X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019) Review By Philip Henry

X-Men: Dark Phoenix Review

Director: Simon Kinberg
Screenwriter: Simon Kinberg
Stars: Sophie Turner, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender

If you’re keeping track of the X-Men timeline, you’re doing a better job than me. So after Days of Future Past an alternative timeline was created, and the other one was supposedly erased, which would be fine – Star Trek did this as well – but why did they then make the Logan movie from the erased timeline? Are we following the X-Men in multiple universes now? I think it’s fair to say whoever is running this franchise has painted themselves into a corner with this alternate timeline and have now have just abandoned all hope of trying to make sense of it.

So this is basically the same story as X-Men: The Last Stand where Jean Grey is reborn – to give them some credit, they do it in very different ways in the two films – and her powers are turned up to eleven. She becomes so powerful she can’t control herself and the X-Men have to choose between their colleague and the fate of humanity.

This film frustrated me more than anything. All the elements are there for a fantastic film about too much power being a corruptive influence – a very timely theme – and there are countless opportunities for drama in the tough decisions that have to be made, but the movie skips anything that would make you care about any of these characters and just jumps to the spectacle as soon as possible.

The movie begins with the X-Men being tasked with rescuing the space shuttle Endeavour after an unknown space phenomenon causes a total systems failure during their launch. It should be an exciting set-piece, but since we’ve spent little to no time with our heroes so far there’s no emotional connection to any of them when they’re in danger, and that’s a recurring failing throughout the film. Jessica Chastain shows up as a shape-shifting alien intent on taking over the world, but we’re given little more than an elevator pitch for her motivations, who her people are, or what this strange phenomenon is or where it came from. It feels like a five year-old was in charge of the edit and gave the instruction to skip over the talky bits and get to the explosions.

Most of the returning cast are doing their best with the material they have, but some popular characters like Quicksilver (Evan Peters) appear much too briefly, and then vanish for the rest of the film. For the first time Sophie Turner has to carry the film and I hate to say it, but I don’t think she pulls it off. I had much more empathy for Famke Janssen in this role and really believed her struggle to control the power within her, but Turner’s Phoenix flips from goodie to baddie with the flimsiest reasons and spends most of the film with a blank, emotionless look on her face. This is probably more a consequence of the cut & paste script (there were extensive reshoots of the ending) and amateur direction than her ability as an actor. Simon Kinberg has a long and distinguished track record as a producer, but his only other directing credit was an episode of Jordan Peele’s rebooted Twilight Zone. To take on a project of this scale as his first feature was madness; he’s way out of his depth and it shows.

If you want to compare it to Captain Marvel, which is also a film about a super-powerful female set in the 90s, you can see just how much Captain Marvel gets right and Dark Phoenix gets wrong. For a start, Dark Phoenix makes little to no mention that it actually IS the 1990s, where Captain Marvel played with the fashion and music and pushed a few nostalgia buttons (for some of us). Captain Marvel spends time telling us the hero’s backstory and personal relationships so we actually care when stuff happens to her, Dark Phoenix thinks it can accomplish the same thing by having a couple of quick smooches between Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) and Jean Grey.

I must have a little rant about the awful shoe-horning in of Jennifer Lawrence’s line: “Considering how often women save the day around here, you might think about changing the name of the group to X-Women.” Now I’m about as big a lefty, liberal feminist as you can get, but this is so clumsy. The X-Men have always been about diversity, back before it was fashionable. Back in 1963 they were already tackling these issues and anyone who doesn’t realise that mutants – those born differently through no fault of their own – were an allegory for homosexuality, race, etc. is missing the point. I always assumed the term X-Men was a gender-neutral term, much like in the original series of Star Trek where they called men and women Mister. It was a way of levelling the playing field and treating everyone the same. These flag-waving moments in films recently are just embarrassing. Sci-fi and fantasy have been giving messages of tolerance, equality and acceptance for decades, but subtly. Are people so much dumber now that they need this stuff spelled out in big clear letters?

Dark Phoenix is a terrible mish-mash of a movie with the bones of an amazing story at its core, but the writer/ director fails to address the elements that matter and instead jumps from one CG extravaganza to the next. For those of you who thought X-Men: The Last Stand was the weak link of the original trilogy, if you compare it to this, you might look at it now and see how good it actually is.

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T-34 (2018) Blu Ray Movie Review By D.M. Anderson

T-34 Review

Tanks for the Memories

Director: Aleksey Sidorov
Writer: Aleksey Sidorov
Starring Alexander Petrov, Vinzenz Kiefer, Irina Starshenbaun, Viktor Dobronrnov, Yuriy Borisov, Anton Bogdanov.

The Russian film, T-34, is sort-of a throwback to the old war epics I grew up on. No anti-war agenda, cynicism or commentary on how combat changes a soldier. It doesn’t drop the viewer into the unflinching chaos of battle with hyper-realistic depictions of human carnage. With an emphasis on plot and action, it’s more Great Escape than Saving Private Ryan, something of a rarity in modern war films. As such, the movie is a lot of fun.

During World War II, Nikolay Ivushkin (Alexander Petrov) is a Russian tank commandeer who manages to destroy an entire squad of German tanks during a skirmish. Unfortunately, he is shot by SS officer Klaus Jager (Vinzenz Kiefer). Four years later, Ivushkin is a POW scheduled to be executed for refusing to give his name and rank. However, Jager remembers him. Still impressed by what Ivushkin was able to do with a single tank during their previous encounter, Jager makes him an offer he really can’t refuse: Assemble a crew to restore a stolen Russian tank (the T-34 of the title) and serve as an unarmed practice target for young cadets. If they survive, Ivushkin will be required to train new German tank crews.

Ivushkin reluctantly agrees, but while he and his crew are prepping the tank, they discover a some live shells hidden beneath the bodies of the dead crew the Nazi’s left inside. It’s at this point Ivushkin comes up with an escape plan, using the tank to blast their way out and head for the Czech border. He gets some assistance from Anya (Irina Starshenbaum), another POW who serves as an interpreter between Ivushkin and Jager. She offers to steal a much-needed map if they take her with him. The second half of the film is a thrilling chase across the countryside, with Ivushkin trying to outwit Jager, who unleashes troops, tanks and planes to track him down.

I don’t know how plausible T-34 is, but it’s fast-paced, exciting and often suspenseful, aided considerably by impressive action and special effects (particularly the slow-motion scenes of shells striking their targets). Though fairly light on characterisation, Ivushkin and his crew certainly grow on us and Jager is an effective villain (his grudging respect for Ivushkin renders him not-entirely hateful). However, the pointless romantic subplot between Ivushkin and Anya feels shoehorned in for the sake of a love scene. One minute they’re allies, the next they’re practically star-crossed lovers.

Other than that, T-34 is a welcome throwback to the World War II movies Hollywood used to crank out before getting all serious and self-important on us. There isn’t a lot of depth, but with a simple story, likeable characters and some big, loud action, it’s well-crafted and very entertaining.

Rocketman (2019) Movie Review By The Moviie Couple

Rocketman Review

Director: Dexter Fletcher
Writer: Lee Hall
Stars: Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden

Moviie Couple here!   We went to see Rocketman this weekend!  Remember we are just a married couple that loves movies!  We’re here to tell you if we liked it.  Film experts we are not!  Just a quick reminder of our rating system. Mrs. Moviie Couple and I, rate films on whether they are worth the cash spent on a night out.  we use a 1-6 Dollar Bill system.  1-2 Bills equal a waste of both our time and money!  3-4 Bills equal Meh to Pretty Good, money well spent!  5-6 Bills equal Wow!  Well worth the price of dinner, movie and sitter!  Please take our money again!

Rocketman tells the life story of Elton John.  His rise to fame from his childhood home in the Pinner area of London to the world wide success as a mega star is covered in this bio-pic.  We see the  various relationships that formed who he was and more importantly who he grew to become.  The film focuses on his life from childhood to his sobriety years well into his fantastical (He was Captain Fantastic after all) career.  The film is directed by Dexter Fletcher of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Eddie The Eagle fame and stars Taron Egerton as Elton himself with Jamie Bell co starring as lifelong musical partner Bernie Taupin, a nearly unrecognisable Bryce Dallas Howard as his Mum, and Richard Madden as John Reid the infamous paramour and Music Manager.  As one would expect many of Sir Elton’s hit songs are spread throughout the film in expected and many unexpected ways.  Huge musical performances, drama, excess of alcohol, drugs, shopping and food and many ,many sequinned costume changes are met along the way!  Well the curtain rises, wrap your boa around your neck, throw on your bedazzled glasses and lets all say goodbye to the yellow brick road and get to the reviews!

So here we go!

Mr. Moviie Couple:  I was not expecting to be enthralled by a bio pic, I love true stories, but you sort of know what your getting going in.  I have to say Rocketman grabbed me early with its unorthodox start!  Right from the opening scene, this film pulled me in and let me know this was not going to be a by the numbers biography movie!  Even in a movie like this we don’t spoil, so that will be all I say about that.  As a fan of Elton John’s music (isn’t everyone?) I admit I was ignorant about much of his personal life.  This movie gave me all I needed to actually feel for young Reginald Dwight, the boy that would grow up to become Elton Hercules John.  The dramatic pieces hit me in all the right spots.  All the actors shine in this movie, but let’s be honest it swims or sinks on the performance of Taron Egerton.  I am pleased to tell you his portrayal of the Rocketman soars!  The pain and doubt he displays as Elton struggles through life, pre and post success, is seen all over his face.  He relays what Elton is feeling and words are not even necessary!  Bell and Madden seem to embody both Taupin and Reid as well.  Just captivating performances throughout really.  Dallas Bryce Howard also shines as a Mom not even a son could love.  The way this movie places Elton’s songs throughout the film maybe not be in order of release (I’m not knowledgeable enough to say), but shows up in times of Elton’s life where they relate the most and are placed perfectly.  As were the numbers!  Yes, I said musical numbers, not just performances (which again headdresses off to Mr. Egerton as he actually sings the songs himself).  The numbers break out in fantasy/imagination scenes as Elton remembers key moments of his life!   This is like a hybrid bio pic/Broadway musical and it’s all a hit!  I learned a lot about Sir Elton and enjoyed this film the entire time!

For a film that didn’t involve hammer wielding superheroes, radioactive lizards or invincible hitmen this movie blew me away!  I gave Rocketman a solid 5 Bills!  Great performances, full blown musical numbers!  Just a great time.

Mrs. Moviie Couple:  She was surprised by the unexpected format the movie took in telling its story!  She did not expect it to become a full blown musical, she was expecting something similar to Bohemian Rhapsody.  As a huge fan of Broadway, she was delighted!  She could easily see this film adapted to the Broadway stage and being even more successful.  She loved Taron Egerton’s acting!  She felt he actually was Elton John, his resemblance and performance took her breath away!  She commented on what a great actor he is and how he doesn’t get enough credit for his versatility.  How he can play both tough action hero in the Kingsman films and then vulnerable and sweet as seen in Eddie the Eagle and now Rocketman.  The film nearly brought her to tears at times.  She found the film full of emotions and left her with a deep sense of how a negative childhood could be overcome to bring out the best in a person.  She found the costumes and music all matched the flair that Elton had become famous for back in his younger years!  She loved the end credits as well, during them we are told how Elton is doing today and shown real life photos of the scenes Egerton recaptured so accurately.  She would see it again in a heartbeat and can’t wait to see if it really does go to Broadway!  Mrs. Moviie Couple gives Rocketman 6 Bills!!! Yes, I believe that is the first 6 Bills given out by the Mrs.!!!

On the way home, We talked the entire way home!  We discussed Egerton’s performance, his singing, the musical numbers!  We both loved the unique way the story was told.  Before we arrived home we were playing Elton John in the car, which is quite the endorsement.  I give it 5 Bills, just a great film with a unique vision.  The Mrs. gives it 6 Bills!  She wanted to see it again!  She was touched by the drama and absolutely loved the musical numbers!  So we’ll go with an average of 5.5 Wow!  Great time out, worth the money and highly recommended!

Till then, Hold your tiny dancers close and we’ll see you at the movies!  Be sure to check our facebook page for a clue to our next movie up for review!  Mr. & Mrs. Moviie Couple out!

Ma (2019) Movie Review By Philip Henry

Ma Review

Director: Tate Taylor
Screenwriter: Scotty Landes
Stars: Octavia Spencer, Juliette Lewis, Diana Silvers

I went into this film only knowing it was a Blumhouse production, and if you want to enjoy it, I suggest you do the same. I’ve since seen other reviews online which say the trailer practically gives the whole film away.

I had a very different experience, but even going in ‘cold’ it didn’t take me long to see this wasn’t typical Blumhouse fare. Juliette Lewis and her daughter arrive in a new town. Lewis has got a job at a casino so her daughter Maggie (Diana Silvers) ends up spending a lot of time alone, until some cool kids befriend her and introduce her to the fun world of underage drinking. Only one problem: getting an adult to buy the booze for them. After several failed attempts, kindly Octavia Spencer agrees to buy them what they need, and then she suggests they hang out in her basement to drink if they need a safe place where the cops won’t stumble upon them.

OK, it’s a slightly odd offer, and Ma (as Spencer becomes known to the kids) has a very strange sense of humour, which should be a huge red flag no matter how intoxicated you are. But the kids think they’re in control of the situation so continue to use Ma’s basement, and pretty soon it becomes party-central for the school. But what are Ma’s real motives for having these kids in her house?

I think there’s an interesting point to be made here about gender politics, which seems to be influencing a lot of movies – for better or worse – currently. If the roles in this movie were reversed and some middle-aged man bought a bunch of kids alcohol and then invited them to his house he would probably be reported and in jail by suppertime, but a female character is somehow more trustworthy and less threatening… or at least that’s what we assume. Is suggesting women can be dangerous too another step towards equality?

This film wears its influences on its sleeve, with a very direct nod to Misery in the film as well as an ending that has echoes of Hitchcock’s Rebecca. Both are films about the emotional fallout after someone important to a main character is taken from them (even if one is fictional), and that’s the dominant theme in Ma too. But it’s Annie Wilkes not Mrs Danvers who is probably the best comparison to Ma. They both have a sweet personality that they show to the world, but if angered their claws can come out in a second.

Something this film gets right and lots of other films of its ilk get wrong is sympathy for the ‘monster’. This is a trait that goes right back to the 1933 King Kong. Even though he was ‘the baddie’ of the story, who didn’t get a lump in their throat when they saw the big ape plummet from the Empire State Building? Sometimes it’s more effective when the ‘monster’ of the film can be shown as just as much of a victim as those it preys upon. Ma is a very damaged character and I did feel for her, partly due to Octavia’s Spencer’s brilliant portrayal. Her past might not excuse her actions, but it does explain them to some extent.

Overall Ma is a solid little thriller. It ends very abruptly and I would’ve preferred a little epilogue to tie a few things up, but that aside it’s very watchable. There’s no supernatural element so I hesitate to call it a horror, despite its stable. It could’ve been much more brutal and raw, but Blumhouse have made no apologies about aiming their films at the teen demographic, and with this film’s message about bullying and its effects they’re probably right on target. So don’t expect anything like Misery’s hobbling scene, which will stick in your mind for days (or years?) after. It’s scary with a small ‘s’ but for a teen date-movie it’ll do the trick.

Captain Marvel (2019) Blu-Ray Movie Review By D.M. Anderson

Captain Marvel Review, Carol Danvers becomes one of the universe's most powerful heroes when Earth is caught in the middle of a galactic war between two alien races.

Directors: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck
Writers: Anna Boden (screenplay by), Ryan Fleck (screenplay by)
Starring Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Jude Law, Djimon Hounsou, Lashana Lynch, Annette Benning, Gemma Chan, Lee Pace, Clark Gregg

When it comes to superhero movies, I suppose kicking franchises off with an origin story is almost unavoidable. After all, not everyone’s a comic book reader, so explaining what compels a guy throw on a cape for the public good makes narrative sense (though Tim Burton’s Batman never bothered and it turned out just fine).

Even if that has a tendency to render a lot of superhero films somewhat predictable, Marvel has done a pretty remarkable job introducing everyone populating their cinematic universe. And rather ingeniously, Captain Marvel actually gives us two origin stories.

First, of course, is the story of Vers/Carol Danvers (Brie Larson), whose circumstances leading to her emergence as the titular character are more interesting than those of Doctor Strange or an umpteenth reboot of Spider-Man. After a rather mundane opening act – a flashy-but-rote clash between the Kree and Skrulls – once Vers arrives on Earth in 1995, the story really takes off. She already has her considerable powers and stands-out like a sore thumb, leading to some amusing moments and frequent clashes with the shape-shifting Skrulls. Larson’s confident performance is enjoyable, displaying just the slightest bit of superiority over us puny humans (at least until she begins to remember where she came from).

Vers also meets Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Captain Marvel’s other origin story. At this time, Fury is just another S.H.I.E.L.D. agent (made plausible by some Oscar-worthy CGI that makes Jackson look 25 years younger). One long-standing criticism I’ve had of the entire MCU is that, with the possible exception of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Fury has never been given anything interesting to do. Here, Fury arrives early and does a lot more than provide exposition. Jackson is great, of course, like he’s been unleashed to make Fury funnier and more charismatic than we’ve previously seen, especially once he befriends Goose the Cat. How he came to need an eye-patch provides one of the film’s biggest laughs.

Elsewhere, Captain Marvel tells an interesting story that not-only fits comfortably within the MCU, but provides a few welcome, surprising twists. Speaking of which, can we give another tip-of-the-hat to Ben Mendelsohn, once-again stealing every scene he’s in? As Talos, not only does he make a terrific initial adversary, he’s personable and often very funny, no small feat considering he’s covered in alien make-up for most of the film.

Of course, Captain Marvel has plenty of the action and visual fireworks we’ve come to expect from the MCU (as well as a few moments of wonky CGI). But like the Ant-Man films, it never threatens to collapse under the weight of its own spectacle. As origin stories go, this is one of Marvel’s better recent ones.

Galveston (2018) Movie Review By Justin Aylward

Galveston Review

Director: Mélanie Laurent
Writers: Nic Pizzolatto (as Jim Hammett), Nic Pizzolatto (based upon the novel by)
Stars: Ben Foster, Jeffrey Grover, Christopher Amitrano

Ben Foster has become a silent man in the movies. In films such as Leave No Trace and now Galveston, a new film, he has disguised pain and grief under a veneer of stoicism. He is proving to be a terrific actor whose gifts of understatement are worth more than a million smiles offered by other actors of his generation.

Galveston, directed by Melanie Laurent, her first English language feature, is a perfect dramatic vehicle for Foster. He plays a gruff hitman called Roy whose quest for revenge is blighted after he inadvertently rescues a young teen-tearaway during a botched hit-job, orchestrated by his boss, Beau Bridges. Roy flees to his hometown of Galveston to tie up the loose ends of his life. Elle Fanning plays the teen, a girl who has learned to live a lie but soon loses the will to maintain the deception that has helped her through a difficult life.

The trouble for Roy is that he appears to be dying of a respiratory illness. All his actions seem to be in service of leaving behind a good legacy, or at least some decency to his name. But all the while his crime connections drag him down and tie him to his past deeds. Along the way he meets up with an old lover, one who he was less than kind to. There is a cloud of death and despair that hangs over the character’s lives, but the film is not totally morbid. I enjoyed the scenes of respite between Foster and Fanning. They dance aimlessly at a club and drive with the wind through their hair. These small moments seem to buoy their spirits before the hoodlums draw closer.

Laurent directs the film in a robust fashion intercut with scenes of shouty melodrama that offset the rhythm and tone of the film. But I do admire much of the work. The film is a mood piece and the moods go a long way to delineating the character’s personalities and shortcomings. It’s clear that Laurent found a lot of empathetic material in the script and it’s a story she obviously cares about. There is one lengthy sequence where a battered and bruised Foster escapes capture in a car. There is blood, sweat and plenty of skidmarks. It’s a brilliantly conceived set-piece. Later, a secret is revealed by Fanning that threatens to capsize the dramatic weightiness of the film but it is a twist that worked for me and felt real in the context of the story.

Galveston is an uneven film with moments of intensity and desperation sandwiched between slower passages prone to ponderousness and the odd gesture overdone in nature. I enjoyed and admire the film for its strengths, so much to the point that I can forgive its faults. I expect Laurent to improve in her next features, movies that are worth waiting for.

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