Split


Viewed – 06 June 2017  online-rental

It’s probably safe to say that acclaimed director M Night Shyamalan has been off his game for a few years, with such poorly received movies as The Last Airbender and The Happening.  However recently there seems to have been a slight return to form, what with the well received The Visit and now this much talked about thriller.  James McAvoy plays a disturbed man who suffers from dissociative personality disorder and claims to have 23 different personalities all vying for attention.  Told with a combination of visits to his psychiatrist and the kidnapping of three young women by his more sociopathic personalities, this sets the stage for a clever little thriller, held together by a demanding and often eye-opening performance.

Split

The initial impression I got from the trailer (and I tend to avoid trailers for the most part) wasn’t all that positive despite plenty of good word-of-mouth.  McAvoy you see delivers a myriad of different performances here, some menacing, others it has to be said rather absurd and silly (do we really need him to do a rather dodgy impression of a nine year old boy, complete with a lisp?) and less said about the campy female personality the better.  Which is a shame as Shyamalan’s direction is tight and atmospheric, full of eerie camera movement not unlike something from a Hitchcock movie and great use of claustrophobic locations.  The three turns from the kidnapped girls are also good, especially from The Witch’s Anya Taylor-Joy (an actress who continues to impress).  However a final twist involving a 24th personality throws the movie into schlocky horror, doing away with it’s otherwise semi-realistic tone … and well, we get a final scene that adds a connection to an earlier Shyamalan movie that just felt forced.

However with what has to be said is a colourful and impressive turn from McAvoy (his transitions from certain personalities are damn freaky) and bags of tension I still found myself entertained.  Just sad the idea promised much more than the movie could eventually deliver.

Verdict:  3 /5

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X-Men Apocalypse


Viewed – 08 November 2016 Online-rental

An ancient Egyptian mutant, said to be the very first mutant finds himself resurrected in the eighties after thousands of years and is hell-bent on rising up against humanity. However when Dr Xavier stumbles upon his plot, a somewhat disbanded collection of X-Men must unite to save the world.

X-MEN: APOCALYPSE

I wasn’t expecting much from this and wasn’t the biggest fan of the previous movie, Days of Future Past which everyone seemed to love (?). However presented with a rather formidable villain from the off and with plenty of colourful and recognizable characters I soon found myself enjoying an X-Men movie again.  Director Brian Singer seems to have swapped that rather convoluted time travel plot-device this time around in place of a more coherent good versus evil battle with a threat of global genocide thrown in for good measure.  It works much better having a simpler narrative in such a complicated universe with so many characters and their various back stories.  Yet the movie cleverly weaves in nods and often funny references to past movies and the comics without beating the viewer over the head.  It made for an experience that was more comfortable and easier to simply enjoy.

Cyclops and Jean GrayThe story took time to build tension, focus on key characters, explore individual motives and convincingly bring them together when required.  Standout performances came from Jennifer Lawrence who this time is more character driven and less kick-ass as Mystique and James McAvoy as the always fascinating Xavier.  I also enjoyed Oscar Isaac as Apocalypse, perhaps his first bad guy role and he nails it – sinister, powerful and visually bad-ass.  It was also fun to see an origin story of Cyclops and to an extent Jean Gray (Game of Thrones’ Sophie Turner – still not much of an actor, sadly).  However Michael Fassbender’s Magneto whilst good has a character ark that purely services the plot and doesn’t entirely ring true, and well the whole end of the world stuff is particularly clichéd. Yet with often stunning action, some excellent CGI and plenty of energy this 2hr 20min+ movie still zipped along.  For me it’s the best in the franchise since X2 … and probably the most satisfying blockbuster of the year.

Verdict: 5 /5

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.

xmen-mystique

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

Welcome To The Punch


Viewed – 12 September 2013  Blu-ray

James McAvoy has so far impressed me with enjoyable turns in outrageous action flick Wanted and despite reservations, Xmen: First Class.  So a Brit crime thriller with him as a damaged but relentless cop and everyone’s favourite Brit bad guy, Mark Strong (Kick-Ass) as a master thief / bank robber … this can’t go wrong, can it?

McAvoy plays a tough detective on the mean streets of London whose relentless pursuit of a skilled, ruthless criminal is cut short when said criminal leaves him injured after a chase – but doesn’t kill him.  Switch to 3 years later and the criminal is called out of semi-retirement when his son is injured in mysterious circumstances, sparking the interest of metropolitan’s finest and soon it turns out both cop and criminal may have a mutual enemy.

Although extremely stylish and peppered with some impressive shoot-outs, this is let down by a very familiar setup – think Heat, Fast & Furious or even John Woo’s Hard-Boiled and you get the picture.  The two main characters are also pretty much stereotypes, lacking in depth beyond being grizzled and handy with a gun – and was that a homoerotic vibe I sensed?

There’s good support however from Walking Dead’s David Morrisey and also Andrea Riseborough, and director Eran Creevy shows no lack of skill by delivering cool action, beautifully framed shots and making London look like a cyberpunk anime fan’s wet dream.  Yet the clichéd ideas mar what is otherwise a fun, occasionally surprising thriller, greatly in need of imagination.  At least when Hot Fuzz attempted this, it was a satire.

Verdict:  3 /5

Wanted


Viewed – 25 May 2008  Cinema

In this age of computer generated special effects, the summer block-buster it seems is all about bigger, better, louder.  This film is no exception as unlike more subtle fair like The Bourne Ultimatum or Shooter…everything that can be imagined is thrown at the screen to an overwhelming degree, and all thoughts of reality and believability go out of the window.

James McAvoy, not your first choice for action movie lead, as he’s quite scrawny – plays a nerdy office worker stereo-type who’s best friend is having it away with James’ girlfriend, he hates his job, has an annoying boss, little money and generally is as depressed as hell.  Step in Angelina Jolie (offering up another bad-ass babe to her already crowded CV) as a tattooed gun-toting assassin who saves James’ life and then embroils him in a top secret assassination agency known as The Fraternity.  Headed by Morgan Freeman, James is trained to be a deadly assassin, following in the foot steps of his father.

In amongst all this we get some of the most over-the-top action sequences you’re likely to see, with some superb special effects, more than a nod to The Matrix (the story itself seems a tribute to The Wackowski Brothers’ masterpiece with a similar search for ‘the one’), and a tongue-in-cheek sense of humour that helps to not take this too seriously.  James McAvoy makes for a likable and thankfully relatable lead in amongst all the bad-asses, even if throughout he looks awkward and a little out of his depth in furious gun battles and car chases – but maybe that was the point.  Jolie is seriously sexy if a bit one-dimensional, and Morgan Freeman as ever is a joy to watch, even if these days this kind of role must be as natural to him as farting.

For me, I feel the movie would have benefited by toning down some of the action, holding back on some of the slow-motion camera work and generally not trying to make everything look cool just for the sake of it – but then again, this is the CGI age, and I suppose if I was a director I would have trouble holding back with such wonderful toys at hand.  As the Hollywood debut of Russian director Timur Bekmambetov (Night Watch, Day Watch), this sparks as an impressive effort despite its ludicrous nature…and proves him to be an action auteur to rival the best of ’em.

Verdict:  3 /5