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Tag Archive: James McAvoy


Review by C.J. Bunce

After a few packed years of superhero movies, Dark Phoenix is going to be a target for comparison.  No single Marvel movie this year–including Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame–really merits entry on a “best of the best” list, yet all had good, even great, moments, and easily belong in a top 25 superhero movie list.  Dark Phoenix now joins that group.  Instead of a galaxy-changing upheaval, first-time director and award-winning writer-producer Simon Kinberg marked the end of the X-Men movie saga with a personal story.  It’s a story of struggle and tragedy more attuned to the X-Men characters and the cinematic stories 20th Century Fox has told since we first met Patrick Stewart’s professor and Ian McKellen’s metal-manipulating frenemy way back in the year 2000.  Although it’s not as compelling and cinematic as James Mangold’s gold standard Logan or the incredible team-up in X-Men: Days of Future Past, actress Sophie Turner leads an emotional journey for her all-powerful Jean Grey that first began in X-Men: Apocalypse, really backing up that tagline from the movie posters: Every hero has a dark side.  They really meant it.

Kinberg wrote the original script for the Dark Phoenix in X-Men: The Last Stand, but he gets a lot closer to the spirit of the source material this time.  The key conflict mimics Marvel’s Jim Shooter and Chris Claremont’s reported struggle when they developed the character of Dark Phoenix, asking whether Jean Grey is irretrievably bad or bad only because she is possessed by a dark force.  At the same time most of the cosmic oddities are stripped from the comics story, but not all, pulling the necessary elements from the original tale in a more accessible way for audiences.  Jessica Chastain′s new villain and her compatriots from afar are very much the same as found in the comics, all but in name.  The opening act in particular is perfectly executed, beginning with a nicely cinematic launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavour, and a return to the stealth fighter that Nicholas Hoult′s Beast had been building in X-Men: Apocalypse.  If you’ve seen the trailers or know the story then the subject of the scene is no surprise–a rescue of the astronauts aboard from a giant solar flare, directed by James McAvoy′s Professor X from Earth, but led in space by Jennifer Lawrence′s Mystique, who grew to be the front-line commander of the team in the last film.  The most entertaining superhero of all the X-Men movies is back, Evan Peters′ Quicksilver, this time using his speed and time-stopping powers to assemble the astronauts for rescue in the character’s third and final awesome show-stopper.  He’s accompanied by the teleport-wielding Kurt Wagner aka Nightcrawler, providing actor Kodi Smit-McPhee the first of several key scenes that showcase his unique superhero, and round out a building arc for the typically background superhero.

The big takeaway from Dark Phoenix may be that it’s clear the material is capable of being recycled and resurrected many times, by different writers, directors, and actors.  Famke Janssen’s performance of Jean Grey was excellent in the original X-Men trilogy.  Sophie Turner’s performance is equally good.  In a few years we’ll see it all over again, which is pretty much what the Phoenix is all about.  Dark Phoenix will likely be accused of copying the empowered women theme of Captain Marvel.  In actuality Dark Phoenix was completed earlier, in October 2017, and if Dark Phoenix hadn’t been delayed by the Fox-Disney merger, the positions would no doubt be flipped to some extent.  The timing and similarities reportedly prompted Fox to go back and make some revisions.  But who says audiences can’t embrace two movies released within 90 days about the two most powerful superheroines in the Marvel pantheon?  Captain Marvel was able to generate far more buzz, and it’s a more upbeat story, so Dark Phoenix is unlikely to make a dent by comparison to that billion dollar box office hit.  But the acting and script for Dark Phoenix is probably a few degrees better, and the wrap-up of so many beloved characters makes Dark Phoenix a more important chapter for its franchise.

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Dafne Keen tops the list of best child actors in movies, and her performance as X-23 along with co-stars Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart made Logan–and specifically the black and white version released as Logan Noir–my pick for the #1 best superhero movie of all time.  So it’s a big deal that Keen has been tapped in the lead role of Lyra Belacqua, the young protagonist of a new adaptation of Philip Pullman′s His Dark Materials–a Carnegie Medal-winning trilogy of novels and a favorite among a generation of readers, selling 18 million copies and translated into 40 languages.  It’s doubly exciting for a fan like me, as the story and character of Lyra was adapted to the big screen once already, in 2007, as the Oscar-winning The Golden Compass, my pick back in 2012 here at borg at the top position of my ten favorite fantasy films of all time (check out that and our staff writers’ lists from back then here if you missed it).  Keen is the perfecting casting decision for one of fantasy’s best-developed, and most fascinating supernatural worlds.

Coming from the BBC and to be released via HBO in the States, His Dark Materials will feature eight episodes the first season.  Take a look at the first trailers below.  Along with Keen as Lyra (who was played by Dakota Blue Richards in the film), the series stars X-Men and Glass’s James McAvoy as Lord Asrael (played by Daniel Craig in the film), Lin-Manuel Miranda as Lee Scoresby (Sam Elliott in the film), John Wick and Jessica Jones’ Clarke Peters as Dr. Carne (Jack Shepherd in the film), The Strain and The Borgias’ Ruta Gedmintas as Serafina (Eva Green in the film), Shetland and Outlaw King’s James Cosmo as Farder Coram (Tom Courtenay in the film) and Luther, The Prisoner, and Jane Eyre’s Ruth Wilson as Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman in the film).  No voice cast has been announced for the several animal characters.  The series is directed by Oscar-winning director Tom Hooper.  Production for season one wrapped in late 2018 and a second season has already been green-lighted.

  

It’s a good time to catch up on the novels, beginning with Northern Lights (released as The Golden Compass in the U.S.), The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass, along with two sequels, Lyra’s Oxford, and Once Upon a Time in the North, and a book set in the same universe, The Book of Dust.

Here are the first trailers for His Dark Materials:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

M. Night Shyamalan is an auteur in a small league of directors that includes Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorcese, Francis Ford Coppola, Wes Anderson, the Coen Brothers, and Stanley Kubrick.  First, you either love or hate each creator’s oeuvre, their signature, their style.  But their works are unmistakably their own.  Shyamalan’s impact to modern film can’t be overstated.  You can look at films before and after his surprise hit The Sixth Sense and see a shift toward films that require that surprise at the end.  That trademark is now an integral part of cinema, even though it has been used as a story tool throughout the history of film and storytelling.  But his use of this, his success from it, made everyone else jump on the bandwagon.  Each of his films has something new to say, but his approach is unique compared to his peers.  His take on superheroes is entirely different from anything else, and yet his love for comics and his genius in digging into what makes a great superhero tale proves his knowledge of the genre.  If you’re a fan of the modern Detective Comics, where Batman is so dark it’s almost as much horror as superhero crimefighter, then you should check out his trilogy, beginning with Unbreakable, followed by Split, and now streaming on Vudu, GooglePlay, YouTube, Amazon, and other home video media, his third chapter in the trilogy, Glass It is truly an epic film, the kind of story written by a comics reader and for a comics reader.

Most superhero movies follow a certain formula.  The tropes are all there for the plucking, so it’s how the story is told that makes the exceptional superhero movie.  Shyamalan’s slowly simmering follow-up returns to Bruce Willis′s David Dunn and Samuel L. Jackson′s Elijah Price from the 2000 first chapter Unbreakable.  We find Dunn has continued his pursuit of justice, brilliantly partnered with his own “man in the chair,” his son from Unbreakable, played again by Spencer Treat Clark (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Chilling Adventures of Sabrina) now all grown up, in an intriguing update to the character.  Price, however, has been relegated to a medical facility, visited frequently by his doting mother, played by returning actress Charlayne Woodard (Pose, Medium).

Sarah Paulson (Ocean’s Eight) proves exactly why she’s been cast as a young Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in the coming series Ratched, co-starring in Glass as Dr. Ellie Staple, a psychiatrist studying people who think they are superheroes, out to prove them wrong and get them the mental help she believes they need.  Enter Kevin Wendell Crumb, who has multiple personality disorders–24 personalities in all–brilliantly portrayed by James McAvoy (X-Men: Days of Future Past, Dark Phoenix) who introduced the character in the suspense-horror film Split.  Split was a surprise for everyone, carefully marketed as just another creepy Shyamalan movie, with the surprise ending that Crumb’s supervillain persona was The Beast, and an even bigger surprise: that Split was a sequel to Unbreakable.

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Does every hero have a dark side?  It’s impossible Quicksilver has a dark side.  But we’ll find out in five weeks as the 12th film in the longest running superhero movie series sees its second-to-last film with the theatrical premiere of Dark PhoenixThe series that started with X-Men in 2000 began as a knockout with the stellar casting of Patrick Stewart as Professor X, Ian McKellen as Magneto, and Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, ultimately interweaving two separate casts that would include the likes of Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique, Michael Fassbender as a younger Magneto, and James McElvoy as a younger Professor X.  With eleven films across 19 years we’d meet our favorite (or second favorite) Marvel superheroes and supervillains shine in X-Men 2: X-Men United, X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, X-Men: First Class, The Wolverine, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Deadpool, X-Men: Apocalypse, Logan, and Deadpool 2.

Every hero has a dark side.

This week post-merger Fox released ten new character posters for the new film spreading that message.

 

Dark Phoenix was written and directed by Simon Kinberg, and stars James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Evan Peters, and Jessica Chastain.  Kinberg has promised Dark Phoenix will be a more faithful adaptation of Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s Dark Phoenix Saga than seen in X-Men: The Last Stand.

Here are all ten posters:

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Dark Phoenix represents one of X-Men fans’ favorite classic X-Men stories.  We have already seen one take on the Dark Phoenix story, as Famke Janssen’s Jane Grey destroyed everyone she cares about in X-Men: The Last Stand, but after the timeline manipulation in X-Men Days of Future Past we learned again the lesson of the Terminator movies: The future’s not setThere’s no fate but what we make for ourselves–A common theme of comics, too, as characters are killed and reborn again and again.  Dark Phoenix was written and directed by Simon Kinberg, and stars James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Evan Peters, and Jessica Chastain.  Kinberg has promised Dark Phoenix to be a more faithful adaptation of Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s Dark Phoenix Saga.

For those of us who loved the X-Men movies, this is the winding down of a great era, highlighted by the casting of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, Patrick Stewart as Professor X, and Ian McKellen as Magneto.  Who will ever forget one of the finest adaptations to film of any superhero from any comic book as Evan Peters became Quicksilver, defending his fellow mutants in the Pentagon?  And the high point of any superhero movie (from Marvel Comics, DC Comics, or anyone else) must be the Academy Award nomination for best screenplay for Logan last year.  Like the competing films in the Avengers films, there were as many high as low points, but some greatness happened throughout X-Men, X-Men 2: X-Men United, X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, X-Men: First Class, The Wolverine, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Deadpool, X-Men: Apocalypse, Logan, and Deadpool 2.

For Fox’s long string of connected X-Men films, this is the end.  Check out this final trailer for Dark Phoenix:

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Ever wonder how the studios make the determination to release one version of a trailer in the U.S. and a different version simultaneously elsewhere?  So do we.  Language differences aside, a few cultural distinctions would make sense sometimes, but infrequently.  But how do you explain it with a straightforward superhero movie?  We previewed the U.S. trailer last week here at borg for this summer’s X-Men movie Dark Phoenix.  It looked great.  Then we saw the international version.

The international version leaves out the introduction with a weepy superheroine Jean Grey, but instead offers a developing, linear short film summary that builds and teases like a good trailer should, reflecting the power and excitement the character Dark Phoenix is known for.  And it teases an incredible space shuttle scene.  This is the right trailer to get people into theaters.  Yet it’s not the trailer most Americans will see.

Take a look and see what you think.  Here’s the new international trailer for Dark Phoenix:

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It’s hard to believe the reboot cast of the X-Men franchise is at its fourth film with this summer’s 20th Century Fox release, Dark Phoenix Despite delays caused by studio mergers, this last film before who-knows-what will happen couldn’t look better, an exciting topper on the X-Men movie franchise.  With eleven of thirteen films released so far since the first film, X-Men, arrived with Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, and Ian McKellen in 2000, it’s become the seventh highest grossing film franchise ever.  With a pretty stuffed superhero film market only getting bigger this year (the last of the Fox Marvel films, The New Mutants, follows in August), Dark Phoenix could be the film that dodges the hype, bringing a classic film story and legion of familiar characters into what will hopefully be a solid comic book story adaptation.  Since X-Men: First Class, James McAvoy‘s Professor X, Michael Fassbender‘s Magneto, Jennifer Lawrence‘s Raven, Nicholas Hoult‘s Beast, and (with X-Men: Days of Future Past) Evan Peters‘ Quicksilver are among the best actor/character combinations of all the superhero films.

One of the best parts of X-Men: Apocalypse was the re-introduction of Jean Grey, with Sophie Turner providing an engaging take of the character, along with what might be the best incarnation in any medium of the normally bland Scott Summers, improved upon by actor Tye Sheridan.  Argue it how you want, Marvel Comics has long established the most powerful superhero to be Jean Grey as Phoenix.  And yet among the weakest of the eleven films was X-Men: The Last Stand, the first attempt at revealing her power.  With Dark Phoenix, fans get to see another attempt.  Were the X-Men movies to be transferred a few years earlier into the Marvel Cinematic Universe of Disney, would we be seeing some version of Jean Grey in the position of Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel, poised to eliminate Thanos in Avengers: Endgame?  Or Deadpool, also, for that matter, who has similarly been nestled in the Fox version of Marvel and written to destroy Thanos before)?

Whatever the climax of Avengers: Endgame, it’s good to know another superhero movie awaits this summer.  Check out the new poster and this stellar new trailer for Dark Phoenix:

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Merry Christmas!

It’s that time of year again, time to take a look forward at what movies should be on your radar for 2019.  Are you going to see them all?  Heck no.  These are the genre films we think borg readers will want to know about to make their own checklists for the coming year–and they are only the films we know about so far.  We pulled 78 of the hundreds of films that have been finalized or are in varying stages of final production, slated for next year’s movie calendar.

What looks to top the list for most fanboys and fangirls?  The last of the nine films in the Star Wars saga.  Captain Marvel, Avengers: Endgame, and Spider-Man: Far From Home.  Shazam! is DC’s contribution.  Quentin Tarentino returns to movies to direct Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and Martin Scorcese is back with an all-star cast in The Irishman (on Netflix).  M. Night Shyamalan finishes his dark superhero trilogy with GlassArnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton return in TerminatorJordan Peele is back with another horror film with Us.

Do you like sequels?  This is your year.  Another Men in Black, X-Men, Shaft, Happy Death Day, Lego Movie, Hellboy, John Wick, Kingsman, Jumanji, The Secret Life of Pets, How to Train Your Dragon, Fast and the Furious, Zombieland, Addams Family, Charlie’s Angels, Godzilla, Shaun the Sheep, Annabelle,and Stephen King’s It and Pet SemataryDisney is trying to get you to move into your local theater with another Toy Story, Aladdin, Dumbo, Frozen, and Lion King–all in one year.  Yep, lots and lots of sequels are coming.

Some films don’t have locked-in release dates yet.  Amazon Prime and Netflix haven’t revealed dates for these 2019 releases:

  • Martin Scorcese’s The Irishman, a film about Jimmy Hoffa starring Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, Ray Romano, and Bobby Cannavale (Netflix)
  • The Kid, a Western biopic with Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Dane DeHaan, and Vincent D’Onofrio (Netflix)
  • The Man Who Killed Hitler Then Bigfoot, starring Sam Elliott (Netflix)
  • 6 Underground, a Michael Bay film starring Ryan Reynolds, Ben Hardy, Dave Franco, and Mélanie Laurent (Netflix)
  • The Last Thing He Wanted, Dee Rees directs Anne Hathaway, Ben Affleck, Willem Dafoe, and Toby Jones; journalist quits newspaper job to become an arms dealer for a covert government agency (Netflix)
  • The Laundromat, Steven Soderbergh directs Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman, Antonio Banderas, James Cromwell, about the Pentagon Papers (Netflix)
  • Radioactive, Rosamund Pike plays Marie Curie, with Anya Taylor-Joy (Amazon)

Some of these films will have revised release dates, or get pushed to 2020.

So grab your calendar and start making your plans–here are the movies you’ll want to see in 2019 (and many you might not):

January

Glass – Superhero, M. Night Shyamalan trilogy part 3, stars Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, James McAvoy; continues where Unbreakable and Split left off – January 18.

Serenity – Mystery/Thriller, stars Anne Hathaway, Jason Clarke, Djimon Hounsou, Jeremy Strong, Diane Lane; sorry, no relation to Firefly – January 25.

King of Thieves – Heist Comedy, stars Jim Broadbent, Tom Courtenay, Charlie Cox, Michael Gambon, and Ray Winstone – January 25.

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Universal dropped its next trailer for the third film in M. Night Shyamalan’s superhero trilogy, Glass. They’re all being brought together in today’s trailer by the writer/director of The Sixth Sense, Signs, The Village, The Happening, Wayward Pines, and Lady in the Water–Samuel L. Jackson returning as Elijah aka Mr. Glass, the seemingly fragile, self-aware comic book villain of the title, Bruce Willis as the unbreakable hooded vigilante David Dunn, and James McAvoy as Patricia/Dennis/Hedwig/Barry/Jade/Orwell/Heinrich/Norma or just The Beast.

Shyamalan’s psychological horror-thriller Split was a real genre buster–one of those odd movies that really didn’t seem to fit into the genre you thought you were getting from the previews, like Midnight Special.  But we’d learn only at the end we were inside not only the mind of a sociopath, but the mind of a particularly twisted supervillain from the darkest edge of comic book land.  How many more theater seats would have been filled if moviegoers had known Split was the sequel to Shyamalan’s cult-favorite superhero movie Unbreakable?

Glass is arriving just on the heels of last year’s Split.  Unbreakable arrived in theaters way back in 2000.  It all is coming together a bit like J.J. Abrams disjointed, multi-genre Cloverfield movie series.  Take a look at the latest trailer from Universal for Glass:

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It must be going forward if 20th Century Fox releases an actual trailer for the movie, right?  After the last contract is inked it may very well be that only thirteen “X-Men movies” were ever made, before Disney steps in and recombines the Marvel X-Men adaptations into Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe.  For those of us that loved the X-Men movies, this is the winding down of a great era of movies, highlighted by the casting of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, Patrick Stewart as Professor X, and Ian McKellen as Magneto.  Who will ever forget one of the finest adaptations to film of any superhero from any comic book as Evan Peters became Quicksilver, defending his fellow mutants in the Pentagon?  And the high point of any superhero movie (from Marvel Comics, DC Comics, or anyone else) must be the Academy Award nomination for best screenplay for Logan this year.  Like the competing films in the Avengers films, there were as many high as low points, but some greatness happened throughout X-Men, X-Men 2: X-Men United, X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, X-Men: First Class, The Wolverine, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Deadpool, X-Men: Apocalypse, Logan, and Deadpool 2.

Only two more films were in the works when negotiations for control of 20th Century Fox’s film group got closer to a deal this year: Dark Phoenix and The New Mutants.  We previewed The New Mutants trailer way back last October here at borg, announcing an expected release date in April 2018, which came and went (the release date currently reflects a long overdue August 2019 premiere in theaters).  At last, 20th Century Fox has released a trailer for Dark Phoenix.

Dark Phoenix represents one of X-Men fans’ favorite classic X-Men stories.  We have already seen one take on the Dark Phoenix story, as Famke Janssen’s Jane Grey destroyed everyone she cares about in X-Men: The Last Stand, but after the timeline manipulation in X-Men Days of Future Past we learned again the lesson of the Terminator movies: The future’s not set–There’s no fate but what we make for ourselves.  

Along with the new official poster, check out this first trailer for Dark Phoenix:

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