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.

The Two Faces of January – DVD Review

The Two Faces of January

Film
Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst are an American couple touring Greece in 1962 after fleecing investors back home and fleeing the country. At the Acropolis of Athens they bump into tour guide and con artist Oscar Isaac who latches onto the pair in pursuit of their money and Dunst’s feminine charms. Events back in the states catch up with the trio, blood is shed, and soon the three are on the run from the law. Who can be trusted? Will they make it out of the country? Who will Dunst choose, her husband or the man she hardly knows? Will they all make it out alive?

If you haven’t yet noticed The Two Faces of January is a thriller in the most traditional fashion. With its authentic period style, crosses and double crosses, and romantic trysts suggested at but never explicitly shown this film could easily have been made fifty years ago. Being such a slave to convention and possessing such an old-fashioned manner is both to the film’s credit and detriment. The look and feel of the piece is admirable. Every shot is gorgeous and benefits from the production’s globe-trotting filming schedule while the actors are shot in a sympathetic light that showcases bone structure and lets all three leads resemble classic Hollywood icons.

Where traditional thriller mechanics disappoint is in allowing the film to become completely predictable. Maybe not completely predictable, I won’t pretend to have seen every twist and turn coming, but certainly when a character is double crossed or revealed to have an ulterior motive I wasn’t exactly falling out of my seat so much as nodding slowly to myself in a knowing way. Feeling as though you know what is going to happen is a terrible situation to be in when watching a thriller as you are never overly concerned about what actually does happen. Add to this the fact that both male leads are unlikeable untrustworthy types and I was struggling to generate much empathy for them.

The Two Faces of January 2

As for Dunst’s leading lady; she is the biggest casualty of The Two Faces of January‘s retro feel. While these days we expect, but don’t always get, a female character with some level of personality and backbone this is something that the film fails to provide. Dunst is for the most part a prize to be won and a pawn in the struggle between Mortensen and Isaac. Dunst is seemingly ambivalent about who she ends up with and is equally happy being rescued by either man. When any scene of dramatic importance takes place Dunst will reliably be asleep, waiting in the bedroom, waiting at the top of the stairs, or simply elsewhere not troubling anybody. A feminist icon this character is not.

Quibbles aside The Two Faces of January is a perfectly fine throwback thriller with serviceable acting and beautiful scenery. Just don’t go in expect to see anything new. Writer/director Hossein Amini has certainly got a fine eye but perhaps could have spent some more time energising the plot when adapting from Patricia Highsmith’s original novel.

Extras
Both DVD and Blu-ray discs have the same special features which is something to admire in itself. These take the form of the usual collection of featurettes, interviews, and deleted scenes. The interviews focus mainly on celebrating the fact that filming took place in multiple countries; more Wish You Were Here then anything in depth. There is also a blooper reel which felt slightly odd considering the po-faced tone of the film itself.

The Two Faces of January is out on DVD and Blu-ray next Monday 15th September.

Inside Llewyn Davis – LFF Film Review

Inside Llewyn Davis
When it comes to the latest film by the Coen brothers I pretty much just want to tell you that it’s a great film, both funny and moving and blah blah blah, and for you to just go to see it. This is Joel and Ethan Coen we’re talking about here, they don’t really make bad films. Ok, so they have made a couple of false moves but no one’s perfect; Judi Dench did a cameo in Run for Your Wife after all. If you need more convincing I will go on…

At the centre of Inside Llewyn Davis is, surprisingly, Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) a folk singer in early 1960s New York. Davis has hit hard times and doesn’t have a home, a consistent gig, or a stable relationship. We follow him during one terrible week as he hits even harder times which involve an unwanted pregnancy, a creative compromise, and a ginger cat with a habit of running away. We see a man at his lowest ebb who is forced to reconsider his dreams in favour of actually making a living.

The Coens work their usual visual magic and Inside Llewyn Davis has its own distinct look with a limited pallet of browns and greys and a slightly soft sheen to shots that allows the blacks to deepen and makes skin, particularly on Carey Mulligan, positively glow. You’ll have to see the film to understand what I’m wittering on about. The film is set in a harsh winter and the muted colours that leave everything looking infinitely colder. While everyone is wrapped up warm in heaps of attractive knitwear poor Llewyn doesn’t even have a winter coat making him seem all the more pathetic as he shivers within the stark scenery.

Inside Llewyn Davis is about a failing musician so does feature a lot of scenes of a man in dire straights and is not without pathos but this doesn’t mean that the film loses its sense of humour. The screening room erupted with laughter throughout the film as little nuggets of comedy gold were mined by the fine array of character actors at work. The Coens are so often at their best when holding up relatively unsympathetic leads for our amusement and somehow end up earning our sympathy.

When the crowd fell into a hushed silence it was as we all listened in awe to one of the films numerous musical performances. Inside Llewyn Davis is not a musical but with musicians as its core characters there are frequent performances during which we are treated to the entire songs rather than just snippets. These heart-felt folksy tunes are mostly sung by Isaac himself who has a beautiful voice and he was occasionally joined by the likes of Mulligan and Justin Timberlake who aren’t too shabby either. Timberlake plays a gloriously saccharin singer of cheesy songs, the recording session of one of his songs is a film highlight, and Mulligan his unfaithful wife.

This is a film with soul and on the Coen brothers scale sits most easily alongside A Serious Man in quality and in tone. A decent proper film with no gimmicks or distractions Inside Llewyn Davis is a lovely way to spend a cold afternoon.

Inside Llewyn Davis screens at the festival on the 15th, 17th and 19th October and is in UK cinemas on 24th January 2014.

BFI London Film Festival 2013

Drive – DVD Review

Ryan Gosling is an unnamed driver making his living by fixing up cars or driving them for whoever is willing to pay regardless of any moral ambiguity involved. A quiet, almost childlike figure, Gosling’s naive driver becomes involved with his neighbour (Carey Mulligan) and finds himself embroiled with dangerous criminals and reacts in a horrifically violent manner.

When I first reviewed the film I called it, “a slow, gorgeous, and tense drama” and when declaring it the 4th Best Film of 2011 I described it as, “sleek and smooth, Drive lures you into a false sense of security with its tense yet relaxing atmosphere before erupting into shockingly graphic violence.” Obviously all of this remains true of the film on DVD, it looks stunning and the unique soundtrack sounds great. If you’re looking for a great new release filled with stellar performances, a surprising plot and stylish direction then look no further.

If you’re a film nerd looking for a DVD crammed with extras then sadly you’re out of luck.

The only special feature on the DVD worth writing home about (check the post Mum) is a 40 minute interview with director Nicolas Winding Refn, but there are no documentaries or commentaries in sight. If you are truly desperate for extra content, I’m afraid two trailers and a photo gallery are going to have to suffice. I know not everyone cares about the special features but for those that do this DVD is a disappointment, especially considering the US release is much more well-endowed.

In summary, Drive is a five star film and well worth owning despite a deficit of DVD extras. Drive is out on DVD and Blu-ray on January 30th 2012.

Drive – Review

In Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive Ryan Gosling plays a nameless driver far more at ease in the company of a car than with another human being. A mix of mechanic, getaway driver and stuntman, the driver lives a simple, uncomplicated life which begins to unravel as he falls for his neighbour (Carey Mulligan) and life suddenly becomes complex.

With Gosling’s lead role requiring almost no dialogue, it is up to the supporting cast to flesh out the piece and Drive‘s acting stable is well stocked with a talented fleet. Mulligan brings the heart as the vulnerable neighbour while Bryan Cranston offers some comic relief as Gosling’s boss. Gosling isn’t just a near-mute, his character shows almost no emotions throughout so the comedy and the heart provided elsewhere become even more important for the audience to find a connection with the film.

For the most part Drive is a slow, gorgeous and tense drama and it frequently lulls you into a false sense of security. It is when you are most relaxed, settled into a gentle dialogue scene that Drive unleashed its flashes of raw, brutal violence. These are never overplayed but always shocking, the violence at times becoming so extreme the audience couldn’t help but laugh. Rest assured this is an 18 through and through.

Shot with a true artist’s eye Drive has a B movie plot but an art house sensibility. This is an exploitation film directed as something so much better. Stunning, shocking and flawless. I loved it.

Poster Quote: The Taxi Driver of the 21st century.