"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

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X-Men: Dark Phoenix - A Review

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****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

Popcorn Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT. Absolutely no reason to ever see this derivative and dull snooze of a movie.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix, written and directed by Simon Kinberg, is the the story of Jean Grey as she comes to grips with her mutant powers and murky past. The film stars Sophie Turner as Grey, with the usual X-Men suspects James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender and Nicholas Hoult along for the ride, as well as a supporting turn from Jessica Chastain. Dark Phoenix is the sequel to 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse and is the seventh and final installment of the current main X-Men saga.

After I see a film I usually either sit in the theatre or go out to the lobby and write down my brief thoughts. After X-Men: Dark Phoenix I sat trying to think of something to write and was stumped. It wasn’t that I had no opinion about the movie, it is that I only had the most distant, passing and fading memory of what had just transpired on screen. Dark Phoenix is such a derivative, dull and middling movie that it proves to be instantly, and almost entirely, forgettable.

X-Men movies over the last 19 years have, in general, been aggressively mediocre, visually banal and dramatically mundane (the notable exception being 2017’s Logan). While some of the X-Men movies have been mildly entertaining and thematically intriguing, for the most part they have failed to live up to their extremely rich source material.

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20th Century Fox came into the superhero market with a great deal of fanfare by handing the creative keys of the franchise to at-the-time esteemed filmmaker Bryan Singer, who directed the first film, X-Men in 2000, and four of the seven main X-Men films in total. But nearly twenty years after the X-Men’s cinematic debut, Fox leaves the superhero arena with barely an audible whimper. Dark Phoenix is a continuation of the downward trajectory of X-Men movies that was undeniable with 2016’s abysmal Apocalypse. It seems as though Apocalypse and Dark Phoenix were in a race to the bottom of the X-Men filmography…Dark Phoenix wins that race by a surprisingly strong margin, and is only notable for the fact that it is indeed the very dregs of X-Men movies.

For Fox to end their X-Men run with Apocalypse and Dark Phoenix is a humiliation almost equal to everyone’s least favorite pederast Bryan Singer’s fall from grace. One can only hope that Disney, which purchased Fox and with it the X-Men, can reboot this wayward franchise with some fresh creative blood that can resurrect this moribund series.

As for the particulars of Dark Phoenix…where to begin? The movie is stultifyingly dull, thematically trite, lazily acted, dismally written, impotently directed and is as visually stale and flat as possible. Besides that how was the play Mrs. Lincoln? No doubt better than Dark Phoenix.

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What is striking is that Dark Phoenix boasts a cavalcade of really top notch actors but is riddled with insipid performances. Jennifer Lawrence is a great actress and one of my favorites, but in her turn as Raven she so lifelessly mouths her lines it feels as if she is working the graveyard shift at the 24-hour Arby’s in Podunk, Kentucky. She seems genuinely embarrassed to be in the movie and entirely disinterested in being there.

Jessica Chastain is another quality actress who sleepwalks through Dark Phoenix. You can almost see the money signs in Chastain’s eyes as she vacantly goes through the motions.

Michael Fassbender reprises his role as Magneto and try as he might he simply cannot muster any mettle/metal in his performance…pun intended.

James McAvoy suffers even worse humiliations than the rest of the cast as in one scene, that is so ridiculous it made me laugh out loud, his Professor X is forced to “walk” on his crippled legs, to hysterical affect. This scene was like a bad Saturday Night Live skit, although that is something out of the Department of Redundancy Department.

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Sophie Turner, last seen as Sansa Stark on Game of Thrones, is the film’s lead and she does not prove herself up to the task of carrying a feature film. Turner is a beautiful women but, sadly, as my life proves, beauty can only get you so far. Turner simply does not have the skill, charisma and magnetism to command audience’s attention for a feature length film. That doesn’t mean she will never be able to do that, it just means she cannot do it now.

The overwhelming feeling I had about the cast while watching this movie was that they were simply playing out the string and cashing in while they could. This is the last X-Men movie of this cycle, and these actors will most likely never play these roles again…so they need to get while the getting is good…and these performances felt more like a heist and a getaway than commitment to acting artistry. I suppose there is nothing wrong with that, the mortgage isn’t going to pay for itself after all, but it definitely leaves a sour taste in the mouth of fans as the movie’s stars grab the money and hustle to get out of Dodge as fast as they can.

Simon Kinberg wrote and directed Dark Phoenix, proving that he is not even remotely good at writing or directing. Kinberg’s script is abominable and his miserable direction is a major reason why such a stellar cast turned in such horrendous performances.

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Kinberg’s script is so shallow and empty that the biggest feeling I had at the end of the movie is…what is the point of it? Obviously the point is to make money, which it might, but on a more philosophical level the question truly is…what is the purpose and meaning behind this movie? What is the animating philosophical/psychological/spiritual principle of this movie? Yes, the film does have some of the usual Girl Power posing and preening, which has become de rigueur lately, sprinkled throughout. Lines like “since women are always saving the men around here you should change the name to X-Women"!” and “your mind has been poisoned by men with small minds” and “you’re not a little girl anymore” and my favorite exchange where the villain (a female) says to Jean Grey, “you’re emotions make you weak” and Jean replies, “no, my emotions make me strong!” give the impression of a philosophical foundation but are nothing more than vapid and vacuous bullshit meant to appease and patronize the neo-feminists in Hollywood and no one else. In reality the film has no philosophical, logical, dramatic or narrative foundation upon which to build itself, instead it is a soulless, paint by numbers exercise in vacant big budget franchise movie making and nothing else.

In conclusion, Dark Phoenix is a flaccid, unimaginative cinematic venture that is truly unsatisfying in every single way. Even if you are a super hero fanatic, there is absolutely no reason to see this movie in the theatres or anywhere else for that matter. Sadly, this Phoenix was engulfed in the flames of its awfulness and avarice but was never able to rise from the ashes of its own failings and should be condemned to remain forever alone in the Dark…where it truly belongs.

©2019

Bohemian Rhapsody: A Review

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****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 2.25 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT/SEE IT. If you are a cinephile looking for great cinema, look somewhere else, but if you are a Queen fan looking for some mindless fun, this is the movie for you.

Bohemian Rhapsody, written by Antony McCarten and (sort of) directed by Bryan Singer, is the story of Freddie Mercury, the iconic lead singer of the band Queen, and his rise to the top of the rock world and his struggles once he got there. The film stars Rami Malek as Mercury, with supporting turns from Lucy Boynton, Gwylim Lee and Ben Hardy.

This past Tuesday, after doing my civic duty and voting to Make America Great Again in the morning, I had my entire afternoon free, so I ventured down to the local cineplex to check out Bohemian Rhapsody, the Freddie Mercury bio-pic.

Mercury’s band Queen, is, in my not so humble opinion, not the greatest rock band of all-time, but it is in the neighborhood. They aren’t The Beatles, Stones or Led Zeppelin, but they are more The Doors, The Who and Pink Floyd adjacent. While I am not a Queen super fan, I do enjoy the band and consider Freddie Mercury to be the greatest singer in the history of rock and one of the most original front men to boot.

Mercury is a fascinating figure who took the androgynous pose of the likes of Jaggar, Bowie. and Plant and turned it up to 11, becoming a closeted but widely acknowledged gay rock star when being gay was not so warmly embraced as it is now.

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What made Mercury and Queen so appealing is that they simultaneously took themselves way too seriously but not seriously at all. Mercury was the consummate showman, and his flamboyant stage act, with his perilously short shorts or impossibly tight pants along with his awkward movements made him a sort of court jester of rock and roll, but it was his extraordinary voice that also made him King (and Queen) of rock. Mercury’s vocal power and range is unmatched by every other rock singer who has ever pelvic thrusted across our collective consciousness.

Queen were one of the great bands because they were able to take the genre of arena rock and infuse it with a healthy serving of prog rock which resulted in the most anomalous, avant-garde, radio friendly anthems to ever come out of the genre. Brian May’s titanic guitar sound combined with Mercury’s sublime voice and Roger Taylor’s thunderous drums (and stellar backing vocals) added together to make a first rate and stunningly original band, the likes of which we will certainly never see again.

Which brings us to the film Bohemian Rhapsody, which is more a bio-pic of Mercury than of the band, but the two are forever intertwined. The problem with Bohemian Rhapsody is that for a story about an exquisitely unconventional band and man, it is a painstakingly conventional and standard film. Bohemian Rhapsody cuts a lot of corners and softens a lot of edges to spoon-feed a rather trite and contrived story, and personally, I think a phenomenal talent and complicated human being like Freddie Mercury deserves a hell of a lot better.

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Bio-pics are tough to make, particularly about music legends, and Bohemian Rhapsody falls into every single trap that lay before it. The film doesn’t tell you about the man Freddie Mercury, it simply recreates the myth. The myth is fun but it isn’t interesting because it isn’t real. Freddie Mercury (real name Farrokh Bulsara) was a real person and had all the baggage that goes along with that. The better movie is the movie that tells us the story of Farrokh, not the one that recounts the well-known exploits of Freddie.

An example of a bio-pic that succeeds in crossing the myth and man divide was Oliver Stone’s electric The Doors. Stone was able to dig deeper into the myth of Jim Morrison and find the lost man/little boy at its center.

A lot of people commented after seeing The Doors that Val Kilmer, who starred as Morrison in the film, “looks so much like Jim Morrison”, which is funny because if you actually look at the two men, Val Kilmer looks nothing like Jim Morrison. What made people think he did is that Kilmer is a terrific actor, who in the early 90’s was at the height of his powers. Kilmer created his own Morrison and audiences accepted it because his work was thorough, genuine and grounded. Kilmer played Morrison the man, and then wore the mask of the Morrison myth on top of that, which made for a compelling piece of screen acting.

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In contrast, Rami Malek, who plays Freddie Mercury, is hamstrung by a very limiting script that never allows him to fully flesh out Freddie Mercury/Farrokh Bulsara the man, and so he is left to play Freddie Mercury the myth. To Malek’s great credit, he does a stupendous job doing so, particularly during the musical performances. Malek brings Mercury to life on stage to such a degree that it is deliriously infectious. Like Kilmer, Malek has only a passing resemblance to Mercury in real life, but with his undeniable commitment to character, aided by some very effective fake teeth, Malek visually transforms into a remarkably believable version of Mercury (so much so in one particular scene that it is actually creepy, as Malek/Freddie lies in a blue bed and looks like a corpse) which is heightened with his exquisite recreation of Mercury’s stage presence and persona. (As a weird aside, speaking of Freddie Mercury look-a-likes, one of the doctors on my cracked medical team looks like he could be Freddie Mercury’s blond younger brother…seriously…and truth be told he could actually be related, I don’t know as I don’t know his backstory. Anyway, I find his Freddie look-a-like status distracting and oddly unnerving when trying to have a serious conversation with him. He is an extremely nice guy and very good doctor, I just wish “Fat Bottomed Girls” wouldn’t get stuck in my head every time I interact with him. Although to be fair, one of the other doctors on my cracked staff is quite an attractive woman with a decidedly voluptuous bottom, so maybe I shouldn’t blame all of my Queen ear worms on Freddie Mercury’s little brother.)

The supporting cast of Gwylim Lee, Ben Hardy and Joseph Mazzello all do solid work as well and look strikingly like their real-life band counterparts Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon.

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The supporting actor who stood out the most though, and by a mile, is the luminous Lucy Boynton who plays Mercury’s girlfriend Mary Austin. Boynton is an alluring and captivating presence who jumps off the screen. Her role is pretty under-written but she is able, through sheer magnetism and artistic determination, to create a multi-dimensional character which would have been absent in lesser hands.

The only other film I have seen Boynton in was Sing Street, where she was equally beguiling. Boynton is blessed with being a charismatic yet approachable beauty with a deft and subtle acting touch. She certainly has the ability to be an actress of note and I look forward to seeing where her career takes her as the sky is the limit.

As for the directing of Bohemian Rhapsody, officially, everybody’s least favorite pedophile, Bryan Singer, is the director. But Singer was fired after two thirds of the shoot was completed when he simply vanished and didn’t return to set after the Thanksgiving break. Apparently Singer was dealing with personal some issues, I wonder if they were related to his insatiable (and illegal) sweet tooth when it comes to his sexual partners….hmmmm?

Dexter Fletcher was hired to complete the film and considering the mess this movie could have been with the hapless Singer at the helm followed by a substitute teacher trying to piece it all together, he does a passable job.

Bohemian Rhapsody is not a great movie, but to its credit it is a fun one. Fans of Queen will love the movie, they won’t learn anything new or gain any insights into Freddie Mercury/Farrokh Bulsara but they will get a sanitized ride along with the band through the ups and downs of their roller coaster to the top of the music business.

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As much as the first hour and 40 minutes of the movie is rather lackluster, thanks to Rami Malek and the music of Queen, the final 30 minutes pulsates with a vibrant life. The concert footage is not shot particularly well, and it isn’t a great piece of filmmaking by any stretch (as opposed to say, Oliver Stone’s dynamic direction of concert scenes in The Doors which is magnificent), but the music of Queen that erupts during the climactic concert footage is impossible to deny. At my screening there was a palpable sense of joy mixed with some melancholy at watching Freddie Mercury back from the grave to slay dragons from the Wembley stage once again. As underwhelmed as I was by the majority of the film, the final concert scenes had me leaving the theatre with a bounce in my step.

In conclusion, if you are a Queen fan, even in passing, you should grab the nearest Fat Bottomed Girl or Your Best Friend and Bicycle Race to see Bohemian Rhapsody, I mean why not? It is fun, it has Queen music, it has Rami Malek giving a solid performance and it boasts the incandescent Lucy Boynton. On the other hand, if you are not a Queen fan, or if you are a cinephile looking for serious cinema, Bohemian Rhapsody is not a Killer Queen, dynamite with a laser beam and certainly isn’t guaranteed to blow your mind, it is just a case of Another bio-pic Bites the Dust.

©2018

X-Men : Apocalypse - A Review

****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!! THERE ARE ZERO SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW!!!****

RATING: 1.42 STARS OUT OF 5 STARS

RECOMMENDATION : SKIP IT. THERE IS REALLY NO REASON TO SEE THIS FILM UNLESS YOU ARE AN ABSOLUTE COMIC BOOK AND X-MEN FANATIC WITH A LOT OF TIME TO KILL.

ESTIMATED READING TIME : 5 MINUTES 4 SECONDS

I did it, I went and saw ANOTHER super hero movie. Last summer I was unable to go to the movies during blockbuster season, so I am making up for lost time by giving as much money as possible to those fine people at the movie studios for all of the selflessly great work that they do (God Bless Them!!!). I feel, deep down, that if I didn't make multiple pilgrimages to the theatre this summer and missed a second straight blockbuster season, I would be a bad American…and frankly…the terrorists just might win, and I simply cannot let that happen.

Before I begin my review in earnest I must make a Full Disclosure: during my teen years I attended and graduated from Charles Francis Xavier's (Professor X) "School for Gifted Youngsters" in upstate New York. I have struggled for years to say this but...I am officially a mutant. My mutation gives me two super powers, a Level 5 Contrarianism and the ability to smell bullshit from over a mile away. Granted these powers aren't exactly invisibility and flight but you take what you can get and do the best you can with what you've got..at least that's what they taught me at "XSGY" (Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters) or "X School" as we alumni call it. I cherished my time at X School, where I excelled on the J.V. quidditch team and was voted "least likely to succeed" in the yearbook.

With all of that off my chest, let's get to the film X-Men: Apocalypse. The film is the ninth installment in the X-Men franchise and is the fourth X-Men film directed by Bryan Singer (X-Men, X2, X-Men: Days of Future Past and X-Men: Apocalypse). The film stars a cavalcade of top notch young actors, including Academy Award winner Jennifer Lawrence, Academy Award nominee Michael Fassbender, Rose Byrne, James McAvoy, and Oscar Isaac, to name but a few. 

The X-Men comic book mythology is nothing short of brilliant. Mutants are a fantastic metaphor for various modern issues, civil rights and gay rights to name but two, and are symbolic of archetypes both new and old. The X-Men source material is genius, the problem though is that the X-Men movies have never failed to be anything other than pedestrian even at their zenith. I have never left an X-Men film without feeling underwhelmed and disappointed. It is too bad because it would be a glorious thing to have a truly great director, like a Christopher Nolan for example, take the complex and nuanced X-Men foundational material and do something really great with it, like he did with the Dark Knight trilogy. But instead we are stuck with Bryan Singer, a hack personified, driving these films into a ditch for over a decade now. And so it is with the latest installment, X-Men: Apocalypse.

The main problem with the film is that it lacks any dramatic cohesion and tension and is therefore rendered remarkably dull. That lack of dramatic cohesion and tension falls squarely on Mr. Singer, as does the films uninspired and flat visual style. The film feels shallow and rushed and frankly, devoid of any purpose. I should clarify that comment, the film is devoid of any artistic and creative purpose, but it has plenty of corporate purpose, not the least of which is Fox's contractual obligation to make X-Men films in a timely manner or lose the rights to the characters. Oh…and there is always the desire to fleece idiots like myself who will give our hard earned dollars to go see anything with super men and women in tights kicking bad guy ass. 

There is nothing original or even remotely interesting in X-Men: Apocalypse, only the same old tired tropes and cliches, which is not shocking considering it is the ninth cinematic go around for the X gang. I mean, the Fox cinematic X-Men horse has not only been beaten to death, but drawn and quartered and then beaten further into dust. 

From the very beginning the X-Men films have boasted very serious and quality actors, such as Sir Patrick Stewart, Sir Ian McKellen and Halle Berry, who did the best they can with the little they were given, and so it is with the actors in this latest film. Michael Fassbender's Magneto is such a rich and fascinating character that he could easily carry a film about himself alone, but I would want that film to be directed by someone with a command of the craft of filmmaking…in other words, not Bryan Singer. Fassbender salvages what he can from the scraps of a script he is given, as does the always luminous Jennifer Lawrence and the solid and steady James McAvoy. Other actors don't fare quite as well. Oscar Isaac plays Apocalypse, and is given nothing of substance to work with at all. His costume and make-up are atrocious and undermine any sort of sense of power and menace the character might have been able to generate, and Isaac is left looking embarrassingly ridiculous. Olivia Munn, who has proven herself to be a very capable actress in other projects (HBO's The Newsroom for example), looks completely lost and terribly uncomfortable her entire time on screen. Her discomfort is palpable and distracting, and while Ms. Munn isn't entirely blameless for her poor performance, a good portion of the blame for her struggles falls once again on the ineptitude of Bryan Singer.

I enjoyed the last two X-Men films, X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Days of Future Past, they weren't great films or even very good films but they were at least clever and interesting. In both of those films the storyline jumped back in time and the films became period pieces. First Class was set from World War II up to the Cuban Missile Crisis, and Days of Future Past was set in the early seventies. Adding the element of time period to the films gave them a bit of a boost in terms of interesting material, costume and the intrigue of history. X-Men: Apocalypse tries to do the same thing by setting the time period in the eighties and it simply doesn't work. The third time around is not the charm in regards to time period, as this time it feels stale, forced and creatively bankrupt.

The time period element is a symptom of the greater disease afflicting the X-Men franchise, that disease is artistic insolvency. The creative team behind the X-Men franchise are simply destitute in regards to good ideas, and due to sub-par directing from the likes of Mr. Singer, they were never even able to make the most of the pittance of good ideas they had in the first place. This franchise is in dire need of new artistic blood. They brought in new acting blood, McAvoy for Stewart, Fassbender for McKellen etc, in the X-Men: First Class film and have rode that horse as far as it will take them. The new blood needed is not in front of the camera, but behind it. A new director, a whole new creative team, from writers on down through to cinematography, costume and set design are desperately needed to salvage the X-Men franchise and give the X-Men mythology the cinematic glory it so richly deserves. I doubt that will happen though, as Fox has made it clear that in regards to the X-Men franchise, quantity will always top quality.

In conclusion, X-Men: Apocalypse is another in a long line of missed opportunities in the X-Men film series. If you are a huge comic book and X-Men fan, you will have probably already seen and already been disappointed by the film. But if you are even a slightly below a fanatical level consumer of comic book films and the X-Men, then skip this film. You will never have any need to see it in the theatre or on cable/Netflix. Now I think I can take a little rest from the theatre as my cinematic comic book calendar appears to be free until Suicide Squad comes out in August. I'll spend this long, hot summer honing my Level 5 Contrarianism and bullshit smelling powers for the fall, when I'll really need them, as it will be election time!!

©2016