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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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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.

The Snowman (2017) Movie Review by Stephen McLaughlin

SNOWMAN

Director: Tomas Alfredson
Writers: Peter Straughan (screenplay by), Hossein Amini (screenplay by)
Stars: Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg

The Snowman is based on a novel by Norwegian crime-writer Jo Nesbø called “Snømannen” which came out over a decade ago and is about Detective Harry Hole (Fassbender) investigates the disappearance of a woman whose pink scarf is found wrapped around an ominous-looking snowman.

The movie should have been an enjoyable thriller with a suspenseful storyline. The trailer itself painted this picture when we first got out first glimpse in July 2017. Instead what we have is a confusing plot that jumps around with no logic. Sometimes it helps to read the novel that the movie was based on and in this case that may have helped me. (although I have heard of people who have read the book and were still confused)

One of the saving graces of the movie is Fassbender who is a terrific actor and casting him perhaps gave a rather substandard movie a little credibility. His performance although isn’t his best, won’t do his reputation any harm and for any movie goers out there will realise that The Snowman’s faults do not fall with him.

With a cast of Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, J.K. Simmons, Val Kilmer, Toby Jones, Chloe Sevigny and James D’Arcy I expected more. Unfortunately most of their characters were reduced to being almost irrelevant.

I believe this movie suffered on so many levels with it’s production that effected its standards and editing but some of the plus points in the movie is it’s visuals and cinematography. The stunning Scandinavian landscape was nice to look at and the lighting in the film and in particular the suspense scenes worked well. As too did the soundtrack with a tense sound used in the correct manner added a haunting vibe to the movie.

I would go as far to say that this film isn’t exactly a horror and more a thriller that resembled the X-File Movie from 2008 “I Want To Believe” If you are looking for a jump scare movie then this isn’t for you. It’s not the worst movie, but bad production and editing perhaps made this potentially one of the years biggest failures. I can’t recommend this.

Steve Jobs (2015) Movie Retro Review by Stephen McLaughlin

STEVE JOBS

Director: Danny Boyle
Writers: Aaron Sorkin (screenplay), Walter Isaacson (book)
Stars: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels

Steve Jobs (Fassbender) takes us behind the scenes of the digital revolution, to paint a portrait of the man at its epicenter. The story unfolds backstage at three iconic product launches, ending in 1998 with the unveiling of the iMac. Going into this movie and having already reviewed 2013’s “Jobs” portrayed by Ashton Kutcher,  I promised myself that I wouldn’t compare both films. I also deliberately avoided checking both ratings of the movies as I didn’t want to be influenced in my judgement (although that’s what I do in every case anyway)

To me “Steve Jobs” is some of Fassbender’s best work and Director Danny Boyle’s as well. I felt this was a clever slant on what I assumed would be biographical and going into the personal life of Jobs. Don’t get me wrong we do get that though a series of situations involving those who where closest to him and not in the traditional day to day in the home of the man. Boyle’s style and decision making to centre the storyline around three major moments in his profession life and that of the digital revolution was a terrific decision. Fassbender’s investment in studying Job’s little quirks and ticks (feet washing in the toilet bowl) is appreciated and allows the audience to understand the uniqueness of him.

His complex relationship with his daughter Lisa (who he named one of his early systems after) adds the emotional anchor to the film and is used at the correct times without it overshadowing the other personal issues with Steve Wozniak, Joanna Hoffman, John Sculley, Andy Hertzfeld and the mother of his child Chrisann Brennan. I have to commend the casting  by Francine Maisler in particular with the three stages of Lisa played by Makenzie Moss (Lisa aged 5), Ripley Sobo (Lisa aged 9) and Perla Haney-Jardine (Lisa aged 19) who I assumed must have been related as the likeness of all three is uncanny.

Staying on the cast, I was particularly impressed by Kate Winslet’s Joanna Hoffman who was Jobs able and strong confident. Winslet’s role I presumed would be a low-key bit part turned out to be one of the best things in the movie thanks to her performance and delivery managing to be one of the few who could reach inside Steve Jobs head and stand up to him.

Jeff Daniels never fails to amaze me. Such a versatile actor and in this movie is the friend, the enemy and a much like father figure to Jobs playing John Sculley who helped push the Apple machine along in its earlier days. The scenes behind the stage at all three events are interesting and have their fair share of intensity. His physical appearance throughout the timeline is subtle but cleverly done to show his age. Another thing I have to commend Boyle on is the way he interlaced the flashback scenes that parallel in the current scenes. In particular the “firing” of Jobs from Apple is heartbreaking for both of them.

Seth Rogen as Steve Wozniak you say? I have to admit that this role was the one I took great interest in. Although limited in his screen time I was afraid Rogen May ham it up a little in his performance as the legendary engineer. His performance was just right. His final scenes and confrontation with Jobs confirmed this and he manages to pull at the heartstrings with his performance and you really do feel bad for Wozniak by the end of the movie.

Another surprise was Michael Stuhlbarg’s Andy Hertzfeld. Just like Wozniak in this film he had key scenes in these events but wasn’t on screen that long. Long enough though for Stuhlbarg to leave an impression on his part and for the audience member to realise that although treated very badly by Jobs admired him and considered him a friend regardless of what they went through together. Hertzfeld is also portrayed as a genuine person with a caring side towards Lisa who he felt was missing a strong male influence in her life and inadvertently made Jobs realise the years he had lost with his daughter.

The cinematography in the movie is simple and uses an almost documentary style technique, although not as rough. The music and the soundtrack isn’t exactly memorable and it isn’t until the end credits we get to hear some Dylan. In summary this movie impressed me and in particular Fassbender’s dedication to the man. Just running in at over two hours, a minute isn’t wasted and if you are interested in learning more about the man then I would give this movie a go. Highly recommended.

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.

Slow West (2015) Movie Review by John Walsh

SLOW WEST

Director: John Maclean
Writer: John Maclean
Stars: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Michael Fassbender, Ben Mendelsohn

John Maclean isn’t a directorial name I’ve ever heard of before, a fact which conjures up a degree of shame with him being a fellow Scotsman and all, and his zany, intriguing, 2015 feature film debut Slow West also managed to fall under my radar. It’s a rapidly quick paced, fairly short little film that belies it’s titular name. Excellently casted, featuring a predominantly European cast and perfectly crafted by the ex-musician come filmmaker. It’s a surprisingly good western on the surface that’s about a lovesick boy, but also attempts to convey the real struggle that native Americans faced at the hands of their colonial settlers.

The film opens with the attention very much on the aforementioned lovesick chap, 16 year old Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) journeying on his lonesome and heading towards a Native American settlement that looks to be under attack by union soldiers. Even without uttering a word in the first five minutes you get an immediate sense that he’s way out of his depth in the alien ‘New World’ landscape of North America (actually New Zealand, but that’s another story). Skinny, with more than a hint of naivety, he’s got a certain ballsiness and continues making his way forward despite thick smoke obscuring his vision and ash falling. When he meets a group of soldiers using a fleeing man as target practice things turn rather pear shaped, with the leader paying no heed of the youngsters protestations at being British and meaning no harm. Step forward Silas Selleck (Michael Fassbender), an experienced outlaw with a hidden agenda to save the day.

He kills the soldier dead without a second thought and immediately advises the bewildered and rather flustered looking Jay that he’ll be in need of a guide in those parts. A role he’s only too happy to volunteer for at a price. The basic premise of the story thereafter is essentially the blooming relationship between the pair of them and their journey together in search for Rose (Caren Pistorius), the previously mentioned girl he’s infatuated with. There’s ups and downs, dark humour aplenty, no holds barred violence, an ill judged attempted escape from Jay which leaves him stranded in the middle of an expansive desert with an uncooked egg to his name and several hilarious scenes between both Jay and Silas. The best of which involves the drinking of absinthe after the arrival of one Silas’ old acquaintances Payne (Ben Mendelsohn), a dodgy figure and leader of an outlaw group closely trailing our protagonists for much of the film.

I like the way Maclean fleshed out the backstory of Jay via a series of flashbacks set in the Scottish highlands the character calls home. It allowed the viewer to be given an insight into his motivations, whilst slowly introducing us to him, Rose and her dad John (Rory McCann). and also the reasons behind their decision to leave. It also allowed for a nice change in tone from the present day action which was absolutely relentless in its ferocity and pacing. It’s a quite short film at an hour and twenty odd minutes and they really utilised each and every second of those effectively. The growing bond and relationship between Silas and Jay was very nicely handled too. Both were able to help each other out with the latter showing Silas that there was hope and reasons for optimism even in the Willd West, meanwhile Silas did his best to imbue the younger gentlemen he was growing increasingly fond of with a dose of reality.

There’s some really good performances in this film, most notably from Smit-McPhee. The character of Jay was awkward and slightly eccentric, and Kodi was perfectly cast for it, filling that role with a confidence belying his relatively young age of 19. Michael Fassbender was also outstanding as the outlaw Silas, a cynical man with a plan who starts out as a cold fish and eventually mellows as the film progresses, developing an unlikely bromance with his younger companion. Mendelsohn’s part as Payne isn’t quite as big as the other two, but he lights up the handful of scenes he features in and that majestic fur coat of his almost deserves a mention of its own. Shoutouts to Pistorius as Rose, she steals the finale with an emotionally powerful performance and the main man Rory McCann as John. He doesn’t have an enormous role, but such is my love for his character in Game of Thrones, it would be sacrilege for me not to mention him and he does do a decent job in a relative cameo role.

The film doesn’t hold back in the violence stakes with plenty of murders occurring, never shirking away from showing blood. Having said that, it’s a rated 15 film and it’s not terribly violent by any means. Still, there is some striking moments in there. One scene in particular involving a desperate mother and father in a store with their young children waiting outside was particularly profound. The ending had a unique way of sequentially panning to every single person killed in the film, which to be honest, I thought was rather cool. Which brings me onto the cinematography. It’s was stunningly shot by Robbie Ryan. There was several beautiful moments, such as that scene I mentioned in the wide, expansive desert and even the sweeping vistas of the Ross’ prairie house at the end where just a delight on the eye.

I really, really enjoyed this film. I went in with zero knowledge of its existence and was pleasantly surprised at the quality. The ensemble performances were for the most part excellent and the story whilst rather simplistic at heart was still very well implemented and there was the obvious underlying thematic elements in regards to the Native American mistreatment. I can’t really think of any glaring negatives in there and would have no problems recommending it.

Rating: 3.5/5