Friday, May 23, 2014

"X-Men: Days of Future Past" Review

DOFP may very well be the finest "X-Men" film ever.

I was concerned after the first couple trailers that the movie might seem a bit overcrowded by combining the timelines of both First Class and the original X-Men trilogy. I'm glad to say that DOFP never suffers this flaw, as it primarily focuses on only a handful of X-Men. 

Fans looking for more action from, say, Colossus, Warpath, or Bishop may not be totally satisfied.

But what's great about the X-Men in general is that they have always been a dysfunctional family of unique individuals, and that dynamic is supremely relatable. Director Bryan Singer and company do a great job at capturing this once again, despite the main focus being on only a relatively small contingency of main characters. 

Most of the cast have been portraying these characters for nearly 15 years. This means that they've been able to fine-tune their performances in ways that make the emotional depth of their characters more convincing now.

In DOFP, the film kicks off with the X-Men and Magneto's Brotherhood of Mutants joining forces to battle a common enemy - the Sentinels, the spawn of a program orchestrated in the early 70s by Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage). The program kicks into high gear after his death. In order to prevent the Sentinels from ever being created, Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), Professor X (Patrick Stewart), and Magneto (Ian McKellan) send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back in time to alter the course of history and save mutantkind.

To do so, he must enlist the younger versions of Charles and Erik (James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender respectively), as well as a handful of other friends (Hank McCoy a.k.a "Beast" [Nicholas Hoult] and a scene-stealing Quicksilver [Evan Peters]). 

The action scenes are spectacular, and the visuals quite stunning. A sequence with Fassbender lifting RFK Stadium and moving it over Washington, D.C. like a flying saucer stands out.

Though the X-Men films have always been able to make audiences think, that doesn't mean they're totally perfect, and DOFP is no exception. Like I don't think Kitty has the ability to send people through time in the comics. Some action junkies might also find the film a bit too wordy for their tastes. DOFP also lacks the game-changing force of Marvel cinematic cousin Captain America: The Winter Soldier, though it essentially undoes the events of X-Men: The Last Stand. Most fans probably won't find fault with that though. 

The story of DOFP ties together nicely in the end before a post-credits teaser which sets up 2016's X-Men: Apocalypse.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

"Godzilla" Review

Oddly enough, Godzilla director Gareth Edwards' previous movie was an indie sci-fi flick called Monsters. As his first major studio production, Edwards brings a dark visual style which empasizes the tease. Lighting and shadows are the director's best friend in Godzilla. Edwards loves faking us out and showing us bits and pieces of his massive beast(s) before the big reveal.

This only serves to make that first deafening roar when the "King of the Monsters" finally stomps into frame all the more epic. An action sequence at Honolulu International Airport justifies my willingness to shell out for an IMAX ticket. 

The visual effects are spectacular. Entire cities turn to rubble as Godzilla hunts down the M.U.T.O. (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms) to keep them from spawning and wiping out the entire planet. 

Yes, Godzilla is essentially, and quite literally, the world's largest cock-blocker.

The monster scenes are a treat, and it never bothered me that Godzilla doesn't actually appear consistently on-screen until the last 30 to 45 minutes. Not much screen time for a movie bearing his name. 

I found myself only marginally less intrigued by the human story. We live in an age where it seems natural disasters and other catastrophes occur almost daily. Taking this angle gives the film a bit of a contemporary feel for our post-Katrina landscape. 

However, the Eco-friendly message is way more subtle than the anti-war/anti-nuclear one in the original Gojira. In that sense, the 2014 update has a bit of its edge dulled.

The acting performances here are okay, but they end up feeling superfluous by the time the real showdown begins. Bryan Cranston is in this movie for about 15 minutes - some of the better human moments of the film.

Cranston's character returns home after 15 years following a nuclear disaster at his workplace. He goes to retrieve his floppy disks that look as if someone just picked them up at the store 5 minutes ago. The house also features the strongest paper "Happy Birthday" banner I've ever seen. Still hanging after 15 years and a nuclear explosion. 

I can't really stand Aaron Taylor-Johnson. I can't take Kick-Ass seriously as a grown-up U.S. Navy lieutenant. 

Still, anything is better than Matthew Broderick and half the cast of The Simpsons in Roland Emmerich's 1998 version which truly puts the "disaster" in "disaster movie".

Overall, I expect this new Godzilla will be one of the better action adventures of the summer. 

Edwards will be a director to watch in the future as he evokes some of the best elements of Nolan, Abrams, and Spielberg. 


Saturday, May 3, 2014

"The Amazing Spider-Man 2" Review

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 has several individual pieces that work well on their own but never congeal into anything special.

It’s no Spider-Man 3, but “amazing” this ain’t. There's just too much going on for the film to find its focus.

Things pick up right where The Amazing Spider-Man left off.

As he balances his duties as Spider-Man with his commitments to girlfriend Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) has established himself as New York City’s greatest defender.

Yet the attention of the public, the love of his girl and the satisfaction of cleaning up the streets isn’t enough for Peter. He’s still grappling with the mystery of his parents’ disappearance, with which he makes a couple of exciting breakthroughs.

Meanwhile, other demons start creeping up in Peter’s life, such as the return of Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) and the memory of Captain Stacy (Denis Leary); the latter of which puts tension on Peter’s relationship with Gwen.

The one-on-one moments between Peter and Gwen provide ample time for the lead actors to showcase their stellar chemistry. With director Marc Webb’s keen eye for romantic comedy (he also directed 500 Days of Summer) these scenes make for some of the film’s most engaging moments.

I’d take Garfield and Stone over Tobey Maguire and Kristen Dunst any day.

If there weren't enough plotlines to follow at this point, three supervillains enter the fold. Two of them have their origins explored while one sets up the next sequel.

The shy scientist Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) specializes in electrical engineering for Oscorp and suffers a near-fatal work injury which turns him into the villain Electro.

I had heard beforehand that Electro’s vendetta against Spider-Man was half-assed, as if he simply woke up one day and decided to squash the spider. I’m glad to say that isn't the case. His reasons for pursuing Spidey make sense.

I just wish the musical score from Hans Zimmer and his “Magnificent Six” (among them Pharrell Williams) didn’t feature vocals that awkwardly mimic the dialogue between the two on their first encounter in Times Square (“He lied to me”/”That Spider-Man”/”He is my enemy!”).

No kidding, Sherlock.

For me, this detracted from the visceral impact of the big Times Square-off, despite the scene looking dazzling in terms of visual effects.

As for Harry Osborn, his psychosis is much more fleshed out here than it was in Sam Raimi’s original trilogy. We understand exactly what Harry’s emotional state is, why he feels that way, and why he too harbors a grudge against Spider-Man. As he showed in “Chronicle,” DeHaan is an actor who’s capable of making that “young villain from a dark place” thing convincing.

The look of his Green Goblin is also way more terrifying than Willem Dafoe’s Power Ranger suit in the original “Spider-Man.”

Aleksei Sytsevich a.k.a. “Rhino” (Paul Giamatti) has about two minutes of total screen time as a bookending villain. His only real service to the narrative is to set up “The Amazing Spider-Man 3.”

It isn't exactly villain overload that kills “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” nor is it the film’s exceedingly campy nature. It’s a comic book movie, for heaven’s sake.

There are lots of moving pieces that are outstanding by themselves. Action scenes are well-staged. The chemistry between the cast is infectious.

The narrative is just one of the most unfocused in Spidey’s cinematic history. As such, it makes the entire production difficult to digest.