Saturday, May 24, 2014

Logan’s Buns: The Astonishing “X-Men: Days of Future Past” is an Epic, Sci-Fi Comic Extravaganza

Another week, another comic book film. What else is there to really say about them? Except the fact that even though they seem to come out every other week, most of the time the film studios are actually make quality big budget films. And the latest one is no exception. Fourteen years after the first X-Men film completely changed the way people look at superhero and comic book movies, we have original director Bryan Singer back at the helm and he has crafted one of the most intricate, epic and outright entertaining entries in this never-ending series. It’s a sequel to the wonderful “X-Men: First Class” and yet also a reboot of the original “X-Men” trilogy. It’s also a pretty kick-ass time travel sci-fi spectacular with rich characters, memorable sequences, and a convoluted plot that is as outrageous as it is entertain.

As anyone who has seen the “Back to the Future” or “Terminator” films knows, time travel can be a complex and exhaustive plot element. I won’t even pretend that I fully grasped every intricate detail laid out in Simon Kinberg’s sprawling script (a script that pleasingly fixes everything that was wrong about his not-that-bad “The Last Stand” screenplay). I won’t even attempt rehash the complete storyline here. Basically, in the future, these robots created by Trask Industries are programmed to wipe out all mutants and eventually turn on everyone. Some of your favorite mutant characters from the previous films including Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), Storm (Halle Berry), Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellen), Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), and a few others, are attempting to fight them off. Kitty uses her powers to send Wolverine’s consciousness back in time (to the 1970s) to his former body where he’ll find the younger versions of his mutant friends and attempt to stop Dr. Trask (Peter Dinklage) from inventing the Sentinels in the first place. It’s basically “Terminator 2” with mutants.

Some of the highlights of this bonanza mutant adventure include Wolverine, younger Beast (Nicholas Hoult), younger Profesor X (James McAvoy) recruiting young mutant Quicksilver (Evan Peters) to help break younger Magneto (Michael Fassbender) out of prison at the Pentagon (who was charged with the assassination of JFK -  a spinoff of which I’d love to see). And what about the sequence when the young newly rogue Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) attempts to murder Trask and the subsequent action that ensues that’s captured by bystanders on 70s era 8mm cameras. The movie is so epic it even includes a Vietnam sequence. And let’s not forget Magneto moving an entire baseball stadium.

Singer perfectly incorporates the characters from “First Class” (and even satisfyingly tweaks elements from the previous films including Professor X’s paralysis and Mystique’s better makeup design) with the old school mutant characters from the earlier films into one gigantic hodgepodge of mutant goodness without ever really being all that confusing. Or at least, we get the gist enough that it doesn’t feel like a chore to try and keep up. And because of the time period it feels like such a fresh take on the superhero genre.

The performances are great and every character has their moment to shine, the effects are spectacular (especially in that jaw dropping Quicksilver scene), and the story is gripping and feels larger-than-life. And it all ends so perfectly it was almost worth waiting nearly ten years for. I loved “X-Men: Days of Future Past;” though anyone who hasn’t seen the original X-Men films are advised to go back and watch them all again. While it doesn’t give me chills the way a great Spider-Man film does and will always do, it’s easily the best X-Men movie yet.  GRADE: A

Feature Trailer for X-Men: Days of Future Past on TrailerAddict.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Reptile Dysfunction: “Godzilla” is a Thrilling Summer Action Spectacle

My knowledge of Godzilla is limited to what I’ve witnessed in the infamous and poorly received 1998 Matthew Broderick film. It was a disaster of a different kind. That film seemed to depict Godzilla as a radiation affected lizard that grows to an enormous height and is intent on destroying all of humanity. This new, and much improved, version of the famous cinematic beast is one of those movie monsters that’s just misunderstood. He’s just going about his business and he just so happens to cause earthquakes and buildings collapse when they get in the way. And the most fun part of all of this essentially stilly stuff is the fact that Godzilla isn’t the only creature in this new version. If “Pacific Rim” was the summer movie to make use pine to see Godzilla on the big screen again, this film is the one that cements its place as one of the best summer disaster spectacles to come out in some time.  

Director Gareth Edwards, who impressed many with his low budget, independent alien invasion movie “Monsters” was not surprisingly tasked with bringing one of cinema’s greatest beasts back to the big screen. Is it a reboot? A remake? I don’t now and I don’t really care. But what Edwards has given us is truly astounding. It felt like watching “Jurassic Park” for the first time as a kid. It’s another example that big-budget, loud, CGI filled films don’t necessarily have to be stupid or obnoxious if handled correctly.

Sure no one is going to praise Godzilla’s thin plot, but like last year’s Gravity, what it lacks in story it makes up for with truly amazing sequences filled with CGI eye candy and breathtaking-in-3D cinematography. Like many of the great Steven Spielberg’s works, the film (written by Max Borenstein) is mostly told from the point-of-view of a family. Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) has lived his whole life with his parents in Japan. His dad Joe (Bryan Cranston) and mom Sandra (Juliette Binoche) who work at a local nuclear power plant. A terrible accident takes out a few employees and years later Joe believes in some kind of cover up. Of course he has no idea that scientists Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) have far more secrets up their sleeves which includes several large creatures that will perhaps wreak havoc on humanity.  

And oh and havoc is what happens; this new Godzilla is basically shot as a balls to the wall disaster flick. We’re talking tsunamis and earthquakes galore. Buildings collapse. Trains are broken up. Planes fall out of the sky. Ford, who as an adult is a Navy officer living in San Francisco with his wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and young son, has to go to Japan when his dad is arrested for trespassing in a quarantined area. Soon gigantic nuclear bomb-eating creatures begin attacking and it seems a certain enormous lizard may be humanity’s only hope. Once all the chaos happens we’re left with Ford trying to get home to his family and the military and scientists figuring out the next move. That’s all really and that’s really all that’s needed.

“Godzilla” is a delightfully fun action spectacle. And it feels so perfectly epic. It spans the globe having scenes taking place everywhere from Japan, the Philippines, Hawaii, California and even Las Vegas. Edwards takes a note from the Spielberg handbook and takes his time establishing the film’s title monster. The glimpses he gives us are perfect and cinematographer Seamus McGarvey give us some truly spectacularly shots. Take for instance the instantly iconic HALO jump sequence which beautifully captures military parajumpers as they fall towards earth and past Godzilla himself.  And Alexandre Desplat’s monster movie score is a simply sensational addition and is paired perfectly with the film’s breathtaking action and state-of-the-art effects.

I guess you could call this new “Godzilla” a terrifically-made, wonder to behold B-movie. There’s no silly rubber man in a suit to be found here: this is an entirely different beast altogether, so to speak.  Even if you can feel other genre films’ influences it’s such a fun ride that it feels like a compilation of all the movies you’ve ever loved all at once. It’s summer spectacle at its best.  GRADE: A-

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Delta Force: “Neighbors” is an Energetic Burst of Raunchy Summer Fun

Zac Efron is a far cry from his singing and dancing basketball player character from his “High School Musical” days and thank goodness because in the delightfully raunchy winner “Neighbors” he’s actually good. Like really good. I’m serious. He’s finally found a role, as a devious and hunky lughead frat guy – though in all honesty it doesn’t feel like quite a stretch – that hones his decently crafted comedy skills. Stuck in a Groundhog Day-like cycle of romantic treacle since his days as a thespian jock, with an occasional foray into indie stuff, Efron may finally win over general audiences despite his golden boy good looks and Adonis-would-be-jealous body. And he’s perfect alongside the impeccably rotund Seth Rogen.

Rogen shines yet again as the eternal man-child, though this time he has a hot Aussie wife and cute-as-a-button baby daughter. Mac Radnor (Rogen) and his wife Kelly (a scene-stealing Rose Byrne) are a young couple. They’re at that stage in their lives where they haven’t quite outgrown their youth, yet they’re quickly on the path to the zombified world of being actual adults. They’re understandably upset that a college fraternity is moving in the house next door. But are they upset because of the likely noise that it’ll bring or the fact that it’ll be a constant reminder that they’re not 21 anymore? I think a little bit of both. They decide to put on a cool face, try to win over the youngsters, and on the off chance the guys take a liking to them they’ll be more inclined to comply.

The frat’s student president Teddy (Efron) is initially accommodating towards the seemingly cool couple. His best friend and fellow brother Pete (Dave Franco) is even smitten with the couple’s adorable baby. Each neighbor has an understanding: the frat promises to be respectful as long as the Radnors call him first before alerting the police. Seems fair. That is until Mac and Kelly call the cops after calls to Teddy go unanswered. It turns out the cops in this day and age have caller ID and rats them out to Teddy who becomes infuriated, starting a war between the old school and new school neighbors. Hilarious hijinks ensue including plans to get the frat evicted and eventually put on probation. Even Kelly (in a standout sequence) gets a plan inspired by The Office’s Michael Scott of all people, which revolves around that old saying “bros before hoes.”

Director Nicholas Stoller who is in familiar territory having helmed “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and its spinoff “Get Him to the Greek” is in full raunch mode. After all you can’t have a movie in which half the cast is made of college guys and not have enough penis jokes to make Ron Jeremy blush. One such gag involves the brothers making and selling molds of their own penises to raise money to save their house. And apparently McLovin is packin’. Kelly and Mac don’t know whether to be pissed off or impressed with the way these guys handle the troubles they bring them. And the fraternity strikes back many times including hiding airbags in Mac’s furniture and even installing one in his office chair.

“Neighbors,” while not written by Rogen, (that would be Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O'Brien in their feature debut) generally follows the formula most of the films he has produced have. They’re always essentially about young people who are afraid to grow up. Not only is Mac scared of entering middle age, but Teddy is in a similar boat scared to move on into adulthood. It’s a scary and relatable position to be in and Efron really nails it. Even if he acts like a jerk the whole time there’s just enough of a twinge of sympathy there.

“Neighbors” is another winning comedy for anyone who loves their Seth Rogen movies dirty and raunchy and funny. It’s certainly not on the same level as last year’s truly phenomenal “This is the End” but “Neighbors” is a just funny enough comedy with really winning performances and enough to say about the current state of young people to warrant a trip to your local multiplex.  GRADE: B+

"Theatrical Trailer" for Neighbors on TrailerAddict.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Swing Time: “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” is Spectacular If Flawed

It would be pretty difficult for me to not enjoy a Spider-Man film, no matter how corny, overstuffed, or tonally inconsistent it may be. I found a lot to love about the third entry in Sam Raimi’s original trilogy despite the mediocre critical reception. And here we are nearly ten years later with another flawed Spider-Man film. And yet I can’t quite wrap my head around the complaints that are being thrown around. Perhaps I tend to be a glass-half-full person, but the film has spectacular effects (including arguably the best swinging scenes in any Spider-Man film), a terrific leading couple with nearly perfect chemistry (the delightfully likable and well-cast Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone), and a couple of standout villains that perfectly capture the tone and style of the comics in which they’re based.

In a post “Dark Knight” world comic book films have a lot to live up to. Everything has to be a franchise now (though in reality it’s really always been that way – I believe there were originally four Superman films) and sometimes entire movies are made to set up an entire other series of sequels and spinoffs. In that way “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” sort of feels like an entry leading into something even bigger coming soon. Maybe it bites off a bit more than it can chew, but it does it way more successfully than the overstuffed “Spider-Man 3.”

“The Amazing Spider-Man 2” finally deals with more of Peter Parker’s past – finally revealing why and how his parents were killed. It’s not the film’s most fascinating story, but it does beginning with a pretty spectacular Spider-Man-less opening airplane sequence. Then enter Parker (Garfield ) as he battles a Russian bad guy played by Paul Giamatti. It turns out he’s not really Spider-Man’s main rival though. Lonely Oscorp employee Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) who becomes obsessed with Spider-Man after being rescued by him, loses the last few loose screws he has when he’s nearly killed in an accident involving electric eels. Say hello to Electro. He ends up with a cool electronic voice and a shape shifting blue hue and he can now travel via electric circuit which certainly comes in handy when it comes to the horrible NYC traffic.

Then there’s Harry Osborn, a staple of the original trilogy, now played wonderfully here by “Chronicle’s” Dane DeHaan. The actor’s creepy “Leonardo DiCaprio as coke head” look definitely works in the guy’s favor as the character learns he’s inherited not only his rich father’s money and business but his fatal genetic disease as well. Eventually his storyline and Max’s storylines meet up as they join forces, as comic supervillians tend to do, against Spider-Man.

What can I say? I was certainly enthralled with this Spider-Man entry. The flying scenes through New York’s highrises are simply outstanding. Director Marc Webb uses some pretty cool shots, many of which are point-of-views. Definitely the best shots any of these movies have offered so far. These sequences are paired with Spider-Man newbie Hans Zimmer’s soaring score. But Webb really shines when it comes to his two leads. The “(500) Days of Summer” helmer really knows great chemistry when he sees it and is great at directing actors. You get a real sense of the angst with Peter, and Stone as his love Gwen Stacy is simply topnotch. A shocking (yet not all that shocking) third act development was emotional and moving and simply exquisitely handled. And who could write a review for this film without mentioning the great Sally Field? She’s a great Aunt May.

What can I say except that I love Spider-Man movies? Is this a perfect Spider-Man movie? No. It was nice getting past the origin story which felt a little deja vu in the last film and the writing doesn’t quite feel as sharp with the great Alvin Sargent replaced here by Transformers scribes Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci. Overall I really enjoyed this film and I look forward to the next installment. And finally Spider-Man’s suit is much improved, the last one just looked too rubbery. It’s all about the little things I guess.  GRADE: B+

"Trailer" for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 on TrailerAddict.