Movie Review ~ Atomic Blonde


The Facts
:

Synopsis: An undercover MI6 agent is sent to Berlin during the Cold War to investigate the murder of a fellow agent and recover a missing list of double agents.

Stars: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Til Schweiger, Eddie Marsan, Sofia Boutella, Toby Jones, Attila Árpa, Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson

Director: David Leitch

Rated: R

Running Length: 115 minutes

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review:  Pity the fool that crosses MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton and pity any audience member that second guesses the Oscar winner that plays her.  Producer and star Charlize Theron (Prometheus) has fashioned a whopper of a role for herself and assembled a crack team of players to go along for the arse-kicking adrenaline-fueled ride.  Even if Atomic Blonde doesn’t necessarily turn the Cold War spy thriller on its head, it sure gives it a helluva decent set of stylish somersaults.

Based on The Coldest City, a 2012 graphic novel written by Anthony Johnston and illustrated by Sam Hart, Atomic Blonde is set in November 1989 during the days leading up to the fall of the Berlin Wall.  This is no history lesson, though, as is pointed out at the beginning of the pretzel-like plot in the center of the action film.  A MI6 agent stationed in Germany has been tasked with retrieving a watch with a list of double agents that could out several spies.  When he’s killed in action, his old flame/colleague (Theron) is been sent behind enemy lines to finish the job and find a double agent plaguing the agency.

Lorraine is barely out of the airport before she’s battling KGB agents aiming to take her out, sparring with a MI6 superior (James McAvoy, Split) who may be harboring rogue notions, and rendezvous-ing with a French beauty (Sofia Boutella, The Mummy) with secrets of her own.  All is not what is seems, however, as the twists start to come fast and furious during the final half of the picture.  Told in flashback by a battered and bruised Lorraine to two high-ranking officials (Toby Jones, Muppets Most Wanted and John Goodman, Patriots Day), Kurt Johnstad’s screenplay sometimes zigs when it should zag but overall it packs the requisite punch.

Speaking of punches…whoa.  Theron’s action sequences are of the intensely old-school rock ‘em and sock ‘em variety and they are downright thrilling.  Early toussels in a car winding through a tunnel, an apartment complex, and a stylishly cinematic brawl staged in a, well, a cinema are mere appetizing morsels for the extended battle royale grand feast.  Following Lorraine as she attempts to keep a key witness alive, director David Leitch (John Wick) makes the rumble in the East Berlin jungle  look like it was shot in one long take by cleverly disguising his cuts.  It’s not a showcase only for the filmmaker, though, as Theron smashingly bashes her way through a bunch of hapless goons down staircases and through abandoned rooms to a pulsing soundtrack of mid to late ‘80s classics.  Taking her licking, she keeps on ticking and gets believably shell-shocked, bloodied, and winded along the way.  Theron trained intensely for this role and it shows with every punch landed and every powerful kick to the chest she delivers, so much so that it’s hard to see when her stunt double steps in.

Were Theron not a producer of Atomic Blonde, I may have questioned some of the more risqué elements to the film as a product of some male ADHD fantasy featuring women in low cut blouses, high cut lingerie, or nothing at all.  However, it doesn’t feel wholly exploitative but likely in line with the source material and period setting…but on the other hand a little Theron on Boutella action has an sizable erotic charge in even its most chaste moments.

While we’re on the subject, poor Boutella is in her second summer film of 2017 that fails to capitalize on her engaging appeal.  After her mummy character played second banana to Tom Cruise in June she ends July without getting much to do but bed Theron and provide some necessary expository dialogue.  I kept waiting for her to pop in to help Theron out but, alas, the only one that seems to show up is McAvoy and his over-the-top shenanigans.

In films such as these where it’s essential for key plot points to be manipulated throughout so the twists, when revealed, have a greater “gotcha” vibe there never seems to be a satisfying resolution.  Thankfully, though Atomic Blonde has two endings too many the one it does close up shop on is a solid rounding off of any rough edges that remained.  A prequel graphic novel was released in 2016 so should this one detonate positively with audiences, it’s possible we’ll see Theron back in action in no time.  I’d welcome the return sooner rather than later.

Movie Review ~ Split

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: After three girls are kidnapped by a man with 24 distinct personalities they must find some of the different personalities that can help them while running away and staying alive from the others.

Stars: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor Joy, Betty Buckley, Jessica Sula, Haley Lu Richardson

Director: M. Night Shyamalan

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 117 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review:  I hate to say it, but M. Night Shyamalan brought it all on himself.  With a succession of movies, the writer/director (producer, cameo, etc.) introduced sophisticated ideas wrapped in a mystery to less and less fanfare.  Known more for his twist endings than the sum total of his accomplishments, the director of The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs began to lose himself in the inner-workings of his storytelling. Sacrificing plot, good dialogue, and characterization for that one moment, “the twist”, that would entice an audience into sticking with the film despite the absurdity of it all, it wasn’t long before Shyamalan’s name stopped being the selling point and instead became an Achilles Heel.

Laying low for a few years and producing the occasional movie or TV show, Shyamalan emerged from the shadows with 2015’s The Visit, a tight little scare fest made for a small fee which wound up doing surprisingly good business.  Showing he wasn’t entirely beholden to his twist endings (though that film did have one), good will led Shyamalan back into the conversation and it felt as if his second act in Hollywood had begun.

The first thing I’ll tell you about Shyamalan’s Split, and to keep spoilers squashed I won’t tell you much, is to do your best to go in without thinking of this as the horror film its being falsely marketed as.  True, the film boasts a few nerve jangling moments and an overall sense of dread usually reserved for films with a high body count, but I made the mistake of expecting a thrill ride when in reality Split is more like an uncomfortable Sunday drive.

A trio of girls celebrating a birthday at a local mall are abducted in the parking lot and held captive in an underground compound by a man (James McAvoy, Trance) with dissociative identity disorder (DID).  While two of the girls (Jessica Sula & Haley Lu Richardson, both largely forgettable) plot a way of escape, the third (Anya Taylor Joy, Morgan & The Witch) takes a different approach, recognizing their captor could be manipulated depending on which of his 23 personalities they are talking to.  Time is running out, though, for several of the identities talk of a 24th personality, The Beast, that’s “on the move.”  Meanwhile, the man’s psychiatrist (Betty Buckley, Carrie), disturbed by a concerning change in demeanor for her patient, attempts to lure out the new personality that’s been causing trouble.

To me there are two short films going on here with overlapping ideas that Shyamalan couldn’t quite stretch to feature length.  The first is the kidnapping plot with its increasingly desperate attempts at escape from the teenagers and the second is a film centered on the psychiatrist exploring the inner workings of DID.  Both have some value and are staged nicely by Shyamalan with tight close-ups that give the film a claustrophobic feeling but to really take on discussions of mental illness Split needed to choose which story to tell and it never can decide.

Taylor Joy’s saucer-eyes look great in a Shyamalan close-up and the actress keeps a sense of mystery along the way that’s as interesting as it is slightly creepy.  Through flashbacks we see her as a child spending time with her father and uncle; there’s something off about these memories and as the film progresses, we begin to see why.  Shyamalan throws a lot of unspoken feelings at Taylor Joy and asks her to fill in the blanks which she winds up conveying quite convincingly.

Surprisingly, it’s Buckley that nearly steals the show…though considering her storied history on stage and screen it’s not that surprising at all.  Her therapy sessions with McAvoy’s character(s) give the film it’s most crackling edge and I kept wondering if these intimately crafted scenes hadn’t originally been written for the stage.  Buckley doesn’t appear on screen as often as she should but her performance here makes you wish she would.

At the end of the day, though, this is McAvoy’s picture and he walks away with the whole kit and caboodle.  There’s such a very fine line between honest and camp when it comes to playing a character with multiple personalities but McAvoy approaches each with a level of dignity and respect.  True, there are some moments McAvoy got too actor-y for my taste but overall it’s a dynamic, full-bodied performance that goes far beyond simply changing his voice or how he holds himself.  With each new personality introduced, McAvoy seems to change appearance entirely which makes the impending arrival of the feared 24th identity even  more ominous.

Audiences familiar with Shyamalan have been well trained to prepare for a twist but my advice would be not to look too hard.  There are a few late-breaking turns that won’t come as a total surprise and one big shocker at the end you’re either going to love or hate (the audience at mine was an audible mixture of both) but Split is less concerned with fooling its audience and more interested in bringing them into the mind of trauma victims coping with their past in the present.  It’s not an entirely successful film (and at nearly two hours, a too long one at that) but it’s stuck with me just like Shyamalan’s earlier work did.

The Silver Bullet ~ Split

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Synopsis: Kevin, a man with at least 23 different personalities, is compelled to abduct three teenage girls. As they are held captive, a final personality – “The Beast” – begins to materialize.

Release Date: January 20, 2017

Thoughts: There was a time when the presence of director M. Night Shyamalan’s name on a poster or movie trailer would elicit a little shiver down your spine. Then came a string of overstuffed, self-serving duds that found his name removed from all marketing materials in order to not tip off audiences he was involved. Then along came the surprisingly strong (and scary!) The Visit in 2015 and Shyamalan got some of that clout back…and I’m hoping that Split continues the Shyamalan-aissance. The latest thriller with a twist finds James McAvoy (Trance) with multiple personalities holding three girls hostage and there’s some nice potential here for some spooky scenery chewing. With January no longer that foreboding dumping ground for useless films that it once was, could Split ring in the New Year with a yelp?

Movie Review ~ X-Men: Apocalypse

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The Facts:

Synopsis: With the emergence of the world’s first mutant, Apocalypse, the X-Men must unite to defeat his extinction level plan.

Stars: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar Isaac, Nicholas Hoult, Rose Byrne, Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner, Olivia Munn, Lucas Till, Evan Peters, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Alexandra Shipp, Josh Helman, Lana Condor, Ben Hardy

Director: Bryan Singer

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 143 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: Dear readers, it’s OK if you are in the throes of Superhero Movie Fatigue. I’ve been suffering symptoms of SMF for over a year now and I’m sure it’s helpful to know that you’re not alone if you suddenly find yourself recoiling at the first whiff of a CGI created villain or needing to lie down from exhaustion when you try to tie all of the various multi-film storylines together. While I don’t see a cure for SMF in the near future (both the Marvel and DC universe are mapped out for the next several years), I think we’ll learn to adjust to an onslaught of comic book adaptations that will eventually start to compete only with films from their own franchises until a death rattle finishes them all off.

In the meantime, 2016 has brought forth the good (Deadpool, Captain America: Civil War) and the misunderstood (Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice) and judging from early reaction you might feel inclined to add X-Men Apocalypse to the miscalculated pile. I’d caution you to see for yourself though because this eighth X-Men movie is big (BIG!), rather exciting, and sets the stage for a new era with a careful hand and a gentle nod.

Admittedly, I’m not the biggest X-Men fan in the world. I was slow to warm to the series and never really had much of an interest or stake in the opinion of the overall quality or the consistency that true fans seemed to find the most fault with. The first movie was decent but half-baked, the second addressed the major concerns and righted a listing ship only to have the third one stank up the joint. Venturing into solo territory, Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables) tried to get a Wolverine series off the ground but fans weren’t interested. A prequel reignited the flame and led to another Wolverine film (which I enjoyed more than most) and the 2014 time-hopping head-scratcher X-Men: Days of Future Past.

I didn’t think the franchise could stuff more into its running length but X-Men: Apocalypse is the stone soup of the bunch…it’s got a little bit of everything. It’s going to divide many a fan/critic/movie-goer and maybe I was just in the right mood for it because I found myself highly engaged and, yeah, emotionally invested in the continued adventures of Professor X (James McAvoy, Trance), Magneto (Michael Fassbender, Prometheus), Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence, Joy), and their mutant co-horts that go up against their most formidable enemy yet.

His presence was teased at the end of X-Men: Days of Future Past and an energetic prologue in Egypt shows how Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac, A Most Violent Year) came to be buried under a pyramid until he’s uncovered in the ’80s by a faction of his descendant followers. Luckily, Moira Mactaggert (Rose Byrne, Spy) is there to see it all take place and sound the alarm that something big is about to go down.

Meanwhile, Mystique is spending most of her time sans blue skin (you can just hear Lawrence negotiating ever y second she has to be in full Mystique-garb), watching out for mutants being mistreated the world over. Rescuing Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee, ParaNorman) from a cage match with Angel (Ben Hardy), she brings him back to Professor X’s school where he falls in with Beast (Nicholas Hoult, Warm Bodies), Cyclops (Tye Sheridan, Mud), and Jean Grey (Sophie Turner). It isn’t long before the mutants find themselves under attack in their own home, culminating in a most impressive rescue sequence (it took the longest to film) led by Quicksilver (Evan Peters, The Lazarus Effect) who happened to be in the area looking for personal answers of his own.

With Apocalypse freed and intent on bringing the world back to square one by wiping the human population out, he gathers his four horsemen to assist him in his end of days plot. One will remain secret here but a young Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and Psylocke (Olivia Munn, Magic Mike) are part of the mix. Scenes of massive destruction and special effects threaten to overtake the picture but those that complain about director Bryan Singer (Jack the Giant Slayer) focusing more on computer generated mayhem instead of human heart must not realize they bought a ticket for a movie about superhero mutants fighting a doomsday villain.

On the disappointing side are McAvoy and Fassbender largely sleepwalk through the movie and Munn is totally miscast, mostly because she’s not that impressive to begin with. Isaac gets lost in his big blue bad guy but he does what he can in moon boots under all that make-up. It’s the younger generation that impresses here, with Hoult, Smit-McPhee, Sheridan, and Turner signaling that they have what’s needed to continue on with the franchise. This is reportedly Lawrence’s last spin and her absence will leave a big hole in the emotional core of the film. Even though she’s a top-tier A-List star now, Lawrence never looks down on her role or gives it anything less than her full attention.

For a PG-13 film, the movie has a questionable amount of bloody violence (especially in a sequence that involves a cameo that seems to be standard issue for any film bearing the X-Men moniker). Parents should likely see this one first before bringing young children, it’s not only heavy on viscera but at nearly 2 ½ hours it can start to feel long during its mid-section. It ramps up nicely to a whopper of a climax but even I struggled to stay alert as the film reached the two hour mark.

There’s a lot going on in X-Men: Apocalypse and for those living with SMF you could find yourself stretched thin by the time the credits roll…but if you can hang on it’s highly worth seeing on the largest screen you can get to.

Movie Review ~ Victor Frankenstein

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Told from Igor’s perspective, we see the troubled young assistant’s dark origins, his redemptive friendship with the young medical student Viktor Von Frankenstein, and become eyewitnesses to the emergence of how Frankenstein became the man – and the legend – we know today.

Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, James McAvoy, Jessica Brown Findlay, Andrew Scott, Freddie Fox

Director: Paul McGuigan

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 109 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review: If you’re looking for someone to blame for Victor Frankenstein, might I suggest Sherlock Holmes?  A character brought to life so vividly in a series of novels and notable screen adaptations, Holmes has been resurrected to popular effect three times in the last decade.  On the small screen he’s a present-day on the spectrum detective in two television series, one for the BBC (effectively launching Benedict Cumberbatch’s career in the process) and one for CBS  (a more commercial offering, but no less successful) and on the big screen he’s a wise-acre troublemaking sleuth in Guy Ritchie’s two Holmes films.  Possibly trying to exist in the same Victorian England Ritchie world, Victor Frankenstein is a slapdash creation, stitched together with little inspiration or motivation.  It’s a true snoozer…and I know from experience because I fell asleep for part of it.

Opening with the line “You know the story” and then, like all reimaginings must, going on to tell a totally different version of a time-worn tale, at first I was thinking that Victor Frankenstein was on to something.  Told from the perspective of the man who would be Igor (Daniel Radcliffe, What If, The Woman in Black), starting out as a nameless and mistreated hunchback circus clown that studies medicine and dreams of a life with a  pretty trapeze artist (Jessica Brown Findlay, Winter’s Tale), the first, oh, two minutes of the movie are visually impressive and intriguing.  Then our titular character enters (James McAvoy, Trance) and our interest (and the scenery) gets shredded to bits.

Rescuing the deformed man and employing him as his assistant, Frankenstein names him Igor (after his absent flat mate) and attends to his hunchback and crooked stance.  Standing upright with a flat back, clean clothes, and a self-applied haircut delivered by straight razor that suggests a future as a coiffeur, Igor quickly gets up to speed with Frankenstein’s work in bringing the dead back to life.  Originally working on a chimp hybrid that goes ape when roused from an eternal slumber, the two men are soon hired by a wealthy family to create something…bigger.

In between gathering the pieces to assemble the ultimate creation, Igor continues to woo the trapeze artist (now living as a ward to a wealthy businessman) and avoid a fire and brimstone detective (Andrew Scott, Spectre) that believes what Igor and Frankenstein are doing is against God’s will.  There’s the requisite backstory to explain the method behind Frankenstein’s madness and some moral quandaries that are quickly vanquished, it all leads to a rain soaked finale aiming to be electrifying but can’t find a strong current.

As much as Radcliffe tries to distance himself from the boy wizard that made him a household name, I’ve yet to be truly impressed by any of his post-Harry Potter work.   Trapped by an outlandish script by Max Landis (Chronicle) and tonally blunt direction by Paul McGuigan, Radcliffe doesn’t have much to do but peer out from behind his shabby wig, gasp in horror at Frankenstein’s insanity, and make goo-goo eyes at his love.  Brown Findlay has the presence of a rogue dust bunny and Scott simmers with a too-serious biblical rage that leans more toward hysterics than histrionics.

Nothing compares to McAvoy’s unhinged, abysmally over-the-top performance, though, and like it or not you have to give the actor credit for not being afraid to fail.  Possibly recognizing the only way to be memorable in an otherwise dull creature feature is to be more outsized than his muscle bound creation, McAvoy is amped up from frame one and ready to go for the campy gold.  Were the rest of the film less serious in nature, McAvoy’s take might have worked better but here is feels like the actor is out of control.

Technically sound with a good eye for period detail, the money in Victor Frankenstein was clearly spent in the right places like Jany Temime’s (Skyfall) pleasing costumes and Eve Stewart’s (Les Misérables) sumptuous production design. It’s just a shame that all of the funds went to waste in a film with no pulse.

The Silver Bullet ~ Victor Frankenstein

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Synopsis: Told from Igor’s perspective, we see the troubled young assistant’s dark origins, his redemptive friendship with the young medical student Viktor Von Frankenstein, and become eyewitnesses to the emergence of how Frankenstein became the man – and the legend – we know today.

Release Date: November 25, 2015

Thoughts:  Did we learn nothing from Van Helsing, the campy 2004 disaster that almost ended Hugh Jackman’s burgeoning career as a stand-alone action star? Apparently not, because the makers of Victor Frankenstein seem to think that all Mary Shelley’s tale needed was a few wisecracks and a healthy dose of Sherlock Holmes-ian production design to create a new take on the oft-told classic. James McAvoy (Trance) and Daniel Radcliffe (What If) are appealing actors but first impressions from this trailer find them resting on their laurels, with Radcliffe doing his best turn-of-the-century Harry Potter. I love a good monster tale, don’t get me wrong, but this looks pretty cornball.

 

Movie Review ~ The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them

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The Facts:

Synopsis: One couple’s story as they try to reclaim the life and love they once knew and pick up the pieces of a past that may be too far gone.

Stars: James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, William Hurt, Bill Hader, Viola Davis, Isabelle Huppert, Jess Weixler, Ciarán Hinds

Director: Ned Benson

Rated: R

Running Length: 122 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review:  I’m going to try my hardest to get through this review without working in a quote from The Beatles song featured in the title of this brittle drama. However, I may wind up resorting to cheap references to talking about “all the lonely people” and questioning “where do they all come from?” because aside from two strong performances from the leads, there’s not a whole lot more to discuss.

Originally filmed and intended to be released as two movies told from the male and female perspective of a crumbling marriage, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby feels familiar from the get-go.  There’s a mystery surrounding why our titular character (Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty) has fled her marriage to Conor (James McAvoy, Trance) and returned home to mommy, daddy, and single-mom sis but Ned Benson’s script isn’t malleable enough to allow Chastain and McAvoy to rise above some overly dramatic sequences that feel like scenes out of a training video on grief counseling.

I’m growing less enamored with Chastain as I see more of her work.  After scoring so big in 2011 & 2012 with a slew of memorable roles (like The Help, Lawless, Mama, and The Tree of Life), she’s now seemed to have slipped into that groove of making emotion filled movies as she waits on her next Oscar nomination.  McAvoy. too, doesn’t seem all that challenged by the material, largely letting Benson’s cliché set-ups win out over the actors usually interesting instinct.  It was a brilliant choice to pair Isabelle Huppert (Dead Man Down) and William Hurt (The Host) as Chastain’s parents because I actually believed they produced this character…but Huppert is stuck with a lot of out of the blue observances meant to be revelatory but wind up as mere devices to explain where some of Eleanor’s hurt comes from.  Speaking of hurt, Hurt takes on another soft-spoken sage seemingly capable of one quizzical facial expression that indicates he’s just seen a sockeye salmon driving a dune buggy wearing a Versace dress.  Then there’s Viola Davis (Beautiful Creatures) as a grumpy college professor and colleague of Hurt’s that takes a liking to Chastain after she audits her class.  Davis is as strong an actor as they come, but her performance here is so ice cold that it seems impossible someone like Eleanor could melt her.

Perhaps editing the two movies into one damaged the overall effect Benson was going for in showing there are two sides to every argument and some arguments are more interesting than others.  The whole central conceit of the film was (and this may be a minor spoiler) done better in Rabbit Hole, providing nearly the exact same set-up but arriving at its final destination with its characters in row…rather than leaving them in the dust as Benson’s writing and direction is often wont to do.

Movie Review ~ X-Men: Days of Future Past

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The Facts:

Synopsis: The X-Men send Wolverine to the past in a desperate effort to change history and prevent an event that results in doom for both humans and mutants

Stars: Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman, Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Nicholas Hoult, Ellen Page, Shawn Ashmore, Peter Dinklage, Omar Sy, Daniel Cudmore, Fan Bingbing, Boo Boo Stewart, Adan Canto, Evan Peters, Josh Helman, Lucas Till, Evan Jonigkeit

Director: Bryan Singer

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 131 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review:  Ok, I believe by now we’ve established the kind of reader-critic relationship that allows me to be as open and honest with you as I possibly can.  So, I the spirit of putting it all out there on the table I need to tell you that the X-Men and all their variations have never really been my thing.  Aside from a childhood desire to beat the SEGA game, I’ve never truly warmed to Professor X and his motley crew of mutant heroes and villains…even after seven films.

Though the overreaching message of the film (we’re all mutants in some form or another and that’s ok) is a positive one that has the ability to speak to anyone, there’s something about the over eagerness of the filmmakers to constantly “get it right” that I find myself enjoying the spectacle at a distance.

It doesn’t help that the quality of the movies hasn’t maintained any sort of consistency since X-Men was released in 2000.  The first sequel improved upon its predecessor but when original director Bryan Signer vacated the series for Superman Returns the third entry landed with a thud.  Spinning off the series into a poorly executed Wolverine origin story further dug a hole for the franchise before 2011’s X-Men: First Class saved a listing ship.  I didn’t dislike 2013’s The Wolverine as much as my colleagues but by that point fans were a little sensitive to their mutants getting less than stellar cinematic adventures.

Now we’ve arrived in the present with X-Men: Days of Future Past…but we won’t stay there long as the enjoyable seventh entry of the series is more interested in looking back than moving forward.  There’s a lot (A LOT) going on in Simon Kinberg’s script…so much so that I often found myself struggling to remember how all the pieces fit, who is who, and what decade we’re in.  After an opening in a desolate not-too-distant future, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman, Prisoners, who must have been paid in how many bicep veins are present) is sent back to the early 70’s by Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug) to prevent rouge Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle) from setting a series of events into motion in the past that will have a deadly impact for the future.

Juggling two separate time frames, returning director Bryan Singer manages to keep everything in balance for the most part.  Having watched X-Men: First Class directly before seeing this new film, I was impressed that Singer and Kinberg carved out a new path while keeping continuity through some difficult loose ends previous director Matthew Vaughn left for the new crew to figure out.

Less impressive is an overall humdrum feeling the movie left me with after all was said and done.  I’m not suggesting the movie isn’t terrific popcorn entertainment or doesn’t contain a handful of impressively filmed sequences (like Evan Peters as Quicksilver showing off his talents while Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle” plays in the background) but it all feels overly calculated, designed to allow the franchise to continue without really having to answer for past mistakes.

With Lawrence’s star gone supernova since the last installment, her part is significantly beefed up here.  Mystique has never been so front and center and Lawrence manages to eek out some nice moments under her full body make-up.  As the younger Professor X and Magneto, James McAvoy (Trance) and Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave) don’t seem quite as invested this time around, but then again there’s not the same kind of character discovery available to them.  Jackman can play the role in his sleep…and by now it looks like he is.

Moving fast through its 131 minute running length, the end of the film sets up the next volume of X-Men escapades nicely…but then again if you really think about it that’s all the movie seemed interested in in the first place.  Fairly and frequently violent for a PG-13 film, parents should think twice before bringing young children along…Godzilla has less death/carnage in it.

With all my griping about overall ulterior motives, I’ll admit the movie fits neatly into the mode of summer blockbuster by combining all the right elements into the mix.  I think fans will look back and see the mechanics of the script in years to come…but by that time these will be the true days of future past.

Movie Review ~ Trance

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The Facts:

Synopsis: An art auctioneer who has become mixed up with a group of criminals partners with a hypnotherapist in order to recover a lost painting.

Stars: James McAvoy, Vincent Cassel, Rosario Dawson

Director: Danny Boyle

Rated: R

Running Length: 101 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: There’s something so pleasing about watching a movie and even before the credits roll being able to tell who directed it. UK director Boyle won an Oscar for directing 2008’s Best Picture winner Slumdog Millionaire (hated the movie, loved Boyle’s work) but with his latest film Trance the director has gone back to his stylized new wave Hitchcock roots that came to light in 1994’s brilliantly twisted thriller Shallow Grave.

What Trance can’t do, however, it out-do that Boyle mini-masterpiece and that’s because that for all the style that Boyle puts on the proceedings, it can’t hide the fact that the story is a barely-there hodge podge of any number of quadruple cross heist thrillers. Despite an intriguing opening and a rather nicely conceived first half, it’s not long before the film gets itself so deep in the muck that that can’t untie the noose it’s created and winds up dangling.

When the movie began I sat back happily and let the Boyle camera angles, attention to detail, and breaking of the forth wall wash over me. This is the Boyle that I came to enjoy first in Shallow Grave then in Trainspotting, Sunshine, Millions, 28 Days Later…(I’m conveniently leaving out The Beach and A Life Less Ordinary…you should too) and the director seems energized by a film set in the heart of London and infused with a pulsating rhythm that he totally is in control of.

As the film progresses, however, the multiple layers of betrayal are not really peeled away but shuffled down the deck so you’re never quite able to follow along with where the twists are taking you. Is McAvoy’s character a harmless patsy that doesn’t know who he can trust…or is there more to him that the film is deliberately leaving out to spring at us in the final reel? And what of Dawson’s hypnotherapist who seems to be playing both sides of the fence between McAvoy and the oddity that is Cassell as a thief looking for a painting McAvoy was in charge of – is she a femme fatale that will be the last person standing when a hum-drum quartet of criminals turns on each other?

All of our questions are eventually answered in no uncertain terms but to say that the payoff is disappointing is like saying the Mona Lisa was a good first draft. The film winds up feeling so ordinary and rote, despite the best efforts of McAvoy, Cassel, Dawson, and Boyle but it’s the script that does no one any favors. I kept wanting the movie to get back on track and end with a bang – some may find great entertainment in the movie but like February’s Side Effects (another film with good actors working with second rate material) this one made me more frustrated as it kept striking out.

There is some good in the film and that’s mostly courtesy of Boyle and his crack team of creative personnel involved with the movie. The cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle is impeccable, making excellent use of spotless office buildings and luxury apartments. I also enjoyed Rick Nelson’s score and an eclectic soundtrack that gave the film a flow like many Boyle films do – I have the scores to several Boyle films and his choice in music echoes his clean-cut editing/compositions.

For 100 minutes, Trance mostly gets the job done though I do wish the material had been up to snuff with the group of people charged with making it come to life. While it has the feel of an old-school Boyle offering, the also-ran script ultimately disappoints leaving the view not so much entranced as dazed.

The Silver Bullet ~ Trance

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Synopsis: An art auctioneer who has become mixed up with a group of criminals partners with a hypnotherapist in order to recover a lost painting.

Release Date:  April 5, 2013

Thoughts: What excites me most about director Danny Boyle is his willingness to take on different genres of films and putting his own spin on it.  From sci-fi (Sunshine) to family drama (Millions), zombie mayhem (28 Days Later) to inspiring stories of survival (127 Hours) this is a director that won’t be put in a box.  His newest effort harkens back to the film that put him on the map, 1997’s Shallow Grave (it’s no coincidence that Trance and Shallow Grave share the same screenwriter).  That wickedly clever UK import was stylish without sacrificing substance and Trance looks like a similar outing.  Assembling an appealing cast doesn’t hurt either and I’ve a feeling this will be a nice way to warm up the cold weather we’ve been shoveling through in the Midwest.