics since 1991. Well, now, Reynolds has finally got his wish and has made a Deadpool standalone film. But is the movie any good? Does the movie do justice to the character?

Wade (Ryan Reynolds) with Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). The two of them hit it off quickly.

Wade (Ryan Reynolds) with Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). The two of them hit it off quickly.

Deadpool centres round Wade Wilson (Reynolds). Wade is a former US special forces operative who works as a mercenary in New York City. One day, he finds out that he has multiple and terminal cancer(s). Not wanting to die, Wade goes to a special, underground clinic that claims to be trying a new cure for cancer, which could potentially save him.

However, when Wade arrives at the dodgy clinic, he learns that Ajax (Ed Skrein), the one performing the experimental cure on him, is not trying to cure him at all. Rather, Ajax is attempting to create a mutant, super-slave and disfigures Wade. Wade escapes, but does not manage to kill Ajax before the latter gets away. Wade is out for revenge and puts on the red spandex for good measure.

Deadpool is an entertaining film. It is action-packed, rude and raunchy. Wade/Deadpool is also the antithesis of what a superhero should be. Spiderman, the X-Men, Fantastic Four and Captain America are modest, selfless and caring individuals, while Iron Man and Thor are egotistical maniacs yet altruistic characters at heart. Deadpool, on the other hand, is irredeemably arrogant and selfish, and Reynolds looks like he is revelling in it all. (And fair play to him too. If one generally waits a decade to play a role, one should enjoy every moment of it when it finally comes around.)

Wade about to undergo an experimental procedure, with Ajax (Ed Skrein) looking over him and telling him so much that he would not want to hear.

Wade about to undergo an experimental procedure, with Ajax (Ed Skrein) looking over him and telling him so much that he would not want to hear.

The film’s filthy dialogue reflects the character. Possibly the best element of the movie is the numerous, inappropriate jokes. Not only are they genuinely funny, they keep audiences entertained when the action is not taking place. Nevertheless, due to the way Tim Miller has put the film together, one is never more than ten minutes away from a shoot-out or an explosion. The movie starts on an over-the-top chase scene. It keeps cutting out/back in time during this chase scene to explain the background, with the (unneeded) aid of a voiceover from Wade, until the movie catches up with the chase scene. Then, the film continues with the action.

As one can imagine, this style of directing can become grating after a while; particularly as Wade/Deadpool is so unapologetically full of himself. Equally grating are the constant (and unsubtle) references to other comic-book films, such as The Wolverine and the X-Men franchise. (We get it, Deadpool, you were in X-Men Origins: Wolverine and the studio did not want to pay for the entire X-Men cast. You don’t need to ram it down our throats every fifteen minutes.)

Furthermore, the plot is silly and the villain is clichéd. Indeed, the silliness of the plot and the clichéd nature of the stereotypical British villain (played with unrepentant glee by Ed Skrein) should have fans wondering if the creators of Deadpool could have been any lazier in their planning.

Wade in his Deadpool spandex, taking out those who are either after him or who disfigured him.

Wade in his Deadpool spandex, taking out those who are either after him or who disfigured him.

The women add nothing to the film too. They are either there to be the (hackneyed) damsel-in-distress or to kick some arse. These are comic-book tropes that have been done repeatedly since Sam Raimi’s Spiderman came out in 2002. All the same, if done well they make for entertaining viewing. And Deadpool is undoubtedly entertaining viewing.

Over-all, Deadpool is a fun film. It has action aplenty and enough genuinely funny jokes to render it better than most comedies. Of course the movie is silly, referential to other comic-book movies, filled with tropes from the genre, and annoying. Yet, that is all pars for the course with the character and the movie certainly does our rude, crude and foul-mouthed super anti-hero justice. Thus, Deadpool has exorcised the pale imitation that appeared in X-Men Origins: Wolverine and is the film that Ryan Reynolds and fans of the comics have been waiting for.

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Review – The Hobbit III: The Battle of the Five Armies HFR 3D (12a) [2014]

The Hobbit III - title banner

Star Rating: 2/5

Director:

  • Peter Jackson – Lord of the Rings TrilogyThe Lovely BonesThe Hobbit I & IIThe Adventures of Tintin II

Additional Writer:

  • Guillermo Del Toro – Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy I-III, Mama, Pinnochio

Cast:

  • Martin Freeman – The OfficeThe World’s EndSherlockFargo, Captain America III
  • Ian McKellen – Lord of the Rings TrilogyX-Men I-IIIX-Men: Days of Future Past, Mr Holmes
  • Cate Blanchett – Notes On A ScandalBlue JasmineCinderella
  • Richard Armitage – Captain America: The First AvengerBlack SkyInto The Storm
  • Aiden Turner – AlarmThe Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
  • Ken Scott – CasanovaCharlie Wilson’s WarOne Day
  • Graham McTavish – Rambo24: Day 8ColumbianaCreed
  • Benedict Cumberbatch – Tinker Tailor Soldier SpyStar Trek II: Into DarknessThe Fifth Estate12 Years A Slave
  • Orlando Bloom – The Lord of the Rings I-IIIThe Kingdom of HeavenThe Good DoctorZulu
  • Lee Pace – The FallTwilight IV: Breaking Dawn: Part IILincoln, Untitled Lance Armstrong Biopic
  • Evangeline Lilly – LostThe Hurt LockerReal Steel
  • Luke Evans – Clash of the TitansImmortalsThe RavenDracula Untold
  • Stephen Fry – V For VendettaAlice In WonderlandSherlock Holmes II: A Game of Shadows, Once Upon A Time In The Kitchen
  • Ian Holm – Lord of the Rings I IIILord of WarRatatouille
  • Christopher Lee – Lord of the Rings TrilogySeason of the WitchThe Girl From Nagasaki
  • Hugo Weaving – The Matrix TrilogyLord of the Rings TrilogyCaptain America: The First AvengerTransformers I-III, Strangerland

Music Composer:

  • Howard Shore – Lord of the Rings TrilogyHugoA Dangerous MethodThe Hobbit I II, Denial

(Please read my reviews of The Hobbit I: An Unexpected Journey and The Hobbit II: The Desolation of Smaug for context, as I won’t be going over points I’ve already made, such as the problems with the High Frame Rate, negotiations with the orcs, and the alterations that Jackson has made to the trilogy from the source material.)

Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) trilogy was one of the greatest trilogies of all time. It was beautifully put together and held phenomenal emotional weight that made viewers care about the characters in the story. The same, however, cannot be said for the first two volumes of the prequel trilogy. Nevertheless, could the final volume of the prequel trilogy, The Battle of the Five Armies, redeem The Hobbit trilogy?

Smaug the Dragon (voiced thunderously by Benedict Cumberbatch) is our of the Lonely Mountain and torching Laketown.

Smaug the Dragon (voiced thunderously by Benedict Cumberbatch) is our of the Lonely Mountain and torching Laketown.

The Hobbit III starts where The Desolation of Smaug ended: with Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) unleashing his fury upon Laketown. But with the dragon now out of the Lonely Mountain, there is a huge treasure of gold to be had. The greedy leader of the dwarves, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), may not want to share it, but the people of Laketown, as well as armies of elves, orcs, and other dwarves come for their share of the treasure all the same. Thus, the battle of the five armies begins…

The Hobbit III is the shortest of The Hobbit films at 144 minutes and that is one of the movie’s saving graces. Well, that, the opening scene when the Cumberdragon burns Laketown, and the ending itself. The desolation of Laketown is done well, particularly as it’s given the right length of time, as well as the right amount of comedy, action and special effects for it to be spectacular.

Thorin (Richard Armitage) looking for the Arkenstone within a vault of gold so deep he could swim in it like Scrooge McDuck.

Thorin (Richard Armitage) looking for the Arkenstone within a vault of gold so deep he could swim in it like Scrooge McDuck.

It is a shame that the ‘epic’ titular battle, itself, is neither spectacular nor given the right amount of time. It is 45-minutes of repetitive, pleasure-seeking action, devoid of the laws of physics, emotional weight, and should have been cut in half. One does not care what happens to the dwarves or the CGI orcs as they’re all synonymous and lifeless. Plus, if Jackson had comprehended the problems of the hour-long battle in Transformers III or the 40-minute fight in Man of Steel he would not have allowed his ‘epic’ battle go on for so long because it loses its sense of timing. Without the crucial ingredient of timing, the battle becomes snooze-inducing. But then again, the dwarves have always been synonymous throughout the trilogy, the (dark-skinned, deformed) orcs have been there merely to be slaughtered, and more or less every scene in An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug went on for too long, had no sense of timing and ignored the laws of physics. So there really was no hope Jackson learning his lessons and making The Battle of the Five Armies an emotionally fulfilling, succinct masterpiece.

Bard (Luke Evans) on a mule and the King of the Elves, Thranduil (Lee Pace), on a... reindeer? Anyway, they have arrived among an army of elves and men to claim their shares of the treasures in the Lonely Mountain.

Bard (Luke Evans) on a mule and the King of the Elves, Thranduil (Lee Pace), on a… reindeer? Anyway, they have arrived among an army of elves and men to claim their shares of the treasures in the Lonely Mountain.

And like the muddled titular battle, the rest of The Hobbit III is dispiritingly all over the place. That The Hobbit has had a troubled production history might go some way to elucidating why The Hobbit III, in particular, is so bad. (A film based on The Hobbit book was supposed to have been written shortly after the successful conclusion of the LOTR in 2003, but didn’t materialise. Guillermo Del Toro was appointed to direct The Hobbit at some point in the late-2000s, but stepped down for unspecified reasons. Jackson, subsequently, came to the rescue of the project, only for Del Toro to come back on board in some capacity. And, then, after initially deciding to make two films out of the 300-page book, Jackson decided to split the second film in two and shoot new scenes in 2012/13 to make The Hobbit into a trilogy in post-production.) But is the film’s troubled history truly a reason for why the dialogue is so clunky; for why the aftermath of Laketown goes on for too long; for why storylines (unforgivably) do no conclude; for why the central premises of the film/trilogy are (inexcusably) forgotten; and for why the eponymous character of the trilogy, Bilbo Baggins (played with charm by Martin Freeman), feels like a peripheral figure in the concluding chapter of his own story, among other things? The Hobbit III is so unsatisfying that the answers cannot boil down solely to a troubled production history, especially as Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn) claimed earlier this year that the LOTR had a chaotic production too. This entails that the film’s/trilogy’s faults lie with Jackson, who has done nothing of significance since the LOTR and has now shown that he can muck up something he loves if he is not controlled.

Azog the Defiler (Manu Bennett) roaring an army of orcs toward the Lonely Mountain to kill the dwarves and everyone else.

Azog the Defiler (Manu Bennett) roaring an army of orcs toward the Lonely Mountain to kill the dwarves and everyone else.

One might have pardoned Jackson for some of the aforementioned errors in The Hobbit III (and the trilogy as a whole) if he had added something innovative to Tolkien’s universe. It would have made for interesting viewing if he had given audiences details of the backgrounds, cultures and religions of the peoples of Middle-Earth that Tolkien, himself, failed to put into his stories, or put in a Machiavellian-style character (like Littlefinger from Game of Thrones). But no, Jackson (depressingly) doesn’t do any of this, meaning that people go away from this bloated film/trilogy knowing nothing more about the wizards, men, elves, dwarves and orcs of Middle-Earth than they did after the LOTR. Simply put: this is not good enough, Jackson.

Over-all, one can breathe a sigh of relief that The Hobbit trilogy is over. While The Battle of the Five Armies has a couple of good moments, like the opening scene and the end credits, it is a mess and suffers from the same issues as The Hobbit I & II: notably, its swollen length to accommodate the extreme self-indulgence, tedium and sameness. Whilst watching The Hobbit III, it feels like one is watching a glutton stuff his/her face, whilst the problems within The Hobbit trilogy as well as the problems surrounding the trilogy’s production illuminate before one’s eyes. Worse, The Hobbit III and the trilogy as a whole show up the problems within Tolkien’s works, including the LOTR. Peter Jackson, how could you go so wrong?

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Review – The Wolverine (12a) [2013]

The Wolverine - title banner

Star Rating: 2/5

Director:

  • James Mangold – Girl, Interrupted, 3:10 To Yuma, Knight & Day, Three Little Words

Cast:

  • Hugh Jackman – X-Men I-III, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Les Misérables, X-Men: Days of Future Past
  • Famke Janssen – Goldeneye, X-Men I-III, Taken I-II, In The Woods
  • Rilo Fukushima
  • Tao Okamoto
  • Hiroyuki Sanada – The Last Samurai, Rush Hour III, The Railway Man
  • Svetlana Khodchenkova – No Love In The City, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Royal Killer

Music Composer:

Troubled productions can take on many forms. The Wolfman needed to reshoot scenes after completing filming; Transformers II: Revenge of the Fallen did not have script three weeks before filming; and Margaret had numerous post-production problems that led to the movie coming out six years after it was shot. Suffice to say, all of these movies were a mess when they arrived at cinemas. The same is true for The Wolverine, which had a change of director and several delays at pre-production stages.

Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) running with Mariko (Tao Okamoto), trying to protect her from assassins working for... well that's anyone's guess.

Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) running with Mariko (Tao Okamoto), trying to protect her from assassins working for… well that’s anyone’s guess.

The Wolverine follows on from events in X3: The Last Stand. Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is traumatised from having killed his lover, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), and he spends his time nomadically walking around.

One night, he stumbles into a bar and meets Yukio (Rilo Fukushima), a random Japanese girl who has been trying to find him for a year. Yukio tells Logan that Shingen (Hiroyuki Sanada), someone Logan apparently saved at Nagasaki as the nuclear bomb went off in August 1945, is dying and wishes to see him one more time before he dies. Reluctantly, Logan agrees to go to Japan for a day to grant Shingen his wish.

But upon arrival, the paralysed Shingen informs Logan that he can end his immortality and pain. Logan declines. Shingen then begs Logan to protect his granddaughter, Mariko (Tao Okamoto), the heir to his company and fortune, from others wishing to kill her to seize everything for themselves, to which again Logan reluctantly agrees.

As is often the case with films with major production problems, The Wolverine’s dialogue is senseless and the plot is all over the place. A flashing red light should immediately go off in one’s mind upon realising that the film takes place after events in 2006’s panned X3, warning viewers of the train-wreck ahead. And also, when has it ever been mentioned in any of the other X-Men films that Logan spent time in Japan during World War II and survived a nuclear bomb? These oh so small details are merely the starting point for the film’s problems. That the film does not even bother to explain why Logan was in Japan/Nagasaki in 1945 or what his relationship with Shingen was in the first place merely adds to the sense that the movie lost its way long before filming started.

Logan with his claws out ready to fight a nameless, Japanese sword-wielding baddie.

Logan with his claws out ready to fight a nameless, Japanese sword-wielding baddie.

Yet, what is probably most disappointing about The Wolverine is that it feels like an irrelevant sideshow throughout its 126 minutes of running time and adds nothing to Logan’s personal story. 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine might have been (rightly) ridiculed by fans and critics alike, but at least it showed audiences (albeit badly) how Logan acquired metal claws and why he has blanks in his memory.

The only positive aspect of The Wolverine’s storyline is Logan’s trauma. One must praise James Mangold for making Logan keep his psychological problem. But a trauma is a little bit more than half a dozen flashbacks to a deceased loved one. That the film doesn’t explore other angles of Logan’s psychological issues hints that the trauma was the idea of Darren Aranofsky, a specialist in films focussing on psychological problems and the initial director of The Wolverine, and that James Mangold carried on with the idea without having any real clue as to how to develop it.

Contending with this mess of a movie, Hugh Jackman does not do a bad job as the eponymous character. Whilst his performance is nothing special, Jackman at least makes us believe that the invincible Logan is suffering internally. Undoubtedly, Jackman is the film’s saving grace. The leading Japanese male actors do little more than shoot and swing swords (because that’s all Japanese men can do apparently), and the leading female actresses Rilo Fukushima and Tao Okamoto have no chemistry on set with Jackman/Logan and barely have an expression between them. Perhaps this is because Fukushima and Okamoto aren’t even actresses! They’re models (reminding us all of Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s dreadful performance in Transformers III). Why couldn’t James Mangold find some qualified Japanese or Japanese-American actresses to do the jobs? What possible excuse is there for this?

Logan attempting to fend off the allure/threat of the sexy Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova), one of several ambiguously-motivated, peripheral villains in the film.

Logan attempting to fend off the allure/threat of the sexy Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova), one of several ambiguously-motivated, peripheral villains in the film.

One may argue that viewers do not go to see films like The Wolverine (or Transformers II) for the acting, but rather for the action and the special effects. If that is the case, The Wolverine won’t frustrate such people since there is a plethora of decent-looking (if inconsequential) fight scenes that fill the time. But it has all been seen and done before in the previous X-Men movies, making the fighting pointless and tedious.

All-in-all, The Wolverine’s troubles behind the scenes are reflected in the film’s end result. The plot goes to nowhere; the script makes no sense; the cast (with the exception of Hugh Jackman) are wooden; and the special effects and action scenes fail to flatter. Thus, but for the fact that the film is about Wolverine, arguably X-Men’s most well-known superhero, The Wolverine might as well as have been thrown in the bin.

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Review – Trance (15) [2013]

Trance - title banner

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Director:

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Rick Smith – Breaking and Entering

Psychological thrillers, by their nature, are puzzling and mess with one’s mind. Inception, Shutter Island and Black Swan all did this with varying levels of charm, appeal and success. Danny Boyle’s impressive and sexy Trance adds something new to this testing sub-genre.

Simon (James McAvoy), unconscious after being bashed on the head by a batton. As a result, he cannot remember what he did with the painting.

Simon (James McAvoy), unconscious after being bashed on the head by a batton. As a result, he cannot remember what he did with the painting.

  Trance centres round Simon (James McAvoy), who works for a London-based company that auctions expensive paintings. The company has a security system in place to prevent the paintings from getting stolen, and Simon is part of the system.

However, when Franck (Vincent Cassel) leads a gang to steal a precious painting during an auction, the painting disappears. Simon, the last person to have handled the painting before its disappearance, was smacked on the head while he removed the painting. Since then, he has developed amnesia and so he can’t remember where he put the painting. In a desperate bid to find the painting, Franck decides that Simon must go to Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson), a hypnotherapist. Elizabeth believes that by hypnotising Simon, she can get him to recollect the location of the painting.

Trance’s plot is clever and innovative. The film is fast-paced from the off, intense, violent and engaging. It is complex and confusing too, since it constantly does back and forth in time, unravelling what happened to the painting as well as explaining the various (and sinister) motivations of the characters. Moreover, and similar to Black Swan, one is never sure in Trance when one is watching reality or a dream (or a memory or a possible memory). All of this keeps viewers firmly on their toes because no-one can be sure as to where the film is going.

Simon undergoing hypnotherapy with Dr. Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson) in an attempt to regain his memory regarding the painting.

Simon undergoing hypnotherapy with Dr. Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson) in an attempt to regain his memory regarding the painting.

Although, it is dubious as to whether Trance’s storyline actually makes sense. Again, this is not novel to the sub-genre: it is uncertain whether the plots for The Machinist or Shutter Island added up (but no-one would argue that those were atrocities to cinema, like Sucker Punch or The Lady In the Water); while Fight Club and Inception demanded that one see them twice (at least) before being able to appreciate (or understand) those movies, and few had reason to complain about those excellent films either. Perhaps, the latter is true for Trance. However, there are some quite significant plot issues that could undermine the film and its realism (if one believes in the effectiveness of hypnotism/hypnotherapy, of course), but these are not going to be discussed here as they would spoil the thrill for those who haven’t seen the movie.

The force of Trance’s storyline is matched by the three main (and more or less only) cast members; James McAvoy in particular. Far from his relaxed demeanour as Charles Xavier/Professor X in X-Men: First-Class, his performance as Simon resembles that of his (brilliant but crazed) stage performance as MacBeth. Nothing illustrates this similitude more than the intensity in Simon’s bombardier blue eyes, as the hypnotherapy, combined with his own problems take effect on him.

Similarly, Vincent Cassel and Rosario Dawson play well, but not with the same power as McAvoy. As Franck, Cassel does a decent job as a shady, amoral character. Yet, it is hard to classify him as the villain here since there is no-one who is particularly good in Trance (some people are just much worse than others). But if one does view Franck as the main antagonist, then one may not feel entirely satisfied with Cassel’s performance because he does not possess the look or the flair to make himself a dangerous villain on screen, unlike the cunning Liam Neeson in Batman Begins/The Dark Knight Rises, or the terrifying Michal Zurawski in In Darkness, or the flamboyant Javier Bardem in Skyfall.

Franck (Vincent Cassel), furtherst right, keeping a worryingly close eye on Simon's treatement, with his group of thugs alongside him to illustrate the consequences for Simon if he fails to shake off his amnesia.

Franck (Vincent Cassel), furtherst right, keeping a worryingly close eye on Simon’s treatment, with his group of thugs at his side to illustrate the consequences for Simon if he fails to shake off his amnesia.

While as Elizabeth the hypnotherapist, the stunning Dawson wonderfully holds her patients (as well as the audience) under her spell, as if ravishingly embodying the psychological thrill of the movie and the sub-genre in one attempt.

Over-all, Trance is a mind-bending and gripping film that is a worthy addition to the sub-genre of psychological thrillers. The movie has its flaws, but to a limited extent these should be disregarded because Boyle’s film is original, appealing and stylish. Furthermore, like all noteworthy psychological thrillers, Trance takes one out of one’s comfort zone and, to its credit, keeps one in thought long after the film has ended.

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Review – The Hobbit I: An Unexpected Journey HFR 3D (12a) [2012]

The Hobbit - title banner

Star Rating: 2.5/5

Director:

  • Peter Jackson – Brain Dead, Lord of the Rings Trilogy, King Kong, The Hobbit II & III

Cast:

  • Martin Freeman – The Office, Love, Actually, Svengali
  • Ian McKellen – Apt Pupil, Lord of the Rings Trilogy, X-Men I-III, X-Men: Days of Future Past
  • Cate Blanchett – Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Blue Jasmine
  • Barry Humphries – The Dame Edna Treatment, Finding Nemo, Justin & The Knights of Valour
  • Hugo Weaving – The Matrix Trilogy, Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Captain America: The First AvengerTransformers I-III
  • Christopher Lee – Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Season of the Witch, The Girl From Nagasaki
  • Richard Armitage – Spooks, Captain America: The First Avenger, Black Sky
  • Ian Holm – Lord of the Rings I & III, Lord of War, Ratatouille
  • Elijah Wood – Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Green Street, Open Windows
  • Andy Serkis – Lord of the Rings Trilogy, King Kong, Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Music Composer:

  • Howard Shore – Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Hugo, The Hobbit II & III

<<guest review by KJF>>

Eleven years after the first of Peter Jackson’s magnificent two Lord of the Rings-related trilogies hit our screens, its prequel has finally arrived. What has alarmed many viewers even before getting into auditoriums to see The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey is that it is three hours long, and only the first of a proposed nine-hour trilogy covering the events of JRR Tolkien’s beloved, but not particularly lengthy children’s book, first published in 1937. The result is that An Unexpected Journey is a lengthened, over-indulgent spectacle that will be welcomed by Middle Earth addicts, but might alienate the average cinemagoer.

Bilbo (Martin Freeman) bewildered as the dwarves invade his home unexpectedly and immediately make themselves at home by gobbling down his food and liquer.

Bilbo (Martin Freeman) bewildered as the dwarves invade his home unexpectedly and immediately make themselves at home by gobbling down his food and liquor.

Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is the home-loving hobbit of the title, living in a cozy hole in the ground in the Shire, a rural idyll in the western part of Tolkien’s vast imaginary world. Bilbo’s part of a community of small beings with hairy feet who love the good life, preferring nothing better than eating, drinking, smoking and sleeping.

Bilbo’s personal tranquility is interrupted by the arrival of the wizard, Gandalf ‘the Grey’ (Ian McKellen), followed hot on his heels by a gang of dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage). The dwarves are desperate to recover their homeland, the kingdom of Erebor, from the clutches of the evil dragon, Smaug, who rather inconsiderately destroyed it all, and who now spends his days drenched in all its treasure. So Bilbo is recruited into the party – as a ‘burglar’ of all things – and the adventure begins.

The early part of the film manages, quite successfully, to recreate the gentle humour of the book. Freeman, so good at playing the everyman (as in TV’s The Office), is an inspired choice as Bilbo, looking on in wondrous, mostly wordless amazement as Gandalf and the dwarves take over his home; the latter gang eating him out of house and hole. But then as events progress (at the aggravating pace of a snail), spectacle and action take over and the early charm is lost.

Yet, the spectacle is truly spectacular! The detailed recreation of Smaug’s attack on Erebor is a wonder to behold, filling the screen with the terrifying destruction he reaps, while only tantalisingly giving us a glimmer of what the monster looks like. There’s much else to goggle at with all the scrapes Bilbo and the party get into: dodging trolls, wargs and orcs overground; as well as goblins underground in the depths of the MistyMountains.

Jackson has, of course, been here before and it’s to be expected that the mise-en-scene of Middle Earth has been beautifully and lavishly re-created. Jackson again fully utilises the picturesque New Zealand landscapes to his advantage.

Bilbo attending a secret council in Rivendell, the home of the elves, along with Thorin (Richard Armitage), Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and another dwarf.

Bilbo attending a secret council in Rivendell, the home of the elves, along with Thorin (Richard Armitage), Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and another dwarf.

Nevertheless, unlike with Lord of the Rings, Jackson has shot The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey at 48-frames-per-second, known as the Higher Frame Rate (HFR), rather than the standard 24-frames-per-second. Although the HFR was meant to make everything appear more realistic, it is more likely to bring about the peculiar feeling of watching a TV programme with a substantially greater budget. Actors might appear very clearly in the foreground, but the computer-generated backgrounds come across as just that: computer-generated! This sadly lessens the ‘reality’ that Jackson was aiming for, and the 3D element doesn’t add much either (other than a few quid onto the ticket price).

It’s a shame that with all the technical innovations Jackson hasn’t focused more on ramping up his creative approach. There are some nice sops to Lord of the Rings fans, particularly having the elder Bilbo (Ian Holm) and Frodo (Elijah Wood) appear at the beginning. After a while though, a sense of déjà-vu creeps in, whether it is in the use of musical riffs from the original trilogy, or the overlong focus on the re-introduction of Gollum (Andy Serkis).

What further acts as a ballast for the film’s 169-minute running time are events and characters not in the original narrative, but picked out from other of Tolkien’s writings. One would have thought that if Jackson had wanted to be so cavalier with the original source material, he would have done something that was truly necessary, such as putting in some more prominent female characters to spice up the narrative. Yet, aside from Cate Blanchett’s brief reprisal as a more-youthful Galadriel, other women in the movie are virtually non-existent. Indeed, Jackson has seemingly forgotten to even put them in the background for the orcs and goblins (which naturally prompts some interesting questions on procreativity).

Gollum (Andy Serkis), enhanced thanks to modern technology, playing a game of riddles with Bilbo.

Gollum (Andy Serkis), enhanced thanks to modern technology, playing a game of riddles with Bilbo.

In all of this, it is also hard to pick out distinctive characters throughout the film. Martin Freeman is superb as Bilbo, Ian McKellen once again gives a magisterial performance as Gandalf, and Barry Humphries is great as the voice of the Goblin King. Yet, aside from grumpy Thorin ‘wannabe-Aragorn’ Oakenshield, it’s hard to tell one dwarf from another, since they all seem as one-dimensional, hairy and gruff as the next. Considering that The Hobbit is about the dwarves trying to reclaim their homeland, this is not sufficient.

Thus, Part I of The Hobbit has started us on another unexpected journey through Middle Earth. Already though, after almost three hours (and with another six to go), it feels like we are on a long and bloated trek that possibly has the power to undo all that was good about Lord of the Rings.

KJF

Review – The Hunger Games (12a) [2012]

Star Rating: 3/5

Over the last decade, there have been a multitude of reality TV shows/series targeted for children and teenagers. Big Brother, The X Factor and The Apprentice are three such programmes that have gripped the nation, despite becoming sterile in recent years. Based on a similar, yet darker premise, The Hunger Games entertains its audience prior to running for too long.

Katniss (Jeniffer Lawrence) hunting in the woods to find food for her family, wherein she meets her childhood friend, Gale (Liam Hemsworth).

The Hunger Games is based on the book with the same title by Suzanne Collins. It’s based in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic country called Panem, which was once territory in North America. As punishment for a people’s rebellion, each one of the twelve now-impoverished districts has to put forward their boys and girls, between the ages of twelve to eighteen, to compete in a tournament called the Hunger Games. At random, one boy and one girl are chosen to compete in the games, which are watched by thousands throughout the country. The tournament, controlled by a repressive leadership, is a fight to see who will survive. Only one, out of the twenty-four chosen, will return home.

After her younger sister, Primrose (Willow Shields), is picked to compete in the tournament, 16-year-old Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence – Winter’s Bone, X-Men: First Class, X-Men: Days of Future Past) volunteers to take her sister’s place. Katniss has spent years illegally hunting with her friend, Gale (Liam Hemsworth – Knowing, The Last Song, Independence Day II: Resurgence), for food in the woods outside of District 12. Now, taken to the affluent capital for pre-tournament training, along with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson – The Polar Express, The Kids Are Alright, Red Dawn), Katniss must use her skills and learn other arts from her mentors, Haymitch (Woody Harrelson – No Country For Old Men, Friends With Benefits, Seven Psychopaths) and Cinna (Lenny KravitzThe Rugrats Movie, Precious, The Blind Bastard Club), to survive the games.

The plot for the film is quite accurate to the book, despite missing the Avox sub-plot and changing the skin-colour of some of the characters, such as Katniss and Rue (Amandla Stenberg – Texas Killing Fields, Colombiana).

Katniss’s main opponent in the games, Cato (Alexander Ludwig). He is vicious and ruthless.

Nonetheless, The Hunger Games is an interesting movie, not least due to its brutal, Orwellian premise. (Note how down-trodden and miserable the common people are in comparison to the powerful elites.) Moreover, the film offers a refreshing change to the fantasy/science-fiction genre by having an outwardly tough, mentally-strong woman in a combatant role as the lead character (unlike the feeble Bella from the Twilight series).

However, at 142 minutes, The Hunger Games is far too long. A movie needs to be something special to hold its audience for that length of time, and The Hunger Games loses its viewers almost as soon as Katniss enters the tournament. One feels little suspense during the games, and one also feels that Katniss is never in real danger (unlike in Game of Thrones, where one never knows how long any of the characters will live).

Furthermore, the film lacks the violence it deserves. In 2000, a Japanese film with a comparable theme, called Battle Royale, was released. (Suzanne Collins denies being influenced by the movie.) That film acquired an 18-rating, due to the vicious content. But, just as The X-Factor has to adhere to rules so minors can watch it (even if Christina Aguilera and Rihanna stuck two fingers up to those in 2010), director Gary Ross (Pleasantville, Seabiscuit, The Free State of Jones) had to make the violent aspects of The Hunger Games implicit to the movie’s detriment. It makes the film less realistic; and, by merely shaking the camera, Ross makes the fight scenes hard to follow.

Fighting for one’s life in a forest is what the games are about. Yet, Katniss appears remarkably relaxed throughout. One only has to watch Vietnam War films, such as Apocalypse Now and Platoon, to realise soldiers’ edginess whilst in the jungle. Katniss, though, not only sleeps well, she’s even willing to help out others (seemingly unbothered that they could kill her when she’s not looking or asleep). It is astonishing that for someone so mentally hard, she’s unwilling to do what’s necessary to survive.

Despite Katniss’s inherent contradictions, Jennifer Lawrence gives a credible performance as the lead character (who always looks lovely and clean after rolling around in the dirt). Likewise, Donald Sutherland (The Italian Job, The Eagle, Sofia), as the pitiless President Snow; and Woody Harrelson, as the alcoholic mentor, also perform decently. But the rest of the cast, including Josh Hutcherson, as the wimpy Peeta; Stanley Tucci (The Devil Wears Prada, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Company You Keep), as Caesar Flickerman, the daft-smiling hand of the president; and Alexander Ludwig (The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising), as Cato, Katniss’s nasty and fierce opponent in the games, give pathetic, one-dimensional displays.

Katniss, looking much like Tulisa Contostavlos, in tightly-fitted leather, training before the games with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). She and him are receiving advice from Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) on how to beat Cato and his gang.

It is a shame that most of the actors give poor performances. The movie has been put together nicely, James Howard (Love And Other Drugs, The Tourist, Snow White And The Huntsman) has composed a respectable score, and the special effects are brilliant. Panem’s capital has been wonderfully constructed and is a sight to behold.

All-in-all, The Hunger Games has a strong, but flawed, main character, with an intriguing, 1984-like basis to a reality TV show. But, ultimately, the movie has been hamstrung to cater to children and teenagers. Consequently, it is predictable and, like most reality TV shows/series, the film peters out before it ends.

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