1 star

REVIEW: X-Men: Dark Phoenix

After an accident on a space mission, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) begins to develop powers beyond her control. Her fellow X-Men fight to help her while other forces seek to either destroy or control her.

Oh boy is X-Men: Dark Phoenix a mess. It looks and feels like everyone involved didn’t really care much anymore. For all we know that may have been the case as Disney had bought Fox during the films production or post-production, so it was pretty much presumed that this was likely to be the last X-men film with these characters and actors. The special effects aren’t great, and the makeup and prosthetics are even worse. Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) is a horrible shade of blue and looks far worse than she did in the previous three films Lawrence played the character in.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix was written and directed by Simon Kinberg who is better known as a writer and producer. In fact, Dark Phoenix was his directorial debut and it wasn’t particularly well directed to be honest. In action sequences they are either incredibly static and not interesting or they’re more chaotic and you have little idea of the space these characters are fighting in relation to one another.

The characterisation of some of the characters in this film is awful, if they are even given much to do. Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and Quicksilver (Evan Peters) are often side-lined, while Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) loses his dorky innocence and becomes a coldblooded killer, not dissimilar to the mind-controlled version in X2 and it’s incredibly jarring. The biggest character assassination is Charles Xavier (James McAvoy). He is the absolute worst in this film. He’s self-absorbed and almost power-hungry before things go wrong and when you learn of his involvement in Jean’s trauma it makes him look even worse. While Magneto (Michael Fassbender) is hardly doing anything new – trying to live the quiet life but then gets pulled into a conflict – as least Fassbender actually gives a good performance which is more than a lot of his co-workers did.

I’m a big fan of the found family trope (there’s a reason why the Fast and Furious films are some of my favourites) and even how they shoehorned that idea into the climax of this film couldn’t save it for me. Speaking of the climax, it happens on a train and is one of the most visually uninteresting sequences ever.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix is a sour note to potentially end this X-Men franchise on. The dialogue is bad with some really cringey lines, the plot is barely there and there are so many factions going after Jean that while I believe it to be comic book accurate, the addition of Jessica Chastain’s undeveloped character and compatriots feels unnecessary and there’s enough going on that it might’ve been a better film without them. I’d prefer to watch X-Men Origins: Wolverine than this. 1/5.

REVIEW: X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

A prequel to the original X-Men trilogy, X-Men Origins: Wolverine shows the early years of James Logan (Hugh Jackman) who would one day become the Wolverine.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine tries to cram a lot in and very little of it works. A big part of this film is the relationship between Logan and his brother, Victor Creed (Live Schreiber). How they are each other’s only family until Victor’s violent streak gets too much for Logan and they go on different paths. Schreiber, and his creepy/gross nails, does look like he’s having a good time playing a villain that’s one step away from moustache-twirling. But the film never really delves into the hows and whys of the character instead having it pretty black and white – Logan = good while Victor = bad.

There are a lot of new mutants as a part of the team, led by Stryker (Danny Huston), and I couldn’t tell you any of their names – except Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds). X-Men Origins: Wolverine is possibly the most derided X-Men film and a big part of that is because of its treatment of that character and what it turned Deadpool into. God bless Ryan Reynolds for sticking with it and getting a Deadpool movie made seven years after this one made the character unrecognisable. The other members of the team aren’t given much more than the barebones of a personality and most are quicky killed off.

Gambit (Taylor Kitsch) makes his one and only appearance in the entire X-Men franchise
(so far) and he really is a bright spark in this otherwise dull film. He’s probably got less than 10 minutes of screen time, and he doesn’t appear until an hour into the film, but Kitsch still manages to bring more charm and charisma in that time than Hugh Jackman does in the whole film.

Speaking of Jackman, considering how layered his performance as Logan in previous films was and how it looked like he was giving a good performance even if the script wasn’t great (looking at you X-Men: The Last Stand) here he looks like he’s checked out of it and doesn’t really care anymore. That may be down to the poor script or the fact he’s supposed to be playing a slightly different Logan than the one we’ve seen before, one who remembers the 100+ years of his life so is more weary due to the things he’s seen or done. Either way, it’s not a great performance.

There’s a lot of X-Men Origins: Wolverine that feels contrived because it’s a prequel. There are things like where Logan gained the moniker Wolverine and even where he got his cool, brown leather jacket – were we really desperate to know that? – and often it seems unnatural as the film screeches to a holt so you pick up this obvious reference. Then there’s a problem that prequels often fall into – you have a good idea of how the story is going to end. If you’ve seen the original trilogy (which you probably have) then you know Logan is “experimented on” and he must lose his memory by the end of the film. If the stuff leading up to that was more compelling maybe Logan’s amnesia would then be bittersweet as a viewer as then what he’d lost would be more affecting but it’s not.

The CGI in X-Men Origins: Wolverine is so bad. I’m one to forgive some shoddy CGI if it’s just in one scene or the rest of the film in terms of plot and characters is good and entertaining, but as X-Men Origins: Wolverine doesn’t meet those requirements it’s worth mentioning. The most noticeable thing is Wolverine’s claws. Obviously, they aren’t real but they look so fake and far worse than they did in X-Men which was released nine years earlier. They look stuck on Logan’s hands rather than a part of the characters body.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine is pretty much one fight/action scene after another, and it gets boring pretty quickly as none of the characters Logan goes up against (besides Gambit) have much of a personality or a compelling story arc – and the actual plot of the film isn’t that entertaining either. 1/5.

REVIEW: Mortal Kombat (1995)

Three martial artists, Liu Kang (Robin Shou), Johnny Cage (Linden Ashby) and Sonya Blade (Bridgette Wilson), are summoned to a mysterious island to compete in a tournament – the outcome of which will decide the fate of the world.

I’ll preface this by say to the best of my knowledge I’ve never played any of the Mortal Kombat games (I think I might’ve played Street Fighter though) and I know nothing about the franchise. Much like how the release of a new Dune movie trailer made me want to watch the original from the 80s, the trailer for the new film adaptation of Mortal Kombat was released last week and as the action sequences looked pretty cool, it made me want to check out the first Mortal Kombat film from the 90s.

Maybe the original Mortal Kombat film works for fans of the games, but as someone with no experience with, I found the film to be incredibly monotonous and boring. The story is paper thin, Shang Tsung (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) is an evil sorcerer who needs to win one more Mortal Kombat tournament in order to take over the Earth, there’s then a string of fights as the three heroes make their way through the tournament to the final showdown with Shang Tsung. It really is just one fight after another and there’s little to differentiate between them.

The fight where the trio of heroes are working together is half-decent as you’re seeing their different fighting styles plus there’s more adversaries so that makes things a bit more exciting. When it’s a one-on-one fight it’s not that entertaining. Perhaps that’s due to the fact I’ve now seen more modern action/fight sequences with the quick editing that makes things more engaging but with the slow mo shots trying to make things dramatic and the techno music that often plays during a fight (a call back to the game I’m sure) it all seems rather cheesy.

The characters themselves are all pretty one dimensional too. Sonya is the badass special forces officer (until she’s easily kidnapped and held hostage – obviously), Johnny Cage is a Hollywood actor with a big ego, while admittedly Liu Kang has a bit more backstory than the others, he’s quest for revenge is his main motivator. Their opponents are just people to fight on their quest to reach the final battle and you feel nothing as they are beaten or killed.

Everything about Mortal Kombat is very 90s and of its time. The set designs, the lighting and especially the special effects which have not aged well and were probably not that great for the standard of the 90s either.

I found Mortal Kombat more bemusing than anything. It’s cheese to the max but not in a fun way if you have no emotional connection to these characters of the games. It’s a repetitive film that may have some cool fight scenes but then they’re often undercut by the music which just makes the whole thing laughable. 1/5.

I’d be super interested to hear what fans of the game think of this, or even people like me who haven’t played it before. I’m not sure if it’s one of those adaptations that can please everyone.

REVIEW: Ava (2020)

Ava (Jessica Chastain) left her family behind years ago after becoming a deadly assassin who works for a black ops organisation. As Ava tries to reconnect with her mother (Geena Davis), sister (Jess Weixler) and ex-fiancé (Common), the repercussions of a job gone wrong make themselves known, she is forced to fight for her own survival.

Ava is a combination of two different genres – family drama and action thriller – and it does neither well. The family drama aspect is dull and while the thriller part is more convoluted with Ava’s mentor (John Malkovich) and employer (Colin Farrell) fighting over if she’s still capable at her job. By blending the two genres and plotlines, neither aspect is given the development it needs to be compelling. The family drama stuff drags, and the conflict between members of the black ops organisation feels out of place.

I’m a person of simple tastes and I’ll always like seeing actresses fight, and beat, guys in hand-to-hand combat, however a film isn’t a good film simply because it has that. The fight scenes are brutal, and Chastain often does end up covered in blood and bruises, but the sequences are so badly edited that they are neither easy to follow or engaging.

So often this films just seems to be going through the motions; Ava gets betrayed by her employers, she argues with her family, she gets in a fight or a shootout. It’s like the script was full of tick boxes of action or narrative beats but few of them connect with each other, so the overall plot isn’t cohesive or entertaining.

Ava is dull and generic, so if you like some mindless 90-minute action film then this would suit but it’s not memorable at all. Even though the scene with Chastain taking down a bunch of guys while wearing a backless red dress is pretty cool. 1/5.

READ THE WORLD – Democratic Republic of Congo: Beneath the Blue Sky: A Short Book of Poetry by Frederick Yamusangie

A short poetry collection of less than 80 pages.

I won’t say I’m an expert in poetry, because I’m most definitely not, but I have read some poetry collections over the past few months so I’m starting to get an idea of what I like and what does and doesn’t work for me.

Unfortunately, Beneath the Blue Sky doesn’t work for me. There’s no theme or anything running through this poetry collection, making each poem insular and has very little effect. It’s also then hard to derive any meaning from them because they are so varied in what they are about, or what point of view a poem is from. The poems themselves are often very short, and as there’s nothing connecting them, it’s just like you read five lines and then that’s it.

In the latter half of the collection there were two poems that stood out. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they were the poems which were longer and had more substance to them. The first is called A Jungle which was about how a town is called a jungle and how and why that is when a physically jungle is so different. The second is called Oh! My Congo! which is about the Congo, how it’s changing and the people there. These two poems were ones that felt like they meant something and were from a point of view that was more unique.

All in all, I didn’t enjoy Beneath the Blue Sky. It’s a short yet meandering poetry collection that really didn’t work for me and I’m struggling to find anything else to say about it. 1/5.

REVIEW: Artemis Fowl (2020)

When his father (Colin Farrell) is kidnapped, child prodigy Artemis Fowl (Ferdia Shaw) must find a missing magical artefact and battle against powerful fairies in order to rescue him.

I shall preface this by saying the Artemis Fowl series was one of my favourites as a child. I read them from roughly the ages of 9 – 14 and though it’s been a good while since I’ve read the source material there are some things that have stuck with me for all these years. In the books, Artemis Fowl is an antihero, with the emphasis on the anti. He is a criminal mastermind and his parents are not a major part of the story at all, in fact he gets involved with the world of magical creatures because he kidnaps one and wants money and secrets. The film version may use a few elements of the plot of the book (and brings in a villain from later books) the end product is mostly unrecognisable.

Part of this may be down to Artemis Fowl going through what is commonly known as production hell. There’s been a variety of directors and producers attached to the film over the years, and it has had multiple release dates before being dumped on Disney+. Also, there’s the antihero part. Artemis is not a nice boy, he is super smart and looks down on everyone, and is not above threats of (and carrying out) torture to get what he wants. This is the kind of lead character that doesn’t really suit the family-friendly Disney image. Though that was part of the reason the books stood out in the boom of young boy heroes like Harry Potter, Percy Jackson and Alex Rider.

The film begins with Mulch Diggums (Josh Gad), a giant dwarf, being arrested and as he’s interrogated, he begins to narrate the story of Artemis Fowl and what transpired at Fowl Manor. This as a narrative device is weird to begin with. Sometimes the dialogue is as if Mulch is talking to an unseen integrator while at other times it’s as if he’s talking directly to the audience. I guess this choice was made as a way to give information about this magical world to the audience, but it ends up being jarring and the film would’ve worked just as well as a straightforward narrative.

This is Ferdia Shaw’s first role so we’ll have to see over the course of his career if he improves, but in Artemis Fowl his line delivery is often flat and he doesn’t do a good job at show much emotion on his face. Lara McDonnell, who plays kidnapped LEPRecon Officer Holly Short, isn’t given much to do – in fact in one of the big action sequences in Fowl Manor she gets stuck in a chandelier for the majority of the ensuing battle. That being said, I feel the cast did the best with what they were given. It’s not their fault they had a bland script with little character development, and the end product was often shoddily edited making their characters look disconnected from one another. Watching the trailers again after seeing the film is interesting as there’s so many shots shown that aren’t in the film and hint at whole scenes and plotlines having been cut.

Artemis Fowl has a trim runtime of 90 minutes but amazingly it feels longer. The action scenes aren’t exciting, the intrigue isn’t there, and the characters aren’t particularly memorable. Though Judi Dench growling out “Top of the morning” was the one and only time that I laughed. While Judi Dench may have been an odd choice for Commander Root (the character being a male fairy in the books for one thing) her growling, no nonsense attitude was one of the only enjoyable things to watch.

Artemis Fowl is an incredibly disappointing adaptation and is also a disappointing film. It tries to cram in a lot of lore and it repeatedly tells you things about the world and its characters rather than show you, or indeed having the things it tells you actually being relevant – for instance the film begins with Mulch waxing lyrically about how smart Artemis Fowl is, when a lot of what he does comes from what he’s just heard his father talk about rather than researching himself. Artemis Fowl ends up just being a dull, lifeless film with generic and unexciting action sequences, and is unlikely to be remembered fondly by anyone – both people new to this world and fans of the book. 1/5.

Z is for Zookeeper (2011)

Kind-hearted zookeeper Griffin (Kevin James) is a much loved by his co-workers and the animals in his care. However, Griffin is unlucky in love so when he reconnects with ex-girlfriend Stephanie (Leslie Bibb), the animals in the zoo decide to break their code of silence in order to help him win her back.

Zookeeper is not good, and it also struggles to figure out what it is. The scenario of animals taking and helping out a zookeeper makes it targeted towards younger audiences. However, the humour is full of inuendo that children won’t understand or find it funny, and the adults who might find it funny, are unlikely to be watching this film in the first place.

The special effects for the animals aren’t terrible, however the choice of voice actors might well be. I’m not saying you expect a certain voice to come from a bear or a giraffe, but a lot of the voice cast didn’t suit the animal or give a good performance. So many of the animals sounded grumpy or were mean. They weren’t exactly friendly and if they’d been human with those attitudes, I doubt Griffin or anyone else would’ve been friends with them.

Kevin James gives a perfectly bland performance as nice guy Griffin. He has no chemistry with Bibb, or Rosario Dawson who plays a vet at the zoo, so one has to wonder how he is cast as a romantic comedy type lead. He is good at falling over and crashing into things though. So, there’s that.

I doubt anyone would consider this a spoiler, or care if it was, but I have to mention what happens during the end credits. All of the animals sing Boston’s “More Than a Feeling” and it’s one of the weirdest things I’ve seen and one of the worst things I’ve heard. Especially when Sylvester Stallone tries to harmonise with Cher. Yep, that is something that happens. No offence to Cher, she’s amazing, Stallone on the other hand, is not.

Zookeeper is unfunny, predictable, and somewhat unsuitable for the kids it’s aimed for. Just don’t waste your time. 1/5.

P is for Playing It Cool (2014)

A screenwriter who doesn’t believe in love (Chris Evans) is tasked with writing a rom-com. As he struggles to put metaphorical pen to paper, he meets a woman (Michelle Monaghan) who he starts to have feelings for. It’s a pity she has a boyfriend but taking on the advice (both good and bad) from his eclectic group of writer friends, he tries to sort out his head and win her heart.

The two romantic leads in Playing It Cool are never actually give names so I’ll be referring to them by the actors’ surname to get through this review.

Playing It Cool is a rom com that likes to think it’s an anti-rom com but by the end it embraces a lot of the tropes, but it feels as if it is forced to do it rather than embracing it tongue and cheek. In some ways it reminded me of Isn’t It Romantic which poked fun at the tropes of rom coms, however unlike Isn’t It Romantic, Playing It Cool is often outright mean and treat the tropes and romance in general as something to be scorned. This comes from being told from Evans’ perspective and he’s jaded and shut off from romantic relationships. His actions come across quite bitter and having a lead that’s so self-centred doesn’t really make you root for him.

His best friend Scott (Topher Grace) loves romance. He’s an old fashioned romantic, a much nicer person and someone who is much more engaging on their quest for love. In fact, the glimpses we get of Evans’ writer friends make them seem all the more real and relatable than the main character.

Evans and Monaghan do have chemistry and it’s easy to be caught up in that when they’re on screen together. However, both of their characters are not good people and are frustrating to watch. He chases her when he knows she has a boyfriend; she is happy to cheat on her boyfriend and they both lie. It’s not really the basis of a healthy relationship.

By the end there’s the big rush to declare your feelings sequence, with a feel-good song and an attempt at a big romantic gesture but it feels conceited. There’s a 99% chance these two people will not live happily ever after, so the ending doesn’t feel like the triumph for love it’s framed as. While only being six years old, Playing It Cool is a rom com that feels far older with its attitude that men and women can’t just be friends, and some jokes that really fall flat due to their inappropriateness. 1/5.

REVIEW: Sherwood by Meagan Spooner

Narrated by Fiona Hardingham.

Robin of Locksley is dead. Maid Marian doesn’t know how she’ll go on, but the people of Locksley town, persecuted by the Sheriff of Nottingham, need a protector. And the dreadful Guy of Gisborne, the Sheriff’s right hand, wishes to step into Robin’s shoes as Lord of Locksley and Marian’s fiancé. Marian never meant to tread in Robin’s footsteps—never intended to stand as a beacon of hope to those awaiting his triumphant return. But with a sweep of his green cloak and the flash of her sword, Marian makes the choice to become her own hero: Robin Hood.

I have such mixed feelings about this book. I listened to it on audio and it took me a while to get into the story because I couldn’t get on with the accents the narrator chose to do. Though, if I had not have been listening to the audiobook, I probably would’ve stopped reading it. Sherwood is quite slow to get going and even when there were fights, they were often predictable.

I had such a love hate relationship with Marian. Sometimes she was kind and thoughtful and clever, but then other times she’s so dense, self-centred and reckless it’s infuriating. She is written to be better than Robin of Locksley in every single way, she’s better at archery, she’s smarter, she’s more loyal. It’s weird and contradictory because she’s constantly putting Robin on a pedestal in her mind but at the same time often says things a long the line of “Robin could never do this”. I liked her relationship with her maid Elena but that’s probably because I liked Elena as a character more than Marian a lot of the time.

The “romance” between Marian and Guy of Gisborne was not good. It’s a problematic relationship from the start as they both use and manipulate one another and Guy is needlessly stupid when it comes to not realising that the Robin Hood he’s chasing, and the girl he’s attempting to woo are one and the same. The author tried to give Guy more of a backstory make him more sympathetic and all the time I was like “Why are you trying to make this bad guy misunderstood?!” and this character development was done so slowly that where his character ends up at the end seems so rushed.

Speaking of rushed, the ending of Sherwood became really rather convoluted as there were too many plot threads that were attempted to be addressed in the big final showdown. It was hard to keep track of where characters were, who knew what, and what they were trying to achieve.

I think my main problem with this book is that it is a retelling, and a retelling of a story and characters that I hold dear. I’ve read and enjoyed retellings before like The Lunar Chronicles, and I’ve read retellings that I didn’t really like, like Frankenstein in Baghdad but my dislike of it wasn’t due to it being a retelling. Previously when I’ve read retellings, they’ve been based on stories I’ve had little to no attachment to and then it’s fun to see the new twists on a well-known story.

With Sherwood, I didn’t like what the new twists did to characters I like. My Robin Hood story is Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and I’ll admit the versions of the characters in that film are the ones I know and love. Here, none of the Merry Men get any sort of character development. Will Scarlett is nothing more than a wet weekend while Little John, Alan-a-Dale and Much are only recognisable by their names. I liked the idea of Marian being good with a sword and independent, but it becomes far too close to her being Not Like Other Girls that it’s cringey.

Perhaps Sherwood would’ve worked if it hadn’t had been a retelling. If it was the story of a noble young lady wanting to help people and making friends and having adventures separate from the Robin Hood myth it might’ve worked. Because naturally Sherwood lends itself to comparisons of not only the original story but to the many adaptations that have come before it, and in those comparisons it is found severely lacking.

When I started writing this review I thought I’d give it two stars, but as I was writing I came to the realisation that there was far more that I disliked about Sherwood than liked, and if I hadn’t had it on audio from my library, I definitely would’ve given up on it.

I love the premise of Sherwood but the execution leaves much to be desired, especially when it tears down other characters to make its lead a Strong Female Character, and unfortunately the majority of the story and its characters fall flat. 1/5.

REVEW: Robin Hood: The Rebellion (2018)

When Maid Marian (Marie Everett) is captured by the Sheriff of Nottingham (James Oliver Wheatley), Robin Hood (Ben Freeman) leads Will Scarlett (James G. Nunn) and Little John (Jamie Kenna) into battle to rescue her.

There are so many different takes on the Robin Hood story, and this one is not going to be remembered – fondly or otherwise. Robin Hood: The Rebellion is largely set across one day as Marian is captured and Robin infiltrates the Sheriff’s castle and attempts to rescue her. Being set in such a short space of time, the film relies on the title cards to explain what has been happening to the people of Nottingham, and also through so much expository dialogue that it becomes almost a chore to listen to the characters talk.

One of the main elements of the Robin Hood story that makes it something people enjoy to revisit, is the characters and their relationships. However, in this tale the characters have little to no characterisation and there is no chemistry between any of the cast members. Whether that’s Everett’s Marian and Freeman’s Robin who are supposed to be in love, or Freeman’s Robin and Nunn’s Will Scarlett who are said to be best friends in the opening titles but there’s not sense of any kind of relationship between them. John’s defining characteristic is that he complains all the time, and at least he got a gimmick as Will Scarlett barely has any lines or is unable to make an impression. There are a few quips courtesy of Robin Hood but they don’t work as they happen so rarely in an otherwise sober film that they feel out of place.

On the whole, the acting is as wooden as the trees in Sherwood Forest and those who are able to ham it up, like the Sherriff or his cousin Guy of Gisborne (James Groom), come across desperate and the performances don’t work in the film they’ve been given.

Robin Hood: The Rebellion is dull and uninspired. The sword fights are not at all exciting and the dialogue and plot are tedious as the same things happen again and again and characters have the same conversations again and again. 1/5.