Reviews: Gluttony and Sloth Edition

Film: X-Men: Days of Future Past

The X-Men franchise is currently among the longest running in comic book movie history. As a result, the films have ranged from being well crafted to incoherent messes (X-Men Origins: Wolverine, I’m looking at you!). After a break from directing the first two films, director Bryan Singer returns and revitalises the series in X-Men: Days of Future Pastxmen poster

In a bleak dystopia where mutants are hunted by robots called Sentinels, the remaining few X-Men band together to change past events and alter their future. Old enemies Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) set aside differences to battle a larger threat. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is projected back to 1973 by way of time-manipulating Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page). There, Wolverine joins forces with younger Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) to stop shape-shifting Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from inciting certain doom.

With so many plates spinning, this film never has a dull moment. Switching between the future and the past allows for an engaging pace, as characters race against time. While not all plot points will likely stand up to further scrutiny (and a continuity now resembling that of the convoluted Terminator franchise), a deft mix of humour, pathos and action prove effective. As a veteran of the series, Singer knows at this point just how to strike the perfect balance between serious and humorous moments.

Combining the classic cast from the original three films with the First Class cast allows for a dynamic mix of actors. While having Wolverine always front and centre in these films seems tiresome, Jackman clearly still relishes the character and is a joy to watch. McAvoy and Fassbender retain the same chemistry from their previous outing and Lawrence turns femme fatale as Mystique. Halle Berry, Nicholas Hoult and Shawn Ashmore all return, in addition to more than a few surprise cameos from the X-Men alumni.

While some new mutants are introduced without much to do, their unique powers complement one another in some thoroughly exhilarating fight scenes. Evan Peters is a new addition to the cast as Quicksilver, a speedy mutant who steals the show in one memorable and impressive slow-motion sequence. Hopefully we’ll see more of him in subsequent films.

Thematically, Days of Future Past returns to familiar territory regarding discrimination and genocide. The film also alludes to drug addiction through young Xavier numbing himself with a mutation-controlling serum. There’s also a little nod to a popular JFK assassination theory in relation to one particular character.

Easily one of the best in the series, X-Men: Days of Future Past is a return to form for director Bryan Singer and a vibrant sign this franchise won’t die any time soon.

Thanks to Palace Nova Cinemas for providing the opportunity to review this film.

By Alex Graham

Film: Godzilla

It’s been 16 years since America last attempted to bring Godzilla, King of the Monsters, to the big screen. On what marks the franchise’s 50th anniversary, British director Gareth Edwards (Monsters) offers a thrilling spectacle in Godzilla.

godzillaIn 1999, a Japanese power plant suffers a disastrous meltdown. Now in 2014, Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) returns to Japan and finds his father (Bryan Cranston) obsessed with determining the mysterious cause of destruction. The two men find the plant ruins under government watch, just as an enormous cocoon births a radiation-hungry creature. As this monster takes flight and threatens humanity, another titan emerges from the depths to restore natural order—Godzilla!

Director Gareth Edwards anchors the film firmly in a human perspective, allowing the audience to witness the monster mayhem from a ground-level point of view. Too often, films featuring the destruction of whole cities seem inconsequential. Edwards and cinematographer Seamus McGarvey create a genuine sense of impact brought on by the devastation. Alexandre Desplat’s melodramatic score also helps capture the sense of excitement and terror present in the original films.

The film is filled with a number of spectacular set pieces and moments that benefit from a cinematic experience. A skydiving sequence teased in trailers is absolutely jaw-dropping on the big screen. The monsters and battles are limited to a few key scenes or are merely teased, but are a thrilling sight to behold when they occur. Edwards takes the Jaws approach of holding back on revealing the monster until well into the film; Godzilla is first seen fully about 50 minutes in. While this builds anticipation and allows us to focus on the humans, it would have worked better had the characters been more compelling. At a certain point you just want to see the giant monster do battle—although the final act certainly makes up for this.

Unfortunately, Godzilla is filled with a talented cast who are largely underused. Bryan Cranston plays a distraught scientist and is the most interesting human character of the whole film. However, Cranston does not feature as much as one would hope. The most emotionally powerful scenes occur very early on and there is little else to care for. Aaron Taylor-Johnson (enjoyable in Kick-Ass) is not overly charismatic as bland soldier Ford. He is established as a family man, and a number of instances highlight his hero status (he saves a kid!), yet little else in the way of characterisation helps us care about our protagonist. Elizabeth Olsen, Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins are given little else to do beyond spout exposition and look on in fear and amazement. Oscar winner Juliette Binoche barely makes an appearance.

While let down by some uninteresting characters, Godzilla is ultimately a highly enjoyable creature feature that deserves to be seen in the biggest cinema possible.

Thanks to Palace Nova Cinemas for providing the opportunity to review this film.

By Alex Graham

Film: Rio 2

Family fun (literally, as Blu, Jewel and their three kids journey to the Amazon), plenty of samba, and an important message about the environment make for an entertaining hour and a half.rio2 poster

City slicker Blu is out of his depth amongst the deadly creatures and foliage of the Amazon; however, when Jewel is reunited with her long- lost father and family, Blu is thrown the added challenge of fitting in.

The vengeful Nigel is back with new sidekicks in tow and a penchant for Shakespeare, reinforcing old stereotypes about English villains. Linda and Tulio are also part of the action as they help the birds in their own quirky way.

Despite their differences and personality clashes, Jewel’s family and Blu must work together to prevent the destruction of the family home in the Amazon by illegal tree loggers.

There are plenty of entertaining musical and comedic moments and the sequel retains the level of humour and gags from the first instalment.

The animation and choreography is beautiful to watch, especially with the vivid colours and infectious samba beats.

If you’re looking for wholesome entertainment or need to distract the kids you’re babysitting, Rio 2 is the answer!

By Prerna Ashok

Film: Under the Skin

The basic premise of this film suggests the seedy gentleman’s ultimate fantasy: Scarlett Johansson travels through Scotland luring unsuspecting men into her van and back to her house. Sounds pretty simple, hey? Oh, and I left this part out—she’s an alien. Yep, and she doesn’t have sex with these men, either. She does ‘something’ with them, but this ‘something’ isn’t easily understood or explained.undertheskin poster

Having just stumbled out of Under the Skin, Jonathan Glazer’s enigmatic follow-up to 2004’s Birth, my mind is struggling to adjust to its previous state. Such is the power and virtuosity of Glazer’s visual perspective: an alien point-of- view that strips our world of anything remotely inviting, before thrusting us back into its fold.

It’s hard to critique and even harder to categorise Under the Skin. Condensed to a minimalist extreme, the plot or ‘action’ of the film barely extends the premise previously alluded to. Dismissing logic and compelling chaos, it’s a visually and aurally stunning crystallisation of aesthetic—an artefact that is beautiful to behold, but impossible to interpret.

With ten years between his last two features, Under the Skin represents significant progression in both form and content for Glazer. Bounding into an echelon of hyperbole, superlatives and creative comparison (David Lynch meets Stanley Kubrick, anyone?), his latest work achieves a level of artistic control worthy of auteur status.

Like a painting or a piece of music, it dwells beneath the surface of easy description and tangible reason. Only something as baffling and bizarre as this can have a nude Scarlett Johansson wandering around without a degree of carnal desire permeating its chilly surface.

So for those in it for a little ScarJo skin, I’m afraid all this will register is a ‘huh?’ and a confused shrug. For those in it for the right reasons, on the other hand, Under the Skin has the power to drop jaws and alter perspectives.

Thanks to Palace Nova Cinemas for providing the opportunity to review this film.

By Sebastian Moore

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