XMen - The Last Stand

The third in the Xmen franchise picks up directly after the previous film. Cyclops (James Marsden) is mourning the death of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), who died in battle in Xmen 2. He goes to where the combat took place, and is stunned to find her alive. This isn’t the Jean that he knew, as his fellow Xmen will discover. Amidst this, industrialist Warren Worthington has created a formula that will ‘cure’ people who become mutants like the Xmen. Not only does this alarm their leader, Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), but also his nemesis Magneto (Ian McKellen). Both men race against time to stop this ‘cure’ from being used. It’s up to Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), Storm (Halle Berry) and company to defeat this menace, with the surprise return of Jean potentially hindering their progress.
The director of the previous films, Bryan Singer, departed the franchise to helm the latest Superman adventure. To take his place, the studio chose Brett Ratner, a very commercial director who had hits with the ‘Rush Hour’ films amongst others. The first two films were massive hits and bought to life the comic book characters created by Stan Lee very vividly. Whilst there is the same style of storytelling evident here, some of the heart that made the series so compelling appears to have been lost, with character development being virtually non-existent. The spectacle and thumping pace is here, but the flame that fired the previous entries so well seems diminished.
The lead actor this time out is Hugh Jackman, who reprises his role as anti-hero Wolverine. When Jean Grey re-appears, this stirs emotions in him that he never felt before and makes him a more vulnerable character than previously. Jackman does very well in these scenes, along with the more physical side in which he seems to revel. Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen give their customary dignified performances and make their scenes crackle whenever they appear. The rest of the very large cast all do their best with the limited time afforded them, with Kelsey Grammer having a great time as the blue haired mutant, Beast.
A major problem with this film is that there are too many characters vying for attention, with some only having the briefest of scenes before disappearing altogether. The script only comes together well when there are two or three characters in each scene. These are few and far between however, with the action and special effects taking over before the story becomes too serious. However, this isn’t a bad sequel by any means, with a lot of twists that stay true to its comic book origins.
Overall, the acting is well realised with the action scenes being very well crafted. As a conclusion to the Jean Grey story arc, it pushes all of the expected buttons, with moderate success. There is potential for further adventures, but only if the cast is pared down, with a more focused script. This is an entertaining popcorn film that despite its flaws, succeeds in being winning escapist fare.
Rating out of 10: 7
Comments Off

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

A tale of revenge and redemption is laid bare in the deserts of the Texas/Mexican border. New border patrolman Mike Norton (Barry Pepper) accidentally kills an illegal immigrant, quickly buries the body and hopes no one discovers his mistake. When the body is found, the police ask local ranch-hand Pete Perkins (Tommy Lee Jones), to identify it. Pete was a good friend of the deceased and is frustrated when the police refuse to arrest Mike, as they view his dead friend as yet ‘another illegal’. Taking matters into his own hands, Pete captures Mike and is determined to re-bury the body according to a promise he made. The line between morality and revenge become blurred, with the desert trek showing how thin that line can be.
Actor/Director Tommy Lee Jones explores the notion of how promises can be a person’s undoing. Pete’s obsession to ‘do the right thing’ makes him nearly as bad as his captive. Whilst this isn’t a western in the traditional sense, it does have many themes that made that genre so popular. Friendship, loyalty and revenge all play a part in creating the mood of the film, with each characters motives not seeming all they appear to be.
Tommy Lee Jones gives a very understated performance, making his calm presence all the more chilling as he silently torments Mike through the desert sand-dunes. Jones uses his unique facial features to display the pain and anger that Pete feels to good effect. The scenes where Pete cares for his dead friends body are quite touching and reveal the deep bond that existed between them. Barry Pepper is excellent as Mike, a character who is unlikeable in the beginning, who treated the illegal immigrants like dirt. When the tables are turned on him, the audience soon sees the man that he is underneath the hard surface that he has created. The rest of the cast includes Dwight Yoakam, January Jones, all of whom give solid support as characters caught in the crossfire of Pete’s personal vendetta.
This film is a very slow burning tale which builds to a psychological crescendo that is unexpected for both protagonists. The screenplay written by ‘21 Grams’ writer Guillermo Arriago, is consistently gripping, with twists that bring new meaning to previous scenes. Jones uses the widescreen cinematography to great effect, capturing the starkness of the desert, and filling every frame with the vast open landscape. These scenes work especially well when Jones’s character uses the harshness of the desert as a tool to further torture Mike.
This is a very complex character study of the racial divide that still exists, with the invisible border being a barrier to two countries co-existing peacefully. The acting is uniformly excellent, building upon a script that comes alive with each new scene. Tommy Lee Jones assured directing masks the fact that this is his first time behind the lens, making for an impressive debut. This is a tough gritty journey that rewards its audience with genuine humanity and spirit.
Rating out of 10: 8
Comments Off