DARK PHOENIX (2019) – More Superficial Than Superhero

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There’s more superficial than superhero in DARK PHOENIX (2019), the latest Marvel X-Men movie to hit the theaters.

When 20th Century Fox rebooted its X-MEN franchise with X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011) that film not only instantly became one of my favorite X-MEN movies but also one of my favorite Marvel superhero movies, period. A major reason for this was the casting of James McAvoy as Professor Charles Xavier and Michael Fassbender as Magneto. These two actors shared some strong chemistry together and lifted FIRST CLASS to its status as a superior superhero movie.

With apologies to Jennifer Lawrence, who has also appeared in these movies as Raven/Mystique, McAvoy and Fassbender have continued to be the best part of these X-Men reboots, and so even though DARK PHOENIX opened to dreadful reviews, knowing that McAvoy and Fassbender were back, I still trekked to the theater to catch this one.

And while I can certainly understand why this one opened to such negative reviews, it wasn’t all bad. It’s just not very good.

DARK PHOENIX tells a story that fans of the X-Men comics know very well, the story of Jean Grey becoming the Phoenix. This story was also told in the previous X-Men series, in X-MEN: THE LAST STAND (2006). Fans didn’t like how the Phoenix story was handled in that movie, and I doubt they’re going to like how it’s handled here.

In DARK PHOENIX, it’s 1992, and the X-Men are enjoying happy times as they are universally perceived as heroes, and a jubilant Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) spends his time giving speeches and has access to a personal phone line to the President of the United States. Life is good.

But during a daunting space rescue, where a crew of X-Men attempt to extract the endangered crew of a space shuttle, a strange space phenomenon, a beastly looking cloud of light, which is threatening the shuttle descends upon the scene, and it’s up to Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) to stop it. She does, but it nearly kills her, and when she returns alive and well, she is given the nickname “Phoenix” as she seemingly has risen from the dead.

But all is not well, as Jean begins to exhibit some weird behaviors and unleash powers she doesn’t seem able to control. She’s suddenly out there doing things that are giving the X-Men a bad name. Further complicating matters, a group of space aliens who we know virtually nothing about led by Vux (Jessica Chastain) want the power which Jean possesses.

With the X-Men reeling, as there is lots of in-fighting over what is perceived as Charles Xavier’s mishandling of Jean Grey, the glory days for these mutant heroes comes to an end. Looking for help, Jean seeks out Magneto (Michael Fassbender) who’s living in the desert with his own band of mutant rebels. And once Magneto learns the truth about Jean and what she has done, he’s not interested in helping her but in killing her.

It’s up to Charles Xavier, who refuses to give up on Jean, to save her, but he’ll have to contend with Magneto, the space aliens, the military, and his own renegade mutants to do it.

This plot actually sounds better than it is, and that’s because the story as told in the movie is kind of all over the place. There were parts that I liked, but taken as a whole this one never becomes a unified story that works.

The screenplay by writer/director Simon Kinberg was far too superficial to be successful. Plot points are glossed over, conversations are banal, the dialogue trite, and the characterizations are without depth.

We learn little about the villainous aliens, and their scenes in this one are sporadic and dull. Speaking of dull, that’s how the X-men come off in this movie. Jean Grey/Phoenix really isn’t all that interesting, and her story isn’t given much depth at all. Jennifer Lawrence does very little as Raven/Mystique. Her role isn’t much more than an extended cameo, and she gets some of the worst lines in the movie.

I like Nicholas Hoult as Beast, but his dialogue here isn’t any better. Michael Fassbender doesn’t show up as Magneto until halfway through the movie, and James McAvoy seems to be stuck saying the same things as Charles Xavier throughout. He sounds like a broken record.

Jessica Chastain is wasted as alien Vuk, a villain with no characterization, back story, or screen presence.

And while Tye Sheridan plays Cyclops, Alexandra Ship plays Storm, Evan Peters plays Quicksilver, and Kodi Smit-McPhee plays Nightcrawler, none of these folks make much of an impact.

Director Simon Kinberg also struggles to make this one cinematic. There’s hardly a memorable scene here, visually or otherwise.

There just didn’t seem to be a whole lot of attention to detail. There’s an entire plot of in-fighting with the X-Men, reminiscent of what the Avengers went through in CAPTAIN AMERICA; CIVIL WAR (2016) but the two films aren’t even on the same page when it comes to quality. CIVIL WAR got down and dirty, got right into its characters’ faces, and as a result the audience knew exactly where each character stood and felt their pain.

Not so here with DARK PHOENIX. We know where the characters stand because they say so, but we never feel it. That’s a big difference. Very little of what happens in DARK PHOENIX resonates.

So, what did I like about DARK PHOENIX? Well, it still stars James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, and so even with the weak dialogue, the two actors are enjoyable to watch, and I did enjoy their performances here, although hands down DARK PHOENIX is the weakest of their X-MEN collaborations.

I also like Nicholas Hoult as Beast, but unfortunately, the women don’t fare as well. I didn’t really enjoy Sophie Turner as Jean Grey, as unlike McAvoy and Fassbender, she was  unable to overcome the bad dialogue. Jennifer Lawrence sleepwalks through her brief stint as Raven/Mystique, and Jessica Chastain is reduced to being robotic as villain Vuk.

While the initial space shuttle rescue was blah, the climactic battle aboard a speeding train at least had some pop.

But nothing in DARK PHOENIX really sticks. Things happen, but moments later they’re forgotten.

This may be the end of this class of X-Men. Disney, which owns the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, has bought 20th Century Fox, and rumor has it they will once more reboot the X-Men series and incorporate it into the MCU.

And while this isn’t the best ending of the James McAvoy/Michael Fassbender led series, I’ve enjoyed the ride. It’s too bad that their final film wasn’t better.

Unless of course, they, like the Phoenix, survive the buyout and rise once again as Professor X and Magneto.

I for one wouldn’t mind that at all.

—END—

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Worst Movies of 2018

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Here’s a look at my Top 10 Least Favorite movies from 2018:

10. OCEAN’S 8 – I’ve never been a fan of the OCEAN’S movies starring George Clooney and company, and this new all-female version starring Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett didn’t do anything to change my opinion. Forced and contrived, this one just never won me over.

9. ADRIFT- Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin play two free spirits who meet, fall in love, and decide to sail across the ocean together, but their plans are thwarted by a massive hurricane which threatens their lives. Sounds better than it is.

8. BAD SAMARITAN – David Tennant plays an ultra evil baddie who likes to keep women chained in his home. When his house is broken into, the thieves discover his secret, but they can’t go to the police because they’re thieves, so they decide to save the day on their own, but he doesn’t like that very much.  A completely over-the-top thriller that strains credibility.

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7. RED SPARROW -Ridiculolus thriller wastes the talents of Jennifer Lawrence and Joel Edgerton. Lawrence plays a Russian spy, Edgerton a CIA agent, in a tale that is muddled from start to finish.

6. UNSANE – Steven Soderbergh shot the entire film using an IPhone 7 Plus, which ultimately, doesn’t really add much to this lamebrained thriller. Claire Foye is enjoyable in the lead role, but ultimately a bad script does this one in.

5. INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY – Enough with the INSIDIOUS prequels already! True, Lin Shaye is enjoyable to watch as Elise Rainer, but since the character was killed off in the very first INSIDIOUS movie, these continuous looks into her back story just aren’t all that compelling.

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4. THE 15:17 TO PARIS – Clint Eastwood made the fateful decision to film this re-telling of the true story of three Americans who thwarted a terrorist attack on a train in Paris by hiring the three young men to play themselves rather than use actors. It’s a decision that didn’t really work, as these three guys on screen are dull and boring. There’s a reason movies employ professional actors.

3. THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS – An R-rated raunchy comedy starring Muppets and Melissa McCarthy sounds like a funny idea, but unfortunately, this film directed by Brian Henson doesn’t deliver. It does start off pretty darn funny, but it all goes downhill from there. My least favorite comedy of the year.

2.THE NUN – And here’s my least favorite horror movie of the year.  With its on-location filming in Romania, the film looks great! But the story and dialogue are dreadful. Part of the CONJURING universe. A lot of people liked this one, but I thought it was bottom-of-the-barrel horror.

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1.PEPPERMINT –  And my pick for the Worst Film of 2018 goes to PEPPERMINT, an abysmal thriller starring Jennifer Garner. Garner plays a vigilante going after the people who killed her family. Plays like a female version of the DEATH WISH movies. Things are so bad here that even the vengeance scenes fall flat. By far, the most boring movie I saw this year.

And there you have it, my list of the Top 10 Worst Films from 2018.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

RED SPARROW (2018) – Cold Spy Thriller Doesn’t Heat Up

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RED SPARROW (2018) is as cold as a Russian winter.

And for a spy thriller that is about forced prostitution, murder, and espionage, that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) is a Russian ballet dancer who suffers a grisly injury while performing on stage which breaks her leg and ends her career.  Dominika’s uncle Vanya (Matthias Schoenaerts) is a higher-up in the Russian Intelligence Agency, and he recruits his niece into the organization, promising her he will take care of her sick mother’s medical bills if she serves Russia as a spy. Ah, supporting the sick mother storyline!  Where have I heard that one before?  In fairness, the plot does take a more believable darker turn when good old Uncle Vanya basically threatens to kill Dominika if she doesn’t work for him.

So Dominika is enrolled in a spy training school which, as she puts it, is really a school for prostitutes, since the candidates are trained to use their bodies to get the information they need. The training includes constant humiliation and degradation. The spies who graduate from this school are referred to as “sparrows.”

Dominika is then sent into the field to make contact with an American C.I.A. agent Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton) who knows the identity of a Russian mole who is selling secrets to the Americans.  Dominika’s mission is to extract this information from Nash. Of course Nash being a veteran agent, is on to Dominika from the start, and he believes he can turn her to the American side.

Let the intrigue begin!  And that’s pretty much the plot of RED SPARROW.

In terms of story, RED SPARROW is as bare as an empty bird’s nest.  The main plot is pretty simplistic and not all that believable.  And the early segment involving Dominika’s humiliating training at the sparrow school is so emotionless I hardly cared. And that’s the biggest weakness of the screenplay by Justin Haythe, based on the book by Jason Matthews.  I didn’t really care about any of the characters.  Dominika is a cold fish–obviously to survive her training she has to be— but the result is a robot-like character who I never warmed up to.

Joel Edgerton’s Nate Nash is the more likeable character of the two, but he’s not the main focus here, nor do we ever learn all that much about him.

The dialogue is standard and doesn’t do the characters any favors as most of the folks in this story talk like robots.  Haythe also wrote the screenplay to the horror movie  A CURE FOR WELLNESS (2016), a movie I liked much better than RED SPARROW.

The theme that nothing happens by accident is true here, but not because of a sense of fate, but rather because the characters in this tale don’t allow anything to happen by accident.  They force, coerce, and manipulate everything.

Director Francis Lawrence fares slightly better than his script.  The film looks sufficiently dark and distressing, and the several scenes of torture in this one make their mark— literally— but again, like the movie as a whole, emotions just aren’t all that prevalent. There are some decent fight scenes, but nothing like the ones in last year’s ATOMIC BLONDE (2017) starring Charlize Theron.

Lawrence directed the last three HUNGER GAMES movies, also starring Jennifer Lawrence, and that’s pretty much where this film falls in terms of quality and feel, on par with a HUNGER GAMES sequel, and that’s not a good thing. Plus, as a spy film, it does nothing to set itself apart from other films of its type.

Jennifer Lawrence, in spite of her considerable acting talent, delivers a one-note performance here as Dominika.  She’s cold and she’s tough, and that’s about it. Obviously, Dominika had to be this way to survive the training and her ensuing mission, and so on paper Lawrence is doing what she should be doing to capture her character’s persona. But there’s nothing beneath the surface here.  We know little about Dominika before her conversion into a red sparrow spy, nor does Lawrence give us any insight into what kind of person Dominika is, other than she’s relentlessly strong-willed and resilient. But you can say the same thing about both Wonder Woman and Frances McDormand’s character Mildred in THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (2017), two very different characters who we learn a lot about in their respective movies and so we understand where they are coming from and where they are going.  Such is not the case with Jennifer Lawrence’s Dominika.

Joel Edgerton does a fine job as Nate Nash, although his character is also under-written, and so  not a lot is known about him either.

The film is peppered with a strong supporting cast which helps keep this film afloat.

Matthias Schoenaerts gives one of the best performances in the film as Dominika’s uncle Vanya. He makes Vanya cold, calculating, and heartless, which pretty much sums up the feel of the entire movie.

Veteran actress Charlotte Rampling plays the Matron, the no-nonsense woman in charge of training the candidates at the Sparrow school. Mary Louise Parker is memorable in a small role as Stephanie Boucher, the chief of staff of a prominent U.S. Senator who has secrets to sell.

Sakina Jaffrey and Bill Camp are memorable as Nash’s C.I.A. handlers, while Ciaran Hinds and Jeremy Irons play top Russian intelligence officials.

And Sebastian Hulk makes for a frightening Russian torture artist who likes to peel the flesh off his victims. Slowly.

RED SPARROW has strong acting, tepid writing, and by the numbers direction. Combined with an overall emotionless feel, and a focused but uninspiring performance by Jennifer Lawrence, the result is a formulaic and often lackluster spy thriller.

Its frigid tale simply never heats up.

—END—

 

MOTHER! (2017) – Metaphor For Our Narcissistic Times

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MOTHER! (2017), the latest movie by writer/director Darren Aronofsky, is an ambitious and thought-provoking film that serves as a metaphor for our ever-increasing narcissistic culture that not only breeds and encourages narcissists but the radical zealots who follow them.

There’s a lot going on here, most of it not that easy to digest or decipher, and since the trailer for this movie makes it look like a modern-day ROSEMARY’S BABY, which it is not, I’m guessing there’s going to be a whole lot of disappointed moviegoers out there who decide to see this movie.  It’s not really a horror movie, in the traditional sense.

But that shouldn’t stop you from seeing this one.  Any time a movie makes you think and think hard, and goes about its storytelling in a way that is creative and out of the ordinary, that’s a good thing.  MOTHER! is a good thing.  It’s just not going to appeal to a wide audience.

MOTHER! tells a straightforward story.  A woman (Jennifer Lawrence) lives in her quiet dreamhouse with her author husband (Javier Bardem) who’s stuck in a writer’s funk and has been struggling to produce new material.  One night, a man (Ed Harris) shows up at their door, and to the woman’s surprise, her husband invites the man to stay the night.  It turns out that the man is a huge fan, and this pleases the author to no end.  Soon, the man’s wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrives as well, and naturally, she’s invited to stay, too.

Things happen that result in more people showing up, people who make the woman uncomfortable, because this isn’t what she expects.  She wants her life in her house with her husband, but yet her husband is fine with opening up their house to these guests. She grows more distressed as more people arrive.  And later, when a lot of people come in, all hell breaks loose.

In terms of plot, the story is constructed very well, or at least the first half is, anyway. When Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer arrive, their arrival makes perfect sense. Likewise, when many of their family members join them, that also makes perfect sense. So, it’s not as if the audience is sitting there scratching their heads wondering why these people are there.  It strikes Jennifer Lawrence’s character as strange, but when Javier Bardem’s character explains things to her, we in the audience understand.

Later, in the second half of the movie, the film deviates from a straightforward plot and enters into the realm of pure metaphor.  And it’s here where the film will no doubt lose most of its audience.

But through it all, it remains truthful and has a lot to say.

First of all, this is not a good movie for authors who want to get married, because if there’s one message that comes through loud and clear, it’s what it’s like to be married to an author.  Now, this isn’t the point of the movie, but it’s certainly one of the parts I liked, because there’s truth behind it.

Javier Bardem captures what it’s like to be a writer.  You can see it in his face when he can’t produce, and alternatively, you can see him light up when the ideas come to him and when his fans tell him how much they like his work. The bottom line is for this character,  life is always about him and his work.  His wife, though he says he loves her and indeed acts like he loves her, is always secondary.  Jennifer Lawrence has a great line when she says that he never really loved her, and that he only loved the fact that she loved him.  A telling and truthful moment.

But MOTHER! is much more than a story about an author.  Javier Bardem’s husband character is a narcissist.  He’s driven by the attention he receives from his adoring fans. In the movie, it begins with the simple conversation between his character and the Ed Harris character, who admits to being a fan and who says “your words changed my life.” From there it grows, slowly at first, until during the second half of the movie it becomes full-blown insanity.

In the second half of the movie, people come to the house because they are fans, and it’s here that the plot becomes secondary and the metaphoric elements of the film take over. We see varying degrees of fandom, but most are radical followers.  The film then serves us images which are religious, militant, violent, and flat-out horrific.

In a nutshell, the film shows what life is like living with a narcissist.  But, more than that, the images at the end  of the movie, of violence, hatred, of opposing sides clashing, easily brought to my mind images that we have seen on the news of events here in the U.S. in 2017, which for me, lifted this movie to another level, because what I took from it by the end, was that it’s a metaphor for what life is like when you elect a narcissist.

But not all of the movie works.  I had an issue with the pacing.  It runs at about two hours long, and there were times midway through where it felt longer than that.

Jennifer Lawrence is fine as the young mother here, in a role where she spends most of the film barefoot and pregnant.  And since this movie is called MOTHER! after all, her character is the one audiences will identify with the most. The story is seen through her eyes, and so when she is upset about the things that are going on, the audience is right there with her. And by the time you get to the end, with all the different sides going at each other, she’s the one who’s hurt the most. She becomes the victim of both her husband’s actions and inactions.

I was more impressed with Javier Bardem as the author/husband, who always seemed to make sense when he spoke to his wife, yet at the same time it was maddening to watch him pretty much ignore his wife’s needs.

Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer add fine support in their roles as the annoying intrusive couple, especially Pfeiffer who exudes a coldness that really fits with the movie.  But Harris is just as good, as the more emotional half of this couple.

The rest of the cast is secondary.

The main guy here is writer/director Darren Aronofsky, who’s mostly known for the movie BLACK SWAN (2010), a dark movie that was well received and that I liked well enough.  Previous to MOTHER!, he wrote and directed NOAH  (2014), a re-telling of the Noah and the Ark story, starring Russell Crowe as Noah which tried to turn Noah into an action hero.  It was a misfire, but I actually enjoyed it.

MOTHER! is a film that most folks are simply not going to enjoy.  It’s not your standard horror movie or drama, and it becomes highly symbolic during its second half which is bound to turn off lots of viewers.

But I liked it.  It has a lot to say about narcissism in our culture, both about those who desire and command attention, and about those who relentlessly become their “followers.”

Better yet, it tells the truth, even when that truth is ugly and repugnant.

—END—

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For The Love Of Horror cover

Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Superhero Movies 2016 – Worst to First

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Here’s a look at the superhero movies from 2016, ranked from worst to first:

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7. BATMAN V SUPERMAN:  DAWN OF JUSTICE – By far, the worst superhero movie of 2016. The script by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer doesn’t work. In spite of the fact that Batman and Superman do not trust or like each other, a big part of the plot revolves around Lex Luthor’s plans to pit them against each other.  Why?  They’re enemies already!  Also, the big moment where Batman and Superman change their tunes about each other is both unbelievable and anticlimactic.

Both Ben Affleck as Batman and Henry Cavill as Superman are fine, but the story they are in is not.  Also unimpressed with the action scenes by director Zach Snyder.  Best Part:  Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman.  Worst Part:  Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor.

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6. THE LEGEND OF TARZAN- Tecnically, not really a superhero movie, but growing up I always considered Tarzan a superhero of the jungle.

THE LEGEND OF TARZAN is a serious good-looking production by director David Yates that suffers from one fundamental problem:  it’s boring.

Alexander Skarsgard is terribly uncharismatic as Tarzan, Margot Robbie somehow doesn’t wow as Jane, and Christoph Waltz thinks he’s still playing Bond baddie Blofeld, hamming it up as villain Leon Rom.  The liveliest lines go to Samuel L. Jackson as Tarzan ally George Washington Williams.  The movie would have been better served had it given this oomph to Tarzan.

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5.SUICIDE SQUAD –  The DC superhero movies continue to struggle, but that being said, I liked SUICIDE SQUAD.  Somewhat.

Whereas she didn’t wow in THE LEGEND OF TARZAN, Margot Robbie more than makes up for it here as Harley Quinn.  Robbie’s electrifying, sexy performance as the bad-girl-turned-good-maybe easily steals this movie.  It’s easy to understand from Robbie’s performance how Quinn is the Joker’s girlfriend.

While I’m not a Will Smith fan, he’s really good here as Deadshot, and his and Robbie’s performances were the main reasons I enjoyed this movie.  The rest of the cast is simply average.  The plot less so.  The screenplay by director David Ayer has all this build up to this squad of misfits only to see them square off against one of their own, a supernatural witch, no less.  This one simply lacks vision.

Also, Jared Leto’s Joker is ultimately a disappointment, partly because of his performance, but mostly because the role is under written.

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4. DOCTOR STRANGE – The first of the superhero movies on this list that I consider excellent.  It’s no surprise that all four of the top superhero movies from 2016 come out of the Marvel Universe, the studio that continues to churn out one superhero hit after another.

Certainly the most imaginative superhero movie of the year.  Not only does it tell a captivating story, but it’s also a visual treat. Benedict Cumberbatch is excellent as Doctor Strange, the obnoxious neurosurgeon turned superhero after a devastating injury ruins his career and sends him in search of healing through the Far East mystic arts.  What he finds is new life as a superhero.

As usual with the Marvel movies, it struggles with its villain, as Mads Mikkelsen really doesn’t get to do a whole lot as bad guy Kaecilius.

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3. X-MEN:  APOCALYPSE –  My sleeper pick on the list.  Critically panned and not really loved by fans, X-MEN: APOCALYPSE nonetheless entertained me from start to finish.

The main reason I enjoyed this one?  The performances by James McAvoy as Professor Xavier, and Michael Fassbender as Magneto. Since taking over these roles when the series rebooted with X-MEN:  FIRST CLASS (2011), McAvoy and Fassbender have made them their own.  It’s difficult to dislike a movie when these two talented actors are helming it.

Of course, Jennifer Lawrence is here, too, as Raven/Mystique, but in all honesty I’ve enjoyed Lawrence in most of her other movies more than here in the X-MEN series.

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2. DEADPOOL (CKF) – For many, DEADPOOL was the best superhero movie of 2016.  For me, it was second best.  That being said, it was certainly the most unusual superhero movie of the year.

Foul-mouthed Deadpool— played by Ryan Reynolds in a role he was born to play— lets loose with an abundance of raunchy language not even George Carlin, Richard Pryor, or Eddie Murphy combined could match.  As such, this R rated superhero movie is not for everyone, but if you don’t mind raunchy language, you are in for quite a treat.

The liveliest superhero movie of the year, as well as the funniest.

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1. CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR – My pick for the best superhero movie of 2016 is easily Marvel’s CAPTAIN AMERICA:  CIVIL WAR.  This one plays more like THE AVENGERS 2.5. Its story about a rift between Captain America and Iron Man is much more believable and emotionally satisfying than the rift between Batman and Superman in BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE.

This one is so good, that even though it’s the third Captain America movie, it belongs in the conversation as one of the best superhero movies ever made.Brothers Anthony and Joe Russo direct this one with high energy and lots of style, and the screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely is a genuine crowd pleaser.

Also features a phenomenal cast which has no business being in a superhero movie. You’ve got Chris Evans as Captain America, Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man, Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, Anthony Mackie as the Falcon, Don Cheadle as War Machine, Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther, Paul Bettany as Vision, Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, Paul Rudd as Ant-Man, and Sebastian Stan as the Winter Soldier.  And with all these folks doing their things and doing them well, the movie is almost stolen by young Tom Holland in his debut as Spider-Man.

An awesome movie.  Marvel has been churning out one quality superhero movie after another going back to IRON MAN (2008), and they show no signs of slowing down.  I’m looking forward to their upcoming releases in 2017, starting with LOGAN on March 3.

And there you have it, my list of the superhero movies from 2016.

Until next time, thanks for reading!

—Michael

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.  Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

 

Science Fiction Movies 2016 – Worst to First

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Here’s a look back at the major science fiction movies from 2016.  There has been a resurgence of late of quality science fiction films, but that being said, 2016 didn’t have a lot to offer audiences in the sci-fi genre.  In fact, of the more than 50 films I saw in 2016, only five were science fiction.

Here’s a break down of how they fared, from worst to first:

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5. PASSENGERS – this big budget pairing of superstars Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt was my least favorite science fiction film from 2016.  That being said, it’s really not that bad a movie.  I would rate it slightly less than average.  Probably not worth a trip to the theater, but something you might consider catching at home on a streaming service or on DVD or Blu-ray.

The biggest culprit is a story that just didn’t work.  It’s about a massive spaceship carrying thousands of passengers in sleep stasis to a new colony planet where they hope to begin a new life.  When there’s a malfunction, and a man Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) is accidentally awoken, he finds himself alone and realizes with 90 years still left to the voyage, he won’t get off the ship alive.  His decision to awake fellow passenger Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence)— in effect giving her a death sentence— and the subsequent love story  which follows sets up the burning question:  what will happen if Aurora finds out that unlike Jim she didn’t awake by accident?

The resolution to this question is both unsatisfying and unbelievable.  PASSENGERS is a good-looking science fiction movie hindered by a muddled storyline.  Plus Lawrence and Pratt share very little chemistry as desperate space lovers.

 

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4. ROGUE ONE:  A STAR WARS STORY –  while legions of fans call this the best STAR WARS movie ever! I simply found it to be a decent stand alone film in the series.  It starts off slow but gets better with an exciting ending that is one of the best endings of the entire series.

ROGUE ONE is a stand alone film in the series, meaning it’s the first film in the STAR WARS franchise not to be part of a trilogy.  It tells the intriguing story of the daring mission to steal those Death Star plans which would ultimately give Luke Skywalker the ability to destroy the evil Empire’s ultimate weapon way back in the very first STAR WARS (1977).  It’s a good story, but the film struggles to tell it at first, as we are introduced to a bunch of new characters early on with a minimum of character development.  As such, during the film’s first half, I didn’t care for any of these new characters.

Things eventually get better, and the ending is superb.  I really liked Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso, but the rest of the cast didn’t really wow me.  Nor did the much hyped CGI-motion capture hybrid of Grand Moff Tarkin, which tried to recreate the late great Peter Cushing in one of his later roles.  Mixed results here, as this Tarkin looks just like Cushing if you imagine him as a cartoon.  I enjoyed STAR WARS:  THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015) better.

 

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3. MORGAN – Little seen and critically panned sci-fi actioner, but I really liked this one.  It’s the story of an artificially intelligent being named Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy) who kills one of the scientists working with her.  As a result, the company which financed the project to create Morgan sends in an agent Lee Weathers (Kate Mara) to investigate whether or not Morgan needs to be terminated.

The scientists who created and now care for Morgan argue in her favor, even though she killed one of their own.  They believe she has attained life and as such cannot be terminated at the whim of a company.  While the film does explore what it means to be an artificial life form, the story is not on the same level as the deeper and better written EX MACHINA (2015).

But where MORGAN does succeed is as an action thriller.  As such, MORGAN features two strong performances, one by Kate Mara as the driven investigator who will stop at nothing to reach her conclusions, and the other by Anya Taylor-Joy as the introspective and potentially dangerous Morgan.  The climactic fight scene between agent Lee Weathers and Morgan is expertly edited, as intense and violent a fight as you’ll see in an action movie, especially between two women.

 

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2.STAR TREK BEYOND- As a lifelong STAR TREK fan, I’ve enjoyed this rebooted movie series a lot, as it explores an alternate timeline involving the characters from the original STAR TREK series.

This third film in this rebooted series is as enjoyable as the two films which came before it. By far, the best part of these movies is its cast, which continue to do a bang up job at capturing the personas of the original cast from the first STAR TREK TV show.  Chris Pine shines as Captain Kirk, and I thought he played the role a bit more like William Shatner here in this third film than he did in the previous two.

Zachary Quinto continues to nail Mr. Spock by delivering a performance that Leonard Nimoy would no doubt be proud of.  But most impressive is Karl Urban as Doctor McCoy.  He has gotten better with each successive movie, and he was excellent to begin with.  He truly captures what DeForest Kelly did with the character in the original series.  Urban’s performance is uncanny.

 

And now we’ve reached my pick for the best science fiction movie from 2016.  We started with PASSENGERS, which I found slightly less than average, and the next three movies were all solid, flirting with average to better than average.

But my pick for the #1 science fiction movie of the year is the only science fiction film from 2016 that I considered excellent.  It’s a far superior science fiction movie than the other four films in this list.

And that movie is:

 

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1. ARRIVAL – the one true science fiction movie from 2016.  When mysterious space ships suddenly appear all over the Earth, suspended silently above ground like enormous storm clouds, the governments from around the world scramble to decipher what these aliens want.

The U.S. government sends in linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) to communicate with the aliens.  Banks not only has to try to learn the aliens’ language, but she also has to figure out a way to teach them ours.

What she, along with physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) ultimately learn changes the way we think about time and space.

ARRIVAL is fun science fiction movie with a thought-provoking script by Eric Heisserer.  It’s not perfect. I found the ending not quite as satisfying or mind-blowing as the ending to INTERSTELLAR (2014).  But Amy Adams is excellent in the lead role, and the film really belongs to her.

Without much serious competition, ARRIVAL is easily the best science fiction movie I saw in 2016.

Until next time, thanks for reading!

— Michael

 

 

 

 

 

PASSENGERS (2016) – Odd Love Story Set in Space

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When watching PASSENGERS (2016), the new science fiction movie starring Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, I was reminded of a line from an old James Bond movie.

In THUNDERBALL (1965), after racing along at high speeds with an uncomfortable James Bond in the passenger seat, Fiona (Luciana Paluzzi) tells Bond (Sean Connery), “Some men just don’t like to be driven.”  To which Bond replies, “No, some men don’t like to be taken for a ride.”

On the long space voyage which makes up the story of PASSENGERS, I  felt I had been taken for a ride.

First and foremost, there’s not a lot to PASSENGERS.  It’s basically a love story— and a strange one at that— set on a spaceship in the future, and the setting is about as deep as the science fiction gets in this movie.  There’s not much beyond that.

In the future, the spaceship Avalon is enroute to a distant planet called rhe Homestead Colony which promises a brand new start for its occupants and crew.  It’s a 120 year voyage, and so everyone on board is in sleep stasis.  When the 120 years are up, they’ll awake and their new life will begin.

That’s the plan anyway, but as we all know, the best laid plans—.  Anyway, the Avalon unfortunately collides with some meteors, and one humongous meteor in particular, and as a result some of the ship’s systems are damaged.  This damage causes one of the sleep pods to malfunction, and its occupant Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) awakens 90 years too early.  Preston realizes that this is a death sentence.  He’ll be dead before they reach the Homestead Colony.

Preston, a mechanic by trade, uses this time to study up on the ship to try to find a way to either get himself back to sleep or to awake the crew so he can get some help.  He fails at both.  His only contact is a robot bartender Arthur (Michael Sheen) who at least provides him with a daily dose of conversation, and of course, alcohol.

But this isn’t enough.  After nearly a year on the ship, Jim reaches his low point and contemplates suicide, but he loses his nerve, and at that moment he happens to set eyes on a beautiful woman Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) sleeping in her cryogenic chamber.  He reads up on her and learns that she is an author, and basically he falls in love with her.

Around this time, Jim also discovers a way of opening her sleep chamber, and so he now faces a dilemma:  he desperately wants companionship, but he knows if he wakes her up, he’s also delivering a death sentence to her as well.  But, in what is supposed to be the big plot twist in the movie— although it’s a deeply flawed twist because every single trailer shows the two characters awake on board the ship so the audience knows exactly what Jim is going to do— Jim wakes her up.

Which then sets up this bizarre love story between these two characters, with the tension being, will she find out that he woke her up, and if she does, how will she react?

Excuse me.  But you’re also on board a malfunctioning spaceship.  Perhaps that should be something else you should be concerned with?

PASSENGERS is a rather bizarre movie in terms of its plot, and ultimately I did not find this movie all that satisfying.

First, its love story just doesn’t work.  From the get-go, as we watch these two characters get to know each other, we know that Jim has manipulated the situation.  He woke her up from cryogenic sleep.  He basically stole her life away.  Now, for such a story to work, and it can work, the writing and acting have to be so strong that in spite of this awful and very selfish decision on Jim’s part, we still want to see him and Aurora get together.  But, alas, neither the writing nor the acting reaches this level.  Nothing that happens between Jim and Aurora made me forget what Jim did or made me believe that Aurora could forgive him and move on.

The writing here is simply not very good.  The screenplay by Jon Spaihts, constructs an odd story and never takes it to places where it overcomes its oddities.    Had Jim and Aurora both awoken naturally, then the film could have concentrated solely on their efforts to learn what happened and to survive, and if they fell in love along the way, that would have seemed perfectly natural and been accepted.  The plot point of Jim waking Aurora on his own never really works and only serves to be a distraction from what otherwise could be a riveting tale.

Spaihts co-wrote the science fiction movie PROMETHEUS (2012) and this year’s Marvel adventure DOCTOR STRANGE (2016).  PASSENGERS is a solo effort, and the script here isn’t as good as those two other movies.

Chris Pratt is OK as Jim, the down to earth mechanic.  Pratt does his usual charming handsome hunk shtick, and it’s somewhat enjoyable here.  His decision to wake Aurora kind of gets in the way of this likable persona, and Pratt never seems to rise to the occasion to take the character to the dark places necessary to give the guy some depth.  Jim is too shallow a character to make such a grave decision and then be supported for it.

I’m a big fan of Jennifer Lawrence, but I have to be honest here, I was not impressed with her performance in this movie.  I never warmed up to Aurora, and I never really believed in the love story here.  I mean, I can believe that two attractive people, the only two people on a spaceship, would lust after each other, but fall in love?  They didn’t seem to have anything in common.

Furthermore, I didn’t find any chemistry between Lawrence and Pratt. Not what you’re looking for when you’re telling a love story.

Michael Sheen is fairly amusing as the robot bartender Arthur, but ultimately, he’s such a shallow boring character he’s pretty much useless.

Also, for reasons I have yet to figure out, the way these bar scenes are shot, they are clearly reminiscent of the bar scenes in Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING (1980).  I kept waiting for some deeper dark connection, especially between Pratt’s Jim and Jack Nicholson’s Jack Torrance, but I never found one.

And Andy Garcia, in spite of 5th billing, does his best STAR WARS:  THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015) Luke Skywalker impersonation as he shows up in the final few seconds and utters no dialogue!  Nice job Andy!

Fourth billing went to Laurence Fishburne, who plays a character who does have dialogue, but ultimately is as useless as bartender Arthur and Andy Garcia.

PASSENGERS was directed by Morten Tyldum, and one thing I’ll say about this movie is it looks good!  I especially liked the ship, the Avalon.  It’s cool-looking, and the scenes where we see it barreling through space are very cinematic.  It’s too bad the story here didn’t rival the visuals.

I saw PASSENGERS in 3D, and while I’m growing tired of saying this nearly every single time I see a 3D movie, it still has to be said, especially for those folks watching what they spend, because, as you know, a ticket for a 3D movie costs more than a ticket for a 2D movie.  So, anyway, here’s my repetitious statement which I make after nearly every 3D movie I see:  it looks good at first, but after a while, you hardly notice, and the 3D certainly does not add anything to the movie.

Tyldum’s previous movie was THE IMITATION GAME (2014), a great movie that is far superior to PASSENGERS.

There’s been a steady stream of high quality science fiction movies hitting theaters in recent years.  PASSENGERS is not one of them.  It’s simply a love story in space, and an odd one at that.

No need to be a passenger on this voyage.  Save your ticket money for another destination instead.

—END—

 

 

 

 

 

X-MEN: APOCALYPSE (2016) Provides End-of-the-World Excitement

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Movie Review:  X-MEN:  APOCALYPSE (2016)

By

Michael Arruda

I’m not hearing great things about X-MEN:  APOCALYPSE (2016), the latest film in the Marvel X-MEN series, which is too bad, because all things considered, it’s a purdy darn good movie, one well worth the price of a movie ticket.

Let’s turn back the clock a little bit, to 2011, when the X-MEN series was rebooted featuring younger actors in an X-Men origin story, X-MEN:  FIRST CLASS (2011).  I absolutely loved this movie, and it ranks in my Top 5 List of the best Marvel superhero movies ever made.  A big reason for this was the performances by James McAvoy as Professor Charles Xavier and Michael Fassbender as Magneto.

The second film in the rebooted series, X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (2014) played with time travel and combined cast members from the original series with the cast from X-MEN:  FIRST CLASS.  A creative idea to be sure, but the film stumbled with its execution, and I was not nuts about this movie.

Now comes X-MEN:  APOCALYPSE, the third film in the rebooted series.  This time around, we learn that mutants have been in existence since the beginning of time, and one such all-powerfult mutant, Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) sets his sights on taking over the world  but is betrayed and buried in a pyramid in ancient Egypt.

Jump to the 1980s, twenty years after the events of X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, and ten years after the events of X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, and Apocalypse escapes from his Egyptian grave and once more sets his sights on taking over the world.  His strength is that he can enhance the abilities of others, and so he always assembles four mutants, four horsemen, to be his minions, and he uses them by making their special ablities even stronger.  He gathers four mutants, including a young Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and the grand prize, Magneto (Michael Fassbender).

Magneto has been doing his best to blend in with society.  He has a wife and a young daughter, and he has given up his powers so he can live in the real world.  But things go sour when he is discovered, and his wife and daughter are killed.  This leaves Magneto feeling very bitter indeed, and so he is more than willing to join forces with Apocalypse.

Meanwhile, Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) is running his school for gifted mutants, when there is a great disturbance in the force— oops, wrong series.  But there is a great disturbance, an energy surge, coming from Apocalypse.  When Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) shows up and informs Professor X that Magneto has joined the bad guys again, it’s up to Professor X and his students to save the day.

Except that Apocalypse wants Professor X’s mental abilities for his own, and so he abducts the professor in order to force him to work for him.  And so now it’s up to Mystique and the latest and youngest X-Men recruits to save the world by going up against the most powerful mutant in existence, Apocalypse.

This is no small task, which is why the last third of the movie is so exciting.

There are many things to like about X-MEN:  APOCALYPSE.

However, when talking about the Marvel superhero series, you have to start with the acting, and that’s because these films have assembled an A-list cast on a regular basis, meaning that when you watch a Marvel superhero movie, you’re pretty much guaranteed A-list caliber acting.  The acting in these films is far better than what you would expect in a superhero movie, and the acting in X-MEN: APOCALYPSE is no exception.

Both James McAvoy as Professor X and Michael Fassbender as Magneto are excellent in this movie.  They also work extremely well together, and so whenever we are fortunate enough to see them in the same scene, the film is that much better.

In addition to McAvoy and Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence completes the star triumvarate as Mystique.  Now, as much as I like Jennifer Lawrence, I’m not nuts about her as Mystique.  She has shown so much range in other roles, in films like SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (2012) and JOY (2015), it’s difficult to accept her in a role where she’s covered in blue make-up.  She also plays Mystique like a mutant cousin of Katniss, her character in THE HUNGER GAMES movies.  It’s just not my favorite mix.

The rest of the young cast is first-rate.

Nicholas Hoult is very good as Beast, Sophie Turner is mesmerizing as Jean Grey, and Kodi Smit-McPhee who was so memorable as the young boy in the vampire movie LET ME IN (2010) and also in DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014) is charmingly electric as Nightcrawler.

And as he did in the previous X-MEN movie, Evan Peters provides scene-stealing fun as Quicksilver.  Reprising her role from X-MEN:  FIRST CLASS Rose Byrne is effective in her return as CIA Agent Moira Mactaggert.

Oscar Isaac makes Apocalypse a formidable villain.  A frequent stumbling block in the otherwise pristine Marvel superhero films is their inablity to craft a worthy villain for their heroes.  It hasn’t hurt the movies since the Marvel superheroes generally are such an entertaining lot on their own, as they are full of flaws and can’t seem to stop arguing and fighting amongst themselves.  Still, a decent villain would only help, and here in X-MEN: APOCALYPSE, Apocalypse is a decent villain, and then some.  And you can’t fault his agenda:  he just wants to destroy the world, that’s all.  Technically, he wants to wipe out everyone on Earth who possesses great power so he can then rule it with ease.  Greedy bastard.

Apocalypse is all-powerful, so much so he fathoms himself a god, and his powers are indeed god-like.  What this means is that even the combined strength of all the X-Men mutants, even with Professor X and Magneto working together, they can’t stop this guy, which makes for some dramatic cinema.  And how they finally do gain the upper hand against this superpowerful villain makes sense and works.

I enjoyed both the direction by Bryan Singer and the screenplay by Simon Kinberg.

Singer is no stranger to the X-MEN universe, having directed the first two films in the series, X-MEN (2000) and X-MEN 2 (2003), and the most recent film in the series, X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (2014).  He crafts some powerfully emotional scenes in this one, including the scene where Magneto’s family meets a tragic end.  The conclusive battle is also very exciting.

Kinberg’s script strikes a nice balance between witty snappy dialogue and poignant moments, like when Professor X tells Magneto that he is not alone, that he hasn’t lost everybody.

That theme, being alone, is prominent throughout the film, and is what Professor X ultimately uses to set him and his X-Men apart from Apocalypse- the villain is alone, while they are not.

As there are in most of these Marvel superhero movies, there is an additional scene after the end credits, but it’s hardly worth the wait, and so if you’re not in the mood to sit through the credits, don’t bother.  You won’t be missing much.

I liked X-MEN: APOCALYPSE a lot.  While I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as this year’s DEADPOOL (2016) or CAPTAIN AMERICA:  CIVIL WAR (2016), it’s still a very good movie, a worthy entry in the Marvel superhero universe.

—END—

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BEST MOVIES OF 2015

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Here’s my list of the Top 10 movies I saw in 2015:

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10.  IT FOLLOWS- ***- This was my pick for the top horror movie of 2015.  It makes #10 in my overall list.  Terrific horror movie by writer/director David Robert Mitchell.  It’s creative in its execution, suspenseful, has a superior movie score, and is very reminiscent of John Carpenter’s early work back in the 1970s.

9. THE MAN FROM UNCLE – *** – a critical and commercial disaster, this film nonetheless worked for me, so much so that it was one of my favorite movies of the year.  I loved the polished direction, the slick music score, and the whole 1960s “spy feel” of the film.

Sure, the two leads could have been more charismatic, but I still found it all terrific fun.

8. CHAPPIE- *** 1/2- one of my favorite science fiction films of the year.  Sure, it’s all very melodramatic and overdramatic, but this tale of a robot with artificial intelligence really worked for me.  Then again, maybe I’m just a sucker for the films of writer/director Neill Blomkamp.

7. MAD MAX:  FURY ROAD – *** 1/2- my pick for the best science fiction movie of the year.   George Miller, who directed the original films starring Mel Gibson, returns to his roots here with a film that is exceedingly exciting and features some of the most imaginative chase scenes I’ve seen in quite a long time.  Tom Hardy is fine as Max, but it’s Charlize Theron who steals the show in this one as tough as nails heroine Imperator Furiosa.

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6. AVENGERS:  AGE OF ULTRON – *** 1/2 – Excellent sequel to THE AVENGERS.  I love the Marvel superhero films, and their AVENGERS movies are among their best.  Nonstop entertainment.

5. THE BIG SHORT.-*** 1/2

I really enjoyed this intriguing drama about the home mortgage crisis and the near collapse of the U.S. economy in 2008.  Christian Bale is getting all the hype with buzz of a possible Best Supporting Actor nomination, and he’s good here, but I liked Steve Carrell and Ryan Gosling even more. Well-acted, well-written movie that tells a story that’s a real eye opener.

Written and directed by Adam McCay, most known for his comedic work, directing such films as ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY (2004) and THE OTHER GUYS (2010).  McCay puts this background to good use as THE BIG SHORT, in spite of its heavy and oftentimes depressing subject matter, is very light and quirky in tone.  McCay also wrote the screenplay for the Marvel hit ANT-MAN (2015).

Brad Pitt rounds out the solid cast.

4. BRIDGE OF SPIES – ****- The main reason I liked this Steven Spielberg Cold War thriller was Tom Hanks’ performance.  I’m not always a big Tom Hanks fan, but he knocks the ball out of the ballpark with his spot on performance as an attorney asked to defend a Soviet spy.  The story which follows is captivating and riveting.

In addition to Hanks’ standout performance, Mark Rylance is also excellent as Soviet spy Rudolf Abel.  This is also quite the period piece, as Spielberg meticulously captures the Cold War period.  At times, you feel like you’re watching a dramatic museum exhibit.

3.  JOY-**** -Critics did not like this comedy/drama by writer/director David O. Russell which tells the story of Joy Mangano, the woman who created the Miracle Mop, but I absolutely loved this one.  Jennifer Lawrence turns in a phenomenal performance as Joy, and this movie clearly belongs to her.  A quirky, funny film that is every bit emotionally moving as it is humorous.  It reminded me a lot of Russell and Lawrence’s earlier pairing, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (2012).

The fine supporting cast includes Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Isabella Rossellini, Virginia Madsen, Diane Ladd, Edgar Ramirez, Elisabeth Rohm, and Dascha Polanco.

This cast led by Jennifer Lawrence combined with the creative directorial style of David O. Russell makes JOY one of my favorite films of the year.

2.  SPOTLIGHT-**** – For me, SPOTLIGHT was the most disturbing film of the year, and its second best.  It tells the story of how The Boston Globe exposed the scandal in the Catholic Church and uncovered truths which before this story most people refused to believe.  The number of abuse cases in Boston alone were staggering.

The film is amazingly underplayed, and it’s able to do this because the story itself is so horrifying.  All it has to do is tell its story, and that’s enough.

SPOTLIGHT is a fine example of a true life horror story that is more disturbing than most genre horror films.  In addition, it’s also one of the best movies about newspapers and reporters ever made.

Amazingly well-acted, its cast includes Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci, and Brian D’Arcy James.

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1. SICARIO – **** – Any one of my top 5 picks could have been my number movie of the year.  They’re all that good.

However, my personal favorite of the year because it both pushed all the right buttons and is the type of movie I love- a riveting suspenseful dark thriller- is SICARIO.

I loved this thriller about an FBI agent thrown into the midst of the drug war with a Mexican cartel.  Emily Blunt is outstanding as FBI agent Kate Macer.  Even better is Benecio Del Toro as Alejandro, a mysterious hitman who in spite of his shadowy cold-blooded agenda, always seems to have Macer’s back, even when he holds a gun to her head.

Josh Brolin is also excellent as a calm, cool, and confident government agent who recruits Macer but is too shady to earn her trust.

Screenplay by Taylor Sheridan, the SONS OF ANARCHY actor who has a lot of other acting credits as well.  This is his first screenplay.  It’s a good one.

Some of the most suspenseful scenes I’ve seen in a while.  A must-see movie.  My pick for the #1 movie of 2015.

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And that’s my Top 10 List for 2015.  What’s yours?

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST – A Hit But No Home Run

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X-Men-Days-of-Future-Past-2014Movie Review: X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (2014)
By
Michael Arruda

I really enjoyed X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011), the film that chronicled the early relationship between Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender), the two characters who would become Professor Xavier and Magneto in the X-MEN universe. In fact, X-MEN: FIRST CLASS is one of my favorite superhero movies.

So, it goes without saying, I was excited and eager to see X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, the latest in the Marvel X-MEN series, a film which through the magic of time travel would unite characters from FIRST CLASS with the characters from the previous X-Men films, an anchoring both time periods would be the most iconic of the film X-Men, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman).

How could such a perfect premise go wrong? How indeed!

X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST opens in the near future when the Sentinels, an army of robots, are at war with both the mutants and the humans, and it’s a war that the Sentinels are winning. It is learned that the Sentinels are unstoppable because back in 1973, their creator Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) obtained the DNA of Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and used it on his robots, giving them the ability to replicate and take on the form of their opponents, in effect using the mutants’ own powers against them.

Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) decide to send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back in time to 1973 to convince their younger selves to put aside their differences and stop Mystique from falling into Trask’s hands, all in an effort to save the future. They are able to do this through a new special ability possessed by Kitty Pride (Ellen Page), and it is Pride who transports Wolverine’s consciousness back to 1973 where it enters his body there so that he can find both the younger Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) and the younger Magneto (Michael Fassbender).

So Wolverine returns to 1973 and the time travel game is afoot.

I’ll cut right to the chase and say up front that I was disappointed with X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST. I expected this one to be a home run, a classic, the best of the series, but it’s not. Is it a bad movie? No. It’s just a mediocre one.

First and foremost, its time travel adventure isn’t really all that exciting. It gets stuck on its one central plot point and never seems to move beyond it. The mission is clear: Wolverine and friends must stop Dr. Trask from getting Mystique’s DNA. This simple plot point needed something else, some complications to take the story to the next level. It fails to do this.

Magneto, for example, being Magneto, has an agenda of his own, and I was eager to see where this sinister side would take the story. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take the story very far, as his agenda isn’t all that ambitious and sadly doesn’t amount to much.

For a time travel story, it’s nowhere near as playful or as creative as it needs to be. While there are a few moments here and there— such as when Wolverine pokes fun at Beast’s comment that they have “three main TV channels plus PBS”— there are not enough of them.

James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender are two dynamic actors who dominated X-MEN FIRST CLASS and drove that movie along. They’re very good here once again, but in a larger cast, they have less to do and simply don’t have as prominent a role in the proceedings as they did in the earlier movie.

Hugh Jackman, who in the past has nailed the role of Wolverine and made it his own, is somewhat more down to earth here and doesn’t seem to possess the same energy or spark he has demonstrated in earlier portrayals.

Jennifer Lawrence, one of the most talented actresses working today, is completely wasted here as Mystique. She really doesn’t get to do anything which allows her to show off her acting talents.

While I was happy to see Patrick Stewart back as Professor Xavier, and Ian McKellen as Magneto, neither one is in this movie all that much, and both seem old and tired. The majority of the original X-Men cast are featured in nothing more than glorified cameos.

I did enjoy Nicholas Hoult as Beast, reprising the role from X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, and he fares better in these movies than he did in WARM BODIES (2013) and JACK THE GIANT SLAYER (2013).

Stealing the movie however is Evan Peters as Quicksilver, the mutant who possesses incredible speed. The scene where Quicksilver helps Wolverine, Xavier, and Beast break Magneto out of his prison cell deep beneath the Pentagon is by far the best scene in the movie. It’s really too bad that Quicksilver was featured in this movie so briefly.

Director Bryan Singer, who directed the first two X-Men movies, does an okay job here. The film looks fine, but other than the aforementioned Quicksilver scene, there really aren’t any other memorable scenes in this movie, action or otherwise.

Probably the weakest link of X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST is the screenplay by Simon Kinberg. Oddly, Kinberg wrote the screenplay for X-MEN: THE LAST STAND (2006), largely considered to be the worst in the series. Why he would be asked to pen this latest film is beyond me. I didn’t really enjoy the story to this one, as it never moved beyond its central plot point about Mystique’s DNA, and it never offered creative diversions and pathways which could have lifted its story to higher levels. It also didn’t really take advantage of its time travel storyline. In terms of creativity, it’s all pretty standard.

The buzz is out there: X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST is one of the best superhero movies ever made, a topnotch summer blockbuster. Unfortunately, I didn’t see it this way.

Rather, X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST is an okay superhero movie that features a very talented cast working beneath their potential for the simple reason that the material they’re working with, the story, isn’t up to snuff.

The scenes in the future are stagnant. The scenes in the past are ordinary. And the two never really meet to any degree of satisfaction.

X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST may be a hit at the box office, but it’s not the home run it should have been.

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