X-Men: Apocalypse – Film Review

X-Men Apocalypse 1

If you read the title of this latest X-Men film out loud, punctuation and all, it gets the unfortunate subtitle of “colon apocalypse” which makes me wish the film were slightly worse so I could use that as a clever “the title reviews itself!!!” remark. Alas X-Men: Apocalypse is not terrible enough to be worth of a weak diarrhea joke despite trying incredibly hard to be.

Set ten years after some of the events of X-Men: Days of Future Past, the mutants we know and love are looking very young for their age and are scattered about the globe. Professor X (James McAvoy) is preening over his academy, Raven/Mystique/Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is roaming the world being heroic, and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) has hung up his bad guy helmet to grow a beard and do manual labour like he’s in the series finale of Dexter. When an ancient mutant with the ominous nickname Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) is awoken by four chanting men the end of mankind becomes a possibility and the heroes must reunite, grab some newbies, and save the world. Apart from Magneto of course who can’t resist scratching that homicidal itch and joins the baddies for a bit instead.

What follows is a bit of a mess: Beloved characters return but are sidelined by a boring bad guy, humorous interludes are laugh out loud funny but are inserted into scenes of real drama in a way that really jars, endless barrels of CGI are unloaded in a manner that becomes almost incoherent, and the 3D does little more than make the subtitles pop. There are many reasons to dislike the film; it is confusing, occasionally boring, and uses Auschwitz in a questionable way, but I still had a good time.

X-Men Apocalypse 2

X-Men: Apocalypse relies heavily on the audience’s love for its cast and its characters. It even sticks in a Wolverine cameo and poaches Sophie Turner from Game of Thrones to get the fanboys onside. Director Bryan Singer does this because he thinks he can get away with it and to a large extent he can. The young cast of this more recent X-Men trilogy are all perfectly lovable and it is their presence that took me through the film. I was five films deep, ignoring Wolverine films and Deadpool for the sake of sanity, at the start of the film so genuinely care what happens to the regulars involved. It is a real shame that there wasn’t more of Fassbender, Lawrence, and McAvoy as too much time was spent with Apocalypse and his penchant for Batman & Robin style superhero costumes and not enough with the faces I had come to see.

Apocalypse wasn’t a villain with a relatable backstory or understandable plan; he was just an egotistical maniac who felt that the way to save mankind was to kill it indiscriminately. It’s a plot I struggled to get behind and it was never really explained why Magneto got so swept up in it. The film uses cheap tricks to give Magneto some motivation but considering the character’s moral yo-yoing you’d have expected him to pause before manipulating the whole earth’s magnetic fields. A good baddie needs conflict and charisma; something Magneto provides in spades but Apocalypse severely lacks.

As mentioned before the film’s tone is all over the place. I was pleased to see the return of Evan Peters’ Quicksilver but his comedic time to shine is tarnished when you pause from laughing and realise the horrific reality of what has been going on while he was running around being the very definition of a superhero. The tonal rollercoaster makes it hard to take the serious bits seriously and tricky to fully enjoy the fun bits. X-Men is a fun franchise and is at its worst when being too straight faced.

X-Men: Apocalypse makes no real sense in the context of the original trilogy of X-Men films and includes at least one character who shouldn’t be around for another decade or three. That said comics make good use of alternate realities and thanks to the last instalment’s time travel joy all manner of plot holes are fair game now.

X-Men: Apocalypse may be messy but I am grading on a curve and Batman v Superman is still a painfully recent memory. This is the weaker episode of your favourite TV show; forgivable but forgettable. Despite all the grumbling above there is an enjoyable film in a strong franchise if you look hard enough and try really hard not to think of The Mummy.

X-Men: Apocalypse is out in the UK today.

12 Years a Slave – LFF Film Review

12 Years a Slave

Slavery is not quite a taboo subject but is certainly not one that is dealt with seriously in cinematic terms very often. At the start of 2013 we were given Tarantino’s Django Unchained which tackled slavery in a stylised fashion with bloodshed being the main method of emancipation and without me ever really getting a sense of the brutality of life as a slave. With Tarantino at the helm the film felt all too fictional to have an effect. Within just the first few minutes of Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave I felt like I could finally comprehend just how slaves were seen in pre-Civil War America in the eyes of their masters. These were not human beings, they are a commodity and closer to cattle than anything deserving basic rights.

Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as the free black man Solomon Northup who is kidnapped and sold back into slavery while his wife and children are left behind to assume him dead. More used to a life as a relatively respected gentleman and musician Solomon finds himself stripped of everything he owns down to his name and struggles to retain his dignity and sense of self. After being sold on to a relatively kindhearted plantation owner, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, Solomon struggles to keep his head down and after rubbing up an overseer (Paul Dano) the wrong way is sold on to a brutal new master called Epps (Michael Fassbender) and his equally cruel wife (Sarah Paulson).

It is on this second plantation that Solomon suffers the most as he gradually loses all hope of ever returning to his civilised life and more importantly his family. His learned past does not do Solomon any favours as his intelligence frequently threatens to leave him out of favour with his master and therefore suffer at the thin end of a whip. The only slave sticking out more than Solomon is a young woman Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o) who has caught the amorous eye of Epps and with it the scorn of Epps’ wife. Patsey brings about some of the most graphic violence in the film which hits home, hard.

The plot of 12 Years a Slave is not a complicated one as we stick with Solomon throughout his years spent enslaved. The day in, day out barbarism that surrounds him is displayed without glamorisation by McQueen in a film that is beautiful to behold but positively painful to watch. Here the violence is not cartoonish and the audience is made to feel every lashing delivered by the whip and you are never sure when the next beating will come. The whole 2+ hours were a hard-hitting experience and while I would never suggest that I enjoyed the film as such it truly is a masterpiece that manages to be powerful and intimately epic.

Ejiofor may be surrounded by more recognisable names (other than those already mentioned Brad Pitt and Paul Giamatti also pop up) but he more than holds his own as he takes the substantial weight of the film on his shoulders. It is Ejiofor who leads us on this journey with every grimace and wince his detailed performance brings with it. He is nothing short of magnificent which will be no surprise to anyone who has seen any of his work to date.

12 Years a Slave is a searing film that takes its weighty subject seriously whilst not scrimping on cinematic artistry. I cried for the second time this week and the audience of press applauded the film which is not a common occurrence. Expect to be hearing a lot about this film when the Oscars come around.

12 Years a Slave screens at the festival on the 18th, 19th and 20th October and is in UK cinemas on 24th January 2014.

BFI London Film Festival 2013

Shame – Review

In Shame Steve McQueen directs Michael Fassbender as sex addict Brandon, a man who is forced to take a second look at the way he lives his life during a visit from his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan), as he finds they have too much in common when it comes to their attitudes to sex.

Shame has been a popular topic for discussion for months, and we certainly weren’t immune, not for the assured acting or dazzling direction on display, but for the (frankly intimidating) full frontal nudity and apparently endless sex scenes. Having now actually seen the film I was surprised to find that the sex wasn’t such a huge presence throughout, yes there was plenty there but it never felt excessive or unnecessary. McQueen also made a good job of filming the sex in a static, matter-of-fact manner without the soft focus and close-ups of body parts we’re so familiar with. Only one particularly sleazy sex scene towards the end is given the glossy treatment, but is all so seedy and Fassbender looks so miserable that it can’t be described as titillating.

On the subject of McQueen’s direction, isn’t it gorgeous? The film is filled with stunning shots with some inspired camera placements (bear with me). Often in Shame the camera remains still throughout a scene, allowing the action to play out around it whether fully on-screen or not. At various points the camera is left behind the heads of two characters as they talk, this seemingly bizarre choice is well-judged. By having the audience essentially lurking in the room behind the characters McQueen makes the actions on-screen seem all the more real and transforms the viewer from an audience member into a trespassing voyeur. Editing can often serve to distance us from a film, but leave us standing just behind a couple on a station platform and we could just as easily be eavesdropping on a conversation out in the real world.

As the damaged pair of siblings, Fassbender and Mulligan are both playing characters hiding their fragile underbelly. Mulligan as Sissy is an outwardly outgoing individual masking her internal suffering while Fassbender’s Brandon is a more reserved soul, seemingly completely in control while unable to tame his libido. Powerful acting from two of Britain’s future national treasures. My biggest worry with Shame was that I would find it hard to empathise with an oversexed Lothario but gradually Fassbender managed to coax some sympathy from me. While I was never exactly rooting for Brandon, by the closing credits he had earned my pity at the very least. Curse you Fassbender, you got me in the end.

Stunning, provocative and surprisingly emotive; Shame is a film which keeps its cards close to its chest and never truly lets you in as it has its way with you. Go and see it, just not with your nan.

5 Stars = Absolute Amazement.

2012 Golden Globes Nominations

With awards season truly hotting up we are treated with the nominations for the 2012 Golden Globe Awards. They’re an interesting bunch, a lot of the more challenging and/or smaller films have been passed by. The Los Angles Times has it spot on when they say that the nominations seem to recognise those works featuring the A-list actors, more accessible films and less dark dramas. No Tyrannosaur or Like Crazy to be found below.

What you will find is my gut reaction and my opinions for each category (apart from Best Original Song and Best Original Score as that is not my strong suit) whether you want it or not. Continue reading

Shame – Trailer

Shame, the most notorious Oscar bait about, has a new trailer out and this one is “red band”. A red band trailer is one which can only be shown to restricted audiences, meaning violence, swearing or nudity is present. What makes this trailer special is that it is incredibly effective just from having two people share looks on a train. In fact they could have just left it at that, no need for any restricted content at all to convey the tone and subject matter of the film.

To save your blushes I have recreated the best part of the trailer below for you to watch ad infinitum, you can even play the music beneath the images to add in the sound of the subway. Enjoy.


Subway

If this Tate-worthy recreation isn’t quite enough for you, the full trailer is embedded below. Quite why you need to watch it after all the effort I went to is beyond me.