Movie Review: “Split”

Starring
James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula, Betty Buckley, Brad William Henke
Director
M. Night Shyamalan

I kind of feel sorry for M. Night Shyamalan. Despite the fact that the majority of his directorial efforts make people want to drown kittens, I want him to prove his doubters wrong. Yes, this reeks of Stockholm syndrome, but it is true just the same. Somewhere in that head of his is another killer story.

But “Split” isn’t it. Shyamalan explores some interesting ideas about the true worth of a person, the power of belief, and the lengths that the mind will go to normalize things that just aren’t normal (insert your own current events joke here), but the whole turns out to be much less than the sum of its parts. He also pulls a stunt at the end that seems cool in the moment, but sad once removed from the moment.

Kevin (James McAvoy) is a horribly broken man. As a result of childhood trauma, he has developed 23 different personalities, but with the help of therapist Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley), he has managed to keep them in check and live a normal life, all things considered. One day, though, one of the more dominant personalities assumes control and kidnaps three teenage girls in a mall parking lot. This personality assures the girls that he won’t hurt them, but that is only because he is saving them for The Beast to do with them what he will. Doctor Fletcher has heard about this Beast for years but considers it a bogeyman story the dominant personalities tell the others to keep them in check. The girls’ best chance to escape appears to be Hedwig, the youngest personality in the bunch who has aligned himself with the other dominants.

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Movie Review: “X-Men: Apocalypse”

Starring
James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Oscar Isaac, Rose Byrne, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Evan Peters, Olivia Munn
Director
Bryan Singer

In 2000, director Bryan Singer launched the X-Men franchise (on a shoestring budget by today’s superhero movie standards), helping to pave the way for future comic book films. While the director’s first installment doesn’t completely hold up, especially in the visual effects department, it was a good example of how less can be more; the characters were more thrilling than the action. 16 years later, Singer’s third sequel “X-Men: Apocalypse” comes from the “more is more” school of thought, and though it’s his biggest X-Men film to date, it’s also his most disappointing.

The fifth sequel in the series takes place ten years after the events of “X-Men: Days of Future Past” (although none of the characters have aged a day). Long before any of that happened, mutants ruled the world. En Sabah Nur, who sees himself as a God, is on his last days. As he prepares to take over one of his devoted follower’s (Oscar Isaac) bodies, he’s betrayed by the humans. His four (mutant) horseman do everything they can to protect him from the attack, and as a result, his body is left safely guarded underneath a demolished pyramid.

In 1983, En Sabah Nur awakens and is horrified by what the humans have done with his world. The powerful mutant believes the planet must be cleansed, and he recruits four new horsemen – Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), Storm (Alexandra Shipp) and Angel (Ben Hardy) – to assist him in building a new world. Only Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and his young mutant students, including Cyclops (Tye Sheridan) and Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), can prevent En Sabah Nur and the four horsemen from destroying the planet.

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Movie Review: “Victor Frankenstein”

Starring
James McAvoy, Daniel Radcliffe, Jessica Brown Findlay, Andrew Scott
Director
Paul McGuigan

Sometimes a bad movie reminds you of how great certain actors are, and that’s definitely the case with “Victor Frankenstein.” For the most part, director Paul McGuigan’s reimagining is just that – a bad movie – but it’s one that’s lucky enough to have James McAvoy in the lead role. McAvoy is a great actor, which he proves here by giving his all as the titular character, in spite of the quality of the end result.

Written by Max Landis (“Chronicle,” “American Ultra”) – although it went through a series of rewrites, as is usually the case on a project of this scale – the film tracks the early relationship between Victor Frankenstein (James McAvoy) and hunchback/surgeon Igor Strausman (Daniel Radcliffe). The hunchback’s real name isn’t Igor; he’s simply taken the identity of Frankenstein’s absentee roommate. After freeing the young man from the circus and curing him of his back problem, Frankenstein offers the lost soul a chance at greatness: to be his partner and create life. Of course, as we’ve learned from past Frankenstein adaptations, that doesn’t work out so well.

“Victor Frankenstein” is a well-intentioned misfire. The film is more about a friendship than monsters running amuck, and McAvoy brings a sense of sadness and manic energy in almost every scene he’s in. The character’s arc and McAvoy’s performance are well rounded. At the end of the film, his sad past and obsessive drive is palpable. It’s a very, very good performance, but even if it was the best performance of the year, it couldn’t salvage the rest of the film.

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Movie Review: “X-Men: Days of Future Past”

Starring
Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Peter Dinklage
Director
Bryan Singer

Just when it seemed like Fox was engineering a smart reboot of its X-Men franchise with “First Class,” the series’ original director, Bryan Singer, has returned to combine the old with the new in “X-Men: Days of Future Past.” That’s not exactly bad news for fans who appreciate the lengths that Singer has gone to in an attempt to fix the continuity issues within the X-movies, but by doing so, he’s tethered the prequels to the earlier films in a way that ensures they’ll never be able to exist on their own. And considering the potential of where the franchise was headed prior to this “sidequel,” it’s a little disappointing to see Singer turn his back on that initial vision. Granted, there’s still quite a bit to like about “Days of Future Past,” but it feels more like a step backward than the creative leap forward that Matthew Vaughn’s prequel pointed towards.

In the near future, mutants are being hunted down by advanced versions of Sentinel robots that can instantly adapt to any situation, making them impossible to defeat. With only a handful of X-Men remaining, Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) uses her powers to send Logan’s (Hugh Jackman) consciousness back in time to his younger body circa 1973 in order to reunite Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) for a single purpose: stopping Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from murdering the creator of the Sentinel program, Dr. Boliver Trask (Peter Dinklage), in the hope that it will alter the course of history. Meanwhile, the X-Men from the future must hold off an impending Sentinel attack to provide Logan enough time to complete his mission, although that’s much easier said than done.

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Movie Review: “Trance”

Starring
James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson, Vincent Cassel, Danny Sapani
Director
Danny Boyle

Danny Boyle is one of the few directors working today whose projects are almost always met with fervent excitement, and that’s certainly the case with “Trance.” Though moviegoers were forced to wait a few years for Boyle’s much-anticipated follow-up to “127 Hours” – due to other engagements on stage (the National Theatre production of “Frankenstein”) and for his country (the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony) – the delay seemed well worth it following the news that he would be reteaming with frequent collaborator John Hodge (“Shallow Grave,” “Trainspotting”). In retrospect, my expectations were probably set a little too high, because although “Trance” is an entertaining psychological thriller, it doesn’t quite live up to Boyle’s more recent, award-winning work.

The film’s whiz-bang opening sets the stage when art auctioneer Simon (James McAvoy) teams up with a group of criminals to steal Francisco Goya’s 1798 masterpiece “Witches in the Air” during an auction in progress. Everything is going according to plan when Simon suffers a blow to the head during the heist, only to awaken with no memory of where he hid the painting. When more conventional methods (i.e. torture) prove ineffective, the gang’s leader Franck (Vincent Cassel) hires hypnotherapist Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson) to dig deep into Simon’s psyche and help jog his memory. But as Simon starts to piece together his broken subconscious, he becomes increasingly suspicious of Franck and Elizabeth’s ulterior motives, reconfirming why he chose to stash the painting in the first place.

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