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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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Red Sparrow (2017) Blu-Ray Movie Review By D.M Anderson

Red Sparrow Review

Director: Francis Lawrence
Writers: Justin Haythe (screenplay by), Jason Matthews (based upon the book by)
Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts 

“Sparrows” of the title are young Russian men & women who are trained to use seduction and sex to snare potential enemies. One could cheekily assume “Red” also refers to the film’s copious amounts of torture, violence and bloodshed. Trailers made Red Sparrow look like another Atomic Blond or John Wick, but it isn’t as much gonzo fun as either of those, and not-so-much an action movie as it is an alternately intriguing and convoluted spy thriller.

Jennifer Lawrence is Dominika, a ballerina who suffers a horrific leg injury during a performance. No longer able to dance, she has no way to make a living or care for her ailing mother. Her uncle, intelligence agent Ivan Egorov (Matthias Schoenaerts), takes advantage of her desperation by giving her the opportunity to join the Sparrow program and become a spy. Though repulsed by what she learns at “whore school” (her words), Dominika proves to be a natural and is promptly assigned to get close to American spy Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton) in order to discover the identity of a Russian mole he’s been working with.

Complications ensue, of course, thanks in-no-small-part to Ivan’s cold-blooded indifference to the constant peril in which he places his own niece. Not only does he consider her completely expendable, he also turns out to be one of those “pervy” uncles. This leads to a subplot in which Domikia decides to help Nate catch an American senator in the act of selling secrets to the same people she’s working for. 

A lot of this is pretty interesting, though patience is often required. Lawrence certainly gives her all (in more ways than one) for what one could consider a fairly bold performance. However, Dominika isn’t a terribly compelling character, going from zero to deadly seductress without allowing the viewer to get as invested in her initial predicament as we’d like. While it’s a given in a film like this that she’d eventually bump uglies with Nash, their relationship is never as compelling as the increasingly unnerving one between Dominika and her uncle.

Red Sparrow doesn’t have a lot of action per se, though there’s an abundance of sex and violence in equal measures. The early sparrow training scenes are lurid and border on exploitative, with Charlotte Rampling camping it up as a domineering headmistress. Dominika is raped, beaten and tortured early and often, but also dishes-out her own fair share of pleasure and pain. Storywise, the film is sometimes confusing and unnecessarily complicated. But just when our interest threatens to wane, we’re snapped back to attention with a major plot revelation or suspenseful set-piece. And even though the movie is probably a half-hour too long, it does serve-up one hell of a satisfying twist ending.

Though not undone by relatively flat characters, Red Sparrow could have benefited from developing them a bit more to justify its length (not to mention Lawrence’s uninhibited efforts). The story is occasionally all-over-the-place, but there are just enough captivating moments, exciting turns and hard-R nastiness to make the film worth checking out. 

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) Movie Review by Stephen McLaughlin

X MEN APOCALPYSE

Director: Bryan Singer
Writers: Simon Kinberg (screenplay by), Bryan Singer (story by)
Stars: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Rose Byrne

Set in the 1980’s, the re-emergence of the world’s first mutant, Apocalypse, the X-Men must unite to defeat his extinction level plan.

2 years after the successful X-Men: Days of Future Past I was interested to see where the next instalment would take the younger Charles Xavier, Erik Lehnsherr and Raven and more importantly would it equal the previous or perhaps supersede  it. Quite frankly although it didn’t disappoint, it wasn’t as good as DOFP. The later had the post credit scene setting this movie up and I was excited to see how this would fair.

Bryan Singer and Simon Kinberg are terrific writers and we owe a lot to them for their take on this universe and how they manage to appease the movie going public and the devoted comic book fans. In Apocalypse, I felt they played it safe with the usual formula of one of the main three characters conflicted with the other two trying to bring them back. In this instalment, it’s Erik Lehnsherr who is lost….again, although through personal tragedy he is drawn to help the world-destroyer Apocalypse flatten and rebuild the Earth to his plan.

Playing Apocalypse is Oscar Isaac. A fine actor but under the heavy makeup of En Sabah Nur it could have been anyone in there. I’m just glad he wasn’t computer generated completely. Was he that menacing as the movie villain? Not exactly. His plan is to use certain mutants like in a game of chess and the key mutant that he requires to mind control the entire planet is Charles Xavier. Personally I felt the character was a little two dimensional and didn’t add that much weight to the film. I actually preferred Kevin Bacon’s villain Sebastian Shaw who was perfect in “First Class” and although powerful had character and a cunningness about him.

James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence again are solid in their portrayals and I’m glad to see all three of them are back for next years X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2018) We finally see McAvoy go all Patrick Stewart and lose his hair, Lawrence as Raven / Mystique is conflicted as usual but to be fair shows more authority in this movie than previous where normally she would be a bit of a lone wolf, here she is a team player. Fassbender is really coming into his own with his character and although I loved Ian McKellen’s Magneto, I must admit I am becoming a fan of Fassbender’s earlier version. Supported by Nicholas Hoult as Hank / Beast and the return of Rose Byrne’s Moira Mactaggert the cast was excellent and I was interested to see how the “new” mutants Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Scott Summers / Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) and Kurt Wagner / Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) would slot into this timeline. Thankfully they all performed well and again I look forward to seeing them in the next movie Dark Phoenix.

Going back to Singer and Kinberg “playing it safe. I felt the cameo from Hugh Jackman was unnecessary and it worked okay in First Class as a one off funny scene. Here there is no humour but it kinda reeks of no confidence adding him to this film. He doesn’t serve any purpose and although only in the film for about a minute I felt they should have left Logan out of this and show a bit more faith and confidence in the existing portrayals by McAvoy, Fassbender and Lawrence who are now in their third movie.

Visually some of the effect shots looked a little poor and off putting. To compare I would say some of them reminded me of Attack of the Clones and that’s me putting it nicely. The storyline as mentioned is simple and straightforward and the finale is a little predictable. Overall I was a little disappointed with this instalment after the successful DOFP and I understand that it was always going to be tough to match that film. Apocalypse isn’t the worst film in the franchise by any means and it’s enjoyable to watch a few times. I hope X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2018) is a lot darker and it appears that the franchise may be going in that direction with the releases of Deadpool (2016), Logan (2017) and the upcoming The New Mutants (2018) all going down a darker route. I would recommend Apocalypse to anyone who enjoys the series but don’t go into it like I did with high expectations.

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) Movie Retro Review By Stephen McLaughlin

DAYS OF FUTURE PAST

Director: Bryan Singer
Writers: Simon Kinberg (screenplay), Jane Goldman (story by)
Stars: Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Lawrence, Peter Dinklage, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender

With Bryan Singer back to basically do a “Doctor Sam Beckett” from Quantum Leap and put right what once went wrong he has the freedom of time travel to unravel the majority of plot holes from the disaster that was “The Last Stand” and a few little niggles from the impressive “First Class”

With the Movie opening in a bleak future controlled by Sentinels which are mutant hunting machines that can eliminate any mutant despite their powers. The Sentinels are adaptive and have the ability to counteract any of the abilities the last of the mutants are capable of and destroy them.

With only a few mutants left they have discovered a way of going back in time a few days earlier through the mind to warn their previous selves of any upcoming attacks and erase their existence in those scenarios. Time us running out for them though and Professor X and Magneto come together to devise a plan that could save the mutants from extinction. The X-Men send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) to the early 1970’s in a desperate effort to change history and prevent an event that results in doom for both humans and mutants.

The event being Raven / Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) assassinating Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) in her belief eliminating the creator of the Sentinels would be the end of the project. Unfortunately with a mutant murdering a human the government felt threatened by the mutants and continued with Trask’s project and through capturing Raven / Mystique where able to experiment with her DNA in creating more advanced Sentinels that could adapt and destroy any mutant despite their power.

Ellen Page is back as Kitty Pryde. You remember her? the tiny mutant that could run through walls. Well now she can send mutants back in time with mind control. I don’t get it either but it works and you are better not thinking too hard on that one and just accept it as this is the premise of the storyline. Also this movie is based on the Comic Book so you can’t argue with that okay.

After the events (a decade later) of First Class both Erik Lehnsherr and Charles Xavier are no longer friends. Xavier is now a recluse living with Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) in the grounds that used to be “The School for Gifted Youngsters” and after the alleged assassination on President Kennedy, Erik Lehnsherr is now under heavy guard within the foundations of a purpose built prison inside the Pentagon. It is Wolverine’s task to unite the two former friends in preventing Raven / Mystique assassinating Trask.

The Director of Photography Newton Thomas Sigel who previously worked on X-Men (2000) and X-Men 2 (2003) and further Bryan Singer Projects (The Usual Suspects, Superman Returns and the sequel to this film X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) has his mark all over this movie and in a good way. The 1970’s are portrayed in an authentic fashion and not shoehorning everything 1970’s related into every shot that I felt That ’70s Show did (with intent or not) The film has a dark tone to it from the opening sequences that really portrays the future as a decelate environment and a reality with no hope to it.

Gathering an ensemble of Hollywood’s finest is also a Director’s dream or nightmare. You get the sense that everyone from both “generations” of X-Men films wanted to be involved in any small way. I will stop there as I don’t want to ruin any surprises that are in store for anyone who hasn’t saw the movie yet but I was impressed by how well balanced that screen time is for the main characters but also impressed with the screen time or limited from previous characters from previous x-men films receive, no matter how big or small the actor is, they are all there to be part of this event. All Egos have been left at the door.

Again Hugh Jackman is carrying the storyline from beginning to end and it will be interesting to see how the franchise copes with his absence now he finished his involvement in the superb Logan (2017) Both First Class (2011) and X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) have cameos that didn’t really have to be there but nevertheless both scenes are standouts in the movie no matter how brief they were.

Days of Future Past was necessary to keep the franchise in its current state continuing without a massive reboot and also complements the prequel First Class by having the main characters involved in this crossover that sets up the next couple of X-Men Films superbly with the acting credentials of McAvoy, Fassbender and Lawrence to name a few. I would put Days of Future Past up there with the excellent X-Men 2 (2003) and it is a film I can rewatch over and over again. Highly Recommended.