X-Men : Apocalypse – A Review

Bryan Singer directs Jennifer Lawrence, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and many others in the third instalment in the X-men reboot X-Men: Apocalypse. After basing the First Class in the 60s and the Days of Future Past in the 70s we are in the 80s now and the characters don’t seem to have aged a day since the fateful events of 10 years ago when Mystique/Raven played by Jennifer Lawrence changed the course of history by ending the Sentinel program of Bolivar Trask. This time around we are witness to events of 3600 BCE when En Sabah Nur ruled Egypt and is believed to be the first Mutant by Agent Moira MacTaggert of CIA. After lying entombed for several millennia he is accidentally awoken by Moira herself as she lets the rays of sun hit the PCB-Pyramid.

I have always vehemently defended the superiority of the X-men universe over their Marvel rivals The Avengers but I was massively disappointed by the almost cartoonish tone of the first half where Oscar Isaac who plays En Sabah Nur – or Apocalypse goes about recruiting a young Storm, Psylocke, Angel and Magneto. There are moments of brilliance when we are introduced to an incognito Magneto and the subsequent breakdown that is more Macbeth than Magneto but brilliant nonetheless. Michael Fassbender can do no wrong.

After what seemed like an eternity trying to establish character back stories the 2 line plot reaches its climax. Essentially it is Apocalypse trying to recruit mutants into fighting against the human race.

I love Olivia Munn and had high hopes of her being one of the four horsemen of apocalypse. But while she slayed as Sloane Sabbath in The Newsroom with quick wit and perfect timing in terms of dialogue delivery she is given no more than 2-3 lines. She does however wield the sword and the telekinetic “light sabre” and Lasso well. I believe this is not the last we have seen of her. Also disappointing is Alexandra Shipp as the young storm. Haley Berry was perfection as storm and to get that kind of iconic character so wrong is nothing short of criminal. Here’s hoping Shipp improves with future outings. I also feel a little cheated with how Wolverine was used – by teasing the fans with a glimpse of the adamantium claws in the trailer and what we end up getting is more stryker than wolverine. But stick around for the post-credit scenes and your disappointment will dissipate significantly when you see what is in store for the next instalment.

The high points are the introduction of Kodi-Smith McPhee as Nightcrawler who brings in the comic relief and Sophie Turner as Jean Grey the Telepathic Mutant played in the first three movies by the brilliant Famke Jansen. Jean Grey in my opinion is a criminally underused character so far and seems like Bryan Singer is about to set that straight. I am almost certain that the future instalments of this franchise are going to feature a more prominent role for Jean Grey. I say this because of the final words of Apocalypse. Evan Peters reprises his role as Quicksilver and is also a welcome comedic presence in an almost entirely grim outing.

For Fassbender, Turner and Smith Mchpee alone I would say that this is an easily watchable feature. Not the best in the series but certainly not the worst (that would be The Last Stand – which was effectively written off by Days of Future Past)

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X-Men : Days of Future Past – A Reivew

Bryan Singer returns to the X-men universe to direct X-Men: Days of Future Past after having directed X-men and the X-men 2 and then handed over the reins to Brett Ratner who according to most nearly killed the franchise ( I had no such problems with The Last Stand though) . Armed the cast from the present-day X-men universe and the younger versions of the same characters introduced in Matthew Vaughn’s brilliant X-Men: First Class and with a crisp script by Simon Kinberg, Singer undoes a lot of the dead-end story arcs that Ratner took  with Last Stand.

The movie is set in the future where the mutants are under attack from an army of Mutant Machines dubbed The Sentinels invented by a man named Bolivar Trask played by the amazing Peter Dinklage. The Mutants must band together to time travel and stop the events that lead to these unbeatable machines from being made in the first place. Singer does not dwell on introducing the various mutants and their powers like Whedon does in the Avengers universe. We are thrown summarily in the midst of an ongoing battle with a Vegas-sized buffet of Mutants to choose from and are asked to go along for the ride as the mutants become familiar and their powers self-explanatory.  This is easily where Singer and Kinberg could have wasted precious minutes and possibly alienated a already super-hero-fatigued audience, instead they drop hints and several nods to those loyal to the franchise to know and get familiar with the universe. One scene in particular had me laugh out loud ( and probably be one of the first ones in the theatre I was in to react ) was that of Wolverine walking through a metal-detector.

Unlike the previous movies which focused primarily on Xavier and Magneto this one focuses more on Raven/Mystique. Jennifer Lawrence as the young Mystique is quite phenomenal; however a tad more humor on her part would have just been the most perfect thing ever.  Hugh Jackman gets the loudest reaction from the audience and deservedly so – he is the embodiment of Wolverine I cannot think of another actor playing him physically or physiologically. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender once again prove why they are the perfect choice to take on the roles of Xavier and Magneto that Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellen – the two stalwarts have made their own.

Newton Thomas Sigel mans the camera and does a fine job of transitioning between the apocalyptic future and the 70’s. the production design on these  big-budget apocalyptic movies are pretty standard but by straddling the 70’s John Myre faithfully recreates the era and actually does a better and more believable job than the X-Men : First Class. Of Particular note is John Ottman who dons two caps – those of being the editor and the music composer. As the editor Ottman does a fine job of chopping of whatever possible flab there was to deliver a concise and coherent story with a fairly consistent time-travel story arc. As the music composer he goes the route of Hans Zimmer with the big booming  sound pieces that have come to be the staple of the action/thriller genre. Not that it distracts from the action but nothing particularly original.

This is the super hero movie of the year! You cannot afford to miss it as every X-Men movie in itself is very good but this one while playing homage to all its predecessors manages to stand on its own and still chart a new path forward by undoing the ending of Last Stand. All the tenses get turned on their head as the has becomes had and the he gets becomes will he get? This is an intelligent movie which does not compromise on the entertainment aspect and still does not dumb it down for the audience.  Watch it as the Future and Past of the X-Men universe collide and result in a big bang that will rewrite where the series goes from here.

Oscars 2013 Recap

ImageLet the nitpicking begin! To each his own but I loved Seth McFarlane for most parts as the host of the 85th Academy Awards.  A Year that Oscars decided to pay tribute to the music in movies considering that this was a good year for Musicals with Les Misérables being nominated for Best Picture among other big awards. A night that featured musical performances from Dame Shirley Bassey leading the 50th year of James Bond tribute, Norah Jones performing everyone needs a friend from Ted, Jennifer Hudson blowing the roof off the Dolby Theater with her Dreamgirl number “And I’m telling you” and the Magnificent ADELE singing and then later winning for Skyfall can be forgiven for Barbra Streisand doing In Memorium.

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My favorite moments from the show:

  1. Adele Singing Skyfall
  2. Daniel Day Lewis’s acceptance speech and his jokes on Meryl Streep and them switching roles of Thatcher and Lincoln. I just wish someone would cast these two together and make them both 4-time Oscar winners.
  3. Ang Lee Winning – like a dark horse Lee Swooped in and took the award and graciously at that.
  4. Seth McFarlane joking about the super secretive nature of Argo – so Secretive infact the Academy didn’t know who directed it and thus not nominating Ben Affleck
  5. Affleck’s acceptance speech and promising to not hold grudges 🙂

Most Disappointing moment of the night:

  1. Jennifer Lawrence winning instead of Jessica Chastain.
  2. Brave winning instead of Wreck it Ralph

I ended the night with 5/6 for the predictions on who I wanted to win with the only one I lost was for Jessica Chastain.

Below is the complete list of winners

Best Picture                                            Argo
Best Actor                                               Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)
Best Actress                                           Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)
Best Director                                          Ang Lee (Life of Pi)
Best Animated Feature Film                 Brave
Best Cinematography                           Claudio Miranda (Life of Pi)
Best Short Film Animated                     Paperman (director John Kahrs)
Best Short Film (Live Action)               Curfew (Directed by Shawn Christensen)
Best Original Screenplay                      Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained)
Best Adapted Screenplay                      Chris Terrio (Argo)
Best Original Song                                 Adele Adkins & Paul Epworth (Skyfall)
Best Original Score                               Mychael Danna (Life of Pi)
Best Actor In A Supporting Role          Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained)
Best Visual Effects                                 Life of Pi
Best Documentary Feature                   Searching For Sugarman
Best Documentary Short                       Inocente (Directed by Sean Fine, Andrea Nix)
Best Sound Mixing                                 Les Miserables
Best Sound Editing                                Zero Dark Thirty and Skyfall
Best Film Editing                                    William Goldenberg (Argo)
Best Supporting Actress                       Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables)
Best Foreign Language Film                Amour
Best Makeup & Hairstyling                   Lisa Westcott & Julie Dartnell (Les Miserables)
Best Production Design                       Lincoln
Best Costume Design                          Jacqueline Durran (Anna Karenina)

And the total wins for the movies (which will go up on their adverts now)

Life of Pi (4 Oscars)
Argo (3 Oscars)
Les Miserables (3 Oscars)
Lincoln (2 Oscars)
Skyfall (2 Oscars)
Django Unchained (2 Oscars)
Brave (1 Oscar)
Silver Linings Playbook (1 Oscar)
Zero Dark Thirty (1 Oscar)
Amour (1 Oscar)
Searching for Sugar Man (1 Oscar)
Anna Karenina (1 Oscar)

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Taking everything into consideration I feel much better about 2012 at the movies than I did before the show.  Almost all the right people won and were gracious in their acceptance speeches and Seth McFarlane was appropriately risqué and hilarious for most parts with some real zingers.

As for early 2014 predictions – I Have Meryl Streep for August Osage County

Oscars turns 85! and there’s a big party!

Roll out the red carpet the most important little golden man approaches.  The day when I fume at the fact that Rajeev Masand gets to ask the most important questions to some of the most beautiful and talented women in the world – “who are you wearing!?” and he probably doesn’t know his Elli Saab from Lanvin! But besides the pageantry that is the pre-awards red-carpet the day is also special because the best in the business are awarded the honor by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts (dubbed the Oscars)

Love them or Hate them over 1 billion people tune in to watch the Oscars and despite the number holding steady and growing substantially there is much brouhaha being made about how Oscar Awards are losing audience and relevance.  And various arguments were made that a trilogy like Nolan’s Batman would’ve brought in the required audience had It been nominated and awarded a few statuettes. SURPRISE no nominations for The Dark Knight Rises this year! Zilch! But not to worry Snow White and the Huntsman has got 2 Nominations and it will bring in some of the twi-hards.

Now that I have that out of my system lets look at the nominations and I’ll share my thoughts and predictions on who should win and who might win and would love to hear your take on the same!

Best Supporting Actress
Sally Field (Lincoln)
Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables)
Jacki Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook)
Helen Hunt (The Sessions)
Amy Adams (The Master)

For past several years this has been the most fiercely fought category with some standout performances which have actually stolen the show.  In my opinion Adams was amazing in The Master and showed brilliant range matching PSH step for step but this is a lock for Anne Hathaway. It is an Oscar moment waiting to happen – Hathaway’s mom played Fantine on Broadway and now she reprises the role on the silver screen and delivers one the most powerful performances singing through tears that breaks your heart.

Who Should Win: Anne Hathaway – the world might hate her over-eagerness but I love her!
Who will Win: Anne Hathaway – seriously watch her sing “I dreamed a dream”. You can pretty much walk out of the movie after that song.

Best Supporting Actor
Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained)
Phillip Seymour Hoffman (The Master)
Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook)
Alan Arkin (Argo)
Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln)

A usually un-inspiring category has suddenly turned into the most talented one – PSH, De Niro (his best in years), Waltz and Tommy Lee Jones. All stellar in their own regard, and each of them delivering a performance which could easily win. A tough call

Who should Win: anyone but Alan Arkin
Who will Win: I’m tempted to say Tommy Lee Jones but with DDL it is easy to overlook Jones. And Waltz has been winning many leading up to this one. So I’m confused! But because I like Tarantino more than Spielberg I’m giving it to Waltz

Writing (Original Screenplay)
John Gatins (Flight)
Mark Boal (Zero Dark Thirty)
Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained)
Michael Haneke (Amour)
Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola (Moonrise Kingdom)

This took me by surprise – but I thought Zero Dark Thirty was Adapted from some Ex-Navy SEAL’s book.  But turns out Boal and Bigelow were working on the failed attempts at capturing Osama when the news broke that he was indeed killed and they realigned themselves and the outcome was Zero Dark Thirty. The only argument against ZD30 is Torture and Tarantino is the only real competition and his movies are more violent than both hurt locker and ZD30 put together.

Who Should Win: Mark Boal for Zero Dark Thirty
Who Will Win: Tarantino.

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild)
Chris Terrio (Argo)
Tony Kushner (Lincoln)
David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)
David Magee (Life of Pi)

Argo and Life of Pi are favorite movies of the year but they are not backed by Weinstein.  Kushner is a well-respected playwright. An interesting category, which might eventually have a say in which movie takes home the best picture nod.

Who Should Win: Chris Terrio for Argo. The arguments that the end was exaggerated should be silenced by the fact that the story is adapted for dramatic effect!
Who Will Win: Russell for Silver Linings Playbook – the material while wonderful didn’t seem like it would’ve been difficult to adapt.

Cinematography
Anna Karenina (Seamus McGarvey)
Django Unchained (Robert Richardson)
Life of Pi (Claudio Miranda)
Lincoln (Janusz Kaminski)
Skyfall (Roger Deakins)

Deakins was the only thing I liked about Skyfall – especially the last scene where the house is blown up and the fire reflects off the face of Craig. But Miranda cannot be denied this prize. He created one of the most visually stunning movies of the past decade (which includes Avatar).

Who Should Win: Claudio Miranda
Who Will Win: Claudio Miranda

Production Design
Anna Karenina
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Les Misérables
Life of Pi
Lincoln

This is generally the domain of period or fantasy flicks and this year is no different.  I think this would be tossup between 19th century France vs. 19th century America.

Who Should Win: Lincoln
Who Will Win:  Lincoln

Film Editing
Argo
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty

This also acts as a windsock for the final award and in that respect I think the editing should be a toss-up between Argo and Zero Dark Thirty.  Argo’s pacing was brilliant and the entertainment was edge of the seat. Supported by a brilliant script and screenplay ZD30 summarized the 10 year search in a compact and intense thriller.

Who Should Win: Argo
Who Will Win: Argo

Music (Original Score)
Dario Marianelli (Anna Karenina)
Alexandre Desplat (Argo)
Mychael Danna (Life of Pi)
John Williams (Lincoln)
Thomas Newman (Skyfall)

I’m a huge Desplat and Newman fan and I loved Danna’s score for Life of Pi. Williams and Spielberg is a lethal combination most times.

Who Should Win: Mychael Danna
Who Will Win: It will be close but Thomas Newman might snag it.

Music (Original Song)
“Before My Time” from Chasing Ice
“Pi’s Lullaby” from Life of Pi
“Suddenly” from Les Miserables
“Everybody Needs a Best Friend” from Ted
“Skyfall” from Skyfall

My patriotic leanings (and love for Zara Zara ) aside I don’t think Bombay Jayashree is going to win. The reason is simple. ADELE ! I cannot wait for her to perform Skyfall live and then to gush over like an over grown school girl about how she won in front of all these famous people. I love her and each time I watch her I get the “one-of-us” feeling even though her talent is definitely not “one-of-us”.

Who Should Win: Adele
Who Will Win: Adele

Animated Feature Film
Frankenweenie
The Pirates! Band of Misfits
Wreck-It Ralph
Paranorman
Brave

One of my favorite genres of movies! And despite pixar presence I don’t think Brave is going to win this one. Franekweenie saw the return of burton to his dark twisted humorous best. But Wreck-It Ralph should have this locked down. Brilliant from animation stand-point , a story that was entertaining and intelligent and Disney needs a win! Come on Disney!

Who Should Win: Wreck-It Ralph
Who Will Win: Wreck-It Ralph

Time for the big guns to roll out!  These are the four of the most coveted trophies being handed out.

Best Actress
Naomi Watts (The Impossible)
Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty)
Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)
Emmanuelle Riva (Amour)
Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild)

Naomi Watts shouldn’t even be on that list. I think Amour will take home the Best Foreign Language film easily. And the BAFTA outcome not withstanding I don’t think Riva will win this one. This is a 2 horse race between Chastain and Lawrence. I loved Lawrence and I think she is the future of Hollywood. She also has Harvey “The Hammer” Weinstein in her corner.  But Zero Dark Thirty was all about Jessica Chastain. If she is denied the honor then it is a shame. She was stellar! And to go from best sup as the bubbly blonde from The Help last year to ZD30’s Maya shows range that JLaw hasn’t shown yet.

Who Should Win: Jessica Chastain
Who Will Win: Jessica Chastain

Best Actor
Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln)
Denzel Washington (Flight)
Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables)
Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook)
Joaquin Phoenix (The Master)

When there is a Daniel Day Lewis movie coming out there shouldn’t even be nominations. He is quite simply one of the greatest living actors who goes to legendary lengths to get into the characters he portrays. His performance as Abraham Lincoln has everything the Academy loves, political biography, racial issues, foreign actor, and Daniel Day Lewis.  The others are remarkable performances in their own right but they are not Daniel Day Lewis.

Who Should Win: Daniel Day Lewis
Who Will Win: Daniel Day Lewis

Best Director
David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)
Ang Lee (Life of Pi)
Steven Spielberg (Lincoln)
Michael Haneke (Amour)
Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild)

Enough noise has already been made about Ben Affleck not being nominated and it is all justified. His was one of the best movies of the year and for him to not be nominated is nothing short of a crime. Of the ones nominated I’d happily let Lee have his second win for one of the most beautiful films of this year, that too a story which was proclaimed to be unfilmable.

Who Should Win: Ben Affleck.  Of the nominated it should be Ang Lee.
Who Will Win: David O Russell or Steven Spielberg.

Best Picture
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Silver Linings Playbook
Zero Dark Thirty
Lincoln
Les Miserables
Life of Pi
Amour
Django Unchained
Argo

Notable absentees: The Dark Knight Rises. LOTR:ROTK was buried under awards for the end of the trilogy and while it was great and I don’t hate the fact that it won what it won I am miffed at the constant snub that Nolan gets for his work. And in my perfect utopian world Ben Affleck would go up on stage and announce “Oscars F*@K yourself”. But I doubt that it will happen.

My top five
Argo
Life of Pi
Zero Dark Thirty
Silver Linings Playbook
Django Unchained

Who Should Win: Argo
Who Will Win: Argo

So there you have It –my predictions for the big categories – there are costumes, make up , sound mixing/editing  which while add to the final tally don’t interest me too much. I’ll be cheering and hollering like a lunatic and probably weeping with joy when ADELE performs (Oscar brings out the drama in me – more than usual) so let me know what you thought of the year 2012 at the movies!  Personally while there were some highlights I found the overall year a little underwhelming with a lot of the most anticipated movies not living up to the expectations.  Here is a momentous 2013!