REVIEW: X-Men: Days of Future Past

12 06 2014

Thanks to the patience and planning of Marvel that culminated in “The Avengers,” now every franchise is rushing to super-size their output by converging as many properties into one film as humanly possible.  Among these stuffed tentpoles, “X-Men: Days of Future Past” is probably about as clever as we can expect them to get.  Bryan Singer’s latest entry in the franchise plays to its greatest strength, the strong ensemble cast, to help power what is otherwise a fairly average film.

In 2011, the series essentially rebooted with a cast of rising stars that included James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, and Nicholas Hoult as younger versions of the characters.  Not that the original cast was lacking in talent with Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman, and Halle Berry.

Since their timeline never really ended (not that this stops the studios nowadays), what better way to bridge old and new than with a little bit of time travel?  And who better to be the intermediary than Jackman’s Wolverine, the only character popular enough to inspire spin-offs?  It all makes perfect sense.

“Days of Future Past” also manages to incorporate Jennifer Lawrence’s Raven/Mystique into the proceedings quite a bit more.  That, of course, couldn’t possibly be because she’s the most loved actress in America at the moment.  It just so happens that she’s the key to preventing annihilation of mutants in the bleak future inhabited by the older versions of the characters.  Wolverine must travel back to the ’70s to prevent her from assassinating defense contractor Raymond Trask (Miles Finch himself, Peter Dinklage) and enabling the creation of the mutant-massacring Sentinels.

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REVIEW: X-Men: First Class

9 06 2011

I’m not quite sure how “X-Men: First Class” fits in to the universe created by the other 4 films (like “Superman Returns“), or if it’s supposed to create a whole new universe in itself (like “Batman Begins” or “Star Trek”).  This confusion makes it hard to write about the summer superhero tentpole movie.  However, rather than worry myself with such fanboy concerns, I’ll review it like I chose to watch it: as a fun, entertaining reintroduction to the mutants that provides some interesting background on their origins (as well as shining some light on the REAL events of the Cuban Missile Crisis).

Matthew Vaughn makes it easy to forget your worries about the movie’s place in the series by keeping a smooth pace through a script that balances big explosions with character development.  It’s like a two hour pilot that introduces you to a fantastic ensemble while also fleshing out the conflict between its two biggest stars.  He’s no Christopher Nolan behind the camera, but he’s certainly much better than Michael Bay or whoever made the horrific “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” (which I still think was just an excuse for Hugh Jackman to prance around naked on camera).

Vaughn also makes some very savvy casting decisions; rather than filling out the large cast with marquee names or falling stars, he casts up-and-coming stars who make up for what they lack in marketability with their impressive acting chops.  James McAvoy (“The Last Station“) and Michael Fassbender (“Inglorious Basterds“), Xavier and Magneto respectively, are two incredibly reputable actors who bring drama and dynamism to the roles that Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen made campy and stale. Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence (“Winter’s Bone“) brings soul and heart to Mystique, two things Rebecca Romjin did not endow her character since she was too busy being sexy.  Nicholas Hoult (“A Single Man“) is a warm-hearted and lovable big-footed scientist.  January Jones provides some nice eye candy for those who might miss Halle Berry, although she will always be Betty Draper of “Mad Men” for me, while fans of Rose Byrne (“Bridesmaids,” “Get Him to the Greek“) will also rejoice to see her featured as mutant protector Moira MacTaggert.

It’s like he’s trying to have the 25 year reunion of this cast be on the cover of “People” with the title LOOK HOW FAR THEY’VE COME in big bold letters (while Lindsay Lohan is arrested for the 30th time in the sidebar).  Vaughn uses these superheroes to create superstars, many of which will be touting above-title billing after this movie.  His choice not to overload with actors who we already associate with other roles makes us more drawn in to the characters and less distracted by the people portraying them.

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REVIEW: A Single Man

8 02 2010

The protagonist of “A Single Man,” George Falconer (Colin Firth), often references moments of clarity, in which he is able to forget the pain of his past and live in the present.  Director Tom Ford does an excellent job of highlighting these moments, and it is here where his first film absolutely glitters.  He has made a movie that stands as one of the most thoroughly beautiful aesthetic achievements in years.  And it isn’t beautiful just to be beautiful – Ford uses all these elements to subtly alert us to the true mood of the scene, but it’s never so subtle that the message is unattainable.

Set against the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, the film’s events take place on what very well could be the last day of George Falconer’s life.  He has had to mourn the death of his longtime lover Jim (Matthew Goode) in private, thus making him a ticking time bomb of grief, ready to self-destruct at any instant.  George passes through life as little more than a specter, a mere shadow of the charismatic man that once walked in the same loafers.  On this day, no one even seems to suspect anything out of the ordinary.

We follow George as he meticulously attempts to finish his business.  He teaches his english class to a largely insipid and bored college class – with the exception of Kenny (Nicholas Hoult), who seems to take an interest not only in the thematic relevance of the class to the real world, but also in George himself.  He has dinner with his old friend Charley (Julianne Moore), a woman with a high capacity for alcohol and heartbreak.  Yet in the midst of all this, life (or some might call it fate) keeps giving him reminders of why we live.  These fleeting instances of rapture are brilliantly captured by Ford’s lens, and they especially stand out against the bleak canvas of George’s life.

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