Monday 7 November 2016

X-Men: Apocalypse, Things To Come, and I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House: Your Week In Film (November 7-13)

Kind of blue: Oscar Isaac's Apocalypse spells trouble for the X-Men

With the US election tomorrow, a movie with the word 'Apocalypse' in its title seems rather apposite, especially if the unthinkable happens and a certain tangerine Mussolini wins the keys to the White House. To be fair, though, the titular villain in X-Men: Apocalypse (DVD, Blu-ray and VOD) WW causes more destruction for our merry mutants to clean up than even The Donald could muster.

Like Doctor Strange, this boasts a stellar cast with Oscar Isaac joining X-franchise regulars Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, Nicholas Hoult and James McAvoy. Unfortunately, buried under a ton of make-up and latex, and given zero personality by a clunky script, Isaac is rather wasted here as the film's big bad. Supposedly the world's first mutant, Apocalypse is a supremely powerful, god-like creature resurrected in the 1980s, where this instalment is set. Around him he gathers 'Four Horsemen', including Fassbender's Magneto, plus Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Psylocke (Olivia Munn) and Angel (Ben Hardy), to destroy humanity for some reason or other.

In truth, it's the weakest of the three X-Men films since the Fox-owned franchise was rebooted with 2011's First Class, but certainly has its moments, especially a couple of smart action set-pieces featuring Evan Peters' Quicksilver, who was also the highlight of previous X-movie, Days Of Future Past. Elsewhere, though, the CG looks decidedly ropey, especially when set against what we saw in Captain America: Civil War and the aforementioned Doctor Strange, not to mention non-superhero flicks such as The BFG and The Jungle Book. Hollywood once invited us to "believe a man can fly", these days we need to be convinced that a seven-foot-tall blue guy can lift a skyscraper into the air with his mind and smash it into the ground. X-Men: Apocalypse doesn't quite pull that off, I'm afraid.

Løve story: Isabelle Huppert in Things To Come

There's no widespread destruction in Mia Hansen-Løve's Things To Come (DVD, Blu-ray and VOD) WWWW, just devastation of a more personal kind. Isabelle Huppert is Nathalie Chazeaux, a philosophy teacher and author enjoying a comfortable family life in Paris. However, Nathalie's seemingly perfect existence is turned upside down when her mother dies, her husband leaves for another woman and she loses her publishing deal.

Hansen-Løve's last film Eden - which followed the lives of a pair of French rave DJs - was ultimately about failure and the way harsh reality has a habit of taking your dreams and crushing them underfoot. Although its protagonist's life is very different, Things To Come shares that theme to a certain extent. This time we're asked to consider the brutality of ageing, especially for women, and how it can condemn someone to the periphery in their work, in their relationships and in society as a whole. It's as if people reach a certain age and cease to matter in any way that is concrete and real.

What's more, the French writer/director refuses to offer Nathalie an easy way out of the cul-de-sac her life has driven down. In other, more eager to please, hands, our somewhat icy heroine would perhaps - Shirley Valentine-style - fall into an uplifting romance with a younger man (there's even one to hand in the shape of Roman Kolinka's Fabien), or embark on a great new adventure. But the French writer/director has no truck with such optimistic fripperies. Nathalie is clearly knocked sideways by events and, whilst soldiering on, struggles to come to terms with her changed circumstances and diminished status. Of course, the film's ominous title refers not just to Hansen-Løve's protagonist but, ultimately, to all of us.

If all that sounds a bit too downbeat, pacier, pulpier thrills are on offer in British spy drama Our Kind Of Traitor (from Saturday, Amazon Prime Video) WW½. Based on John le Carré's 2010 novel of the same name, it sees Ewan McGregor and Naomie Harris battling to repair their fractured marriage while on holiday in Antigua. However, instead of doing his best to make amends for an affair, McGregor gets the pair caught up with both the Russian mafia and British Secret Service. Oh, darling, you shouldn't have! Damian Lewis and Stellan Skarsgård deliver the pick of the performances in a tightly-plotted, entertaining romp.

Carré on spying: McGregor stars in Our Kind Of Traitor

Halloween may be gone but a frisson of unease lingers in these cold, dark final days of autumn. The perfect time, then, to check out I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House (available now, Netflix) WW½, a dream-like ghost story starring Ruth Wilson (Luther, The Affair). A nervous and awkward young woman, Wilson's character Lily is a live-in nurse for successful but dementia-afflicted novelist, Iris Blum (Paula Prentiss). When Iris starts referring to Lily as Polly, after the character in her most successful book, it isn't long before the young nurse becomes aware she and the old woman aren't alone in the house.

Oz Perkins' film pushes a lot of the right horror buttons, and certainly conjures an unsettling atmosphere, but is never quite as scary as it needs to be. It lacks that sense of palpable dread celebrated movie ghost stories, such as The Others or The Innocents, have in spades. There's still a lot to admire, though, and Wilson is, as ever, excellent.

Ghost protocol: Ruth Wilson is menaced by spirits

Finally, chills of a rather more visceral nature are provided in Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes (Horror Channel, Saturday, 22:45) WWWW. When a family travelling to California in a motorhome breaks down in the desert, they come under attack from a band of monstrous mountain cannibals. Probably my favourite of all the late horror maestro's films, Hills is relentlessly brutal, surprisingly smart and also, somehow, laugh-out-loud funny. Meanwhile, Michael Berryman is surely one of the most memorable movie monsters of the last 50 years.

What I shall be watching this week: I've booked my tickets for Nocturnal Animals tomorrow and The Accountant on Thursday. Might try and squeeze Arrival in, too, at some point.

WWWW - Wonderful
WWW - Worthwhile
WW - Watchable
W - Woeful

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