29 June 2011

Movie Review: Transformers: Dark of the Moon

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C-

Transformers: Dark of the Moon
2011, 157mins, 12
Director: Michael Bay
Writer: Ehren Kruger
Cast includes: Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Frances McDormand, Patrick Dempsey, Peter Cullen, Ken Jeong, John Malkovich, Leonard Nimoy
UK Release Date: 29th June 2011

In 2007 audiences were pleasantly surprised by Michael Bay’s “Transformers”, a fun blockbuster that turned an aged toyline into a viable cinematic enterprise. Its sequel however was a ruinous affair, 2009’s “Revenge of the Fallen” a showcase for all of Bay’s worst directorial habits, a shoddily assembled piece more interested in flashy pyrotechnics and Megan Fox’s midriff than any semblance of storytelling cohesion. “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” is the second sequel in this unlikely saga, the filmmakers having promised a return to the barnstorming form of the original picture, aiming to jettison the misguided comedic beats, abysmal scripting and general aura of laziness that so fatally hampered its immediate predecessor. They’ve halfway lived up to their word. “Dark of the Moon” is a far superior outing than “Revenge of the Fallen”, but it still lands victim to several of the flaws which plagued that picture, namely incomprehensible writing and an unnecessarily bloated runtime. Bay and his crew have evidently put more thought into the spectacle on this occasion, but it isn’t enough to elevate the movie above blatant mediocrity.

Sam (Shia LaBeouf) is now a jobless college graduate, suffering from feelings of professional inadequacy around his successful girlfriend Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley). His previous acts of heroism have been disregarded by the world around him, the Autobots now working directly with the government in order to maintain world peace. Through sheer coincidence Sam becomes aware of a growing Decepticon threat, reporting back to Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) and the Autobots’ human handlers (led by a stern but enjoyable Frances McDormand). Optimus chooses to revive previous Autobot chief Sentinel Prime (Leonard Nimoy), hoping that the newly invigorated machine can deploy his ingenuity to counteract enemy plans, Sentinel having constructed a selection of teleporting devices which could be critical for attaining victory. However the Decepticons soon come into possession of these limitless inventions, planning to recreate Cybertron (their now barren home world) on earth and enslave the human population in the process.

“Dark of the Moon” at least allows Michael Bay to rediscover his action mojo, the filmmaker having fluffed most of the set-pieces in “Revenge of the Fallen” thanks to shaky camerawork and a lack of innovation. Bay stages several excellent sequences here, from a technical and FX standpoint “Dark of the Moon” is flawless. The action scenes are edited far more coherently, with notable characters much easier to track through the carnage than before. The lack of relatable or even engaging characterization reduces the possibility of tension, but at least Bay takes the film down some darker avenues, the violence in “Dark of the Moon” achieving a much harsher and aggressively pitched tone than before. There’s a slickness here that can’t be overlooked, the much maligned director returning to what he does best admirably with “Dark of the Moon”. However, the facets of filmmaking he’s struggled with in the past still prove problematic.

The story is jumbled and overstuffed, screenwriter Ehren Kruger polluting his tale with too many characters and not enough heart. Like the 2007 film “Dark of the Moon” uses reality to add a little spice, revising the space race of the 1960s to bolster the Transformers mythology. The movie’s tone vacillates wildly; Kruger apparently didn’t get all of the unfunny goofiness out of his system with “Revenge of the Fallen”. The final third of “Dark of the Moon” opts for a gritty, apocalyptic atmosphere, but that just doesn’t sit comfortably alongside Ken Jeong screeching (in a ridiculous role) or two goofy robots (a less offensive but no more amusing pair than those featured in “Revenge of the Fallen”) bantering between themselves about Huntington-Whiteley’s sex appeal. Granted, nobody gets their legs humped, and there’s a pleasing lack of mechanical testicles, but the urge to do something a little bleaker doesn’t contrast well with Kruger’s poor line in comedy. His storytelling instincts are similarly distorted, the writer barely managing to maintain a central narrative, instead becoming embroiled within stupid subplots that serve no purpose. Sam’s parents are doing what? John Malkovich knows Kung-Fu? Patrick Dempsey wants to jump Huntington-Whiteley’s bones? Who needs this stuff? Ehren Kruger clearly thinks the answer to that question is every multiplex customer in the land.

LaBeouf does solid work throughout, upping his game slightly for this third waltz with the material. There are a couple of moments between him and Bumblebee (his car from the first outing) that are actually kind of touching, the filmmakers bucking the production’s generally vacant disposition by imbuing these two with a soulful bond. The same can’t be said for LaBeouf’s chemistry with a disastrously miscast Huntington-Whiteley, the Victoria’s Secret model giving a ridiculously amateurish turn. Replacing Megan Fox, Whitely is a hollow, stiff and thoroughly insincere screen presence, a wet blanket from start to finish. The film’s nadir is probably a sequence in which the woeful starlet attempts to motivate a sneering antagonist by labeling him a “bitch”. It’s a case of awful writing for sure, but Whiteley’s monotone delivery renders the moment unintentionally hysterical.

The finale is overstretched but visually breathtaking. Bay lays waste to a vast metropolis, depicting destruction on a mighty yet believable scale. By the time the film wraps up viewers won’t care, this section being just as emotionally void as the rest of the production. However, judged purely on aesthetics it’s a gem, providing eye candy and razzmatazz of the upmost standard. The use of 3D in “Dark of the Moon” is also above average, especially during the bombastic conclusion.

Michael Bay’s token jingoism is always around the corner, surfacing more than a few times during the movie’s perplexing 157 minute runtime. Roughly a third of the content featured here could easily have been lost in the edit, Kruger’s indulgent writing style eating up far more screen time than it is actually worth. “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” is an improvement over the previous installment, but that’s about the nicest thing you can say about it. Whilst the film will almost certainly turn huge coin, its legacy beyond this summer will be nothing more than idiotic thrills and reduced to clear action figures.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

24 June 2011

Movie Review: Bridesmaids

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B-

Bridesmaids
2011, 125mins, 15
Director: Paul Feig
Writer (s): Kristen Wiig, Annie Mumolo
Cast includes: Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, Jon Hamm, Chris O'Dowd, Ellie Kemper
UK Release Date: 22nd June 2011

It’s easy to appreciate what “Bridesmaids” stands for, a firm attempt to generate mature comedy for the female demographic. Scripted and starring SNL’s Kristen Wiig, the film is definitely more concerned with character and human detail than most of its immediate counterparts, but a ridiculously overwrought 125 minute runtime is a critical failing, indicative of the Judd Apatow (who produces here) school of filmmaking. Director Paul Feig needed to tighten this loose farce up considerably, applying more intimate focus upon the facets that work, whilst cutting several characters and major sequences in the process. I liked the protagonists and enjoyed laughing at them, but seriously, there’s no need for “Bridesmaids” to be any longer than an hour and a half.

Annie (Kristen Wiig) isn’t in a good position; her bakery is finished, she lives with a pair of intrusive creeps and engages nightly in self-destructive sex with a complete asshole (Jon Hamm, illuminating the screen). When her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) gets engaged, Annie is pegged as the Maid of Honour, leaving her in charge of a ragtag gang of bridesmaids and with several vital events to plan. Chief amongst the group is Helen (Rose Byrne), a sophisticated socialite who soon begins to hijack the process, leaving Annie confused and unsettled. Fearing that Helen has usurped her as Lillian’s closest buddy, Annie seeks solace in the company of local cop Rhodes (Chris O’Dowd). As each pre-wedding event ends in disaster, Annie loses total faith in herself, leaving the rest of the Bridesmaids without leadership.

It’s nice to observe a mainstream comedy that cares about constructing decent characters; Wiig and co-writer Annie Mumolo working to build the central figures up into believable screen entities. Wiig does a very fine job in the leading role, but perhaps deserves further plaudits for actually making a handful of brave choices surrounding the character, unafraid to take Annie into darker and less appetizing places. “Bridesmaids” never outright suggests Annie is anything more than a flawed person with a good heart, still susceptible to the jealousy, missteps and bad decisions that make us human. Byrne is pretty unremarkable as Annie’s rival, strutting through the picture regally, but struggling to convince as anything more than a shrew. An attempt at the film’s conclusion to make her sympathetic is badly executed, some terrible acting (and a rare spot of poor dialogue) upsetting the sincerity of the scene. It’s interesting to note that “Bridesmaids” paints its antagonist as a one dimensional witch, something which surely contradicts the picture’s mission statement.

The rest of the bridesmaids receive inconsistent amounts of screen time, Wiig clearly wants to flesh out each individual, but that’s simply not possible. Leading the charge is Melissa McCarthy, portraying the groom’s sister, stealing virtually every comedic beat in the process. The actress throws herself headfirst into the role, forgoing dignity in the pursuit of guffaws. There are several hysterical set-pieces in “Bridesmaids”, Wiig and Mumolo even managing to concoct a series of uproarious excretion and projectile vomit jokes. There’s a lot of energy in the bigger and brasher scenes, one on an airplane particularly memorable due to Wiig’s frenzied participation. I would never accuse “Bridesmaids” of being unfunny; there are certainly enough chortles here to justify the price of admission.

The romantic subplot between Wiig and O’Dowd is serviceable, the pair sharing decent chemistry and astute comic timing. Similarly Lillian and Annie are gifted a strong onscreen dynamic from the start, affording any rifts in their friendship with an added degree of heartbreaking heft. All of these components are well realized and watchable, the key problem with “Bridesmaids” being the irritatingly bloated runtime. Director Feig appears to have barely edited the piece, letting some scenes dwindle on for far too long, whilst certain characters simply have no reason to exist within the story. The movie is overstuffed with secondary bridesmaids, the women played by Ellie Kemper and Wendy McLendon-Covey feeling particularly superfluous. The road to the finale is a slow one, and when we eventually get there the formulaically zany wedding and feeble conclusion of a major arc (cough*Byrne*cough) sully the impact.

“Bridesmaids” is a flawed production, undeserving of the universal applause being heaped upon it. I would still modestly recommend checking it out, there’s some genuinely great stuff on show, but sadly those honking the words “classic” and “unforgettable” have clearly ingested something. “Bridesmaids” is above average for sure, but I’d advise viewers to overlook the charitable reviews and keep their expectations halfway grounded.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

20 June 2011

Movie Review: Just Go with It

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C+

Just Go with It
2011, 117mins, 12
Director: Dennis Dugan
Writer (s): Timothy Dowling, Allan Loeb
Cast includes: Adam Sandler, Jennifer Aniston, Brooklyn Decker, Nicole Kidman, Nick Swardson
UK Release Date: 11th February 2011

Adam Sandler has shown an aversion to raw silliness lately, instead preferring to indulge his serious side (2009’s wonderful “Funny People”) or slum it for undeserved financial glory (last year’s “Grown Ups”). “Just Go with It” is far from the comedian’s best work, but it’s a relatively inoffensive offering, opting to rely on decent chemistry and the odd solid gag rather than simply plastering recognizable names on a poster. Granted, the pairing of Sandler and Aniston is as high profile as these things tend to get, but the actors actually seem to enjoy working together, granting “Just Go with It” a laidback and partially agreeable tone.

Danny (Adam Sandler) uses a fake wedding ring to pick up women at bars, concocting stories of domestic abuse and fearsome harridans to cajole pity sex out of his trusting targets. When Danny is called out by 23-year old stunner Palmer (swimsuit model Brooklyn Decker, giving an all about the boobies performance ), he is forced to spin a web of lies, roping in longtime colleague Katherine (Jennifer Aniston) and her children to play the part of his ex-family. Before committing to Danny, Palmer needs proof that he and Katherine are through, the group thusly marching off to Hawaii in order to try and work things out. However despite Palmer’s natural beauty and winning personality, Danny can’t help but start to feel a connection with Katherine, their friendship slowly budding into something deeper.

“Just Go with It” is at least during its opening two thirds sporadically amusing, something that I’ve struggled to say about Sandler fare for several years now. After suffering through bombs like “50 First Dates” and “Click”, it’s reassuring to see a bit of that old magic resurface, “Just Go with It” unafraid to breakout the silly from time to time. Danny is a plastic surgeon by trade, the movie pummeling this facet of the story from the beginning, mining laughs from the imaginative deformities his patients suffer from. These gags are designed purely for lowbrow giggles, but that doesn’t change the fact some of them land. Of course at points the feature’s willingness to goofball it up is a detractor, namely when Nick Swardson enters the frame, contributing a fiercely hammy turn as a fake Austrian suitor for Aniston. It’s funny for about 30 seconds, but Swardson and director Dennis Dugan allow this caricature to dominate multiple sequences, the actor’s one note and tiresomely uncreative vamping grating well before the final reel. Still, when “Just Go with It” is content to be ridiculous it’s generally pretty tolerable, the film finding a winning balance between typical Sandler antics and competently assembled romantic shenanigans for most of its middle act.

Sandler is fine, not particularly excitable, but better than he was in “Grown Ups”. Aniston on the other hand is very good, showing that after her own series of clunkers (namely last year’s execrable “The Bounty Hunter”) her funny bone is still operational. She spars with Sandler sweetly, the two creating a warmly antagonistic dynamic, albeit one convincing enough to leave the film’s conclusion worthless. “Just Go with It” culminates in a preposterously formulaic fashion, the film’s finale a sluggish trawl through inert genre beats and schmaltzy scripting. Nicole Kidman pops up to alleviate some of the pain, bringing a delightful strain of spiteful energy to her performance as Katherine’s college enemy, but even she can’t rectify the production’s flaccid ending.

I don’t know if I can heartily recommend seeking “Just Go with It” out, after all my stance on the film might be overly informed by low expectations. On theatrical release earlier this year the movie was critically savaged, although it did provide its leading man with yet another sturdy box-office hit. Instead I would wait until you encounter the picture by accident, perhaps on TV or during a long plane journey. In those circumstances I could see “Just Go with It” providing a soft, bloated yet bearable method of killing a few hours.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

18 June 2011

Movie Review: Bad Teacher

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C-

Bad Teacher
2011, 92mins, 15
Director: Jake Kasdan
Writer (s): Gene Stupnitsky, Lee Eisenberg
Cast includes: Cameron Diaz, Lucy Punch, Jason Segel, Justin Timberlake, Thomas Lennon
UK Release Date: 17th June 2011

If I were to describe Jake Kasdan’s “Bad Teacher” in one word, it would be "wasteful". The film neglects to make much use of either its spicy premise or cool cast, flat direction and poor writing too often undoing what little good the picture boasts. Cameron Diaz tears into the leading role with relish, but sadly there aren’t enough worthwhile jokes on show to buoy the comedienne’s efforts, resulting in a final product that can’t keep pace with its star. It would be remiss to label “Bad Teacher” as utter bilge, but to date it’s probably one of 2011’s wildest underachievers.

After her plans for a life of married luxury fall through, Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz) is forced to return fulltime to her teaching job. A neglectful and morally bankrupt educator, Elizabeth quickly becomes suspect in the eyes of upbeat co-worker Amy (Lucy Punch), a hyperactive and diligent busybody who dislikes Elizabeth’s classroom etiquette. When a wealthy new temp named Scott (Justin Timberlake) joins the school staff, Elizabeth sees a prime gold-digging opportunity, predicting a pricey boob job will provide her with the keys to the young man’s heart. In a bid to raise funds for her surgery, Elizabeth overlooks her professional duties more than ever, desperate to amass enough cash before a scheming Amy makes her own move on Scott.

Diaz is in storming potty -mouthed form, but the script by “Year One” scribes Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg fails to build the character into anything more than a boozy, sexually promiscuous parade of “fucks” and “shits”. “Bad Teacher” barely features a narrative arc, and grants its central figure literally no redeeming qualities. Towards the end of the production Elizabeth does something for a student that the filmmakers want us to read as edgy yet touching, but in truth it’s just creepy. It’s this sort of misjudged writing that makes the film such a tough sit in spots, Diaz deserving minor praise for doing her very best, but unfortunately she’s been saddled with an unworkable role.

Kasdan fails to juggle his supporting team efficiently, whilst the script as a whole features at least one key character too many. As the object of Elizabeth’s affections, Timberlake manages a few amusing line readings, but is generally happy to keep hitting the same notes again and again. It doesn’t help that his character makes precious little sense, his personality seemingly varying from scene to scene. At some points he’s a voice of reason and decency, but in others he’s the type of guy who cheats on his girlfriend and ejaculates in his pants. Lucy Punch on the other hand is excellent, displaying oodles of energy and a clear knack for physical tomfoolery. Diaz may be adequate, but it’s Punch who really stands out here. Jason Segel is barely there as a gym teacher aspiring to hook up with Elizabeth, yet another talent underserviced by the lackluster writing. This tedious arc, along with one involving a nerdy kid trying to score with a girl in Elizabeth’s class, is a perfect example of how structurally misguided “Bad Teacher” is. To call is loose storytelling would be an understatement

Aside from a neat opening credits sequence, Jake Kasdan displays very little flair or even directorial competency with “Bad Teacher”, a surprising revelation given that his previous comedies (“Orange County” and “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story”) were both quite good. The pacing feels off throughout, whilst interactions between the actors often appear forced and unnatural. Kasdan also makes the rookie error of allowing multiple scenes to run beyond their comedic lifespan, resulting in several missed punch lines and a bloated runtime. At a standard 92 minutes “Bad Teacher” may not appear overcooked on paper, but in execution it feels stretched way beyond its natural length. In fact the ideal format for this concept would probably have been a 5-minute sketch, not a feature length summer release.

There are some laughs to be had, a stinging line of dialogue here, and maybe an enjoyable thespian contribution there. I did chortle a handful of times, and have no reservations about applauding the piece for committing so rigidly to its vulgar R-Rated vibe. Still, these minor positives can’t outweigh the massive problems, which when combined render “Bad Teacher” a patchy miscalculation.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

16 June 2011

Movie Review: Green Lantern

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C

Green Lantern
2011, 105mins, 12
Director: Martin Campbell
Writer (s): Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Michael Goldenberg, Marc Guggenheim
Cast includes: Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Mark Strong, Peter Sarsgaard, Tim Robbins
UK Release Date: 17th June 2011

It seems the studios will adapt any comic book they can get their hands on. “Green Lantern” is the latest foray into this blockbusting subgenre, working from a source that dates back to 1940. The film has a capable director at the fore and features some interesting casting choices, but ultimately the central concept and dopey screenplay combine to render shaky results. It’s an incredibly unsophisticated project working from a premise that feels dated in today’s cultural climate, the film taking many of its blatantly silly components far too seriously. Had “Green Lantern” been released 10-years ago it might have triggered a more forgiving response, but in a post-Nolan era it feels insubstantial and unadventurous.

A talented but unreliable pilot still haunted by the ghost of his deceased father, Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) is shocked when a dying alien initiates him into a legendary team of galactic defenders known as the Green Lanterns. Endowed with newfound power, Hal arrives on the Lantern planet of Oa, only to be met by a disapproving Sinestro (Mark Strong), a high-ranking commander unconvinced by Hal’s fortitude. However with a planet destroying evil named Parallax roaming through the galaxy, and misunderstood scientist Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard) acting as the malevolent force’s puppet on earth, Hal is forced to disregard his doubters and fight for both his home and the woman (Blake Lively) he loves.

Much like “Thor” before it, “Green Lantern” is tasked with turning a barely bankable superhero into a viable 21st century icon. The character suffers from goofy origins and a basic lack of complexity, both these faults jumpstarting major problems within the movie at large. The outlandish creature designs, smoggy bad guy and protagonist’s weapon of choice (the Lantern’s ring) aren’t likely to be received warmly by contemporary audiences, who now seek moodier and less flamboyant fare. Similarly the lack of depth evidenced in Hal Jordan is troubling, all we get are generic daddy issues and a growing intimacy with Blake Lively’s sexy but underexplored Carol Ferris. These are hardly groundbreaking emotional hooks on which to rest an entire picture (and possible franchise), Hal’s supposed inner demons never convincing for a second. It’s hard to attack the writers for flaws so close to the original material, but then again their clunky narrative structure and collective taste for slim characterization is also of concern. Ultimately it’s a patchy screenplay based on a product which now feels unfashionable, so who’s really to blame. I suppose the scribes for doing such lackluster jobs, and the studio for believing this was something anybody was hungry to see in the first place.

There are too many personalities featured here, Reynolds makes for a decent leading man, but nobody else is given enough time to shine. Blake Lively looks gorgeous but is underserviced by the fact she portrays nothing more than a romantic prototype, whilst talented performers such as Mark Strong, Tim Robbins and Geoffrey Rush filter in and out of the tale with nothing much to do. Both of the villains present are unintimidating, one being a giant gas cloud, the other a sniveling nerd with a laughably enlarged cranium. Sarsgaard does his best to get something out of Hammond’s arc, convincing as an underappreciated loner in the opening half, but unfortunately by the end he’s just hamming it up. “Green Lantern” tries to create a dynamic between Reynolds, Lively and Sarsgaard, but the screenplay is so muddled this facet of the picture constantly feels confused and saggy. The production’s storytelling as a whole is generally pretty grim, “Green Lantern” cutting between its multiple subplots with little respect for pacing or tone. It’s a barmy piece of work, but rarely in the good way.

Campbell stages the action methodically, using his experience to at least imbue the set-pieces with some semblance of kinetic energy. “Green Lantern” opens with an exciting sequence built around fighter jets, and admittedly finishes on a bombastic note, but the stuff in the middle is run of the mill. The special effects work is at times stunningly executed, extreme care and detail having been lavished on the digital creations, but in other instances things look much weaker and less technically evolved. Due to the picture’s fantastical scope, it’s not surprising to find “Green Lantern” highly dependent on CGI, something which might at least halfway explain the mixed visual quality. Huge swathes of the movie are fully reliant on the computer generated imagery, leaving me to speculate that for budgetary reasons Campbell had to prioritize certain sections over others. This theory could indeed be total garbage, but it would at least explain the distractingly variable FX standards on display.

Warner is pitching “Green Lantern” as the start of a prospective franchise, but after viewing this first chapter that seems unlikely. Leaving aside the fundamental scripting missteps, “Green Lantern” doesn’t feel like a story audiences will connect with, especially in such a mediocre and tonally uncertain form. By tediously working through the background mythology and profiling at least half a dozen unneeded characters the picture spreads itself out too thinly, resulting in a blockbuster that’s all exposition, with no distinguishable pay-off.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

14 June 2011

Movie Review: The Beaver

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B-

The Beaver
2011, 91mins, 12
Director: Jodie Foster
Writer: Kyle Killen
Cast includes: Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, Anton Yelchin, Jennifer Lawrence, Cherry Jones
UK Release Date: 17th June 2011

I’m not entirely sure who “The Beaver” is for. The picture’s offbeat premise and currently unpopular leading man will undoubtedly scare away multiplex audiences, whilst more thoughtful and committed cineastes are likely to be perturbed by the movies’ schizophrenic tone. “The Beaver” is definitely a film worth seeing once, it does after all contain some interesting themes and a remarkable central turn, but there are numerous fundamental flaws that prevent it from achieving greatness. Jodie Foster (assuming directorial duties for the first time since 1995) has put in a noble effort here, but the final result probably isn’t going to fully satisfy any specific demographic. Unfortunately it’s a piece of work destined to be forgotten; currently plagued by the personal life of Gibson, but not quite good enough to be rediscovered or cherished by future generations ignorant of his past indiscretions.

Walter Black (Mel Gibson) is a depressed and suicidal individual, heading up both a failing business and a permanently unsettled suburban family. His wife Meredith (Jodie Foster) eventually caves in, requesting Walter to leave the house for the benefit of their children Porter (Anton Yelchin) and Henry (Riley Thomas Stewart). Whilst planning to kill himself, Walter stumbles upon an abandoned hand puppet in the shape of a beaver, using it to create a cockney accented alter-ego. Upon his return to the family Walter lies and explains the puppet is a form of therapy assigned to him by a doctor, thusly alleviating Meredith’s initial hesitation. As Walter continues to channel his feelings through the Beaver, he once again finds confidence, his marriage and career outlook improving massively. However as time goes on it transpires that Walter has become overly dependent on his newfound crutch, leaving both his employees and a confused Meredith to become highly concerned.

Mel Gibson is tremendous in “The Beaver”, occupying two very different characters with dexterity and intelligence. In the guise of Walter, Gibson rarely speaks, communicating his silence through a series of fascinating facial expressions and occasional character interactions. From the outset Gibson is totally convincing, creating a mature and appreciatively underplayed portrait of a man suffering from intense melancholy. For much of the film Gibson has to slip between this drained personality and that of the Beaver, who is by turns assertive, charming yet also unnerving. Foster, Gibson and screenwriter Kyle Killen form the puppet brilliantly; channeling a whole half of Walter’s fractured state into the inanimate object believably. “The Beaver” may seem conceptually wacky on paper, but in execution the title character is consistently compelling and richly detailed. His complex dynamic with Walter carries the “The Beaver” through some less assured plains of storytelling, and that’s a redeeming asset which must be solely attributed to Gibson’s stunning contribution.

Leaving Walter aside, “The Beaver” applies a lot of attention to adolescent Porter, maybe even too much. Porter is depicted as an angst ridden teen with a keen distaste for his father, Yelchin filling the role competently but with few frills attached. Foster stretches herself too thinly by investigating Porter’s discontent, and by chronicling his relationship with a pretty but equally restless cheerleader played by Jennifer Lawrence. It feels like their relationship was needlessly jammed into proceedings, Lawrence is her usual sturdy self, but her connection with Porter never feels organic, and it regularly fails to service the main plotline. It’s obvious that Killen and Foster included it to help further characterize the people in Walter’s life, but it would probably have been better if more time was granted to Porter and Walter’s strained rapport directly, instead of lavishing attention upon a watchable but unwarranted high school love interest.

Foster is adequate, her performance in “The Beaver” doesn’t rank amongst her best work, but she gets the job done efficiently. Gibson and Foster have an effective onscreen connection, convincing as lovers who have become clouded by fear and tragedy. There’s a strength and commitment o Meredith that makes us believe she truly adores her husband, thus allowing audiences to accept her undying loyalty to Walter’s bizarre cause. From a directorial standpoint Foster might have made the film a little tighter, and should have questioned some of the blunter tonal missteps that plague the feature’s final act. “The Beaver” almost turns into a horror offering at the end, and includes a fight sequence which clearly aims for profundity, but is more likely to incur giggles. At one point Jim Carrey and Jay Roach (“Meet the Parents”) were the creative team set to steer Killen’s tale onto screens, and one can’t help but feel the misjudged scene in question might have been an accidental leftover from their time on the project. It doesn’t fit well with the rest of the movie; in fact the entire last third is so all over the place it borders on chaotic.

“The Beaver” starts by focusing on Walter’s sense of self-loathing and emotional isolation, but gradually becomes more intrigued by his potential insanity. The film doesn’t conclude on a very uplifting note (albeit there are fresh traces of happiness in some cases), instead Foster decides to keep things grounded. She manages to stay true to the characters and their various woes, lacing the film with traces of redemption and forgiveness, but refusing to opt for a blatant copout finale. I suppose despite its numerous flaws “The Beaver” is a brave motion picture, willing to roll with its unique hook and traverse into dark territory. I doubt such courage will be rewarded with financial success or even a rabid cult following, but it definitely counts for something.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

Movie Review: Swinging with the Finkels

0 comments

F

Swinging with the Finkels
2011, 85mins, 15
Director: Jonathan Newman
Writer: Jonathan Newman
Cast includes: Martin Freeman, Mandy Moore, Melissa George, Jonathan Silverman, Jerry Stiller
UK Release Date: 17th June 2011

Productions like “Swinging with the Finkels” are what give the British film industry a bad name. A disastrously structured and painfully unfunny feature, “Swinging with the Finkels” is a creatively bankrupt exercise in broad and offensively imbecilic comedy. Writer/director Jonathan Newman clearly wants the movie to work as both a saucy farce and a perceptive commentary on the challenges of marriage, but the finished product ultimately satisfies neither of those aims. Instead we’re left with 85 minutes of cucumber stimulated masturbation, Martin Freeman’s tired shtick and various dismal editorial choices.

Alvin (Martin Freeman) and Sarah (Mandy Moore) have been married for nearly a decade, but are now starting to feel the pressures of their lifelong commitment. The passion has all but disappeared from the bedroom, leaving the pair in a permanent state of frustration. After seeking advice from some friends (including Melissa George) Alvin and Sarah decide to swing, hoping that lusty exposure to another couple might stoke the dying embers of their own romance. However things don’t go to plan, leaving them to ponder if swinging was in fact an appropriate course of action.

Newman stages the picture poorly, designing the opening half as a parade of poor sketches without a human core. Lactating breasts, STDS and kooky grandparents are about as original as the film gets, Newman mining obvious fodder to try and generate a few cheap chuckles. Of course the material is thoroughly witless, and Newman’s comic timing leaves much to be desired. The filmmaker appears to have styled the picture in the vein of a tacky sitcom, but even worse is his inability to concoct a steady comedic rhythm. Granted even a master of the craft like Judd Apatow would have a tough job making these limp jokes work, but Newman’s inability to select the right cuts or inject any energy into proceedings is a killer flaw. “Swinging with the Finkels” is not only tragically mirthless, but also decidedly lifeless.

The central character are undefined, Freeman and Moore both giving fluffy and insubstantial performances. They also share no chemistry, robbing “Swinging with the Finkels” of any measure of soul or humanity. It’s a cold and unlikable movie, the crass tone and robotic leads doing equal damage on this front. The supporting players are nothing but a group of genre stereotypes, Melissa George in particular forced to mope and whine her way through the story in a grossly simpleminded fashion as Sarah’s best friend. Granted most of the actors in this foul creation are worthy of little better (Jonathan Silverman and Jerry Stiller are especially terrible), but on her day George is capable of fine work, so one hopes her agent at least got a stern talking to after she viewed the final product.

The movie tries feebly to articulate its stance on monogamy, Newman failing to say anything of note on the state of modern domestic relationships. Earlier this year the Farrelly brothers helmed “Hall Pass”, a typically raunchy offering that tackled many of the same themes sighted here. That movie was patchy and on the whole fairly mediocre, but it made a much better fist of balancing comedy and marital introspection than this horrendous dross. I strongly advise you to avoid this amateurish and wildly misjudged nonsense at all costs.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

12 June 2011

Blu-Ray Review: The Company Men

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B-

As a well acted drama “The Company Men” finds moderate success; but as a scathing attack on the perils of corporate greed? Not so much. Director John Wells has assembled a wonderful cast for his recession based feature, but ultimately fails to do anything memorable with the subject matter. “The Company Men” is a polished and professionally sculpted piece of cinema for sure, but its reliance on pointing out the obvious is a glaring flaw. Aside from highlighting that unemployment sucks and suggesting businessmen can be dicks, the picture really doesn’t have much of value to say.

After being fired by his longtime employers, Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck in good form) is left jobless and strapped for cash. With a family to support, Bobby immediately begins to hunt out prospective jobs, but as the months roll by his optimism and energy begin to fade. Also axed from the same company is Phil (Chris Cooper) and second in command Gene (Tommy Lee Jones), a pair of older gentlemen befuddled by their newfound situation. Gene is helpless as the industry he helped shape self-destructs, whilst Phil is left terrified by the fact his age renders him obsolete in a game dominated by swaggering young yuppies.

The performances are superb from all quarters, Chris Cooper and Affleck in particular wresting with tough writing to come up trumps. Wells (who also penned the screenplay) paints Bobby as kind of a jerk, but Affleck is able to revive the character thanks to his nuanced depiction of a desperate man down on his luck. There’s a vulnerability to Affleck’s turn that renders the character relatable, and subsequently makes the film much more digestible. Tommy Lee Jones is his usual moody but highly dependable self, despite the fact he’s forced to partake in a formless onscreen relationship with an underutilized Maria Bello. Jones generally barks his lines with aggression, but during the film’s slower segment he’s just as effective at enunciating his feelings through dignified silence. Cooper is tasked with tackling possibly the most formulaic screen entity, but the actor imbues the part with genuine sadness and pathos, leading his arc to conclude on a particularly affecting note. The supporting players include Kevin Costner (adequate but not overly likable), Rosemarie DeWitt (subtle as Affleck’s understanding wife) and Craig T. Nelson (underwritten), but “The Company Men” is a movie dominated by its trio of leading thespians, all of whom deliver sterling work.

The story flows gently, intertwining its various subplots with skill and efficiency. Much like the picture’s central thesis on industry, the various human narratives aren’t primed with anything too refreshing or original, but Wells does take the time to craft these components with detail and care. There are portions of “The Company Men” that fall victim to an unwelcome cornball tone (the finale is the grandest offender), but the domestic lives of the unfortunate protagonists feel very real. There’s an underlying soul here, something that helps compensate for the movie’s general lack of insight.

“The Company Men” doesn’t pull many punches, and is at times brutally honest, but the production suffers from a lack of intriguing perspective. Simply howling at multi-million dollar conglomerates for being greedy doesn’t automatically grant this sort of art a sense of weight or purpose, indeed had Wells kept “The Company Men” out of the offices, and exclusively in bars and homes then it would almost certainly be a more invigorating watch. For those seeking competently assembled and heartfelt filmmaking then you could do much worse, but I have a feeling that Wells’ commentary on the economic calamity of 2009 will soon be forgotten by the world at large.

The film is presented in a sharp transfer, but there are no extra features. It’s ultimately quite a disappointing disc from Universal.

“The Company Men” is available to own and rent on DVD and Blu-Ray from July 18th 2011

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

7 June 2011

"Bridesmaids" in cinemas from June 22nd!

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“Bridesmaids” is the latest film from producer Judd Apatow (“Funny People” and Knocked Up”), a raunchy R-rated comedy with a cast of phenomenal female comics. Kristen Wigg (also on writing duties) plays Annie, a lovelorn individual tasked with heading up a crew of bridesmaids for her best friend’s wedding. If it sounds a little conventional than don’t fret, Wiig’s unique but uproarious comedic chops are sure to provide the picture with a hefty dose of originality, and more importantly the audience with laughs.


“Bridesmaids” also features Maya Rudolph (“MacGruber”) and Rose Byrne (“X-men: First Class”), and is directed by longtime Apatow associate Paul Feig (TV’s long cancelled but universally cherished “Freaks and Geeks”). By bringing voices of this talent to the production, Apatow has more than likely carved out another gem with “Bridesmaids”, the film having performed solidly at the US box-office, and proven very popular with most critics. Make sure you RSVP “attending” when it opens in cinemas nationwide on the 22nd of June 2011.

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3 June 2011

Movie Review: Kung Fu Panda 2

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B+

Kung Fu Panda 2
2011, 90mins, PG
Director: Jennifer Yuh
Writer (s): Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger
Cast includes: Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Gary Oldman, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu
UK Release Date: 10th June 2011

I have to confess 2008’s “Kung Fu Panda” left me a little perplexed and underwhelmed. It’s not that I felt the Asian scented DreamWorks effort was certifiably bad, but it did fail to match my heightened expectations; the production was after all one of the most warmly received blockbusters of its release year. Consequently it gives me great pleasure to admit that I enjoyed “Kung Fu Panda 2” heartily, the sequel providing a funnier, bouncier and more emotionally resonant dose of martial arts heavy animation. The classy voice cast are still on top form (clearly the original picture’s sturdiest selling point), but this time the screenplay applies more focus to defining the giddy characters. It’s this type of mature addition to the DreamWorks formula that has allowed the production company to begin approaching Pixar levels of greatness.

Po (voiced by Jack Black) is now a Kung Fu hero in his own right, regularly called into action alongside warrior comrades Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Mantis (Seth Rogen), Snake (Lucy Liu), Crane (David Cross), Monkey (Jackie Chan) and of course wise Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman in full-blown Yoda mode). When the villainous Lord Shen (a tremendous Gary Oldman) threatens the Kung Fu way of life using a mysterious weapon, Po and the gang are tasked with stopping him. However Po’s quest to attain inner peace limits his abilities against Shen, a problem exacerbated when it transpires the feathered villain might have a disturbing connection with the panda’s hazy past.

“Kung Fu Panda 2” is a richly detailed and beautifully designed picture, combining an authentic oriental style with the studio’s more typically goofball sensibility. Director Jennifer Yuh (making a remarkably high profile feature debut here), clearly has talent when it comes to world building and steering action, on both fronts she absolutely excels herself. “Kung Fu Panda 2” obviously owes a massive debt to the martial arts flicks of old, but is never merely content to simply crib from them. Instead Yuh stages several wildly inventive and brilliantly shot set pieces, merging scale and excitement with good results. The second act of “Kung Fu Panda 2” perhaps becomes overly bogged down in displays of bombastic excess (a cart chase of sorts feels particularly surplus to requirement), but the precise combat choreography and well paced climactic showdown keep it worthwhile.

The vocal work remains topnotch, although even more than last time Jolie, Rogen, Liu, Cross and Chan are sidelined to let the film’s more prominent participants shine. Black is playful as Po, hitting the comedic beats with ease, but also showing a shockingly adept command of the movie’s more character driven components. “Kung Fu Panda 2” excavates Po’s history with more in mind than simply stirring giggles, something evident in a gorgeously composed and genuinely affecting scene during which the title character learns of his tragic past from a soothsayer. Yuh gives this side of the film precedence over the sillier elements, grafting hard to ensure both her hero and antagonist are instilled with credible arcs. As Lord Shen, Oldman is intimidating but also occasionally quite funny, the character’s bodily construction being pure animated gold. A peacock wouldn’t necessarily be the first animal in your mind when thinking of a merciless killing machine, but Oldman’s voice and the sleek CGI work gift Shen with an organically menacing aura.

The middle section of “Kung Fu Panda 2” is somewhat baggier than it needs to be, but the conclusion is a heartfelt and properly thrilling way to culminate the tale. I’m not sure how much more gas the “Kung Fu Panda” universe has left in the tank, this admittedly imaginative sequel probably having squeezed out the final drops of innovation the premise still had to offer. That said, “Kung Fu Panda 2” is unquestionably a decent adventure yarn, primed with a credible roster of laughs and enough soul and humanity to pass muster. If DreamWorks continue to produce product of this standard, it won’t be long before more than just box-office analysts rise to applaud their creations.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

2 June 2011

Movie Review: Priest

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D

Priest
2011, 87mins, 12
Director: Scott Stewart
Writer: Cory Goodman
Cast includes: Paul Bettany, Cam Gigandet, Maggie Q, Karl Urban, Lily Collins
UK Release Date: 6th May 2011

Last year director Scott Stewart debuted with “Legion”, a schlocky, biblically themed thriller that encouraged an unhealthy amount of critical scorn. I personally thought "Legion" was a reasonably entertaining affair, limited for sure, but not without its own trashy set of charms. The same can’t be said for his sophomore effort “Priest”, a frightfully stale and derivative picture, low on both personality and creativity. Adapted from a series of Korean comic books, the film misfires at virtually every juncture, including limp attempts at spectacular action and thinly veiled commentary on the dangers of religious fanaticism.

Years after winning an elongated war against the vampires, humanity has largely retreated into huge walled cities, the Church having taken full command of these industrialized sanctuaries. When a Priest (Paul Bettany) hears that his niece (Lily Collins) has been abducted by the supposedly contained vampire menace, he relinquishes his vows, deciding to pursue her captors. Along with a law enforcer named Hicks (Cam Gigandet), he discovers the demons are still very much active and being commanded by some new unknown enemy. Making matters worse is The Church itself, outraged by the Priest’s dissent, they send a group of equally lethal clerics to retrieve, and if necessary, kill him.

“Priest” begins with a chunk of nicely animated exposition, explaining the back-story in very visual terms, thusly saving audiences from having to digest dry monologues or clich├ęd narration. However that’s about the only genuinely clever thing it does for the entirety of its concise 87 minute runtime. The plotting is unoriginal and simplistic, ditto for characterization, something that seemingly wasn’t on the filmmaking agenda much during production. It’s a banal and sleepy actioner, chocked with achingly familiar set pieces and overly austere interplay between the cardboard cutout protagonists. I’d like to think that at one point Stewart wanted the movie to be fun, but somewhere along the way, any hope of that was sacrificed in favour of a laughably pretentious tone.

Bettany is clearly above this nonsense, but that doesn’t stop him from delivering a dull leading performance. The British thespian can’t overcome the picture’s hackneyed dialogue, and rarely expresses anything other than stern despair. Bettany takes “Priest” unjustifiably seriously; the actor clearly convinced the film has a shot at becoming a genre classic. He’s wrong. From a purely aesthetical viewpoint “Priest” does bare some resemblances to “Blade Runner” and “The Matrix”, but that’s where the similarities end. Whilst those movies boasted revolutionary concepts and startling ideas, “Priest” is totally hollow, save for its halfhearted on the nose swipes at organized religion. “Priest” culminates without making a single worthwhile comment on the problems imposed by theocracy, instead opting to depict the Church leaders as stubborn pantomime villains. It’s a clumsy pratfall, and one that only further compounds the picture’s uselessness.

The screenplay hardly bothers to grant the characters heartbeats, and the few attempts at doing so are generally very artificial. Bettany is laboured with both a mysterious secret and a crude love interest (a lifeless Maggie Q), the filmmakers using these lazy narrative tools to try and infuse a little soul into proceedings. Of course they fail resoundingly, as they also do when trying to concoct a worthwhile bad guy. Karl Urban does admittedly ham it up in the most forgettable fashion possible, but seriously, what arc does he even have in “Priest”? All I registered was something about a vampire queen and a cleansing of the world’s sin, Urban murkily confessing his vague intentions shortly before the bombastic finale.

On a practical level the action segments are well choreographed, but they never feel involving thanks to the dearth of relatable characters. Stewart originally worked as a special effects artist, so it’s no real surprise to find the CGI in “Priest” pretty robust, even if the bland monster designs aren’t. Apparently the project’s release was delayed multiple times, Screen Gems eventually placing it in a prime summertime slot. This I can’t fathom, because against the titans of blockbuster season, this subpar and punishingly asinine effort doesn’t have a prayer.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

"One Day" in cinemas this August 26th!

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From acclaimed filmmaker Lone Scherfig (2009’s “An Education”) and based on the best-selling novel by David Nicholls, “One Day” is an epic romance with a mighty cast. After spending the night together in college, Dex (Jim Sturgess, “21”) and Emm (Academy award nominee Anne Hathaway, “The Devil Wears Prada”) are revisited on the same day every subsequent year, their unspoken connection and love lives the key focus of this sprawling and engrossing story. The tasteful marketing campaign and other talents attached (Patricia Clarkson of “Easy A” and Jodie Whittaker of “Attack the Block”) are very encouraging, suggesting that this hotly anticipated tale might live up to the high fan expectations when it sees release this August 26th.

A subtle blend of romance, drama and comedy ensures that “One Day will satisfy moviegoers on all fronts, providing a romantic story of more complexity and depth than most modern Hollywood product. The presence of a mature and incredibly skilled director like Scherfig inspires maximum confidence, and assures fans of the source that their favourite book is in safe hands. It’s a swooning and operatic saga in the vein of the great films of old, and will hopefully provide a new generation of hopeless romantics with another cinematic offering to treasure for years to come. “One Day” will be released in the UK on the 26th August 2011.

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"Paul" on DVD and Blu-Ray this June 13th!

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Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Seth Rogen headline “Paul”, making its way to DVD and Blu-Ray on the June 13th 2011. A love letter to the sci-fi genre from the geekiest comic partnership around, “Paul” imagines what might happen if two affable nerds picked up an actual extra-terrestrial, with the CIA hot on their tails. The Blu-Ray from Universal comes in the Triple Play” format, a unique value for money style of releasing that allows the consumer to own “Paul” on DVD, Blu-Ray and digital copy all in one easy to grab set. It also means you can enjoy the film anywhere, with digital copy and DVD adding extra flexibility to your home entertainment lifestyle.

“Paul” also stars SNL star Kristen Wiig, “Superbad” funnyman Bill Hader and the legendary Sigourney Weaver, alongside a supporting cast primed with some of the sharpest minds in Hollywood comedy. Fans of Frost and Pegg’s previous works (the universally praised “Spaced” and “Shaun of the Dead” included) should find a lot to like here, the duo’s playful nature and easy chemistry shining through with gusto. So for fans of big adventure and even bigger laughs, make sure you check “Paul” out this June 13th, on DVD and Triple Play Blu-Ray.

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1 June 2011

Movie Review: X-Men: First Class

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A-

X-Men: First Class
2011, 132mins, 12
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Writer (s): Jane Goldman, Zack Stentz, Ashley Miller, Matthew Vaughn, Bryan Singer
Cast includes: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Kevin Bacon, Jennifer Lawrence, January Jones
UK Release Date: 2nd June 2011

After 2006’s disappointing “X-Men: The Last Stand”, it was tough to predict where Fox might steer their prized cash cow next, the series having seemingly run out of steam following the limp third installment. Of course there was 2009’s forgettable “Wolverine”, but that always felt more like a Hugh Jackman vehicle than an outright X-Men property, leaving me to disregard it as a true franchise picture. Consequently we now have a prequel in the form of “X-Men: First Class”, Fox bringing things back to the beginning in order to fuel further box-office kerching. Returning Bryan Singer in the capacity of producer seemed like an advisable move (the talented filmmaker having helmed 2000’s “X-Men” and 2003’s wonderful “X2”), but it’s the introduction of director Matthew Vaughn that really ratchets “First Class” up a notch, the British visionary doing a remarkable job with this origin story. “First Class” is a stunningly accomplished blockbuster, brilliantly cast and filled with skillfully executed action, all wrapped within a darling sixties aesthetic.
The year is 1962, and war between the USA and USSR is looming. CIA Agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) discovers that former Nazi Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) is plotting to ensure conflict between the two superpowers ensues, all so that he may lead a mutant uprising from the ashes of a nuclear winter. In order to help solve the dilemma and stop Shaw, Moira recruits Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and his sister Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) to help build up a squad of mutants that America might later deploy in order to tackle Shaw and the impending threat of global warfare. Charles locates a selection of promising young mutants to groom in his own peaceful image, much to the chagrin of Erik (Michael Fassbender), a member of the team with a ferocious vendetta against Shaw

“First Class” is one of the most invigorating comic book flicks I’ve seen for some time, and almost certainly the best since Vaughn’s last trip behind the camera with the excellent “Kick-Ass”. Reuniting with scribe Jane Goldman (writers Ashley Miller and Zack Stentz are also onboard), Vaughn crafts something truly compelling here, bolstering the usual origin story shenanigans using deft performances, tight scripting and more introspection than a thousand “Pirates of the Caribbean” sequels. Yes, the action beats are also sublime, but “First Class” distinguishes itself on the basis of character development and thespian contribution, the filmmakers clearly insistent that more be offered here than flashy explosions and CGI carnage.

McAvoy and Fassbender are terrific as Charles and Erik, doing so much more than simply rehashing the work previously undertaken by Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen. McAvoy shows glimmers of the wisdom and pathos that would later form Professor X as we more commonly know him, but also does a fine job of exploring the character indulging his less mature tendencies, finding specific fascination with drinking habits and erratic attempts at womanizing. It’s a turn that balances strong ambition with a more lighthearted side, McAvoy a perfectly playful choice to tackle the part. Fassbender is gloomier and less communicative, but dominates the screen fabulously, combining efficiently with the screenplay to take Erik down an organic and necessarily dour path, ensuring that his arc wraps up with the appropriate degree of justified malice. In their shared scenes the actors match each other blow for blow, forming a believable friendship, all the while energetically arguing their differing viewpoints on the mutant cause.

The magical casting continues well into the support, Jennifer Lawrence and Kevin Bacon are both especially exceptional. Bacon stinks of evil, the actor forgoing any semblance of sympathy in order to grant “First Class” with a thoroughly despicable villain. Goldman and Vaughn aren’t preoccupied with dissecting the character’s motives, rather in concocting a screen entity who boasts a truly merciless disposition, turning to betrayal and even horrid scientific experimentation to satisfy his own ghastly desires. Lawrence on the other hand has to naturally convey a shift in loyalty throughout the picture; it is after all no secret that she ends up becoming one of Erik’s key companions later in the saga. It’s a subtle performance, laced with innocence and engaging angst, the actress juggling her inner turmoil with several refreshing romantic connections rather gracefully. Like Charles and Erik, “First Class” provides Raven with a soul and robustly formed range of personal difficulties, the gorgeous Lawrence expressing these articulately.

Vaughn appears to have styled “First Class” very much in the vein of early Bond adventures, capturing the period through the film’s joyful tone, cheeky soundtrack and ace cinematography. Vaughn never overshoots the feature, instead applying little touches to help establish a sense of place, such as fashion sense and certain character designs. For instance Shaw’s most trusted ally Emma Frost (portrayed by a ravishing January Jones) has all the traits of a classic sixties Femme Fatale, from her sexualized outfits to her methods of negotiation. It’s just one example of “First Class” fully embracing its position in the X-Men timeline, turning what might have been a campy detractor into a full blown advantage.

The set-pieces are fittingly spectacular, Vaughn generally maintaining real heat and threat, whilst managing to keep his camera moving at an excitable but fully coherent rate. I suppose it would be hard to label any of these big brash action moments as revelatory, but they are always enjoyable and competently assembled, even if at times the digital effects aren’t flawless. “First Class” isn’t afraid to be funny on occasion either, a fantastic cameo and a raucously penned exchange within a strip club coming off as distinctive highlights. However Vaughn and Goldman never let these jovial little segments disrupt the flow of the film thematically, instead using comedy as well timed relief from the serious plotting and complex troubles inflicted upon the story’s protagonists

Even at a bulky 132 minutes “First Class” refuses to feel stale, remaining immensely gripping for the entirety of its beefy runtime. After the major letdown of “The Last Stand” it’s a real pleasure to see this series regain its footing, confidently delivering a thrill ride of hidden depths and obvious pleasures. It confirms Vaughn and Goldman as a creative duo to be reckoned with, but most importantly represents a tent-pole release fully worth your time and money. Considering what this summer season has given us thus far, that’s probably the most encouraging positive of all.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011