Guess who the star draw is? New to this instalment is Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming) on the far left.

The X-Men films are strange, you have these mutants with amazing powers but they don’t seem to be able to do a lot with them most of the time. Take Professor X (Patrick Stewart) – according to this instalment able to kill any (non-helmeted) mutant on the planet just with the power of his mind. You wouldn’t know it normally. Storm (Halle Berry) can fly/hover above the ground but seems unable to use this power to save herself (or anyone else) when in a crashing plane. Cyclops (James Marsden), might as well just be a man with a gun because that’s mostly all he uses his eye beams for – shooting the odd person. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) – incredibly powerful when the plot requires it but most of the time she uses her telekinetic powers in a very limited way.

All this neatly sums up most of the early X-Men films – interesting but unspectacular. (compare one of the X-Men films to The Avengers for example). The movies do have other strengths however and I will get to those later.

For now back to the story: William Stryker (Brian Cox) has captured  Professor X and is planning to to trick him into using his aforementioned lethal mind power to kill all the mutants on the planet. This is as much a concern for the X-Men’s arch-enemy Magneto (Ian McKellen) as it for the X-Men so the one time enemies become allies as they team up to combat this deadly threat.

This is much better than the first X-Men film. It has a more gripping plot and is generally better executed. There’s still the problem that the X-men have to spend as much time saving the (mutant) children as they do battling the bad guys. Although even without the children there is always a reason why they are never to able to fully open up with their powers – some restriction or obstacle that’s stopping them. In a way though this what makes the series clever. It’s all about, getting the right X-Men into the right place so they can then use their combined powers to work around these restrictions. When everything does work it’s like a big satisfying puzzle, when the pieces finally click together to produce a solution.

I find most of the early X-Men films a bit lightweight, lacking in impact – and this is no exception but it’s intelligent (for the superhero genre) especially so with it’s layered commentary on attitudes and discrimination toward minority people and groups. More importantly though it has good action sequences.

6/10

Pull up to my bumper baby. Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) and Jon (Joesph Gordon-Levitt) get close on the dancefloor.

Jon Martello (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is nicknamed Don Jon by his friends because he never fails to pull on a night out. He’ll usually get the 8/10 or 9/10 girl. However the sex is never as good as the porn he’s addicted to on his computer. Like he says: “a girl that hot doesn’t need to give a proper blowjob”. They all want to do missionary and look him in the eyes when they orgasm but all he wants to do is “lose himself” while he takes them from behind.

Things start to change for Don when he meets his dream 10/10 girl Barbara (Scarlett Johansson). The “Perfect tits and ass” but she won’t give him what he wants straight away and he’s made to work for it. He has to meet her friends, family and even enrols on an evening class – just because she wants him to. However it’s not long until he’s back on his computer searching for “gym sex” and “pov bj” videos. It seems it will take more than Barbara to change things for Don…

This is Joseph Gordon Levitt’s directing debut and it’s an impressive one. It’s uncompromising and neither Don or Barbara are particularly likeable. Don is self-centred and doesn’t care much about his friends, job, church or family, seeing them all as a means to an end rather than as something to invest time and emotion in. He’s a compelling character though and the film is funny too as you watch Don struggle to adapt. When he’s given a baby to hold, he holds it straight-out at arms length and looks to Barbara and says “Am I doing ok?”.

Both Levitt and Johansson pull off impressive transformations to become their characters although there are times when both veer dangerously close to caricature. The sex between the main characters is filmed in a slightly conservative way, which jarrs a bit considering the amount of porn shown. It could be argued that this is on purpose to contrast between the fantasy and the reality,  but it seems more likely to do with the slightly conservative nature of it’s stars. Pretty good overall though. Certainly worth watching.

7/10

Yes they look innocent but wait until they do the ‘internal bleeding’ dance by jumping up and down on the dying bodies of their enemies.

An strange mixture of fairytale, realism, innocence and violence. This fantasy-drama tells the story of teenagers Violet (Alexia Kepel) and Daisy (Sairose Ronan) who work together for their boss as contract killers number 8 and 9 respectively. The lower the number the more people they have killed.

However their next job is an unusual one, they need the payment to be able to buy the new Barbie Sunday dresses (every girl wants one apparently) but the man they have been sent to kill (James Gandolfini) seems to want to be killed. It confuses them and they want to find out why.  Even more confusing he’s nice to them and bakes them cookies.

There are worse complications: killers from a rival crew have also been sent to kill him and will be arriving soon, and ominously the lethal killer No.1 is lurking nearby to make sure they get the job done.

An enjoyable film, well acted and different enough from the norm to be interesting and the naivety of the girls often sets up some unexpected events. I did feel there could have been a bit more to it though. There’s a lot of set-up and then it just ends. It also seems to be aching to tell you something more about Violet’s previous partner Rose, but never actually does, leaving you to guess. Having said that each of the main protagonists discovers something about themselves that they didn’t know before, and has changed in some way by the time the films ends.

6/10

Mickey (Amy Adams) and Gus (Clint Eastwood) keep a close eye on the action. The title of the film refers to how some otherwise great hitters in baseball can struggle with a curve ball.

Slow and predictable are good words to describe this relationship-drama. That said it’s also a very well made film with impressive acting and a focus on human relationships. It just falls down because there is a general lack of drama or any events that provoke a strong emotion.

Gus Lobel (Clint Eastwood) is a retired baseball player now working as a baseball scout. His eyesight is failing him and his position is under threat from a young whizzkid (Matthew Lillard) who uses a computer based scouting system. Concerned about this, his boss Pete (John Goodman) persuades Gus’s daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) to join him on his next scouting trip. They currently have a tempestuous relationship but as well as helping Gus (not that he wants her help but being his daughter she too is an expert on baseball) it’s a chance for them to get closer.

For Adams it’s also an opportunity to find a potential love interest in another scout, Johnny (Justin Timberlake). Sadly here in likeable but ineffectual mode. Credit to Timberlake though because realising it’s not possible to to shoehorn a song in (Southland Tales, Bad Teacher etc), he does get some dancing in. “Are you sure you haven’t done this before?” asks Adams. “Never” says Timberlake looking suspiciously competent.

5/10 The good is balanced out by bad for an average mark.

It says something about the Tube that no one takes much notice when you dress up as a dog.

The story of Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) who uses his special gift of being able to travel back in time to engineer the perfect relationship with his dream girl Mary (Rachel McAdams).

I started watching this with a sense of dread – worried it could be another Groundhog Day. Don’t get me wrong, that was a good film at the time but several films have since copied the concept and I don’t think I could have stomached another one.

Fortunately Tim can go back in time whenever he wants, cleverly sidestepping the dull repeating-the-whole-day-again thing. Also since his method of time travel – finding a dark place, clenching his fists, and picturing the event in his life that he wants to go back to – is clearly ridiculous, you never take it seriously enough to question it. However having said that, there was a beach walk that Tim takes with his father (Bill Nighy) towards the end of the film. This was clearly repeatable at any time. So why not any other meeting with his father? (you’ll know what I mean if you’ve seen the film).

It’s clever and funny, and being a Richard Curtis film, has a fairly safe warm feel to it. However there is an edgier side too, with the spectre of addiction, illness and the death of loved ones creeping in. There are flaws though : in the final section there was just too much cloying sentimentality between Tim and his father. Also after Tim and Mary have children much of the fun goes out of the film – although being cynical you could say this mirrors real life.

Not perfect but funny, warm, and intriguing. 7/10

Father Brendan (William H. Macy) listens intently as Mark (John Hawkes) makes yet another confession to him about his sexual activities.

After some of the films I’ve watched recently (not all reviewed here yet) it’s nice to have a change of pace and be able to sit down and watch a slower more adult film with nuance and proper dialogue. Based on the real-life story of Mark O’Brien (played here by John Hawkes), a poet and writer who has been paralysed by polio since childhood and is largely reliant on an iron lung to breathe. The film begins with him now in late thirties and yet to have a sexual experience.

Cheryl (Helen Hunt) is the married sex therapist who agrees to give him the six ‘sessions’, referred to in the title of the film. These start with simple foreplay and bodily sensations and will eventually progress to full penetrative sex and hopefully – simultaneous orgasm. However things are complicated, not just because of Mark’s disabilities but because like many of the females in Mark’s life, Cheryl begins to feel more emotionally attached to him that she would like…

Mark also has strong feelings for Cheryl and these, his internal conflicts and neuroses are cleverly expressed to us via a series of confessions/conversations with his priest friend Father Brendan (William H. Macy).

Thankfully given the sensitive subject matter everything is handled in a mature and adult way, with both humour and realism. Although considering it’s now 2014 there’s still a strange reticence to show male genitalia which can make the framing seem a bit odd at times.

Well told, with a good script and a high standard of acting this is ultimately a touching story of a disabled man who lives his life more fully than many able-bodied people do. Definitely worth watching.

7/10

A tank, classic sports cars, and flying men – are all standard fare in Fast & Furious 6.

A cringe-worthy beginning in which bland trophy wives and bimbo girlfriends strangely give their immediate blessing for their partners and boyfriends to put their lives on the line, thankfully quickly gives way to a series of trashy yet blistering set pieces – with cars.

This time round (I’m acting like I’ve seen the other films in the series which I haven’t) Brian (Paul Walker RIP), Dom (Vin Diesel) and the rest of team must work with US police detecive Hobbs (The Rock) in London to help him stop a gang of car driving villians. They do this in exchange for a pardon from the US government and the hope of getting Dom’s former girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) back.

Since the film is set in “Jolly old” England, this predictably means now standard national-stereotyping such as the ex-special forces man with a ‘tache and English people who either speak in incredibly plummy posh accents or like cockneys during the last century :”al’right guv’nor”, “Spare me a penny mister?” etc.

However it’s all good fun, and gets extra points for having the most ridiculous over-the-top action sequence I have ever seen in a movie where Vin Diesel jumps from a car travelling at high speed and somehow catches Michelle Rodrigueuz midflight as she is thrown from a tank. This could only have been topped by Diesel gaining superpowers mid-fight and having him fly off with her to the top of a skyscraper in New York City. Fast and Furious 7 perhaps?

Predictable, exciting, flashy and lame, all at the same time. An entertaining 6/10

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