Sunday, 29 May 2016


Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence
Writer: Simon Kinberg
Director: Bryan Singer


After being unwittingly released from imprisonment after thousands of years, original mutant Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) sets a plan in motion to cleanse the world of, well, pretty much everyone except for the four fellow mutants he's recruited, one of which is a revenge-driven Magneto (Fassbender). Trying to prevent Apocalypse from bringing about the, er, Apocalypse is Professor X (McAvoy), along with Mystique (Lawrence) and a group of gifted youngsters from X's academy...

The latest instalment in the X-Men franchise promises much - a more powerful bad guy than ever before, the introduction of new characters, the re-introduction/reboot of old ones - but ultimately doesn't quite deliver. Part of the problem can be spotted with a quick glance at the poster above. Even with a sizable running time of 144 minutes, how can the movie hope to cram in so many characters and do them all justice? The short answer is that it can't.

Established characters are still given the room to breathe, namely McAvoy's Xavier, Lawrence's ever more dour Mystique and Fassbender's Magneto, who goes through a dispiritingly similar arc to previous encounters. He starts off good, a tragic event sends him bad, but will the humanity within him win out in the end? Don't get me wrong, Fassbender's great but can't his character be given something else to do than wrestle with his conscience and tell McAvoy that his willingness to save mankind died long ago?

The new characters are each given their own introductions, with varying degrees of success. Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) and NIghtcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) elicit some degree of sympathy and hint at bigger parts to play next time out, Storm (Alexandra Shipp) is terrific but under-used and Psylocke (Olivia Munn) has a striking look but is given no depth at all. The new Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) is less dangerous psychic, more grumpy teenager and Angel (Ben Hardy) fares least well of all, only making an impact when he's involved in a high-speed collision with the deck.

As this movie's big bad, Oscar Isaac battles an odd make-up job as Apocalypse and manages a couple of effective moments but considering he's all-powerful the scrap against him never seems desperate enough. There's the requisite amount of destruction - top tip: get away from the bridges linking Manhattan to the other boroughs of New York, they always seem to cop it - and the X mansion is once again the target of some extreme remodelling but most of the big set-pieces are oddly lacking in real X-citement (apologies, I'm an idiot for putting that in).

And yet, in the midst of this unrelentingly average blockbuster there's one sequence which is definitely one of my favourites of the year so far - in which Quicksilver (the excellent Evan Peters) embarks upon a one-man rescue mission to save absolutely everyone in an about-to-be-destroyed building. It's fun, it's inventive, it's thrilling and it hints at what the rest of this movie could have been.

Overstuffed and undercooked, this is a something of a disappointment considering how much I enjoyed First Class and Days of Future Past. It's a long way from being terrible but given the quality of the talent on both sides of the camera it should have been so much better. Oh, and the cameo appearance from a X-Men fan favourite appears to have wandered in from a different and more adult movie.

Sunday, 22 May 2016


Starring: Kevin Bacon, Radha Mitchell, David Mazouz
Writers: Shayne Armstrong, Shane Krause, Greg McLean
Director: Greg McLean


You know how it is. One minute you're enjoying a family holiday in the Grand Canyon, the next you're back home and the place is plagued with all sorts of supernatural occurrences, No? Well, that's what happens to the Taylors in this movie. Top holiday tip? Don't bring back black rocks with symbols on them as their son Mikey (Mazouz) does. Of course, dad Peter (Bacon), mum Bronny (Mitchell) and sister Stephanie (Lucy Fry) have no idea about the black rocks. If they did, it would have been a much shorter movie...

...which might not have been such a bad thing. The Darkness creaks and trundles its way to the hour and a half mark with no sense of energy or urgency. Certainly by the halfway point I was tempted to shout "Get on with it!" at the screen. You shouldn't shout at the screen though, there are rules of cinema etiquette which must be adhered to. So there I was, internally shouting "Get on with it!" at the screen, with no hope that the film would actually get on with it.

There are many things which make this more disappointing than if it had just shown up out of nowhere with no names attached. The director, Greg McLean, knows how to terrify audiences. I loved Wolf Creek and enjoyed its gorier, dafter sequel. Okay, this isn't pitched at the same audience and it's not surprising that there's nothing here which approaches the ferocity of McLean's outback chillers but there are several serviceable set-ups which promise suspense but don't deliver. There are less cheap jump scares than you'd expect in something like this, which is a blessing, but the over-reliance on creeping around dark places in the house becomes humdrum in a very short space of time.

You can't say they've skimped on the acting talent either. Bacon and Mitchell have been great in other horrors (I'm thinking Stir Of Echoes and Pitch Black) and, to be fair, they're far from terrible here but their characters didn't grab me sufficiently to care too much about them beyond hoping that they weren't bumped off by the spirits from beyond. Marital infidelity is one of the sub-plots and this could have been quite interesting but it's ultimately dealt with in such a perfunctory way that I felt the movie was just ticking off things it needed to resolve before the end credits.

The support's none too shabby either. Jennifer Morrison, Matt Walsh, Ming-Na Wen, Paul Reiser (yes, Burke from Aliens) - all present, all given very little to do. Morrison and Walsh are introduced at the beginning as Joy and Gary Carter, friends of the Taylors who also happen to be holidaying with them and then....that's it. Once Bacon and Co. are back home and the weirdness kicks off, that's it for the Carters. You don't see them again. They don't crop up in conversation. The Taylors don't even call the Carters to see if their house has been possessed too. That's more spooky than the black rocks if you ask me.

Come the end you do get a decent dollop of CGI malevolent ghost action as an attempt is made to cleanse the house of its evil but even then this seemed to be a riff on the climax of the original Poltergeist. Yes, it was by far the most enjoyable stretch of The Darkness for me but couldn't overcome the general feeling of "I've seen this before, and I've seen it done better".

I really wanted to enjoy this movie but it's just another tired studio horror flick which is lacking in inspiration and, crucially, scares. The only reason you'd be looking over your shoulder after this one is to make sure someone hadn't stuck a piece of paper on your back saying "Kick me - I paid money to watch The Darkness". Release Greg McLean from the teen-friendly horror shackles and he can definitely bring the fear but this watered-down chiller risks pleasing absolutely no one.

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Thursday, 12 May 2016


Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Elizabeth Olsen, Bradley Whitford
Writer: Marc Abraham
Director: Marc Abraham

The brief, troubled life of singer/songwriter Hank Williams (played by an authentically slim Hiddleston) is chronicled in writer/director Marc Abraham's restrained biopic. Playing to a small audience in a very early morning slot on a local radio show Williams is sure he's destined for bigger and better things, such as appearing at the Grand Ole Opry, but his rise to fame is blighted by relationship problems and health issues.

If you're going to take on the story of Hank Williams then you'd better make damned sure the musical performances are up to scratch and Hiddleston gives us impressive, extremely enjoyable renditions of classic tunes that will make you wish the movie had crammed in more of them. It's a reminder of just how brilliant Williams' compositions were and I'm probably not the only person who watched this and then had Hey Good Lookin' going round their head for the rest of the day.

There's no doubt that the soundtrack is nothing short of amazing and if the rest of the movie had been so engaging I'd have been marking this one as a classic in the making, As it is, the generally low-key approach is at once refreshing and frustrating. It's good to see that the fiery relationship between Williams and wife Audrey (Olsen) is portrayed mostly via pithy, barbed, well-written dialogue rather than screaming matches and thrown crockery but personally I felt that the drama was a little too underplayed for its own good.

Still, there's much to enjoy in the quality of the performances. Hiddleston has the look down pat and the acting chops to match so you won't be wondering why Loki from the Thor and Avengers movies is singing Your Cheatin' Heart. Olsen is terrific so you won't be wondering why Scarlet Witch from that Avengers movie is shacked up with that guy who looks a bit Loki from the Thor and Avengers movies. Cherry Jones is imposing as Hank's formidable mother and Bradley Whitford makes the most of a smaller but significant role as music publisher and friend Fred Rose.

Overall, then, a curate's egg of a movie. The musical numbers are worth the price of admission but the film as a whole left me feeling somehow unsatisfied. There are several effective moments along the way but ultimately it's overlong and lacking the spark to truly captivate. And that's not me playing the steel guitar, as has been suggested elsewhere.