X-Men Days Of Future Past


Viewed – 21 November 2014  Blu-ray

Probably next to that Apes movie, the next most acclaimed summer blockbuster of the year.  A welcome return of the mutants headed by Dr Xavier (Patrick Stewart) on a time-bending mission to prevent shape-shifting femme fatale Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from killing a scientist who brings about a war against mutants.  Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is called in to send his conscience back to the seventies, with the help of Kitty Pryde (an under-used Ellen Page).  There he must recruit the younger Charles Xavier as well as an imprisoned Magneto (Michael Fassbender) to aid him in his mission.

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This was a bit of a strange ride….whilst I dig time travel storylines, this was sometimes hard to get into, although the seventies setting with the backdrop of the Vietnam war was welcome and done really well.  James McAvoy is again very good as Xavier’s more troubled, younger-self and Hugh Jackman’s grizzled, dead-pan Wolverine is always a joy to watch.  The stronger emphasis on Mystique was good too, and well she’s smoking hot strutting her blue-skinned stuff in some stand out acrobatic fight sequences.  However with the long history of Magneto generally being an evil megalomaniac, busting him out of a prison quickly proves a bad idea and sitting here I’m still wondering what the point of his involvement was, considering they had Wolverine, Beast and a memorable Quicksilver (Evan Peters from American Horror Story).

Effects were of course top-drawer with a superb ‘let’s rip a football stadium out of the ground’ scene … but much of the plot relied heavily on having a good knowledge of the previous X-Men movies with many small details like nods to Rogue and Jean Gray probably going right over the heads of newcomers.  So it felt like I’d come into the show half-way through with the whole Sentinals situation just going on, wiping out Mutants like a continuing part of a TV series.  That being said the principle actors all did a decent job (especially Lawrence) with somewhat muddled material .. so no, for me at least … this wasn’t as good as I had heard.

Verdict:  3 /5

Nightcrawler


Viewed – 06 November 2014  Cinema

Two things sold me on seeing this … the excellent trailer and actor Jake Gyllenhaal, one of my favourites.  Now in recent years he’s slipped into the mainstream with roles like Prince of Persia and Source Code, but his routes are in unusual indie flicks like Donnie Darko.  This suits that heritage well and has him playing Louis, a somewhat unhinged loner, seeking out employment but not having much luck until he stumbles upon a highway car accident.  There he witnesses a group of freelance guys (headed by Bill Paxton) who rush to crime scenes or accidents in the hope of catching something on video.  They then sell it to the news network that will pay the most.  A potentially lucrative career opportunity Louis believes and is soon buying a video camera  in hope of making a name for himself.

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A clever and interesting concept with a brilliant turn by Gyllenhaal, who plays Louis with creepiness and menace beneath a brittle facade of friendly and charismatic.  I enjoyed watching him go to extreme lengths to get the sort of footage his rivals wouldn’t dare, and the slow burning uncertainty of what might happen next kept me glued.  Paxton is decent but a bit under-used but good to see this 80s / 90s veteran still turning up in things.  Better is Rene Russo playing the perfect sultry older-woman.  The movie has a strong similarity to Robert DeNiro classic Taxi Driver even if Louis isn’t as appealing as Travis Bickle – but the mood and the isolation from normal society is the same.  It also has a killer car-chase towards the end which took my breath away.

The plot does take a bit of time to hit it’s stride, and that ending was anti-climactic, and well, the whole show could have been even darker.  For fans of Gyllenhaal however, and if you’re after something a bit different – you can’t go wrong with this.

Verdict:  4 /5

Edge of Tomorrow


Viewed – 21 October 2014  Blu-ray

There’s something about Tom Cruise’s latest foray into blockbuster territory that feels like it’s late to the party.  Mech-suits – didn’t Avatar or Elysium do this already?  And don’t get me started on the Groundhog Day plot.  But I digress.  This has Cruise as a Major in the army who reports on the war against an alien race that has invaded earth.  On a routine visit to report on the latest onslaught, he suddenly gets shoehorned into battle against his will.  Only thing is once on the battlefield and seriously outnumbered by the enemy, Cruise (or Cage as his character is named) discovers that getting killed is only the start of the longest day of his life.  Along the way he meets up with war hero Emily Blunt who may just know why he’s repeating his day over and over again.

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Cruise is decent in not a particularly demanding role…he gets to shoot aliens a lot and look sort of awkward in his mechanised suit, but surrounded by a group of clichéd ‘grunts’ he stands out (despite an entertaining Bill Paxton).  Better is Blunt, one of the more interesting and has to be said bad-ass of the current female acting crop and her presence means this movie had echoes of Looper what with it’s time-paradox storyline.  It’s not as clever as that movie though and lacks any real depth to the characters or especially the aliens who just look like throwbacks to The Matrix’s sentinels.  More interesting is the repeating day plot-device which director Doug Liman plays with wonderfully and at times the getting-it-wrong moments are quite funny (Cruise daringly rolls under a passing tuck … with a resulting splat). 

I would have liked more of a love story-angle to Cruise & Blunt’s partnership (it’s certainly hinted at) and maybe some more detail on the aliens … and just why the day is repeating all the time left me saying … er, what was that again?   However, the movie makes up for such shortcomings with several superb action sequences (the beach stuff is like a futuristic Saving Private Ryan) and on a decent set up, with a big screen and surround sound…this packed a punch.  Just a shame it’s fairly basic characterisation and copy-cat ideas prevent it from being a classic.

Verdict:  3.5 / 5

Gone Girl


Viewed – 07 October 2014  Cinema

I wasn’t at first that fussed about this adaptation of the best selling novel, as I’m not the biggest Ben Affleck fan and usually any surrounding hype means I’ll generally not rush out to see.  Then I read a review and discovered one of my favourite directors was at the helm.namely David Fincher.  Forgiving his somewhat disappointing effort with The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, generally Mr Fincher not put a foot wrong, with Fight Club and Seven being firm favourites.

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Ben plays a regular blue-collar guy who one morning arrives home to discover his beautiful wife (Rosamund Pike) has vanished, leaving in her wake evidence of a struggle.  Before long a media-circus surrounds her disappearance and Ben has to go on TV to seek out help in finding her, whilst all the time the public and the news scrutinize his every move.  Fincher’s expertise with a complex and investigation-heavy narrative makes this instantly absorbing and I was really pulled into the plight of Ben, his sister and the media attention.  Questions are raised and clues are discovered and like me you’ll have your own theories as the story progresses – but with the weight of the novel behind it, there’s more to this baby than meets the eye.  Affleck is very good in one of his more multi-layered roles and proved a lot more convincing than I’ve seen from him for a while.  Rosamund Pike is also first rate, even in flash back; beautiful, sexy and suitably vulnerable.

Towards the end some revelations seemed a tad rushed and there was a weird vibe to the final act that felt hard to roll with – was I meant to be amused or disturbed?  Also that ending left me with more questions than answers … probably not helped by some of the book’s event’s being glossed over (the stalker, the parents…).  However this remains a brilliantly acted and at times very powerful thriller with Fincher (helped immeasurably by Trent Reznor’s creepy score) very much back on form.

Verdict:  4 /5

Captain America: The Winter Soldier


Viewed – 05 September 2014  Blu-ray

I thought the last Captain America movie was the better of the several origin tales leading up to Marvel Avengers Assemble.  The World War II setting, the fact Steve Rogers goes from a wimpy rookie to a super soldier (and the special effect used to fool us…) as well as a great turn from Hugo Weaving as Red Skull all made for a top class piece of entertainment.  So you ask, where to go now ol’ cap is in the modern world?  Well how about an attack on s.h.i.e.l.d and a conspiracy where the agency he trusted suddenly turns on him?

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Scarlett Johansson is here as the sultry, bad-ass Black Widow and well, kicks all sorts of ass, despite a dodgy fake tan.  Oh and this time we get a lot more screen time with Samuel L. Jackson’s cool-as-ice Nick Fury, who gets his own actions scenes for a change.  Villainy is in the form of The Winter Soldier, a tough as nails enemy with a metal arm (!) who is every bit the match for Chris Evans’ increasingly llikeable Captain.  What follows are a series of bombastic encounters, a stand-out showdown on a freeway, very impressive effects, surprisingly vicious hand-to-hand combat (with some martial arts thrown in), and a keep you guessing plot.  Robert Redford plays one of the senior guys of s.h.i.e.l.d. but is looking his age, and Anthony Mackie is pretty cool as Falcon, even if he seems to come out of nowhere.

As a follow-up this packed quite punch in the action stakes and gave us some good character development with Captain America facing his past, and Nick Fury questioning his allegiance.  Chris Evans is still perfect and handles the action well, as does Johansson (prrr…).  A quality sequel, and made me thirsty for the next Avengers – surprising considering all this comic book stuff was starting to get a bit tired.

Verdict:  4 /5