Tag Archives: James McAvoy

Split (2016)

I wasn’t as down on the Shamhammer as some others were after his string of well-publicized debacles, from Lady in the Water to The Last Assbender to After Earth. On the other hand, I wasn’t has high as some others have been about his so-called comeback movie from 2015, The Visit. So I guess my expectations were cancelled out for his latest effort, Split.

As the title suggests, the film is about a crazy dude with dissociative identity disorder (played by the brilliant James McAvoy), who kidnaps three teenage girls (Anya Taylor-Joy from The Witch and Morgan, Haley Lu Richardson, and Jessica Sula) to a strange and unknown location somewhere. Much of the movie is about figuring out just what this guy is doing and what he wants as he shifts between 23 different personalities, each with its own name and traits. Critical to the storyline is his therapist, played by veteran actress Betty Buckley.

The first thing I will say about Split is that it’s very well-made for a low-budget film (US$9 million), once again demonstrating Shyamalan’s skills as both a writer and director. His ability to create tension and a sense of claustrophobia is as good as it’s ever been, and what I enjoyed most about the movie was the feeling that I had no idea what would happen next. And most of the time, the plot was indeed very hard to predict. You always look for a “twist” in Shyamalan movies, and I must say I quite liked what he had in store for us this time, even though it is more of a “reveal” than a twist per se.

The strengths of Shyamalan’s script and direction are anchored by three excellent performances. Of course, James McAvoy is absolutely astounding, pulling off each of his personalities with enough differences — subtle or otherwise — to tell them apart easily. At times he’s creepy or funny or brutal or pathetic or dangerous — and the fun lies in never knowing what you’re going to get.

Anya Taylor-Joy has been on my watch list ever since The Witch, and again she’s mesmerizing as the outsider Casey. There is just something about her eyes and expressions that add an air of mystery and vulnerability to her character. She’s going to be a star for years to come. And Betty Buckley is really a standout too as the therapist who has certain beliefs about dissociative identity disorder that become pertinent to the story.

Unfortunately, there were also a few things about Split that I didn’t like. As solid as the script was, there were still snippets of dialogue that came across as too contrived, conjuring up memories of Shamhammer at his pretentious worst. The film was also far too long at 117 minutes and felt that way towards the end. A compact 90-100 minutes would have made the film a lot tighter and more effective. And lastly, I wasn’t a fan of how the essential torture of these girls was sexualized. If it was merely to add tension, I would be okay with it, but I felt a lot of it was gratuitous.

In all, thanks to an interesting premise, well-crafted suspense, strong performances and a climax that doesn’t ruin the entire film, Split is good enough to be regarded as one of the better thrillers of the year. I wouldn’t put it anywhere near Shyamalan’s earliest films such as The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, but Split could very well be his best effort since The Village from 2004.

3.75 stars out of 5

PS: There’s a pretty cool scene at the very end of the film right after the credits start, so make sure you stay around for that. It’s a nice little surprise.

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)

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X-Men: Apocalypse is Fox’s answer to Warner Bros’ Batman v Superman and Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War. Like those blockbusters, it’s also an action- and effects-packed event film stacked with superheroes, stars and extremely high stakes. I loved First Class and Days of Future Past, the first two films in the McAvoy-Fassbender reboot, and so I was really looking forward to Apocalypse, with the brilliant Oscar Isaac as the titular mutant villain with powers unlike anything we’ve seen before.

But for whatever reason, the hype surrounding Apocalpyse just prior to its release has been surprisingly subdued. It might be that audiences are finally starting to suffer from superhero fatigue, or perhaps it’s the lukewarm early reviews it has received from some critics. There are claims that it’s boring, underwhelming and lacks logic, and I’ve even come across accusations of Jennifer Lawrence phoning it in with her performance as shapeshifter Mystique.

Well, I have no idea what all these critics are talking about, because I just watched it and thought it was awesome. I don’t know if it’s because of lowered expectations, but Apocalypse was nearly everything I had hoped it would be. Amazing cast, solid action, just enough drama and humour, and a fantastic villain worthy of the film’s title. It’s almost as though I watched a different version of the movie.

The plot is of course very simple. Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), possibly the most badass mutant in history, awakes from his slumber in the 1980s and decides to…er…bring about the apocalypse on Earth. But first he goes about landing his Four Horsemen, and you’ll know who they are if you’ve seen the posters and/or trailer. I know what you’re thinking — why would someone as powerful as Apocalpyse even need minions? The film doesn’t spell it out, but I thought the reason was obvious.

Who can stop him? The X-Men, of course. Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) is now running his school for gifted kids like it’s Hogwarts, with Hank McCoy, aka Beast (Nicholas Hoult), by his side. Meanwhile, Mystique, kind of a hero among mutants since the events of Days of Future Past, is still out there doing her thing, while antihero Erik Lennsher, aka Magneto (Michael Fassbender), has moved on with his life.

The film also introduces (in some cases re-introduces) us to younger versions of familiar names, like Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Angel (Ben Hardy) and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Also returning to reprise their roles are Rose Byrne as Moira MacTaggert and Evan Peters as Quicksilver. Additionally, there’s a nice little extended cameo that’s unfortunately been spoiled by the final trailer.

First of all, I want to discuss the character  of Apocalypse. Yes, he is cliched in that he’s an all-powerful villain hell bent on destroying the world for some reason. But honestly, with a name like that, what else could he have been without diverting too far from the comics? If you accept that the constraints of the character are unavoidable, everything else about him is awesome.

For all the negativity of when the photos of Apocalpyse were “leaked” more than a year ago, I thought he actually looked pretty good for a blue skinned villain. I’m glad they went the prosthetics route rather than CGI, giving him a sense of realism the character badly needed. The voice, added and modified in post-production, is also really cool (it’s hard to explain, just have to listen for yourself).

Apocalpyse’s assortment of powers is also impressive, and we at least get to know why he is as powerful as he is. I think the film gets it right in terms of just how powerful and invincible he is. He needs to be powerful enough to be intimidating and more formidable than anything we’ve seen in the past, but not so omnipotent that it becomes silly or ridiculous in the sense that the good guys still have to be able to stop him somehow in the end.

And what really elevates Apocalypse above just another cliched villain is the marvellous performance of Oscar Isaac. Despite being covered head to toe in heavy make-up and prosthetics, he carries the character with the right amount of menace, persuasiveness and god-like mentality. I’m sure the character would have been much less convincing without an actor of Isaac’s calibre and gravitas.

As for the other performances, first prize goes to Assbender. This dude always brings it, and once again he makes Magneto the most interesting character in the X-Men universe. He was bending asses left and right like he was bending metal. As with other X-Men films, it’s an ensemble cast with no real main lead, but in this one Magneto provides the emotional core in the same way Mystique did in Days of Future Past. His counterpart, McAvoy, also brought it as Professor X, and I was glad to see him contribute to some of the lighter moments of the movie, especially in his interactions with Rose Byrne. And I also found no fault with Jennifer Lawrence whatsoever. Sure, she’s not going to be winning any Oscars as Mystique, but I really couldn’t tell why her performance justified complaint. She wasn’t even in her blue makeup very much in this one. Take away her flatter delivery on a couple of the cheesier lines and she’s as good as she’s always been in this franchise.

Kudos to the kids who play the younger versions of Cyclops, Jean Grey and Nightcrawler too. Cyclops has always drawn the short straw in these X-Men movies, so it’s good to finally see him get a bit of an origins story and a much-needed personality. I’ve always thought of Tye Sheridan as a potential star, and hopefully he can continue as the future leader of the X-Men if they continue to make further entries in this franchise. Sophie Turner has a pivotal role as Jean Grey and she seems to have brought that Sansa Stark vulnerability and hidden strength along with her to this role. Kodi Smit-McPhee is also a standout, making Nightcrawler one of the most likable characters in the movie.

The one who steals the show again is Evan Peter’s Quicksilver, who has another fantastic super-speed sequence and delivers the best comic relief in the same way that Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) did in Civil War. Speaking of Civil WarApocalypse also does a similarly good job of spreading the love between the characters so that everyone gets enough screen time and their own chance to shine. Ensemble movies like these are like giant puzzles with lots of moving pieces, and director Bryan Singer nails the complex task impressively.

Having said that, Apocalypse is by no means a perfect movie. While Apocalypse may have reasonable motives for his actions, it’s not as apparent with his Four Horsemen. Other than Magneto, their reasons for following a villain determined to destroy the world are rather weak, especially Psylocke (Olivia Munn), who looks great in her skimpy outfit but doesn’t get to do a whole lot to develop her character. In fact, we have almost no idea who she is or what she’s about.

The action sequences as a whole are fine, though I felt the fight scenes could have been a little more creative. Nonetheless, it’s still better than what we got in Batman v Superman. The climatic battle at the end is long and well-executed. While it’s not in the same league as Civil War’s “airport scene”, it does make good use of the characters and their respective powers. Unfortunately, I did find all the destruction a little numbing and lacking in spectacle. If you’ve seen the planet get annihilated once, you seen it thousand times, and in this regard Apocalypse does not offer any new intrigue or perspective. One reason could be because we hardly even see any humans in the movie. Although we’re talking about the end of the whole world, the stakes appear to only involve the mutants, and all the human deaths (and there are a lot of them) aren’t made to feel like they matter at all.

The special effects are generally good enough, though there are some moments — particular the wide angle shots of landscapes from afar — look too CGI-ish. I also wasn’t a fan of the video-game quality of the opening sequence.

I also thought the movie had a good dose of comedy — many tongue-in-cheek and self-referential — notwithstanding some very heavy scenes, but I felt some of the transitions between the different tones could have been smoother.

Lastly, the 144-minute running time is long, but the storytelling is tight enough to not make the film drag. Could it have been shorter? Of course. But it’s not a huge problem because the pacing is sound and the narrative isn’t all over the place like that other superhero movie released earlier this year (cough, BvS, cough).

In all, X-Men: Apocalypse is a really enjoyable and satisfying experience that should set the blueprint for Marvel’s Infinity Wars in that it will also be about a bunch of superheroes with different powers teaming up to take on a single supervillain (ie, Thanos). I’ll have to watch First Class and Days of Future Past again, but at the moment I would rank Apocalypse just behind those two, which from memory had stronger plots, more of a “wow” factor and the advantage of freshness. However, in the scheme of all X-Men movies (there are nine if you include Deadpool and two Wolverine movies), Apocalypse is definitely in the top 5 for me, possibly even higher.

4 stars out of 5

PS: There is a post-credits scene, but without any knowledge of the comics it doesn’t really mean anything to me.

Victor Frankenstein (2015)

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I’m not ordinarily a fan of re-imaginings of fairytale, historic events/figures or classic tales, but I was willing to give Victor Frankenstein a shot because it comes across as more like a fresh take using a different perspective as opposed to a complete butchering.

That perspective is Igor (Daniel Radcliffe), a former circus freak with a talent for science who ends up becoming the assistant of the titular mad scientist (Jamed McAvoy). The story is told through Igor’s eyes, and the focus of the film revolves around his relationship with his saviour and tormentor. The subplots include a love interest (Jessica Brown Findlay) and a police inspector (Andrew Scott) on their tail.

I’ve heard people say that the film, directed by Paul McGuigan (best known for TV work), tries to do to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein what Guy Ritchie did for Sherlock Holmes — a cooler, hipper, livelier version with a more postmodern feel. It’s an assessment I agree with, as Victor Frankenstein does have a similar look and vibe. The people and their surroundings all have that same grit and energy, and while Ritchie’s Holmes comes across as more action-adventure than mystery suspense thriller, the overall atmosphere of Victor Frankenstein is one that suggests more gothic fable than pure horror.

The result for me is a mixed bag. I’ll probably always love the Frankenstein story no matter how it is told, and I really bought into the relationship between the two central characters thanks to the stellar performances of Radcliffe and McAvoy. One is sympathetic and torn between loyalty and what he knows is wrong, while the other’s bipolar personality makes him a great anti-hero and villain. Though not quite Sherlock and Watson, I enjoyed their chemistry and shared their sense of wonder as they went about their morbid experiments.

On the other hand, despite the best of efforts, Victor Frankenstein never fully “comes to life”, so to speak. There were several nice surprises early on and some well-executed sequences along the way, though I ever felt any genuine fear from the horror nor thrills from the action. I wouldn’t go as far as to call it dull, but the experience definitely left me wanting more. It felt as though the start had set up a lot of enticing new possibilities, though as the story progressed towards the inevitable, everything starts veering in the direction of the predictable and mundane. The climax — and you probably have a good idea of what it is — as well as the ending can only be described as disappointing.

On the whole, Victor Frankenstein is a commendable effort but ultimately a forgettable affair amid the many Frankenstein adaptations to date. While there are elements that worked well, such as using Igor’s point of view and the chemistry between Radcliffe and McAvoy, there simply wasn’t enough imagination — especially in the second half — to breathe new life into the oft-told tale. Having said that, I’m still a sucker for Frankenstein and I enjoyed the movie for what it’s worth — solid entertainment with sufficient dashes of intrigue, drama, suspense, and the macabre. While it is by no means a great movie, it is far better than what its box office returns (US$34 million against a budget of US$40 million) and Rotten Tomatoes score (26%) suggests.

3 stars out of 5

2013 Movie Blitz: Part IX

This is the last one. Seriously. The best and worst of 2013 coming right up after this!

The Family (2013)

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Robert De Niro may be a legend, but his career choices are inching closer and closer to Nicholas Cage territory with every mediocre film he decides to star in. The Family, on its face, should not have fallen into that category, as it’s directed by legendary Frenchman Luc Besson and features an all-star cast including Michelle Pfeiffer, Tommy Lee Jones and Glee‘s Dianna Agron. But somehow, this uneven, largely unfunny black comedy manages to turn itself into a mess that De Niro will likely want to pretend never existed.

De Niro plays Giovanni Manzoni, Mafia boss who turns to snitching after an attempt on his life. So together with his wife (Pfeiffer) and two kids (Agron and John D’Leo), they relocate to France under a witness protection program under the supervision of FBI agent Stansfield (Jones).

It’s an interesting premise brimming with potential. The central joke is that, as a Mafia family, they can’t be normal even if they tried. They’re scheming sociopaths and borderline psychopaths who just can’t play along and pretend to be a normal family. De Niro can’t stop killing people who offend him; Pfeiffer loves burning stuff down; Agron has a violent streak in her; and D’Leo is a scheming weasel who is the ultimate reconnaissance expert.

There are several key problems with The Family. The first is that Besson never gets the tone quite right. It’s a very dark comedy accompanied by over-the-top violence, but the violence itself is not funny like it is for a film like say Pulp Fiction or Fargo. It felt like the violence never found its role properly.

Secondly, all the central characters are just a little off, and as a result they don’t come across as likable. And it’s hard to root for them when you don’t like them very much. But you can tell Besson is trying to make them likable, which is why it was so strange watching them on screen.

And thirdly, and very strangely, Besson makes French people look like complete a-holes. I understand it was necessary to some extent so that the family can rain their vengeance upon them, but in my opinion it felt obligatory and unnecessary. I know the French are supposed to dislike Americans and vice versa, but this was too much. And they all spoke surprisingly good English too.

In the end I just couldn’t bring myself to like this one. Despite the strong cast, legendary director and best of intentions, The Family is a top-grade disappointment.

2 stars out of 5

Welcome to the Punch (2013)

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First of all, Welcome to the Punch is a really horrible title for this movie. It makes it sound like an action comedy, when in fact it is a gritty action thriller. But apart from that, it’s actually not a bad British cops and robbers flick with some solid performances, stylish action sequences and a few interesting twists and turns.

James McAvoy is Max Lewinsky, a headstrong London cop determined to catch Icelandic criminal Jacob Sternwood (Mark Strong), who has surfaced after his son was involved in a heist gone wrong. It’s a complicated case that has been a major headache for the police, and so Lewinsky and his partner Sarah Hawks (Andrea Riseborough) are frequently met with internal opposition — opposition that might be intended to impede their progress, and the only person they appear to have in their corner is their superior, Thomas Geiger (The Walking Dead‘s David Morrisey).

What follows is an intriguing game of cat and mouse that features a lot of well executed gunfights. The plot is a little convoluted for my liking, and I admit McAvoy’s protagonist is somewhat douchey, but on the whole I enjoyed the friend-or-foe dynamic between him and the intense and charismatic Strong, whom I believe has a dominating’s screen presence that is second to none.

Welcome to the Punch is not a superior thriller, but it’s a damn serviceable one that can be quite enjoyable if you go in with moderate expectations. Recommended DVD rental.

3.5 stars 

Devil’s Knot (2013)

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I’m always intrigued by Canadian director Atom Egoyan’s take on grief and loss, and so I was somewhat disappointed to hear lukewarm reviews for Devil’s Knot, a dramatization of the true story of the notorious West Memphis Three. Well guess what, I ended up being riveted by the movie from start to finish, so much so that I went on to devour all four documentaries made on the subject — Paradise Lost and its two sequels, and last year’s West of Memphis, made by Lord of the Rings maestro Peter Jackson and wife Fran Walsh.

The true story, for those unfamiliar, takes place in 1993 and begins when three young boys in West Memphis disappear one afternoon and are later found dead, naked, tied up and mutilated. Given that hysteria surrounding Satanic worship was at a peak, it came as no surprise that police targeted local “white trash” teenage outcast Damien Echols and his two friends, Jason Baldwin and Jesse Misskelley — the trio that would later be known as the West Memphis Three.

The evidence against them is supposedly strong (Misskelley, who is borderline retarded, confesses), and the penalty is potentially death. This leads anti-capital punishment advocate and private investigator Ron Lax (Colin Firth) to lend his services to the overwhelmed defense team. Lax starts out only wanting to prevent the boys from being executed, but the more he digs, the more he becomes convinced that the teens are innocent. On the other hand, Pamela Hobbs (a frumpy Reese Witherspoon, who was pregnant at time of filming), the mother of one of the victims, struggles to deal with her son’s death and the subsequent media circus.

Putting aside the merits of the film, Devil’s Knot is one of those films that’s inherently compulsive to watch simply because of the subject matter. It’s a true story that’s stranger than fiction, complete with a long list of potential suspects, intriguing characters, bizarre pieces of evidence and mass hysteria. The police witch hunt and incompetence is undeniable. And yet, at the end of the day, there are no definitive answers, only suspicions.

I suppose that is why critics were harsh on the film, with many calling it a “frustrating” experience because of the lack of a genuine resolution. I do agree with that to some point, but at the same time it does point us in a certain direction and asks us to draw our own conclusions as to the guilt of the West Memphis Three and the “alternate” suspects. Maybe that was the point Egoyan was trying to get across — that is, this is perhaps a mystery we’ll never truly get to the bottom of, and many true crime stories of immense loss fall in the same category.

For me, this was fantastic filmmaking, backed up by excellent performances. The initial pain and devastating felt real. The subsequent anger and thirst for revenge felt real. And that feeling when everything you thought to be true is turned upside down was expertly delivered. My main complaint about it is how abruptly it ends and how it required a long slab of writing onscreen to explain an aftermath that would extend for another 18 years.

Now having seen all the documentaries, I sort of understand why critics say Devil’s Knot did not provide any new insight and really had nothing to add. I don’t agree. While the film only captures a fraction of all there is to tell, and dramatizes scenes that are already captured in the documentaries, I still think there is something to be gained from the viewing experience. It’s a different medium with a different style, and as a result the emotional impact is also completely different. Perhaps my opinion would be different had I watched the documentaries first, but since I did not, and did not know how things turned out in the end, I found Devil’s Knot to be one of the most haunting and engrossing films of the year. I’d definitely recommend it for people who haven’t seen the documentaries and know little of the true story.

4 stars out of 5

Homefront (2013)

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Feels like we’ve seen it all before, but what the heck. A bit more ass-kicking from  Jason Statham is rarely ever a bad thing.

In Homefront, Statham plays an undercover DEA agent who relocates to a country town with his young daughter after his cover is blown. And guess what? the place is running amok with the rednecks and hillbillies, who present themselves as perfect fodder for Statham to beat the crap out of them.

But wait, there’s more. After a run in with a hillbilly woman played by Kate Bosworth and her fat bully son, Statham becomes embroiled in an increasingly dangerous dispute with her brother and local meth kingpin, James Franco. Yes, James Franco!

From there it’s all very predictable. A lot of danger and a lot of ass kicking. It’s a fairly run-of-the-mill action thriller that reminds me of those low-budget 80s classics, though I must say I enjoyed it somewhat on a pure entertainment level. If you want to see Franco get the shit kicked out of him then this is the movie for you. The story is actually based on a book that has been adapted into a screenplay by none other than Sylvester Stallone, so you know it’s overcharged with masculinity and macho dialogue. And of course, realism is not a priority.

I was also surprised by the cast. Apart from Statham, Bosworth and Franco, there was also Winona Ryder in a strange role as Franco’s ex-girlfriend, and everybody’s favourite prison guard from Shawshank, Clancy Brown, playing the local sheriff.

The trailers made Homefront look much more A-grade and intriguing than it really is. I’m not saying it’s bad — as I said I rather enjoyed it — though ultimately it is one of those forgettable films that don’t really matter, and without its all-star cast, it’s hard to see how this film could have gotten a cinematic release.

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Trance (2013)

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I had heard lots of amazing things about Danny Boyle’s latest film, Trance, months before it hit my local cinema. Judging from the title, I suspected it was about hypnotism, a subject that feels strangely under-targeted by Hollywood, though I wasn’t sure that’s what it was about because I avoided the trailers religiously.

Well, I was right about the hypnotism slant, though I must admit I was a little disappointed in the end despite everything Trance had to offer, most probably because I had been expecting too much after just everyone called the film “amazing.”

James McAvoy plays a guy called Simon, who works as security at auctions for high-priced artworks. A robbery, naturally, takes place, and Simon is forced by the robbers (headed by Mr Monica Bellucci, Vincent Cassel) to work with a hypnotist played by Rosario Dawson to retrieve his memory. It sounds simple enough, but as you would expect, Trance is full of twists and turns that will keep the audience guessing. What is real? Who is manipulating? Who is being manipulated? Just what the heck is really going on?

The mystery is the driving force of the film and kept me fascinated for the perfect 101-minute running time, but the revelations that are slowly delivered to the viewer, piece by piece, didn’t “wow” me as much as I thought they would. It was clever but not that clever — at least not clever enough to the point that it would astonish most viewers (or at least I think).  There was ambiguity to allow interpretation but the room for the imagination to roam was more limited than films like say Inception or Shutter Island.

That said, the film was still exciting (especially the first half — it began to sag in the second act), intriguing because of its subject matter, and powered by excellent performances from a strong cast. I wouldn’t have paired McAvoy with Dawson myself, but the casting somehow worked. And Cassell is of course excellent as a sleazy criminal, the kind of role he could play with minimal effort. I would have liked to have cared more for the characters, especially McAvoy’s and Dawson’s, but I suppose that is more the fault of the script than the actors.

Danny Boyle’s stylish direction and a ripping soundtrack also elevate Trance above your average psychological (not to mention sexually charged) thriller, but it falls short of becoming a classic or even one of the more memorable films of the genre in recent years.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: X-Men: First Class (2011)

If X-Men Origins: Wolverine was economy, the X-Men Trilogy was business, then X-Men: First Class was definitely….first class.

That was lame, but X-Men: First Class really is one of the best superhero origin/reboot movies I’ve seen. And I’m not even that big a fan of the X-Men in general. Actually, simply put, it’s one of the best films I’ve seen this year.

First Class takes us way back to the very beginning, when Magneto was just Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) and Professor X was just Charles Xavier (James McAvoy). Even though we know who they will ultimately become, it was still a blast seeing them develop from children into adults, adults into best friends, and best friends into mortal enemies. And all of it takes place during (alternate) versions of real historic events, such as the Holocaust and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Although it’s a long movie at 132 minutes, First Class is an incredibly tight film that fits in not only the life stories of both Magneto and Professor X, but also features the back stories of a bunch of other key characters (such as Mystique and Beast), some of whom appeared in the X-Men Trilogy, others laying the foundations for future characters (though you probably need to watch carefully or do a bit of post-film research, like I did, to understand the connections — as well as the inconsistencies).

There are also many allusions to future events and several delicious cameos that fans of the previous films and of the franchise in general will lap up.

Everything about First Class, whether it’s the drama, the action, the make-up, the special effects, the pacing or the character development, is handled very well by director Matthew Vaughn (Stardust, Kickass), but what elevated the film beyond anything I could have expected were the performances of the stars, in particular Fassbender, McAvoy and Kevin Bacon as Sebastian Shaw. These three superb actors brought their difficult characters to life and proved that good actors do make a huge difference, even in superhero movies.

Apparently, First Class is just the first of a new trilogy and the next two films are currently in development. No matter what they do, I just hope they can keep Fassbender and McAvoy and maintain this level of excellence. Considering how high they’ve set the bar, that’s not going to be easy.

4.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Gnomeo & Juliet (2011)

William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is an all-time classic.  Animated garden gnomes are deliciously cute.  Elton John’s music is sensational.  James McAvoy and Emily Blunt are both likable Brits.  But the culmination of all of these things, Gnomeo & Juliet, is one of the worst animated films I’ve ever seen.  And it’s in pointless 3D.

I had reasonable expectations for this one for the above reasons, and the fact that the promotional campaign made it look like a fun, funny, musical spectacular with an all-star voice cast (including, apart from McAvoy and Blunt, Jason Statham, Stephen Merchant, Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Ozzy Osbourne, Patrick Stewart and Hulk Hogan!).

But somehow, Gnomeo & Juliet turned out to be painfully unfunny and entirely uninspiring.  How could this be possible?  The garden gnome jokes were essentially exhausted in the first few minutes, and the rest of it was repetitive and unclever.  Yes, the garden gnomes were cute, but that alone wasn’t enough to carry the film.  I actually had a couple of micro naps during the film, which has not happened since Van Helsing.

Worse still, Elton John’s music was criminally underused.  How they managed to screw up something with so much potential is beyond me.

The worse part is probably the lack of heart.  I wasn’t moved at all by the story or the characters.  Disney/Pixar/Dreamworks are light years ahead when it comes to creating a cartoon that connects with audiences.

And yes, once again the 3D served no purpose other than to rip people off.

1.5 stars out of 5