Friday, May 23, 2014

Movie Review: X-Men- Days of Future Past

Ok. Here it comes. I've decided to break this post into two parts. First, is my review of X-Men: Days of Future Past, the film. geek rant about the X-Men films troubled continuity. Read at your own risk.

The Review:

X-Men: Days of Future Past is a thoroughly entertaining summer action flick. This epic time travel extravaganza features gnarly battle sequences with members from both the original and First Class casts, in two different timelines. Director Bryan Singer finally introduces some large scale, CGI rendered carnage into the X-Men cinematic universe while maintaining his amazing knack for intense, character driven drama. Best of all, the Back To The Future-ish time travel paradoxes that take place in this film successfully undo all the godawful damage that X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine did to the franchise which is really all the hardcore fans cared about in the first place.

Days of Future Past
doesn't take too long setting up the back story to catch any casual viewers up to speed. The film assumes you're already well versed in Singer's first two X-films and Matthew Vaughn's 2011 reboot, X-Men: First Class, and kind of ignores Bret Ratner's disastrous film and the last two solo Wolverine flicks (and rightfully so). Giant mutant hunting robots called Sentinels have turned on their human creators and all but taken over the world in a bleak Terminator-esqe dystopian future. A group of mutant rebels led by some former X-Men decide to send one of their team some 50 years back in time to stop a certain assassination from occurring that would erase their dismal reality and bloody war with Sentinels from existence. Of course Wolverine gets sent back because his healing factor...he already lived during that time...because he's Hugh Jackman and they need their best/most bankable star in the movie. Same deal with Mystique, Jennifer Lawrence becomes a huge Academy Award winning star and all of a sudden her character becomes the linchpin to the film's plot. It's okay though, Lawrence and Jackman are great in their roles, but the real draws are James McAvoy as young Professor X and my homie Michael Fassbender as young Magneto. The chemistry between these two is just insane and their performances are the film's biggest draw. The anguish in McAvoy's face in his strung out, Lt. Dan 1970's version of Xavier was an unexpected surprise but finally seeing Fassbender in full on Magneto regalia was the absolute highlight of the film.

Yeah, there are some odd plot holes that stick out like a sore thumb (Kitty Pryde's phasing powers relate to time traveling how? When did Wolverine get his adamantium claws back?) and the middle act sort of drags for a bit before the dual timeline Sentinel battle kicks off into overdrive in the end, but overall this is the best X-Men film since X-2 and the big pay off rests in the film's epilogue where all the damage from The Last Stand is wiped clean.

The Rant (warning- SPOILERS-):

Next to The Dark Phoenix Saga, Days of Future Past is considered the holy grail of classic X-Men comic book stories. Since Brett Ratner famously dropped the ball with Phoenix in *shudders* X-Men: The Last Stand, many felt like this Days of Future Past flick would be the last chance to get a legit X-Men story adapted to the big screen (before the original cast who've been doing these films since the Clinton Administration get too old and/or die). Well, sad news for you dudes because Days of Future Past is not a successful comic book adaptation ala  The Avengers or any one of Marvel Studios' recent films. No, X-Men: Days of Future Past doesn't have the luxury of telling it's own unique and vibrant story, instead this film had one job and one job only: to retcon the fucked beyond fucked continuity of the X-Men franchise. Thankfully Bryan Singer's new mutant fest sweeps up most of the mess us fans have been crying over for the past decade but even Days of Future Past and it's magical back from the grave epilogue (Cyclops and Jean are back, suck it Ratner) can't fix the myriad of problems with the X-Men films.

First, the series is just old. As much as we like fooling ourselves into thinking otherwise, time waits for no man. X-Men came out FOURTEEN YEARS AGO. That's pre- 9/11, back when Hollywood was still jocking The Matrix (black leather uniforms anyone?). Although Singer did a good job depicting the X-Men's Civil Right's like drama to the big screen (bigotry, discrimination, fear, etc), the man is simply not cut out for sprawling action set pieces. Now that he's taken the reigns of the X-universe once again, Days of Future Past still feels grounded in the same small framed early millennium shackles of the first film. Not that the action in this movie is bad, it's just that by now, after the barrage of Marvel Studio's films of recent memory, we've all seen better.

Also, as great as Singer is with character development and fleshing out great performances from his actors, he's still "meh" on respecting the comic book source material and thus, the very spirit of the X-Men characters. Take Quicksilver for example. Despite his asinine costume, the dude provides some great comic relief and steals the first half of the film. Too bad he's nothing like his comic counterpart and Singer's decision to throw Quicksilver into the fray now (as a teen in the 1970's) only further messes with the continuity he's tasked with restoring (he's shown with a younger sister who is clearly NOT his twin, The Scarlet Witch, and his dad Magneto must have had him when he was about 17 years old himself, before the events in First Class...wut?).

It's an endless cycle of WTF-ism that just boggle the mind (Apparently Beast develops a serum that blocks mutant powers making them human in the 1970's but he doesn't seem to remember this in the 2000's when that "mutant cure" drug is the focal point of Last Stand. Isn't Wolverine supposed to be in Vietnam with his bro Sabretooth during the early 70's? How is Trask's character played by Peter Dinklage when he's played by Bill Duke in the first trilogy?). Days of Future Past does an adequate job of straightening most of the mess up, but the damage is just too problematic and the film suffers as a result of it. Maybe X-Men: Apocalypse will be the film we've all been waiting for? Finally free to move beyond the Xavier/Magneto ideological battle we've seen since 2000.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Movie Review: Palo Alto

Palo Alto
could have been a horrible, train wreck of a movie. If handled like a straightforward teenage melodrama, this might have ended up as nothing more than Lifetime movie of the week/soap opera posturing. Thankfully, first time director Gia Coppola has crafted an unconventionally brilliant coming of age film. Palo Alto doesn't circumvent the cliches of the "high school" film genre, instead it embraces and smothers them in a dreamy haze until they're almost unrecognizable.

Emma Roberts stars as April, the cute but frustrated anti-pixie dream girl, who floats adrift the halls of her suburban Palo Alto high school. She's smart, athletic and compared to her self involved friends and family, responsible. She's young but realizes something is missing from her mundane, privileged upper middle class life. Jack Kilmer plays Teddy, a brooding young artistic soul who secretly longs for her but is too shy and/or stoned to act. Teddy's best friend is a borderline psychotic named Fred (Nat Wolf) who drags him further down the path of drugs and debauchery. Judging by their personalities and how they gawk at one another, it's all but given that April and Teddy are perfect for each other. Palo Alto isn't a lovey-dovey teen romance though, instead the film follows the pair's missed connection and how they fill the void in their hearts with dangerous actions and unsavory people. Teddy has trouble with the law, April falls for her sleazy soccer coach (the always sleazy James Franco), its bad decisions 101 until the two can finally, hopefully, set each other straight.

Of course none of this is revolutionary. We've all seen dumb horny kids act like dumb horny kids in high school movies before (drinking, partying, rebelling, fucking pies, etc.) but the way Coppola shapes this otherwise, kind of generic story, is truly breathtaking. Palo Alto meanders and moseys along in a gloriously ethereal way. The film's gorgeous, portrait like cinematography and Devonte Hynes' brilliant dream pop soundtrack coaxes you further down the rabbit hole, while the rookie cast's passionate yet surprisingly low key performances (except for Fred, he's fucking nuts) seal the deal. Some might argue that Palo Alto doesn't go anywhere, that it's a case of all style and no substance. Well, that's kind of the point. I see the film as a reflection of a typical teenagers life. There are highs and lows but not everyone's high school experience is an exciting three act set piece with a convenient climax and resolution. Most teens do have crazy and memorable stories to tell but by and large they spend their days just existing in that awkward post-child/pre-adulthood limbo that is high school. Palo Alto isn't meant to dramatize another self important angsty story, instead it masterfully depicts the mood and atmosphere of said limbo that we all (supposedly) graduated from at one point or another in our lives.

I'm serious, this could have been the worst movie ever but thankfully Gia Coppola's genetics came through and gifted us with an awesome film (The Spectacular Now: abort yourself. please). Palo Alto isn't just an oddball ode to emo lust and weed binges, it's also an example of Hollywood nepotism done right.

Val Kilmer's son Jack stars with Julia Robert's niece Emma, in a film directed by Francis Ford Coppola's granddaughter, adapted from a story written by the eldest Franco brother (because there's two now...I guess). See how that could have totally sucked? Thank god none of the Smith's offspring were involved. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Movie Review: Neighbors

is a funny film. But barely. It's also mind numbingly unoriginal. And not barely...but astoundingly so. To the point where I wondered if the execs who approved the script had ever seen a rated R comedy in their entire lives? Compared to Seth Rogen's last film This Is The End, Neighbors felt like a rushed, half baked cash grab. I honestly chuckled at a few of the film's gags, and occasionally might have LOL'd once or twice, but spent most of the movie's run time laughing at how uninspired and repetitive Neighbors truly is.

Seth Rogen plays the same character he's been doing since 2007's Knocked Up and Zac Efron is cast against type as a uber masculine frat bro. You can already see where this is going right? The fat vs buff, old vs young, professional vs college lifestyle clashes are funny for all of five minutes. Maybe if we hadn't already seen a lifetime's worth of the same recycled dick/fart/weed jokes from previous Seth Rogen flicks they might have had a larger impact. Judd Apatow might not have had a hand in this film, but his disciples sure as hell did (from the director to the producers and movie's star) and as a result, Neighbor's reeks of his signature, sanitized, yuppified, Starbucks ready brand of comedy. Seth Rogen grumbles and complains, white dudes reference rap songs and get jiggy onscreen, everyone act's like 13 year old kids for a bit, everything works out hunky dory in the end. Wash, rinse, repeat.

There are a few bright spots in Neighbors, where the clouds part and the comedy gods grant us a few moments of levity. The always gorgeous Rose Byrne brings a few laughs and is actually kind of mesmerizing when she's on her Project Mayhem-ish mission to wreak havoc inside the frat house party. Comedian turned actor Jerrod Carmichael literally steals every scene he's in and young Craig Robets' epic portrayal of a sniveling fraternity pledge known only as "ass juice" provides some of the best laughs of the entire film. The rest of the movie is just outlandish buffoonery and empty pop culture references that I'm almost positive fly over the heads of the film's target audience. I mean seriously, how many of today's teens and swaggy college age viewers raised on twitter will even get those De Niro and Pacino references the members of Delta throw around, hell the whole joke is that the Delta's don't get them either.

no. NO.
Maybe the joke is on me because Neighbor's cleaned up at the box office recently. If you want cheap, easy laughs then Neighbors is a sure thing. Just don't expect anything the least bit original.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Movie Review: Under The Skin

Under The Skin did not live up to the title's namesake. Instead, this film just got on my nerves.

Under The Skin has been hyped as astounding, director Jonathan Glazer proclaimed a visionary and comparisons to 2001: A Space Odyssey  have even been tossed around for good measure, because who doesn't love Kubrick references? Well, after seeing the film I couldn't help but think of Sen. Lloyd Bentsen's epic, "You're no Jack Kennedy" line. Mr. Glazer, you're no Stanley Kubrick bro.

Don't get me wrong, Under The Skin does have flashes of genius sprinkled throughout it's (grueling) nearly two hour run time, but those moments are few and far between. Scarlett Johansson stars as a seductive alien who cruises the streets of Scotland looking for gullible/horny men to abduct. Johansson shines in her role as a sexy space Terminator who carefully studies and mimics her human victims.

Scarlett's performance is easily the highlight of the film and serves as the direct antithesis of her turn in last year's Her, where she played a sentient computer operating system who longed to feel apart of, and eventually surpassed, humanity. In Her, Johansson was a voice without a body while in Under The Skin, she plays a nameless, nearly silent, extraterrestrial who uses it's female-ish facade to communicate through intense stares and physical touch. Glazer uses his star's striking beauty to propel the film, a woman with Johansson's features truly does feel alien compared to the rest of the cast (comprised of first time, non actors) and the film's setting. The bizarre abduction/seduction scenes feature some of the gnarliest visuals I've ever seen before, and Glazer's penchant for fly on the wall, voyeuristic realism can be truly haunting.

That being said, a handful of cool visuals and even mesmerizing moments like the baby on the beach scene aren't enough to save this film. Under The Skin is simply too minimalist for it's own good. I'm talking bare bones storytelling to the point where there's literally no story. I could do without dialogue, I could do without fancy Hollywood trickery, I don't mind being challenged by a film but Glazer's latest movie is just too much...and by that I mean not enough. Under The Skin crumbles under it's own flimsy, haphazard narrative. Mystique and intriguing quickly devolves into pompous and boring. The dozen or so moments of visual brilliance are sandwiched between uneventful and downright lazy camera work. Even Scarlett Johansson going full on, full frontal couldn't resuscitate this film's pulse. What a shame. Congratulations to Mr. Glazer, he's successfully crafted the definitive fish out of water, alien flick...for aliens.