Author Archives: ochippie

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Movie Review – Hold the Dark

Category : Movie Review

Director: Jeremy Saulnier

Starring: Jeffrey Wright, Riley Keough, Alexander Skarsgard

Year: 2018

Saulnier’s three other films (Murder Party, Blue Ruin, Green Room) are based on blood and barbarism, in varied form, and Hold the Dark is no different.  You might think it is, by the trailer, which seems more organic and natural with a horror edge than simply murderous, but the plot quickly goes in that direction, and we’re abruptly left with a crime scene.  That was a bit of a disappointment for me, since I was looking for Wind River rather than Sheitan, but perhaps that’s on me for misjudging the style and forgetting who the director was; “be prepared” is good advice even if you aren’t a Boy Scout.  But now I’ve seen the movie, tried to judge it standing alone, and still found it mostly lacking, whether that’s on account of expectations or quality or both.

In Alaska, the land and its animal inhabitants can be an unforgiving team, making it crystal clear to those who choose to live there that they are not welcome.  For the Slones, and for multiple families in the area surrounding a small, mostly native village, this message comes in the form of savage wolves who steal children who venture too far from their homes, and don’t leave bodies to bury.  Medora Slone, whose husband is fighting in Iraq, has lost her only son to a pack, and to close the hole in her heart she writes to Russell Core.  An author, a hunter, and a naturalist, Core knows wolves better than anyone, and is uncommonly affected by Mrs. Slone’s request to find the animals that killed her boy.  But humans can be far more brutal than the rest of the animal kingdom, and they have a capacity for deceit and evil that is both unmatched and unnatural.

I didn’t get what I wanted from this film, which is partially my fault for having certain expectations, and partially the filmmaker’s fault for refusing to move outside his violent comfort zone.  Or else, if he did try, the result wasn’t something that you would predict from a successful filmmaker who needs to be improving with each project.  Instead, Hold the Dark is a step back.  It adds in elements other than simple, human, violent tendencies, it sprinkled in a little mysticism to move the plot along, but audiences will soon find out that this tease is just a sham, that Saulnier never intended for this movie to be anything but his typical style, despite the trailer and the buildup.  Even with solid actors, he can’t make something more deep from what starts well and intrigues the viewer, and perhaps it’s time to say that he’s just not able.  Wright and Keough, specifically, are great, and their scenes at the beginning are enrapturing.  But then shit hits the fan, the plot plummets downhill, and there isn’t time to recover, resulting in a film that only has its blood to bolster it, when it needs far, far more.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

 


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Movie Review – Hot Summer Nights

Category : Movie Review

Director: Elijah Bynum

Starring: Timothee Chalamet, Alex Roe, Maika Monroe

Year: 2017

Hot Summer Nights is not nearly as good as it should have been.  With Timothee Chalamet as the hottest ticket in town, any movie he chooses to star in should be a guaranteed success.  But as good as he is, I guess it doesn’t exactly work that way, that scenario is too simple, and more than one young actor is needed to create a high-quality film.  Maika Monroe is an It Girl as well right now, a cinema darling to counterbalance a popular cutie but, again, that’s not quite enough.  Writer/director Elijah Bynum makes his first attempt here, and it shows; he simply wasn’t ready to be the field general of this picture.  He had a good idea, found a nice cast, but couldn’t combine all the pieces into something special, which, in his defense, is definitely a rarity.

As the late 80s turned into the early 90s, the baby boomers’ kids needed something to do; hey, why not drugs.  Daniel, who was sent to live with his aunt on Cape Cod for the summer, finds himself amidst the budding recreational drug scene.  The locals all smoke pot, the tourists all do coke, everyone parties hardy, and then they all go home for the fall like nothing ever happened.  Daniel is swept into the scene when he falls for the sexy McKayla Strawberry and becomes friends with her cool brother Hunter.  But when he dives too deep into the drug world, he finds that he’s more alone than he thought.  No one can hold onto friends when he’s built a business on lying, and when the police and rival drug dealers start closing in.

There’s much more to this story that I summarized, almost too much, as the plot spins out of control quicker than Daniel’s summer.  There’s narration, young love, carnivals, and a hurricane; that’s an action-packed couple months.  Bynum had too many good ideas and refused to cut any of them out, so we get a coming-of-age tale but also much more than we would normally ask from that genre.  Chalamet is a natural, and this role was made for him, but that doesn’t mean he can carry the whole thing on his own.  Nice performances from Monroe, Roe, Thomas Jane, Emory Cohen, and William Fichtner help, but even a solid cast can’t make magic when the story is written so sloppily.  With too many directions at once, the point of the film is ultimately lost, despite many positives that make Hot Summer Nights a fine dramody, but nothing incredible.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Category : Movie Review

Director: David Fincher

Starring: Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett

Year: 2008

You could say that the most amazing thing about Benjamin Button is Benjamin himself, the incredible boy who aged backward and the versatile actor who played him.  Or you could say that the visuals stole the show, Benjamin’s aging, the way time slipped beautifully by, how Daisy passed going the other way.  But what strikes me most, looking back at the movie, is the unbelievable cast & crew who came together to make it.  I’ll look at their filmographies more in depth later, but my god; Fincher, Pitt, Blanchett, the rest of the cast, the genius screenwriter who you’ve never heard of.  This much talent in one place is almost unheard of, except in Oscar-winning epics and ground-breaking dramas, both of which could describe this film, which, oh yeah, was nominated for 13 Academy Awards.

Benjamin was born under unusual circumstances, which led to him having a rather unusual life, but one filled with enough adventure, love, and memory to fill multiple lifetimes.  Unwanted as a baby, Benjamin was left on the doorstep on a home for the elderly, which turned out to work in his favor, since he was born as an old man who began to age backward over the coming years.  His mother, Queenie, ran the home and encouraged Benjamin to follow his dreams, telling him that he might be an unusual boy but that only meant that his future had a chance to be extraordinary.  He would become a sailor, a soldier, a world traveler, and a romantic, falling in love with the girl he had always known from his native New Orleans, the lovely Daisy.  She was a dancer and a beautiful woman, but while Benjamin grew younger, she grew older, and as they passed each other like ships in the fog they understood that their fates might never intertwine.

OK, let’s dive in.  Before we get to the movie itself, we need to look at this team, because it’s phenomenal.  Fincher the director, sandwiching the film between Zodiac and Social Network.  Pitt, the god, Blanchett, the goddess, and how they ever got the two of them in the same room without the fabric of reality ripping I’ll never know.  The rest of the cast is wild: Taraji P. Henson, Mahershala Ali, Elias Koteas, Jason Flemyng, Elle Fanning, Tilda Swinton.  And lastly, Eric Roth, the writer, who has one hell of a resume: Forest Gump, The Postman, The Horse Whisperer, The Insider, Ali, Munich, The Good Shepard, Benjamin Button, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.  He also wrote the upcoming A Star is Born, which is the front runner for Best Picture.  Wow, that’s some cast and crew.  Benjamin Button really does remind me of Forest Gump, or Big Fish, that style of magical drama that spans a long period of time and comes laden with emotion and meaning.  The cinematography is lovely, the mood is magical, the characters are great, and this story will stick with you long after you’re done watching.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Sports – NFL Picks 2018, Week 5

Category : Sports

Here are my NFL Week 5 Picks

(11-4 last week, 37-24-2 for the season)

Bye teams: Bears, Buccaneers

 

Ind @ NE

Ten @ Buf

Atl @ Pit

Den @ NYJ

Jax @ KC

GB @ Det

Bal @ Cle

NYG @ Car

Mia @ Cin

Oak @ LAC

Ari @ SF

Min @ Phi

LAR @ Sea

Dal @ Hou

Was @ NO

 


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DVD Review – Goldstone

Category : DVD Review

Director: Ivan Sen

Starring: Aaron Pedersen, Alex Russell, Jacki Weaver, David Wenham

Year: 2016

Goldstone was out in theatres in Australia two years before it reached the US and, although I didn’t know it at the time, two years is far too long to wait on something so wonderful.  This film is a followup to director Ivan Sen’s other Detective Jay Swan story, Mystery Road, which was both a movie and then a six-episode mini-series.  The character lives on here, but if you can’t get your hands on the original material, this plot is independently strong, it doesn’t require any foreknowledge to enjoy its quality.  Goldstone has more than enough quality to spare, in all areas, and if you, like me, didn’t see this project coming, you’ll be blown away by its incredible, voracious nature.

The Movie

Josh Waters is a young, local cop stationed in Goldstone, a fly speck of a town in the bush of Australia where nothing important happens except the mining, and no trouble ever pops up except from the miners.  The town has very few people and only two real businesses; the mining company, which brings the men in to work, and the brothel bar, which keeps the men happy.  Josh is really only around to make sure that everything runs smoothly, and the mayor makes sure to grease his wheels with offers of as much money as will keep him silent about the more clandestine actions of the corporation that she’s tied to in more ways than one.  Josh is fairly clean but also doesn’t want to cause trouble, so he let’s the little things float past, without spending too much time worrying whether of not they are perfectly moral.

But the dirt that’s been swirling around the whole operation is about to clog the works in the form of a missing persons detective, Jay Swan, who’s in town searching for a lost girl.  He stumbles upon a trafficking ring that’s been going on so long that no one even thinks twice about its legality, and that’s not even the worst secret in Goldstone.  The mayor and the mining manager are into something twisted, requiring them pay off the Aboriginal leaders of the area in order to keep the ball rolling.  Jay has nothing to lose, he’s burned all of his bridges and is beyond caring, but Josh has a career to think of, and starting an investigation to take down all the local big shots might be beyond his scope.  Regardless, trouble is coming, and these two men had best be prepared, or they will find themselves on the wrong end of a gun sight.

Goldstone may only seem like Wind River 2: Bandits in the Bush, but that’s an oversimplification; Goldstone was released in Australia in 2016, a year before Wind River was released here, it just took the former a couple years to reach the States.  But be glad that it eventually did, because it’s not often that we are given such an extraordinary gift, and it’s not every day that a story from this genre touches the level of quality that this film was able to reach.  Neo-Western need not apply only to American pictures, and there’s no better place to set one than in the bush, an almost unpopulated desert landscape where rules are enforced by the very few and followed by even fewer.  At least fictionally, I’m not calling Australia a lawless country, but its history and its remote locations allow for these plots to be believable, much like the mountainous, western United States, past or present.

But beyond the inherent Aussie grittiness of this film, which can only take it so far, the execution and the delivery matched the potential of the project, reaching as close to the ceiling as it could go, and almost breaking through to the other side, where storied movies live.  Goldstone is a right choice wherever you look, from the characters to the acting, from the cinematography to the action placed therein.  As I said before, you don’t need to see the other Jay Swan stories, this one holds its own extremely well, the plot sizzling with anticipation and with danger, with no backstory needed.  Pedersen and Russell are perfect in their roles, as are Weaver and Wenham supporting, each lending the other credit and helping to create a fascinating mosaic on the bedrock of this complicated land.  Aboriginal independence, innocence lost, good vs evil, activity vs apathy; there isn’t a theme too deep for this film, and it is never afraid to ask audiences the hard questions.  The music, the still shots, the landscape, the mood; everything works and nothing is left to chance, each detail is orchestrated just so.  Goldstone may end up being one of the best of the year, and we never saw it coming, which makes it all the sweeter.

The Blu-ray

Video – With an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 (16×9 Widescreen) and shot using a Red Epic camera, the video quality of the Blu-ray is exceptional, with a real eye toward visuals and the way in which they can be brought to the screen with the upmost clarity.  The director relied often on shots from above, as if from a drone or satellite, and those moments were always exquisite, never overused, and aided the feeling of open country all around, of being exposed to what was coming without anywhere to hide.

Audio – The disc was done in English DTS-HD Master Audio, with an option of English 5.1 Dolby Digital.  There are no language or subtitle options.  The sound quality was near as excellent as the video, with a wonderful soundtrack that carried the action.  Voices were a little muffled at times, and if you aren’t used to the accents you may be thrown for a bit, but once audiences settle in I think they will learn to appreciate the conversational style, and the way the director refused to make the sound amped up in a way it would not naturally have been.

Extras – There are many special features on the Blu-ray: Detective Jay Swan, Alex Russell as “Josh Waters”, Jacki Weaver as “The Mayor”, Director Ivan Sen, The Corruption of Goldstone, The Indigenous People of Australia, and two different trailers for the film.

Final Thoughts

Highly Recommended. To Americans, Australian movies have a genre all their own, defined by their unapologetic style and their true grit.  But Goldstone is more than just a good movie from Down Under, it’s a great version of the neo-Western we’ve grown to love and an original storytelling that flows with power and with truth.  If you like Westerns, here you go.  If you like high drama, you’re welcome.  And if you like the barren landscape of the desert and the emotion that flows through it, you’re in luck.  With so many reasons to love this film, its ability to weave all of its parts into something coherent and strong is perhaps its most impressive attribute, and that’s saying something for a film that is filled to the brim with quality.  The video is amazing, the audio is solid, there are many extras, so the technical aspects won’t let you down either, the entire project snapping together seamlessly to create something special.  Oscar season is just ramping up, so I’m sure there are a ton of marvelous features on their way to theatres near you, but I have a feeling that Goldstone will hold its head above the oncoming tide; it stands that tall.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Content

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Video

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Audio

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Extras

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ – Replay

 

 


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Book Review – The Firefly Code

Category : Book Review

Author: Megan Frazer Blakemore

Year: 2016

My daughter read this novel and then recommended it to me, knowing that I love science fiction and also really enjoy dystopia.  This was one of her first real tastes of the genre, at least this large of an in-depth story about a world gone wrong and the questionable choices made to “fix” it.  I think she’s well on her way to being a sci-fi nerd too, and I’m very proud of that, but she definitely needs more experience with this style before completely judging the genre.  The Firefly Code is a good introduction to the concept, but isn’t ultimately very well written.  Standing alone, I can enjoy it for its amateur attempt at making a point, but compared to anything better it quickly falls flat and reveals that it was barely ever standing.

Mori lives in Old Harmonie, a community run by a giant corporation that takes care of its employees while the rest of the world staggers under the weight of disease, famine, and war.  On Firefly Lane, these problems seem worlds away, as they don’t reach past the fences of the utopia that has been built around the research that’s paving the way towards the future.  But when a new kid moves into the neighborhood, the delicate balance is threatened, once Mori and her friends realize that there is something decidedly different about this girl and the way her mind works.  In a bubble of new technology and genetic enhancements, you don’t have to worry about tomorrow, until it hits you with a force you were not prepared for.

I think you would call this level Middle Grade, which is a step down in age from Young Adult.  Maybe Hunger Games is Young Adult while Firefly Code is Middle Grade, I’m not sure, but that sounds about right, and it feels right as well, as this story never reads as adult or even teenager-y as some others.  Perhaps that’s why I didn’t love it; it was never made for me, and I need a little more from my dystopia than this novel had to offer.  Still, it’s the right level for a younger audience, and works as a solid introduction, but I wouldn’t recommend it quickly, nor would I say that it compares in the least to the classics of this genre, like The Giver or The White Mountains.  The writing was very juvenile, which is fine, but it was also amateur, which isn’t, Blakemore’s dialogue coming across as forced and plodding and without talent; maybe she’s a better conceptualizer than a presenter.  Regardless, her book worked, but barely, and it should only be used as a step in the right direction.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Next Gen

Category : Movie Review

Director: Kevin R. Adams, Joe Ksander

Starring: Charlyne Yi, John Krasinski, Jason Sudeikis

Year: 2018

I don’t think that Big Hero 6 got enough credit.  I’ve seen it a couple times now, and each time I appreciate it more for what it is, and I forgive it a little more for what it isn’t.  The story is spectacular and engaging.  The characters are varied and entertaining.  The animation is impressive.  And Baymax is a once-in-a-lifetime creation, a scene-stealing entity that comes to life in a purely magical way.  The movie works from many different angles, and it also catches lighting in a bottle, flying mostly under the radar but with an inherent quality that’s there if you know where to look.  Next Gen tries to capture the same mini-genius, but only proves that it’s not that easy.  Instead, it comes off as a cheap copy with few new ideas, a second-rate animated action flick without much extra to offer.

In the future, robots are the new pets, the news maids, the new cars, the new friends, and humans can’t live without them.  A massive robotics corporation produces bots for your every need, and the new Generation will be the best one yet.  Mai’s mom is totally obsessed, standing in line to be one of the first for the new model, ready to take it home and watch all her dreams come home.  But Mai isn’t interested, she’s tired of bots taking over, and so she goes exploring during the big corporate reveal party.  What she finds is something she was never supposed to see.  A new project has just been brought online, a new machine with martial capabilities and AI technology that make it something extremely special and expensive.  It follows Mai home, and they begin a strange friendship, but it was built for a very specific, very dangerous purpose, and she’s about to be caught in the middle.

Next Gen is way too much like Big Hero 6 to be ignored, from the big bot and its friendship with the kid to the evil business tycoon and his futuristic cityscape.  I guess the former waited a while and the latter wasn’t a huge hit anyway, but to me they’re still too similar, because I liked the content better the first time I saw it.  But there are some differences, and some positives, so it’s not all a carbon copy.  The action is packed in from the very beginning, and it’s a little more comic book firefight than animated scuffle, so make sure your kids are ready for it, but it’s pretty impressive.  So are the jabs at our iPhone culture and our dependence on technology, so look for the nods and for the critiques.  But despite a nice start and a pretty awesome ending, the middle of the movie left a lot to be desired.  That’s when the action dragged, that’s when the relationship between the girl and the bot was the highlight, and it’s the slowest part, really slogging for a solid 45 minutes.  You can’t have a great film if half of it is dull, even if some other moments are impressive, and you can’t simply cast name actors as voice overs and call it a day.  More was needed to make Next Gen great; as it is it’s only fine.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

 


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Movie Review – The Predator

Category : Movie Review

Director: Shane Black

Starring: Boyd Holbrook, Jacob Tremblay, Olivia Munn

Year: 2018

The original Predator is such an icon, even if it is slightly campy.  It could have been worse, they definitely didn’t jump the shark, and the team even supported the film with great music, cool sets, memorable weapons, and one of the best movie monsters to ever hit the screen.  The acting might have been bad, it’s an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie after all, but it hardly mattered, the sci-fi content being enough to bolster the story through murky waters.  Sequels have been attempted, crossovers have been crossed over, but nothing has ever compared to the first, and I don’t think anything ever will.  But, I do think that The Predator gave us its best shot, not even caring how many sharks it jumped or lines it crossed on its way to becoming an intentionally bizarre and unintentionally strong take on the franchise.

Having known about the Predators for decades, the US Government has kept a close eye on the sky with an appropriately named Stargazer program, designed to keep a watch through the long night.  And good thing somebody’s up, because we just made contact, again.  A rogue Predator comes crashing to Earth, ruining a special ops drug bust in the jungle, and leaving some of its gear in the possession of Quinn McKenna, a soldier who now has seen things he wasn’t supposed to.  The government boys sweep in quickly, detain McKenna, capture the Predator, discover that it came to our world for some purpose, but can’t quite figure out what that purpose is.  Scientist Casey Bracket will help unravel the mystery, until the Predator breaks free and starts on the rampage.  She’ll have to team up with McKenna, whose son has gotten his hands on the missing alien technology, in order to save the day, the planet, and our species.

The best way to make a genre flick is to commit totally, to hold nothing back when it comes to the style, however insane that style might be.  That’s what The Predator does right, it refuses to apologize for being dumb, for being a gory, silly, bumpy, mostly-ripoff of movies we’ve seen a thousand times; the point is that no one involved seems to care.  They just don’t care, it doesn’t bother them that their product is wacky beyond even the level that alien sci-fi is usually wacky, and more than that, they ran with the style in a way will make audiences want to run right along with them.  The action is overt and in-your-face, the firefights are wild, the creatures are grotesque, the weapons are plentiful, the comedy is forced, nothing is offered politely, and we all go home happy.

In a shocking turn of events, and apart from the inherent camp of the story, the acting was perhaps the strongest part of the film, and yes that feels as weird to type as it does to think.  I don’t mean to say that there are Oscar-worthy performances here, I mean that the actors throw themselves completely into their characters is such a way as to win audiences over, and that other casting choices might not have worked out as well.  Holbrook is the real deal, not just a comic book or sci-fi guy, but a real, high talent professional who can do anything.  Sterling K. Brown is on the same level, a transcendent talent who doesn’t feel out of place in any role.  Even Olivia Munn was on point, and she’s no good at all.  They worked because the movie worked, because it was obvious that everyone involved was simply having a wonderful time, and didn’t really care if their product was half a joke, because the other half was pure entertainment.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Predator

Category : Movie Review

Director: John McTiernan

Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Jesse Ventura

Year: 1987

I’m old enough to remember the Nintendo video game; that’s where I learned to spell Schwarzenegger.  This film was a big deal in the late 80s, and even into the 90s; Arnold was an action star on a level of which I’m not sure we’ve seen since.  Not in pure, unmitigated, unapologetic adrenaline anyway; modern action movies seem to be focused on ridicule and farce instead.  Very recent action films have pushed toward actual, high-quality entertainment (take Fury Road for example), so maybe there’s some hope, but there’s still no dude like Schwarzenegger.  He was big stuff, literally and figuratively, a colossus on screen, and it didn’t matter that his accent was weird or that his acting wasn’t amazing, we loved watching anyway.  Thankfully, Predator revisited is just as awesome as Predator remembered.

When the US government finds themselves in a tricky situation in a foreign jungle somewhere, fighting guerrilla soldiers and propping up a friendly dictator, they call in Dutch & his team of special ops, because they know he can get the job done, no matter how messy.  Dutch has been in many a tough spot, has blown his way out of many a deadly trap, and can be trusted to get in & out quickly without exposing his government to political fallout.  His most recent mission is to extract hostages from deep inside a South American rebel camp, or so he is told.  But there’s more going on than meets the eye, as Dutch’s old buddy Dillon well knows, since he’s no longer a soldier but a CIA operative.  He’s not telling the team the whole truth, and even he doesn’t know that there’s a wild card roaming the jungle, a hostile, other-worldly entity that means to kill every human it meets, regardless of which side they are on.

Predator is Rambo meets Alien, which is exactly as cool as it sounds.  Don’t think about it too much, or you’ll end up liking this movie less, since it’s an obvious and laughable theft of plots that have come before.  But although that’s undeniable, it’s also somehow forgivable, because the melding of these ideas led to a film that would become a decade-spanning franchise, which is hard to fathom in itself, since the original is so trashy (in a good way).  It’s bloody and gross and violent and creepy and cool and muscular and you can almost smell the heated gun metal, which was pretty amazing when I was a kid, and really hasn’t lost much of its glory in the years since.  Arnold is terrible/great, Carl Weathers is a fine good/bad guy, the side soldiers are a bit throwaway, but somehow they work as a unit.  The music is incredible, I had forgotten about that, creating a perfect mood from start to finish, and the scenery works wonderfully with the plot, every fern fan a potential hiding place where death might be lurking.  Predator is a cult classic that spawned generations of mimicries, but it stands out and holds up in a way the others can’t, with a nostalgia for the era that makes me want to binge-watch.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Trailer – X-Men: Dark Phoenix

Category : Movie Trailer

Director: Simon Kinberg

Starring: Sophie Turner, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender

Tye Sheridan, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Evan Peters

Release: February 14th, 2019

These movies are getting tired.  I like this newer franchise well enough, I think they got a lot of things right, but Apocalypse was goofy and the upcoming mutant movies look terrible.  Looking back, Sophie Turner was perhaps the worst part of Apocalypse, and now she gets her own film?  I think not.  It won’t work because she’s not talented enough, and audiences have moved on past these films to the Marvel Universe, which is less dark and better made.  Also, Kinberg has never directed a film before; that’s not good.