Tag: bryan singer

Bohemian Rhapsody

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
★★★ / ★★★★

Bryan Singer’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” reaches a climax at London’s Wembley Stadium when Queen is seconds from performing live on stage for Live Aid, an initiative designed to raise funds for those affected by famine in Ethiopia. For fifteen to twenty minutes straight it is a majestic rock concert and it made me wish that the director had made a fictionalized concert film instead of a biographical drama. The reason is because whenever the picture shifts behind the band’s human drama, especially when it attempts to explore Freddie Mercury’s personal life, it is so generic, so sanitized, that it is painful and awkward to sit through at times. And yet—the work deserves a recommendation because Rami Malek’s performance as Queen’s lead singer (née Farrokh Bulsara) is spearheaded with great elan.

Some may claim that Malek looks so much like Mercury in the film. I disagree; I think the physical resemblance is only about fifty to sixty percent. What is highly similar, however, is that colossal and infectious energy during performances on stage as well as the small but crucial moments when Malek is required to communicate the subject’s crippling loneliness despite being a part of the biggest band on the planet. The magic is in how Malek has found a way not only to channel that specific Mercurian energy but how he shapes it, almost like Play-Doh, depending on what the script requires. Still, there is only so much an actor can do given a limited and unimaginative screenplay.

Biographical dramas are not easy to pull off; it is not simply going from one landmark to the next with little regard to the journey it takes to get there. The screenwriter, Anthony McCarten, uses Queen’s singles like signposts. It creates the illusion of a fast pacing but when one stops and considers the various contexts of, for instance, disagreements among band members, Freddie choosing to estrange himself from his traditional Parsi family, Freddie’s complicated relationship with Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) and how it clashes with his sexual attraction to men, nearly every element comes across as superficial, made-for-TV fluff. It lacks realism. The drama unfolds over the course of fifteen years, but it is difficult to invest in it emotionally when nostalgia for the songs are taken out of the equation. What results is a watchable but crippled biographical drama.

Singer handles Mercury’s sexuality like a sledgehammer to the groin. Watch carefully. When the director is unable to contextualize the subject’s homosexuality with using only the camera, he makes sure to capture extended glances between men (more than five times—at the very least), the slow closing of the male restroom door, or men licking their lips a certain way. It is so elementary, somewhat offensive, certainly reductive, and entirely laughable. I felt as though Singer is so afraid to take risks on how to interpret or show his subject’s sexuality, he chooses instead to distance himself by using the tired, boring, and outdated tropes. It is all the more frustrating because the subject (Queen the band and Mercury as a queer individual) is bold, challenging, unafraid to think outside the box. I wished Singer challenged himself just as much as, or at least a fraction of, how Queen is willing to fight for their vision as artists.

Historical inaccuracies aside, “Bohemian Rhapsody” is entertaining in parts (Malek’s performance is worth a look) but entirely conventional, certainly shallow. Somehow the filmmakers have failed to remind themselves that this is a story of a band that changed the face of rock and roll. I felt inspired by the picture only when Queen’s music is playing; when there is silence it is not only deafening but empty. In the near future, I imagine the film playing on television and viewers would pay attention only when the band is making music. The dramatic scenes could be put on mute and it would not change the overall experience.

X-Men: Apocalypse

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)
★★ / ★★★★

It takes a delicate touch to helm an excellent action film. Such a claim might be counterintuitive at first but if one were to consider what makes an outstanding action picture, one might come to the conclusion that it can usually be reduced to three basic ingredients: a thorough development or exploration of the protagonist(s), an interesting villain with an endgame that makes sense with respect to the story’s universe, and well-executed—as well as well-photographed—action sequences. An eye for detail ties these elements together. It is clear that “X-Men: Apocalypse,” based on the screen by Simon Kinberg and directed by Bryan Singer, does not fulfill these requirements completely.

The film introduces about half a dozen new characters but it fails to show to us that every one of them is a compelling figure. Although some detail is given about Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan), who develops an ability to shoot powerful lasers through his eyes, and Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), who has psychic abilities so powerful that even her mutant peers fear her, there is a lack of detail when it comes to the human side of the other new faces, namely the three of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Angel (Ben Hardy), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), and Storm (Alexandra Shipp). The material actually comes alive when we learn about Scott and Jean as humans who struggle with specific abilities—what it means for them to have such powers, which prove to be both a gift and a curse, how they relate to it and to one another.

Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) is a rather dull antagonist considering he is supposed to be the all-powerful, very first mutant. His goal is to cleanse humanity because he considers them weak for having resulted to embracing false gods and idolizing powers such as nuclear weapons. Because his motivation is so ordinary, despite all of the powers the character displays, he, over time, becomes unremarkable. Also, we learn nothing about Apocalypse’s plans if he were to succeed. Does he simply wish to sit on a throne and be worshiped for the rest of time? Does he wish to transform the world completely? If so, in what direction and how? The supervillain is underwritten.

Action sequences are enjoyable but nothing special—with the exception of one: Quicksilver’s (Evan Peters) well-timed slow motion rescue at the X-Mansion with Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” serving as a soundtrack. The one and only extended battle in Egypt offers a few moments of creativity and humor, particularly with Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee), but there are, for instance, no brilliant maneuverings designed to surprise both the audience and the very characters who are meant to be outsmarted so that the balance of power is tilted. Excitement reaches a comfortable level but there is a lack of surges when such a state is reached. No suspense is established.

“X-Men: Apocalypse” clearly has ambition and it entertains on the most superficial level, but not enough relevant details are provided in order to enhance the plot, story, and characterization. Details tend to pave the way for establishing complexity.

In this day and age where superhero pictures are drenched in questions about societal roles, identity, and morality, it is not enough to rely mostly on good-looking apocalyptic images via CGI. Superhero movies these days, especially sequels, must, at the very least, strive to be an original. Within this series thus far, “X2: X-Men United” and “X-Men: Days of Future Past” have succeed and made a statement. By comparison, this outing is mere silent existence.

X-Men: Days of Future Past

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
★★★ / ★★★★

Since the development of the Sentinel program, spearheaded by Dr. Trask (Peter Dinklage), humans with special powers, collectively known as Mutants, have been hunted and eradicated. But the Sentinels, non-metallic machines that can quickly adapt to their environment, have gone haywire throughout the years: Instead of killing only Mutants, they somehow gained the ability to detect non-Mutant humans who are capable of having children with special mutations on the X chromosome.

This had lead to the planet being reduced to an apocalyptic wasteland and it is up to Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) to send the consciousness of Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back to the 1970s and convince former partners, Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender), to team up and prevent Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from killing Dr. Trask—the very action that pushed the Sentinel program to pass.

Despite the first “X-Men” live-action film having been released almost fifteen years ago, it really is quite a feat that its sequels and spin-offs, which peaked in quality during “X2,” both, including this installment, having been directed by Bryan Singer, remain relatively fresh even though the franchise is not the most consistent. “X-Men: Days of Future Past” is, in a handful of ways, a return to form—it offers solid action entertainment, jokes and references to previous installments that are actually funny but not distracting, and, by the end, it hints at the raw potential of future sequels. The final scene rewards those who have seen the entire series. I will say only this: I enjoyed how it plays with time travel and acknowledging the gigantic, if not maddening, miscalculations of previous entries. Yes, I am referring to you, “X-Men: The Last Stand.”

Not allowing every Mutant to become the center of attention is a smart move. We get only a glimpse or a few seconds with once familiar faces like Rogue (Anna Paquin), Havok (Lucas Till), and Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), and they are not given a lot to do. Instead, the writer, Simon Kinberg, makes the right decision by focusing on Wolverine, the eyes in which we see the story through, and the challenges of getting the young Professor Xavier and Magneto to come to terms with each other and their own personal demons. These are men with a lot of anger, a lot of conviction, a lot of power—watching McAvoy and Fassbender navigate their characters through an archipelago of emotions is like watching a good old-fashioned drama. Take away their superpowers and they remain interesting.

Less effective are scenes with Mystique. Although Lawrence is more than capable of delivering the requisite emotions to play a conflicted character, the speeches between Professor X and Mystique—as well as Magneto and Mystique to an extent—as to why killing Dr. Trask will not solve anything become a bore eventually. Instead of being moved by the push and pull of Mystique’s morality, I found the whole charade somewhat disingenuous. Instead of being invested in the conflict, I noticed the syrupy attributes of the lines. Clearly, the writer is very smart and creative when it comes to how action sequences and overarching plots are going to play out. However, getting to the core of the emotions and allowing us to care in a deep way is an Achilles’ heel.

A character that does not get enough screen time is a teenager named Peter (Evan Peters), later known as Quicksilver, a Mutant with very special talents—so special that Professor X, Wolverine, and Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) ask for his help to break into the Pentagon. The sheer brilliance of the scene at the Pentagon must be seen to be believed. I had not experienced so much excitement and glee since Wolverine and Lady Deathstrike’s duel in “X2.” To me, it is the essence of what makes “X-Men” so great: Its content need not be “dark” to be considered great—it just needs to be smart and cheeky.

“X-Men: Days of Future Past” provides what one expects of a superhero film: astonishing special and visual effects, eye-opening action sequences, as well as characters worth getting to know and rooting for. However, it fails to surpass my expectations because it does not get the build-up of emotions—which lead to key realizations—exactly right. Alas, perhaps less discerning viewers will be more forgiving for this.

Jack the Giant Slayer

Jack the Giant Slayer (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★

Jack (Nicholas Hoult) is given the task to sell his uncle’s horse. Instead of coming back with money or gold, Jack has accepted beans from a monk (Simon Lowe) who claims that they are holy relics from a very special time. If Jack delivers the beans to an abbey, he will receive payment that is considerably more than what the horse is worth. However, the monk admonishes that Jack must not allow the beans to come in contact with water.

“Jack the Giant Slayer,” based on the screenplay by Darren Lemke, Christopher McQuarrie, and Dan Studney, takes inspiration from “Jack and the Beanstalk” and “Jack the Giant Killer” and shows us a world that is exciting and magical. Though it lacks development in terms of the romantic tension and feelings between the title character and a princess (Eleanor Tomlinson) who craves for adventure, it has enough good action sequences to make up for this shortcoming.

The greatest weapon in its arsenal is the impressive visual effects. Particularly eye-catching is the first time a bean is triggered to grow its stalks up to the heavens. Though obviously generated by a computer, we are shown the details of the plant growing in height and width while crushing everything that gets in the way of its destiny. A thrilling score is utilized and the sound effects are precise in order to keep us transfixed in the moment.

The giants are actually scary. Like the beanstalk, they, too, are computer generated. Although at times they appear somewhat cartoonish, like when they charge in groups, they feel like real threats when one or two share a frame with a human character. The camera gives us enough time to appreciate the look of the giants, from their blotchy, scaly skin as they lumber about to their crooked, rotten yellow teeth when they snarl. One of the more memorable encounters involves a giant taking a bite out of a live sheep and the camera, adopting Jack’s point of view, observes the horror from underwater. Small decisions like this prevents the film from becoming as yet another pedestrian action-adventure.

Tomlinson and Hoult are attractive when together and apart, but their characters’ romance is denied from ripening by the screenplay. Jack and Isabelle share some cute scenes in first half, but the majority of the time they spend together involves running from danger and swinging through collapsing structures. Their interactions start to become repetitive eventually. Would it have been too much for the writers to give these two something interesting to say about their struggles, as a poor farmer and as a future queen, with respect to the teamwork and adventures they are thrusted into?

This is going to sound silly, but it must be mentioned because I kept noticing it. Though Ewan McGregor, playing a knight leader, is a pleasure to watch because he is clearly enjoying his character, most distracting is his hair. In one scene, it is up: very stylish and magazine-ready. The next scene when it is pouring cats and dogs, naturally, it is down. However, when it is no longer raining, his hair is back up–as if the storm had never occurred. The glaring lack of continuity when it comes to the performer’s hair is enough to take me out of the story a few times.

Directed by Bryan Singer, “Jack the Giant Slayer” does not require us to think very hard but it is fun and executed with a lot of energy. I enjoyed its treatment of the villains.


X2 (2003)
★★★★ / ★★★★

When Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming), a teleporter, was sent to kill the president for the sake of peace between humans and Mutants, William Stryker (Brian Cox) blamed Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and the mutants he harbored in his School for Gifted Youngsters. Unbeknownst to the president, Stryker, a military scientist, had devoted his career in solving the “mutant problem” and wasn’t above genocide to reach his goals.”X2: X-Men United,” directed by Bryan Singer,” was a confident sequel which was reflected from its energetic opening scene. There was a certain flow in which the camera moved, the way it smoothly slithered across and between hallways, sometimes in elegant slow motion, as it followed Nightcrawler’s impressive disappearing acts. It was a stark contrast from its predecessor’s modest approach; it immediately gave us something new. Much of the film’s goal was to expand storylines it already introduced. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) learned more about his past and his adamantium claws, Cyclops (James Marsden) and Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) actually acted like a real couple, Rogue (Anna Paquin) and Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) continued their struggle in not having a physical relationship, and Magneto (Ian McKellen), with the help of a very resourceful Mystique (Rebecca Romijn), finally escaped his plastic prison. But what impressed me most was in the way the filmmakers took opposing sides, Professor X and Magneto, and made them work together in such a way that didn’t feel forced. In fact, we relished them occupying the same space because of the awkward tension. How do you work with someone who tried to kill you or one of your friends just some time before? They didn’t have to necessarily like each other but without one another, they wouldn’t be able to achieve their goals. Various levels of symbiosis were explored which ranged from mutualism, commensalism, and parasitism. I admired that the action sequences always had purpose but never afraid to go over-the-top. For instance, there was a gruesome scene in which Magneto sensed one of the guards having too much iron in his blood. I watched in wide-eyed anticipation (or horror) as Magneto extracted the metal from the man’s body. It looked painful and there was no way the guard would have survived the extreme experience. Some scenes served no purpose other than to show off the Mutants’ powers. Take Iceman and a couple of shots in which he froze a bottle of pop and a cup of coffee by simply touching or blowing on them. But the key was heart being always ahead of the cool factor. His visit to his home and the way he had to inform his family that he was a Mutant reflected a coming out experience. He wasn’t one of the lucky ones. “X2” met and exceeded its grand ambitions.


X-Men (2000)
★★★ / ★★★★

Evolution is a slow process but every once in a while, and for unknown reasons, it jumps forward. The next step in evolution for humans was for select few to develop unique abilities, which typically began in puberty, that ranged from varying psychic powers to consciously deconstructing one’s molecular structure. This created fear and hatred between normal humans and Mutants. There was a legislation, if passed, would allow the government to legally keep a record of those with abilities. Eric Lensherr (Ian McKellen), also called Magneto for his ability to control metals and create magnetic fields, found the idea outrageous and was willing to kill, along with his henchmen (Tyler Mane, Ray Park, Rebecca Romijn), those without tolerance. It reminded him of his time in the concentration camps, the way the Jewish was marked like cattle. On the other hand, Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), also known as Professor X, created a school for Mutants so they would learn to control their abilities. He believed that over time, Mutants and humans would be able to co-exist. Directed by Bryan Singer, what I loved most about “X-Men” was it had a modest feel to it. I imagine that might have been difficult to accomplish because there were so many interesting characters worth putting under the spotlight. By giving us a relatively simple story and a modicum of, though never obvious, character development, we could easily navigate ourselves into their world and the conflicts that impacted their existence. It didn’t take the easy route of putting the Mutants’ abilities ahead of what they stood for and their place in the brewing war between humans and Mutants or, quite possibly, Professor X’s group versus Magneto’s. It started out small with Rogue (Anna Paquin) not understanding her powers. It was a smart decision because most Mutants’ abilities came to a surprise to them. From there, everything fell naturally into place as she met amnesiac Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Professor X’s instructors like Dr. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), Cyclops (James Marsden), and Storm (Halle Berry). She even found potential romance in Bobby (Shawn Ashmore), a boy who could generate ice at whim. In spite of being a modern and sleek science fiction film on the outside, it had elements of classic coming-of-age elements which paved the way for us to become emotionally invested in the characters. By highlighting who they were and what they stood for, it underlined the prejudice from both the humans and the Mutants. “X-Men,” a fast-paced action-adventure with enough humor on the side especially the friendly banters between Wolverine and Cyclops, understood the importance of having a solid foundation before dealing with more ambitious storylines.


Valkyrie (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★

I think a lot of people are unfairly harsh on this movie because of the fact that it stars Tom Cruise as Colonel Claus von Satuffenberg, one of the men that tries to assassinate Adolf Hitler. For some reason, people find it difficult to find a divide between an actor’s personal life and repertoire (like with Lindsay Lohan). We all know how it’s going to end so being predictable is not a valid reason on why one should not see this movie. (Assuming that the person knows the basics about World War II.) I’m here to say that this is a solid thriller because Bryan Singer, the director of other good films like “The Usual Suspects,” “Apt Pupil” and “X2: X-Men United,” was able to successfully build suspense up until the last twenty minutes. I enjoyed watching what Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, and Tom Cruise have to put on the table. Although the film is fast-paced, it gets really exciting whether these top-tier actors speak to each other as we find out where their loyalties lie. They made me believe that what they were trying to do was important and I eventually found myself hoping that things would turn out differently than it did in reality. I was impressed with the soundtrack because it supported the suspense instead of becoming the driving force. In most less successful thrillers, the latter is the case so it was a nice surprise to not find that here. I was also blown away by the visuals. Everything looks so grand: the architectures, the weaponries, the automobiles, down to the characters’ wardrobes. It was easy to tell that a lot of effort was put into this film. I wish the last twenty minutes could’ve been stronger. I felt like the suspense was sucked out of the film so I found myself not caring. I think those last few scenes were crucial because the filmmakers were supposed to convince the audience that those who tried to kill Hitler were honorable men and women. Instead, the message was lost and we saw one scene of pandemonium on top of one another. It’s a pretty strong movie as a whole; it just needed to deliver all the way through and, unfortunately, the film failed to do that.