Posts Tagged ‘James Marsden’

Mutant Time Travel Fantasy

X-Men: Days of Future Past

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Director: Bryan Singer

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Lawrence, Ian McKellan, Patrick Stewart, Halle Berry, Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Nicholas Hoult, Anna Paquin, Ellen Page, Shawn Ashmore, Peter Dinklage, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Karine Vanasse, Evan Peters, Josh Helman

Which director could resist bringing such a fabulous a-list cast together in one film?

Naturally the original X-Men director Bryan Singer who takes this huge cinematic opportunity to reboot the X-Men franchise and include the original cast members in a mutant time travel fantasy which sees Wolverine, Storm, Raven and Magneto and Professor Xavier battling literally against time in a war to save the mutants from utter destruction at the hands of evil humans, represented by none other than Dr Bolivar Trask, wonderfully played by Peter Dinklage, whose star is clearly rising after the phenomenal success of the allegorical revenge fantasy series Game of Thrones.

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Set between 1973 and presumably the present day of 2013, so a forty year time span, the original X-Men including Magneto and Professor Xavier played by Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart send Wolverine aka Logan back forty years to confront a younger version of themselves and change a pivotal moment in history, the capture of the uniquely chameleon Raven played by Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence from being captured by the duplicitious Trask. Wolverine with all the braun and charm of the original series gamely played by Hugh Jackman confronts a younger Xavier (a wonderful turn by James McAvoy) and convinces him to set Magneto free from a metal less prison in the heart of the Pentagon in Washington D. C.

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In a spell bounding special effects sequence, Xavier, Beast and Wolverine with the able assistance of Quiksilver played with charm by Evan Peters free the unpredictable Erik Lehnsherr aka Magneto and together they go in search of Raven/Mystique as she infiltrates a Vietnamese peace signing ceremony in Paris in 1973 in a bid to assassinate the formidable weapons specialist Dr Bolivar Trask who is hellbent on obliterating all mutants with new Transformeresque type machines known as the Sentinels.

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The rest of the action packed hugely spectacular X-Men Days of Future Past is a time travel mutant orgy in the same vein as Marvel’s film The Avengers was with a bunch of superheroes coming together to battle the evil Loki. The cast is just as spectacular and director Singer gives as much screen time as possible to the prolific actors as well as to the lesser cast members but its his lingering cinematic gaze on the gorgeous male cast including Nicholas Hoult (A Single Man) as Beast, Michael Fassbender (Shame) as Erik, James McAvoy (Atonement) as a younger Xavier that gives this superhero mutant fantasy a distinctly homoerotic quality seldom seen in other superhero films.

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By their nature superheroes are slightly narcissistic (look at Man of Steel, Batman, Iron Man) but especially so in X-Men Days of Future Past. The female superheroes in this film pale in comparison to their attention grabbing male counterparts with director Singer even giving Wolverine a nude scene as he wakes up in a New York apartment overlooking Time Square in the swinging seventies.

Ultimately, X-Men Days of Future Past is a Hollywood vehicle to reboot the old X-Men franchise and breath fresh life into the cast of the younger selves seen in X-Men: First Class. The film is wonderfully retro in parts and adds to the glamour of recreating the 1970’s on screen with Fassbender and McAvoy looking particularly fetching as the younger Magneto and Xavier. Gone are all the dark overtones of the earlier X-Men films and in this invigorated version, all the mutants look glossy, stylized and supremely accessible. This is a Hollywood blockbuster not just for its multitude of stars but also for the riveting special effects, never mind the convoluted narrative. A must see film for all fans of the X-Men movies and those that follow such commercial gloss with vigour.

 

 

Taking off the White Gloves

The Butler

The butler

 

Director: Lee Daniels

Starring: Forest Whitaker, David Oyelowo, Oprah Winfrey, Jane Fonda, Vanessa Redgrave, Robin Williams, Liev Schreiber, Alan Rickman, John Cusack, Alex Pettyfer, James Marsden, Terrence Howard, Cuba Gooding Jr, Lenny Kravitz, Minka Kelly, Mariah Carey.

The Oscar nominated director of Precious, Lee Daniels assembles an all star cast in the elegant and brutal chronicle of the American Civil Rights Movement from the Georgia cotton picking days of 1926 to the historic election of Barack Obama as the first African American president of the United States in 2008.

With a screenplay by Danny Strong based on Wil Haygood’s article “A Butler Well Served by this ElectionThe Butler follows the life of Cecil Gaines, a loyal and trusted African American butler to seven American presidents from Dwight D. Eisenhower (played by Robin Williams) in 1957 to Ronald Reagan (played by Alan Rickman) in 1986 at the White House and features a staggeringly Oscar worthy performance by Forest Whitaker, Oscar winner for the extraordinary film The Last King of Scotland, whose sturdy and nuanced performance makes this historical film a must see. Alongside Whitaker portrayal of Gaines, is another wonderful performance by Talk Show Queen Oprah Winfrey as his hard drinking wife Gloria Gaines who along with her husband has to live through the turbulent sixties and seventies watching helplessly as one son Louis Gaines brilliantly portrayed by David Oyelowo gets involved in the civil rights movement in the Deep South whilst their youngest son Charlie joins up to fight in Vietnam.

During the Butler’s time at the White House he serves a range of American Presidents from JFK (played by James Marsden) to Nixon during the Watergate scandal, from Lyndon B. Johnson (played by Liev Schreiber) during the Vietnam War through to Ronald Reagan and his vetoing of sanctions against Apartheid South Africa in the mid 1980’s.

Whilst Daniels film is a clear tribute to the huge impact made by the American civil rights movement, the viewer at times will feel like they are watching a History Channel documentary. Yet despite the racial politics, at the heart of The Butler is the equally tumultuous yet tender relationship between Cecil Gaines and his family. Gaines employed as a White House Butler cannot jeopardize his job employed in service at the iconic seat of American power where ironically there is no room for politics. He cannot participate himself in the increasingly active American civil rights movement of the sixties, whilst his son Louis gets politically involved as he attends Fisk University in Tennessee.

From Gandhi inspired sits ins at segregated restaurants in Alabama to Freedom Bus rides through Klu Klux Klan riddled Mississippi, Louis finds his own identity as a civil rights activist only stopping short of joining the increasingly militant Black Panther movement which plagued the Nixon Administration in the early 1970’s. Gloria Gaines, wonderfully played by Winfrey has to manage two sons, an absent husband and an increasingly reckless lifestyle whilst adjusting to the ever changing race relations in contemporary American society.

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The Butler takes off the white gloves in examining the contentious issue of America’s history of race relations. Director Daniels expertly splices scenes of a brutal attack by white students on members of the civil rights movement at a Tennessee diner with images of Cecil Gaines and his fellow butlers Carter Wilson played by Cuba Gooding Jr and James Holloway played by Lenny Kravitz laying an immaculate table for White House state dinners, reminiscent of Merchant Ivory’s superb period drama Remains of the Day about the crumbling of the British class system in the late 1930’s prior to the outbreak of World War II.

What really makes The Butler so utterly absorbing is Forest Whitaker’s powerful performance as Cecil Gaines who whilst in service humbly retains only one constant request of equal wages from his White House employers. The rest of the star studded cast including veteran actors Vanessa Redgrave (Howard’s End) and Jane Fonda (On Golden Pond) really only have very brief scenes. John Cusack stands out as a troubled hard drinking Nixon in the wake of the Watergate scandal in 1972.

For lovers of period dramas with an expansive historical context, The Butler is recommended viewing. Director Lee Daniels expertly manages a huge and contentious time span of American history along with an impressive ensemble cast while extracting superb performances by Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey and David Oyelowo, making The Butler like his previously provocative film Precious a firm Oscar favourite.  A highly recommended and masterful piece of cinema.

 

Blowing up Corpus Christi

2 Guns

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Director: Baltasar Kormakur

Cast: Denzel Washington, Mark Wahlberg, Edward James Olmos, James Marsden, Fred Ward, Paula Patton, Bill Paxton

Denzel Washington (Flight, Safe House) and Mark Wahlberg (The Fighter, Contraband) star in the Boom studios graphic novels film version 2 Guns, which is a basically a Tex Mex version of 48 Hours with all the classic formulaic traits of a buddy action film, reminiscent of the 1980’s complete with snappy dialogue and explosive action. Oscar winner Denzel Washington plays tough DEA agent Bobby Trench who unwillingly teams up with sexy and smart Michael Stigman played by former Calvin Klein underwear model Mark Wahlberg as they blow up diners with the best donuts in town in a Texas border town as a means of distraction against robbing a nearby bank packed with loads of Mexican drug cartel dollars.

Muchos dineros in Spanish means lots of dollars and Washington and Wahlberg both get more than they bargained for when they discover the amount of loot, which not only belongs to the shady Mexicans across the border but is wanted by Naval Intelligence and a vicious CIA operative which have been keeping the Mexican drug cartels in business.

Three groups of gangs are on their tail from the CIA in the form of Earl superbly played by Bill Paxton (Titanic, Haywire), a rogue Naval intelligence unit headed by Quince, played by James Marsden (a welcome change from his pretty boy image as seen in Hairspray) and a Sonora Mexican drug cartel headed up by the bull loving Papi Greco wonderfully played by Edward James Olmos (recently seen in the TV series Dexter as the Doomsday Killer).

Add in to this crazy mix is Paula Patton (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) as the voluptuous Deb another DEA agent serving as some eye candy for the clearly male targeted audience and the usual chaos which ensues when Trench and Stigman decide to trust each other enough to team up together, making the convoluted plot twists more plausible by a fantastic onscreen chemistry between the two Hollywood heavy weights.

Denzel Washington as the tough and elusive Bobby Trench, while Oscar Nominee Mark Wahlberg as the eye-winking younger and sharp-mouthed wise guy clearly makes 2 Guns not just worth watching, but highly enjoyable and humorous, filled with car chases, bull-running and an explosive sequence at a naval base in Corpus Christi, Texas. Watch out for a great cameo by Fred Ward as a Naval Commander Admiral Tuwey.

2 Guns, by Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur who also directed Wahlberg in Contraband unapologetically takes much inspiration from such 1980’s classic action films as Lethal Weapon, 48 Hours and Beverley Hills Cop, and while there is less comedy and more action, it is a thoroughly entertaining way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Lots of violence, swearing and bull running, this machismo action thriller, complete with a Mexican standoff is a wonderful pairing of these two talented Hollywood megastars.

The likeable talented duo of Washington and Wahlberg effortlessly produce that onscreen chemistry which is casual, cool and funny. 2 Guns is recommended for those that enjoy US-Mexican cross border drug running bank robber films without the insane gore and menace of Savages or No Country for Old Men.

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