Director: James Mangold
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Richard E. Grant
After 18 years and eight appearances, Hugh Jackman has decided the time has come to say goodbye to the role that made him a star, and for his final outing as Wolverine he is going out with a bang. Logan is tonally, visually and thematically unlike any of the previous films in the X-Men franchise – it is arguably unlike any previous film in the superhero genre – and proves to be a fitting ending for this iconic iteration of the character.
The year is 2029 and mutants are a dying breed, with no new mutants having been born for decades. Logan (Hugh Jackman) is a shadow of his former self. With grey hair and a scraggly beard he is covered in wounds and scars and walks with a pronounced limp. His regenerative powers are slowing and he is being poisoned from the inside by his adamantium skeleton. Above all though, he is exhausted. Continue reading
Director: Bryan Singer
Starring: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Peter Dinklage, Nicholas Hoult, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Ellen Page
Five years ago, the X-Men franchise was looking like it might have run its course. X-Men: Last Stand had disappointed and X-Men Origins: Wolverine was widely panned. But Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class breathed new life into the series in 2011, and now Bryan Singer, the director who helped launch the franchise, is back at the helm for the much anticipated, and confusingly titled, X-Men: Days of Future Past.
We begin at the end. It is the year 2023 and we are in the final stages of a war between the mutants and giant robots known as Sentinels. But it is not so much a war as an extermination. Knowing they have nowhere left to hide, a small band of mutants – including among others, Wolverine, Professor X and Magneto, by this point an ally – devise a last ditch plan. Kitty Pryde uses her telepathic powers to send Wolverine’s consciousness back in time. Awaking in his 1973 body, Wolverine must seek out the young Professor X and Magneto, at this point sworn enemies, and with their help change the past in order to prevent this war from ever beginning.
X-Men: Days of Future Past feels like the continuation of a story. It feels like we are picking up where a previous film left off, but we are not. As a result the first half of the movie is chock full of exposition because there is a whole story that we have not seen which needs to be explained to us in order to understand what we are now seeing. We learn how in 1973 Mystique murders scientist Boliver Trask, inventor of the Sentinels, and that act cements the general public’s fear of the mutants and leads to the green-lighting of the Sentinel project. We learn how after being captured, Mystique’s shape-shifting DNA is incorporated into the design of the Sentinels making them highly adaptable and near impossible to defeat. We learn how the machines started out targeting mutants, but soon moved on to targeting mutant-sympathising humans and eventually all humans. We start the film at the culmination of this narrative and then return to the very beginning to try and stop it ever happening, but the result is the feeling that we’ve actually missed out on quite a good story.
X-Men: Days of Future Past continues the strongly allegorical nature of the series, exploring themes of intolerance, prejudice and the fear of the other. In Professor X and Magneto we are shown two different forms of leadership and two different approaches to combatting prejudice. Professor X is the Martin Luther King figure, preaching cooperation, unity and understanding, while Magneto is more Malcolm X, calling for a more militant, fight-the-power response. These important themes are explored effectively, but still in an entertaining package. There are some impressive action sequences and visual effects, and this film contains more fun and humour than we have seen in some of the previous installments in the series. That we experience the 1970s through the eyes of a character from the future means that the sights and sounds of that era – clothes, music, hair styles, lava lamps and waterbeds – can all be played up for comic effect.
X-Men: Days of Future Past does suffer a bit from character overload, with many being very thinly sketched. The X-Men universe contains so many characters and the temptation is always there to introduce new ones each film. In this film, the dual time period means that we have two casts of characters. There are just too many characters here for them all to be meaningfully represented. Of the new characters introduced, the teenage Quicksilver is a highlight. He is responsible for probably the film’s best scene, helping spring Magneto from a maximum security prison, but despite proving himself incredibly useful he is then inexplicably left behind.
The plot of X-Men: Days of Future Past provided an excellent opportunity to wrap up the series, but, unsurprisingly, that option was not taken and the film is clearly setting itself up for a sequel (talk is that X-Men: Apocalypse will be hitting screens in 2016). With this film’s rewriting of the past essentially throwing away the events and chronology of the previous four films in the franchise, it will be interesting to see what they choose to move forward with in the sequel.
There is plenty in X-Men: Days of Future Past to please returning fans of the series, but newcomers will find this a very difficult film to get up to speed with. While it has some quite strong moments, it is very messy in terms of its screenplay and narrative and doesn’t really live up to the high expectations that preceded it.
Review by Duncan McLean
Have you seen X-Men: Days of Future Past? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought.
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Terrence Howard, Mario Bello, Viola Davis, Melissa Leo, Paul Dano
The compelling, morally complex mystery film Prisoners tells a story of child abduction in suburban Pennsylvania. Two families, the Kellers and the Birchs, come together for Thanksgiving lunch and are enjoying a lovely day until they realise that both of their youngest daughters are missing. When their search proves fruitless, the abrasive Detective Loki, a specialist in finding missing persons, is put on the case. However, the kidnapped girls are not the only prisoners the film’s title alludes to. While Detective Loki continues his investigation, Dover Keller takes things into his own hands. In his desperation he abducts an intellectually challenged man who he believes was involved in his daughter’s abduction and knows her whereabouts, and sets about trying to persuade him to speak by any means necessary. It is at this point that Prisoners ventures beyond the realms of a standard abduction mystery movie and becomes a statement on America in the post-9/11, war-on-terror era.
As America continued its search for Osama bin Laden in the latter part of last decade, details started to leak about the extreme persuasion tactics being employed at Abu Ghraib (tactics confronted on screen last year in Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty) and American society was struck with a moral question. How far is it acceptable to go to get information if you believe it will save lives? In Prisoners, director Denis Villeneuve and screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski confront that same question but put it on a smaller scale, personalising it. How far is it acceptable to go to get information if you believe it can save your daughter’s life?
It is this central moral question that makes Prisoners so painful and so compelling. Simultaneously we want Keller to stop because he might be wrong, but we want him to keep going because he might be right. What is the worse scenario in his mind: that he be wrong and as a result has tortured an innocent man, or that he be right and miss possibly the only opportunity to save his daughter’s life? As such Keller is at the same time the protagonist of the film and one of its chief antagonists. As we struggle to settle on our moral response to the actions being depicted, we are presented with another possible response by Nancy Birch, the mother of the other missing girl, who upon discovering what Keller is doing tells her husband, “We’re not going to help Keller, but we won’t stop him either. Let him do what he needs to.” Her reaction appears to be Villeneuve and Guzikowski’s indictment of an American administration and society that would turn a blind eye to things it could not stomach so long as the ends justified the means.
The first Hollywood film from French-Canadian director Villeneuve, Prisoners is a well-structured and executed mystery with strong performances from its principal cast, a number of whom are playing against their usual character types. For a savvy audience that is programmed to expect plot twists, Prisoners still manages to surprise you. There are some moments at which you feel like plot and character elements are missing –for example Gyllenhaal’s Detective Loki is quite an interesting character in terms of his mannerisms and presentation and you expect a backstory that is never forthcoming to explain why he is the way he is – but the film is none the less a gripping, intense mystery.
Rating – ★★★★
Review by Duncan McLean
Director: Tom Hooper
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Eddie Redmayne, Amanda Seyfried, Samantha Barks, Aaron Tveit, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen
Les Misérables first appeared on stage on the West End in 1985 and in the 27 years since it has become one of the most successful musicals of all time. That said, it was still a bit of a risk for Tom Hooper to announce it as his next film project after winning an Oscar for The King’s Speech. It was always going to be a high profile event film, and let’s face it, history has shown us that when you get a big budget musical wrong it can be really, really bad. Hooper assembled a great cast lead by Hugh Jackman – amazingly making his first movie musical despite his strong musical pedigree. But early critical reviews were mixed. Some called it a mess, others heralded it as one of the year’s best. So I was really keen to see it for myself, particularly as I saw the stage production in London earlier in the year and loved it.
The big experiment with Les Misérables, and again part of what made it a risky project,was having the actors sing live. Usually when you make a musical one of the first things you do is get the cast into a recording studio and record an album. Then a couple of months later when it is time for the shoot, the actors simply lip-synch to the mastered recording. With Les Misérables, Tom Hooper decided that he wanted his actors to sing live on each take. The major advantage of doing it this way is it frees up the actors creatively. When you record the songs in advance, the actors are forced to make many of their acting choices well before getting on set, and once on set they are restricted by the necessity of matching up with the recording. This would be far from ideal for a musical like Les Misérables where so much of the emotional crux of the story is delivered through song. This greater level of freedom in performance for the actors has resulted in a musical which is not necessarily as brassy and robust as the stage show, but packs an incredible emotional punch.
This different approach was then complemented by the way the musical numbers have been shot. Unlike a traditional musical, Les Misérables only features one heavily choreographed number, the comical ‘Master of the House’ performed by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter’s grotesque tavern owners. The other numbers are shot very simply, often in close-up. The beauty of this approach is you get to see characters faces, something you don’t get on stage. Les Misérables is a very tragic, very emotional story, and the impact of being able to see the faces of characters as they sing is quite powerful. Never is this more apparent than when Anne Hathaway sings ‘I Dreamed a Dream,’ shot entirely in one shot, a medium close-up.
Hugh Jackman was always the logical choice to play Jean Valjean. With his baritone voice, his award-winning musical theatre experience, broad chest and handsome features, Jackman seems born to play the part. As Valjean, he carries much of the emotional weight of the film and he does it admirably, imbuing the character with a real strength and masculinity. The film’s other clear stand out is Anne Hathaway as Fantine. She delivers one of the most gut-wrenching performances you will ever see, demonstrating her versatility in a year which also saw her playing Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises. While Jackman will be in the mix come award season, Hathaway can start deciding where she wants to put her Best Supporting Actress Oscar now.
One of the big questions in the lead up to the film was the singing ability of Russell Crowe. Everyone knew Jackman and Hathaway could sing, but the fact that Crowe used to have a band, Thirty Odd Foot of Grunt, not to mention his old Russ le Roq days, didn’t have people convinced he was the right man to tackle the demanding role of Javert. This concern was not helped by the fact that his voice was notably absent from a couple of the early trailers. As it turns out, he does alright. His voice is nowhere near as full as some of the others in the film, but you get used to it. He definitely looks the part, and still manages to give some emotional depth to the character.
Hooper’s film is a very faithful adaptation of the musical, plus the requisite new song, ‘Suddenly,’ so that they have something to submit for Award consideration. This faithfulness means that if there was anything in particular that irked you about the stage musical, it still will in the film. In my case, it is the fact that Cosette and Marius are still really boring. It also means that, as is the case with many film musicals, the critical reception will be varied. Musicals are really divisive. People tend to like them or they don’t and if you are someone who can’t get behind the concept of a musical, you’re never going to enjoy one. Even people who like movie musicals may struggle with this one as the ratio of dialogue to song is much closer to an opera than to a normal movie musical. So with a film like this it is difficult to make a general judgement. Instead, I can only speak as a person who enjoys musicals, and who particularly loves this one. I thought it was brilliant.
Rating – ★★★★
Review by Duncan McLean