Month: November 2016

X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST

Hey, fans! Focus on these younger, sexier cast members!

Hey, fans! Focus on these younger, sexier cast members!

2014 – With the mutants and their human allies being exterminated by evil Sentinel robots, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) travels back in time to disrupt continuity as much as possible.

What would the Mad Magazine parody of this be called? Days of Future AssedDays of Future Passed Gas?

This is a time travel movie.

Strike one.

All time travel movies since Back to the Future are exactly the same. As soon as you realize something is a time travel movie, you’re locked into the same stale tropes that Marty and Doc struggled with (before Parkinson’s and senility set in, of course). Oh no, something we did in the past had unexpected repercussions. Oh good, something else we did resulted in a future identical to the one we had before, but happier. The end.

The good thing about Days of Future Past is that nobody cares what they might change. You see, back in the 1970s, shape-shifting mutant Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) –

This movie has Jennifer Lawrence in it.

Strike two.

– killed a scientist named Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) because he was building an army of anti-mutant robots. This backfired, though, and only allowed Trask’s minions to make the robots more powerful. Now, in the “present day,” the last X-Men come up with a crazy idea. Stick with me, because this is complicated:

Mutant Kitty Pryde (the boyishly handsome Ellen Page) has the power to pass through solid objects. Turns out, she can also send people back in time. Pretty useful, right? Seems like something they might have wanted to look into way before they’re about to be killed. Unfortunately, nobody can go back in time because it really hurts. Guess they’re out of luck, right?

WAIT A SECOND HERE – don’t we have a mutant who can almost instantly heal all damage he sustains? Oh yeah! Wolverine! Wow, pretty crazy nobody thought of this before. Professor X (the always dignified but increasingly pitiable Patrick Stewart) tells Wolverine that he’ll have to convince the young and troubled Professor X (James McAvoy) that he’s from the future, and then prevent the assassination. That way everything will turn out great.

Along the way, they’ll have to recruit a young Magneto (Michael Fassbender) because… um… I forget. In order to get him out of prison, they recruit a mutant who is so fast he can beat up a room full of guys and pluck bullets out of the air. Fortunately for the plot, this mutant disappears immediately afterward and is never heard from again. Seemed like he would have come in handy, but hey. You know. It’s in the script.

This movie doesn’t care about anything, which I have to respect. Why does the Wolverine of the past look exactly like the Wolverine of the future? WHO CARES! Why does James McAvoy look and sound nothing like Patrick Stewart? SO WHAT? How does the attempted assassination of the President and the literal uprooting of an entire football stadium somehow result in a future identical to our own, but with only some of the bad parts removed? IT DOESN’T MATTER!

It must all be thanks to that scrappy Wolverine guy. After all, he tells Professor X to start his mutant school and find all the same mutants to help – so he does. He tells the Professor that he and Magneto will eventually become friends again – so they presumably do. It’s that easy!

This may be obvious to X-Men fans, but Days of Future Past seems to be a complete reboot of the series. Thanks to this time travel jawn, all the continuity is reset and everyone is played by a new, younger actor. Except for Wolverine. He’s sort of the Judi Dench of this series – the much-loved holdover from the old continuity who stays on to make the fans happy.

Plot aside, I can’t say that this is a bad movie. It’s certainly a cut above the other X-Men I’ve seen, and it’s always fun to watch the likes of Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, and Ian McKellen (who, by the way, somehow looks OLDER without that Gandalf beard to cover his appalling turkey neck). Even the acting is good… well, with one noteworthy exception. Jennifer Lawrence. She is HORRIBLE in this movie. Watch that scene where she’s wearing the floppy black hat and unnecessary midriff-baring shirt and tell me she’s giving a good performance. I know she’s in this movie strictly so she can prance around in a latex bodysuit, but come ON. This is an Academy Award winner? What a joke.

The other familiar flaws of Marvel movies rear their oft-seen heads, of course… awkward, pretentious dialogue, the lack of a strong central villain… but why even point these things out? Nobody cares.

Days of Future Past holds a 91% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Strike three.

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MAN UP

man-up-movie

2015 – When chronically single Nancy (Lake Bell) is mistaken for divorcee Jack’s (Simon Pegg) blind date, she decides to play along.  

If you’re looking for a clever, touching alternative to the execrable Silver Linings Playbook – a movie that doesn’t coddle its characters or talk down to its audience, a movie that’s dialogue-heavy but never feels tedious, a movie about real feelings and not trite Hollywood angst – look no further.

The real enjoyment of watching a romantic comedy is being able to picture yourself as one of the leads. If done properly, you should be thinking, “Hey, I’m not terrible-looking and have a sense of humor! If I played my cards right, this same thing could happen to me!” Man Up presents a dating scene that should be all too familiar to 30-somethings, a place where disappointment, divorce, and the inevitable cynicism are all too common.

Just about everyone can relate to Nancy’s situation in the opening scenes: forced into a disastrous blind date by a few well-intentioned friends. Her sister Elaine (Sharon Horgan) encourages her to keep her chin up and be impulsive. After an encounter with an obnoxiously chipper 20-something (Ophelia Lovibond), Nancy decides to do exactly that and allows an improbable string of circumstances to connect her with Jack. As you might expect, their date goes better than either of them could have expected… until an obsessed ex-neighbor and a vindictive ex-wife arrive on the scene.

The film takes place pretty close to “real time,” encompassing the events of one afternoon and evening. While a modest run-time helps keep the movie taut and crisp, it also helps itself by continually upping the stakes. While we enjoy watching the two leads move through their awkward first date conversations, we’re also kept in suspense by one sub-plot after another: will Jack find out that Nancy isn’t the “Jessica” he was expecting? Will creepy stalker Sean (Rory Kinnear) mess things up? Will Nancy make it in time for the speech at her parents’ 40th anniversary party?

Man Up is definitely written with a certain Generation X audience in mind – people in their 30s and early 40s who have been through the dating ringer, have faced ruined relationships and even failed marriages, and are yearning for the kind of connection their parents seemed to have. Millennials, a lot of whom live in broken households and think a “relationship” is three dates with someone you met on Tinder, won’t get it.

It also toes the line between a traditional romantic comedy and the more popular gross-out humor of today. There are a few scenes, mostly featuring the Sean character, that just don’t jive with the  overall tone of the movie. These slight inconsistencies are like the off notes that the doomed flutist was playing in Red Dragon in that they made me take notice, but fortunately not enough for me to want to butcher and eat someone.

Things recover quickly, though, thanks mainly to how charming Bell and Pegg are in their respective roles. There isn’t a lot of screaming and wailing, but there is a lot to appreciate about the acting. Paired with an overall positive tone and a strong cast of supporting characters, it’s enough to push Man Up into the must-see echelon on Netflix.