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James McAvoy

X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019)

DIRECTOR: Simon Kinberg

CAST: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Sophie Turner, Nicholas Hoult, Tye Sheridan, Jennifer Lawrence, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Evan Peters, Alexandra Shipp, Jessica Chastain

REVIEW:

For his directorial debut, screenwriter Simon Kinberg has fulfilled a long-harbored wish to take a second stab at the Dark Phoenix storyline he previously tackled as co-writer of 2006’s X-Men: The Last Stand, dissatisfied with the final product (which was directed by Brett Ratner). For fans of the X-Men comics, the Dark Phoenix storyline, written by Chris Claremont, John Byrne, and Dave Cockrum and running from the late 1970s into 1980, is regarded as one of the comics’ great narrative arcs (in addition to The Last Stand, it has also previously been adapted twice for animated television series). I’m not prepared to say a two hour movie has entirely done justice to a comic storyline which ran for years (reportedly Kinberg initially wanted to tell the storyline across two movies, but the studio declined), but comic book and film are different mediums. In its own right, Dark Phoenix has breathed a little more life into the loose reboot young X-Men series (began with 2011’s First Class and spun off into an alternate timeline by 2014’s Days of Future Past), more compelling than its immediate predecessor, the laborious Apocalypse and overall a better, if rushed and abridged, adaptation of the source material and the Dark Phoenix storyline than The Last Stand.

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Atomic Blonde (2017)

DIRECTOR: David Leitch

CAST: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, Sofia Boutella, John Goodman, Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan, Til Schweiger, Bill Skarsgard, Roland Moller

REVIEW:

Atomic Blonde plays out like a blend of the convoluted, labyrinthine Cold War intrigue of a John Le Carre novel with the kinetic action of a Jason Bourne movie, but the level of style and panache director David Leitch brings to the material, and the entertainment value of Charlize Theron kicking ass and looking stylish while doing it can’t quite make up for a murky, muddled plotline that’s difficult to follow. Continue reading

Split (2017)

DIRECTOR: M. Night Shyamalan

CAST: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula, Betty Buckley

REVIEW:

While it might be his first commercially successful movie in years, I have to go against the critical consensus and disagree that Split represents a return to form for M. Night Shyamalan.  I’ve never held the writer-director in that exalted esteem, but The Sixth Sense, Signs, and The Village were enjoyable, if flawed (the twist in The Sixth Sense, while a great “gotcha” surprise in the moment, makes less sense the more you think back on it), and in some ways Split embodies his troubled career: a movie with flashes of promise that goes off the rails, sputtering along in fits and starts until finally undone with a twist (such as it is) that turns the movie from a psychological thriller into something like a comic book supervillain origin story that doesn’t come to any true ending (due to Shyamalan’s intention to tie it in with 2000’s Unbreakable and set-up a third installment in what he is now calling a “trilogy”).  Whether Shyamalan’s franchise intentions come to pass remains to be seen (though Split‘s success at the box office might be enough to get the green light), but taken on its own, Split is as schizophrenic and half-formed as its villain’s identity. Continue reading

X-Men: First Class (2011)

DIRECTOR: Matthew Vaughn

CAST:

James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Kevin Bacon, Rose Byrne, January Jones, Caleb Landry Jones, Lucas Till, Edi Gathegi, Zoe Kravitz, Jason Flemyng, Oliver Platt

REVIEW:

Back when he wrote and directed 2000’s X-Men, Bryan Singer eschewed an origin story, jumping into the action with the X-Men already formed, deeming origin stories unnecessary and constraining.  A decade later, Singer (who helped develop the story and served as producer here) and director Matthew Vaughn decided to tackle the ‘origin story’ after all, not only of the ‘first class’ of X-Men, but the friends-turned-enemies Charles Xavier/Professor X and Erik Lensherr/Magneto.  While 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine failed to do anything interesting with its central character, Vaughn and company have righted that wrong here.  First Class is easily ahead of The Last Stand, and might well top out X-Men and X2 for the best installment the series has produced so far. Continue reading

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