Saturday, May 24, 2014

Movie Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past

Wow. I am speechless by the enormity of Bryan Singer's accomplishment. He crafted a tightly-plotted, well-paced, well-written, well-acted time travel film, and [SPOILER ALERT!] erased the poorly-executed X-Men: The Last Stand from movie canon. All the yays!

In brief: fifty years in the future, the war against mutants is taking its final toll. A robot army called the Sentinels, designed to adapt to mutant powers, have decimated mutants, and their human allies are also punished. The X-Men are rapidly running out of time and places to hide. Together with their former nemesis Magneto, they send one of their own back into the past to undo the events of that led to the creation of the Sentinels.

There's a lot to recommend about this film, and here are my top five:

1) The fights are spectacular -- Mutants versus sentinels, mutants versus mutants, one mutant versus multiple armed humans... it's all choreographed well, with the special effects blending seamlessly. The only exception is Beast, whose wirework is pretty obvious. Oh well. Fortunately, Quicksilver more than makes up for it. His CMOA (crowning moment of awesome) scene was the most enjoyable in terms of action.

2) Cinematography -- Each timeline gets its own distinctive palette: the dark, grim future; the groovy, brightly-hued seventies; and the (eventual) softly lit, shiny new present. In between, there's no shortage of intense close-ups, epic panning views of grandiose mutant gestures, and sparing but effective use of slow motion.

3) Dialogue -- Lots of wry lines from protagonists got chuckles from the audience. The seventies jokes are pretty priceless, but never distracting.

4) Character development -- These people are heroes, and that's why we love them. A younger Charles grapples with his sense of abandonment, Wolverine acknowledges his limits, Mystique decides her path, and Magneto does what he thinks will secure his people's future. All these protagonists make hard decisions and they do it quickly, which helps tremendously with pacing.

5) Michael Fassbender -- There is one scene where he out-acts ever single person in this film, including Sir Patrick Stewart, who continues to be the best Professor Xavier there could ever possibly be. Fassbender is Magneto. (Sorry, Sir Ian! You will always be Gandalf.)

Speaking of Magneto, may I just say that I admire his ruthless, logical maneuvering in his pursuit of mutant freedom/hegemony. The man is a Magnificent Bastard Problem Solver. Trademark!

As always, X-Men poses philosophical questions. It begins with a voiceover: "Is the future truly set?" Throughout the events of the film, more questions emerge: what is the true cost of sacrificing one life to save others? How can pain and fear help the lost find the path again? What will it truly take to unite humanity?

I highly, highly recommend X-Men: Days of Future Past. It has something for comic book nerds and casual moviegoers alike, because it tells a good story using a familiar and talented cast.

Attention nerds: The easter egg at the end of the credits reveals the next villain. Can't wait for X-Men: Apocalypse. En Sabah Nuuuuuuurrrrr!!!

This post brought to you by Memorial Day weekend!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Movie Review: Godzilla (2014)

Director Gareth Edwards' sophomore feature-length debut is a reverent rumination of nature's unstoppable power. That central theme necessarily puts puny humans on the sidelines, from high-ranking military officials seeking to contain monsters to ordinary folks just trying to survive the onslaught. At its heart, Godzilla is about forces beyond our control, so slap on those 3D glasses and prepare to cheer for the baddest alpha predator to ever curb-stomp radioactive menaces.

The film opens with ominous music and footage: black-and-white clips of submaries, nuclear tests, and words being crossed out -- censored -- until only the cast names appear. Cut to a chopper in a gloriously beautiful location -- the Philippines, naturally -- and out comes Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and his colleague Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins), both employees of a company called Monarch. An accident has revealed an ancient cavern, with two enormous cocoon-like structures: one intact, the other...not.

In Japan, engineering supercouple Joe and Sandra Brody (Bryan Cranston and Juliette Binoche) try to find the source of the tremors rocking their nuclear power plant. Bad things happen.

Fifteen years laters, Brody's son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) must travel to Japan because reasons. Once Ford and Joe are arrested by Monarch's security teams, the movie kicks into high gear and the rest of the time flies by. I shan't spoil it further.

I will say that this is a very welcome movie after the awful Roland Emmerich interpretation back in 1998. That one is so bad that even IMDB's auto-complete search bar refuses to display it -- you have to click on "more results" to get to it. Edwards' Godzilla, while a little lacking on basic explanations about the titular character, gets it right: when faced with creatures that can level entire cities just by walking around, the best-laid plans of mice and men mean zilch. When this event happens -- and believe me, Godzilla rising out of the depths is an event -- you just GTFO. While a few human actions do turn out to be effective, most of the time it's best to leave it to the spiky bug guy. He is awesome.

This movie's cinematography and soundtrack are amazing. Nothing underscores technology's impotence in the face of nature quite like fighter jets plummeting helplessly from the sky. And the use of Gy├Ârgy Ligeti's "Requiem For Soprano, Mezzo Soprano, Two Mixed Choirs And Orchestra" during one sequence is particularly arresting.

Bottom line: Of course go watch it. It's Godzilla.

This post brought to you by Oscar the cat, whose rendition of "O Sole Mio" at 6:30 am is...moving.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Movie Review: Elysium (2013)

Since our shiny new TV has 3D capability (ooooo), Fragrant Husband and I decided on a recent action movie to test it. With a running time of 109 minutes, last year's Elysium was a clear winner. On came the glasses, and we were off on a sci-fi adventure...

...that was scattered and unsatisfying.

Alas, Elysium could have benefited from tighter writing. The movie, written and directed by Neill Blomkamp of District 9 fame, is about Max (Matt Damon), a former car thief trying to make a decent living in dirty, dystopian future L.A. (looks an awful lot like current developing nations). Max dreams of buying a ticket to Elysium, a "habitat" floating in orbit that boasts vastly superior technology, including med-bays that can heal pretty much anything. Defense Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster) protects Elysium from poor people trying to breach this ultimate gated community in their desperate attempts to get near-miraculous medical treatment.

Max gets involved because of a catastrophic accident at work, and coincidentally he used to work for the guy who runs unsanctioned shuttles to Elysium, and wouldn't you know it, his beloved childhood friend who he promised to take up to Elysium one day has a little girl with leukemia. Imagine that. Anyway, as demanded by the gods of formula, he makes it up there and must defeat Kruger (Sharlto Copley), the real Big Bad. Et cetera.

The entire movie was so focused on hammering home its message (THE RICH ARE BAD THEY ARE OPPRESSING THE POORS) and so skimpy on the details that Fragrant Husband didn't mind my constant questions throughout the movie, because he himself was going, "Huh?" at various points. For example:

  • What is the basis for citizenship on Elysium? Do you buy a ticket? Sell a kidney?
  • What is the process for electing Elysium leaders? Sharpest suit? Most uptight hairstyle?
  • Were all the droids on break when Max was shooting up the government building? 
  • Et cetera.

ERGH.

Also, Kruger is gross.

Pro: At least the violence and gore are unflinching! Yay!

For a longer and angrier takedown of this movie, click here.

Bottom line: Skip it. Skip it hard. I actually like Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters better, and that movie featured a wooden turntable and a Gatling gun in an early 19th century setting.

This post brought to you by Robot Chicken.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Eddie Izzard: Force Majeure (live, 2014)


Eddie Izzard has reached his next stage of evolution: Action Transvestite. The previously Executive Transvestite is back on stage and sharing his bizarre thoughts with appreciative audiences. Topics range from human sacrifice, the Magna Carta, learning other languages, and a documentary called The Clash of the Titans.

Themes from previous acts persist: he riffs on Hitler, talks about his desire to join the military as a lad, mocks Caesar's legacy (this time as a salad--last time it was a brand of dog food), and does the God voice. As always, his physical comedy skills are beyond reproach: he mimes, makes sound effects, and runs back and forth across the stage pretending to be two people having a strange conversation.

Izzard's overtly anti-right wing stance is new and a bit surprising, but maybe he was just playing to his audience of liberal Bostonians? Anyway, he did an encore about the Lord of the Rings where he attempted to do mathematics, and it's as hilariously weird as it sounds.

Here are his US tour dates. Catch him if you can!

Movie Review: Black Panther (2018)