TBT – Prometheus (2012)

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I’m going to be honest, as much as I’ve defended Prometheus to people it’s a film that I had, until very recently, only watched once and that was just after it was released on DVD. Yes, I didn’t even watch it in the cinema. That, obviously, hasn’t stopped me feeling qualified to defend it and, if there’s one thing you can be absolutely sure of about me by now, I won’t back down in an argument regardless of how much I know/remember about a topic. Especially if I think I’m morally superior. And, when it comes to Prometheus, I am definitely on the moral high ground. A lot of people I know have unduly criticised this film because it wasn’t what they were expecting. It’s a similar situation to the time I nearly ruined an old friendship because of the film Hugo: they hated it because they thought it was going to be a kid’s adventure instead of a love-story to cinema. People were so desperate for another Alien that anything else was bound to be torn apart. It’s nonsense. Ridley Scott always made his intentions for the film super clear and warned audiences not to go in with any stupid expectations. Is it the film’s fault if they didn’t listen and just wanted another Sigourney Weaver type killed massive black alien creatures? No. Look, I’m not a stubborn monster who isn’t willing to listen to people’s reasoned arguments about why it’s a terrible film. I myself think it has a few major issues. However, if you’re only going to negatively compare it to one of the best films of all time… well, let’s just say, in my head nobody can hear you moan.

Prometheus had a lot to live up to when it was first released. It was Ridley Scott’s return to the Alien franchise and it was our chance to finally understand more about the history of the alien corpse that the crew of the Nostromo discovered in the first film. It promised to set us on a path that would answer a lot of questions that have been raised over the years. Strictly speaking, it isn’t a prequel but a film that is related to the later films whilst being a story in its own right. It exists in the same universe but don’t expect too many moments of face-hugging or chest-bursting. Especially after Damon Lindelof got his hands on the first draft and erased as many Alien-isms as possible. Prometheus, as the name would suggests, deals with humanity’s relationship with their creators. Prometheus was the Titan who went against the wishes of the Gods and gave mankind fire. For that act of treason, he was banished and punished by the Gods. He gave humanity fire and was then forced to have birds eat his liver every day for eternity. So, if there’s one thing that the crew of the Prometheus ship should know, you don’t fuck with your God/Gods.
Regardless, the crew set out on a journey to discover where they came from. After discovering various cave paintings depicting mankind worshipping God-like figures and a mysterious star chart. They decide to follow the map and track the beings, who they dub The Engineers, to the distant moon LV-223. After receiving funding from the Weyland Corporation, Dr Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Dr Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) lead the mission to try and find the creatures they believe created mankind. They are, naturally, joined by a whole host of staple sci-fi supporting characters. The gruff and distant Commander (Charlize Theron), the laid back but dependable Captain (Idris Elba) and the naive biologist and clearly destined to be the first to die (Rafe Spall).
Most importantly, in terms of both plot and scene stealing, is the mega creepy android, David (Michael Fassbender). He was created to be as human-like as possible and is more than capable of feeling those pesky emotions that most robotic creatures tend to avoid. It clearly spells trouble and, despite everyone else being unable to see it, David obviously has his own secret agenda. Fassbender is the breakout star of the show and brings a new level of fucking creepy to androids. Everything about the performance works to make David seem more inhuman and uncanny. It’s amazing. 
Less outstanding are the rest of the performances. I’m afraid, no matter how much I love her, I never really got behind Noomi Rapace in this role. She never quite sells the character or her relationship with fellow scientist Dr Holloway. I realise that we’re trying to avoid comparing this with its predecessors but, when you’re part of the franchise that invented badass, sci-fi women, Prometheus needed Dr Shaw to really pack a punch. She doesn’t. Equally, Charlize Theron is kind of thrust into a underwhelming role where she has little to do other than (SPOILER) die in the most unnecessary way possible, What is it with people not being able to run away from something properly? She and Rickon need to start a club. 
Anyway, that’s not to say that Prometheus doesn’t have some good moments. It’s not that the characters are completely underwhelming, it’s just that they don’t feel as developed as they need to be. And that’s not to say that we needed hours of background and context for them. We know basically fuck all about the crew of the Nostromo in Alien but they felt more like cohesive characters than a lot of these ones. The only one who comes close to Fassbender is Idris Elba’s captain but even he can only do so much with so little. Prometheus falls down under the weight of it’s own expectations. It wanted to do so much that the important details suffered. It was great that Ridley Scott wanted to explore the background of this universe and go a little existential. However, it was huge task. Somewhere along the way it became too much. 
The narrative shows promise but has so many twists, turns and unanswered questions that it feels a little shoddy. Now, I did like the open ending and the secrets that were left unrevealed but it still felt like it wasn’t enough. There is too much predictability at play here and a lot of the dialogue is just awful. There’s so much going on and it never feels like it all forms one major plot. It’s too fragmented and separate. There needed to be more clarity. The big action and horror set-pieces are great but, even with these bursts of excitement, there is no real momentum to this film. It doesn’t feel like it’s moving anywhere and it’s easy to get distracted along the way. It wastes more time on myths and legends that don’t matter than in answering the questions we wanted answers to. It’s still watchable, though. Of course, that is mostly down the fantastic design and Fassbender’s haunting performance. Ridley Scott can still pull some great sci-fi moments out of his hat but this film needed a much stronger script. I commend the idea of what this film should have been but Prometheus could never have achieved everything it set out to be… so it didn’t.

Tuesday’s Reviews – Alien: Covenant (2017)

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Before I started writing this review I decided it was time to remind myself of Ridley Scott’s first prequel to Alien. I feel like I’m always having to defend Prometheus from people who thought it was a disappointing addition to the franchise. When I looked at the reviews I was shocked to see that a lot of critics gave the film moderate praise. I mean, yes, that praise was mostly for the aesthetic appeal and Michael Fassbender’s performance but I was under the impression that it had received more of a negative response. I, personally, didn’t mind the film. I knew going in that it wasn’t going to be another wild ride of alien escapes and craziness in space. So I went in with realistic expectations. The people that I know who were most disappointed by it are the ones who expected Ridley Scott to pick up where he left off. Before 2012’s prequel, Scott had only directed the original film in the franchise so there were fans who were hoping he would give us the same treatment that Sigourney Weaver got but a few years earlier. Instead, we went on a journey to discover humanity’s existence and find out where the Alien menace came from. The story wasn’t quite as slick as we were used to and, for the most part, Prometheus gave us more questions than it answered. However, it was still enough to whet our appetite for the prequel’s sequel. Although, there was always the chance that we would get another Attack of the Clones here. I mean nobody expected that to be even more disappointing to fans than Phantom Menace but then Hayden Christensen managed to take shit to a whole new level.

I admire Ridley Scott for making this film. I mean, he was responsible for making one of the single greatest sci-fi films of all time. Hell, I’d happily say that Alien is one of the single greatest films of all time. The last time I watched it I was still scared shitless and I know exactly what’s going to happen at this point. So, he could have bowed out gracefully and let that be his legacy. Instead, he risked pulling a George Lucas and decided to show us the background to a much loved classic. Now, I know a lot of fans weren’t too keen on Prometheus but, if you take away all of your expectations of a film in the franchise, it is actually not that bad a film. There is a great cast and an interesting, if slightly overreaching, narrative. It has fantastic visuals and attempts to solve the mystery surrounding the alien that caused so much grief on the USCSS Nostromo. I enjoyed it and, with every repeat viewing of the Alien: Covenant trailer, I was really looking forward to its sequel.

A sequel which appeared to go out of its way to make connection to both the original Alien and its own sequel Aliens. We are introduced to a colonisation ship, the Covenant, in the midst of its journey to a distant and habitable planet. When an accident causes a few issues, the crew are awoken from hyperspace and discover another habitable planet that is closer to their current location. Now, because the crew have never seen a science-fiction movie before, new Captain Oram (Billy Cruddup) decides it is worth checking out this mysterious, new planet. He goes against the wishes of his second in command, Daniels (Katherine Waterson) for the good of the audience. So we see most of the crew head down to the weird planet whilst a small minority remain to keep things in order.

Unfortunately but not unexpectedly shit starts to go down in typical Alien fashion. The crew starts to be infected by a weird spore that, strangely, causes creatures to burst from their bodies. Hmm, I feel like I’ve heard of that happening before. Luckily, though, David (Michael Fassbender) the creepy android from Prometheus, is on hand to give the crew his new expertise on the creatures. Turns out he became stranded on the planet 10 years earlier and has spent his time alone studying them. The scenes in which he takes Orman through his weird museum of Xenomorph skeletons is super creepy and just amazing.

In terms of plot Alien: Covenant still isn’t exactly as tight as Ridley Scott’s original but it feels as though it is reaching for something within its grasp. It attempts to answer as many of the questions that Prometheus left us with whilst getting closer to the structure of the earlier parts of the franchise. We see glimpses of both Alien and Aliens as the action moves from the wide open spaces of the planet to the confines of the ship. We have the inevitable nods to the very first facehugger and chestburster scenes but with the added gore of CGI. This film certainly pays fan service and will delight for nostalgia alone. However, it may still feel kind of empty to those who are used to this kind of thing. Just as Prometheus was a bigger hit with younger audiences, I believe those unfamiliar with the series will get a bigger kick out of these moments than lifelong fans. That doesn’t mean they aren’t worth a watch of course.

The problem isn’t that Covenant is a bad film; it’s just that it doesn’t feel new enough. People criticised Prometheus for being too dissimilar to anything that had gone before but this is starting to feel like a step back. The cast is great and, I have to say, that Katherine Waterson makes a much more convincing lead for the film than Noomi Rapace did before her. Waterson has more of the Sigourney Weaver feel about her and handles the character well. Michael Fassbender, in the dual role of David and his contemporary Walter, is still on fantastic form and is clearly having a blast making these films. The film, as its predecessor was, is absolutely stunning. However, there is something missing. The first Alien made so much of such a small concept but, since that point, the concept are getting bigger and less terrifying. I get that Scott wants to handle bigger ideas but, if this is to continue, everything needs a bit more clarity.

Tuesday’s Reviews – X-Men: Apocalypse

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Anyone who has been following this blog for long enough knows that I’ve had a long and tortured relationship with the X-Men film franchise. I’ve been a fan of your friendly neighbourhood mutants ever since the amazing 90s cartoon and X-Men Evolution back in early 2000. Then, of course, Bryan Singer brought the gang to the big screen in 2000 with X-Men and its superb sequel. Still, the films that followed never quite managed to achieve the original greatness so I wasn’t exactly loving the prospect of X-Men: Apocalypse. Especially when each of the trailers were such utter shit. Still, a guy at work saw the film when it first came out and insisted that it was worthwhile. He pretty much loves anything he watches so I wasn’t exactly convinced so it took a while to get round to it. So, will Apocalypse fall into the same traps that we saw The Last Stand did?

Before all of the action kicks off in X-Men: Apocalypse a group of teenage mutants sneak out of Professor Xavier’s mansion to watch Return of the Jedi. Upon exiting the film, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) utters the immortal phrase “everyone knows that the third movie is always the worst”. It’s a funny enough line considering the franchise’s history but the question remains about any potential self-awareness hidden underneath the humour. Were Bryan Singer and co. really calling out Brett Ratner for the disastrous The Last Stand (something they erased from the canon thanks the events of Days of Future Past) or were they preparing for the inevitable criticism of the end of their new trilogy?

I mean whatever your interpretation, it doesn’t bode well that the script is already preparing you for a shitty ending. Especially when the opening scene sets you up pretty well. The scene lifts off where the post credits scene of the last film left off. We are in Ancient Egypt and Apocalypse/En Sabah Nur is in the process of transferring his consciousness into the body of Oscar Issac. Unfortunately, before he can bring about the end of the world, the first ever mutant is betrayed by his people and ends up buried under the remains of his own pyramid.

Of course, we all know that’s not where he’ll stay and, thanks to some interference from Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrn), Apocalypse is risen from the dead and takes an instant dislike to the modern world. As the myths dictate he goes about rounding up his four horsemen to aid in his task. Storm (Alexandra Ship), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), Angel (Ben Hardy) and, our old friend, Magneto (Michael Fassbender). Of course, Erik’s return to the world of evil causes concern for his ex-ally Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and he and his mutant students quickly find themselves embroiled in the disaster.

However, there is a lot more to the story than the above summary suggests. The action takes place 10 years after the climax of the last film so there are several old faces to reintroduce alongside all the newbies. The first hour basically consists of little vignettes detailing each character’s new storyline and it takes fucking ages. We see Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) acting as a vigilante in Berlin, Erik settling into a human life complete with wife and daughter in Poland, Alex Summers (Lucas Till) helping his younger brother Scott (Tye Sheridan) come to terms with his powers, and Jean Grey having nightmares about a coming evil. And, really, that’s not even scratching the surface. The film reintroduces us to Quicksilver (Evan Peters) and Beast (Nicholas Hoult); reminds us, as if we could forget, that Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) still exists; and introduces Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), Pyslocke, Angel and Jubilee (Lana Condor).

There are a lot of players in this latest instalment and, because everyone has their own share of baggage, the whole things feels stuffed to bursting. It inevitably means that character plays a secondary role here and most people get little, if any, development. Scott and Jean get some chance to make a connection with the audience but they still don’t get what they deserve considering their history with the audience. Charles, Hank and Moira really get little to do and the rest of the new cast are pretty much just set dressing. I mean what is the point of introducing a villain like Apocalypse and making him so fucking undefined? Seriously, who thought it was a good idea to overload the film so much that there is no real sense of characterisation here?

Instead, the studio have focused on the characters that they believe are most bankable people. That’s why it is Eirk and Mystique who once again have to battle with their inner demons just as they have been doing for the past two films. The Last Stand failed because it was so wildly different to the preceeding films. Apocalypse fails because it’s so fucking similar. We’ve had two films of Erik killing people because his family are killed and Charles trying to convince him of his hidden goodness. We didn’t need another. He’s murdered so many people by this point you’d probably just give up. Then you have Mystique who has gone so far into Katniss territory that it’s embarrassing. I get that J Law can do no wrong but that doesn’t mean I need a 2.5 hour film of her making trite, inspirational speeches. It’s another Hollywood cliche at this point.

The film makers have got Apocalypse all wrong. X-Men hasn’t succeeded on spectacle or grandeur. It works well when there is depth and emotion. It works because we get to know the characters and appreciate their struggles. This film has more in common with Zack fucking Snyder that it does with its own franchise. At its climax the film just descends into the same wanton destruction that has become such a staple of the modern superhero film. Thanks to a kickstart to his powers, Magneto finds that he can manipulate the metal deep in the Earth and pretty much destroy everything in existence. He tears down buildings and ships thousands of miles away. Masses of unnamed people must be killed in this epic finale but its all so low-key. There are no consequences, no drama, It’s all just action.

I have to admit that I didn’t hate this film as much as I thought and I think there is great potential within the new cast for some future movies. However, I think this went too far. There was so much going on that there was no room to develop the main story. The film isn’t that long when compared to many recent releases but it felt neverending. It’s difficult having to compete with films like The Avengers where so many familiar faces are pushed together and make millions in the box office. Fox clearly just pushed things too far and the film-makers couldn’t handle it. The story isn’t all that interesting when you get down to it and the villains are just pathetic. We don’t even know anything about Apocalypse. What are his powers? What motivates him? Why does he pick the mutant he does? We don’t fucking know because there was no time.

Fans applauded Singer when he retrospectively altered the timeline and got rid of everything that happened in The Last Stand. He wiped the slate clean and did what fans have been doing ever since 2006: forgetting it ever existed. It’s just a shame, then, that he went and fucked it up by doing another shit third film. It’s by no means as bad as Ratner’s contribution but there is so much that needed to be defined and tweaked by this film. There are too many dinner party guests and not enough chairs or plates. Unfortunately, it’s also the audience that is going hungry.

Tuesday’s Reviews – Macbeth (2015)

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April 23rd is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and the literary world is, quite rightly, embracing the bard completely. As he’s already one of things we in the UK are most proud of, Shakespeare fever has reached critical levels and its difficult not to get swept along in the tide. The bookshop I have to pass on my way to work has a fantastic display showcasing the William’s own works and every book they stock that relates to him. It’s making me want to spend all my money and, as you may have read on Sunday, already has caused a few unplanned purchases. So I decided to take this further and spend the week running up to the big day celebrating all things Shakespeare. Starting by watching a film I’ve wanted to watch for ages. Well, there couldn’t possibly be a better time.
I think Macbeth was the first Shakespeare play that I ever really studied. I was in Year 8 I think so about 12/13. Now I’m not saying it was in depth analysis but we studied the 3 witches scene in pretty good detail. I think it was a good decision because I was introduced to the Bard at a young age and with a scene that was pretty interesting and exciting. Had we started with Romeo and Juliet or King Lear then I definitely would have had negative connotations of his plays when I properly started studying his work. I’ll always remember reciting those lines in class and really loving the dark and weird situation. I enjoyed studying it and will always remember that feeling of wanting to study him. Now I’ve gone through university and my love of Shakespeare has grown.

I’ve also been shown that a lot of his plays are incredibly lame in comparison. After reading many of the dire comedies and romances I’ve come to really appreciate Macbeth even more. It’s not necessarily the best play but it does have a lot of stuff to enjoy. Macbeth isn’t the greatest dramatic character but his story provides a great deal of interesting stuff. We have witches, ghosts, murder and war. Who wants A Midsummer Night’s Dream when you have all that? A fucking idiot that’s what. So when I found out that Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard were to play the husband and wife at the heart of the play I couldn’t wait to see it. Even if I was slightly worried on the accent front.

By this point most people are familiar with the story behind the play. It is the story of a man driven to extremes by his ambition for power and the need to hold on to that power. Macbeth (Michael Fassbender) is the heroic warrior who, along with his friend Banquo (Paddy Considine) meet with three strange women who tell them prophesies about their future. Macbeth is given the promise of the throne whilst Banquo is told he will be the father of kings. This brief meeting kick-starts a series of murderous events. When his wife (Marion Cotillard) hears of the prophesy she convinces Macbeth to kill King Duncan (David Thewlis) to inherit the crown. The guilt and shame of the act along with the paranoia about losing his title leads the couple down a dark path where more blood is shed.

Above all else, Macbeth is a visually stunning film. Shot in the highlands, Kurzel embraces the raw and muddy setting with help from cinematographer Adam Arkapaw.  Director Justin Kurzel has brought a distinctive style to the Bard’s supernatural tragedy and the whole thing ends up feeling a little like a Scandi-drama set amongst the rolling hills of the highlands. It’s all very dark and brooding. In fact I don’t think I’ve seen such a serious adaptation of the play. The batttle sequences are beautifully shot and edited and, thanks to some delicately used slow motion, are incredibly dramatic. It’s a very big and cinematic adaptation of the play and will always be able to draw you in with its aesthetics.

In terms of the script, Macbeth offers a very simplified version of Shakespeare’s originals. There is a lot of editing that is bound to infuriate purists and scholars. Less emphasis is placed on the characters interacting than on the backdrop, which is not necessarily a bad thing in this case. Kurzel prefers to stay away from dialogue heavy scenes and instead focus on the characters at hand. Rather than complicate the narrative any more than it needs to be, there has been some attempt to find the human element of the play. It is an exploration of the characters of Lord and Lady Macbeth and the grief that is weighing them both down.

The film opens, against Shakespeare’s own vision, with the funeral of the pairs young child. It is this, Kurzel tries to drive home to us, that inspires much of the action that follows. What we see, he tries to tell us, is not two people blinded by the promise of power but a couple are trying to fill the huge void in their lives. Their eventual descent into despair and madness is given a more human layer than many adaptations that have gone before. Something that is only helped by the incredibly performances from the two leads. Fassbender is exquisite as the warrior Macbeth and, when he later succumbs to despair, offers a delicate and quiet performance of a man who is a shadow of former self. Although, this is, without question, Marion Cotillard’s film. She is both quiet and intense with makes her seem even more dangerous. Cotillard has the ability to offer an insane amount of drama with only a look that she brings something menacing but damaged to the role.

Macbeth is by no means the most faithful adaptation nor does it help reinvent the text in a dramatic way. However, it is worth a viewing thanks to the beautiful visuals alone. Not relying on the text as much as most adaptations would but preferring to present awe inspiring scenes that show just as much as the missing words could. Kurzel’s approach is hardly likely to create much new debate about the play but his attempt to humanise the pair at the forefront is a breath of fresh air. No longer are we witnessing the decent of two shameless and evil people. We can feel empathy for these characters. Despite the deplorable things they do.

SUNDAY RUNDOWN – THAT’S WHAT SHE READ

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This week has been a strange one. I’m back at work and I’ve instantly fallen back into the stressed, tired pattern that always plagues me. I really need to start stepping up my game to get out of there as soon as possible. There’s only so long a person can go on pretending they want to work in catering when it’s one of the last things they want to do. I’ve spent too many days of my life worrying about how may fucking avocados we need. In case you’re wondering, it’s fucking loads. As you can tell I’m pretty moody today. Yesterday I went bridesmaids dress shopping for my sister’s wedding and it has left me with even more body image insecurities than before. Just when I thought it wasn’t possible, I have to go shopping for a dress with my super sporty, super slim twin sister. But let’s not dwell. There have been a few positives to the week.


Never Finishing
  • Maestra by L. S. Hilton
Gave up on this after a couple of chapters. It’s just the shittest thing I’ve ever read. The worst kind of erotic thriller but with no style or substance. Not worth my time.

Currently Reading
  • Cutting Teeth by Julia Fierro
Started this as soon as I gave up on the last book. This is a fucking breath of fresh air after Maestra I can tell you. A group of parents get together at a beach house for the weekend. They are all hiding their deepest secrets and their real views on each other. I’m loving this book and wish I was getting more time to read it. The characters are all so awful but they are compelling regardless. I want to learn more about them and see how their relationships change. 
Recently Purchased
  • Where’s Will?: Find Shakespeare Hidden in His Plays by Tilly
If you can’t understand why I bought this book then I’m not sure this blog is the right place for you. It’s Where’s Wally but with fucking Shakespeare. I’ve walked past this in the window of my local bookshop for ages and I just couldn’t resist any longer. Seemed even more appropriate considering we’re less than a week away from the 400th anniversary of his death. I’ve got Shakespeare fever and the only cure is more books. 
  • The Genius of Shakespeare by Jonathan Bate
When I went into my local bookshop to finally buy the book above I wasn’t able to find it. However, I was suitably distracted by their Shakespeare display. So many books I could easily have bought myself but I didn’t. Instead I just bought this. Bate’s work The Song of the Earth had a great part to play in my undergraduate dissertation and I really enjoyed his writing. I also really love Shakespeare. Simple mathematics suggests that I’m going to enjoy this. 
  • The Art of Wearing Hats by Helena Sheffield
Another book that I’ve lusted after on my walk to and from work. Sitting beautifully in the window of my local bookshop, this called to me. It’s one of those miscellaneous little books that I love collecting. Also, I really love hats but never have the guts to wear them out of the house. I guess I hoped this would help convince me it was okay. 
Recently Watched
  • Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Season 2
Watched the new series in a couple of days. Loved it. Like all second seasons, though, there are aspects that are better than and those that are worse than the first. All in all, Ellie Kemper and Tituss Burgess are phenomenal. Plus, Tina Fey’s new character is delightfully outrageous. Will have to watch again though. Too much to take in the first time. 
  • Macbeth
Another mini Shakespeare celebration pre-23rd April. You’ll hear more on Tuesday no doubt.

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

fucking awesome, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, Patrick Stewart, review, sequel, time travel, Wolverine, X-Men

(Sorry it’s another long one.)

As I’ve already spent time on here trying to prove that we owe a lot to Bryan Singer and his early adaptations of Marvels’ mutant heroes. Without the well-made and still brilliant X-Menback in 2000 we quite probably wouldn’t have been treated to such cinematic delights as Christopher Nolan’s Dark Night trilogy, Joss Whedon’s Avengers and the revamped Amazing Spider-Man. Singer was the guy who, after the heartbreak from Joel Schumacher’s reign of terror, reminded us that comic book films could be great. The moment he stepped away from the franchise was when it all started to go wrong. So I have been on tenterhooks ever since it was announced that Bryan Singer would be back to direct this sequel to 2011’s acclaimed X-Men FirstClass. Add to that the fact that it would be an adaptation of the brilliant ‘Days of Future Past’ storyline and we have a painstaking wait for the release date on our hands. I watched the trailers so many times that I was acting them out in private doing my best P. Stew impression.

Singer’s film takes inspiration from the 80s storyline that saw Kitty Pryde’s consciousness being sent back to her past self in order to prevent a horrific dystopian future. However, with the dismal Last Stand showing Kitty (Ellen Page) to be only about 20, there was always going to be a problem creating a sequel to First Class that centred on her character. Step forward everyone’s favourite magnetic Canadian and we have a guaranteed hit with film audiences.

Opening with scenes of an apocalyptic future where a small band of mutants, some very familiar, are going to great efforts to avoid the deadly and now adaptable Sentinels. They are soon discovered by ex-headmaster Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and ex-villain Magneto (Ian McKellan) who have a plan to prevent the moment that started this horrific chain of events. Using Kitty’s newly discovered power to send people’s minds back in time, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is sent back to his 70s body to gather the younger Charles (James McAvoy) and Eric  (Michael Fassbender) together to stop Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) fucking everything up by shooting the creator of the aforementioned Sentinels.

Queue plenty of 70s paraphernalia, including lava lamps, flairs and questionable hair styles. I read a review that suggested Days of Future Past didn’t have as much fun with recreating its chosen era as First Class did. Having seen the film twice I can only assume that the critic responsible missed the previous films historically accurate but fucking ridiculous misogyny and objectification of women. Singer does everything he has to do to show that Wolverine is back in time without needing to continually force his female cast to strip off unnecessarily.
Instead, Singer focuses on plot and has gone to great lengths to ensure that the potentially confusing time-travel narrative doesn’t get out of control. The two timeframes are handled beautifully and come together perfectly. The film’s climax, where the action jumps between past and future, is expertly conducted and provides the first time in 15 years that Storm (Halle Berry) becomes as awesome as she is in the comics. He has great control of the special effects and, unlike plenty of these films, doesn’t get bogged down with gratuitous action sequences. Under Singer’s firm hand, everything happens to help the narrative move forward. Of course there is the usual check-list of things X-Men clichés and there is something of a bloat of in-jokes to keep the hardcore fans happy. However, there are also so many fantastic things: the introduction of Blink, whose power is used fantastically in the future battle sequences; terrifying Sentinels; a sharp script and exciting cameos.
Without a doubt, the film’s stand out sequence is the scene in which the newly introduced Quicksilver (Evan Peters) is shown diffusing a tense situation in bullet time set to Jim Croce’s ‘Time in a Bottle’. It’s a fucking beautiful scene and is incredibly funny. Had someone told me prior to my first viewing that Evan Peters would have the standout performance in this film I’d have slapped them for being so absurd. However, the brief moments that Quicksilver is on screen show that the character has great potential in future films. So much so that I’m terrified of the way Marvel will handle the character in Avengers 2.  Peters made the character his own and I was genuinely sad when Xavier sent him on his way early on.
Since, despite having a cast of great names, of both the acting and comic book worlds, this film is all about James McAvoy. McAvoy made a fine start in First Class but was outshone by his more prominent co-stars. Here we see Charles Xavier as we have never seen him before: both physically and emotionally broken and without his powers. He rejects his purpose and is willing to turn his back on his future. McAvoy is mesmerising as he struggles to reconnect with the two people who turned their back on him. Even alongside the physically intimidating and much loved Wolverine, McAvoy comes out as one of the standout stars.
An even more impressive task considering the legendary Patrick Stewart, the name that will forever be synonymous with Xavier’s, is back along with his partner in crime Ian McKellan. Ever since the post-credits scene after The Wolverine (after which I felt compelled to applaud) I have been impatient to see their return. I have always appreciated the fact that these two classically trained actors have never approached this material in anything but a professional manner. Having Stewart and McKellen on screen in these roles is a fucking joy to watch and, during the films climactic moments, nearly had me in tears. It’s always great seeing amazing actors in roles that they clearly enjoy.
A quality that you can always appreciate about Hugh Jackman: no matter how terrifying his continually pumped body gets (seriously it’s beginning to worry me. Look how veiny he is in this film. Step away from the weights Hugh) he always has fun with the character. Unfortunately, he doesn’t get a great deal to do here. Wolverine is left to take his shirt off and act as little more than the facilitator to the younger generation. This could have been worked with anyone being in his place but I guess it’s always nice to see the ole bone claws every now and then.
Wolverine goes back to prevent Mystique from assassinating Trask and causing the government to take greater action against the mutants. One would assume this would be good news for all J Law fans but I have to say I was utterly disappointed with the way she was used. Despite a few awesome fight sequences, Mystique had very little to work with. There is little explanation for her sudden descent into super villainy and no real attempt to further flesh out the character from the first film. There are hints at a relationship with Magneto and a tiny reference to her history with Hank but nothing to excite. J Law is really just going through the motions here.
This is something of a problem with the film as it has such a large cast to work with that many end up getting swept under the carpet. You know you’ve got too many characters when you introduce someone as fucking cool as Bishop only to have him do nothing. It’s fucking criminal. I mean Peter Dinklange is one of the greatest actors working at the moment and his casting as Boliver Trask, designer of the mutant killing robots that haunted all of our childhood dreams, seemed like pure genius. For some unknown reason Dinklage turns up for the odd political meeting where he spouts on about mutants and robots and then just stands around. I don’t understand what these people were thinking. Great actors deserve great roles even in the fantasy world of mutants, robots and time travel.
Likewise Michael Fassbender is once again unable to really get to grips with the supposedly evil Magneto and is only given one sequence of slight conflict. This is Fassbender’s second time playing with the mental manipulator and he has failed to come close to greatness he briefly displayed in the opening moments of First Class. This wasn’t Magneto’s film, I know, but there still doesn’t feel like there is any connection between Fass and McKellen’s truly villainous version besides their name and power. With an actor of Fassbender’s calibre you could create a fucking gruesome nemesis (I mean this is the man who appalled us in 12 Years a Slave after all) if only you gave him something to do besides making a football stadium float.

To be fair though the floating stadium is a pretty amazing visual. It’s the closest Singer gets to unnecessary but it stands for everything this film is about. Days of Future Past flirts with darkness in the opening sequence (we see death, destruction and a glimpse of mutant prison camps) but it is all about fun. It’s the film that comes closest to the feeling and tone of the original comics whilst remaining sophisticated and well-crafted.

It’s been just over a week since Days of Future Past was released in the UK and I’ve already had to fit in a double viewing. It’s safe to say that Bryan Singer has more than made amends for the disappointing Super Man Returns and returned to near enough his comic book best. Unfortunately, Days of Future Pastis, undeniably, a flawed film: it ignores some of its better cast members and characters and sometimes gets a little too self-indulgent. However, it’s exactly what it should be: an unashamedly joyous, exciting and well-made superhero movie. You finally get the sense that, after 15 years of trying to avoid it, Bryan Singer is finally comfortably with the idea of making a comic book movie and it’s entertaining as fuck.

12 Years a Slave (2013)

Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, emotional wreck, Michael Fassbender, review, slavery, violence

We will constantly be told that 12 Years a Slave is groundbreaking and necessary filmmaking and it is true. A year after Quentin Tarantino placed the slave trade under his unique spotlight, Steve McQueen takes a more sombre look at that bleak part of American history. Comparisons can and will be made to Tarantino’s revenge Western but, aside from the theme that unites them, there is little to be drawn from such an association. Tarantino locks his slaves inside a cartoonish world where the damaged Django is able to gain some sort of catharsis through his violence. Steve McQueen makes this film knowing that there can be no easy answers. Whilst you could easily walk away from Django Unchained feeling that some form of justice has been served, there is nothing to shield you from the horrible truth in McQueen’s third film. Rather than revenge, we are being served up the unpalatable truth. 


12 Years is the adaptation of the 1853 memoir of Solomon Northup, a freeborn black man who lives with his wife and children in New York. Thanks to his unquestionably trusting nature, Solomon is tricked, drugged and kidnapped in Washington and sold into slavery. We follow Solomon’s journey from the capital to the plantations of Louisiana where he is passed from the hands of a money-hungry trader (a despicable Paul Giamatti) to the benevolent but weak Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) and, finally, the malicious Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender). Solomon is stripped of his freedom, dignity and his name, having been giving the moniker Platt. He must hide his past, keep his head down and do everything that his masters expect of him.

Solomon is played by the hugely talented Chiwetel Ejiofor. There is a stark and uncomfortable contrast between the Solomon we see in the opening scenes and the man we see bound and helpless. The free man walks confidently around his home town and happily interacts with his neighbours. Then we suddenly see him chained up in a dark and dank cell before he is violently beaten by his captors.  It is a horrifying change.The violence and language of McQueen’s epic are intended to make its audience uncomfortable but it is presented in such a way that it affects on a deeper level. You are not seeing images that are simply shocking and disgusting but something that is barbaric and illogical. McQueen doesn’t have to do a lot here and just lets the narrative speak for itself. Through McQueen’s lens, slavery is seen in uncompromising brutality.
12 Years treats us to the typical McQueen style of precise framing and shots held onto just long enough to make you uncomfortable: the unflinching gaze. It is on Ford’s plantation that Solomon is given some respect but the caring owner does not control his staff quite as well as he should. The diabolical overseer (Paul Dano) takes a disliking to Platt and goads the slave into standing up for himself. In response, Solomon is hung from a tree with his feet barely touching the ground and gasping for breath. His fellow slaves go about their business behind him but the audience is held face-to-face with the violence for much longer than they’d like.
Then we have the harrowing scene towards the end of the film where the downtrodden Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o), already having been subjected to Epps’ uncontrolled lust and sexual assault, is savagely beaten. As Solomon is forced to dole out this punishment, the camera circles the scene showing the horrifying effect this has on both Patsy and Solomon.
McQueen focuses a great deal on Solomon’s face, which places an enormous amount of pressure on
Ejiofor. His face, and most importantly his eyes, becomes the emotional centre of the film: carefully conveying every necessary emotion. You never see Northup admitting defeat and, through every awful encounter, Ejiofor lets a hint of determination shine through. This is acting of the greatest quality and Ejiofor deserves every award and nomination he’s been given.
Alongside him are equally Oscar-worthy performances that ensure the drama on screen never feels melodramatic or mawkish. Nyong’o, in her film debut, is spectacular but harrowing and plays Patsey with a fiery tenacity. It is a breathtaking start to her career and I am still outraged that she missed out on the BAFTA she so obviously deserved.
Though the most memorable performance, by far, comes from Michael Fassbender as the savage Epps. Epps starts off as potentially cartoony: a drunk and sadistic man who delights in breaking his slaves and terrorising them with fake bible verses. However, he is given extra depth through his obsession with Patsey and his strained relationship with his wife. He is an utterly terrifying presence who, despite being only a second away from violence, is far more dangerous. Fassbender provides us with a disturbing and awful portrayal of a slave owner who has become just an inhuman as the people he owns.
12 Years is a film that unpicks the intricacies of American slavery – the power-relationships, the daily horrors and the overlooked practices – and shows it to be nothing more than madness. This is an angry, intense and stylish examination of the slave trade that is meant to challenge the audience (I for one was an emotional wreck by the time the credits rolled) and one that will stay with you long after it ends.

McQueen doesn’t hide the realities that were faced by many behind witty word-play, suggestions of great change, or violent revenge narratives. He offers a painful, emotional and unrelenting view of what thousands of people faced less than 200 years ago. There is no happy ending here: just the haunting image of a broken man. Forcing you to face up to the corporeal realities of slavery, 12 Yearsis set to become a modern classic that goes to show just how powerful cinema can be.

X-Men: First Class (2011)

comic book, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Marvel, Matthew Vaughn, Michael Fassbender, reboot, review, X-Men

It is undeniable that comic book movies have come a long way since their early days. Tim Burton’s Batman(1989) gave us a dark tale starring the Dark Knight that was stylistically very similar to the original comics. His two Batman movies introduced us to a gothic world and gave us just enough danger, humour and excitement to make it ok to be a bit of a geek. Bryan Singer’s original X-Men (2000) showed us that superhero movies could be all round good films and Spider-Man (2002) made them smash hits with cinemagoers. Lastly, with Batman Begins and more recently The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan gave us an intelligent, grown-up and very dark look into the world of costumed crusaders. Comic book movies were no longer just for fans of the original source material. They became hits with movie fans as a whole. Gone are the days of the simplistic and silly Batman of the 1960s, audiences want something clever, exciting and just a little bit terrifying.

Talking of the 60s, X-Men First Class takes us back to this most swinging of eras and puts us in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Called upon by the FBI, Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) must bring together a group of young mutants to help stop former Nazi scientist, Sebastian Shaw, (a familiarly terrible Kevin Bacon) from bringing about World War Three. Whilst I liked the idea of giving the mutants a non-superhero threat, I think this was the wrong film to introduce us to the idea. There was far too much going on and, in the long run, many plot lines feel rushed and never quite reach their mark.
This film needed a simpler plot in order to ensure the mutants themselves were the major focus. Instead, we have to contend with new faces; the tension between America and Russia; Nazi Germany and the subsequent revenge plot; problems in the CIA; Kevin Bacon’s gang; and an unnecessary and frustrating romance between Charles and Rose Byrne’s CIA agent. This romantic plot only goes to suggest that it is impossible to make a film that doesn’t rely on love to keep the audience engrossed. Well bollocks. I can see no real benefit for it; well, aside from the infamous line “Gentlemen, this is why the CIA is no place for a woman.” A statement which, during both of my in-cinema viewings, caused the people around me to gasp in disgust (to be honest, as soon as Moira mentioned being part of the CIA I was sceptical about the historical accuracy of this plot point).
However, the scenes where Charles trains his new recruits were enjoyable to watch. James McAvoy is a great talent and is able to bring us a fresh perspective to a role that will always truly belong to Patrick Stewart. On top of this, it gives us the unintentionally hilarious moment of bromance between McAvoy and Fassbender when the two shed a manly tear over Magneto’s long forgotten memory. It’s a beautiful moment I’m sure you’ll agree. Although, for the most part, the chemistry between these two great actors is awesome. The films finest moments are the ones where these two are free to explore their characters and the relationship they once shared. Unfortunately, these key moments are over much too quickly and each new mutant is given an unjustly small amount of time to find their inner strength.
Magneto is the only character to get an considerable back-story and, because of this, it is his storyline that leads to one of the most interesting aspects of the film. After seeing snippets of his childhood, we return to his life story once the young Erik has grown up into Michael Fassbender and he’s really, really pissed off. What follows is a revenge plot that sees Erik get all Quantum of Solace on us and torture and kill everyone who gets in his way. Yes, he’s like an angry James Bond with the ability to manipulate metal running through Russia to seek vengeance. Why the fuck wasn’t that the entire film?
Obviously there was a great pressure to release this for a certain point and the film ends up feeling as though it is lacking cohesion. The film relies heavily on special effects but, whilst they were much better than those on show in The Green Lantern (released around the same time), it is nowhere near as impressive as it could have been. I mean what the fuck happened with Beast? We live in an age of great possibilities when it comes to computer graphics so I have to ask who decided to make Beast look like a cheap university student’s fancy-dress outfit?
Most frustrating of all is Fassbender’s accent throughout the entire film. If someone decided to start a drinking game where you have to take a shot every time he slips into his Irish brogue it would have descended into utter mayhem halfway through the 2 hour running time. I have to question the decision to forgo ADR just to ensure the film was released that little bit quicker. The whole film ends up looking quite amateurish and messy, which is an utter shame.
Although, I have to admit that the script is, for the most part, well-written and entertaining. Vaughan brings a fresh feeling to this seemingly washed-out franchise. His film is action packed, fun and thoughtful: he manages to breath new life into familiar characters and helps the lesser known cast members to flourish. Especially the rising star Jennifer Lawrence who makes a decent job of trying to recreate the character of Mystique. She even managed to bring conviction to the disappointingly flat underlying message about remaining true to yourself. (‘Mutant and Proud’ never quite seems to get off it’s feet and the film seems a little self-conscious about what it is trying to teach its audience.)
As we saw from Kick Ass, Vaughan knows how to put together a good fight sequence and the large action sequences are pretty spectacular. Unlike Singer’s films, Vaughan has created an X-Men film that is not afraid to show itself to be a comic book movie. It may have been far from perfect but we are so much closer to the level that Bryan Singer introduced us to back in 2000. There is certainly enough on show here to keep both fans of the comics and newer audiences alike satisfied. Thankfully, it leaves us with the impression that a sequel, if given the deserved amount of time and care, will be a wonderful addition to this newly awoken franchise.

Jane Eyre (2011)

Bronte, drama, Judi Dench, Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, review

(Feel I should point out this contains spoilers but doesn’t everyone know the story of Jane Eyre even if they haven’t read the book? Maybe not. SPOILERS!)

For a reason that remains unknown to me, Edward Rochester is the most popular romantic literary character ever. Rochester is not the kind of man you fall in love with. He is creepy, possessive and, generally, just a bit of a dick. Oh, but all he needs is a hug, a cup of tea and your love, right ladies? So he’s a tortured soul, who made a mistake in his youth but that really doesn’t justify psychologically torturing the young Jane. Although, maybe it is every girl’s dream to meet a man who loves her so much he is willing to convince her he is marrying another woman and break her heart before revealing that it was all a plot to make her jealous? What? In the words of renowned fashion designer Jacobim Mugatu, “I FEEL LIKE I’M TAKING CRAZY PILLS!” Rochester is a man who is bitter about ruining his life by marrying a woman he not only didn’t love but who turned out to be mad. This does not give him to right to play games with an innocent, young woman, fresh out of school, who is stupid enough to fall in love with him. I don’t get it and I never will.

This mindless rant isn’t quite as off topic as it may seem at first. My main issue with the film is the characterisation and casting of Rochester. No sane woman would fall Mr Rochester at first sight (I still maintain that after that it would be difficult but I have to get on with this). On the other hand, very few women would be able to stop themselves falling for Michael Fassbender at first sight. Fassbender cuts an attractive but brooding figure against the backdrop of the wild moors (much more akin to Heathcliff than Rochester). Within this setting, a truly complex man and this turbulent relationship is transformed into a stock character from a romantic comedy. This is not Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre this is When Harry Met Sally in breeches.

The awful and cruel Rochester of the book, who enjoys playing games with Jane’s emotions, has been replaced with a slightly offhand and bored man. For the most part, Jane is treated like his pet, used for his entertainment until, all of a sudden, he is wildly and obsessively in love with her. It is an even more nonsensical relationship than the one within the book (even taking into account that the moment where he disguises himself as a gypsy has been taken out). The intense feeling that is represented within the book never quite translates onto the screen.

The novel has remained a favourite literary work because its heroine represented a great improvement in the representation of gender politics and feminine power. Jane as a character is plain but, most importantly, she is passionate, intelligent and strong. Mia Wasikowska doesn’t stand up to the brutish Rochester and instead comes off as dull, rather pathetic and stiff. She sits opposite Fassbender’s Rochester and barely makes an impression. It is no wonder that the romance never really takes off within the film when the two lovers are as worn-out and dull as this pair.

I’m in desperate need of something positive to say about Cary Joji Fukunaga’s adaptation or this will turn into a review that beats Rochester in the broody and annoyed stakes. Clutching at straws here: I was rather impressed with Wasikowska’s Northern accent. As a proud Northerner myself, I found that my ears were not bleeding in response to her performance, as they indeed were post-viewing of One Day (Anne Hathaway has probably been ridiculed for this enough but casting her in that role is a representation of everything that is wrong with the film industry today. Why pick the best person for a role when you can pick the person who appears in the most magazines? Sorry, still bitter.)

At the same time, Judi Dench is as wonderful to watch as ever but her time onscreen is limited and there is very little she can do to improve the overall quality of the film. Her elderly housekeeper Mrs Fairfax is undeniably rather hammy but she is the only character that it is possible to have any real connection with. She is the only figure that I ended up caring about in the long run. Her happiness at having Jane in the house and their lovely reunion at the end of the film brings a much needed dose of emotion and life into the dusty Thornfield Hall.

However, I was thoroughly disappointed with the portrayal of Bertha as the gothic presence within the film. Having written my post-graduate dissertation on gothic fiction which I’m fairly sure now makes me an expert on the subject (hell if, Jamie Cullum can describe himself as an “expert on Shakespeare” thanks to his degree in literature then I can be a fucking expert on this.) The mysterious screams, the talk of dark figures walking around at night and secret passages are either forgotten or given such little emphasis that there seems little point that the discovery of the secret wife was included at all. They should probably have just fully descended into the world of romantic comedy and had Jane catch Rochester in bed with Judi Dench. Bertha, who is seen for all of 2 minutes, is reduced to the mysterious figure who sets fire to a bed, stabs her brother and give Rochester a well-deserved slap. In the novel, she is feral and very dangerous; within the film she is just an annoyance that prevents Rochester from getting it on with his employees.

Whatever the film lacks in figurative darkness it certainly makes up for in literal darkness. As far as cinematography goes, it was an interesting choice to use as few lights as possible during filming. I realise we are meant to believe that we are witnessing events within the past but that I would have thought it was prudent to allow the audience the chance to see the magnificent sets and Yorkshire backdrop. Of course, this could just be a clever cinematographic attempt to represent the darkness within Thornfield and the unseen gothic feeling that was such an important part of the novel but wouldn’t dare accuse this film of something so clever/pretentious. I

Although, for what you can see of it, the film is visually stunning. Great use is made, during the opening scene, of the wild moors that surround Thornfield. The costumes are stunning and Dario Marianelli’s score is beautiful. In terms of artistic merit Jane Eyre really does deserve the amount of praise it received following its release. Fukunaga’s style is simplistic and understated. He lets the materials that he has at his fingertips do the work for him and it is beautiful. It is just a shame that  the main event, the love story, does not deserve it.

I guess, all in all, Jane Eyre is a decent enough film. The main actors both do commendable jobs that, had it not been for the fact that this is one of many adaptations, would have been satisfying. As it is indeed one in a vast ocean of similar works, this film fails to live up to the reputation of either the original material or the many others that have come before it. The main characters have been so greatly diminished that their love story doesn’t really stand out from the crowd. The film pretty much collapses under the weight of the reputation of its beloved and well-known characters. The ending (expertly mirrored in this review) is rushed and doesn’t offer an adequate resolution for the audience.