X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

X-Men Last StandReleased: May 26, 2006. Directed by: Brett Ratner. Starring: Hugh Jackman, Famke Janssen, Halle Berry. Runtime: 104 min. 

I guess all mutants getting along was nice when it lasted. This time Charles Xavier’s (Patrick Stewart) X-Men face off against Magneto’s (Ian McKellen) Brotherhood. Stewart’s limited screen time helps prove that a presence will still be felt throughout the flick. In this film, a cure is introduced for mutants everywhere. Is mutation something that really needs to be cured? Do mutants really need to conform to what everyone else looks like? Is it cowardice if they choose to take the cure? This time, it touches on the idea that some mutants might benefit from the cure. This is basically in Rogue, who might benefit from it because if she holds onto someone too long, she could kill them. I learn that she is contributes a lot more in the comic books, when she’s felt sidelined to me in the films – at least in terms of battle. I think that’s awesomely touched on more intelligently with Mystique’s characterization in 2011’s X-Men: First Class.

This film just doesn’t feel as smart as the first two films. Heck, it’s still fun – but there are a lot of frustrating occurrences, mainly because some are so unnecessary. Something this film is missing is Bryan Singer’s direction. He just brought such an intelligent style to it, and it just feels like it’s lacking. This time Brett Ratner directs the film, and it’s a bit of an odd choice. Prior to this he directed the Rush Hour franchise and the Hannibal Lecter flick Red Dragon. It was a cool attempt, but it’s only successful to some avail. The fighting for freedom just feels a bit too clichèd this time around under Ratner’s eye. 

Like the Rush Hour flicks show, his style of direction just feels a bit familiar, and not quite a memorable style you could recognize a single director for. Though, he does direct a phenomenal prison escape sequence and kudos to the cinematography department during it. The actors bring humour to the film, per usual, it just isn’t as strong because the story gets dark at times. The film handles heartbreaking aspects of characterization well to some degree, just not perfectly like the last two films. It does handle being a blockbuster pretty well, though, because this is all really fun. 

It’s cool how Jean is a new sort-of character this time around, found in her alter-ego Phoenix, who is much more aggressive and angry than the regular Jean. Professor X wants to contain it in a series of psychological barriers, while Magneto wants to let her out of her cage. What happens with that is an intense sequence. Janssen gives her most interesting performance of the franchise thus far. In Wolverine and her relationship, Hugh Jackman brings some power to his performance. 

There are some good other mutants. It seems that the Beast, a political representative for mutants, is replacing the blue good guy (Nightcrawler in the last film) this time around. I love Ben Foster as the Angel, even though I would have loved to see more from the character. Callisto (Dania Ramirez) on the villains side is a really cool villain, because she’s like a walking, talking Cerebro. She can sense when mutants are near, and also know their power level. There’s a sort-of porcupine blowfish villain named Kid Omega who’s kind-of fun. He’s portrayed by Ken Leung, and I think I subconsciously assumed he was a villain when I saw him on TV’s Lost because I recognized him from this villainous role. As a villain, Pyro (Aaron Stanford) is a bit of a bland idiot. I thought he was a lot more fun as an antagonizing hero. 

I think the title indicates that there might be a few losses from all ends. I think there’s a minor problem when the opening simulation fighting sequence is the same amount of fun as the finale, but that might be because it’s lacking a few fun characters who would be helpful. The finale should just stand out in memory more, as far as I’m concerned. Don’t get me wrong, I like the finale and I like the film, but it’s just disappointingly not as character-driven as the previous two films.

Score: 65/100

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Lone Survivor (2013)

Lone SurvivorReleased: January 10, 2014. Directed by: Peter Berg. Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Ben Foster. Runtime: 121 min.

“Lone Survivor” is a war film that truly expresses how far one will go to survive in a life-threatening situation. It’s like that example commonly used where if a parent sees their child in danger, their protective instincts are going to take over, and if the act requires extraordinary strength, they’ll probably get the necessary adrenaline rush to do so. Sometimes the adrenaline rush doesn’t always help, but it helps give people hope for that situation. This film depicts the courage and survival instincts of the men of Operation Red Wing, a US Marines operation to capture and kill a notorious al Qaeda leader Ahmad Shahd, who had killed twenty U.S. marines weeks prior. The operation takes place in June 2005 in Afghanistan.

The group of marines who take part in the operation are Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), Lieutenant Michael Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), Matt ‘Axe’ Axelson (Ben Foster) and Danny Dietz (Emile Hirsch) who go at it alone in stage one in the operation, to recon the area where Shahd is suspected of staying. Their knowledge is that the village has a small group of ten men, but what is really in the Taliban village is a small army. That isn’t the only thing to go wrong on the mission primarily, their position is surrendered when a group of goat herders stumble upon them. The moral dilemma of whether or not to kill them (two are kids) puts them a situation that will put all of their lives at stake.

It’s curious that it’s such a moral dilemma for them, whether or not to kill the two kids and old man who stumble upon them. The Marines didn’t want to commit a war crime, but it sparks a heated debate within the four men about what they should do about the situation. But they are Taliban, and the younger men are trained soldiers practically. One of them is a kid, but one seriously hard-looking one looks about 21 years old, no younger than one Petty officer on the operation. Anyway, at least these soldiers do have morals. I guess they wouldn’t clear their military psychology test if they were unstable in that way.

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They do have to do what’s right for their country, and patriotism is a main theme of the film. It’s a rousing film about men fighting for their country, and that’s why I like war films; and the action make them pretty great, too, of course. It’s cool when they have attempts at humour, as well. This film has a few of them, notably during a scene where it shows how Petty officers gains respect from their higher authorities in the Marine corps. There’s a speech that is given by Alexander Ludwig (portraying Shane Patton, he’s a bit better than he was in “The Hunger Games”) where he tells them why he’s going to be a good Navy SEAL diver. Some of it’s good, some of it’s odd. I like the performances by the main four soldiers on this mission.

They’re all talented actors, really. Kitsch’s character is a big shot because he is a lietuenant; he’s good in my book because he likes “Anchorman”, too. Hirsch is particularly good in one scene, and generally good. I really like Ben Foster as an actor, and he might have one of the best lines in the film as far as I’m concerned. Mark Wahlberg just keeps getting better and better, too; I don’t mean to bore you readers with somewhat generic comments on main performances, but I like to give credit where it’s due. The courage these men they are portraying is so admirable, because they just keep fighting. I’m sure that’s why these talented actors were attracted to the roles.

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That’s probably why so many were attracted to see the film. There’s a lot to like about it, but there’s also some stuff wrong with it. I’d have appreciated a different title so it would allow more suspense to take place. It’s still an effective and emotionally impactful film, regardless. It could have been called “Military Communication Devices Suck,” because they couldn’t call in their position to the base half the time, or even “Operation Red Wing” could have been an effective title.

Anyway, Peter Berg directs the film well, but I don’t like some of his creative choices. He uses slow motion way too much for my liking. He’s unrelenting with it, really. Some scenes are improved with it, for example when the soldiers fall down hills, he uses slo-mo at the beginning of it so it’s an interesting shot. Its effectiveness is hit and miss. There’s an archive footage sequence during the opening credits depicting cadets training to be a marine; it’s cool, but it’s not clear if it’s footage of the soldiers participating in the operation depicted of the film. There’s also a funny thing about this film; some films might start with a scene taken from the middle, but this one starts with a scene taken from part of the end! It’s a silly decision because this surrenders some suspense from the film, as well, but the third act is still stellar.

One more creative decision I wasn’t fond of: During a scene shared between Luttrell (Wahlberg) and Axelson (Foster), Axelson is asking Luttrell for a favour that is quite touching and one of my favourite parts of the film, and just before I can decide “Hey, is this worth a tear?” Berg interrupts it with a loud explosion! Come on, man! For action fans they might appreciate that the drama gets cut short, but it’s so sloppy to me because it was a great scene. It does depict the harsh reality of war and the suddenness of such violence, and how quickly these soldiers have to react to enemy fire. It’s realistic, but sloppy.

There are some surprises with the film, especially how gritty it is. The blood and battle wounds that cover these soldiers is really just heartbreaking. Even though this film is flawed, I think it deserves a re-watch for the great action sequences. One more thing: The sound effects of this war film are truly spectacular, there are explosions and gunfire going off every which way – and it feels like you’re really in the film with the soldiers.

Score75/100

Celebrity Birthdays: October 29 – November 11

Ben Foster, October 29

Happy 30th birthday to Ben Foster. He often plays eerie roles, like in Hostage or in 30 Days of Night. Foster is a great screen presence and he’s best known for his roles in 3:10 to YumaPandorumThe Messenger, and The Mechanic.

Ben Foster as the haunting Mars Krupcheck in 2005’s Hostage.

My favourite films with Foster in a leading or supporting role: Hostage (2005) — Alpha Dog (2006) — 30 Days of Night (2007).

 

John Candy, October 31

The late John Candy would have been 62 on Halloween. He is a household name because of his charisma, and cheery and exciting screen presence. He is best known for his part on the TV’s SCTV, Spaceballs and Uncle Buck.

Favourite John Candy films: Uncle Buck (1989) — Home Alone (1990). Don’t worry, I’ll make sure to see more!

Sam Rockwell, November 5

Happy 44th birthday to the great Sam Rockwell! Rockwell is best known for his roles in MoonThe Green MileIron Man 2 and Frost/Nixon. You can see him in theatres in the film Seven Psychopaths.

Sam Rockwell as Wild Bill in The Green Mile.

My favourite Sam Rockwell films: The Green Mile (1999) — Seven Psychopaths (2012) — Galaxy Quest (1999) — The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005).

 

Emma Stone, November 6

Happy 24th birthday to Emma Stone! Sarcastic, and she’s both awkward and sexy at the same time. What’s not to love about her? She is best known for her roles in The HelpEasy AThe Amazing Spider-Man, and Zombieland.

My favourite Emma Stone flicks: The Help (2011) — Superbad (2007) — Zombieland (2009) — Crazy, Stupid, Love. (2011) —  Easy A (2010) — The House Bunny (2008).

Leonardo DiCaprio, November 11

Happy 38th birthday to Leonardo DiCaprio. He has a large filmography that started with a humble beginning, and became greater things. He is best known for his roles in InceptionTitanicThe Departed and Shutter Island.

My favourite Leonardo DiCaprio flicks: Blood Diamond (2006) — Catch Me If You Can (2002) — Titanic (1997) — Inception (2010) — Shutter Island (2010) — What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993) — Romeo + Juliet (1996).

Other Birthdays: Oct. 29, Winona Ryder (41); Richard Dreyfuss (65). Oct. 30, Kevin Pollack (55). Oct. 31, Peter Jackson (51). Nov. 5, Tilda Swinton (52); Robert Patrick (54). Nov. 6, Ethan Hawke (42); Sally Field (66); Rebecca Romijn (40). Nov. 10, Josh Peck (26). Nov. 11, Stanley Tucci (52); Demi Moore (50).

Film reviews of films featuring Tilda Swinton: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005); We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011).

Film reviews of films featuring Robert PatrickTrouble with the Curve (2012).

Film reviews of films featuring Ethan HawkeSinister (2012).

Film reviews of films featuring Josh PeckMean Creek (2003); ATM (2012).

Film reviews of films featuring Stanley TucciThe Hunger Games (2012)

Who’s your favourite actor on this list?

 

 

 

 

30 Days of Night – A decent vampire horror flick. (Short review)

30 Days of Night

Release Date: October 19, 2007

Director: David Slade

Stars: Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, Danny Huston

Runtime: 113 min

Tagline: They’re coming!

The vampire horror genre has seen greats, like Dracula, Fright Night, the Swedish Let the Right One in (and its American remake Let Me In), and the teen romance adaptation Twilight (just kidding about that one), to name a few. This isn’t exactly one of them, but it’s still pretty good.

For a small Alaskan town, it is the time of the year where a big fraction of its population goes on vacation because they don’t want to endure the thirty days of darkness. When a mysterious stranger wanders into town and stars to vandalize the small town, he brings along a warning of some sort of a larger danger is coming. That danger is a gang of bloodthirsty vampires.

It has enough scares to make it enjoyable enough for a horror lover, but I don’t think it brought anything special to cinema or the horror genre, well except a vampire language.  It’s good enough for a watch, but for those who really don’t like vampire flicks, don’t need to necessarily check it out.

I didn’t really care for the ending, but it was pretty well-paced, and good enough horror entertainment to get you through the south of two-hour runtime.

It stars Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, Danny Huston as the vampire gang leader, Ben Foster (he really stole the scenes he was in), Mark Boone Junior and Mark Rendall.

The plot was a little average, it’s decent enough but it isn’t a must-see or anything for non-horror fans.

63/100