Friday, February 24, 2017

Movie Review: “X-Men” movies ranked by Dan Kilgallon

When “Logan” hits theaters on March 3, it will mark the tenth installment in the “X-Men” movie franchise as well as the final performance from Hugh Jackman in his signature role of the Wolverine. That being said, it seems like an appropriate time to take a look back on the series as a whole and rank the films in ascending order of preference. With the release of the original “X-Men” movie at the turn of the century, it is fair to say that this franchise really kick started the modern superhero genre as we know it today. For well over fifteen years now, the series has continued to pump out quality movies with plenty more productions in the works. When you couple that with a worldwide box office haul of $4.3 billion and counting, this has to be considered one of the most successful superhero franchises of all time. With some truly awesome trailers and a well deserved “R” rating for Hugh Jackman’s sendoff for the series, I have high hopes that “Logan” will be one of the best “X-Men” movies yet. Without further ado, this is how the films stack up for me at this point in time:

9. “X-Men: The Last Stand” (PG-13)

Run Time: 104 mins
Director: Brett Ratner (2006)
My Rating: 5/10

Brian Singer’s absence was clearly felt in this weak third installment of the original “X-Men” trilogy. Most of the cast was held intact and they all delivered decent performances, but the strong storytelling of the first two movies just wasn’t there this time around. There are a handful of decent action sequences throughout the film but aside from that, “The Last Stand” doesn’t really have much going for it in my opinion. This is an easy choice for me, when it comes to choosing my least favorite chapter in the “X-Men” franchise.

8. “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” (PG-13)
Run Time: 107 mins
Director: Gavin Hood (2009)

My Rating: 6.5/10

Many people may have this at the bottom of their own rankings, but I give “Origins” a few guilty pleasure points here. Wolverine is one of my favorite characters ever, so for that reasons alone - this movie is a little more watchable to me. This film definitely has a lot of problems (as pointed out in 2016’s “Deadpool”), but there are at least some fun action scenes over the course of the run time. Nevertheless, this still really missed the mark on a potentially badass storyline.

7. “The Wolverine” (PG-13)
Run Time: 126 mins
Director: James Mangold (2013)
My Rating: 7/10

Sadly, I don’t think that the second “Wolverine” standalone movie is much better than the first. Hugh Jackman delivers another great performance in his signature role of the title character; and there are a few really awesome action sequence scenes including the bullet train sequence. I thought that the ending was poorly executed, but overall, this is still a respectable movie. Hopefully “Logan” will complete this “Wolverine” trilogy with the film we all deserve.

6. “X-Men” (PG-13)
Run Time: 104 mins
Director: Bryan Singer (2000)

My Rating: 7.5/10

The one that started it all, “X-Men” does not get the credit it deserves for truly marking the beginning of a new era, in the now dominant, genre of superhero movies. The visuals have held up pretty well over the years, but it is the now iconic cast featuring Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, and others - that really form the heart of this movie. That, coupled with exciting action and a funny script, makes “X-Men” a modern classic of the superhero genre.

5. “X-Men: First Class” (PG-13)
Run Time: 132 mins
Director: Matthew Vaughn (2011)

My Rating: 9/10

After the letdowns of “The Last Stand” and Origins, “First Class” brought the “X-Men” franchise back to life in a big way. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender played a huge part in doing this through their spot-on portrayals of the young versions of Professor X and Magneto, respectively. This reboot/prequel is a blast of an action movie and offers an excellent ensemble origin story. On top of all of that, this features my favorite movie cameo of all time by none other than the Wolverine.

4. “X-Men: Days of Future Past” (PG-13)
Run Time: 132 mins
Director: Bryan Singer (2014)

My Rating: 9/10

Bryan Singer’s return to the film franchise he started, certainly payed off in a big way. Combining the ensemble casts of the new and original trilogies, this features some of the best acting talent of any superhero movie. The complex, time-travelling storyline here is a lot to take in, but in the end, “Days of Future Past” actually managed to fix some of the problems created by the series’ weaker installments. Most fans would agree this led to one of the best installments yet.

3. “X2”
Run Time: 134 mins

Director: Bryan Singer (2003)

My Rating: 9/10

After “X-Men” set the groundwork for this series, this movie brought everything to a whole new level in the form of what remains one of the greatest comic book sequels of all time. In fact, at one point in time, you could argue that “X2” was the singular greatest superhero film ever made. This movie features a perfect blend of humor, action and darker storytelling as most sequels strive to do. I would also add, that the opening scene of “Nightcrawler” attacking the White House is still one of the best superhero scenes ever filmed.

2. “Deadpool” (R)
Run Time: 108 mins
Director: Tim Miller (2016)

My Rating: 9/10

A project ten years in the making; it was so satisfying to see Ryan Reynolds do justice to the title role he was born to play. More than just a superhero flick, “Deadpool” is completely violent, absolutely hilarious, and everything else in between. Raunchy and certainly not for everybody - this movie totally makes fun of the genre and even the series which it is a part of.  “Deadpool” is perhaps the most unique superhero film ever and a close second on this tight list.

1. “X-Men: Apocalypse” (PG-13)
Run Time: 144 mins
Director: Bryan Singer (2016)

My Rating: 9/10

As you may be able to tell from the equal ratings towards the top of this list, my top five “X-Men” movies are honestly sort of a toss-up for me. Even though it is not the most critically acclaimed of the series, “Apocalypse” is still my favorite of the bunch right now. I think that the cast is at its best, the visuals are outstanding; and overall, Bryan Singer delivered the most epic contribution of the “X-Men” franchise to date with this movie. Wolverine’s five minute cameo rampage is also one of my favorite scenes in the entire series.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Movie Review: "John Wick: Chapter 2" by Daniel Kilgallon

"John Wick: Chapter 2" (R)
Run Time: 122 mins

"John Wick: Chapter 2" is a new action movie and a follow up to the 2014 original, "John Wick." Chad Stahelski (Keanu Reeves’ stunt double for the Matrix trilogy) returns to direct, with Reeves once again portraying the title character. These two guys are amongst Hollywood’s best stunt workers, as clearly exemplified by the plethora of quality, entertaining, action sequences in each of these movies. The supporting cast of "Chapter 2" features Ian McShane, reprising his role as Winston, alongside some newcomers - including musical icon Common, as well as Laurence Fishburne. This film marks the first time that Keanu Reeves and Laurence Fishburne have acted together since their work on the "Matrix" trilogy.
"John Wick: Chapter 2" gets off to a quick start, picking up just shortly after the events of its predecessor. Early on in the movie, John Wick returns to the criminal underworld in order to pay off a debt. Soon, he realizes that a large bounty has been placed on his head, so he must put his skills to work and defend himself. Similar to the first movie, "Chapter 2" features a rather straightforward story and has a ton of great surprises and plot twists, making it another exciting film experience.

I wouldn’t say that John Wick had it easy in the first movie, but "Chapter 2" definitely raises the stakes in a big way, making him seem more vulnerable as a character. This is just what any good action sequel should do - in order to successfully expand upon a storyline. In addition to that, this film has even better action sequences than the original, which is really quite the accomplishment.
The rest of Hollywood should take note, because the "John Wick" movies are practically a blueprint of how to succeed in a genre that has become a little sloppy over the past few years. These films understand that action movies are supposed to be fun and sometimes cheesy; they do not try to be overly dark or too grounded in reality. There haven’t been too many action films that have done this in the 21st century and that might be the best thing that the "John Wick" series has going for it. Any fan of the genre should check out "Chapter 2" in theaters. Unlike other action sequels (I’m looking at you: "Taken 2") this was just as good as the original and absolutely deserves a third installment.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Movie Review - The Matrix (1999) by Daniel Kilgallon

The Matrix (R)
Run Time: 136 mins

With John Wick: Chapter 2 hitting theaters this weekend, it seems like an appropriate time to look back on Keanu Reeves’ most iconic movie, The Matrix. Released in 1999, The Matrix was written and directed by The Wachowski Brothers. In a year that was supposed to be highlighted by Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace, this movie ending up standing out as one the best science-fiction films of the entire decade, taking home all four of the Academy Awards which it was nominated for. 
Being one of my favorite movies, I truly think that The Matrix is an incredible first time film experience. I am keeping my plot summary spoiler-free, for the sake of anyone who has not seen this masterpiece yet. 

In The Matrix, Keanu Reeves plays a computer programmer named John Anderson who lives a double life as a skilled hacker known as Neo. Early on in the story, he learns dark secrets about our world from a mysterious group of rebels and quickly joins their undercover alliance. 

This movie is well-known for its mind boggling visual effects that set the bar for every action movie that has come ever since. Before The Matrix, the famous “bullet time effect” was never heard of in Hollywood. This is a slow motion technique in which the viewpoint camera still appears to be moving at a normal speed. For reasons that include these incredible innovations, The Matrix is widely regarded as one of the greatest science fiction films ever made and even holds the eighteenth spot on the Best Films List, as rated by users of the Internet Movie Database. 

Beyond all of those accomplishments, I think that The Matrix is still a film powered by a truly awesome, ambitious story. Yes, the famous action sequences are amazing to watch over and over again, but the intriguing plot is what really makes this movie so great. Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Hugo Weaving and the rest of the iconic cast, crafted some memorable characters through their above average acting performances and really make this unique story come to life. I

If you haven’t had a chance to re-watch or even see The Matrix for the first time, check it out before seeing John Wick: Chapter 2 this weekend. Keanu Reeves has kicked ass so far in his new action series, but this is the revolutionary movie that started it all.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Movie Review: John Wick by Daniel Kilgallon

John Wick is a 2014 action film and the first directorial effort by Chad Stahelski, a veteran stunt coordinator who actually doubled for Keanu Reeves in the Matrix trilogy. Ironically, Reeves also stars as the title character in this movie. The supporting cast includes Michael Nyqvist, Game of Thrones’ Alfie Allen (aka Theon Greyjoy), Ian McShane and Willem Dafoe. It is worth pointing out that each of those actors has played an impressive villain at some point in their career and they have all delivered strong performances yet again, in their various roles in this movie.

I think it is more than fair to say, that all of the talent involved in this relatively low-budget production of John Wick came together to make a pretty awesome action movie. I can’t believe that I missed this when it first hit theaters two years ago; but looking back, I would say that this has got to be one of the most underrated films of what was a strong year for cinema in 2014.

John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is a former mob hit man who retired when he fell in love with his wife. Unfortunately, she passed away from illness just five years later, but she arranged for a puppy to be left with John in order to make him feel less lonely. Early on in the movie, a group of gangsters break into John’s house, steal his vintage ‘69 Mustang and end up killing his new dog in the process. Naturally, John Wick decides to come out of retirement, with a vengeance, to track down the gangsters who did this to him. 

John Wick is not a perfect film, but the straightforward plot and self-aware/over-the-top fight scenes, reminds us how action films should be made. This is a very re-watchable movie that has easily become one of my favorites that this genre has produced during the last decade or so. Keanu Reeves delivers his best performance since the original Matrix movie and completely kicks ass as the title character. The story here is simple enough to enjoy but also has a surprising amount of emotional scenes and strong acting. John Wick is just a blast of a movie that shouldn’t be missed by anybody who simply loves a fun, entertaining, action film. Hopefully Chapter 2 will build upon this overlooked success when it hits theaters next weekend.