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Friday, May 23, 2014


After I made the grievous error of missing the superb X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011) during its theatrical run — an intentional move spurred by my disinterest in the three previous X-Men movies and the ridiculous X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE (which was so bad that it became amusing) — I was psyched for a followup but when I saw the trailers and other preview footage for X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST over the past few months, my enthusiasm dwindled to virtually nil. To be blunt, it looked like shit, what with the trailers' focus on the characters from the first films (the majority of whom I felt were miscast in a big way from the get-go, especially Halle Berry's bland Storm) and the special effects making everything look like a demo reel for a video game tie-in. In fact, I was so turned off that over the past two weeks I'd pretty much decided to give it a miss. Well, hoo-boy, am I glad I suddenly got the urge to check out the 11:20pm show at the Court Street Stadium 12! X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST is a terrific sequel to FIRST CLASS and the ho-hum X-characters are barely in it.

Taking the classic titular comics story arc as its template (and altering some of the details in ways that actually work), the basic plot deals with Wolverine's future consciousness being sent back in time to inhabit his body in 1973, in order to convince young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Eric "Magneto" Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) that they need to stop a justifiably vengeful Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from committing a murder that will spell the doom of all mutantkind in a hellish future timeline. The target of her assassination scheme is Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), a genius at weapons design, robotics, and genetics, who has developed the Sentinels, towering automatons that detect and exterminate mutants with extreme prejudice. As Wolverine, Xavier, Magneto, and Hank "the Beast" McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) face a number of very daunting snags in their mission, the X-Men of a half-century in the future hope for the success of Wolverine's quest as highly-advanced, super-adaptable iterations of the Sentinels close in with the most terminal of intent.

That's it in a nutshell and the film's 131-minute running time is never dull, giving us a solid script and performances, spiced with appearances by a good number of X-Men familiar from the previous entries and the comics. Among the elements of note:

  • After ages of superheroes being portrayed as squeaky-clean in just about every way, it's a breath of fresh air to hear some of this film's protagonists use character-appropriate profanity, and it's also nice to see Wolverine smoking cigars like he's supposed to. (Hey, the guy was never meant to be a role model. Well, at least not during the years in the comics that indelibly defined him as a character and fan-favorite.)
  • The X-Men from the first three movies, plus some lesser mutants, are only seen in sequences taking place in the future, which comprises about ten or twelve minutes of scattered screen time. A wise move on the part of the filmmakers because  the stuff taking place with the other characters in  1973 is infinitely more interesting.
  • Though he looked quite awful in all of the pre-release material, I'm shocked to admit that I loved the modernizing/re-imagining of Quicksilver (Evan Peters). Marvel's best-known super-speedster, Quicksilver can easily be described as the Flash if the Flash were a dick, and that aspect is still evident here, though his dickishness is kind of endearing because in this iteration he's a juvenile delinquent. I'm curious to see how he's handled in THE AVENGERS 2.
  • Peter Dinklage's casting as Bolivar Trask has less to do with him being an ideal choice to embody Trask than it probably has to do with the filmmakers seeking to draw in some of his GAME OF THRONES fan base. And while there could have been a lot done with the idea of a little person crafting an army of murderous giant robots and the psychological/emotional ramifications of that, nothing is done with it. Nonetheless, it's Dinklage and he's always a welcome screen presence.
Simply put, X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST is absolutely worth your time and money. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, and make sure to stay through the end credits for an Easter egg that you'll need your comics geek friends to explain to you.

Saturday, May 17, 2014


I'll just cut right to the chase: I wanted to wanted to love the just-unleashed American Godzilla movie. I really did. But while it is not a bad movie, per se, I found it to be profoundly underwhelming. I'm not even going to bother with describing the plot in detail because it simply just wasn't all that, so here's what you need to know: 
  • While certainly a giant monster movie, this film is not so much a Godzilla movie as it is a giant monster movie in which Godzilla's role/purpose has been reduced to a cameo. The central threat is a pair of male and female behemoths who feed on radiation and are about to reproduce, so Big G — who the U.S. military attempted to destroy in 1954 but obviously failed in the attempt and subsequently covered it up — of course has to handle them, but they are the real focus of the movie.
  • With the exception of Bryan Cranston as an engineer whose wife perishes in a kaiju-caused nuclear reactor meltdown, I did not give a squirt of rat's piss about any of the human characters. Cranston is marketed as being the human character draw but the film in actuality focuses on his completely uninteresting soldier son (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, whose performance is perfunctory at best), and that was a massive narrative error.
  • And speaking of narrative errors, one does not evoke the memory of the 1954 GODZILLA's dour-with-very-good-reason Dr. Serizawa if the character named for him in the new iteration is as much of bland manikin as the majority of the cast. All Ken Watanabe has to do in the role is stand around looking serious and miserable, with a tinge of Spielbergian expectant wonder on his face. The role could just as easily have been filled by a cutout of his face mounted on the end of a broomstick.
  • Though not tedious, the film's just over two-hour running time works against it as it goes for the slow build, or maybe an attempt at crafting an epic feel to the proceedings, but what the filmmakers seem to have forgotten is that Godzilla himself is always the epic element in his films. All the rest, including any other monsters whose asses he inserts him mighty foot into, is simply window dressing.
  • In this iteration, Godzilla returns to his periodic role as humanity's protector, and as such he is in no way cutesy. In fact, he's pretty fucking awesome. That said, I freely admit that I'm an old school Godzilla kid and I will go to my grave preferring the "suitmation" style of realizing Godzilla-style critters. Though CGI can bring special effects miracles to life, to me there is a certain organic charm found in suitmation (and stop-motion in some very good cases) that is largely absent in today's effects spectacles.
  • The MUTOs ("Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms") that serve as our titanic hero's opponents are of interest solely because they're something for Godzilla to destroy. Though they are impressive when in action against Big G, they made me think of other monsters that I found way more interesting, such as the pair of uber-destructive carnivorous birds from RODAN (1956, and one of the best giant monster movies ever made) and Gaos from GAMERA: GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE (1995, also an outstanding giant monster flick). If the film gets a sequel, I hope the filmmakers give Godzilla worthier antagonists.
  • Ifukube-style music was definitely missed but that was to be expected.
  • Though the film's tableaus of destruction were certainly impressive in IMAX, it's not necessary to shell out the exorbitant ticket price for that perk. Likewise for the 3D.
  • Though your kids' individual mileage may vary, the film is probably too talky and bereft of action to prevent them from becoming restless.
But the thing that most irked me about the film is that Godzilla himself is almost beside the point. He has relatively little screen time and while what we get is spectacular, it's mostly a case of too little too late and a lack of badassed giant monster action that really rouses the audience. (Which is not to say there weren't cheers when Godzilla was finally revealed in full and when he roared in triumph after exterminating the MUTOs with extreme prejudice.) And when we do get Godzilla in action, his first set-to against a MUTO begins as one would expect but immediately shifts to being covered silently and briefly as seen in a TV news broadcast. Following that, the big two-against-one battle in Honolulu kicks off but is swiftly brought to an abrupt halt when we get a POV shot from the perspective of people fleeing into a fortified shelter as the doors close and cut off the action. The scene then shifts to the efforts of the uninteresting soldier's efforts and sporadically returns to Godzilla's too-brief battle with the MUTOs, which actually has the nerve to crib one of Godzilla's finishing moves from the grand-daddy of all giant monster movies, the original KING KONG (1933). When all was said and done and Godzilla made his way back into the sea, I was left with the feeling of having been on the receiving end of half of an unfinished handjob. The film's too-few monster moments are impressive while they last and almost get the audience to where it wants to go, but at the most crucial moment the action is derailed and the recipient is denied the giant monster movie's equivalent of a truly satisfying, spunk-a-flyin' orgasm. 

GODZILLA is worth seeing if you're a giant monster hardcore and there are certainly other fans of Big G who will give the film a more enthusiastic pass than I did, but I say caveat emptor. My love of Godzilla has been borderline-religious since I was five years old but I am not one of those fans who willingly turns a blind eye to even the most redolent cinematic turd because it happens to feature their favorite monster. I have absolutely seen worse Godzilla movies but, thanks to it mostly being the kaiju movie analog to a high school cock-tease, I assure you that I won't be returning to this film for repeat viewings. All it did was make me want to sit through a few of the old school Godzilla films yet again — or, for that matter, the vastly superior PACIFIC RIM — and I'm saddened to say that that desire ignited while watching the new movie. When you're sitting through a brand-new big-budgeted installment in a six-decade franchise and all you can think about is how much more fun it would be to see some of the previous entries containing the likes of Mothra, Akira Takarade, Kumi Mizuno, and King Ghidorah, that does not say much for what's currently unspooling onscreen.

Saturday, May 3, 2014


There's a lot to be said about the second in the rebooted Spider-Man series but going into some of the plots specifics would give a lot away, so I'll break it down as simply as possible without spoilers:

As Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) graduate from high school and prepare for college, their relationship is strained to the breaking point by Peter's extracurricular activities as Spider-Man and his guilt over remembering his promise to stay away from Gwen, a promise he made to her dead father (Dennis Leary). While Peter also wrestles with unraveling the mystery of what really happened to his parents, his uber-wealthy childhood friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) returns after over a decade at fancy finishing schools in Europe to find he is now the heir to both Oscorp — his father's bio-engineering and weapons-development corporation — and  an hereditary condition that sees its sufferers slowly turn scaly and green before death ultimately claims them, so Harry is ruthlessly desperate to find a cure at any cost. Meanwhile, Max Dillon (Jamie Fox), a highly-unstable genius Oscorp employee and victim of too many abuses in life, becomes delusionally obsessed with Spider-Man and gains godlike electrical powers as the result of a lab accident. In short, there's a lot going on in ol' Web-Head's world, and life-changing tragedy looms large for all involved...

All of those threads interweave in ways that made the superpowered soap opera of Peter Parker compelling for over five decades and the film is a very good sequel to the previous installment. That said, the film is not without its relatively-minor issues, though those are offset by a fair number of quality points, so here's how it all breaks down:
  • At two hours and twenty-two minutes in length, the movie is overlong by at least a half hour and a tighter edit probably would have been the way to go. However, if the film were shorter it would have lost a lot of its emotional gravitas and from what I hear the finished result is the end sum of some serious trimming already, so any way one cuts it it would have been a tough creative call. What you, the viewer, need to know is that the running time is palpable — though the film is never boring — and the little ones may get restless. And in the name of all that is holy, don't forget to have a pee-break before the film starts. You'll be glad you did!
  • Andrew Garfield is superb as Peter Parker and Spider-Man and, much like Christopher Reeve achieved with his portrayals of Superman and Clark Kent, he pulls off making apparent that Peter truly comes alive when masked and in costume. Peter and Spider-Man have very distinct and separate personalities and Garfield flawlessly nails both.
  • Though he often looks like a CGI videogame character, Spider-Man's physical capabilities have never looked better. There's a real joy to his plummeting from the tops of skyscrapers like a HALO jumper, only to check his fall by shooting a web line onto another building and flying back up with the aid of is elastic tension. Any time we get to see Spider-Man in action is sheer fun and worth the price of admission.
  • The film's 3D is only truly spectacular during the first action sequence involving Spider-Man. After that, it's revealed to be wholly unnecessary, so save yourself from being ripped off and opt for the 2D version.
  • From Gwen's valedictorian speech onward, the film possesses an ominous tone and has a slow build to a number of tragedies that come off like what might happen if Shakespeare had a hand in writing a comic book superhero narrative.
  • The film features a modernized version of the infamous events of THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #s 121-122 (June-July, 1973). Fans of classic comics know exactly what that means, so hit them if they try to fill you in on it.
  • I didn't buy Peter's hangdog angst over Harry's situation for the simple reason that while they were tight during childhood, they hadn't had any contact in around a decade.
  • Is it just me or was there a concerted effort to make Harry Osborn look not unlike David Bowie circa THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH?
  • Electro is very impressive to watch in action  and at times he steals from Dr. Manhattan's playbook.
  • The soundtrack is awful. 
  • Spider-Man whistles his own 1960's cartoon theme song and also has it as his cell phone's ring tone. It was a painful groaner, to say the least, and it wasn't amusing at all.
  • Sally Field is once again amazing.
So, the bottom line here is that THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 is well worth your time, but bear in mind that it's a long haul that ends on a note of "To Be Continued."