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)

Oscars 2016 Predictions

I couldn’t be less enthused about Oscars this year. What with an insipid bunch of nominees, the raging racism controversy and the fact that Chris Rock is hosting this year. Bring back Seth McFarland!!! But then the realisation that it is the 3rd anniversary of the blog hit me and a friend asking where my predictions were, I guess I will give this a shot with the hope that next year there are more daring movies and nominees feature a diverse group of performers, age and race notwithstanding. So here we go ladies and gentlemen get your Oscar Fever On!!

oscar2016

Best Actress in a supporting role:

Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight

Rooney Mara, Carol

Rachel McAdams, Spotlight

Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl

Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

 

This is a tough one to choose from. I loved the return of Rachel McAdams to meaningful cinema and what an understated and respectful performance she delivered in Spotlight. Rooney Mara was the only bright light for me in all the pretentiousness that enveloped Carol. But the clear battle is between Vikander and Winslet.

Who should win: Alicia Vikander, her portrayal as Gerda is stellar. Her vulnerability and poise as her husband undergoes a transformation is heart-breaking. But this is not a showy performance that Oscar seems to prefer and with the results of all the previous awards going against her, chances are she won’t win but then again Winslet is a previous winner.

Who will win: Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffman is the perfect foil to Fassbender’s Steve Jobs. Winslet really makes this role her own by infusing an emotional anchor to story. Regardless of what people accuse Sorkin of I think he writes some of the best female characters around – CJ, Makenzie and Sloane and now Joanna Hoffman. I wouldn’t be terribly disappointed if she wins.

 

Best Actor in a supporting role:

Christian Bale, The Big Short

Tom Hardy, The Revenant

Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight

Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies

Sylvester Stallone, Creed

 

Bale, Hardy and Ruffalo deliver very strong performances two of which could easily have been leading had it not been an ensemble drama with equally strong performances from other actors. I loved Tom Hardy as the villainous John Fitzgerald and was cheering on Glass to finish off the despicable character that Fitzgerald was – that is how good Hardy is. But this is Bale’s to lose.

Who Should/Will Win: Christian Bale is brilliant as the eccentric genius who discovers the impending housing market crash and the subsequent meltdown of the global economy in The Big Short. Christian Bale is one of the best method actors working today and the range he displays in picking the roles and the physical and physiological transformation he undergoes to become the said character is second to none. It would be a crying shame if he doesn’t win this. And it goes to Sylvester Stallone as some sort of a consolation prize.

 

Best Animated Feature:

Anomalisa

Boy and the World

Inside Out

Shaun the Sheep Movie

When Marnie Was There

 

AKA the Pixar award. And with Inside Out, Pixar has equalled the heights of technical ingenuity coupled with a strong emotional core that it did with the likes of Ratatouille, Wall-E and Up!

Who should/will win: Inside Out

 

Best Cinematography:

Carol

The Hateful Eight

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Revenant

Sicario

 

It could be a Hat-trick for Emmanuel Lubezki this year with The Revenant following Gravity and Bridman. Lubezki is reaching Roger Deakins (who is also nominated for a record 13th time without a win) level of awesomeness when it comes to framing the most gorgeous shots that create the most immersive experience for an audience. Even if they simply put his name on the top of the playbill I would queue up to watch the movie first day first show regardless of the actor or director of the story and his work in The Revenant is better than Birdman and almost as good and in many aspects better than Gravity. But what John Seale has achieved in Mad Max Fury Road is simply superior to anything else in this category. His visuals match the madness of George Miller’s beat for beat and in fact sometimes the visuals are the ones that set the pace for this insane adrenaline fuelled caper. I get a head rush just thinking of the visuals in Mad Max and I will lose my voice swearing if they don’t give this to Seale who came out of retirement to shot this thing of beauty!

Who should win: John Seale

Who may Win: Deakins because he is always good and he is long overdue? Lubezki because he is good and a three-peat would be interesting trivia? Who knows! I want Seale to win.

 

Visual Effects:

Ex Machina

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

 

Ex Machina was excellent as was The Martian in making us believe we were seeing a real-life AI and the Martian landscape. But this one has Mad Max written all over it. The most spectacular use of Visual effects which kept the Computer generated effects to minimum by having practical stunts.

Who should/will win: Mad Max Fury Road

 

Documentary Feature:

Amy

Cartel Land

The Look of Silence

What Happened, Miss Simone?

Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom

 

Unfortunately I haven’t been able to watch any of the documentary features this year. I wanted to watch Amy very badly because I loved Amy Winehouse. If I was picking based on what I wanted to watch then it would be Amy but based on the fact that Joshua Oppenheimer was nominated and didn’t win for The Act of Killing which was the companion piece to The look of Silence based on the killings in Indonesia in the 1950s and the current political mood in the western hemisphere towards Putin’s aggression, Winter on Fire could sneak in a surprise.

Who should win: Amy

Who will win: Winter on Fire

 

Foreign Language Film:

Embrace of the Serpent

Mustang

Son of Saul

Theeb

A War

 

A harrowing tale set in the holocaust concentration camp of Auschwitz telling the tale of a SonderKommando who believes that the body he was supposed to cremate is allegedly that of his son and tries everything in his power to get a proper Jewish burial for him which includes a prison riot and escape from Auschwitz seems impossible to beat. Son of Saul is my pick for the best Foreign Language Film

Who should/will win: Son of Saul

 

Sound Editing

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Sicario

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Sound Mixing

Bridge of Spies

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

 

This category continues to confuse me! When you already have a category for Best Original Score what exactly is the point of this. But taking from the analogy from last year where good sound ingredients comprise Sound Editing and the proper cooking method being Sound Mixing let’s look at this.

Who should win Sound Mixing/Editing: Mad Max : Fury Road

Who will win Sound Mixing/Editing: The Revenant

 

Original Score:

Bridge of Spies

Carol

The Hateful Eight

Sicario

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

 

I would love for Jóhann Jóhannsson to win because he deserved to win last year for the Theory of Everything and the music for Sicario is stunning. But with stalwarts like John Williams and Ennio Morricone this one is up in the air.

Who should win: Sicario Jóhann Jóhannsson.

Who will win: Star Wars: The Force Awakens John Williams./Ennio Morricone The Hateful Eight

 

Original Song:

“Earned It,” Fifty Shades of Grey

“Manta Ray,” Racing Extinction

“Simple Song #3,” Youth

“Til It Happens To You,” The Hunting Ground

“Writing’s On The Wall,” Spectre

After the performances like Skyfall by Adele, Let it go by Idna Menzel and Glory by John Legend and Common from previous years I am pretty sure this is Lady Gaga’s to take home. Until I went over the nominations I wasn’t even aware that the video that Gaga released was part of a documentary. I hope Gaga has a stellar performance in an otherwise drab Oscar ceremony. Also given the circumstances around Cosby this song is Hollywood’s way of apologising.

Who should/will win: Lady Gaga “’Til It Happens To You”

 

Film Editing:

The Big Short

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Revenant

Spotlight

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

 

With the exception of Star Wars I have seen all 4 and loved each one with a varying degree with respect to its pacing and overall coherence of storytelling. I found The Revenant a bit too long and unnecessary in places other than to see Lubezki’s beautiful frames. Spotlight lacked a sense of urgency that a story like this needed. Mad Max and The Big Short were the most perfectly paced movies. I really cannot pick and winner between the two

Who should win: Mad Max Fury Road

Who will win: The Big Short

 

Original Screenplay:

Bridge of Spies

Ex Machina

Inside Out

Spotlight

Straight Outta Compton

 

This category was the butt of many #YoOscarsSoWhite jokes because the only movie representative of the African American culture that got nominated for anything was Straight Outta Compton for Best Original Screenplay and here too the people who were nominated were white folks. I am torn between Ex Machina and Inside Out but given that this is the Oscars I am pretty sure it is going to be Spotlight.

Who should win: Ex Machina/Inside Out

Who will win: Spotlight.

 

Adapted Screenplay:

The Big Short

Brooklyn

Carol

The Martian

Room

 

I would love nothing more than for The Big Short to win every award it is nominated for. But The Martian was pretty special too and more than anything else it was the humorous source material which many told me it was impossible to adapt.

Who should win: The Martian

Who will win: The Big Short.

 

Director:

The Big Short

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Revenant

Room

Spotlight

 

Now this is a seriously good group of nominations and it would have been only better had Ridley Scott been included for The Martian. I really really hope that Iñárritu doesn’t win for The Revenant which while a beautiful movie is poorly edited and is more akin to Babel than Birdman. A lot of pretentious cerebral imagery and not enough story. For me it is between George Miller and Adam McKay and I would be happy if either of them won

Who should win: Adam McKay

Who will win: George Miller

 

Actress in Leading role:

Cate Blanchett, Carol

Brie Larson, Room

Jennifer Lawrence, Joy

Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years

Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

 

Cate Blanchett should not have been nominated for Carol. I love my some Queen Cate but Carol wasn’t a strong enough movie that needed to be nominated – not dismissing the importance of the story and era in which it is set but it is not a strong enough movie. Jennifer Lawrence is a fine actress but she seems to be nominated for everything she does no matter how bad the movie is. And I still hold her winning for Silver Linings Playbook over Jessica Chastain’s Maya in Zero Dark thirty against her. Brie Larson has quietly been carving out a niche for herself with a stellar performance in Short Term 12 and with Room her performance supported superbly by little Jacob Tremblay is surprisingly uplifting in a story that is anything but that. I cannot imagine anyone being able to deny Larson this win.

Who should/will win: Brie Larson

 

Actor in Leading role:

Bryan Cranston, Trumbo

Matt Damon, The Martian

Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs

Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl

 

Loved Eddie Redmayne and Matt Damon but they are not going to win this year. Michael Fassbender was spectacular as Steve jobs with a performance that cannot be bettered. There are going to be to future biopics on the Apple founder because Fassbender gave the defining performance that cannot be bettered. I have loved and championed Leonardo Dicaprio for a number of years and been upset when he didn’t win and with The Revenant he is almost assured the little golden man that has eluded him for so long. Does he deserve it? Definitely but I would rather that he have won for The Aviator, The Departed and Blood Diamond instead.

Who should/will win: Leonardo Dicaprio

 

Best Film

The Big Short

Bridge of Spies

Brooklyn

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Room

Spotlight

To me this is what the final shortlist of best movies looks like

The Big Short: A Satirical look at the inner mechanics of what happened with the 2008 sub-prime and banking crisis with an amazing turn by the very talented ensemble. This is a very important story not only because it tells us what happened but also because it is only a precursor of things to come because no real corrective actions were taken.

Mad Max: Fury Road: An intense, adrenaline fuelled adventure caper which masterfully married feudalism and freedom struggle without getting preachy. It has the best visuals with practical stunts which cannot be beat.

The Martian: A funny take on the sci-fi genre that makes it accessible to a larger audience. A nuanced performance by Matt Damon and one hell of a story of the triumph of the human spirit against insurmountable odds.

Spotlight: A reminder of what power and responsibility the 4th estate wields and how important it is for them to take on the system and stand up for the little guy. A sensitive portrayal of a story that could have been forgiven a certain amount of histrionics if it tried but it stays clear of it and the end result is a thought provoking movie that does not demonize a religion but questions the power it wields.

Who should win: The big short or Mad Max: Fury Road

Who will win: Spotlight

Category Should Win Will Win
Best Picture The Big Short/Mad Max : Fury Road Spotlight
Best Director Adam McKay George Miller
Best Actor Leonardo Dicaprio Leonardo Dicaprio
Best Actress Brie Larson Brie Larson
Best Supporting Actor Christian Bale Christian Bale
Best Supporting Actress Alicia Vikander Kate Winslet
Best Writing – Original Screenplay Inside Out/Ex-Machina Spotlight
Best Writing – Adapted Screenplay The Martian The Big Short
Best Animated Feature Film Inside Out Inside Out
Best Foreign Language Film Son of Saul Son of Saul
Best Documentary – Feature Amy Winter on fire
Best Documentary – Short Subject Body Team 12
Best Live Action Short Film Shok
Best Animated Short Film Sanjay’s Super Team
Best Original Score Sicario Star Wars/The Hateful Eight
Best Original Song Lady Gaga – ‘Til it happens to you Lady Gaga – ‘Til it happens to you
Best Sound Editing Mad Max : Fury Road The Revenant
Best Sound Mixing Mad Max : Fury Road The Revenant
Best Production Design Mad Max : Fury Road Mad Max : Fury Road
Best Cinematography John Seale Mad Max: Fury Road Emmanuel Lubezki The Revenant/Roger Deakins Sicario
Best Makeup and Hairstyling Mad Max : Fury Road Mad Max : Fury Road
Best Costume Design Cinderella Mad Max : Fury Road
Best Film Editing Mad Max : Fury Road The Big Short
Best Visual Effects Mad Max : Fury Road Mad Max : Fury Road

So there you have it all my predictions for Oscars 2016. Leave a comment if you agree or disagree with my picks. Let me know your thoughts on Oscars in general and who you would have rather seen nominated. You can follow me on Twitter where I will be live-tweeting during the Oscar ceremony!

Steve Jobs – A Review

 Danny Boyle directs Michael Fassbender in and as Steve Jobs.  Supported by an ensemble cast of Kate Winslet, Jeff Daniels, Seth Rogen and Michael Stuhlberg in a script by Aaron Sorkin this is the definitive Steve Jobs movie that we have been waiting for. By no means is this a flattering biopic at one of the 21st century’s most fascinating figures from the world of Technology. Equal parts genius and tyrant Jobs was an enigmatic figure who many credit to having revolutionalised the personal computing world.

Michael Fassbender is fast becoming the modern day Daniel Day Lewis with his chameleon like ability to transform into any character he is given.  The physical resemblance to Steve Jobs towards the later part of his life is uncanny.  Besides the physical similarities his mannerisms lend an uneasy energy to the scene, you are permanently waiting for him to lash out at something or someone. Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffman, Jobs’ work wife does an amazing job playing the emotional anchor of the movie. She plays the understanding yet exasperated partner to Jobs.  Winslet is assured a nomination as supporting actor and at this stage I am willing to bet that she takes home the gold. She is that good.   Jeff Daniels as John Scully the Pepsi Co CEO who joins Apple and is eventually responsible for the firing of Steve Jobs is understatedly brilliant. Seth Rogen as the lovable Steve Wozniak puts in a power packed performance as well.

But the real star of the movie is Script writer Aaron Sorkin. For anyone familiar with Sorkin’s work this movie is jam packed with Sorkinisms. To the uninitiated Sorkinisms is when a bunch of characters talk over one another in seemingly unrelated subjects yet everything seems to sound so profound. Yes many have disliked this very aspect of Sorkin’s writing but I couldn’t care less about them. I love it. It makes for an edge of seat drama where you hang on to every word being said lest you miss some pearls of wisdom. Sorkin has written this movie in 3 acts. The first one at the launch of the Macintosh in 1984 where we see Jobs ranting about how he was left off the cover of times magazine and how he fights the paternity law suit and how he does not want to acknowledge Apple 2 a machine he deems unworthy of his time and something that was a thing of the past. His relationship with Scully though has shades of a father-son dynamic where Jobs looks up to Scully.  Act 2 is after jobs has been fired from apple after the spectacular failure of the Macintosh and has set up his own company and is launching the aesthetically pleasing Cube. We see him closer to his daughter but his relationship with his wife is still strained. He still patronizes Woz while still there is that sense of friendship that goes back many years. The relationship with Scully though has changed and we see both their points of views about what happened when Scully pushed out Jobs from apple.  This is 1988.  Cut to the final act where Steve Jobs is launching the iMac. The same set of people around him, Joanna still trying to reign in Jobs, the reporter from GQ still wandering about t. Finally we see the tensions between Jobs and Woz come to a boil over Apple 2 again and this time Woz has the last word it is a scene that one would have never expected Rogen of Superbad to ever be able to deliver with a straight face. That scene is electric.Sorkin and Boyle infuse a lot of subtlety into the story telling that is usually missing from a biopic.  Trying to capture the eccentricities of Steve Jobs they masterfully weave the fact that he was vegan into the narrative when Jobs and Scully are meeting for the first time when Jobs wants Scully to come on board as CEO. The story behind the apple logo and how it may have been inspired Alan Turing is dealt with in such a matter of fact manner. And the final scene where Jobs is trying to connect with his daughter and promises her how he will put a thousand songs in her pocket someday so that she doesn’t have to carry around a brick shaped cassette player aka the genesis of the IPod. I am certain that this is a movie that will only get better with repeat viewing.

Daniel Pemberton’s understated soundtrack infuses each of the scenes with an electric energy. He deals mostly in silence and single strings but it has a profound effect on the overall viewing. There are no jarring orchestra pieces but subtle and complementary tones that never once seem to overpower the scenery. Alwin H Kuchler as the DOP brings the same sense of energy that he did to Hanna. It feels hurried and frenetic at the same time as it a chilling sense of calm. The opening shot is reminiscent of the Emmanuel Lubezki’s work on The Birdman where the camera follows jobs through the various corridors and rooms as Jobs meets with and talks to the different characters.I have read a few reviews where people are complaining how this movie does not live up to the image of Steve Jobs the Tech Messiah but rather paints a picture of a brilliant yet arrogant and a mostly flawed individual. I think that is the best way to portray a man who was exactly that. Unless of course it was Steve Jobs who was making a movie about himself then he would present that in a slick packaging with millions would be foaming at the mouth to get a piece of. This is exceptional film making and a story telling that is second to none.

Sorkin Fassbender take a bow, you have delivered one of the best biopics of all time. I cannot wait to go back and watch this again.

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.